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say goodbye

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“Every beginning is a consequence. Every beginning ends something.” Paul Valery, French Poet

We are officially in the “in-between”.

I wrote a little on transitions here and here back in January. Today I am revisiting this topic as we are a year into our journey towards career missionary work and almost five months deep into the complete uprooting of our entire work/family structure.

While we are waste high in the in-between season of change, I am learning so much about the power and necessity of a proper ending. As the French poet wrote “Every beginning ends something”, I believe that there is both beauty and tension, anticipation and grief as we wade into the process of closing one chapter and opening another. And even though both are separate and stand independent of each other, they also overlap and pull bits and pieces from each other before the beginning has become the new normal; before the ending has truly ended and the beginning has fully begun.

The “in-between” is the ending and beginning converging on one another – giving and taking, pulling this way and that way, and sometimes wearing both sadness and a smile all at the same time.

This is where we are. Not every day, mind you, but when we face an ending the texture and weight of the “in-between” season feels very tangible in our hands.

And I am learning the value of saying goodbye.

I am a missionary kid. The transient lifestyle is not foreign to me. I remember all the goodbyes. I remember the tears and the hugs and the missing of family and friends. Goodbye was normal. But what was also normal were beginnings. Say goodbye here, and say hello there. Over the years I developed, almost, an ability to turn my emotions off and on like a light switch. I could feel the goodbye deeply in the moment, but then feel completely fine twenty-four hours later. In fact, in my adult life there have been many times that I just forwent the goodbye altogether. I’m not sure if it was some sort of callous on my heart, but I just didn’t feel the sorrow of parting ways anymore. I would feel sad about the ending, and I knew in my head that this was a sad moment, but I could move past it very quickly. I found that I simply didn’t want to deal with goodbyes. I’d rather just assume, “I’ll see you later,” and keeping on moving forward.

This past year I have been learning that grieving is a gift, and goodbyes are precious. Grieving is not weakness. It is not a sign of some inner frailty or inability to cope. Grieving and making goodbye a priority are absolutely necessary in order to detach from the past and embrace the future.

Yesterday afternoon after we picked the kids up from school, Joel and I took the family to the Pumpkin Patch. We went on a hayride, ran through the field of pumpkins, the kids picked out their favorites (even Jasper), we looked at the animals in the barn, played in the dirt, and sat around a picnic table eye-to-eye, relishing in a moment that we will always remember as both an ending and a beginning.

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Will we never see the likes of a pumpkin patch again? Doubtably so. However, the next time we are in the United States Sydney will be in college, and our family of six will look a little bit different by then. We are ending, not just an annual family tradition, but we are ending a way of doing something as an entire family unit. While Sydney will still be under our roof for several more years, the next time we find ourselves watching the leaves turn red, yellow and aubergine, she will be in college. I think I’m saying two goodbyes in one this time.

Never-the-less – and please forgive the sappiness of this post! – the value of the goodbye, the ending, the concerted effort to recognize or create a “ritual”, so to speak, is that it allows the heart to feel its emotions and open itself up to the new beginning.

On our ride home yesterday evening, covered in hay and dirt, I let myself feel the goodbye. I cried a little bit. And today I am looking forward. I am thinking about planting pumpkins in Malawi, and wondering if that’s crazy. Today I am embracing the joy that is before us. We made our memories and we all knew it. We were all aware of how precious that moment was yesterday. The consequence of giving ourselves permission to say goodbye to this family tradition is that our hearts are increasingly drawn towards the beginning of this new chapter in our lives. We can’t move on until we’ve let go. And letting go requires a goodbye.

What is your “in-between” right now? Are you bouncing back and forth from ending and beginning and feeling the instability of it all? Are you feeling unhealthy shame for your need to put closure on something in your life? Are you burned out on change?

Here is a quick recap of what I am learning in my own season of transition:

Say goodbye.

Whatever the ending is for you, take the time, and give yourself permission, to officially say farewell. Maybe it is a “last” for you, kind of like this year will be for us. Maybe it is a ceremony of some kind to give you closure. Maybe it is simply journaling your feelings and letting things go. Maybe it is an action step to close out today’s chapter and start the new one tomorrow.

