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Crazy Love

March 1, 2018

“If we have got the true love of God shed abroad in our hearts, we will show it in our lives. We will not have to go up and down the earth proclaiming it. We will show it in everything we say or do.” –Dwight L. Moody

***

Two books that have passed through my hands recently were Sarah Hagerty’s newest release “Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to be Noticed” and Francis Chan’s “Crazy Love”. The most profound insight I have gained from both of these books is how God perceives me on a day-to-day level. I quickly began realizing how easy it is for me to forget God’s solid love for me. He doesn’t love me because of what I do, but because He has placed value on me and wants me for Himself, simply because He delights in me. All I can keep asking myself is, “Why? Why would God love me, or any of us, that much? It doesn’t make sense.” But, as Kate Dicamillo affirms in The Tale of Despereaux, “The answer is…yes…Love is ridiculous. But it is also wonderful. And powerful.”

Love does. I’ve heard this several times over the years and have always equated it to the idea of “good works”; but I begin to understand…love does because love is active. Love does not simply look on adoringly, it jumps up to stand alongside, it takes out the trash because it needs doing, it reaches out to touch the leper left alone on the outskirts of Jerusalem, it returns love for hate, it goes to the Cross in our place.

Think about it. It means a great deal when someone says “I love you”, but how can you be sure that the statement is true if actions are never present to back it up? Would you not begin to question the truth of that declaration? If your friend says they love you, but then never comes through for you when you need them, or never takes the time to invest in the relationship, do they really mean it? How many children of divorced parents have heard a parent say “I love you” but then they want nothing to do with the child?

Love is more than a declaration. It is action. This is one of the reasons why Scripture says, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have [demonstrate] love for one another.” (John 13:35) It is the tangible, visible expression of our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ that reveal our true heart and affections. And again, James reiterates,

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” –James 2:14-18

To paraphrase, “You say you have love, but I can prove it through my consistent actions. Show me your love without your actions, and I will show you my love by my actions.”

God does not love us because of what we do for Him. We have value because He has placed His love on us and chosen us for His own. It is grace, not our own merit. But after we surrender to His incredible love, the natural outflow is to love in return. And love always does. It is not stagnant. Because we are filled with love for Jesus, we will begin to love the things He loves. Our works will flow out of our love for Him, not because we need to earn or repay it, but simply because we are looking for ways to serve Him so as to reciprocate to Him our love. Even if that means just sitting alone with Jesus and enjoying Him for no other reason than to delight in the presence of one another.

“The fact is, I need God to help me love God. And if I need His help to love Him, a perfect being, then I certainly need His help to love other, fault-filled humans…Our prayers for love result in love, which naturally causes us to pray more, which results in more love…” –Francis Chan, Crazy Love

We take hold of Jesus’ hand and His love seeps into us. Then we take hold of another hand and ripple that holy love to them. Once they experience it, they too will be drawn to the wellspring of our love. It isn’t something for which we must work, it is something we simply are by having a firm anchor in the Source. If our love is real, we won’t have to make it happen. It will be the natural effect of being wrapped in the perfect love of God.

***

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

−1 Corinthians 13:1-7 (The Message)

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What Do You Believe About Stress?

February 2, 2018

“Stress is not what causes heart problems and death. What you believe about stress is what kills.”

–Prof. Matthew Tolbert

*

The week had been anything but structured. Work was towering, there was a trip to prepare for soon, and we took in a little girl for a few days while her mom checked herself into a mental ward for having suicidal thoughts. Now it was Sunday…and we had survived. I expected to stride into the peaceful sanctuary of the church building and be refreshed and replenished as usual. Running tight on time as usual, I grabbed a pew in the back and exhaled deep.

It didn’t work this time though.

The weight that had been pushed back during the week bore down and I suddenly realized how raw it had left me. I didn’t need to sing or hear a sermon. I needed someone to lean hard on. Someone I could draw new strength from. Someone who would speak the Truths striving for utterance within my spirit. I needed a lifeguard! I needed her.

Wasting no time after dismissal, I practically ran to my mentor. All I wanted to do was hold her tight and somehow absorb her happy demeanor, which stood in such stark contrast to the hollow ache I felt.

“How are you?” she asked smiling.

“Stressed…” and the words had hardly lurched their way out before collapsing in voiceless tears. I didn’t care who saw them. That salt water was the medicine which released the pressure and they felt so good! Being a fellow woman, she completely understood. Taking my hand tight in hers, she prayed and waited patiently for the first rush to subside. For the next little while, I spilled my guts and she cleaned up the mess. She replenished my malnourishment with the Truth of God’s Word, gave perspective where things had started to get narrow, and reminded me that I was not alone.

