Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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Our starter house, 22 years later (theology of place)

I had no intentions of staying in this house for very long. In my mind, it was the guys’ place, where they had set up a weight room in the dining room and taped posters of pro athletes on the walls. My future husband, John, rented his living space in this house from his friend Mark. It was the stereotypical but legit bachelor pad.

But Mark received an amazing job opportunity in Costa Rica just as John and I were looking for a place to live. So, Mark sold the 1970’s-era ranch on Ironkettle Road to us, and after our honeymoon I moved in, temporarily I thought.

Almost 23 years later, the “starter house” on Ironkettle is still our home.

We put it on the market once, thinking that it was time for us to move onto a bigger and better place. There was this house I longed for, which was for sale on Porch Swing Lane, with brick, two stories, a front porch, a garage even! But nothing happened with our own house, not a hint of interest. I couldn’t blame the potential buyers who made an appointment for a showing but then decided that they didn’t even want to walk in. John and I didn’t know much about curb appeal, especially since I wasn’t emotionally invested in this space. And there was no HGTV back then.

So, we took down the “for sale” sign, and we’ve never considered trying that again. Although years later, we could probably sell easily. Our little home has a new roof, new siding, new windows, new shutters, established perennials and trees, new kitchen, expanded master bed & bath, and is a neighborhood school for the highest-rated schools in our city.  With my parents’ assistance and my brother’s talents for building and carpentry, our “fixer-upper” looks pretty good for a 1970’s house.

But still, I have struggled with mixed sentiments about this place for 22 years. Somehow, we landed in a section of our city where the average income is high. Our humble and older street, which exists without a neighborhood association or a pool or clubhouse, shares a zip code with country club neighborhoods and million-dollar homes. When we visit the homes of friends we’ve made through church or our daughter’s school, I just struggle. As Theodore Roosevelt wisely said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Those houses, after all, have the space and the shine which we lack. I return home, and the house feels tiny and worn and dated. For all our efforts to fix her up inside and out, she is what she is.

These feelings are relative, of course, and cause a messy tension between contentment and longing and guilt within. Because we have also returned to the house on Ironkettle from our travels to some of the poorest places on earth, and we understand that our family possesses abundance well beyond our needs. We have what we have, and it is very good.

Even if we could afford to move, we’ve decided that our starter house is our keeper home, Lord willing. This little home on Ironkettle houses our most cherished memories. Our daughter took her first steps here. Sometimes when I look out at the backyard, I can still picture her little feet stomping in the mud at the bottom of the slide. Every first-day-of-school photo is taken where the sidewalk meets the driveway, in front of the lantana. Daddy’s knack for fixing anything is evident throughout these rooms. We planted the crepe myrtle which now stretches far above the roofline. Inside and outside, my brother crafted all the trim by hand. Somewhere between the carpet and the baseboard, I’m sure you could find pine needles from 22 Christmas trees. We have celebrated and cried hard within these walls.

For all the joys we’ve experienced within our little home, we’re increasingly aware that God is up to something on the outside too. Our pastor calls it “theology of place,” based on Paul’s sermon recorded in Acts 17: From one man God made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’

This Scripture assures us that the house on Ironkettle is our divinely appointed home. Of course, we can’t presume that He will always keep us here, but for now we see “the boundary of our land” as an opportunity gifted by God. Through our current circumstances and in our hearts, we sense Him telling us to stay and let these roots grow deeper. We are called where we are, until God moves us.

It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching. (2)

Except for the first 6 years of my life and 4 years of college, I have lived in two homes – my parent’s home and my present home. Both addresses are one street off of Providence Road. I think this is sweetly providential and reminds me that “theology of place” ordains each context with divine purpose and ministry.

Looking beyond this “starter home,” as I did for so many years, diminishes the sacred importance of what’s happening on Ironkettle. I started to realize this, not long ago, when my next-door neighbor mistakenly thought that we placed a “for sale” sign in the yard.  Turns out that her vision is not so good, and it was just a garden flag.

