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Not Always Merry and Bright

I so wish for life to be like a Hallmark movie. Love and contentment always win. The ending is tidy, happy and sealed in a pretty package accentuated with a red bow on top. But it is television, and so far from the reality, we inhabit.

I think that is one of the allures of Hallmark movies. They provide a magical escape from the tender truths that are indigenous to what we have always falsely believed is the happiest time of the year.

Pain wears many faces and holds no prejudices. It does not adhere to our calendars or circumstances. Maybe the agony shows up in the loss of a job, marriage, a parent, a spouse or the incredible heartache that settles in when we hear someone has to bury their child.

Broken people, broken families, broken worlds; they may all present differently, but fractured hearts are inherent to us all. The holidays as merry and bright as they are for many, are equally melancholy and bleak for others.

Life is incongruent to my desire for everyone to be happy, but I have learned this piercing lesson: happiness is a circumstantial frailty, not a gospel actuality. Without the assurance of our eternal inheritance, we stand here today poor, hopeless and lost. But it does not have to be that way.

A 1700s French writer captured something very tragic, yet I think significant in his last words. “And so I leave this world, where the heart must either break or turn to lead.” ~ Nicolas Chamfort

Sometimes our greatest challenge as we go about living in this world that is remarkable one moment and ruthless the next is continuing to engage. It is so easy to check out, but we are called to check in. It is so simple to let our hearts turn to lead, but we are called to be light instead. Is any of this straightforward in our climate of death, destruction, hatred, and hostility of unparalleled proportions? No, it is not effortless, but it is essential.

Dear friends, I know many of you are facing unspeakable burdens. My heart aches for you and throbs with you. Right now pressing in may be asking too much. That is ok.

We, unfortunately, have to drink from the cup of hurt before we can be quenched by the hand of The Healer.

God never forsakes us, though. One way He manifests himself is through our community. I pray wherever you find yourself today, the love of those around you warms, even if just slightly, the weeping heart inside you. Your internal song may never be the same, but this I know, someday your soul will sing again.

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Purpose Amidst Imperfection 

Nestled amidst the sunrise of a fresh week and all the promise it holds is an ever faithful reminder of my inadequacy. I am presently, but peacefully aware that I got more wrong than right last week, and that will surely be my truth this week as well.

My keen sense of insufficiency poses a different purpose for me now, though. Growing in grace teaches me that it is no longer about striving for perfection only to be frustrated, but seeking purpose amidst my imperfection only to be furthered.

 It is an incongruent truth that on the other side of our failures is an intention designed for our prosperity. 

Understanding that falling down is not a shameful thing, but a sacred tool is the genesis of praise. Praise opens the door and welcomes gratitude right into our hearts.

When gratitude is our guest, we see through all the heavy right into the heart of the holy, and joy becomes a source of our strength. 

This week, friend, I pray you have eyes to see and ears to hear all the beauty that your brokenness beholds, and your heart will sing, it is good and it is well with my soul.
You are loved.❤️

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His Promises Endure

I am a tremendously deep feeler in a terribly fallen world. I experience your success and your suffering, your communication, verbal and non-verbal, your actions and your inactions. I endure all your raw edges and finely buffed emotions. I sense your masks because I have worn them as well, but I long to see your soul. I carry your praises and your pain, and that is why I laugh a lot but frequently lament, too. Some people would say I am a mess. Some days I say, I am a mess. That is ok because it is in the sediment of tribulation that I discover significance when I have anchored my eyes, ears, and heart towards the eternal message that I know is always there. Right now the world sits raw and heavy upon my heart. I feel like I am in a tug of war between the desire to surrender to the sadness or continue standing despite its presence. There is only one choice for me; I know that. But, the fight is real! Thank you, Father, for your promises that endure all storms, whether we are standing well or weary.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

“I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. John 14:27

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

 
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Tears

Large trees in snowy climates are designed to drop their branches when the weight of falling snow gets too heavy for them to bear. It is like a dance planned by a Director that is out of the trees control. The Choreographer knows exactly when the branches need to release pressure so they don’t break. Our tears are a lot like that, also. They are not on our timetable, and that can be both frustrating and sometimes awkward. Like the beautiful tree branches, though, we were designed by God in such a way to let go of building burdens so we may bend but not break. Isn’t it amazing that our Father was so attentive to every little detail, even the timing of our tears? He crafts exactly when they will fall so He will be there to capture them all. He is holding you amidst your burdens today, friends. He is the Creator and the Caretaker of every last tear. Rest in His arms today. You are loved.❤️

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When The Pledges Become The Peace

When we know the character of God and have experienced His faithfulness, it gives us the strength to continue standing in times of great fear and pain.

But sometimes the reality of brokenness penetrates the resolve of belief, and we feel the weight of our residency in a fallen world. 

