A Photograph and a Poem

I was weary and discouraged. A couple of very difficult appointments with clients at the pregnancy center where I work had left me questioning my abilities and doubting my adequacy. I felt like a failure. I wanted to quit.

But I had a Bible study to prepare for that evening. Flipping through the pages of my workbook, I spotted the photograph. Thoughtful Geraldine had excitedly given it to me before the start of our study the previous week. It was a picture of a sunset over the Sea of Galilee in Israel, with a short poem printed below. She knew I had traveled to the Holy Land and thought of me when she saw it. I didn’t have time to look closely at it just then, so I tucked it between the pages of my workbook and promptly forgot about it.

Until now.

I picked up the photograph and slipped on my reading glasses to examine it more carefully. The sun, setting behind the Galilean hills, was in the shape of a Star of David.

This was the text of the simple poem that followed:

Star of David on Galilee
Jesus walked on this very sea
He called to Peter, step out and believe
Our eyes on Him and we receive.
He calls us now through Holy Spirit
For those with hearts and ears to hear it.
God Almighty, Creator of all
No prayer too big, no prayer too small.
So step out of your boat, you're not alone
Your miracle awaits, sent from the throne.*

Geraldine didn’t know that the story of Peter walking on the water with Jesus was special to me. But God knew. He had used this very story to lead me to accept the very position I had taken at work. Geraldine had no idea that a week later I would need confirmation that the Lord was still with me in the midst of a storm. But God knew.

It was as if He had sent this photograph into the future for me to find at the exact moment I needed it.

He knew I would recognize His voice speaking through this little poem, reminding me that HE was the One who called me out upon the water, that great unknown where feet may fail. (He had also used these very lyrics, from the song “Oceans,” to confirm His call when I took the job.) He knew I would see Him in this beautiful photograph of the very waters upon which Peter walked, and the shores upon which I had stood.

The truth is, I had actually begun to enjoy being out on the water with Jesus, preferring my exhilarating adventures with Him to the safe confines of the boat. Until like Peter, I took my eyes off of Him and placed them on myself–my inabilities, my inadequacies–and on the cresting waves around me. Next thing you know I’m panicking, thrashing, and coughing up sea water.

He came for me that morning in a poem and a photograph, and pulled me close, dripping and sputtering. He gently informed me that it was never about me. He pointed out that the storm didn’t actually stop until He and Peter returned to the boat.** And He patiently instructed me that He alone will determine when our walk on the water is over and it’s time to step back into the boat.

Who is this, that even the winds and waves obey Him? Who exists outside of time, sees our future needs and makes preparation for them? Who defies the laws of nature, walks on water and invites us to do the same? Who comes to our merciful rescue when we forget that apart from Him we can do nothing?

Jesus.

Amazing Jesus.


For Reflection: Where are you in your journey with Jesus? In the boat? Out on the water? Going under? Wherever you find yourself today, He is there too. He knows exactly what you need. Just “step out and believe.”

Watch this video of “Oceans,” filmed on the Sea of Galilee, and be encouraged!

*Photo and poem by Anthony R. Torres, Hand of God Photography.

**See Matthew 14:22-33 for the account of Peter walking on the water.

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Cleaning House

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.” (John 2:13-17, NAS)

Jesus was at home in the temple, teaching, healing, worshiping. A Son, in His Father’s house, going about His Father’s business.

But on this day? It was time for a little housecleaning.

The outer court of the temple was more like a bustling marketplace than a peaceful sanctuary. Tables had been set up for the convenience of visitors who needed to exchange money or purchase a sacrificial animal before proceeding to the inner courts of the temple. Upon entering the courtyard, one’s senses would have been assaulted with the sights, sounds, and smells of this carnival-like atmosphere. Regular temple worshipers had probably become somewhat desensitized, accepting the scene as normal.

Not Jesus. He had had enough of this bizarre bazaar. Fashioning a whip, he drove the sellers and money changers out in a rare display of angry passion.

Zeal for His Father’s house, we’re later told by His disciples, had simply overcome Him.

That temple is long gone, reduced to Roman rubble in 70 A.D. But now there is a new temple. One erected in every heart where Jesus dwells.

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16, NAS)

And just like the days of old, “money changers” come and set up their tables in the temple courtyards of our hearts. Some have occupied space there for years. The Bible calls them “strongholds.”

