Monday, May 16, 2016

LOOK AND LIVE


The Bible.
It contains 66 different books written over the course of over 1,500 years by about 40 different authors spread over 3 different continents in 3 different languages.

The authors documented history, passed on lineage, and wrote letters.
Majority of them never met, didn't live in the same century and never read each other's writings.

And yet it’s absolutely perfect. Absolutely flawless.

Some of the 66 books are more popular than others.
And some chapters and verses in those books are better known.

John 3:16 is one of the most familiar verses in the Bible. It can be spotted on the bottom rim of an In-N-Out Burger paper cup and thanks to Tim Tebow, that particular verse was a top Google search trend in 2009 and 2012, where it was searched over 90 million times in a 24 hour period.

But what about John 3:14-15?
Do you know what they say?
Do you know the story they are referring to?

Those verses happen to recall one of my favorite stories.

Just two verses before that famous verse, Jesus was talking to a man named Nicodemus about spiritual issues and he was having a really hard time following along.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”
{John 3:14-15}

To understand the comparison Jesus is making, Nicodemus had to go back about 1480 years to a story he was very familiar with and had probably taught himself. A man named Moses wrote a book called Numbers that gives us the narrative of the Israelites preparing to enter the promise land. The book tells of their disobedience and unfaithfulness to God and this particular story of a bronze serpent.

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea,
to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way.
And the people spoke against God and against Moses,
“Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?
For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.”
Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people,
so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said,
“We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you.
Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.”
So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses,
“Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten,
when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent
and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone,
he would look at the bronze serpent and live.”
{Numbers 21:4-9}

The Israelites were tired, weary and became impatient. There were about 2.5 million of them and they started to believe that their circumstances were a reflection of the character of God. Their anger toward God and Moses started stirring in their hearts until it boiled over. They were not just speaking their frustrations, they were speaking against the very character of God and were complaining and in a sense rejecting His provisions for them. Their hearts and attitudes brought destruction upon themselves.

Oh friend, I am embarrassed to say that I identify with the Israelites way more than I would like to admit. And if I close my eyes, I can imagine myself right in the middle of this story. Will you go there with me today?

I imagine myself being in the wilderness, walking the rough terrain.

My feet hurt.
My back hurts.
I’m tired, hungry, and frustrated.

I feel myself getting so angry.
Life seemed a whole lot better before God and Moses got involved.
Yes, we were slaves, but was it really that bad?

I am telling everyone who will listen how miserable I am.
Others are joining in the gripe fest because they feel the same way.
Then out of nowhere, we hear ear-piercing screams.

Serpents have invaded our space and are biting people all around me.
My husband… bit. My friends… bit. And I am freaking out!

Several of us apologize to Moses, confess our sins and ask him to pray and ask the Lord to take the serpents away. People are dying. My family and friends are suffering. And we realize that we were to blame.

Moses prayed, the Lord answered him,
and he obeyed by making something out of bronze.

Moses prayed and the serpents are still here.
Now, he’s doing some kind of craft project.
Ugh! He just made a serpent out of bronze and raised it up on a pole.
The last thing I want to see is another serpent!

From a distance, I notice a crowd start to gather. What are they doing?
I hear whispers that, somehow, looking at the bronze serpent brings healing.
Brings life.

That sounds so weird!

But the screaming, the crying, the confusion, the hurt, the pain. It’s just too much.
If there is a chance this is true, I have to find out.

My husband is dying.
The poison is slowly flowing through his veins.
He is screaming because it burns so bad.

Oh how I wish I could run ahead and look at the serpent for him. He may not be able to make it all that way. But I was told I can't. I can’t look at the serpent for my spouse or loved ones; they have to do the looking.

So I help him to his feet and we start toward the serpent.
We only make it a few feet and then we fall.
He is in so much pain.

We walk.
We fall.
We crawl.

After what seemed an eternity, we finally made it to the bronze serpent. I stand there, my tired body holding the weight of my dying husband. And we stare. The poison is being pumped out of his body by a heart that has been healed.

Where poison and death once ruled, healing and life now resides.

He falls to his knees, eyes still fixed on the serpent.
Day turned into night and he is still staring.

I am amazed and overwhelmed.
How could this be?  How could He love this much?

"But He [God] gives more grace."
{James 4:6}

We finally look over at each other and break the silence between us.
“We have to go help the others. We have to tell them about this.”

So we go.
We tell people who have been bit “go look at the serpent that Moses lifted high!”
We are helping people who are struggling to get there on their own.

Imagine the joy that spread through the camp of Israel when the word got out that there was a cure available for everyone!

