Who I Am

We have been in school for several weeks now. To say we have gotten into the groove would be a stretch. However, we are thankful for our schools and the teachers each of the kids have been given. So far it has been a good year. It has been especially fun seeing all the new skills our little kindergartener has been learning. She can hardly wait to do homework each night. This has been a dream for her and she will probably ask for extra. While each child is different in their approach to school, she is one who belongs in the classroom. Bring on the worksheets, textbooks and tests. She will have her No. 2 pencils lined up and sharpened.

IMG_4982One of the booklets she brought home had a title on it that caught my eye. It said, “Who Am I?” She had written her name above the title. While the book was not about her, it is a question she will have to answer. It also reminded me of the movie I just saw called, Overcomer. That was a question asked and one that some of the characters had a hard time answering. Who you are is not the same thing as what job you do, what your marital status is, economic status or what your class rank happens to be. Who you are has so much more to it. It was bought with a price by our Creator and it defines who I am.

At one point if I had been asked the question, my answer would have been a pretty surface one. Those days are long gone and my identity is secure in who God says I am in His Word. Anything else is shakable, changeable and unreliable. If we based our identity on say our wealth and then one day it was gone, who would you be? If you had worked for one company for 20 years in a certain position and then one day you were let go, who would you be? If your church that you were a huge part of suddenly split, who would you be? If your identity came from your outward appearance and then this whole aging thing sets in and this image is not sustainable, who would you be?

This identity thing is a big topic right now in our country. So much confusion and it is heartbreaking. Why is gender such an issue? You were made one or the other. Your birth certificate can clear it up if one starts to question. Beyond that takes a bit more digging. If you grew up in a Bible based church, you have heard plenty of stories about Jesus and have heard about His love for you. Just look at the cross. There is a good starting point. You are loved. Let that one sink in. It might take awhile. Because of our sin, the cross was necessary to pay what we owed to purchase our forgiveness. Jesus did that for each person, no matter how long or little they lived. You are forgiven. All you have to do is believe, confess and receive. Not hard, very simple in fact because children do it all the time.

My prayer for our family and you today comes from a wonderful teaching I heard while in pickup line. “I pray that He may grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through His Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19) When you can say this is true of you, your identity will no longer be in question.

I Know and Believe

“And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.”                          1 John 4:16          

Sometimes pictures reveal more to our hearts than they do to our eyes. I found this to be very true last week, when our oldest smiled over and over again for her senior pictures. I tried to stay out of the way and let our friend do what she does best. When you are not the one behind the camera, you do not know exactly what was captured. I knew from experience that we would be blown away by how well these images turned out. What I did not expect was the picture taken at the end of the day. I was hot and had not planned on being photographed. You do a bit more when the camera is aimed at you. However, I am so thankful for a picture with my girl. She is moving from being a teenager with a parent/child relationship into one of friend. It is an incredible blessing.

IMG_4857After the photo shoot, we hurried home and I met a group of younger moms that come over once a month to talk and pray. If there is anything I try and communicate to them is the importance of being in God’s word. You can not give what you do not have. If you want to give your family Him, be in His word. So much pressure is taken off when it is Him and His wisdom you are living from. We laughed a lot as a group and prayed about hard things. I am so thankful for each of these girls. What a privilege to take what has been learned and share. Mistakes seem to be redeemed when you can warn others not to follow your example. It is also encouraging to see that despite my sin, God works wonders in our children.

Just a few days ago, this oldest child, her dad and I were on our way to a potential college informational meeting. We talked about lots of things and again laughed a lot. Somewhere along the way, she asked how much housekeepers get paid. We told her what we use to pay for our home to be cleaned. Now we do it as a family. Put music on really loud and it becomes not so boring and the time goes by quickly. She thought maybe she could clean a house or two as a job in college. I was shocked at her humility. When I was her age, this would have never crossed my mind because I lived to be served. She has a heart to serve. When we got to the meeting, the admissions guy was talking about the kind of students they are looking for at this particular college. He said they do look at test scores and GPA, but what they were after were students that showed servant leadership. They want kids who know the heart of Jesus and live by His example. This made me smile.

