Swept Down

STORM at sea

“When neither the sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.” Acts 27:20

I have experienced at least one season (actually several seasons) in my life where one decision, one unheeded warning, changed the course of history in a monumental way. And ushered in an unbelievable storm. When the storm passed (and it always does), I never forgot the wake of destruction and the marks of what the storm did.

The next warning given, I hope to heed. Be different. Be wise. Praying I will learn from the past.

Acts 27:21 says, “After the men had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: ‘Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss.’ ” The damage and loss can be shocking. You wonder why you didn’t listen to sound and wise advice when it was offered. I know what this is like…

But, I also know what it is like to trust God in the storm and to be sure that He uses even the worst scenarios to further His purposes in my life and the lives of others caught in the storm. Hence, the reason I love Psalm 37. I’ve seen God bring beauty from ashes. Not overnight. But, closer to a lifetime. I’ve seen Him weave the story so that I begin to trust Him more, have more wisdom in my storehouse, have better preparation for the next godly advice I receive.

When you see the storm coming, you have decisions to make. When you later realize that it could have been prevented by one different decision, then you know the power of decisions. You think you have affirmation from God, but all you have is some kind of consensus from those around you. You think you did your research, but it turns out you missed a few important things. One different phone call. One different conversation. One different employment decision. One different family decision. One different leadership decision. Could have averted disaster.

Acts 27:25-26 says, “So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.”

Running aground can be merciful. It is God’s way of setting you on a new and better course. He doesn’t let you dwell in the “what ifs” but He challenges you with the “what nows.” The “what now” is God’s way of rescuing you and reminding you that He is in charge of the northeasters in your life. He is in charge of the course of history and our part in it. He is not mocked by our bad decisions. He uses every phone call, every conversation, every meeting, every failure, every disaster to move us toward deeper trust in Him and His eternal purposes. Keep up your courage.

God’s eternal purposes trump our temporary purposes, bad or good, disaster or not. And remind us that, when you are God’s child, no ignoring of wise advice, no inviting of unnecessary disaster, can thwart God’s plans. If anything, He uses the disasters to mature us in Him and put godly character in us where it was missing before. Keep up your courage.

Be careful to discern God’s voice. Acts 27:11-15 says, “But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest. When a gentle south wind began to blow, they thought they had obtained what they wanted; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the “northeaster,” swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along.”

Keep up your courage. Prayerfully question the advice of the pilot and the owner of the ship. Ask God for discernment. Decisions are powerful. I thank God for the “Pauls” in my life. I’m a better listener now.

 

 

 

Humility Clothing

Easter lily

Stinging arrows of truth got my attention at a workshop on humility that I recently attended at a conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. I am stuck on these two things. Self-preservation and accomplishment. These comprise my inner voice, my motivations for doing anything really. My old self. My false self. My ego-centered self.

Romans 13:14 says, “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” This is where Easter leads me. I want to put on the new self. Really I do. I want to clothe myself in Christ. But, so much gets in the way. So. much. I get in my own way.

Romans 14 whispers to me a description of true humility. Things like acceptance without quarreling over disputable matters. Not treating people with contempt or judgment. Loving others sincerely. Trusting the Lord in all the affairs of believers, strong or weak ones. Belonging to the Lord, therefore belonging to the community of faith, the whole community – not just one denomination. Realizing that we can never say “we have loved enough.”

Because Jesus lovingly emptied Himself on the cross to pay the penalty for my sin, how then can I not “reject ALL prejudices and personality preferences” to love – sincerely love others? It doesn’t make sense. I can’t seem to reject my prejudices. And I can’t seem to get past my wiring and my masks. Even my strengths. My weaknesses. And my interference in God’s timing and purposes. Why can’t I simply depend on God and not the opportunities that come along that become my replacements for dependence on Him?

