Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ashes to Beauty

This month, I've been thinking a lot about the pain and mess and brokenness in our world.  I'm reading in The Greatest Gift about how God came down and gave Himself in the middle of our mess and suffering.  And I'm grappling with the impossible mystery of it all.

Sometimes it feels like I have enough just to deal with the mess inside my own soul.  And the dysfunction in my own little circle of relationships.  We all have it.  Every family, every friendship has its own form of dysfunction.  Sometimes its not even visible to people on the outside, but it's there.  Because we're not in Paradise.  We are broken and hurting people, and we hurt each other.  

But then you pile on top of personal brokenness the mess in lives of people I care about, that seems to be moving ever closer to me.  Friends getting cancer.  Friends with hearts broken, strong godly relationships threatened.  People coming into my circle who are dealing with very messy pasts, and horrible things done to them.  It's the kind of stuff that makes me want to turn and run some days.  To curl up somewhere in a safe little hole where I can just look after my own needs.  

The more you love, the more you give yourself, the more you open yourself up to pain.  The greater your risk becomes.  

No one did that more than Jesus.  

So in the midst of trying to balance the pain and the fear and the questions with the hope and joy and peace we have through Christ, I was reminded of this Scripture.  It's a prophetic passage, speaking of the coming of God's Anointed One, and what He would do.

"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.  To comfort all who give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness..."  Isaiah 61:1-3

And I'm praying for God to give beauty for ashes in these lives that touch mine.

So this morning, as I was praying for a friend, God reminded me of a book that I love very much.  It's called Hinds Feet on High Places.  It's an allegory of the transformation God makes in the life of a believer.  The story follows a woman named Much Afraid, whose name embodies her character.  She decides to follow the Shepherd, who promises to take her to the High Places of the mountains, to the Kingdom of Love.  He promises to take this crippled, twisted, fearful woman and transform her into someone fit to leap and run on the mountains like the deer and enter the kingdom where no ugly or evil thing is allowed.  Along this seemingly impossible journey, Much Afraid has these points of surrender, where she lays down a part of her own will and builds an altar to offer it up to the Shepherd, who of course represents Jesus.  Each time she builds an altar, fire comes and consumes the sacrifice, and from the ashes left behind, she is urged to choose a stone and carry it with her as a reminder.  She amasses a large collection of these stones, all ordinary, rough, and ugly.  At one point on the journey, as she and her companions huddle in the shelter of a rock and wait for a storm to pass, she dumps the stones out of her bag and ponders what to do with them.  A storm rages inside of her, and as she remembers the circumstances and the offering each stone represents, and looks at them in their ugly heaviness, she wonders if it is worth going on.  If she will ever reach the end of the journey and receive what the Shepherd has promised.  She almost leaves the stones behind in frustration.  But she gathers them back into the bag and carries them onward.  

True to the Shepherd's word, after much pain and suffering and hard sacrifice, joy comes in the morning!  He brings Much Afraid to the High Places.  He heals her crippled feet and crooked mouth and gives her strength and beauty.  He gives her a new name....Grace and Glory.  She can leap and run with Him all over the mountains, and He grants her the deepest desire of her heart....that if she would allow Him to plant the seed of Love within her, she would be loved in return.  

And the stones?  The ones she carried all that long way, the reminders of everything she gave up in hopes of something better?  They were changed into beautiful, precious jewels to be set in a crown for her to wear!

Ashes to beauty.  Stones to gems.  Joy for mourning.

Our Good Shepherd wants to do that for you and me.  So don't throw out the rough, ugly, heavy stones that represent the pain and loss and hard of your life.  Don't try to run from them.  Cling to them, like He clung to the rough, splintered wood of that cross.  For love of you.  Walk through the pain with a spirit of surrender, for love of Him, knowing that He is carrying you through it.  One day the weight of our suffering is going to be eradicated by the overwhelming weight of the glory into which He will bring us!  

And your stones will become jewels.  Don't lose heart.  They are worth carrying. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Lyrical Sermon For Your Christmas Week

I discovered this song today while listening to Keith and Kristyn Getty's Christmas album, called Joy: An Irish Christmas.  Read these words and ponder's amazing!  This is what the world waited for, down through the dark halls of history, through the sin and the pain and the mess.  This is what we wait for in retrospect during this season of Advent, season of waiting for the coming.  This is the reason we have real hope and joy as we wait for His coming again!  This is what we celebrate at Christmas.  Immanuel.  The fullness of God WITH us, IN us!

Let's stop asking ourselves why God allows such pain in this world.  We are broken through our own doing. Some of the evil and darkness here is far beyond comprehension.  But let's look at the suffering God Himself chose to take for us.  He came in His FULLness, to bear the FULL weight of our sin and brokenness, to give us FULLNESS OF LIFE!  Forever!  This is why we can celebrate, NO MATTER WHAT comes our way.  For where God is, everything is grace.

