When God Answers In Crazy Ways

In the White House, they call it the news cycle. On the TV, they call it breaking news. In the human heart, these predictions create sheer panic.   Yet there is a greater revelation in of all the natural disasters and it hit me like a lightning bolt this morning.  I was watching a  clip from Steve Hartman on CBS Evening News  about how we went from rioting, protesting, hating each other one week to rescuing, serving, saving one another the next week.

Then I recalled this photo circulating on social media.

This is the wonder moment.  Me and my praying friends, and I am sure you and your praying friends, have been asking God to do whatever it takes to bring peace.  I have been releasing the Shalom of Heaven over the violent mood of our country.  And suddenly,  our differences have turned from throwing words and punches to throwing prayers and supplies.

Has God used these natural disasters to bring about the prayed for perspective shift?

I understand if you are living through and after these catastrophic events, it is hard to imagine celebrating or lifting up praise. Yet my friend in Houston confirmed the shift saying there is an overwhelming sense of gratitude.  Even more, she said, once they started reconnecting with the rest of the world and heard about the devastation in India and surrounding areas, she and her community were humbled all the more realizing it could have been so much worse. “Even with the destruction, we were still blessed,” she said.

Now with Irma, the forest fires, the Mexican earthquake, and other life altering circumstances, can we or will we maintain our confidence in a good God?

He is NOT bringing judgment. That is Old Testament rhetoric that has no place this side of the cross.

What we can see all through the Bible however is a God who is our “ever present help in time of need.”

This morning as I rejoice that Irma has reduced from Category 5 to 4, I am still praying for the storm to move, subside, or shift. I am still believing for rain. I am still believing for comfort for Houston and other affected parts of the world.

And. My spirit has paused to thank God for reminding us of who we all are.  Human beings. Each and every one worthy of love and dignity.  Maybe, just maybe, God has answered our prayers by showing how valuable life really is.

Creeping Under The Gates of Hell

When I first stumbled through my overcrowded garage and my bare foot touched the tentacles on the floor, I let out a scream and jumped back.  With my phone flashlight in hand, I crept up, somewhat embarrassed, to realize these “tentacles” were instead a tenacious vine.

(We are in East Tennessee after all and pretty far from any invasion of an octopus, wink.)

But still I couldn’t figure out what the heck this vine was doing creeping under my door. It was so sickly. Clearly it was dying. I started to pull it up but stopped short.

I don’t know why I let this vine interrupt my mission. I was confounded. Why would a vine be trying to get IN my garage. There is no sunlight, no nutritional soil, no means of water.  It simply could NOT survive.

Then I heard this crazy whisper, “Raise the garage door.”

So I did.

“The gates of hell will not prevail.” I heard the Spirit say.

I stood there in awe.

Who knew this vibrant, green, luscious plant was on the other side of the garage door? Who knew is seemingly sickly yet unyielding vine was wholly and happily sustained by a stronger, larger network of plants?

This! This is what the true Church is. This is what the Body of Christ, the Life of God, whatever language you know, is all about.

Christ in us, the hope of glory.

This is what “Jesus alive in us” is all about. The plant is Not dying but fully alive in the mother plant. And the mother plant is spreading and multiplying in every direction.

Likewise, the Spirit of God in us is invading this world, even the dark, void of light garages of our world. And it is in a word, unstoppable.

We don’t have to be afraid of the dark.  Life is sliding under the door.

And the gates of hell cannot keep it out.

 

A Word From the Lord This Morning

I heard a clear word from the Lord in the night. It is for all of us in uncertain, disappointing or even painful times.

Remain faithful in seasons of ‘No.’

As I searched the Spirit for clarification, it became clear this is a two way sword. He remains faithful to us even if the answer to our pleas, requests, and prayers are ‘No.’  He has not abandoned us. His love endures. His goodness cannot change. He reminded me of a phrase He taught me as I was trying to teach my children.

My ‘No’ is as loving as my ‘Yes.’

We often accuse God, doubt God, or we are mad at God when He doesn’t give us what we want. It is through these times we learn to trust His heart, trust His goodness not based on circumstances. We see He is a compassionate God who walks along with us in heartache. We learn to know Him in a deeper way so that we see Him for who He is. As time unravels the rest of our story, we then see a greater revelation, a greater mercy that He gave us instead of what we asked for. And. He is still with us. Even in the ‘No.’  He is faithful to never leave us.

That’s one side of the sword. The other side is We are to remain faithful in seasons of ‘No’.  We are to stand in love, stand in faith, stand in confidence in Him. How we ask? Our hearts are breaking, our hopes may be dashed on the ground. How do we approach Him if we don’t get what we want?

All of life, the point of all of it, the whole parade is summed up in this phrase:

“to know this love that surpasses knowledge.”

