Thursday, April 30, 2015

Arise, My Love...

This is from waaaay back in the Spring of 2008. With events in Baltimore still painfully fresh, it seems appropriate to send it out again. :) 


It doesn’t take a prophet to see that terrible things are happening all over the world. Disease, natural disasters, economic failure and political upheaval are increasing in severity and frequency. People all over the earth are filled with anxious uncertainty. Events are in play that man has little ability to control and we’re learning the hard way that nothing in this word can keep us safe.

But this season of fear is not for believers! God is calling—a trumpet sounding loud to wake us from our slumber. We’ve grown sleepy from the hum of busy schedules, drowsy from too much entertainment and comatose from enemy whispers that steal our hope. We’re dulled by the boredom of religion that offers form without substances, concepts without power and rules without love. That is not what we were saved for!

This is a season to know that our God lives and He loves us and He’s knowable! It's time—time to remember the days of first love, when it was all about Him. It’s time to rise into His love and walk out the life He always intended us to have. This is a season to hear His voice and run to Him—to turn our backs on failure, brokenness and disappointment. Hurry into His love. We can trust Him; we can lean on His Word; we can finish our race in the strength of His provision. He alone provides peace beyond understanding.

Awake my friends! Raise your head from work, to-do lists and play. Take a moment from church programs and services and ministry. Turn off the nightly news; lay aside cell phones and computers and hear what He says about this season. God loves you and wants your love in return. It’s time to long for Him more than your daily bread. It’s time to recognize you must have more of God, to insist on more of His transforming, fiery, consuming love.

Set aside disappointment or offense. Remember, we reside in the shadowlands where things are not as they seem. Our enemy seeks to define reality for us, but his lies are exposed when we chose to believe Jesus’ interpretations of our circumstances. Lean on Him, the One who is truth and fills the universe with light.

The Spirit is moving across the earth and He is calling, calling, calling to all willing to hear. It’s time to respond. We must re-encounter Him—the One the Book is about! It’s time to know Jesus more intimately. Not for what He can do, but for who He is. No matter how well you know Him, there is always more. Ask for more! Ask for His love which pursues, saves, heals, delivers, transforms and empowers. Experiencing that love is the antidote to the fear sweeping the world.

It’s an exciting time to be a believer, and it’s going to get more exciting! Come, let us run together!
"Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come with me." Song of Songs 2:10

Monday, April 27, 2015

On Being a Chameleon...

As a shy, introverted youngster, I quickly learned that the best way to stay out of trouble was to give the people around me what they wanted. I soon learned to carefully observe each social setting I was in to see what was expected of me. This method proved quite effective at getting people to like and approve of me. Worked great in school too. While I enjoy learning, I was an excellent student mostly because I couldn't bear to disappoint the adult at the front of the room. By the time I entered college I had pretty much become a chameleon—an expert at going along to get along.
Fast forward a few years—well, a lot of years—and though I know better and God has led me out of the worst of it, I sometimes still find myself defaulting to this behavior. It's that ingrained. That deep-seated desire for approval sometimes causes me to be less myself, for to expose my 'real' self can (and sometimes does) cause disapproval... even dislike. And I know I'm not alone.  Wearing a mask is a pretty common defense mechanism for those of the human persuasion. Ever since the day Adam and Eve tried to hide themselves from God to avoid disapproval, humans have been trying to show only their best face.  

When I think of the marvelous complexity of our world and the uniqueness of each individual in it, it's sad to think I've expended so much energy trying to be like everyone else. Especially when God went to considerable trouble to make us different. Before the world was created, God decided when and where each of us would be born and gave us a unique combination of appearance, intellect, personality and talents. All that was perfectly balanced with the needs of history, the needs of His kingdom and our personal needs. Talk about diversity! We are called to unity, but that never meant identical, interchangeable people.

So what am I doing when I conform myself to the crowd's way of doing things? Or only talk about safe topics? Or ape the personality traits of a friend? Though it's not conscious, I'm subtly rejecting who God made me to be. I'm denying the unique flavor I might bring to a conversation. I’m trading an opportunity to contribute what God placed in me for just that moment for the momentary comfort of belonging, or the perceived safety of not stirring the pot. Or worst of all, to influence someone to like me or think I'm _______ (nice, funny, fill in the blank).

