The wrong way to do right

This week God used grass seed to get my attention. 

See, one of the genius things about Jesus was His ability to teach profound spiritual truth through ordinary examples. Mustard seeds, fig trees, fields, sparrows, weeds, soil … all of these agricultural things (and so much more) were used to illustrate the deeper spiritual realities at work in our world.

He still does this today.

We’ve lived here at the Ark for 18 months now, and we’re still waiting and dreaming and praying about how God wants to use this piece of land. It’s His, and we want to steward it well. A few weeks ago, a friend came over with his tractor and cleared a lower area that was overgrown with brambles. With the weeds out of the way, we were able to see the contour of the land and get a bit more vision for what it could be, and with the help of my Dad’s expertise, were able to envision a wide-open, 1/4 acre or so, smooth field, with the help of some professional excavation.

He finished excavating Tuesday afternoon, and we figured we’d just wait it out through the winter, then plant grass-seed come spring.

But Wednesday afternoon, a wise suggestion came our way that it would probably be better to seed it now, helping offset any erosion during the winter. But, it would need to be done in the next day or two, to allow 60 days before the first frost. I felt a little panic and indecision — Jeff was busy with work. We would all be gone that weekend, so it meant I sprint and do it that day, or wait until spring. I prayed, asking God for wisdom, waiting, and sensed God nudging, plant now. So, Heidi and I hopped in the car, ran to the feed store for fertilizer, a generous friend brought us seed, and at 4:30pm that day, though I only had an hour free before heading in for Bible study, I started seeding the field.

I soon grew overwhelmed at the task. Raking, fertilizing, and seeding a quarter-acre field by hand was no small task. I came in covered in mud and exhausted, but I figured that, since Jeff was home that night, he and the kids could finish up the job.

Therein was my fatal flaw.

Even though God had given me the green light to seed the field, I mentally made my expectation that Jeff would do the work as well. In fact, I expected he would do most of the work. When he arrived home and let me know he had other (legitimate) plans, I silently made my disappointment known.

The next day, the pity party slowly began to take shape. Silently I seethed. Since NO ONE had done ANY WORK the night before, I was left to DO IT ALL BY MYSELF during my only free hours that morning. The miserable 40-degree rains poured down as I pulled on rain gear, boots and gloves. The rain had turned the whole field to ankle-deep mud, and as I tried to navigate the wheelbarrow down the steep hill, I fell hard. My entire backside was covered in mud and frustrated tears filled my eyes, as if me falling was my family’s fault because they weren’t helping me. Then, I pulled the car up near the field (all the seed was in the back of the car to stay dry), and heard a thump. What now?? Someone had left a hand-rototiller lying on the gravel and the long, sharp metal spikes were now sticking out of my brand-new, $300 front tire.

NO!!!!!!!!

I was so mad. I called Jeff and frustrated words flew from my mouth. He calmly, lovingly, and graciously drove home and took the car to have the tire fixed, and the kids quietly came out, dressed in Carhartts and boots, ready to help me as well. We three set to work, and in several hours, seeded the field. The kids’ attitudes were awesome: cheerful and helpful.

They were a quiet, Christlike example to me.

Later, Jeff handed me the three spikes that Les Schwab had removed from my tire. They had fixed it for FREE, of course, and the three spikes reminded me of a certain three spikes, driven into the feet and hands of my Savior, so that I might be FREE.

Grace.

Amazing Grace.

Then, two hours after planting the grass seed, a tornado hit.

I’m not even kidding. In my entire life I have never seen such a thing. Jeff called and said to stay inside, and sure enough — it hit. House-shaking thunder, bright lightning flashing, and rain that looked like a fire-hose against our windows. We stood at the windows and watched as all our work washed off the field.

I curled up with a quilt and talked to my Father about all this.

“But I thought I was obeying you, God. You said the plant the seed.”

“Yes, Daughter, but just because you do the right thing doesn’t mean you can do it in the wrong way.”

Ah. Yes. There is a wrong way to do right.

I remembered back to a recent situation where I got in an argument with another believer, about a certain issue, on Facebook. I was floored to realize how the situation exactly paralleled the grass-seed debacle. I was so frustrated with this person because—in my limited perspective—they weren’t helping with the work of planting the seed, figuratively speaking. But my attitude was wrong. It wasn’t loving, wasn’t gracious, wasn’t kind. I had prayed about the issue, and felt clearly that this was “right” but His words echoed back in my heart …

“Yes, Daughter, but just because you do the right thing doesn’t mean you can do it in the wrong way.”

There is a wrong way to do right.

And so, once again, I stand humbled. It seems to happen a lot these days. But I’m grateful. God has been so good to me, to stick spikes in my tire to remind of His grace. It’s His kindness that leads to repentance. God disciplines His legitimate children because He loves them, and that includes me. Praise be to God! So, good friend, however He might be chastening you today, don’t despise it — it’s kindness. Don’t be like me and wallow in self-pity, throw yourself in the depths of His grace, and ask Him for the grace to go His way. To not only do right, but to do right the right way.

His way.

{Here’s to a great week … thanks for reading.}

PS Speaking of grace, after all the grass seed washed away, we watched an amazing documentary called Back to Eden, and God gave us a whole new direction for our plot of land. He is so good! He turns our mishaps into miracles. Redemption!

The fellowship of the broken-hearted

What is wrong with me??