Let the ending come so that the beginning can begin.

Say goodbye.

“There is…a time to plant and a time to uproot…a time to weep and a time to laugh…a time to mourn and a time to dance…a time to keep and a time to throw away…He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Ecclesiastes 3

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let go

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In the cold, damp, dreary cell, after the dinner hour had passed and the quiet of evening slowly and silently settled in, I wonder – as Joseph processed the happenings of the day – what thoughts and feelings, emotions and curiosities wandered through his mind as the sun sank its way into the night. Once the big dreamer, did he still hold out hope for the “someday”, or had he resigned himself to the reality of “today”? Did his faith waiver? Did he still believe? Or did he scratch his head in disbelief, wondering, “how could I have so misunderstood?” I would love to know the emotional journey that took place in Joseph’s heart during those hidden and barren years.

“Joseph had a dream…” Genesis 37:5

Dreams are personal. And we all have them.

Some of us are realizing them right now, in this very moment. And some of us are still waiting, wondering, hoping, and perhaps even on the verge of doubting.

Dreams give us something to reach for, something to anticipate, a salve to the hardships and challenges we face. When we have a dream deep down in our hearts, we have a silver lining when the cloud coverage is thick.

“The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.” Genesis 40:23

If the dream dies, then what? What happens if we lose the silver lining?

The clouds overtake us, and we get lost in the dark.

I wonder if, somewhere between the pit and the cell, the dreams of  Joseph’s heart were laid to rest. Hopeful then forgotten, did he come to a point where he had to let them go? What happened to those dreams?

God is the dream-giver.

For each person God weaves a unique and beautiful dream into the very deepest parts of our souls. And, like Joseph, sometimes those dreams are pretty spectacular. Sometimes those dreams are simple but precious. A God-given dream is always a treasure, a treasure worth any pit or cell in order to realize.

But the dream, God-given and God ordained, can never become greater in our hearts than God himself.

“Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more.” Genesis 37:5

What I notice about Joseph, sincere as he may have been, before the pit and the cell he was quite proud and gregarious about the dreams that he had. There was no humility. The dreams became the stage upon which Joseph was the spotlight. God had very little, if any, part in the drama of the dream. Rather, Joseph relished in the glory. He was the object of affection. And, while God’s plans would prevail, Joseph needed to let go of his pride before he could hold on to the dream.

And so came the pit and the cell.

The pain and the loss.

The clouds without the silver lining.

The dreams that set our hearts on fire are wonderful and beautiful and a constant reminder that you and I were made for more. This is good, and this is one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of following Christ. However, there is a season for letting go.

Before the dream can flourish, we must let it go.

We must allow God to refine us and shape us and prepare us for the reality of the dream. If we don’t, then, we may end up with a very fragile and unsteady product of a dream we made on our own. A dream woven in and out through pride, ambition, and self-determination will start out with a dash and a sparkle, but it will never make it all the way to the finish line. A dream cultivated in humility, surrender and obedience will see the fullness of the sunlight, far beyond the clouds.

When we keep God as the object of our affection, then we are assured that, even if we find ourselves watching the sunset from a cell, our dreams are not dead. We may need to let them go. We may need to surrender them to God. But the story is far from over.

“So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” Genesis 41:41

Perhaps you thought your life would look a little different at this point in the journey. Perhaps where you are is not where you wanted to be right now. Perhaps your dreams seem to have slipped through your fingers.

If so, then let them go.

Surrender your Joseph-like dreams to the will of the dream-giver.

Allow God to reshape and restore. The dream is not dead. It simply must find its course through the hands of God.

Let go.

The path to your “dream come true” will take what you so desperately cling to right now and create something more beautiful, more valuable, and more real than anything you could possibly contrive on your own. A God-given dream deserves a God-given plan.

Surrender.

“And now do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you…But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” Genesis 45:5, 7

And when you finally find yourself standing in the light of day, surrounded by the reality of what was long ago the seed of a God-sized dream, remember whose capable hands brought you this far.

Then let go again, and let God embrace the glory.

