Parties in heaven?

The other night we watched a movie that, to many, may have not seemed that engaging. It took a while for some of the plot to develop and get the back story of the characters, but it was endearing enough for me to keep watching. The title? Gifted. It’s a story about a young man named Frank, who, due to tragic circumstances, ended up raising his niece Mary. It depicts the struggle in which he finds himself when the tiny town in Florida in which they live figures out that, at the tender age of six, Mary is already a brilliant mathematician.

Soon a court case ensues, spurred on by her grandmother – much to the uncle’s dismay. The grandmother (and exacting woman who seems to have no confidence in her own son and his ability to care for the child), insists that she has greater wealth and influence in her New England hometown, both of which could be used to help her granddaughter achieve greatness.

As part of the court case, the grandmother’s lawyer digs up the girls biological father – who conveniently names her as the legal guardian. Frank’s attorney quickly dismisses the father as one who has no right to make that kind of call. Although Mary is nowhere to be seen during this part of the movie, Frank at some point decides to tell her that her father testified.

The news is crushing. She locks herself in the bathroom, hunkers down on the floor, sobbing. Her uncle and a neighbor friend Roberta try to talk to her (well, Roberta actually chides Frank for even saying anything)… but the words the girl speaks are haunting: “My real dad is in town and he didn’t even want anything to do with me?”

Oh…..how movies can bring reality to life.

I can’t say I understand what she was feeling. My dad has always been in my life, and I have always known he loves me. Yet I know that is not the same for all of you. I know that some of you had absent fathers, abusive fathers, fathers that may have been in the picture but didn’t care about entering into your world. I cannot even begin to imagine what its like, yet my heart broke watching that scene because what cried out from that little actresses heart was a question every one of us has had, at some point (and some of you more than others):

Am I really wanted?

What Frank does next takes a while to follow, as he gives no hints what he’s doing as they get in the car (even to Roberta, who he drags along for the ride). All you see next is that they are in a hospital, and that they sit there….. for a very, very long time.

Initially I wondered if Mary’s biological father might work at the hospital, and Frank was waiting til he got off shift so Mary could meet him.

Nope. Frank had something much more important in mind.

You see, Frank could have coaxed Mary out of the bathroom, or waited til she came out on her own. He could have sat her down and explained to her that her dad didn’t even know about her, or that people are flawed and don’t often think about others. He could have sat with her in her hurt and simply acknowledged that sometimes people make dumb choices and this was one of them. All of those may have been decent ways of handling Mary’s grief… but none of them would have replaced those feelings of unworthiness with reality – and Frank knew Mary needed the truth.

The camera starts to follow the reaction of a family sitting near to them in the waiting room. The older man sits up straighter in his chair, and the women turn and look at each other, but it is silent so you have no real idea what is going on.

Frank taps Mary to wake her up, having fallen asleep since it was now the middle of the night. She scowls at him, confused.

All of a sudden, a young man comes out through the two doors of the hallway and shouts “It’s a boy!!” — at which point of course everyone goes wild and jumps up and down with excitement, hugging each other, eyes full of tears for the joy of this tiny life entering the world.

It reminded me of Luke 15:10 when Jesus talks about the angels celebrating over even one person who turns to God.

Mary sits up and looks at her uncle, who at that point leans over and whispers to her “THAT’S what it was like when you were born,” he says. In that moment, Frank communicates so much more than Mary realized she needed to understand:

You were loved from the moment you entered the world.

You were celebrated.

You still are, even if people who should care for you don’t…. Or never did.

You are worth fighting over

My friend, this is what you need to hear the Father in heaven speak over your life!

It doesn’t matter what your story is, or was. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done well or how much you’ve blown it. This is the joy God felt over you the day you were born, and even moreso the day you realized He loved you like this. He longs for you to find freedom from every lie you’ve been told, from every hurt that has kept you caged, from every wound that has left you broken.

What Mary does next is even more amazing. “Can we stay for another?” She asks her uncle….so they stay and watch until another family gets the happy news of the birth of their daughter. Mary practically jumps out of her chair with excitement, goes over to the family and joins them in the celebration, smiling and clapping for them. I’m sure they didn’t quite understand why it she joined them, but they welcomed her in and let her celebrate too.