I leaned against the kitchen cabinet, trying to keep the sobs silent. The kids played, oblivious. Jeff worked outside. I just couldn’t stop crying. I tried to text a friend, but a few words in I quit.

Too much. Don’t even know where to begin.

Another deflating disappointment, another super confusing complication that leaves me bewildered, wondering where God is leading all this tangle of seemingly dead-end roads.

I came upstairs, figured I’d put the clean sheets on the bed. Do the next thing. 

And there, beside my bed, was my answer. To what was wrong with me.

Except maybe it’s not wrong. 

There, beside my bed, I saw the display. My pregnancy book. My miscarriage book. The Pro-Life book. There’s a book on how to provide marriage counseling to those in need. To the left is a book on preparing your daughter for sexual and emotional purity. There’s a photo of my grandma, who passed away this past year. Underneath them all is a phone-book sized biblical parenting book that accompanies a video study. You can’t see the Intercessory Prayer book but it’s there too.

Each book represents an aspect of my life that tears at my heart, that weighs on me, that causes me to cry out in prayer, that, at times, keeps me awake at night. Each aspect represents a part of this past year, something we’ve walked through, or are walking through.

You’re probably familiar with these aspects too, and more.

None of them are cerebral studies. I’m not gathering data for a business presentation. 

Each represents, in some way, a broken heart. 

Friday night, Jeff and I watched Joan of Arc. I had seen it before, but I was struck afresh by this brave & broken-hearted girl who united France and died a martyr, because she cared.

To care is to cry. To break.

A month ago I spoke to a gathering of pastor’s wives. Before the conference, I was in the midst of yet another emotional episode, and I lay with my face to the floor and asked God how this was going to work, speaking to these women, when I was such a wreck inside. I heard, in my heart:

“The fellowship of the broken-hearted.”

Yes. Of course. Each one of these women, because they shepherd others, they lead, they love, and they lay down their lives … every single one of them lives with a broken heart. To care is to cry. To break.

My friend Christine always says, “Breakthrough comes through a broken heart.” 

Certainly much of my own sorrow probably comes from selfishness, but in this particular situation I can honestly say it came from caring. Jesus was a man acquainted with sorrows, and it only makes sense that as we come to know Him more, as we walk His way, we will care more. We will ache more. We will hurt more. There will be victories. There will be hallelujahs. There will be mountain tops and glorious days. But if Jesus wept over Jerusalem, won’t we weep over our nation? If Jesus wept when Lazarus died, knowing He would raise Him, won’t we weep over the sick and disease-ridden, the ones who die too soon, the victims of violence, both born and unborn?

Maybe tears aren’t a symptom something’s wrong.

Maybe they mean something’s right because we care about what’s wrong. 

I came back downstairs, did the next thing. Made dinner. While we washed dishes after, Shane & Shane came on Spotify and I heard Job’s words:

Though You slay me, yet I will praise You

Though You take from me, I will bless Your name

Though you ruin me, still I will worship

… Jeff gently pulled me into his arms–he’s part of the Fellowship too. Each word brought out the broken places and the tears flowed freely, safely, onto his shoulder. At the end of the song, I wiped my mascara-smeared eyes on his black t-shirt and SMILED. The true, genuine, hope-filled smile of knowing my Redeemer lives. And just then, another song came on, and as only Providence would have it, Housefires sang out a scripture equally true:

All Your promises are yes and amen!

Yes! Even in the broken-heartedness, His promises are ALWAYS yes and amen. This is not the end.

So, this post isn’t meant to glorify my fragile emotional state, I’m not proud of it. 😉 But I just thought it might encourage Christ-followers who ache over the state of our world, for marriages, for kids, for loved ones and lives lost, who walk through personal sorrow as well. You know it. You are part of it, the Fellowship of the Broken-hearted. And He’s near.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

-Psalm 34:18

{Keep fighting, praying, caring. Have a great week dear friends. Thanks for reading.}

 

Considering causes: Seasons, Cultural Regions, and your Unique Position

So, I confess: Sometimes, it seems like every day in America there is another injustice, another controversial issue people are debating about, I start to feel this tinge of panic, feeling like I should know more about this, should have something intelligent to say about this, should have the definitive gospel-view on this, and should have already been actively involved in this thing.

It can start to feel like you must be championing every cause at all times.  But while God is omnipresent, we are not. So what do we do? Sadly, we can fall prey to compassion-fatigue and just quit caring about anything at all. We can stick our head in the sand and hope it will all ago away. Or, we can fear falling behind and feel like we have to keep up with them all. But I suggest there is a better way:

Let’s consider three critical aspects of our causes and callings:

SEASONS

For the better part of 3 years we had previously-homeless and drug-addicted people living with us, trying to help them get on their feet. During that season, I was deeply impacted by the passage of Isaiah 58 that describes true fasting (the kind that pleases God):

“Is [fasting] not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house?”

During this season, I championed the value of helping the poor intimately, not just donating to programs, etc. but actually bringing them into your home. 

That was great. I’m so grateful for the experience, and we may very well do it again, but right now God has made it very clear that is not what we’re supposed to do with our home. We’re pursuing other ways to house those in need, but for this season, it’s not inside our home.

Similarly, for several years, we gave half of our income away. I was passionate about the importance of giving to others just as much as you use for yourself. Again, it was great. It profoundly impacted our finances and our view of stewardship. Two years ago, God made it clear that that season (of giving half) was over. Now it’s more in the 35% range and we give in other creative ways.

