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November newsletter: Photograph

Posted on by Laura Posted in Newsletters | Leave a comment

You could see the smoke from a mile away, and trouble always draws a crowd
They wanna tell me that it’ll be okay, but that’s not what I need right now, not while my house is burning down
I know someday, I know somehow, I’ll be okay, but not right now

Tell me if the hope that you know is true ever feels like a lie even from a friend
when their words are salt in an open wound, and they just can’t seem to understand that you haven’t even stopped the bleeding yet

I know someday, I’ll be okay, but not right now, No, not right now
Don’t tell me when I’m grieving, That this happened for a reason
Maybe one day we’ll talk about the dreams that had to die for new ones to come alive
But not right now

 

While I wait for the smoke to clear, you don’t even have to speak
Just sit with me in the ashes here and together we can pray for peace to the One acquainted with our grief
I know someday, I know somehow
I’ll be okay But not right now………………(Music: Not Right Now, written by Jason Gray)

 

I have a thing that Jane just doesn’t get.  Actually, she just thinks it’s weird.  That thing is sitting at my desk and watching the screen saver go from picture to picture on my computer.  You see, all the pictures on my screen saver are pictures I’ve taken over the years traveling in Colorado.  They always look new–fresh to me.  In them, I always seem to see something for the first time, no matter how many times I’ve looked at them.

 

Pictures can be valuable things.  They generally contain memories or histories and some, as in this case, just natural beauty.  But, pictures are only a momentary pause and they cannot represent anything more than that one time, the moment, they were taken.  At various times in our lives, we seem to stop and take a mental picture of our life and define our whole life by that single moment.  In a sense, we redefine our lives by what’s happening only on that day, at that exact time.  We get our picture out and show it to people as though, that’s it, that’s my lot in life, the way it’s going to be.  However, realistically, our lives typically don’t stop and stay in one condition.  Life moves, it’s more likely represented as a movie than by a single picture.  Sure, you can stop and look at a given moment and perhaps get discouraged by what you see at that time.  But truly, the Gospel is an agent of change, maybe in a moment, maybe not an immediate/overnight remedy, but a remedy just the same. Look at Paul’s snapshot: ‘…in stripes above measure, in prisons, more frequent, in deaths oft.  Of Jews, five times received forty stripes, save one.  Thrice beaten with rods, once stoned, thrice suffered shipwreck, a night and a day have I been in the deep; in journeying often, in perils of waters, perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils in the false brethren, in weariness and painfulness, in watchings, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness’ [2 Cor. 11:23-27] (Flash)! (Flash)! (Flash)!

 

I’m as guilty as anyone having occasionally frozen my misery, baptizing it with hopelessness and fear.  Over time, I’ve been adjusting that pattern of behavior.  About 35 years ago, I was in the middle of an important decision that, had I followed through at that time, would have turned out to be a mistake and made matters worse.  I thought I’ll just take things into my own hands, rid myself of the situation, the uneasiness and its weariness.  Instead of letting the Spirit of God speak to my heart and follow Him, I came very close to letting my brain rule and reign in that incidence.  Fortunately, that very day, Jane phoned me at work and relayed to me that one of her friends had just called and, while in prayer, she had received a message for me.  Hebrews 10:35 begins, ‘cast not away your confidence which has great recompense of reward.  For you have need of patience, that, after you have done the will of God you might receive the promise.’  From that day forward my picture-taking to define my life pretty much stopped.  I guess the end result is that I started believing more than ever before in Paul’s advice to ‘judge nothing before its time (season).’ (1 Cor. 4:5)  There have been huge, many times overwhelming, circumstances that Jane and I have faced over the years.  Many of those you’re aware of and some no one but she and I have any knowledge of.   Those two scriptures have been the rudder that guided us though the past few years. We simply know, are firmly convinced, that God is in the middle of our lives no matter what’s going on to us or around us on any given day.  There is no day that He’s not with us no matter what might be going on that day.  Knowing that, knowing that no matter what that day’s picture looks like, gives a confidence that will help you through some rough stuff!  Life can be unfair, cruel, unfavorable, or unstable, but the nature of the Love of God is right in the middle of all that stuff.  He is not just present in the beautiful, but in the storm.  Taking thoughts captive, measuring them by what we know about God is the rule of the day.

 

Additionally, when things do go against us, and we all have that happen occasionally, remember you have a Partner in all situations.  And, importantly, He is not a Partner that has to be persuaded, coerced or begged into stepping into the moment, but a Partner eager to hold, to hope, to encourage, and is a true believer with us.  That Partner’s the same One that stepped into the mess of Eden and joined His creatures in order to provide for them in the middle of their agony.

