Friday, November 17, 2017

Seeing...and singing

       "For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us...Bless the Lord, all His works, in all places of His dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!"
        Everywhere and at every time, the Lord is working, moving, and revealing His handiwork.  What a creation...what a Creator!  Even a predawn walk with our dog--while crossing over the beltline bridge for pete's sake!--we see His glory broadcast all over the darkened highway--
        Did the folks driving along see it?  Did they notice?  Did they give thanks to the One whose steadfast love is higher than the heavens?  And how many times have I missed His gracious, glorious gifts?  And when I glimpse His gifts, is my immediate response to "Bless the Lord, O my soul?"  Oh my, I don't want to miss any opportunity to bless Him and give Him glory!  But all too often--in my busyness, preoccupation, or plain old self-centeredness--I rush right by and forfeit the joy of praising the Creator for the big and the little blessings He showers upon us so relentlessly.   
        I couldn't help but think of A.W. Tozer's wonderful words--
        ""We make a mistake if we do not learn to admire God in all things, great and small; for a new rich mine would be opened in our consciousness if we could learn to recognize God in nature as well as in grace!  We do acknowledge that the God of nature is also the God of grace; and it is true that we glorify God's redeeming grace no less when we glorify His creating and sustaining power.  When Christ came to redeem us, He stepped into the framework of an already existent nature.
         If we will obey and believe, we can go on pushing back the narrow borders of our spiritual world until it takes in the whole creation of God!"
         Thank You, Father, for Your glorious creation...from the magnificent sunrise to the refreshing air of autumn to the carpet of brilliantly colored leaves on our path to our silly stick-toting dog. 
    You created it all, You sustain it all, and You are redeeming it all.  Help us to see You in every atom of the world around us and then to immediately turn our seeing into a ceaseless chorus of praise and thanksgiving.   
     Please keep us seeing and then singing...for You are forever worthy.  To God be the glory.         

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Pausing to truly see

         Mr. Bingley...stopping to "smell the roses" (sort of) by staring at a butterfly alighting on a mum.  Butterflies and mums at the same time?--what a happy fall surprise.
         I've noticed Bingley does a far, far better of this than yours truly--this ceasing and pausing to observe and study the remarkable world around him.  Yeah sure, sometimes his careful observation results in sudden, loud, annoying barking, but maybe that's his way of hollering, "Wow! Check this out!  Can you believe God made this amazing butterfly...or bumble bee...or dog...or Fed Ex man...or garbage truck...or tree waving in the wind...or giant stick...or____...." (just fill in the blank with whatever has captured his full attention for the moment).
        What's keeping us from noticing and then thanking?  Noticing not just the beauty of the world around us but noticing the people all about us.  Busyness?  Preoccupation?  Sorrow?  Overwhelming discouragement?  Plain old selfishness?  Hustling to the next activity?  Long, relentless to-do lists?
       Whatever the reason, we still have the choice whether to rush by in our hurry and worry, ignoring the beauty, missing the moment, brushing past that person--that eternal, made-in-God's image soul.  Or we can pause to open our eyes, look around, gaze rather than glance, savor, offer a hug or a smile or a you-can-do-it, or a prayer, and then thank the Giver of all good gifts. 
        And here's the amazing thing: in the process, the Lord often uses that pause of noticing, caring, sharing, and thanking to renew our weary hearts and strengthen our souls.  We simply can't out-give God. 
          Shauna Niequist writes about such a time when she was overwhelmed with life.  In the span of a couple of weeks, she'd hosted several showers and a rehearsal dinner, changed jobs, helped care for the needs of several dear friends while looking after her own two small children, and on top of all that, had a husband with complications from the removal of his wisdom teeth.  We've all had those seasons of life, haven't we?  Nothing horrible, but just too much of a lot!  And all we can see are needs, deficits, and difficulties. 
           Niequist recounts how she rushed out to get more gauze for her ailing husband and zoomed through the store, hurling things into the cart.  "When I got back home, he told me that I bought the wrong gauze.  I stomped out the door, and then I stopped in my tracks.  Across the street, one of the tallest trees, twice as high as a two-story house, was the brightest, lit-from-within red I have ever seen.  I had not noticed one stop of its turning.  I had stopped seeing the important things.  I saw the to-do list.  I had gifts to buy and people to celebrate.  But I wasn't seeing the people of the celebrations.  I wasn't seeing anything beyond the chaos of my life."
         Oh what a reminder that beauty and wonder is constantly happening all around us.  And people who need to be loved or encouraged or appreciated or simply noticed and thanked are all around us, all the time.  Even in our sometimes chaotic lives, even when it feels hard and dark, even when we're facing too much of a lot, might we pause to truly see, to savor, to thank, to encourage, to love, to thank, to bless even in some small way. 
         Open our eyes, Father, that we might see, truly see. 
         To God be the glory. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Tune our hearts

