Friday, August 24, 2018

Things Pondered After a Jailhouse Visit


Yesterday I went to the Walton County Jail. I had only been there once before, to the morgue to hold up a friend while she identified the body of her beloved son, and those memories came flooding back as I drove in the parking lot. I was there to visit another friend which was almost as difficult as my first visit. This friend is someone I really love, but someone who has made some bad choices over the last couple of years. I was thankful I’d decided to forego breakfast because my stomach was tight with anxiousness. There’s something about a place like that that sets you on edge, especially if you’ve never been and are unsure of where to go and what to do. 

It took a couple of conversations through bullet-proof glass, after passing through secured metal doors that buzzed open and locked behind me, to figure out where I was supposed to go sign in and wait. I drove to the designated parking lot, left my purse and cell phone securely locked in my car and proceeded toward the walkway encased by chain link fencing. As I walked toward the entrance, I was struck out of the blue by a scripture I had learned years ago in an effort to try to parent well…

”When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong.” (Ecclesisates 8:11) 

It seemed like a safe parenting verse way back when, but suddenly I was wondering how many people were behind these walls because they had never experienced this verse lived out in their own lives. No judgment…just the pondering of my heart as I made my way to the door.

I entered the waiting room and passed through the metal detector, armed only with my car keys and a piece of paper with my friend’s inmate # written in the bottom R corner. No name…just a number to mark her place in the system. I filled out the paperwork with my personal information and surrendered my driver’s license through the tray beneath yet another piece of bulletproof glass. The deputy taking all the visitors’ information was the friendliest one I had encountered so far and I marveled at how she had maintained what seemed like joy in the midst of such a barren place. I completed the registration process and took one of the few available seats in the stark waiting room.

There were a lot of chairs in a very small area and I found myself with only a couple of feet separating those who sat across from me. Since it was my first time being in a place like that, I was unsure of the protocol regarding chatting with your neighbors. I’m one who tries to overcome my introverted ways and make a conscious effort to engage others and do what I can to encourage them. Since discouragement and downcast souls seemed to be the common denominator that linked all those who were waiting, I glanced at the floor and prayed for an opportunity to be His hands and feet. A sweet little one year old girl with beaded braids bounced around in circles and captivated the attention of most who were there, such innocence displayed despite her jaded surroundings. Another sweet girl soon joined the room and they played with a carefreeness that belied their reasons for being there…each waiting to visit their Mama. I gazed around the room and noted the tired eyes, many of whom wore their years and stories firmly etched on solemn faces. “Weary” seemed to be the word for the day.

A nervous woman randomly asked if she could sit beside me and I welcomed the chance to strike up a conversation. I asked her who she was there to visit and as she explained her situation, I realized she, too, was there to visit my friend, a step-mom come to see what she could do. Suddenly the “random” request took on a divine appointment and she expressed how thankful she was to not have to experience this  first time alone. So there we sat, strangers but moments before, both anxiously waiting for the same name to be called. Her name was called not long after and we walked through the heavy metal door and waited our turn to be searched with the wand that would signal we were safe to proceed ahead. We entered a cinder block room with 7 cubicles. I know because I found the need to count them, I can only assume, in an effort to bring order to my jumbled thoughts. Each cubicle was equipped with a phone and a heavy glass barrier that would separate us from our inmate. And suddenly there she was, not in the cute clothes I was used to seeing her in, but a state-issued jumpsuit identical to the woman next to her.

Her step-mom talked to her for 5 minutes or so and then left me alone to visit as we tried hard to hear each other through phone lines long out-dated. My friend wept bitter tears of regret and it was heart-breaking to realize this was her reality. I spoke firm words wrapped in grace and reassured her that her current circumstances did not change our love for her. I prayed with her, sensing the Lord was there, stretching His arms through the thickened glass connecting us to one another. Then a guard called “time” and we each hung up our phones, feeling the distance between us deepen, she heading back to a place of scary unknowns and me to the world of familiar. 

I passed back through the waiting room in a sea of mourning souls and heard a lady right behind me sigh and say, “It sure is hard seeing your baby girl in a place like this.” I turned and waited for her to join me, recognizing her need to speak forth the broken pieces of her heart after her painful visit. She shared her daughter's story, intertwined with her own, and I listened to a mama’s heart filled with regret. A mama who now has the responsibility of raising four teenage grandchildren because both their parents made selfish choices and find jail their current home. As I listened to her nervous words spill out I was reminded, yet again, that we all have a story and want someone to care enough to wade into it with us. We talked for 25 minutes, leaning against the chain link tunnel, and as we parted ways I hugged her and assured her I would pray for her.

