From Ruins to Peace

You know the feeling.  That sinking feeling that comes when something is not where it’s supposed to be.

While writing my book Whole, I lost a completed chapter.  It disappeared into cyber space, never to be seen again.  It was my chapter on Esther, and I must admit I was pretty pleased with it.  It also represented hours of work.  And it was gone.  

At that point I wanted to quit.  I felt defeated.  But my friend and my husband cheered me on and so I got back up and started again.  In the end, it was a better chapter than the one it replaced.  

I tell you this because quite often we get to the point where we are enjoying smooth sailing in our lives and then the unthinkable happens. That sinking feeling rises up from deep within us. Disaster strikes, sickness sets in or the downward spiral just gets out of control.  Whatever it is, instead of enjoying the fruits of our labours, we are looking at ruins.  Instead of a forward momentum, we feel like we are moving backwards.    

I’ve been reading the book of Haggai in the Old Testament and it’s got a good word for those of us who feel like this today.  Who are looking at rebuilding and quite frankly feel like quitting more than anything.

In the book of Haggai, chapter two, God’s temple has been destroyed and has sat in ruins.  His people have been running about making sure their own needs and lives are running smoothly while God’s house sits in disarray.  The dust blowing through the abandoned site.  He wasn’t happy with his people and He tells them to get to work and rebuild.   

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He exhorts them to not be timid or hold back because He is with them.  “I’m living and breathing among you right now.  Don’t be timid.  Don’t hold back.”  (vs.5 Message)  

He tells them he’ll supply everything they need because “I own the silver, I own the gold.” (v. 8 Message)  

When we are staring at the ruins of what used to be glory, we can tend to forget about God. Maybe that’s the reason we are staring at a pile of rubble.  We’ve removed God from His rightful place and glory.  But He is God and He wants His rightful place in the centre of our lives.  He wants us to remember Him and put Him first.  Why?   Because he is living and breathing amongst us.  We may feel defeated and dead but the God of Angel Armies, as he is identified in this passage, is alive, ready to fight for us.  We need to put down our idols and see Him.   

Not only is He with us but He owns everything so we don’t need to be timid or afraid about getting back up, following wherever he is leading.  Our circumstances may not change, but we can expect great things of our God.  We can expect His glory.  We can count on His faithfulness to see us through whatever ruins we need to navigate, rebuild.

But that’s not all He says to those unruly people of His!  God then promises the Israelites, in verse 9;  ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”  Haggai 2:9 NIV

When we come to the place where all we see is ruins in our lives and we need to rebuild, we can remember He is with us.  He will supply what we need because he owns it all.  And he will take those ruins and make it even better than before.  And in that place of rebuilt ruins, He will bring peace.

When It’s the Wrong Season!

It’s April 17th and it looks like blizzard out my window. Yesterday was the first snow day of the year for the kids…in April. We spent the weekend huddled inside while snow, rain and freezing rain pelted our house for two full days. Friday and Monday were just starter and finisher days. Four days of foul weather and now today, snowing like it’s January.

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April 17, 2018!!!

I’m not sure about you, but that’s how life feels lately. Like a never-ending winter season. Now I love winter, maybe not as much as I used to I’ll admit, but I still enjoy the winter season. January is my birth month so I’m a snow baby. But sometimes when you are expecting spring and winter shows up again, even the most avid lovers can feel a little discouraged. I’m not only talking about weather here.

How many times have we dreamed about something, only to get something else completely different?

How many times have we assumed this or that, only to find out that our assumptions were wrong?

How many times have we gotten the wrong season, when we expected, no desired, a totally different one?

My first instinct is to resist and complain about the unfairness of it all. I don’t want to make lemonade out of the lemons life hands me. Really I don’t.At.All.

I think I deserve a good pity party and indulge myself in it.

This really accomplishes nothing beneficial. For me or those around me.  All it really does is make me more narcissistic, bitter, and angry to name just a few. I hide more.

Maybe I need to find a different response. I’m not saying be a Polyanna. I think there is something to being authentic about the troubles we face in our lives. We don’t need to be fake or lie to ourselves and those around us. Perhaps instead, we can acknowledge those troubles but not let them define us. Not let them master us or our days. I’ve let that happen too much. You?

I’m learning that if I let my focus stay on Jesus, that this is a good defence against that type of reaction. I used to think Jesus deserted me in the struggles and hardness of life. I didn’t want to admit it but deep down that is what I believed. He’s been telling me otherwise over the last year. That actually in the suffering, he steps closer to us. He may allow the difficulties, the sorrow but he doesn’t abandon us. He walks us down those lonely, rough roads. But if we let the hardness of the situation blind us by keeping us so inward-focused, we lose sight of him and we think we are alone.

