Small Pain, Superior Purpose

Hey friends, it’s been a minute!  I’ve missed this space a lot, but I have been busy transitioning into new routines…does anyone else find September-October to be huge transition months?  There’s school and all the kids’ activities, and for me there is also rediscovering the ebb and flow of life in ministry (I teach the Bible with Bible Study Fellowship, which runs from September thru May). 

I’ve been bummed that my writing goals went out the window recently, but then a wise friend reminded me to give myself grace. 

I’m learning that goals are great, but grace is greater.

I’ve needed grace.  Because on top of all the normal, back-to-life good stuff going on, me and my people have been experiencing some hard stuff too.  It ranges from the irritating to the unbelievable, from simply annoying to true spiritual attack.  At times like these, the natural questions for God are “why would you let this happen?”  And “how much longer, God?”  It’s impossible to see the point of some of this stuff, in the moment.

Well, the other day I lived out a perfect metaphor for what I’m going through.  It was time to give my cat his monthly dose of medicine, which is a liquid I squeeze onto the skin between his shoulder blades.  I do not love this particular chore, because he seems to take it pretty personally.  He always runs away from me, but this time he stopped and looked back, flashing me a look of pure, wounded betrayal.  In that look I saw the question, “how could you do this to me?!” 

It was so heartbreaking!  I always felt the same way when my babies needed shots or blood drawn.  The look of hurt and shock in their little faces always broke my heart and made me wish I could just explain to them that everything I did, or allowed the nurses to do, was for their own good.  I allowed small pain for a superior purpose. 

I don’t know why my family and I are going through some really difficult things lately.  But I am reminded to focus on what I do know: God is good.  He is in control.  He allows small pain for a superior purpose.  He will use these difficult things for my good and His glory.

I love it when you can look back and see why God allowed tough stuff to happen.  I also know that some of it won’t ever make sense to my human mind.  So, I trust Him.  I pray.  I try to respond like a daughter of Christ and sometimes I even succeed.  I remember that in the context of eternity, all my troubles are but light and momentary (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Most of all, I keep my eyes on Him, looking not with wounded betrayal but with a belief that in all things—even the worst things—He works for the good of those who love Him. 

If you’re going through hard stuff today, you’re not alone.  Our God is a God of powerful goodness and He is right here, already working in the middle of the mess. 

Talk about grace.

Unlock the Door to Heaven

Back in June I walked into St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican unprepared for what I was about to see. 

St. Peter’s Basilica is no ordinary church.  It is one of the largest buildings in the world and certainly the largest church, able to hold up to 60,000 worshippers at one time.  Christians have made pilgrimages there since the original Basilica was constructed in 329…almost 1700 years!  In the 1500s a new basilica, the one that still stands today, was constructed on the same site.

St. Peter’s Basilica, The Vatican

Walking in, I was stunned by the size and grandeur and beauty of the place. If the ancient architects of this place intended to inspire worshipful awe, they succeeded with me. The scale of the place is enormous, like the world’s most ornate airplane hangar, but bigger. Then there’s the opulence. Even those who feel slightly queasy about the accumulated wealth of the church might find themselves inspired by the architecture, the priceless art, the gold, the stained glass, the icons. The beauty and history of the place come together to inspire awe.

Cathedra Petri (“Throne of St. Peter”)

But there is an obvious tension for a Protestant in a place like this. You simply cannot escape the asserted authority of the Catholic church, underlying and hovering over everything. I felt it most with the emphasis on Peter (it’s his basilica, after all). To Catholics, Peter is the first Pope, his authority received directly from Jesus Himself. This same authority has stretched through the centuries and been held by every Pope of the Catholic church. Under the magnificent dome of St. Peter’s, at the intersection of the cross-shaped building, there is an enormous bronze canopy to mark the widely accepted location of St. Peter’s tomb, below the floor.