I got a beautiful glimpse of the love of God for us this week. Time and time again I was reminded that God is believable and His love is quite amazing. One look at my husband, our kids or when I listen to the words they say, I am reminded that God loves me. He took a girl who was not very lovable and moved into my heart and has done a mighty work. I pray the work He has done and continues to do, will be passed down from generation to generation. My prayer for our family is, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father also loves the one born of Him. This is how we know that we love God’s children: when we love God and obey His commands. For this is what love for God is: to keep His commands. And His commands are not a burden, because everyone who has been born of God conquers the world. This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith.” (1 John 5:1-4). May our family be strong in following God’s commands, beautiful servants, known for love and conquering faith as we all continue to grow up in the image of Him.

 

Unwrapped

Jesus said to them, ‘Unwrap him and let him go.” John 11:44

This picture that Jesus paints in John 11 is quite amazing. You will need to read it for yourself, but I will summarize it a bit. A friend of Jesus named Lazarus got very sick and died. He was placed in a tomb and his family and friends were days into mourning this heartbreaking loss. Jesus steps into the scene and before long He is telling the people to move the stone that covered the tomb, thanks His Father for hearing Him and then tells the dead man to come out of the tomb. The stone blocking the exit has been moved, words of thanks spoken from the Son of God, in complete faith, have filled the air and a command has been given. What happens next is a miracle! “The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his faced wrapped in cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unwrap him and let him go.” (11:44). Can you even imagine witnessing such an impossible resurrection?

IMG_4404I read a teaching from Jill Briscoe the other day where she talked about the grave clothes that Lazarus was wearing. These linen strips and face cloth needed to be taken off of this very much alive man. She said the most interesting thing at the end of her lesson. “Throw away your grave clothes; they are poor dress for a living person!” This got my attention and had me asking the Lord if there were any areas in my life that looked like I was still bound in grave clothes. Then the words “linen strips” stuck out to me from the verse. Linen strips were also used as bandages for wounds. Bandages are necessary for a time as a wound heals, but eventually need to be removed. How many of us have bandages on from 20 years ago?

The Lord does not speak out loud to me, but His Holy Spirit does speak inside of my head and heart. I heard Him say that there were a few bandages I still had wrapped around me. They have been worn for so long that they just seem normal. The wounds have been healed, now unwrap them and live. Bandages are part of the healing process and we are all left with scars. But in my opinion, they do not need to be worn as almost an identification badge. Yes, there is past sin and yes hard things happen to us all, but we are alive! We have been brought from death to life because of Jesus. Forgiveness had a price and it has been paid.

These linen strips can keep us from moving and seeing properly. If we were looking through a piece of linen, images would not be very clear. We would see the fabric first and then what was in front of us. With the linen gone, we can see people in a fresh way and not distorted by our wounds. Life can be quite exciting when this freedom takes place! When we are free from anything that binds us, we can move. We can go to places that we have never been. We can explore. We can run. We can use each step as an act of worship. Think about the difference in our homes with this unbound living approach. We would not throw 10 year old hurts back into our spouses face. We would not remind our children of all the times they have messed up. Think about the freedom this would give them! When we are truly living, everyone we come in contact with gets a glimpse of love. Why would we go through this life any other way?

 

A Stormy Morning

“Greater than the roar of a huge torrent- the mighty breakers of the sea-the Lord on high is majestic.” (Psalm 93:4)

 

Oh, what a morning we had! I will start off by saying that our family has routines in place and they work for us. To get everyone out the door, on time and filled with truth, takes planning. We planned and nothing went according to plan. Scripture went unread around the table, breakfast was uneatable, hair was not cooperating and a storm was coming outside. The storm hit inside first. There were angry words flashing like lightening and chaos like only a good storm can swirl up. A wonderful way to start the day, don’t you think? How can one walk inside of a school, carrying the whirlwind of the morning and expect to learn, much less listen and behave?

IMG_4733As I drove the two lane road to school, the kids counted lighting strikes. Since we hadn’t read, I asked them to tell us stories from the Bible they remembered and our space was filled with the remembrance of truth. Then one prayed for us all. As the storm picked up outside, the storm inside calmed. I told them that when they got home, instead of the punishment they deserved, they would receive grace. I told them how much I loved them and because of this love, grace is what they received. My were they thankful! I dropped off kids that were ready to start their day.

