On Homesickness and Living Hope…

I have never in my life been this displaced.
I have moved out of my house completely and it is sold.
I am living temporarily in a beautiful basement apartment provided by friends.
And eventually I will move back to my apartment on campus at the school where I teach in Guatemala.

But I don’t know when.
I have tentative plans of returning in a few weeks.
I am hopeful that the airport will be open.
But I don’t know for sure.

So I am living between worlds.
Trying to enjoy all that the U.S. offers that Guatemala does not – like people I love here, foods I can’t get there, and the differences in the scenery.
All the while looking forward to what awaits me there – people I love there, the ministry God has called me to, different foods, scenery and weather.

But really, I am living between three worlds, not just two.
Because the U.S. is not perfect.
And neither is Guatemala.
Both are wracked with pain from the results of sin.
Some of the pains are very similar because, after all, people are people.
Others are strikingly different.
But both places, both cultures, both sets of issues make me cry out, “How long, oh Lord, how long?”
And “Come, Lord Jesus, come!”

My heart longs for my real home, where I can see Jesus face to face.
When I can touch the scars in his hands and kiss them in eternal gratitude.
When I can see the Father’s glory and fall on my face before Him.
When I can fellowship with the Breath of God, the Holy Spirit, in person.
When I can sit down and talk with David about Goliath, with Joseph about his life in Egypt, with Peter about what it feels like to walk on water and with Mary about what Jesus was like as a kid.
When, as one of my favorite authors would say, all my question marks will be yanked into exclamation points.

I long for that home.
More than I miss Guatemala when I am in the U.S.
And more than I miss the U.S. when I am in Guatemala.

I long for the day when I get to worship with people from every tribe, tongue and nation.
When I get to see loved ones who have gone before.
Where my body will no longer wrestle with sickness and disease.
And my soul will no longer wrestle with sin.

Keeping my eye on that home, my heavenly destination, is how I deal with all the ick of this one.
It is easy to fall into despair in these times.
So easy.
And yet, Christ-followers have hope!
Eternal hope
Living hope
Life-altering hope.

This life is NOT all there is.
Yes, we have work to do here until God calls us home.
Yes, we will deal with pain and suffering here for as many years as He has determined for each of us.
Yes, we have to live with the effects of sin. And they are ugly. Deadly. Horrific.

But C.S. Lewis said that this life is the title page of the book.
The title page!
It is just the introduction to real life, eternal life, sinless life.
And sooner than we might think, the hand of God will turn the page.
And the real story will begin.
The story of eternal joy
Eternal celebration
Eternal fulfillment
Eternal peace.

To my fellow Christ-followers – can I stand on my soapbox just for you for a moment?
Yes, for you personally.
Pretend we’re having coffee.
And listen to me, please, I beg you:

We have the message of HOPE!
We have the message of eternal life!
Because every single person you meet – ALL OF THEM – are headed to one of two places: heaven or hell.
And YOU have the life-giving answer – the knowledge of the way that they can be guaranteed access to heaven!
So instead of using your energy to fight about politics or masks or elections or race or anything else, what if you used all your creative energy to share the hope of Jesus?
To woo and win souls for Christ?
To simply be a witness of what He has done in YOUR life?
To love people until they ask you why.
To shine. To be kind. To forgive. To live the power of the cross, which is forgiveness, and the power of the empty tomb, which is hope.

I am homesick, yes.
Longing for a home I have never seen.
But my dearest friend is there, not only waiting for me, but preparing it for me.
And it is going to be glorious!

But I am also heartsick.
The enemy is winning souls for hell left, right, and center.
He is shutting down Christ-followers by distracting them with a thousand other things.
And he is feeding the hopelessness and despair in the people who don’t know Jesus, convincing them that life is not worth living and that there is no answer.
According to a report on the radio this week, calls to suicide hotlines have increased 800% in the past few months.
People are silently screaming at the top of their lungs for hope.
They are starving for the Bread of Heaven and dying of thirst for a drink of Living Water.
We, those who follow Jesus, have the answer!
We have living hope to share!

That hope is not a feeling.
It’s not even man-made solutions to issues.
It is a relationship with the Living Lord.
The One who gives us what we need to face each day.
The Author if all wisdom, who gives it freely when we ask.
The Shepherd who guides us step by step as we walk with Him.
The One who gives us the power to keep looking ahead.
The One who is passionately for us, who longs for us to long for Him.

Are you, Christ-follower, homesick for heaven?
Let that drive you.
Let it be the passion that causes you to take as many people with you as you possibly can.
God left the job of telling them with you.
He’ll give you all you need to get the job done.
You just have to be willing to open your mouth and spread hope.
Will you? Please?

Who Is He?

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
Charles Swindoll

What does come to mind when you think about God?

Maybe you see the angry judge, seated behind the imposing courtroom bench, scowling down at you, the guilty party, gavel in hand, ready to bring it crashing down with a death sentence.

Maybe you see the soft-hearted, arms-open version of God with the word “Tolerance” on His lips and many paths – or all paths – leading to Him.

Perhaps you see the dozing, ancient man in a rocking chair with his watchmaker’s tools at His side, covered in cobwebs since He set it all in motion long ago but no longer is concerned.

Or do you see the frantic God, sitting at a switchboard in heaven, panicking over the calls coming in, unable to meet the demand of billions of people praying at the same time?

Perhaps you see Him with some biblical accuracy – but then you see yourself, off to the side, rejected and unable to join in the fellowship happening around His throne.

Maybe you see Him as a God with split personalities, angry and violent in the Old Testament and yet soft and squishy in the New.

There are so, so many misconceptions out there about Who God is.
What He wants from us.
What it means to belong to Him.

Partly because He is unfathomable in many ways.
A mystery beyond our understanding.
He even says that about Himself!
He declared through Isaiah, ““For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

But even as He is shrouded in mystery in many ways, He is also able to be very, very known.