But she told me that she had a moment of panic, thinking that we were leaving. And it occurred to me that perhaps we really do matter, in this house, on this street. These neighborly relationships are where, by His grace, God is teaching us to see Scott, not just as the guy who mows his grass every Sunday but as a soul, an image-bearer of God who is created for His saving love and redemption. Just as freshly-strewn seeds of grass occasionally take flight on the wind and land amongst our neighbors’ yards, we believe that God has entrusted our family with grace to spread.

It takes courage to go and talk to Scott. We’ve been to China, the Dominican Republic, and Albania to share the Gospel and yet we pause over the prompting to cross the street. This is where our faith is most stretched. Yet God is stirring up our love for Scott and his family. We know that Jesus loves them and can use any person and any means He wishes to bring Scott to Himself. But what an incredible faith-building blessing we could miss if we choose to look the other way, grab the mail and retreat, and not say yes to the opportunity to be God’s messenger.  And we don’t know … tonight could be the night that Scott’s car doesn’t ever return to his driveway.

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And so, our starter home is the place where God is starting His new work in my heart, that I might seek what He is doing in my ordinary, ordained mission field. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I march across the street and whip out my carefully-scripted Gospel presentation on Scott. But it starts with valuing and engaging my neighbors. It begins as I stop making excuses about the stains and the square footage and I choose a spirit of hospitality, opening my home in an effort to serve and to love. As my pastor likes to say, “The Gospel moves at the speed of relationship.” To me, this means that in the daily rhythms of life we look for ways to talk with people, to prayerfully discern where the Holy Spirit is moving in this context, and humbly display a life of dependence on Christ, being ready and obedient when He tells us to move –

– as we stay, on Ironkettle Road.

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image courtesy of Holley Gerth

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Need a pick-up? Holley is writing today on “gratitude when you’ve got an attitude” (like I have sometimes about my house!) She’s also hosting a link-up for writers who are sharing words of encouragement, Coffee for your Heart {here}.


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From Charlotte …

I’d like to tell you about events that happened in my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina this past week:

My neighbor helped a motorist with a flat tire.

A teacher gave her struggling student a fist bump and a “you got this.”

Friends invited the “new kid” to sit with them in the cafeteria.

A young woman took a lonely widow out to lunch.

After filling her prescription, a pharmacist at Walgreens walked an elderly lady through the store and to the parking lot where her ride waited.

A Sunday School teacher went to the hospital every day to visit a sick child.

In Subway, a customer entered line behind a police officer and stepped forward to pay for his sandwich.

A teenager, who recently entered the foster care system with no possessions, was clothed with new outfits, shoes, accessories, and the love of Christ.

A hospice chaplain took on extra hours to offer her prayerful presence to a heart-broken family.

These events weren’t sensational enough to make the news, of course. Most likely, you didn’t hear positive reports broadcast this week from my hometown. I don’t mean to minimize the circumstances that prompt important and necessary discussions about race issues in our country. But I think we can agree that when it comes to the media-driven culture, negativity and drama are predominant, from the playing field to protests to politics. And sometimes my soul needs the kind of care which comes not from escapism or denial but from recognizing that God is still sovereign and still at work near and far. While I appreciate the American freedom of expression, these recent days remind me to intentionally look for other forms of expression – those ordinary actions which express God’s love for and through the people of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Perhaps you are like me, living a seemingly small-scale life that feels more ordinary than extraordinary. But this ordinary day is ordained by God to move you into a place where you can express His love as no one else can. When you help a person on crutches with her grocery bags, when you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a hungry person, or when you trim the widow’s shrubs, you are giving expression to the God-given dignity of every individual.

Regardless of developmental stage or ethnic/economic status, every person is the Imago Dei, created in God’s image. Persons who in faith receive His Son as Savior are also in a process of being transformed into the image of Christ, or the Imago Christi. If you are a Christ-follower, the fact that you can give expression to the Imago Dei and the Imago Christi is the most sacred, significant thing about you. If there were a heavenly news-reel, your simple, heart-felt actions would make the highlights. More than ever, cities like Charlotte need the hands-and-feet expressions of the Gospel, the good news.