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4-5, NIV) 

A stronghold can take many forms. It could be a persistent sin, struggle, or addiction. It’s something that “sets itself up” in our lives to keep us from intimacy with God. It is anything that consistently robs us of what is rightfully ours.

Strongholds were never meant to be tolerated. Yet we grow accustomed to their presence and accepting of their chaos. We even start to “own” them, personalizing them…my anxiety, my insecurity, my anger. Strongholds are thieves masquerading as friends.

I allowed a long-standing stronghold of Fear to set up camp in my heart. It was a familiar presence, one I had learned to put up with and had begun to call my own. But according to 2 Corinthians 10:4, strongholds are meant to be demolished. Destroyed.

Thankfully, Jesus is on the scene. And He is still passionate about His Father’s house. He possesses the power to clear the temple courts with a whip and a word.

That word is our weapon.

“Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29, NIV)

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword… (Hebrews 4:12a, NLT)

His word is the gleaming sword that pierces, the swinging hammer that crushes, and the raging fire that can consume all of our strongholds.

Regarding “my” stronghold of fear, He placed this particular weapon from His word in my trembling hand:

Perfect love drives out fear. (1 John 4:18, NIV)

His word IS alive. And amazing. I doubt it’s coincidence that the Greek word for “drives out” in 1 John 4:18 is the same root used in John 2:15, when Jesus “drove out” the money changers.

I decided that Fear had littered my temple ground long enough. Perfect Love swept in and swept it away.

Does this mean I’ll never battle with fears again? No. But when I do, I’ll take them captive, rather than the other way around. (See 2 Corinthians 10:5.)

What strongholds have staked a claim in your life? Are you tired of paying their exorbitant fees? Do you long for peace in the sacred spaces of your heart?

Jesus is here. He is ready to clean house, overturn some tables, and drive the money changers out.

Just say the word. Then take Him at His word.

He is zealous for you, lovely temple of His Holy Spirit.

“My house shall be called a house of prayer…” Jesus (From Matthew 21:13) 

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How Sweet It Is

You may eat freely from every tree in the garden…but one.”

Over the years, I’ve learned to recognize God’s voice when He speaks. It is usually profound, concise, and startling in its clarity. He most often takes a Scripture and applies it to a current situation in my life.

So when I kept hearing this verse repeating in my mind one mid-October morning, I recognized the Messenger. I just didn’t like the message. 

I knew that God had given Adam and Eve these instructions when He placed the pair in the garden. They were free to eat from any tree but the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” We all know how well THAT went. (See Genesis 2.)

But now those words were directed at MeMy garden. My tree.

I even knew the name of the tree He was referring to.

“Sugar.”

No, I didn’t like this message at all.

In my work at our local pregnancy center I’ve encountered alcoholics and drug addicts. Some are in recovery; others are in denial. One pregnant client admitted that she was a heroin addict, but was reluctant to pursue treatment, even though she knew her baby would be born addicted. When I hear the word “addict,” stories like these come to mind.

But there are many kinds of addictions. Some are perfectly legal and socially acceptable. Like my own.

I’ve always said I have a “sweet tooth,” and have often joked about being a “chocoholic.” I’m a “Life’s uncertain. Eat dessert first.” kind of gal. Did you know that most alcoholics can remember exactly when they took their first sip? Well, I can recall the taste of my first chocolate Easter egg.

I’ve fasted from chocolate a few times in the past. But give up Sugar? You’ve got to be kidding!

I googled “sugar addiction.” At the top of the results page, in bold, was this:

Scientists have found that sugar is addictive and stimulates the same pleasure centers of the brain as cocaine or heroin.”*

In fact, studies showed rats preferred sugar over cocaine**.

Whoa. This was no joking matter! Sugar was my drug of choice. Could I be addicted?

The Holy Spirit was clearly convicting me. But He was also pointing the way to freedom. It was drastic, but it was beginning to make sense.

“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you…” (Jesus, in Matthew 18:8, NAS)

Ouch. This is a difficult teaching. But when dealing with an addiction, there is no middle ground. When hearing from God, there is no place for compromise.

So I did something I never thought I’d do. I cut down the cane tree, and cut processed sugar out of my life.

Next week will mark five months “sober.”