“But in anonymous seasons we must hold tightly to the truth that no doubt strengthened Jesus throughout his hidden years: Father God is neither care-less nor cause-less with how he spends our lives. When he calls a soul simultaneously to greatness and obscurity, the fruit – if we wait for it – can change the world.” Alicia Britt Chole, Anonymous: Jesus’ Hidden Years…and Yours

too much

just for you

“Too much” goes two ways.

There is the too much over-working, too much over-doing, taking too much on, too much killing ourselves for more, too much self-reliance, living in a hyperactive, micro-managing mindset that the world depends on us doing too much. And then there is the other “too much”. The too much hiding, too much quietness, too much compliance and saving face. Too much fear. Too much avoiding. Too much shame. Too much pleasing people who can never be pleased.

Where does all this lead? To too much burnout.

Whichever extreme we tend to land on, too much either way is damaging to the body, the mind, the spirit, and the soul. It is taxing and exhausting. It leads to depression and weariness.

Bottom line: Too much is unhealthy.

We have to ask ourselves, where is this need for excessiveness coming from? What lie are we believing about ourselves that drives us to too much? What are we chasing after? What are we hoping to achieve? If we overwork our tired and depleted bodies, are we truly going to reap something precious and eternal, or will we end up still empty on the inside? If we abdicate our identity and lose ourselves to someone else’s yard stick of expectation, are we going to find our true selves at the end of it all? Does this crazy internal drive really honor and please God?

Too much of anything in our lives, regardless of which way you tend to lean, is a silent scream for help. We have lost our footing. We have lost our God-given identity – that assurance of who we are in Him – and we have traded it for a bargain brand alternative.

When we receive Christ as our Savior, we enter into a deep and life-giving relationship with him. We become “in Christ” (Ephesians 1:1).

We are chosen, adopted, and redeemed. We are restored and made new by his sacrifice for us. We are owned by God. We are sons and daughters. We have hope, and we have a promising future.

“Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:13, 14

According to Merriam-Webster a seal is “something that confirms, ratifies, or makes secure: a guarantee, assurance.”

When you and I chose to believe in Jesus, when we surrendered our lives, our hopes, dreams, personalities and all the different parts of ourselves to Jesus, he then placed his seal – his ratifying guarantee of who we are and to whom we belong – upon our hearts. He gave us the Holy Spirit to dwell in our very broken lives – to quicken our minds, to remind us that we have been chosen, that we have value, that we are legitimate in his Kingdom. The Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives should stand as a constant reminder of who we are: we belong to God.

The minute we start to rev our engines and lower our foot onto the gas pedal in order to peel our way in the direction of too much is the minute we have entered into an identity crisis. The “too much” is the symptom; it is the outward expression of the inward chaos. And while merely pinpointing the crisis in our lives does not necessarily fix the root issue, it can, at least, bring the issue into the light.

Freedom from the “too much” trap begins with acknowledging that we’ve lost our way.

To run in that freedom will require baby steps towards transformation.

“He leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” Psalm 23

Transformation begins with turning off the noise of the outside world and recognizing our broken attempts to restoration. It is taking the hand God is extending to us and holding on tightly to him as he leads us to quiet waters. Our Shepherd leads us to this place not so that we can disrupt it with our too much doing or too much hiding. He brings us here to be restored and renewed, clinging to each promise, breathing in his truth and presence, standing firm in our adoption, heirs to the throne. And, when we do so, we will find ourselves living in the balance of God’s perfect peace- no longer too much this way or that way, but happily and joyfully content in, and restored to, His way.

“For he himself is our peace.” Ephesians 2:14

an unshakable confidence

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:13,14

Where is our confidence?

Is our confidence in a system? A government? A leader? A friend?

When our confidence hangs upon the shoulders of a man or a woman, we will eventually be disappointed. This is a truth I think most of us can attest to. Most of us have been hurt or let down by someone we trusted- someone we believed in.

When I look around at our world today, I find myself growing weary. From world powers to relationships right in my very own backyard, I oftentimes have my doubts about the “the land of the living”. It seems this “land” is falling apart; dying from the inside out.

And yet God is still good.

God has not changed.

Among the broken pieces and all the sinful debris, God’s goodness will be seen. We simply must keep waiting.

