Archives for July 2013

Focusing on Beautiful {What Hannah’s Dance Taught Me About Jesus}

She never stops dancing…twirling and twisting from room to room.  In the mall, in the hotel, by the pool – she dances. It’s become second nature. It seems dance beats within her heart.

I’ve sat hours after hours in parking lots and auditoriums as my daughter, Hannah, takes dance classes or performs for an audience.  Competitions from Pittsburgh to Virginia Beach…I have watched her take the stage, persevere through the cracking and popping of her 13-year-old hips and ankles, tear up when she feels she didn’t dance her best, and smile broadly after dancing well.

In some ways, Hannah is most alive when she dances  – or when she’s watched another dance well. Watching the beauty of dance captivates Hannah. She appreciates the hard work and sheer determination – the hours upon hours it takes to become a well-trained dancer with proper technique. And when she sees another, talented dancer take the stage and perform beautifully, Hannah isn’t jealous; she’s in awe. Her little soul appreciates the time, talents, and heart of the gal on stage who made the music visual through movement.

The dancer either comes alive or goes through the motions, depending upon the music, her mood, and the circumstances surrounding her performance…time, place, teammates, and more.

And the audience senses the soul of the once dancing, for it either permeates the performance or is absent from the act.

I am either alive in Christ – Him permeating my life  –  or He seems somewhat absent from my soul. 

Lately, I have been struggling with the “fake” of Christian community. The unwillingness of so many “Christians” to enter the mess of daily life with another.  And if we do enter the mess, we exit quickly when the messy gets too messy. We then use our Christianeze to explain our departure…things like…it just wasn’t wise for me to help her or I don’t have the answers she needs.

Puh-leeeze.

I watch others suffer. I watch others want so badly to feel loved. I watch them try so hard to fit in and be apart. And, yet, others kick the door shut, comfortable in their own circles with people like them.  Unwilling to open  hearts and arms wide. Unwilling to say you’re loved and welcome unconditionally here. Regardless of past or present, income, or political beliefs – you’re loved here, sister, simply because you’re human. 

Struggling with walking alongside the messy – and I am definitely one of the messy – I have begun to ask myself…when I interact with others, am I alive in Christ?  Is He permeating my life? Or does he seem absent? How open are my arms?

And if my answer is…He seems absent, my arms seem crossed,  and my heart closed, then I must ask myself why.  Where is He?  Why do I feel his absence rather than his presence? If I am rescued and He is at work redeeming my mess, why am I sitting on the sidelines mad that no one is entering my mess, but unwilling to enter anyone else’s mess?

Why am I not living a transformed, fully alive and rescued life?

God uses Hannah’s dancing to explain that.

When Hannah watches a very talented dancer with flawless technique bringing music to life with her movement, she immediately feels a new resolve to become a better dancer.

Witnessing the beauty of dance, reminds Hannah of her love for it. It motivates her to become better.  The beauty of dance spurs her to becoming a beautiful dancer.

Until it’s time for ballet class.

Hannah dance

Hannah refers to ballet as the necessary evil because ballet is the foundation for all dance.  Beautiful feet and arms – flexibility – balance – all of it is learned in ballet class.

Yet, when Hannah is in ballet class, she forgets how much she loves dance.  She gets caught up in the rules – the rights and wrongs – of feet positioning, hip movement, and hand placement.

She becomes frustrated and has to force herself to work harder and persevere.  Dance is no longer beautiful, but all kinds of hard.  She pushes through because it’s necessary, but she doesn’t “feel” dancing during ballet class.

So it is when I get caught up in the rights and wrongs – the rules and regulations of my faith. I argue theology, and I point my finger.

I forget the beauty of the cross.  I forget my come-alive rescue at the cross. I forget Jesus. I forget who He is and what He’s done. 

I forget the who, and I obsess over the what, how, and why. 

My rescue was and is simply beautiful.  And like Hannah, when I am watching and remembering beautiful – I want to strive toward THAT.  I want to be more and more like Jesus.

Focusing on Him and the cross transforms me, motivates me, and inspires me.  Trying to follow rules and argue theology makes me want to throw my hands in the air and scream. I forget grace and get stuck in falling short.

I simply forget who Jesus was and is.

Do I need to obey His commands?  Do I need to read His word and understand His ways?  Absolutely.

But, if ballet is all there is?  Hannah wouldn’t dance.

And if all I have are rules?  I don’t want to follow Him.

