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Seeking God Day 8

haldenI’ve been almost exclusively in the company of strangers this week, surrounded by people whose story I know nothing about. It’s a terrifying yet liberating way to pass your time to listen to people’s life stories and hear about what is important to them and what they are passionate about. I not only love hearing what strangers tell me about themselves but even more, I love to watch the way their eyes light up or their hands move as they tell me about the people, places and purposes that are so important to them. Because we are strangers, details are so important to convey the true story of who they are and who they want me to know them to be. When you are talking to a stranger, you are free to write your own story, you are free to include the details that you want and leave out the pieces that aren’t true or that are maybe too true. You can create and shape yourself for the person in front of you based on the truth you believe about yourself, leaving some details and and taking some out, possibly even creating details we wished for.

So many times after their eyes would light up, they would usually include a “but” in their story; some piece of a broken or unachieved dream that they felt defined them. As I told my story and listened to others, I wondered how close to truth our visions of ourselves are, do we know ourselves well enough to be trusted to tell our own story?

I think that we often accept a version of ourselves that is not even close to the complete picture. We edit our own story based on someone else’s rules. We judge our victories and failures based on what we think we should be or what we think others wish that we were. That is why having people who truly know us and have walked through life with us are so valuable. They help us see things we don’t about ourselves, often other people will have more confidence in me than I do in myself.

Ephesians 1-2 is filled with Paul telling the Ephesians just who they are and how much they are loved. He goes on and on about how they are forgiven, they are blessed, they are saved and that they belong to God. He prays:

“that God would give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” Ephesians 1:20

Paul continues in the chapter until he ends with:

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” vs 10

Be encouraged today, what Paul wrote about in Ephesians is true for you too. You  ___________(fill in your name) are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for you __________(fill in your name) to do.

That is your story, the one you should share with strangers and friends today.

Here is a great Jeremy Camp song that was written from the Ephesians passage above.  The Same Power

 

 

Seeking God Day 6

haldenOne year I decided that the best way to spend my families vacation time was in the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota on a canoeing, backpacking, fishing, camping trip. I had heard these amazing radio commercials every day about “getting away from it all” and I had visions of all of us leaving our cell phones and x-boxes on the shore and peacefully paddling out into the wilderness for a week of true family bonding. I was surprised by the first question many people asked me, “Have you ever canoed before?” and the second, “Do you camp often?” What surprised me wasn’t the question so much as their look of true concern when I answered, “No.” The follow up question was always, “What makes you think you can do that?” I had never thought about it. It just seemed like the absolute right vacation for us and honestly, I didn’t know any better.

I had complete faith in the outfitter we were using to give us the supplies we needed and in my husband’s ability to navigate our way through the waters. When I think about it now, I too wonder, “What made me think we could do that?” My only answer is that it just seemed like the right thing to do and I felt compelled to go.

On the day that we were to set out into the wilderness, the outfitter drove us with our boats, our backpacks, our maps and our good intentions and brought us to the water’s edge. We unloaded everything, then they gave us a quick instruction of “go that way” while they pointed. They did assure us that they would pick us up 20 miles away at the spot they had circled on our map in 5 days at a certain time. And then they drove away.

We all stood there with our gear on the shoreline and proceeded to do what we had no business doing. All we knew was that the first step was to put the boats in the water, load up the gear and then paddle for the very first time in our lives. And so we did. We only had a map and a compass and the promise that there was something worth while “out there” for us to find.

I’m not sitting on the waters edge today, thankfully we returned home safely. We had been bitten by mosquitos, we were exhausted both physically and mentally but we had survived. We had conquered. I had no idea what I was getting into when I started the journey. I had no concept of just how challenging both physically and mentally that trip was going to be. If I had, I wouldn’t have attempted it. I would have chosen a beach vacation with a cabana boy and fruity umbrella drinks. But I did it in all of my foolishness. I conquered the challenge, I survived. And even better yet, I learned what it meant to be helpless and dependent and how to trust both God and my family, who he had provided.

Helplessness is a strange mix of fragile and strong. Vulnerability requires the risk of foolishness. It requires that you attempt something that you have no business attempting. It requires that you trust God in a way that makes no sense to anyone around you. And yet…

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

There are much more “spiritual” hardships than canoeing for 5 days and 4 nights in the wilderness I think…but maybe not? Depending on God’s strength, learning to trust Him and His provision, it’s a lesson we can learn everyday if we are open to it, if we are seeking God.