“One day at a time, that’s all you can do.” she insisted. “I stop trusting God sometimes and it’s just stupid! He’s always been faithful, so why don’t I keep trusting Him?” And she’s right. To be blunt, it is simply stupid to not trust God when He has already proven Himself faithful. Why should I doubt Him now?

I’m still learning, so today was another day of beating back the stressors. I feel everything slipping through my fingers, we’re battling sickness, deadlines are choking my joy to death, and I’m struggling to understand faith and hope and love in so many ways. I don’t even know how to pray.

Then I remember a song that has pulled me out of the mire on more than one occasion. Closing the bedroom door, exiting out of emails and design programs, securing on the headphones to temporarily shut out the world, and the weight starts to lift like glittering fairy dust, as if it was all a mere fantasy to begin with. Hands go up and pull down grace like a lifeline thrown in the storm.

So what do I believe about stress? I believe it can be an incredible motivator and I’ve experienced it as such to great benefit; but it can also be a crouching predator that lunges at your bare neck and suffocates the life out of you. But you know what happens over and over in Scripture? A problem, then stress, then inadequacy…then Jesus…and then miracles. When we come to God, God moves. Will the stressors go away? Most likely not. We have responsibilities and life happens. But they don’t have to be the things that kill us anymore. Instead they can be the very things that drive us to a richer spiritual life. Lean hard on Jesus this week, and breathe in life.

Truth and Dare

November 14, 2017

Has the Lord ever dared you to do something? I’m not talking about the macho, test your nerve, spin-the-bottle kind of dare, but an honest, “Let’s see what we can do!” A bad friend will tell you to do something “brave” just because they want to see if you will crash in the process. A good friend will urge you to test the edge because they know you need to if you’re going to reach the next step, and they will be there to help.

 

I faced a longtime fear last week. You see, I don’t like airports. Especially big ones. I’ve never flown in a commercial airliner (I don’t count the 3yr. old experience that I only remember as being bad), let alone by myself and through three different airports. Not excited. Needless to say, I am alive and well and never missed getting to the gate (well, one was cutting it kinda close. Those security lines in New York are huge!) Did I enjoy the flight? Yes! Did I meet new people? Yes (a nuclear physicist at that). Was it worth the stress? Yes. I like a challenge. I like being stretched because I know that, once it is finished, it won’t look so big and scary the next time. There is such a thing as “good stress”. But sometimes the challenges we come up against aren’t the jumping-off-the-cliff kind. Sometimes the challenge is much less dramatic, but no less impactful.

 

During that trip to New York, I read an article by Gideon Yutzy about his year of going “offline”. With a new little girl, he began to question how he was investing his time as he watched her rapid growth into toddlerhood. “We now have far more time and energy available than any of our ancestors did. Of course the question is: What will we do with that time and energy?” -Gideon Yutzy (Daughters of Promise, Fall 2017 Issue)

 

It has often confused me how it is that our society is so blamed busy with all of the “servants” we have at our disposal. We have washing machines and dryers, microwaves, dishwashers, rapid transportation, fast food, Google, overnight shipping, instant…everything. How is it that we are still so crammed full when all of these techno helpers are supposed to be saving us time? How is it that our not-so-ancient ancestors (we’re talking my great grandma’s generation) were making lye soap, hand washing dishes, cooking real meals, and still had time for picnics, letter writing, and afternoon porch chats. Sorry Millennials, but the issue here is not the tech or tasks, it is the individualism and lack of focus. In an instant society of task focused people, we don’t have the patience for the kinds of things that make for real life and solid relationships. No, it isn’t a time issue. We still have 24 hours, 7 days a week. It’s a matter of how we look at that time and how we choose to use it.

 

And I am guilty of all of it;

 

So God has dared me to take the offline challenge for the next 6 months. I can’t cut off completely because I work from home, but social media and this blog will be dormant for that duration of time. (Whether or not this blog will continue after the sabbatical is yet to be prayerfully determined.)

 

Will you take His challenge to swim out of the shallows and into the waves?

 

I dare you.

*

Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

–Ephesians 5:14-17  NASB

Am I a Soldier of the Cross?

September 13, 2017

The motto of every missionary, whether preacher, printer, or schoolmaster, ought to be:

“Devoted for life.”

−Adoniram Judson

*

Am I a soldier of the Cross—

A follower of the Lamb?

And shall I fear to own His cause,

Or blush to speak His name?

Must I be carried to the skies

On flowery beds of ease,

While others fought to win the prize

And sailed through bloody seas?

Are there no foes for me to face?

Must I not stem the flood?

Is this vile world a friend to grace,

To help me on to God?

