Monday, December 26, 2011

12 Days of Ornaments! #12

 My 12 favorite ornaments on our tree. (in no particular order...)



I've included these two ornaments as #12 of my favorite ornaments on our Christmas tree this year.

A few reasons why I love this icicle and bird are:

My husband and I purchased these two sets of crystal ornaments twenty five years ago.

They are pure and clear and bright and reflective.

They freely dangle from thin branches.

They are old and fragile and delicate.

Some have been broken and yet some have survived over the years.





These fragile and delicate ornaments remind me of all the hopes and dreams of my earlier years.  I can recall the various times throughout my life where a shattering  broke in and loss  produced a void.



Relationships were sharply severed, loved ones suddenly died...my heart was left tattered and my spirit crushed.  But, in the midst of the shattering and among the devastation of brokenness there has always been a persevering and a saving Hand.  

While things were breaking there was a re-assembly taking place.  It may not have always been clear at the time.  I needed the hindsight that distance brought to be able to see the greater purposes for the pain.

I take comfort as I pull these fragile ornaments out each year.  I remember the brokenness and the shattering of the past and then I marvel at the clarity and beauty of the re-assembly and restoration.  It is an acknowledgement of my brokenness and God's redemption.  It is an awareness of my pain and a thankfulness for God's perseverance. 

It is a hope - a hope in the One who renews, redeems, reweaves, reorients, recovers and restores.

He died to redeem all that was lost.
He lives to reweave all that has unraveled.
He comes to put back together everything that's been broken.
He loves to restore all that's been taken.

He will return one glorious day to make everything sad untrue.  
To make everything new forever and ever.
Oh Glorious Day!
Come Lord Jesus, come.

12 Days of Ornaments! #11


My 12 favorite ornaments on our tree. (in no particular order...) 


If you know my husband Peter, 
you understand why 
this is the 
perfect ornament 
for him!  
He can pretty much fix anything, 
even if he's never fixed anything like it before.  
Yep, pretty amazing.  
I'm constantly asking him 
"How did you know how to do that?!?
Love.


12 Days of Ornaments #10


My 12 favorite ornaments on our tree. (in no particular order...) 

This ornament was given to me 
by a dear friend who
spent many mornings with me 
in prayer for our children.


"The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working"
James 5:16

12 Days of Ornaments! #9

My 12 favorite ornaments on our tree. (in no particular order...) 


#9 is actually a group of three ornaments that are in a word
Simple.




Large gold bows are made of 
rich thick fabric 
tipped with hints of iridescent glitter.  










Dozens of small and large
red balls are shiny
and classic.












The red stars are over-sized and "glitterfied".








I love the juxtaposition of these three:
simplicity and sophistication
rich but inexpensive
beautiful yet common
timeless and timely...
Love.


12 Days of Ornaments! #8


My 12 favorite ornaments on our tree. (in no particular order...)


There is really nothing better than 
a handmade ornament from your child.  
My son made this in first grade and
it is one of the first ornaments
I reach for 
year after year.
Real, honest and precious.
My son.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

12 Days of Ornaments! #7

My 12 favorite ornaments on our tree. (in no particular order...) 


This is a new ornament but is already one of my favorite!
It was courtesy of the 2011 CRPC Ornament Exchange. 
Good times - laughter, good food and some friendly steals :) 
Yes, I did steal this one!

Monday, December 19, 2011

12 Days of Ornaments! #6

My 12 favorite ornaments on our tree. (in no particular order...) 


This crystal angel was a 2006 Christmas gift from Sara Lemons. 
Sara and I met in a bible study and spent 
several years studying and praying together. 
She was an inspiration to so many - 
fun, loving, beautiful, kind and real. 
She had a smooth southern accent and a smile that would light up the room.

Sara battled breast cancer and passed away 
January 21, 2007 at age 48. 
I think about her often, not just at Christmas, 
and the memory of her always makes me smile.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

12 Days of Ornaments! #5

My 12 favorite ornaments on our tree. (in no particular order...)



It seems like this is what Davin (my now 21 yr. old son)
has been doing all of his life! 
He and a little school friend of his
started swimming when they were seven. 
They swam all summer and when it came time for a swim meet 
his little friend quit the team...why you ask? 
In a word - 
speedo


Saturday, December 17, 2011

12 Days of Ornaments! #4


My 12 favorite ornaments on our tree. (in no particular order...)


Micky has a spot on our tree year after year! 
We bought these (one Mickey and one Minnie) at Disney in Orlando 
shortly after we moved to Florida in 1992. 
If you live in Florida chances are
you have something Disney on your Christmas tree :)

Friday, December 16, 2011

12 Days of Ornaments! #3

My 12 favorite ornaments on our tree. (in no particular order...)