Going sugar-free has had its bitter moments. Five weeks into my journey, my family went on a Thanksgiving cruise, and I had to navigate around the ever-present desserts. Then came the sweets-laden Christmas season. But I learned that I could enjoy baking–without partaking! With every “chocolate holiday” on the calendar, I’ve bid a fond farewell to each of my holiday favorites. (So long, Hershey’s Candy Coated Milk Chocolate Eggs.)

But you know what? It’s actually been much easier than I thought it would be! After I heard so clearly from God, it became a simple issue of obedience. There is sacrifice, but also great joy in surrender. I’ve experienced a freedom I’ve never known before. Once I accepted that this particular tree was off limits for me (at least for this season), I felt at peace.

I doubt I’m the only one who struggles with this addiction. Perhaps the Lord is using my story to put His finger on this–or some other–area in your life. If so, here’s what I would say to you, my friend:

When God speaks, listen! Even if you don’t like what He’s saying. Even if He asks you to give up the one thing you think you can’t live without.

You can do it! He will help you.

On the other side of a hard obedience is an amazing freedom.

Oh, how sweet it is!

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1, NAS)

 

*From an article titled “Are You Addicted to Sugar? Here’s How to Break the Cycle” by Sarah Elizabeth Richards at www.dailyburn.com.

**From a NCBI–National Institutes of Health report: “Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward” by M. Lenoir, 2007.

 

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The Not-So-Good Samaritan

Do you ever desire a “do-over?” Or wish you could just push “rewind” and record a new response over one you regret?

I had one of those moments this past weekend.

It was halftime of the girls’ high school basketball game. The varsity cheerleaders were in position, ready to debut their coed routine. I was perched near center court, second row. Phone raised, thumb poised. I pressed the little red circle to start my video as the music began.

The team wowed the crowd with their flips, libs and pyramids. They nailed their jumps and cheers. Then, about halfway through the routine, one of the cheerleaders limped over to the sidelines. She sat down right in front of me, holding her knee, in obvious pain.

And I just kept videoing.

Another cheer mom, seated a few rows further up in the bleachers, finally ran down to the floor to assist her.

And I just kept videoing.

The routine ended, and the coaches and some of the other cheerleaders rushed to the shaken girl’s side. They carried her off the court so the athletic trainer could evaluate her.

Guilt began to swell up within me like the injured cheerleader’s knee.

Why did I keep videoing? Why didn’t I stop and help her? I was right there! She was right in front of me!

I was not “The Good Samaritan.” Instead, I was the one who passed her by.

As I reflected on this the following day, I identified three things that kept me in my seat:

  1. Agenda. I was too focused on capturing a video. I had difficulty deviating from My Plan. I felt conflicted.
  2. Appearances. There were a lot of people at the game. I didn’t want all of those eyes on me. I felt self-conscious.
  3. Adequacy. “I’m not the coach. I’m not a nurse. I’m not her mom.” The “I’m Nots” overshadowed the “I Ams.” I felt inadequate.

I wondered if the ones who passed by the wounded man in the biblical story of “The Good Samaritan” struggled similarly. It’s a familiar parable, but worth revisiting…

Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:30-32)*

Perhaps their tight schedules wouldn’t allow for a time-consuming detour. Maybe they also cared too much about appearances. They could have minimized what they had to offer, or rationalized that it was someone else’s responsibility.

“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’ (Luke 10:33-35)

The difference? The Samaritan not only saw the man, but he felt compassion for him. True compassion will lead to action. He did what he could. And it was enough.

So I’m asking God for a “do-over.” To be ready the next time I encounter a need. To feel genuine compassion. To let go of my own agendas, my preoccupation with appearances, and my fears of inadequacy. To offer what I have. To do what I can.

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” (Luke 10:36-37)

Jesus didn’t ask us to help everyone.

But with His help, we can each help someone!

 

(P.S. I’m currently kind of obsessed with this song. Sharing, because it seems to fit with this post. And because I’m obsessed.)

*Scriptures are from The New Living Translation.

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Biblical Blackjack

I’m not the gambling type. I don’t like to take risks. And I especially don’t like to lose money.

But we were on a family cruise, and the on-board casino was having a “smoke-free” night. The whole gang was planning to go after our formal dinner in the dining room, so I decided to tag along.