Death into life!
Mourning into laughter!
Sorrow into joy!

Could you imagine walking by someone who was dying and not tell them about the cure?  How much would you have to hate someone to not tell them that they can be healed?  To not tell them about the healing you just experienced?

The only people who weren’t healed were those who refused to go look and or those who weren’t told that there was a cure.

Oh I am so thankful that someone stopped and told us about the cure!

God told Moses to shape the bronze into a serpent, an image of the very thing that caused death. It was lifted high and anyone who had faith to look, lived.

God sent Jesus to become sin, the image of the very thing that caused death.
He was lifted high and anyone who has faith to look, lives.

Photo Credit

Whether you realize it or not, you have been ‘bitten.’
Do you know there is a cure?
Have you personally gone to Jesus and ‘looked?’

No one can look for you.
No one else’s faith can save you.
You have to do looking.

There are people all around us who have been ‘bitten.’
They are hurting.  They are in pain.
If you have received the cure, when is the last time you told someone about it?

How much do you have to hate someone to walk by them and not tell them about the One who was lifted high? How busy do you have to be to not stop and help someone walk the path to Jesus?

“Look to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.”
{Isaiah 45:22}

I sat in church yesterday thinking about this story. Just 6 weeks ago, we took time out of our week to remember when Jesus became our sin, was crucified, and was lifted high on the cross.  We call it Good Friday and Easter and it changed the world.  Yet, it seems like it only changes us for a weekend.

If you and I have made a decision to look to Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, when death was defeated and life flowed through our veins, we should never want to look away. Our lives should be defined by joy. Our churches should be full of joy-filled people who came to church to worship Jesus, to serve Jesus, to bring others to Jesus. It should never ever be about us. Choose today to LOOK AND LIVE!

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son,
that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world,
but in order that the world might be saved through Him.
Whoever believes in Him is not condemned,
but whoever does not believe is condemned already,
because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God."
{John 3:16-18}

Sunday, March 27, 2016

RUN TO JESUS

Today is Easter.
Today is the day we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.
Today is the day we are reminded that we have hope, we have purpose, and we are dearly loved.

The narrative of Peter and John is where I always find myself Easter weekend.
They are two of my favorite boys and I love their friendship to each other and with Jesus.

This morning, my Pastor shared one of my favorite examples of Jesus extending His undeserved grace.  I shared this story of Peter in detail here a few years ago and it still remains one of my most loved stories.

On this day of celebration, I read something that John wrote that always makes me smile. 
“Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.  So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”  So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb.  Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths laying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb.  He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not laying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.  Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.  Then the disciples went back to their homes.”  {John 20:1-10}
John often refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
I love that!
He was loved and called by Jesus and it became his identity.

After Mary Magdalene tells the boys the tomb was empty, they take off running.
John tells us that he and Peter were running together and then adds a detail that makes me smile.  He tells us, not once but twice, that ‘the other disciple’ outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  I imagine it being something that Alex Harmon would make sure was added to the story if he were the one telling it.

I can’t help but imagine these two friends in heaven today retelling this story and laughing that John made sure that everyone would know who was faster and who reached the tomb first.

I personally believe the added detail is there to remind us that John was young, but for whatever reason, it makes him so endearing to me. But make no mistake, John would want zero attention today.  He would want us to remember that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and it was God’s plan from the beginning to redeem us through His one and only Son.

A lot of us made time and space for Jesus today.
After all, it's Easter Sunday.
But what about tomorrow?  And the next day?

Just like John, the beloved disciple, you are loved and called by Jesus.
Does that define you?  Is your identity in Jesus and what He did for you or is it in yourself and your own accomplishments?

Tomorrow, the tomb will still be empty.
So follow John’s example and run to Jesus with everything you have.


God told them, "I've never quit loving you and I never will.
Expect love, love, and more love!"
{Jeremiah 31:3}

Sunday, March 20, 2016

THE LONELY SIDE OF DIFFERENT

Kindergarten.

It was a point in the future that we worked toward.
It was a point in the future that we focused on.
It was a point in the future that that held hope just out of arms reach.

“It will be worth it.”

That’s what I used to tell myself as I drove Miles to and from therapy everyday.
That’s what I used to remind myself on the really, really tough days.
“If I can muster up enough energy and keep focused, by the time Miles hits Kindergarten, all of the time and hard work will all be worth it.”

Miles started school in August and I thought I was ready.

Registering Miles for Kindergarten was about a four month process.  A process that consisted of evaluations, testing, paperwork, and several meetings.  A process that I had spent about a year preparing for by reading books, taking classes, and meeting with other moms and special education advocates.  I was organized, I had a little more than a vague understanding of the law and Miles’ rights, and I really thought I was ready.

