Wednesday, December 29, 2010

You Know That I Love You

As I’ve immersed myself in the Gospel of John the past month or so I’ve realized that the lesson Jesus taught his disciples is the same one He is trying to teach me now. Trust. How much of their heart were they willing to give? Where did they draw the line in their level of trust? Those are the questions that Jesus figuratively asked His disciples over and over and those are the same questions that I find my heart pondering as well.

John: 21:15-19.

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

In these verses in John 21, Jesus asks Peter the same question three times, “Peter, do you love me”? Jesus knew the answer to that question, so what was Jesus REALLY asking? He wanted to know if Peter trusted him.

Jesus has been asking me the same question lately, “Do you love me”? Hit by what has felt like an onslaught of difficult situations again, I have had to re-examine my answer and willingness to go deeper. It was just a couple of years ago when I was tested in a similar way and I emerged with a stronger faith and intimacy with the Lord. Now I find myself struggling with the same issue, though at an even deeper level. Do I trust him to take care of me – REALLY trust him? I know he can find me a job or a place to live, but will he really meet my need to belong? Will he fill the deepest place within me that so often feels alone?

Jesus meets each one of us where we are. He knows where we doubt and struggle to surrender. Today I have decided to willingly tender those innermost places to him as my offering of surrender. That’s what Peter had to do in his interaction with Jesus – he offered the Lord his love and trust for whatever was in front of him. I am making that same choice.

Yes Lord, you know that I love you.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

In The Ring

I was up early this morning. Not that I wanted to be, but sometimes a routine is hard to break and by 6:00 am I was laying there wide awake. I seem to process best in the mornings though, so maybe it’s a good thing I was up and turning to Psalm 143 because it was exactly what I needed to hear.

I’ve been weighed down by life circumstances the past few weeks. Not unlike a prize fighter who is in the ring with someone far bigger and more experienced, I feel like I’ve been taking a beating. The busyness of the school year, the tremendous stress of a company acquisition, the overwhelming responsibility of being a single parent, and other smaller incidental issues have weighed in and left me feeling like a boxer nearing the end of a long fight. I am still standing, but focusing has been difficult and the realization is that I could go down if the right punch is thrown.

David expressed it perfectly in Psalm 143.
1 O LORD, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.

2 Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you.

3 The enemy pursues me,
he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.

4 So my spirit grows faint within me;
my heart within me is dismayed.

5 I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.

6 I spread out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.

7 Answer me quickly, O LORD;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.

8 Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.

9 Rescue me from my enemies, O LORD,
for I hide myself in you.

10 Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.

11 For your name's sake, O LORD, preserve my life;
in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.

12 In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
destroy all my foes,
for I am your servant.

It feels as though David wrote this Psalm for me. I have felt so many of the same emotions that he describes here: faint, pursued, and even dismayed. I am constantly amazed at how often God speaks directly to my battered heart through his Word. Not only did I stumble across this Psalm on just the right morning, but He has been showering me with other blessings that I couldn’t ignore. In the midst of the sadness I’ve felt, God has kept showing me mercy upon mercy – someone would give me a gift I needed, I’d get to have a great talk with a Godly friend or I’d open to the exact verses that spoke to my situation.

I’m not at the end of this particular fight. I’ve got several rounds to go in this match. But I am so thankful that David understood the feeling of being pursued and dogged and that he gave me an example of how to turn to God. Desperate to persevere during a time when I’ve been experiencing punch after punch, I made the decision to do two things: spend more time with the Lord in the mornings and to continue to initiate with wise and spiritual friends who help me stay grounded in reality and God’s truth. For now I will focus on verse 8, which says:

8 Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.

I may get bloodied and beaten, but with the Lord I will walk out of the ring a winner in this fight and in every other struggle I encounter.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Great Awakening

“Death. It is the most misunderstood part of life. It is not a great sleep but a great awakening. It is that moment when we awake, rub our eyes, and see things at last the way God has seen them all along.”

I love that excerpt from Ken Gire’s book “Moments with the Savior”. He references Luke 16:19-31; the amazing story of the rich man and the beggar named Lazarus who both die and experience the afterlife that God awarded each of them as they deserved. God sees our lives, hearts and circumstances from a completely different viewpoint than we do. He always sees with eternal perspective and we are limited by the physical; choosing often to live by what we can see and feel. I believe, however, that learning to train our minds to think with eternal perspective is one of the big steps toward maturity in our relationship with God.