Read.  Wonder.  Worship Him.

"And the Word became flesh, and made His dwelling among us.  We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  From the fullness of His grace, we have all received one blessing after another.  For the law was given through Moses.  Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."  John 1:14,16,17

Fullness of Grace  (Keith and Kristyn Getty)

Fullness of grace in man's human frailty
This is the wonder of Jesus
Laying aside His power and glory
Humbly He entered our world

Chose the path of meanest worth
Scandal of the virgin birth
Born in a stable, cold and rejected
Here lies the Hope of the world

Fullness of grace, the love of the Father
Shown in the face of Jesus
Stooping to bear the weight of humanity
Walking the Calvary road

Christ the Holy Innocent
Took our sin and punishment
Fullness of God, despised and rejected
Crushed for the sins of the world

Fullness of hope in Christ we had longed for
Promise of God in Jesus
Through His obedience we are forgiven
Opening the floodgates of Heaven

All our hopes and dreams we bring
Gladly as an offering
Fullness of life and joy unspeakable
God's gift in love to the world

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Covenant of the Coming One

In The Greatest Gift, the devotional I am using for Advent, I read about God giving the Ten Commandments....His covenant of love.  God entreating His people to love Him and be in relationship with Him.  The reading helped me see the Commandments in a new way.  This was God giving His love, as a bride and groom covenant their love to each other.  This is God saying, "I made you for Me and I know you are only complete when you are Mine and I am yours.  This is what it would look like for us to be in a relationship of unbroken love."

Here is my paraphrase of the covenant commandments, inspired by Ann Voskamp.  Some of these are taken almost word-for-word from the book; others were imagined by me.  If you like, read Deuteronomy 5:5-22, and then see how this paraphrase fits in.  Hear God's heart.

"I rescued you from slavery.  From a debt you could not pay.  From death.  From the price of unfaithfulness.  I Am your God.  You are Mine.  My treasured possession."

"Have no other lovers that woo you, that take your attention or affection, but Me."

"I created you in My image.  I am the Image-maker.  You are the image-bearer.  Don't make an image of yourself or anything else that usurps what I have made and called good."

"I give you My name, My very name to make you Mine.  It is your new identity.  Do not use it in vain.  As mere lip service.  Do not shame My name or be ashamed of it.  My name defines you."

I long to spend time with you, holy time for you and Me....set apart space in your life, in your days, as holy time just for us."

"I love you, Bride.  Be one, as you and I are one.  Not coveting or lying or stealing or dishonoring or murdering or cheating one another, but honoring and loving and living out of our love.  Yours and Mine."

God didn't just give us the commitment of love at the top of Mount Sinai.  He staggeringly kept our commitment, the one we could never keep, at the top of Calvary.  Jesus didn't just die the death we deserved to die; He lives the love we've desired to live.

This is the hope of Advent.  He came to give us Himself, to make us know His love, and to fulfill the love to God that we have broken.

What is He whispering to us now?  "I came to make you Mine.  Am I yours?"

Monday, December 9, 2013

Falling Up

I walk an empty path through woods, crunching snow as setting sun melts golden into clouds.  

Stopping at my favorite spot….plank bridge over  tiny creek, gurgling cold in the winter silence.  I linger there, breathing in God, making space in my soul.  Trying to feel how to answer His invitation to deeper intimacy.  I tell Him I’m not sure how, but I want to come in.  I ask Him to take me in to this place where my heart can beat with His.  

As I gaze into the water, I notice something.  The stream slips along just inches above the pebbled bottom.  But the sky above is bright and partly clear, stretching over a break in the branches overhead.  If I look into the water, but not through to the bottom, I can see a clear reflection of trees and sky, stretching way down into depths that are not there.  

I have always loved that illusion.  

I stand transfixed, imagining myself falling in headfirst, but I don’t hit earth….I fall into the sky.  And I can fly.

Falling up.  

And I hear an echo of eternity from somewhere deep and ancient.  The solid earth under my feet, the trees towering overhead, the cold air….everything I can touch and feel and see….is not the final reality.  God’s kingdom is like the illusion on the water.  Except it’s real.  

Human understanding gazes blankly into eternity, seeing only the dirt, the stones, the cold hard stuff of earth.  

But faith….faith sees different.  Faith sees what appears at first to be a dim reflection, wavering in the ripples.  Then it stills, becomes more clear.  Faith chooses to see the reality that looks upside down.  Faith takes the leap headfirst into what might be rock bottom, believing that what seems to be real is only a melting mist, and what appears as an illusion is the real thing.  

To live in God’s reality, we have to fall up.  And the people with earthly minds will think we are upside down.  

But that’s okay.  

