The Map and Its Alignment


map and its alignmentI was short on time, travelling on a narrow road in the right direction but just beginning to realize I had driven considerably past my intended destination.  As an extra step of preparedness, I had even photocopied an internet instruction map and placed it on the seat next to me for quick reference.

This particular fact significantly increased my annoyance:  how was this overshoot even possible when the map illustrated only one main road into the small town and a single turnoff that led directly to the address I sought?

After making a U-turn on the highway and revisiting each of the cross-roads I had just passed, I indeed found where I was headed…and as I examined the map through the lens of having reached the destination, rather than trying to find it, I discovered where the error had occurred:  when the map was enlarged to print, the directional indicators had been cut off.  I had no idea how the roads actually collaborated to a north-south-east-west grid.  Hence, I had diligently searched for my turnoff on the left side of the road, whereas I would have quickly found it on the right.

Despite feeling both foolish and aggravated at myself, I got the sense that this error had actually tickled the Lord’s funny bone.  Exasperated as I was, I felt like He whispered to me,  You’re not the only one who has ever cut off a directional marker.  My kids misread or cut off My directional markers all the time.  And, like you, they end up looking at the map upside down or backwards and come to conclusions based on that error.  That’s why I promised to take all those wrong turns and dead ends and make sense out of them, make them work out for good in their lives

Jesus is so gracious, and that was a timely insight for Him to have shared.

I also started thinking about how easy it is for the enemy to use our misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the map to build strongholds of mistrust, unbelief, cynicism and even a hardened heart towards Him.

Delays.  Denials.  Mis-turns.  Tragedies.  Unexplained and unexpectedly unfortunate events.  Disappointment.  Sorrow.

In the midst of experiencing frequent trials and bewilderment, Paul taught, “For I am convinced that neither death, or life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38-39)

Are you as convinced of that, as was Paul?

If not, the map you are following is not properly aligned with one of the most significant directional markers He has given.

We are able to strengthen ourselves in the Lord by reminding ourselves of this truth that Paul speaks.  And there’s more:  We are also branches of His vine:  “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser…abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.  I am the Vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in Him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:1, 4-5, NASB)

I love the way The Message states John 15:1,4:  “I Am the real vine and My Father is the Farmer…live in Me.  Make your home in Me just as I do in you.  In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with Me.”

Paul points out the all-encompassing relationship we have with the Father and Son when he asked, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom. 8:31, NASB)

That is a good question to ponder.  When the “rubber meets the road” and I am personally feeling the skid marks….what are the things I choose to believe about God and His goodness, His guidance, His acceptance of me, His patience, His promises of my destiny?

The truth is, sometimes, we are against us.  Sometimes, the enemy is against us.  But it is never God who is against us, even when tragedy, the unexpected, disappointment or destruction strikes.  The Farmer simply does not go around torching vines, squashing pumpkins or tomatoes, or vindictively destroying His vineyard, the very vineyard He has sacrificed His Son to create and nurture.

Jesus spoke the comforting words, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”  (Josh. 1:5, Heb. 13:5)  Actually, Joshua 1:5 states “I will not fail you or forsake you,” while Heb. 13:5 rephrases the promise, “For He has said, I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.”  The Passion Translation phrases it, “For hasn’t He promised you, ‘I will never leave you alone, never!  And I will not loosen My grip/hand on your life!”

Quick, align your map with the markers of His inseparable love, our connection with Him as our Vine, His championing our progress forward in every kingdom endeavor.  His Hand is actively and positively at work, He is walking with us, in us, and holding our lives tightly, even possessively.





Take Courage, Said Jesus

The world is moving through the month of August.

It has been a mid-summer filled with an unusual quantity of hailstorms and the impact on my flower garden is evident:  battered leaves, prematurely lost blooms, and broken stems throughout the various planting pots.  The impact of my month-plus of nonstop in-and-out-of-town busyness has struck home as I pick out weeds, clean up dried leaves and assess the damage from the last several weeks.

Hailstorm after hailstorm – many sandwiched between mornings and evenings of warm sunshine – intruded into and savaged an otherwise peaceful corner of the world.  Not just any world, but my world.

