Come as You Are

Come as You Are

I was recently standing in line at my favorite discount store with a cart full of the treasures I had found on my journey through the overcrowded aisles.  The line was very long as it is this time of year and from my position at the back of the line I could tell I was in for a very long wait.

Conveniently, these stores recognize the fact that we are going to be in line for the long haul so they give us something to do during our wait.  Shelves are arranged for the entirety of the line stacked with last minute gift ideas, things we might have missed, things we didn’t know we need, things that we didn’t even know exist!  As we slowly make our way toward the counter, we pick up these items.  We put them in our shopping carts and quite often, if you are anything like me, by the time we reach the register, they have been returned to the shelf waiting for the next waiting shopper to do the same. 

This particular day, however, something worth keeping caught my eye.  A rectangular wooden sign was burrowed behind assorted red and green decorations and all things Christmas.  In large capital letters it simply said COME AS YOU ARE.  It wasn’t a Christmas sign.  It wasn’t a Christmas decoration.  Someone had left it there misplaced among the holiday cheer but something about that phrase touched my heart.  

Interesting that such a phrase would find its place among the Christmas décor.  As I look at the nativity set on the table by my tree, it appears to me that everyone kneeling at the manger that night had been invited to do just that.  

Invited into the very first Christmas, each one was called to come as you are.  

It is easy to see how Mary came to the stable that night.  Burdened on a path she had not planned, shamed by the religious leaders of the day, she came to give birth to the Savior, just as she was.  The shepherds came in to the manger in a similar way.  Dirty from watching their sheep, they didn’t go home to clean up quickly before meeting the Messiah.  When called to the manger, they went to the stable right from the fields.  They came to the scene just as they were.  

And then there is Joseph.  He is often viewed as the silent figure in the stable.  In our house, he was the least desired to put in our nativity scene while we fought to put Mary in position or lay the baby down in the hay.  Most years we even preferred to set up the sheep before we put Joseph in place, but that night at the manger, we see a man who came to meet Jesus just like the rest.  He came just as he was.

Joseph was a young man who thought he knew where his life was going until he received the most unexpected and terrifying news a man at that time could hear.  Mary was pregnant and was said to have been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit.  With stoning the punishment for adultery, Joseph had a plan to quietly separate from Mary in an effort to save her life.  

He heard what did not make sense and was told it was part of God’s plan.  He was hesitant and unsure. Joseph didn’t understand what was happening around him or if what he heard was true at all.  As he wondered whether the miracle right in front of him was really from God, an angel met Joseph in a dream.  He told this young man who had questions, who had gone the other way, that Mary was carrying the Messiah and that he would have a part in the story.  The angel told Joseph to go, to take Mary as his wife.  

Joseph married Mary and when the census was commanded in the ninth month of Mary’s pregnancy, he led the way.  He took his wife on a donkey for a long, difficult ride only to find that Bethlehem was over crowded.  Exhausted and with very little means the couple went from door to door asking for a place to stay finding the only available space was a stable.

But that night in the stable, when the Savior of the world was born, Joseph watched in amazement at the miracle right before his eyes.  What God had said would be had come to pass and Joseph’s life would change forever as took on a new role as father, the earthly father of the Son of God.

Joseph didn’t have it all together.  He was just a man with flaws and weaknesses, he had doubted and he had wondered, but God had a call on his life, a purpose and a plan.  The only requirement God had on this new father was to come, to be available, to step into the place assigned to him regardless of his past, no matter the future.  

So Joseph came.  

He was young.

He was poor.

He had heard unexpected news.

He doubted and ran the other way.

He was exhausted.

He probably felt ill equipped.  

But God still called him to come.  And Joseph met the Savior of the world along the way.  

One of the beautiful truths of the Christmas story is that we don’t need to have it all together in order to come to the Savior.  We doubt, we struggle with unbelief.  We may not know all we are to know and we may not do all we really should do.  We may be exhausted from our journeys and most of us feel completely ill equipped in the role He has called us to.  

But God still calls us to come.  Just as we are.  Broken, exhausted, doubting, hurting, confused, shamed, lost.  We don’t have to have it all together in order to come closer to the Savior.  In fact, the Christmas story is all about a Savior born as a baby so He could come closer to you.   

This year, burrowed in the middle of all things Christmas is an invitation, an invitation to come, to take your place in the stable, to take your place in the story, to come a little closer to Jesus and find the new life waiting for you there. 

What I thought was misplaced on a shelf in a store was actually purposed to invite us to the manger. 

Perhaps my new sign is a Christmas decoration after all.

This Christmas come a little closer to the Savior. Find your place at the manger.  Like those at the stable, come.  COME AS YOU ARE.  

But everyone my Father has given to me, they will come.  And all who come to me, I will embrace and will never turn them away.  John 6:37

Unexpected Places

Unexpected Places

They were selling umbrellas as we walked through the gates to Victoria Falls.  With the African sun shining bright and strong, we certainly didn’t feel the need to stop and make a purchase! We started our journey down the path to the falls and began to see people coming our way.