We got this ornament several years ago and we love it!
It's too big for our tree so we hang it 
on the chandelier above our kitchen table. 
I love the doggy dishes :) Ceasar is still with us, but Sash is not :( 
Every time I look at this it reminds me of him - he was a great dog!)


12 Days of Ornaments! #2

My 12 favorite ornaments on our tree. (in no particular order...)



This ornament was given to me by a dear friend 
who was my first Bible Study leader.
She is a faithful woman of prayer and committed wife 
and even though she does not live in Ft. Lauderdale 
I remember her often for her loving and open arms!


12 Days of Ornaments! #1


My 12 favorite ornaments on our tree. (in no particular order...)


I love snowmen and the sillier the better. 
This guy's head twirls separately from his body 
and he just looks goofy all the time. 
It makes me smile every time I see it on our tree!

(I think I bought it for an ornament exchange one year and decided to keep it ;)


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Is it really true? Immanuel?


One of my favorite names of God is Immanuel. This time of year it is repeated again and again in the songs we sing, the sermons we hear and the devotions we read. It's a familiar phrase - Immanuel - "God with us". It is so familiar that I tend to take it for granted...God with us.

 In my day to day hectic and fast paced living 
I tend to go about my business 
as if God is nowhere nearby at all!

I wrongly act as if I am on my own in this daily tension of living between the here and not yet. If you asked me, I would give you the correct theological response; of course, God is with us. He lives in you and in me if we have been rescued by our Redeemer. And yet, how does that translate to my right here and right now?

It's hard to know he is here with us. At times God seems hard to find, hard to hear, and we end up going it alone as a result.

As I walked by my Christmas tree I spied this ornament hanging among the evergreen branches - Emmanuel. It's barely noticeable tucked in close to the tree trunk. It's difficult to see and it wouldn't catch your attention as you walked by. I was actually looking for something else on our tree when I noticed it - pure white with red letters...Emmanuel. God with us. I [God] am with you.


So many times this is my story. I don't see God in my everyday walking around life. I go about my day and in those moments when I'm not looking for him, he shows up. It's not as if he is just popping in and out of my life. He has been there the whole time. God is teaching me more and more to trust him when I can't trace him. To lean wholly on the arms of Jesus knowing they will be there to catch me...even if I can't see them. Isn't that what faith is? Believing what you cannot see?

Don't despair if you feel far from God. Don't wring your hands or feel guilty or stressed out about it. The truth you can hang on to is the promise God gave you in the birth of his son Jesus. Immanuel. God is with us!

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive 
and bear a son,
and they shall call his name 
Immanuel” 

~Matthew 1:23

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Marriage: What Everyone Should Know About Marriage Before [And After] Getting Married


A recent post (here) discussed marriage and the problems we run into when we try to prepare for, or fix marriage by following five step programs or ten commandments. These prescriptions only serve to address the symptoms. What's worse is the message we end up with - that it's all up to us! We must follow this plan and be sure to complete all the steps and then - and only then - will we have the marriage we've been promised.


The truth is that only the gospel provides what our marriages need because only the gospel has the power to transform hearts and heal relationships.

We don't need more self help guides 
and do it yourself plans.

We need an outside Rescuer.  

Only Jesus can do what we cannot do for ourselves - save!  We don't have to strive and wring our hands.  The burden is lifted...we are free!

Read the full article in the Good News December 2011 Edition here.



Thursday, November 24, 2011

Jesus ~ Your Name Be Praised

These words remind me that while my thankfulness and love for Jesus is shallow and inadequate and imperfect, his love for me is just the opposite.  There is no one like him, no one who can turn my face like he does.  No one who is kind like he is. No one who always does good to me. I am reminded today that all my shame and all my disappointments and all my pain is covered by his power - Jesus.  He is stronger than every single difficulty in my life, every hard place, every struggling relationship.  Jesus, there is no one like you.





There is no one
There is no one like You
No one like You





Only good things
Could ever come from You
Even Your judgment
Righteous and true

And Your name is sweeter
Than the rain that falls upon
The face of dry and weary lands
And causes us to turn our face again

Your name be praised...

There is no one
There is no one like You
No one like You

And every morning
There are mercies new
Your kindness
It brings us back to you

Your name is stronger than the pain
It's covering the shame
Of all these weary hands
And causing us to turn our face again

Your name be praised

~Michael Gungor

Listen - Higher

Friday, November 11, 2011

Marriage

I am putting together an article on marriage. I'm  sure not an expert and would not have chosen this assignment. Not because I have anything against marriage, it's just that after 29 years of being married I realize more and more all of the mistakes I've made. And, I see more clearly than ever the truth that marriage.is.hard.           

