Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fellowship of the Unashamed

I posted this quote of an unknown author three years ago on my first blog.  It hung in my dad's office most of my adult life. He read it for me at my husband Michael's funeral because it was something the two of them often talked about and they both agreed they were members of the "Fellowship of the Unashamed."

I have read it several times this past week and my soul is stirred.  It empowers me every time.

I am a member of this fellowship.

I am part of the “Fellowship of the Unashamed.”  I have Holy Spirit power.  The die has been cast.  I’ve stepped over the line.  The decision has been made.  I am a disciple of His.  I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.  My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure.  I am finished with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals!  I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity.  I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded.  I now lean by faith, love by patience, live by prayer, and labor by power.  My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is Heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my guide reliable, my mission clear.  I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed.  I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.  I won’t give up, shut up, let up, or slow up ‘til I’ve preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up for the cause of Christ.  I am a disciple of Jesus.  I must go ‘til He comes, give ‘til I drop, preach ‘til all know, and work ‘til He stops.  And when He comes to get His own, He’ll have no problems recognizing me.  My colors will be clear.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Inescapable Death

It’s part of the natural life cycle, it’s at the end of the road for every living being…we live and then we die…and yet every time it appears, we feel stunned, dumbfounded, that it arrived at our doorstep. 

Why do we arrogantly and instinctively hold on to the thought that it will never come near to us, that it’s only something other people have to experience?

Death…it’s inescapable.

Two days ago I learned of the sudden death of the father of a friend of my daughter’s.  It is unclear to me the specific cause but is something in line with an aneurysm, stroke, or seizure that took his life. He had just remarried one week prior to his death with all of his children participating in the wedding.  The exuberant, newlywed bride is now instantaneously a widow.  A week of life renewed and joy restored immediately followed by an unannounced journey down a road of utter darkness, grief, and pain with an unknown distance to travel before the sun begins to rise again.  The oppression on this road will at times cause her to crawl while gasping for air instead of walking upright with each unknown step towards living again.

This morning I learned that the college son of a woman who is the assistant to a friend of mine was killed instantly in a car accident last night on his way home. I have an image in my mind of him rising a little late yesterday morning, eating a leisurely breakfast, discussing his day and plans with his parents, enjoying his summer day, and then heading out last night with his friends and, as he walks out the door, he turns to his mom to say, “I’ll text you when I’m heading home.”… but instead of a text from her fully alive son, she probably received a phone call or a personal visit from the authorities.  So begins her journey of survival down the shadowy, incomprehensible road of grief.

… In an instant.  Full life, then death, then darkness.

After hearing of the death of this young boy early this morning, I sat in my bed and wept. My stomach began to convulse. I am still weeping.  I weep for this mother.  I weep for the newlywed bride.  I weep for the other children involved.  I want to hold them or sit silently next to them and allow them to cry, moan, scream, writhe, or whatever they need to do in order to let the initial pain escape.  I hurt deeply as I see them in my imagination taking their first steps into the valley of the shadow of death.  I can see the fear on their faces as they anticipate the steps and the days to come on a road they have never traveled and have no road map because one does not must only keep moving forward.   I yearn to help them carry the load.  I yearn to open the skies above them so that the suffocating air can be released.  I yearn to go before them with a shield and blaze the trail for them…but it is something they must, we all must, experience alone.  It is a singular journey. We can silently hold their hand, bring them provisions, and listen to their tales of the journey, but in the end, it’s their journey.

We all inevitably embark on this path at some point in our lives.  No amount of mental preparation can equip us for the onslaught of the pain, the memories, and the dark hours experienced on the journey.  My only mental preparation I had going into it after my husband was killed in a car accident was my faith in God.  It was the place from which I drew my strength and protection while traversing this path of sheer darkness.  It was my source of hope, my source of healing, and my source of peace when everything about me raged.  

Today I glance back into the dark valley out of which I have finally emerged and can barely make out the silhouettes in the distance of these broken people as they drag themselves slowly and warily into the other end of this devastating valley.  Lord, be with them. Hold them. Rescue them. Protect them. Cast a light for them.

"I am poured out like water and all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It has melted within me.  My strength is dried up like a potsherd.  And my tongue clings to my jaws; You have brought me to the dust of death.... But you, O lord, do not be far from me; O my strength, hasten to help me!"… Psalm 22:14, 15, 19 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Thoughts, Plans & Purposes

Today is the outset of a three-day personal writing retreat.  As is my tradition, I began with committing my time away to the Lord…my thoughts, my work, my rest, my physical time, and any time that may be spent recreationally to refresh my mind and body while away.  

This morning I was stirred, once again, as I read my daily chapter in Proverbs.  I slammed on the breaks as I came across this verse.  This verse that is heavily underlined and has brackets around it. This verse that has been read on the 16th day of every month for twenty years.  This verse that has been a foundational building block to every day that I have lived during those twenty years.  This verse that I memorized long ago, have scribbled on notes, and have woven into my daily prayers for as long as I can remember.  This verse….still speaks to me.

