In God’s Country (Reflections from prayer ministry)

  The sun’s ubiquitous light greets the wooden floor planks of the antebellum house like a warm handshake from an old friend. Morning motorists scurry by on 37th street— their whirring brushes the sides of the comfortable yellow house. We gather in. With similar hearts— the knowledge that prayer works— we start the morning call for our school. Little do we expect the individual nourishment each of our souls is to receive during our prayerful session. Scripture readings from Genesis retell stories of God’s provision and prevenient grace toward his people. The story of Abraham’s tamarisk tree is the focus: So that place was called Beersheba, because the two men swore an oath there. After the treaty had been made at Beersheba, Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces returned to the land of the Philistines. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God. And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time. (Genesis 21:31-34) (Genesis 21:31-34) The task of Abraham planting the tamarisk tree comes chapters before we recall how God later tests Abraham’s faith with the sacrifice of his son, Isaac. Before that difficult challenge, God had Abraham plant a tamarisk tree as a reminder of a covenant between two people. The Omniscient God knew what was to come for Abraham. His prevenient grace laid a path in Abraham’s mind where certain truths would wait for the appropriate time to be established: a time that only God knew for Abraham’s future. The planting of the tamarisk tree foreshadows what Abraham needed to know about God and his covenant toward Abraham...

The PRIZE of SURRENDER is hope

We would always run or peddle as fast as we could to the dirt piles in the back of the neighborhood. They stood several feet taller than our heads. It didn’t us take long to dive right into kingdom living. We would toss, jump, push, shove, and claim our stake with the goal to stay on top of the hill as long as we could. Whoever was successful in pushing every other kid off the hill would proclaim loudly, with arms raised, their title as King of the Hill. And those few short seconds of victory tasted like the last bag of M&Ms. That is, until seconds later when someone else managed the toppling to take the throne. A recent sermon on hope got me thinking about our summer game King of the Hill. The sermon reminded me of how one’s soul is a lot like those dirt mounds at the back of our neighborhood that we coveted as seats of power. For hours in the hot Georgia sun we all campaigned for that one position of authority; for hours we unsuccessfully defended the spot only to be toppled time and time again. There is a similar battle for my soul. One that puts many contenders in the mix. Opposition is constantly pushing, shoving, tossing, and trying to claim stake to that crucial internal spot. From attractive media to video games to beauty gels, sports trends and music themes, the world is full of things trying to be king of my soul. These emerging attractions look shiny at first, but eventually they become outdated or untrendy; thus, endless chasing...

Faith sometimes requires cardboard boxes

Years ago, my sister-in-law said something that never escaped me. As we stood together talking in her kitchen, she recalled a statement about her loyalty to my brother when they got married. She said that she loved her husband so much she would live in a cardboard box if she had to, just as long as she was with him. What struck me most about her candid statement was the honesty with which she said it. I believed her, to the extent that I immediately envisioned their cardboard house exactly as their current house: filled with love. That statement of dedication spurred in me the same question of my faith. How far would I follow God? To what cardboard box of life would I follow him? Lysa Terkeurst, in her popular book The Best Yes, describes four bellwethers of change in making a decision based on the best yes: emotionally, spiritually, physically, financially. Reflecting on my sister-in-law’s statement, I envisioned these four areas as cardboard boxes, or places where God may be asking me to follow him into a more challenging place of loyal faith. Most times of growth are uncomfortable. When God is calling me to follow him to places that will require my full trust in him, it may look like: Physically: A new city? An exercise program that is intentional and one I finally adhere to? A mission trip? To deal with a hurtful habit? Emotionally: Counseling or therapy for an ongoing struggle in my life? The courage to look in the mirror and face what has been tugging at my elbow for the last ten...

