Category Archives: Praise

The Lack That Fills Us Up

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I was recently with some friends and we were sharing with one another how the hardest things in our lives – the really hard things – are the things, in the end, that we are the most deeply grateful to God for.

This was no list of “privileged” suffering – this was raw, painful stuff – abject poverty, abuse, barrenness, deaths of spouses, and real struggles that make most people uncomfortable to even acknowledge the existence of.  Yet this group, through tears even, rejoiced and expressed gratitude for what God had allowed – or perhaps, more specifically, what God had withheld.

Who among us doesn’t want food and shelter?  Who doesn’t want love and safety in their relationships?  How many of us plan to lose a spouse before we’re old?  And while I’m aware there are some exceptions, how many women do you know who don’t long to bear and raise children?  These are things so basic to our human existence that many people – most people – can’t really imagine what it is like to live without them.  And yet, there we were, without any plans to accomplish this – and to be truthful, not really having even realized all this about our little circle (it’s definitely not why we were together) – sharing how God, in his providential care, had chosen to withhold them from us in various ways.  It was an intensely beautiful time together.

There was real grief shared – painful, sorrowful, hard experiences.  And yet, all of it was accompanied with rejoicing for the deep and profound lessons – the gifts of those lessons! – that God has taught through them.  There was no sugar-coating of the realities involved – the experiences of grief and suffering can feel harsh, unrelenting, and even cruel.  But shining through the lines of story after story were beaming, glorious, wonderful realizations of the light of God’s goodness and kindness in withholding the good things that we had each longed for and providing lack instead.  

How do we learn that God is our provider if we never have to look to him for provision?  How do we learn that God cares for his children if we never know what it is like to lack care?  How do we know how long-suffering God is with our sin if we never face long-standing patterns of sin in those we love?  How can we know the sweet comfort of the Comforter if we never need to be comforted?

We can’t.

And so the truth is, God orchestrates lack into our lives in order to fill us with something infinitely better than what even those very good things can bring – Himself.  When we lack food and shelter, he is our portion and our cup – the bread of life.  He is our strong tower, our refuge and he would rather allow us to hunger and thirst for him than to have a full belly and no taste for Truth.

When we are victims to the horrible evil that dwells within men’s hearts, we find a suffering Savior who knows what that is like because he suffered unimaginable abuse at the hands of the deepest evil the world has ever known, and through it demonstrates how he delights to make beauty that can only truly be appreciated through seeing and knowing and living in the ashes.

When we are devastated by tragedy and loss, we come to know the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief who would rather let us experience the searing pain of loss than let us miss out on what a Perfect Bridegroom can provide in the midst of all that pain.

And when we long for something so badly that our chests ache and our souls burn, we find the tender, compassionate Shepherd who would rather give us what he knows we ought to long for so they will shape us into a better reflection of his goodness and care, than allow us to become arrogant or proud in the fulfillment of our lesser desires.

It is so contrary to what we want!  It is so opposite of what we think!  We want good things – and they are good!  But the problem is that they are not good enough – and that is what our lack reveals to us.  Not having what we long for reveals our real needs to us.  Not having the things we want refines our tastes for the things we need.  Suffering the loss of what is precious to us helps us value the One who is most precious of all.

Our lack – especially of good things – ends up making room for the best things.  Praise God for being willing to bear our sorrow and broken hearts in order to fill us with joyful, thankful ones that know him better and love him more because of it!

 

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When Ripples of Sin turn to Waves of Grace

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I’m currently drowning in a sea – one that I did not want to be swimming in let alone drown in.  I didn’t want to have the billows overwhelm me.  I didn’t want to be gasping and choking for breath.  But I am here, and I know enough to know that these billows are sovereignly appointed ones, meant for my refinement, strengthening, and cleansing.

The sea I’m taking great gulps from as I struggle to keep breath in my lungs and my head above the surface is the fallout of sin.  It’s called the Sea of Painful Consequences.  Aftermath.  Carnage.  And while I’ve made plenty of my own cesspools of filthy, disgusting, wretched piles of careless, willfully arrogant, loathsome sin, this sea isn’t my doing.  It was done to me.  I can’t fix it.  I can’t repent of it and ask Jesus to clean it up.  I can’t make amends for it or beg someone else to forgive it.  I am victim to it.  And yes, I still see it as sovereignly appointed for my ultimate good.