Being a chameleon may feel safer, but it’s the false security of a prison cell. It conceals the deepest parts of me from my friends. How can they learn to encourage me, exhort me, or call me to account—you know, love me—if they don't know the real me? God intends that the give and take of our relationships be part of His plan to grow us up into the image of Jesus. We need to encounter both the good and the bad in those around us in order to learn kindness, practice patience and exercise persistence. To learn to love one another the way He loves us. So those of you in the school of Lynda can rejoice that you're on the fast track to holiness. ;)
The old bumper sticker is as appropriate as ever: "Please be patient with me, God's not finished with me yet!" I need fresh power to humbly allow others to see who I really am, warts and all, knowing that sometimes I'm just a mess. I want to extend grace to others, so they feel comfortable being transparent with me as well. We are all in this together, learning to be more like Jesus. Most of all, I am asking for a deeper revelation of the love of God, which helps me with me and helps me with others too. God wants to unveil the unique gifts and talents He's placed within each one of us--chameleons He has already.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Big Trouble

"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.
In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart;
I have overcome the world." Jesus
 John 16:33 ESV

If you could go back in time and tour just about any town in the ancient Roman Empire, you would encounter people working the fields surrounding the town. If it was harvest time, you might see an ox pulling an agricultural implement—a heavy block of wood, set with iron or stone teeth. It would be pulled over the harvested grain to crush it so the desirable heads of wheat could be separated from the worthless chaff. It was time-consuming, laborious work, but a necessary part of the process of making the grain fit for use. The farming tool was called a tribulum; it’s where we get our word for tribulation.

We tend not to like that word, because it conjures up scary end-times scenarios, but it’s actually just a fancy word for trouble. Jesus’ reference to the heavy threshing sledge grinding over the grain, gives us immediate insight into the role of trouble in believers' lives. In this life we will have trouble...tribulation is a given. So why does putting the adjectives “The Great” in front of the word give us the vapors? 

A wise teacher I know calls those final years at the end of history, "The Big Trouble" as a way of defusing some of the anxiety inherent in the words “The Great Tribulation.” That’s helpful, because sometimes dread of a thing is worse than the thing itself. Years ago when I was pregnant with my first, women came out of the woodwork to tell me their horror stories about labor and delivery. As I was planning a natural, drug-free childbirth, they scared me to death. But after I got the facts about what was going to happen, the fear receded. Didn't make going through the actual labor a pleasant experience (except for the baby, after), but I was able to get through it. At each stage of labor, I knew what was next. Not saying that the Tribulation will be as straight-forward and ‘easy’ as childbirth, but it’s a biblical picture of the end of the age (I Thess. 5:3). So the way I see it, we can either surrender to dread or take a deep breath and see what all the fuss is about.

The Revelation of Jesus Christ contains a wonderful promise—a blessing for those who read it; not, please note, those who understand it. A study of Revelation gives us all sorts of good intel. The duration of the Big Trouble; the sorts of things Christians will encounter; what will happen in the world around us; and what will happen in Heaven at the same time. And it's okay that there are a variety of opinions about what it all means and when it all happens. There is room for that. But no matter how you interpret the events contained in Revelation, or when you believe these events will take place, it's clear that things will get pretty bad for believers long before the Big Trouble arrives.

Because God is loving, faithful and merciful, the good news is that the Big Trouble is only as big as it needs to be. Every step of the way, God will seek to save the lost and purify the saved. The role of trouble is to get our attention. To stop our wandering. To illustrate our need for a savior. To turn us from our own way back to His.  It is the culmination of the story He began in the Garden, when His desire was to have a people with whom to share His love. The Big Trouble is His final warning that He really is and that the earth is really His. It's His mercy extended to a hostile and indifferent world. His bootcamp for believers who’ve grown accustomed to life in the world and dull to their reason for existence. For believers, the Revelation of Jesus Christ is full of encouragement. God will be with us. Every.Step.Of the.Way. Even in hardship. Even in persecution. Even in martyrdom. Whatever we face, we will not face alone. The final throes will be intense, but quick; then we will have all of eternity to enjoy. Again and again in Revelation the message comes through to stand, to take courage, to trust, to watch and wait for God’s ultimate redemption. God says, “Do not be afraid,” not because things aren't bad or scary, but because He's bigger, wiser and stronger. He is able...more than able. And that's where our confidence lies (Isaiah 41:10). This is good encouragement for going through trouble, whether it’s garden variety or the apocalyptic sort.

So how do we prepare for the Big Trouble? The truly overwhelming events that will unfold at that time will cause many to faint from fear. My only hope of remaining faithful, while attempting to live out the love of Jesus is to draw strength from Him. Therefore, I must move closer to Him, growing in my ability to lean on, trust in, cling to, inquire of and crave Him as a vital necessity. That will build a shelter in which I can weather any storm, whether the Big Trouble remains far away for another generation to confront or suddenly appears on our plate.