Since I must fight if I would reign,

Increase my courage, Lord!

I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,

Supported by Thy Word.

−Isaac Watts

 

Weak Kneed

September 8, 2017

“I like you when you’re weak.”

 

It was in between Composition 2 and Spanish 101 that I decided I needed a break from the monotony of college textbook labor. Finding one of the cushy chairs in a quieter spot of the library, I pulled out “Unseen” by Sara Hagerty. She was describing an afternoon in her laundry room when she suddenly felt overwhelmed, incapable, and unsuccessful in her attempts to attain her goals. In the muddle of her swirling, negative thoughts, the voice of the Lord broke in and said, “I like you when you’re weak.” That phrase jumped right off the page and followed me down the hall to class.

Later, as I sat at my desk, the Lord whispered, “I showed you the Truth of that statement earlier today.” And I recalled a dream from earlier that morning…

 

The busy highway was icy and covered up in snow. Driving was dangerous…and I was at the wheel. The wind blew harder and vision was becoming alarming limited. Cautious, scared, I pulled off into the emergency lane. Through the blur of swirling snow, I saw a friend walking along the road, right in the midst of the storm, so I signaled him with a road flare to come help. Upon reaching the vehicle, I told him I couldn’t drive anymore. I was too hard for me…too much. Without a word, he motioned for me to slide over, jumped in next to me, and took the wheel. Easing out into traffic again, he put his strong arm around my shoulders and held me close. I could rest. I was safe.

 

This is who Jesus wants to be for each of us. He wants to be the One who jumps in the seat alongside us and takes the wheel when we can’t navigate the road on our own power, intellect, or reasoning. He shows up striding through the storms, walking on the water, and becomes our strength when we are crumbling from human weakness. Not only does He take control of the situation, but He puts His arm of security and protection gently, yet firmly around us and we can lean hard on Him in perfect peace and rest, trusting in His ability to guide us straight and true; even when we can’t see the way ourselves.

A loving father enjoys being able to help his children. My Dad loves when we come to him asking for his expertise or assistance on something that is new to us, but old hat to him. It gives him an opportunity to teach, take part, and pass down valuable skills. Or, think of a lover who delights in having opportunities to “be a knight” for his “fair lady”. Men are the protectors and appreciate their lady’s “weakness” so as to show/prove to her how he can care for and protect her. Women can be strong for their men as well as we stand by them. Sometimes our men will be battered and beaten from toil and cares; women step in to sooth, to comfort, and to encourage them to get back up when they fall.

 

In thinking of their child, the parent says, “Ah, I like it when you are weak. That’s when you ask questions and want my help.”

The lover says, “I like you when you’re weak; because then you make me want to be strong.”

God says of us, “I like you when you’re weak, because it is only then that you obtain true strength that can only come from leaning hard on Me.”

 

Our society and culture declares that weakness is detestable, to never show the soft underbelly, or the vulnerable parts of yourself. Yielding control, practicing humility, admitting defeat is considered an act of yellow-bellied surrender. That’s why the Kingdom of God was called “upside down”. It is contrary to the thinking patterns of the world. It is the least who will be great, the tender who will be the strongest. It is the weak kneed, those who fall to their knees in prayer, who will shake the whole world and ultimately win a victory over Hell itself.

***

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

−2 Corinthians 12:9-11 (NASB)

 

“No photographs, please.”

July 28, 2017

Dear Reader,

After almost four years of writing here, I’ve decided it’s time that you are given an explanation for what is obviously lacking from this humble blog. Ever since its entrance into the cyber world, this blog has endeavored to remain unpretentious and discreet. By that I mean: no pictures. Oh sure, a picture will appear once in a great while when it suits my fancy, but on the whole, visuals are purposefully absent from the digital scene. If you’ve ever wondered why (as I have myself at times) I offer these reasons for the curious reader.

 

#1. I love words. I don’t love cameras.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not opposed at all to those ingenious devices that capture a moment of time for all of time to enjoy. My brother is an amazing photographer (plug: http://www.skysail-productions.com) and he continually astounds me with what he is able to recreate though the lens. I thoroughly enjoy a good photograph and contentedly browse the National Geographic contest winner’s reels. But…photographer I am not. My brother’s skills I have not, but I can create the same image on paper. Why?

 

#2. Because, as a word crafter, I endeavor to create a picture in your mind, not on the screen.

All good writers can capture the same scene as a photographer, only through a different medium. We must help the reader to, not only see the image before them, but to feel, hear, taste, and smell it. I aspire to develop writing skills and habits that can place the reader within the very heart of what is happening on the page as if they were there themselves. In practicing how to actively and accurately describe what it is being pictured, you as the reader can make that scene come alive in your own mind and become an active participant through your own imagination. This is practice for both you and me.