For about an hour I enjoyed watching my parents try their luck on the slot machines. I also took it upon myself to help the casino staff enforce the non-smoking policy whenever someone lit up near me. Most of the rest of the family were seated at the $6 blackjack table, so I wandered over there to cheer them on. (I even took this innocent, but I later learned, illegal photo. Oops.)

blackjack-ii

After awhile, there was an opening at the table. The next thing I knew, I was occupying that empty seat. Two casino chips were placed in front of me, courtesy of my sister. Yes, peer pressure is still a thing. I may have been on a ship in the open sea, but I felt like a fish out of water.

I was nervous, and very conscious of the fact that I was playing with someone else’s money. I wanted to do well, give my sister a return on her investment, and prove “worthy” of her trust in me. It became my motivation as I played.

With a lot of coaching (probably also illegal) from the rest of the fam, I actually won the first few hands. And even more surprising, after another hour or so of “hits” and “sticks,” my two little chips had morphed into two small stacks of chips! Apparently beginner’s luck is also still a thing.

Being the conservative person that I am, I thought this might be a great time to call it a night and cash out. The chips totaled $70! I happily offered my earnings to my sis, who insisted I keep all but her original investment.

The biblical parallels from my casino escapade did not escape me. I was reminded of the Parable of the Talents. Jesus told this story of a master who entrusted each of his servants with various amounts to invest while he was away. The wise servants who doubled his investment were rewarded. But the fearful servant who refused to take a risk was reprimanded.

‘Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.’ (Matthew 25:28-30, The Message)

I acquired some insights more valuable than cash from the casino that night. Here are a few of my spiritual take-aways:

  • Everything we have has been graciously given to us by God.
  • Our job is to wisely invest and multiply these gifts.
  • This requires faith–overcoming fear and taking risks.
  • The joy of pleasing the Master is our motivation and reward.

The next morning, I retreated to the balcony of our cabin to spend some quiet time with God. I picked up right where I had left off in my Bible study workbook, and caught my breath when I turned the page to read this:

In Matthew 25:14, Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven will be “like a man gong on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property” (ESV)…In the parable He used as a kingdom parallel, each servant’s responsibility was to steward the master’s property well. “Now after a long time, the master returned and settled accounts” (Matt. 25:19, ESV). Each servant who’d faithfully invested the small amount of property entrusted to him was commended, then placed over much, sharing the master’s happiness. The servants weren’t expected to be trustworthy with what they hadn’t been given. They weren’t judged by comparison or graded on the curve. The only question on the master’s table was this: “What did you do with what I entrusted to you?” –Beth Moore (From her study of 2 Timothy called “Entrusted”)

This is one of the things I love about our God. He is able to perfectly orchestrate the timing of His lessons. I like to call them “God-incidences.” They are one of the reasons I know He is Real.

Just like in blackjack, where the dealer is the only person one plays against, God is the only One to whom we must give an account. Now is not the time to play it safe. Take the risks. Walk by faith. Use your gifts. Invest your life in others.

Make it your joy to bring Him joy. It will be worth it just to hear Him say:

“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21, ESV)

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Merciful Truths

God’s Word doesn’t mince words. Sometimes the truth hurts. But it also mercifully, joyfully, frees.

Lately, the Lord has been using several merciful truths from this familiar passage to give me some joyful freedom.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. (I Peter 5:6-7, NAS)

Ok, quick grammar lesson. If you’re like me, you tend to put a period after verse six. In fact, many Bible translations do. In the original Greek, however, these two verses form one sentence. I believe they are meant to be connected, and for a surprising reason.

Truth #1:  Exalting myself is at the heart of my anxiety.

Ouch. This one hit me hard, because I knew it was true. It’s called Pride, and it’s Ugly. When we’re anxious, isn’t it because deep down we want to be in control of a situation? We fret and worry in vain attempts to secure the outcome that seems best to US.

Time for another grammar lesson. The command in this sentence is “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God.” Why? Because HE is GOD and I am NOT. Pride exalts myself, deceiving me into thinking that I know best. Humility surrenders self and yields to God’s sovereign control.

Truth #2:  Casting my cares on Him is an act of humility.

