I write this mostly for myself, but I know I’m not the only one who ever doubts God’s love. Ever questions His heart for me. Ever hears nothing but silence from Him and doesn’t know what to do with that.

I’m learning to believe that the silence means He just hasn’t answered quite yet. It definitely does NOT mean He hasn’t heard, and it can never mean He doesn’t care. Oh, He cares alright. That’s putting it lightly.

And to quell any doubts, look at John 21. Jesus has risen from the grave by this time, and He has appeared to His disciples. He showed them His scars (there are truths to be learned from them; otherwise why would He still have them?). “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” (John 20:20).

But there is one disciple in particular who’s joy was surely mixed with shame and regret: Peter. Before Jesus’ death, He told the disciples what was about to happen, and He told Peter that he would deny Jesus not just once, but three times. Peter thought, No way. He replied to Jesus, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” Yet he did just that–not once, but three times, just like Jesus had said. Oh the shame and guilt he must have felt.

I can relate, because I feel my own. And I imagine that when the resurrected Jesus appeared to His disciples, His friends, for the first time, Peter was trying his best to hide in the corner somehow. As if that would work. As if there is such a thing as hiding from God. And that’s why what Peter actually does do is so beautiful.

He didn’t do it then … maybe he was just too afraid of being rejected or rebuked. And he didn’t do it the second time Jesus appeared to them, about a week later (John 20:26). But the third time Jesus came to them, Peter couldn’t help himself. He couldn’t stop himself from going to Jesus.

They’d been fishing all night and hadn’t caught a thing. Maybe they’d fallen asleep from tiredness or boredom. But when a man standing on the shore called out to them and told them they would find some fish on the right side of the boat, and they did and couldn’t haul the net in because there were so many fish, John knew immediately that the figure on the shore was Jesus, and he told Peter.

And this is what I want to remember: “As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he wrapped his outer garment around him, for he had taken it off, and jumped into the water.” 21:7. He could not get to Jesus fast enough. He was compelled by the deep, deep love of Jesus.

Many fish were captured in the net that morning, but Jesus had captured Peter’s heart long before then. On that morning, Peter didn’t have to even see Jesus–once he knew Jesus was there with them, waiting for them to come to Him–that’s all he needed to know. And he was not rejected or rebuked. He was restored.

Still, for us, He is waiting for us to come. As A.W. Tozer wrote, “He waits to be wanted.” And I, for one, do not want to keep Him waiting anymore because I doubt His heart for me. It is good. It is loving. Because He is good and loving. Remember that, self.

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Recently I saw a quote graphic on Pinterest that I liked but didn’t pin. Of course, it stuck in my mind and I’ve thought of it all week, and now cannot find it for the life of me. It was about how you can reach your goals better by breaking them down into smaller pieces rather than constantly looking at the far-off desired result. If I want to lose 10 lbs., for example, I’m going to be more likely to achieve that if I break it down into bite-size pieces, so to speak, of a pound or two at a time. If I want to run a marathon, I can’t go out and run the entire 26.2 miles right off the bat; I’ve got to break it down into smaller runs and build up toward the goal.

As so often happens when the Lord is working, I’ve been seeing this message everywhere, it seems. Recently Tiger Woods was talking about his putting, and he said he picks out an intermediate target and putts toward that. In bowling, you can aim for the pins, or you can aim for the small arrows, called dovetails, that are about 15 feet down the lane. I always found it easier to aim for those when I was bowling.

On a similar note, I was reading in Luke 11 this morning, about Jesus sending out the 72 followers to be laborers for the Lord. Their goal was to work the harvest field (v. 2). To sow peace (v. 5). To heal the sick (v. 8). To talk about the kingdom of God (v. 9). They did as He instructed them, and “the seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name.'” v. 17.

They were successful and felt joy because they accomplished their goal and the task set before them. If Jesus had simply told them to be harvesters, they likely would’ve never even left town, they would have been so uncertain about what that meant. Or maybe that’s just me, and I’m projecting. Whatever the case, they accomplished their goal because they accomplished the smaller tasks along the way.