My point: There are seasons for specific calls and causes, and we are wise to depend on God’s Spirit to lead us, by His Word, through those seasons, without assuming they are forever or that everyone else should do exactly the same thing.

CULTURAL REGIONS

A few weeks ago, I spoke at a pastor’s wives retreat. All of us were from the NW, except one, who flew in from North Carolina. Wow, what an eye-opening experience. Right out of the chute she started peppering us with questions,

“So, do y’all have such a hard time getting people to break free from their traditions? Like, do people only care about how their daddy did and their grand-daddy did it, and are they super resistant to anything new?”

Blink blink.

We stared at her, in complete incomprehension.

I spent one afternoon hearing her whole story. I am not exaggerating when I say it was like hearing stories from another century, or another planet. It was so far removed from anything I have ever experienced, I was floored. I won’t go into all of it here, but let’s just say that the issues in the Bible-belt south are worlds apart from the issues in ultra-progressive, hipsterville Portland, Oregon. It was like two people from different planets comparing notes.

What this made me realize was how important it is that we critique and encourage and address the issues in our specific cultural context. In other words, while it’s all from the Bible, the sermons her husband needs to preach are totally different from the sermons my husband needs to preach. Same gospel, same Scriptures, way way way different culture, and therefore different applications.

That’s why, while there are things like online church, podcasts, FB, and other online communities, there’s no substitute for the local church community. In-person community is often the cure for the cultural disconnect, focusing on face-to-face conversations instead of only Facebook posts. 

YOUR UNIQUE POSITION

Right now I’m neck-deep in some rich biographies, from the book Seven Women. So far I have been floored by the beautiful stories of Joan of Arc, Susannah Wesley, Hannah More, Saint Maria of Paris, Corrie Ten Boom and Rosa Parks. What’s struck me is how vastly different each of their lives, callings, causes, and contributions.

There’s not much in common among them except courage.

Well, the other thing they have in common is that they responded heroically to the evils of their culture, in their day, presented to them. They functioned within their unique station in life.

  • Imagine if Joan of Arc spent her whole life lamenting the fact that she was single and didn’t get to marry and have kids? Imagine if she arrogantly insisted that all women—if they really loved God—enroll in the military and fight in battles. But instead, she listened to God’s unique call on her life and refused to let fear keep me from living out her destiny, even though it eventually cost her her life.
  • Imagine if Susannah Wesley spent her whole life lamenting that she was a SAHM, complained about her 19 children and bemoaned their lack of birth control. (Interestingly, John & Charles were 15th & 18th born! Imagine if she had quit earlier!) She had a basically absent husband who handled finances poorly and wasn’t exactly a hero. She homeschooled them all, and because Christian curriculum was hard to find, she wrote her own textbooks! She accepted the place God gave her, and chose to embrace it with enthusiasm and courage.
  • Imagine if Rosa Parks had spent her whole life lamenting that she was a black woman, having to sacrifice her education to care for her aging grandmother, then having to sacrifice her job to care for her aging mother. She could have complained endlessly about the unfairness of life, but she used her unique position as a strength and became one of the most influential people in America.

The point: Each of these women embraced their unique position in life and made a difference right where they were.

For example, while there are a lot of great causes, I have always been drawn to protecting the unborn. The unborn are most certainly the “voiceless” in our society, the most vulnerable, whose very lives hang in the balance, who are being protected less and less by those in power. Sadly, this has become touted as a “conservative” cause, while things like healthcare reform and education are touted as “liberal” causes. This is so sad, because every cause contributes in different ways! I sense Pro-life is to be the focus of my prayers, attention, and efforts, not because it’s a conservative issue, but because of:

  • The SEASON I am in (children at home, having experienced two heart-breaking miscarriages, and very mindful of the plight of young moms in need), because of
  • The CULTURAL REGION in which I live (this infographic demonstrates how Oregon (below also) stands on the abortion issue; we are the only state where there are no requirements, no questions asked, abortion at-will. This is definitely a critical issue in Oregon), and because of
  • My UNIQUE POSITION. When I was a kid, my mom worked at our local Crisis Pregnancy Center, and I have vivid memories of spending my afternoons there, curled up with my homeschool books, looking at pamphlets and posters of pregnant women, while my mom counseled moms and worked for this cause. From an early age I see God putting this issue in front of my face, and it’s surfaced many times. I recognize that there are a lot of things I cannot do, but this is something I can pray about, contribute to, and help in various ways. I do this not because I am a conservative, but because I am a Christian and God’s brought this specific cause to my attention.

However, my attention to my cause does not invalidate the importance of yours.

Your specific calling is valid, important … and yours

Recently Jeff and I hosted in our home a friend who works in another part of the country, ministering to a specific minority people group. Later, he asked Jeff and me if we would consider contributing financially to his ministry. We prayed about it, and sensed no, that although it was a great cause, it wasn’t the specific one God was calling us to at this time. We shared that with him, and I’m so grateful for his gracious response—Yes, he said, there are so many great causes. That demonstrates a maturity, that our cause isn’t the only thing worth fighting for. Also, it’s worth noting my face-to-face interaction with him helped me understand his cultural context, so much better than a FB post or even an email. I know it’s not always possible, but in person is so powerful. 

