Category Archives: Faith

His Love Never Fails

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“Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said:
‘Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?’”
Job 38:1-7

Most of us are familiar with poor, righteous Job, whom God allowed to be tested. Tested far beyond what most humans could suffer. We also know Job’s faithfulness in God won out and, eventually, after losing all of his belongings, his family, even his health, he was restored. The Lord blessed him with twice as much as he had before and he lived, as our children might say, “happily ever after.”

This story is often hung over our heads and our hearts when we face trials of many kinds. Whether in our own lives or in the world beyond us, we are never far from suffering. So we are reminded that, though Job suffered near to the point of death, he did not lose sight of God. He was faithful to the end, as an example to us.

But do you know the whole story? Have you read the book of Job? I usually stop with the suffering because it’s just too painful, but I explored it a bit more recently in preparation for a preaching opportunity at church: including an ugly little part in the middle when Job questioned God, when he demanded an audience, demanded an opportunity to speak up and ask God whyyyyyyy? And who can blame him? Haven’t we all faced a low time in life when we finally broke down to say “Where are you, God?” or “How could God let this happen?” or “Please tell me, God, that you are still in this because it feels so far from what You would create.”

This past summer, I was in one of those low places. Although I had not lost hold of my faith, I questioned God. I had definitely lost hope. And I told Him that, point blank. “God, I have such faith in You, in the truth that I sit in the palm of Your Hand.” I had faith that He would be there all along, but I had lost my hope He would pull me through. I had let go of my ability to believe my prayers would be answered for the good. And let me tell you, this was a hard place to be. I was questioning God, the One who has held me and my family through trials and celebrations, through the worst and the best. But my finite human mind could no longer grasp His goodness. I empathized with Job. I needed to speak to God and I needed God to respond to me.

Hope is such an elusive sensation, isn’t it? When we have it, we love it. Makes me think of the song by the Carpenters “I’m on top of the world, looking down on creation…” But when we lack it, we feel desperate, desolate, despondent. Yet we crave hope, we keep searching for it. Why? Because it is the promise of goodness. We crave what our hearts were created for – God’s goodness, His promises for our lives, His promise of life itself.

God’s response to Job’s demands sounded almost harsh, as we would expect of a great judge. “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” Does this remind you of the “Great and Terrible Oz”? But perhaps this wasn’t God’s intent, to berate a mere mortal; perhaps God’s reply was more gentle, more loving. God took the opportunity to express to Job, to express to all of us, His great works. Job’s encounter with God continues after verses 1-7 above. For 4 long chapters, God responds to Job with an account of all He has created, all He is capable of doing, far beyond the works or imagination of man. He reminds Job who created the world and all the functioning of it.

38:16-17 – “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death?”

38:34, 40:9 – “Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?” “Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like His?”

39:1 – “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? Do you count the months till they bear? Do you know the time they will give birth?”

39:19-20 – “Do you give the horse his strength or clothe his neck with a flowing mane? Do you make him leap like a locust, striking terror with his proud snorting?

God shares with Job not only what He has created, but His continued Hand in all of it. He is present in the stars, He knows the weather better than Jim Cantore, He even pays close attention to the animals, when they will give birth, where they eat, where they will build their homes. He knows it all. And He knows us.

He offered to Job … hope. When Job finally gave up, God reminding him, gently chided His child. “I have done all these things. You don’t need to question me. I’ve got this.”

This summer, as I sat on the deck of our beach house, I cried out to my heavenly Father. I begged Him to show Himself to me, to show up and prove my questions were fruitless, that He was/is still in control. As I struggled with my remaining faith and my dried up hope, I Corinthians 13:13 kept repeating in my heart, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” That threw me for a loop. I had a thin grasp on my faith, I admitted I had lost hope, and trust me, there was precious little love in my lamentations that evening. I wasn’t coming from a place of patience, kindness, or trust. I was perhaps being a tad rude with the God of the universe, certainly self-seeking and angry. Have you been there, too?

Yet, there was that still small voice, “But the greatest of these is love.”

