Monthly Archives: May 2013

Changing Lanes

…this is a repeat post (from last year), but it seems timely for vacation season when many of us will hit the road. Travel with Christ, my friends…

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When I was a kid, I thought that my parents were the world’s best drivers. Daddy was a drag car racer, so of course he had excellent reaction time and acceleration. But I was most impressed with Mom’s driving skills, probably because I was in the car with her more often. I could not understand how she could make the car move from one lane to another lane. To me, it didn’t seem like she was doing anything and yet the car would move into whichever lane she wanted it to be. Maybe – I imagined as a child would – she would just think about moving into another lane and the car would read her mind. I was disappointed when she tried to explain that changing lanes was not some kind of driver-to-car telepathy. Rather, she really was moving the steering wheel, subtly enough to make the car move aside without…

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The Prize

It just amazes me that our Father God is so majestic and yet so merciful. And powerful but at the same time personal. He truly speaks and acts in our lives tenderly, deliberately, and individually. I’m sure of this because I experience how He teaches me patiently when I need to learn the same lesson over and over again. And how He continually points me back to His voice and His purposes when I’m prone to wander or wallow in discouragement. Sometimes through different circumstances or various people, the same messages will coincide, and I’m certain it’s not a coincidence.

It’s graduation season, and whenever I attend a commencement ceremony, I look most forward to the speaker’s address to the graduates. The message is usually filled with inspiration, challenge, and vision. After all, the word “commencement” means “beginning.”  It’s obviously an occasion to congratulate the graduates on their accomplishments but it’s most importantly a time to direct their energies and hopes toward the future.

For this reason, as I was preparing to graduate from seminary two years ago, I chose to memorize Philippians 3: 13 – 14 ~

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (words of the Apostle Paul).

As the big day drew near, I mediated on this passage and prayed that my heart and mind would be focused not upon worldly success or gainful employment but upon the upward call of God in Christ.  I wasn’t sure what this would look like in terms of future ministry. I was receiving a degree in Christian counseling, yet I was pretty certain that God would use my training in unexpected ways. Unlike most of my classmates, I didn’t feel lead to pursue the path toward counseling licensure and practice. I wanted to go out into hospitals, nursing homes, and crisis pregnancy centers, perhaps serving in a way similar to a chaplain.

Standing in the lobby as we awaited the processional, my fellow graduates were buzzing with excitement. There was nervous talk about their next steps, such as taking the licensure exams and applying for residencies. Several of them asked me when I was taking the exam and where I was seeking a position. When I replied that I didn’t have immediate plans for either step, they were perplexed. “But,” a classmate protested, “you should follow through right away before all this becomes….a  waste.”

Hmm. Thousands of dollars and countless hours of work. A waste.  Geez – not the most cheery thought as I walked toward my diploma!

As I sat among the rows of people with black robes and silly hats, I glanced over the graduation program. And my eyes fell on this Scripture on the back cover:

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For me, it was the sweetest moment of affirmation. The Word doesn’t say “press on to the most logical step” or “press on toward what makes you professional and significant” or “press on toward a job.”  No, the Holy Spirit reminded me that my goal is the prized upward call of Christ. Certainly my classmates, in their pursuit of becoming Christian counselors, were also seeking God’s will and His Kingdom purposes. Having received the same rigorous training, I highly appreciate and respect their very important ministries. But the call of Christ for me was to be different, and in that moment God reassured me that it was good. Underneath the uniform black robes and silly hats, all of us graduates were created uniquely for God’s personalized plans.

The prize lies wherever Christ’s love compels us. It may be in a counseling practice, the backstreets of town, an orphanage in China, your kitchen, a Bible study, your office, the yard that connects you with your neighbor, or a nursing home. When Christ’s love compels you and you go, nothing is wasted.

So, fast forward two years, and I am sitting at a friend’s graduation from seminary. Honestly, the speaker doesn’t capture my interest this time, but I do remember one thing he has to say: “God doesn’t use a measuring stick.”

I think about that as I drive home, having congratulated my friend and having spoken with several familiar people who asked, “So, what are you doing now?” With all honesty, I replied that I happily love my family, serve my church, and volunteer at a hospital and a nursing home.  Only one person asked why I’m not using my training. It doesn’t really bother me. I’m slowly learning that while a paid position could be really nice, it doesn’t validate me or my degree.