 

When Jane and I were in Chicago in 2012, she was paralyzed head to toe, on life support, had a battery of doctors and dozens of nurses that met each day to try and get her to tomorrow.  We took no mental pictures or defined our situation by any one day’s circumstances.  We weren’t letting the mental or physical picture that we could obviously see with our eyes define our moment.  We didn’t deny that things were serious, deadly even, but we couldn’t judge any of those days by anything other than what we had learned years before – to not evaluate anything before its season.  Four times in Matthew, once in Mark and two times in Luke, Jesus encouraged us not to take thought of tomorrow.  Jesus was not suggesting we should not hope for or should not plan for tomorrow.  Here, his reference to ‘thought’ is for us not to be anxious or paralyzed with fear about tomorrow.

 

The radio station has in many ways confirmed the necessity of having to ‘live by Faith’.  Someone asked me while we were in Chicago, ‘What’s God teaching you?’  Without thinking about it, my response was, ‘I don’t know about teaching us something new but He’s confirming everything good we’ve ever believed about Him. He’s doing that right here in this terrible moment.”  He is strong when we’re weak; He is faithful when ours has softened a bit.  Our journey has been more of a Faith in Him, rather than a faith in our faith.  I read a quote years ago that when paraphrased goes something like this: ‘God forgive me for trying to interpret You so much all the time instead of just trusting You more’.  Many times the question isn’t how faithful are we to Him, but it’s discovering how profoundly Faithful He is to us. Faith is not something we muster up, drum up, or an intellectual process.  It’s not trying to believe something, it’s relying and trusting Someone.  Faith is personal, intimate, the condition of seeing who God is with fresh clarity.  Life’s like a novel, written with a beginning, middle and a conclusion.  We only read it one page at a time, one day at a time.  Much of our life’s journey is hidden and revealed day by day.  Our role is to be embraced and comforted by His Comfort this day.

 

Paul once described himself as being the same, or constant, no matter his circumstances. Paul had confidence and contentment even in all of those terrible moments mentioned earlier in this letter.  Paul knew the essence of Isa. 59:19: ‘when the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.’  As Jason wrote in his song…’I know someday, I know somehow, I’ll be okay’.  Maybe not in this day’s snap-shot, maybe not this single day, but I will be okay because of His Faithfulness, His presence, because of the simple and profound God of Love.

 

I’ll finish with this David Crowder lyric in his song Oh How He Loves:

‘He is jealous for me, Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are, and how great Your affections are for me.

Knowing that is the beginning of Eternal Life.

Carrollton with We Are The Monks

Posted on by Laura Posted in Concert Photos | Leave a comment

October Newsletter: For Or Because

Posted on by Laura Posted in Newsletters | Leave a comment

For or Because

Recently, during Mark Schultz’s concert, I heard his explanation of how, as a child, his brain worked about being adopted (and even now as an adult).  Seems Mark’s always been fearful that failing to please people might lead to being rejected, even by his loved ones.  The way he expressed that was as a child, being aware of his adoption, being aware of his other siblings being the natural children of his mom and dad, he was always afraid of ‘being sent back’, away from his family, if he wasn’t successful and pleasing.  Imagine that if you can, feeling every day as though one wrong move or an accumulation of moves might add up to disappointing his parents enough that they might just ‘mail’ him back to the adoption agency.  Imagine the constant pressure of that throughout your life.  Mark explained that he always made sure his parents were proud: a high school quarterback, played baseball, graduated college, sang in Nashville– all of that associated with his attempt to please in order to stay loved, stay acceptable.

His story seemed so similar to the image we have of our adoption as children of God.  We constantly imagine ourselves having to be perfect or be rejected, even perhaps be perfect or be hurt.  Sometimes, how we put that in action is to do what we do for God rather than because of God.  Just looking on the surface of for and because there doesn’t seem to be much difference; but, even though subtle, the difference can be significant.  If we aren’t careful, we try and hide from God for fear of reprisal, perhaps even imagine our Father as Someone who’s too fond of harshness toward us.  In contrast, responding to God because implicates a believer’s heart that accepts and understands the Awesomeness of God’s plan, His action and character, and simply reacts with amazement.

For is associated with any action on behalf of and can be accompanied with a feeling of obligation. Because is associated with a motion from a fixed fact, and from my perspective, implies a sense of an action volunteered from the heart.  Like Mark, doing for can be generated in order to stay in good standing.  It’s kinda like knowing my wife doesn’t work for me although she does a ton of work that benefits me.  Jane volunteers to do that because we are related to one another.  Because requires an appreciation rather than an obligation.  Let’s look at it another way, would you rather have your wife (or your husband) do something for you because you frightened, harassed, embarrassed him or her into it or is it more fulfilling if they did that without prompting simply because they cared about you, loved you and volunteered to do it?   That was the heart’s desire of the Father, Son and Spirit from the very beginning of His creation.  They wanted us to choose to be a blessing rather than simply requiring us to be a blessing. There’s a heart difference in that. Behavior modification may work great on your pet, but it’s a lousy way to have a loving relationship between people, or between people and God.  God’s plan for us is very similar to our marriage proposals: there, in choosing a bride we celebrate the bride, we select her out of all the other brides that might be available and make her the center of our affection and vice versa.   It’s a loving choice, a preferred choice.  It’s not an assigned marriage but a choice marriage, and the union of that is superior to one that’s obligated rather than volunteered.  Father, Son and Spirit want that same kind of choosing, actually prefer that choosing, as the way for us to live and a way for us to relate to Them.