That is very much how life’s circumstantial hailstorms unexpectedly careen into our lives when we are enjoying (even lulled by) a season of summer, warmth, easy pace.  And as I thought about the parallel of this commonplace setting and the world at large, Jesus’ words came to me:  “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

The centerpiece is His admonition to “take courage.”  In most of the teachings I have heard on this quote, that centerpiece is given secondary status to either the reality/severity of the tribulation we face, or the benefit of focusing on His victory over the world as we walk through the buffeting winds and storms.

I am not minimizing either of those.  It is because of His victory that we have a Rock of courage to stand on.  But I think there is more.

In The Message, Jesus’ encouragement is translated as “In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties.  But take heart!  I’ve conquered the world!”  The Amplified Bible translates John 16:33 as Jesus stating, “In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering; but be courageous (be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy); I have overcome the world.  (My conquest is accomplished, My victory abiding)”

An abiding victory.

And in that abiding, we find our courage.  We find that His courage shoulders our cowardice, our timidity, and manifests itself in us.  It is the undergird of courage demonstrated by Paul when he said to the Philippians, “One thing I do:  forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:13-15)

The Asiatic Lilies, with their stalks knocked bare, are graciously sculpted into clusters of tall-and-small figures.  Until they are unadorned by their fluffy orange cloaks, you do not realize that each of these stalks resemble a graphed representation of a family unit, each grouping supported by a thick stem beneath.  They are all linked together.  They all support and balance one another, as the members of our spiritual and natural families offer balance and support to us.

When I look at them, I am reminded of Jesus teaching, “I am the Vine and you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit.  For apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) The Asiatic stalks remain connected to one another while steadfastly drawing nourishment and stability from a vibrant root system.   Despite wearing their hail-beaten leaves, they are strong, healthy, expanding dominion where they are planted in anticipation of a new season ahead.

What an amazing expression of God’s wisdom.   A moment in which Paul’s phrase “His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature…being understood through what has been made” springs to life through simple display.  (Rom. 1:20)

It is a statement about our intrinsic divine destiny.

To willingly shed the bruised and occasionally tattered wardrobe of a tough, punishing season emphasizes that there is a divine destiny within each of us to bloom anew.  The psalmist wrote, “Weeping may last for the night but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” (Psa 30:5)

We are born to be shouters.  Born to be courageous.  Born to call upon His courage to draw us forward from season to season in faith and trust, prepared to “be ready in season and out of season” as we walk our life’s course with Him.  (2 Tim 4:2)

Shining On

Anyone who has ever watched or helped me decorate knows that one of my favorite things in the whole world is to position bright mini- lights that will shine in the darkness.

Any darkness.

Little white lights gleaming down a light-dimmed hallway or stage.

Little multi-colored lights glowing from the snow or tucked inside the boughs of a Christmas tree.  Miniature lights peeking through swags or runners of fabric, mesh, netting, woven into flower arrangements and loose sprays.

Even red-white-and-blue lights tucked into tubs of flowers and draped, as is the case on Memorial Day or Fourth of July.  

Lights in the darkness.  Transforming the atmosphere in which they gleam.

I love the mental image and the Scripture that so often comes to my mind:  the apostle Paul teaching that we are “children of God, above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights (luminaries, stars)* holding fast the word of life…” (Phil. 2:15-16, *NASB footnote)

Lights.  Luminaries.  Stars, all adding a dimension of hope and vibrancy to the dull black all around them.  Demonstrating that darkness is not the kingdom that dominates wherever they are placed.

I think that both His Spirit and I share this delight — the pleasure and admiration resulting from the beauty and power created by dispelling the darkness.  When our Father observes His worldly creation from a heavenly throne and sees us, He sees the Light blazing within us, the Light He saw blazing within His Son:  “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (John 1:5)  The Message translates that verse, “The Life-light blazed out of the darkness; and the darkness couldn’t put it out.”  

I think my favorite translation of John 1:5 comes from the Amplified Bible:  “The Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it.”

Not understood.  Not overpowered.  Not appropriated.  Not absorbed.

That is a truly marvelous life-testimony.

How quickly we envision ourselves as the merest of flickers, Continue reading “Shining On”

At Wit’s End

God - wits end on cardI saw an online advertisement for a set of nicely-embossed cards, and the curved edging caught my attention.  Each cover read, God is everywhere, even at your wit’s end.

Pretty simple statement, clearly intended to bring a smile.