“Be strong and take heart.”

We are instructed to move towards boldness, not apathy or disgust or surrender to the current condition of our lives. We are encouraged to be strong. Waiting upon God to right the wrongs is not being weak or unproductive. In the waiting we become stronger, braver, bolder, and courageous.

Jesus’ own words to us are an exhortation to turn our eyes away from the current state of affairs and remember him:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

If our hope is hanging upon a person, a personality, system, or organization, then it is hope precariously teetering in the balance. But if we can grab hold, with both hands, and cling to the promise and assurance that God is good, and rest in the peace of his promises, then we will have confidence that can not be shaken.

We will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. If not yet, just wait. Someday.

He has overcome this world.

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I’m a simple girl.

Maybe “average girl” would be a better way to describe me. Truly. I was never the super star in school, in sports, in anything. I usually found myself somewhere in the middle. Plain Amy. Brown hair, brown eyes, mediocre basketball skills, and boasting more B’s than A’s on my report card. I was a hard worker at everything, but it seemed my hard work left me average.

Ironically, as a little girl I felt that God had made me for more. As average as I was, I sensed that God had an above average call on my life. However, when I hit forty, I started to wonder if I had missed my moment; perhaps my chance at fulfilling this above average call from God had mysteriously slipped through my fingers as I trudged through my very ordinary, average life.

Disappointed with the current state of my calling, I slammed on the breaks, came to a screeching halt, and took some time to assess the road behind me and the one staring me straight in the eye. In the rear view mirror, I honestly couldn’t say I had achieved or accomplished or risen to anything noteworthy and successful. I was still somewhere in the middle- somewhat average, chasing after the above average call. An unfinished story, or perhaps this big calling had never had a chance to begin? Looking ahead I saw more of the same.

Maybe we call these soul searching moments at forty a “midlife crisis”; I don’t know. What I do know is that God began to mess with me during this season of soul searching. There was something stirring deep within me; it was like my life was chugging along a track, moving fast in one direction, and God was inviting me into a season of recalibration. And I truly needed a reset. So, after much prayer and discussion with Joel, I resigned my position at our church and planned to focus my attention on the needs of our family. I also believed that, perhaps, God was getting ready to launch me into the above average call that I had been waiting my whole life to achieve.

As a little girl, “above-average” meant BIG, fancy, noteworthy, standing out in the spotlight, noticeable, and tangibly significant. I hate to confess that, for a long time, I was expecting God to hoist me into some kind of above average success. Can you relate? Do you often feel you are standing on the the sidelines of your life, just waiting to be put in the game so you can make the winning shot? Is there this feeling of expectancy, that somehow your ordinary days were not supposed to be the pinnacle of your success? Are you expecting more from God, from your life?

As I anticipated and hoped and waited in eager expectation, God did a couple of things: 1. God gave us a very unexpected surprise in the form of an unplanned pregnancy, and 2. God hit reset, not only in my life but he completely reoriented my entire understanding of what an above average calling looks like from his perspective.

First came Jasper. How he has turned my life sideways, upside down, and right-side up is something that can only be attributed to God’s grace and wisdom. He humbles me (and sometimes humiliates me, especially when we are visiting churches and pastors), he keeps me moving, and he consistently reminds me through his simplicity and innocence, just how precious is my relationship with God.

Jasper is an absolute gift. Even on the days when I think I am going to lose my mind, he truly is God’s gift to me. God knew I needed to get my perspective back; he knew I needed to be reminded to keep my focus steady and not get distracted, and nothing keeps one focused more than wrangling a two-year-old into submission.

The gift of presence, purpose, and perspective have been the fruit of Jasper’s life intertwined into mine. God has reminded me that presence, my presence, in the lives of those most precious to me is an above average calling. I didn’t have to chase that. God gave it to me. The purpose of my days is to serve and love and pour myself out for the most important people in my world. And as I do so, I do so as unto the Lord, and that is a very significant, high calling.

I’m not chasing after an above average call anymore. I’m chasing after my husband and my kids and this crazy wonderful life of surrender which is a calling higher than anything I could ever have imagined.