It took me a minute once I got back to my car to collect my thoughts. I looked toward the building from which I had just exited and asked the Lord to use this time to bring my friend to a place of true brokenness and repentance. I finished my prayer with a sigh of my own and slowly backed out of my spot, my heart a little less anxious than when I drove in. I was thankful the nervousness had dissipated, but I found it had left a heaviness in its place. A heaviness that felt like a cloak wrapped tight and I thought...

I guess that’s what happens when love has to reach through bulletproof glass.


Monday, July 9, 2018

The Ebb and Flow

I've been contemplating the ebb and flow of life lately and relating it to the ebb and flow of the tide as we sit on a beach. Sometimes the tide is low and we're able to wade out and see so many treasures that the ocean holds. In a matter of hours, though, we can witness the tide rise and the waves wash over anything in its path, engulfing the shore in water and washing its contents out to sea. That's how the final week in June felt to me this year.

Tim and I had the privilege of spending a week in Estes Park, CO and further up at a site adjacent to the Rocky Mountain National Park called Wind River Ranch. We were there with our friends, Mac and Aimee, and a multitude of new friends that we had the privilege of making. It was truly one of the most peaceful places I have ever been and the mountains were jaw-dropping evidence of the Lord's power and majesty in every direction we turned.

I was able to fulfill a bucket list item and attend a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater. What made it extra special was that it wasn't just any concert. It was Third Day's final concert ever. It was the end of a 20+ year journey with Mac and the band as well as a launching point for a new dream and a new direction. The memories rolled like a highlight (and occasional lowlight) film and the tears flowed as I reminisced, with their familiar music as a soundtrack playing while the images flashed.

It was a week that provided a much needed time of rest and reconnection for Tim and me. We felt ourselves being refreshed and encouraged and able to let our minds quiet themselves. We rocked and talked, breathed fresh mountain air, ate meals I didn't have to prepare and enjoyed temperatures that were gloriously low and dry compared to what our normal Junes felt like. As we finished the week and started to wind down the mountain, we were filled with thankful hearts for the respite from our daily demands. All was well in our world until we got the call...the call that alerted us to the fact that our friend, Bruce, had walked into eternity just moments before.

We have spent our 28 married years in ministry and throughout those years there have been so many mountaintop moments we've been able to experience with people as they surrender their lives and their wills to the Lord and begin to walk out their new-found faith. We have also spent many hours wading into grief with precious people who have just experienced devastating loss. This would prove to be one of the more difficult times. Our hearts were crushed as we waited to board the plane home and I discovered an airport can be a very vulnerable place for tears of sorrow to fall as you're surrounded by a captive audience.

We landed in Atlanta and headed to Bruce and Shelley's house to wait for her to arrive. Bruce had died at home and sweet Shelley had witnessed a rather horrific scene. While he had battled cancer for much of their 4 years of marriage, his death still came as a shock and Shelley and their children were reeling. As the car pulled up with Shelley, her son and 2 other family members in it, I cried out to the Lord and asked Him to help us minister to them in ways that far exceeded what would otherwise be our own mere feeble attempts. We embraced Shelley as our tears washed together and we slowly ascended the steps into their home where just hours before she and Bruce had been having coffee together.

As we sat with Shelley in relative silence I was overcome with the feeling that we had entered onto holy ground. There were really no words that could mend her broken-heartedness and so I resisted the urge to fill the quiet moments with meaningless chatter. We simply let her tears flow as the grief pooled around her. We had literally descended from the mountaintop into the depths of pain and mourning and I thanked the Lord for the divine and sacred privilege of entering into another's grief.


"The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and He saves those who are crushed in spirit."

The next few days were spent helping Shelley and her family attend to details and make decisions that we all wish we would never have to, but know inevitably we eventually will. These moments stood in stark contrast to the peaceful ones we had experienced just days before and I was reminded yet again...


"The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord."

I read today in 66 Love Letters by Larry Crabb that "small obedience is great work". So often we can, if we're not careful, find ourselves missing the daily opportunities to perform a great work because they don't seem grand enough and we forget that walking intimately with Jesus doesn't always look like we expect it to in our own finite minds. Just as the ebb and flow of an ocean demands that we contemplate His power and providence, so must we see those ordinary moments as extraordinary because they require us to obediently enter into His divine work. Sometimes those moments may seem mundane and other times they can feel overwhelming. How comforting to know, though, that He has promised to never send us where He is unwilling or unable to journey with us.


"Carrying out this relief work involves far more than helping meet the needs of poor Christians. It also produces abundant and bountiful thanksgivings to God. This relief offering is a prod to live at your very best, showing your gratitude to God by being openly obedient to the plain meaning of the message of Christ. You show your gratitude through your generous offerings to your needy brothers and sisters, and really toward everyone. Meanwhile, moved by the extravagance of God in your lives, they'll respond by praying for you in passionate intercession for whatever you need. Thank God for this gift, His gift. No language can praise it enough."
2 Corinthians 9:15 ~ The Message






Saturday, March 31, 2018

Despair and Desperation

It's Saturday, the day in between Good Friday (oh, the irony) and Easter Sunday, and I've been very contemplative about what that day must have been like.  We know it was the Sabbath so, as we saw when we were in Israel, everything would have been shut down and it would have been a day of rest and contemplation. I wonder, though, what were the thoughts of those who had been in the crowd calling for Jesus to be crucified? What were Pilate's thoughts as he contemplated his cowardice and the way he backed down in leadership and allowed an angry mob to call the shots?

