Thursday, September 24, 2015

Just a Man

We're so saturated with media outlets that our news is available to us 24 hours a day. Last week I grew weary of the second GOP debate and every analyst trying to sum it up a different way, yet somehow saying the same thing. 

This week the headlines encompass the Pope's visit to America. I've struggled to understand the hype surrounding it, wondering if it is also part of our day-in, day-out media frenzie. What seems evident from the coverage and crowds is the sacredness surrounding this man because of the position he holds and the title he bears.

I mean no disrespect. I am not Catholic so it does not resonate with me. In the Baptist world, I liken him to Billy Graham who is a true giant of the Christian faith.  But he's not holy. He's not perfect. He's not more important in the eyes of God than anyone else. He's a man. Just like the Pope. 

Thousands have been gathering and waiting for hours just to "catch a glimpse" of the Pope, so they reported. Thousands more waited and observed the Catholic mass held in DC. They worshipped, no doubt. I am sure it was deeply spiritual for so many who attended or watched. Thousands more lined the streets of New York waiting for him to pass by. It got me thinking.

When Christ was on this earth, he spoke to crowds just like yesterday's mass. The streets were lined as he made his way on a donkey (quite different than the Pope-mobile.) He blessed two fish and five loaves and multiplied it and fed literal thousands. A true miracle for sure. I can't help but wonder what our media coverage would be like if Christ was on earth today. No doubt the pomp and circumstance would follow as He made his way from town to town. "Another miracle on the streets of Jerusalem, today," I imagine they would report. 

But remember. Those same crowds who followed and cheered for Him would later turn on Him and call for His death. Can you imagine? The same masses gathered waiting to behold the Pope, the leader of their faith, only days later calling for Him to be executed because of His preaching?! It seems unthinkable considering the reverence and respect they're treating him with, so many gathered in hopes of their moment with the Pope. 

It doesn't matter whether you believe in his faith, he says, only what's in your heart. He asks for prayers and seeks to bless others. An honorable man known for his humility, his reputation is followed by stories of his kindness and simplicity. All of these things are noteworthy. And yet he's still a man. An imperfect human just like you and me. 

He cannot save us from eternal separation from God. He cannot redeem us from our sinful state. He cannot provide eternal salvation. He can offer hope, encouragement, a message of eternal life, but it's not something he can actually give. Yet he's called "Your Holiness," upheld with more reverence than the Son of God who came as Holiness wrapped in our human flesh. I dare say these same crowds hovering in to catch a glimpse of this one man will not be calling for his death. He's making history, they say. He's brought a message of hope, they say. But only one man came with a true message of hope, a truth that would change all of history and eternity. 

None of us in our fallen flesh are holy. Our righteousness is filthy rags. Only one man, one message, one way is eternal. One life that was given for all to withstand the test of time. One life paid the price to provide a way for eternal life with a Holy God. No one has ever come before Him and no one will ever come behind Him. We can revere these giants of faith but we must not mistake or replace them with the One True Holy God. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Stand Up

This may be the most important post I've ever written. It comes after the challenge was presented by our pastor this last week in church. "What do you stand for? Stand up and be counted. " It was a challenge to take a stand for Christ - to publicly and openly share my faith, my salvation, my redemption and my knowledge of a Savior who died for all. So please allow me to share this with you.

Today was SYATP. What does that stand for? See You At The Pole. I remember it well. My first efforts to coordinate this activity at Rustburg Middle School were in my eighth grade year. I was told by the principal that I couldn't put up posters and it would be best for us not to join and pray so we didn't upset anyone. I was a stubborn 13 year old and chose not to listen. I didn't hang posters but I did ask my friends to join me at the flag pole. It was a small group, less than 10, but we gathered together, joined hands and we prayed. We took a stand for our faith. We took a stand in a public school setting to let others know we wanted to share the love of Jesus.

I was never the kid afraid to back down from my beliefs, nor was I afraid to share my beliefs with others. I'll never forget the self-proclaimed atheists in high school who went head-to-head with me debating the bible. It was an eye-opening experience for me because it taught me I must know what I believe - inside and out - and be able to not just defend my faith but to live it out so that what I believe is witnessed in my life.

More than 20 years later, I am now using this blog as I've done so many times before to share. This isn't just about taking a stand and publicly proclaiming that I love Jesus and believe He is the only Saving way to eternal life with a Holy God. It's also my accountability. You see, I don't always choose wisely. I don't always live this out daily. I don't always represent Christ's love and compassion. When I'm tried, frustrated, annoyed, irritable, (pregnant - that has to be a disclaimer, right?!) I often let my flesh react without being led by the Holy Spirit to guide my words and deeds. I don't always respond the way I know God would want me to.