I drove home thankful and reflective. The storm rages even now, but I am safe inside. It made me think of things that come into our lives that are hard. We feel tossed about and unable to find a place of safety. Rest and peace are a mere dream. However, another thought that has been stirring since yesterday came quickly. This picture of fighting back, charging into the battle or storm. Regardless of the conditions and weather, we have this ever present help living inside and outside of us. The maker and allower of the storm has given us the Holy Spirit as our internal helper. God Himself is well aware of us, His child and grace is ours for the taking. His Word awaits all who would open it and find truth to anchor in the midst of chaos. It makes all the difference.

Friend, I do not know your storm, but I do know our God. I am very aware of the enemy, who would love nothing more for you to stay out in the rain, helpless as can be in your own strength. The thing is, regardless of which you choose, the storm is still here. Rain pours, thunder booms and lightening flashes. What will it be? “As for me and my house, we will worship the LORD.” (Joshua 24:5). 

 

Another Lesson

“Truly I tell you, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny.”  Matthew 5:26

 

I love chapter 5 in the book of Matthew. So much of it contradicts the way of the world today. Jesus  has a way of turning things upside down. He lives a life of forgiveness, unconditional love, sacrifice, servanthood and confidence. He shines a light on our normal, human bent way of selfish living with tenderness, but all the while drawing us to freedom. He invites us to rely on Him to truly live. Some of us have been trying to survive in our own strength, knowledge, possessions and truth. Can I ask how you are doing?

IMG_4298I can ask because I know this way of life. I recognize fellow prisoners because I have been one. Chains are not always visible to the naked eye. Let’s look at the verse I mentioned at the top of the blog. Freedom is not granted until the debt has been paid in full. This made me think of others that we may put into prison and keep them there until they have paid us back. The problem is, not everything can be paid back and therefore prison doors remain locked. However, in reality sometimes it is your heart that is keeping that person or group out. You are the one who is actually locked away. You might have decorated your cell up quite nice and a little light filters in. You might have plenty of visitors and the food is good, but the fact remains that you are not free.

So, what is the payment that is being demanded? Did your spouse leave you and now every man or woman who wants a relationship with you is allowed only so close? Did it start much earlier, say childhood and you were abused in some way? Will fear take you to a lifestyle that says you are not who God made you to be and you go against His design and you pay a price for protection? This requires a fight and gathering of “open minded” people to get this perversion accepted. Are you willing to pay? Were you rejected by the church and now all religious institutes are dead to you and you pay the price of eternal separation from God? Did you fail at a business and now are stuck in a job that is miserable, but it pays the bills, so you stay? Now the world misses what you were gifted to do. What about family? Everyone is so different from you and you just can not find your place, so you stay away. Your friends are safe and accept you after all. Your family pays the price of your absence.

The other day I got a picture of people in prison clothes. The sad thing was it was me who issued the clothes and marched them into their cell. Hurt feelings tend to trigger a feeling of anger and my response is to block them from my heart, but I have never had such a visual picture before. It was up to me as to how long they would stay. I got to decide when the last penny was paid. What could they do to unhurt my feelings? We can go back further and ask the same question. What amount would give back time or mend a broken heart? The answer is nothing can give you time back or un-break a heart. But you know who can? The maker and creator of both hearts and time.

Believe me when I say He is the mender of broken hearts and restores time. No, I cannot go back in time, but those years that have been lost can and are being redeemed. In fact, they have been used to shape me in a very unique way. Yes, there was pain and much I wish did not happen. And to own my part, my choices cannot be changed, but they do not have to be repeated. I do not have to spend another day in a prison as the jailer or the prisoner. Prison life is confining, boring, dangerous, dark, lonely and joyless. You have to produce experiences, feelings, company and excitement to satisfy or distract from reality. With God and the freedom following Him offers, this striving is not necessary.

In fact, take the words in will you? “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts in under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house.” (Matthew 5:14-15). This light is bright and brings others in. People are drawn to light and then question where your light comes from. Also, you then can go back and light the way out for other prisoners. For the price has been paid, every last penny. When Jesus died on the cross, all our sin was paid for. Not only ours, but the sins committed against us. Once and for all paid for. Debt cleared. We were bought with the most precious currency, the blood of God’s one and only Son. We cannot pay, but He did.