Friday was a day of darkness. For 3 hours the sun was blotted out and when Christ finally died the veil was torn, the earth quaked and the rocks were split in two. Nature acknowledged what humans were unwilling to admit...a grievous act against an innocent man was complete! And now it was Saturday and they must wait. Much as a disobedient child who is sent to their room to "think about what they have done", I have to believe that for many a knot had formed in their stomachs and they were forced to contemplate their role in putting an innocent man to death. The day of darkness had rolled into a day of despair and desperation and they were left to think.

Think about what they had done. Think about what was to come. Think about how to minimize the collateral damage. Think about how to keep His brazen claims that He would rise on the third day from appearing to actually come true. Pilate may have made a valiant attempt to wash his hands and declare his innocence in front of an angry crowd and a doubtful wife, but when the Pharisees came requesting the tomb be sealed, he was forced to acknowledge that their desperate measures would be hopeful at best. Now they must rest and wait.

I've had times in my life when I felt like I made a mistake that could never be made right. My failure felt final and I was left to contemplate what I had done. I was left to question my motives and struggle thru whether Jesus could ever come to my rescue in the midst of my despair and desperation and make things right. And yet, in the midst of my despondency, He had me tethered to the hope that maybe my failure wasn't final and maybe my despair could give way to deliverance and delight.

Let's not waste this day of waiting. Let's not become so focused on our past that we fail to prepare our hearts for what is to come. This day in between may be filled with many conflicting thoughts, but our deliverance is only a day away!!





Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Loopholes

I learned so many things while we were in Israel! So many spiritual truths and things about myself and so many historical facts that I felt like my head might explode at times trying to process it all. One thing I learned early on in the trip really blew my mind, though, and I found myself thinking on it a lot during the rest of the trip and since I've been home. 


I learned about "loopholes".



This was the first loophole I saw and was when my mind was initially blown. Maybe I'm just a geek and no one will find the concept as fascinating as I did, but I'm going to attempt to explain it anyway. First let me share the initial definition of loophole...


a small opening through which small arms may be fireda similar opening to admit light and air or to permit observation




 


So tactically speaking a loophole is a small hole someone who was engaged in battle would slip their weapon through in an attempt to ambush the enemy while being protected from reciprocal fire. They were able to see out of it while remaining hidden and safe. 





Once I was made aware of what these openings were, I began to notice them virtually everywhere we went. In a country which is currently known for its political and religious turmoil, it was amazing to recognize that there's not much new under the sun and this is obviously a centuries old problem.


There were loopholes in the cities, in the country and even on top of a mountain in the ruins of an ancient palace. 



While the historical influence of these loopholes was fascinating to me, I couldn't help but be struck by the spiritual and linguistical influence of loopholes. Let's look at the second definition of loophole...

a means of escape; especially an ambiguity or omission in the text through which the intent of a statute, contract, or obligation may be evaded

Do you see it? 


Loopholes...ways we try and get out of commitments and covenants with no (or at least minimal) damage to ourselves or our integrity. 

The problem with loopholes is that very often others DO get ambushed in the process and there IS much collateral damage. The other misconception about loopholes is that we can evade our commitments and all will be fine, but it is always with great detriment to our character and our integrity. It may seem like we get off scot-free, but there are lasting implications that cannot be avoided.




When we desire to honor the Lord no matter what, one thing we can always be guaranteed of is that we will encounter attacks from the enemy and opportunities to look for an easy way out. I want to be known, right down to the very end, as someone who will battle with courage and integrity and not always look for a "loophole" in order to protect myself.


God has given us spiritual armour to protect ourselves with on a daily basis...

Ephesians 6:10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

I also love how it's put in The Message...
Ephesians 6:10-12 And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.
13-18 Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.
                                                     
                                                   

Lord, thank You that you desire to teach us in such cool and amazing ways wherever we may go! Thank You for the opportunity you gave Tim and me to travel to Israel and thank You for so many spiritual insights that You allowed us to be made aware of throughout our journey. I don't want to look for loopholes, Lord. I want to battle courageously right down to the very end. Thank You that You have given us everything we need to equip ourselves for the battle. Now help us battle well!!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Seasons


Ecclesiastes 3:1 ~ There is a time for everything,
  and a season for every activity under the heavens...