Laughing and talking in excited tones these folks caught my attention, but what kept my eyes fixed on these tourists was their hair and their clothes.  From the top of their heads to the shoes on their feet, they were completely drenched!  It was a bright sunny day and we were still quite a distance from the falls.  I wondered where they had been and kept on walking. 

We continued down the dry, hot path for quite a while, each step the same as the last, and then it happened. Out of nowhere water began to fall from the sky.  It fell on our heads and ran down to our feet.  With just one step we walked into something unexpected. 

A sign on the side of the path told us that we had entered a rain forest created by the falls.  As the falling water hits the river below, it produces a spray that rises up and covers this particular part of the path.  Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, twelve months a year in this one place, rain falls continuously.  It never stops raining!  The ongoing rain creates an ecosystem in this space behind the falls unlike any other on the planet.  

With just one step our journey had completely changed and yet were on the same path.  We had not veered off of the path to go another direction.  We had not chosen to go our own way, but the path we had been obediently walking looked nothing like it had just a few steps ago.  We found ourselves in a completely unexpected place.  Covered in rain.

As the shock wore off we opened our eyes to the scenery around us.  The flowers and trees that surrounded us were those we had never seen before.  Insect life in this new ecosystem was unlike insect life in any other place.  What we saw on this part of the path was unique to this place with a beauty we had seen no where elsewhere.  

Without umbrellas, saturated with rain, we started to laugh!  With arms stretched out, we took in every drop, every moment, every emotion that came with this brand new place.  Dripping wet, none of us wanted to leave as we lingered in the rain, appreciating the unexpected place where we now stood.  

Many years ago, three women found themselves on another path. In the desert outside of Moab, a woman named Naomi walked with her daughters in law, Orpah and Ruth.  It had been a difficult season for these women as each had suffered the loss of their husbands and the city where they lived was experiencing a famine.  They were leaving their home on a journey they had not expected.  Grieving, hungry and tired, they walked together. 

Naomi knew it was a difficult time for these younger women, so she told them to go to back to the place where they had always been, back to their families, back to their familiar.  Orpah responded by turning around.  She said goodbye and walked the other way.

But Ruth made a different choice.  When given the chance to go back to the place where she had always been, Ruth continued on her new path.  Honoring Naomi, she kept walking on the path to Bethlehem, even if she had no idea what was coming her way.  

Following God and faithfully serving her mother in law, Ruth found herself in an unexpected place.  To provide food for Naomi and herself, Ruth went to work gleaning in the fields of a kind and wealthy land owner named Boaz.  With no idea where the path was leading, she faithfully gathered the left behind grain, each day just like the last.  

But then one day it happened.  Ruth took one more step on the path and found herself in a very unexpected place.  Boaz in his role as kinsman redeemer made the choice to marry Ruth.  Ruth’s whole life changed in an instant!  Once a poor woman gleaning grain in the fields, she was now married to the master of the house.  Once a grieving widow, her deep sorrow was replaced by unexpected joy. 

You can almost picture her, arms open, smiling, laughing and loving this place as the rain of grace fell on her filling her from the inside out.  She had endured loss, lack and grief but with just one more step, Ruth found herself in a place she had not expected.  

Nothing in this woman’s life would ever be the same.  Life here would look different than any other life she had known.  Saturated by the love of her redeemer, Ruth was given new hope, provided a future, blessed with a baby and a family line that would lead to the Messiah.  

It was the same path she had traveled for a very long time, but it led to the unexpected and oh, the joy Ruth found as she experienced the rain.

As we walked the path back to the entrance of Victoria Falls on that hot summer day, new visitors were now on the path.  People who were still completely dry were coming our way.  As we approached them, still drenched by the rain, I am sure they wondered where we had been.  They would soon find out for themselves.  We had been caught in the rain of an unexpected place.  We had seen things that we would see nowhere else and we had experienced life that we did not know was possible before we went to the falls. 

We came out of our unexpected place changed, grateful for this path, grateful for the rain…

…and grateful that we had not purchased an umbrella.  An umbrella would have kept us from experiencing every beautiful drop of rain that this unexpected place had to offer. 

Predictable places provide predictable results, but unexpected places will take us to where we have never been.

Have you taken a step into an unexpected place?  Have you found yourself in the rain?  Throw back your arms, open your eyes.  Take in every sight, every emotion, every drop of rain that falls your way.  Experience it all.  Welcome the rain, embrace it….and don’t buy the umbrella!

How deeply intimate and far-reaching is his love! How enduring and inclusive it is! Ephesians 3:18 TPT

Give it Away

Give it Away

My parents were always amazing gift givers. Together they spent weeks well in advance of birthdays and Christmas planning out their strategy to find the perfect gifts to present to my sister and me. If something was on our list, even into our adult years, my dad and mom would go to great lengths to make our wishes come true. 