And as we humans are want to do, they beamed with pride at what they’d done. While that’s not necessarily wrong (there is a time to celebrate), Jesus let them know that their success wasn’t necessarily the most important thing. “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you,” He told them, “but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (v. 20). The point is not WHAT YOU DO, but WHO YOU ARE. Even more specifically, WHOSE you are. If my goal is to lose weight or get in better shape, it may be driven by pure vanity initially, but what will ultimately help me achieve it is if I make decisions along the way, in smaller steps, that will change how I live. My ultimate goal should be not just to look or feel better, but to be more like Jesus because I am His. The decisions I make and goals I set should ultimately reflect that truth, or else they are worthless.

I don’t think Thoreau said it any better than Jesus, but his words reflect the point Jesus made long ago. “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” Henry David Thoreau. I think this is important to remember in setting any goal—don’t just think about WHAT, but WHY and most importantly, WHO. WHO God is, and WHO you are in Him, and what He can do through you.

Toe the line. Walk the talk. Stay on the straight and narrow. There’s a thin line between love and hate.

There’s actually a thin line between a lot of things: between living in grace and taking advantage of my freedoms; between showing mercy and enabling someone to continue in behavior that’s not good for them or others; between gratitude and holding on too tightly. Along with other travails we face, trying to choose the right thing to do or say just gets wearisome and makes life tough on this side of heaven. More than once, the apostle Paul encouraged us to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord (Col. 1:10), and to walk in a manner worthy of our calling (Eph. 4:1). There is also a thin line between works and faith. How can I be worthy, ever?

I can’t, of course. I’m sinful, broken, selfish, so UNworthy. Yet God has poured out His love upon me. He longs to be gracious to me. He loves me with an everlasting love, and not one iota of it is because I’m worthy, because I made a good decision, or because I acted in a manner worthy of Him. He loves me because He is loving. He is love itself. It’s not something he DOES–love is WHO HE IS.

So when I get focused on my own actions and feel pressure to choose the right thing, as if this life is a big shell game and I’ve got to guess which one is hiding the ball underneath, then I’m getting it all backwards. It doesn’t depend on me. Paul’s encouragement to walk in a manner worthy of God isn’t meant to be a job or something we should do in order that we might earn God’s favor—we’re encouraged to do our best to walk in a manner worthy of God because we already have His favor.

In Phillipians 3, Paul writes about having no confidence in the flesh–in this sinful body that’s incapable of doing right. But that doesn’t mean we should just give up and not even try to follow hard after God, to try and be like our Father. Paul reminds us that the point is not about our actions, but it’s about knowing Christ. “I want to know Christ,” he wrote. That was his main goal. And his encouragement for us all was, “Only let us live up to what we have already attained.”

If you ever struggle with this, like I do, take heart in the fact that God doesn’t expect us to always get it right. He knows we can’t. And rest in the truth of His unfailing, unconditional love. As A.W. Tozer wrote, “If nothing in us can win Thy love, nothing in the universe can prevent Thee from loving us.”

Rest in His love. God Himself calls us to fix our eyes not on what is seen–not on our own actions–but on what is unseen, on Him. “Cease striving and know that I am God.” Doing the right thing and worthiness is not about me and what I do or don’t do; it’s about Him and who He is.

For the past two years, I have really felt the Lord’s prompting to share some of my most well-guarded ‘stuff’ with a friend, to bring it out of the darkness into His marvelous light. I’ve experienced the healing and freedom in the past from sharing struggles and sins, but to be honest, most of the time I only shared what I felt was ‘acceptable’ stuff–things that I thought others could relate to and understand, and that I didn’t think would freak anybody out. But these the past couple of years–these were the ones from the inner sanctum, the vault in my soul that I’ve tried to keep everyone out of–even God. I couldn’t keep Him out, of course, and now I felt His prompting to let another in, or maybe more appropriately, to let the ‘junk’ out.