He reminds me of the ocean.
If I stand on the shore and look at the crashing waves, I can see many attributes of the ocean.
I can feel the power.
Taste the saltiness on my lips.
I can see the splendor of the colors, the waves, the beauty of it all.
I can see just of few of the creatures who make their home there – or at least evidence of them.
But for all I can see and experience, there is more.
Depths I cannot explore.
Creatures I cannot even begin to imagine.
Underwater features that would amaze me.

But for me to understand those things personally, it would take time.
Equipment.
And investment.

I can know them through the lenses of others who have done the exploring, the studying, the investigation.
But I will never know it for myself unless I do it personally.
I can get to know the depths of the ocean vicariously.
But that isn’t the same as me exploring it for myself.

God is vast, powerful, creative, and yes, even terrifying.
He is beyond my comprehension.
And yet He invites me to dive in.
To take the time to know Him as He is.
As He is revealed in His love letter to me, His Word, the Bible.
It takes time.
And investment.
And even the equipping of the Holy Spirit.

But it is so, so worth it to know Him as He is and not who I think He is.
To begin to examine the facets of His character.
To start to explore the depths of the Truth about Him.
To live in the tension of not fully understanding and yet falling in love a little bit more with every bit that He reveals.

Seeing Him as He is:
The God who loves justice. Is furious with sin. Is completely and utterly holy. And who punishes sin with death.
And the God who loves mercy. Is passionate about sinners. Longs for a relationship that does not violate His holiness and yet allows us entrance to His presence. Who punished sin with the death of His only Son so that I could stand before Him without fear.

The God who does things and allows things that I do not understand and never will on this side of eternity.
And the God who is completely and utterly good, right in all He does, without flaw.

The God who chose to not make us robots so that we would willingly enter into relationship with Him.
And the God who bears the thousands of ways we reject Him every day and still waits for us with open arms.

The God who allows suffering because we are not robots.
And yet promises to redeem even the worst things in our lives for our good and His glory.

This is the God of the Bible.
All this and so much more.

So yes, I agree with Mr. Swindoll.
My perception of God is the most important thing about me.
Do I know Him as He truly is?
Or as I want Him to be?

Do I seek to know Him in Truth?
Or do I conveniently re-create Him in my image?

Do I let Him be the guide of my life, the rule-maker, the Sovereign King?
Or do I simply pay Him lip service while I do my own thing?

Do I see Him as a loving Dad, passionate about me, fighting for me, loving me too much to let me stay the way I am?
Or do I see Him in some other negative way?

Do I flinch when I think about seeing Him face to face sooner rather than later?
Or do I look forward to that day with deep joy and anticipation?

I challenge you.
I challenge me.

Get to know God as He is.
Ask Him to show You Himself through His Word.
Do your best to look with fresh eyes and a refreshed heart.
Put aside your preconceived notions.
What others have said about Him.
What YOU have always said about Him.
And seek Him for Who He is.

If you aren’t sure where to start, I have some suggestions.
Read (or reread) the book of John, looking for His character, looking to know Him.
Then check out Romans, too.
Perhaps the last few chapter of Job for good measure.
And the last few chapters of Revelation as well.

I dare you to do it.
You will be so glad you did.

On Being Content…

I have been thinking about contentment lately.
Partly because my 50th birthday is days away.
But mostly because I am stuck here in the U.S., unable to get back into Guatemala.
The borders are closed due to COVID-19.
And it is very uncertain when they will open again.

So I am not where I want to be, at least physically.

But I have wrestled with contentment my whole life – and particularly through my late 20’s and all the way into my early 40’s.
As my friends got married one by one.
And then started having babies.
And did “real life” – or, at least, what I had assumed my life would look like. Or “should” be.

But life didn’t turn out the way I thought it would.
No husband.
No kids.
But a whole lot of wrestling with God.
And a whole lot of ministry that would not have happened if I had been given the ministry of my own family to care for and children to raise.

In all of that, I have learned a few things about contentment along the way. Here are the lessons that I am applying even today, as the birthday looms and the borders stay closed:

Lesson One: Biblical contentment is not the absence of desire. It is the submission of my desires to the will of God.
We were wired by God to want certain things. To have desires. That is part of what it means to be made in the image of God. And those desires are not wrong in and of themselves. Of course, I am not talking about temptation and desires that are sinful. But good things – a spouse, children, relationships with people, places and experiences, even the desire for dessert – these are not inherently wrong. It is OK to want what you want.

But what do you do when God doesn’t give you what you want? (Or what you think you want.)
That is where contentment comes in to play.

Paul said it this way in his letter to the church at Philippi:
“I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

I am sure that when Paul was hungry, he desired food.
But when that food was not available, he surrendered himself to God.
He didn’t let the desire keep him from trusting that God loved him. Was in control. Was able.
He LEAREND contentment.
Submitting himself, his circumstances and his desires to the will of God.

He talks about his desires again in his letter to the church at Corinth. He explains to them that he begged God three times to remove “a thorn in the flesh”. He doesn’t name the thorn, but most biblical scholars think it had to do with his failing eyesight. In several of his letters he alludes to issues with his vision and attributes the physical act of writing them to a scribe.
Did Paul know that God could heal him? (Or grant him the request to remove the “thorn”, whatever it was?

Yes, of course!
This is the same man who wrote to the church at Ephesus that God is able to do “exceedingly, abundantly, beyond all we can ask or think”! Paul believed in the power of God. He saw God use him to heal people and to utter prophecies that came true. Paul even was able to shake off a deadly snake that was biting his hand without harm.

Yes, Paul knew and had experienced God’s power.
It is why he asked for the removal of the thorn in the first place!
But when God said, “No” each time, Paul accepted it.
He submitted his desires to the will of God.
And he even declared that this “failure” on God’s part was a blessing – that in Paul’s weakness, God could show himself to be strong.

Contentment isn’t a feeling. It is the active surrender of my desires to the will of God.

Lesson Two: Choose to be aggressively, unstoppably and determinedly thankful for what you DO have.