When we keep our eyes on God and not trying to please people, be a hero, or have a “take” on the latest issue at hand, when we take our cues from Him and His Word, we’re less likely to be tossed to and fro by every new injustice that fills our feed each day. Again, this is not to devalue any one of them, but simply to say that we cannot fight every battle, and we must wisely consider, our season, our cultural region, and the unique position God has given us. I’m no Joan of Arc, but I can honestly say I want to be a Susannah Wesley.

You may indeed be a Joan, and I will cheer you on in the battle. 

So grateful for the varied men and women of old, who carefully considered their place in this world, and courageously gave their all to make it a better place. Let’s honor them by doing the same.

Thanks for reading.

Oregonians: Now is a critical time to sign the petition to end taxpayer-funded abortions. You can do this so easily, online, right here: https://www.stopthefunding.org/sign-the-petition/ You can also order petition sheets there to gather signatures from friends, neighbors, church family, etc. There are many other ways to get involved, to support expecting mothers, adopt, fund, or serve in pregnancy care centers. How can you help? Thanks so much! 

PS Internationally, we focus our attention on water projects and aid to women and children through World Vision and discipleship work and aid through Next Generation Ministries. We have relational connections with both and love their work!

Let nothing detain you…

You just never know what the week ahead will hold. A week ago I wrote that He holds a map we cannot see. I didn’t know, then, just how much of that map was still very much unknown to us. The very next day we heard the tragic news that Jeff’s dear dad had suddenly and tragically died.

We were shocked, of course, and this past week was a whirlwind, as you can imagine. Please keep my dear husband in your prayers as he attends to details of all kinds. He is a rock, he’s my hero, and I know his strength comes from Christ.

In just over 14 months, we have lost my last grandparent, then Jeff’s last grandparent, then my dear uncle Tom, two unborn babies, my sweet friend’s son, and now, Jeff’s dad. I shared last week about the emotional side of things, but this week, what has struck me more than anything else is this simple truth:

Time is short. Let nothing detain you.

After church today I visited my parents, and I sat and read aloud the scriptures to my mom. She can’t turn the pages, and it’s hard for her to hold a Bible, so reading it aloud is our best bet. I asked where she wanted to read, and she suggested Luke. Not knowing what the chapter held, I felt impressed to turn to Luke 9. Interestingly enough, it was all about Jesus giving the disciples authority over demons and disease–and sending them out to preach the gospel and to heal.

Duly noted.

As we finished the chapter, I was once again struck by Jesus’ call for several folks to follow Him. He gets an array of responses that seem reasonable:

“Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”

“I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”

The version of Jesus that’s touted in our culture–the super cushy, soft, ever-tolerant Jesus–would have have nodded his head gently and said,

“Of course, dear one, take your time. I know it’s hard to say goodbye. I’ll always be here whenever you’re ready.”

But that is not what Jesus says. At all.

Jesus makes his message clear:

“No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Ouch. See, as I read this chapter, I read the start and I close my eyes and say, “Yes, God! I am your disciple. I follow you. Can you give me that power and authority over demons and disease, so that I can help people?”

And then I finish the chapter and have to ask:

Am I His disciple?

Do I follow Him? 

It’s worth mentioning that the “excuses” that those folks had given, were totally legit. They weren’t sinful. At all. And Jesus probably mentions these so that it’s crystal clear that it is’t just sinful things keep us from His call.

Good things. Distractions. Diversions. 

So. Many. Things. 

Saturday night, I was headed up to speak at an event in Vancouver. On my way, I had just enough time to make a stop, at a place I’m never near, especially without kids, and I really really (really) wanted to swing in and check out a certain item. (Ok, it was IKEA, I confess!) I took the exit, headed toward the blue and yellow, pulled into the parking lot … and sat there. My heart started doing that thing where it goes flip flop, and I felt no peace. I knew that technically I had time to run in real quick, check out my items, and be at the event on time.

But it was a gamble. I’d be rushed. I might not have quite as much time to pray beforehand. But I wanted to do it! Just then the worship song that was playing rang out these words, “I want to know you more, more than anything.” 

So I prayed, out loud, “Father, you know I really want to go in there, but I also want to know you more … more than anything. So lead me in whatever way will let me know you more.”

I turned back on the car, backed out of the space, and left.

Happy. Free. 

The event was wonderful. I drove home with a happy heart, knowing it was a teeny tiny picture of something so much bigger.

So many things threaten to detain us. Friends, I get it. There are SO MANY other things I feel like doing, more than giving, more than Scripture-study, more than prayer, more than caring and serving and loving and putting others first. There are so many other things that seem more attractive than the call to come and die, but Jesus makes the way clear and calls us on, 

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

Friends, let nothing detain you. We don’t know what this day, this week, this month, this year will hold.

Today is the day to follow Jesus fullyDon’t look back. 

{There, with you. Have a great week. Thanks for reading.}

 

He holds a map I cannot see.

“Why don’t You ANSWER????”

The question erupted, into the silence of my car, where I drove, alone, desperately trying to find the building where the memorial service was about to begin. My precious friend had just buried her son, and I wanted to be there for her, with her, and instead I was lost and pounding my steering wheel asking God to please just answer, just this once, PLEASE. 

See, in an attempt to save money, we’d switched cell phone companies, only to discover that my phone didn’t switch over, so I was left without data service. I could make phone calls (remember when that’s all phones did?), but no navigation, texting, etc.

