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High Light

November 7, 2018

I was half-way up and my legs suddenly started to get that familiar Jell-O feeling. “I just need to stop for a minute.” I said. But inside I’m wrestling with the equally familiar voice telling me that maybe I can’t do this after all…

The spiral of stairs leading up the Tybee Island lighthouse were made of beautiful black iron-work, the walls were a pinkish brick with white mortar, and here and there were little arched alcoves with windows letting in the morning light. Earlier when I had stood at the bottom of the giant, black-and-white stripped guardian, it didn’t look too bad. Sure it was tall, but I’m not really scared of heights anymore right? I can do this!

But half-way up I looked out a window and suddenly realized how far we had come. I felt unsteady and held close to the wall for some kind of leverage and security. As the rest of the family continued their ascent, two inner voices jostled for attention, both determined to have their way.

Fear: “This is seriously high! You can’t do this. The view is nice from right here too. What do you have to prove anyways?”

Truth: “You are perfectly safe, child. You can do this because I can make you able.”

And then Truth reminds me of Anne Lindbergh’s book “Gift from the Sea” that I had brought with me for devotions. Earlier that morning she spoke of simplicity in life, so I began to pray and ask, “How can I simplify my life?” This question surged through my mind as the voice of Fear tried to throw another dart, but Truth interrupted the lies and said,

“You can simplify your life by letting go of fear.”

Shazam.

Fear is what had complicated that moment. If I would let go of fear (which, in that situation, was irrational anyways) there would be no problem, no struggle, no failure, and no regrets.

A sudden surge of God-given courage pulsed through my spirit upon the gift of that revelation and I sprinted up the next several flights of stairs! Arriving at the top, I was greeted by the enormous glass globe containing the comparatively tiny light bulb that has been the beacon of safety and hope to sailors for decades. The little light is enfolded in the protective orb which then radiates and magnifies the light ten-fold. (Do we see the Truths therein?)

Adventurous younger brother was already out the door and walking around the platform which circumnavigated the top of the lighthouse. The wind was blowing strong, pushing the door shut as I tried to push my way out. But it was the wind which allured me to go further. It was incredibly high at the top, unnervingly so, but the wind surged around me and draws me out as though engaging me for a dance. I had to be a part of it. The beach stretched out before us and we leaned back to watch clumsy surfers taking lessons. By overcoming fears with the strength and truth of Jesus, I found a place of wonder and adventure wedged between earth and sky at the top of the Tybee Island Lighthouse.

Because fear, he is a liar.

*****

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

-2 Timothy 1:7

 

 

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Rolling in the Deep

November 2, 2018

I strolled across the beach, watching the distance waves pushing landward and breaking in white-capped sprays. It wasn’t the post-hurricane churning waters that kept me in ankle deep shallows−it was what might be under those waves that grounded this landlubber’s toes deeper into the sand. As we vacationed at Tybee Island, GA recently, I was confronted with my battle against illusions of imminent danger and irrational fear.

Hurricane Florence had brushed by the coast a few days earlier, but her tail was still swiping by with billowing clouds and rain. Our first night out on the beach we casually collected shells and strolled along the waters edge where we could still see what was below the surface. But the cresting waves were beckoning us closer−and deeper.

My younger brother has always been an adventurer and inspiration. He kept moving further and further out into the water. I knew he would be disappointed in me if I let fear keep me on the shore−that would not do. No coward am I!

Then the rain started, and the wind, the white caps sprayed salt back into our faces−and we were griped by joy. We pushed deeper still, chasing the waves where they grew bigger further out in the tide. We were waist-deep and loving it.

Then brother accidentally gets soaked and, throwing cares to the wind, he dives head first into the next big wave, rolling in the aftermath, and sporting a wide grin of pleasure. The waves keep coming, and fear has been washed clean away as I too crash headlong into the curling, crashing tide. As the rain continues on its way across the blue expanse of earth, we let the tide push us back to shore like a couple of half-drowned, beaching whales. And we laugh.

Back on shore we find jellyfish that had washed up. The day after our tidal rollicking, a local man in Savannah tells us about the 3-4ft. sharks that hang around Tybee beaches. (I’m so glad I didn’t know about them 24 hours prior!) But even with having been informed of the hazards and potentially imminent dangers, I still take hold of my youngest brothers’ hand a few nights later and lead him out into the breaking waves, so he can also experience the wonder of the living sea. Rolling in the dangers of the deep, I discovered the glorious security of the God of Heaven.

When Jesus calls me to step across the line and engage my fear with bold confidence, I want to have the God-given courage to, not only enter into the water, but to actively chase down the waves.

Lord, may we go out with joy into deeper waters where You can overcome us with Your awesome glory and we respond with shouts of laughter and praise. Amen.