God doesn’t use a measuring stick. The same is true for you. God’s love and purpose for you doesn’t depend on what you have or haven’t accomplished. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” When Christ’s love compels you and you go, it’s joyfully significant. My sweet husband and I trust that one day we’ll see an eternal return for our investment.

There are days when I struggle with discouragement or selfish motives. I am a “Martha” (Luke 10: 38 – 42) at heart, and Marthas often try to find their significance from what they do. But Jesus calls out the “Mary” in me – the heart of devotion and worship for what He has already done. Jesus said that this is “the one thing needful” (verse 42).

Notice that Paul said, “This one thing I do…” His one thing, his focus, his purpose was in living his values – supremely the Love of Christ. When we truly live out what we value, I believe that the prize is discovering the freedom, simplicity, and significance of God’s personal call upon our lives.

I’ve been blessed with an incredible opportunity to stay at home with my girl, love on my husband and our parents, and serve in ministry with amazing people in my church and community. Perhaps there will be different seasons with different opportunities, but I’m cherishing this one. And when another season comes, I’ll continue to look forward to the prize of God’s call and go where Christ’s love compels me.

On the day that I graduated, my husband presented me with a treasured gift – a beautiful new study Bible. Without speaking with me beforehand (this was a surprise), he chose a verse and asked a sweet friend to write it in calligraphy on the inside of my Bible:

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God is so mighty and merciful – so powerful and personal! Sometimes the same messages will coincide, and I’m certain it’s not a coincidence.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again. 2 Corinthians 5: 14 & 15

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Jeremiah 29:11

The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; Your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of Your hands. Psalm 138:8

He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the Day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

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Seeking His Face (a lesson from a flat tire)

Thud whump, thud whump, thud whump….In other words, the sound of afternoon plans being cancelled (or the sound of a flat tire).  Either way, I realize that I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. So, after a call goes out to AAA, I sit and wonder “Why?” Not because I’m frustrated – I’m really not. My plans for the afternoon weren’t urgent, and there are much worse places to be stuck than under a shady tree on a beautiful day in the safe parking lot of my daughter’s school.  But I’m curious about this scenario because for some reason I felt strongly COMPELLED to have lunch with Caroline. Maybe she’s upset or having a bad day, I thought. God is telling me to go. So I greet Caroline, and she’s cool. Her day is going well – no problems, no drama, and no need for mom to save her day.  We had a carefree visit, and off I (intend to) go.

Okay, I muse, then there must be a special reason my tire is flat.

The mechanic from AAA arrives so surprisingly fast that I’m actually disappointed because I haven’t had enough time to figure this out. Then it hits me – maybe he needs Jesus!

I don’t want to hover while he mumbles about what a pain it is to get the spare tire out of an older Odyssey.  So I sit on the curb and open up the Jesus Calling book that I had in the car. I wonder – what does God wants me to say?

Opening the book, I notice the verse on the page reads, “Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.” (Psalm 105:4)

The word “seek” grabs my attention because I had recently written a post about my dog that used to “seek” me out at school (see “Pursued”).  The Father seeks His children as a shepherd seeks his sheep. Psalm 23 promises that His goodness and mercy pursue us (seek us, follow us) all the days of our lives.

There are many instances in Scripture of the verb “seek” but most of them are written as a Word of command and a Word of promise to the children – to the sheep – to us.

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.  Deuteronomy 4:29

Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always. 1 Chronicles 16:11 (same as Psalm 105:4!)

…if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

My heart says of You, “Seek His face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek. Psalm 27:8

Of course, I wasn’t thinking of all these Scriptures as I was sitting on the curb. I’m looking them up now, having safely arrived home with three good tires and one donut.  But while I sat, the Holy Spirit prompted me to pray for the mechanic – to pray that whatever was happening in his life, he would seek the Father and yield to His pursuing love. And hardly before I could say “amen,” the mechanic was finishing his work, instructing me to not drive above 50 MPH, and getting back into his truck.  I thanked him, but that was all I could say.

I trust that God heard my prayer and already has an answer that I’ll never know, but apparently there was nothing else extra-ordinary about my extended visit to school. I had a flat tire because I had a flat tire.

