name='verify-v1'/> Big God - little d: October 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

Let Her Sing

"Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;
give thanks and praise his name.
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
His faithfulness continues through all generations." --Psalm 100:4-5

Last week, I sought refuge in the empty Sanctuary of our church. The lights were off. It was early evening and growing dark. A golden haze, from the setting sun, filtered through the stained glass windows.

I chose a pew about half-way down the aisle. It was the perfect place to allow my ever-present grief to surface. As tears filled my eyes, I whispered, "Lord, I will miss this place and its people."

I closed my eyes, took a few deep breaths and leaned into the pain of upcoming goodbyes. Minutes later, my solitude was interrupted by footsteps. It was my sixteen year old, daughter Claire.

"I want to play the piano," she declared. By "the piano" she meant the beautiful Steinway grand piano which sat in a place of prominence, near the altar. Its white keys were beckoning.

"No." I could think of a multitude of reasons why this was a bad idea.

"I've done it before." Her voice went up at the end of the sentence. It was, at once, a statement, a challenge, and a question. She added, "What's the worst thing that can happen? Someone tells me to stop."

I didn't reply.

She walked down the aisle, without a trace of anger. She stepped onto the marble floor and moved behind the altar. I watched in fascination as she spread her arms and proceeded to dance. She twirled and jumped in the twilight.

Finishing her impromptu solo, she bent over and looked at the floor. I knew she was studying the plaque that marked the location of a time capsule buried under the tile.

After a few minutes, she moved over to the piano. She played one, then two notes softly. Afterward, she walked around to the side of the piano and peered under the propped open lid. She studied the inner workings intently.

She made her way over to the baptismal font. In the fading light, she leaned down. I imagined her thought, "Is there water in there or not?" She put a few fingers into the bowl and just as quickly, pulled her hand back. I smiled in amusement, assuming the answer was yes.

Next, she headed towards a chair, next to the altar. In front of the chair was a music stand. Claire sat down, adjusting the music stand so it was at eye level. Over the top of the stand, our eyes made contact.

I realized that my sorrow had retreated. In its place was the indescribable joy of watching my daughter as she enjoyed herself in this holy place. She had just danced in the Father's presence. She was totally at ease in God's house because... it was her home, too.

"Let her sing."

It was a request from the Holy Spirit. I experienced an "a ha" moment as I processed those three words. While Claire may have asked to play, what she really wanted to do was sing. For her, the two go hand-in-hand. My multitude of reasons for originally vetoing the idea, no longer mattered.

I spoke across the room.

"You're right. The worst thing that can happen is they ask you to stop."

My words didn't quite reach her ears and she tilted her head in question. I repeated my statement. She still didn't hear. Rather than repeat myself, yet again, I pointed to the piano in silent blessing.

She pulled out the bench as I made a request.

"Play, Our God Is Love."

It is a song written by my friend, Chris, and one that is played often at our house. Claire tentatively began. Within a few chords, she was playing with confidence. As she sang, her voice grew stronger until it filled the entire Sanctuary with words of praise...

Can you see the Lord?
Or fathom His design?
Can you taste His grace?
Or feel His love divine?

Our God is love
Nailed unto a tree
Our God is hope...

As I watched and listened, I worshiped the One to whom the words were directed. Claire continued until halfway through the second verse. She stopped, unable to recall the rest of the words.

She got up from the bench and pushed it back into place. A look of contentment was on her face. She walked back in my direction and we exited the Sanctuary.

I offered a silent prayer on my way out, “Father, I almost missed this concert. Thank You for inviting me and for the blessing of hearing Claire sing for You.”

Is this how You feel about me, when I step into the fullness of who You’ve called me to be? Does Your heart swell with joy when I use my gifts for Your glory? I want to live my life in a way that keeps me in close relationship with You. This day, Lord, show me how to stay in step with You. In the strong and saving name of Jesus, Amen.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I See You!

"Ears to hear and eyes to see - both are gifts from the LORD." --Proverbs 20:12

I know someone who stops to pick up paper clips off the floor. Until I spent time in her presence, I didn't even notice the paper clips. But you tend to notice these things when the person next to you stops in mid-sentence. And, you find yourself paying special attention when that person picks up each piece of metal as if it were gold.

When I asked why she picked them up, she told me that she believed God was waiting for her to find them. He wanted her to know that He was thinking about her. They were her own love notes from God.

She saw God - I saw a twisted piece of wire. Same scenario - different perspectives.

Some time ago, I began to earnestly ask God for eyes to see and ears to hear. I wanted to know God better. I longed for a deeper awareness of His presence in my daily life.

Sometime after that prayer, I began to notice something strange on my nighttime drives. Street lights tended to go out right as I drove under them or right after I passed them.

Out of the corner of my eye, in the rear view mirror, or right in front of me, I would see random lights shut down. I don't know if they were burning out or just overheating. But it happened with such regularity that it became ridiculous.