What's so crazy though its that there are more books, sermons, movies, counselors and blogs giving advice and help for marriages than ever before in the history of mankind! A quick peak on Amazon revealed these book titles:


4 Days to a Forever Marriage

The Ten Commandments of Marriage: The Do's and Don'ts for a Lifelong Covenant 

The Rules for Marriage: Time-Tested Secrets for Making Your Marriage Work 

5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great

Reading these book titles leads one to believe it's so easy.  Look, in 4 days you too can have a forever marriage.  In just 5 steps your marriage will be great. With all this help, what continues to be the problem?  Why is it that all this education and wisdom has not been able to help stop or at least reduce the growing number of struggling marriages and divorces?  What in the world is going on here?

I don't know about you, but when I read or hear advice like this, I feel burdened and it weighs on my heart.  I think, what's wrong with me?  Why can't I get it together?  Why can't I be the kind of wife that just applies all these time-tested secrets?  Why can't it all be perfect?  What is so hard about following these 5 simple steps?  Why can't I do it?  I'm a failure, that's why.  The world shouts at me, just do this!  What's wrong with you?  (which by the way applies to all areas of life - parenting, work, ministry and self-improvement programs to name a few) Where does it end? How many steps must I take to continue this path to "success"?

As I wrap up my research for the article I am convinced that just like the world, the church is sending the same message to wives and husbands. Work harder, do more and you too can have the marriage you've always dreamed of. The sobering reality is that it's simply not that easy and relationships definitely do not respond to a 5 step plan or a cookie cutter process. I would never want to take anything away from all those who labor to guide and instruct engaged couples, newlyweds and long time marrieds - we need that and it's important. But to instruct others to believe that it's all up to them is a burden they were never meant to carry. It bears some resemblance to a prosperity gospel. Do all these things, check it off on the list and you will get what was promised. Do the 5 steps and you will get a great marriage. But it begs the question, what if I've done those 5 steps and my marriage is still struggling? You say, "surely I must have done something wrong.".

Let's face it, none of our marriages are perfect.  There are seasons that are better and there are seasons that are extremely difficult.  Newlywed bliss is pretty much a myth.  Even those couples who have made it to their silver anniversary have difficulties and challenges.  Sinners living together 24/7 will have relational strain - there is no way around it.  

If 5 Steps and 10 Commandments aren't the answer...what is the answer?

The short answer is rest. Listen to these gospel words:

Romans 3:10:
as it is written:
None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.
Romans3:23
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Romans 5:6
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 8:1
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
Galatians 5:1
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

What would I tell a couple preparing for marriage?

I don't have it figured out.
Marriage is beautiful.
Marriage is hard.
You will have struggles. It's not a matter of if, but when.
5 step programs won't get you through.
Knowing Christ and his love and forgiveness provides all the security and comfort and acceptance you long for.
Christ came to set you free from striving for what he's already given you.
You are free to love, free to make mistakes.
You are forgiven when you fail and shown mercy when you're angry.
You have received grace upon grace.
When you mess up (and you will over and over in marriage) you fall on Jesus. His love is infinite, his mercy knows no depths, his forgiveness is as far as the east is from the west.

Jesus is the answer to all our struggling and all our striving. It's true.  He really has set us free!

Monday, November 7, 2011

No More Huffing and Puffing...

I don't know about you, but I am continually reminded of how I seek to save myself day after day by the things I do rather than what Christ has done.

Even if I give lip service to Christ's finished work on my behalf I find I am drawn once again to believe that somehow I can manage on my own. 

This past week as I have reflected on an ongoing struggle in my life I caught myself wondering why things have not changed, why the situation has not improved and why it doesn't seem to be getting any better. Haven't I done all the things I was advised to do? It is a serious amnesia that permeates my every day.

I forget who I am... 

and what has already been done for me. I struggle and strain and shine my halo all the while forgetting that the struggle and strain has already been done - the halo is in tact on my behalf! Reading the following words from The Ragamuffin Gospel is of great refreshment to me, a weary soul...a beggar who needs to hear once again that it is finished!
Is not the Son the Father's unsurpassable sign of love and graciousness? Did he not come to show the Father's compassionate care for us?

He is not our enemy. If we think that we are wrong.

He is not intent on trying and tempting and testing us. If we think that, we are wrong.

He does not prefer and promote suffering and pain. If we think that, we are wrong.

Jesus bring goods news about the Father, not bad news.