        "I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth." (Ps.34:1)
        "Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim His salvation day after day." (Ps.16:23)
        "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (I Thess.5:16-18)
         "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!" (Phil.4:4)
          A little reminder to all of us that rejoicing in the Lord isn't an occasional thing...or a seasonal thing...or a frequent thing...or even a most of the time thing.  Nope--it's a constant, continual, habitual part of our lives every single day! 
        We're to "bless the Lord at all times:" His praises should be "continually in my mouth."  "Day after day" we should be singing and proclaiming His salvation.  And we're to rejoice always: give thanks "in all circumstances."  I don't see any limitations or delineations there, do you?  When it doubt--shout His praises out! 
          Worship and thanksgiving should be our daily occupation and preoccupation.  Is it?  I wonder: what does it take to cause me to start grumbling...or comparing...or envying...or complaining...or self-pitying?  The antidote for every single one of those is always and forever to choose to start worshiping and rejoicing.  When we can't find reason to praise because of the heavy load we're bearing...we can always rejoice in our Lord.  And  even we can't rejoice in our circumstances, we can forever rejoice in our salvation.
            I loved this challenge from A.W. Tozer: "It is my experience that the totality of our Christian lives--our entire attitude as persons--must be towards the worship of God!  If you do not know the presence of God in your office, your factory your home, then God is not in the church you attend either! I became a Christian when I was a young man working in a tire factory in Akron, Ohio.  I remember my work there--but I remember my worship there too!  I had plenty of worshipful tears in my eyes. No one ever asked me about them, but I would not have hesitated to explain them.  You can learn to use certain skills until they are automatic.  I became so skillful that I could do my work and then I could worship God even while my hands were busy.  If the love of God is in us and the Spirit of God is breathing praise within us, all the musical instruments in heaven are suddenly playing in full support! Even our thoughts become a sanctuary in which God can dwell."
            Might this day be a day of rejoicing in the Lord...and then tomorrow...and then the next...and the next...all the way to heaven.  Might our thanksgiving daily build a golden bridge of praise all the way till we meet our glorious King face to face. 
          Father, Help us, teach us, enable us to praise and worship You continually throughout our days.  Tune our hearts to sing Your praise, as the great old hymn proclaims.  Sometimes my heart needs some serious tuning, Abba, but You are the perfect One to tune and perfect our hearts that we might become magnificent instruments singing and proclaiming Your praise.  You are forever wonderful and worthy.  Thank You, thank You, thank You.  Amen.
           To God be the glory. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Displace and replace

        Day 3 of the gratitude challenge--
         "He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, 'My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.'  Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!  My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me." (Lam.3:16-20)
         So whose blessed and encouraged by those words in Lamentations?  hmm?  Well, don't stop reading, because here are the very next verses--   
         But this I call to mind, and therefore have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness." (Lam.3:21-23)
          Yep, right after honestly assessing the dark and desperate situation of his people, the Jews, who are now defeated, have lost their homeland, and are captives in exile, this are Jeremiah's very next words--"BUT THIS I CALL TO MIND, AND THEREFORE HAVE HOPE..."
          And what's his hope? The steadfast love of the Lord that will never. ever cease.  And His mercies that are new and fresh every single morning--even mornings that we think are dawning dark and desperate...nope, not to the One who knows all and can do all.  And His faithfulness that is great beyond all our imagining.  Because our idea of "great" surely pales in comparison to Almighty God's idea of GREAT!
           And what's the key?  "But this I call to mind."  It's not just a passive mamby pampby wish.  No, it's a conscious calling to mind. Choosing to set our minds and thoughts in a new direction.  We've got to counsel our minds and call to mind what we know but don't feel.  What we should remember but have forgotten.  What we believe but have allowed to be clouded by sorrow or doubt or fear.  We've got to walk by faith, not by our ever vacillating feelings.
           By faith--not by feelings--we choose to call His Word, His character, His goodness, His gifts to mind.  Practically that means going to His Word, finding a promise and rehearsing it over and over again.  Or choosing a new soundtrack for the background of your mind--replace that soundtrack of despair or doubt or anxiety with a soundtrack of worship, life, hope.
           Choose to take that fear or discouragement or frustration and replace it with His Word, with a worship song, with your thankfulness list! 
           Displace and replace.
          Yes, we have to choose to do it--sometimes a thousand times of day--and we may have to start very, very small...but start.  It's never too late to start afresh, and it's always too early to quit.
           So today, Lord, thank You for Your beautiful Word.  Thank You for Your promises.  Thank You for Your love. Thank You for Your faithfulness.
            And thank You today for a walk with a dear friend.  Thank You for the spectacular beauty of the leaves in the shining sun.  Thank You for a gift from a precious friend.  Thank You for the priceless joy of friends.  Thank You for Mr. B's happy nap in the sun--
   And thank You for being our forever faithful Lord.  Might we rehearse and recall Your goodness, and remember and write down Your gifts to us this day.  Because there is always, always, always something for which to be grateful.  To God be the glory. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Thanksgiving Challenge!