At first, I talked to myself, "Oh my gosh, there goes another one!" Eventually, I turned to God.

"Did you just see that? Hey, there goes another one! Can you believe these lights keep going out when I am driving? It's almost as if someone is playing a joke on me!"

(dramatic pause)

God laughs, you know. Deep rolling laughs. From His belly. With abandon.

I couldn't actually hear Him but my spirit did. And it is impossible to be in His presence while He is laughing...without joining in. We laughed together for a long time that day. It was my first experience with God's playful side and I will treasure it always.

Now you could argue that street lights are constantly burning out and I just became aware of it for the first time. True. Same scenario - different perspective.

However, that would not explain why I continue to feel this deep pleasure, each and every time I catch a bright light suddenly going out. It would not explain why my spirit is keenly aware of God's presence, in those moments. And it would not explain why I greet each instance with a smile and feel compelled to whisper a delighted, “I see you, too.”

Who would have thought there could be so much joy in playing a game of “Peek-A-Boo” with the Lord?

Abba, Thank You for delighting in your children. Thank You for delighting in me. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear You, this day. In the name above all names, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Birthday Card

"For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him." (NLT) --Philippians 2:13

Back when my children were in elementary school, a misunderstanding occurred between my child's teacher and me. Our relationship was badly damaged in the process. As a result, I was very concerned for my child and found it difficult to be civil towards this individual.

A few days later, I was walking down the school hall and overheard several teachers as they sang “Happy Birthday.” When I realized they were singing to that teacher, I stopped because I did not want to be seen walking past the open classroom. As I leaned against the wall, I sensed God telling me, quite clearly, to get in my car and go buy a birthday card for this teacher.

I told Him I didn't want to. God waited. I argued with Him. He remained silent. I pleaded with Him. Nothing. There was no doubt in my mind that God expected me to follow directions.

Ironically, the weekend before, I had been on a Walk to Emmaus (a 72 hour spiritual retreat). While there, I had made the conscious decision to allow God access to all of my life – not just the parts I had trusted Him with before. It was clear to me that this was a test of my newly declared trust.

So, I got in my car and drove to the nearest bookstore. There was no joy in my heart as I went through the motions of obedience. My feelings toward the individual had not changed. It was only my desire to honor God that propelled me inside to complete my appointed task. I finally found a card that didn’t make me gag with birthday ooze; it was blank inside.

I drove back to the school and pulled up next to the teacher's car in the school parking lot. The thought of extending kindness to someone who had caused so much turmoil and pain in our family filled me with frustration. I remember asking God what in the world I could possibly say to this person that wouldn’t be a flat out lie.

"Write this: 'The angels were dancing on the day you were born. May you know how much God loves you this day and always.'”

As my pen formed the words, I was humbled. It didn't matter how I felt, what mattered was how God felt. I signed my name to the card and placed it under the windshield wiper of the teacher’s car.

As I drove away, God's lesson was clear: I didn't have to love this person in order to share God's love with them. I was worn out from the battle that had been waged within my soul and relieved to have passed the test.

The next day, I received a phone call. It was the recipient of the birthday card calling to say, "Thank you for the beautiful card. And, oh, by the way, would you happen to know if there are any Bible studies at your church? I’ve been thinking I need to try that.”

We were able to make it through the remainder of the school year without anymore conflict. A simple birthday card. A message of God's love. The result -- nothing short of a miracle.

Thank you for teaching me how to trust You - experience by experience. Thank You for working within me; giving me the desire and power to do what pleases You. May I stop trying to do things in my own strength and rely only on You. I love You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Persistent Invitations

“But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward.” – Jeremiah 7:24 (NIV)

In David Nasser’s book A Call To Die, he writes about the challenge that faces committed followers of Christ. As we draw closer to the Father’s heart, we become more aware of our own sinfulness.

It has been months since I read Nasser’s words, but they’ve stayed with me because I know them to be true. As I journey deeper into the Father’s presence, it becomes more difficult to cling to the illusions I have about myself. I cannot continue to grow in my faith if I refuse to grant Him access to the places in my heart that do not honor Him.

If I am listening to God; if I am paying attention to the Holy Spirit, then I inevitably hear His whisper,

“Let’s look at this together.”

God’s invitation sets off an internal struggle within me that ends in some type of response; sometimes a combination of two or more:

Denial - “I don’t know what You’re talking about.”
Refusal - “No.”
Procrastination – “Please God, not right now.”
Surrender – “Okay.”
Relief - “Finally! I am ready to get rid of this junk.”

When I do cooperate, God stands by my side, giving me the courage and strength to look at my sin through His eyes. While I may flinch at what Christ’s light reveals; God does not. He remains with me as I process through whatever needs to be removed or transformed.