The lazy days have come and gone and so has Labour Day. Summer is officially over and routines are being re-established. Alarm clocks are a daily occurrence and packed lunches are the norm. The familiar sound of the buses making their rounds disrupts the early morning quiet and carpool lines test the patience of those trapped within their confines. School is in full session.



For 21 years school had one common denominator for the Cash family and it was "home". For 21 years home was where at least one student pulled up a chair at the table, newly sharpened pencil in hand and began the learning process for that particular grade level. For 21 years life was familiar, chaotic, and "ours"...until it wasn't. 21 years and 5 students later, school as we knew it was no longer and we found ourselves embarking on a journey that took us into uncharted waters.

We have had kids in school before. Rachel spent her senior year in a Christian school, Benji's entire high school years were spent at the same Christian school and Jesse has spent the last 3 years (freshman thru junior) at the public school down the road. We prayed a lot about what school would look like for Jesse, Hannah and Caleb this year and things look vastly different. Jesse is spending his senior year at Loganville Christian Academy. Hannah is a freshman at Bethlehem Christian Academy and Caleb is in 7th grade at BCA. Caleb is the youngest one we've had enter school, but he has been diagnosed with some learning differences and we felt it would be good for him to get a head-start so high school might be a little easier for him.

Not everyone was totally thrilled about their new assignment (okay, Jesse was the only one looking forward to the change), but they are settling in and learning a new way of life. Having a set (early) time to get up and trading jammies for uniforms to start the day have been a bit of an adjustment. The technological side of things has provided a few bumps in the road and more than one meltdown. Totally exasperated one afternoon as he tried to figure out how to find his homework assignments on Schoology Caleb blurted out, "Whatever happened to pencils and paper? Pencils and paper! They worked great for hundreds of years! Why can't we just use pencils and paper?" I have to admit I definitely lean hard into his thinking on this, especially as I get used to having to track 3 students on Renweb and Schoology. All in all, though, everyone is hitting their groove and things are much smoother than the first couple of weeks predicted they might be. All 3 students are making their way so that just leaves...

Mama!

The woman who, for 25 years, has always had at least one child home with her all day every day. The woman who was responsible for 21 years of information being introduced to 5 different students all in different grades and at different stages of life. The woman whose husband traveled all the time and who learned creative ways to keep toddlers busy while trying to teach others their times tables or how to dissect an owl pellet. The woman who fixed 3 meals a day and was continually cleaning the kitchen suddenly found that when she cleaned up after breakfast it stayed clean. 

The first day of school was a moment I had been somewhat dreading. I had kept a strong front and cheerful face in the weeks leading up to the first day and all the way thru the drop-off line, but I didn't make it out of the parking lot before the tears started flowing. They flowed so much that I had to pull over somewhere to get myself together and I picked the one place I knew I wouldn't have to deal with other people guessing at why I was such a mess. I even turned off my GPS because I could envision Tim, wondering why I was taking so long, checking the tracker app and trying to figure out why in the world I was at...

the pet cememtery!!

Yep! I knew there'd be no prying eyes or judgment passed at the pet cememtery so I ugly cried to my heart's content and mourned the end of a way of life for the Cash family. It wasn't that I felt like we hadn't made the best choice for each of them, but life as we knew it had come to an end and more than 2 decades of familiarity had been replaced. I finally managed to pull myself together enough to venture home to Tim and a handful of workers who were in the final stages of our kitchen renovation. I had to steal away often that day to resume crying and I felt like a wet dishrag that had been wrung out by the end of the day.

We're all finding a new normal and I am finding that I can clean the house and it stays that way for quite a while. There's less pressure now not being the sole person responsible for their entire education and my introverted self does relish the quiet. I sure do miss my kids, though. I imagine a part of me will always miss the time when life was a little simpler and school meant "us". I'm so thankful for all those days we had snuggled on the couch reading books that became treasured friends and I'm thankful for those days when we struggled to even want to be in the same room with each other because cabin fever had taken its toll on us. All those days, the good and the bad, were what allowed our hearts to be bound together and what made our family uniquely ours. 

Those 25 years are so precious to me and I will be forever grateful that the Lord granted us that time together!!


Ecclesiastes 3:4 ~ A time to cry and a time to laugh.

    A time to grieve and a time to dance.



I've had my time to cry and the grieving will eventually come to an end. Now I just need to learn my new dance!! Until then I shall remember this quote from my old friend, Dr. Seuss...


"Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."





Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Blessed?

I’ve been seeing a lot of t-shirts and signs lately that have the word “blessed” included and it has had me thinking. It is obvious, based on their context, that this definition is the one being highlighted…

“bringing pleasure, contentment, or good fortune”.

It’s the kind of definition that gives you the warm fuzzies and makes you feel like all is right in your world. Unfortunately, while many of the distributors of these items would consider themselves Christian and consider their items geared toward a Christian audience, I find a much different picture painted in scripture of what “blessed” actually means. Scripturally I find this definition to be a little more accurate…

“made holy; consecrated”.