As this entire situation played out, I was thinking about what I could offer. But sometimes God makes me, the slow learner, stop and simply observe. I’m thinking that God wants me to sit with the word “seek” for awhile.

The question struck me – don’t we most often seek God when we’re deflated and desperate?

But the Word, in several places, tells us to seek God’s face. When you love someone, what feature about him or her is most endearing to you? The face.

God pursues us not that we will call on Him when we’re in a bind but that we will seek Him with the same passion. When you study someone’s face, you learn how he expresses himself and what he cares about. Looking deeply into another’s face indicates relationship. This kind of relationship is developed in ordinary moments. Not just desperate moments but daily moments.

When the unexpected and the interruptions come – be they major or minor – the person who has sought God in the ordinary moments will find Him in the extraordinary ones.

In the words of Emily Judson (the wife of Adoniram Judson, America’s first foreign missionary): “The person who would do great things well must practice daily on little ones; and she who would have the assistance of the Almighty in important acts must be daily and hourly accustomed to consult His will in the minor affairs of life.”

I’m going to take some time and focus on seeking God’s face. What does that look like on a daily basis? Perhaps there will be other interruptions and lessons along the way, and things to share with you. I’d love to hear what you’re learning too!

Those who know Your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek You. Psalm 9:10

You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him. Lamentations 3:25

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:33

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. Hebrews 11:6

Resource:  Quote from Emily Judson in “Disruptions, Delays, Inconveniences”: Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter – May/June 1988. http://elisabethelliot.blogspot.com/2011_12_01_archive.html

Pursued

Maybe if I hadn’t been in middle school, I would have thought it was funny.  But when you’re in sixth grade, it’s hard to laugh when others are laughing at you.  I remember hearing an outburst of laughter and surprise when suddenly I realized that MY DOG was in my classroom! There was instant chaos as Charlie bounded over to my desk. There was no mistaking him for anyone else’s dog. Oh, he was thrilled to see me! My classmates thought this was the most energizing thing to happen at school in weeks. But my teacher and I… well, we weren’t exactly excited. My mom was as shocked as I was when I had to call her from the school office and ask her to come get Charlie.

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Charlie was a boxer mix – a big dog and a good dog. I loved him although I didn’t appreciate his amazing sense of smell, especially when he did it again. He escaped from home and ran about one and a half miles up Providence Road (two lanes back then, but heavily traveled) to my school. After a twelve-year-old accomplice let him in the building, Charlie somehow found me – this time in science class. He was so happy to see me that he knocked over the teacher’s potted plants with his tail and jumped up and down in the soil.

Remember “Mary Had a Little Lamb?”

He followed her to school one day, school one day, school one day. He followed her to school one day which was against the rule.

It made the children laugh and play, laugh and play, laugh and play. It made the children laugh and play to see a (dog) at school.

 Just how every sixth grade girl wants to be known.

Oh well, I couldn’t stay mad at Charlie for long. That’s how dogs love.

Now we have a “Toby” in our family. As I walk around the house, he bumps his wet nose against my ankle to remind me that he is literally right on my heels. Dogs win our hearts with their joyful devotion.   As Charlie showed us, they’ll go to great lengths to show love.

A few nights ago, after I came home from a study of Romans and snuggled up with Caroline and Toby for bedtime, Caroline asked me to tell her the story about Charlie (again).  As Caroline snickered at the scenario in her mind, I remembered Romans and our small group discussion:

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

 “I can hardly comprehend how He loved me, chose me, and sought me out.”

“God loved me and drew me to faith before I ever had a thought of Him.”

“It amazes me that God pursues me.”

It’s true – without the initiative of God, we couldn’t recognize or value His love. As Thomas Aquinas described Him, God is the “first mover.” God goes before us even while He pursues us.

“You go before me and follow me.” Psalm 139:5

“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure.” Ephesians 1: 4 – 5

 “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins…. We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4: 10, 19

Words can’t even describe what an astounding thought it is that the God of majesty would intentionally seek me. But the Word assures me that this is very reason Christ came. Luke 19:10 says “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

There’s nothing in me that would draw God to me, except that my sin magnifies His mercy.