I long to be back in Guatemala. School starts next week, and while we are doing online school for the foreseeable future, I still long to be in country where I could help my kids one-on-one in person when they need it. Where my resources are easily accessible. And mostly, to be in the place God called me.
It is a strong desire. One that I have to submit daily to the will of God.
I am praying that He allows me back in country sooner rather than later.
(Specifically, I am praying for it to be by September 15.)

But until He opens that door, I WILL praise Him in the hallway.
I WILL be thankful for what He has done.
I WILL be thankful that I have friendships in Guatemala that make my heart long to be there. That I have people to miss. That I have a fulfilling job calling me back there.

And I WILL be thankful for the extra time with the people I love here in the U.S.
For access to different food choices.
For the ability to speak fluently to store clerks.
For God’s provision that I have seen over and over and over again.

It is the thankfulness that keeps the bitterness at bay.
It is the thankfulness that re-centers my heart on faith rather than my feelings.
It is thankfulness for my circumstances that leads to praise.
Which is…

Lesson Three: Praise God, no matter what.

Thankfulness is about specific blessings He has given.
But praise is about His character.
His heart.
Who He is.
Not just what He has done.

None of us want to be loved exclusively for what we have done.
We want to be loved for who we are.
And that is also true of God.
There are times when I cannot trace His hand.
I cannot see what He is doing.
And I do not understand His ways.

But even when He befuddles me, I can remember His character.
His grace.
That His mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations 3)
That there has never been a God like Him, who “works for those who wait for Him.” (Isaiah 64)
That this life is so very short and eternity is so very long. And when this life is done, I will be with Him forever, every desire met in who He is. Every longing fulfilled by His presence. Every mystery will either be explained, or it will not matter anymore.

Satan desperately wants us to forget the goodness of God.
He wants us to question God’s love.
And His integrity.
He wants us to stack up our perceived evidence of God’s faithlessness to us because we have desires God has not fulfilled.

It was the lie in the Garden of Eden that tripped up Eve.
And it is the lie that takes us down today: “God is not good. He doesn’t know what He is doing. He is holding out on you and you cannot trust Him.”

Praise is the antidote to the lie.
Because when I fix my eyes on Him, my Abba Father, the God who rescued me from sin and rescues me from myself, chains are broken.
Lies are silenced.
And my heart is lifted.
It is easier to trust.
It is easier to hear His still, small voice.
It is easier to confidently rest in His goodness – in the TRUTH that God is good and everything He does is right.
That He is God and I am not.
And that I can yield my desires to His perfect Father heart.

There have been many times that kids I love have asked me for things that they really, really want.
And I have said “No” for their own good.
Because I had a bigger picture in mind than they could see.
I have allowed children I love to suffer.
At the hands of doctors.
At the hands of school officials.
And even at my own hand.

I have given failing grades.
Kept kids in from recess.
Not allowed them to eat any more.
Told them they had to wait.
Not allowed that field trip, that party, that event.
Because I love them.
And because I know that their desires are not always in their best interest.

So I face birthday number 50 and the fact that I don’t know when I will get back to Guatemala the same way.
I surrender my desires to His will.
I choose thankfulness.
And I choose praise.

My Daddy in heaven has said “No” to many of my desires.
But I can see in so many cases where that “No” was for the best.
And where I can’t see that, I have learned to trust Him.
To wait for Him.
To keep seeking His heart even when I long for His hand to move.

Because He is good. And everything He does is right.

Posture

Lord,
You know my heart.
And You know all the chaos of my world right now.

Nothing is “normal”
And it may never be “normal” again
Because even when life is in a pattern –
which becomes our “normal” –
it gets shattered.

A phone call
A test result
A financial bump in the road
A repair
An argument
A weight gain
A visit to the doctor

And “normal” ceases to exist.

But Lord,
This abnormal normal has been going on for months
And there appears to be no end in sight
We are all stumbling from report to report,
Recommendation to recommendation
And, yes, from argument to argument

And these uncertain times bring forth other uncertainties
For me, they involve travel and borders and being stuck between two worlds

For others it is economics
Or health
Or prolonged time with people they don’t really like any more
Or politics
The emotional climate of our nation
The spiritual climate of our nation
Lack of hope
Death of compassion
Famine of love for others

Chaos, Lord
It feels like chaos
Because in so, so many ways it is!

What is true?
How do you know?
Who do you listen to?
What should I be very concerned about?
What can I let go?
How can I manage better?
Who should I be managing?
What should I be managing?
Where do I find answers?
What timeline should I expect?
How is this going to work out?

And suddenly this Truth looms:
While there are definitely storms out there,
and I am surrounded by the wind and the waves of the unknown,
I AM (often) MAKING THEM WORSE.

The more the wind howls, the more I try to control it.
The higher the waves crest, the more I seek ways to manage.
The fiercer the storm, the tighter my grip.

And when I do that, the storm in me strengthens and outstrips the storm of my circumstances.

———-

Open hands, Lord.
That is what is required in the storm.
Open hands.
Lifted arms.
Upraised face.

Everything in me wants to do the opposite.
Grip.
Huddle.
Drop down.
Curl in.
Hold tight.
Head tucked.
Eyes squeezed shut.

Managing.
Controlling.
Holding on.

Manage my emotions.
Manage my finances.
Manage events.
Even manage my people.

But that was never, ever what You called me to do.
That is the equivalent of the Captain of a mighty ship asking a toddler to take over the helm.
The Parent asking the preschooler to manage bill pay and the budget for the family.
The Coach letting his kindergartner call the plays of the biggest game of the season.
Laughable.
And unnecessary.

I am the child.
You are my Dad.
You, the King of the Universe, are my Father.
You, the Sovereign Ruler of all things, call me Beloved.
Daughter.
Princess.

All You have ever asked me to do is to trust You.
In the storms
In the calm.
And everywhere in between.