Politicians can make speeches, players can refuse to stand, protestors can voice their perspectives, but the only form of expression which will truly heal originates and overflows from God’s heart –

Every person has worth, created by God with purpose. (Psalm 139)

Jesus paid the ultimate price so that every person can be free. (Galatians 5)

Every person is loved regardless of status or performance or human standards. (2 Corinthians 5: 14 – 16)

This love also bridges separations, breaks down barriers, and calls each one of us to unity. (Ephesians 2:14)

The Cross radically transforms how we see and treat life – whether young or old; rich or poor; able-bodied or impaired; slave or free; white or black; weak or strong. The healing begins as we choose to follow the example of Jesus who gave His all for all.

Expressions of healing happen when we choose humility and kindness, when we direct our eyes from our gadgets to another human, when we give our time as a free gift, and when we listen more than we speak.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

The Gospel reconciles sinners to God and also person to person, community to community. Imagine our symphony of voices, each uniquely gifted, rising in reverence for Imago Dei in every person. God created you with something sacred to express, and your encouraging word, smile, prayer, open door, or gesture of forgiveness add to a chorus which can change cities like Charlotte one life at a time.

(Thank you, Pastor Alex, for influencing me and my family so deeply in our appreciation for the Imago Dei in every person and for encouraging us to create ripples across the waters.)

I alone cannot change the world but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. (2)

 


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The value of one divine appointment

On Thursday, I enjoyed posting and scrolling through back-to-school pictures on Facebook. But between the images of kids with fresh clothes and big smiles, I saw a picture of a young boy unknown to me. I did a double-take, then I squinted to figure out what I was seeing.  Because what in the world??

What is he covered in? Dust, ashes? Why is blood smeared over half his little face, matted in his hair and eyelashes? The child sits alone with little hands folded in his lap and with face expressionless. Doctors who treated the boy said that he never cried.

Mahmoud Raslan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Mahmoud Raslan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Numbly, he looks as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened.

He is Omran Daqneesh, a five year old victim of an airstrike in his hometown of Aleppo, Syria. His rescuers leave him in an ambulance, where this picture was taken, so that they can save additional children. Relieved, I learn that Omran was treated and released from the hospital with no signs of brain injury.  His parents and 3 siblings reportedly survived as well, pulled from the rubble of their apartment building before it collapsed completely.

The Syrian Civil Defense, a volunteer lifesaving organization, saved the family’s life.

Bibars Halabi is the volunteer who carried Omran to the ambulance.

“My heart breaks for Omran but people need to know this happens everyday,” said Halabi, “This time it was just caught on camera.”

As I search for articles about Omran and his family, I learn that Aleppo, their hometown, has been in the news for years. Part of the Syrian city has been held by rebel groups since 2012 with the recent government siege, backed by Russian air power, cutting off many supply routes. As vital necessities diminish, humanitarian aid is blocked.

More than 6,000 people, mainly civilians, have been killed or injured in 80 consecutive days of fighting in Aleppo.

I have never heard of Aleppo. I’m grieved by this. I didn’t know that just last week, the remaining 15 doctors in the city of 300,000 sent a letter to President Obama to appeal for intervention so that medical supplies and food can offer relief to the suffering civilians.

Honestly, I can’t understand or explain the Syrian civil war, although I know that millions have fled for their lives, but for most of them and for those still in Syria, there is nowhere to go.

I remember it’s been almost a year since the world was shocked by the image of Aylan, a Syrian boy whose drowned body was recovered off the shores of Turkey.

But then, well, I forgot …

“I hope the world will learn something from it,” said Aylan’s father who also lost his wife and another son when their dinghy capsized as they tried to flee Syria. “I hope this people will be helped, that these massacres are stopped. We are human beings, just like Westerners.”