The door is wide open and freedom awaits. Do you need to release captives or do you yourself need to walk out? Find a “city on a hill” and learn what this upside-down living looks like. It is more amazing than can be described. Not all the time easy, but that kind of life is not promised to anyone. Can you imagine the impact this would have in our families, schools, cities, churches, government, nation and world? What would our economy look like or imagine the things that could be created! Think about how crime would stop, illegal drugs would no longer be peddled, sex-trafficking would be abolished, abortion would be stopped, marriage would be back to its original design as one man and one woman. I doubt the foster care system would be necessary. Schools would be safe and communities would be united. People loving people is a beautiful thing.

While we dream of this as our reality, pick up a copy of the scriptures and read Matthew 5. Read the teachings of Jesus and consider what He is offering. It will hit you as impossible and not “the way things have always been done”, but I pray it draws you in and you consider the alternative. We have tried prison living long enough, don’t you think? Freedom awaits and our world is waiting to see your light. What will you do now that you know?

Learning to Run

“Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.”                                                             Colossians 3:2

On this last day of summer, we started something new… running. All summer long we have gotten up early and gone on a walk. Sometimes it is just my husband and I and other times kids come too. It has been nice to get out before the Texas heat cranks up and being inside is a much cooler option. We have also been in a long season that has worn us out, so walking has been our speed. Honestly at times, that to seemed too fast, but we walked anyway. But this morning we ran. Now, keep in mind it was with a very kind app that had you walk and run in intervals. Also, you need to know that I am not a runner, never have been.

IMG_4401What hit me this morning is how often I wanted to quit. One time we were running up a bit of a hill and it was getting hot. We made it to the top, turned around and ran down with the best breeze cooling us off. The hill was worth it and I was thankful. It also helped to have someone, who has been a runner, by my side cheering me on and setting a good pace. We all need people like this beside us. Something else that I found helpful was playing scripture verses through my mind when I wanted to walk instead of run. My favorite one was, “Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9). This will be a verse I am pretty certain I will be saying a lot this school year. Perseverance is a big deal when it comes to planting, tending, waiting and finally reaping when it comes to parenting. It requires a lot of setting your mind on things above and what matters in God’s Kingdom, not what is common.

We have spent the summer planting and tending, but mostly waiting. I will not give up, but will instead run with my God. Because it is He who is ultimately living inside me encouraging, correcting and all the while loving me towards home. Paul tells us, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25). What that means as a Christian is the empowering of the Holy Spirit, God’s gift to us, working from the inside out. I do not have to depend on my own strength, but His. What comes from this “in step with the Spirit” living is fruit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22). When I walk or run on my own, the result is more likely to result in fear, anger, pride and impatience. You do not want me as your running buddy if this is the fruit I am bearing, trust me.

Something else that happened on our walk/run this morning that was encouraging as a wife. As we came close to the last running interval, my husband said he was sprinting ahead. I told him to go ahead and kept my slower pace. It occurred to me how thankful I am to have a husband that takes the lead spiritually. I like having him a bit ahead of me in this race. He loves the Lord with his whole heart and has surrendered his life to Him. He has his eyes fixed on the Lord and desires to bring Him glory, not himself. He is a man who lives by faith. My prayer for him is, “just like Abraham who believed God, and it was  credited to him for righteousness…those who have faith are blessed with Abraham, who had faith.” (Galatians 3:6-9). I ask that the Lord bless him in all that he does, above and beyond what he could ever imagine.

As we race into this school year, I will pray for each of our kids too. I pray that they will live with this mindset,  “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20). With the Holy Spirit living inside of my kids, I pray they bear much fruit at school. I pray their teachers can count on them to be kind, joyful, patient, gentle and self-controlled. I pray they love their classmates well and serve them expecting nothing in return. I pray they look for the ones on the outside and invite them in. May they know where their help comes from and not give up. I will be praying for them often as they are “running” at school. No, this way is not easy or normal, but neither was the life of Christ.

You know what is interesting? Our oldest son, who is a runner, has been training early each morning with his cross country team. Last week he was sick and did not run his best. Today he is well and shaved 5 minutes off his 5 mile time. When we are healthy spiritually, running comes easier too don’t you think? So, let’s press on towards home, running in step with the Spirit and empowered by Him and not our own strength. I have a feeling that it is going to be a good year!