Second came perspective. An above-average calling is not so much about accomplishments or achievements. It is more specifically about God pulling us out of our comfort zone, having the willingness to obey him, even when it seems both impossible and uncomfortable. Regardless of what the outcome may be, an above-average calling is any calling God places on our lives that is bigger than ourselves.

I’m chasing after God, and I am longing to live a life of obedience. And that, too, is an above average calling.

Where has God placed you?

Are you sitting in your little corner of the world wondering if God has forgotten you?

Are you in a season of in-betweens and you are feeling set aside and unnecessary?

Has God’s invitation left you a hundred million miles away from your comfort zone?

Are you struggling with the new in your life and longing for the past?

Or are you fighting hard to move ahead, but God has closed that door in favor of keeping you in this place a little longer?

Your here and now is your above average calling.

Chase after God.

Run towards surrender.

It’s not about some big thing that will bear your name for years to come. It is the little things in the little moments that will bear your legacy.

Think about that.

“There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.” Philippians 1:6


in the eye of the storm

“We made it through the night.”

Photo by Matt Hardy on Unsplash

Photo by Matt Hardy on Unsplash

When the storm makes landfall in our lives, whether literally or figuratively, we sometimes wonder if we will survive the night. We wonder if our bodies, our homes, the infrastructure of the town and our communities, have what it takes to weather the winds and the rains and raging seas that threaten our very lives.

We hope for the little things.

And we find our peace, not in the report on the news or the doctor or the bank statement, but we find peace in the eye of the storm when we fix our hearts and our minds on the Creator of the winds, and the rains and the raging seas.

“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him I will trust.”

“He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust; his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.”

“Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore I will deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honor him.” Psalm 91

In the eye of the storm we find peace that passes understanding.

When we abide in the shelter of the Almighty, we find rest.

We don’t ignore the storm, but our hearts and minds are guarded by his truth that keeps us from buckling under the weight of the reality.

It can’t be explained. We can’t define it. It is beyond our comprehension.

God’s peace stands as a guard around our anxious hearts and worrisome minds.

God’s protective hand keeps us.

God’s powerful word sustains us.

We will make it through the night.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

the joy walk

Picture Credit: Kolleen Gladden, Upsplash

Picture Credit: Kolleen Gladden, Upsplash

“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:2-3

We would be gravely mistaken if we believed that Jesus went twirling and dancing his way to the cross; that somehow, because he was God, he was able to muster up a supernatural “can-do” attitude and walk the path to his death with a great big smile on his face. It is an absurd thought, I know. And when we read the horrifying details of Christ’s crucifixion, we ought to be quickly convicted of just how much he suffered, how heavy the weight of our sins bore down upon him, and how willingly and intentionally he pressed on through this sorrow. The suffering was very real. And Jesus never once pretended that everything was “a-okay”or blurted out ,”I can do all things…”. No. The story of the cross is ugly, terrifying, humbling, overwhelming, and shameful.

So why, then, when we are going through dark seasons and walking down painful paths, do we oftentimes try so hard to flash that million dollar smile with a peppy ’skip-to-my-loo-my-darlin’? Why do we think the phrase, “the joy of the Lord is my strength”, means we aren’t allowed to show any sign of human emotion besides happiness? Are we afraid of looking weak? Are we afraid that to truly unveil our deep hurts, and our lack of pep going through them, will somehow make us less valuable to others? Less wanted? Less popular?

I have found myself hunkered down in the book of Hebrews for quite some time. I just can’t seem to pull myself away. Each time I read it I am challenged and convicted in a whole new way. Lately I have been contemplating the first few verses in chapter 12.

“…let us run with perseverance…”

Jackson, my eleven-year-old son, is doing cross-country this year. He has always been a good runner, when he puts his mind to it, and has the potential of doing very well in long-distance running. Currently, as he has been in training for less than a month, he is learning that increasing distance and speed takes a bucket load of endurance. And the only way to build endurance is through consistent training and perseverance. He has all the potential in the world, but in order to tap into that potential, he needs to get beyond the pain which demands perseverance.

Perseverance is hard.

The definition of perseverance is: steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. (Webster’s Dictionary).