It’s definitely not the same thing and looking at Matthew 5 will help us understand the difference. I like the way the Phillip’s translation puts it. You just have to substitute ”blessed” for “happy”.

‘Then he began his teaching by saying to them, “How happy are the humble-minded, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs! “How happy are those who know what sorrow means for they will be given courage and comfort! “Happy are those who claim nothing, for the whole earth will belong to them! “Happy are those who are hungry and thirsty for goodness, for they will be fully satisfied! “Happy are the merciful, for they will have mercy shown to them! “Happy are the utterly sincere, for they will see God! “Happy are those who make peace, for they will be sons of God! “Happy are those who have suffered persecution for the cause of goodness, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs! “And what happiness will be yours when people blame you and ill-treat you and say all kinds of slanderous things against you for my sake! Be glad then, yes, be tremendously glad—for your reward in Heaven is magnificent. They persecuted the prophets before your time in exactly the same way.’


Most people don’t associate sorrow, mourning, persecution and slander with being blessed and therein lies the problem…we have sanitized the word blessed and dressed it up pretty and tried to pass it off as t-shirt worthy!

Being blessed often implies a struggle or a seemingly undesirable event that causes us to press into God and focus on Him to meet our needs during that time. Scripture says that Mary was blessed and highly favored when she was chosen to carry Jesus and that would be pretty amazing to be chosen, out of all the women alive at the time, to do that. Let’s not forget what all that blessing entailed, though, because ultimately Mary had to watch her “baby” be scorned, persecuted, tortured and brutally murdered. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t imagine I’d be  feeling very “blessed” during that time unless blessed means much more than what we have reduced it to these days. 

I have been to the Dominican Republic and I have seen people who have much less than what even the poorest Americans have, and yet they had such an evident joy and excitement in their eyes that it made me realize that being blessed must be about much more than pleasure, contentment or good fortune. Jesus said in Luke 11;28, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it”, and James 1:12 may give us one of the ultimate indications of what a blessed life truly looks like…

Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

I don’t want to get confused and misconstrue what blessed should look like because I have a responsibility to accurately communicate God’s truth to my children and those we minister to on a daily basis. 

Many years ago we visited a church for a few weeks and on our 5th or 6th visit (Rachel and I were the only ones there that day) I finally had to walk out. I called Tim on the way home and told him that I couldn’t attend any more services at that church. I believe the pastor and many of those in attendance really love Jesus, I just don’t feel they accurately represented what walking with Him looks like on most days. Walking with Jesus looks much less like a pep rally or cruise ship for Jesus and much more like a path with peaks and valleys, rocks and other obstacles that can trip us up and some days just sheer grit and determination to stay focused on Him and obeying what He has shown us to do. 

Don’t get me wrong, I feel very fortunate to live the life I have and I will be the first to admit that we lead, by the world’s standards, a very comfortable life. I might even venture out and say on most days I feel blessed. It’s certainly not because life is without its struggles, but rather because I really do desire to hear from God, honor Him and obey what He shows me to do…and most days I think I get that right. My tassel is far from being turned, but I’m pressing in and headed in the right direction. I don’t think we should eliminate all the shirts and signs that use the word blessed, but when we see them let’s pause and ponder what that really looks like in our own lives.


Lord, let me not confuse pleasure or good fortune with true blessings in my life. Help me remember that blessings are often the intangibles in my life that are actually counter-intuitive and counter-cultural. May I ever keep before me the goal of spending eternity with You as the ultimate blessing that far surpasses anything this earth can offer!! Amen!!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Consequences

God has been doing so much in our Body of believers over the last few months and it has been amazing to see!! Chains are being loosed and captives are being set free. Shame is being identified and lifted from the shoulders of those who have borne it for far too long. It's been a beautiful thing to see but, as is usually the case, it has not come without attack and the stirring of chaos and confusion from the enemy. We are seeing one of the greatest attacks in the area of marriages that I have ever seen.

I'm always hesitant to give the enemy too much credit in the midst of sin because, while I DO know he schemes and desires to lead our hearts astray, I never want to discount the fact that we have personal responsibility when we start going down a dark and sinful path. That being said, marriages are being torn apart and families are being left in fragmented pieces, wondering what just hit them.

Over the course of our 26+ years in ministry we have counseled more couples who have struggled in their marriages than we could ever begin to count. Many of them have struggled for years and stable misery is the best that they have come up with to get through the days that have eventually led to years of dissatisfaction. That's not what I'm talking about here, though.