I’m not sure I’m can yet say that I “delight” in my weaknesses.

I can’t.

But I’m learning.

Here’s some music that may speak louder than the words I type.

It is Well-Bethel Music

 

Seeking God Day 5

haldenThere is a hurricane ripping through the ocean near Haiti right now. Ordinarily I wouldn’t take much notice of it except that one of my friends is in the process of adopting two beautiful children from a Haitian orphanage. Gary and Beatrice have been “matched” with my friend’s family however they are still waiting for all the paperwork and legal proceedings to finalize, until then they are not permitted to live as a family. And so Holly and Paul have to watch from the states as this hurricane stampedes toward their children in Haiti. And all they can do is watch and wait and ask all of their friends to pray. One of the most beautiful things I have learned from adoptive parents is that the moment they are told, “this is your child,” that child becomes 100% theirs. Even if thousands of miles separate them or they don’t speak the same language or they’ve never met, they accept and love and fiercely care and worry for that child because he/she is theirs, a part of their family with no questions asked. And, from that moment they are told, “you are matched” a family is created.

I’ve never adopted but I have many friends who have and to watch their devoted love and the process it takes to unite a child with a family is an honor. I’ve seen my friends completely upend their lives for years in order to make an adoption happen. They subject themselves to long hours/weeks/months/ sometimes years of paperwork, endless bills, court appearances, house visits, traveling across the country or the world for weeks at a time all because of their love for a child they haven’t met but they know belongs with them. They seek after this child before the child is even aware of what is happening.

I’ve been thinking about the title of this series, “Seeking God” and yesterday it occurred to me that the only reason we are even allowed to seek God is because he sought us first.

1 John 4:19  We love because he first loved us.

We are loved by the Father and he has been seeking us long before we even knew to seek Him. It’s because of Him seeking us that we are even allowed to know him.

1 John 3:1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! Dear friends, now we are children of God!

Just like Gary and Beatrice are 100% Holly and Paul’s children, we are God’s.

Today as you seek God, remember who and whose you are. You are a child of God, a co-heir with Jesus Christ. You are seeking after God who is YOUR father. He loves you 100% and he has provided for you and is preparing for you to come live with Him. Oh, there is so much to celebrate! There is so much to talk about! There is just so much!

Do not let anything steal your joy today! You are a child of God.

Here is a great song that will help you sing this refrain all day.

No Longer Slaves by Jonathan and Melissa Helser

We Will Not Be Shaken Album Bethel Music 

 

Prayer

prayer

 

 

 

 

 

Friend,

If you are feeling lonely, overwhelmed, confused, scared, burdened,

If you are feeling loved, cared for, thankful or full of joy,

If you are feeling nothing, empty, afraid,

Come to Jesus.

Open your heart.

Open your mouth-literally speak to God and tell him what is on your heart.

Breathe in the Holy Spirit and breath Him out again.

Shake your fists in anger, rage against what is raging against you.

Be overwhelmed by his love and care for you.

Stop and think about what He has given you and start to list it…out loud.

Read the Word, read the Psalms, put your name into the scriptures…

     Psalm 34

(Your Name) sought the Lord and he answered

 

(your name)

he delivered (your name) from all my fears.

 

And listen.

Sit in silence and listen.

Empty your mind of all your words…find the quiet and stay there awhile.

Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you today, to show you His love and purpose and goodness.

Breathe in the Holy Spirit and breathe Him out again.

Know that you are heard and loved and cared for.

You are not alone.

Nor will you ever be.

Waiting Part 2: Why?

Blue-Flowers-flowers-33698240-1366-768

Do you ever find yourself asking the question, “Why?” Sometimes this questions feels as if it is eating my insides. It can literally rob me of my breath and sour my stomach. It gets caught in my throat and won’t let me swallow.

“Why?” is such a difficult way to live. It’s grueling and cruel, it punishes you at every step and will rob you of any joy. And it’s partner question, “how?” isn’t any easier.

My daughter wrote the verse 2 Tim 4: 17 on our chalk board in the kitchen weeks ago.

“But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength.” 

I looked this verse up the other night, I was looking for some sort of answer from God. I was undone reading the next few lines.

“And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

“I was delivered from the lion’s mouth”… There are times in life that feel like we are sitting in the bottom of the lion’s den just like Daniel. It’s midnight, the sun hasn’t shown in hours and there are still long watches of the night to go through. It made me ask myself, did Daniel cry and fret and scream? Did he feel the anxiety that I’m burdened with right now? Did he wonder what the future would be for him? Did he wonder what God would do? Was he scared?