Some Bible versions translate verse seven into the imperative: “Cast your cares upon the Lord…” But in the Greek text this verb isn’t in the form of a direct command.* Casting our cares upon Him is how we demonstrate the command to humble ourselves. The NET renders it like this:

…humble yourselves under his mighty hand BY casting all your cares on him… (Emphasis mine)

Bible teacher Beth Moore sums it up this way:

The act of humility is in the casting. The pride is in the keeping.”**

One final grammar lesson. The verb for “casting” was “used of casting garments on a beast of burden.”* Luke 19:35 contains this same Greek verb, and gives us a helpful word picture:

So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on. (NLT)

The disciples threw (cast) their garments on the colt, and Jesus rode on them in triumphal procession. When I cast my cares upon Jesus, I’m getting off of my high horse and allowing Him to take His rightful seat as King. I give Him my worries and admit my inability to control my situation. I say, “Jesus, be Lord over this. Jesus, please ride in triumph over this.”

Truth #3:  Believing God cares for me is a place of rest.

As I cast my cares upon Him, I am comforted, because He cares for me. He. Cares. For. Me.  Say it. Believe it!

Everything He does is motivated out of His love for us and for those we love. Instead of fretting about the outcome, we can actually, amazingly, rest. Because He genuinely cares and truly knows best.

This is changing how I pray. I no longer feel compelled to convince God that He should do what I think needs to be done in a particular situation. Instead, I pray something like this:

Lord, You know I’m worrying about _________. I confess my pride, my desire to play God here. I humble myself by casting my concerns upon You, because You are God. You alone are capable of handling this. I am not built to shoulder this burden, but You are. You are Almighty God, Creator, King. So I give it to You. You know what is best. I know You love me, and You also love _________. Instead of worrying about this, I will rest in the reality of Your love and care.

What welcome relief this brings!

Now whenever I feel anxiety rising, I try to remember to stop and acknowledge my pride. I’m learning to humble myself by casting my cares upon the Lord, letting go of my need to be in control, affirming that He is Able and I am Not. I’m resting in His loving care for me and for those I care about.

Yes, the truth can hurt. Pride and anxiety hurt too. But these merciful truths are beginning to set me free.

Seeds of Growth

 

*From a study of 1 Peter 5:6-7 called “Counsel Concerning Our Cares” by J. Hampton Keathley, at www.bible.org.

**From her excellent series, “The Basket Case,” which was the main inspiration for this blog post. If you’d like to watch it, go to www.tbn.org. Look for “Living Proof with Beth Moore” in the “Video Archives.”

An Important Note:  I wanted to share these biblical truths because they were helpful to me in my own struggles with worry and anxiety. I am aware that some of my brave friends battle more severe, chronic anxiety. I commend them for seeking professional help and encourage anyone who may be dealing with this to do the same.

 

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Images and Imaginings

Cruz Ultrasound ii

I have become an ultrasound nerd.

I realized this last week when some friends announced their pregnancy on Facebook by posting this early ultrasound picture. Yep, there’s the yolk sac, I thought to myself. I was actually kind of obsessed with it.

Official nerd status = confirmed.

At the local pregnancy center where I work we provide free ultrasounds to help determine a viable pregnancy or estimate the gestational age. As the Client Advocate, one of my responsibilities/ privileges is to chaperon these ultrasounds. It never gets old, peering through this window into God’s workshop, the womb.

With the advent of modern ultrasound technology, we’ve been granted unprecedented access to the heretofore hidden world of the unborn. As early as four weeks post-conception, we can visualize and measure a miniature beating heart! And I’ll never forget the time I witnessed a tiny six-week-old embryo move. MOVE. I had no idea.

But as amazing as this technology is, it has its limitations. Sometimes the image is fuzzy and undefined. Our eyes strain to identify the structures on the screen, in varying shades of gray. It’s an inexact science, an imperfect medium.

Much like our Christian life. Jesus has come and opened our eyes to an unseen spiritual realm we never knew existed. We now have some understanding of His activity. We get glimpses of His glory. But they are limited and incomplete. Like hazy pewter images pixelating on a distant screen.

The apostle Paul, despite the glorious revelations he received,* experienced this obscurity in his own spiritual journey. Listen to how he described the struggle in these different translations of 1 Corinthians 13:12:

…we see only an indistinct image in a mirror…what I know is incomplete…(ISV)

…we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror..all that I know now is partial and incomplete…(NLT)

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. (MSG)

Life on this side of heaven is like that. We strain to bring focus to our spiritual vision. We long for a clear and unobstructed view.