 

Caution: U-Turn Ahead

August 6, 2018

I met a couple at a convention recently who are preparing to move to the city to help with outreach to Orthodox Jews. They spoke of how they were planning to go Africa to help with mission work there, but within one year God literally remolded their hearts and thoughts towards where He wanted them to be−with the Jewish people. They have a beautiful story. The results of how God worked in their life are powerful. Their journey to this point is chock full of God moments that should inspire one in their own walk with God, and, while it did do that, I also came away with a question that lingered like sugar-free after taste.

Why, when this family was already aiming at something good and God-glorifying, why did God go through the work and trouble of rewriting their story and changing their hearts towards something else?

This question clung like a burr as I left the lunch table. They were smiling and wondering at His goodness, but I’m walking away scratching my head, having been reminded once again that God is still a mystery to me.

But I will see this again the next day. A young lady tells me the tale of a young man among us whose life-long dream was to become a missionary pilot. He aimed everything towards that end. In his last years of high school he took the pilots test with high hopes and ambition…but he failed. And with this particular test, there were no second chances. He would never be a pilot. He was color blind. Though still wondering the “why?” question, he is preparing to go on the mission field in another way as the Lord leads.

These stories, though redemptive, have left me wondering about whether or not God cares about our dreams, desires, or even preferences. I know the pain of hope deferred and have had my share of desires denied. God was always good, but I still don’t have all the answers and perhaps never will. Job, one of the most stricken men in the Bible, never got an answer to his “why?”, though he did experience depths of God in ways he never had before. I wonder what life was like for him after it all. What kind of man was he after losing everything? After having a whirlwind encounter with Almighty God who drilled him with incredible questions about His power and sovereignty and then redemptively restored Job’s loses?

How do we trust when life is can be so uncertain? How can we know what to aim for when it could all be swept away with one closed door? How can we live life with purpose and direction when God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts so much higher than our own? Why is it that some people have one, good, driving purpose for their life and attain unto it, while others also have good and worthy ambitions which are thwarted at every turn? How do we dream about the future within the reality of God’s soverign will possibly recharting our course? Why are some seemingly “blessed” while others are “denied”?

“It is easy to fear when you see loss. It is easy to feel apprehensive when you see hurt, damage, new wounds, and pain. These are precisely the things that love does away with…When we rely on ourselves, we are always fearful. We are always worried about what we might lose. We are afraid of rejection…of abandonment. We live out the vulnerability of the world. A world where some gain while others lose…Fear, confusion, and doubt are intertwined and they all base their power from the absence of love.”*

In this excerpt from A Quiet Heart, Elisabeth Elliot provides pieces of the answer to this probing question of God’s love and sovereignty. She says, “Purity of heart, said Kierkegaard, is to will one thing. The Son willed only one thing: the will of His Father. That’s what He came to earth to do. Nothing else. One whose aim is as pure as that can have a completely quiet heart, knowing what the psalmist knew: ‘Lord, You have assigned my portion and my cup, and have made my lot secure’ (Psalm 16:5, NIV). I know of no greater simplifier for all of life. Whatever happens is assigned. Does the intellect balk at that? Can we say that there are things which happen to us which do not belong to our lovingly assigned ‘portion’…? Are some things, then, out of the control of the Almighty?

Every assignment is measured and controlled for my eternal good. As I accept the given portion other options are cancelled. Decisions become much easier, directions clearer, and hence my heart becomes inexpressibly quieter…A quiet heart is content with what God gives. It is enough. All is grace.”

I have much to learn about my Eternal Father whose depths are unfathomable. If all is grace then I have no rights to dictate what is “good”. He makes our “lot secure”. It all comes back again to childlike trust that simply says, “Yes, Lord.” and doing so with absolute confidence that His sovereign will and perfect love will shepherd us towards His intended purposes−for His glory as well as our good.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear. -1 John 4:18

_________________________

*https://www.christianquotes.info/images/john-piper-quote-presence-hope/#axzz5NPZSrhcC

Jesus, Priceless Treasure

July 20, 2018

Jesus, priceless treasure,
source of purest pleasure,
friend most sure and true:
long my heart was burning,
fainting much and yearning,
thirsting, Lord, for you.
Yours I am, O spotless Lamb,
so will I let nothing hide you,
seek no joy beside you!

 

Let your arms enfold me:
those who try to wound me
cannot reach me here.
Though the earth be shaking,
every heart be quaking,
Jesus calms my fear.
Fires may flash and thunder crash;
yea, though sin and hell assail me,
Jesus will not fail me.

 

Hence, all worldly treasure!
Jesus is my pleasure,
Jesus is my choice.
Hence, all empty glory!
What to me your story
told with tempting voice?
Pain or loss or shame or cross
shall not from my Savior move me,
since he chose to love me.