After our final meeting, it appeared that all we had worked toward and focused on didn’t produce the results we hoped for.  Miles started school in August in the lowest functioning classroom our public school system offers and, as it turns out, I was nowhere near ready. 


The whole process is mentally and emotionally draining.

I have to think different and do different because Miles is different.
I have grieved many of those differences and I’ve come to appreciate his uniqueness.

But different is hard.
Different is lonely.

Out of 500+ students in Miles’ school, there are seven that are in the special education classroom.  Seven.  Which means out of 500+ moms, I am one of seven that are different.  And that difference is felt in very unexpected ways.

Take after-school, for instance.  Miles’ class is released from school about 15 minutes early to avoid the after-school noise and chaos.  Since parents have already started lining up in car-line, there is no way for me to get in the parking lot.  I have to ignore the two big ONE WAY and DO NOT ENTER signs, pull in the parking lot and walk into the school with all eyes on me.  Now, I am a rule-follower by nature and so I already feel uncomfortable.  But, I’ve been flipped off, yelled at, and given dirty looks several times by other moms leaving the school and irritated that I’m going the wrong way.

I want to respond.
I want to explain.
But I don’t.

And then there was Parent Seminar night.  About a month into the school year, the school planned a parent night after the PTA meeting.  The purpose was to provide sessions for parents to see what happens in the classroom.  It is an opportunity to learn, give input, and ask questions.  I was so excited.  Miles isn’t able to tell me about his day so to say that I was thrilled to get a glimpse into his class and into his world would be an understatement.

I read and reread the flyer, flipping it from front to back several times.  I see opportunities for every grade.  I see opportunities for several different subjects.  I see opportunities for training.  But something is missing.  Miles’ class isn’t represented anywhere.  So I start looking for his teacher’s name to try and piece together what is going on.  I find her name and immediately become deflated.  Miles’ teacher was given the task of “Children’s Entertainment” that night, along with two others.  They were to provide activities for children whose parents were attending the different sessions offered.

I don’t even have words to describe how horrible that made this one of seven feel.  My eyes are full of tears just remembering it.  To give my son’s teacher the task of babysitter on a Parent Seminar night is to say that my child’s education isn’t as important as the typical child’s “entertainment.”  I am certain that wasn’t the message Miles’ school intended on communicating, but it was the message I received loud and clear. 

It’s been seven months.
Seven months and I’m still struggling.

This is only our first year of school and the thought of going through this process over and over every year is more than my brain can handle.  It's hard and I'm tired.

The unfortunate reality is if you don’t fit the mold, you simply don’t fit.
My biggest struggle this year is not that Miles is different, it’s that I’m different.

I know God doesn’t make mistakes.
I love that He made our family different.
But sometimes, different is just hard.

I see you posting videos of your child in their school program and I get jealous…
Miles wasn’t given that opportunity this year.
I see you posting pictures of your child with their friends and I get sad…
Miles doesn’t have a single friend.
I see you posting while at your child’s practices and games and I grieve…
Miles isn’t able to participate.

But I think watching the way you get to experience life along side other families is the hardest and loneliest part of our reality.  That's were new friendships are formed and current friendships are strengthened.  And I miss that.

But I’m learning.
I’m learning that different is an invitation.
Different is the space that God has me all to Himself.

It’s where He whispers.
It’s where He dwells.
It’s where He breathes life into my soul with words like…

“So we’re not giving up. How could we!
Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us,
on the inside, where God is making new life,
not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.
We have small troubles for a while now,
but these troubles are helping us gain an eternal glory.
That eternal glory is much greater than our troubles.”
{2 Corinthians 4:16-17}

He reminds me that there is purpose in the hard stuff.
It reveals my weaknesses and it allows His glory to shine.

"Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master.
All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you.
It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light
as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.
If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness.
We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives.
That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us.
As it is, there’s not much chance of that.
You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at."
{2 Corinthians 4:5-7}

Sometimes God permits me, an unadorned clay pot, to be jarred so that some of the treasure in me will spill out and bless others.  But when I get bumped or jarred, I forget.  I tend to focus on me and I quickly forget that there is purpose in the hard and difficult.  If others are going to get a splash of love, grace and mercy every time I get bumped, I have to make time every day to empty myself of me.  If Jesus is going to spill out of me, I need to be full of Jesus.