But we are not alone. Ever.  Sometimes we just need to lift our heads, open our eyes and take a look around. He’s there beside us, holding us if need be. He breathes hope into us and instead of hiding, we can take a step towards living.  This is beneficial for us and for those around us.

It sounds easy but it’s not. I know. But maybe, just perhaps, today, we can take one step and just look up, away from the snow, the circumstances, the mess we may be in and look for Him.  He’s there waiting for us to see Him.  To breath life back into us, to give us hope.

If your road is a good one right now, still look up and see His goodness. Wherever you are today, look up and out. Sometimes a different perspective makes all the difference.

Prayer To Change

Prayer Warrior. Do you know one? I know several. Unfortunately those words don’t describe me. I’d like to change that.

Prayer is a discipline that has never been a strength of mine. It should be as important as talking to our family or friends. It’s not. At least for me.

I get bored easily and sometimes the thought of praying turns me off. It’s something I have, in the past, dreaded rather than looked forward to.

I think my problem is two-fold. First; I haven’t been very disciplined about it. Second; I’ve looked at it as too much of a discipline.

Yeah you read that right. I think my problem with prayer lies in who I think I’m praying to. My thinking has been all wrong. It’s been about me rather than Him. It’s been about performance rather than relationship. It’s been about one more To Do or get punished, rather than about grace and love.

Sometimes I treat God as my personal Genie in a Bottle.

That’s not I AM. Almighty God. Heavenly Father. I find I don’t know God, like I should after all this time. Instead I find I easily believe in the lies that the enemy whispers in my ear. I’m not okay with that anymore.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, we’ve been reading Craig Groeschel’s book, Daily Power. I mentioned about picking just one discipline to work on this year to get you where you want to be by December.

You’ve guessed by now, I chose prayer. I believe prayer leads the way to change because it takes you into the presence of God. Real prayer is letting go of the Genie factor, and surrendering to Him. In letting go of my lies and preconceived notions, I can begin to get to know God in a personal way. Communication is the best way to get to know someone, right? That’s where I want to be in December. I knew I needed some help in getting started.

A series of events, led to me the book, The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. It has changed my thinking about prayer and how I pray. It has also challenged my lack of faith and frankly, my whining.

I recently read these words in The Circle Maker:

”…the will of God doesn’t get easier. The will of God gets harder. Here’s why: the harder it gets, the harder you have to pray.
God will keep putting you in situations that stretch your faith, and as your faith stretches, so do your dreams…And it won’t get easier; it’ll get harder. It won’t get less complicated; it’ll get more complicated. But complications are evidence of God’s blessing. And if it’s from God, then it’s a holy complication.” (p.111, The Circle Maker)

Ironically, this was encouraging to me. Why? We don’t need more complications, right? Shouldn’t God be making our lives more easy?

If that’s the case, I’m doing something drastically wrong. How about you? The more I obey God, the more complicated life gets. So Batterson’s words make a lot of sense and comfort me. I’m not going crazy. We think when things go awry or get complicated, we’ve done something wrong, right? But if we are following God’s will, the complications are holy and viewing them in that perspective changes everything. Maybe we are doing something right.

Up to now, this is where I usually give up. But Batterson says this is where you have to dig in.

“This is where many of us get stuck spiritually. We’re willing to pray right up to the point of discomfort, but no further. We’re willing to pray right up t the point of inconvenience, but no further. Praying hard is uncomfortable and inconvenient, but that is when you know you’re getting close to a miracle!” (p. 112, The Circle Maker)

One of the things that always put me off prayer was it was inconvenient. I didn’t want to get up earlier to pray. I didn’t want to stop and take time out of my day to pray. My agenda was too busy. My pride said I was more important. I didn’t really trust that prayer was going to do anything because I didn’t trust God.

I was having trouble praying because I was still working under the idea I had to earn everything, including answers to prayer. I knew I was a mess so why would He answer? I didn’t trust Him because I really didn’t know Him. Not like a daughter. Not like a friend. Or heir.

This is where I want to be, come December. Daughter, friend, heir. Making time to speak to God is key to getting there. It’s baby steps but already shifts are happening. That’s the power of prayer and I hope to not only discover that power but know deeply the one who wields it.

 

Raising Up Daniels in a Babylonian World

As my husband’s been speaking on Daniel the last couple of weekends, I’ve been reminded how relevant Daniel still is in 2018. Mark’s tag line the first week was: “When we stand firm, we will stand out; and God will help us stand up!”

Automatically my thoughts went to our sons who are just entering their teen years and becoming men. Men who hopefully will become Daniels in a increasingly Babylonian world.

