Wednesday, December 17, 2014

All on a Starry Night

“After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” Matthew 2:9-10

On my Christmas tree hangs a miniature galaxy of 1500 white lights twinkling beneath a luminous capiz shell star that this year replaced the angel which has always floated atop my tree. It’s a fitting transition since stars have captivated me as long as I can remember. Often while growing up, I would sit outside at night and gaze upward at the glittering lights. On chilly December nights, I searched for the northern star and strained to see if I could determine which light shone in the east at Jesus’ birth. A couple of weeks ago, we had an unusual cold snap and I wandered into my backyard to stare at the innumerable flickering stars strewn across a black velvet canvas. For weeks before that night, one of my Mom’s Christmas stories kept popping into my mind. For years, God gave Mom Christmas and Easter stories to share at church and one year, He gave her the story of Twink. After Mom died, Dad and I looked for written or typed copies of Mom’s stories but never found any. So, drawing from my memory to the best of my ability, here’s Twink's story.

“Twink” by Jean Lovvorn

Long ago, way out in space there lived a little unassuming star named Twink. Year after year he watched as other stars did important jobs and shared with each other stories of their exotic travels. Listening to the other stars, Twink began to feel unimportant, like his life had no purpose. One day he started crying and as he did, in the cold, still air of space, the tears began to freeze around him. Each day the layers of ice grew thicker and thicker as Twink continued to cry. He drifted farther and farther away from the other stars until he was all alone in a forgotten corner of the universe. Cold and lonely, Twink began to despair. Then one day, he saw a blinding light and heard a gentle voice.

“Twink, I haven’t forgotten you.”

“Really, Lord?” Twink’s voice shook from the cold and the tears.

“Really.” Twink could hear God’s smile in his voice even if He couldn’t see Him. “I have a really special job for you.”

“You do?” Twink felt his heart warm and wondered if maybe God’s love could thaw the ice around his frozen heart.

“We’re going on a really long trip and I need you to follow me.”

“Where are we going?” Doubt and fear crept into Twink’s voice.

“Do you trust Me?”

“Ye-yes, lord,” Twink stammered.

“Good, then let’s go.”

Long days and nights, Twink and God traveled together and for a while, Twink couldn’t see much below himself because of the layers of ice. So he followed God’s voice and stopped and rested when and where He told him to. As they soared past comets and planets and sparkling galaxies, Twink poured out his grief to God. As they journeyed together, the ice around Twink finally began to melt and his light grew brighter and brighter. When he could see clearly, he looked down and spotted a huge group of people following them. They were dressed in fine clothes and rode camels and seemed to be on a very important trip.

“God, I think they’re following us.” Twink looked at the people apprehensively.

God chuckled loudly. “They are, son, but that’s what they’re supposed to do.” The next night God announced, “We’re here.”

“We are?” Twink looked down into a dusty village outside a big city where he was hovering over a humble, rough-hewn home.

“Yes, Twink. You’ve just led all those people to My Son and the world will never be the same because of your obedience.”

Twink’s eyes filled with tears of joy this time as he looked down into the eyes of a baby who smiled up at him, reaching out his tiny hand as though to touch him. The baby smiled and cooed and Twink beamed with such joy that his light lit up the night sky as the travelers bowed in awe before the Son of God.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Let It Go

1 Peter 5:7: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about what happens to you.” (NLT)

With no allusion to the ubiquitous song from Disney’s Frozen, I keep encountering the idea held in the title of the popular princess anthem: “Let It Go.” The Christian band Tenth Avenue North also has a song with the same title, but their lyrics sound like a letter from God encouraging us to release everything to Him. Recently, within one week, at least three friends shared with me how things changed in their lives once they “let go” of certain situations. I don’t think any of them realized God was using them to reinforce His message to me.

For me, letting go means releasing a problem, concern or desire to God in submission to Him. In that moment, I am asking for His wisdom, His clarity, His will. Perhaps that is one of God’s greatest desires is that we trust so completely in His wisdom, goodness and grace that we relinquish control and surrender our lives to Him. Philippians 4:6-7 promises this course will bring unimaginable peace: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I hope one day I can hold on to the lesson of “letting go” so I can experience the peace God promises.

Reinhold Niebuhr shared his thoughts on the subject in his famous “Serenity Prayer,” the first half of which many folks have memorized. Here’s the rest of the prayer:

“Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking as He did,
this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy
With Him forever in the next.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

You are not alone

Deut. 31: 6b “For it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will not leave you or forsake you.”

When Daddy died a year ago April, I felt like an orphan. It didn’t matter that I’m an adult and I live 300 miles away from my childhood home. I still felt like my last anchor was ripped away. Many friends who have lost both of their parents told me they experienced the same feelings. It was hard to lose the two people in my life who knew me from birth and whose collective memory housed things about me and my life that I may never recall.