This past month, two clients graciously returned to our center to introduce us to their newborn babies. I had “met” these babies on the ultrasound screen some months ago, as they waved and kicked in grainy gray. But to see the color and definition of their perfect features, and to feel their warm bodies breathing on my chest was to know them in another realm entirely.

A day is coming when we will see Jesus face to face. Now we trace His image in black and white on the pages of His Word; some day we will touch the Living Word Himself. Now we “squint in a fog”; soon we will behold the Son in vibrant color, in all of His radiant glory. Now we sense His Spirit moving mysteriously in our midst; then we will feel the very breath of God on our faces as we melt into His enveloping embrace.

YES.

In 1 Corinthians 13:12, Paul also shared the certainty of this hope:

Now we see only an indistinct image in a mirror, but then we will be face to face. Now what I know is incomplete, but then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. (ISV)

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. (NLT)

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! (MSG)

One day our faith will be made sight. The mist will clear and clarity will reign. This earthly womb we call “home” will give birth to a heavenly reality so beautiful we cannot even conceive of it.

That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (I Corinthians 2:9, NLT)

So squint if you must. Imagine if you can. But hope always.

And remember, anything good in this life is just a faint echo, an imperfect image of unimaginably wonderful things to come.

*See 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 for more of Paul’s story.

**This song by Hillsong Worship, “Transfiguration,” has resonated with me lately along these lines:

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To Be Near

I felt two little paws on my knee, and looked up from my book to see what Beau, our almost three-year-old Shih Tzu, wanted. He didn’t have a toy in his mouth, like he usually does, pestering me to play. I didn’t have any food, so I knew he wasn’t hankering for a handout. Round brown eyes beseeching me, he waited patiently.

I finally realized that all he wanted was for me to pick him up.

I bent over to comply with his silent request. He held perfectly still as I lifted him up and placed him beside me on the comfortable swivel chair. He nestled in next to me, bedding down with a contented sigh.

Beau

We remained like that, side by side, for nearly an hour.

This wasn’t like him.

He can be absolutely insistent when initiating a game of tug-of-war. He’s a shameless beggar at the table. Active and feisty, he loves to play “hard to get” when I try to corral him. But on this day he was just happy to be near me in that cushioned chair.

I gave up trying to read my book, distracted by thoughts of how like him I am. I typically go to God when I want something from Him. When He invites me to come and “sit a spell,” I am sometimes skittish. It can be a struggle to set aside my plans and desires just to BE with Him, with no other agenda but to enjoy Him.

I was touched when Beau came to me, just to be with me. I enjoyed the warmth of his little body next to mine. I savored those moments together, snuggled close. I honestly didn’t want them to end.

Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8a, NAS)

I wondered if the Lord feels this way when we come to Him, just to be with Him. When we seek intimacy with Him, He draws near, pulling us close. How it must bring Him pleasure when we linger in His presence, content just to be near Him.

But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do. (Psalm 73:28, NLT)

And how greatly we need the peace that comes from time spent with Him. We leave changed, more sure of His presence and secure in His love. We experience a deep and abiding joy that comes when God draws near.

…in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11b, ESV)

We can cultivate an awareness of His presence throughout the day, pausing to whisper a prayer, keeping a song of praise in our hearts, telling others of His goodness. He’s always with us. Let’s bring Him joy as we celebrate His nearness today.

 

Lord, we draw near to You today. Thank You for Your promise that when we do, You draw near to us. May we linger in Your presence, and remain aware of Your closeness throughout this day. May we invite others to experience the reality of Your promise and enter into the joy of Your presence. There truly is nothing better than to be near You. Thank You, Jesus, for making this possible. In Your Name we pray, Amen.

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Calling Home

The twelve men had been with Jesus long enough to know that He enjoyed a unique relationship with God. On more than one occasion they discovered him missing, only to stumble upon him praying. Like someone on an extended journey, homesick, frequently compelled to call home.

They saw how He derived strength and serenity from those conversations. The intimacy He had with the Lord was intriguing. For months they had watched and now they wanted what He had.

One day, one of them finally had the courage to verbalize what they were all thinking.

“Lord, teach US to pray.”

They waited. Would He be willing to share His secrets?

Sensing their readiness for what He was about to reveal, the Rabbi began.

“When you pray, say…Father.”

Father?

Had they heard that right? Did He really just say…Abba?