James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” So with lots of deep breaths and swallowing, I shared some things with a trusted friend, with a mixture of hesitation and hope, and I was and still am blown away by the freedom and healing that followed. Her understanding and unconditional love mirrored that of our Father, and it was so incredibly powerful.

The picture I can’t stop thinking about is from “The Wizard of Oz,” when Dorothy and her friends actually see the wizard for who he really is. The analogy is so clear–that in sharing our sins and struggles with someone, and letting the Light shine on them, we pull the curtain back and reveal them for what they truly are, and not for the tall shadowed frights they looked to be in the dark.

I haven’t watched the movie in a long time, but today when I looked up more info about this, I remembered that the wizard was revealed only because the Cowardly Lion summoned enough courage to roar at him, which startled Toto, causing him to run away and moving the curtain as he went. Because the Lion took one small step of courage, the truth about Oz, the Great and Terrible, was revealed.

Another point I thought was interesting was the way each character in the story had imagined the wizard. “I thought Oz was a great Head,”  Dorothy said. The Scarecrow thought he was a lovely Lady, while the Tin Man had seen him as a terrible Beast. For the Lion, he thought Oz was a ball of fire. It’s fascinating that the Deceiver, both in this movie and book, and in our lives today, takes the longings of our heart and twists them into something dark and frightening, that will scare us away from the very thing we long for.

Dorothy longed more than anything to just go home, and yet the huge, overbearing image of the wizard’s head kept her cowering and fearful that she’d never find her way back there. The Scarecrow wanted brains; he wanted to be known and liked for the substance of his mind and not just his outward appearance. Yet for a young man who’s insecure, what can be more frightening or instill even more insecurity than a lovely lady? For the Lion, who tried to put on a brave front but couldn’t even count sheep at night because he was afraid of them, a huge ball of fire was incredibly menacing. And for the Tin Man, who wanted to stop being so stiff and to live and move with the warmth of a loving heart, how could he even begin to feel any warmth or caring at all for an image of such a terrible beast, a creature who instilled fear, not love?

I hope I’m not stretching those too far, but it just makes sense to me. If we’re honest, I think most of us would say what we long for the most is to be known and loved just as we are. We love it when others are real and authentic, but too often we’re hesitant to be that way ourselves. First Corinthians 13 explains well the power of love and reveals that it is the greatest, even among such important and life-giving gifts as faith and hope. The Lord wants us to know that love, both from Him and from those He puts in our lives, and the enemy wants nothing more than to keep us from experiencing it.

If anything is keeping you from experiencing the freedom, healing, powerful love of God, I encourage you to just take one little step of courage to overcome whatever it is that’s keeping you from it. Don’t be afraid to pull back the curtain to see that menace for what it really is. To let the sin out and the healing light and love in. It is so worth it. And as Dorothy found out, doing that is so important to helping us get home.

A couple of weeks ago, my pastor was sharing about Jesus being in the Garden at Gethsemane. Jackie’s message that Sunday was about the Lord’s Prayer, and he was pointing out parallels between that prayer and the one Jesus prayed in the garden the night before His arrest and crucifixion. It was insightful, but something else caught my attention about Jesus’ prayer that last night.

His heart was heavy, because He knew the time of His death was drawing nigh. He asked His disciples to stay nearby and pray. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” He shared with them. “Stay here and keep watch with Me,” (Matthew 26:38). Jesus walked a bit farther and fell with His face to the ground. He was in agony. He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42).

An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him, just as they did at the beginning of His ministry, following His time of temptation in the wilderness. “And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44). No clearer picture of affliction has ever been presented. So great was His anguish, His blood vessels burst, mingling with sweat, dropping like tears to the ground.

I’ve always thought this anguish was because Jesus knew He would soon bear the sins of the world when He would be nailed to the cross and die. Surely that was true, but this time, as I read these verses and looked at the scene they described, I wondered more than ever, what was it that caused such distress?