Maybe that’s why starting last fall Abba Father began reinforcing this message: you are not alone. It popped up everywhere, but particularly in one of my favorite places of all: music. There was “You’re not alone” by Marie Miller. And there was Matt Maher’s song “All the People Said Amen” that starts with the lyrics: “You are not alone if you are lonely.” Most recently I heard these lyrics: “But with joy our hearts can say, ‘Never once did we ever walk alone. Never once did You leave us on our own” from Matt Redman’s “Never Once.”

In the aftermath of serious, faith-testing challenges in the last few years, God has reinforced that He is faithful, that He loves me and that I am never alone. If you are feeling alone in the struggles you face, I pray that God’s word will remind You of His constant, watchful presence in your life.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Good Grief

“Don’t live as those who have no hope. All our hope is found in him.” – Trust His Heart by Newsong

This last week has been extremely challenging. One friend passed away. Another’s in the hospital at death’s door. And another, who is like my sister, is in a hospital hundreds of miles away fighting a serious infection. To make matters worse, Friday was the 6th anniversary of Mom’s homegoing. No matter how much you rejoice that a person is no longer suffering, it still hurts to lose them. And all of the sadness and suffering this week compounded those feelings of loss.

Still, in the midst of all this, I am reminded of Paul’s admonishment “don’t grieve as those who have no hope.” (1 Thess. 4:13). Notice he didn’t say, “don’t grieve.” Grief lets us know we’re compassionate and loving and like our Savior who grieved at the loss of Lazarus. While I think Jesus grieved in part for all who loved Lazarus as well as for His own loss, I think He also grieved because when He made the world, death and suffering were not a part of His plan. Isaiah refers to Jesus as a man acquainted with many sorrows. (Isaiah 53:3) And Jesus Himself promises, “blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4)

So I know as I grieve today, He is grieving with me. And I know since my hope is found in Him, I will also receive the gifts of His joy and peace. And ultimately, I know there will come a day when He will wipe away every tear and none of us will ever have to grieve again. (Rev. 21:4)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Boys in Jesus’s Boat

Daniel James Brown’s book Boys in the Boat tells the story of the 9-man crew team from the University of Washington who took gold in the 1936 Olympic Games amidst the backdrop of Hitler’s Germany. Before I read the book, I knew little to nothing about the sport. But with Brown’s vivid word pictures, you can hear the swoosh of the water under you and feel the wind on your face as you strain to help the team finish each race. He draws you in with poignant backstories of the team members and his narrative relates the rare moments of complete unity of spirit and synchronicity of movement the team experienced, an occurrence which Brown suggests led to their unimaginable Olympic victory.

While quite a riveting story, the tale cannot compare with the story of twelve men in a boat 2000 years ago who left everything not to chase a gold medal but to chase the Master of the wind and waves. Many of Jesus’s disciples were fishermen who became fishers of men. As such, they made many boat trips with Jesus including the one where Peter walked on water. During Jesus’s earthly ministry, his closest friends bickered about power and position, the sons of thunder asking who would sit at Jesus’s right hand when he came into his kingdom. But after Gethsemane and Calvary and the Upper Room, they became like the “boys in the boat.” The result was Pentecost.

“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.” Acts 2:1-2

The chapter continues with Peter’s dynamic preaching in the public square, saying: “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” Acts 2:41 (KJV)

So I’m wondering: just how much can we the body of Christ achieve if, like the "boys in the boat," we put aside our pride, our selfishness, our stubbornness and just try to row the boat in synch with one another and with our Master?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Impromptu Worship

One day last week my nine-year-old friend told me that I’m predictable. Ok, I accept that. No one will ever accuse me of being impulsive or call me spontaneous. But sadly, when I hear the word predictable, I think “translation: boring, dull, stodgy.”

The next day, in the pouring rain, I ran back and forth the length of my driveway with my surrogate niece who’s three. Not bad for “Predictable Paula.” There’s something to be said for those times where we forget ourselves and get lost in the thrill of the moment. What I’ve found to be just as valuable are the times I do this with personal worship.

Last Wed. night after hearing a woman’s testimony at church, I began to worship spontaneously (and silently) in response to her stories of God’s faithfulness to her and her family. This week I had other moments of spontaneous worship where the time and place permitted me to sing aloud my praises to the same God who has shown me such faithfulness. I thought about the times such worship is portrayed in scripture: when David dances before the Lord (and the kingdom) as the ark is returned to Israel; the one leper who returned to thank Jesus for his healing and fell at His feet; Mary breaking the alabaster jar to anoint Jesus before His death. When we choose to respond immediately with praise and gratitude in impromptu worship to God, we’re in very good company. And while I will probably continue to be fairly predictable, I pray that my worship never will be.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Those Less Fortunate

In a novel I’m reading, an older, wealthy woman refers to helping “those less fortunate.” She is a Christian and active member of her church and community. And like all of us who have ever referred to others as “less fortunate,” she means well.