Lift my face.
Lift my arms.
Hold ALL of my life with open hands.
Every detail.
Every circumstance.
Every relationship.
Held up to You, without a grip.

And as I stand tall, it is a posture of praise.
With all I have.
And all I am.
To praise You in it all.

Key word:
ALL.
All of it in Your hands.
All of me singing Your praise.

And then You guide my steps.
You take the wheel.
You call the plays.
You function in Your economy.
You lead me in Your higher ways.
You parent me.
You shepherd me.

Even in the mystery.

You, Who can see it ALL.
You, Who knows every motive, every heart, and every personality that crosses my path.
You, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.
You, the Glue that holds all things together.
You, the Creator Who “works out all things in conformity to the purpose of Your will”.
You, the Great I AM, Who Was and Is and Is to Come.

You, Who control the ALL.
Storm
Calm
ALL

So I come to You with open hands.
Lifted arms.
Upturned face.

Am I soaked from the storm?
Yes.
Is my hair whipped from the wind?
Yes.
Is the boat pitching and yawing and generally being topsy-turvy?
Yes.

But I laugh at the wind and revel in the rain.
Because this boat cannot go under.
It cannot be torn apart.
It is impossible for it to fail.

Not because I am holding it together.
But because YOU are.
And even if everything falls apart here in this life
I have a firm, rock-solid, unbreakable guarantee:
YOU.

The sake of Your name
The glory of Your reputation
The promises You have made
The fact that I am Yours – and You are mine.

This life may beat me up
Your enemy may try to destroy me
The fact of sin in the world and its ugly consequences will mess with me

However, this is a moment in the spectrum of eternity
My whole physical life is no bigger than a blip on the screen
A flower quickly fading
Grass that is green today and dead tomorrow

But my eternal life started the moment I asked You to be my Savior
Which means I can approach all of my circumstances from a posture of praise instead of a huddle of hopelessness and fear.

This is the abundant life
The joy-filled life
The sweet life

Not gripping tightly
Not needing to know all the answers
Not seeking to control
Not managing it all

But riding the wind and waves with a song of praise on my lips
Sometimes sung through tears
Sometimes wrung out of the depths of my soul
Sometimes forced by an act of the will from my mouth

But You are worth it
Worth clinging to
Worth living for
Worth knowing
Worth serving
Worth praising

Always, always, You are worth it.
So I will live in this posture:
Arms high.
Head up.
Hands open.

Check the Tank

I have a question for you today:
How’s your gratitude tank?
Is the needle where it needs to be, buried past the full line?
Or is it sunk on the other side, lower than the E?

If salvation is your helmet and faith is your shield;
if truth is the belt that holds you together and your heart is covered in Christ’s righteousness;
if your feet are ready to take ground for the gospel and you are in the Word, sharpening that sword;
if prayer is the covering that ties all of the armor of God together –

– then gratitude is the oil that lubricates all of life.
The fluid that oozes through every crack, all of the joints, each of the hinges of your world;
that softens the friction that is the daily grind;
that allows the gears to keep turning the wheels of forward progress in the journey of faith.

It is much, much easier to allow the grit of your circumstances into the cracks
where it rubs and wears and irritates.

It is much, much easier to focus on what you lack, the holes in your life, what you are missing instead of fixing your gaze on all that you have, all that has been mended, all that you have been given.

I think that, perhaps, the opposite of gratitude is not ingratitude as much as it is bitterness.

We forget to be thankful.
And instead focus on our problems.
Which pulls our gaze from the Master and His goodness.
And makes us hone in on the temporal
The things that will fade
The stuff the will burn
The situations that irritate
The people that annoy
The circumstances that are challenging at best and devastating at worst.

And as our gaze lingers on what is wrong, that seed of ingratitude sends out tiny tendrils into our hearts
The beginnings of the root of bitterness
Fed by the fertilizer of comparison
And watered by a critical spirit and an unthankful heart

And suddenly, everything you have and everyone you know loses some of their luster, some of their glory, some of what you loved about them.

What once was a refreshing giggle turns into an irritating guffaw.
What once was a home you loved turns into a burden you carry.
What once was a precious bundle of unspeakable joy in your arms turns into a millstone around your neck.
What once was a cherished friendship turns into an obligation.

Because of the disappointment caused by sin – yours and others.
And the whispers of the enemy.
The truth that this life is filled with trials.
And the fact that sometimes God doesn’t make sense to us –
These pieces of grit, both large and small, impact the gears of our lives.
When they have not been washed away by gratitude or at least lubricated by the oil of joy that remembers the goodness of God even in the darkest times –
Then the gratitude tank is empty
And the roots of bitterness begin to grow.

We forget that we are incredibly blessed children of God
Joint heirs with Jesus
Clothed in righteousness
Bound for heaven
Created in the image of God
Designed for eternal things
Made for His purposes and His glory

We forget that Jesus willingly poured out his life in our place
Taking the guilty verdict that He did nothing to deserve
As well as the spit in his face, the punches and slaps, the mocking and the torture
That should have been ours

We forget that He said, “Forgive as I have forgiven you, not keeping track, not remembering wrongs but for MY sake, forgive them.”
We forget that He has lavished on us all that we NEED for life and godliness, lavished on us good gifts, and empowered us by His own Spirit, the very Breath of God in our lungs.
We forget that He has called us first to love
ALL people
Masked and unmasked
“Right” political party or “wrong” political party
Smelling of garbage or smelling of roses
With a history full of mistakes or one to be proud of

We forget that WE are loved like that
That while we were yet sinners, Christ died
That we have been saved ONLY by amazing grace
And that we are not any better than any other human on the planet

We forget that God has carved our names in His palm
That He rejoices over us with singing
That He calls us “Beloved” and “Mine”
We forget that this life is blip on the radar compared to the eternity that awaits
And we forget that we are no more or less worthy of His love than anyone else

There are none righteous.
There is no human perfection.
There is no one who deserves God’s love. His favor. His blessing.