But I must admit that I have struggled – really struggled – with watching how the ripple effects of this mess have affected so many more people than just me.  My children, their friends, my pastor and elders and their families, my community group – my whole church has been affected.  Friends, family, co-workers – it seems there isn’t anyone my family knows who hasn’t been tainted by it.  And we know a lot of people.

I have been grieved to hear how young women who I have mentored are struggling with watching it happen.  “If it can happen to you,” they say, “it could happen to… anyone.”  I have winced as I’ve listened to precious loved ones tell of their pain and sorrow and ongoing struggles with the unanswered questions…why?  How?  What for?   I have wept at the profoundly deep and far-reaching effects that the sin of one individual has had on so many, many people.

“Lord!”  I’ve cried.  “Please stop this!  Please contain it!  Please prevent it from continuing to spill over into cup after cup after cup!  It’s one thing to have been ripped apart – I hate it, but I can bear it if that’s what you want.  But does it really have to hurt them, too?”

But that is how sin is, isn’t it?  It’s so much more vile and destructive than we ever want to think about, much less admit.  It is, admittedly, easier to see this when it’s the result of someone else’s sin.  But our sin – yes, my sin and yours – has the power to destroy life.  And every life it touches is stained and soiled by its polluting mess.  We mess our own lives up when we give into wickedness – but we mess a whole lot of other lives up as well.

It ripples and ripples and nothing stops its effects until it spends itself fully and wastes everything in its wake.  Watching it from a front-row seat has sometimes caused me to be given over to despair.

But I’ve recently learned something about God, as he’s been teaching me about the hard, ugly reality of sin.  And that is this:  where sin abounds, his grace abounds all the more.

When one of my young friends was talking to me recently, shedding tears because of the pain that this sin has caused her, I was sad – so sad –  that my mess has touched her, too.  I cried and silently prayed, “Lord, help her.  Why should this sweet young mom have to struggle like this when she has nothing whatsoever to do with what has happened?”  I told her how sorry I was that this was hard for her, and wished with all my heart that she didn’t have to bear any of this burden.

But God spoke to me in the next second when she said, “But don’t you see?  God is showing me things I never would have seen before through this.  He’s showing me how to pray in ways I didn’t know I should pray, and he’s giving me insight into sin that I don’t think I’ve ever even thought about before.  Watching you walk through this is teaching me.  Your faithfulness is encouraging me.

And I realized in that moment that this is how our good God works.  This is how grace abounds even more than the sin.  He takes our filthy, tangled sin messes and uses them to reveal to us that his mercy is greater.  He can take those ripples of sin and make waves of grace come from them.  He can use one man’s sin to reveal himself and his patient, merciful, kind, and gracious character – to many –  in greater measures than the sin can ever destroy.  He can teach and grow and strengthen and mature through it all in a way that overcomes it all.

And isn’t that exactly what he’s done?  Sin entered creation through one man.  And it has been passed on to each and every one of us, because we all sin.  But God doesn’t let that be the end of the story.  He changes the death-sentence-endings through grace and replaces them with life.  “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”

Grace is bigger than sin because God is bigger than sin.  Grace is more powerful than sin because God is more powerful than sin.  Grace is able to breathe life into dead things – dead people – because God delights to breathe new life into cold, dead, broken hearts.  Grace and mercy and provision and care is the end of the story – not overwhelming pain and sorrow and sadness.  They last for a while – and they are, indeed, exceedingly painful.  But they do not have the final word.  God does.

In the end, love wins because God has already won.

Love wins by turning ripples of sin into waves of grace.

Love wins.

Fasting gives me a headache…

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In case you haven’t heard there’s a lot of talk about fasting this month.  It’s Ramadan, but Muslims aren’t the only ones who fast.

 

Recently a friend of mine asked me if I would fast with her and pray for some friends, pray for her work, and pray about the “stuff” of life.