 

Banish thoughts of sadness,
for the Lord of gladness,
Jesus, enters in;
though the clouds may gather,
those who love the Savior
still have peace within.
Though I bear much sorrow here,
still in you lies purest pleasure,
Jesus, priceless treasure!

 

−Johann Franck, 1653

I Almost Died…is that so bad?

July 18, 2018

I could have died today. It could have been me who hydroplaned and crashed into the barrier walls, totaling both the front and rear of the vehicle. It could have been me who spun out and was almost smashed by on-coming traffic. When I saw the slick roads, I let off the gas and slowed. I was going faster than the car just behind me, yet somehow it was they who lost control and careened across traffic. Glancing into the rear view mirror I saw them smash into the wall when I was too far away to be of any help, and then they spun around and hit the opposite wall−only narrowly escaping being T-boned by the next car in line. The first thought through my mind after I recovered from what I’d just witnessed were the lyrics to a song:

 

It should have been me

It should have been us

That should have been there hanging on a Cross.

Just leaves me saying Thank God for the ‘should have been’.*

 

Only His mercy sustains me in a broken world fraught with hazards and the peril of death. I feel very like a little fly, for whom the world is vast, and treacherous, and full of the imminent perils of death. Anything could take out a little bug like that. I am small and vulnerable. Indeed, I was almost smashed like a bug a few months ago. A small group of us were driving through the labyrinth that is Cincinnati, Ohio, when we suddenly realized that we had to merge in short order. Following the leaders in the car ahead, my friend and I had no idea that we were about to be crushed by the semi next to us. After a brief moment of deliberation, she hit the gas and was able to get in front of traffic. Little did we know that our friends just ahead were looking back in horror. Making it through, we pulled up next to them so they could see us having a good laugh. All we saw in return were wide eyes and worry. They thought we were goners. We were oblivious. We could have died, yet there we were laughing in blissful ignorance. Mercy given.

Sitting down with my Bible Club girls this evening and I tell them about the crash. We talk about life and death. About how the devil comes to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10) this one abundant life we’ve been given to live for the glory of the Lord. We talk about what a life well lived would look like to us. What do we want out of life? What are our dreams and desires? Does God care about them? Does He care about this one life we have to live? How does the devil try to keep us from living our one life for Christ alone?

I don’t always understand the mercies of God−why He chose to keep me grounded while the other person spun out.

But this I know−His is trustworthy. His character is impeccable and of the utmost integrity. His lavish mercies are new every morning. No matter how big He is, or how small I am, He takes time to keep my tires on the ground, to pull me out of a semi sandwich, to make Himself known in the most intimate and tender ways, and to restore hope to the internal bleedings of a wounded heart. This one life we have is swiftly fading and may perhaps be swiftly taken. Let us live our one, graciously given life well. Eternity in the perfected presence of the Lord is our reward.

Life, if properly viewed in any aspect, is great, but mainly great when viewed in its relation to the world to come. −Albert Barnes

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.

Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord−or we walk by faith, not by sight−we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.

−2 Corinthians 5:1-9 NASB

 

____________________________

*Citizen Way – ‘Should’ve Been Me’ Official Lyric Video.” YouTube, YouTube, 27 July 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xlNwDpPoWs.

When Worlds Collide

May 29, 2018

“It would take 100,000 light years to go from one end of the Milky way to the other; and our solar system is so small within the Milky way galaxy that it barely shows up as a speck. Now consider that God measures the universal expanse with the span of His hand. That’s how big is the God we serve.”

This concept, with Hubble telescope images to solidify, was presented to our missions class several weeks ago, but my mind is still orbiting around question after question. It’s as though I have to learn who God is all over again. He is a mystery to me. This mystery draws me in with trembling awe, but one question hangs like a storm cloud in a southern sky: Why?

Why this infinitesimal speck in a galaxy that is merely one of millions in an unmeasurable universe?

Why me? What am I but a vapor in the traces of history that most likely will not remember my name? Comparatively…I am nothing. Why does God consider me? I ponder, awestruck, with the Psalmist, “What is man that thou art mindful of him?”

I’m rocked by the wonder of it all. God is so big! Why on earth would the King of Heaven care anything about specks living on a cosmic dot in an endless expanse that is still too small to contain the vastness of God?

Why should God care about me personally? Who am I in the telescope of it all? I want to serve a big God, but now He’s become so big, and I so small, that we can no longer see or touch each other. I am Job before his omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God. I wallow in dust and ashes before His awesomeness.

I’ve spent days on these questions, and have brought them with me to the pew on Sunday morning, hoping that someone will tell me, remind me, that God cares about this fleeting vapor that He created.

The reminder came with the naming of Jesus. Jesus, the Servant King who stopped for the outcasts and touched the untouchable with healing power. Jesus, the one who silenced the stone clenching rioters and sent a condemned woman away as pure and whole again. Jesus…a God who sees and deliberately responds. “And,” the Holy Spirit whispers “Jesus sees you too.”