We must focus on the beauty of Him. We must focus on the prize – the beauty of our rescue – the beauty of heaven – the beauty of the dance.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:8

20 My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die. Galatians 2:20-21

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)  Ephesians 2: 4-5

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. I John 4: 9-10

Isn’t THAT beautiful?

I Am a Runner {Not the Kind You’re Thinking Of}

As I turn the corner, I see the balloons…signs…flags, signaling the finish.   The official timer is there too, but I can’t read it.  There’s a small hill.  I must go up and then down to the finish.

The finish.

I catch sight of the word emblazoned above the street, and my breath catches in my throat.  Suddenly, after almost 13.1 miles, I am unable to keep going.  I can’t breathe.  I am overcome with emotion, gasping for air, choking down tears.

Months of training.  And, I am going to finish. Really!

My friend (and trainer), Ashley, looks at me as I struggle for air…tons of emotion crashing down all at once.  When I first begin to struggle, Ashley’s sweet disposition urges me on, reminding to take deep breaths through my nose and out my mouth.  She excitedly points out that we are nearing the finish after almost three hours.

It doesn’t help.  I can’t seem to move forward.

I’m overwhelmed.

Ashley grabs my arm; looks into my eyes.  Gone is the sweet disposition – in its place is the fierce face of a person who has literally walked and ran with me on this journey to completing a half marathon.  She wants this for me. I can see it.

Come on! This is what you’ve trained for…let’s go.  She pulls me by the arm toward the finish.

It’s as if I’ve latched on to her strength, and I begin jogging…then running toward the finish.  My foot hits the line at 3:30:00, finishing 8,825th out of 9,934.

half marathon bib

I’ve thought of this moment often this week as I have begun training for a half marathon…again. I’ve recalled how my life was changed through training and changed again when I reached my goal and stopped training, failing to set new goals and keep trying.

It’s also reminded me of a different kind of “running” that I am prone to.

Ugh.

I am a runner. NOT a half-marathon runner.  Let’s face it, placing 8,825th doesn’t scream “runner.”  But, I am a runner in the sense that I often run when I can’t live up to expectations, fix the situation, and/or feel accepted.  I run from people, from situations, and from God when those people don’t act like I want them to, when the situation doesn’t turn out as I had hoped, and when God doesn’t show up or answer as I had wished.

When the tough gets going, so do I.

And while I am aware of my tendency to run and often force myself to stay in the race, moving steadily toward the finish and not back to the start, the start is often closer and easier to find.  It’s usually a place I’ve been and know well.

Comfortable.  Safe.

So as I literally run on a machine, God leads me to this podcast:  Why Run When You Have Been Rescued?

If I am rescued, saved, delivered, and free, why do I run from Him?  From His will? From fully surrendering to living rescued?

Instead of grabbing His hand, yelling this is what you’ve trained for, and pressing toward the finish, I stop –  allowing fear and emotion and hurt to overpower me.  Withdrawing my hand from His, thinking the race is too hard and long, I bail.  I leave the race, heading toward the sidelines to sit out.

I listen to Matt Younger teach as I sweat bullets on the elliptical, hearing this…

We know who Jesus is.  We know Jesus has promised us eternal life.  We know He wins in the end.  We know following Him is costly and suffering inevitable.

We KNOW these things.

In Hebrews, the writer acknowledges their pain and reminds them of their reward…but then he asks the church…why are you running if you’ve already been rescued?

You know the promises of God but you forget them often.

These Christians were running to religion, running inward (to themselves and away from community), to the world and worldly pleasures, and to strange teachings. 

And I am forced to ask myself…where am I running and why?

Am I running to religion, using rules and regulations and processes in an effort to make myself righteous or explain away my hardship? Trying to become accepted for my works, not simply by grace.

Am I running inward?  Am I “neglecting meeting together” (Hebrews 10), moving away from community? Keeping to myself.

Am I running to the world and worldly pleasures, neglecting to surrender all to Him and justifying my actions as I compare myself to culture and others?

Am I running to strange teachings, listening to voices that justify my behavior or allow me to live my best life now instead of submitting to Him and a life centered simply on glorifying Him and not me?

I am rescued.  So, why am I running literally and spiritually from surrendering every area of my life?  From resting in Him.  From living rescued.

We are rescued.  So, why do we run?  Why do we sprint toward religion, earthly pleasures, isolation, and appeasing voices when life becomes difficult?  Like the early believers who were struggling and being persecuted, we run.

We run because it’s easy. We run because it feels safer. We run because we’re mad at how God’s choosing to answer prayer.  We run because life isn’t fair. We run because [insert your answer here.]