And yet, if you are a Christ-follower, if you have been born a second time into the family of God, you have it.
His mercies new every morning.
His grace that is sufficient for every trial
His love pouring through you as a conduit so that you CAN love that person even when you CANNOT love that person.

You have all of that – and more.

So how’s that gratitude meter?
Do you need to repent of an ungrateful heart?
Do you need to rip out any roots of bitterness? Even the tiny tendrils? Especially the tiny tendrils?
Do you need to confess a lack of love for someone?
Do you need to refocus your gaze?

Here’s one more thing to be thankful for:
You don’t have to conjure up any of the love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness or self-control that you need in order to be grateful.
Those are fruit of HIS Spirit in you.
All you have to do is tell Him you want them.
Seek His face.
Seek His Kingdom and His glory.
Keep your eyes fixed on Him.
Making prayer like breathing.
Making His Word a continual feast.
If you will do that – fall in love with the God who loves you madly – He will do the rest.

And that, indeed, is something to be thankful for!

What Do YOU See?

He was trying to get to where God had called him to be.
Had started the journey weeks earlier.
But every time he turned around, there was a roadblock.
His friends thought this trip was a bad idea.
They even told him that God said it was a bad idea.
Or, at least, that God had shown them what fate awaited him at the end of the journey.
He traveled part of the way by ship – and that ship ran into a FOURTEEN-DAY storm before it was eventually shipwrecked.
Thankfully, it wrecked near an island and no lives were lost.
But then, on the island, he was bitten by a poisonous snake!

Have you figured out that the man was Paul?
He was heading for Rome.
Because he desperately wanted to share the good news of Jesus there.
You can read about his journey to get there in Acts 27 and 28.

But here’s the thing:
I fear that if we were to encounter as many obstacles today as Paul did then, our incredibly poor theology of suffering would have caused us to throw in the towel.
“There are so many roadblocks! This must not be the will of God!”
“If this was of the Lord it would be easier.”
“Look at these circumstances! God MUST be saying “no” to this.”

Our theological equations tend to run like this:
Good circumstances = Good God = this must be what He wants me to do.

But as I read my Bible there is only one part of that equation that is true.
God is a GOOD God.
Always.
No matter what my circumstances are.
He is a GOOD God.

And He has a good plan.

But in story after story in the Bible, His chosen ones, His heroes, the people He chose to record for our benefit, rarely enjoyed favorable circumstances.

I think of David.
Anointed by God to be the next king before he could shave.
And then things looked promising for that fulfillment!
He killed a giant in the name of the Lord.
Was shoulder tapped to play the harp for the current king.
Was beloved by the people.
Even married the king’s daughter!
But then, suddenly, he became a fugitive.
Forced to hide out for YEARS in the wilderness and among the enemies of God’s people.
Hunted.

By today’s theology, he was out of the will of God. Or in sin. Or he hadn’t given enough tithes and offerings. Or God didn’t love him. Or was against him.
All of that was untrue!
David was in the CENTER of the will of God even while he ran for his life.
Even when he was camping out in caves instead of reclining in the palace.

Or I think of the disciples.
How many times did Jesus say to them, “Get in the boat” and then a storm came?
Sometimes when Jesus was with them; sometimes when he was still on shore.
But more than once, the center of the will of God found them in a violent, terrifying, we-gonna-die storm!
Were they out of the will of God?
Absolutely not.

All of these people – Paul, David, the disciples – were EXACTLY where God wanted them to be.
In storms.
In a shipwreck.
Being attacked.
Being hunted.
Being tempest-tossed.

Why were they there if they were in the will of God?
Because God didn’t love them?
Because He had turned His back?
Because He had forgotten to be kind?

Nope.

They were there because God had a bigger purpose than their comfort in mind.
He had lessons to teach them.
Lessons to teach the people with them.
And lessons to teach us!

They were there because miracles only happen when impossibilities define the circumstances.

So the next time you are in a storm…
Are attacked…
Are falsely accused…
Are facing roadblocks…
Are in a sinking boat…

How will your theology interpret you circumstances?
Will your circumstances inform your view of God?
Or will your view of God put your circumstances in perspective?

Will you remember and remind yourself that you only see an inch where God sees infinity?
Will you remember and remind yourself that this life is just a dot on the radar screen of eternity?
Will you choose to trust the God who made you?
Will you choose to focus on His goodness instead of your grumpiness or grief or gut-wrenching pain?

Will you see the storm? Or the One who controls it?
Will you see the evil king? Or the enemy who is controlling him?
Will you see your circumstances? Or will you see the One who loved you enough to die for you?
The One who rose for you?
The One who lives inside of you, giving you power and strength and the ability to go on?

Paul, David, the disciples, and so many others in Scripture had to learn and demonstrate the lesson of perspective.
They had to choose to lift their eyes from what they could see to the Face of the One who sees all.
Paul put it this way:

“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (2 Corinthians 4)

Where is your gaze today?
The things we see that will soon be gone?
Or the things we cannot see that will last forever?

Preaching the Word to Myself

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I write encouraging blog posts and put awesome quotes up on Facebook, if I use social media to post wise and pithy and correct things –
but don’t post or say or write those things from love, with love, in love, because of love, I am only as useful as the loudest noise pollution that exists.

If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.

If I have all the answers to all the questions – masks, cures, racial tensions and reconciliation, the role of government, who should govern, how people should behave, even what the Bible says about ALL of these things –
but don’t love YOU, (with NO caveats or conditions – no matter who you are, what you look like, which side of the aisle you are one, how hateful you are acting, how much I disagree) – if I don’t LOVE you, I am nothing. NOTHING.

If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Even if I sacrificially give of my time, talent and treasure; even if my actions are correct; even if I am perfectly aligned in my deeds with the Word of God, but I don’t love EVERYONE, (with NO caveats or conditions – no matter who you are, what you look like, which side of the aisle you are one, how hateful you are acting, how much I disagree, how sinful your choices are or how much you don’t align with Scripture) –
I have gained nothing.