He stops to take notice. He wraps His arms of fatherly love tight around me. He offers me a wild love that makes no sense at all, and there is nothing I can do in the face of it but receive it with awe and wonder and rapture.

God is immeasurable. He is high. He is huge. But He made himself so very low. Jesus came to earth, took on our flesh, hunger, frustrations, and pain. He saw us, touched us, loved us to the point of brutal death. He humbled Himself. And I am again in awe. My God is so big that He made Himself small so we could embrace His magnificence. The God whom the universe cannot contain came down to this infinitesimal speck of a planet, confining Himself to time and space and flesh.

God sees each person who ever was or will be, and each one of us has been created in His own likeness and crowned with undeserved glory. How can we know that God loves us? How can we know that God sees our vapored lives? How can we know that the uncontainable God cares about this little speck of earth and its inhabitants?

One word: Jesus.

 And if the stars of a hundred billion galaxies praise Him…so will I.

Poor Management

April 14, 2018

“Do you play chess?” she asked, as she rocked back and forth on the cardboard spread out on the sidewalk. “Life is like chess. You have to know what move the other person will make so you can be one step ahead.”

________

This is the second of six-weeks being spent in Queens, NY for missions training. This week’s focus has been on poverty, so last night we went out in small groups to reach out to the homeless “living” along 5th Avenue in Manhattan. Across the street from the impressive, black Trump Tower, we met Liz*.

Adding the packed meal we’d brought to her already nice sized stash of offerings given by others, a fellow student sat down and began asking about Liz’s story. Her husband had died, leaving her penniless. She has been living on these same streets for 11 years. I listened as she told the other student bits and pieces of what it has been like on the streets. “I’ve just been in the wrong place at the wrong time sometimes. A man tried to rape me once, but I stabbed him and escaped. After all the shops close, the drugs and prostitutes come out. You don’t want to be out here then. Bad things happen.” As she tells us about the evil, she hugs her legs close and rocks. Pain and abuse are practically written on her forehead.

I look down and read the paper sign displayed to the street in front of her:

Widowed, husband died with no insurance. Lost everything. Can-u-help. God bless.

The verses come to mind about how God helps and cares for the widowed and fatherless. But I’m rocked. Where was God for this widow? What good can God do for her situation now? Will being converted get her off the streets and provide her a home? Where are you God? And what can you do for this widow? The questions linger and I have no words for her, so I say nothing.

Then a man stops, briefly bemoaning her predicament in a tone that obviously has no idea what this woman has truly been through. He pulls out a hand full of money and begins searching. He flips past $10’s and $20’s, finally he offers her a couple of single dollar bills. A whopping $2.00 to ease his conscience. For the second time since coming to New York, I’m angry.

Here we are in the middle of Manhattan on the infamous 5th Avenue, the hub of social class and fads. We see dazzling couples in their suits and gowns that are probably worth thousands; an Armani store is on the corner; rich folks roll by with chauffeurs navigating their Rolls Royce through the traffic; someone walks by with two bags full of Apple products. Wealth runneth over…and there are people living on the streets for 11 years, for whom we can only seem to “spare” $2.00? O God, forgive us. Forgive me.

Leaving Liz, our three-person group keeps moving through the streets and around the blocks. There weren’t many homeless out anymore (hopefully because they had somewhere to go for the night), but we did find one man. We saw him from across the street, rummaging around the cardboard on the steps of the lovely St. Bart’s church, but he didn’t look homeless. He looked pretty decent actually and we would have kept walking, but the young man in our group (who certainly has the spiritual gift of evangelism) holds back. “I’m gonna go talk to him anyways.” As he climbs the steps, myself and the other girl continue to prayer walk along the immediate sidewalk and pass out tracts. It turned out that this man was worth millions, but lost it all and had only been on the street for a few days.

We waited as their conversation kept going and going. I looked up and saw the two of them talking through the “Good News” tract which shares the path and plan of repentance to salvation. I sat on the steps and prayed some more. Lord Jesus, do a good work here! In due time, our teammate came back down the steps with his characteristic “can’t-wipe-the-smile-off-my-face” from having shared the Gospel again.

“It must have gone well!” I said.

All he can do is smile broader. “Wow…” he says dumbfounded, “that is the first time I have ever led someone to Christ. Wow…” You could have powered a city block with his joy.

Do I still have questions? Yes. But I can take those questions to the Lord and I know He will make them clear and show Himself mighty in all things and situations. God did make a difference for the homeless that night. Did the homeless man’s situation change as a result of becoming a Christian? No. But will his life be different as a result now that he has the peace, love, joy, comfort, protection, guidance, and hope of Jesus? Absolutely. Jesus makes all the difference…Jesus is the difference.

***

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.

–Luke 4:18-19