Thursday, February 26, 2015

When Your Heart Craves Adventure

My girl hates color by number, I just learned. She is devastated that someone else decided which colors she should use and where to apply them. Her brother, on the other hand, is happy someone took the time to show him exactly how it’s supposed to look.

For Valentine’s Day, their Ammy gave each a Color By Number notepad, complete with little black numbers painted on tiny markers. The two of us exchanged baffled looks that night at the difference in their responses to her thoughtful gift.  Jake was ecstatic, Lilly near tears. Eventually, we convinced Lilly it's ok to do her own thing. This morning I found both coloring pads out on the table when I got home from taking them to preschool.

I am bent toward coloring my life by number, choosing the predictable and playing it safe. I love adventure, but I’d much rather God give me a travel itinerary of where we’re heading so I can plan accordingly.  (Apparently, that’s not His thing.) My limited mind decides the sun should only be yellow, but God paints sunrises in blues, reds, oranges, and sometimes purples. No two pictures ever look the same. Real adventure spills outside of the lines, unexpected and completely magnificent.

I crave adventure, but I have a very limited scope of what adventure truly is.

The Israelites’ adventure is documented in the book of Numbers.  Reading the long lists of names and numbers, I wonder how they could possibly relate to me, here and now.  But this record kept by Moses reminds me that I am on an adventure with the same God who led the Israelites to the Promised Land all those generations ago. He led them every step of the way and He’s leading me, too.  He commands both my going and my staying.

At the command of the Lord they camped, and at the command of the Lord they set out. They kept the charge of the Lord, at the command of the Lord by Moses. (Numbers 9:23 ESV)

Adventure, to me, is charting new territory despite the risks that exist outside my comfort zone. Staying doesn’t seem adventurous.  Camped in Hebrew means ‘bent down’ and I can’t help but think about the humility that’s required to wait on God to move.

I’m in a season of God whispering, “Stay put.

And can I be honest? I hate camping.  I want to know why we’re here and how long we’ll be staying, but God is just so silent about all that. My venting reminds me that anger on the surface always means fear within. This feels more like a standoff than an adventure, and I’m afraid I’m missing out.

Towards the end of Numbers is a detailed account of the Israelites’ travels. I can’t get over the repetition… and the monotony.  For over forty verses, there’s a familiar cadence: They set out and camped... and they set out and camped… and they set out and camped… and they set out and camped… (See Numbers 33:5-49) I am struck with how unadventurous the whole thing sounds. Maybe I've been looking at this adventure thing all wrong.

The people knew exactly when to move and exactly when to wait because God appeared to them in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night.  This visible representation of the Presence of God hovered over the tabernacle, their tent of meeting. God lived among His people and He communicated with them. When the cloud moved, the people moved.  When the cloud hovered, they lingered, waiting for God to advance once more. 

The God who colors wildly out of the lines chose the most fascinating way to lead His people, and He never left them, not once. It was a mysterious and passionate way to display not only His power, but also His desire to be among His people. But the ugly presence of sin meant the people could only approach Him through the high priest and by the blood of animal sacrifice. The cloud was only a shadow of what was to come. God already knew that one day, generations later, He would replace the old way with a new, more perfect way.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11-12 ESV)

Fully God and fully man, Jesus is the perfect depiction of God's glory.
He is the visible representation of the invisible God.
In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. (See Colossians 1:15,19)

And still, the people missed it.  Just like me. They were so focused on where they were going or where they were staying, that they missed out on the adventure right in front of them. True adventure is more than the waiting, the pausing, or camping. It’s more than the wonder of new places and the thrill of new experiences, and it’s more than my miniscule part in His great story. We serve a God with an uninhibited heart who created adventure for us to experience with Him. And He loves us recklessly.

The adventure isn't found in the staying or in the setting out; true adventure can only be found in the God who dwells among us.

Listening for His voice, seeking His face, trusting His promises- these are the makings of an enchanted and riveting adventure.  When your heart longs for risk and you crave adventure deep in your soul, look no further than the One who left His throne in heaven to rescue you and make you His forever.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Mystery of the Giver

The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.
Praise the name of Yahweh. Job 1:21 (HCSB)

I put the book down halfway through to wipe tears that fall onto my daughter, asleep in my lap.  Have you ever inhaled the words of another and wondered how they could echo your own? I’m lost in Sara Hagerty’s story, graciously spilled out onto crisp pages. Every Bitter Thing is Sweet. The parallels in our stories convince me she is a close friend, but what really links our hearts is a common discovery of the God who gives. 

It’s there on page 134 and again two pages over:

“I assumed, again, that growth would come through disappointment, not fulfillment. It had always been safer to expect that God allows suffering in the interest of refinement. While I still believe this is a significant aspect of His nature, Uganda had given me the chance to discover new frontiers of His generosity. For He also allows joy.”

Through the recent birth of my daughter, I’ve glimpsed this God who gives.  The same cup I held out in pain, wondering if He withheld blessing, now overflows. My heart is shifting to make room for the Giver. I’m reaching out to receive joy. I’m terrified to hold joy fully, though, because what if it’s not mine to keep?

The God who takes away lovingly stripped all that once stood between my heart and His. Loss has shaped my faith. Everything I thought would satisfy only led me empty-handed to the feet of Jesus.  I found my fill in Him instead. I know the God who heals me, the One who is sovereign and in control of my mess. I know God, my Rescuer; His power has broken my chains and led me in the way of freedom.

But I'm just now discovering my Father, the God who gives.

