It’s Not Just a Matter of Survival, It’s a Matter of Revival

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There’s a lot to learn from Lot!

Genesis 19:16, 18 & 19

”When Lot still hesitated, the angels seized his hand and the hands of his wife and two daughters and rushed them to safety outside the city, for the LORD was merciful.”  Here’s a short story synopsis. The city is destroyed by fire. There are no other survivors. Lot and his family are saved only because the angels grabbed their hands and pulled them out of their indecision.

Isn’t that how we respond when we first hear of God’s plans? We stand with our feet firmly planted in the place we know. The place that seems safe. We have lived there so long change seems way to risky. Besides, that place has become home. Oh, the paint is peeling, the cracks are emerging, and maybe its even sparking a few flames, but we’ve built our lives there. Our comfort zone. We know it’s not perfect. We know there’s a possibility of something better, but then again there could be something worse. So we get stuck. We accept the unacceptable because no one likes moving. If you are like me you realize that the new place will require you to change into a new life. And honestly we just can’t see what that looks like, so we hesitate.

Once Lot and his wife and daughters are practically dragged out of the city the angels tell them to run for their lives and don’t look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Lot’s response echoes his fear of the unknown. “Oh no, my lord! Lot begged. You have been so gracious to me and saved my life, and you have shown such great kindness. But, I cannot go to the mountains. Disaster would catch up to me there, and I would soon die.” Lot begs the angels to let them stay in a village nearby. He says thanks for saving my life, but the mountains are not the place for me.

At first glance, I think Lot is a little bit wimpy. Angels just pulled him from a burning city, why wouldn’t he trust their directions? But, aren’t we a lot like Lot? When God takes our hand and pulls us away from the old life strewn with stumbling and ashes we beg to stay in the valley. We know we barely escaped. We know God drew us out just in time. But standing that close to God makes us acutely aware of how we came out of that burning city with ash still clinging to our faces. We recognize we are not ready for mountain-top living. Mountain-top living that exposes us to the presence of God.

So we stand at the edge of the old life barely a step or two away. Just in case this new life gets too hard, we want the option of going back. Even if it means going back to a pile of ashes.

God tells us to go, run for your life from these choices you are making because devastation will follow. We turn and go but just far enough to clear immediate danger.

We bargain with God, just as Lot does. We live marginally obedient lives and miss the mountain-top moments.

Lot asked the angels to allow him to go to a small village instead of the mountains. He begs, “please let me go there instead, don’t you see how small it is?” He would rather live small, than live obedient.

Do we recognize our own lives in this story? Is it possible to look around at our small living and see the reality? Living small keeps us believing we are in control. We’d rather live small than risk reliant obedience.

My friends, obedience requires daring dependence. When God says run for your life, don’t look back, don’t stop anywhere in the valley he means it for our safety. We have somehow convinced ourselves living small keeps us safe.

Lot reached the village just as the sun was rising over the horizon. I wonder if he stood in wonder at God’s mercy toward him as he watched the beginning of a new day. He had lost so much. But God had spared his life and the life of his daughters. He and his little family were the sole survivors of the destruction of his city. But the question hanging in the air full of smoke and ash was whether this would lead to a soul revival for them.

God will wait. He wants us to hurry. He wants us to escape. He will send angels to pull us from the fire.  But he leaves it up to us to decide how far we will follow him.  I imagine him standing with open arms calling to us. Hurry! Hurry to the mountain top!

He knows the obedience to move toward the new beginning requires daring dependence. He didn’t leave us alone in the climb. Jesus stood on a hill reaching out his hand ready to help us over the steep place. The Holy Spirit helps us step over the hurdles where fear blocks our way. He promises he will never leave us.

I’m thinking we might just find this climb breathtaking, our hearts alive, wondering why we took so long to get to the mountain top. Oh, I know there will be moments when we look around and wonder if we can take just one more step. Because let’s be honest here, we can’t see what’s around the next bend in the road and that makes us uncomfortable. But, what if we start the new day convinced it’s not just a matter of sole survival, it’s a matter of soul revival? Would it be worth the risk?

I confess I am a lot like Lot. But I have an advantage. Because I know the love of Jesus I’m willing to risk the climb. One step at a time.

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But Lord…

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The Lord said, Go!

Ananais said, But, Lord!

But the Lord said, Go!

So Ananais went.