Proverbs 16:3 (in multiple versions)…

Commit your works to the Lord, and your thoughts will be established.  NKJV
Commit your actions to the Lord and your plans will succeed.  NLT
Roll your works upon the Lord (commit and trust them wholly to Him; He will cause your thoughts to become agreeable to His will, and) so shall your plans be established and succeed.  AMP
Put God in charge of your work, then what you've planned will take place.  MSG

The word “commit” used here means to roll, roll down, roll away, and remove.  It is like a camel that kneels down and rolls to one side so that the burden they have carried can be rolled off of their back.  As we commit our work and actions to the Lord, we are in essence getting on our knees before God and saying, “Take if off of my back.  I want you to have it.  Take all of it.  Do what you want with it.”  After rolling it onto His to do plate, then our thoughts and our plans will succeed because He has been given permission to put His hand in it and on it.

I have always loved the wording, “your thoughts will be established.” The more I carry around my works and my actions with my own strength, the more muddled my thoughts can get, thus causing confusion and indecision to settle into my mind…. So I have mainly prayed this scripture for clear thinking in all that I do and the clear thinking then produces successful work, plans, and actions.  

…But today I discovered a new angle.

I frequently write and speak about our purpose for living.  The idea of purpose, and purpose itself, is a magnet out in front of me, like a dangling carrot in front of horse, drawing me forward and in the specific direction God is leading me.  I had never connected this verse directly to purpose until I read this end note in my Bible today…even though it had been read countless times before, today the epiphany, the sudden perception of its essential nature, took place.

If one turns over to the Lord what he plans to do, his life purposes will come to fruition.

Wow…. every time I had rolled my day, my plans, my work, my actions over onto God’s to do list, instead of carrying it on my own, I was allowing my life purposes to come into being each and every day. We must daily commit our work, daily get on our knees and roll our load, our works, our actions, over at the feet of our Lord.  Rolling and committing our works produces established purpose and established thoughts.

I go into this writing retreat renewed.  Expectations are high.  Faith is soaring.  Thoughts are established.  And I know that it is not all about writing.  It is about all that God has for me.  Personal life, spiritual life, mental life, physical life, and work life.  My purposes will come to fruition.

…With eyes straight ahead

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Boomerang Truth

Boomerang emotions – emotions that have seemingly been dealt with and cast away only to return to the thrower to deal with again

Boomerang truths – life truths seemingly learned only to present themselves back to the thrower to learn again and again

I wrote about boomerang emotions in the months following my husband’s death when speaking about emotions that kept resurfacing, no matter how many times I faced them, wrote about them, cried about them, or talked about them, they kept coming back to me like a boomerang.   I was able to work through some emotions successfully, lay them aside and then walk away from them with the wisdom, insight, and healing that came from facing them… but others would come back to strike me out of nowhere and I would have to deal with them all over again…and would often times hit me harder the second time.

I am now experiencing boomerang truths…Truths about life and living to which my eyes have been opened and yet they continue to come back to me in order to take me deeper, impress themselves upon me in more profound ways than before.  Each time they come back, it hits me closer and closer to the heart.

At times I feel like looking up towards heaven to say, “Okay...I get it!”

…But truly loving others, accepting others, showing compassion towards others, without boundaries, without judgments, the way Christ did when he walked this earth, is a never-ending lesson. Does our love and compassion look like his?  If not, that boomerang will continue to circle back until the love we cast onto others reflects him more and more so that every time we reach to someone, every time we touch someone, every time we serve someone, every time we listen to someone, or forgive someone, embrace someone, love someone, and accept someone…we reflect him, his glory, and his love.

Galatians 5:13-15   MSG “It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life.  Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom.  Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows.  For everything we know about God’s word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself.  That’s an act of true freedom.  If you bite and ravage each other, watch out-in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?

I have written about it in several other blog posts…everything boils down to love. The gospel of Jesus Christ is summed up in one word – Love.   Love extravagantly.  Love the unlovable.  Love because He first loved us.  Love no matter what someone’s life looks like.  Love no matter how different they look from you.  

We have been set free to love.  If we are not walking in love, have a lifestyle of loving others, and are seeing others through the lens of love, are we truly set free?  What are we doing with our freedom anyway??

Are we instead using our freedom to judge others?  Judge their mistakes, judge their failures, judge their past, judge their decisions, and judge the lives they live?  Can they see that love, which we have been set free to freely give, through our judgments?

.... Most likely not.

Romans 14:13-16 MSG  “Forget about deciding what’s right for each other.  Here’s what you need to be concerned about:  that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is.  I’m convinced – Jesus convinced me! – that everything as it is in itself is holy.  We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it can contaminate it… Remember these are also people Christ died for …not just for those who appear to be living right.”  

To put judgment even more firmly in its place, verse 21 goes on to say, 
Don’t say or do things that might interfere with the free exchange of love.

Judging interferes with love. Love is the bottom line… Are we speaking, acting or responding in ways that are interfering with the free exchange of love?

This boomerang truth keeps circling back because it is the only truth that matters.

Love, love, and when you think you have loved enough…love some more.

Jesus lived it and said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this, all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (John 13:34,35)   The word used for “new” here means unused, fresh, novel…new in regard to form or quality. He was, in essence, saying, “Loving others is going to look different now.  It’s a fresh, new way. It is going to look like the way I treated you and what I did for you.”   If we are to love as Jesus loved, we need to know what his love looked like.  His love was sacrificial.  His love was unconditional.  His love was constant.  His love was self-sustaining…it ran on “auto pilot”.  It was the foundation of all that He did.  Everything He did was motivated by love.

I want to keep my eyes straight ahead, always recognizing opportunities to love like Jesus as well as recognize when I don’t.  To exercise my freedom in the purpose for which I was set free. To love without borders.  To see others through His lens…to see and love others for the people that they are…someone for which Christ died.