When I lived on my aunt and uncle’s farm, I often sat on the back porch, looking out across the pasture and pond. Most of the time, the black angus cows slowly made their way around the pasture with their heads down, munching grass. If they were ever standing with their heads up, it got my attention. And if they all had their heads up and were looking in the same direction, I knew there was something out there that I couldn’t see, like a fox or coyote. When the cows stood at attention, I knew to shift my gaze in the direction they were looking.

In the same way, as I looked at these verses about Jesus’ anguish, I knew that to learn more, I needed to shift my gaze in the direction He was looking: toward the Father. And it struck me that maybe there was more to His misery than our sin (not that that’s not enough). I think the other source of His pain was knowing that bearing our sin meant not just dying, but descending to hell, which meant being separated from His Father.

Jesus said in John 10:10, “I and the Father are one.” He had been with the Father forever. He knew that our sins would separate Him from God (Isaiah 59:2). This separation agony was echoed when Jesus was hanging on the Cross and cried, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”

Seeing His agony over being separated from the Father then made me think, ‘What does that say about the love of the Father?’ Then I wondered how often I take this amazing love for granted–all too often. I get up in the morning and walk right past it, just like I walk past my couch on the way to the kitchen. It moves me to tears to think of how carelessly I carry His love, when Jesus treasured it above all else. Do I truly grasp that God loves me with that same love–a love so great that being separated from it was the worst thing that Jesus ever experienced? Who knows what really happened during His death, but my own opinion is that the hardest part of Him securing our salvation was not cloaking Himself with our sin, but the fact that it separated Him from His Father.

Just before Jesus died, darkness came over the whole land (Mark 15:33). Not only did the sun disappear, but the Son disappeared as well, and maybe those clouds weren’t just about His leaving, but were also about the Father grieving.

I’m thankful for this fresh perspective on not just Christ’s sacrifice for me, but for the Love that was behind it all, especially as I turn my thoughts to Easter. When I survey the wondrous Cross, I will also consider the amazing Love that was behind it, beside it, underneath it, above it, before it and after it. “The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell,” so goes the hymn. As you think about Easter, think about not just Jesus’ actions, but the object of His affection. It wasn’t just us; it was His Father as well.

I recently read The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, and I loved it. Anytime that I’ve read or heard anything about the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15, the focus has always been on the younger son, who demands his inheritance from his father, squanders it on wild living, and then, when he hits bottom, has to swallow his pride and go back home.

But there was another brother in this story, as Keller focuses on in his book. The older brother had done everything right, he thought, and he resented it when the dad rolled out the red carpet for the younger son to welcome him back home. One of Keller’s main points of the book is that each brother represented a different way to be alienated from the Father. The older son may have looked like he had it all together, but he didn’t.

My friend Rhonda and I are going to study this book together, and it looks like I’ll be leading a women’s group at my church in a study on it as well, so this afternoon I was re-reading the first chapter and then digging a bit in Scripture for more material. When it comes to biblical brothers, Cain and Abel are maybe the most well known, so I turned to Genesis 4 to read their story again. To correlate with Luke 15, Cain is the older brother–Abel the younger. Their story takes a BIT of a departure, though, when Cain, angry that God the Father is more pleased with Abel’s sacrifice, kills his brother, Abel.

What struck me as I read about them is that several times, God talks to Cain. “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry?….” “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?” “The Lord said, ‘What have you done?” The Genesis account doesn’t include any responses from Cain to God. The Lord is talking to Cain, and on the other side of the conversation … crickets.

Each time God spoke to Cain, He asked him a question. AS IF He didn’t already know the answers. So why is He talking to Cain, asking him this stuff? Maybe because He’s trying to maintain their relationship. They clearly had one, because the punishment for Cain’s sin is to be a restless wanderer, cut off from God. Finally, a response from Cain: “Today You are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from Your presence. I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” He’s worried about his life, but I think he’s also sad that he’s going to be separated from God.