There’s so little tolerance for men or Christians today that I feel like our boys begin with three strikes against them. As a parent it concerns me, but I remind myself it’s not any different than Daniel’s experience. He was a Jew, and a slave, held captive by the Babylonian Empire. An alien in an alien world. Those are some pretty big strikes against him!

 

 

But Daniel was doing some things right. He obviously had some charisma that went along with a winsome attitude, as Mark mentioned yesterday. Because of his favourable attitude and respect for those in authority, Daniel found favour with those in charge over him.

But what really made Daniel a stand out? He never let his eyes stray from his God. I’m sure there was lots to look at in Babylon. Idols, women, riches and so much more. It was a heathen heaven so to speak. Daniel however, kept focused on who he believed in and chose to follow the only one true God when it would have been so much easier to choose a different path.

It is my prayer that as our boys grow up, they will do the same. That they will keep their focus on the one true God. Because there will be lots to look at; idols, women, riches and so much more. But if they keep their eyes on God and truly live out what they believe and know is truth, the rest falls into place.

Does it mean it’s all rainbows and unicorns? That would be a resounding no. Being a Daniel in a Babylonian world means you’re going to have some major trouble. You can count on it. (Lions den anyone?) And when that trouble comes barrelling down, God is going to help them stand up against it. You can count on that too.

What does being a Daniel look like? Love when it’s easier to hate. Generosity when it’s easier to keep it all for self. Not having the last word. Admitting being wrong. Being bold. Standing up for what is true. Self-control. Being a Daniel can only be done with the help of God. The good news is he’s given us a helper, the Holy Spirit and He’s there for the asking.

He’s ready to help everyone. Including me. It’s far too easy as an adult to hide away and think it’s a lesson only for my kids. I need to raise myself up as a Daniel too.
If I want my boys to be Daniels, as parents we need to lead the way. Disciple them in Daniel 101.

We need to keep our focus on God and not look to the right and get caught up in circumstances or to the left and get sucked into the lies of Babylon. More stuff will not make it better. Only Jesus will.

I need to be willing to put myself out there, what about you? Ah, but there’s the rub. It means engaging with people. I like my glass castle that keeps me isolated. Most days, I avoid as much human contact as possible. Because life’s just easier that way isn’t it? If we don’t engage we can’t say or do the wrong thing.

That kind of living makes up impotent. We were created to have relationships. Daniel was a slave in a foreign land, but God didn’t let him off the hook. We’re not excused either. I can’t really model Daniel to my four walls. I can’t expect from my boys what I am not willing to do myself.

“When we stand firm, we will stand out; and God will help us stand up!”  Mark Willcock

(Friends I am preaching this message to myself first and foremost!)

When God Seems Silent at Christmas

Christmastime.

Smiling kids, bright lights and the piney scent of trees all dressed up for show. It’s a magical time of year.

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Sometimes. For some of us, it’s a struggle. I’ve had years like that as I’m sure you have too. The very idea of putting up a Christmas tree is exhausting. Or makes you sad.

The pressure to DO Christmas seems to build more and more every year. Along with the pressure, comes the stress stealing the joy in our hearts. In many ways, Christmas brings out the worst in us as we fret and buzz around.

So I hide. I don’t think I’m the only one. Sometimes the busiest people are really just hiding in their business. Others of us, really do become hermits.

Why would we want to hide at Christmas? Isn’t it the time of miracles? The most wonderful time of the year?

One reason I hide is to avoid the inevitable disappointment. There have been times I’ve looked for Christ at Christmas but all I hear is silence. Ever happen to you?

I walk away from the holidays disappointed with God. Isn’t that the anti-thesis of Christmas? When it rolls around in twelve months time, I hide again, Afraid that down deep I’m doing something wrong. Christmas magnifies our hurts tenfold, doesn’t it? So we hide.

Pretty depressing, right? Isn’t Christmas supposed to be joyous? Maybe in our fantasy lives. Because in real life, stuff happens. Suffering happens. It doesn’t miraculously stop for Christmas.

Christmas in real life is very different from all the Christmas feel good movies and stories. But the miracle is still there if we can be open to seeing it.

In fact, the story of Jesus’ birth is not all unicorns and rainbows. Have you noticed that? Mary and Joseph didn’t have a place to stay and she was ready to give birth. Can you imagine the almost heart attack Joseph was probably having? Mary was going to give birth amongst animals. Without a midwife or help of any kind. I.Can’t.Even. Not to mention the gossip that followed them like a black rain cloud. What? You think that stayed in Nazareth? Probably half the village had to go to Bethlehem too. The gossips probably travelled with them. None of this was easy.

