Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Devotionals

I haven't had much time to write here lately, but look for my "lessons learned" from the semester over Christmas break. Meanwhile, if you are interested in some Christmas Devotionals -- there are twelve here, one for each day from December 14 to the 25th. You can find them here!

Have a blessed celebration of our Lord's birth!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


I'm being stretched thin -- there's no doubt about it.  This new venture I'm on (going back to school after 30 years) is no walk in the park.  Every day brings new challenges and sometimes I feel pulled in so many directions, I'm like a rubber band about to snap.
The thing I keep telling myself is that this is good, that it forces greater dependency on the Lord and will surely forge unprecedented growth.  And while these things are certainly true and have been my experience, there is still a strong urge within me to run back to the safety and security of the life I had, where the challenges were more defined and the answers easier to find.
I'd love to share more, but unfortunately I don't have time.  Writing here is regretably one of many good things I've had to let go of.  But I did get a chance to unpack this a little in a message to my home church a couple of weeks ago and wanted to let you know about that.  I called it Nixing the Naysayers, and for the most part, spoke about being my own worst critic, and most avid questioner...and what I'm learning to do about that.  You can hear the message if you're interested by clicking here.   (Just look below and click on the second message.)
Meanwhile, I pray you are being stretched a little too -- it really is good for the soul.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Growing Up at the 'Dewdrop Inn"

Growing up, my dad often jokingly referred to our home as the 'dewdrop inn' because of the never ending stream of people who would come by to stay an hour, a day, a week or a month or more.  It wasn't unusual on any given holiday for us each to invite a friend or two and not mention it, never realizing that our siblings had all done the same!  We didn't have a lot of money, but mom had amazing ways to make something out of almost nothing, or expand what she'd fixed to accommodate the extras that inevitably showed up at mealtimes.  Kind of like the story of the  'loaves and fishes; not only was there always enough to go around, but leftovers seemed to abound as well.

My reading in Matthew took me to that story again this morning, and as many times as I've read and studied it, the Lord spoke afresh to me as only He can.  It begins with Jesus telling the disciples that because He feels compassion for the crowds, He doesn't want to send them away hungry.  The men are perplexed, to say the least, immediately throwing out the impossibility of the situation :  Where would we get so many loaves  in a desert place to satisfy such a great multitude?

The simplicity of Jesus' response is what struck me.  He didn't preach a sermon on faith, or prod the disciples to trust Him  for great things.  He didn't remind them of all they had in Him, but instead, asked the question: How many loaves do you have?

Today I'm attending orientation for my PhD program at the University of San Diego, and it goes without saying that I am more than a little anxious.  The past couple of weeks as I walked the halls among the masses of teenagers and twenty-somethings to get mystudent ID card, as I've taken tutorials online to understand the library system (which has changed vastly in 30 years), as I've skimmed the Pocket Guide to APA Style and as I've read a series of articles required for my first class next week, my sense of inadequacy has only grown.  While I am excited about all I will learn and how I will grow, it is no false humility to say that this is going to stretch me like I've never been stretched before. God has led with each step of this journey, and I know without a doubt that He is fully sufficient, still, the question:  Am I up to the enormity of this? nags at me in my most quiet moments.

But this morning I think I heard the Lord asking me: How many loaves do you have? And I answered; Not many Lord.  But He asked again, and I felt as if He were telling me to lay it all out before Him -- not in spiritual platitudes or even blessed truths about His Spirit in me or my having His mind, but by looking honestly at my loaves -- those things that I have to bring to the table, so to speak, for this particular endeavor.  Well, Lord, I think I have a bit above average brain, but dont' share the brilliance I've seen in some folks in the program.  I have a hard work ethic that I've honed through the years of being a pastor's wife and a self-employed author.   I've developed some helpful skills and am comfortable with the writing process, and I love to do research and learn about all kinds of topics.  That's my loaves, as far as I can see.

Something happened though, as I went through the process of articulating these things before the Lord -- faith began to flood my soul until I almost laughed out loud.  Though the point from this story has surely been made ad infinitum, I knew in a deeper and more profound way that I serve a God who takes what I have -- whatever small part I can offer -- and multiplies it until there is more than enough to go around.  This is what I can count on in the days and years to come as I pursue this new venture.

When I was a young bride I asked my mom how she did it -- how she managed to take care of so many people, to feed all those unexpected mouths year after year.  She answered something about always having onion soup mix and spagetti noodles on hand, which didn't help me alot at the time, but I realized she'd had secrets and ways of working behind the scenes, that we were all unaware of as we happily filled our tummies and brought friends along to do the same through the years.  This morning as I sat before the Lord, I pondered the reality that He too has mysterious methods and unseen resources and it's going to be really fun to see how He will use them with what I've got to get the job done.  Now, instead of facing this day with low-grade dread, I'm feeling a growing sense of joyful anticipation.