You don’t realize how much you rely on data until you don’t have it. What was the norm for me five years ago is now intolerable. I had printed out directions before I left home, but I’d plugged in the wrong address and was now left, alone and clueless, swerving down side-streets and praying that God would please show me where to go. At one point I pulled up beside a woman walking her dog, only to discover that my passenger’s side window would not roll down. So instead of directions I got a blank stare from a woman wondering why on earth I was wildly gesticulating while driving but not rolling my window down.  Gah! FOR THE LOVE! 

I finally made it to the memorial, and thought I was ok. My amazing friend was steadfast, immovable, anchored in hope and preaching the gospel powerfully. It was an amazing ceremony trumpeting the goodness of God no matter what.

But while my friend was stable, steadfast, strong, even as she lost her own dear child, I was an absolute wreck. As soon as the closing song ended, I darted out to my car, head down, afraid to look up lest I saw someone I knew. Jeff walked quietly beside, as he’d driven separately and didn’t know what was up. As soon as we got in the car, I came unglued.

“What kind of God DOES THIS to His people??” There. I’d said it. We had prayed, fasted, sought the Lord for five years straight, and then …

“Why this cruelty? Why doesn’t He ANSWER????”

I sobbed, shaking, reeling, my fist pounding on the steering wheel, my head swimming with pain, tears streaming down my face, onto my shirt. Jeff listened. I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life. Neat-and-tidy sadness gone, instead: wild sorrow unleashed, feeling like my entire being would break in two.

I was driving straight from there to a speaking event, so I dried my tears, reapplied mascara, and headed south, wondering how on earth to speak about hope when I felt none. Of course, God provided, and we gazed at God’s Word together.

But I still left disoriented, and as I drove off into the darkness, I realized I had forgotten to print off driving directions to get home. It’d be a nearly 2-hour drive, all back roads, and although I’d gone that route many times before, there were a few turns I couldn’t quite remember. I thought it would all be familiar once I got there and I’d be able to figure it out.

I thought wrong.

One wrong turn turned into ten and before I knew it I was turned around, headed straight south instead of north. I prayed again over my phone, willing it to work, but it wouldn’t. So I called Jeff, and in utter exhaustion, asked him to please help, as I squinted to see road signs to make sense of where I was.

He was calm, of course, and gentle. He began to direct my path but I turned too soon and found myself headed into oncoming traffic, going the wrong way on a one-way. Another few turns and Jeff was able to tell me what to do, but I quickly protested.

“No, this isn’t the way I usually go. This isn’t familiar. I just want you to get me to the road I’m used to.”

He listened patiently, but he refused to let my panic persuade him. Calmly and clearly, he corrected me:

“No, this route isn’t going to be familiar to you, but it is to me. I will get you through.” 

I heard him, and heard Him.

So clearly, the Father’s heart came through Jeff’s voice.

“This route isn’t going to be familiar to you, but it is to Me. I will get you through.” 

I protest this path. Wildly.

I am lost. It is dark. I’ve taken wrong turns and wound up going the wrong direction. I cry out like a child, stamping my foot and pounding my fist on the dash:

God, I just want You to get me to the road I’m used to.

I don’t like this dark, unfamiliar road.

But the TRUTH is, it’s not unfamiliar to Him.

He holds a map I cannot see. 

His ways are not my ways. His view is higher than mine.

And I can kick and scream and demand my way. I can insist that I navigate, that I call the shots …

…that I be God.

Or I can humble myself and acknowledge the truth, the way things really are, which is that God is good all the time and He works all things for our good. He doesn’t will all the crazy evil sorrow that we face, but He works it, and He will navigate us Home, safely.

We can trust Him.

In case you’re there too, in some way or another, and you are driving blindly in the dark, darting to and fro, wondering which way to go, tears blurring your vision because you cannot see straight. I pray you have the presence of mind to LISTEN to His voice when he says,

“This route isn’t going to be familiar to you, but it is to Me. I will get you through.” 

Truth for us this week. Thanks for reading. 

From What Would Have Been

Sometimes you don’t even have to see the evening news to have a broken heart. Sometimes your inner circle surrounds you with plenty.

The text came late last week that a friend’s hopes had been disappointed. Again. I knew the feeling, the quiet ache you can’t tell most people about. No doubt she’ll be erasing from her mind what she thought would have been happening now, next month, next year.

I saw another dear friend’s post recently. Her boy was born at the same time as Heidi, but her dear son has Down’s Syndrome, is non-verbal, so she is still dealing with diapers, and the myriad challenges that come with that, more than I can imagine. She is amazing and a true example of embracing challenges with a joyful spirit, I sometimes wonder if she occasionally sees Heidi and aches with what would have been, what her son would be like if …

I was a little caught off guard yesterday, thinking my tiny dose of grief was well over now. There were actually 5 of us friends who all got pregnant at the same time, due within 2 weeks of each other (!). Two of us lost our babies. Three are going strong (hallelujah!). It’d been awhile since I’d seen my two dear friends, and yesterday as we embraced, my eyes went instinctively to their beautiful growing bellies and my breath caught, just for a moment. I’d lost track of time, so I asked how far along now? “Fifteen weeks…” I blinked hard, smiling truly so happy for them, but unable to stop my mind from going, “I would have been fifteen weeks…” 

Then yesterday afternoon. I want to honor her privacy, but the most horrendously heart-breaking thing a mom could ever go through, happened to my dear precious friend. Five long years of agonizing prayer and intercession, ending in a sorrow that I cannot even comprehend. Her situation is so far above and beyond anything I have experienced or can imagine. Only the power of God can (and will!) carry her through the days and years ahead. I can only imagine as the years go by she will occasionally ache with seeing what would have been, if only…

It’s not just these scenarios. So many others, maybe yours too.