When we look at the story of Jesus’ birth we skip over some of these very messy details. One often overlooked is the four hundred years of silence from God between the Old Testament prophecies of Malachi and the birth of Jesus.

Four hundred years. Of Silence. We get fretful and anxious waiting twenty-four hours. Imagine waiting four hundred years!

It’s not like God’s people were cloistered either during those years. Those four hundred years were busy times indeed.

Major ancient world events were happening. Palestine was ruled by five different nations; Persia, Greece, Egypt, Syria and Rome.1 Some of it was brutal.2

The Jews were forced to worship pagan gods.2  It was a time of unrest and revolt.

Not a word from God.  His silence must have echoed like the winds of a hurricane. Here were His people under pagan rule and he wasn’t lifting a finger. Where was He?

Silent doesn’t mean absent.

I don’t know why God remained silent those four hundred years. I don’t even know why  he remains silent in my own life or in the lives of those I love. But what I’m learning is just because he’s silent doesn’t mean he’s not present. It’s just the opposite.  He’s right in the middle of it.

He had things under control back then.   He was putting into place the events of His Son’s birth and life and ministry. For the New Testament Church.

“Many things occurred that made the time just right for Jesus’ ministry and the writing of the New Testament. For example, the Greek language spread throughout the world, providing a common language, and the Roman period provided a time of unprecedented peace, magnificent highways, and uniform laws that aided the spread of the gospel by the first century church.” Kids Answers website

God was working everything together to put His plan of salvation in place.  And later, to spread that Good News around the world. He was there and he was getting ready to send His Own to us.

“All of these changes set the stage for the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus Christ, to come ‘in the fullness of time’ (GALATIANS 4:4).”1

In the fullness of time. It all rolled out just as God had planned. When everything was in place, God’s Son came down to earth to save us.  To be present among His people.  In the flesh.

Emmanuel. God with us. God may seem silent in our lives and maybe during the Christmas season but that doesn’t mean he’s absent. Look for his hands at work. Wait with expectation until you can see Him. But most of all know that He is with us, whether silent or not. Emmanuel. God with us. At all times.  In all circumstances.  In all joy.  In all suffering.  All.The.Time.  This is the miracle of Christmas.

1.  https://answersingenesis.org/kids/bible/years-of-silence/

2.  https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/what-happened-between-testaments/

The Life of Un-ease

Recently I travelled to a conference on mothering but quite honestly didn’t come away with too much about being a mom. Not because there wasn’t a lot of good information on mothering and raising the next generation. There was. The speakers and workshops were fabulous. What I heard however was something completely different.

It was an echo of a lesson that has been reverberating through my life the last couple of weeks. The lesson being an answer to a long held question. An answer I’m not sure I want to accept. Because it doesn’t make things easier. At least not my circumstances. That’s what we all want isn’t it, circumstances that are smooth, that slide along the journey of our lives barely making a ripple. I want ease and quiet. Our world in so many ways, tells us we can have it, that easy lifestyle within our grasps, if we only do this and this and this.

We chase after it, this lie of ease. At least I do. It beckons me and I reach and grab, only to lose it again and the chase starts again. Relentless.

Wouldn’t it be better to just face the circumstances?

I’m wondering if our lives have no ripples maybe we’re doing something wrong? The enemy would have us chase after ease because then we are too distracted, running after the wrong thing, to see the truth. Our lives are not supposed to be easy peasy. Following Jesus is not a crutch into an affluent, carefree, prosperous life that many mistakenly believe it is.

Jesus himself tells us this in the gospel of Mark 8:34-37 (MSG)
Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for? (emphasis mine)

This is what I learn from these verses:

1.  We Follow, He Leads. That’s just the way it is. I’d like to say that I want to do that but if I’m really honest, no, I want control. I want to lead. My husband says that I want to lead when we dance. I like to blame it on my dance training but in reality, I want control. So we look good.
2.  We Follow wherever He Leads. “Don’t run from suffering; embrace it.” Most days I want to run from suffering and not follow wherever he leads. I fight Jesus every step of the way. I.Don’t.Want.This. I scream. Do you do this too? I feel like a two-year old. Maybe because I’m acting like one.
3.  He’ll show us how. How to embrace suffering, to stand and face our circumstances. If He shows how to do that, doesn’t that mean that He’s here, beside us, through it all? The suffering, the difficulties, the challenges, the good, the bad?

Whether our circumstances and situations are mothering challenges, marriage challenges, health challenges, work challenges and/or relational challenges, whatever they are, He is there right in the middle of the mess, the frustration, the angst. We don’t have to run away, instead we need to run towards Him and He’ll show us how to live, really live, even in those uneasy, desperate, noisy circumstances.