*Picture was taken in the mountains of NC a few weeks ago on a morning walk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Reminder

“Indeed, God is my salvation; I will trust him and not be afraid, for the LORD, the LORD himself, is my strength and my song. He has become my salvation.”        Isaiah 12:2

Months ago I started noticing pennies. They seemed to be everywhere I went. They would show up in random places or right in my path as I ran errands. I started picking them up and now have quite a collection. If I am wearing something that has a pocket, I make sure to carry one along. This might seem odd, but hear my reasoning. It serves as a reminder because of the words inscribed on each coin – “In God We Trust”. Each penny is a physical reminder of where to place my trust. At times my eyes, heart and mind can forget with all I see. Do you do the same?

IMG_4529With a new school year right around the corner, I will have plenty of opportunities to worry if I so choose. I will try and place my trust in myself and what I think I can control. What if the kids do not have friends? What if there is a car accident? What if college plans fail? What if….? With each “what if” I will say it is God whom I trust. He will give me strength on the days when I am tired. He will keep me quiet and calm when nothing around remotely comes close to these beautiful words if I allow Him too. I will remember this verse as I go about my day. “Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders.” (Deuteronomy 33:12). I do love the Lord with all my heart and I know He loves me and therefore I can rest. His love does not depend on my performance or lack of. On the days that I fail, His love does not change. When I forget He is trustworthy, He loves me still. Nothing is more secure than His love. I find rest in His love.

Last year I bought each of the kids a bracelet that had one word of encouragement on it. My husband wore one to serve as reminder to pray for our kids during the day. I wanted something visible to remind them that they belong and are loved. The bracelets wore out, but the belonging and love never will. This year I will be placing a penny in each of their backpacks, all 7 of them. Each time they reach in and their fingers brush over the penny, I pray they remember where to place their trust. If their day is good, trust God. If their day is horrible, trust God. And all the in between days, trust God.

Scripture says this of our trustworthy God, “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalms 84:11). God will light each of our children’s path and shield them from anything that will not result in their good or His glory. Sometimes this can be a bit hard to comprehend because we cannot see all He does. Trust Him anyway when nothing makes sense. He will not keep any good thing from His children. Again, we cannot always see the whole picture. Just think about all the good things we have asked for, but a little further down the road we are so thankful we were not given what we asked. There has been plenty of things I have asked for from God and He has not given. I trust that He knows what He is doing and that He loves me. He has my good and His glory in mind.

One of our children has learned a wonderful lesson in trust this summer. As parents, we have a different view than our kids. Faith changes you and the love of the Father brings a security like nothing else can. Because we know whom to ask for wisdom, He helps us guide our kids. This particular child was pretty adamant about what he would not participate in at school. Knowing what we know and feeling strongly about this decision, we guided our child to join a team. Turns out he loves it. Would he have chosen this on his own? No, but is now glad we did. He is actually shining now and we are so thankful! I will apply this to myself and trust my Heavenly Father’s leading. He might lead in a way that I do not like or see as good, but He knows best. I have seen Him do this time and time again, and each time, while sometimes painful, I would not change His plans. He is so worthy of our trust and the cross is the ultimate expression of how much He loves us. God, who sent His only Son to die for all the times we have chosen not to trust Him and sin, died anyway for each of us. Knowing all He knows about us, I would say this is trustworthy love. Where are you placing your trust today?

 

*As I type this one child is singing, “Do not be afraid or discouraged. The Lord your God is with you.” Praise God! He understands where he is to place his trust.

Mercy and Grace

“And when he saw him, he had compassion on him. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine…” Luke 10:33-34

The story of “The Good Samaritan” is known to many. Jesus had been with the 70 appointed to go out in pairs to the cities He would be visiting. The disciples were also a part of this gathering. A question is raised and the conversation goes back in forth before the story is actually told.  Scripture says that the man with questions was “wanting to justify himself” (Luke 10:29). Funny how our sinful hearts can cause us to stand up publicly and we ultimately reveal our heart. “And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). Jesus answered the lawyer with a question. And then the lawyer responds, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27). The man then wants specifics as to who exactly is his neighbor. And just like true Jesus fashion, He turns everything upside down with His answer in story form.

