Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A New Prayer of Thanks

We gather round the kitchen table. We close our eyes and bow our heads as she begins her prayer: “Dear Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross.”

Her dad and I peek at each other across the table, wide-eyed grins contagious. She finishes the rest of her prayer, and we all say “Amen” in unison. It’s the same every time she prays.

Her fingers laced together remind me how innocent she really is. Two shades of pink princess polish were painted to match her friend’s this week. Her world is still small. We still ask Jesus to help her not be afraid of the dark at bedtime. Yet as this prayer escapes her lips, I can’t help but beg God to transform the way I pray.

Though her world is small, her prayers are anything but.

When I bow my head to speak my heart, I can get caught up in thanking God for all these earthly blessings. Every good thing in my life comes straight from His hand, yet many of these good things He’s given only to be enjoyed while I’m here. Our right-now blessings point to eternal blessings to come.

If I’m honest, I thank Him for my comfort and my security. I thank Him for all the ways He meets my needs and for all the people I love and who love me. I thank Him for temporary healing and momentary pleasure. I thank Him for the food in front of me knowing it will only sustain me today.

My five-year-old begins her prayer with a posture I’m just now learning. Nothing else matters more than Jesus’ sacrifice for me. I grew up hearing about how He died for me, but it’s taken years to discover that my sin was so great and so offensive to a holy God that Jesus had to die for me.  There was no other way to bring me back to the Father. Yet He decided that no price was too high to bring me home, to give me a seat at His table. 

Today, as we go around the circle naming blessings, may we let this one rise to the tip top of our lists, because it's the one that gives meaning to the rest: Thank you, Jesus, for dying on the cross… for me.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jesus loves you,

Monday, November 23, 2015

Conversation in Heaven

Words pour out of her mouth, and I disassemble each one. I notice how her eyes linger, how she seems to look right through me. An outsider might hear a casual, friendly conversation, but the lie not spoken is palpable. My momma used to always tell me, “No one can make you feel anything; you allow what you feel.” It’s true. I let in the good and the bad, the truth and the lies. I decide what I keep.

I feel inferior and invisible in her company. I’m holding the kind of hurt that, left unchecked, turns to stone cold bitterness. These feelings I’ve invited in are good indicators that I’m taking myself too seriously. Pride is a dead giveaway. So I do the only thing I know works: I go to God. I empty my hands and lay it there before the throne.  I need help determining what’s truth and what’s not. It takes brave faith to trust that what He thinks of me trumps all other thoughts, opinions, and judgments. I hone in on the whisper that comes like a cool breeze, gentle yet unexpected: I died for her, too.

We are desperate for solutions that help us measure up. We rank people like we’ve been given authority or something.  We speak judgment behind backs and in front of faces with or without the facts. We crave tidy circles, and we hold back just because it’s awkward to let anyone any closer.  We spend most of our time just trying to find our place, searching for where we fit, begging to be invited into where we think we belong.

We can’t fix an eternal problem with an earthly solution, but oh, how we try.

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:18-20

We belong with a perfect God in paradise, but our vision is so easily clouded by earthliness. The things of this world are visible and accessible, but the invisible eternal is right here at our fingertips. The kingdom of God is in our midst. Paul’s words, translated in the King James Version read, “For our conversation is in heaven.” As Jesus renews our minds, He initiates a new way of thinking and invites us into a new conversation. He gives an eternal perspective when He gives His Spirit, so anything tethered to this place is irrelevant.

It doesn't matter who your family is, where you grew up, or where you now live. It doesn’t matter which school you attended, how well you did, or which clique invited you in. It doesn't matter how many titles you've earned or how many trophies you've won. It doesn’t matter who you married, how much your wedding cost, or where you honeymooned. It doesn’t matter which church you attend, which career you chose, or what you make. It doesn’t matter how big your family is or whether your kids are well behaved or rowdy. It doesn’t matter which type of car you drive or where your kids go to school. It doesn’t matter how many Facebook likes or how many Facebook friends you've acquired. It doesn't matter which brand of jeans you wear or what size they are. It doesn't matter how you look or how you cook. It doesn't matter if you fly first class or coach.  It doesn't matter how high the pile of laundry gets or how often you sweep your floor. It doesn't matter how you've messed up, how you've failed, or how far you still have to go.

Your invitation into this eternal conversation is all that matters.

God’s solution for our mess was His Son hanging on a cross in our place. It was the only way to satisfy the wrath of God towards sin and the love of God towards sinners. The cross has no favorites. All have fallen short of God's glory. The cross confirms that everyone needs Jesus.  Every one. The cross is where our conversation begins. Paul isn’t finished with his letter until he gets personal. In the chapter that follows, his words bring my earthly distractions to a lifeless halt:

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Philippians 4:1-2 (emphasis added)

Euodia and Syntyche needed to be reminded that they had overlooked what they shared. It’s no different for me here and now. The conversation that left me feeling inferior, willing to embrace bitterness, and ready to pass judgment is evidence of a similar struggle. When we value earthly things, we stand in opposition to the cross. We can’t keep trying to fit in somewhere we were never created to be.