The end of Ephesians 3 breaks down the pathway of how to navigate the seasons of God’s loving ‘No.’

Our God is good. The Three-in-One is a good Father, a good Mother, and a good Savior. Our God is with us in the brokenness of life. He knows there is an enemy who would love nothing more than maintain the separation he caused at the garden. But Jesus came to share His fullness and the Spirit it here to escort us into faithful living.  We must guard our restored relationship with God.

But how? we ask.

He didn’t come through for us. I didn’t get the job. My loved one died. This evil persists.

“To know this love that surpasses knowledge.”

We move from what we know— facts, diagnoses, outcomes— to a Love that transcends our broken hearts. We find a comfort and His very real Presence that overshadows our existence here on earth. We refuse to align our thoughts and words with an enemy who says our God is weak, and distant; He is unable or unwilling to help.

God with us.

So again. Remain faithful in seasons of ‘No.’

 

 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.  I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3 12- 21

 

Notes From the Field: Wisdom to Rising Freshmen

I had a rare and priceless moment this summer when I took my daughters and their friends, affectionately known as the Big Girls and the Little Girls, to our favorite mountain spot. We braved the cold river and splashed around in age appropriate ways, middle school, college and motherly. Wink. I loved watching them challenge and tease each other all the way from prissy hair tips to braving the rapids.

Then we hit a Mexican restaurant on the way home. In the awkward waiting for our food, munching on chips time it occurred to me that the Big Girls survived high school together and just completed their freshman year at different colleges.

The Little Girls both completed 8th grade at different middle schools and were now nervously looking toward the wild world of two different high schools. I had overheard enough of the “what ifs” and “what abouts” to know they were scared. Excited, but scared.

With a prod of divine brilliance from the Lord, I asked the BGs what they had learned that they could pass on. These little women had grown and changed so much through high school and even more through their first year of college. So  what advice would they would give to the LGs as they were entering high school.

I was blown away by this gift of perspective. Hope you enjoy it and will share it with your upcoming highschoolers too.

• Don’t dismiss people by their appearance. Clothes are misleading.

• Take action and actually say hello to people.

• Do sports and clubs, even if you don’t want to.

• After high school you can handpick your friends. But in high school you learn what kind of friend you want to be and what kind you want to have.

• Never be in the car with someone under any influence (drugs or alcohol, even anger.)

• Drive if you can and don’t take people with you so you have the freedom to leave a bad situation or party.

• Grades are not your identity. They matter but they are not everything.

• Don’t worry about your looks or what others think.

• Every “A”  you get is money in your pocket.

• Build relationships with your teachers. They matter.

• Take hard classes.

• Go to tutoring.

• Be nice to yourself. Every year brought a drastic change as a person.

Thanks for the insight and courage Salem Spicka and Andy Gil.

 

 


 

New Wine Church

What can I say? We have been doing “church” for years. Jesus called it ‘where two or more are gathered in his name.’  So yeah. That’s what we have been doing. But then came the call to start something on Sunday. And it just feels— different.

Call it cultural perceptions. Call it fear of man. Whatever it is, God is asking us for radical trust that this is His dream. New Wine Church is His idea.

We want to foster a place where the presence of God is the most important thing. We believe in a community that functioned like Paul’s gatherings. A place where deep hearted believers can come to celebrate God, to be fed, to grow in their gifting, and, a place where the unsaved are drawn into the family.

How?  The power and presence of God.

So what to expect. A community with opportunities to engage with each other. Worship times where we expect to encounter the Holy Spirit. And teaching that is fresh manna.

Here is mine and Chuck’s heart. We know God is laying out a table of truth, grace, transformation, power. We are inviting anyone who as hungry as we are to join us for more.

First meeting is January 26 at The Empty Cup located on Executive Park Drive.

9:15-10:00   Coffee and Community

10:00 -11:30 Worship, Teaching and Prayer


Where Are You Looking?