I am scared. There are situations in my life where I am terrified. I don’t know what is going to happen, I don’t know how it is going to happen, I don’t know if I will make it. Sometimes it certainly doesn’t feel like I will. I wonder if the sun will ever come up. Did Daniel worry too? It seemed inevitable that he would die. There seemed to be no other way out.

But the truth is he didn’t die. The sun rose the next morning and he was still alive. Miraculously, he was still alive. There was no explanation, what seemed inevitable didn’t come to pass.

We aren’t promised inevitable lives, we are promised lives where God takes care of us despite the inevitable. We see it over and over in the Old Testament, Hebrew’s 11 is a perfect accounting of all the times what seemed inevitable didn’t happen. Abraham and Sarah left even though they didn’t know where they were going because they felt God calling them to do so. Sarah got pregnant even though she was old. Moses called on God and he sent mana from Heaven, that couldn’t have been predicted. Moses also saw God give him water from a rock, twice! Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, were rescued from the fire pit, who saw that coming? David became king, Job lived in happiness after so much loss, Elijah saw fire reign down from heaven and burn up the alter, the widow’s flour and oil never ran out, Lazarus woke up from the dead, the leper was healed. None of these things would have happened if life was always inevitable.

I have so many questions but one big one is, “What am I suppose to do while I’m waiting?” How do I trust? What is my heart suppose to do while I’m waiting for the dawn? This place of waiting in torture for me. It eats me up inside and I get so pissed because I can’t find peace. I want to know the middle of the story…why doesn’t the Bible describe the middle of the story? How one got from here to there?

I guess the Psalms do show us some of the angst that David felt while he was waiting.

Psalm 130 

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
    Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
    to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
    and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
    from all their sins.

Waiting for the dawn

 

I’m looking for an easy answer and I just don’t think there is one. Being a watchman waiting for the morning, is not an easy job. It’s long, it’s difficult, it requires sacrifice and it requires waiting. No one can make the morning come any faster. But it will come, this I know with certainty. David says, “put your hope in the Lord.”

Today I’m claiming that I don’t live an inevitable life and I’m waiting like the watchman for the morning and I will put my hope in the Lord.

I have a feeling some of you are waiting with me.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” Hebrews 11

 

Waiting.

For my dear friend Becky and all my other sisters who are waiting. I love you all and want to encourage you today.

“How long Lord?”

This is a question that I am very familiar with, I must have asked it a million times in my life. Waiting is such a difficult and painful process. It sounds like a passive act, but the act of waiting demands so much energy and heart and passion and so many tears.

Waiting can awaken your imagination in a way that feels more like you are a character in  “Alice In Wonderland” than any Disney fairytale. When your mind starts to write it’s own stories and your heart goes along for the ride the anxiety produced can be crippling, can’t it?

So often the story of our life is not what we expected, anticipated or wanted. I don’t think that all of life is horrible and hard…but I do think that when life is good we don’t notice as much as when it isn’t. I’m so much quicker to complain about a rainy, cold, windy day than I am to be thankful for a day filled with sunshine.

So what should we do when life is hard and the waiting feels like it might never stop? When our mind and our heart turn against us and we feel like we are prisoners in our own bodies?

I turn to the Bible. I can find no other source of encouragement and straight forward truth than in the Bible. My friends, my family, TV, books…there is no other place to turn for Truth when you desperately need to hear it.

Psalm 73:26 says, “My flesh and my heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Psalm 26:2 “Test me, O Lord, and try me. Examine my heart and my mind.”

 

When I allow God to examine my heart and mind, he doesn’t condemn me but rather listens to me. He listens and listens and listens. I can breathe Him in and breathe Him out. I can scream and cry if I need to. Or simply sit there silently with tears falling down my checks and know that He understands.

Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

I don’t think we can ever answer the question, “How long?” We simply don’t know what the future holds. We don’t. What we can know is that we are being held. I truly believe that. God holds us. God cares for us. God knows us.

Sometimes, we just have to:

Proverbs 3:5

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

This kind of trust doesn’t solve our problem…but it can help give us perspective.

Even if the waiting continues.