 

#3. To challenge a short-attention span society.

Scroll through any Facebook or Twitter feed and it’s pretty well guaranteed that you will skip right on by those longer videos and interesting articles that you “save for later” and then never come back around too; but show us a stream of catchy memes and we’ll be ‘lost in space’. Longer readings simply take too much of our coveted time and we don’t have time for that (not all at once anyways). I love word play and always try to finagle it into blog post titles to make the reader look and think twice, but I’ve never felt the pressure to use pictures to grab attention. If a reader wants to hear what I have to say, they will come.

 

#4. “It’s taking too long to load!”

Dial-up. A foe if there ever was one. When I began this blog, I was (and still am) blessed with high-speed internet. Some of my readers were not so fortunate. Plain and simple, I chose from the outset to avoid uploading pictures with posts because it was causing problems for readers with slow internet. That’s logistics folks. My apologies.

 

I hope this short dissertation has answered any lurking wondering’s you may have had. And thank you for being Readers. For sharing in the thoughts that rumble around. For being long-suffering when verb-tenses weren’t always right, or when we went rambling along bunny-trails (but some of those were fun weren’t they?). Thank you for coming into the fields with me to meet with the Lord. I hope we will have many such adventures in the future.

The God Who Sees Me

July 2, 2017

“Hi. What is your name?” the young man asked.

After an uncertain pause, I respond, “Samantha.”

 

            I’m back to work again after taking a slight hiatus for school. It’s good to come back to familiar faces and duties, and being able to settle right back in as if you’d never left. But, sometimes I wonder if I missed out on something since I’m not doing “bigger things”. Am I where I’m supposed to be? How does one remain godly and “rejoicing evermore” among constant worldly influences and negative attitudes? Is this work somehow “less than”?

            Today I didn’t have much time to think, seeing as the store was packed out for the chaotic monthly Sale Day; with clothes constantly needing to be put out on the sales floor, having to learn the ropes for new responsibilities, and customers asking for help…it was a very busy day. But, now that I’m back at this job again, I have prayerfully determined to stay aware. To keep eyes open for God and for the people God wants to reach out to through me. Every work place is a mission field; but today, I was the recipient of a missionary…

            The clothes on the mobile rack seemed to multiply instead of diminish as I sorted and hung them on the floor displays. My back and legs were aching something terrible. There had been many customers stop me today, so when I heard an “Excuse me?” I didn’t hesitate to turn around, fully prepared to direct another disoriented shopper.

            Looking me right in the eye, a college aged man paused as if collecting himself and said,

            “Hi. What is your name?”

            This was new…uncertain of what his intentions were, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and told him my name. A brief pause (What does he want??) and he declares,

            “I saw you over here and…”

            My thoughts are already interrupting him and I think, “Ah, it’s the Mennonite question again, right?” But no.

            “…and the Lord told me to tell you that He is pleased with your work and that what you are doing matters. I just felt that He wanted me to tell you that.”

            A bomb could have gone off and I wouldn’t have moved. God had an audible blessing…for me? from a complete stranger? who stepped out in bold obedience to be the Messenger of that blessing? Wow. But it didn’t stop there.

            “Can I pray for you?” he asks.

Of course!

“Is there something you would like prayer for?” he continued.

            “I want to have joy in the work.” was my reply. “To be a blessing and witness to those around me.” And I want it so much.

            “Can I pray for you right now?”

            Right now, in the middle of the store? Right now, where fellow employees might see and heckle me later about “that guy”? Right now, when there are customers all around?

“Sure.”

            He lays his hand on my shoulder (God knows my love language), and prays a blessing over this work, this daily grind that can sometimes feel just like that. Honestly, it all happened so unexpectedly that don’t remember very much, but what he prayed meant a great deal.

            On closing, we smile from having had the pleasure of sharing in the Spirit.

            “Thank you, Brother.” And he left. I wish now I would have affirmed him in his own obedience in stepping out so boldly, but his actions have left me with the challenge to not hesitate to do the same when my Father asks me reach out on His behalf in the future.

            The rest of the afternoon I had a newfound joy, a renewed vision, and smiled as though I had a secret. The Lord sees me, He is watching me at every turn, and He sees my desire to simply walk in obedience with Him. How we spend our days is how we spend our lives, so I’ve heard. And if that’s the case (as I’m sure you will agree it is, dear reader) then, by the grace of God, every day I live will be spent for Christ and His Kingdom, in everything I do, in every place I am.

What about you? I challenge you to reach out and touch someone today as the Spirit leads. You’ll never regret it. And they will never forget.

*

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. –Matthew 5:8