God has given those who are His one mind- the mind of Christ. If we agree on the cross, nothing else matters. The new creation is all that counts. We are allies of the cross of Jesus Christ. We are the family of God. We are sisters. Amber Haines, in her profound memoir, Wild in the Hollow, explains this so beautifully. She says Jesus calls us to be “people of the unshakable kingdom” who view others “in the way God sees them, as worthy, like the kingdom version of a person is the only version there is.”

Side by side comparison has no place in heaven’s conversation.

May our common need for Jesus break down any earthly barriers we’ve erected. May we be a people who quit trying to prove ourselves and let the gospel prove itself through our everyday lives instead. May we seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness above all else, and may our conversation be evidence that our hearts and minds are immersed in the eternal. May we be found as faithful servants who never took our eyes off Jesus.

Jesus loves you,

Monday, November 2, 2015

Why Every Season Needs a Soundtrack

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

God is asking me to make some space. He is asking me to embrace emptiness. Not the kind of emptiness that is void of His presence, but an emptiness that is peaceful and hollow. An emptiness that waits expectantly to be filled. The playlist I listen to each morning as I drive my kids to school contains only seven songs.  My last playlist had between thirty and forty. I keep trying to add songs to this soundtrack, just like I keep trying to fill my season of empty.

My life’s soundtrack is helping me realize that my current season is defined by this emptiness I keep trying to fill. I want God to fill my empty space rather than rush to fill it on my own with just anything. God knows my heart struggles with empty, so He is reminding me that this season of rest is only a pause between songs.  Isn’t rest exactly that- a pause, a breath, a momentary break in the music? The empty spaces between notes are just as important as the notes themselves. Just like music, our seasons ebb and flow. When we intentionally set our lives to music, our soundtracks can offer quite a bit of insight into our current season.

           1.         Soundtracks define our season so we can quit being surprised by it.
Which songs do you find yourself drawn to right now? You know, those songs that make you cry, the ones you crank up and sing out loud. Which songs do you struggle to understand? Which ones do you hum long after you park the car and go about your day? Which songs stir your heart in a way you can’t quite explain? Which ones do you put on repeat?

Sometimes a song can help us put words to what’s swirling around in our heads and hearts. My soundtrack- the types of songs on my current playlist and the simple lack thereof- helped me name the emptiness. Knowing that God has me in a season of rest allows me to stop trying to make it anything but empty.

What one word best describes your season?

           2.         Soundtracks help us absorb what God is teaching us.
When I can point to a weakness God is working out in me or a persistent doubt that the enemy is using against me, I can fully embrace my season without wishing I was in someone else’s season. It helps me process what I’m learning.

When I consider my season that’s empty, I’m reminded that Jesus emptied Himself, because it was part of God’s beautiful rescue plan. He took on the humble nature of a servant and became obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross. (See Philippians 2:5-8) God is calling me to be a servant. He is teaching me humility in this season, as well as the importance of following His lead. He is asking me to lay down my plan and my agenda. He is asking me to trust that He alone can fill me.

How is God teaching you to lean into Him? What is He asking you to lay down?

          3.           Soundtracks naturally keep us moving forward.
It is excruciatingly painful to listen to a song get stuck. A soundtrack that fits our season allows us to move towards God with praise, no matter what struggles make up the melody. Right now, I’m drawn to the empty tomb. Yet, not a single gospel account indicates that the tomb was empty, because it wasn’t.

An angel announced the news that Jesus had risen. The tomb wasn’t empty; it contained evidence of God’s promise fulfilled. The angel reminded Jesus’ friends that all had occurred just like He had said. (See Matthew 28:5-6) Nothing was out of place, nothing was a surprise to God, nothing could stand in the way of God’s plan moving forward.

What single step is God asking you to take towards Him today?

           4.         Soundtracks help us discover how God is uniquely revealing Himself to us.
Every season we enter is a new song God writes specifically for us. The notes, the chords, the rhythm and rest are all part of His plan to uncover a new part of His heart we’ve never experienced before. Soundtracks help us find Jesus in our current season.

Those at the tomb forgot that Jesus had prepared them for what was to come. God prepares us, in the same way, for every season we enter. It might look completely different than we expected, but His Word holds true. We can find evidence of His promises and His Presence in every single season. In this season I am searching for the only One who can fill my emptiness, the One who promises overflowing, abundant life.

How is God revealing Himself in your season?

May we intentionally set our lives to the music God has laid out before us. May we seek Jesus in this season, looking to Him to turn our weaknesses into beautiful melodies that proclaim His strength. May we embrace with gratitude each beautiful love song He’s arranged for the sole purpose of pursuing our hearts. May we allow our soundtracks- inspired by a God who keeps His promises- to carry us through this season and into the next.

What is your soundtrack teaching you about your season? I’d love to hear from you.

Jesus loves you,

He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Psalm 40:3