As I looked up at this canopy representing Peter’s unique place of honor in the church, I was still thinking about a painting I’d just seen in the Sistine Chapel. There, a famous masterpiece by Perugino depicts the moment when Peter received his divine authority: Jesus giving him the keys of the kingdom. Why did Jesus do this? Matthew tells us that when Jesus asked His disciples who they say that He is, Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16). Peter’s answer revealed an understanding of Jesus as the One God sent to save people. The physical embodiment of deity. The fulfillment of ancient promises now standing right in front of them.

Peter’s answer was divinely inspired.  Peter’s answer was pure worship. 

Jesus’s response: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter [Petros, or “little rock”], and on this rock [petra, or “bedrock”], I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:17-18).

As I stood above the tomb of Peter, my neck aching from gazing upward at the dome of the basilica named in his honor, my heart thanked God that He did not choose Peter alone to hold all authority in Jesus’s name. Peter was one of a kind, for sure. He was blessed by God with understanding. He was greatly favored by Jesus, and given the great honor of leading the early church.

However, as others have often pointed out, the meaning of the Greek words “Petros” and “petra,” along with an understanding of the context of Jesus’s words, reveal that Jesus’s wordplay both honors Peter and points to a larger foundation. Peter was a rock, but not the bedrock. The truth in Peter’s words is the bedrock. I like John Piper’s succinct explanation of the rock and the keys here. I was also reminded of the same truth in this recent podcast with Pastor Jim White. We Protestants understand Peter not as the first pope, but as the honored representative of the apostles, and of every witness to the power of Christ.

So what about those keys? What are they, if not a unique symbol of Peter’s authority? The literal depictions of Peter holding these keys are a beautiful symbol of something far greater: the ability every believer has to profess the truth Peter first proclaimed—the truth of Jesus as Savior and Lord. Like Peter, we are all empowered to proclaim the saving grace of Jesus. Jesus is the builder of the church, and the cornerstone. Peter and the other apostles are its foundation (Ephesians 2:19-20). You and I stand on that foundation today.

Jesus goes on to explain that the bedrock of faith in Him as Savior and Lord opens the door to the flourishing of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:19-20 and 18:18). When everything in our lives is centered on our faith in Jesus, we “bind” and “loose” things on earth in the same way as they are in heaven. Honoring Jesus as the source and ruler of all unlocks the door to the kingdom of heaven. At the very center of the basilica of our hearts we won’t find a canopy honoring precious Peter; we will find Jesus and only Him.

Two weeks after I visited the Vatican, I found myself at the Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina.  Hanging in the house are three 500-year old tapestries, and one of them includes a depiction of Peter holding his key.  Except in this case, he appears to be handing the keys to the other apostles. 

Flemish Tapestry at the Biltmore House

I’m not sure if this is the correct interpretation of this image, but I like to think it is. It’s a picture of a simple truth: Jesus has given all of His followers the power to unlock the door to heaven, simply by proclaiming that Jesus is Lord and Savior!

We all hold the keys.

Blessings!

Important Enough

Have you ever wondered if you’re “important enough?” Making enough of a difference? Doing enough with your life?

In the fall of 1995 I arrived on the campus of Virginia Tech to study Interior Design, confident that my natural ability and love for beautiful spaces would be enough.  Within one semester I was totally disillusioned.  I hadn’t been expecting how competitive the program felt. I was also surprised by how much of design is business rather than creative work.  But the bigger issue was a nagging question I couldn’t shake.  Was interior design “important enough?”  Or could I make a bigger difference elsewhere?

In retrospect, I think the very question was wrong.  I’ve come to see that every kind of work is important and can make a difference in peoples’ lives.  But at the time, this thought really shook me up.  I responded by changing my major (a couple of times actually), and ultimately going on to grad school and then law school.  Each of these experiences was valuable in its own way, and I wouldn’t change a thing.  But it is a bit ironic that today I’m a highly educated homemaker whose favorite hobby is…wait for it…designing my home. Seeking out beautiful spaces.  Reading design magazines.  Pinning pictures of interiors on Pinterest.  My life-long love for beautiful spaces, starting with dollhouses and continuing through a high school interior design class…well, it hasn’t gone anywhere.  