Now if I can just figure out where the bookstore is...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Best Defense

In two weeks I will be embarking on an adventure that both thrills and terrifies me.  After being away from the academic arena for 30 years, I am returning to school to pursue my PhD.  While I am absolutely confident that God has led me each step of the way, I have been trying to come to terms with how very different that environment will be from the ministry I have thoroughly loved for three plus decades. The question I've pondered is, how will I radiate the heart of Christ and stand unapologetically for the truths of my faith, in a culture that at the very least, looks askance at people like me. 

This morning I read something intriguing about the early church that greatly encouraged me.  In his book, All the Saints Adore Thee, Professor Bruce Shelley notes that when believers were ignored, hated, persecuted and maligned in the first three centuries, they had only one defense -- the way they lived their daily lives.  Simply put, when others judged and condemned them for the absurdity of their faith, they held up the purity, simplicity and beauty of their own lives as evidence that the charges were ill-founded.  Shelly says that this was the most effective defense, because the pagan population simply could not deny it.

As I thought about this, I realized that growing up in a country that guarantees me the right to practice my religion has not offered much opportunity for this kind of defense.  Instead of having only my own life to testify of the validity of my faith, I and multitudes of other Christ-followers have held up our inalienable rights as citizens of a free country, asking only that we be given the fundamental respect our constitution demands.  The problem though, is that while this may work as a legal defense, it does nothing to impact the hearts of those who watch us from afar.  It may, in fact, drive the wedge of disdain even deeper.

For this reason I am excited about my new venture, albeit with a bit of fear and trepidation.  I realize that within the hallowed realms of academia, that the most effective defense of my faith, indeed, the most powerful promotion of my beloved Redeemer, will be how I live out my life in front of the very people who may reject me for it.

This reality brings me a great deal of peace.  In truth, though all the circumstances of my life are about to undergo a drastic revolution, I need only cling to the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ, as I have sought to do for decades now.  And by His grace, this will be not only my best defense, but the means by which I can display the beauty of His being and perhaps draw others to Him.

The following quote from a letter written by an anonymous believer in the early second century deeply moved me along these lines, and perhaps will encourage and challenge you as well:
They love all men, and by all men are persecuted.  They are unknown, and still they are condemned; they are put to death, and yet they are brought to life.  They are poor, and yet they make many rich; they are completely destitute, and yet they enjoy complete abundance.  They are dishonored, and in their dishonor, are glorified; they are defamed, and they are vindicated.  They are reviled, and yet they bless; when they are affronted, they still pay due respect.  When they do good, they are punished as evil doers; underoing punishment, they rejoice because thy are brought to life.  They are treated by the jews as foreigners and enmies, and are hunted down by the Greeks and all the time those who hate them find it impossible to justify their enmity. (The Letter to Diognetus, as quoted in Early Christian Fathers).
If indeed I do face enmity in this new venture, may those who reject me find it impossible to justify their enmity in light of the life I live.  This is the desire of my heart and will be my prayer with each new day.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Love You Forever

One of my favorite children’s books is Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch. In simple and humorous ways, Munsch depicts a mother’s love for her child from the time she first rocks her baby boy until he has become an adult with a daughter of his own. Through every awkward and frustrating stage that the boy goes through – whether flushing things down the toilet as a toddler or making endless messes as a boy or bringing home strange friends as a teenager – the mom simply cannot help sneaking into his room at night to look at him. And every time she does, she sings:

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
My baby you’ll be.

I read that book to my own sons again and again, singing the refrain (at times with tears), until they got too old and were no longer interested. I still have my dog-eared copy and thought of it this morning when I read Isaiah’s words;

Can a woman forget her nursing child,
And not have compassion on the son of her womb?
Surely they may forget,
Yet I will not forget you. (Isaiah 49:15)

Munsch’s book still moves me, perhaps because it touches on an ache in my heart that has never abated – that yearning to hold my children close, to encircle them with tender care, protecting, clinging, infusing them with love that stirs in me so strongly at times that I feel as if my heart might break wide open. It is hard for me to imagine that any mother wouldn't feel this way, that there are women who abandon their babies or abuse their young ones, or even withhold affection from children who need it most.

But this is precisely the point of God’s endearment in Isaiah. Though the love of a mother is a powerful force, it is never perfect and in the end cannot compare to the pulsating energy of Agapeo, the infinite love of God. As I pondered this, I began to imagine the Lord of the Universe, the great I AM, the transcendent ‘Other’ who holds the world together by His power -- watching me, wanting to hold me, aching to give expression to the love that fills His being. I find it almost impossible to wrap my mind around this mystery -- that the desire I feel for my kids is akin to a grain of sand on the seashore, when compared to the yearning God has to embrace me, His beloved daughter.