This Easter, the cross reminds me that I must clothe myself in Christ’s humility by the grace of the Holy Spirit. I don’t want to stay stuck in self-preservation and accomplishment. I’ve got to get rid of my list of people who don’t measure up. I’ve got to stop thinking that I know what everybody ought to be doing. I need to listen up and not be the half-listener I am at all the wrong times. I need to give up all claims to territory. God is the owner.

The truth is – God went to great lengths to help me put on the new redeemed self. He can also be trusted to expose my old self and put it to death. Goodbye to self-preservation and accomplishment. Hello to Easter. Psalm 37:39-40 says, “The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; He is their stronghold in time of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; He delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in Him.” He delivers us from ourselves…

My Easter prayer. I want the self that resembles Christ. I do. That self is transformed by God’s Spirit. That self experiences the fullness of Jesus. That self is motivated to grow up in Him and encounter Him through His Word. Become like Him. That self gives up the right to be right. That self puts rights aside. That self loves sincerely.

Romans 12:9-10 says, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.”

I want the self that resembles Christ.

 

 

 

 

Is Anything Too Hard?

Ap 23

Photo Credit – Kim Clayton Lance

Is anything too hard for the Lord? This is not a trick question. My wandering heart often says “yes.”

Yet, Easter is the emphatic “NO.” Remembering this “NO” is difficult when the distractions of the world shut out the truth of the gospel. When life is unfair. When life doesn’t work according to schedule. When hurts get deeper and deeper. When what I want is all that is important. When cancer strikes. When jobs are lost. When friends become enemies. When infertility strikes. When family dynamics are dysfunctional. When aging becomes a gauntlet instead of a gentle passage of seasons.

Genesis 18:13-14 says, “Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.” ” And, Sarah did.

Isaiah 9:6 says, “For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” And, this happened.

There is a song recorded by Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood called “Somethin’ Bad.” I think of the lyrics sometimes and see how closely they describe life’s non-song, true experiences. The ultimate “somethin’ bad” really did happen! Jesus emptied Himself and died on the cross to save me from my sin and rebellion. He was horribly crucified so that I could become spiritually healed and right with God. He gave His life so that I could live eternally with Him.

Could there have been another path? The answer is still… NO. When my faith is waning, I am Sarah. Full of doubt. Out of patience. Tired of hoping. Wondering if God can be trusted after all. Trying to figure out if I can make things happen on my own. Trying to be a fixer. Saying to myself, some things might be too hard for the Lord.

Then God’s Spirit nudges me back onto the path of grace. He strengthens my faith. He reminds me that I have let the trappings of Easter crowd out the truth. He rids me of doubt. He shows me that true Easter somehow got buried in the rubble of Easter egg hunts, Sunday dresses, spring colors, bunny rabbits, and sugar treats. He restores hope. He turns my impatience around. He whispers, “Sarah, trust me.”

Nothing is too hard for Him. He conquered death. He was resurrected. He broke the power of sin. He is completely trustworthy. He loves everlastingly. Psalm 37:1 says “do not fret…” and Psalm 37:7 says, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him…” And, Sarah did have a son.

And, we have The Son.

The Caution Lights

CAUTION LIGHT

Flashing. Flashing. Flashing. Time to either dangerously push through or stop. I recently had to give up one of my favorite fun commitments to make room for another meaningful commitment. The caution light kept flashing, “Something’s gotta go.”

I know my relationship to tasks has always been troubled. Many times, I have prided myself on being able to “squeeze the blood out of time.” Not so anymore… I am at the age where it is time to savor things and enjoy what was missed in my prime time. Become Mary. Leave Martha behind. Sit at the feet of Jesus. Be and not do. “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him…” (Psalm 37: 7a)

This is my rationale. I will always be a workaholic in my spirit. So, I’m still making a case for Martha. The “just do it” mentality. I still trade depth of sleep for length of sleep (and reason I only need 6 hours) and likewise trade depth of soul Sabbath for length of soul Sabbath, ignoring what I really need. Depth.