I am not the me I was before Miles, and sometimes I miss me.
But if different is what brings God glory, than different I will be.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

A PLACE OF GRACE

Six years ago, our little family of three stepped on an airplane and took our seats.
Exhausted. Confused. Disappointed. Overwhelmed. Emotional.

The specific details of that day are here, but basically,
it was a travel day from hell.

Fog shut down two of the airports we were flying out of and snow shut down the cities we were flying into.  We booked new flights only to have them cancelled.  Our luggage went one place and we went another.  In a last ditch effort to catch our flight out of Washington DC, we flew to Baltimore, knowing that they only had one lane cleared throughout the city, and took a taxi to DC.

We were headed to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with nothing more than our backpacks and carry-ons.  That day, that travel day from hell, was just the beginning and we would never again be the same.  We simply had no idea.

As I sit here, remembering that stressful day, I am just as tearful and just as tired.

I still get confused.
I still get disappointed.
I still get overwhelmed.

We flew home from Ethiopia with big dreams for our new family of four.
And we have spent the last six years grieving the loss of those dreams.

I never thought.  In the middle of this six year journey, when I was convinced God had made a massive mistake in choosing me to be Miles' mom, I never thought.  I never thought that God could redeem all the doubt, all the hurt, all the dark, all the pain.

Even though our circumstances haven't changed, in fact, in someways it's harder than ever, I am not the same.  To be in a place where you welcome hard and messy because you know that is where God dwells is such a beautifully place to be.
It is a place of grace.

I love the way Greg Lucas describes this exact idea in his book, Wrestling with an Angel: A Story of Love, Disability and the Lessons of Grace

“My experience is that God will place a burden on you so heavy that you cannot possibly carry it alone. He will break your back and your will. He will buckle your legs until you fall flat beneath the crushing weight of your load. All the while, He will walk beside you waiting for you to come to the point where you must depend on Him. ‘My power is made perfect in your weakness,’ He says, as we strain under our burden.”

He goes on to say…

“Grace enables us to thrive in the presence of this world’s sufferings while magnifying the One who breaks us with affliction – that He might equip us with comfort, compassion, and strength to give others.”

Photo Credit
God, in all of His wisdom, in all of His power, in all of His sovereignty,
used a little baby boy - born half way around the world, born to a different Mom, born with a disability - to help me to see how much He loves me and to help me internalize the life-changing truth that EVERYTHING I need I can find in Him.
EVERYTHING!

“His divine power has given us everything we need to experience life
and to reflect God’s true nature through the knowledge of
the One who called us by His glory and virtue.”
{2 Peter 1:3, VOICE}

Everything I need (love, acceptance, security, worth, approval, forgiveness, purpose, hope, intimacy, respect, etc.) is freely given to me in the person of Jesus Christ.

Think about that for a second.

What would it feel like to love and serve others without needing ANYTHING in return?  What would it look like to give all of yourself away without needing applause, approval, or acceptance?

Doesn’t that sound like true freedom?
Doesn't that make you want to throw on a kilt, paint your face blue and yell FREEDOM!

That is the true message of the Gospel!
That is the true message of Grace!

God gives God.
And when you get God, you get "everything you need to experience life and to reflect God's true nature..."

When you take your eyes off of Jesus, you are forced to look to others to meet all of your needs.  You love, serve, and give of yourself trying to satisfy that place that only Jesus can satisfy.  When others don't come through, you are left hurt, disappointed and empty.  But you keep trying.  Eventually, you become so dependent on everyone around you to give you what you need, it strains your relationships because it's never enough.  They are never enough.  Not only is that exhausting, it is the exact opposite of true freedom.

So I sit here today, six years into our new normal, praying that I can live daily in that place.  That place of freedom.  That place of grace.

Sweet Miles,
You're a gift I never would have asked for.
You're a gift I didn't know I would need.
You're a gift I thank God everyday for.
You're a gift I'm so humbled I received.


Soli Deo Gloria!
{Glory to God alone!}

“Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God,
this deep, deep wisdom? It’s way over our heads. We’ll never figure it out.
Is there anyone around who can explain God?
Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do?
Anyone who has done him such a huge favor that God has to ask his advise?
Everything comes from Him;
Everything happens through Him;
Everything ends up in Him.
Always glory! Always praise!
Yes. Yes. Yes.”
{Romans 11:33-36, MSG}

Monday, February 1, 2016

MAKE SPACE

When Keith and I started our Small Group, we read this story as a way to help our new friends see our vision for, not only our little group, but for the church as a whole.  This story, found in three different books of the Bible [Matthew 9, Mark 2, Luke 5], challenges us to be different, to live eyes wide opened, to create space, and to relentlessly pursue Jesus.