As evening closed around me and my prayers, I knew that God’s answer to my “prayer request” wasn’t as important as His response to me. My prayer, my needs were honestly rather insignificant in light of what so many people face, certainly in light of the troubles of this world. I was not facing a health concern or family breakdown. Everyone I know was safe and sound, our homes and nation were not under attack. But yet I felt desolation, the absence of hope, and I needed the hole to be filled.

When I consider the refugees pouring from their homes in Syria, or children trapped by gang warfare and human trafficking, or lives ripped apart by addictions to drugs, alcohol, abuse, my ears ring with the cries of anguish, of desolation, of desperate need for hope. How much more are others crying out for something, just grasping for an answer, a promise that there is more. There is someone who can save them, someone who cares. That’s what we hold on to, right? Just the idea of it. Hope.

I fell asleep with the windows open so we could enjoy the sound of the wind and the ocean. Sometime in the middle of the night, I woke and was, frankly, a little irritated at the sound of the surf hitting the sand, over and over. As a mother of little kids, sometimes I just need a break in the noise. But this didn’t stop. It was more pervasive than “Why, Mommy, whyyyy?” Crash, crash, crash. The waves hit again and again. God spoke to me then as directly as He spoke to Job: This is my love. As relentlessly as the waves hit the shore, My love for you never stops. Nothing can stop my love. Not your waining faith, not your lost hope. The greatest of these is love because My love never, ever ends.

I questioned Him. I sought Him. He came to me and answered. In my desperation, in Job’s desperation, in your own desperation, we seek Him and He promises we will find Him. And that’s why we have hope. Somewhere in the pit, our souls that were created to be with our Creator are always reaching and searching for Him. In the darkest of days, no matter what our world can throw at us, we have hope that when we seek we will find. The very lack of hope, faith, and love are reminders of their existence, that we were made to crave them. When you feel that desperation, and the craving, as we all are wont to do, allow your heart to cry out. God will answer you.

Job sought an answer to his suffering and was met with a God who was willing to answer, to remind his child of what He had created. We seek answers and God meets us where we are, not necessarily with the answers we want. And just as He reminded Job, allow His creation to be a connection to His love. They are intertwined to daily remind us of all He has given.

Allow your Father to breathe His truth into you, My love, my love, my love never fails. It never stops. It never gives up. My love is for you.

 

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Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Revelation

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My 7-year old and I had the opportunity to see “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at DC’s Kennedy Center today. It was a marvelous performance! Andrew Lloyd Webber never ceases to delight.

On the way to the show, Meredith and I decided to review Joseph’s story, as told in Genesis 37-50. Here’s our version:

One of twelve brothers, Joseph was adored by their father, Jacob, above the others. The brothers grew jealous of Joseph’s favor and irritated at his prophecies that one day those very same brothers would bow down before this annoying sibling. Shortly after their father bestowed upon Joseph a now infamous coat of many colors, the brothers grew angry and conspired against him. They threw him into a pit, destroyed the gift from their father, and sold their brother into slavery! Joseph was taken to Egypt as a slave, but worked hard and found favor with his owner. Until that owner’s wife tricked him, kissed him, and landed him in prison. There, his strong character saved him and he became well-known for his ability to interpret dreams. Eventually he was made Pharaoh’s right-hand-man. Years later when a great famine consumed the land, his brothers made their way to Egypt to beg salvation from their plight. Through several events, they were saved and bowed before Joseph in gratitude, not realizing their helper was the same brother they had discarded for his dreams of this very moment. The family was reunited and Joseph spoke the words of truth to his brothers, a promise we can hold onto today.

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
Genesis 50:20

Quite a tale of deceit, anger, and forgiveness! As we recounted the story, my daughter and I were struck by the parallels between this story and our own spiritual lives. You see, Satan acts like those naughty brothers, only worse; he is angered and envious of the love God has bestowed upon you, me, all of His children. Seething in bitter jealousy, Satan will stop at nothing to separate us from our Father. He will try to destroy the gifts we have been given, throw our hearts into the pit, sell us into slavery. Anything to put distance between us and the One who loves us.

Have you been there? Felt like you were at the bottom of a barrel? Have you thrown up your hands in surrender to habits that enslave you? When you feel captive to your own anger, temptations, or negative thoughts, are you aware who it was that tricked you into that cell?