What I really need. The rest that comes from God sovereignly engineering my “goings.” The rest that comes from understanding that my identity is not found in my performance. The rest that comes from hearing Jesus say, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) The rest that comes from Jesus’s finished work on the cross, where God imputed my sin to Him and His righteousness to me.

I found a deeply humbling message about rest. I’ve listened intently. Tim Keller delivered a sermon (October 22, 2015) called “Work and Rest” based upon Luke 6:1-11. Because of Jesus, I can be sure that I have been brought out of slavery and into a profound rest. It is a “day off” like none other. So, why would I keep insisting upon an existence that enslaves – by being too busy, over-committed, and unable to say “no?” Because I lapse into thinking that work defines me. I forget that Jesus defines me.

There’s a caution light here. Be cautious of trying to serve Christ without knowing Him. Oswald Chambers (My Utmost for His Highest, October 3, devotional) challenges the reader to make sure that there is nothing standing between Jesus and us. Nothing. No appointments. No service. No ministry.

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God…” Separate yourself from the lights and darknesses of the world. Go where there can be no interference. Where you can actually detect the caution lights flashing. Where the opinions of others can’t reach you. Where your own opinions can’t reach you. And know God.

 

 

Feet on the Ground

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Flying used to be fun. Taking off and landing provided a real rush. But now, travel by air has lost its appeal. Recycled air, sardine-like seating, the need for knee pads, and the peak of flu season on top. Still a means to a beautiful sunset end!

I recently traveled by airplane to Cape Coral, Florida. That gorgeous sunset was worth the momentary fretting with airline frustrations. Always glad to have my feet on the ground again – the truest of traveling mercies! The ground! Yes.

Well also, I just learned that my Enneagram space is #5, and as a member of the “head triad,” fear is always nipping at my heels. (If you are not familiar with the Enneagram, you should google it.) Nevertheless, I am well accustomed to excessive fight-or-flight adrenaline IV drips. Not good, of course. Adrenaline wasn’t intended for long term use…

I’m on the ground. Life is good. Sunny Florida in January is an amazing mercy! So, let the R&R begin right?

But how do we leave our burdens truly behind? We actually don’t. We bring them with us, unless we have turned them over fully to Christ our Savior. “Fully” being the operative word. Can’t say that I’ve turned over the flying anxieties. But, will work on it.

In all my lovely interconnections and outings with friends, I see those burdens surface time and again. Sometimes I identify with the apostle Paul when, in Romans 9, he expresses sadness for his own people (Jews) in their disconnection from true faith. The “so close, yet so far” syndrome. A form of faith, but denying its substance. Emptiness.

Psalm 37:30-31 says, “The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak what is just. The law of their God is in their hearts; their feet do not slip.”

I don’t want the feet of my heart to slip, but rather to be grounded in believing faith in Christ. So much so that my words indicate my affection for my Savior.

I see the sadness. Our words tattle on us. Our words tell what is really inside our hearts. Even the rationalization that makes us believe that we believe in Christ, then our words reveal the opposite. It’s not good. We are haters. We are criticizers. We use profanity. We pick out the faults of others. We don’t put others above ourselves. We offend others. They offend us. We are not satisfied with anything really. We don’t get along very well. Have you ever said life would be great if we didn’t have to put up with people?

The gorgeous Cape Coral sunset is a reminder that, while the sun goes down, it will be followed by a sunrise. A new day. A new start. A chance for the heart to be washed and words to flow out accordingly, regenerated by genuine faith in Jesus, not a facade.

Matthew 13:22 says, in the words of Jesus, “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.”

That sunset reminds me of God’s mercy and care. Solid grounding. Feet firmly planted.