Lately, we are seeing people who are in church every week, hearing Truth and appearing to desire to stand on Truth's side absolutely trip a switch and not just crack open a door of sin, but throw the door open and march on through. It is heart-breaking!!! I have cried more the last few months and, particularly the last few weeks, than I may have ever cried before in my life. I've cried for the collateral damage that these people I care about are leaving behind, but mostly I have cried for those who have broken covenant themselves. I've cried because of this one thing...

There are severe and lasting consequences for disobeying God and violating His Word!!!!!

Oh, how my heart breaks for them. Sin is pleasurable for a season, but eventually, once the newness has worn off and life again becomes routine (because the level of excitement a new relationship brings can not be sustained forever), these wayward souls will wake up one day and see the ruins that their choices have created.

Hebrews 4: 12-13 says, "For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable."

We can rationalize our actions all we want, but God sees our hearts and they are laid bare before Him!!! There is NO escaping it!!! Here's the thing, though...

It is NEVER too late to repent, turn from our sin and reconcile ourselves with God and others!!!

Psalm 51: 7-11 ~ "Purify me from my sins,[c] and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
 Oh, give me back my joy again;
    you have broken me—
    now let me rejoice.
 Don’t keep looking at my sins.
    Remove the stain of my guilt.
 Create in me a clean heart, O God.
    Renew a loyal spirit within me.
 Do not banish me from your presence,
    and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me."

Oh, how I pray that those whom I love and care about have their eyes opened and their hearts arrested with the truth of their sin. How I long to see them fall on their faces and confess their sin and and violently repent!!! It may be too late to reconcile their marriages, but it is NEVER too late to be broken before the Lord and restored to a right relationship with Him!!

During war, the only way a victory has a chance of being experienced is for the troops to be united, all pulling in the same direction and working toward the same goal. There is no difference in this spiritual battle that is going on around us. For that reason, there is a group of us who have come together and developed a battle plan! Our brothers and sisters may have entered into enemy territory, but we are not going to allow them to stay there without a fight!! To that end, we have each chosen a particular time of day and set a daily, recurring alarm to go off on our phones and when it does we stop and intentionally and specifically pray for those we know are behind enemy lines. We may not see all of them experience brokenness and repentance, but it will certainly not be because we let them go and didn't intercede on their behalf!!

Ephesians 6: 11-12 says, "Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places."


We're suited up, armed and ready...and I challenge you to do the same!






Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Ministering Angels

A couple of weeks ago I experienced a few days of deep brokenness. On the same day that I learned my friends' 15yo son had drowned, I also suffered a betrayal from someone I had considered a fairly close friend. As someone who is generally able to muddle thru even the toughest days and who is not much for crying, I found myself unable to do much more than sit and cry endlessly. It just all seemed like too much. 

While the betrayal hurt and felt like an extra burden, the tears were much more as a result of feeling so utterly heart-broken for my friends. When I saw them at the funeral home they, as is often the case, seemed to do more to encourage me and speak words of peace to me than I did for them. In a very uncharacteristic show of emotion, I teared up while talking to them, but managed to hold it together until I got outside and then...the floodgates opened. And I wept. For hours. I missed a birthday party for a special person in my life because I could not stop crying. I finally cried myself to sleep and awoke in the morning only to have the tears begin afresh.

I expressed to Tim my confusion because I have dealt with some horrific tragedies in our ministry to others, but never had I felt such an uncontrollable need to sob. I cried for hours that morning and pulled myself together enough to walk into church without causing a scene. The tears began to fall again during worship, I sniffed my way through the message and then I bawled like a baby during worship at the end of church. I left by myself to go home and get lunch ready and I cried so hard on the way home that I thought I'd have to pull over. In my desperation to understand why I was struggling so, I cried out to the Lord. I asked Him why I was experiencing such uncharacteristic brokenness. Now don't get me wrong, I have felt devastated for people I have cared about before and I have shed tears as I watched their pain, but this was different. This felt like such a personal loss and I told Him that as I drove. 

I truly felt almost like I had lost a child and was mourning as a distraught Mama would mourn the loss of one of her own babies and, as soon as I voiced that to Him there in the quietness of my car, I felt deep inside that He told me I was right. He told me that He was allowing me to bear some of the Mama grief for my friend because she had 2 memorial services she was speaking at to honor her son and she needed to be able to help her other children process their own grief. As strange as it may sound, I knew at the moment that this was what it would feel like to lose a child and, while my friend would have a lifetime to mourn, for these few days He was letting me shoulder some of her pain.

I came home and texted my friend and told her what the Lord had shown me and she said she wasn't surprised because from the first time we had met we had a deep heart connection. In that moment of confirmation, the pain I felt suddenly went from feeling like a weight upon my shoulders to a holy privilege that I carried with care.

Now my reason for sharing all this isn't even to highlight the part I played in what happened that weekend, but rather to set the stage to share how the Lord ministered to me in a deeply profound way in my distress. For when you are a part of the Body of believers, He allows us to be ministered to by some we know will be by our side always and others who He puts in our path to lift up our arms in unexpected ways...and that happened for me that weekend. 