But for all those years–from the time I changed my major in 1996 up until the last few years–I doubted that my desire to seek out and create beauty carried much importance or could make a difference in God’s kingdom.  It wasn’t “enough.” That’s a burden 25 years in the making, y’all.  I know some of you out there carry similar burdens.  We dismiss our creative abilities, hobbies, and passions as nice but insignificant.  Worse, we apply the same logic to the other callings God makes on our lives.  We even believe the lie that being a full-time homemaker or caretaker isn’t “important enough” work. Or that working part-time isn’t “enough” of a contribution. Or that working full-time isn’t being a “good enough” mom.  

Thank goodness God is patient, even with very slow learners like me.  A few years ago, during a season of prayer for renewed focus and direction for my life, God showed me He can and does use every aspect of human experience in significant and worthy ways.  He taught me that my innate drive to seek out and to create beauty–to see and appreciate and contribute to the miraculous beauty of his world—is worthwhile in His Kingdom.  That’s why today I embrace the “designer” in me by seeking out beauty, sharing beauty, and creating beauty, even in a world that sometimes looks anything but beautiful. I hope doing so honors God and gives Him glory, since everything beautiful points ultimately to Him.

One way God changed my thinking about this was through the story of Bezalel.  Bezalel belonged to the nation of Israel, during the forty years they spent in the desert journeying with God.  At that time, God gave Moses very explicit instructions for building a structure called the tabernacle, created for the crucial purpose of worshiping God.  God specified everything from the size of the tabernacle to the color of its curtains.  He told Moses which rings and lengths of wood should be gold-plated.  He specified what kind of furniture and garments should be made and what they should look like, as well as the actual format of the worship itself. 

But the kicker is this: God also specified who should make these beautiful items.  He named Bezalel, saying, “I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.”  Exodus 31: 2-5.  

God counted “all kinds of skills,” including those specifically described as creative, right up there with being Spirit-filled, with wisdom and understanding and knowledge. Even more wonderfully, God then called on Bezalel to use those skills for God’s glory.  These weren’t unimportant, just-for-fun hobbies.  Bezalel’s gifts, both his wisdom and his creativity, were essential for fulfilling God’s purpose for him!  

What an encouraging message for the homemaker, the caretaker, the creative, the one who works with her hands.  What an encouragement for those who feel like their jobs aren’t important enough, or not making a difference, or are just distractions from what really matters. Bezalel’s skills–all his various abilities–were important to God and useful in accomplishing His plans.  God knew Bezalel and how to put his gifts to their best use. God even called Bezalel to the work by name. 

Just as God knew Bezalel’s name, God knows my name and creative talents, and can use them for His glory.  He knows your name, too.  He knows every skill, talent, and dream you have because He created them.  Whether your gifts are artistic, educational, hospitable, or intellectual, and whether they take the form of a career, a hobby, or a passion, God designed your gifts for a good reason.  

I believe with Paul that all of us “are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Ephesians 2:10.  And I take these words seriously: “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not human masters.” Colossians 3:23.  It’s not the kind of skill or the kind of job or the number of people you serve that matters; its whether you do it in the service of God.

So, no more self-doubt!  No more believing the lie that your gifts don’t amount to much.  The good works God has for us take many forms.  Instead of wondering whether you’re “important enough,” know that your purpose is to glorify God every day with whatever He’s given you, wherever He has placed you.  It’s all “important enough,” because it all comes from Him. 

Blessings!

Undone

When I think about the state of the world, I easily come undone.  Same is true when I fall short, sinner that I am, in my words or thoughts or actions. Why does God allow all kinds of suffering and sorrow, mistakes and mess?  And what does it mean to be seeking His glory, and seeking beauty, in a world that often looks anything but glorious or beautiful?  Years ago I wrote about suffering and pain, sharing some of my thoughts about why God allows it. 