 

“Sure!” I said on the outside.  “ugh… “ I said on this inside.  And so, like the angels and demons I’d seen on peoples’ shoulders in the cartoons of my youth – my internal war began – again.

 

Fasting gives me a headache.  A serious, throbbing, cannot-ignore-it sort of headache.  I feel grumpy and distracted and completely out of sorts.  I can’t believe how much I think about eating when I’m fasting!  It’s astounding to me that I can spend so much time thinking about what I could be eating – when my goal is to forget about eating!

 

Have you tried it?  Have you struggled?  Have you quit in the middle and said, “This is STUPID!!”?  I have.  I hate to have to admit it, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has had to come face to face with how weak and distractable and cowardly I really am.

 

But that is precisely the point.  It is because each and every one of us is weak and selfish and filled up to the brim with lies that we believe about our own abilities that we need to fast.  Contrary to what many believe:

 

We do not fast to make ourselves clean before God.

We do not fast because it somehow convinces God to accept us.

We do not fast to pay for the wrong things we’ve done.

We do not fast to atone for the wrong thoughts we’ve had.

We do not fast to in any way clean up our act, straighten ourselves out, or try in some way to “get things right with the Man Upstairs” (as some of my childhood friends explained their fasting during Lent).

 

Fasting will show you how woefully short you fall of being in any way clean before the Lord.

Fasting will show you how prone you are to pleasing yourself rather than God.

Fasting will reveal to you how many more wrong things you do than you ever wanted to admit.

Fasting will kick up the settled dust of wrong thinking, and show you just how prone you are to thinking about ridiculous things that don’t matter – at the very least – if it doesn’t also reveal to you how prejudiced, sneaky, snarky, and just downright mean you can be.

 

By now you might be saying, “Um, and why is this a good thing?”  It’s good because we need to know these things about ourselves.  We need to know our sinfulness more and more completely, because doing so reveals to us the beauty of the cross and the glory of our Savior in ways that we can’t comprehend without it.

 

How else can the sacrifice of a perfect lamb become truly precious to us if we don’t understand that Christ died for us while we were swimming around in a sewage-filled ocean of our own making?  How else will we treasure the gifts of redemption and adoption if we never realize how far we have alienated ourselves from God and chosen instead to dirty ourselves by continuing to wallow around in and fill up our ocean with more and more insanity?  We lie to ourselves about ourselves far too easily.  We need disciplines like fasting to shake us awake to reality and remind us why we needed a Savior in the first place.  As it turns out, quietly sitting next to Jesus for any length of time will make you want to slither away from Him rather than present your “cleaned up” life to him, because we all know what it’s like to try to clean ourselves up from that kind of mess with a hanky that we’ve had in our pockets the whole time – it’s impossible.  

 

And that is why we fast.

 

When we get to the place where we realize the very best we might possibly hope for is to sneak away unnoticed by the brilliant Son of God, it is then that we can see clearly that He is coming after us – pursuing us with gentleness and love and forgiveness that we know we don’t deserve.  And yet, he brings us to stand there in His presence and accept His thorough cleansing from top to bottom, inside and out.  

 

Do you know that He loves you this way?  Do you want to know?  Come and fast with me.

 

There’s no formula – you will likely need to experience some failures and successes on your own in this because that is part of the discipline.  But we all need someone to disciple us.  It will become painfully clear to you – within about the first 20 minutes or so – that this is going to be harder than you thought.  But here are some practical things that have helped me keep my focus through the struggle to fast.

 

Hunger Pangs:  Saying “no” to food shows us how much we need to say yes to hungering and thirsting after righteousness (Matthew 5).  Hunger is a powerful drive that God has given us.  He has intended it for our survival, but He has also intended it to teach us to hunger and thirst for Him.  When I’m fasting and I want to eat something, I pray, “Lord, help me to hunger and thirst after you even more than food.  Help me to know you in such a way that you fill me up and I am satisfied, no matter my circumstance, no matter if my belly is full or empty.  Lord show me what you want me to learn about you through this fast and help me to see you clearly.”  In practical terms though, I have to steer clear of the kitchen and keep my fast elsewhere.