I read Munsch’s book again this morning and for a few moments found myself putting aside my failings from yesterday and my plans for success today. I stopped trying to figure how to be a more devoted Christ-follower; indeed I gave up every effort to be spiritual at all. I stopped everything and instead, let the Lord satisfy His own longing to hold me. And as I sat there in His embrace, I swear I heard Him singing:

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always.
As long as I’m living,
My baby you’ll be.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Tribute to My Husband

Today Joe and I are celebrating our 36th wedding anniversary in a peaceful hideaway on the Northern California Coast. I am awake early, watching the sun cast its gentle glow over the waves as they meander to the shore. While Joe sleeps in – a luxury that only vacations seem to afford – I am relishing the wonder of the love we have shared these many years. He is such gift to me, and once again I have given thanks while telling the Lord of how I’ll never understand why He chose to grant me the blessing of a life with this amazing man.

As I considered all the things I am grateful for about Joe, I found myself pondering the one thing I would like to tell him today. There are so many great qualities – he’s caring, gentle, hard-working, always a servant – the list goes on. But in the end, the one thing I will always be in awe of is the way Joe loves me without condition. I’m keenly aware of my weaknesses and irritating idiosyncrasies, and have ministered in enough troubled marriages to know that this is no small feat. I don’t know how he does it, but somehow my husband has always believed in me, expected wonderful things from me and cheered me on to greater challenges in character and accomplishment. Yet, there has never been one moment when I’ve felt the pressure to perform or the need to be something other than what I am. In all these 36 plus years, I have felt absolutely free to live in my own skin, warts and all. This is an astounding gift, and pure grace.

I share this private and precious reality because I realized that this quality in Joe so perfectly radiates the heart of Christ for us all. Jesus wants the best, believes the best, and expects the best from each of us, but never hits us over the head with it. He never withholds His love and affection because we aren’t living up to our potential or pursuing change with sufficient diligence. Our Lord simply walks beside us, fully accepting, always loving and gladly cheering us on with confidence; so that all we can do is respond with humble gratitude.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all grant such a gift to each other? This is the takeaway I hope you’ll get from my little tribute. Think of the people in your life today – how can you extend to them the full force of unwavering, expectant love, which has no strings attached? To be honest, this quality seems to have been a part of my husband since the day I met him, but it doesn’t come quite so easily for me. Still, I want to press into this more, for I believe it so deeply pleases the Lord who made us to display His glory in every relationship.

I’m off to spend the day with my beloved husband now. Joe, I hope I’ve honored you in some small measure with these words, although I’m well aware that public acclaim is the last thing you’re interested in. Still, happy anniversary love of my life – thank you with all of my heart for 36 incredible years.

Monday, June 7, 2010

I've Been Getting it All Wrong...

This morning I was skimming through a 1999 prayer journal and stopped short at a lengthy discussion I had with the Lord that went something like this::
"Lord, I feel like I am not doing enough for your kingdom and I need to know how I can be more diligent"
"I no longer call you servant, but friend."
"Yeah, I know Lord, but there are some decisions I need to make about my time and your work and..."
"Tricia, you are my friend. I have come to dine with you, and I'd like to just sit here awhile and enjoy your company, but you keep getting up to do the dishes."

As I read those words, I suddenly had an epiphany of sorts, which I want to share, but first I have a confession to make. I haven't enjoyed my focus on 'living intentionally' these first six months of 2010 and if I'm honest, haven't been very successful at the whole thing. For several days I've been frustrated at this, asking the Lord why it wasn't going so well, when I felt confident He had led me on this venture. He wasn't answering, that is, until I found the old journal entry.

So here was the epiphany: I've been focusing on being intentional about the wrong thing. For me, being intentional has meant trying to make the most of each day, looking for opportunities to accomplish the Lord's purposes -- from conversations to finances to time management and beyond. Now there's nothing inherently wrong in this, but somewhere in the process I slipped slightly off course and the things I felt I needed to do became front and center. What I really needed was to be intentional about pressing into my intimacy with Jesus, and letting everything else flow out of that.

This is so basic you'd think I'd have it down by now, but there you have it. I have had the cart before the horse, so to speak, and I suspect some of you have done the same thing.

As I've looked at 2010 and compared it to 2009, I realized that when I was passionate about learning how to 'live loved', I knew the joy of Jesus' presence, of His desire to be with me, and as a result, was eager to walk with Him throughout each day, looking for His hand, experiencing His heart. And in the process, I ended up being far more intentional than I've been this year, when I've been trying so hard to be intentional.