Reflect on what you would view differently in your life if you chose to see things from God’s eternal perspective instead of your own limited one. Imagine all of the things that we allow to consume our thinking and heart that will not matter AT ALL when we are standing face to face with the King of Kings. That is the great awakening. Here is what I envision as being important at that moment:
• Did I love the Lord above all other people and things
• Did I love my family unconditionally
• Were my friends and acquaintances drawn closer to or pushed away from Jesus as a result of their interactions with me
• Did I read and know God’s Word or did I treat it casually and with little significance on how I lived my life
• Did I view sin and righteousness the same way that God does

I think that upon my awakening, those are the things I will care about. I doubt I will be thinking about my job, my possessions or even my activities except how they relate to the above list.

1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."

I think it’s important to realize that according to this verse I am prone to see things a bit out of focus…a poor reflection. Upon my death, my reawakening, so to speak, I will know fully and will be known completely. I realize that due to God’s holiness and perfection, no matter how I live, I will still experience an awakening. I also believe that if I live with an eternal perspective while I’m here my awakening experience will not be one of shock but more of a sharpening of an already held view.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Standing In The Surf

1 Peter 5:10 says, “ 10And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

Every single one of us has circumstances or periods of time in our lives that seem to redefine who we are. I’ve experienced a few during the past five years. This time period of constant change led me to the beach one day in my thoughts. I pictured myself standing on the shoreline, right at the edge with a strong tide rushing toward me. One second I was on top of the packed sand, staring out at the horizon, and the next moment, buffeted by a large wave I started losing my balance as the sand underneath my feet began shifting. It wasn’t the secure packed sand it appeared to be, and by the next wave, my feet were completely covered and I was ankle deep in sand and water. Moments before, a distinct imprint of my foot was emblazoned on that sandy strip, now it was completely gone. So is life. One minute we’re doing well, happy, and hitting our stride and the next day we are knocked down and wondering what happened. God desires to use those times of uncertainly to draw us to him.

As I’m standing in the surf
The tide rushes in
Washing over my footprints
That just moments ago
Were clearly embedded and molded to form
Defining part of me
The remains of what was once distinct
Is now shifting
Changing as each new wave
Washes over it
A faint image of what once was
As I stand looking out
I wonder
What waves are headed my way?
Can I handle this
Constant redefining of who I am?

Our Father allows us to suffer for a little while, knowing that during that time of ambiguity we make choices; will we walk away or toward him? The day I wrote the poem above, I was faced with a choice, I had not yet determined which way I was going to walk. It is a recorded moment of my indecision.

Since that day, I have stood on that imaginary shoreline again and again. Each time I find the earth under my feet shifting, I have to make the choice to allow God to restore my heart and life; and so far he has every time.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hello and Goodbye

We are always saying hello or goodbye. There are daily goodbyes we casually throw over our shoulder as we run out the door, coffee in hand, or the morning greetings to our co-workers as we open the office door. There are also the less frequent ones…as we leave our child at the college dorm for the first time or the heart-pounding hello as your baby is put into your arms. Our lives are literally a series of hellos and goodbyes with those we love.

This summer I took a business trip back to my home state of Indiana. As the plane was taxiing into the gate, I received a text, one that I had been both expecting and dreading. One of my friends diagnosed with leukemia last Fall had been hovering near death for a few days. The text was from a mutual friend and it simply said, “She passed away this morning, but now she is in heaven.” I closed my eyes, blocking out the busyness on the plane that surrounded me and, in my heart, bid my friend farewell.

The first night of my trip I had the opportunity to spend time with some old friends; friends that I hadn’t seen in years. It was so fun to see them drive up – a fun hello. We talked, laughed and told funny stories about crazy things we had done and experienced together. I even took a trip back to the University I graduated from, reflecting on how life had changed since I said goodbye to the friends and places that were such a huge part of that season in my life.

While I was in my home state, I felt compelled to visit the cemetery where a very dear friend is buried. She was killed in a car accident in college – it was my first experience with death and it was a parting that changed me eternally. I spent only a few minutes standing in the cemetery and yet I caught myself remembering my last casual goodbye with her the night she headed out the door never to return. I said a more formal and lasting one a few days later at her funeral.

