Under Pressure

When I visited the Dominican Republic a couple of years ago, I met a street vendor who was selling jewelry that had the prettiest blue stones in them. The stone is called Larimar or blue pectolite and is an extremely rare gemstone. It has been found only in one location: a mountainous, relatively inaccessible area in the Dominican Republic.

I picked out a few pieces to bring home as gifts and as he was wrapping them for me he handed me a piece of dull brownish stone that had just a bit of blue showing and said…’that is what it looks like before it is ground and polished’. The difference between them was stunning. Without the grinding and polishing that stone looked unremarkable and of little value.

I am reminded of the process of life we go through when we are tested. Every test gives us opportunity to allow our faith to go through the grinding and polishing. It is how we learn the faithfulness and goodness of God. It is what gives us opportunity to choose faith over fear and sometimes without even realizing it our faith in God becomes a beautiful reminder to others that they can trust in Him too.

James 1:3 from The Message tells us this: “You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.”

Only God knows what lies beneath the rough, muted exterior of our heart. Trusting the Master’s hand at grinding and polishing with just the right amount of pressure will produce the most glorious colors. And the end result will be worth it!

The Light

We live in some pretty dark times. It can be overwhelming especially if we spend much time taking in what’s happening around the globe and in our own world. If we are tempted to say that evil and darkness are stronger than ever – remember that King Solomon said there is nothing new under the sun. Remember the flood and Sodom and Gomorrah? Things were bad then.

But God never gave up on us. He kept making a way. His story is full of people finding their way through the darkness to the Light. And He keeps on making a way! That alone should give us hope that even in darkness there is the Light of Christ helping us to find our way. If you are feeling discouraged today; if things are looking very bleak in your world…there is still hope. The Light is still shining and it will help us find the way.

John 1:5 in the Contemporary English Version reminds us, “The light keeps shining in the dark, and darkness has never put it out.”

The Secret Sauce

In Hebrews 4:16 we read, “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”

Want to know the secret to the boldness in this verse?! Relationship!! Picture this, you are sitting on a park bench watching your kiddos play. They begin playing with other children and they play hard. They all work up a sweat and they’re all thirsty. The whole group may look over your way. They may even begin working their way toward you. But guess who runs to you without even questioning permission? YOUR kids. They KNOW you. They’ve spent a LOT of time with you. They know that you love them and take care of them. They also have learned that you have what they need and that you would never turn them away when they come to you. And don’t you love it when your children come to you for help?!!

That’s what God longs for with us! Relationship!! The more time we spend with God, the more we will learn that He longs for us to come to Him with everything on our heart. Right away! Boldly! That’s a big deal. He is the King of kings. He’s on a throne! And we are the King’s kids. He wants us to know that we can come to Him any time with any need and His promise is clear. We will receive mercy and find grace to help us when we need it most. Come boldly today! Our gracious God is waiting for you.

The Warning

I can still remember the tone of my mom’s voice when I was getting into trouble. Sometimes when she could tell I was even thinking about getting into something I shouldn’t, she would say, ‘you’d better get away from there!’ How I wish that I could say I was obedient every time she issued a warning. Sadly, I wasn’t. Sometimes we just want what we want when we want it and sometimes we may not even be looking for trouble but we make wrong choices. We choose the wrong friends or to hang out in the wrong places.

The Book of Zephaniah in the Old Testament of the Bible is only three chapters long but it is packed with warning! Judgment was coming and the Prophet Zephaniah was telling God’s people ‘you’d better get away from there!’ Those three chapters are filled with warnings of destruction. God was sending a strong message to His children. And yet, we also find His promises of hope and instruction woven throughout the book. How to make good choices…how to escape what seems inevitable.

Zephaniah 2:3 was the call to turn around. Make good choices. Do the right thing. It says, “Seek the Lord, all who are humble, and follow His commands. Seek to do what is right and to live humbly.” This is still the call to us today. Look to God. Stay humble. Follow and do what God says is right. When we don’t know what else to do…keep doing that!

One Year Today

It’s been one year since you’ve been gone from our presence. One year ago this morning I watched you slip peacefully from this world into the next. An entire year of firsts without your boisterous interjections in conversation, ornery chuckles, squirrel memes and late night phone calls that always started with, ‘hey ‘nise…’.

I spoke this morning at a church about the story of David honoring his best friend Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, and that he often ate at the king’s table (2 Samuel 9). I couldn’t help but think about you having a seat at the King’s table…every day. Are you sitting with mom mom and pop pop? Do you sing your grace? Are all your favorite foods there? Does it even matter what is on the menu when you have the King of kings at the head of the table?!!

It wasn’t lost on me that the worship team at the church I visited this morning sang a song called Psalm 23…which is what I read to you those last few days that you were between here and there. This time it wasn’t for you. I believe it was God reminding me on this day…that He knows. And He wanted me to know that He’s keeping company with you there…and keeping company with me here.

I miss you but I am at peace knowing that you are where I’m going some day. I’m 365 days closer to seeing you again. Does it feel that long to you? I’m guessing probably not. And I’m glad for that. So until I see you again I’m going to keep on running the race and giving thanks to God that you are in my great cloud of witnesses that’s described in Hebrews 11.

I love you, little brother. Until then…

Lessons From A Toddler

There is nothing quite like trying to dress a toddler. Their energy knows no bounds. Their little minds are constantly thinking – what’s next? where can I go? ooo what’s up there? hey, what’s this? and what does it do? The creativity and interest level of a toddler is pretty incredible. With very little thought for danger a toddler is driven largely by curiosity and experience.