We need a new kind of relationship with the Father that drives out fear and mistrust and anxiety and guilt, that permits us to be hopeful and joyous, trusting and compassionate.
We have to be converted from the bad news to the good news, from expecting nothing to expecting something.
The gospel of grace calls us to sing of the everyday mystery of intimacy with God instead of always seeking for miracles and visions...Grace abounds and walks around the edges of our everyday experience.
Author Donald McCullough writes :
Grace means that in the middle of our struggle the referee blows the whistle and announces the end of the game. We are declared winners and sent to the showers. It's over for all the huffing, puffing piety to earn God's favor; it's finished for all the sweat-soaked straining to secure self-worth; it's the end of all competitive scrambling to get ahead of others in the game. Grace means that God is on our side and thus we are victors regardless of how well we played the game. We might as well head for the showers and the champagne celebration."
~Waking From The American Dream


God is on my side.  
He has declared that in Christ it's game over!


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Homeless and addicted to glue at age 10...

The stories are true.  The lives led by young boys in Kenya addicted to glue are 

unbelievable...

                     horrifying...

                                      heartbreaking...

But, God has laid claim to every part of his creation...including this. He is in the process of making all things new, bringing order to chaos and weaving together everything that has unraveled.

His redemptive work is on vivid display in the lives of these precious ones.



My friend Gabe Greenberg has answered God's call on his life 
to serve the least of these through his ministry to the street boys in Kenya.  




Gabe is donating his 26th birthday party to help raise awareness. 
Join him in his effort to support 16 of these boys 
 who have been rescued off the streets.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Just.write.



So this is my "I'm just going to start writing" post.

I've been stuck for several days now...wanting to write but having nothing to say. Is it really that I have nothing to say or am I just lacking the motivation, the desire to put sentences to paper?

Every day that has gone by I think "I will write".

                                                          something.

                                                                   anything.

                                                                          and.

                                                                                then.

                                                                                      nothing.

That's when God's grace broke in.  

A sumptuous bit of encouragement from a friend today.  We weren't talking about writing. We were talking about what makes each of us tick, what animates us and what excites us.  She very sweetly encouraged me by telling me how she enjoys what I write and believes God has gifted me to write.  

I walked out of her office very aware of God's kindness to me.  

And once again I am amazed at how God's kindness and love inspire and encourage and motivate me.  

The feeling of dread at the thought of "having" to get something on paper sent me the other direction.  

Instead... 

...it is with joy I type these few thoughts tonight; 

...it is with freedom I write; 

...it is my cheerful response to God's lavish and generous love for me.

Isn't it amazing to think that
the God of the universe cares about 
this little gathering of words 
suspended in a galaxy of sentences?  

"See how very much our Father loves us, 
for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!" 
1 John 3:1

Friday, October 7, 2011

Gospel Centered Life - Part 4


This is the final post in a four part series entitled Gospel Centered Life. 



Christ’s Finish 



Appropriately it is the last post and speaks of the finality of Christ's accomplishment on behalf of sinners like me and like you. Because Christ has set captives free we can take this freedom, this gospel and this liberty into our relationships and into every aspect of our lives. It will change our responses. Knowing the love and forgiveness Jesus has already given us changes everything. It has immeasurable practical application. It is not a list of to dos; it is a declaration of "it is done". Over. Jesus said "It is finished!".  You don’t have to do anything.






Listen to these gospel drenched words paraphrased from the pages of scripture:
Grace to you and peace from God your Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for your sins to deliver you from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. You have been crucified with me. It is no longer you who live, but I who lives in you. And the life you now live in the flesh you live by faith in me. I have loved you and I gave myself for you. In me you have redemption through my blood, the forgiveness of your trespasses, according to the riches of my grace. Through me you have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which you stand, and you can rejoice in hope of the glory of God. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. My love for you controls you. I love you and have freed you from your sins by my blood.Mark 9:13, Galatians 2:20-21, Galatians 1:3-4, Romans 5:2, Romans 6:14, 2 Corinthians 12:9, Ephesians 1:7, Revelation 1:5, 2 Cor 5:14-15 
The love of Christ controls us.  Not the law, not a list of moral obligations. Resting in all Christ has done on our behalf gives us freedom to live not for ourselves, but for others.  It compels us to love, realizing how much Jesus loves us. It strengthens us to give up, give in and lose for the sake of others. It gives us fuel to admit wrongdoing, humble ourselves and extend grace to others.

Shortly after God saved me twelve years ago I began to search the bible and books and sermons for answers on how to live this Christian life. I knew I was now different and I wept knowing God in Christ had forgiven me and he loved me. Not in a human way but in an eternal, never giving up way. But, I never really understood it was not somehow because of something good in me. So I set out to discover how I could get "gooder".



What are the things I must do now that I am "in" to keep me in good standing with God? I quickly became submersed in the "christian culture". I attended Bible study, sunday services and church committee meetings. I volunteered in missions, youth, sunday school and women's events. And while all those things are good, I believed [wrongly] that I was climbing rungs on a ladder - the stairway to heaven.