Acts 9:10-19

’Now in Damascus there was a disciple named Ananais; and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananais.” And he answered, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul; for he is praying there, and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananais come in and place his hands on him, so that he may regain his sight.”  But Ananais answered, “Lord, I have heard from many people about this man, especially how much suffering and evil he has brought on your saints [God’s people] at Jerusalem; and here [in Damascus] he has authority from the high priests to put in chains all who call on Your name [confessing you as Savior]. But the Lord said to him, “Go, for this man is a deliberately chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will make clear to him how much he must suffer and endure for My name’s sake.” So Ananais left and entered the house, and he laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road to Damascus, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit [in order to proclaim Christ to both Jews and Gentiles]. Immediately something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized; and he took some food and was strengthened.’

Acts 9:10-19 tells the story of a man who doubted but did it anyway. Can you relate Sis?

I get it. When God says go, I run through a mental checklist of what it could cost me. I’m a lot like Ananais. He knew who Saul was and fear stepped into the path before him. Sis, isn’t there always a form of fear stepping between us and obedience?

I wonder how Ananais missed this promise. “I have shown him (Saul) a vision of a man named Ananais coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.” God revealed he had gone before Ananais.

Because Ananais is so focused on who Saul is, he can’t see clearly who God says he is.  Because Ananais is so focused on Saul’s power he can’t see clearly the promise of God’s power in him.

Sis, I think sometimes we are so fiercely focused on fear of the unknown that we forget God is the all-knowing. When God asks us to go, could we cling to the promise he has gone before us?  There is courage to be found there.

I love how God in his infinite patience explains the plan to Ananais. He gave him the encouragement he needed. So Ananais went. And in the going, he found God’s confident heart beating with his. He trusted God even in the unknowns.

When Ananias found Saul he wasn’t timid.

When Ananais found Saul he didn’t stand at a safe distance.

When Ananais found Saul he laid his hands on him and said,

”Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Okay Sis, did you catch that? Ananais called Saul his “brother”.  Because Jesus loved Saul, his persecutor, Ananais loved him too. He trusted Jesus’ perspective even when he didn’t see evidence or reason to. He trusted God even in the unknowns.

I love that Ananais proclaims he was sent so Saul could REgain his sight. Maybe you are like me in recognizing the beauty of grace poured out on Saul through these words.

Saul was a man longing to serve God. He had lead a passionate life for God. He had lead a purpose-driven life for God. But somewhere along the way he lost sight of God. His pride lead him to judge others, blinding him to grace and mercy.

Sometimes we need to sit in darkness before God allows us to REgain our sight. He acknowledges we once saw him clearly, but have allowed the world to crowd in and cloud the truth. The truth that we have a great need for grace.

Ananais said, but Lord…

Saul said, but LORD…

We say, but Lord…

Sis, don’t you love how God will get through one way or another. He will either tap us on the shoulder with a little unveiling of the bigger picture, or he will allow us to sit a spell in darkness so we will regain our sight with a new perspective.

On any given day I can stand alongside Ananais and Saul.

But here’s the picture I cling to. I see Jesus laying his hands on either side of our face, leaning in and whispering—will you trust me now?

Will you say yes to my plan?

Will you go where I say go?

Because Ananais and Saul were willing to trust God, we can find hope for the moments we react with the same words…but Lord. I am so thankful for their stories because we get to see how God will take a single solitary effort of obedience and change the world.

So Sis, lets turn toward trust in the all-knowing when we stand facing the unknown. He’s got the plan, he’s gone before us. It’s a promise we can depend on.

 

Dear Father,

We stand at the road leading to unknowns and we shake in our boots. Oh, we hear your voice, we long to go, but we stagger under the burden of fear. Lord, help us to see your perspective. Help us to see the path you have already set out for us. Oh Father, help us to remember all the other times you have gone before us, because it reminds us to trust you in the new journeys. When we stand hearing you invite us to go, give us courage like Ananais, built on  the promise you have gone before us. When we stand hearing you invite us to change our perspective, give us a new vision like Saul to see through your eyes. Lord, we live thankful you believe we can go and make a difference in this world for your Kingdom. We depend on the promise you will always go WITH us. Thank you Father. We declare we can’t do it without you.

all my love,

Amen.

 

 

Does Practice Make Perfect?

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Dear Sis,

A funny, “aha” moment struck me at the gym today. Who knew there were lessons to be learned from lunges? Yes, I’m completely serious.

My workout is an hour-long succession of movements. Starting on what I call the “dreadmill” we move to the rowing machine and then on to floor exercises. Just like most people I have my favorite parts of the workout. The parts I’m good at. The parts I can do easily and with skill.

Todays workout presented a challenge called the “skaters lunge”. It was an old foe. It is a movement where you launch yourself into a side to side lunge while reaching to the floor. It’s similar to what you see in the Winter Olympic Games, but without ice to glide on and minus the smooth moves.