In his commentary on Romans 5:8, John Piper says: “God’s love is shown in this—exactly in this—that His love did not wait for any moral improvement in us.”

God pursued me, not because I am lovable but because He is Love and without Him I am lost.

Hear His Shepherd’s heart in Ezekiel 34:

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land… I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…”

And again in Luke 15:

“Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’

Once again in Psalm 23:

“The Lord is my Shepherd… I have everything I need. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul…. Surely Your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life…” (New Living Translation).

The Message puts Psalm 23:6 this way:Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. “

All the commotion of a canine in the classroom is just a small picture of our Father’s joyfully persistent love for us. Let’s open our hearts to receive and return it abundantly!

Resource: John Piper – http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/the-depth-of-christs-love-its-undeserving-objects

Divine Appointments

“Interesting – that sounds just like someone we met at one of the craft shows.” My sister-in-law Linda continued, “She was selling vases that she had decorated, and as we talked with her we learned that she had experienced a traumatic brain injury as a child.”

My husband, John, couldn’t believe it. “Do you think it could be the same person?”

We were sitting at my parents’ home with mom, dad, my brother, and his wife. John had been describing his experience as a host at Joy Prom the previous evening (more about Joy Prom – http://dimlyburning.com/2013/04/26/anticipating-joy/). He shared how much he enjoyed the prom with his guest, a young woman who, as a 9 year old child, had suffered a brain injury in an automobile accident. She spent 9 months in a coma with many uncertainities about her recovery. Years later, Susan changed her middle name to “Grace” in tribute to God’s gracious, healing work in her life. Although she is affected daily by her brain injury, Susan says that the joy of the Lord is her strength. This was Susan’s first experience at Joy Prom, and John escorted her through a special evening created in honor of adults with special needs.

As the guests arrive to Joy Prom, they are introduced to a wildly cheering crowd. Female guests are paired with male hosts and vice versa. 400 guests are matched with 400 hosts in a seemingly random way, but my husband is convinced that the evening with his guest was divinely appointed. As John and Susan got to know each other, John learned that Susan had a gift for decorating glass vases with decoupage. With her special talent, Susan participates in craft shows and shares how God has done beautiful things in her life. Her mission is to be a vessel of God’s grace, to show how God has filled her with His love and how He purposes to use her gifts and even her disability to honor Him.

Instead of being bitter about becoming disabled, Susan chose to focus on the ways that she is especially abled by God to serve Him.

“We bought one of her vases for you,” Linda said to my parents. “I think it’s in your kitchen.”

I remembered the vase sitting on the window sill, and as I picked it up, I noticed that tucked inside the beautiful vase was the same business card that Susan had given to John the night before.

“You’re right! This is one of Susan’s vases!”

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Susan, through her artwork, demonstrates what happens when a person gives his or her life as an offering, weaknesses and all. It is the weaknesses, in fact, that bring out the beauty of God’s grace.

In the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4: 6 – 7:

Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers…. It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful. If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots (earthen vessels) of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us.

The treasure in the earthen vessel, according to Paul, is the precious Message of the Gospel – the personal understanding of God through Jesus Christ. No matter how able-bodied we may be, we are completely insufficient to accomplish in our own strength what is accomplished by the Gospel.

It is a priceless gift. Grace is not a product of our eloquence, abilities, intelligence, winsome personality, or right choices. A vessel is a receiver – a holder of that which is poured into it. Such are the redeemed of God.

Our natural tendency is to be full of ourselves – our accomplishments, our good works, or our talents, but the truth is there is nothing about us that could commend us to God. We have all fallen short. Sin is the ultimate disability.

When we awaken to the Truth that our goodness is about as worthy as a dirty rag (Isaiah 64:6), we finally recognize that we are needful, empty, hungry and thirsty. And then as empty vessels, God fills us with His mercy. When we pour out ourselves and lift the cup up to Him, it overflows.

A life like Susan’s is the picture of the overflow. Her cup may be fragile, her vessel may be cracked – the same is true of all of us in more or less obvious ways. But Susan offers her weaknesses to become portals to God’s strength. John’s divine appointment with Susan has inspired us to do the same.

Ephesians 2:10 – For we are God’s handiwork. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He appointed for us long ago.

2 Corinthians 12: 9 – 10 (words of Paul): But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.