Embedded deep within me is this idea that to receive, I must earn.  To be blessed, I must do. Jealous of the grace given so freely to the prodigal, I try to work for what I already have in abundance. And I’m just as lost as the one who ran away. I’ve run away from the Father, too, only in a different direction.

 As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take and eat it; this is My body.” Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew 26:26-28 (HCSB)

Take and eat is the invitation on the table. The words are recognizable, yet I don’t have a clue what they mean, not really. I am Eve’s daughter, deceived. Doubting the goodness of the Giver, I attempt to guard my own heart. When Eve took the fruit and ate it, the death sentence followed.

The Father knew there was only one way to bring His children back into communion with Him: a gift in return for the offense.

But not just any gift. This gift came at a great expense. It cost God dearly.  Infinitely.

Take and eat, Jesus says to the same ones who stole and ate, inheriting death.  Take and eat is the invitation to the gift of life, an eternal inheritance. Take and eat proclaims that truth conquers the lie as He prepares the table for me in the presence of my enemies.

And He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” Luke 22:19 (HCSB)

Jesus’ blood bought my forgiveness; His body provided life.  Accepting that I’m forgiven is not my issue. I know the way to the Father. But receiving this abundant life is my daily struggle. My heart exchanges truth for lie when I hone in on what I must do without regard for the gift.

In recognizing the Gift, I become more acquainted with the Giver.

So I’m making space to commune with the One who placed the full life within my grasp. To commune is to “talk together with profound intimacy” my dictionary declares. Communion is so much more than conversation; communion with the Giver is a lifestyle.

Jesus is my link to the Giver because Jesus is the gift.  He is my joy.  He is the peace that holds me in the midst of uncertainty.  Jesus is strength in my weakness. He is wisdom when life makes no sense; He is comfort for my heartbreak and hope for the days ahead. Jesus is God’s love all wrapped up and given… for me to give away.

The enemy is determined to keep all this hidden from my heart, because knowing this silences the lie whispered down through generations.

Communing with the Giver is more than asking Him to give; it's saying yes, I receive You. Every day. On the desperate days and the together days. In seasons of much and seasons of little, and every space in between.

The longing pleas of my past left me reaching out to receive more of Him. So it is with blessing.  The arms-out-accepting also leads to receiving Him. No matter how my now looks, God does not change. He is creatively searching for new ways to give Himself to me more and more each day, because He will always be the Giver.

You make known to me the path of life;
     in your presence there is fullness of joy; 
     at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.  Psalm 16:11 (ESV)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

God's Love Written in the Stars

God is love. Creation bears His love letters, written personally to us. My friend, Julie, found God's love for her in the stars of an African sky.


By Julie

The gentle rocking motion of the camel steadily treading across the sand was lulling me into a daze. The sun was bright and warm on my face. A gentle, cool breeze made it the perfect day to be riding camels across the Sahara desert.  We were taking a one-day journey out to visit a small nomadic tribe for the night. I turned on some worship music and spent the next hour singing to the God who'd made the breathtaking scenery that reflected His beauty all around me.

We arrived in early evening, unloaded the tired camels, and enjoyed tea and sour goat milk with the family who was hosting us for the night. Once the sun had set and stars were shining bright, I snuck away to sit on top of a nearby sand dune to wait on dinner.

As I looked up at the clear sky and the billions upon billions of stars twinkling bright, I couldn't help but think of the creator of those stars. Here I sat, in the middle of nowhere with a group of people who didn't know they could be near to the creator of those stars. I knew it was no accident that I was there. I had truth they desperately needed to hear. Their eternal destiny hinged on the information I knew and they were completely unaware of. I felt the weight of that truth. I knew I was supposed to share my story of how God drew near to me through the straight path of Jesus with our English-speaking friend. I knew this and I felt timidness creep in. I sat and prayed for God to pour out His boldness over me.

And then I asked God that if He really did want me to share would He please send me a shooting star. As soon as I'd finished my prayer I laughed and realized how stupid it was. I knew, really knew that I was supposed to share. God has made me a new creation in Him through Jesus. I am both a daughter of the King and an ambassador of His truth. So with a hint of embarrassment I told God to cancel that shooting star request.

But God.

Rich in mercy. Abounding in grace. Generous with his unfailing, steadfast, overflowing, undeserved love knew this little child of his needed a gift, a small reminder.

All through our dinner of couscous, which seemed to have been seasoned with sand, I fought the fear. My timid, scared, fearful old self seemed to have taken over. I kept telling myself to speak but my mouth refused. So bite, after gritty bite, I chewed in silence, desperately asking God for some boldness.

After dinner, as the seven of us sat perched across the top of a dune, all eyes fixed on the glorious night sky, the largest, brightest, longest shooting star I've ever seen trailed across the sky. My heart flooded with warmth and I asked excitedly if anyone else had seen it. All eyes were looking right at where the star fell.  How could they have missed that?! Yet not a single one had noticed.

Thank you God. I knew it was His gift just for me. My heart overflowed with His love. In that moment He whispered to me that His love is given so that I can give it away.

Given, so that.

I pondered on those words.

Given, so that.

My heart was full, so that I could share the greatest gift of love, the biggest display of God's love for us, Jesus. My heart had been filled with love, so that I would speak out the purest message of love with our friend who didn't know.
The star, God's tiny reminder, was exactly what my heart needed that night. The timid heart was gone. Boldness washed over me, so that I was able to say, "Friend, I want to share with you how I became near to God."

God's love is more than enough so that I can give it away and never be empty. Will you pass along God's love to someone else today? What if you are the answer to their prayer?

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:8