This is the work of the kingdom, my friends. To know the joy the Father has over YOU, and then to join Him and rejoice when others find the same grace, love, and mercy for their lives. There really is nothing more beautiful and pure than watching the recognition of how much someone is loved by God wash over their lives, and to see His healing making them whole. Whether it happens in a moment or over time… it’s just flat out beautiful, no matter what their age.

So go be part of the kingdom: Find the joy God has over you. Bask in it, if you never have. Let Jesus bind up those wounds and show you how to trade truth for a lie. Then go share it with others and watch as God uses you to awaken them to His love. Its a lifetime work, my friends… but it’s worth it.

Here’s to more parties in heaven 🙂

Taking Possession

 

IMG_1346

Ok, first things first:   Yes, this is a picture of the sunrise over the construction empty space near our house. I chose this for two reasons. One, the parallel of the sunrise to new understandings, as I talk about later in the blog, and two, because like sitting and enjoying the sunrise requires doing nothing else…  sometimes so does holding onto those new understandings. Maybe it will make more sense as you read 🙂

Anyway….I was reading in Jeremiah chapter 32 earlier, and as I read verses 17-23, something caught my eye.

This part of the chapter is a prayer that Jeremiah prays after he follows the Lord’s leading to buy a field, even though the Israelites are about to be attacked by their enemies and lose their land. He hides the deed in a jar so that it can be dug up as proof that he owns the land, at some point in the future.

Jeremiah prays to the Lord, saying essentially – God, you are great and mighty and I know you understand more than I do. But why did you have me buy this? It doesn’t make sense. We’re about to be destroyed as a nation. God’s answer: Is anything too hard for me? Yes, destruction is coming and the city will be burned down. But I will bring you back. I promise.

This is the part of the prayer that stood out to me:
“You brought your people Israel out of Egypt with signs and wonders, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror. You gave them this land you had sworn to give their ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey. They came in and took possession of it, but they did not obey you or follow your law….”

The word Obey there is [shama] which can mean obey, but also means to hear, to heed, to listen with interest

The law here is [towrah] – instructions.

So here we have the Israelite child generation (because all their parents died in the desert) that came in, took possession of the land, and didn’t just pass through. They settled down and made it theirs. They enjoyed it. They lived off the fat of the land. Yet somewhere in the midst of all of that, they forgot to listen for the voice that was once a bright flame leading them in the desert, or a cloud leading them at night. They forgot to heed the advice on living that was passed down from Moses to Joshua.

These are the stories we always hear about the Israelites, aren’t they? They remember God, they take advantage of His blessings, then they forget him and things go wrong. Life falls apart for them as a nation… and at some point they begin to seek God again and things go right again.

Summarizing that last part again: They came in, they took possession of it….

We don’t really use this kind of language much in English today, except as it might relate to real estate and lending transactions “When will you take possession of the new house? The plot of land you purchased? The car you just bought?” Or, a bank might repossess a car house or other piece of collateral, if you fail to make payments.

So, we have even in our world where taking possession is a good thing – you are finally getting what you have been hoping for or what you have been working towards. Yet it can also be a not so good thing – where, because of your own failure to pay (sometimes out of bad spending habits, sometimes out of things beyond your control) – you lose that one thing you had at one time taken possession of.

This is what it looks like in the physical world. Yet I think there are spiritual implications to this as well. There are times in our lives as believers, when we happen upon a new understanding of who we are, and what God has said about us. It could be something you heard at church, something the Holy Spirit opened your eyes to as you were reading or praying on your own. Maybe it was a song you heard or something a friend said. But it’s new and delightful and you just can’t stop thinking to yourself “how did I miss THIS???”

So the next few days, that is all you think about, this new aspect of God’s love for you, or this new truth of who you are in Christ. You walk a little taller, you bask a little more in prayer, thanking Him for how He loves you. Eventually – if you marinate in it and don’t just toss it in your “faith basket” as another thing to remember… you begin to possess this new truth. You begin to walk in it.

The fact that you really are FREE.
That you really are LOVED – no strings attached
That you really DO have the Spirit in you. God didn’t just keep that for other people
That you STAND in grace. Its not a moving shadow you have to run and find
That you have a PURPOSE for being here
That you are glorious to Him, and nothing can change that.