IMG_4090Jesus tells about a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho that was attacked brutally by thieves. They leave him stripped and badly beaten on the road. A priest passes by, but literally goes to the opposite side of the road to avoid the injured man. Do we do the same when we pass by those in need? Another man comes along, looks and moves to the other side too. And then it finally happens, the man who happens to be a Samaritan comes along and does not pass by or avoid the injured. “…he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper; and said to him, ‘Take care of him, and whenever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.” (Luke 10:34-35). Can you even imagine being the giver or the receiver in this story? The very thought is humbling.

What stood out to me this time was what was used to treat the mans wounds, oil and wine. Both had to be pressed to be made into something that could be used to treat a wound. I remember once, a dear man saying to my husband, “We all go through a pressing”. I have found it is what comes from the pressing that the Lord can then use for healing others. If I were to label my bottles of wine and oil, they would be Mercy and Grace. He is not finished yet, but I trust Him.

For many, we go along our days and sometimes do not stop and notice those wounded in our path. No, to keep moving sounds less costly. If we stopped, our time is taken, we might be late to where we were going, we might get dirty and it might cost us money too. This is not normally something that is built in our schedules or budgets. But, what if we did something different tomorrow? What if before we started our day, we packed our “oil and wine”? What if we sat down and thought about what we have been through- good and bad? What did we learn? How were we ministered to during times where we felt broken, wounded or unnoticed? What scripture comes to mind that you clung to during times where peace was a fight? My Bible is marked up with notes and dates. The margins read more like timelines. The common thread being God is faithful and His love is extravagant. He uses others along the way to notice, stop, pour encouragement into our days, bandage us up, carry us and love us well. Never waste an opportunity to do the same when you are back on your feet. To always stay the wounded one does not seem healthy.

Back to the original question, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). After Jesus tells this story, He asks, “So, which of these three do you think was the neighbor to him who fell among thieves?” (Luke 10:36). I love the words that come next. “And he said, ‘He who showed mercy on him.” (Luke 10:37). Should we not be doing the same? Maybe just maybe God will use us to show mercy to others. And in doing so, we reflect Him. Remember how the lepers cried out, “Jesus, Master have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:13). Jesus tells them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests. And so it was as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.” (Luke 17:14-16). I want to learn more about these Samaritan people, don’t you? They are different.

The story continues with Jesus asking another question. “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18). When we are healed, we can return and give glory to God. We can be the Samaritan who does the uncommon and uses our oil and wine to help others who are in need of healing. We can be the Samaritan who is available and lives a life that daily wants to give glory to God. We are not here to serve ourselves, but others. Needs are everywhere. People are hurting everywhere, maybe even in your own home or family. It is very common for us to have a time where it feels like we have fallen among thieves who have stolen our joy and peace. May we all have eyes to see, hearts that love and minds that remember to always pack our oil and wine. Our world is hurting now more than ever. What difference will we make?

*I took this picture at Abilene Christian University.

 

 

The Best Company

“Didn’t we throw three men, bound, into the fire? Yes, of course, your majesty, they replied to the king. He exclaimed, Look! I see four men, not tied, walking around in the fire unharmed; and the fourth looks like the son of the gods.” Daniel 3:24-25

I will never forget the day so much changed for our family. One email and we immediately felt like we had been thrown into the fiery furnace. The sad part was I was bound but unaware. Fast forward a few years down the road and on the same day, more heat was turned up, 7 times hotter. This time the Lord showed me what had me bound. He graciously freed me from those ties and I now walk in freedom, while in the midst of the fire. Like the three men who were thrown into the fire, they had no idea if God would save them and if He did, how long would the furnace time last. But their statement to the king gives me much needed strength, especially today. “If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18). 

IMG_1993These men refused to bow and worship, as was commanded, to a gold statue. I may not have a “ninety feet high and nine feet wide” (vs. 1) statue, but I sure was giving my worship to created things. What consumed my thoughts became what I worshiped and I was soon bound. It is amazing how tight those ties can become. However, my time in the furnace has been heart opening. There has been much repentance, confession, conviction, heartbreak and weakness. There has also been the peace, love, joy and strength that comes in surrender with freedom at its heals.

There is this beautiful song called Another in Fire by Hillsong. I could have written every word. “All my debt left for dead beneath the waters. I am no longer a slave to my sin anymore. And should I fall in the space between, what remains of me and this reckoning, either way I wouldn’t bow to the things of this world, and I know I will never be alone.” Beautiful, isn’t? When we are made new by the acceptance of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are no longer bound by sin. Do we still sin? Yes, we are not home yet. However, our sin has been paid for. Seems like I was determined to tie myself up when Jesus died to set me free. Fire quickly reduces, refines and burns that which does not look like Christ. Praise God!