The race that Hebrews is talking about, and the one in which perseverance is required, is our lifelong walk of faith in the midst of all the mess, dysfunction, suffering, challenges, loss, and difficulties that life brings our way. This sinful world will bring painful and sorrowful consequences, even to the most faithful and persevering.

Yet, we are encouraged to keep running.

And to run with perseverance.

The race will not be easy, and it will afford us more challenges and painful twists and turns than we think we can handle, but the finish line is coming. We must endure.

This part of the passage I understand. I don’t love the thought that life is going to be hard and will demand such patience and endurance, but I get it. I can accept it.

But, and perhaps you can relate to this, I often wonder, “how does a persevering believer ‘count it all joy’ as our faith is tested and we charge on to victory? How do we do this? How do we honor God and also be honest with our very human emotions?” The answer if found further on in the passage:

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…”

The finish line of victory is Jesus.

This race we run is not the end. It is not our forever. There is an eternity waiting for us just beyond the yellow tape at the end of the track.

It is often easy to get distracted during a race. I remember my dad hammering a few words of wisdom into me years ago when I had to run the mile race at our school’s Sports Day: 1. Don’t look back, it will slow you down, and 2. Keep a steady pace until the very end, and then run as fast as your feet will carry you.

The tests that come our way, whether in the form of an illness, job termination, rebellious child, unmet expectations, or the loss of a dream, are all forms of distraction that can make us want to do a quick turn of our neck to see what is coming up behind us. How far ahead are we? Are we going to make it? Will this sorrow overtake us?

Hebrews reminds us to keep our gaze locked on the One who will see us through every trial and painful step. Jesus is our goal. He is the beginning and the end of our faith. If we want to persevere and not buckle under the weight of our circumstances, then we must fix our eyes, our attentions, and our motivations on him. He is the finish line.

But not only that, Jesus is also our example.

How do I walk through this with authenticity and real joy?

Walk as Jesus did when he walked his final steps to the cross. In his book, The Incomparable Christ, J. Oswald Sanders wrote,

“The Son of God approaches the sorrows of Gethsemane, the shame of Gabbatha, and the sufferings of Golgotha with a song on his lips. Anyone can sing in the sunshine, but to sing in the shadows is a rare accomplishment.”

Praise was Christ’s Plan A for enduring the cross.

“…who for the joy set before him endured the cross…”

The joy that Christ anticipated was not the painful cross, but it was the resurrection afterward that awaited him, the victorious sitting at the right hand of his Father that encouraged him and comforted him as he faced the most devastating of circumstances.

It was customary at the Passover to sing the Hallel, a collection of Psalms that had once been one continuous song, but is now divided into separate psalms (113-118). “Hallel” actually means “to praise.”

During the final meal that Jesus shared with his disciples and before his suffering, Christ chose to sing praise.

A lifestyle of praise, I truly believe, is the solid foundation by which we can walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil. Praise keeps our hearts and our eyes focused on Jesus. It doesn’t take the pain away, but it gives us the joy to keep pressing on.

When we look at the story of Christ’s death, we see that he never put on a smily face of inauthentic joy. He never denied he was in pain. He felt the scorn of the whip and hate of the nails. He didn’t pretend it didn’t hurt. Yet, he walked steadfastly, and his joy was what awaited him on the other side. He suffered, but with praise in his heart.

“What can we learn from the Passover Song? That we can turn our trouble into treasure and our sorrow into song. Faith can sing her song in the darkest hour. Sorrow and singing are not incompatible.” The Incomparable Christ, J. Oswald Sanders

The joy walk is not the hokey pokey. My friends, when the race is getting long, and your legs are weary, and your arms are weak, it is okay to not be okay. You can still have joy and not be wearing a smile. You can still praise even though your heart is heavy. Brokenness in this life is a necessary part of keeping our eyes on Jesus. He gives us endurance. We don’t have to try and muster it up on our own. He composes the song we sing.

The joy walk is one of perseverance. We run steady when our gaze is fixed on Jesus.

If you feel like crying, then go ahead and cry.

If you need help, then go ahead and ask for it.