A box of 24 crayons

brand-new-box-of-24-crayola-crayonsReflections on a Spring Break morning:
There are times in life where happiness can be as simple as 24 crayons and a blank piece of paper. And in those times, life is the simplest and the best. It’s 10 am, we are all still in our pj’s, the coffee is hot and the kids are coloring pictures. Simple pleasures…to look around you might be appalled that I’m not working harder; I have black circles under my eyes because I didn’t take off my eye make up last night, there are toys all over the floor and last nights dinner dishes are still lurking in the sink.And yet, everything about this morning is the best. I’ve even rented a crazy old movie about dial up internet and the birth of email…any guesses? I love this movie!24 colors…what does that mean to you? My 24 colors come in many shapes:
1. A good cheap glass of wine.
2. New PJ’s
3. Sleeping past 6:00am
4. Spicy Doritos
5. A great candle
6. Free Shipping
7. Fresh smelling laundry
8. Moving up on the Bejeweled leader board.
9. Laughing till it hurts with good friends.
10. A lovely thunderstorm
11. A good book
12. A long hot shower
13. Diet Coke
14. Warm socks
15. A good joke on the radio
16. All green lights on LaGrange
17. A good neck crack
18. Long hot shower
19. Tulips popping out of the ground
20. “What’d I get in my Happy Meal?” excitement
21. Dancing in the kitchen
22. Feeling warm air even after the sun goes down.
23. Hugs from teenagers taller than me
24. A good sneeze24 crayons…they change, sometimes they melt and get stuck in the carpet…but I’m glad that life can be reduced to 24 crayons sometimes…sometimes I need life to be that simple!

What are you top 5 simple pleasures? Please add your comment below.

Just blowing off steam? Warning: Venting may be dangerous

Proverbs 29: 11 Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back.

Ouch! This verse was part of the 16th month of my daily reading plan entitled, “Read through the Bible in One Year.”

It felt as if it hit me right between the eyes. How many times have I said, “I just need to vent for awhile?” This phrase inevitably gives me permission to say anything that comes to my mind or that I’m currently feeling in my heart. It allows me to relish in how good it feels or tastes coming out of my mouth. Anger or gossip can sometimes taste like a double chocolate brownie with ice cream and fudge can’t it?

There are plenty of times as a wife, mother and friend that my husband, kids or other mom’s step on my toes, disagree with me, make me mad or just think contrary to what I think and that makes me need to “vent” once in awhile. That’s fair, right?

Venting is defined in the dictionary as a:

verb

1 give free expression to (a strong emotion):

  2 provide with an outlet for air, gas, or liquid

Although the first definition is probably more correct, the second is probably more accurate. When we “vent” about other people to other people, it is a dangerous and foolish practice and yet enticingly easy. Let’s face it, most of the time it is just plain fun. Venting will, however careful you do it, destroy someone else’s character and just as certainly start to destroy yours as well.

Personally, I struggle with feasting on venting and gossip, especially when I can specifically target another person for my frustrations. When I can use a few minutes to cut someone else to the core and serve them up on a platter for my own enjoyment, it provides me an outlet for hot air and noxious gas and has an unflattering direct connection to my true character.

The problem with venting is the gas…the smell…the pollution it creates. When you feel the need to vent, take it to the Lord. The Father, your Father in Heaven wants to hear about your frustrations and He wants to help you through your relationships. And when you vent to Him, you don’t put yourself or anyone else in danger. He will protect your lips and heal your heart. He will make you wise and keep you from foolishness. It’s a hard, hard remedial lesson that I need to learn and learn and relearn. I wish I could say, “I’ve got this one in the bag” but I don’t. The Bible has a way of pushing right on the spots of my heart that are soft and bruised and need healing.

 

What a sacrifice that saved my life…

kneel-before-the-crossThere are some moments when the Holy Spirit is so present, so vibrant, so palatable that I can feel his physical touch. Last night was one of those nights for me. The sounds and sights and the presence of God stayed with me as I dreamt and slept. This morning still feels holy and rich with God’s presence. This must be a taste of what Heaven will be like.

I’ve been planning worship for my whole adult life, I don’t even remember when or how I got started, it has just always been something that I’ve done. Christmas and Easter roll around every year with such predictability and each year I have the opportunity to work with a team to create a special “moment”, one people will remember.  I’ve planned big dramatic events, quiet eery settings, choral pieces, crazy fun…you name it we’ve tried it. And yet in all that planning, it is the moments that are unplanned or rather, “God planned” that surprise me and leave me in awe at how real and personal and intimate the Father of the Universe truly is. The moments I remember most are usually the times when what I’ve planned turns into something so much bigger and more incredible than anything we could have hoped for.