One day Jesus was teaching in a home and a large crowd of people gathered to hear him speak. The power of the Lord was with Him to heal. The house where He was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no place to stand, not even outside the door.

While Jesus was preaching to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat.  They tried to bring him and put him down before Jesus, but there were so many people that they could not find a way.

So they [the four friends] climbed on the roof,
dug a hole above Jesus' head, and lowered the mat into the room
so that the crippled man was lying before Jesus.

Jesus said to the paralyzed man,
"Stand up.  Take your mat and go home."
The man immediately stood up in front of everyone.
He picked up his mat and walked home, praising God.

Every time I read this story, I find myself asking the question...
Who am I?  Am I the crowd, the friend, or the paralytic?

THE CROWD.
They came from all over the area filling the house inside and out.
They heard Jesus was speaking and they wanted to hear what He had to say.
They knew Jesus could heal.

The religious leaders claimed their front row seats closest to Jesus,
but they were shallow in their thinking and blinded to their own needs.
The people filled the house to listen, learn, and see,
but they didn't notice the crippled and hurting people around them.

They shared space with Jesus, but they didn’t have an encounter with Him.
They witnessed four grown men lower their friend from the roof and place him the feet of Jesus, but it never dawned on them that they are just as needy, just a paralyzed.

FOUR FRIENDS.
They were going toward Jesus.
They had a friend who was paralyzed that they wanted Jesus to heal.
They knew getting their friend to Jesus would be hard, but they refused to leave him behind.

They didn’t get discouraged when the crowd refused to make room for their friend.
They were willing to go the distance, carry the weight of their friend, destroy private property, and not stop until their friend was lying at the feet of Jesus.

They were tired and exhausted from carrying their friend, but their hearts were full as they look down through the roof at their friend laying right in front of Jesus.
They did their part, had faith that Jesus would heal, and watched their friend walk home, worshiping God.

THE PARALYTIC.
He was paralyzed and needed help.
He was unable to get to Jesus on his own.
He was needy, struggling, and messy.

He was carried on his bed mat, the mat he lived on.
He and his mat were not able to get cleaned up before meeting Jesus.
If and when he got to Jesus, he needed people to be willing to make space for him.

He was blessed with friends who had their eyes and hearts fixed on Jesus.
He was immediately healed by Jesus and obeyed by getting up and going.
His encounter with Jesus forever changed him.

Who am I?
Who are you?
As a church, who are we?

It is so easy to be the crowd.  It is a role that, if we take our eyes off of the gospel, we innocently slip into.  We can get in the routine of going to church, claiming our seat, saying hello to the familiar faces around us, and without realizing it, go completely blind.

Blind to the lost.
Blind to the hurting.
Blind to the messy.
Blind to those very things in us.

If our Small Group is full of the crowd, the group becomes so inward focused that we make it hard for outsiders to come in, to feel part, to meet Jesus.  They have to work at it.  They have to be willing to keep coming back week after week and to make the hole in the ceiling big enough to fit through.

“How tragic it is when spectators stand in the way
of people who want to meet Jesus.”
{Warren Wiersbe}

To be a friend, like one of the four, is tough.  We have to make our relationship with Jesus our number one priority.  We have to commit to keeping our eyes on Him.  We have to purposefully take a step toward Jesus everyday single day.  If we are going pick up a hurting friend and carry them to Jesus, we need to already be walking in that direction.

It takes love, grace, and mercy.
It takes patience and determination.
It takes faith to trust that Jesus is enough and it provides unspeakable joy when you see your friend stand up and go, praising God.

Photo by Kelsey Tice Photography

The paralytic is a role we will all find ourselves in at some point or another.  When life gets messy and we become paralyzed by our hurts and disappointments, we have to humble ourselves and ask for help.  Lying down, paralyzed, acting like everything is good is just crazy.  It's pride.

There is nothing shameful about needing help.
There is nothing shameful about life being messy.

We often feel defeated because we have an enemy who preys on the hurting.  Satan wants to make us think the mat is comfortable.  He can even make us resentful if the people in our lives refuse to keep carrying us around.  We have to remember that the goal is always to be carried to Jesus.  We are suppose to be left at His feet.  After we've been on the mat a while, getting up is hard.  But we are suppose to get up, take our mat, and begin walking the path of healing, which can be painful.  But, the quicker we get up and go, the quicker the pain and suffering can be redeemed.

I pray that our church looks and acts like the four friends.
I pray that the messy and hurting feel safe in our groups.
I pray that we will make space so that it is easy for people to meet Jesus.