We can trust Him to stay because He has said He won’t abandon us. We don’t have to chase Him, we just have to grab onto Him or jump into His arms. He’s got us and He’s already gone ahead of us right into what we think is a murky future.

The choice is really up to us. Run after the relentless pursuit of ease only to find in the end, we chased after the wrong thing or face the suffering, the challenges, the difficulties, the unease and know He is right there, navigating us through it it all.

Navigating us through the darkness to a light and a reward. A heavenly reward yes, but today, the prize is Him. Jesus. Following those footsteps enables us to have an intimate, deep relationship with the real deal. But we have to let him lead. We follow into a glorious, loving relationship.

When You Feel Lost

I have been fascinated for the last while with the concept of being lost. I think we all feel that way at different times in our lives. It’s not usually a pleasant sensation. Being lost can trigger a host of emotions. Fear, exhilaration, sadness, depression, excitement.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, being lost. Lessons learned while adrift sometimes stick more than others. For example, if you lose your way going someplace, chances are, once you correct your path, you won’t make the same mistake again. Right?

As I’ve mulled the concept of being lost, I stumbled on some quotes.  Just as there are many emotions involved in being lost, there are also a lot of different ways to think about what being lost means.

Here are a few I like:

Fireheart – why do you cry?
‘Because I am lost,’ she whispered… ‘And I do not know the way.’ ”
p. 281 Sarah J. Maas, Heir of Fire

Sometimes being lost happens because we’ve lost our way. We don’t know whether to go right or left or up or down. Direction is skewed. We may have taken our eyes off Jesus and in doing so, stumbled and lost our bearings. Circumstances aren’t helping matters. They are making things more confusing. Maybe we’ve had to rethink some things and now the ground is shaking beneath us. Our foundation was built on a lie. There are many ways to lose direction and become lost.

“He showed me how to get lost, and then I showed myself how to get found.” p. 367 Gayle Foreman, Just One Day

In this story, the traveller would go to a new city and find an area he did not know, go there and wander. He called it getting lost. At first his friend thought he was crazy but then she saw the miracle and the beauty of it. This is where getting lost is not bad. It’s an adventure. The terrain is new. Foreign. It may not be like we are used to but what’s wrong with that? It’s a chance to grow and open yourself up to new experiences, and expand your horizons. It’s a chance to explore. It’s a challenge and as you navigate your way to being found, you learn some things about yourself.

“ ‘I wasn’t lost. Just because you couldn’t find me doesn’t mean I was lost.’ ” p. 208  Kristen Heitzmann,  The Edge of Recall

There are times when other people think you are lost but you really aren’t. They may question your struggle or your direction. They may think you’re nuts. But you aren’t, you’ve just chosen a different path.

The thing I realized in all these scenarios and many others not mentioned is we are never truly, totally lost.

“Jesus can find you in the darkness.” P. 80 Dee Henderson, The Guardian

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10

Even when finding our way seems impossible to us, there is One who never loses sight of us. We are never lost to Him. Ever. No matter what we may have done or not done. No matter where we go. (Psalm 139)

There are many stories in the bible that talk about God seeking out that which is lost. A coin, a sheep and a son for starters. These stories mirror what God is actively doing. He relentlessly seeks us out when we are lost. In all three of the stories, the person who lost something, never gives up. They search until they find it. God will not give up. The price of the life of His Son means that God’s plan is always Search and Rescue.

He is also going to fight for us. If someone is searching for something, he will not be deterred. He will fight for the right to keep searching and he will fight for what he has lost. “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” NIV Exodus 14:14

This was the message to the Israelites as they escaped from Egypt but came up against the Red Sea. The chariots of the Egyptians were chasing them down from behind. But God fought for them.

Yeah, but then they wandered for forty years, you may be thinking. Were they lost? It might seem so but God knew precisely where they were and why there were there. We may not always understand God’s plan. God used those forty years to teach them about himself, what His plans were and that ultimately, He was in control. They were not lost. They were right where they were supposed to be.

Sometimes the shake-up of going astray gives us the jolt we need to awaken to our surroundings.  We are so distracted we need that sharp intake of breath and narrowed focus that realizing we are lost, brings. Jesus knows where we are, but do we? Do we even realize we are lost? Honestly, we don’t.

Ultimately, being lost means that at some point, we have to let go of our pride and accept help. Acknowledging being lost is acknowledging that we are not in control. That in the dark, in the confusion, in the fear, in the challenge of being lost, we need a guide who can find us in the dark and take us to the other side.