Yet the promise remains true. We can claim aloud the truth that will set us free from our wannabe-captor:

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
Genesis 50:20

When you find yourself fighting a battle bigger than you, enter into the courtyard of God’s grace. He will rescue you. Perhaps the singing and dancing won’t be as spectacular as an Andrew Lloyd Webber production, but you can guarantee your Father will fight for you, He will uphold you, He will bring you salvation!

Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded;
those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish.
You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them;
those who war against you shall be as nothing at all.
F
or I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I will help you.”
Isaiah 41:10-13


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Cast Your Net Wide

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Over the past two years, my friends and I have helplessly watched one of our own beaten and tortured by the ravages of melanoma. A young woman with two very young children she has been too ill to enjoy. A wife to a devoted husband who vowed to stand by through sickness and health. A daughter who, just four years ago, lost her own mother to cervical cancer. A sister, the only sibling, of another young woman who is suddenly bearing a burden too large for her shoulders alone.

When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, and thereby all believers, to be “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:18-20), I get the feeling He didn’t mean fly fishing, for us to wade into a quiet stream, cast our line thoughtfully to and fro, then wait for a bite. Jesus called us to cast our nets wide and draw others unto ourselves. To cast wide the love of God, bringing the masses into the embrace of the family of Christ. After He was raised from the dead, Jesus found the disciples fishing again, but without much luck. He instructed them where to cast their nets. When they obeyed His command, their faithfulness rewarded them a bounty too full to lift. (John 21:1-6)

Nets. We are to use nets. Cast thoughtful and faithfully where God leads.

Mareeka has suffered countless surgeries, though I’m sure she could tell you the exact number. How many hospital bracelets she has worn, how many books she has read to “take her mind off of things,” how many times she has said goodbye to her daughter and son. But she doesn’t. She doesn’t recount the horrors. Every time she shares her heart, there is no doubt how firmly her rock-solid faith is anchored. She stands strong, knowing and proclaiming that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

Shortly after she was placed in hospice care, Mareeka posted on her blog, “I don’t understand how it all works, but I won’t question or diminish the Word of God just because I can’t figure it out. Neither will I give God any less power or grace just because I haven’t seen it, yet.”

Every time she opens her heart, she casts her net wide, wider, wide open! In her solid faith, Mareeka has valiantly fought death and in her fight, she has cast God’s love wide among the nations. My sisters, my friends, my Bible study group, they don’t know Mareeka personally. They didn’t meet her as a wide-eyed high schooler visiting her sister at college. They didn’t sit in her dorm room, listening to her talk expectantly about her nursing courses. They don’t carry guilt for having lined up with her on the beach, soaking up the sun’s dangerous rays. My friends, and hundreds like them around the world, don’t know Mareeka, but they know Mareeka’s God.

Come hell or high water, Mareeka’s God is by her side and she will never forsake Him. Mareeka has been faithful to take Him at His word. She cast out her net, she shared the living, breathing Word of God, she spread His truth in this world.

Mareeka, in your faithfulness you have cast wide the net of Love and drawn countless into the embrace of Jesus. Keep the faith. You ARE God’s favorite kid and He WILL complete a great work in you and through you. Thank you for every little thing you have taught me.

Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart. I am so pleased that you have continued on in this with us, believing and proclaiming God’s Message, from the day you heard it right up to the present. 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 1:3-6

Love Isn’t

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The love charm fell from my necklace on Valentines Day. Slipped off and landed somewhere under my feet. A Freudian slip, if you will. On this, the day for sweethearts, extra kisses, and reminders of who we love the most, I felt like love slid from my grasp. I was grumpy, irritable, and in no mood to be loving or loved.