There are times when I’m leading worship when everything around me fades away and suddenly the voices in the room that are singing swell 10x the volume that could be explained. I’ve experienced times when I’ve actually heard my grandmother’s voice singing along with everyone else even though she’s been gone from this earth for years. As a child, I remember singing and looking out the windows where the walls met the ceiling in the church I grew up in and seeing the clouds roll past and thinking that God was listening. Or having my body racked with sobs of anguish as the weight of my sin was realized through hearing the sound of a hammer on Good Friday.

Last night, was one of those holy nights. One that was planned but unplanned, when God came and surprised me by his presence and left me in awe. It was a Maundy Thursday service, when as a congregation we remember and celebrate Christ’s last supper. It’s always a night full of contemplation and confession. It is planned to be a night where we remember Jesus sacrifice.

Last night, sometime during the service, the room filled with holiness and we were no longer being led by the team on stage but rather by God himself.

Small groups of people came forward to share communion together as we sang hymns and watched the pastors say over and over, “This is my body, this is my blood shed for you.” As each person ate the bread and drank the juice they then picked up a candle, lit it and went back to their seats. Over a period of time, candle light lit up the room and from where I was sitting, faces began to appear out of the darkness with glowing light around them. It was a beautiful moment.

Then this scripture, “They took Jesus to the high priest and all the chief priests, the elders and the teachers of the law came together. Then some stood up and gave false testimony against him. They all condemned him as worthy of death.”

My part was to cue the music and start singing the next song…”O the blood” What I didn’t expect was the wave of voices that started singing with us. A cry so loud from the people we were worshiping with that we didn’t need any microphones or amplification. The singing was unlike all the other singing we had done. My brothers and sisters singing, “O the blood, crimson love, price of life’s demand. Shameful sin placed on him the Hope of every man. O the blood of Jesus washes me. O the blood of Jesus shed for me. What a sacrifice, that saved my life, yes the blood it is my victory.” One by one, people stood with candles in their hands, singing and crying and aching with confession and thanksgiving. It was otherworldly. It was holy.

This life, the one we know here on earth…it can’t be all there is. I believe that this is just the beginning. I believe that through Christ’s sacrifice, he has made us clean and acceptable before our heavenly Father. I am so grateful for these small tastes of heaven, of what it means to truly praise the creator of the universe.

What a sacrifice, that saved my life, yes, the blood it is my victory.

 

Fits and starts

FITS AND STARTS:

with irregular movement; with much stopping and starting. (*Typically: by ~; in ~; with ~.) Somehow, they got the job donein fits and starts. By fits and starts, the old car finally got us to town.

My life feels like a series of “fits and starts,” and really it always has been. I’m the type of person who loves to dream, loves to imagine, “what if?” I can inspire groups of people to get excited and to join me on a journey, an adventure, an exploration but heaven help us all if I haven’t invited a tour guide with us because I’m also easily distracted or discouraged. It doesn’t take much to push me off of a path. I don’t stay down for long…just long enough. Fits and starts.

I love this definition of “fits and starts” from the idioms dictionary because it isn’t condemning at all. It simply states the fact that the job is being done and will get done but that it will take awhile. The movement may be irregular but it’s movement none the less and there may be stopping but there is also starting; a constant state of new beginnings.

It’scrocus the end of March here in Chicago and I’ve been watching the spring bulbs do their best to grow up out of the frozen ground. One day it will be 55 and sunny, the stems will pop through the ground and start to make their way out of the frozen state they’ve been in all winter. It’s truly exciting. People tweet about it, my Facebook feed is jammed with posts about it…everyone is thrilled. But in Chicago the weather is hardly predictable in March and the very next day we can wake up to below freezing temps and snow covering the ground once again. On those days, the spring bulbs don’t go back into the ground and give up, rather they stay where they are, weathering the storm, waiting for the time that they can start to grow again. They don’t give up, they stay the course, even if the course just got a whole lot longer and the wait has been extended. Eventually, the warm weather will come and the bulbs will flower, you can be sure of it. You may even be able to guess about when it will happen but no one knows for sure.

Sometimes when you live a life of “fits and starts” it feels like you will never get there. The finish line feels as if it will never come, the dream will never materialize or the waiting will never be over…but be sure of this…it’s just a season. Don’t give up.

I want you to hear this…but honestly, I need to hear this too.

Don’t give up.

It’s just a season.

In January I promised to bring you on a new journey…soon my friends, soon. #atrustworthysaying #lifeisajourney

 

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