But, we don’t have to run.

We can live rescued.  Live with eternity in mind, knowing He wins.  And while that may seem difficult or even impossible in the race you’re running right now, I pray you lean into Him, asking Him to help you run toward the prize – Jesus – and away from you or what the world “feels” or “thinks” is the best way.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people;then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.

Hebrews 12: 1-4

Live Rescued {What Does a Christian Life Look Like?}

I am standing at the end of the wooden pew – dressed in my Sunday best.  I am not a fan of wearing dresses or frilly socks with patent leather shoes.  My older sister wears these things quite well, so I follow suit.

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The pew in this sweet Methodist Church is large enough for the four of us…my dad closest to the window.  Then my mom, sister, and me on the end.  I love the blue stained glass windows juxtaposed on the white clapboard siding.

I love this place.

The service is almost to its end.  It’s taken all my self-control to sit and listen and sing the hymns.  It is so hard not to talk or flick my sister’s hair, but I am reverently following the service order in my bulletin, checking each element off as we complete it.

Trying so hard to avoid any shhhhhh’s because I am a talker.

Near the service’s end our pastor asks if anyone wants to accept Jesus.  I feel compelled to block the aisle. I don’t want any of my family walking forward.  I can’t explain why, but the thought of walking forward scares me.  And it scares me for my family.

My six-year-old heart feels it’s too hard.  If we go forward, we have to do all the stuff the pastor is talking about.  I keep thinking…I can’t do all that. And, what if I go forward and make that promise then I am unable to do all that?

What happens then?

Some part of that six-year-old still lives in me.  The one who wonders…what if I can’t live up to all that I am taught and told to do?  What if I don’t pray without ceasing?  What if I don’t have a quiet time or read my Bible daily?  What if I don’t love my neighbor some days?  What if I am not a member of a church?  What if one of my children turns his or her back on Jesus? What if I don’t grow in my faith, teach a Bible study, or share Christ with others?

What if I fall short?

What if?

I know the answer… He loves me still.

But for many years I’ve wondered about these what if’s, wondering how can I live like God loves me? Like He loves me so much that He sent His son to DIE for me?  To rescue me?

How can I live rescued?

I’ve been praying about, questioning, studying, and researching this as part of a local women’s ministry team who is preparing for a conference.  I have begged God for a fresh revelation about this year’s conference theme:  “rescued.” I have been plagued by this part of the day’s message…

How does one live rescued?  What does that look like?

Admittedly, I have not come to any easy answers. I am still praying, questioning, researching, studying, and begging God for a fresh revelation.  But, He has begun to speak…

I ask my friend, Krysten, to make me a necklace that says Live Rescued.  I thought wearing these words around my neck would serve as a daily reminder to continue seeking Him about living rescued while I try to…well…live rescued.

Krysten replied with…What a great phrase! Live rescued… Always thankful, knowing you’re worth the risk, you’ve been pursued, now alive… Wow, the meaning that holds!

Always thankful.  Knowing I am worth the risk.  Knowing I have been pursued. Knowing I am now alive, no longer dead in my sin.  Free not enslaved.

Wow! The meaning that holds. (Thanks, Krysten!)

Sadly, just a few months ago if you had asked me:  What does it look like to be saved? How does one who is saved or rescued live?  I’d have answered…

She attends church, prays, and studies her Bible.  She loves others. She probably attends Bible studies and tithes to her local church.  She serves others.   She tries to reflect Jesus.

But, God has shown me…she surely might do and should do these things. They are all right and good.  Yet living rescued is a heart thing not a “doing” thing.

The one who is rescued…saved by grace…should not begin with all these to-dos.  Instead, she should begin with surrendering all to the one who saved her by His grace: Jesus.

She should begin with Him. With the gospel.

As Mary DeMuth writes in her book Everything

All your life is the gospel.

The gospel of Jesus Christ should be both simple and profound.  Simple in its beauty, but profound in the life change it should bring.  No longer enslaved to sin, which so easily entangles, we receive a new nature from the Spirit of God.  We are to live like Christ – self-sacrificing, loving to a fault, humble, empowered, fully alive. We now represent God’s kingdom in this earthly realm, clearly establishing Jesus as our King and God’s rule as supreme over all.  The gospel is about spreading and living God’s fame…the gospel isn’t a life management program.  It shouldn’t merely be the crutch we fall on when life gets ugly.  It should be the legs we walk on, the air we breathe.