I will never forget my first introduction to this move about 2 years ago. I was at the beginning of my fitness journey. I worked with a personal trainer who consistently challenged my balance.  Enter the “skaters lunge”. When he demonstrated the move it seemed simple enough. My brain said “I can do that”, but my body said “what you talkin’ about?”

Let’s just say his demo looked nothing like my execution. I’m pretty sure I looked like I was having a seizure. There was no evidence of the graceful side to side movement he performed.

So back to the present. Here’s THE PRESENT. Today, at my new gym, the trainer challenged us to do twenty skater lunges. In the middle of the reps, she walked over to me and asked if I was a dancer, because I did the lunges with such grace. I actually laughed out loud in between gasping for breath.

So maybe it’s true what they say. Practice makes perfect. Of course by the third set of those lunges my form began to deteriorate a bit. They weren’t looking as lovely and graceful as the first ones.  So maybe, just maybe it would be better to proclaim a new mantra.  Practice makes progress!

Practice makes perfect is a phrase that can make us cringe. When you hear those words you just know it is most likely going to be a long, painful process to get to the goal. It’s going to require steadfast, step by step determination.  But the biggest challenge is the fails. The fall down and skin your knees kinda fails.

Sis, do you know what I’m talking about here? Have you ever practiced and practiced and found yourself still tripping over the same spot? Maybe you are like me and you found yourself standing back up trying your best to recover gracefully. After a few tries, we begin to wonder if we will ever get it right. We begin to wonder if we have it in us to try again. And we just plain wonder if we have it in us.

Oh Sis, you need to know, I get that. I stand there with you with scars to prove it. They are deep, ugly scars that never quite go away completely.

Starting again requires a new perspective here. I am counting those scars as my badges of courage. Because I’m still here, I’m still standing and I’m still trying. Those scars are a  constant reminder that I got up again because I am able to do all things through Christ who strengthens me. It’s here in this confident belief I find boldness for a do-over.

Sis, I’ve started to realize something else that gives me hope. Real hope. If we are honest we will recognize that practice doesn’t make perfect. Only the love of Christ can do that. So I take a deep breath and feel the fullness of joy in the land of His love that takes away all my failures, my tripping, my stumbling attempts and makes them into the most graceful offering. Jesus stepped into the world and reached out his hand to help me up, to help you up.

So Sis, I invite you to come along with me. Tomorrow I will rise and practice again. Practice while depending on the Perfector of my faith. I will lean in and hold on when I feel off-balance. One thing driving my determination is the sweet assurance that God won’t give up on me if I don’t give up on Him. Let’s start a new day proclaiming practice makes progress.  I think Jesus will be the first to pin that badge of courage on us and celebrate our progress as a triumph.

Love You Sis,

Karen

My prayer for you and me:

Dear Father,

You found us trying to do our best, be our best and you knew we would need a little help. You knew we would have a few fails along the way and you covered the mess with a whole lot of grace and love through your Son, Jesus. We live thankful you never leave us alone in the journey. You stand beside us and guide us and remind us who we are in your eyes. It gives us strength to get up and try again. Knowing you are for us makes all the difference. Lord, we long to live for you too. Help us to live and love practicing what Jesus taught us. We know we won’t get it perfect, but with you by our side we will make progress. May your kingdom be glorified by our efforts. We love you Father.  Amen.

 

The Best is Yet to Come

Dear Sis,

One September day 5 years ago, I was wandering the aisles of an arts and crafts store looking for a distraction. My heart ached as I stood on the edge of a decision that weighed heavy.

Have you ever straddled a line?  You’ve got one foot firmly planted on either side of a finish line. Stuck there by uncertainty. The future seems fragile at best.

Are you like me sis? You know God has a plan, but you just don’t see it. And to be honest, seeing is believing.

That morning I spent time asking God to help me believe there was something worth saving in this relationship. I cried out to God to just give me a glimpse of hope.  I just wanted one single moment of sweet assurance.  As I write these words, I recognize this sounds so composed, when in reality I wanted much more. I wanted a clean, clear answer to a messy, clouded question. Should I stay, or should I go?

As I waited for answers, I wandered down aisle after aisle of creative wonders. I found myself in the aisle of “misfit” items. The clearance rack was strewn with assorted novelties. But one small item caught my eye. It was a rubber stamp sitting up straight, its words clean and clearly printed in bold, block letters.