Every child is a divine appointment ~ Wess Stafford

Aylan and Omran – yes, you are human beings, divine appointments, made in the image of God, held in His heart and precious in His sight. So much more than another victim caught on camera. My heart is filled with remorse and regret for the way I forgot you. I didn’t pray. I guess I reasoned that the situation in your home country is “complicated” and “political” and I didn’t know how to pray. That’s garbage for an excuse.

I am so sorry. Omran, if your precious little face looks numb to suffering, perhaps it’s because my heart has been numb to your suffering. May this day conclusively close the door on my ignorance, apathy, forgetting.

Reader and friend, if you are like me, perhaps you also find it overwhelming to articulate the tremendous needs in our hurting world as you try to pray. May we remember that the power of prayer is in the One who hears it and not in the one who says it.

May we simply and humbly and faithfully come and choose to not forget.

Together, let us hold every Aylan and Omran in our hearts and trust that God receives our prayers for

– peace and for protection over the innocents caught in the crossfire

– a ceasefire so that aid can be delivered to the suffering

– safe places for the vulnerable

– material support to flow abundantly

– courageous volunteers like Halabi and the 15 doctors who are risking their lives for every Omran.

– the Christ-followers to stand firm in their faith and serve as the hands and feet of Jesus to their neighbors in Syria and refugee camps

– their suffering to be redeemed by His goodness and glory

– all of us, a call to action in giving and praying and remembering.

We can all do something. Thank you for reading and remembering with me.

“Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the One who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.” Max Lucado

If you can share any additional prayer points or ways to help, please include in the comments.

“I believe that now more than ever, Jesus is leading His church into the margins of our world, where the suffering is greatest and expressions of His love are most needed.” Richard Stearns, President of World Vision

Where is the Church? by Steve Haas of World Vision. In this article, you can find and download the free guide, “Understanding the Syria Crisis and the Role of the Church”

World Vision International

Open Doors

World Relief Disaster Response

The (Bloody) Face of Violence in Syria

Compassion International –

Aylan Kurdi: The Power of One Child

Doctors Without Borders

News sources:

http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/17/world/syria-little-boy-airstrike-victim/

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37125400

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/08/18/490461992/a-wounded-child-in-aleppo-silent-and-still-shocks-the-world

http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/09/05/437486484/a-viral-syrian-moment-will-it-be-different-this-time

Also – from Ann Voskamp, September 2015 – Dear Alyan

 

 


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A prayer when we feel powerless

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The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This post is a prayer in response to the tragedy in Orlando and to words I wrote last week:

Lord Jesus, You tell us to speak on behalf of the powerless: the orphan, the widow, the outcast. We look to You, our Advocate, for the courage and conviction to go to the margins and open our arms. Jesus, You are our example and our guide when we need to speak against injustice and speak for the Imago Dei, every person created in the image of God.

But it’s increasingly and frighteningly clear that even the places where those of us in the prime of life go to learn, to worship, to gather with friends are no longer secure from just one person filled with hatred and bigotry.  God, this leaves us feeling powerless too. We need You. When we feel scattered and confused, we run to Your safe arms. Remind us that nothing happens apart from your power to redeem and rescue.

When it seems that we cannot relate in lifestyle or choice with those who have been targeted, Lord may we draw together in humanity. Forgive us for making distinctions, and give us courage and conviction to go beyond the safe lines we draw around where we feel comfortable. For all of us can relate with the experience of being human, being afraid, being needful of comfort and grace and someone to stand with us.

And in this world, sometimes we also feel powerless to do anything against the encroaching darkness. May we remember that the dark only exists in the absence of light.

Give us courage to be Your light in any way and any place where You lead us. Today that can happen in our homes, our workplaces, our grocery stores. We can shine for You in simple, small ways that will never make the news but can give someone a glimmer of hope that kindness, honor, and respect still exist in our world. For You are still here, You are still in control, and Your love always overcomes.

In You, Jesus, Love is the most powerful force in our world, and we will choose and live it to the full this day.