Jesus redeemed our souls on His first visit. When He returns, the earth itself, broken and stained by thousands of years of sin’s effects will be made new as was intended at the beginning of time. It will be an awesome time—awesome in the strict sense of the word—inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear. The tribulum of God will roll over the earth, separating the grain from the chaff, reaping a Great Harvest and purifying the church to abide with her Messiah forever. Through Big Trouble God will lead us home.


 "..strengthening the souls and the hearts of the disciples,
urging and warning and encouraging them
to stand firm in the faith, and [telling them]
that it is through many hardships and tribulations
we must enter the kingdom of God." Acts 14:22 AMP

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Passed Over

I love springtime. It's sunny and warm, everything's blooming and birds are singing. Even with all the allergy symptoms, it's a welcome change from the cold and dark of Winter. It's the season we celebrate the Resurrection. It is also the season of the Passover miracle—the amazing, true story of how God rescued a bunch of insignificant, poor, Hebrew slaves. Just like us, they were helpless to save themselves. Just like us, He set them free to be His people.

Pesach means 'passed over,' and God passed over, or left them out of the plagues of Egypt, especially that nasty last one. Can you imagine getting your mind around the instructions they were given? Splash some lamb’s blood on the door posts of your house to prevent death. They couldn't exactly refer to old Vacation Bible School lessons to get a grid for this. I know they were accustomed to pagan worship practices which surely involved spilling blood. But I doubt they’d ever been told to do such a thing before— especially by a guy who’d killed another guy and then ran away, like forty years before. So, for most of the slaves, Moses was basically a stranger with a bad reputation. At least a few had to be thinking, Sure, Moses, we’ll get right to that. But he’d been right when all the other plagues came. And it sure looked like Moses’ God was powerful. More powerful than Egypt’s gods. A God like that might be one to trust. I love that He didn’t give them the law until after He’d set them free. Just like us, He freed them first, then taught them His ways. He’s so good!

So they trusted. They swiped blood on their door posts and ate their slaughtered lambs with unleavened bread and the greens they scrounged from their meagre family gardens, nervously wondering what that night would bring. Imagine the next morning, when they woke to find that death had visited Egypt, but passed over them. They barely had time to take that in before they were thrust out of Egypt. We can criticize their whiney desire to return later, but might that have been a case of ‘better the monster you know’? Egypt was bad, but Egypt they knew. In the desert, every day was an exercise in trusting themselves to a God who was unknown to them. Just like us, trust did not come naturally.

Then later, when He gets Moses writing things down for the people to remember, God says that this event is important enough they should have an annual reminder. So the Seder was born…a dinner that contains symbolic components of that long ago event. In the Seder, each generation is to consider the Exodus as if they themselves were coming out of Egypt. Which is interesting, because haven’t we also been rescued out of impossible bondage?

God carefully constructed His plan with all the details He wanted to use, both to set the people free and to set as a pattern for the Passion of Jesus, thousands of years later. The annual celebration became a trail of bread crumbs to signal Jesus’ identity, when He walked the earth. Sadly, only some recognized Him, but how great was the joy of those who did! The earliest believers—who were mostly Jewish—had the delight of discovering the meaning beyond the symbolism in feasts they had known all their lives. And we embark on a similar journey of discovery when we celebrate the Lord's feasts.

So Passover is an opportunity to remember the Hebrew slaves’ deliverance from Egypt, and celebrate our own deliverance from sin and death. To marvel at the perfection of God’s plan, which He’s been unfolding for a very long time—and which will be fulfilled, to the smallest detail. To renew our determination not to return to the familiarity of Egypt, but to press forward into the sometimes scary ways of freedom. To choose every day to depend on God, whom I am still learning to know after 40 years in the faith. A God who never changes, but offers new mercies each morning. A God who makes great by bringing low, invites the last to be first and calls leaders to be servants. The God who makes me hungry for more of Him, so He can give me more of Him, in order to make me more hungry for Him. The paradoxical God who bound Himself over to death (though it could not hold Him long), so I could live free, through my own personal Passover.

"Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe,
who has set us apart by His word and has commanded us
to kindle the light of Passover."

Show, don't Tell

In fiction writing an author's greatest sin is  telling , rather than showing . Explaining plot points in large paragraphs is vastly in...