Lately I’ve noticed another great source of comfort for me.  It lies in understanding the not-yet-finished aspect of God’s work in this world.  The pain of becoming emotionally undone is soothed by the knowledge that some of God’s work remains literally undone. 

His work of salvation was finished at the cross, but other work remains.  Jesus promised He would come back.  He told us to be busy while we wait for Him, sharing the good news: everyone who comes to Him is restored to God.  God is patient as darkness and sin expand because even as it does, more people are coming home to Him (2 Peter 3:9).  More people are finding the freedom and flourishing that comes from faithful living.  And more people will step into eternity washed clean by God’s forgiveness.  Jesus’s work of salvation is finished in that it has been made freely available to anyone who follows Him, but God’s plan for this earth is still in progress. 

The world’s seemingly endless spiral downward into decay and darkness is punctuated by the beautiful salvation of souls and all the goodness that comes from life with God.  The world might be dark, but light is shining.  Here’s some beauty: against the backdrop of darkness that is always increasing, God works out the exact opposite process in the hearts and lives of those who love Him.  He spirals us out of darkness and into brighter and brighter light, so that we “shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:15). 

This process of being made to shine like stars (aka sanctification) begins when we’re saved, but it doesn’t end until we are perfected in heaven.  Therefore, it is progressive.  It’s still not done. Wherever we begin, no matter how depraved or respectable we are, God can take us further.  God can make us more and more like Jesus.  Paul said “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 4:18). 

I love the sound of ever-increasing glory.

I hope in a God who is still working in me, and in the world.

I trust Him with the darkness because His light overcomes it. 

I might come undone.  Then I remember: God is un-done too.

Encouragement for the Worn-Out Mommas

This post originally appeared on That Mommy Blog back in 2016. I thought it would be fun to update it (look for the italics!) as we start a new school year.

It blows my mind to tell people my babies are nine and seven years old.  Fifteen and thirteen! Back when they were infants, I would meet people with fourth-graders and think, “I’m glad that’s so far away, I am SO not ready for that!”  Of course, I wasn’t ready then.  But as time has raced on, God has made me prepared.  Parenting has taught me that—believe it or not–you’ll be ready when the time comes!  Even though I’m in a completely different stage of parenting, I often think about those hard early days.  The days when I had multiple babies in diapers and the “body spills” were plentiful.  The days when my back and wrists and hips were all strained with the constant lifting of quickly-growing bodies.  The days when sleeping well was an unattainable dream, and even my dreams featured little cries of “mommy!” that would wake me up in the night.  Those days, momma, are hard.

Why then do older moms like myself so frequently counsel you young mommas to appreciate each moment, to not wish it away, and to watch out or it’ll just fly by?  I guess all those nuggets of wisdom are true.  It does go fast (even faster when you’re looking back at it!). and taking a moment to appreciate it may indeed be helpful.

I want to give you young mommas in the trenches a slightly different word on this.  This season of young children is a precious time, but it is also a difficult, back-breaking, exhausting time.  I am sorry that it has to be so hard for you.  I remember, and I feel your pain.  But the encouragement is this: it is so, so worth it. 

Everything you are doing now: all the bottoms cleaned, all the feedings, all the re-reading the same board book; all the lifting into shopping carts and breaking elbows with heavy car seats, all the sobbing and tantrums and sleep-training: it is all worth it.  Because every single act of love that you pour into them now is building the foundation for who those little people will become. 

You’re in the business of making people.  It’s the hardest and most important work of your life.

Yes, I do miss what my kids were like as babies.  I miss their fat little rolls and baby giggles and the sweet snuggles.  I miss their innocence and even the silliest of the tantrums.  But I also love the people my children are becoming.  Even more true with teenagers. I love that they can brush their own teeth and clean their own rooms (though usually not without a fight).  They still can! And they still don’t love it! I love that they are sensitive to the needs of others, full of imagination and creativity and intellect and love.  I love that they have hearts for God and for others. These are things you don’t see in your babies, but you are nurturing all these things even in the youngest children.