The Lord assures Cain that if anyone does kill him, they will suffer some serious vengeance, and He actually puts a mark on Cain so that no one will kill him. Cain still had to bear the consequences of his sin, but the Lord protected him.

I just love it that God kept the dialog going, or at least tried. In a similar way, the father in Luke 15 went to both of his sons, not just the younger one, inviting them to the celebration banquet. What a loving Father. He doesn’t want us to be restless wanderers; He wants us to rest in Him and wonder at His grace.

I haven’t blogged much lately (obviously, seeing as how my last post was more than a year ago). Today I was thinking that if I wrote about insights/thoughts I get as I read the Bible, it would help me be more accountable to be in the Word and to write more.

Sometimes I wonder what I’m supposed to be doing. I used to think writing was my thing, but then when I changed jobs and wasn’t a full-time writer anymore, I felt a bit lost. I haven’t figured it out yet, but I still think like a writer most of the time and have writerly thoughts, so this gives me an outlet for that. I pretty much always need encouragement to stay faithful to reading God’s Word (unfortunately), and it helps with that as well. These won’t be anything huge, just random little thoughts. I hope you readers (both of you) enjoy and can find some encouragement.

Thought no. 1:

John 1:19,20: “Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Christ.'”

As I was pondering the ‘why am I here?’ question, I read this and was inspired by John the Baptist. Maybe I should try his take on things and start off by naming what I’m pretty sure I’m NOT here to do. The process of elimination can be a good thing. Plus, it’s probably a good practice to just remind myself every so often that there is a God, and I’m not Him.

I don’t like politics and try to stay as far away from it as I can, usually. But all the health care hubbub that’s going on now, the economic uncertainties we still face, all the strained race relations in our country and the world, plus some of the international situations that have occurred in the past few months, have got me thinking.

I’ve been thinking about how typically the traits that are a person’s strongest, or a nation’s, can also tend to become their weaknesses when taken to the extreme. Someone may be very giving, for example, and people will love them for their selfless acts toward others. But that means that some people will probably take advantage of that generosity, which can make it a weakness. For our country, I believe one word sums up our strengths and weaknesses: more. We were founded to build a country based on religious freedom. We were also founded as a Christian nation, and our founders wanted the citizens of this country to be able to worship God in whatever way they saw best.

We were founded in a land brimming with resources, wide open with opportunity. One settlement led to another, and another. One denomination led to another. Growth sparked trade and entrepreneurs. Our leaders continued to place their faith and trust in God, like explorers staking a flag at the North Pole. And more was good.

And now we find ourselves trying to dig out and recover from greed, basically. More became a weakness as loans were approved for people who really couldn’t afford them. Deals were made between institutions that were shaky at best. And our house of cards fell in. So what has more really gotten us?

As we all try to endure and even make the most of these challenging economic times, so many people have gotten back to the basics of life. Instead of going on vacations, families have stayed home, having BBQs in the back yard, traveling to local atractions. Neighbors have helped neighbors, family members have helped each other. Many of us have really re-evaluated our lives, trying to figure out what we really need and what we can do without.

And it seems like we need to do that as a nation. The healthcare debate surely shows that people are worried, nervous, on edge, and it seems like many members of our government seem to be ignoring us, trying to ignore our outcries by downplaying them or just plain ignoring them by taking cell phone calls when they should be listening to the citizens standing before them. A few have acknowledged that many people are upset, but “they aren’t representative.” How many public forums is it going to take? How much outcry does there have to be?

But I don’t want to get stuck on healthcare, because that’s not why I’m writing. I’m writing because I think we need to get back to our basics. We need to tear down the house of cards and get back to the foundation. I just watched a video of a speech by Congressman Randy Forbes from Virginia, and to me it just cuts to the heart of the whole thing. You do not have to be a Christian to be an American–because of the freedoms our country was formed upon, you can choose to worship the God or a god however you choose–but you cannot deny the importance of the God–the only God–that our country was built upon. “Our Constitution was designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other,” John Adams, 2nd President of the United States.