 

Distractions:  It’s usually about half-way through that prayer that I find myself thinking about other things!  It’s as if my heart says, “Fine, if you’re not going to give in on the food front how about we talk about the laundry that needs to get done, or the dishes, or …that stinkin’ kid didn’t take the trash out… again!”  Maybe for you it will be your boss, or the incompetent drivers on the road, or your classmate’s weird outfit, or your coworker’s bad breath, or… you get the idea.  I can be distracted by anything when it comes time to pray.  I have to have a plan.  I have found that writing out my prayers is enormously helpful, and writing out what I want to pray about first, so that my “prayers” don’t become a rambling stream of consciousness instead, is almost critical.  (go ahead, laugh, but you know it’s true…)

 

Sometimes sitting and praying close to electronics is too distracting.  I use prayers written on index cards that I can take into another room or into the car or on a walk or anywhere that I won’t be tempted to “just check real quick.”

 

Boredom:  Yeah, I know – we shouldn’t get bored when we’re trying to talk to God.  But since I’ve already been brutally honest, I figure I might as well go all the way.  Sometimes I feel as if I’ve run out of things to talk with God about.  I get bored with the whole idea of focusing on Him and I just want to do something mindless and easy.  This, too, can lead me to pray, “Lord – teach me to want you!”  And if that doesn’t spark some other requests, then simply spending some time doing ordinary tasks and then thanking and praising Him for them is unbelievably helpful.  “Lord, thank you for this laundry to do for it means you have blessed me with clothing to keep me warm and covered.  Thank you for the family members who wear these things and forgive me for grumbling about serving them.  Thank you for ordering the world in such a way that families are your design that we can learn to trust and grow and know you.  I praise you Lord for you have formed me and each of these whom I love so dearly in wonderful ways.  I praise you Lord for you have created beauty and goodness and truth that surrounds us everywhere.  Help me, Lord, to point others to you so that they, too, can worship you in Spirit and in Truth.”  Sometimes it’s helpful to simply keep your hands busy while your mind is refocusing on why you’re fasting.

 

Sleepiness: Yes, it’s tempting to just go and take a nap rather than try to keep alert and focused – especially when everything is warring against that.  Sometimes I have to absolutely command myself not to give in, but because I am doing most of my work at home, my bed or that comfy chair can be really tempting. If you’re working somewhere else, you might not have this trouble during your work hours, but when you get home you will.  When it happens, you’ll need a plan:  take a walk, put on some worship music, clean the bathroom if you have to, and commit to talking with your Heavenly Father while you’re doing them.  

 

Headache:  Yes, I really do get whopper headaches when I fast.  Sometimes I push through them, and ask God to use them to draw me closer to Him.  If they’re helping me do that, I deal with the headache.  But sometimes, I take some pain reliever.  It’s not about the headache – it’s about my heart’s cry.  Sometimes the headaches helps me to cry out to God, sometimes it really is a distraction.  Talk to God about that, too, and ask him for wisdom to discern which it is.

 

The key to all of this is that we see how much we need Jesus.  Fasting confronts us with our utter incapability of doing all that God requires of us – and realizing that we are hopelessly trapped in that condition is the first step on the journey of sweet, satisfying communion with God for eternity.

 

Come and fast with me as I hunger and thirst after the righteousness that only Jesus can supply.  Come fast with me as I seek to put to death all the loves in my life that keep me from loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Come fast with me as I ask for wisdom to know what those things are and look for ways to be thankful and joyful right where God has me now.  Come fast with me as I ache to be reminded of the One who loves me enough to rescue me from my own willful wickedness.  And come fast with me to rejoice in a salvation that is complete and glorious and free – for we have been loved with an everlasting love and fasting helps us know it.

Let me know how you have learned how to fast – or what you’re struggling with.  Let’s encourage one another as we walk this journey of faith together.

 

(image credit: https://www.magnoliabox.com/search?q=sad&type=product)

Bee Inspired…

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Bee Inspired…

When my son, Joel, was around 8 or 9 years old he started asking if we could get some bees and learn beekeeping.  My answer was swift as sure as it was firm –

“Ain’t gonna happen, Sparky.”