Love is patient and kind.
Even on social media.
Even when what you posted makes my blood boil.
Even when I cannot see it from your point of view.
Even as I engage with you in respectful conversation.
Even as we disagree.
Love is patient and kind.
I may evaluate your choices against the Word of God and understand that they don’t align with HIS thoughts and therefore, are sinful. But even then, I am patient and kind. Even then. Because “It’s His kindness that leads us to repentance.” (Romans 2)

Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
Ever.
Under any circumstances.
Regardless of my emotions.

It does not demand its own way.
It does demand God’s way – but His way is to love the sinner enough to die in his place – and to hate the sin with the same level of passion.
But it is never about my rights.
My feelings.
My point of view.
It is not about me.
It is about God. His point of view.
And about loving as He loves:
passionately for the sinner even as He is passionately against the sin.

It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.
Love forgives. Again and again and again.
Speaking up against injustice?
Yes. That is love, too.

But always forgiving the perpetrators.
Always.

Every time.
Whether they asked for it or not.
Whether they deserve it or not.
You have been forgiven much.
You must forgive.

It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
Loving the good actions, good results, good efforts.
Hating the bad.

But always loving the people.
Always.

Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
This is a fight.
Not against people.
Against the enemy of our souls.
Who is seeking to divide and conquer.
Seeking to destroy and devour.
Seeking to make the Church act like the world so that no one wants to be a part of the Body of Christ.
And he is succeeding.
Because we are letting him.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.
Human wisdom always, always, always fails.
Godly wisdom, based on His Word, will never fail.
This world will burn.
The end will come.
And when the time of perfection comes, we will recognize how much He loves every tribe, tongue and nation of the world.
Every color of skin.
Every language.
Every culture.
And how much we didn’t love as we should have.
How much I didn’t love as I should have.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.
I put away having to lash out at you because you didn’t understand.
I put away seeing you as the enemy.
I put away speaking the Truth without love and not speaking the Truth because of a misguided idea of love.
Instead I spoke and thought and reasoned the Truth in Love.
Saying the hard things.
But checking my heart first to see why I am saying it.
I put away seeing you first by your labels.
I can and will respect your labels. I can and will celebrate who you are and how God created you. The ways that are like me. And the ways that are not.
But first, and always, I will see you as someone created in the image of God.
Deeply loved by Him.
And in desperate need of knowing Him.
I put away my rights.
And lay down my life for you.
Because He laid down His life for me.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
The puzzle pieces are complex.
But Creator of the puzzle never asked me to figure it out.
He asked me to do three things:
Love Him.
Love others.
And make sure they ALL knew about Him.
ALL.

The ones who look like me.
And the ones who don’t.
The ones who share my culture.
And the ones who don’t.
The one who “get it”.
And the ones who don’t.
The ones who encourage me.
And the ones who infuriate me.
The ones that the enemy is freely, openly, blatantly using.
And the ones that he is freely, hiddenly, subtly using.
The ones who bear His name.

And the ones who don’t.
I have three jobs.
Am I doing them?
If I am focused on loving Him, the conduit between the Holy One and myself will remain open, unhindered by willful sin, and His love, wisdom, grace, mercy, compassion and joy will flow back through me and splash onto you.

If I am focused on loving you as He loves you, we will both be transformed for His glory. It will get messy because we are both sinners. But He will give me all I need to love you – and all you need to love me.

And if I am loving Him with all I am and loving you with all HE has, then telling the world will be easy. Because they won’t understand that kind of love.
And they will ask why.
And then we can share all that He is with them.
So that they, too, can love Him.
Love others.
And go tell the world.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. I Corinthians 13 (NLT)
Eternal things:
God.
His Word.
And the souls of people.
Everything else is ashes and dust.

Will you love God?
Will you love the people He has created?
Love them until they ask you why?
The greatest of these is love.

Storms…

“God!”, I cry out. “It is the seasickness that is getting to me
I have lost the horizon
And I cannot steady my legs on this ever-shifting sea
The deck of the ship of my life plummets down into the depths one moment
Only to reverse to climb a steep wave the next.”

Waves break over me, trying to tug me off the deck and into the icy waters
I am gripping the lifeline
But my hands are weary
Scraped raw from holding on

Water-logged
Unsteady
And oh, so exhausted

I long for calm seas
Still waters
Gentle rocking waves instead of angry breakers

I long for You to calm it all
Take away the storm
Silence the fury
I know You can
But I don’t know if You will

And then You are there beside me
You hold out Your hand with a smile on Your face and a twinkle in Your eye
“Let’s take a walk”, You say.

I am reluctant to let go of the rope
Loathe to relax my grip
Fearful that if I let go the whole ship will fall apart
Or I will be swept out to sea.

And You smile again as You say,
“Are you really the one keeping your feet on this deck?
Is all of your effort to hang on making you safe?
Why are you putting your energy into fears? Control? Wondering?
Let go.
Take my hand.
Let’s take a walk.”

My fingers hurt as I uncurl them from the rope.
They have cramped from holding on so tightly.
But I take Your hand and Your fingers slide between mine, holding tightly.

Just as we connect, the ship tosses violently.
So that we are thrown toward the raging waters.

But even as we fly through the air towards the depths, I hear You laugh.
With delight!
You say, “Watch this!”
And instead of going under, we land lightly on our feet.

The waves are still crashing.
The wind is still whipping.
The sky is still ominous.
But we are standing.
Somehow standing.
On the water.
In the middle of a storm.

You squeeze my hand and look into my face with a grin.
“How cool was that?” You say with a chuckle.
I smile back into Your eyes and lean my body against Your strong arm, my hand still firmly gripped in Yours.

“Let’s take a walk”, You say again.
And I nod as we set off among the breakers, strolling across the wildly surging sea.
The storm hasn’t changed.
And maybe it never will.
But I am released from my fears because You hold my hand.

As we walk through the tumult, You lean down and say,
“Storms are just opportunities for more adventures with Me, love.
Keep watching. You’ll be amazed at what I can do.”