So here's what else I need to openly share. I'm human. Being a Christian is not about a "title." It's not about an expectation. It's not about rule-following. It's about a life - every single life - needing forgiveness of our fallen sinful flesh. It's about choosing to follow Christ in all things - it's not just being a fan of His - it's knowing Him. It's a daily intimate relationship meant to grow and mature. It's a free gift given to anyone who will receive it.

Today I'm taking a stand, not just to claim I'm a "Christian," but to share with you how much I desire - even more, how much He desires - to see you put a soul-surrendering faith in His sacrifice for you on the cross. He paid the penalty for your sin - all of them. We're all sinners needing a Savior and He died just for you. Today I'm sharing the most important message I could ever share - that Jesus Christ desires an intimate and personal relationship with you. He created you. He died for you. He loves you. I know it may be hard to grasp but there's nothing more important than accepting Him and recognizing the eternal impact of your choice to follow Him.

Won't you take a stand with me?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Note of Encouragement

Right now my heart is grieved for dear ones around me dealing with devastation, those engulfed in the throws of battle. I had no idea a simple blog about our Terrible Tuesday and the tiny mishaps of my day would usher responses from those simply overcome by their own circumstances. And yet it's all a reminder to me of the war that rages all around us. 

What happens when life is devastating? What do you do when the bottom violently crashes from underneath where you once securely stood? How can we look to a sovereign God and trust that He works all things for our good when everything we face is nothing short of catastrophic?

Where are You, Lord? What about when the ache in our souls is so deep it causes literal physical pain? When our minds can't make sense of the circumstances, when we're so grief stricken by the failure and frailty of flesh, are You still here? Are You still faithful to complete the work You began despite man's efforts to destroy everything we've diligently worked to build?

Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:3

There's hope and encouragement to not grow weary, but that often seems impossible given our overwhelming state. We're told not to lose heart yet the very heart within us has been pulverized alongside our crushed spirit. 
It's hard to see past our own heartache until we consider what He endured - then understand that He went through it all for us. There's comfort and promise in this verse recognizing our own Savior was scorned, rejected and ultimately crucified by those who formerly followed Him. There it is. Right in Scripture. The reminder that even our Lord faced the rejection of those closest to Him. 

Whatever you're facing may not even be your fault. You may be the victim of lies, someone else's poor choices, external circumstances impacting you personally. You may have slipped into the snares of the enemy who's been prowling around seeking whomever he could devour. You may have plummeted into the pit your own hands dug. But none of it, no single isolated place you could find yourself in, is separated from the loving reach of God. 

When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:2

As impossible as it may seem, nothing is impossible for Him. He is able to do exceedingly abundantly all that we ask, and yet even that hope sometimes causes us to wonder why He's not working it out the way we ask. Our limited earthly view does not afford us the opportunity to see beyond to what He sees. We often get caught up in the temporal and miss the eternal which is where He is ultimately at work. It doesn't mean He wants us to suffer or to endure such heartache in our present earthly state, but it does mean that we often are unaware of the bigger picture of His eternal purposes. 

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution...?
"For your sake we face death all day  long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." 
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Romans 8:35-37

It does little to offer solace in the midst of the very real and present danger, the sheer torment, we face on this earth in our human state. I know. I've been there. From my vantage point what I have to offer may have little value in the middle of your tragedy. I'm more than familiar with this place. When my soul was downtrodden and my existence all but a vapor I felt everyone and everything was trying to snuff out, I felt the exact same way you do right now. But I stand here to tell you one thing: I survived. Not only did I just make it through, He saw fit to bring me out of the valley of death itself to the point of restored fellowship with Him in heavenly places. It might not make sense to you now, but He never left me. He reached down for me. He walked through with me. He lifted me out of the pit. He redeemed my life and all the locusts had destroyed. He blessed, oh so abundantly blessed. I couldn't see it then. I had no idea how He would be able to mend the brokenness or restore the shattered pieces. The ashes and dust were in fact traded for beauty. His beauty that was beyond what I could comprehend and certainly more than my limited sight could see in the midst of my own struggle. 

Do you understand? Nothing - not death or life, no single person on this earth and no heavenly being - good or evil - can separate us from the love of God. No height is above His reach. No depth beyond His Presence. No single thing, human or not, can remove you from the love He has for you, His child. We conquer the crushing forces that close in on us. We overcome the overwhelming. We rise above the muck and mess life throws at us because He raises us up to the Rock, to Himself. He draws us in the midst of despair when we have nowhere else to go. 

Friend, I'm praying for you. I'm grieving with you. My heart hurts because you're hurting. Yet I know, I know with all that is within me, He's going to redeem this - even this. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Terrible Tuesday

You might have mistaken it for one of those Monday mornings when everything goes wrong. But make no mistake - this was a Tuesday determined to give any bad Monday a run for its money.