“The Best is Yet to Come”

Sis, have you ever known, just known without a doubt that words were intended for you?  As I walked to the checkout with my little piece of hope, I felt my heartache ease. I carried that stamp around in my purse for a year. I needed the sweet reminder that hope lies in the truth of those words.

Then one day a sweet friend was diagnosed with cancer. She stood brave through the trials of treatment. The only thing I held out to her was a little rubber stamp that held hope. I gave her that stamp because hope holds us up when we are straddling a finish line. She survived that cancer and a year later found a friend needing a dose of hope. The stamp once again moved into the hands of someone just longing for encouraging words.

Me.

Oh Sis, are you like me, finding yourself in need of hope on a regular basis?

I had just moved for the first time in 32 years and I was desperately lonely. Then my mom died. Cancer took her quickly. So standing alone in a new place, broken hearted, I needed a glimpse of hope. So that sweet friend dug that stamp out of a drawer and pressed it into my hand. Pressed it right into my heart.

Sis, today I sit here as my sweet friend straddles a finish line. Her cancer has returned this time with purpose. She lays in the hospital ready to cross right into God’s loving arms. Her future home is full of light and life and fresh beginnings. I tell her I look forward to embracing her on the other side. I tell her to breathe deep and know the love she feels flow over her is His. I tell her the blanket of peace that brings her comfort is His.  And I send her my love and whisper in her ear…the Best is yet to come, the Best is yet to come, the Best is yet to come.

Dear Father,

Each of us stands at the finish line wavering because we are weakened by hopelessness. Lord, thank you for giving us glimpses of Your hope. The hope of eternity. The hope of a new beginning when we just don’t see a way through. You promise that you go before us and stand behind us and are always with us. So no matter where we stand we never stand alone. We lean in and depend on that truth because hope is born there.  And peace follows and settles in and we whisper sweet prayers of thankfulness for Your Presence.  Amen

Will we choose to break through or break down?

My Dear Sis,

As I stand at yet another crossroad in my life, I look around and wonder if you’ve ever felt the same anxiety the unknown future brings.  It drops in unannounced and unwelcome. Oh, I am confident in so many other places, but in the future there are unseen moments that make me quake and shake and stumble.

I am about to move to a new town. Again. I have been in this place just three short years. Honestly, I have only recently found my people. You know who I mean. The people who think like you, laugh at the same things, find joy in simple, silly things, love the same coffee places you do and love to sit and talk and talk and talk about Jesus til the cows come home. The people you call home. Your tribe.

If you’ve ever moved and had to rebuild your tribe, you know the anxiety I face. Starting over requires steps. You have to move out into unchartered waters and risk exposing yourself. You’ve got to find a way to trust there is a safe passage through to the new beginning.

Sis, have you ever stood in a similar place?  That place where you try to fool yourself into believing maybe you can just go around instead of through?  Oh yeah, I’ve spent days, months, yes even years declaring I would stand firm and not go through the thing that was just impossible.

I didn’t want to go through the sea of pain that threatened to pull me under.

I didn’t want to go through the roaring whirlwind of fear and anxiety that threatened to toss me about.

I didn’t want to go through the thunder rumbling in the sky all around me, loudly proclaiming I am just not enough.

I just didn’t see a way through when I stood blinded by the storm raging around me.

So sis, if you are standing in a storm, how do you take one step forward, how do I take one step forward? How do we move when all we see are crashing waves, one after another with no end in sight?

It reminds me of the Israelites and Moses. I picture them walking toward the Red Sea. A sea of uncertainty, with nothing to keep them afloat but a promise. I can just see them following Moses to the shoreline, looking out at the immense power of the crashing waves. They’re standing there sandals soaked, their spirits conquered by the plan that looked to be a dead-end. With the Egyptian soldiers coming toward them, their dreams of a new beginning seemed lost in the sea that stood between them and freedom.  I love their first response, because I would have done exactly the same thing. They decided it was time to turn back. Time to give up. This situation was impossible.

Because the Israelites could not see a way through, they were willing to go back. Back to pain, back to suffering, back to slavery. There was no way to break through so they broke down.

Sis are you like me? Do you find yourself standing at the edge of a sea. Are you hoping the water is warm and inviting and in the very same moment fighting the impulse to turn back because searching for a way through takes hard work. And some days it’s just plain exhausting.  We are willing to give up the promise of a new beginning because fear relentlessly whispers in our ear there is no way through.

Oh dear sis, I invite you and me to cling to the words of Moses. They may just keep us afloat in the wonder and worry of what tomorrow holds. “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the LORD rescue you today…The LORD himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” Exodus 14:13,14

As I read these words I realize God asks me to just stand still and watch. I have to laugh as I have seen Him go before me and work throughout my life so many times I have lost count.  But somehow, I still fear I am on my own. Do you do that too?