On Diffusers, Thermostats and Temples…

I was made to be a diffuser.

I love essential oils.
And I love my diffuser.
You see, the diffuser takes water that has drops of essential oil in it and turns it into mist.
That mist shoots straight up out of the diffuser and into the air.
But then, after a point, it slowly drifts down from the air and swirls with the air currents, permeating into the room.

I was made to be a diffuser.
A diffuser of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.
A diffuser of grace
Forgiveness
Understanding
Unconditional acceptance and love
A diffuser of Christ-likeness

Essential oils sitting in the bottle don’t do anything.
They don’t freshen the air, repel bugs, boost body systems.
But added to the diffuser, they can do all those things.

But for the diffuser to work, it has to have the elements all brought together.
Electricity
Water
Essential oils

And for me to diffuse the love of God and His character to the world I need:
His power
The Living Water of the Word
And the oil of the Holy Spirit.

I become a diffuser when I take in Living Water, the Living Word of God.
Through reading, through studying, through listening.
One of the symbols of the Holy Spirit in Scripture is oil.
So as I take in the Living Water, God the Holy Spirit adds understanding and meaning and purpose.
He also brings the power source to the whole mixture.
And I am able to pray and praise, lifting high the Lord, shooting straight to heaven, to the heart of God.
Coming boldly before the throne of grace to receive help in time of need. Praying according to the will of God.

But, as the prayer and praise go up, they also change the atmosphere around me.
They change me.
My attitude.
My perceptions.
And even the spiritual dynamic around me.
Just like scorpions and mosquitos hate the oils I diffuse, the enemy hates the praise I lift.
The critters scatter.
And so does he.

And as the spiritual world is impacted, the physical world is changed.
I am empowered to be a difference maker.
To touch hearts and minds and lives.
So that those people can touch hearts and minds and lives.
And the fruit of God’s Spirit is diffused around me. Through me.

I was made to deliver the scent of Christ.
To repel evil, sin and the enemy.
To lift high prayer and praise every chance I get.

I was made to be a diffuser.
And so were you.


I was made to be a thermostat.

I don’t have one of those in my apartment here because there is no HVAC system in the building.
Instead, we rely on open or closed windows, more or less clothing, more or less blankets.
But the temperature of the apartment is never regulated.
It fluctuates wildly depending on the weather outside.

I have written about this before – how we can be a thermometer, reflecting the temps of our circumstances, or a thermostat, setting the temp and turning up or down the heat as needed.

Now more than ever Christ-followers NEED to be thermostats.

Sometimes a thermostat turns up the heat.
Cries out for justice for the oppressed.
Pleads for people to understand.
Says the unpopular yet true thing.
While always speaking the truth in love.

And sometimes the thermostat brings in cool air.
Calming words.
Soothing truths.
Not responding to the post.
Or choosing words carefully when responding so that the temperatures are brought down and listening can happen.

If I had a thermostat in my apartment, I would use it to regulate the temperature as I saw fit.
Because I would be in charge of it.
But the thermostat itself would not be the one to choose whether to go up or down.
It would only respond to my directions.

It’s the same way for a human thermostat in a world that is both brutally cold and completely engulfed in flames at the same time.

I am just a tool. Just a thermostat.
But I must allow the Hand of the One in charge of all things to set me.
To tell me when to turn up the heat.
And when to leave it alone.
When to add cool air.
And when to do nothing.

When I choose to take over and try to change the temp by my own wisdom, or out of my emotions, it ends in disaster.
Because I am a tool in the hands of the Master, not the Master Himself.
But when I allow the Holy Spirit to control my tongue, my words, my responses He can use me as a thermostat to bring change.

I was made to be a thermostat.
And so were you.


I was made to be the temple of the Living God.
And the moment I became a Christ-follower who asked Him to take my punishment and be my Savior, I became His temple.
His Holy Spirit indwells me.
He resides in me.

Which means I have the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire that led the Israelites at work inside me.
I have the glory that Isaiah saw filling the temple filling my innermost self.
I have the same power that raised Jesus from the dead working in me.
I have the breath that Ezekiel saw bring dead bones to life filling me.
I have the Word that spoke creation into existence speaking to my heart.
I have the Wind of God that blew through the upper room, transforming the disciples from frightened followers to empowered leaders, blowing through my life.

I am the temple of the Holy Spirit.
God lives in me.
GOD. LIVES. IN. ME.

I have been given everything I need for life and godliness.
I have the God who does “exceedingly, abundantly” inside of me.
I have the God who walked on water, raised the dead, healed the blind and made the lame walk at work in me.
Through me.
And in spite of me.

I am the temple of the Living God.

Why doesn’t that fact have more power in my life?
Why do I look in the mirror and despise the temple?
Why do I look at others who are also temples and despise them?
Why do I allow anything unholy to even come close?
Why do I forget that I have been bought with a very high price, that I am redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus, that He ransomed Himself in my place?
I am the temple of the Living God.
And so are you if you are a Christian.

If we really believed these things –
that we are diffusers of the work of God,
that we are thermostats with the power to change the temperature when set by the hand of Almighty God,
and that the same power from both the Old and New Testament dwells in us –
how would we change?

And how would we change the world?

Revisiting Us vs. Them

I initially wrote this blog in 2017. The eternal truths in it are still exactly the same today.

I am an “us” in so many ways.
Except for when I am a “them”.

And so are you.
It all depends on who you talk to.
And the topic.
Who your friends are.
And who you would never call “friend”.

Because it is all about labels, categories and boxes.

I am a woman.
I am a plus-sized woman.
I am white.
I am middle-aged.
I am single.
I have no children.

I am politically conservative.
(If you and I have the same definition of that word.
For some of you, I am not conservative enough.
And for others, I am disgustingly conservative.)

I am a military brat.
I am patriotic.
(Depending on how you define that word.
And where you stand in the current cultural conversation on what that means.)