He, of course, used Tim, my kids and my parents to love me and let me cry when I needed to, regardless of what I might be neglecting at the time. He used Karen, the one who I always say is the reason I am not in a padded cell yet, to encourage me, check on me, pray for me and offer to do whatever I needed her to do. He used Kim and the rest of our Bloom leadership (Mikki, Amanda, Shelley and April) to pray for me and to encourage me and to release me from any need I might feel to be there for others because they had it all covered. He let Anthony and Rachel come over Saturday night to check on me because He knows laughter is good medicine and they were the perfect ones to make that happen. He allowed my dear friend, Tonja, to be able to be at church that Sunday and I was able to sit with her and her husband, Bengie. This was so huge for me because, when I finally came totally unglued at the end of service, Tonja held me and rubbed my back and kissed my head and did what she does best...she mothered me. He let a lady who I have not gotten to spend much time with, Betty, come up and pray for me without knowing exactly what she was praying for. He allowed my sweet friend, Michelle, to give me one of the best hugs I've ever had and then take me by my shoulders and look deep into my eyes and tell me she loved me. He used Lisa and Nic and so many others, so many that I know I'm leaving some out, to simply give me a hug because they knew words were not necessary. And He used them, all of them, to remind me of this very important scriptural principle...


we need each other!!!

Those who love us are important when times are good, but those who love us are essential when we are hurting. He also showed me that, while He often has me on the giving end in times of need, it's okay to admit when I'm the one who is hurting and has needs. 

That weekend taught me a lot. It made me realize, first and foremost, that life can change in an instant and so we need to keep short accounts with each other. It made me realize that having good friends is a gift and being a good friend is a privilege. It made me even more attune to the pain and needs of others and it gave me a renewed desire to work at relationships and not let petty disagreements cause us to get sideways. 

I'm thankful He always uses pain for our good when we yield to Him and I pray He will forever let me remember the first weekend of August 2016!!

Monday, August 22, 2016

He Shouldn't Always Have to Shout

Tim is reading a book by John Ortberg entitled, "God is Closer Than You Think", and he was sharing with me some portions out of it this morning. What he read to me piggybacked perfectly on what I had already read and been meditating on this morning and that usually means (to me anyway) that God might be trying to make a point.

John Ortberg said, 'So why doesn’t He (God) send us all dreams every night? Why doesn’t he make every day a rainbow day and send epiphanies twenty-four-seven? Maybe it’s because God wants us to learn to see him in the ordinary rather than be dependent on the extraordinary. Maybe it’s because if God regularly satisfied our demand for special effects it would be like a mother who inadvertently trains her children to pay attention only when she raises her voice.'


This is the reality, for those of us who love Jesus, know His word, read His word and walk intimately with Him (at least the majority of days), He is always speaking to us. That is why He tells us that we should hide His word in our hearts because...


every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.


The difficulty comes when we become dissatisfied with usually hearing from Him the way everyone else does (through his Word, either when reading it or having Him bring it to the forefront of our minds at a specific time) and we start needing to go from one "God told me" moment to the next. The reason this becomes dangerous thinking is that we can end up using it to promote self's ability to hear rather than God's ability to speak!!! 

God doesn't suffer from bouts of laryngitis. He is never restricted from speaking to us...ever. To circle back around to John Ortberg's example of the mother who must raise her voice to get the attention of her children, she had never lost her ability to speak. Her children had just lost their ability to hear unless she shouted.


I wrote a blog post a few years ago and I made the observation that there must be beauty in the mundane, everyday rhythms of life because, otherwise, the extraordinary would become the standard and not one person can maintain that for very long without becoming burned out and exhausted. The same is true when it comes to hearing, or more appropriately "listening", to God.


Now, before you start getting your panties in a wad and think I'm saying there are not times that God speaks to us in a more momentous and time-stopping way...I'm not. There are definitely times, to use the mother analogy again, when I gather my children (or a specific child) to me and begin by saying, "Look, I really need you to listen to what I'm about to say because it's important." I'm a firm believer that God has those moments with us because I've experienced them. I've had those experiences in church, one time in particular, when everyone else may as well have gone home because the message He was delivering through the pastor was just for me. There have been other times when I've heard that still, small voice whisper in my ear and there have been times when I've been halted in my tracks because He has bellowed for me to, "Stop", or otherwise I would be walking straight into danger!! 


It happens...I just don't think it happens all the time because then we would become immune to all the special, everyday moments He gives us. Similarly, if this were the case, our "Eucharisteo" (our ability to express gratitude) would be reduced to only thanking Him when He did the extraordinary...and what parent wants that to happen? I think maybe...just maybe...the problem oftentimes is that we become distracted by the voices we are surrounded by, not to mention the voices in our own heads, and shouting may be His only option to gain back our attention. And truth be told, I think sometimes we give Him credit for speaking things that He really doesn't want to be credited with because it really wasn't His voice we heard at all. 