One year I asked for a cross necklace so I was not surprised on Christmas morning to see a jewelry sized box under the tree with my name on it. I opened the box and saw that it held a beautiful silver cross. It was petite and delicate with intricate scrolling on the sides. I loved this cross immediately and wore it as much as I possibly could. 

Little did I know that day as I hugged my dad to thank him, that just two months later he would pass away. This small, silver, scrolled cross would be the last Christmas gift my dad would give me. I planned on treasuring it forever. 

Things don’t always go as we plan. A few years later on a Friday night in April, in an evil, calculated and painful way, our home was invaded. A group of thieves broke our skylight and lowered themselves into my kitchen with a ladder. They stole from our home all of the earthly goods that we treasured. Among what was stolen was the small silver cross necklace I had planned on treasuring forever. My heart was broken as I grieved the loss of this very special gift. 

At a women’s conference later that year, I spoke about the pain and loss of the robbery and I shared with the ladies the story of my cross. It was an emotional moment for me that God used to speak to all of us in the room that day. At the conclusion of the event, a woman I had not met before walked up to the platform. I noticed she was wearing a necklace. A small silver cross. With tears in her eyes, she told me the story of her cross, a gift from her mom, which made it just as special as the cross that had been given to me. We quickly connected as we shared a similar story. As we finished speaking, she put her hands behind her neck and unlocked the clasp that held her necklace in place.  She took her off her cross. And she gave it to me. 

I tried to refuse this gift that was placed in my hands. I understood how it felt to no longer have my cross and did not want to receive what she treasured so highly. I know the value that comes with such a gift, but she insisted. She said that while I was speaking at the conference, God was speaking to her about her cross. He had told her to give it away. 

We hugged and she left the platform. As she left the room, I realized, I didn’t even know her name. 

John 6 is where God has had me camped out lately. I have read and reread the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 in each of the four Gospels in multiple translations, seeing different aspects of the event come together to create one amazing story. Jesus and his disciples were on a hillside for a time of much needed rest. A crowd of people who witnessed Jesus perform miracles had followed them there. The Bible says that 5,000 men were in attendance, but we know that the total number of people was significantly higher as this number did not account for women and children in the crowd that day. 

It was late and the multitudes were getting hungry. Jesus saw their need and put the disciples on the job. Unsure of how they could possibly be used to feed the masses, the disciples set out to see what they could find. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saw among the people a boy with a small lunch and spoke up saying,

“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” John 6:9

Seated among the masses was a young nameless boy. If we dig into the story further, not only was he nameless, he was not counted. The Bible specifically states that he was not yet a man. Only men were counted in the 5,000 that day.

Looking at the crowd that day, it would seem that this boy’s attendance was an insignificant part of the story. There were thousands of people seated on the hill so it would have been easy to pass him by. When the disciples went to look for food, it would have made sense that someone more significant, someone who counted, would hold in his hands the solution to the problem. 

But this boy held exactly what Jesus would use to perform a miracle. Five loaves and three fish didn’t look like much, but willingly, he took what he had and he gave it away.

What happened next may not have looked like what the boy expected. Perhaps he thought his lunch would go to the Teacher. He would have been thrilled to have given what he had to someone who had made such an impact on those around him. Or perhaps he thought his lunch would be combined with others, not realizing his was the only gift that day. 

But as he watched from his seat on the hill, the boy saw Jesus do something unexpected. Jesus took what was given. He blessed it.

And then He broke it. Piece by piece, Jesus took what the boy had given and broke it into pieces, thousands of pieces. What he had given to the Master no longer looked the same as it had as before he gave it away. I have to wonder what the boy was thinking as he watched Jesus break what he had given on the hillside that day. 

As Jesus continued to break the bread and the fish, miraculously the food began to multiply. Baskets full of broken pieces were distributed to the crowd and everyone was satisfied, completely filled. 

Everyone. Including the boy. He had no idea when he gave his lunch away that he would eat that day, but Jesus saw his gift, knew his name, and counted him among those who would be filled. 

It was in the breaking that the miracle occurred.

There is not one of us out there that has not been in this boy’s shoes. Moments, days, weeks or years of feeling nameless, like we haven’t been counted as significant in one situation or another have kept our fingers tightly clasped to the very thing that God has put in our hands purposed to work out a miracle. Comparison, insecurity and painful places have caused us to hold onto what we have been called to give away. We go back and forth with thoughts and questions in our hearts and heads. We are ready to run with God’s plan if we give what we have to Jesus and He blesses it. 

But what if we give what we have to Jesus and He breaks it?  What if it doesn’t look any longer like it used to look?  Can we trust His Hand in the blessing and in the breaking as we obediently let go of what we hold onto and give it away?