These moments are always accompanied by a deep awareness that the blood of Jesus covers my sin. I am humbled by the grace and mercy extended towards me, even as I am face-to-face with the ugliness in my soul.

God never employs condemnation, guilt or shame to convince me to change my ways. If I am struggling with any of those three, I know that I am listening to the voice of the world, myself, or the enemy. God always convicts with love. Always.

A few years ago, I experienced this in a profound way. A friend and I had a very serious conversation, intense in nature, regarding a third party for whom we were deeply concerned. Even though the conversation was discreet and respectful, my spirit was greatly troubled afterwards. I knew that I had displeased the Lord.

Looking at the conversation, through God’s eyes, I realized that I had freely and thoughtlessly shared privileged insight given to me by the Lord. I had spoken on my own authority; with no fear of God. I assumed ownership of the knowledge given to me and had overstepped my boundaries; partly out of ignorance but mostly out of carelessness.

Upon conviction and horror at my sin, the Lord said something to the effect of,

“I know…you really screwed that up but we don’t have time to stay in this place of self-pity and guilt. Don’t - do it - again. Got it?”

Don’t misunderstand me. God did not minimize my sin. I was fully convicted of my wrongdoing and understood the importance of what He showed me. But I was also dumbfounded, because God was so matter-of-fact about it.

God had no intention of dwelling on my mess-up – so what made me think I could/should? His focus was not on my sin. It was on me. And, in return, my focus was to be on Him.

I learned something that day. He asks me to deal with my sin; not to make me suffer, but to set me free. When I deal with my sin it makes room for my relationship with God to grow and to thrive. And, I am better able to carry out the work that He has called me to do.

According to Jeremiah 7:24, I am either moving backward in my sin or forward in my faith. God’s will is always that I move forward. The choice is mine.

Even as I write, “I choose to move forward,” I readily admit that I am not looking forward to Your next invitation of, “Let’s look at this together.” It is so hard to go to those deep, dark places that exist inside me. And yet, Lord, I know that it is only in dealing with my stuff that I can grow closer to You. Thank You for Your persistent invitations. Thank You for the grace that You always shower on me when I go to those places with You. Thank You for Your patience when I do not accept Your invitation. Please, Father, give me the courage to say, “Yes” the next time You whisper to me. Help me to move forward in my faith. In the powerful, redeeming name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Turtle On Its Back

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." -- Matthew 7:7-8

"I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me." -- Romans 15:30

Yesterday, my friend and I discussed the challenges of trusting God with our lives and asking Him and others for help along the way. Since then, I have been thinking a lot about my own reluctance to ask for help. The truth is, I enjoy being self-sufficient.

It has taken me years to to be able to admit I don't know how to do something without wanting to hide in shame. Asking for help used to mean that I was weak; that I was stupid; that I was incompetent. My pride constantly whispered that if I asked for help then people would know...know that I couldn't do it myself. My cover would be blown and everyone would know me for the fraud I was. It was a lie but I believed it.

My most embarrassing parent moment is a perfect illustration of this mindset. At the time, my kids were 5 yrs, 3 yrs and 10 months. The four of us were leaving the zoo and had stopped at the concession stand to buy some popcorn. My oldest two immediately began to fight over who got to hold the container. The concession lady kindly handed me an empty cup so they could each have their own.

Instead of showing some gratitude, they began to argue over which container had more. I squatted down to prove I was dividing the popcorn equally. This wouldn't have been a big deal except for two important details:
1. I was carrying my youngest in a baby backpack and
2. I didn't want to get my knee dirty so rather than place it on the ground, I let it hover about two inches above the concrete.

At this point, my brain registered the fact that my center of gravity was somewhere above my shoulder blades and behind my head.

I was in serious trouble.

Ever so slowly I began to tip backwards. There was nothing to grab on to and no way to stop the pull of gravity. My sole focus was to go down as slowly as possible so as not to crack my baby's head on the concrete. As my rear end made contact with the ground, my legs shot straight out from under me. I continued going down until I was on my back; with legs in the air, my head straining forward (to try to keep the weight off of my little one), and...this is the best part (or most ridiculous )...holding out two cups of popcorn with most of their contents, in tact.

A turtle on its back, in all its glory!

My little guy (in the backpack) began to scream bloody murder because my body was putting lots of pressure on his. My older two began to cry because some of the popcorn had spilled on the ground.

All around us were happy families eating and laughing. They were totally oblivious to the drama in their midst. I wavered somewhere between laughter and tears as I lay there in disbelief thinking, "This cannot be happening to me!"

I gave what was left of the popcorn to my kids and then made an attempt to get up. No go. I was strapped in, buckled up, and snapped down. There was no escape. All attempts to sit up or roll over were a failure. I was trapped.

I remember looking around at the surrounding families. I wanted someone to notice me so that I didn't have to ask for help. I finally swallowed my pride and offered a tentative, "Help?" No one heard me.