And you are nurturing them in their love for God and desire to seek Him. As you continuously point them to Him, you are building a precious foundation for their faith.

And, after all, it is a season.  However impossible it seems now, you will look up one day and realize with amazement that you have a fourth-grader.  Or an eighth-grader, or even a sophomore in High School. You’ve moved through those trying, early years and you are seeing ever more clearly why you persevered. 

So keep your chin up, Momma!  I’ll see you on the other side.  We can get together and tell all the young moms just how fast it goes.

Let God In

Everywhere I look, I’m noticing a trend and I bet you are too.  Believers are using social media…like it has nothing to do with God.  Believers are managing (or mismanaging) relationships…like they have nothing to do with God.  Believers are making choices in their personal lives…like those choices have nothing to do with God.

I do this myself.  I while back I was hurt by the words and opinions of someone close to me, and I spun for days trying to think of every possible way to respond.  My first reaction was to lash out or cut this person out; it certainly wasn’t to bring this situation to God.

Why do we act like so much of our lives has nothing to do with God? 

If we really trust Jesus with our eternal salvation, why don’t we trust Him with our daily lives? 

There is a better way. 

Jesus is standing at the door of your heart, knocking.  He says, “Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”   In Revelation 3:20, the apostle John documented these words of Christ to the church at Laodicea, a church that experienced the salvation of God but then became complacent and lukewarm in their faith.  These believers allowed their comfortable lifestyles to lull them into a kind of spiritual sleepiness.  They may have believed, but they ignore their own need for an ongoing, vibrant relationship with Christ. 

Could the same be said of you and of me?  Are we so comfortable that we forget to let God in?  Do we forget our great need for a relationship with our maker?

Jesus wants to come in, and sit with you, and talk with you like a friend at your kitchen table would.  He wants to enter into all your questions, doubts, anxieties and wounds.  My friend, God already knows you, through and through.  He knows your history, your thoughts, your dreams, and your frustrations.  Because He knows you, He has the answers you need in the “small” stuff as well as the big stuff.  He can guide your words and actions, your thoughts and how you express them.  But to enjoy the tangible benefits of that kind of intimacy, you have to let God in. 

Today, before heading off to work, let Him in.  Invite Him to guide your thinking and decision-making. 

Before hitting “send” or “publish,” let Him in.  Seek His confirmation that your words honor Him and the people He created.

Before giving up on that difficult relative, let Him in.  Evaluate whether God’s grace, humility and unity governs your own behavior. 

Before pursuing a personal goal or making any kind of decision, let Him in.  Ask Him for His direction and then be bold enough to follow it.

Will you let God in today? 

The question is more difficult than it seems, because in our complacency we habitually ignore His knocking.  Not only that, but once we’ve invited Him in, we sometimes don’t like what He says.  He might ask us to swallow our pride, face our own sin, own up to our own mistakes.  When I finally took my situation to God in prayer, He revealed some ways that I had contributed to an unhealthy pattern of communication with this loved one.  I had to own that before I could heal and move forward.  It wasn’t easy.

So yes, it can be hard, but whether we let God in matters deeply, because there’s someone else lurking at your door.  Before Cain murdered his brother, God said to him, “…sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7).  Sadly, Cain invited sin in, murdered his brother, and suffered the consequences.  “Cain went out from the Lord’s presence” (Genesis 4:16).  Like Cain, we get to choose who we invite into our homes and our hearts.  And when we leave the Lord out in the cold, we are inviting the devil in. 

It is time to start living as if Jesus is both Eternal Savior and Lord of our daily lives.  It is time we let Him in to every detail.  When we do, we experience an intimacy that leads to His perfect guidance and faithful empowerment in any question, challenge, worry or problem we have.  Even better, His presence within us shines like a light pouring out from the windows and doors of our hearts, inviting others to want more of God for themselves.