It has just been in this last year or so that God has shown me these marvelous truths – the truths about his love, and the welcome and forgiveness I have in Christ.  The stairway to heaven was never part of God's plan - Christ said it is finished - no more climbing!

It has changed everything - the way I view my marriage, my parenting, my employment, my church involvement. It's not that all things are perfect now, I am just quicker to remember that when I begin to feel frustrated, angry, disappointed, disrespected, unloved, guilty, self condemned or ashamed I remind myself that I am not the perfect one.  Christ is the Only Perfect One.  With all my wrinkles and imperfections and let's just say it - wicked, evil, rebellious and disobedient ways, God loves me as if I am perfect.  Christ is my perfection.

What does being gospel-centered look like?




Realizing there is nothing you have to do.

Rejoicing in the liberty and freedom of God’s grace

Resting in It is Finished!






(read Gospel Centered Life - Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Christ Hath Paid Thy Debt


Patrick Hamilton was Scotland's first Protestant martyr. He was executed because he decided to follow the teachings of Martin Luther that say we are justified by faith and not by works.

He was convicted, sentenced and burned at the stake on February 29, 1528 at the age of 25.

On the difference between the voice of the Law and the voice of the Gospel he wrote:

The Law saith to the sinner, ‘Pay thy debt.’
The Gospel saith, ‘Christ hath paid it;’

The Law saith, ‘Thou art a sinner, despair, thou shalt be damned.’
The Gospel saith, ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee. Be of good comfort, thou shalt be saved.’

The Law saith, ‘Make amends for thy sin.’

The Gospel saith, ‘Christ hath made it for thee.”

The Law saith, ‘The Father of Heaven is angry with thee.’
The Gospel saith, ‘Christ hath pacified Him with His blood.’

The Law saith, ‘Where is thy righteousness, goodness, and satisfaction?’

The Gospel saith, ‘Christ is thy righteousness, goodness and satisfaction.’

The Law saith, ‘Thou art bound and obliged unto me, to the devil, and to hell.’
The Gospel saith, ‘Christ hath delivered thee from them all.’


The winds of gospel freedom will always be refreshment for the weary soul!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Is Marriage for Keeps?

A good friend of mine was kind enough to connect me with the editor at a Christian publication and I was asked to write about marriage - the irony was not lost on me since I am definitely not an expert. Yes, I've been married a long time; 29 years to be exact. I am however, far from figuring out how to do it well. Most days I stumble through.

You can usually find me perched somewhere between guilt and pride.
I have talked to enough people to know that I am not alone.

If all my years of marriage have taught me anything, it's that marriage is hard. No amount of premarital counseling can protect you from the inevitable challenges you will face. But, no matter how hard it is, I believe marriage is for keeps.  Read Till Death Do Us Part.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Gospel Centered Life - Part 3



Continuing my four part series on the Gospel Centered Life, here's Part 3 -
we don't have to try harder...


Christ's Forgiveness

I was speaking with a friend recently and she was telling me about a trip she had just returned from – visiting with family up north.  She began to share how frustrated she got with her mom who was angry and impatient with her grandchildren because they were running around like crazy in her home. My friend felt terrible and guilty for speaking harshly to her mom. She was regretful believing that her mom would move further away from Christianity because of how she was being treated by her daughter, a Christian. My friend is a sweet woman, a gospel loving person who is reveling in the freedom Jesus came to bring. And yet, she (like me and like you) forgets the gospel in her daily life, when she’s in the trenches. I do it all the time!  We need each other to help point us back when we forget what Jesus has done for us.

So I told her, “The enemy is very pleased with himself right now.  He has given you a guilty conscious, he has isolated you and he has made you to believe you’re the only one dealing with this kind of situation. But he is wrong on all accounts. He is wrong, because Jesus came, died, and rose again to bring us in, to give us his perfect righteousness knowing we could never attain it on our own. Because He is perfect for us, we don’t have to be – we never could be anyway. So, when Satan slings his weak attempts at you meant to crush you, you can say "Thank you Accuser! This is an opportunity for me to remember my Savior, my Rescue.”  You can tell him "Accuser - You are right in what you say - I was impatient with my mom, I was judging her for the very same thing I was doing.  I don’t have this all figured out – but, my Savior does! It is his victorious and perfect life that covers me. I am blameless and perfect in my Father's sight. By accusing me and reminding me of my sin, you have reminded me of my Savior!"

The Gospel silences our enemy. Acknowledging our weakness and Christ’s strength leaves our enemy powerless.  Every time I feel guilt or condemnation it is a reason for me to celebrate my Savior. Jesus forgives me, perfects me, and loves me – with a never giving up, never stopping, always and forever love that will never fade away – for ever, and ever, and ever!”

What does being gospel-centered look like?