Before the alarm even sounded, I was awakened at 1 a.m. by the rolls and moves of a growing baby who was apparently uncomfortable. I got up, got a drink and no sooner crawled back in bed when I heard the cry, "Mommy!" Elijah woke himself up and was now wide awake. We would both remain as such for more than an hour.

Surprisingly I woke up without an alarm (we'll call it a literal internal clock) and went downstairs to start breakfast and coffee. I set a few frozen sausage patties on a plate on the counter so they'd thaw for Elijah's breakfast. Thankfully he still had awhile to sleep while I got ready. By the time he was up and making his way downstairs, I discovered the sausage was GONE. I admit. I accused my husband of throwing them away. (He has a tendency to go behind my messiness and clean up after me.) He had already left for work but responded he had NOT tossed the patties and felt certain it was a determined doodle dog who is much taller than we give him credit for. No doubt. The puppy dog eyes were in full force and I knew it was this mess of a mutt that had eaten breakfast.

I made a plate of new food for my dear son. Thanks to the changing temperatures and seasonal allergies, he needed some cough syrup. I left him with his breakfast, medicine and clothes while I finished packing lunches and bags. He ran to the bathroom at one point but I didn't pay much attention. He is 7 after all. It wasn't until he came out half dressed with his hair plastered to his head that I started to ask questions.

"Did you fix your hair?" I asked.

"Yes, momma," he responded without changing his expression.

This wasn't like him. AT ALL. The hair being combed and teeth brushed would be something he would never choose to do. Ever. I went to help smooth out his hair only to realize that it wasn't water in his hair, despite it's wet appearance.

"Elijah, what did you put in your hair?" A closer inspection gave off the distinct smell of honey - in this case, cough syrup. The extra sticky "natural" kind.

You see, that same big fluff ball who precociously stole the breakfast off the kitchen counter had jumped up on the couch in an attempt to steal food off Elijah's plate. In the process, the cup of sticky cough syrup had somehow flown through the air and managed to land appropriately in my son's hair. Exactly what happened is still a little fuzzy but the mess was inevitable and the innocence exuding form my son this time was hard to be mad at. He tried his best to wet it, even used the hand towel in an effort to get it out. Bless his heart. He tried.

To the shower he went to wash his matted down hair while the dog was now being punished. Oh what a mess. Oh what a morning. By the time we made it to the car, hair washed, clean clothes on, and everyone (humans and dog alike) fed, it was all I could do to take a huge sigh and breathe out a prayer, "Lord, help us get through this day."

Ever attentive, my child spoke words of wisdom he'd certainly heard me say a time or two (or a thousand) before.

"It's okay, momma. God gives us lots of chances."

Yes, indeed He does. I took the opportunity to remind him of the verse in Jonah when the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. "Do you know what that means? That means God forgives us. He gives us second, third, fourth..."

Before I could continue he jumped in, "Even One MILLION chances!"

The thing about this morning was meant to remind me that in all things - from morning mishaps to catastrophic circumstances - God is still with us, still at work in the midst of what we face. He's never overwhelmed by our situation, no matter how consuming it may be. In fact, He's not even surprised by it. It may have started out as a disastrous morning but it was also a renewed chance to do some evaluating. A chance to check my spirit and make sure I don't respond in anger or frustration. A chance to trust the Lord no matter how big or small the frustration. A chance to leave discouragement behind and recognize the unlimited chances God gives us to begin anew. We had quite the laugh on the way to school as we recalled all the "silly" things that didn't go as planned. This Tuesday wasn't going to be so terrible. At least that's what one little boy and his momma determined.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Hope in the Lord

"May those who fear You rejoice when they see me, for I have put my hope in Your word." 
Psalm 119:74

The translation for the word fear in this verse does not mean we cower in fear to God. Rather it explains a reverance of our Lord, an understanding of Who He is and His Sovereignty at work. Our fear, or reverance, allows us to trust in Him; it gives us the ability to place our hope in a true God and to be able to take Him at His word. 

His word, His spoken book of life, is full of promises that are true, hope for us to claim. This God-breathed Life Book fills and sustains us as we grow in Him and draw closer to His side, even and especially when we're broken and crushed in spirit. 

Last Sunday we sang one of my favorite songs that so beautifully speaks of these truths: 

Oh my God,
He will not delay!
My refuge and strength, Always.
I will not fear,
His promise is true,
My God will come through, Always.

Even as we sang, I could barely contain my emotion. I knew of broken lives, hurting hearts, souls desperate for hope who were standing in that very congregation praying for God to come through. I could recall a time when I stood there as one of those lives, wondering how this would all work out, how on earth God would redeem all that had been destroyed. Yesterday I got to share "my story" - bits and pieces of a life, somehow woven together by God's grace and His faithfulness, certainly not that of my own. It was a reminder all over again of just how good God is, even when human plans fail, even when heartache and devastation hit far too close to home.