The hope, of course, is that we would hold onto these kind of truths and they would always be something we understand about ourselves. But if we are all honest, I can almost guarantee that at some point, even for those who have followed Jesus for a long time – those truths have to be stared at and meditated on longer because they don’t seem as shiny as when you first realized them.

None of us mean to forget.

None of us mean to slip into old habits, old ways of being, speaking, thinking about ourselves.

Heck, Paul chided the Galatians for reverting back to the law as their guide for what made them acceptable to God. This church had experienced the work of the Holy Spirit and seen miracles in their midst – yet in Chapter 3 Paul asks them:

“Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?”

They had taken possession of the truth of who they were in Christ, but at some point they started to slide back into worth by external law and not worth by virtue of the power of God.

Sound familiar?

The ONLY way we can avoid this is by staying close to the Lord. “Abide in me” Jesus told his followers “And I will abide in you….” and together fruit will come.

Sometimes we need God to give us a fresh “reveal” of these truths of who we are, who we are meant to be, and who we are to him. Why? Precisely so that we don’t take possession of our identity and how much we are loved and our purpose for being here — and then forget. We live in a world that constantly wars against these truths. Every time you turn around there will be a voice or picture or nagging thought somewhere that says you are not enough, you really are stuck in life, you are not THAT loved, you are not that special, and why would God care about you?

It takes purposeful separation for us to hear these truths and marinate in them again.  A quick re-read of a verse isn’t enough. You have to sit in it, ruminate on it, chew on it. I have found that is done best alone…but that may not be everyone’s style.
So my question to you is this:

Do you have a place where you can best pay attention to God and let the Holy Spirit remind you of you are? I sure hope so. But if not – I challenge you to find one. It can be a beautiful space, a messy house while the kids are napping, the treehouse outside, or an empty closet. Sometimes for me, the garage has been the only quiet place in the house. Whatever works! Just find it.

Be determined to take possession of who you really are in Christ and not let go!

 

Taking hold of…. what?

photo credit: Maia Press

So this blog goes out to all of you that feel like your faith story isn’t that cool.

No offense to those who tried everything they could in high school, have come out of addictions, were abused or in jail or gangs or big stuff like that. Your stories AMAZE me and I praise God for all He has done to save you and make you new. But I need to talk to the folks who didn’t take that route for a minute, so please have some grace here. Feel free to skip this post if you want.

This one is for the church kid, or the good kid who maybe felt like they were in the minority. You weren’t perfect by any stretch, but you didn’t really do anything hugely wrong, nothing that would have gotten you arrested or made your parent’s too embarrassed. This is for the 20 something that has done some growing up and figured out some things about themselves and come to faith with much searching, or anyone who has come to follow Jesus without all the huge fanfare or lightning bolt experiences.

The bible spends a lot of time in the New Testament talking about how much God has redeemed us from our old sinful ways, out of darkness, and planted us into His kingdom of light. Think of me what you will, but probably the first decade I was a Christian I had a really hard time identifying with this – precisely because I was a “good kid”. I willingly called Jesus my Savior because I was taught that He had forgiven me, but I had a hard time knowing exactly WHAT he had forgiven me of. I had gone to church off and on through much of my childhood, yet I can never recall a time that I ever felt like an enemy of God.

Everyone else’s stories seemed so drastic, so black and white. They seemed so much “cooler” and “better”. There didn’t seem to be room for a story where being drawn to Jesus because his people made me feel accepted me, and actually liked me for me. There’s nothing dramatic about that, I thought.

So for the longest time, when people would ask about “my story” – the answer in my head was always:

WHAT STORY?

Who is going to think anything of how God found me? It’s not this glamorous story that could win crowds or convince people of His reality because its so unbelievable.

Have you ever felt that way? Maybe your story is similar, or maybe you have always just believed and known that God was real, and your journey was one of being more and more faithful, or maybe you had more of a logical conversation with the Lord and He won you with reason. You see, it’s not just people who are saved out of the big huge horrible things that have stories of God saving them.

You have a story too.

Philippians 3:12 says “… I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”

Yes, God took hold of Paul in a drastic way. Geez, he was killing people that didn’t believe what he believed at the time. I think God HAD to be drastic. But the reality is that if you are a follower of Jesus, he took hold of you for a reason.

You have a redemption story.