May Jesus Christ be praised. Amen.

I alone cannot change the world but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. (2)

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing. attributed to Edmund Burke

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Discomfort and Joy

As I knelt to tie her shoes, a precious child with blond curls and bright eyes looked squarely into mine and whispered, “My mommy and daddy live in a hotel.” I gulped and replied with words wise and profound:

“Do you like your pink shoes?”

Of course, the truth is that I didn’t know what to say. My heart winced for this sweet foster child who leapt from the floor and twirled before the mirror in her sparkly silver skirt. She and her foster mom were our guests in the Mosaic Style with Love store, where foster children receive a personalized shopping experience where words of affirmation and blessing are offered, along with new clothes, shoes, and accessories.

In this instance, though, I couldn’t come up with timely words. I side-glanced at her foster mom who gave me a half-smile, an embarrassed “she-just-says-these-things” smile. Eventually the awkwardness passed as we admired the tip-toe dance of pink shoes and a sequin skirt.

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A few months earlier, my friend and I were in eastern Europe, alongside women in the kind of crisis and poverty that rattles my sheltered imagination. Their social worker, a Christ-follower who devotedly pours herself into their lives, had planned a retreat and asked us to speak about the love of Jesus. As we worked through our rehearsed outline, she interpreted for us.

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About midway through, a woman interrupted. I didn’t understand her words but they sounded cutting and irritable. Our interpreter explained her agitation: “I don’t see God loving me. I don’t feel God loving me. I’m waiting for God to love me!

I gulped and I don’t remember if I said anything, profound or not. But another woman in the group – a woman whose crumbling home I’ve entered with disbelieving eyes, a woman who clings to her faith despite illness and poverty – spoke to her friend in their shared language:

“God is loving you right now. While you are sitting here, with these friends who love you, with your social worker who loves you. God loves you right here and now.”

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After these two experiences in 2015, I don’t see “missions” – local or global – the same way. Perhaps not consciously, but I once viewed missions as an “us” and “them” enterprise. And “us” consisted of the ones with the spiritual answers, the resources, the polish and the shine. Maybe that kind of missional approach meets some temporary needs and provides a few feel-good moments. But can it create joy or sustain transformation for either “us” or “them?” It puffs up but it doesn’t build up.

I discovered, as I looked these precious souls in the eyes, that I have zero to offer out of an “us” and “them” mentality. My only offering comes out of an admission that we are together human and needful of grace. And what I offer oftentimes lacks polish or the timely word or the right answer to hard questions. But Jesus calls me to uncomfortable places where people say things that I don’t expect. They are honest. If I enter their experiences, why should they insulate me? And so, my own humanity feels exposed.

But while these scenarios were discomforting, I can’t name two more fulfilling experiences of the past year.

Lord, I thank You for the discomfort. Can I say, that in its midst, I felt the joyful awareness of standing upon holy ground? It’s here where I examine my heart and ask if I am willing to be broken, as a seed which gives life.

An “us” and “team” mentality spoils a missions effort by 1) implying a condescension that steals dignity and robs fellowship and 2) leading people to think that they must have it all together and/or 3) compartmentalizing missions into occasional good works without growth toward a missional lifestyle.

If it means that I am all the more aware of my frailty, my tendency to be tongue-tied, and my needfulness, then Lord, send me. And thank You for the amazing thought that you use us, not despite our brokenness, but surely through our brokenness. Your power is made perfect in our weakness.

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I long for the fellowship of authenticity, as the “other” is human and vulnerable yet dignified, made in God’s glorious image. In truth, I don’t want to go on as an “other” – the one from the “right” side of town or the free, prosperous country who visits occasionally and returns safely to her sanctified bubble. This shared discomfort, between “others” colliding, gives us a glimpse of the incarnation – of Jesus becoming body in our humble, earthen mess.

In a world where people live in shady hotels and crumbling shacks, He came to “pitch his tent” (John 1:14). If Jesus incarnated Himself to birth in a manger, refugee status in Egypt, and to “have no place to lay his head,” surely we will experience Him in a new way when we identify with the “least of these.”