I continued to holler "Help," each time increasing my volume, until a kind gentleman turned around and saw me. He was horrified; assuming I had fallen from a standing position. After quite a bit of effort, he helped me up. By the time I was back on my feet, we had everyone's attention (naturally). I couldn't wait to leave and hide my bruised pride.

When I look back on that incident, I am amazed at the lengths I went to -- by myself -- to fix the situation. At no point did I ask for help. Not when I realized I was going down. Not as I was going down. Not even when I was down. It wasn't until I had exhausted every one of my own resources that I considered asking for help. Don't you know that God was up in heaven, with a front row seat, just shaking His head and muttering, "Child, Child, Child."

Since I began a relationship with Jesus, I have been trying to live my life differently. There are times when I catch myself resorting to old habits. But on most days, I can see progress. God's Word tells us to "Ask," and so I have been practicing the discipline of asking God for help. I ask for wisdom and discernment in parenting. I ask for blessings and unity for my marriage. I ask for health and favor for my children. I ask for God to reveal His path for my life and for the strength to be obedient. I ask for peace for the one who seeks God's will. I ask for healing for the one with a broken heart. I ask for direction for the one who has lost their way. I ask on behalf of my leaders, my country and our world.

I have also learned how to ask my friends in Christ for their help through prayer. It is amazing to see how Christ can take a moment of need and turn it into an experience of grace and blessing.

For anyone who may be struggling with the asking: it gets easier with practice. I promise.

Almighty Father,
You are a God who invites us to "ask." May we take full advantage of Your invitation and make our hearts and plans accessible to You. Thank You for always loving, always listening, and always providing exactly what we need to become more like Jesus. In His name, Amen.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Family Album

"Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what He did for me." --Psalm 66:16

Six months ago, a friend asked me when I was going to start writing. I replied that I didn't have anything to write about. My friend then pulled out a Bible and read 1 Corinthians 4:1-2 aloud:

"So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful."

Then my friend explained that I had been entrusted with (asked to steward) the mysteries of God in order to dispense them to others. And, it was time for me to share what the Lord had been teaching me. When I confessed that I didn't know where to begin, my wise friend suggested I start by writing a devotional.

I left that meeting filled with the excitement of someone who has been given the go-ahead after a long, long wait. I knew that my life was about to be changed forever.

For years, I had been waiting and hoping that God would allow me to write for Him. My journal entry from 8/14/05 reads:
"As it pertains to my gifting -- moments in my life when I have been absolutely, positively certain that I was doing something God created me to do:
1. Writing about God at work in my life and then sharing it with others.
2. Praying with or for others.
Something supernatural takes place when I make these gifts available to God."

When I acknowledged this desire to write for God, back in 2005, it seemed foolish. After all, my writing skills were above average, at best. I didn't have anything to say that hadn't already been said. And most importantly, the Lord hadn't given me an assignment.

So I wrote those words in my journal and kept them to myself. In the meantime, I worked my way through a One Year Bible. For three years, I read, underlined, and copied (word for word) the Scriptures that God highlighted for me each day. I filled notebook after notebook with Scripture.

"Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful."

Upon reflection, I can see that the Lord was doing more than shape me through the study of His Word. He gave me the opportunity to prove myself faithful through the daily discipline of reading and writing His Word back to Him. And, it was only after proving myself faithful, that He gave me the go ahead to write for others.

Since my friend's prompting, the Lord has blessed me with multiple opportunities to share the way I see Him at work. Each devotional is dependant upon inspiration from the Holy Spirit. It is as if the Lord hands me a snapshot, taken by His own camera, and asks me to write about it.

For the first several months, I never knew when or what I would be asked to write about. In between assignments, I read my Bible, journaled and waited for the next picture.

Just recently, the Lord added a a new twist to this scrapbooking theme. Instead of one snapshot, at a time, He has been handing them (writing ideas) to me in twos and threes. To keep from forgetting the images He showed me, I began a list of titles and corresponding Scriptures on the last page of my journal. In less than a month, the page is almost full.

Once again, I realize that God provided me with the opportunity to prove myself faithful. In His infinite wisdom, He handed me individual photos until I could be entrusted with an entire roll of developed pictures. With His blessing, I will continue to preserve Holy snapshots in the Family Album for as long as it pleases Him.

Father, I praise You for being the Creator. When I consider how many scrapbooks it would take to capture a small portion of your creation, I am overwhelmed. Forgive me for my impatience with Your plan. And thank You that You know exactly what I need and do not withhold it from me. Give me the peace to trust Your perfect timing for my life. Remind me that there is always great purpose and lessons to be learned in the waiting. Thank You Jesus for your gift of my salvation. Help me to live my life in a way that brings You glory and honor. In the saving name of Jesus Christ, my Savior, Amen.