Jesus knew, even if you didn’t (or still don’t know) that you had insecurities and fears that needed to be chased out of your life. He knew that you hid your true self for fear of what others would think, or that you were running from the dreams that He gave you. He knew your perfectionism was crippling, your relationships shallow because you couldn’t go but so deep, your hidden hurts that you gave up on time healing.

The reason those don’t seem huge to us is because we inevitably find ways to deal with them, with or without Jesus.

But Jesus took hold of you to restore you into what you were meant to be. However much of that you understand now, there is ALWAYS more to uncover. Day after day I know so desperately I need Jesus. My story may not be one that will ever draw a crowd or have a movie or a book written about it, but Jesus has claimed ground in my life I never knew I had lost. He has filled in broken places my younger self didn’t know were hurting.

Jesus took hold of you out of your own personal darkness – and brought you into His light. Even if your story doesn’t seem “huge” in the eyes of the world… it’s huge to God.

Jesus tells a story of how a shepherd will leave the flock to find ONE missing sheep. You are that sheep, and God came to find you because you were worth finding.

If you have never taken time to think about your story – it’s time to do it. Find some time away from the bustle of life, quiet your busy mind, and be daring enough to ask the Lord what He sees in you. I bet it’s amazing!

Pea Soup

IMG_4694Earlier this week, I woke up one morning at 4:30. I had not planned on waking up that early, but I was wide awake – and for some reason I could not wait to get out for a run.

It was a cool morning – in the 50’s – and still completely dark, save the few street lights in our new neighborhood. As I turned the corner and headed out towards the new high school being built nearby, I realized it was foggy. Very foggy. It was so dense that all I could make out was the muted glow of the lights around the high school.

It was glorious.

Silence, all around, save the sound of the wind whipping the flag on the flagpole as I ran by.

I felt like I had entered sacred ground in a way, because across from the new high school was a huge plot of land that was not yet developed. There was a sidewalk on the outside edge, but behind that – nothing.

I had to stop and look at it for a minute, and stare into the thick nothingness that I could not see. This is the perfect picture of where I am and where I am headed, I thought. Fully confident of the presence of God, yet fully unaware of what waits beyond the next few steps in front of me.

I have come to love fog for that very reason – because it is such a perfect visual of what the presence of God is like – what it can seem like, I guess I should say – at different times in our lives, or even just at different times in worship. It is a reminder that we can breathe him in and stand in His very presence. It’s beautiful, mysterious, satisfying…and promised to us, if only we will pursue Him and do the work of waiting.  

The only thing I could see in the midst of the fog was the white line of the bike lane on the road, so of course I kept my eyes on it the whole time. It kept my footing sure and my path going the right direction, even though I still couldn’t see much.

Isn’t that just like faith? There are times in our lives where things get foggy, and the next steps are not always clear. Maybe we can barely see the road in front of us – or maybe we cannot see it at all – but as we all know, life doesn’t just stop. Neither does faith.  In fact, that’s the point of faith, to keep walking with God, knowing he is your plumbline, even when you don’t have directions and can’t see where you are going or what’s up next.

I like how The Message puts it: “… this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living…” (Heb 11:1) Other translations use words like “evidence of what we hope for” and “substance of things unseen”.  But you see, this isn’t just vague faith that eventually things will get better, or that things will work out.

Faith, grounded in the work of Jesus love for us on the cross and his ability to raise our lives from the dead even as we still walk this earth – that kind of faith is trusting He will never abandon you, even when things seem foggy. It’s holding to promises God has made of his provision, ability to comfort and counsel, even when evidence might seem to speak to the opposite.

Faith sometimes involves walking forward in the next thing without the daily reassurance that you made the right decision… but resting in the One that called and promises to go before you.

So today, I leave you with one of my new favorite songs, it’s called “Steady Heart” by Amanda Cook….. (but you can search for it yourself on YouTube or Spotify) 🙂

Switching Over

I’ve decided to switch my blogging platform and change the name of the site. I’m not guaranteeing that there will be more posts, but the reality is that I am not here to make a name for myself.

That honor belongs to Jesus alone.

So, since Jesus is the author of the very life I have, and pretty much all I want to do with the rest of mine is chase Him and all His goodness, and help others find Him too –

Here goes!

Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    hear, that your soul may live

— Isaiah 55:1-3 (ESV)