In an effort to reassure myself, I tried reciting the Biblical definition of love. You know the passage, the wedding standard: I Corinthians 13. Used at so many marriage ceremonies, it’s almost tiresome. Almost. Except the tug on my heart reminds me, it’s there by design. When love begins, when love is hard, when love is bored, and even when love just feels unlovable.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
I Corinthians 13:4-7 (The Message)

Sure enough, I failed in every way possible today. I was selfish and ready to quit. I lost my patience, more than once. I pouted and let everyone in my path know what I wanted. Despite my husband’s loving kindness, I snapped whenever he spoke to me. My daughter struggled to find her mother’s smile. I convinced her to help me clean the house for her father’s Valentines surprise; in truth, it was for my own peace. I grumpily prepared our traditional dinner of pancakes and berries, all the while grumbling and barking orders. The worst part was, I knew how unloving I was and didn’t have the guts to snap out of it. Who and why would someone love a grouch like me?

There is One who loves me when I am unloving, unkind, ill-tempered, and impatient. One who loves me when I make myself unlovable and when I don’t show love. One who gives me grace upon grace until I am drawn in, once again, by His enduring, steadfast love. God, who gave us flowers and chocolates, who created our hearts to crave love, and who showed us the ultimate example of sacrificial love, loves me despite my flaws. My heart of stone crumbles and is made tender, open to all the joy of love in Christ.

We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:19

Hey Grumpy, this one’s for you. Boy, did I need it today!

I’ll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you. I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed.
Ezekiel 36:26

And this? This is what it’s all about. Such grace, such acceptance, such love.

This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God. My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has seen God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us—perfect love!
I John 4: 9-12

No matter how you find yourself on Valentines Day – married, single, single again, with your children or not – or any day, may you open your heart to love, real Love. Because, whether you’re in the mood or not, He loves you anyway.

Between Mary and Martha

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There is a story in the Bible about two sisters: Martha and Mary. We hear about them often: Jesus and friends came to visit their home. Martha worked like crazy, cleaning, cooking, playing hostess. Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to her teacher. Martha complained to Jesus about Mary’s unwillingness to help. Jesus chided Martha, encouraging her to be with Him while she could.

This story is often retold with a measure of guilt, reminding us to give God our quiet time and not rush about, worrying over trivial matters. Fair enough. I am hosting Thanksgiving dinner today and have a laundry list of tasks to complete, not to mention the mound of laundry waiting to be folded. I need to channel my inner Martha, indeed. But I’m not. I’m also not really following Mary’s example, either.

This past year has left me sitting somewhere between the listening, receiving Mary and the diligent homemaker, Martha. I stopped working when my daughter was born a year a half ago and was thrilled to step into a new role as a stay-at-homer. Then I tore my ACL and had knee surgery while my baby was learning to sit. My little family and I sat at home on Thanksgiving and ordered Chinese take-out. In the midst of my recovery, I repeatedly dislocated my shoulder; that surgery was scheduled a week after my daughters’ spring birthdays. Another six months later, I packed up, traveled to an orphanage in Honduras, and returned home broken on the inside.

Now here I sit, day after day, needing to either hop up and Martha my way through the day or open my heart and listen like Mary. I do neither. I am numb. These difficulties have left me broken and poured out. Pretty tough to be filled up when the vessel is in fractured pieces and impossible to pour out when it’s bone dry. Yet, my family, community, Bible study, church, and this Thanksgiving meal need my jar to be whole, in constant filling up and pouring out.

I don’t believe God causes or wants bad things to happen. He didn’t allow my knee to buckle or shoulder to fall out. He certainly doesn’t want those children to be orphaned. God doesn’t desire my vessel, my heart, to be in shattered pieces. He wants to put it all together. Just as I want to help my daughters avoid getting hurt, find solutions, and learn how to make their world better, isn’t that what my Father would want for me? He wants to piece this broken vessel back together, me holding the jagged edges and allowing Him to be the glue. Then, only with my God holding me together, will I be able to be filled up and poured out again.

Mary and Martha, I am your sister in between. As we race into the holiday season, may Jesus wrap His own broken hands around my heart and hold me together. May I be open to all He has to teach and ready to pour out His love to everyone in my path.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” Martha replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
John 11:25-27

In the Line of Greatness

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We are often told God uses unlikely people to do His greatest work. Abraham was an old man married to an old barren woman, yet God used him to become the father of many nations.