It is in these times that the word of God is more crucial than ever.  It is only when we place our pain into the context of the promises that we can persevere.  Saints never rejoice for one another’s suffering but we can rejoice amidst it when the pledges of the Savior become the peace of His soldiers.

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The Message of Our Thorns

Friend, that “thorn” you are carrying, we all have them. For some of you, it may be an addiction, a prodigal child or a painful marriage. Maybe it is a chronic illness, loneliness, depression or rejection that is a constant reminder of your residency in a broken world. The Apostle Paul said 2 Corinthians 12 that his thorn was a messenger from Satan, that he begged The Lord to remove. God did not remove it, but He too purposed it as a remembrance of His sufficient grace. What are the messages of your thorns? Are you listening to Satan or your Savior? The enemy tells us our thorns deem us unlovable, unforgivable, inadequate, weak and hopeless. But God. He says “my grace is sufficient for you.” Although the “limps” we walk with in this life make us weak and wobble, in Him, we find strength and stability. Thorns might discredit us as unworthy and inadequate. However, Jesus credited us as worthy and adequate by His sacrifice on the cross wearing a crown of thorns. The reality is, both The Promiser and the persecutor speak to us through our trials. We have the freedom to choose who to listen to, and that choice will determine which one’s purpose will be realized in our life. Will we frame tribulation for our good and God’s ultimate glory or Satan’s gain and our unlimited gloom?

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Remember and Rest,Friends 

I started my first seminary class last night. I have to say I felt slightly displaced as one who thrives on application among the academics. It is no surprise that the things that stuck with me the most were the points that immediately spoke and applied to my heart. 

Our teacher told a story about a young boy who would always wear his underwear, otherwise know as under britches (lol), backward. His dad would always say, son, turn your under britches around. Time and again they would be on backward, so the dad finally asked the child, “why do you wear your under britches backward? The young boy replied, “Dad, I want to see the big picture.” The big picture was Spiderman and all his friends.  

I have been thinking about that, and how we have so much going on in our lives that we sometimes can get so bogged down in every detail that we miss the bigger picture.

The ultimate picture is this; there are so many things of this world that I see and do not understand. There is suffering, there are tragedies and illnesses that break my heart, and I am tempted to ask, why God? Why do you allow all this? I have been diligently practicing before I ever get to the why to remember the Who.

The bigger picture often alludes us, and we see the fallen, the evil, the travesties. Thankfully, though, we have a sovereign God who sees, knows and controls everything. It would strike us as insane that He would send His only son to die for someone else, but He did because He crafted the bigger plan far in advance. God promises His picture will prosper us (Jeremiah 29:11). He promises a bigger picture that will ultimately be for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

We must not get weighed down in all the little details of daily life, friends. If we pick apart ever issue we don’t agree with or understand, life will become very laborious quickly. I know it is tempting. We are passionate people who seek clarity, but we must not let our pursuits and passions overshadow our purpose. John 6:29 says, Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one He has sent.”

Will you believe in Him? Will you remember there is a bigger picture that requires faith to sustain us? It will take effort, and it will not be efficient, but effective, Yes! You will have to fight, but you will find freedom! You will forget and struggle to realize, but you will learn to surrender and rest.  

I am praying for you, as I ask for myself to resist the temptation to focus so much on the trees that I forget to there is a big, beautiful and mighty forest above and around all those trees.  
There is a loving God who has His hand on every minor and major detail of our lives. 

 Remember, friends. Remember and rest.

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Broken And Beautiful

I was standing at my kitchen sink crying and smiling this morning as I was washing my grandmother’s Spode, Christmas Rose, China that I now own. I noticed the sharp incongruence in my heart. There I stood, a broken heart full of broken pictures as the ballad of my soul played its hymn; this is not how it is supposed to be. But then there was an accompanying melody of, thank you, Jesus, for how it was. Imperfect moments, incomplete holidays accompanied by irreplaceable memories; both beauty and brokenness reigned there in the ordinary, yet extraordinary moment at my kitchen window.

This week, I have followed one of my favorite celebrities as she has ministered to the people of Haiti alongside Samaritan’s Purse. She has documented her trip in pictures. Many of her posts have contained the same observance or a similar variation. Her tag lines all lamented Haiti, so much poverty surrounded by so much beauty. Her pictures are oxymorons, and her perplexity of that juxtaposition is evident. Broken people and broken countries, but all encapsulated by beauty. It is not supposed to be this way, but it is.

As I sat in Christmas Eve service tonight and we sang Silent Night while lighting the candles, The Lord showed me a picture. For the dormant candles to be kindled, the light from our neighbor must remain upright and firm, while the one receiving the light must bend, lean and become vulnerable, to be ignited. At times we are the beacons, and at times we are the broken. We each have light to give and light to receive but the cycle cannot be sustained without both the shattering and the shining of souls.

The examples of the ever-present and unchanging reality of the marriage of beauty and brokenness are more pervasive than I can list. They are present in every moment and every memory, in our tears and our triumphs, our pain and passions, our struggles and our strengths. Where there is beauty, there will always be brokenness, and it was this way from the beginning.