I am employed.
I am a home-owner.
I am rich.
(Depending on how you define that word.
And your understanding of how the world – the whole world – works.)

I am a person with hidden health issues – things that aren’t immediately obvious from looking at me.
But I am also a person who has been blessed with good health – relatively speaking.

I am an “us” if we match.
In race.
In gender.
In ideology.
In opinion.
In understanding.
In circumstances.

I am a “them” if we don’t match.

And, oh, how we love our “us-es” and our “thems”.
We bash the “thems” on social media.
Or perhaps just in our conversations with other “us-es”.
Sometimes overtly.
More often, covertly.
We let our emotions run our words and we spew.
Gaining momentum – or at least vindication – from those who think like we do.
Act like we do.
Feel like we do.
Look like we do.

Or sometimes we just stew.
Letting a “root of bitterness” worm its way into our hearts.
Where it grows into a plant of hatred.
Disgust.
Loathing.
Sometimes shown.
But often hidden behind a veneer of social justice.
Or, “That’s just how I feel”.
Or, “You couldn’t possibly understand.”

And you are no longer YOU.
You have become a “them” to my “us”.
A category.
A lump.
A box.

But what if…
What if God looks at the world completely differently?
What if He has only one “us” and “them” for the entire human race?
Because He does.
He divides humanity only one way:
Eternal beings, made in the image of God, dearly loved, bound for heaven.
Or, eternal beings, made in the image of God, dearly loved, bound for hell.
Based solely on what they did with the gift of grace offered by Jesus dying on the cross.
Accepted the gift.
Rejected the gift.
The only two categories that matter to God.

That simple.
And that important.

It is all through Scripture.
From the beginning when God said, “Let us make man in Our image”.
Every person, everywhere, created in the image of God.
An eternal being that will live forever. No, not your body – but your soul.
You are a being with thoughts, feelings, emotions, and will.
Creative.
Loving.
Designed for community.
And we were a completely unified “us” – until sin came into the world, separating us from God, creating the category of “choosing to be redeemed by the blood of the Lamb” and “choosing not to be”.

It is echoed throughout the Old Testament.
God made a group of people, the Israelites, His “chosen people” as a vessel for bringing His Word into the world. Both His written Word and the Living Word, the Messiah. They were a living object lesson of Kingdom of God.
But He also made provision for any “them” to join the group that chose to do so.
A non-Israelite could become one by choice.
A picture of the eternal “us” and “them”.

Beyond that, He allowed many of the “thems” that are highlighted in the Old Testament to be of questionable virtue, questionable heritage.
A woman who tricked her father-in-law into having sex with her so that she could have kids.
A prostitute from a completely different race.
And a woman from yet another ethnic group that sacrificed their children by burning them on the altar of their god.
Tamar
Rahab
Ruth
All in the genealogy of Jesus.
All “thems” who became “us-es”.

And then in the New Testament, Jesus went so far as to include every kind of outcast – every “them” for his culture.
Prostitutes and other notorious sinners were his friends.
“Half-breed” Samaritans, despised by the Jews because of their bloodlines, were welcomed.
Men who had betrayed their countrymen by siding with Rome, and then cheated their fellow Jews as they collected taxes, were welcomed.
The woman caught in adultery.
And women and children in general.
People wracked with diseases that kept them apart from the community.
Jesus talked to ALL of these “thems”. Ate with them. Lived with them. And provided The Way – Himself – for “them” to become “us”.

And finally, the New Testament writers after the cross reiterated this concept as well.
Paul wrote in his letter to the church in the region of Galatia: “There is [now no distinction in regard to salvation] neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you [who believe] are all one in Christ Jesus [no one can claim a spiritual superiority]”.

And again, in his letter to the believers at Colosse, he writes that they, as Christ followers, “…have put on the new [spiritual] self who is being continually renewed in true knowledge in the image of Him who created the new self— a renewal in which there is no [distinction between] Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, [nor between nations whether] barbarian or Scythian, [nor in status whether] slave or free, but Christ is all, and in all [so believers are equal in Christ, without distinction].”

One us.
One them.

Follower of Christ.
Believing in the saving work He did on the cross and through the empty tomb.
And therefore bound for heaven.

Or not a follower of Christ.
Rejecting His work on the cross.
And, therefore, bound for hell.

In all the clamor of our world and particularly in social media, remembering God’s view can be difficult.
It has to be a choice.
When my emotions are engaged.
When I go, “How in the world can he think that?!?” or “How dare she post that?!?”
When I feel misunderstood.
Or justifiably bitter because of the sin of others.
That is when I have to choose.

I have to take my eyes of off now and put them on eternity.
I have to remember that that person – no matter who they are – is someone for whom Christ died.
And we are either going to live forever together as residents of heaven or they are going to burn forever as a resident of hell.
If the Bible is true, there is no other choice of destination.
It is either eternal life or eternal death.

I have to decide in that moment – and every moment – who I am.
Because I am a “them” to many, many people.
But before I am ANY category, label or box, I am a follower of Christ.
And He has given me two jobs to complete in this world:
Love God with all my heart, mind, and strength.
And to love my neighbor – ANY neighbor – as myself.

Because “they” need to know that this life is not all there is.
They need to know that heaven is real – and so is hell.
I have the information they need so that they can choose eternal life.
Will I really let our differences – their “them-ness” – keep me from sharing it?

Will I be known by my love?
For the “thems” that are Christ-followers and yet different than me?
As well as for the “thems” that do not yet know Him?

Because Jesus said that is the hallmark His followers – His love poured out.
On both the “us-es”.
And the “thems”.

And a P.S. for 2020:

If you want to know what the Bible says about how to love your neighbor as yourself, check out the post before this one. It is addressed to ALL Christians and particularly my white brothers and sisters. Biblical love is not a feeling. It is choosing to live according to the mandates of God’s Word and to walk in the ways that Jesus walked. In EVERY situation, for EVERY time and place and in EVERY culture.