Perhaps we will find the real blessing is in the breaking. The breaking leads to unexpected stories woven by the Hand of God purposed for our good to show His glory to the world. I will never forget the healing that came over my heart as a woman heard from the Lord, took off her cross and gave it to me. I was able to find her name later and shared with her how God had impacted my life for the Gospel and the story that has been shared because she gave it away. 

We give what we have to Jesus. He blesses it. He breaks it the way He sees fit. He multiplies it for His purpose and nothing is wasted. 

Trust him in the blessing. Trust Him in the breaking. Hear His voice, open your hands, let go of what you have, and give it away.

 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” John 6:12

What’s in Your Hands?

What’s in Your Hands?

Evidence of the changing of seasons is all around us!  Leaves falling from the trees outside of our windows and school buses on the roads tell us that we have left one season and have entered another.  In this age of social media, a quick look at our news feed tells us the same.

Overnight, the pictures we see have changed.   Friends and family who posted photos of their children yesterday are posting photos of their children again today.  The faces are the same, the smiles are the same, they are the very same children, but the picture we see is completely different.

Just yesterday, we called the season summer.  We saw pictures of children at the beach with wet, messy hair, covered in sand.  In their hands they carried buckets so they could transport sand to the water and water to the sand.  These buckets had a purpose and were used accordingly.  In their hands these children carried what they needed for the season they were in.  

But today is different.  The very same children we saw in pictures smiling at the beach yesterday are now smiling at their front doors, their wet messy hair combed and curled.   In their hands they are carrying books, bags and lunch boxes.  These items have a purpose and will be used accordingly.  In their hands they carry what they need for the season they are in.  

Just like that, the season changed.  And so did what they carried in their hands.  Overnight, they let go of what they used to hold onto for what they needed to succeed in their next.  

For many of us, seasons are changing.  It goes far beyond the changing of the weather or the changing of summer into fall, to a much deeper, personal place.  Just like that, sometimes it feels like overnight, something has changed. We look at our ‘news feeds’ and we see the evidence.  What once looked one way now looks another.  Our smiles are still the same, we are the very same people, but wow, the picture looks so much different.  

The Bible is full of men and women who walked through seasons of change.  We could choose any one of them and find an amazing truth to hold onto in our times of transition.  The woman at well is not one of those people we study when we are looking for encouragement in times like this but a small phrase in her story strikes me every time I read John 4.  

It was noon when the Samaritan woman approached the well.  Every day of this very long season, she had walked the same path.  Weighed down by shame, this season had been a hard one.  Each day as she made the walk, in her hands she carried a water jar, a necessary item to complete the task she had been assigned.  It would have been impossible to do what she was called to do without it. 

Waiting for this woman at the well was Jesus.  He engaged her in a beautiful conversation offering the tired woman a new beginning.  He revealed Himself to her as the only One Who truly satisfies, the One she had waited for all of her life.  He offered her a new start…

He offered her a new season.

Her heart was moved by the words Jesus spoke and just like that, this woman stepped into her new.  Compelled by the truth, she responded to what she heard. With a new spring in her step, she went back to town, having done something she had never done before.  

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town… John 4:28a

She left her water jar behind.  Don’t miss the magnitude of that phrase.  Such a small thing and yet so significant at the same time.  She left her water jar at the well.  The thing that she had carried in her hands, the thing that carried great purpose in her last season carried no purpose in the next.  The thing that she held onto with both hands in order to do what she had been called to do was no longer necessary for what was ahead.  

She left it behind and with empty hands this woman ran!  She boldly went to those she had previously feared encountering and told them about the One she had met at the well.  She shared the truth that she had experienced through meeting Jesus and what a response she saw!

‘Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony…’ John 4:39a

Many from her community believed in the Lord that day!  Why? Because one woman put down what used to be in her hands in order to run free into the next God had prepared for her. 

What if the Samaritan woman had not left the water jar behind?  What if she continued carrying into her future what she used to carry in her past? 

That water jar would have tripped her up.  Can you picture her running to tell the community the good news, still carrying a large, clay water jar?  Can you see her stumble, having to stop to take a break?  By the time she reached the people, she would have been exhausted, her testimony would not have been quite so effective.  The water jar that she used to carry would have become a burden in her hands rather than something purposed to sustain life.  

The Samaritan woman was entering a new season.  So she laid aside what she used to hold in order to pick up what she needed to hold next.  She was the same woman, wearing the same clothes.  She had the same past, but she had a completely new future and with empty hands, she was ready to run!

Are you entering a new season?

There are things in our lives from the ‘summer’ that just won’t work in the ‘fall’.  There are things that we have held onto from the past that had a great purpose for the past.  They are good things!  God used them to give and speak life….for that season.  

But a new season has come and as hard as it is, these things need to be left behind.  When it is time to move into what is next, God has new things to put in our hands and new places to run!  Without letting go of our water jar, we will stumble, we will become exhausted, we will have to stop and take a break. We will not be able to pick up what He has for us next if our hands are still full from the past.  