I am so thankful that The Son of God, The King of the world was born in a dirty stable and laid in a messy manger. The Light of the world, God’s most perfect Gift, a Savior for the world entered this life, and surrounding His arrival was beauty and brokenness. Broken circumstances, broken parents, broken leaders, broken countries and broken plans were the backdrops that set the stage for the most beautiful bounty the world would ever know. It was all necessary to remind and comfort us when life is not as it is supposed to be in our hearts, that it is as it is meant to be in our Savior’s hands.

Many of you are experiencing the poverty of loss, illness and difficult circumstances this Christmas Eve. I pray you find strength from the life of a baby born into bankrupt surroundings, who suffered among both the sick and the “sufficient” so that He may bring the beauty of His perfect light to mingle among the broken parts of our lives. Jesus, may we all have eyes to see your grace flowing through our moments of grief, and may we be consoled, sustained and encouraged by the sweet fragrance that accompanies all of our fractured moments as we travel home.

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He is Soverign Over Us

 

We all have circumstances in our lives that we wish were different, and this reality is one of the easiest places the enemy entangles us. You may be in an unstable marriage, parenting a prodigal child, facing addiction, disease or significant loss. Whatever the challenge you have been given may be, it may not have come from God’s hands, but it did go through His hands.  It is hard to live amidst our struggles and remain joyful when we traverse difficult paths. The great danger is that as we walk our routes, it is tempting to compare our journey to another’s. Comparison tricks us into thinking others have it easier or have been given favor. Comparison is a liar, and we believe her far too quickly. Observing others casts darkness into our lives, and it is easy to begin fantasizing about a more comfortable life.  We must recognize fantasy for what it is; a fraud who draws you into his web with unrealistic thoughts of “better things.” In the life of a believer, there ought to be nothing better than walking well in obedience the road our Master has assigned us. Perseverance is not possible if we are self-focused. It is impossible if we are contrasting our journey with someone else’s. It is when we fix our eyes on Jesus, insulate our hearts with His Word, and our desire to please our Savior overshadows that of pleasing our self, that we endure and our weeping is joined by worship, purpose enters our pain and joy joins our journey. Consider 1 Corinthians 7:17~And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life. Don’t think I’m being harder on you than on the others. I give this same counsel in all the churches. (The Message). I pray today, friend, that you and I believe in the plan of our good and faithful Provider as hard as it may be. He is in the midst of every heartache. Fight to be still and know that He is God, and He is good. When we live as though He is sovereign over us, His strength and peace will equip us as we travel. You are loved!

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Fixing Our Eyes On the Cross


If we are not keeping our eyes on the cross, we are no better than a blind man driving home.
Three crosses stand high above our church, Shades Mountain Baptist Church. The cross in the middle stands the highest, and the two on each side beneath the shadow of the larger cross. The two lower crosses represent the crosses of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus. The higher one, representing the cross of Jesus. These three crosses, the highest one, in particular, hold a special place in my heart.

In September 2005, my parents were in town visiting. The second day they were here, my mom and I dropped my children at pre-school and headed to Sam’s. We had just parked when she got a phone call. It was my dad. “He said something has happened, and I cannot see.”

Our Sam’s trip was averted, and we rushed back to my house to check on him. We would later end up in the emergency room to find out he had a stroke in his eye; this would be my dad’s second stroke. The first had affected one eye; the second stroke now leaving both eyes impaired.

As hours passed, and the story unfolded, we found out he was in the car driving down Columbiana Road when the stroke besieged him. Our church sits on Columbiana Road. Although my dad had very limited vision, He said he could see ONE thing. The high cross that stands guard at the top of Shades Mountain Baptist Church.

He went on to explain that he knew if he slowly proceeded toward the cross, he could find his way to my home because I lived just down the street. Miraculously he drove himself back to my house, the cross guiding him the whole way.

I was recently sharing this story with a friend who said to me, “I do not understand how he drove home blind.” It was at that moment that God spoke to my heart. The message was very straightforward,

“If we are not placing our eyes on the cross we are no better than a blind man driving home.”

Wow! I had chills, and I love how God used that conversation to embed His message into my heart.

We are all just driving home, friends. Where are we fixing our eyes? On the world, on our problems, on our pain, on our possessions, or on the cross?

Sometimes my vision gets distorted. There are many things the world has to offer to distract my eyes. My flesh wages war against my sight. The goal is not perfect vision, but progressive vision. We must always be advancing, focusing and refocusing towards that one thing that now or later will make all things clear and guide us without fail, even in darkness-The Cross.

I know your “drives” sometimes become treacherous. I know your vision often feels blurry. Mine too, but Keep returning your eyes to the cross. It is the only way to get you home.

Hebrews 12:1-2~ Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.  

You are loved, friend!