Because anyone who walks upright in God’s reality will carry His presence everywhere.  And it will draw others to the water.  It will captivate them.  And maybe they will want to fall too.  Let go of earth.  Fall into God.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Lyrical Sunday

Just wanted to share my new favorite song today.  Sometimes I find a song that expresses so well what my heart feels.  This is Restless by Audrey Assad. 

You dwell in the songs that we are singing,
Rising to the heavens, rising to Your heart, Your heart
Our praises filling up the spaces
In between our frailty and everything You are
You are the keeper of my heart

And I'm restless, I'm restless
Till I rest in You, Till I rest in You
I'm restless, I'm restless
Till I rest in You, Till I rest in You
Oh God I want to rest in You

Oh speak now, for my soul is listening
Say that You saved me, whisper in the dark
Cause I know You're more than my salvation
Without You I am hopeless, tell me who You are
You are the keeper of my heart
You are the keeper of my heart

Still my heart, hold me close
Let me hear a still, small voice
Let it grow, let it rise
Into a shout, into a cry

And I'm restless, I'm restless
Till I rest in You, let me rest in You
Oh God I will rest in You

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Coming One Is Here

Can I just share a few things on my heart today?
Our God coming into our mess to walk and hurt with us.  To show us His heart.  To rescue us.
This season.  Anticipation of His coming.
How many of us rush through this time with little regard for the hope it holds, never taking time to rest, to wonder, to breathe, to know Him?

Do you have a way to stop and draw close to Him as you celebrate the waiting for His coming?  I'm reading The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp.  It's a brand new book for Advent from the author of 1,000 Gifts, which, by the way, is a totally awesome book....if you haven't heard of it, I highly recommend it as a read for the next year!  This new book helps to take the message of 1,000 Gifts deeper.  Into the very heart of the Giver who became the Gift.  It features a short reading for each day in a breath of fresh air.

It starts with God's intention from the beginning of Creation to come and rescue His wandering children.  As we move through the unfolding history in the Bible, we find this promise woven throughout all of it....that out of the stump, out of the dead, out of the smoldering ashes....there will come a shoot of new life.  A Savior.  A Redeemer.  A Child.  God Himself with us.  We watch as He unfolds this plan through promises, prophecies made and fulfilled....shadows of a greater coming....through generations of those He had chosen to reveal Himself to the whole world.

I just read about Abraham.  How God told him, "I will bless you and make you a blessing."

"Only when you first unwrap the gifts of blessings to you can you be wrapped up as a gift of blessing to others.  Only when you are overwhelmed with the goodness of God can you overflow with the goodness of God to others.  And that is the blessing God graced Abram with, the blessing He graces you with this Advent, the gift that makes you a gift.  The greatest gift God graces a soul with is His own presence."
from the Greatest Gift

These past few weeks, God has found me stressing over things He told me not to worry about.  Desperately needing rest.  Questioning His trustworthiness.  Thirsting.  Drinking from broken cisterns because I'm struggling to trust His heart for me.  All the time knowing He has so much more....more of Himself to give me.  More of His presence to bless the world through me.  But I can not pour out when I believe I am empty.

Still He pursues.  And He calls softly, gently to my soul.  Tells me to just breathe.  Invites me to fall into His arms.  And He loves my heart back to the center of the round pen.

So today, in this season of waiting....lingering between the feast of giving thanks and the coming of Immanuel...I stop to count the gifts, the blessings, the graces I can see in the light of His presence.


A delay in Thanksgiving travel due to vehicle problems.  The forced necessity of taking two vehicles instead of one and the extra expense....that saved us from getting stranded on the highway with a van that wouldn't start or worse problems.

The shattered dreams of lesser desires that drive us to the Ultimate Dream we have always wanted but without God giving Himself to us.

The pain of seeing people I love walk through messes, teaching me that God is blessing us by coming into our mess and suffering with us and carrying us through.

When God breaks through the clouds of my empty pursuits and the pain of distancing myself from tell me that He has given me a new heart after Him....and my wandering does not change His love for me...and He will welcome me back today, because I'm His....and it's a new day.


A precious little brother who embraces life and every person with an open heart and no pretenses....who sometimes so disarms me with his cuteness, his sweet and mischievous spirit, his hilarity at the simple and silly things!

An unexpected letter from a friend.

Discovering new songs that breathe God's heart to me and express my heart back to Him.

Crystal snowflakes floating on gentle breath outside my window.

Walking through hushed winter woods at dusk.

Peppermint Hershey Kisses!

A warm, cozy space to call my own.

Time to sleep in and linger with God and recover from a week of super early mornings.

The Creator of my heart inviting me into deep intimacy with Himself.

Please.  Stop and listen.  Breathe.  Ask Him to open your eyes to the way He is filling your life with grace.  With His presence.  Let the Greatest Gift renew your hope today.  He loves you so much!  Don't let doubt and unbelief stop you from reaching out.  He's just waiting for His children to get hungry.  So He can fill us.