Saturday, June 25, 2016

JESUS BE NEAR

Today, my friend buried his bride of 9 short years.
Today, two small children said goodbye to their mommy.
Today, the world lost a Jesus-girl who honored her husband, loved her children, and was faithful to her Lord and Savior.
 
The Shippey Family
Chris, Christina, Malakhi, Brooklyn

Last week, my friend buried her husband of 28 years.
Last week, three children said goodbye to their hero.
Last week, the world lost a mighty warrior who ran to the hurting, the broken, and the forgotten all around the world with the goal of pouring out love and spreading the Gospel by being the hands and feet of Jesus.

Craig Miller

This morning, my heart is heavy.
This morning, the tears flow freely.
This morning, I am sad that my friends have to grieve so deeply.

I can't imagine the pain involved when your spouse, your person, the one whom your soul is mingled, passes from life to death and leaves you behind.  Jesus, how does a broken one-flesh heart heal from that without having an intimate relationship with You?

You tell us in Psalm 34:18 that You are near the brokenhearted.
You tell us in Isaiah 41:10 that You will strengthen and help us.
You tell us in Psalm 147:3 that You heal the brokenhearted and bind up wounds.

God, I pray that you will envelope the deepest places of their hurting hearts today.  I pray you will be their refuge and their strength.  I ask you to bind up their wounds and lead them along the path of healing.  Jesus, I pray today that as they face dark days ahead, that you will be near.  Jesus, please be near!

These two giants, these two friends, they left a mark on the world.  My human brain can not even begin to understand how calling them home instead of leaving them here was the right decision.

Their lives brought You glory.
Their journeys pointed people to You.

Even though I am sad and confused, I echo Isaiah and declare that my thoughts are not Your thoughts and my ways are not Your ways. Your ways and thoughts are higher than mine and I stand on that truth and I trust that You know best.

To the Shippey family and the Miller family, I am so deeply sorry for your loss.  Keith and I dearly love you and would do anything for you and your children.  Christina and Craig hold a special place in our hearts and we are committed to praying for you in the days and months ahead.  

“Your most profound and intimate experiences of worship will likely be your darkest days - when your heart is broken, when you feel abandoned, when you are out of options, when the pain is great – and you turn to God alone.”
{Rick Warren}

Sunday, June 12, 2016

DEAR FIKIRTE,

Our boy turned seven today.
SEVEN.
Can you believe it?

Oh how I wish I could sit with you today over a cup of coffee.

I want to hold your hands in mine and hear your life story.
I want to look into your eyes and tell you how much I love you.
I want to hug your neck and thank you for choosing life.

If you could have hand picked a mom to raise your Misikir,
I don’t think you would have picked me.

The me before your Misikir was so full of pride.
The me before your Misikir wasn’t willing to die.
The me before your Misikir loved me more than you.
The me before your Misikir didn’t have a clue.

But God.
He gifted me with your Misikir and we named him Miles.
You gave him life, but I get his smiles.

The heaviness of that truth is not lost on me.
And that’s a reality I will always grieve.

Miles was fearfully, wonderfully and autistically made.
Miles was purposed, adopted, and a gift I wouldn’t trade.


Firkirte-
Since I can’t see you and hug you and love on you today,
I pray that the Lord will comfort you in every way.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

THE GIFT OF THORNS

"We can complain that rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses."
-Abraham Lincoln

My knockout roses are blooming.
Delicate blush-pink roses surrounded by bright green leaves.

From a distance, I see beauty and color and I marvel at God’s creation.
But up close, when I reach in to touch them, I get pricked.
The beauty is surrounded by pain.
The roses are protected by thorns.


Thorns.
They weren’t part of God’s original design.
They were part of the curse.
They came into this world because of sin.

But God.
He can use anything.
He can redeem anything.

There is a man in the Bible named Paul who was hand picked by Jesus to take the gospel to non-Jews, to kings, and the people of Israel.  When Jesus called Paul, He knew the person Paul would be.  But He also knew the things that he would have to endure to become that person.

“I [Jesus] have much to show Paul, including how much he must suffer and endure for My name’s sake.”
{Acts 9:16}

Paul was beaten with whips, rods and rocks.
He was shipwrecked three times and lived in constant danger.
He was arrested several times and spent many years in prison.

In the fourth letter that Paul wrote to the church he planted in Corinth, he addresses the relationship between suffering and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Paul talks about crying out to the Lord several different times and begging Him to remove, what he refers to as a ‘thorn in his flesh’, which signifies a sharp affliction or a sense of some acute form of suffering.  More often than not, suffering is the very thing God uses to reveal and display His glory.