It is only natural for our minds to turn wistfully to What would have been…. But as women of God, we get to go somewhere else with our thoughts, and fix our gaze on the Truth:

What WILL be. 

The truth is, Every lost unborn baby will be held, in heaven.

The truth is, Every handicapped child will walk and talk and run free and be fully healed someday in the presence of God.

The truth is, Every precious life cut tragically short now continues in the presence of God and we will be reunited with them, for all eternity, for all who love and know Jesus Christ. 

What would have been is a fatally flawed perspective because nothing is guaranteed. It’s idealistic wishful thinking because it only compares the present with a made-up reality in our minds.

But What WILL be is guaranteed. Fixed. Nothing can change it, harm it, steal it, destroy it. It is

…an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be reveled in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. —1 Peter 1:4-9

This doesn’t erase the pain of the present. It’s not pretending this world doesn’t knock the wind out of you some days. Nobody understood sorrow more than Jesus, and He sugarcoats exactly nothing:

“In this world you will have sorrow, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” —John 16:33

I don’t know your situation, and I certainly do not meant to minimize pain. But Jesus offers hope to every situation, and helps us trade what would have been for the truth of what WILL be

Thank you for reading. 

All who are thirsty
All who are weak
Come to the fountain
Dip your heart in the stream of life
Let the pain and the sorrow
Be washed away
In the waves of His mercy
As deep cries out to deep
Come Lord Jesus come

The spiritual one-two punch

And there it was, the under-utilized secret weapon we often overlook. 

Sometimes, I think, we forget that or spiritual journey is an all-out war. There is a battle raging, not just on Sunday mornings when we’re trying to get the kids in the car (the struggle is real!), but all the time. The war is never called-off, there’s no cease-fire, and battles don’t pause when we’re on vacation. Certainly, there are times of respite and times where the intensity increases, but for the most part, we’re always fighting.

But we forget. We intercede in emergencies, we plead and pray when our plans fall through and cry out when crisis hits, but most of the time we just bob along down the river, floating and forgetting that arrows are whizzing past our ears and territory is being won (or lost) often without us even knowing.

I have been reminded, afresh, of this battle. Surprised in fact. In a very real way, this past year, I realized that Jesus was not just using dramatic metaphoric language when he said the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy.

Jesus was being completely literal. 

I realized this year that Satan wants to steal the promises of God, specifically by killing our future children, and destroying our family. And it’s not that we’re special — the enemy wants to steal, kill, and destroy you too.

I’m sorry to start the week off with such bad news.

But. There is good news!

I’ve always known that faith is key to seeing the supernatural work of God. For the past four years I have camped out on the importance of faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God, see God, know God. Jesus often says, let it be according to your faith. To the extent that we believe, that’s the extent we will see God move. Our faith is more precious than gold. It’s all about faith.

At the beginning of the year, when I sensed God saying this was the Year of Promise, I wrote the following verse in the front of my prayer journal:

“And blessed is she who BELIEVED that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Luke 1:45

Below it a ways I wrote:

“Oh woman! Great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” Matt. 15:28

Faith is key.

But it’s only half the story. Faith is half of the spiritual one-two punch that deals a death blow to the devil. Faith is important, but it wasn’t until last week, re-reading about Abraham, that I noticed the other half, the part that’s often over-looked and hardly ever touted for its importance.

Patience.

Hebrews 6:15 tells us,

“Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.”

The promise of God didn’t just fall into Abraham’s lap. He obtained it. That tells me there was a struggle, and I’m quite sure the enemy did NOT want Isaac to happen, he did not want the holy seed to continue and eventually bring forth the Messiah. 

But Abraham believed. And not only did he have faith, he employed the spiritual one-two punch, the combo of faith and patience.

Earlier in Hebrews we read the same thing:

“And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness and to have the full assurance of hope, until the end, so that you may be not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through FAITH & PATIENCE inherit the promises.” Heb. 6:11-12

See it? How did all the great men and women of old, the heroes in the Hall of Faith, how did they obtain the promise, how did they gain victory in the spiritual realm and get to see God’s good word come to fruition their lives.

The spiritual one-two punch: faith & patience. 

See, sometimes we see faith as a quantity–like a certain-sized stick of dynamite, and the bigger it is, the bigger the big boom will be, meaning the result will be sudden and spectacular.

But what is faith is a quantity, not like a stick of dynamite but like a tank of gas? What if the size of our faith isn’t meant to make a big boom, but to take us the distance

The question, then, isn’t How big will your faith-bomb be? But rather, How far will your faith take you?

How long will it last? Will it take you the 25 years that Abraham’s took him, from the time God gave the promise to when it was fulfilled? Will it take you all the way? 

I’m now less concerned with how much time has passed. I’m not stressed out about how long it takes, or how many winds or turns or bumps are in the road. I’m trusting God that He will supply the faith to go the whole way.

Let’s calmly and quiet deal a death-blow to the enemy by simply employing our spiritual one-two punch: faith & patience. 

Amen? Thanks for reading. 

Beating blind men

I recently saw a FB post by an outspoken Christian leader. It was politically charged, oozing contempt for those of a different political party than his own. It was meant to be funny, but it revealed a lot about his attitude toward those different from him.