All because we let Him in.

Something to think about! Love y’all!

So, You’re Not Jumping for Joy

Have you ever felt guilty for not feeling joyful enough? You’ve received the message, explicitly or implicitly: “if you’re a true Christian you can’t help but be joyful.” After all, joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. And we are implored to “be joyful always.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16.

We’ve probably all heard about the difference between happiness and joy—”happiness is based on circumstance,” people often say, “while joy comes from the Lord.” I know this is true, and I’ve found comfort in it. But my comfort has sometimes been paired with an abiding unease, a nervousness that maybe my faith is lacking because I’m not constantly (or even usually) jumping for joy.

One reason is that life is tough. Jesus promised it would be, and it is. Yes, the Bible tells us to be joyful always, but we’re also instructed to lament, mourn, and weep when it’s time for those things. Clearly, being joyful doesn’t mean pretending everything’s fine, smiling through clenched teeth. So how can you be joyful, when things are so stinkin’ hard?

In the Bible, joy is most often paired the idea of hope in salvation. I know this because two years ago God prompted me to choose “joy” as my theme of the year. At the time, I was like, “that’s awesome, I’m finally going to learn the secret of being joyful all the time!” So I spent some time meditating on all the Bible verses dealing with joy. Sadly, I did not learn how to jump for joy all day, every day. I learned that joy isn’t an emotion. It isn’t a physical outburst. It isn’t insisting on being happy even when things are stinky. Being filled with joy isn’t even necessarily visible to other people. 

Biblically speaking, joy is the comfort, peace, security and hope we experience God’s presence and salvation. Consider this verse from the prophet Habakkuk:

“Though the fig tree does not bud

and there are no grapes on the vines,

though the olive crop fails

and the fields produce no food,

though there are no sheep in the pen

and no cattle in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord,

I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

Habakkuk 3:17-18.

Habakkuk was grappling with the oncoming suffering of his people. If all the crops failed and the animals and people were starved and subjugated, Habakkuk says he is still going to be joyful in God our Savior. If you’ve lost your income, your health is suffering, or you’re grieving, the joy you experience won’t look like dancing in the streets. You won’t be jumping for joy, and that’s okay. You can still possess joy in God’s certain salvation of your soul. This kind of joy might look like smiling through tears, not jumping up and down.

Another reason a believer may not be always jumping for joy is simply that God designed her to be a quieter person. Don’t get me wrong, we are called to be joyful, but not all of us are designed for the kind of high-energy, high-octane, million-watt-smile brand of joy that we might have believed was standard for a sister in Christ. As I learned from this insightful article, introverts serve the church in different ways.  And I believe the expressions of joy of an introverted disciple—quiet, contemplative, intimate expressions of joy—look different from the exuberance we often associate with joy. 

One quick caveat here (and maybe this is just me, so feel free to listen in while I talk to myself for a second): Michelle, being introverted is not an excuse for being negative. You still must guard against negativity in your thinking and your words. Introverted joy might be quieter, but when people lean in, it still sounds like joy.

That said, joy for some of us doesn’t include jumping up and down. For the introvert, joy might take the form of a pleasant and peaceful disposition, an ability to point others to the Lord by listening well, or private moments of worshiping the King of Glory.

Maybe for you, joy looks like turning your face to the sunrise in the middle of a depression that seems unbreakable. Maybe joy looks like getting on your knees in prayer again this morning, even when you haven’t felt like it in months. Joy, in some seasons, is a quiet and profound acknowledgment that no matter how I am feeling, Jesus is Lord, and God’s salvation rests on anyone who comes to Him.  

Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. John 15:9-11, emphasis mine.

As sisters to our fellow believers and humans, maybe it’s time to reset our expectations a little bit when it comes to joy. No more pressure to paste on a smile, or stifle the truth about how I’m really doing, or to act like a cheerleader when you’ve always been more comfortable watching from the bleachers. 