Even as I chuckled and moved on to another website, the statement hung in the back of my mind.  Then I found myself actually thinking about the statement…and I realized those eight words were actually somewhat profound.

Even at your wit’s end.   That’s often where we least expect to find God.

The online resource states, “If you are at your wits’ end, you are emphasizing that you are so worried or exhausted by problems or difficulties that you do not know what to do next.”  I wish I were less familiar with that state of mind.  Career directions that unexpectedly fizzled.  Family relationships that remained unreconciled.  Financial resources that were expected and never materialized.  Prayer for physical healing which have not yet materialized.  Situations in which it is difficult to discern the best path out of the valley and onto the heights.  Valleys where the “shadow of death”, as the Psalmist writes, lie long and dark across our paths.

Yet it seems to me that every God-seeker has wandered onto the streets of that neighborhood at some time in their lives.  Luke records that Peter found himself there while he warmed himself by the fire as Jesus faced the first of His mock trials.  Joseph was unexpectedly plunged onto the block when his betrothed, Mary, “before they came together …was found to be with child.”  (Matt 1:18)

John the Baptist sat on the Wits End Corner while, imprisoned by Herod, “sent word by his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are you the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?'” (Matt. 11:2-3)  Mary Magdalene, weeping throughout the depths her soul, stared disbelievingly as Jesus suffered on the cross.   The disciple Thomas, when told by his companions that they had seen the risen Jesus, responded “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)

Unbelief.  A brutal invasion of doubt.  Fear’s thick cloud of confusion.  Stumped.

But Jesus is unfathomable in His love and depth of compassion. Continue reading “At Wit’s End”

The End of the World Has Slipped By Again

Concealing stormI was reading and deleting emails while waiting at the dentist’s office when I came across an email from Denison Forum dated April 23 that was titled, “Will the world end today?  How Satan uses end time speculation.”

I paused for a minute and consulted my calendar.  Today was indeed April 24.  My husband’s second root canal was indeed in progress.  The world indeed had not ended…and in the busyness of the previous day, I had totally forgotten its potential significance as an end-of-the-world date.  I  also could not recall the potential trigger for yesterday’s assumptive catastrophe.   Jim Denison’s article rescued me by explaining it was another alignment-of-planets situation, plus unpredictable “Planet X” thrown into the mix.

Planet X — really? No sighting of Godzilla or King Kong, shortly after, though — right?  Most folks had responded to this prediction with a dismissive shaking of the head, as I did.   Others, perhaps aware of Jesus’ words in Luke 21:25, may have given at least minor consideration as to whether or not this star alignment addressed “signs in sun and moon and stars and on the earth dismay among nations,” indeed signaling a significant event ahead for Planet Earth.  As I also did, for the briefest of moments.

My primary interest in the article, however, was to explore the second part of his heading: “How Satan uses end time speculation.”  Denison shared and brought it around to “Satan will do whatever he can to distract us from considering our eternal destination.”  Additionally he stated, “When the prophesied end of the world passes yet again, such fakery dulls our cultural consciousness to the real urgency of death and eternity.”

That statement caught my attention — but my thoughts were focused on an individual influence.  I don’t believe it’s just a dulling of the “cultural consciousness” that occurs as repeated Henny-Penny warnings fizzle to naught.  The fallout can have a much more personal impact, for our senses and intellect are always competing with faith as we search for a situation’s “truth” we can both believe and walk in. Continue reading “The End of the World Has Slipped By Again”

The Glory of Putting Up With Anything

CCreek Christian ice shield (2)I’ve given serious thought to many of the articles and prophecies I’ve read over the month since Billy Graham’s passing.  Some believe that his transition triggered a “baton-passing” of the evangelistic mantle from one individual to potentially an entire generation.  Topics of speculation ran the gamut from one article suggested there would be a “coliseum full of cheering people” as Dr. Graham entered, to another that pointed out his “mansion” would likely be a comfortable, humble abode similar to his earthly mountain cabin.

I must admit, the concept of a “coliseum of people” cheering at Dr. Graham’s arrival seems very much like a still-in-this-world perception to me.