I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” Genesis 22:17-18

How honored Abraham must have felt to hear God tell him of his pending greatness. A bit overwhelmed and humbled, sure, but the human condition must have left him feeling at least a little pleased.

Moses, an orphan with a speech impediment, was used by God as one of the greatest leaders in history. Sure, he missed out on the final moments of his life’s mission to bring the Israelites into the Promised Land, but with God’s help, he had brought them out of slavery in Egypt, across the raging Red Sea, and through years of wandering in the desert wilderness. That takes great leadership, stutter or no.

Then there was David, an adulterer and murderer, who became a great king, lyricist, and poet. Paul, a persecutor of Christians… Unlikelies used for greatness. The list goes on.

When we hear of those who are not so great, it’s easier to discount them. The lowly, the bad parents, the drains on society. One such not-so-great was Rahab, a prostitute living in the sin-ridden city of Jericho. Her story in Joshua 2:1-14 reads like a great action flick.

Rahab was a bit of a mess. She was in the lowliest profession, she lied to the king of Jericho, and she committed treason by hiding spies in her home. And why? Somewhere in her soul there was a seed of faith. A tiny seed planted when she witnessed miracles by God and actions by His obedient followers. She trusted God’s workers, the spies, at their word and did what she thought best to save her family.

James 2:25 asks, “In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?”

The story of Rahab is fascinating. The Bible is our guidebook for laws, grace, and love, yet it tells us of a sinful woman who lied, committed treason, and caused others to sin through her very profession, but then later to refers to her as “righteous.” It’s nothing short of a mystery begging to be unraveled.

Sure enough, her story gets even better when we skip ahead to Matthew 1: the genealogy of Jesus.

Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, …
Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of King David.

Rahab, the great-great grandmother of King David, listed in the genealogy of Jesus. This liar, traitor, prostitute, was a person by all human accounts who should be discarded by society, but when she was offered a tiny seed, she believed. God took the crumpled mess of a woman and He allowed her to be used, not for greatness itself, but in the line of greatness.

I consider Rahab a sister, of sorts. It is only through the seeming randomness of birth – time and place – that I have not suffered a fate as lowly as hers. That any of us haven’t. But I am no less a sinner. My past and daily life are full of poor choices and outward acts of disobedience. Treason against God, so to speak. But if God could use Rahab, He certainly can use me!

During my mission trip to Honduras, we spent ten days helping at the Heart 2 Heart Children’s Village orphanage and school, playing with the children, and truly being fed through their love and warmth.

My heart was shattered as we drove through Honduras, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, where it is commonplace to find children foraging for food among piles of trash, families living in tarp-covered shacks the size of my minivan, and people burning plastic inside their homes to eliminate bugs carrying malaria and dengue fever. It’s not right, how these people live. The kids at the orphanage seem to be the lucky ones. Removed from their abusive, neglectful parents to be raised in a group home, fed three simple meals a day, and given a Christian education. They’ve got it good!

But what do they do after? When is their opportunity for greatness? They’ll grow up, and what?
Go to college? Not likely.
Be adopted? Not from Honduras, a corrupt country with no ties to the Hague Adoption Convention.
Get a job, find a nice home, and start a family? Hopefully, but the statistics are not in their favor.

Greatness in Honduras and in many parts of our world seems as elusive as clean water and decent medical care.

On our second day at the Village, I came face to face with a heartbreak no mother should experience. I watched a woman bring her five children to the orphanage, sign paperwork, and leave them. Esther, Luis, Johanna, Lorraine, and Naomi range in age from 8 to 1 1/2 – the littlest the same age as my little Audrey. And just like my daughter in strange new environments, little Naomi clung to her mother. I saw the vacant look in the mother’s eyes as she tore out her own heart and prepared to walk away, knowing the orphanage is a better home than the one she was providing full of ill health and abuse. No one should be faced with that choice, yet this woman acted so bravely, knowing she did what was best for her family.

She is just one example of many. People around the world and throughout the ages seem to us to lack the potential for doing anything great. But we aren’t called to judge potential. We are called to obey God’s commands, perform miracles in His name, and plant seeds of faith.