The Samaritan woman knew. Whatever would hold her back had to be left behind.  Whatever kept her hands too full, whatever weighed her down, whatever was not necessary to take into her next, had to be left at the well.  She ran with empty hands ready to pick up whatever was waiting for her next, declaring the goodness of God on the way.  

Take a minute to look at your hands.  What are you holding onto that worked for the last season you were in but is unnecessary for your next?  What is on your schedule, what are your commitments, your priorities?  What is your water jar?  What has God told you to leave at the well because it is unnecessary going ahead?

Don’t carry into this next season of your life what you were meant to leave behind.  Don’t hold onto things from the past that will drag you down. 

This woman in her new season, with empty hands, was the first to go and tell!  She could not have accomplished her God given assignment if she had not left it all behind.  

As you prepare to enter your next, ask God to highlight what you are to leave at the well. Intentionally put down your water jar and run with empty hands to what He has for you.  Trust Him to put into your hands what He has for you next and while you run, tell a few friends about the Savior! 

And while you are at it, keep an eye on your ‘news feed’!   You will be amazed as you see God share ‘photos of YOU’, His daughter, all dressed up, stepping into your next season, hands full of exactly what you need in order to succeed in what He has called you to do!  

They left everything and followed Jesus.  Luke 5:11b

The Bible on the Dashboard

The Bible on the Dashboard

Being married to a pilot comes with a lot of perks, the most significant being the ability to get around! We try to make the most of our travel benefits, a great blessing given to airlines employees, and often find ourselves in places we are not expecting!  My husband’s past time is reading travel magazines.  If he reads an article and sees a picture of someplace he has not been before, he finds a way to get us there!   

Last week, we found ourselves on a plane headed across the Atlantic to a beautiful city in Croatia. We had very limited time there, so we came out of the plane running.  We needed a ride, so we called an Uber and headed to our hotel.  As we drove toward our destination, our Uber driver told us about the architecture of the city, the old buildings and how they had been damaged by the civil war in the 1990’s.  It was all very interesting and amazing to see so many places that had been damaged now standing restored.

Out of the blue, our driver started to talk about churches.  He told us that there were many churches in the city we were visiting.  He said, in fact, that the ratio between houses and churches was so great that almost every house could have its own church.  He went on to say, ‘Yes there are many churches. They are very beautiful, but nobody goes.  The churches are empty, a result of the war.’   People in the city had lost their faith during the war.  A time of great darkness had turned the people away from the light.  They left the church and they never went back. 

My heart broke for this city.  So many beautiful people, beautiful places where they used to worship were now just a part of their history.  Empty. Abandoned.  Gone.

The conversation came to a close as we arrived at our hotel.  We jumped out, dropped our bags and made a quick turn-around.   It was time to travel to our first destination.    

We needed a ride so we called another Uber.  

Within a few minutes another car arrived.  We opened the doors, jumped in, said our hellos and off we went.  Sitting in the back seat, I looked toward the front of the car to catch the view and there on the dashboard was a worn old book.  On the binding of the book was a word that struck a chord in my heart.  The word was Biblija.  

I stared at the Bible on the dashboard in front of me.  Just a few minutes prior we had heard that the church in this city was dead, that the people had lost their faith and here on the dashboard right in front of our eyes was evidence that spoke otherwise.   

We started another conversation with this new Uber driver.  He told us that he was from a different city in Croatia, a city that is experiencing revival.  Tourism in the old city brings in good money for Uber drivers in the summer, so he packed up his car, packed up his Bible and made his way there.  

Darkness had come to the city.  Hard times had fallen upon them.  People who used to walk in the light had fallen away, but God saw the city.  He still loved these hurting, broken people. He had a plan this city could not see. Behind the scenes, God had been moving, relocating His servants to just the right place at just the right time. The Word of God was coming back to the city in a way we might not have imagined, but a way that would speak powerfully to all who got in the car.  

I was overwhelmed as I took it all in.  One man looked at the empty buildings in the city and decided the church was dead. Another man looked at the people in the city and saw THE CHURCH waiting to be built.  

In a city where church buildings are empty, faith is dying and hope seems lost, God literally sent a man armed with His Word to shine the light.  We cannot decide how God is going to move.  We do not know what He is orchestrating behind the scenes, but God is building His church in the most hopeless places in the most amazing ways!  God is sending people out of the buildings, one at a time to reach one at a time!   Believers are taking God’s call to go and tell to amazing new levels all around the globe as we take the Word into the marketplace, onto the streets, into the cars!   He is lining up circumstances and positioning people to be the church that we saw in the book of Acts, people who shared the Good News as they went to the temple, as they walked down the street, as they were imprisoned and shipwrecked, and thousands came to be saved!  

God is building His church through us!  It goes far beyond the physical structure.   He is using a body of believers committed to worship, committed to His Word and committed to serving others, built up together to be the church!  