Sparky – that’s one of my many terms of endearment – don’t ya just love it??

Undeterred by his mother’s seemingly iron-clad negative response, he continued.  It’s not that he was whiny or nagging.  He just kept asking.

Finally, when he was 14, I paused a little when he asked…  “He has been interested in this for a long time,” I thought to myself.  “I shouldn’t allow my reluctance to voluntarily expose myself to tens of thousands of angry, stinging insects on a regular basis to snuff out a genuine interest he has…. Should I…???”

We started going to the county Beekeepers Association meetings (did you know they existed?) just to see if this was something we could even consider.  We were not even novices – we were novice wannabees.  But we kept going and learning what we could.

Joel was a trooper sitting through countless hours of men and women with PhD’s in apiculture (beekeeping) drone on and on about pest management and bee diseases… He really just wanted to get on with it.  But perseverance was becoming a strong suit for him and he kept going so that I could feel more comfortable with this whole idea.

To make a long story short, I relented, and we finally got some bees.  We started out with two hives, which both died the first winter.  Undaunted, we bought two more packages of bees (a small crate about the size of half a cinder block containing approximately 3lbs – or about 12,000 bees) to try again.  One of those survived this past winter.  And we got two more packages this year, for a total of three hives.

Our apiary (beehives)

Our apiary (beehives)

Can I just take a moment and be the voice of that excited five-year-old who has just lost her first tooth….  BEES ARE SO COOL!!!!!!

When I first found out that there are men and women who have PhD’s in a variety of things having to do with bees, I thought, “Oh come on… That’s a little ridiculous.  That’s like getting a PhD in basket weaving.”  But now that I know a little something about bees and beekeeping I realize that not only is there enough knowledge to legitimately earn a PhD in beekeeping – I WANT ONE!!!

These little creatures are AMAZING!

Their bee society is amazing.  Their body structures are amazing.  Their honey production is amazing.  Their hives are amazing!  I mean it – the more I learn the more I am in awe.

But not with the bees, really.  Though I find them fascinating to ever increasing measures, I am in awe of the One who made them.

I cannot help but to praise God every time Joel and I go out to work with our bees.

Recently we attended a lecture at our local Beekeepers Association meeting and the professor – who openly gushed about how awesome she thought bees were – said multiple times, that bees and the flowers they pollinate are “so smart – amazingly intelligent!”

Joel and I looked at each other.  Huh?

As cool and amazing and fun and educational as we both think bees are… we’ve seen the size of their heads that enclose their even smaller brains.  “Smart,” is not an adjective either of us would use.

And flowers…. Last we knew, they didn’t have brains at all.

So what gives with this professor of professors trying to earn PhD’s in apiculture calling flowers and insects “smart?”

This woman, who knows so much about the created order, has carefully constructed a world view that tries to deny a creator.  But she simply cannot deny praise!  Her research and experience all point directly to awe-inspiring design – yet, who can she praise if she denies a designer?  She is left to relegating her praise to the created things – as absurd as it sounds – because surely these are praiseworthy!

Bees are not smart.  Flowers are even less smart.  But bees and flowers and birds and mountains and oceans and stars are all awe-inspiring.  They don’t inspire awe because they’re so clever.  They inspire awe because they each, in different ways, give a clue – a small hint – to the AWESOME character of the God who created them.  Their beauty, design, majesty, power, light, and order all tell us something about Him.  They remind us how small we are and how mighty He is.  They speak of his delight in color and strength, tranquility and grandeur, and even in his humor (have you seen the size of a bee’s wings compared to its body size??) in the unexpected.

Look around you – His handiwork is everywhere.  And everywhere there is cause to praise Him!

Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns!

Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;

he will judge the peoples with equity.”

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;

let the sea roar, and all that fills it;

let the field exult, and everything in it!

Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy.  Psalm 96:10-12

Imagine our delight to open up this hive this year to find it BURSTING at the seams with bees and honey!

Imagine our delight to open up this hive this year to find it BURSTING at the seams with bees and honey!