In the book of Hebrews, Paul refers to “so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us”…would that be the same as a “coliseum of people” cheering?  I don’t know — but I doubt it.  The purpose as explained in Hebrews is to encourage us, not those who have passed through the veil, for a specific purpose:  “to lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us” that we might “run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus.” (Heb. 12:1-2, NASB)   In other words, Go Team Jesus, you’re still in the race.

The Message translates Heb. 12:1-3, “Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in.  Study how He did it.  Because He never lost sight of where He was headed — that exhilarating finish in and with God — He could put up with anything along the way:  Cross, shame, whatever.  And now He’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.  When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility He plowed through…”

As I pondered that wording, three different ideas stuck in my mind.  First, the concept of  putting up with anything. 

I have to say, that is really a great prayer…but is it one that any of us offer up regularly?  How frequent is it the cry of our heart to ask,  Lord, help me put up with anything…so that I might share Your news of reconciliation and forgiveness with those You point out, with someone in my regular sphere of influence?

I personally believe that some version of that sentiment was a heartfelt part of Jesus’ many  intimate conversations with His Father. Continue reading “The Glory of Putting Up With Anything”

The Residue of Salt

spoonful of saltSalt residue marred the smooth, shiny concrete flooring.   Fine powder formed semi-transparent, circular eddies and ripples that lined and colored the straight gray aisles.  The store manager was not happy.  Accustomed to a shiny and unremarkable surface resembling a lengthy gray walkway of polished stone,  the chalk-colored, swirling designs were an unwelcome distraction.

The earlier heavy snow had resulted in ample ice melt being sprinkled on the sidewalks, and  as salt clumps clung to the incoming shoe soles, the salt was generously re-distributed throughout the inside of the store.  Add to this a need for the surfaces to be hand-mopped, and a clue to the discolorations was discovered:  an increased but undetected salt-water concentration had built up in the mop water, resulting in the visible pale etchings as the floor completely dried.

Even as I observed the swirled edgings, I felt like the Lord used that image to impress me with the importance of leaving rings of spiritually salty residue wherever our interactions took us.

In Matthew 5, Jesus moved from calling those who were gentle, merciful, pure in heart, and persecuted for His sake as “blessed” into stating, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.” (Matt. 5:13, NASB)  The Passion Translation reads, “Your lives are like salt among the people.  But if you, like salt, become bland, how can your ‘saltiness’ be restored?  Flavorless salt is good for nothing and will be thrown out…”

Becoming bland.  Not recommended.  Becoming flavorless.  Even worse.

A short but interesting bit of Scripture from 2 Kings came to my mind as I thought about the admonition not to lose one’s saltiness.  In 2 Kings 2, Elisha has succeeded Elijah, but the “sons of prophets who were at Jericho” are skeptical of his power and/or anointing.  Continue reading “The Residue of Salt”

Samson’s Mill and To Whom We are Joined

Zach with cakeMy husband and I had just ended a quite-active weekend of hosting our youngest grandson.  After weaving together a steady and exhausting variety of activities throughout the 48-hour period, it was pretty clear that his overall expectation of life’s goodness could be fairly well summarized by 3 phrases:  entertain me, entertain me more, and  entertain me with something new.

For a four year old, of course,  that’s nothing unusual.  Then I chuckled and felt like the Lord gave me a playful finger poke through the Spirit as I mused to myself,  That really isn’t such an unusual attitude even among people in the above-four crowd...and what about the above-twenty-four crowd….or thirty-four….or forty-four?  

I stopped there.  Any farther and that age will start getting too-close-for-comfort to my own.  It’s just a fact:  the entertain-me mindset does not necessarily end with the arrival of a fifth birthday.  Given today’s American culture, I suspect that a relatively small number of people would even dispute that pervasive influences both nurture and support a ready acceptance of shallow-and-never-ending distractions.  Cradle-to-grave rabbit-trails, you could say.

But there is a second edge to this issue to consider, rather like taking the time to thoroughly examine the full blade of a two-edged sword.  And it has to do with destiny.

I believe that as a people chosen of God, a people for God’s own possession according to the Apostle Peter, we are doing ourselves — and the Father who loves us and adopted us in to fellowship/relationship with Himself, the Son and the Spirit — a great disservice when we dally on any of these random trails for any length of time.  Phrased more simply, we are allowing ourselves to be cheated. Continue reading “Samson’s Mill and To Whom We are Joined”

Joy! Joy! We’re Part of the Dance!