You are living stones built into His spiritual temple.  (1 Peter 2:5)

What a privilege to be the living stones that He is using to build His church! What a charge!  I have never seen a more pointed example of this lived out than I saw in the car that day.  The church was not the broken building on the side of the road.  The church was riding down the road in an Uber. Believers from different parts of the world, unified by a love for the Father were excited to see that God is still on the move, orchestrating divine appointments, encouraging living stones along the way! 

As crazy as it sounds, just a few days later, I found myself on another trip.  My husband had an overnight trip to Brazil so I jumped on board the plane.  We had limited time so we left our bags at the hotel when we arrived and headed toward our first destination.

We needed a ride so we called an Uber.  

As we slid across the back seat, we closed the door and looked toward the front of the car to catch the view. 

And there on the dashboard was…a Bible.  

I kid you not.  

In the same week, on another continent, in another country, in another language…on the other side of the world was evidence that the church is alive and well regardless of where we are, regardless of what we see with our eyes.  From the underground church in China to mega churches scattered across the globe, to Uber drivers serving the Kingdom in their cars, God is building His Church out of men, women and children who are not ashamed to wear His Name, not ashamed to stand for His Truth, not ashamed to walk like He walked and not ashamed to carry our Bibles!  Bibles on our phone are amazing, praise God for them, but there is nothing like holding the very Word of God in our hands.  I never would have seen with my eyes the story of what God is doing across the globe if these drivers had their Bibles only on their phones. 

This challenged me.  In a country where we are blessed to have people in our buildings, what am I doing outside of the building to increase the Kingdom the other six days of the week?  It is so easy to get comfortable and casual in my faith, to forget the urgency that was behind Jesus’s words to go and make disciples, but driving through two cities in one week where two different men had Bibles on their dashboards? This has fired me up to speak the Truth on a whole new level!  

Do we take a bold stand for the Gospel?  Are we living life as the church the way Jesus called us to live?   Are we shining the light in the dark places around us? 

Is there a Bible on our dashboard?  Not necessarily a physical Bible, but is there evidence when folks get close to us that there is something different going on in our lives?  This is not a time to look at what is empty around us.  It is the time to put on our boots, pick up our Sword and share the love of Jesus with the folks God places around us, building the church He desires as we go!

The church that God is building is alive and well!   God is moving across the globe, pouring out His Spirit on ALL flesh.  Praise God, He is moving in ways we cannot see to bring it all to pass and He has given us a place in the process!   If we keep our eyes open to the move of the Spirit, on a dashboard in an Uber, on the other side of the world, He might just give us a small glimpse of what He is doing along the way. 

‘…upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.’

Matthew 16:18

The Aftermath

The Aftermath-2

Cabo San Lucas is a popular vacation destination at the tip of the Mexican Baja peninsula.  People travel great distances to spend time in this place that is very predictable. The weather is predicable, it’s always sunny and warm.  The food is predictable, it’s always fresh and delicious.  The people are predictable, too.  They are always kind and gracious; folks you enjoy being around.

Cabo is not just a place full of predictable, it’s also a place full of pleasant.   Gorgeous sunrises and sunsets draw your eyes to the colorful sky at dawn and at dusk. The sound of the waves crashing on the beach is a backdrop to your day and lulls you to sleep at night.   Trees with vibrant flowers and graceful palms sway in the breeze creating a beautiful display of color on the horizon.  Just a few days in Cabo and you start to think that this is the place on earth where everything is predictable, everything is pleasant.  Nothing could possibly go wrong.

But just a few years ago, Cabo was hit with a storm.  A major hurricane tore through this predictable, pleasant town, destroying everything in its path.   The airport was devastated, bridges were broken and homes were leveled.  The flowering trees and graceful palms that had lined the horizon were ripped out of the ground and thrown into the wind.   Everything that made Cabo beautiful was gone, destroyed, torn away.   All that was left behind was the aftermath.

Aftermath.  It’s a word we know and use but I love the definition I found in the dictionary today. Aftermath is defined as ‘the consequence of an unpleasant event’. Cabo had been hit by an unpleasant event.  The consequence, the aftermath, is what was left behind.

In the book of Nehemiah, we find Israel, another people who had been though an unpleasant event.   For years their city, Jerusalem, had been a beautiful place.  Songs of the worshipers were heard in the streets, families lived and ate together in community and God’s glory dwelt in the middle of it all.  It was a predictable place, a pleasant place.  It was a place where nothing could possibly go wrong.

Sadly, as time went on, God’s people sinned and rebelled against His Word and His ways.  In spite of many warnings, they left the safety of walking in obedience and followed their own path.  Their actions put them in position to be defeated by an enemy.  They were enslaved and taken to a foreign land filled with foreign ways and foreign gods.  Exiled for 70 years, life was not so pleasant anymore.  The Israelites were far from home, far from the temple, far from being the people God had created them to be.  Jerusalem crumbled.   Broken homes, torn down walls and piles of rubble were all that was left of their beloved city.  What had been a place of great beauty, what had once been so pleasant, was now a place of great devastation.  Jerusalem had been hit by an unpleasant event.  The consequence, the aftermath, is what was left behind.