I was sad to learn that Walter Cronkite had passed away. I remember watching him on CBS, at a plain desk with the countries of the world on the wall behind him. As a kid in the ’60s, I watched him then and throughout his career. He retired in 1981, the year I graduated from high school. I’ve read articles recently about how trusted he was. I was young, but I trusted him, and in a way he helped teach me about right and wrong.

Before the age of talk shows and pundits and endless coverage of events, there was the nightly news. One broadcast. One opportunity to inform viewers about what had happened in the world that day. He was a professional, and yet he seemed like one of us. As Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote in the New York Times, “His job was to appear unfazed, unchanged by the events he described. But from time to time — reporting President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, reporting from Vietnam, reporting that first step on the moon — he made it clear that the news of the day had changed not only us but him.”

My maternal grandparents were all about CBS. I’m not sure why they never really watched any other network, but they didn’t. So if we were ever over there in the evening, we definitely watched Walter Cronkite.

One memory that still sticks out in my mind is having supper with Mamaw and Papaw one night. I don’t know exactly how old I was, but I was in elementary school and probably in the 2nd or 3rd grade. Parts of the memory are sketchy. I think Papaw may have been working, because it seems like it was just Mamaw there, and we were eating at the little table in the den. Mr. Cronkite was telling us that there had been severe flooding in Bangladesh or somewhere–I don’t remember the exact place. A typhoon or monsoon or some kind of ‘soon’ had hit, and hundreds of people were without homes. Some had died.

Mamaw had no idea where Bangladesh was–didn’t know anything about it at all. But she did know that many of these people had lost everything they owned in this storm. And as we watched black and white footage of homes and huts washed away, Walter gave us the story about what had happened and how many people were affected. Mamaw cried. And I learned from him and her what it meant to have compassion, empathy and sympathy for others.

If Mr. Cronkite reported on a burglary or a murder, Mamaw again showed compassion for the victims and talked about how wrong it was for the suspects to have done what they did. And I learned more about right and wrong.

“Some deaths end only a life. Some end a generation. Walter Cronkite’s death ends something larger and more profound. He stood for a world, a century, that no longer exists. His death is like losing the last veteran of a world-changing war, one of those men who saw too much but was never embittered by it. Walter Cronkite’s gift was to talk to us about what he saw, and we are very lucky to have been able to listen.” Verlyn Klinkenborg.

Go rest high on that mountain, Mr. Cronkite. Thank you for being such a positive influence in my life.

I’m trying to be a positive, glass-half-full kinda gal, although as Coldplay says, Don’t ask neither how full nor empty is your glass. So maybe I should be grateful that I just have a glass. Anyhoo, this laptop is scorching my already-toasty legs, so let me just get to the point:

  • My house probably needed to be aired out anyway.
  • Having to raise the windows has forced me to clean all the spider webs and stuff in and around them.
  • Most every room has a ceiling fan (thank you Jesus, Aunt Betty and Uncle Johnny).
  • Hopefully having said fans cranked up on high will knock the dust off those blades. (Is it becoming obvious that I’m sorely lacking in my dedication to cleaning house?)
  • Having the windows up and fans on reminds me of when I was little and air conditioning was a luxury. Yes, I’m old. But I did not walk to school barefoot in the snow–I”m not that old.
  • It reminds me of the end of 3rd grade, when I got the chicken pox and stood in front of our window unit a/c, slathered in calamine lotion, trying not to scratch.
  • At night I can hear the big ole bullfrogs croaking down at the pond. This is probably my favorite “perk” so far.
  • The old unit has had troubles every summer for the past three years at least, so maybe getting a new unit will mean it will be a long time before I’ll have to go without cool air again.
  • Sweating is good for my pores.
  • That’s all for now, but if it takes a few more days before the new unit can be installed, I may come up with more.
  • Oh yeah, it makes me very grateful when I’m in a place that does have cool air.

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Lisa writes...

Confessions and conundrums of an ordinary life