Christmas Would Be Perfect If…

CHRISTMAS - Blog 2

My Christmas would be Perfect if snow would coat just the trees and rooftops, but not the streets and sidewalks. (I’d like to be able to drive my car.) My Christmas would be Perfect if everyone in my family was healthy. No coughs, no infections, no queasiness, no aches. My Christmas would be Perfect if Christmas goodies didn’t have any calories or consequences for the new year. My Christmas would be Perfect if my whole family could attend a Christmas Eve candlelight service or a world class Christian cantata, together I might add. My Christmas would be Perfect if gift-giving wasn’t laced with the pressures of time and space and expectations and finances. My Christmas would be Perfect if I wasn’t a slave to my own self-centered sense of perfection. My. My. My. Oh my! My Christmas would really be Perfect if I didn’t start every thought or sentence with “My.”

This is not just about getting a mindset-adjustment, but it’s about experiencing a true sense of joy because of what Christmas really is.

There is a great Christmas song by Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant called “Almost There.” The lyrics inspire believers to take Mary’s perspective: “All hope is in the Son…Pray for strength to do your part, You’re almost there…You’re almost where the waiting ends… The answered prayer, Emmanuel…where the journey ends, where death will die and life begins.”

Romans 8:1-4 says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Without being able to credit the author, I heard the quote this week that “Christians live twice and die once, and unbelievers die twice and live once.” Is this not an amazing truth?

Psalm 37:18 says, “The blameless spend their days under the Lord’s care, and their inheritance will endure forever.” Believers are the “un-condemned.” Believers are eternally secure in God’s love. Believers know why Christmas is so important – an “all year long” reality.

When I think of Emmanuel, I don’t need a Winter Wonderland. While I personally know the One who is the Healer, sickness reminds me that there is hope for the future. When I think of cookies and cakes, I remember the sweetness of the Creator who provided food for our nourishment. When I think of Heaven, I remember the beauty of music and worship without hearing a literal choir. When I think of gifts – I remember that it truly is the loving thoughts that count and have value in eternity.

Emmanuel, “God with us,” is the enduring miracle of Christmas! Real life is the gift we have only in Jesus – “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade (I Peter 1:4).” God’s Spirit gives us assurance that Christmas is not just a dream, but an unimaginable reality. Like Mary, we’re almost there. We’re almost where the waiting ends. Believe.

Every Christmas, I want to put my selfish expectations of perfection into the grip of God’s Word to be overcome by the Spirit of Truth. A Christmas miracle. Like Mary, I am almost there. The prayer has been answered. Emmanuel.

 

Apple of God’s Eye

Farm Apple 7-2017

Photo credit: Charlotte Martin Stone

A day at the Virginia farm makes me think about a lot of things… One thing is the beauty of God’s creation. Acres. Sunsets. Corn fields. A big old elm tree that used to have a swing hanging from it. Barns. Cows. The screened porch. The pond. Shots at clay pigeons. Turkeys. Tractors. Memories of sprinklers. Kids splashing. One lone cat. The porch swing. Humming birds. Crepe myrtles. Family gatherings at LaGrange.

So much history has unfolded at this one family farm. Surely God’s grace and goodness is seen here. We have been part of His story for generations. Faith was passed along. And the family – the inheritance that is specific to my mom’s side of the family tree. Cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters. Picnics. Stories. “Batten-isms.” Country ham. Country roads. Just country. Away from all the hubbub. God made us a family and He gave us a farm to enjoy.

I’m not sure why the farm calls to me in this season of my life, even when I ignored its whispers in my youth. But, the farm reminds me to get quiet and see things. Psalm 19:1-2 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.”

The farm reminds me. Psalm 37:18 “The blameless spend their days under the Lord’s care, and their inheritance will endure forever. In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty. ”

The farm gives me this song of gratitude. Psalm 65:9-13, “You (God) care for the land and water it; You enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so You have ordained it. You drench its furrows and level its ridges; You soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with Your bounty, and Your carts overflow with abundance. The grasslands of the desert overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness. The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.”

The apple tree on the farm echoes a discovery of my faith journey. Psalm 17:8 “Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me in the shadow of Your wings.” By His grace, I became part of God’s story there. I became the apple of His eye. Now I am old enough to know it.