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Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” When we have a true perspective of our own poverty before God, without pretense or agenda, that humble spirit allows us into genuine fellowship with our brothers and sisters, and we see Him — in a foster mother, in an impoverished but grateful woman, in a social worker – those who pitch their tents and stay awhile. Missional living, after all, isn’t about “us” or “them” but about Jesus and His love being incarnated through human hands and feet.

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Perhaps I don’t yet fully understand what personal transformations and sacrifices this kind of mission – this pitching the tent – requires of me. But an incarnational life requires an encounter with the Cross.

Here I am, Lord (Isaiah 6:8).

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From Henri Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit, pages 104 – 105:

Compassion is something other than pity. Pity suggests distance, even a certain condescension. We can come close to another person only when we are willing to become vulnerable ourselves.

A compassionate person says: “I am your brother; I am your sister; I am human, fragile, and mortal, just like you. I am not scandalized by your tears, nor afraid of your pain. I too have wept. I too have felt pain.”

We can be with the other only when the other ceases to be “other” and becomes like us.

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There are 400,000 children in the foster system in United States. Many children enter into foster homes with just a few articles of clothing and necessities. Christ-followers are called to “take up the cause of the fatherless” (Isaiah 1:17). The Mosaic Style with Love store is one way that members of Carmel Baptist Church are answering this call. Find out more [here].

 


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Saying Yes Where You Are

“(God) says to ordinary people like me and you that instead of closing our eyes and bowing our heads, sometimes God wants us to keep our eyes open for people in need, do something about it, and bow our whole lives to Him instead.” – Bob Goff, Love Does

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I knew that we would quickly fall for the Albanian children at the orphanage. I felt it when the oldest, an eight-year-old girl with a gleam of mischief in her eyes, took the opportunity once the translator stepped out of the room to speak directly to the unsuspecting Americans:

What’s your name?”

This bright, bubbly child turned out to be a pint-sized translator herself:

Me – “Crayon?”

L – “Lapsi.”

Me – “Orange?”

L – “Portokalli.”

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My memories of my friend and her little sister are rooted in my heart. I was allowed to take a few pictures on our last day together. Most of the pictures are blurry, and eventually my mind’s eye will grow dim, but the eyes of my soul cannot un-see these children.

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But there was a time (not so long ago) when I succumbed to a feeling of helplessness at the darkness and suffering and injustice in our world and I basically chose to “un-see” the needful person across the street and across the sea.

My question was this – What can one ordinary person do to make a difference?

As I struggled with my hesitations and limitations, the Holy Spirit nudged me with another question, plus a challenge:

What difference does Jesus make in my life? Start there.

As I thought about these things, I read books by Richard Stearns, Henry Blackaby, and Emily Freeman which encouraged me to bridge the gap between sacred and secular and to open my eyes to all of life, even in my ordinariness, as my offering.

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Whatever you and I do, we are designed like no one else to say something unique and purposeful about God with our lives. As Emily Freeman says, creating a life of meaning is not about finding that one great thing you were meant to do. God has created you, Image Bearer, to know Him and to express Him in a million little ways.

The difference that Jesus makes in my life is that I’ve been saved by grace through faith, and Scripture says that this is a gift from God and not the outcome of my works (Ephesians 2:8). It’s tempting, in our cultural mindset, to be outcome-driven, even thinking that ministry is our deal, our doing.

But Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we are God’s workmanship, created by Him for good works He planned before we were born. What we have to offer is by God’s design and doing. Recognizing this truth has freed me from the burden of outcomes. No, I can’t change the world but I’m not called to. I’m called to offer my heart, my voice, my hands and feet and let God work as He will.

I alone cannot change the world but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. (2)

While we’re waiting for a place where we’re significant and sufficient, He’s asking us to begin with a small step of obedience.

An outcome-mindset comes easily to someone like me who wants to do some good, feel successful in it, and make the world seem more neat and tidy.