God loves choosing rather than heartless robotics.  God as Creator could’ve forced us, softwared us, to serve and perform every action for Him.  Instead He chose to create us with a heart similar to His heart; a heart for choosing Him just as He chose us first.  He made in such a way that we can experience the things of God, experience the joys of God, because of that freedom to choose.  We’re made to become addicted to His stuff rather than preferring our stuff.  God has always wanted your heart involved in His plan, not simply your brain, not just your flesh.  In this life, that can be pretty difficult because we’re trained and reinforced to rely on our biology rather than becoming aware of our spirit.   We’re wooed to selfish pleasure and away from heartfelt relationships. Just watch tv or listen to radio commercials and catalogue them by what they really are pitching, what are they telling us we can’t do without.  From God’s point of view, surely, we’re professional at majoring on the minors.

I remember a quote during one of our Rich Mullins concerts years ago: ‘God doesn’t have any grandchildren.’  Rich was saying, in his usual manner of simplicity, each person must do a choosing, no one travels this life without having made a personal choice about the God of the universe.  Choosing was the plan from the beginning and its still’s the plan for now and any future. Our yelling, or even a good reasonable argument, will not guarantee that people will choose acceptance of God as Lord.  In some sense we’re softwared to be free to succeed, loaded with that potential and possibility to say yes to Him.  Significantly, the reciprocal to that means it’s equally possible to fail at that, to say no.  That’s His deal.  And, there’s really no excuse, even the rocks cry it out!  Jesus said he didn’t come to judge you.  In His wisdom, he knew our own actions and beliefs would judge us, YOU choose this day who you will serve is the all encompassing essence of God’s plan.

Does God need us to work for him or, if we don’t, the work won’t get done?  Does the Creator of all things need the creation to do His work or is He capable of doing what needs to be done by simply possessing all the power as Creator?  God’s desire is that, while capable of all things, we’re invited to participate and discover the pleasure of serving, loving, caring, hoping, trusting, the wonder of His kind of Life by Him living through us.

By our invitation, God’s Spirit reveals himself to us.  I had a friend who would often say to me, ‘you can’t snow the snowman’.  What he meant by that was that you can’t snow, or fool, the Creator of snow.  The Spirit knows when that invitation is present, and when the response is real or when it’s a ‘snow job’.  When real, His presence floods our hearts with His presence.  One of my favorite scriptures is the story of Paul on the road to Damascus.  There, as Paul tells it, Christ was revealed as something Paul already had present. (Gal. 1: 15-16)   The Spirit changed Paul from a killing machine, hateful, arrogant despot into the central spokesman for the message of the Gospel.  Matthew 22:14 reads, ‘for many are called but few are chosen’ seems to only make sense if it’s stated like this:  for many are called, however, more are called than those who actually do the choosing.  It’s God’s desire that none would perish, but perish they will if they don’t volunteer to believe, to trust. Many are invited but few do the choosing to accept the invitation.

Again, with this opportunity to say yes comes the same possibility to say no.  Before the foundation of the world Father, Son, and Spirit made a decision to invite you, me, all to believe.  That plan is a precious plan to Them.  You were always elite, always preferred, loved long before this universe existed and that offer, that invitation to participate, still echoes and functions today.  Responding to that offer with our heart, or simply because of its profound fact-truth, (rather than having it programmed into your brain) is far superior and always desired by God over any obligation to do so.  You get to do this, this wonderful thing.  Equally, you get to say, ‘thank you, but maybe some other time.’  Say yes to that invitation because you recognize what He has done for us, what He has dreamed for us.  Do that because of the profound ‘too good to be true’ offer of this Grace.  Don’t make it a religion, it’s better than that.  Make it a relational, personal, ‘how could I not say yes’ thing.

We’re taught in John 5 that apart from Him we can do nothing. All our efforts, all our ‘for Hims’, can be exhausting.  We need His efforts in combo with ours, ours alone frustrates, His comforts.  Paul said that of all people, he was in the position of being able to boast because of all his attempts to do this thing by and in the flesh. (Phil. 3)  Actually, he was the chief defender of ‘his’ religious faith, represented God’s chosen, and at the same time Paul was the chief persecutor of Christ!  Instead of doing all you can for Jesus, just doing that as an attempt to not be shipped back to the adoption agency, why not try to reverse that a bit and do all you do because of Jesus.  Instead of trying to justify and build a relationship with Jesus (one I might add you already have), why not try and let Jesus build a relationship with you so that He lives in you and ministers through you just because!