Agree with our accuser.
Be reminded of your Savior!
He is your righteousness!
He has come to set us free!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Gospel Centered Life - Part 2






Continuing my four part series on the Gospel Centered Life, here is Part 2 -
the comforting reality that we're not alone...

Our Boat

Imagine.One.Gigantic.Boat. And, we're all in it!

We are all in the same boat!  But that's not what we typically think when we're in the middle of a difficult and challenging situation.  Thinking about the woman I referred to in the first post of this series - she told me she felt isolated and believed (wrongly) that she was the only one going though the kinds of things she's dealing with. I have been there too! I've thought is there anyone who understands how I feel?  Is there anyone who won't make me feel like I've failed miserably compared to their picture perfect life! This is exactly where the enemy would have us stay. Separated from the flock and feeling like no one else is dealing with the same thing and that no one else is struggling!

As I began to share my own difficulties and my own weaknesses with this woman I could visibly see her shoulders relax. She was not taking relish in the fact that I was struggling too, but she was comforted in knowing she was not alone.

The fact that we all struggle with sin (our own or the sin of others) and sad situations should not be a surprise to us. The Bible tells us in Romans 3 beginning in verse 18:

“As it is written:

“None is righteous, 
no, not one; no one understands; 
no one seeks for God. 
 All have turned aside; 
together they have become worthless; 
no one does good, 
not even one.”

Jesus told us in John 16:33:

"In the world you will have tribulation".

We are all sinners. We all struggle with the same things!

Let me ask you – are you struggling with a rebellious child? Overwhelmed with finances or facing foreclosure on your home? Are relationships at church difficult or has a friendship been strained? Are you burdened by seemingly insurmountable marital difficulties? Are you facing separation or divorce? Have you received a bad report from the doctor? Are you unemployed? Maybe you're struggling in your faith as a result of painful circumstances that have left you feeling hopeless?

Whatever it is – don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed. Look around. Every person next to you this very minute has something they're struggling with. And we would all be surprised to find out how similar their struggles are to ours.  It is comforting to know that we are not alone.  It is refreshing and encouraging to talk to other gospel centered people who understand - and the only way they are able to understand is because they've been through or are currently going through the same thing.  They can relate.  A passage out of 2 Corinthians (1:3-7) has become a favorite of mine:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 
the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 
who comforts us in all our affliction, 
so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, 
with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 
For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, 
so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 
If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; 
and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, 
which you experience when you patiently endure 
the same sufferings that we suffer.
Our hope for you is unshaken, 
for we know that as you share in our sufferings, 
you will also share in our comfort."

What does being gospel-centered look like?


Take comfort, you’re not alone.
"You will also share in our comfort."





Saturday, September 17, 2011

Getting Ready For God

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I had lunch with a dear friend recently and she recounted to me two different "beach day" experiences with her boys.  I know I won't get all of the details right, but come with me and see if you find yourself in this story...

Everything Plus The Kitchen Sink

It's been a while since I've taken a baby (or two for that matter) to the beach. But as my friend was telling me about this excursion the memories came flooding back. She had planned an afternoon at the beach with her two young sons and put together all the necessities for the outing. While I'm not sure of everything she packed, I'm sure it included a beach blanket, swimsuits (and extras just in case), sun hats (and an extra just in case), diapers (and extras just in case), wet wipes (and extras just in case), snacks (and extras just in case), bottles (and extras just in case), pacifiers (and extras just in case), towels (and extras just in case), sunglasses (and extras just in case), sunscreen (and extra just in case), water (and extra just in case), a dry change of clothes (and extras just in case), beach toys, and a beach umbrella. Whew!  I'm quite sure I've left out some very important beach baby gear, but you get the picture.  Off she went loaded down, toddler in hand and baby on hip. Now, that is one courageous mommy if you ask me!

What seemed to be perfectly planned quickly turned horribly wrong. Crying unhappy boys, and a frustrated harried mom adequately describe that trip. My friend did not tell me all the gory details but suffice it to say that all the well meaning preparation had little effect compared to the nature and the wills of two little boys! She could have prepared for days and brought even more baby paraphernalia, to no avail!

Nothing

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Weeks passed and my friend was in the car with her boys. She decided to take a detour and drive down the beach, and as she drove she was captivated by its beauty.  Although she had boys in tow and had not prepared for a beach outing (and had nothing with her remotely resembling beach or baby gear), she could not resist the temptation to stop and dig their toes into white sandy beach and skip through shallow waves of sparkling blue ocean.  She spied an up front beach parking spot, pulled in and unbuckled the boys with delight.  Armed with a pillowcase for a beach towel, they headed across the sand - one little guy in a diaper and the other one in his superhero undies. Oh, what a delightful surprise adventure! Fun and laughter and discovery and hilarity was had by all as they enjoyed this simple pleasure.