Keeping the shutters of our hearts open

I Corinthians 3:16  Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? Every morning after making my bed, I open the white plantation shutters above the headboard in our bedroom and I stand in the sun’s light that brightens the room. As I slide the anchor bar upward, I call to mind something my mother told me five years ago. She and I were in a conversation about the heart and the spirit of God. She said to me, “keep the shutters of your heart open. Let the light of the spirit of God come through and touch those around you while it simultaneously comes back and touches you. Keep your heart an open conduit.” Every time my fingers move over those shutters, I clearly see the image my mom spoke of: the image of God’s spirit in me flowing out around others and then returning back into my life. In my mind, it is the quintessential picture of how God’s love flows through and in all situations. Also in the picture of that motherly advice, I am reminded of a certain role I have to play. That role is to open, and keep open, the shutters of my heart in order to allow His presence the room to roam. Oftentimes, especially with relational conflict or struggle, my desire is to shut down my tender heart as a way to block uncomfortable conflict or vulnerability. It is quite natural for me to do just that in difficult situations. But my mother’s gentle advice held the idea to leave myself open, still allowing God to move during those...

Once Unruly Moods, Now Fearless Choices

(Circa 2000) My unruly mood. That small 4-letter word whose power— depending on the day— was either a game changer or a potential hazard to the smallest of audiences. A female, I received the time-honored “gift” of emotions. This distinctive DNA, once erupted, usually caused a volcano of words to descend on helpless victims in my path. As a young mother in a new city, emotions carved themselves into the #1 spot on my list of causes for regrettable behavior. My moods were more of a liability than an asset in early 2000, and if left unchecked they could alter the happiness of my relationships into deep sorrow. And yet, God’s word said: I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. (Psalm 139:14) Often scratching my head, I would re-read that verse. Fearfully and wonderfully made…hmm I wondered to myself if fearful was understood as another’s experience of my moods? And wonderful? Did that word fit in the world of hormones? On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? (Romans 9:20) I understood the omniscient God did not make mistakes. He knew exactly what kind of deep feelings he put in the hearts he created. Daily, I reminded myself of these unshakable truths before setting my heart to confession. (Fast forward, 2017) And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his...

The Widow Lamp of the Journey

(photo credit) Each year on the first Sunday in March, the Iditarod Trail Committee lights a small gas lantern and hangs it from the Burled Arch. Called the Widow’s Lamp, it remains lit until the last musher is off the Iditarod trail. The extinguishing of the lamp by the final musher signals the official end of the race. (https://iditarodoutsider.wordpress.com/tag/widows-lamp/) Life is full of journeys. Physically, emotionally, or mentally we all experience periods that require endurance, patience, and growth.  The tendency to rush a process that refuses our advances and takes its natural time to develop, often unfolding longer than we expect or hope, is familiar to most of us. For some, the start and finish of the journey is perhaps the toughest. For others, the long stretch in between,  feeling alone on the trail, exhausted, with no real sign of advancement, is the most difficult stage. Seasons of transition or waiting can be a big part of a journey where there is little light or knowledge of what is to come. Every winter in Willow, Alaska, dog sled teams start the beginning of March on the toughest marathon trail with whiteout conditions and blizzard temperatures. It is not unusual for mushers (dog sled drivers) and their dogs to push through inky Alaskan blackness, unable to see clearly what lies ahead. Yet, on the final stretch of unforgiving ice after days of remarkable journey, competitors realize the finish line is attainable with the vision of one small hanging lantern: a symbol of completion. I imagine for the musher and his team, sight of the widow’s lamp is an unparalleled prize...

No Ordinary Love

Matthew 27:45-46, 51-53 From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I began the week wading in thoughts of the selfless love of Christ on the cross. The time between the famous “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” and his last mortal breaths was where I dropped anchor. I pondered the suspension. It is a picture of unprecedented darkness. A place where God seemingly abandons his son by placing humanity’s plight on his back to burrow. The darkest of dark. Abject abandonment and withdrawal of God from earth.  As I sipped my morning coffee, I let it sink in. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and[c] went into the holy city and appeared to many people. A probing question circled up from my warm cup: “Why did Christ (who was above reproach) at the stygian hour continue forward in what must have been a most unusual experience for the Trinity— something completely unnatural— an unbearable separation?” As the only place in scripture where Christ’s words imply triune separation, I imagine it was a new experience for the Godhead. And I presume no person since has experienced that kind of complete withdrawal of God on earth. Hebrews 13:5b And God has said, “Never will I leave...