Unpleasant events.  They don’t only happen in far-away cities.  They happen in places that are close.  They happen to individuals. They happen to families.  They happen to churches.  They happen to you and they happen to me.

Things come upon us that we can’t predict in places we would never expect. The place where nothing could possibly go wrong suddenly gets turned upside down.  Places that used to be pleasant are not so pleasant anymore.  Whether it’s a result of the stuff of life or a consequence of sin, a storm has come and the aftermath is what is left behind.

The aftermath in our lives will look different in every situation.  It may resemble crumbled walls or ruins in broken relationships that need a major healing.   It may resemble torn up trees leaving your life void of joy and color. It might feel like your house has been shaken to the core and the walls just cannot stand any longer.   It may look unpleasant or feel unpleasant or let’s be real, it may just plain be unpleasant. These unpleasant situations want to make us stop, make us want to quit, make us throw in the towel and pull away from what God has planned for us, from what He has called us to do.

But what if there is another part to the aftermath?  What if the aftermath we see with our eyes is only a part of the story?

What if the real consequence of our unpleasant circumstance is actually something glorious?

Perhaps there is a beauty to the aftermath seen only by those who keep pushing through.

You see, the people of Cabo didn’t stop when they saw the destruction. Broken windows and torn down trees inspired them to come together.  Unified, they cleaned up the streets, rebuilt their homes and planted new trees, working hard to restore the city they loved. New color filled the horizon as new flowers budded and bloomed.   If they had stopped, defeated by the challenge, they would have missed the beauty that was just ahead.  They would have missed the beauty of the aftermath…new flowers, new friends, new vision, new life.

When Israel saw the ruins of Jerusalem, God’s people did not turn back but went forward united as well.  People who had suffered together in their exile now stood side by side to rebuild the wall of the city they loved. Nehemiah 9 tells us that when the wall was complete, God’s people came together to hear the Word of the Lord.  Together the people of Israel wept as they heard how they had fallen away from the holy ways of the God who deeply loved them. Together they confessed the sins that had kept them enslaved for so many years.  Together they turned to God in repentance and together they stood a people purified and refined by the outstretched arm of God.

If Nehemiah and the people of Israel had turned back when they saw the rubble, God’s people would not have come together, they would not have confessed and repented and they would not have heard the Word that the Lord had for them for that specific moment.  They would not have become the people God created them to be.   Because they did not turn back in their unpleasant place, God’s people experienced beauty and what a glorious aftermath it was!  These people had a new freedom, a new unity, a new found fire and a new understanding of their God!

Just like those living in Cabo and those who lived in Jerusalem, the unpleasant place wants to keep us down but we are called to keep pressing on!   It is easy to look around and see what is broken as the aftermath, but God sees something beautiful.

We see rubble and torn down walls.  God sees rebuilt homes filled with hope and love.

We see devastation piled up around us.  God sees order in the chaos and full restoration.

We see torn up, swept away trees.  God sees new trees with new flowers already in bloom.

Are you experiencing an unpleasant event in your life right now? Is the place or relationship that seemed unshakeable suddenly shaking?  Has your predictable, pleasant place become a place of broken walls and torn down trees?

Giving up now will keep you from experiencing the beauty just ahead.  Stopping now will keep you from seeing new colors and experiencing new life.  Do not give up!  Keep pressing on!  Pick up your Bible and find a friend who will walk this journey with you.  What you see is not the end of the story.  The real consequence of your unpleasant place truly is glorious!  Trust Him and pray for eyes to see your story the way He sees it.  God has a beautiful aftermath waiting for you!

The Lord is rebuilding Jerusalem and bringing the exiles back from Israel.  He heals the broken hearted and bandages their wounds.  He counts the stars and calls them by name.  How great is our Lord!  His power is absolute!  His understanding is beyond comprehension!  Psalm 147:2-5

What’s Your .11?

Maybe I should begin by saying I am not a runner.

Around this time last year my husband told me to block particular dates on my calendar so we could head out of town for a long weekend.  As the date approached, I asked him where we were headed and what I should pack.  His reply was simple.  ‘It’s a surprise.  Pack casual….and bring your sneakers.’

Now, I really do trust my husband!  He has never steered me wrong before, so I didn’t question it.   I just packed my bag and off we went.  A few hours later, however, I found myself in Nashville, standing in a crowd, wearing my sneakers, a number pinned to my shirt, registered for a race I had not planned to run.

Finding myself in a race I had not planned on running shed some amazing new light for me on a very familiar passage in the Word of God.  This new perspective has shaped every challenge, every trial, every difficult event or journey that I have faced since.