I have become particularly fond of Christmas carols performed by Celtic Woman, this season.  And as New Year’s Day approaches, I know I am going to miss them.

It isn’t simply the lively music that captures my attention, but the sense of joy that often emanates as the notes, melodies, and rhythms are released.  This is music that engages you to toe-tap and clap with a joyous heart.  Like the most profoundly-worded and engaging carol, it extends an invitation to move from mere intellectual praise and acknowledgement into touching fingers and holding hands with our glorious God  — Emmanuel, God with us —  as an act of genuine worship.

Listening to the vigorous composition Join the Dance immediately sent my mind flying to two different “dance” references I have pondered at length.  The first is a book by theologian C. Baxter Kruger entitled The Great Dance and the other is a thought-provoking melody of a few decades ago, entitled  Lord of the Dance.

Of the very purposes of God and, subsequently, our core design in this life, Kruger has written, “When we start with the Trinity, the purpose of God in creation begins to emerge.  The very nature of God’s existence as Father, Son and Spirit is fellowship and shared life.  Every thought of this God–every idea and dream and act–is birthed out of this fellowship and bears its stamp.  The idea of creation does not arise in a vacuum of divine boredom or loneliness or sadness.  The idea of creation flows out of the glorious life shared by the Father, Son and Spirit.  If this God is going to create something, then it is quite ‘natural,’ so to speak, to do so for the purpose of sharing life.  And that is exactly the point.  The Father, Son and Spirit created the human race so that what they have together could be shared with us, so that their great dance of life could be extended to us and played out in our lives.  It is no accident that when the apostle Paul was grappling with the eternal purpose of God for humanity, he chose the word ‘adoption’ to describe it. (Ephesians 1:3-5)  The basic idea of adoption is to include.  It means that one who is foreign, outside the family circle, is drawn in grace and love, within the family circle.  And the purpose of that act of adoption is so that the outsider can share in the family’s  life.  The whole mind-boggling act of creation is driven by the desire to share the great dance with us.” *

Shared life, with the very One who designed both the life to share, and included us, with whom He desires to share it.  This is dynamic! Continue reading “Joy! Joy! We’re Part of the Dance!”

Jesus is Still Surprising People

During the summer I read an article that contained an amazing sequence of events that made it an unforgettable testimony.

In fact, the particulars of this testimony consistently draw me into contemplating just how out-of-the-box, non-judgmental, and meeting-people-where-they-are Jesus really is.  We — and by “we” I really do mean a generalized all of us who call Him Lord and walk in His counsel — so often form our concept of Jesus based on limitation.  Limitation as to what is appropriate in a situation….limitation as to “what we would do”….limitation as to whether or not there is already an example set in Scripture so we know it’s really Jesus at work.

In the article, author Mark Ellis describes “Nelly” as “an African woman living in southern Europe.”  She is severely afflicted by a brain tumor and has been diagnosed as terminally ill.  Nelly approaches Christian neighbors and asks them to assist her husband and young son after her passing. While they wholeheartedly agree to do so, both Christians encourage Nelly to pray to Jesus and seek Him for both help and healing — which she is reluctant to do, given her Muslim background and lifestyle. However, since the tumor had already debilitated her from engaging in usual Muslim prayer rituals she actually does follow her neighbors’ encouragement and prays to Jesus for the first time in her life.  Unexpectedly, He personally appears to her on the balcony and asks her a direct question in her native dialect:  what is it that she wants?


Hold that image in your mind — Jesus standing on the balcony, presumably quite recognizable to those familiar with His features, asking the woman what it is she seeks.  Does Nelly recognize that He — the One before her — is Jesus, to Whom she just prayed?  The documentation is silent on this issue.  However, despite her preparations to face the result of her terminally ill diagnosis, Nelly does not request healing.

She responds that the household has run out of cigarettes, and smoking tobacco helps dull the pain in her head.  Her logical request to Jesus, then, was to ask Him if He would provide cigarettes for her to smoke.

According to Ellis’ retelling, Jesus disappears from the balcony just as He appeared, and as Nelly goes into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee,  she opens the cupboard and makes an amazing discovery:  there on the edge of the shelf is a fresh, unopened  pack of cigarettes. Continue reading “Jesus is Still Surprising People”