An offering-mindset is rooted in the belief that I can do nothing good except for God’s grace in me. Sometimes – most times – this is an uncomfortable process because God shows up best through weakness and humility. But could it be that God’s work is best seen in surrendered people, not skilled people?

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In our individualistic culture, it’s tempting to see ourselves as do-good lone rangers. But Ephesians 2:10 says that we are God’s workmanship and we are better together as each part of the Body of Christ does its unique and valuable part. God designed us to serve alongside, not alone.

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I’m learning that yes – I have a responsibility to this world, but when I am concentrating on my gifts, my purpose, my weaknesses, my calling, I am getting in the way. It’s all His deal, and what a privilege you and I have to be a collective part of His story. Let’s be available and willing to see what He does.

We are all in full-time Christian service …. What has God given you? Moses had a stick. David had a slingshot, and Paul had a pen. Mother Teresa possessed a love for the poor; Billy Graham, a gift for preaching; and Joni Eareckson Tada, a disability. What did they have in common? A willingness to let God use whatever they had, even if it didn’t seem very useful … We may not be clear on just how God wants to use us. But that’s no excuse for doing nothing. Just jump in, and start doing.”  Richard Stearns, The Hole in our Gospel

God is greater than our gifts, and I think He wants us to keep our eyes on Him and open to the unexpected ways He is working. Your offering and my offering, wherever our mission fields may be, matter to Him.

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When you ask God to help you see, He will open your eyes and your heart in a way that’s unique to you. His calling may not lead you to another country. God intentionally places us in our families, neighborhoods, and local communities too. What you offer in these places is significant and sacred.

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The Great Commission is lived out through bedtime prayers, peanut butter sandwiches, a pick-up soccer game with the refugee kids, a gift to the crisis pregnancy center, a Sunday morning in the special needs class.

The hands and feet of Jesus represent the showing-up part, but they respond to the seeing part.

God invites me and you into His work. We don’t have to figure out where we fit. He will lead us when we keep our eyes open.

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So, let’s not limit ourselves by the question – What can one person do to make a difference?

Instead let’s ask – What difference does Jesus make in my life? and Where is He working?

And let us start there. We can create a ripple effect that swells into a current of life-giving love.

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“Saying yes isn’t really about doing it all. It’s about saying yes right where you are. It may seem small or insignificant, but any time you love someone or care for another person’s needs, you’re changing their world, and yours too. It’s about looking up from your everyday life and seeing opportunities around you to make a difference. It’s about loving others as we are loved.” – Kristen Welch, Rhinestone Jesus: Saying Yes to God When Sparkly, Safe Faith is No Longer Enough

Emily Freeman, A Million Little Ways and Simply Tuesday: Small Moment Living in a Fast Moving World

Richard Stearns, The Hole in our Gospel and Unfinished: Believing is Only the Beginning

Henry Blackaby, Richard Blackaby, and Claude King, Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God

 

 


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The Best Song You Can Sing

I’ve thought and written a lot recently about my “one-word” – receive – as I’m learning (again and again) to rest in my Father’s unconditional love.  His grace invites us to come to Him in a posture of receiving, not achieving. Nothing we do can add to or take away from His love.

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And as I study what the Bible says about receiving from God, I notice a pattern like this:

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love (Ephesians 5:2).

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God (1 John 4:7).

This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away (2 Corinthians 9:10, The Message).

Do you see the pattern? As we receive love, we’re not meant to keep it for ourselves. Love comes to us that we can release it back into love for God and love for a needful world. So I’m thinking that perhaps my “one-word” has turned into 2 words: Receive and Release are a package deal.

Friends, as beloved children of God, we are the receivers. And we grow more fully in God’s image when we are also the releasers. When we give bountifully out of our resources and our hearts, we reflect the generous character of Him who gave His Son. As Romans 5 says, God pours His love into our hearts, not only to satisfy us but to spill from us. Think of how different our world might be if our homes and communities were soaked with the overflow of God’s love.