And when you feel like you are ready to give up…

“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

As we run each lap and face each trial, remember the One who ran before us, and who is running with us now.

passing through the fire

Photo by Connor Jalbert on Unsplash

Photo by Connor Jalbert on Unsplash

“Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.” Isaiah 43:1

Fear not.

Thou art mine.

There is something incredibly comforting in those words. We don’t have to fear because we belong to Him.

The older I get, and the more life I experience, the more I appreciate the value of this constant truth. And never before have I leaned more deeply into God’s promise to be with me than when we stepped into this water-walking faith journey of the missionary call.

“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”  Isaiah 43:2

In this life we will pass through rough waters and walk through the fire. Not one of us is guaranteed a trial-free life. We will pass through the fire. But…we will not be consumed.

Fear not.

When the water is heavy and our legs are weak from pushing our way upstream, remember that you belong to God, and the river will not overtake you.

When the intensity of the fire burns blue and white and the heat takes your breath away, remember, not one flame will flicker or dance its way onto your skin. We may smell the smoke, but it will not burn its way into our hearts.

We are not promised a fire-free life, and the waters will come raging in whether we like it or not, but we are guaranteed that we will not be abandoned in the heat or lost in the ocean. God will be there. God knows who we are and where we are. He sees each one of us.

And he says, “Fear not.”

Faith steps are never easy, but they are possible when we keep in mind the One who called us into the journey. Our hearts and minds, our bodies and souls, will weather the ups and downs of the uncertain and overwhelming when we consider the walk that Jesus took to bring us our redemption. He calls us by name.

The river, while it may rush towards us and threaten to swell over us, is held back by the same voice that comforts us to, “Fear not.”

The fire, raging and dancing and sparking in circles all around our dry and weary souls, is controlled by the same One who protected the bush from being consumed in the desert.

And sometimes we feel Him close and around us, and sometimes we simply must trust his voice, his word and his promise.

Fear not.

Thou art mine.

Let us not forget, we are only passing through the fire. We are not here to build our homes and hammer in the stake of an in-the-fire identity. No. The step of faith, and the walking by faith in the direction that God has laid out, are the actions that follow an identity rooted in Christ. The journey is not the destination. And waters that try to knock us off balance and tow us out to sea are not where this journey ends. The fire is not the destination either.

We are on a journey home. God takes us on the path he has marked out for us, and we – who long to dwell in intimacy with him – will follow where he leads. The journey will bring the water and the fire. There is no shortcut. This is the way home. But we do not need to be afraid. He walks before us, beside us and behind us.

We are just passing through the fire on our way home.

And we have no need to fear.

“God, who created and formed us, says to us, ‘Fear not,’ and a secret whisper is heard in the heart by which the heart is so comforted that fear is driven away.” – Charles H. Spurgeon

who are you becoming?

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“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22,23

Who are you becoming?

The answer to this question can be found in revealing where you have been abiding.

Underneath the surface of every living thing are roots tied to something, connecting this living thing to its life-giving source. Where our hearts and minds abide, when no one else is looking, is the source of the fruit we bear both publicly and privately.

While we can’t always see the source, or where a person is abiding, we can judge the wellness and vitality of the source by the condition of the fruit.

What kind of fruit are you bearing?

I’ve had to ask myself this a lot lately. Am I bearing love and joy and peace and patience? Or am I bearing hate and defeat and anxiety and irritability? Is kindness, goodness and faithfulness, gentleness and self-control blossoming out of my life? Or am I, at best, producing counterfeit acts of kindness and harsh answers to my family members? It takes all the maturity I can muster to answer these convicting questions with integrity and honesty. Some days I am not loving. Or patient. Or self-controlled. Or kind.

My fruit is not always so juicy and sweet.

Sour fruit happens when I lose my connectedness to the source of all that is fruitfully pleasant. Bearing rotten fruit is a direct result of a life stretched beyond margin and dependent upon self-sufficiency and pride. Something’s growing, but it’s not sweet. A field can produce a crop, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the crop is healthy.

Diseased fruit is tied to roots drawing from diseased soil.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” John 15:4

To produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, we must abide relentlessly with Jesus.

The most supernatural display of a Spirit-filled life is one ripe with the fruit of the Spirit. And this can only come through a deep connectedness with Christ.