        It's November 1st!  Do you know what that means?
        Thanksgiving is coming!  Yahoo--the best holiday season of the year (well, at least in my humble opinion).  What's not to love?  Generally beautiful weather--not too cold yet, but chilly and invigorating.  The fall leaves are still colorful for a few weeks yet.  Pumpkin everything--Hallelujah!  It's the Bubba Shrimp time of the year for pumpkin--from pumpkin cake to pumpkin lattes, to pumpkin pie, to pumpkin candles, to pumpkin chocolate chip bread, to pumpkin pasta, to pumpkin beauty products.  Thank You, Lord, for creating pumpkins...You did pretty much a home-run on that one!
         But that's not all there is to love about Thanksgiving.  There's pilgrims and our remarkable heritage of godliness, perseverance, and faithfulness in the most difficult of circumstances.  There's family coming home and getting together--praise, praise, praise God for that!  And surely most life-changing of all: there's a huge emphasis on gratitude and thankfulness.  We simply cannot be reminded enough to be thankful--thankful to our glorious God and thankful to all the people He's put in our lives. 
         So here's the deal: how about joining me in a 30 day gratitude challenge?  And that means something very simple: everyday, let's be very deliberate to notice and then thank the Lord for His blessings and goodness in our lives that day.  Write down or record in some way whatever it is for which you're grateful to God that day. 
           It doesn't have to be long or elaborate.  Even if it's just one tiny thing--because sometimes in the hard seasons of life it's more of a struggle to find reasons for thanksgiving.  But that's especially the time we need it most badly!  When life seems uncertain or dark or desperate, we need to remind ourselves of God's unfailing goodness, grace, mercy, power, forgiveness, and love. And we especially need to notice the gifts He showers upon us even in those sad or challenging seasons--the beauty of a fall sunset, the song of a bird, the hug of a friend, the happy "welcome home!" of a dog, the invigorating bite of the air, the joy of a sweet memory, the comforting warmth of a hot beverage, the encouragement of God's Word.
           No matter what you're enduring or facing, there are always, always, always myriad reasons for gratitude.  So start your list--even if it's just one thing a day.  When our daughter was so sick in the ICU and fear threatened to totally overwhelm me, I started--by faith, NOT feeling--listing His gifts.  The Starbucks downstairs...our dear family and friends helping and keeping us going...the wonderful ICU nurses...  It was truly remarkable how starting that simple, short list would change my attitude and infuse me with a shot of hope...a shot of "God is here and He is good, and I will feel Him with my faith even when I can't feel Him with my feelings."
           So there you have it--30 days of listing your reasons for gratitude.  Oh, and one more thing: how about sharing at least one of those reasons for thankfulness with at least one other person?  You could email them or text them or call them or tell them over dinner.  Because thankfulness shared not only multiplies our joy but is also contagious!  Who knows how someone else might be encouraged or strengthened by your expression of gratitude? 
           By the way, one of the things I'm thankful for today is the ministry of Young Life.  Thank You Lord for the difference Young Life has made in the lives of so many kids across this world...including the Fountain crew and their friends in our little neck of the world.  Thank You for the selfless leaders who give of themselves in countless ways and who invest relentlessly in the lives of others.  And thank You for the Raleigh Young Life banquet tonight and the privilege of telling Your story and Your work across this city. 
           Might all our lives be a gigantic thank You to the One who has done all and given us all.  He is worthy of all our thanksgiving and praise!  To God be the glory.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