So, even though there is no end in sight and no help to be found, we walk free in the fire. We are very aware that we are not alone. The song also has these encouraging words for us. “There’s a grace when the heart is under fire. Another way when the walls are closing in, and when I look at the space between where I used to be and this reckoning, I know I will never be alone. There was another in the fire, standing next to me. There was another in the waters, holding back the sea. And should I ever need reminding, of how I’ve been set free, there is a cross that bears the burden, where another died for me. There is another in the fire.” Goodness, how I need that grace today!

Some months ago a house down the street went up in flames. It was the biggest fire I have ever seen. We heard painters lit a cigarette while using varnish. The windows exploded and brick flew off. It was powerful. The house was completely destroyed, burnt to the ground. However, in the midst of the ashes, a glorious sight was caught by one of our neighbors. She took a photo of the only thing that remained, a metal cross. This was not a decoration, but must have been building materials. I keep this image in my mind and a prayer in my heart. When the day comes when we are taken out of the fire, may all that remain be Christ. Him and Him alone. What a glorious day that will be!

*Photo credit: Johanna Gabrielle Barron

Diving In

I read a great question this morning and it sank deep into my heart. The question was, “Did you learn to love”? I asked this first of myself and was reminded of one of my most favorite, life built on verses. “We love because He first loved us.” (John 4:19). Yes, I have learned to love. It has been costly and so often I have fought it, but I have learned to love. Ask yourself the same question and be honest with your answer. Does repentance, surrender, forgiveness, selfishness, bottom line – sin, need to be dealt with? It has been paid for on the cross, so why not acknowledge this ultimate sacrifice, the cost of love today? Brennan Manning puts it this way, “…the outstretched arms of Jesus exclude no one, neither the drunk in the doorway, the panhandler on the street, gays and lesbians in their isolation, the most selfish and ungrateful in their cocoons, the most unjust employers and the most overweening of snobs. The love of Christ embraces all without exception.” The thing is, when you know and believe you are loved, you live like it. The Bible is full of examples of people radically changed by this heart knowledge, sinners changed to saints.

IMG_4079.jpgBack to the original question. After I examined my own heart with this question, I soon turned towards our family. With our oldest diving into her senior year of high school, I had to ask myself if I have taught her to love? Has our home been a place where love is not only known, but shown in every word and action? Has she watched our example and  seen the reflection of Christ’s love for her? Do we make much of Him and His love or is self held high? Have our sins been confessed and have we turned towards love and lived differently? Has she witnessed two humble sinners, who are saved by grace because of our faith? I will say she has not seen this in me as often as I would like to claim. My early days of parenting, while covered in grace, reveal a very broken mom. I am so thankful that God loves me enough to have taken the time to unravel all that entangled me and now I can get back to His original design of love. I have said it before, but I have been reduced to love and I have never been more full. Praise God!

As our daughter plans on leaving for college this time next year, I do not worry about have I prepared her to live on her own. No, my concern is whether or not she has been taught to love. For love makes all the difference. Her roommate will get a front row seat to love or she will be hit with selfishness. My first roommate got that from me. I am sorry, Erin. Years later, after we were married and my husband became my “roommate”, he was the recipient of me not living loved. He now lives with someone who has been made new by love. I am sure he is happy about that, as are our children.

Everyone she comes in contact with now during her senior year and the years following, will know pretty quick if she has been taught to love. Her teachers know, her friends know, her youth leaders at church know, those she babysits for will know and her brothers and sisters will know. She has an amazing opportunity to be a wonderful example of love right here in our home. Will she take it? Based on what I have seen so far, the answer if a very loud YES! This child, while not perfect, lives loved everyday. Will this carry on as she journeys on next year? I pray it does and that she will know amazing grace when she forgets.

So, as we dive in to all this senior year holds, may I look for opportunities to remind this precious daughter of love. May she soak up all the love that is poured out each day. And when the time comes, may she give away that which has been lavished on her, not just by us, but extravagantly by her Heavenly Father. He is the source of love and His love never ends or even runs low. Let each of choose today to, “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12).

Senior year here we come!