The world is swirling.  Christmas brings its usual demands with gifting, cooking, family and friend gatherings. But then there is undue illness knocking people around, natural disaster rebuilding, Aleppo reports wiping me out, and the political climate still pinging.
I got up in the middle night to just settle my mind so that I could focus on the most important thing, that is, the presence of God. That’s the whole point of Christmas anyway, right?
God with us.
Anyway as I’ve been mulling over the conversations that He and I had in the wee hours. A revelation from a few years ago came to mind and I knew that the two are connected.
I was at the beach several years ago seeking solace in the middle of a trying time. Lots of relational difficulties, lots of unknowns. What I did not know as I was crying out to the Lord on those walks along the shore, was that I was getting ready to going through one of the most difficult seasons of my life. The revelation carried me through this season, but I find it also has keys for where I am right now. Perhaps for you also.
I was worshiping and calling out to the Lord about his goodness and how I wanted more of His presence. I wanted a clearer eye to see my life and circumstances from a different perspective.
The Spirit directed me to look up.
A huge rainbow arched right over where I was on the shoreline. I stood in wonder, just looking at the beauty. I think it was my first rainbow at the beach and I was in pure awe.
And then my attention was pulled away by a couple fighting. I took my eyes off the rainbow and focused on the yelling, the angry faces, the senseless energy.  As they stormed away from each other, I went back to the rainbow. But it was gone.
“Oh Lord,” I said “I’m so sorry. You gave me this beautiful rainbow at the beach and I got caught up in their fight.”
And the Lord said, “Human drama always distracts from My glory. Always be looking for My glory.”
Then, in His kindness, the rainbow reappeared.
Let me see if I can unpack the former word and this morning’s word.
Before dawn, as I was rattling off my list of concerns before the King of kings— work, house buyings and sellings, college issues, ministry needs and future plans, family and friend tensions, Christmas! for Heaven’s sake—He pressed me to focus on His face. Once again, He instructed me to seek His presence instead of resolutions or answers or understanding of each one of these situations. Later this morning, He reminded me of this rainbow revelation about human drama versus God’s glory.
Then came the final puzzle piece as Holy Spirit nudged me toward the star and the wisemen.
Think of their journey. There were many circumstances and reasons for them to get distracted. So many threats and temptations for them to forget what they were doing and why they what they were doing it. Like us, there must have been many earthly reasons to stop them from their heavenly pursuit.
But they kept their eyes on the star. They kept their hearts set on the promise. They kept walking toward the presence of the newborn King.
I pray for the same clear eye and steadfast heart for you. And for me.
I pray that we will keep looking up so that we might see the shining face of the One who holds all things together. Let human drama, in all its various forms, be overshadowed by His Glory.
May we keep going after God until we come to rest in His presence.
Merry Christmas.

Pearls of Wisdom: On Sex, Beauty, and Worth

I think I shied away from continuing to talk about sex and beauty. In my mind, my kids had heard it all before. We have been talking about sex and beauty since they were toddlers. Now as teens, their pushback was working. The rolled eyes, the “I know, Mom!” comments, the sighing and huffing was enough to deter one more lecture.  But then, I saw the brokenness and confusion around sex and beauty and I knew it needed to be talked about. Again.

I was reminded of a weighty word the other day that’s worth repeating. It’s more than ‘save sex.’ It’s the WHY of sex. 

God is always in the details. It’s important to know that the very first “shedding of blood” was not for the clothing after the Fall. It was the blood covenant of marriage between the man and the woman. 

In the garden, the man and woman were naked and unashamed. God covered the woman’s vagina with a thin membrane called the hymen.  And when this “veil” was torn, the small amount of blood signified the covenant she entered with God and Adam as the “two became one flesh.”  It was a holy contract. And their heirs, the children they produced through their love, became a reminder of God’s faithfulness, because they too have  passed through the veil of the blood covenant.

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The symbolism is breath-taking. Do we teach this kind of beauty to our children? Because if we did, the worth of our sexuality just might go far beyond our current standard.

(This is an extremely short version. See Kris Valloton, Moral Revolution)

In light of such honor, the demonic abuse and distortion plainly seen. Turn on any channel.

We are more than objects and animals.

I want to remind us of the Why of God’s heart:  to protect something sacred and honored. We set a high standard of purity because we agree that God’s way is best. “The marriage bed is to be honored by all.” Hebrews 13:4  

So we count virginity for women and men as a great treasure because they have fought and defended what God prizes. We count marital faithfulness as a great treasure because we don’t allow the enemy to invade our Holy Ground. We don’t apologize for setting a standard that reflects the heart of God.

And. With grace, we understand that not all fight this battle to the end. We take courage and comfort in our sexual failures, because the blood of Jesus washes us from all stains. All. Stains.

Yet we do not deviate from the standard. God’s way is best. Every. Time.

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“You Feed Them”