Come As You Are

As I contrasted these two outings in my mind I could not help notice the similarities to the way I approach God. Maybe you do this - If I am ready, I come. If I have been reading my Bible and having my devotions and if I have been obedient to what God has called me to do, I feel prepared or ready to approach God. I need to have all the right stuff in place first. Is my Bible next to me? Have I organized my thoughts? Did I go to church this week and have I been nice to my family? Is there anything else I should "pack" to be prepared to meet with God? Even as I'm writing this I am thinking of all the ways I put off my time with the Lord because deep down I don't think I'm ready. I don't think I've done everything I should do to come before him. I deep down believe that my time with him will be so much better if I am prepared! I have believed that God will be more pleased with me if I have organized my prayers and come with an intentional thought out plan!

In the same way that all the preparations my friend made for their beach trip were unnecessary, so too are my preparations for meeting with God. In fact, Jesus says "come"...period. He does not say "do your Bible reading and devotion and make sure you've gone to bible study this week and then come".

he just says...

"come".

All those things I bring to God "just in case" are unnecessary. All the ways I focus on what I need to do in this relationship actually keep me further away from the intimacy with God I long for! Jesus reminds me once again "My child, it's not up to you. I have made all the preparations.  You only need to come."  You can stop obsessing about what I might think of you. I have already made up my mind about you. You are my bride, my beloved, the one I died for and the one I live for. There is nothing more you have to do. Just come."

Monday, September 12, 2011

Gospel Centered Life - Part 1

As promised, I am beginning a four part series that will take a look at who we really are, the comforting reality that we're not alone, the breathtaking truth that we don't have to try harder and the scandalous declaration that "it is finished"! Here is Part 1 -
who we really are...

Our Façade
a false.superficial.artificial.appearance 
      
We are all familiar with the Sunday morning façade – you know, the pretense on vivid display when you hit the church grounds. It never ceases to amaze me that no matter what happened that morning or in the car on the way to church, how quickly the smiles come on when we step foot out of the car!

I sat with a woman last Saturday and she is not really plugged into the church although her family has attended Sunday morning faithfully for several years. She told me with tears in her eyes that it’s too hard to be around other women who have it all together. Her life is hard and she faces challenges that have stressed her family and their relationships. She has learned that the way the game is played is to put on a façade at church. 

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The problem is that inside she is dying. 
Inside she knows all to well - everything is not fine.
Her marriage is struggling.
They are dealing with issues with their children. 






But, we are Christians and we must demonstrate to a watching world that life is fine because we’re Christians! The reality is it's all pretense, a mask, a show - and we're very good at it. We have perfected the pat answers and the ability to change the subject quickly when conversation hits a little too close to home. We protect the very idols that are enslaving us, that are buried so deeply inside of us that we begin to believe they're not even there. The idol of fear - we don’t want to give in and let people know what we’re really like because we’re afraid they may not like us if they know the truth. The idol of pride - we’re just too vain – we really want people to think we’re better than we are. Or the idol of control - it doesn't matter how we feel or what happens to other people as long as we can control the situation and keep it within our perfectly orchestrated plan for our lives.


{via flickr}

Listen to what Jesus says about our façade:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” Matthew 23:27






Did you catch that “you look good on the outside…but on the inside dead and everything unclean”?  It’s crucial for us to remember that Jesus was not speaking to the irreligious – he was speaking to the religious.  The church goers and the bible believers.  The ones who looked like they had it all together!

He was calling them out.

"Only the gospel frees us to admit our weaknesses, because our worth is not based on our being strong, but in Jesus being strong for us."  ~ Tullian Tchividjian

He beckons to us in our day - take off your mask and stop pretending. He says I know who you are. I know you are exhausted trying to make it look like you are fine. But we both know you're not.  I came for that very reason.  To rescue you from pretense and striving and burden bearing - to free you from feeling like you have to fake it.  I love you and you don’t need to do that anymore."  

What does being gospel centered look like?              




Acknowledging our facade.
Taking off our mask. 
Admitting weakness.
Giving up.