If only I could remember to depend on His promise that He will fight for me.

There is no fear in the future if I believe He is my rescuer.

Okay sis, Here’s the big finish…

When you look up and see there is no way through. You’ve hit that wall of waves. You’ve stepped into the deep end. You’ve fallen into the darkest storm.  Grab this life-line.

“Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters–a pathway no one knew was there!”

Psalm 77:19

The Psalmist tells it like it is! God’s road leads through the sea, His pathway through the mighty waters….and it was a pathway…NO ONE KNEW WAS THERE.  Once again, it’s a trust issue. The way through was there all along.

Ah, now that’s a sweet break through!

Here’s my prayer for you sis…

Father,

Forgive us for forgetting your promises. Forgive us for fearing the future You have planned for us. The same future that holds the assurance of love and life alongside You. You have gone before us and come behind us and stand with us, so we will declare we can go through. We can go through whatever sea threatens to overcome. Because Lord we know You have cleared a path. Even a path we don’t even know is there. So Father, we will take one more step, a step toward You, trusting you are standing with open arms ready to guide us into the new beginning You have planned just for us.  And we will praise your name in that very place! Amen.

 

One Step Forward

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Every beginning carries a little fear. Even when you try to shrug it off and move away quickly, it follows with determination. You have little pep talks with yourself. Positive fragmented sentences. Each word meant to separate you from the heaviness of the unknown.
There lies the factor that is a common denominator in fear. Unknown. How can it have so much power without a name? It creeps in before we even have a reason for giving it power. There is no real explanation of why, how or where.
History has proven fear worthwhile. There is evidence of its value. Other days, other events, other moments gone bad make us sit in this same place, believing history does indeed repeat itself.
What if history had no power? What if we chose to forget? What if we momentarily believed the possibility of a positive outcome? Could we overcome?
If training our minds to take a step in any given direction without apprehension is possible, what could happen? How would it affect our every choice in life?
All moments of hesitation would be erased. Possibilities would quickly become probabilities. Risk replaced by anticipation. Our view would be clear; no amount of trepidation would cloud the vision.
So, can we get there from here?
What does it take? Could it be as simple as taking the first small step?
I saw a movie once that required the hero to take a step into an abyss that had no bridge. He was asked to trust, just take the first step and then the bridge would be clearly seen. Maybe that’s what’s required. The answer to fighting fear in its own arena is to defiantly take just one step.
So here I am today, looking for an option to strengthen my resolve to just keep writing. I long to overcome the fear of another ugly “f” word. Failure.
I may just follow the hero in the story and focus on his triumphal first step.
I won’t look down, ahead, or even behind. I’ll just step out, one day at a time, one word at a time, one sentence at a time. I will leave fear behind with every stroke of the keys.
I realize it’s the first day, the first step and there will come a time when fear creeps in and pulls the words right out from under me. So when that day comes, I will revisit these words and start again. I vow to stop pulling out the history books documenting my epic failures. I will grant myself grace and find words to describe what it feels like to sit in a place of restoration. I will write. Just. One. More. Word. Even if it hurts and it’s ugly and it means nothing to anyone. I will not allow fear to wrestle me into a dark, dead corner stopping my voice, stopping my heart. I was meant to write. I know this without a doubt.
Fear stands in the way of truth. If we don’t feed the monster it will die a natural death. So I take one step forward and leave history where it belongs. It’s a new day.

Can You See Me Now?

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Can You See Me Now?

We began together. Me holding tightly to Your promise. You lighting the path with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. I stood strong with You in full view. But I awoke this morning and You are gone from sight. I’m blinded by fear. Have You left me here?

Where has my God of promises gone? I strain to see You up ahead. Doubt has found its way into this darkness. So many questions unanswered. I’m blinded by fear. Have You left me here?

Oh my child, I have gone from Guide to Guard. From Sun to Shield. Remember my promise, I will not leave you or forsake you.

It was My heart beating with yours in the joy of new life, and in the grief of great loss.

Do you see Me now?

It was My hand that cleared the way to safety and freedom from slavery.

Do you see Me now?

It was Me who stood beside you in the hard journey, full of thirst and hunger.

Do you see Me now?

It’s My great love holding you close when you can’t take one more breath as the world comes crushing in.

Do you see Me now?

Will you find faith in the midst of your fear? Will looking back pave the path to trusting Me?

If seeing is believing.

What do you see?

I have never left you. I am with you, are you with Me?