“God, I don’t know what you want to say,” I prayed. It was a familiar conversation as I prepared to teach. But that morning, His answer caught my breath and my attention.
“You feed them.”
My mind raced to the parable when Jesus said this. It was the feeding of the 5000 men (plus the thousands more of women and children). I grabbed my Bible and landed on the Mark 6 version.
I reread the passage like an old friend’s letter. I have studied the story many times. But the tone of God’s voice that morning confirmed that there was something fresh for me to see.
“You feed them.”
The First Ah-ha.
It says that Jesus had compassion on the crowds and that moved him to action. Those two words are always linked in God’s hands. Compassion equals Action. It’s not enough to care unless you do something with your care.
The Second Ah-ha.
One of the twists of this story is when Jesus turned to the disciples and asked, “What do YOU have?”  Many times before, Jesus just took care of the present need. He healed someone, or put mud on their eyes, or some other crazy thing. But that day He turned to the disciples, just like He turns to us every day, and asks, What do you have in your hands? 
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The Third  Ah-ha.
Then He did another interesting thing, then and now. Jesus asked the disciples to give the loaves and fishes to Him. What are the small things in your hands? Those very small things, the five loaves and two fishes kinds of things, the things that are not enough to feed the masses. Jesus wants it.
The Fourth Ah-ha
Then He took this little ole basket of “not enough’ and  lifted it to heaven and blessed it. And then He did an even stranger thing. Jesus handed the basket “full of Heaven” back to His disciples and told them to give it away.
He put it back it their hands and called them to action.  It’s no different for us. He wants what’s in our hands to be full of Heaven and given away.
“You feed them.”
There is a greater reality than Jesus doing miracles among us.  Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus has made Heaven possible to flow through us. Our job is to take what we have, give it to Him to bless it and then when He gives it back to us, do what He says.
It’s not about getting bigger, better fish. Or more fish. It’s about doing what He says and trusting that He can make it more. Why? Because His compassion moves us to action.  His blessing sparks Divine Multiplication.
It’s the most amazing math equation. Our gifts plus our faith plus the breath of God changes the world.
Who’s hungry??

Pearls of Wisdom: Trusting God’s Favor No Matter What

Our friend’s baby died. My friend’s mom was cured of cancer and it came back. My mentor’s body has been diagnosed full of cancer. Your classmates were killed in a car crash and on the lake. Our friend was hit by a car and paralyzed.

These stories could represent a really Godless existence where any of us could/should  look around in panic and wait for the other shoe to drop on us. We could live in a dismal state of depression and hopelessness and negativity.

Unless. Unless we heard the rest of these stories of how people were changed, healed, comforted. How they experienced God in the middle of these tragedies. How onlookers were impacted by witnessing ordinary people walking with God in terrible times. (I think of Missy, the little girl in The Shack, explaining how Jesus and the Spirit were so very close to her in the most horrible of circumstance.)

God’s goodness is a key factor to whole-hearted living. Without it, we life half-hearted lives scrambling and scraping to lessen our fears. And there is something weighty about this “favor of God” thing. He has been talking to me about favor for 13 years now. It began the day I found out I was pregnant with baby number 3.

I had one healthy baby, miscarried one unhealthy baby and was now pregnant again. I was terrified. Of all the things He could have said, He declared favor. He asked me to believe that I would see His goodness, no matter the outcome. Talk about stretching my faith…Then during my sabbatical, His favor became a foundational lesson to be fully embraced.

Favor isn’t based on circumstances. Favor is based on the heart of God and my willingness to receive it.

The C. S. Lewis quote comes to mind:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

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The favor of God is not a magic wand. Or a lottery ticket. It’s our inheritance.

And now we approach college, our newest scary season, with confidence in God’s goodness. Not because you are smart, which you are. Or your dad works hard, which he does.  But because God is going to reveal his favor to us through this Abrahamic journey.   When we were at orientation it became very clear.

One of the speakers quoted Deuteronomy 8:17-18:

You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”
But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

God gave your dad this verse 25 years ago. Then, it was a message about humility and to remember the Lord in in his work. But in recent years, the verse has been a demonstration of God’s desire to show favor and so “confirm His covenant.”  As believers, we are part of an eternal pact.

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Pearls of Wisdom: The Love of Learning

More than a grade, or title, or worldly notion of success is a very God-centric notion of learning. Our very DNA is divinely wired to learn, to explore, to discover because we were made to create. Perhaps the greatest minds are great because they have mastered the hardest lesson: learning to love learning.

 You must know the old story of the student who came to the master.

The Student
A talented young warrior goes to the school of a famous teacher, intent on being accepted as a student. The teacher invites the student in, and as they sit waiting for a pot of tea to steep, the student begins to tell the teacher about his enemies, about the battles he has won, those he has lost, and the times victory has been unfairly snatched from his grasp.  He talks about the techniques he has mastered, his own students, and most importantly, what he expects this teacher to teach him.

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The teacher smiles politely. He watches. He listens. He waits. Finally the tea is ready and the teacher begins to pour a cup for his visitor. The small cup fills to the brim and the teacher, still looking at his guest, keeps pouring. The cup overflows and tea begins to spill across the table, and down, onto the student’s lap. After an uncomfortable moment, the student finally jumps up and yells, “Stop, Master! Stop! The cup is full. You can’t put any more in.”  The master, still smiling and still looking at the student, slowly stopped pouring the tea, and says, “Yes. The cup is just like you. Already full. I will not be able to teach you anything until you come to me with a cup that is empty.”

Empty cups can be perpetually refilled, if we are willing to be poured out. Be less concerned about being full and more concerned about using what you have learned to impact the world around you. Then get filled again to pour out. And repeat.

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