The trip back home was an emotional one for me. I hope I’m not painting a depressing picture though because emotional doesn’t necessarily mean it was bad. It was actually a very good trip. Even as I waited for my flight home I sat watching people greeting each other with hugs and smiles. It was a journey that brought into sharp focus for me the fun-filled hellos and sad goodbyes that we mark our lives by and that shape us into who we are. I spent the plane ride home reflecting on all those people I have greeted and parted ways with over the years. What a blessing to be able to love so many people that I am always experiencing either the thrill of hello or the pain of goodbye.

It’s all about putting your heart out there. The more people we love and who love us, the more wonderful greetings and tear-filled goodbyes we get to experience.

Monday, July 26, 2010

It's All About Perspective

Last week was rough for me. It was one of those weeks where my emotions were haywire - work was difficult, the kids were fighting and I didn’t handle it well. I’ve had weeks like that before, and yet came out of them closer to God and more determined and faithful. That was not the case last week. Still in my funk, I grudgingly went to church yesterday only to have the veil pulled back from my heart, and my soul enlightened.

Sunday’s sermon was taken from Matthew 5:10, where the Bible says, “10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. The pastor went on to talk about many modern day martyrs and Christians in more than 20 countries who are being persecuted in horrific ways because they profess Jesus as Lord. I walked out of church sobered and grateful for the opportunity to repent of my selfishness and ingratitude.

Last night I was taking a few minutes before bed to contemplate my heart and where it had been heading. I thought about the book of Philippians and Paul’s authorship of this book from prison. His attitude is nothing short of astounding, especially considering the extremely barbaric conditions known to have existed in prisons during this time period. More than likely, Paul was shackled in heavy chains, given very little to eat and was kept in a space filled beyond capacity with other prisoners. Under those extremely difficult circumstances, he sang hymns to the Lord and wrote the book of Philippians.

Philippians 4: 4-9 says, “ 4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Though I was anxious – worried about my kids, work and my place in church ministry - verses 6-7 really struck me. I had to stop my anxiousness, fill my spirit with gratitude and then God’s peace would supersede any situation and guard my heart. If only I had read the Word and “put it into practice,” as Paul says in verse 9, then maybe my mindset might have been different. With a different mind, peace may have guarded my heart - and I could have been rejoicing instead of weeping.

I do not know what this week will bring my way. I seriously doubt it will be much different circumstantially. I am praying though, that it will be much different as I keep my blessings in perspective and “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

Thursday, July 8, 2010

What Time Alone Can Do

Have you ever gone through a period of time where you were alone a lot or perhaps you just felt alone? My children are gone for a few weeks visiting their Dad in another state. My house is very quiet and I have discovered that being alone for long periods of time is very telling about who I am at a heart level. I am more tempted to sin when I’m alone, after all, who would know? And yet, as I’ve spent days here by myself I’m coming to see the benefit in this solitude and not just as a source of temptation. I am not forced to do anything out of the need to be a good example, or because it’s expected – what I do now is what I desire – be that good or bad. My true heart is exposed, and all because I’m alone.

Exodus 2:11-12 says , "11 One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. 12 Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand."

If you look closely at verse twelve it says that Moses was alone, and glancing around to make certain of that fact, he then made the choice to sin. As it turns out, Moses’ choice wasn’t a secret and it became known that he committed this murder, so he fled to the desert. There was a span of 40 years between the time Moses murdered the Egyptian soldier, fled Egypt, and when he heard the Lord speak from a burning bush. A lot of changes took place in Moses’ heart in that time period. The Bible says that Moses was a shepherd so we know that he was probably alone most of the time. Apparently that solitude changed him because he went from being a murderer to an obedient servant of God.

Deuteronomy 34:10-12 says, 10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, 11 who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

I’ve had to make a decision to turn to God in the solitude and choose not to sin. My heart’s goal is to walk closer with Him when I’m alone or when I’m feeling isolated like Moses did. Moses’ time in extended solitude changed him into one of the most amazing leaders in the entire Bible. It says in Exodus 33 that God spoke to him “face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” I long to continue to have that same “face to face” connection with my Father. Maybe time alone is a good thing after all.