Saying the word ‘wait’ to a toddler…well, if you’ve had one or taken care of one, you know it doesn’t really mean much to them. It’s in those earliest discovery moments that we begin to teach children about safety and obedience and the consequences of our actions.

Even as adults we struggle with the concept of waiting. Psalm 27:14 teaches us an important component to waiting. It tells us what to DO while we wait. It says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” While we are waiting we are to be strong, encouraged, to have hope, to be bold and confident…to not give up! There is a LOT of doing in that one little verse of instruction.

I think if we could bottle up any of that toddler energy and curiosity we could serve it up best right here…in the waiting…in the watching expectantly for the goodness of God and just how He will reveal His greatness in our lives next! Now THAT is curiosity and wonder put to good use…while we are waiting!

The Power Of A Song

Music almost always seems to draw a crowd, doesn’t it?! I’ve been on a New York City subway platform with a crowd gathered to hear some guy play his saxophone. Walked around New Orleans with live music coming from almost every little cafe and street corner and there was always a crowd. Even the ice cream truck uses music to draw a crowd! Although that might be connected to the promise of ice cream! But we learned that connection by experience.

Think about our church services. We may all be having personal conversations around the building but when the worship music begins it draws us right in. It might take some of us longer than others but the beauty of opening with music is that it draws our hearts and minds into focusing on God. It’s one of the reasons I love Christian music so much. So many of the lyrics come right out of the Word of God and God uses them to teach us and help us remember what He’s done and is doing in our lives. And as we sing those songs back to God it makes our hearts grateful.

Colossians 3:16 instructs us to “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”

That’s the power of a song that reminds us of the message of Christ.

Having A Spotter

Do you know what a ‘spotter’ is? Maybe the better question is ‘do you know the importance of having a spotter?’ Wikipedia says “Spotting in weight or resistance training is the act of supporting another person during a particular exercise, with an emphasis on allowing the participant to lift or push more than they could normally do safely. Correct spotting involves knowing when to intervene and assist with a lift, and encouraging a training partner to push beyond the point in which they would normally return the weight to its stationary position.”

That’s what we need some days, don’t we?! What if we had someone walking around with us every day that spoke words of affirmation like, ‘you can do this!’, ‘you are enough’, ‘you are loved!’? Someone that pointed out the ‘lift here – not there’. One who encouraged us to keep at the hard things and jumped in to help when we are trying to pick up and carry around a weight that is too much for us.

I have really good news for you today. The Holy Spirit is with us. 24/7. There are some weights we must carry in this life but God already knows what we are capable of when we are fully equipped with His Spirit. Likewise, there are some weights we were never meant to carry and because of Jesus’ sacrifice we can lay them down. I love how The Passion Translation paraphrases 1 Corinthians 10:13. “We all experience times of testing, which is normal for every human being. But God will be faithful to you. He will screen and filter the severity, nature, and timing for every test or trial you face so that you can bear it.”

The Holy Spirit is like a spotter…and oh so much more! If you haven’t started working out with Him yet…being aware of His presence with you…today is your day!

Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine

There is a scene in the movie “Finding Nemo” with a group of seagulls all sitting on posts in the water, with their sights set on a crab for dinner, all calling out, “mine, mine, mine, mine”… the scene makes us laugh because we have all been there at some point. We put ourselves in the place of the sea gull…taking ownership…claiming what’s up for grabs.

When I first read Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it”, it felt like taking ownership to me. And why shouldn’t God….He made all of it, and all of us. We DO belong to Him. Then I began thinking about that word ‘belong’. The Contemporary English Version says, “The earth and everything on it, including its people, belong to the Lord. The world and its people belong to Him.”

I have spent a fair amount of my life trying to figure out where I belong. And just about the time I think I have it all figured out – things change. People. Jobs. Organizations. Church. All of those may change in our lifetime. But our soul can be satisfied when we rest in what Psalm 24:1 really means to us. It’s not about God taking ownership…because He made all of it….of course it all belongs to Him. It’s really about belonging. Are you wrestling to find where you belong? In this moment, pause and breathe this in, God says, “you belong to Me”!

Casting

My experience with fishing is very limited. I think I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gone fishing. So much waiting…so much quiet…are my top reasons for not having my own rod and reel. Followed quickly by the whole idea of unhooking whatever I finally caught. Mmm hmmm. Not my idea of relaxing. But one thing I think of every time I remember my Fishing 101 lesson? Remembering to unlock the fishing line before I cast out the line!

When I forgot to release the line, I would swing the pole as hard as I could and that line never left my reel! Embarrassing? Yes! Did I ever forget again? No! Releasing the lock on my reel allowed my swing to cast that line with the hook and the bait way out away from me and drop it in the water.

When I read Psalm 55:22 (NIV) the word ‘cast’ reminds me of my few fishing experiences. This Bible verse gives us instruction AND a promise when we obey. It reads, “Cast your cares on the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.” Some Bible translations say ‘leave your troubles’, or ‘tell your worries’, but I LOVE that visual of casting. We need to remember to UNLOCK the line and CAST whatever worry or burden, fear or frustration onto the One who tells us to do it. Don’t just drop it. It’s too easy to pick it back up! Cast it. Let it go!

God knows we are weary. He knows we could bend and falter beneath the weight of all we try to carry ourselves. His promise when we are obedient to His instruction? He will sustain us. He will never let the righteous be shaken. Are you in need of support to keep going? Do you feel like your world is being shaken? Go back to the instruction of Psalm 55:22. Begin by unlocking the line you’ve kept tethered to you with all your cares attached….and cast it all on Him.