All of Paul’s trials and afflictions changed him.
They forged him into a might tool that God used to spread the gospel.

Miles graduated from Kindergarten last week.  He and 76 other Kindergartners proudly filed in the auditorium and found their place on the stage.  I sat in a seat, like a ‘normal’ mom, and watched and waited for Miles to take his place.  Even though his teacher had to stand up there with him and one of his friends, I was excited to be able to sit back and watch my son.  To have the same view as all the other moms.

But it only lasted about seven minutes.

Miles spotted me in the crowd and wanted off the stage.  I love that he can always, ALWAYS find me in a crowd.  But I hate that after he does he can’t focus and gets so frustrated.  His teacher took him off the stage because he was really struggling.  Miles wanted me and his friend that was still on stage was upset and really needed his teacher.  So I got up and made my way back stage.

Miles was so excited to see me.
It really is sweet.
But I struggle.

I struggle being the mom Miles needs me to be and not getting to be the mom I want to be.  I don’t want to be jealous of the mom you get to be, but sometimes I am.

As I walked Miles back out on the stage and took my place beside him and the other Kindergartners, my view changed dramatically.  I didn’t get to take pictures and video of Miles.  I didn’t get to sit by Keith and experience this moment with him.  I was in a room full of people yet my view and my experience was completely different.  I got to be like them for a few brief minutes, and then I had to go back to being me.  Being different.

And it’s those moments that the words George Matheson penned in 1901 speak to the deep places of my soul and gives me perspective.
“There was given to me a thorn in the flesh.”  {2 Corinthians 12:7} 
“There was given to me” Can, then, the thorn be a gift from God?  I am in the habit of seeing God’s gifts in the abundance of the things which my life possesses, and I call those things the dangers of life which diminish the sum of its abundance.  But here there is a complete reversal of my thought; the abundance is the danger, and that which diminishes it is the gift. 
Paul has been exalted above measure; he has been standing on the heights of prosperity, and summering in the sunshine of a cloudless day.  The cloudlessness of the day is his greatest danger, and there is sent a mist over the sun.  His spiritual life has been fragrant with the breath of flowers.  The thorn is, for the time, God’s best gift to his soul; there is something protective in it.  It has no fragrance, it has no beauty, but it yields one of the sweetest uses of adversity – it reminds a human spirit that it is, after all, only human. 
My God, I have never thanked Thee for my thorn.  I have thanked Thee a thousand times for my roses, but not once for my thorn.  I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross, but I have never thought of my cross as itself a present glory. 
Thou, Divine Love, whose human path has been perfected through sufferings, teach me the glory of my gross, teach me the value of my thorn.  Show me that I have climbed to Thee by the path of pain.  Show me that my tears have made my rainbow.  Reveal to me that my strength was the product of that hour when I wrestled until the breaking of the day.  Then shall I know that my thorn was blessed by Thee, then shall I know that my cross was a gift from Thee, and I shall raise a monument to the hour of my sorrows, and the word which I shall write upon it will be these: “It was good for me to have been afflicted” (Psalm 1119:71).
We don’t like to suffer.
We don’t like pain.
Our humanness tells us to run from it.  To escape it.

But in the hands of a loving, purposeful God,
the thorns, the pain, they create something so beautiful.

When we walk through hard, our view can quickly be obstructed.  We will see the hard, the pain, and the thorns unless we get out of our seat and look at it from a different angle.  When we do, we see all the things they have produced in us and all the ways they have changed us.  Then we understand that the thorns, the cross, the hard, the pain, really are “God’s most precious gift to the soul.”

After the Roman soldiers stripped the clothes off of Jesus and place a bright red cape over his soldiers, they twisted some thorns into a crown and placed it on His head.  Their goal was to mock and ridicule Jesus.

Thorns.  They came into this world because of sin and were placed on the head God’s only Son who willingly became sin so that we might be “crowned with loving kindness and tender mercies, and have a crown of righteousness, life, and glory, laid up for us.”  [Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible on Matthew 27:29]

Ever feel like the thorns are too much for you to handle?
Ever feel like the cross you are told to carry is going to kill you?

That’s the point!  That’s the whole purpose of your cross.
Your cross is supposed to kill you.

We are called to deny so Jesus can shine.
We are called to die so Jesus can live.

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must deny yourself,
take up your cross daily, and follow me."
{Luke 9:23}

God uses Miles everyday to remind me that I am not suppose to fit in.
I am not suppose to view the world like everyone else.
I am not suppose to be the mom I want to be.

I think I will always struggle.
I think I will always grieve.
But I pray I will always choose
to be the mom Miles needs me to be.

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}