A seed of faith is all Rahab had. She observed God’s people following His commands, performing miracles, and proving His omnipotence. This unholy woman from a town of idolatry and false gods proclaimed, “the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” She stepped out in faith to protect God’s people and was spared not only her own life but that of her whole family.

As I look back on the people of Honduras and others in similar situations in our world, on the children, on the humble women who tirelessly serve meals to 80 growing children each day, or on the mothers who relinquish their children in that last desperate act of maternal love, I wonder where greatness is happening. Through love and seeds of faith, it is growing. Through people like you and me who are willing to obey God’s call to go or send our resources, God is making a difference. We might never get to see the greatness unfold. But what an honor it is to know everything we do in love – every. little. thing. we do in God’s perfect love – is used to further His kingdom. When we travel to the depths of poverty and oppression, when we collect school supplies or tutor disadvantaged students, when we share the Gospel and our own personal stories of redemption with friends and neighbors, we might never know what seeds are planted or what greatness will unfold, but we have faith God’s kingdom is growing.

So, what do you say? You, me, our questionable pasts, our sin and disobedience, along with the desperate mother, the prostitute, the exhausted missionaries, and everyday seed-planters – Let’s act obediently, in faith, align ourselves with God, and allow His greatness to unfold through us.

Big / Little

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God is big. We hear of His loud, booming voice, likened to thunder. He created the world, spoke it into being. He makes mountains move, separated the waters of the Red Sea, stopped the Jordan from flooding, even raised his son from death. He is big.

But we are also told He is in the details. We can pray to Him about specific needs because He cares. He even knows the number of hairs on our heads. Scripture and our answered prayers are full of examples.

As I pass through the litter-covered streets of Honduras, see children scraping food from filth, and think of other places in the world, much of the world, existing in such abject poverty, I wonder, “Where is God?” I see the mountains, lush forests, and lapping sea He formed, but what about that child, his mother, their future? The details of their lives can be changed by work – hands and feet making it happen. Because we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus, WE must get to work on the details.

Standing at Attention

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I’m a Navy kid, through and through. Remember Top Gun? Yep, that’s my dad (minus the volleyball scene). The daughter of a fighter pilot, a Naval Aviator, my childhood memories overflow with F4’s, jet noise, call names (Lurch for my dad), aircraft carriers, and the homey smell of diesel fuel.

Most of us love the proverbial ‘man in uniform,’ but for me, the Navy dress whites ignite a special sense of pride and respect. My eyes get teary when I see a sailor, soldier, pilot, or officer, since I know first-hand the sacrifices the man or woman within is making for my freedom. Willing to fight to the death for the causes of truth and justice. (Thank you!)

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

Joshua 5:13-15

Until my Bible study class assigned us to read this passage, I knew nothing of this interaction between Joshua and his visitor. To be honest, I don’t know much about Joshua, the man chosen by God to follow the leadership of Moses and bring the nation of Israel to the Promised Land. Turns out, this is an incredible story just waiting to be explored.

As Joshua prepared to lead his people, he found himself alone with a stranger, an armed soldier. The passage initially lead me to believe Joshua met an angel, as did many others who are called into God’s service. But, the term “commander” stuck with me. Scholars suggest this interaction was a theophany, defined as a pre-incarnate visit from the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus, in the Old Testament? Commander. Not a soldier, not an angel, not a servant of the Lord. Commander. Leader. Stepping down from heaven to fulfill a promise, “the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) Apparently, He meant that literally! “I have now come” Immanuel, God with us.

As I think about my friend battling stage IV melanoma, praying over her with pretty much every intake of breath, it occurred to me, her Commander is present in her space. Holding up His sword, standing guard, ready to fight to the death He has already conquered. He promised to be there, not only as a comforter, but as the Commander of the army of the Lord, never leaving, never forsaking. Immanuel, God with us.

Mareeka, remove your sandals (or slippers). The Lord your God is with you. You are on Holy ground and we are standing at attention ready to fight alongside our Commander!

Got Talent?

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With a sigh and a quivering voice, my 6-year old plopped down and said, “I’m sad because I don’t have any talent.” Parenting an emotional roller coaster is never dull! My first inclination was to squelch the heck out of that ugly lie trying to take root within my daughter. Then I wanted to show empathy with stories of my own talentless youth, but I held back. I listened and I silently prayed. Impulsive Leslie was terrified of this newfound technique.