But the term hit me as wrong when I stumbled over it so I began to ask myself who is less fortunate than I and who is more fortunate?  Usually, I equate the phrase with material wealth as most folks do. Yet, we all know money cannot heal a broken heart, comfort a grief-stricken widow, soothe a restless spirit or buy a ticket to heaven.

So here’s what I came up with for my list of “those less fortunate”:

People who cannot forgive. Their hearts grow bitter and angry and they poison those around them.

People who refuse to listen to others. They’re missing out on some interesting stories, some good laughs, and some profound wisdom.

Bigoted people who claim to follow Christ but whose narrow minds and cold hearts push others far from the gospel. 

To round out the list, I’d include the thankless who miss communion with God and others, the selfish who miss opportunities to serve and bless others, and the wasteful who fritter away their talents and resources, squander God’s grace and never achieve His purposes.

My prayer for the week is I do as little as possible to be included on someone else’s list of “those less fortunate.”

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Easter's On Its Way

I remember as a child singing, “Hippity, hoppity, Easter’s on its way.” The song is a sweet, innocuous children’s rhyme referring to the advent of the Easter bunny. But the reality of Holy Week is quite different. The days that led up to Easter do not depict a soft, cuddly bunny hopping along a jelly bean strewn path surrounded by flowers and butterflies.

The days leading up to Easter are a grim trip along a winding, dusty road surrounded by a bloodthirsty crowd. The trail ends at Golgotha, “the place of the skull,” and a blood-covered cross where hangs a beaten and humiliated King.

Thankfully, though, that’s just Good Friday. Easter morning does evoke all the childhood joy described above because it is the day of victory when Jesus arose from the grave and tore down the walls which had separated God from mankind since Adam and Eve’s fall. When the stone was rolled away from the tomb, Christ’s final triumph over death was finished and He opened the door to heaven for all eternity. Now that’s worth celebrating!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Breath of Life

Job 33:4: “The Spirit of God has made me, And the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”

Often I have wondered why Jesus breathed on the disciples to impart the Holy Spirit to them (John 20:22). The answer should’ve been obvious, but it took a funeral to help me figure it out.

This past Friday I attended the funeral of a dear friend’s husband and was struck anew how the deceased always looks unnatural. The spark of life with which God imbues each of us is gone and the person looks like a wax statue version of himself. Viewing the body reminds me that until God breathed into Adam, he was mere dust formed together in the shape of a man. And Paul tells us we are all dead in our trespasses until the Holy Spirit breathed life into us (Eph. 2:1-10).

So finally, this weekend, I connected the dots. Just as a body without breath is dead, a spirit without the Breath of the Holy Spirit is also dead. Jesus breathed the breath of spiritual life into His disciples to make their spirits come alive. And so it is with the Ruach Hakodesh, the Holy Spirit, who gives new life to all who trust in Jesus as Savior.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Huddle Up

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Eph. 6:18

I was never good at sports and I can’t stand football. Nevertheless, I am part of a team: we call ourselves “the warriors.” As part of this team, I recognize the importance of the huddle. It’s within the sacred shelter of the huddle that players receive encouragement, direction, and chastisement.

We have a playbook with rules and guidelines, but often our Coach has to call an audible and we’ve been known to lob more than a few “hail Mary” passes. Whenever life gets tough, I call and email the best players on the team asking for wisdom and prayer. Whenever I experience joy or a breakthrough in a situation, I go to them to tell of what God has done.

He uses my teammates to encourage me and support me and yes, sometimes to even chastise me. I think together we make a good team and I am so grateful to have such a group of prayer warriors in my life.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Thursday was my birthday and I had a lot to celebrate. It’s been two years since I hurt my neck and I am still amazed at the miracles God has done. During excruciating pain, He sustained me. When facing the fear of possible surgery, He made another way. He used pain to teach me perseverance and compassion and dependence on Him. And through it all, He demonstrated His great faithfulness and love every day.

So did His servants. My pastor anointed me and prayed faithfully for my healing as did dozens of friends. They called, sent emails and cards, and in so many ways lifted my spirits during one of the most difficult challenges I have ever faced. So this year, I am celebrating the unshakable faithfulness of God and those who love me and believed in His promises.

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is Your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”  Lamentations 3:22-24

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Invest Wisely

I get so excited each January at the prospect of a new year full of promise. Each year God gives us 365 days to spend any way we wish. He gives each of us 24 hours a day to work, to dream and to share His love. Yet we complain often “there just aren’t enough hours in the day.”

God says there is. He says not to worry about tomorrow, but to focus on one grace-filled day at a time. He says: “be anxious for nothing.” He also tells us what to do with His gifts. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:19-21) Jesus is not just referring to money, but to our time, talents, and energy, too.

How do you store up treasure in heaven? 1. Make God’s work a priority. “Seek first the kingdom of God” and support it with tithes and offerings. 2. Love others. “But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”(1 John 3:17-18) 3. Live like Jesus who embodied God’s admonition in Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Investing in the work of God, who is faithful and generous and merciful, is the wisest investment you can make in 2014.