Thank You, Lord that You give us the ability to see You in the everyday, mundane, coming and goings of our lives. Thank You that You are as intimately involved in our lives when You speak to us in a relaxed way, such as through Your word, as You are when You seemingly stop time in order to get a point across to us. Thank You that I need not focus on my great ability to hear You, but I can rest in the knowledge that You are constantly speaking to me thru Your Word and will make sure I hear what I need to hear when I need to hear it because You will never lose Your ability to speak.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Donkeys and Siri and Other Ways God Speaks to Us

As I sit down to write this morning, I am so excited that I am praying my fingers can keep up with the rate at which my mind is spinning and needing to get the words down on paper (which is actually a screen, but I prefer to think of it as paper). I am a firm believer that God still speaks to us in a myriad of ways, just as he did in the Bible. I do think we need to be careful when we say, "God said...", or "God spoke...to me", because sometimes I think we put words in His mouth to manipulate situations, but I digress. The point of this post is to share with you that God spoke this morning and we need to listen!!

I was texting with a friend and we were discussing the pruning that God is doing in our own lives and the pruning that we see Him doing in our Body of believers. During our conversation I was type-texing and my friend was using Siri to speak-text. My friend's message to me through Siri was that God had shown her it was time to quit focusing on the pruning and to start focusing on the growth that we are seeing as a result of it. Growth in our own lives and growth in our Body. But here's the thing...


Siri changed the word "growth" to the word "eucharist". 

Eucharist!! 

I don't know about you, but there is nothing that sounds the least bit similar in the words "growth" and "eucharist". I can't imagine anyone saying, "We need to focus on the 'growth' He's bringing about", and me saying, "I'm sorry, did you say we need to focus on the 'eucharist'? It's just not going to happen!! Now this may not rouse the same degree of excitement in you as it did my friend and me (okay, maybe we were initially a little freaked out at first) because you might not understand what the word "eucharist" really means.

The word "eucharist" in Greek is the word "echaristia" and in Hebrew it is the word "berekah". All 3 of them simply mean, " thanksgiving or praise for the wonderful work of God." Additionally, the root of "eucharist" is the word "charis" which means "grace" and it also encompasses the word "chara" which means "joy". Are you starting to see it now? We were looking at pruning from the simple standpoint of growth, but God (by way of Siri) was saying...


"My pruning should be something you give praise and thanksgiving for because of the work I'm doing in bringing forth incredible grace and joy in your midst."

Suddenly "growth" seems like a measly and insufficient word when you compare it to "eucharist"!! And the crazy part is that God used Siri to help remind us what He is doing in our midst.

Now I'm sure some of you may think I inhaled too many paint fumes last week while I was refinishing furniture and that I'm creating something that isn't there just for the purpose of having something to write about, but may I remind you that God used a donkey to speak to Balaam in the Bible. Read it for yourself in Numbers 22:21-35. It's right there. God had sent an angel of the Lord to speak to Balaam, but he kept missing it. The donkey didn't, though. The donkey saw the angel every single time and tried to get Balaam's attention and finally, when it seemed like Balaam was just going to miss out on God entirely it says "God gave speech to the donkey". God was so determined that Balaam not miss what He was doing that He used a donkey and made it talk.

That is why I am fully convinced that if God can use a donkey back then He can use Siri now and this is why I think He did it...

I can get so consumed sometimes by how painful the process of pruning is in my own life and in what I see going on around me that I miss out on the purpose for the pruning. His purpose for pruning in our lives and in His Body as a whole is always to remove anything that causes us to be unhealthy or weighed down by unnecessary, non fruit-producing baggage so that we can experience growth and so that His work of grace and joy in our lives has the freedom to flourish. Pruning is always for our good! ALWAYS!!!

How thankful I am that I can be assured that, while never pleasant at the time, I will always look back on the pruning process and see the purpose...even though it may take a while. How thankful I am for the grace and joy that I am witnessing in my own life and in the lives of those I get to walk with and do life with. 

And how thankful I am that God can use a virtual assistant named Siri to make sure we don't miss out on what He is ultimately doing!!!


Lord, I thank You that You have no limits and no restrictions on how You can speak to us! I thank You that You love us so much that You will stop us dead in our tracks to get our attention so we can witness firsthand what You are doing. Thank You for the pruning that You have recently been doing in me, personally, and thank You for the pruning in our Body. May You find us faithful in obeying what we know You have laid out for us to do and may we all rejoice together at the grace and joy that is bursting forth in our midst. I want You to continue to "create in me a clean heart" even if it means cutting away those things I continue to allow to hinder the process. I love You, Lord, and I love watching the way You work!!