When it was time to respond, here’s what God, through me, shared: Sure, there are lots of people who have cool talents they get to show off. Dancing, singing, doing gymnastics and magic tricks, playing instruments – they’re all performing arts. And they’re fun to watch. Everyone has talents, but we can’t see every talent. Some people are good listeners, encouragers, builders, writers, you name it. And many of us have no idea what our talent is. Take Moses for example. He was chosen by God to be one of THE great leaders in Biblical history. If he didn’t do what God needed him to do, God’s people might not have survived and God’s great rescue plan might not have worked. He chose Moses because Moses was a talented leader. Only, Moses was terrified to speak in front of people, something his job required. Did God stop there? No. He chose Aaron to speak for Moses. Aaron was a great public speaker, but he was no leader; Moses was a leader, but he stuttered. Together, their talents complimented one another and God’s work continued. In the same way, we can pray that God will reveal to us our strengths and talents so we can do our best work for Him.

“I still really want to be a gymnast. Maybe gymnastics is my talent?” said my 4-foot-something first grader. As she skipped and tripped downstairs to practice cartwheels, I was left thinking about talents, about our childhood quests to discover our specialties, our wishes to be something greater, and the circumstances that tame the fires until we live to survive instead of striving to succeed in our gifts.

This past week, in preparation for my trip to Honduras, I shared with my daughter pictures of the children I’ll be visiting. I asked her to write letters to a couple of them, to tell about herself and ask questions of them. She loved the idea of encouraging these kids and finding areas of commonality. Then she decided perhaps she could ask a few friends at school to also write letters.

Before I knew it, she had a plan. With her teacher’s permission, she would tell the class about my trip, the school, and the orphans, and ask her whole class to write letters. Her inspired teacher took it one step further and invited me to visit the class, talk about Honduras, and help the students write notes as part of a Social Studies lesson. It was a treat to see the children’s eyes light up at the pictures and read the notes they wrote to kids half a world away. More amazing to me, however, was to see my own daughter, a girl who thinks she is without talent, guiding, inspiring, and delighting her classmates with her vision for spreading love and justice.

She might figure it out tomorrow, or maybe not for dozens of years, but like Moses, Aaron, and each of us, God indeed filled this girl with talent. The question is, what will she do with it? Will the flame continue to burn or will the passion be snubbed out by the lies of “I’m not good enough”? What do any of us do with the talents we were given? Do we spend our lives seeking them, improving them, using them for good, or do we turn our backs for fear of comparison, judgment, or failure? Rather than assume, like Moses did, we aren’t equipped, we should step faithfully toward our talents and let God give us the support needed.

The Burden of Prayer

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Like most, I experience times when I struggle to sleep, be it from the full moon, hormones, too much daytime caffeine, or just an overly stimulated mind. The insomnia will last a couple or several nights, then pass until the next season.

The most reliable antidote to my stress-induced sleeplessness is spending the time praying for others. When I set aside the things that trouble me and instead lift others’ burdens to God, I find my own peace and, eventually, some rest. Many difficult nights have ended in a few hours of blissful sleep after I have prayed for those who are hurting, fighting health concerns, or struggling with financial troubles. My midnight lamentations have included friends who are recently widowed, facing a life-changing move, dealing with a difficult pregnancy, or battling infertility. Without knowing it, you, too, have probably been visited during my nighttime ritual. Although I cherish a good, deep sleep, I am grateful for these lunar retreats. In a world filled with noise and distraction, what a blessing it is to have some quiet time alone with the author of our days.

These last few months have provided me some extra prayer time. With many of my own concerns pressing in, stress is indeed inducing wakefulness. But, for the first time, I find myself unable to think of others; my own burdens feel so heavy, I cannot lay them aside. The worry both distracts and consumes me. I need release. In the same way I have lifted the burdens of others, I am asking you, my friends and partners, to lift mine.

Will you share my burden and pray with me? Then, help me turn my focus away from myself by telling me how I may pray for you…