On frogs and friends

                          A little food for weekend thought--

        "Be glad of life because it gives you the chance to love and to work and to play and to look at the stars." Henry Van Dyke
        Yesterday afternoon, I went out on our deck to sit down on a rocking chair and do some reading.  I glanced down and noticed a bright green leaf in the middle of the seat.  As I absent-mindedly looked down to brush it away, I was stunned to discover this little fellow--
 Holy cow!  Where did he come from?  I must say, I've always thought of frogs as not particularly lovely, but he was pretty stunning with his lime green color and yellow accents. 
        I decided to move to a different location and give him the opportunity to hop away.  After all, isn't that what frogs are supposed to do?  Aren't they jumpy, active little critters? 
        Apparently this little guy didn't get that memo, because I never saw him so much as move a muscle (uh, do frogs have muscles?  Well, he never moved a membrane.)  So I waited, and a good hour or two later, came back out, and he had moved...but just a teeny get out of the sun, I presume--
        I simply couldn't help but be amazed once more by God's creation.  What a Creator to craft such variety, such complexity, such stunning colors and shapes and textures!  Can you imagine the creativity involved in thinking up a frog?!  Seriously, who would do that? 
       Only the Sovereign of the Universe, that's who! 
       He's infinite and holy and glorious...but He's also joyous and creative and loving and fun.  Yes, fun--after all, HE created fun.  HE created laughter.  HE created neon colors and clown fish and giraffes and porpoises and frogs.  I mean, how can you not smile and chuckle when you look at some of His astounding handiwork? 
        Oh Father, keep us awake and alert to all You have made and all You are doing.  Don't let us miss it.  Don't allow us to slip into complacency, but instead instill in us an endless sense of wonder and gratitude.  And might our daily response then be to worship and thank You.  Worship of our awesome Creator and gratitude for His myriad gifts...and for the gift of life. 
        But I also have to add one more thing this little fellow reminded me of--my dear friend's Mama who recently went to heaven. Her mom apparently added the frog emoji to all her texts to her children and grandchildren. 
        Why, you might ask?  Because of the acronym for frog: Fully Rely On God.  Makes you feel a bit different about the lowly frog, doesn't it?!
        I'd heard that little acronym a while back and have always loved it, but now it means far more,   because it reminds me of the priceless gift of my friend and of her remarkable, godly Mama.  All gifts--friends, mamas, frogs, and most of all--Almighty God--upon whom we can always and forever fully rely!
        So today, open your eyes and see all that God has for you.  It's all around you, because He is a relentless gift-giver.  And sometimes, His gifts come in mighty small and surprising packages!  But I kinda think that's the kind He likes the best....'cause He loves to see us smile. 
        Thank You, Father, today for frogs and friends and fun. And thank You that no matter what we're facing or where we're going, we can always and forever Fully Rely On You. 
         To God be the glory. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Door

        It's a seemingly small, tiny moment I still remember vividly to this day.  Our daughter, Janie, was desperately sick in the ICU--unconscious, high fever, unresponsive.  My dear sister and husband insisted I go to a hotel room nearby for a few hours of sleep while they remained with Janie for the night.  Exhausted, I fell into bed...but felt jittery, tearful, frightened, alone.  Despite bone-deadening fatigue, I'd be able to fall asleep shackled by this fear and sorrow. 
         And then His still, small voice spoke to my heart.  I don't how else to describe it.  A gentle, peaceful whisper to a thirsty, terrified heart--"I am the Door."  Words I had read days earlier in the Gospel of John.  "I am the Door.  If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture." (John 9:10) 
        His voice spoke Truth and peace into my very soul--I am the Door.  I am the Door in the midst of all this fear, uncertainty, sadness.  Walk through Me and find rest for your soul.  And I did...and for the first time in days, slept.  Knowing that my Savior had our girl and was holding her in His arms.  And no matter what happened, He would have us too.  For He was the Door in that wall of fear and sorrow.
         Why this sudden vivid recall of this particular memory?  I don't know--the Lord suddenly brought it to mind, but I have to believe our Good Shepherd knows someone out there needs to be reminded today that He is the Door.
        He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life...and He is the Way through your sorrow, your suffering, your terror, your depression, your pain, your uncertainty.  He was the Door, He is the Door, and He will be the Door forever and ever. 
         I just found these words I scribbled down weeks ago.  They are from Nabeel Qurershi, a brilliant Pakistani American physician, who was a former Muslim, dramatically converted to Christianity and who then became a powerful apologist for Christ.  Nabeel recently died from stomach cancer at the age of 34.  As he endured the horrors of his terminal cancer, Nabeel shared these words:
        "If you are going through something right now, if you are suffering and struggling, what I have learned is that there is some door that the suffering and struggling has opened for you that would not be open if you were not struggling or suffering.  Walk through that door.  Or dwell on that door and praise God for that door.  Take advantage of that door.  Don't waste your suffering." 
           Nabeel did that in the midst of his battle with cancer.  He walked through that door and has impacted untold thousands through his testimony.  And now, having walked through the ultimate Door, he rejoices in glory. 
           There is always a door.  No matter what sorrow, what terror, what perplexing hardship you are going through right now, there is always a door.  And that Door is Jesus.  He is the Doorway through the suffering.  He is the Doorway that will enable you to endure that suffering.  He is the Doorway to hope, joy, and peace in the midst of that suffering and on the other side of that suffering.  He is the Doorway that will ensure that your suffering--every painful shred of it--will somehow, someway, be used for your ultimate good and His glory.   And He is the Doorway to no-more-sorrow, no-more-separation, no-more-struggling, no-more-fearful-uncertainty, abundant, perfect, glorious eternal Life.
           Walk through that Door today. 
            To God--the Door, our Door--be the glory.