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On her beautiful site, Abiding Love, Abounding Grace, Karrilee expresses what releasing looks like:

I feel Him all around and I breathe Him in!
The temptation is to hold my breath…
to keep Him in…
To fill my lungs and try to push Him down…
To swallow Gulps of God.
 But Always, He was meant to be let out!

Last year I wrote a series on speaking life, being deeply inspired by these words:

Each of us is the beloved of God. Helping others claim and realize their belovedness is a privilege and sacred responsibility. This means we learn to be “for” our friends and family and not against them. Being for people means that we believe they are God’s beloved. (Stephen W. Smith)

To me, this being “for people,” this speaking for the belovedness of every person, especially those who cannot speak for themselves, is my sacred responsibility to release love.

This coming Sunday – January 18 – is Sanctity of Human life Sunday, and being “pro-life” is much more than taking sides and resigning this perspective to a political platform. It’s a worldview that embraces each person that God has created, from “womb to tomb” as our pastor says. It’s “a way of looking at life that transcends culture, class, race, age, and opinion, knowing that we are all uniquely created in the image of God” (The Dignity of Human Life video).

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Friend, you are created in God’s image. You are fashioned uniquely by Him for a purpose. He longs for you to receive His love and then to release it into your world. When you and I understand ourselves as the Beloved and the Image-Bearers, there is no limit to the difference we can make through our receiving and releasing.

As I wrote about speaking life, I learned many things, especially that it is not a solo effort. Rather it is a symphony of voices, each uniquely gifted, rising in reverence for Imago Dei in every person.

Fellow Image-Bearer, God created you with something to offer, and you – with your encouraging word, smile, prayer, open door, or gesture of forgiveness – add to a chorus that can change a world one life at a time.  YOU have something to say, someone to bless, and your receiving and releasing gives glory to God, like breathing in God’s grace and breathing out His praiseIt’s the best song you can sing.

As Sarah Bessey beautifully says, “If there is one soul in your care, one face in your loving gaze, one hand in yours, then you are loving the world … And so the work today, the love we give and receive and lavish on the seemingly small tasks and choices of our days can tip the scales of justice and mercy in our world.”

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May the following words inspire us to present our unique offerings, embrace the ordained ordinary, see weaknesses not as obstacles but as opportunities, and surrender the outcomes as our opened bag of loaves and fishes:

Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those who sang best. Henry Van Dyke

“If your personal genome sequence were written out longhand, it would be a three-billion-word book. The King James Version has 783,137 words, so your genetic code is the equivalent of approximately four thousand Bibles … My point? You aren’t just surrounded by miracles.  You are one.” Mark Batterson, The Grave Robber

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“There are many false ways of achieving uniqueness. These all result from attempts to create a self rather than receive the gift of myself in Christ. . . Identity is never simply a creation. It is always a discovery.” {Thank you, Emily Freeman, for sharing these words from David G. Benner. I’m eager to read his book, The Gift of Being Yourself}

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Christ has no body on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out;
yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good;
and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.
~ Saint Teresa of Avila

Releasing God’s love and our art in a way that reflects His glory is our highest purpose and greatest joy.

Join me in the song?

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Thank you, Lisa of {www.lisanotes.com} for introducing me to some truly inspiring thoughts from Sarah Bessey. Lisa’s post on Women in the Kingdom is filled with encouraging words about receiving and releasing for the sake of the Kingdom.

Linking with Beloved Brews Thursday @ Faith Barista. Fellow writers in Bonnie’s community are sharing their “one-words” for 2015. Bonnie’s offering a giveaway too, worth $100!

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Linking with Lyli and her friends who offer challenging, encouraging, and inspiring words @ Thought-Provoking Thursday.

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Linking today with Kelly and her encouraging community at Purposeful Faith and the #RaRaLinkUp. Find inspiration by clicking {here}.

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Does your heart need a pick-me-up? Join us over at Holley’s Coffee for Your Heart by clicking {here}. Holley is offering a giveaway today too 🙂

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