I know, you're thinking - this is ridiculously hard! I can't do it. It's too painful. Yes, it is. My Pastor says it's like having the flesh ripped off your bones. It is hard and painful. Which is why we can't to this, we need a Physician - the Great Physician. Eustace from Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis knew all about the pain and the Physician:
"In C.S. Lewis’ book Voyage of the Dawn Treader a young boy named Eustace becomes an ugly scaly dragon as a consequence for being selfish and stubborn. He realizes his mistake and desperately wants to become a boy again, so he tries and tries to tear into and rip off his dragon skin. There’s just one problem, he can’t get his dragon skin off no matter how hard he tries. The deeper he tries to go into the dragon scales, the more pain he feels. After a while, Aslan comes to his aid and leads him to a well to bathe in. But since he’s a dragon he cannot enter the well, the skin must come off first. Eustace tries again to painfully tear through the layers of dragon skin but again becomes aware that he cannot do it on his own. Aslan says, “You’ll have to let me undress you.” Eustace describes the event:

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I was so afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back and let him do it. The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt…he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft…then he caught hold of me…and threw me into the water…I’d turned into a boy again…After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me…with his paws…in these new clothes I’m wearing."
This terrifies me: "I was so afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back and let him do it."  

But here freedom awaits: "And there was I as smooth and soft…then he caught hold of me…and threw me into the water…I’d turned into a boy again…After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me…with his paws…in these new clothes I’m wearing."

Great Physician come...take hold of me...


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Remembering Who You [Really] Are

If you have seen the wildly entertaining and important film "The Help" or if you've read the book you probably remember this captivating interchange (watch scene) between Aibileen who plays the hired help (played by Viola Davis) and Mae Mobley who plays the familys little girl (played by Emma Henry). Precious Mae is sitting on Aibileens lap on a rocking chair in her bedroom, and Aibileen lovingly and sweetly says these words to Mae and then they recite them in unison:

Aibileen : You is kind. You is smart. You is important. 
Mae : You is smart. You is kind. You is important.
Aibileen:  Oh, that's so good.

It is a beautiful scene that is repeated throughout the movie.  The little girl is not well loved by her parents and Aibileen as the hired help raises this precious little girl and reminds her often of who she really is - kind, smart and important.  

This resonated deeply with me.  It reminded me of all the ways the world beats us down - telling us in a thousand different ways that we just don't measure up.  We're not pretty enough, tall enough, smart enough, successful enough or we're not spiritual enough.  The list goes on and on...

I think that my heart is drawn to this dialogue because I long to be told those things.  I crave the recognition that I am more than what I think of myself or what others think of me. I yearn for value and meaning and importance.  I wish for someone to look me in the eyes with a warm loving smile just like Aibileen did and say "Lori, you is important".




The precious truth is that Jesus has and continues to say these things to me.  He looks at me with his tender loving smile and says "see, I have loved you with an everlasting love, you are precious in my sight"!






Blaise Pascal wrote "Not only do we only know God through Jesus Christ, but we only know ourselves through Jesus Christ..."  The only person who can tell me the truth of who I am is Christ.  All other perspectives and opinions are untruths or half truths.  When the world tries to convince me I am less than what they think I should or could be, or when I believe I am not "measuring up" I can take comfort and refuge in the Truth.

In Christ I am perfect in God's sight, 
beloved of God, 
welcomed by God.

I am rehearsing this scene this morning:


Jesus: You is loved.  You is free.  You is mine.
Me: You is free.  You is loved.  You is mine.
Jesus:  Oh, that's so good.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Gospel-Centered

I recently did a google search for  "Gospel-Centered" and it faithfully returned a seemingly endless number of links discussing gospel centered churches, ministries, preaching, and living.

via google
I found discussions about the confusion of what being gospel centered really means and I became frustrated with the fact that I could find no clear articulation about what it really means practically and functionally to live as a gospel centered person. Specifically as I live out this Christian walk as spouse, employee, parent and neighbor - what does it really look like in this culture, in my life...today?  How does it change the way I live?



I did find this helpful quote by Toby Kurth (you can read the entire post here)

"We do not drift towards gospel-centrality in our own lives or in our churches. It involves an active and frequent application of gospel truth to every situation we face. What makes me nervous are phrases like “Is he gospel-centered?” or “That is not a gospel-centered church.” Let’s not settle for shorthand. Being “gospel-centered” is a life-long endeavor, not a slogan. It is not the ability to recite a few well-crafted phrases; it is rather the commitment to continually turn away from defining yourself or your church in accordance with anything other than the person and work of Jesus Christ."

I love his line "being gospel-centered is a life long endeavor, not a slogan".  That is what I'm learning.  Through relationships, God is showing me (painfully, but beautifully) that  I can not call myself gospel-centered (a slogan or label) unless I am living gospel-centered-ly.  I don't profess to know the answers, I can only share what God has been teaching me and what that looks like.   

Stay tuned for a four part blog series as I take a look at who we really are, the comforting reality that we're not alone, the breathtaking truth that we don't have to try harder and the scandalous declaration that "it is finished"!





Along the way I'd love to know what your understanding of living a gospel-centered life looks like...

Feel free to disagree (politely please), or chime in with your own struggles...

I'd love to hear testimonies as well - encouragement for me and for others is always welcome here :)...