To abide is to produce.

Who are you becoming?

To what source are you connected?

Anyone can put on a show of love for a short period of time, but a life that is defined by love, and one that bears all things, is truly hard to find. That kind of fruit is rare.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a flash-in-the pan type of Christian. I want to bear fruit consistently and for the long haul. In fact, I want the fields of my life to be rich and plentiful, producing a steady harvest of healthy and sustainable produce. But a longing like that may never see its fulfillment if the soil is not managed and maintained.

Maintenance requires discipline. We think spiritual disciplines are so legalistic and outdated. We don’t like to feel constrained to a specific pathway towards spiritual growth. Yet, it is discipline that causes a farmer to wake up early, manage his fields, and spend his daylight hours toiling away, in all manner of conditions, to produce a healthy crop. His discipline reaps a harvest.

How is your fruit?

To what are your roots tied?

Are you abiding by your wits and strong-will to make it all happen? You can’t bear love, true love, without abiding in true Love. And whatever plastic counterfeit-to- the-real thing you are carrying around will not last. Is your produce diseased? Have you tied yourself to a source that mimics good soil, but damages and destroys?

I say this as one who so often needs to check underneath the surface and cut ties to things that distract and contaminate the soil in which God desires to dwell. When the fruit in my life shows up as anxiety and irritability, I recognize that I’ve been falling a bit lazy in my farming disciplines. And yet, even then, God is gracious.

So when our fruit trees are bare, or what we’re producing is far from edible, let us uproot the deadly source, dig deep where the vine is strong and healthy, and hide ourselves in the presence of God’s rich soil.

Who are you becoming?

“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:3

we can be bold

Photo credit: Jeff Rogers on Unsplash

Photo credit: Jeff Rogers on Unsplash

We can be bold.

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he has appointed heir of all things, and through wisdom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory, and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things through his powerful word.” Hebrews 1:1-3

We don’t have to piggyback on someone else’s faith. Our prayers to God don’t require a middle-man.

The One who created the universe, who sustains all things through his powerful word, has given us direct access to the throne of grace.

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

We have needs. Although we may not want to recognize or admit this, the fact is we all do. From provision for our basic needs, like food, shelter, and safety, to healing, both physical or emotional. Maybe we call on God in moments of desperation. Or maybe we pull back in fear or embarrassment because we don’t want to admit our failure to meet our own needs. Or maybe we just don’t recognize how great our God truly is. Rather than step up in confidence we shrink back in fear.

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 6:19,20

An anchor, as we know, is a heavy metal device used to connect a boat, or vessel, to the sea floor. A mooring is a specific type of anchor which will hold the vessel in place permanently. Made of either a large slab of rock or a barbed metal beam, it embeds itself into the bottom of the ocean where it grips and holds the boat in place through all kinds of weather, including the severest storm.

We shrink back in fear when we forget the One to whom our soul’s have been anchored.

We can be bold.

As the mooring grips the ocean floor through hurricanes and cyclones, rough waters and high winds, so our hope is connected, anchored, to the One who can calm the winds and waves, and who can hold us secure through the storm. Hebrews reminds us of who Jesus is. The author exhorts us to approach the throne of grace with confidence, and to remember to whom our anchor is set.

“Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” Hebrews 7:25,26

Jesus, the anchor of our souls, lives to intercede for us. Jesus has taken his rightful place of honor and authority with his Father, and pleads the case of each believer, interceding on our behalf according to the will of God.

And he, our high priest, meets our need.

We sometimes struggle to articulate our needs, or out fear, shame, and pride, we withhold our needs.  But Jesus already knows…we don’t have to hide. Through grace and mercy we can approach the throne of God with confidence.

We can be bold.

We have been set free through the sacrifice of Christ, once and for all. We can be bold because we are anchored to the One who continuously intercedes for us. Our needs, spoken or unspoken, are known…and Christ meets each one.

Boldness may not come naturally to us, yet I find myself sitting a little bit taller, and a little bit more confidently, knowing that the One who can speak the universe in place through his powerful word is the same One who intercedes on my behalf. I will tie my anchor in Him.

I can be bold because of Christ.

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:19-23

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