In 1 Corinthians 9:24, Paul  writes:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?

Run in such a way as to get the prize.

For years, I have read that passage as if Paul were referring to the marathon of life.  From day one until the day we go home to be with Jesus, we are running a race of ups and downs, highs and lows, expected and unexpected events that become mile markers on our individual journeys with the Lord.

But the language Paul uses here is actually quite different.  The race Paul is referring to is not a marathon covering miles and miles.  The word Paul uses in the original language is stadio, a race that measured 185 meters, approximately 660 feet, the equivalent of just .11 miles.

Paul says in a stadio, in a race of only .11 miles, all the runners run.  Interesting, isn’t it?  Paul is referring to a short run.  He says in a very short run, just over a tenth of a mile, all the runners run.   These runs had a beginning and they had an end.   They were marked by a defined distance and a finish line, even if the runners were not able to see the finish line from where they stood.  These were not long races.  They were short runs in the grand scheme of the games.  I read that and I say, WOW!  I can run that kind of race!   A race of only .11 of a mile with a finish line just ahead?   Let me grab my sneakers and I will run for the prize!

But then we get a little deeper into the verse.  Paul says that in these .11 mile races, all the runners run. The word here for run is trekh’o, and the definition tempts me to put my sneakers back on the shelf.  Trekh’o doesn’t just mean to run.  It means to run with all you have, and then run some more. Trekh’o is defined as a time of extreme peril which requires the exertion of all our effort to overcome. Ouch.

The runners in these .11’s had to give the race all they had.  They had to endure the peril, but only for a defined time with the understanding that there was an end to their struggle, even if they could not see the finish line clearly from where they stood.   Someone had gone ahead of them marking out the start and marking out the end.  With this understanding, they registered for the games, took their place, and they ran.

Paul said that is the kind of race we are called to run.  These defined .11’s may be short, but they are going to be tough.   These .11’s are marked out for us with a beginning and an end, but they are times of extreme peril requiring that we exert all we have in order to overcome, in order to get the prize.  These are races that we don’t want to run, races we had not planned on running, but races each of us face at some point in life:

A financial pressure that has been looming around you.

A conflict in a relationship that has been dragging you down.

A child pursuing a path clearly against God’s ways and purposes.

An unknown in your future that leaves you on your knees late into the night.

These races are hard.  They weigh heavy on our hearts and minds and consume our thoughts and emotions.  They require all we have, but Paul calls them stadios.  He reminds us that they are only .11’s.   They have a beginning, they have an end and they cannot go out of the control of our God. These .11 races may seem to be long from our perspective.  They are difficult and challenging, but the One Who sees the beginning from the end knows that these momentary struggles are just that, momentary, regardless of how long they seem to us as we run.

And then Paul uses one more small word…he uses the word all.  All means all.   In this kind of race, allthe runners run. Sister, that means you and that means me.  No one is getting out of it.  We are the runners and all the runners run.

Why would the Lord allow us to run these .11’s?  Why would the Lord permit these times of peril and extreme exertion on our journeys?  Because at the end, there is a prize and Paul says that we are to run in such a way to get it.  That is good news.   There is a prize…and we can get it.  God doesn’t put us on an impossible race and then tell us to try to get the prize. He says you are on a race, there is a prize and there is a way you can run in order to win.  Put your shoes on, fix your eyes on Jesus the author and finisher of our faith and run the race well!  We can finish our .11.  We can run our race.  Even those of us who have never run the race before.

This year, my husband took me back to Nashville to run the same race again.  This time I knew where I was headed and I knew I would make it through.  I had run this race with him before and I had come out stronger.  Running the race with my husband last year gave me confidence that I could run this race again.

I still trust my husband.  He registered me for a race he knew I could handle, even if I thought I could not. It was hard.  I had to run in a way I never had before, but I as I ran, the closer I got to the end, the finish line came into view.  My perspective changed, I crossed the line and at the end I got the prize.

I will always trust my God.  Every race that He has set before me is a race He knows I can handle with Him.  It may be hard, but I will make it through, even if I have never had to run this way before.  Whatever .11 He has ahead, I will run with purpose, not aimlessly, and I will get the prize, a deeper relationship with Jesus, conformed into the image of Christ just a little bit more.  That is a prize worth winning!

What’s your .11?  Where has God called you to run a marked but perilous journey requiring you to give all you have, holding onto Him in order to cross the finish line?  You can trust the One Who has marked out the race.  He started it.  He will finish it.  You will make it through.

Maybe I should end by saying I am a runner.   We all are.  We are not runners in races to receive an earthly prize.  We are runners in the unshakeable Kingdom of God on course to receive a prize that never fades away.

Get out your sneakers, my friend.  Put them on. Keep your eyes open, look straight ahead and run!   Run with purpose the .11 marked out for you!

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory

that far outweighs them all.  2 Corinthians 4:17