Long ago in that church pew I thought I had to begin with the to-dos – tasks that my six-year-old heart never thought I could do.  And now I know…believe…none of us begins there.

We begin with dying to ourselves, surrendering to Him, listening to His Spirit living within us, and embracing Him as Lord.  And from there, He leads.

From there we are able to be thankful. Free.  Alive. Self-sacrificing.  Loving. Humble. Kind. And more.

He transforms us, helping us to become more and more like Him.

It’s who we are.  Not what we do. 

We are rescued.

If you’d like to share how you live rescued, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

God Sees You and Me {Leila, Hagar, Honduras, and You}

We walked from home to home. Some wooden structures and others constructed from tarps and other fabrics.  At each home the owner greets us with a smile.

This village is special.

In March, the friendship of two little Honduran boys, Alan and Mario, compelled a group of missionaries to build a house for Alan’s mom who lives here.  It’s now June and another group is checking in with her, giving her food.

Leila welcomes us into her 16X16 home, thanking us for returning, thanking us for her home, thanking us for food.  She’s anxious to show us her cooking area and bedroom. She’s hung pictures on the wall and decorated with Christmas ribbon.

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Leila is so proud of her home.

She shares how her life is different since she’s been able to move from a tarp home to a wooden one. While thankful for her home, some of the changes aren’t so great.

Leila feels forgotten.  Alone. The boys’ dad is gone.

She knows God.   She shows us the Bible from which Alan reads aloud to her since she’s illiterate. She has heard the gospel and thanks God for his provision.

Still….

She feels forgotten. Alone. 

My friend picks up the Bible from which Leila and Alan read. We begin flipping through Genesis, locating the story of Hagar- the one who feels forgotten.

Hagar was the servant of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. God had promised Abraham a multitude of descendants.  But, after waiting 10 years, Sarah remained childless.  So according to custom, she gave Abraham to her servant, Hagar. Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, and fourteen years later, Sarah gave birth to Isaac. But Ishmael mocked Isaac, so Sarah asked Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away. When God confirmed Sarah’s wish, Abraham sent them off with water, and they wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba (Genesis 21).

15 When the water was gone, she put the boy in the shade of a bush. 16 Then she went and sat down by herself about a hundred yards away. “I don’t want to watch the boy die,” she said, as she burst into tears.

17 But God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, “Hagar, what’s wrong? Do not be afraid! God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Go to him and comfort him, for I will make a great nation from his descendants.”

19 Then God opened Hagar’s eyes, and she saw a well full of water. She quickly filled her water container and gave the boy a drink.

20 And God was with the boy as he grew up in the wilderness. He became a skillful archer, 21 and he settled in the wilderness of Paran. His mother arranged for him to marry a woman from the land of Egypt. Genesis 21: 14-21

My friend reads Hagar’s story to Leila, reminding her that God sees her just as he saw Hagar.

 

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God rescued Hagar and Ishmael, making Ishmael the father of a great nation (Genesis 17).

Rescued them.

We all come to a place in our lives at least once – often many times – in which we feel alone. Forgotten.

And in that moment, we are hoping, praying for someone to rescue us from loneliness and perhaps despair.  We need someone – anyone – to notice us and all we’ve done well.

Just like Leila and Hagar, we desire to know God sees us.  God had promised Hagar five chapters earlier to give her a son who would father a great nation, and in that moment, Hagar had thanked Him for being the God who sees her.

“She said, ‘You are the God who sees me…’” Genesis 16: 13

Before Hagar cried out in the wilderness so many years later, God had already seen her…promised her…rescued her.

So it is with those who know Him.  Long before we cry out in the wilderness, feeling forgotten and alone. God has seen us and sees us.   He rescued us with His death on the cross thousands of years before we were born.  He gave us the promises in his Word long before we knew Him.

Now we can live rescued, knowing He’s there when we feel lonely.  He will never leave or forsake us.  He didn’t leave Ishmael or Hagar.  He didn’t leave Isaac, Abraham, or Sarah.  God hasn’t left Leila or Alan.  Nor has he or will he leave you.

You’re not alone. You’re not forgotten.  The Creator of the Universe has rescued you, and he’s with you. Always.

Follow Me {My Issues with Church after I’ve Been on a Mission Trip}

I walked in late.  The music was ending; people were taking their seats.  I felt my chest tighten as I entered; I did NOT want to be there.  But my sweet friend had a seat waiting for me in the fifth row.  I wanted to see her and honor her.