He is not bound by time or circumstance. While the enemy wages a very real war against us, He is stronger and greater than anything we face. While relief and rescue may not come right away, in our limited scope of the present, His omniscience of how the scattered mess will come together to be woven into His masterpiece is where we can place our trust - knowing He will come through when we place our trust in Him. 

All of this brings this verse to life for me. It doesn't matter what people have heard, what others assume, even the questions and gossip that may encircle your life. The devastation of your circumstance as you watch life crumble isn't for anyone to explain or judge. What I know to be true is that God can redeem any shattered life. He can restore even the heart that has been pulverized. Whatever pit of despair you may find yourself in, even at the hand of another, you are not beyond His reach. 

I know how hard it can be. I know how hurt you may feel. I understand the depth of the devastation you may face. But I also know the goodness and graciousness of God. I rejoice when I see you, not because of what you face, but because I know His hand is upon you. Even when you're crushed in spirit, you can put your faith and hope in a God who infinitely loves and is working out His plan for your life. Even when your heart is destroyed, you can stand in reverent awe of Sovereign God, knowing that the miracle He will bring will cause those around you to rejoice. His redemptive work in your life will stand as a testament of the very goodness of His character and the depth of His love for His children. I stand as a living, breathing example of Him at work. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Missing Ingredient

I added all the necessary ingredients. Greek yogurt, sliced strawberries, a banana, spinach, chia seeds and a splash of local honey. A little water and some crushed ice and I was ready to blend my morning smoothie. I placed it on the base and hit the button only to realize my grave mistake two seconds too late. One missing, necessary, "ingredient" - the lid. Pregnancy brain? Morning rush? Or just plain stupidity. It didn't matter what the reason, the after effect was now splattered all over the counter.

Even as I was mopping up my mess, I started to laugh at myself. I couldn't be mad at the blender. It was doing its job of tossing around ingredients. I couldn't be mad at the ingredients, though now I was really aggravated that the sticky honey happened to be on top. I certainly couldn't be mad at the forgotten lid - it would have done its job had I put it in place. It was clear there was only one to blame: Operator error. The catalyst for this accident was my negligence (forgetfulness?) in missing the lid. 

I couldn't mistake the fact that I needed the reminder. I needed to be confronted with the idea that so often my good intentions get messed up, my plans get foiled. I also couldn't overlook the reality that what I put into my life will eventually come out, ready or not.

I have to follow through with the entire process: The need to carefully choose the ingredients that I place in my life; the necessity of properly using the tools available to me; the process by which those ingredients culminate into something together; and the understanding, and grace, to not always get it right. 

I'm happy to report I was able to salvage most of the ingredients, properly place the lid and still enjoy the majority of my smoothie. I'm also pretty sure I will double check to make sure the lid is on before I hit blend tomorrow. I'm taking some time to reflect on what my smoothie incident taught me today. When it's blended together properly and poured out for consumption, everything serves its intended purpose. Ingredients by themselves don't make the recipe. Spitting out bible verses without them being the marrow of my life would be like chunks of strawberries smothered in yogurt and covered in chia seeds. I can't expect it to be choked down, swallowed whole, when it's meant to be sipped like a smoothie.   I can't just add the ingredients of "Christianity" and hope for the best. Ultimately it's up to me to make sure I'm filled with the One that will make me a blessing to others and not a bothersome mess. I must commit to the full process of spiritual growth and intimacy with Christ. 

What ingredients are you putting into your life? What tools are you using to cultivate the process? Take it from me, every part is important! 

Friday, September 4, 2015

One Year Ago

Timehop showed me this today:
One year ago today I got a positive pregnancy test. It was a surreal moment with a flood of emotions. I couldn't wait to share the news with Michael. We were going to have a baby! We couldn't wait to share the news with the world. What a miracle, a blessing, something so far beyond our hopes and dreams. Our joy was cut short and quickly turned to grief but without this day, one year ago, I don't know that I would appreciate this day one year later as much as I now do. 

am thankful for this reminder, thankful for the life inside me kicking even as I type. It's been a journey of God's repeated faithfulness and grace, revealing to me how He has kept His hand upon us, weaving His masterpiece throughout it all. 

There's been tears, grief, life, love, mercy, learning and growth. None of it can be separated from the very real understanding that God's Sovereignty has had a perfect plan for our lives despite the human nature to doubt and question and wonder. 

Michael and I are both living breathing testimonies of God's redemptive plan even when life doesn't go as we plan. Violet Hope is a living breathing life inside of me, being knit together by God Himself, as yet another example of His grace and mercy at work. I stand in awe of Him and His faithfulness. Thank You, Lord, for reminding me of how good Tou truly are!