Their Scriptures referred to God as “Father,” but only rarely. Just 15 times, to be exact. No God-fearing Jew would have the chutzpah to approach the Most High God and address Him as “Abba.” It felt irreverent. But, at the same time, inviting.

It was, indeed, an invitation into the intimate fellowship of Father and Son. A new way of relating to Almighty God was opening up. The Teacher continued to instruct and prepare them for this coming change.

It took some getting used to, this idea of familiarity with Yahweh. His was a name so holy it could not be spoken out loud, and could only be written if the vowels were omitted. It seemed outrageous that the great “I AM” would now answer to the name “Abba.” He was a God to be kept at a safe distance.

What they didn’t understand at the time was that Jesus Himself was The Way to closeness with the Father. He was the means by which men could be brought near to God. He was the path to Heaven, which would be paved by His death, and opened by the Spirit upon His return to the Father.

Soon it would all make sense. Then they would begin to call Him Abba, Father.

He invites us to call Him Father, too.

Regardless of what kind of dad you had, whether he’s in heaven or still on earth, you can experience the love of a perfect Heavenly Father. Jesus makes this possible. He closed the gap between Holy God and unholy man. He brings us before His Father’s throne and introduces us as family. We are welcomed as sons and daughters.

We are Embraced. Chosen. Forgiven. Adopted. Loved.

When we pray, we say Abba, Father.

He Hears. Responds. Cares. Answers. Acts.

It’s Father’s Day. Why don’t you call home? Your Father is waiting to hear from you.

Father

Notes:

–Some of the thoughts I shared in this blog were inspired by a commentary on the Fatherhood of God by Robert H. Stein. Here is an excerpt: “The teaching of the Fatherhood of God takes a decided turn with Jesus, for “Father” was his favorite term for addressing God. It appears on his lips some sixty-five times in the Synoptic Gospels and over one hundred times in John. The uniqueness of Jesus’ teaching on this subject is evident for several reasons. For one, the rarity of this designation for God is striking. There is no evidence in pre-Christian Jewish literature that Jews addressed God as “Abba.” A second unique feature about Jesus’ use of Abba as a designation for God involves the intimacy of the term. Abba was a term little children used. This was not just a way Jesus taught his disciples to address God; it was the way.”

–Jesus’ teaching on prayer can be found in Matthew 6:5-13 and Luke 11:1-13.

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Trees Don’t Live That Long!

Today my dad turns 80!

And I just can’t resist the urge to say, “TREES don’t live that long!”

Don’t worry, he won’t be offended. We’ve said this to each other for many years. In fact, when he turned 60, I gave him a coffee mug with this sentiment and a cross section of a tree with his name on it. He still has it.

My dad is known for his great sense of humor. My sister once dated a college basketball player who unfortunately spent more time on the sidelines than on the court. A former collegiate “cager” himself, Dad just HAD to take a good-natured jab at her bench-sitting boyfriend. So he doctored an 8×10″ team photo of the poor guy, taping some broken toothpicks to his posterior. Splinters. From the bench.

His quick wit still keeps us in stitches. Two weeks ago our family gathered to celebrate Rachel’s college graduation. At lunch after church, he had us all laughing so hard that the entire restaurant turned around at one point to see what the commotion was about!

He stays active, and is an excellent golfer. He was an accomplished Air Force navigator during the Cold War years, and flew dangerous missions during a year-long tour in Vietnam. He always worked hard to provide for our family. And his stealth and generosity in picking up the tab at restaurants is legendary.

But what I admire most about him is his faith. He came to it late in life. Strong athletes and proud military men aren’t the first to admit their need for a Savior. I believe his finest moment occurred one night at the close of a Christian concert he attended with my mom. He humbled himself, got up out of his seat and went forward, with tears on his face, to accept Christ.

Tall trees don’t grow overnight. But in time that seedling began to sink its roots down deep into the Word of God. It soaked in the teaching of godly men, eventually offering its own shade in which other men could grow and learn biblical truth.

When I was going through a spiritually challenging season a few years ago, he got on the phone and shared a devotional passage that he thought might encourage me. It did. I found strength and shelter under the branches of that spreading tree.

So, Dad, on your 80th birthday, thank you. For being that sturdy tree for our family. For your service, generosity, and humor. But most of all, thank you for your faith in God and devotion to His Word.

We are so blessed that this tree has lived that long.

Tree-By-the-Water

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.

(Psalm 1:1-3, NAS)

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