In silence, God’s love still remains

One of the reasons I love the Psalms is because of their raw, poetic emotion. The writer David laments, sings for joy, prays openly against his enemies, and confesses his sins all in back-to-back chapters. It’s good material for a TV mini-series; and I guess, with a heart fraught by important sentiments during middle school, it resonated deeply with me. It was during this time in life that I understood writing as a practice of authenticity. Today, I see a comrade spirit in the Psalter, one whose reactions are real, strong, and sometimes manic. David’s expressions of justice, assistance, praise, and regret are validated by a God who calls David “a man after His own heart.” Raw responses. Real questions. Battlefield praise. Authentic worship. Often vocalizing an uncomfortable faith, the Davidic heart is known by God and deeply loved through its courageous emotional investigations. Because of the writer’s open relationship with God, he does not parse words. David knows God can take his direct and unabashed communication. In the 22nd Psalm, David’s cries typify a common theme of God’s silence found throughout the book. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. If the first part of this Psalm sounds familiar, it should. These exact words were spoken by Christ in his dying moments. God’s own son, on the cross, cried out to his father in a way that indicated he felt abandoned by...

If given a choice, would I choose better?

Do worrisome life situations seem to follow you around? Do cycles of anxiety find themselves recurring in your life? If stressful moments have turned into recognizable patterns creeping up every year…. Then, don’t feel bad. You are not alone. It’s not hard to look around and find worry and anxiety. The data reports it is affecting even children with 1 in 5 kids suffering from anxiety, and 30% of those being young girls (source.) Sometimes the culprit is a lack of choosing well, or a loss of appetite for things of true value. In the dawn of technology and uber-consumerism, chasing after happiness with the next best thing has become a way of life. Our need to stay technologically current is a given and with it comes benefits. It’s less time-consuming, easier, and safer to communicate behind round emojis than in face-to-face conversations. I know because many times I have chosen to text rather than talk. There is deep value in connecting with family and friends, and I am thrilled to live in an age where technology allows us to do this with such ease. But sometimes consumer trends leave me searching in counterfeit places for things of sustenance. The next iPhone, a big screen TV, the perfect app all to create the best jobs, cars, schools, and bodies. Together, I am told, they produce happiness. But do they? While consumer striving grows louder, the authentic voice for what will genuinely make my soul happy grows quieter. And therein lies a tension. Living alongside this tension begs a crucial question: If given a better choice, would I choose it? Jesus...

Listen up— today, there is good news and a reason to celebrate the future

The book of Isaiah captures a beautiful, and yet foreboding, story of God’s judgment and redemption for His beloved nation of Israel. In it, the southern kingdom of Judah has a long track record of making choices that consistently focus on present danger; they eventually end up in Babylonian captivity. One of Judah’s idolatrous sins is short-sightedness concerning their current situation: they are fixated on present woes. Even on the precipice of invasion by the Assyrian army, Judah’s looming fear prevents them from listening to the prophecies of Isaiah urging hearts to return to God. Ironically, 500 years earlier, when entering the Promised Land, God actually warned Israel of this nationwide trap: Deuteronomy 6:10-12 10 When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied,12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. The nation of Israel forgot God. They forgot much of what He had done for them starting at the Exodus. So, through prophets over the course of 100 years, God reminded them to examine their ways and repent so He could once again lead them. Yet they fell captive to the snare of idolatrous thinking: deeming the woes of tomorrow as more powerful than the God who had already proven Himself a fortified defender even through hopeless...