I recognized myself in it. My own tendency toward “righteous anger” against those whose shortcomings I find most personally distasteful. Sure, there are the Ten Commandments, but what really rubs me wrong is when others break the Kari Commandments.

Right?!

Our response to injustice speaks volumes. It is so easy to despise certain sinners while swaggering in our own savedness. 

My friend Jess describes it like this: It’s as if we think it’s “Jesus and me” over here on one side of the line, and our job is to critique the rest of humanity. Ha!

The truth is, only Jesus is on the one side. The side marked PERFECT

The rest of us — all of us — are plopped down in the group marked LOST

The group marked BLIND.

AND, marked MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD. 

Yes? Truth, yes?

Thankfully, despite us, some of us have been saved by His grace. Rescued from the burning house where we were sleeping, completely unaware of the danger. 

But sometimes we forget. We think that just because we’ve been dragged out of the burning house, that somehow we deserve the medal of honor. We despise those still lying unconscious in other burning homes, standing with our hands on our hips, full of “righteous anger.”

There is only One who deserves the medal, the One who dragged us out of the house. And our job now is to earnestly pray that this Great Savior would reveal Himself to others.

To the Left and the Right.

To Democrats.

To Republicans.

To our Presidential Cabinet.

To gays and trans and straights who are sleeping with someone else’s wife.

To abortion providers.

To those addicted to meth and those addicted to shopping.

To black and white, rich and poor.

To every tribe and tongue and nation, to every people group on every square inch of this globe.

And even to the smug self-righteous dude on FB who totally rubs me the wrong way.

Right?!

There are atrocities being committed, to be sure. We cannot cover up indifference by calling it love. We should be grieved, deeply grieved.

But I believe we should fast more than we Facebook. We should weep more than we whip out one-liners. We should PRAY more than we post and I was convicted of that myself. I actually wrote this several days ago but sensed God wanted me to PRAY more over these issues before I SAY more about these issues. 

America, WE MUST PRAY. WE MUST LOVE. WE MUST REPENT. 

At church on Sunday Jeff shared this from John Newton, the slave-holder turned hymn-writer, the one who penned Amazing Grace:

A company of travelers fall into a pit: one of them gets a passenger to draw him out. Now he should not be angry with the rest for falling in; nor because they are not out yet, as he is. He did not pull himself out; instead, therefore, of reproaching them, he should show them pity …

A man, truly illuminated, will no more despise others, than Bartimaeus, after his own eyes were opened, would take a stick, and beat every blind man he met.

Why are we beating the blind?

Why are we not broken, pleading with the God of heaven for mercy, imploring Him to open eyes and save lost souls and set free those confused by the diabolical agenda of the devil.

I know many of you are. But these words are for me first and foremost. Writing to my own soul here, and letting you listen in, just in case this resonates just a tad with you as well. Thanks for listening. Let’s pray and act in meaningful ways that foster reconciliation, not further division. 

Thanks for reading. 

The one right way to do church…

I still remember the pastor’s patient smile when Jeff and I, over-eager 20-somethings, approached him with our “concern.” 

We explained. We cited sources. We felt so strongly.

He smiled. He’d been around the block a few times, and he simply responded,

“There are a lot of ways to do church.”

He wasn’t being dismissive or condescending, I think he just recognized our youthful zeal and earnest desire to do things right. And I think he also had spent enough time in prayer to know that wasn’t the path God was leading him on. He gave us freedom to disagree, without deviating from his course.

Now, ten years later, I recognize his wisdom, and have taken that route a time or two myself. I have smiled, listened, and said,

There are a lot of ways to do church.

I wrote last fall what 100 churches have shown me, reflecting on all the variations I’ve seen and enjoyed within local churches. But this struck me afresh in a whole new way while reading Sacred Privilege, a book for pastor’s wives written by Rick Warren’s wife, Kay.

First off, the book is great. If you are a pastor’s wife, it will be a healing balm to your heart and give you the hope and strength to see your role with newfound joy. I so appreciate her honesty, humility, transparency, and straightforward wisdom. She’s not trying to win friends or make a name for herself, she’s pouring out her heart on pages for the sake of other women. Thank you, Kay.

But on another level, it was a powerful reminder: there are a lot of ways to do church. It is so easy to look on from the outside and criticize. It’s so easy to take God’s clear leading of us, and immediately assume that’s God’s will for everyone.

I think it might be impossible to overestimate how prone we are to this!

For example, I’m not a fan of spending millions of dollars on church buildings. In my perspective, that money could be better spent. However, I know God-fearing, Spirit-led leaders have clearly heard from God to purchase land for various causes. Who am I to decide that God does or doesn’t want churches to own land? Is there a clear scriptural mandate one way or the other?

I personally love the house-church model. I appeals to me as simple, low-cost, and familial. But when we planted Renew, God led us to ask Him for the Revival Building, an old run-down building in our city. We could never have afforded it, or event wanted to, but over the course of 6 months, as we prayed circles around it, a series of amazing circumstances gave us access to it every Sunday for a remarkably low price. We’re still there, and so grateful.

Jesus preached in synagogues, in open-air, and in homes. How beautiful is it that the Body of Christ can gather in homes, schools, movie theaters, dedicated church buildings, granges, strip malls, and amphitheaters? What a lovely expression of the variety of God’s creation when we can gather in various forms, at various times, an in various ways. I think as long as He’s truly the center–and not our own egos–He’s probably pleased.