Introverted sisters…sisters going through dark days…rest assured that your joy–complete joy–is truly found in God, and that is in fact why you can be joyful always, expressing that joy in many different ways. It might not look like you expected. You don’t even have to jump.

Still Beautiful

Hey friend, it’s been a minute. Since we last met here, the world has been in utter turmoil. You don’t need me to tell you about the pandemic and its economic fallout, the loss of life, the agony of pervasive racism, the climate change sparking fear like all those wildfires, or the actual wars and rumors thereof. You don’t need me to remind you of the friends who left your church, or left church altogether, or left the faith, and all the reasons why leaving felt preferable to staying for them.

You don’t need me to tell you: the world is an ugly place.

I’m popping in here after all this time, after all we’ve been through, to acknowledge the ugliness and still proclaim the opposite.  I want to say—no, I want to declare, to yell–that the world God has given us is profoundly beautiful.  Still beautiful, still worth something.  Yes, it is fallen and ugly and sad, but the world and its people remain worthy of redemption in God’s eyes, so shouldn’t we also look for the goodness in it?   

That the world is still beautiful is actually amazing, with my news feed looking the way it does.  It is beautiful in a way that is only possible because we still have a God of unbridled, boundless grace.  A God who makes beauty from ashes.  Whose light can never be devoured by darkness.

Source: NASA

Despite all the ugliness and horror and pain, the beauty of nature is manifest in trillions of ways, large and small and cosmic and micro-cosmic (is that a thing?).  The beauty of human compassion and kindness and love still shines so bright against the darkness it can make your eyes water.  The beauty of God’s love for us in our fallen state, in our ugly world, in our sorrow over the way things are, is infinite.

This isn’t denial, it’s defiance.  So often during the last couple of years I’ve felt overwhelming sadness, near-complete grief over the things we’ve lost and are losing.  That’s what happens when we focus just on the ugly.  But God tells us to fix our thoughts on something else—whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).  That is, above all else, God Himself.  And it is also what He has created, from the blooming flowers in your backyard to that gorgeous sunset at the beach to the guy who held the door for you because a double stroller is just too much.

That’s all I wanted to say today.  It’s a small thing but it’s also a big thing.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve naturally sought out the beautiful no matter where I am.  I even had a series on my old blog called Seeking Beauty.  God’s been showing me lately that He made me this way partly so I can encourage others, so my hope and prayer is that it encourages you today!     

Love ya!

Where the Weeds Grow

Although I love my next-door neighbor, I needed more than a wimpy strip of grass between her driveway and mine.  So last Fall I hired a landscaper to replace the swath of grass with trees and shrubs.  The first step was to kill the grass, then the guys went to work digging, planting and mulching.  I carefully watered my new landscaping, worried over it when we had a late freeze, and these days enjoy watching the plants grow.  What else is growing?  Crabgrass.  All throughout the area, I have been battling crabgrass.

Search Me O God

Have you ever tried to dig up crabgrass?  There’s a reason why it’s so difficult.  The green, leafy part we see is just the beginning.  Crabgrass grows from a network of strong, deep roots that spread laterally through the ground a couple inches below the surface.  It’s tough to pull out completely, and when you do you see why: it’s all connected.

As I dug and pulled and sweated over the weekend, on my knees doing battle with crabgrass, I couldn’t help but think about sin.  Sin.  The word used to make me cringe, especially as a new believer.  It is a tough concept for people steeped in an “anything goes” culture and who believe that we are all fundamentally good.

As a new Christian, I had to learn what sin is (falling short of perfection) and accept that I am a sinner (because I’m not God, I’m not perfect).

That was sixteen years ago, and how delightful it has been to discover that one of the most beautiful aspects of walking with God is how He continually, gently, and mercifully shows me where I’m sinning and helps to root it out.  What I know now about sin is that admitting it and allowing the Lord to heal it is one of the most amazing ways to directly experience His glory, His mercy, and His blessings.