I didn’t feel well.  The chances I’d run for the bathroom in the midst of this?  High.  I had only been in this specific service once in almost three months.  But, my friend’s text compelled me to walk to the fifth row and sit my rear down.

Church.

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I struggle with church every time I return from a mission trip.  I want to shout…WHY ARE WE SITTING HERE?  PEOPLE ARE STARVING…DYING!  And, here I sit in my cute dress and jean jacket with sparkly sandals with my new Bible and journal, drinking my coffee from the café, relaxing in my cushy chair.

I KNOW there’s more to it than this, but this is simply how I felt.

My chest is so heavy.  And I repeat to myself…I will not cry.  I will not care.  This is how it is.  This the North American way.  Get over it.  You can’t save the world. 

I will not cry.  I will not cry.

And I know that my church is about to begin a new sermon series:  The Call to Missions. 

Can I even sit here and listen?  Can I even stand the thought of North Americans presuming to know what the world needs when most of us haven’t even asked?  We presume they need Jesus – and many do – but some know Him better than I do.

Here it goes…Week One:  Send.

The text?  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8

And I send up a silent prayer…please, Lord, please.  Open my heart.  Help me to hear this.  Help me to hear your heart through Glen’s words.  I hate this tension. I hate this struggle. 

I dutifully place my outline on my open bible and begin filling in blanks.

Section one:  What is a witness?  I learn a witness is one who testifies to what she’s perceived through her senses; to what someone said or wrote; to an area they have specialized knowledge of; about the reputation of a person or entity.

Ok, I get that.  I am called to be a witness.  I am to share with others what I’ve perceived (my experiences), what someone said or wrote (the Bible), an area I have specialized knowledge of (maybe my mission trips), and about the reputation of a person or entity (Jesus).

Am I doing that?  Really?

Section two:  What am I to testify about? (And here’s where God kicks me in the behind…)

The personal Jesus in my own life.

Oh my…am I telling others about the personal Jesus in my own life?  Am I even acknowledging the work He’s doing in my life or am I too busy being irritated with others and what they are or aren’t doing?

When did THIS…church…life…my faith…switch to others and not Jesus?

Did I come home and share the Jesus I met through people in Honduras?  Did I share the stories I witnessed?  Am I testifying to His amazing work in people and in a country stricken with poverty?

Ummm…no.  I haven’t.  I am not.  Well, maybe once or twice.

But, many of my conversations post-Honduras have centered on frustrations with missions and people who like comfortable and “don’t get it.”

Yikes.

At some point, I started focusing on the people – and I am called to love others, so I know that people are important – but my focus on people caused me to turn my eyes away from Jesus.

The Bible says to love God and love others.  Notice…love God is first.  I desire to love others because HE first loved me.  (Luke 10, Mark 12, and Matthew 22)

When I “go” for people and not Jesus…when I become the one who “saves” or “helps” – and I begin doing that with my strength and plans – I am trouble.

I am playing God.  It’s prideful.

I sit in my cushy chair, sipping my vanilla coffee – conflicted and convicted.  My friend slips me a note asking if I’ll  speak about Honduras in next week’s service. Such a request would usually be met with a quick no.  But, in that moment if I say no, how am I witnessing? Testifying?

I want those without a voice to be given a voice.  I want the stories told and people helped. But, if I am unwilling to do the work – to tell – to send – to go, then who?

I reply to his request with…I’d be honored.  And, I am.

The closing song begins to play

You live among the least of these, the weary and the weak

And it would be a tragedy for me to turn away

All my needs You have supplied

When I was dead You gave me life

How could I not give it away so freely?
And I’ll  follow You into the homes of the broken

I’ll follow You into the world

I’ll meet the needs for the poor and the needy

God, I’ll follow You into the world
Use my hands, use my feet to make Your kingdom come

To the corners of the earth until Your work is done
‘Cause faith without works is dead

And on the cross Your blood was shed

So how could we not give it away so freely?
And I’ll follow You into the homes of the broken

Follow You into the world

Meet the needs for the poor and the needy, God

I’ll follow You into the world
Follow You into the homes of the broken

I’ll follow You into the world

Behind the words scrolled pictures I’d taken a year ago in Honduras. No coincidence, I’m sure.

I am undone.  I will not cry becomes I will not sob.

I will not follow people; I will follow Him…into the world until His work is done.

And, I am thankful for a church who is diligently and prayerfully presenting a sermon series on missions. May it continue to open hearts and change minds as we seek Him together.