The same could be true of church methods and models. Could it be that the best method for any particular church is the one that best suits its members and its calling? That is, the one that reflects the unique spiritual gifts of its leaders and members, the one that fulfills that church’s unique calling within its unique community? Of course we are all called to make disciples, but the variety with which we fulfill that calling is vast, perhaps just as vast as the individual disciples who fulfill it!

Friends, let’s be very careful before we criticize another Christian’s earnest attempts to make disciples, further the Kingdom, and establish Jesus’ Church on the earth. The longer I minister the more I see the manifold wisdom of God displayed through the manifold variety within the local church.

There are a few church things Scripture’s clear about: qualifications for elders and deacons, how to handle disciplinary issues, and the priority of the Word and prayer. It’s even quite clear on sexuality, male-female relationships, the priority of family, financial provision for clergy, praying for the sick, and how to exercise spiritual gifts within the context of congregational worship.

But we don’t get specific instructions regarding children’s classes, membership, buildings, preaching-methods, or worship style. And yet we continue to argue ad nauseam about these things. 

What I appreciated about Kay’s book was that she wasn’t trying to sell us on her model, her methods, or her way of ministry. She was selling us on Christ’s faithfulness to carry us through the highs and lows that are the life of a pastor’s wife. She’s essentially saying,

There’s one right way to do church:

Humbly.

Amen.

Thanks for reading. 

Promise greeted from afar

I’m not sure why I never saw it: They didn’t see it. 

The promise, that is.

And yet their lives are forever recorded in the Hall of Faith, Hebrews 11. They are listed as the heroes, of whom the world is not worthy, they were meant to inspire us to live likewise. They are examples, “success stories”, so to speak. We are called to emulate their lives.

Do we?

Humanly speaking, however, their lives aren’t that spectacular. Take Abraham and Sarah, the parents of our faith — they … had a baby. That’s what they did. The promise was that Abraham, through Sarah, would be the father of nations, that his descendants would outnumber the stars in thy, the sand on the seashore. Wow, that’s impressive-sounding.

But all he and Sarah did, during life, was have a baby. 

Exactly one. 

And they didn’t even do an awesome job of that. Right? There were certainly some hiccups along the way. But still they are recorded as heroes of the faith, as an example of fulfilled promise. But what’s interesting is this: Scriptures says,

They greeted the promise from afar.

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar…

I wonder: Are we willing to greet God’s promises from afar?

That is, Are we willing to attempt something far too great to be finished within our lifetime? 

Several years ago, I read a powerful book called Birthing the Miraculous. The author encourages you to spend time in prayer asking God for His specific promise, or dream, for your life. I spent time doing this, and very clearly heard:

Hundreds of churches, thousands of addicts, millions of orphans.

Uh. Whoa. That seemed big. I wrote it down, and began praying over it. I’ve returned to it often in prayer. It certainly aligned with our hearts, from local outward. My passion is to see healthy, gospel-centered churches planted. Not necessarily to see churches get big but to see them reproduce.

My desire is also to see addicts find freedom. Here in America, we don’t necessarily have a poverty of resources — we have clean water, food, shelter. We have impoverished souls that have been ensnared by the evil one and held captive substances and unhealthy behaviors. I long to see souls set free. Last week the kids and I joined some friends in cooking lunch for and serving 60 homeless folks. I looked in their eyes and so deeply desired to know their stories. My hope is to at least be able to help a few, just a little.

And I long to see orphans cared for. Overseas specifically, I long to see children living in absolute poverty to be welcomed, parented, provided for, protected. Through our own sponsorship, fundraisers, by giving through World Vision and Next Generation Ministries, we’re taking tiny steps.

But hundreds, thousands, millions? As I’ve contemplated that dream, I’ve thought: I don’t really see how that’s possible.

Of course not. Neither is bearing so many kids they outnumber the stars in the sky. 

I recently read a book about the profound impact we have on society just by raising godly children. The example was given of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, who raised 12 godly children in the 1700s. By the year 1900–their descendants included:

  • 13 college presidents
  • 65 professors
  • 100 lawyers and a dean of an outstanding law school
  • 30 judges
  • 60 doctors and a dean of a medical school
  • 80 holders of public office including 3 US Senators
  • 3 mayors of large cities
  • 3 state governors
  • A Vice President of the US
  • a Controller of the US Treasury

I daresay if God had spoken that to little miss Sarah Edwards one morning while she was scrubbing the floor, she would have been a little wide-eyed as well. Of course she wasn’t going to bear 356 remarkable children who would hold significant positions of influence in this world, but they would be the result of her godly parenting, her faithful devotion, her sacred mundane. 🙂 

She wasn’t trying to be spectacular, she was simply being faithful.

She was willing to live for something far too great to be finished within her lifetime.

Am I?

Oh friends, how I need this! How I need this hope, that the hard choices I make today will reap spiritual benefits, not just for me, but for generations to come. Just this morning I read Galatians 6:8,

… the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

Let’s sow to the Spirit. That’s plant seeds that we may never see fully come to fruition, but that will change our world, and change eternity as a result.

A friend from afar, Esther, has HIV. She’s single, and cares for 21 children in her mud-home in Uganda. Her selfless life undoes me. Her motto:

Impart before I depart. 

Let’s impart love, truth, Christ into our littles, our loved ones, our neighbors, let’s sow to the Spirit even if we never get to see the full fruition. Let’s live for something far too great to be finished in our lifetime. Let’s greet the promise from afar.

Thanks for reading.