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

Romans 6:13

God forgave our sins through the justification and salvation of Jesus, but He didn’t then just walk away.  No, God also cares deeply about conforming us to the likeness of Jesus by coming alongside us and transforming us.  As we desire to be more like Jesus, He guides us and helps us.  He pulls sin out by the roots and changes us, if we allow it.  Confronting sin isn’t an exercise in humiliation and judgment, as I probably once thought.  Rather, it is one of the amazing blessings of walking with God.

I’m speaking from experience here, friends.  I struggle with my share of anxiety, resentment and wrong thinking.  As I’ve battled these sins, God has gently lead me back to Him time and again.  Shown me that He is all I need.  That my trust falters when I don’t seek Him first.  That His plan is so much better than mine.  As I have prayed and He has provided, I find myself walking in freedom.  Far from perfect–far from sinless–but ever closer to the One who is.

Unlike me, God doesn’t sweat and swear with the difficulty of getting all the roots out.  He isn’t surprised when we fall short of perfection.  He expects it.  After all, Jesus died so that we could be forgiven of sin and walk with a perfect, sinless God.  Yes, your sin is already forgiven by the power of the cross; now comes the invitation to walk confidently in that forgiveness.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

   test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

   and lead me in the way everlasting.  Psalm 139:23-24

Today, take your sin before Jesus, even that problem that has been especially difficult.  Ask God to not only dig up the obvious, outward evidence of sin, but to reveal and heal the wrong thinking that might have taken hold deep inside you.  Believe me, He is able.

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Take Off Your Grave Clothes

fronds-new-creation

I’m deep in a study of John right now, and revisiting the lovely story of Lazarus.  Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters as dear friends, and His reaction to Lazarus’s death is one of the most touching stories in the Bible.  At first, His disciples are confused because He doesn’t head right over to heal Lazarus when He hears his friend is sick.  But Jesus’s delay is an example of His perfect timing.  He knew Lazarus would die of this sickness, and He knew He’d raise Lazarus from the grave. He also knew this miracle would inspire belief for many witnesses, and thanked God for it.

There’s so much to say about this story, but I want to focus today on what Jesus says to the assembled people at this moment.  Jesus has already commanded the people to roll away the stone at the entrance to the tomb.  They are reluctant, knowing the body would have begun decomposing, but ultimately they do roll the stone away.  Then Jesus tells Lazarus to come out, and he does.  Even though Lazarus has been entombed for four days, his body is not decomposed.  Instead, the man is miraculously intact and alive, still wrapped in the strips of cloth that were wound around dead bodies in those days.

Imagine the shock, maybe even the fear, of the people assembled there!

What does Jesus do next?  He simply says, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”  John 11:44. Before Lazarus can step into his new life, he must be released from the confines of these cloths marking him as a dead person, these grave clothes.

Let me ask you: are you still wearing yours?

If you believe God sent Jesus to save us, then you are gifted with new life in Him.  But as we believers stumble into the light of this new life from the darkness of our own tombs, we often find ourselves constrained by the grave clothes we wore before we believed.  We find ourselves bound to old habits and behaviors, old temptations and patterns.  I have experienced this bondage in my own life, sometimes finding myself speaking or behaving as if I never met Jesus!

Maybe it’s human nature to continue as we have always done, ignoring the amazing miracle we have experienced through new life in Christ.  If we haven’t shed those grave clothes, we will continue to be confined by them, even as believers.  What grave clothes are restricting you from experiencing freedom in Christ today?  What old sin belies your new life?  Ask God right now to show you those grave clothes and give you freedom from them.  Welcome the chance to confront what may be holding you back, even if doing so is painful.  I promise, the freedom of being born anew is so worth it.  Today, experience the freedom of stepping forward into the light of new life, unrestricted by death, unencumbered by sin, truly free in Jesus Christ.

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