So here is my commitment for the next six months of 2010: I am going to be as intentional as I can to dine with Christ --to walk with Him, enjoy His presence, learn of His heart and feast on the riches of His grace. And as I do, perhaps all those areas of my life that I've purposed to put under His control, will find a more natural fit.

My step is lighter today and I feel like I've thrown off a nagging weight. We are leaving today for a week on the Northern California coast where there will be no cell phone coverage and limited internet. I plan to put my new resolution into practice as I stand on the rocky cliffs and gaze out at the sea. I can't wait. I'll let you know how it went when I come back -- until then, I hope you can rest a little easier too and enjoy being intentional about knowing Jesus.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I'm Putting My Foot Down

A couple of days ago I was on a morning walk when a dachshund came running out from between two cars, barking up a storm. I saw right away that he didn't have a leash, so I assumed he must have gotten out of his owner's yard. My first impulse was to simply ignore the little guy -- I mean, it was just a weener dog, after all. I walked on a few steps, meticulously avoiding eye contact, but that dog only got louder as he advanced further into the street.

I thought about kneeling down to see if the crazy canine wanted to make friends. I'm usually pretty good at that, having learned long ago that you just put out your down-turned hand and wait for them to come and sniff at their leisure. But by then he was growling like a surly teenager and didn't look at all like he cared to make my acquaintance. I could just see myself in an emergency room trying to explain how I got bit in the hand by someone's precious little pet.

It occurred to me to just keep walking and talk nicely with a calm voice, so I said something to the effect that I knew he was a good dog and his owner was going to miss him, so he needed to go home now. Apparently he didn't agree, because he came within a couple of feet, his whole body shaking as he barked angrily away.

Now all this happened in less than a minute's time, but I knew I had to do something quick or I wasn't going to win against this ferocious animal, so without even thinking I stopped in my tracks, looked him straight in the eye, stomped my foot and yelled at the top of my lungs: "You go home NOW."

Would you believe that dog immediately turned tail and ran like the dickens back into his own yard? Now I know where they got that saying, "all bark and no bite."

So this morning as I was praying about an area of struggle in my life, the memory of that dog came to mind. (God has always seemed to enjoy teaching me deep spiritual truths from my most inane life adventures and this was no exception.) As I waited before the Lord, it occurred to me that when it comes to certain besetting sins or strongholds, I will try everything under the sun to rid myself of them. I'll ignore them as long as I can, and when that doesn't work, I'll befriend them, trying to see their insidious effects in a more positive light. I'll hem and haw and justify and reason with myself until I'm blue in the face, but in the end, of course, none of this works.

Worst of all, I am clueless to the fact that this thing, whatever it might be, is at best slowing me down, and at worst stopping me completely from going forward in my spiritual journey. If truth be told, when it comes to dealing with my stuff -- whether sin or simply weakness -- there is always going to be a time when I'll have to get good and mad, put my foot down, and say 'enough is enough!' Anything else simply won't get me where I need to go.

So that's what I'm doing today--I'm looking at an area of weakness, as well as the evil one who capitalizes on it, and I'm stomping my feet and saying, "It's over", with all the authority I can muster in the power of God's Spirit! I'm not foolish enough to think the battle will be won quite as easily as my encounter with that dachshund, but I really do believe that greater victory is within reach as I continue to stand my ground.

Stay tuned -- I'll keep you posted on my progress. Meanwhile, watch out for menacing muts, who think they're 'all that'.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Grace is a River

Growing up in the church, I heard a lot about grace but to be honest, I never really got it.  I knew that it meant 'unmerited favor', which basically reminded me that Jesus had saved me out of the goodness of His own heart and not because of anything in me.  This is true.  But what I didn't understand for years was that grace is not only the favor of God in redeeming me, but also His kindness in giving me the ability -- the power and strength and motivation -- to live out my life as a Christ follower.  Once I really saw this, grace became my lifeline and took on a beauty in my heart that I am hard pressed to even explain.

So yesterday I was re-reading Brother Lawrence's The Practice of the Presence of God and something he wrote literally upended my day.  It read:
But when He finds a soul penetrated with a lively faith, He pours into it His grace and favors plentifully.  There they flow like a torrent, which, after being forcibly stopped against its ordinary course, when it has found a passage, spreads itself with impetuosity and abundance.
Suddenly I envisioned grace as a river, flooding into my soul, looking for places to run.  I was overcome with that image of an impetuous force, determined to break down every barrier so that it can go where it wants to go.  I know that there is debris in my heart that can hinder the flow -- things like indifference or unbelief or worldliness or sinful practices -- but still this torrent presses relentlessly and I feel the weight of it.   Grace, it seems, will find a way.

Grace is a river, a mighty rushing river looking for places to run in me.  I feel as if I ought to be able to burst out in song here!  Do you see?  Instead of God's favor or enabling power being something He waits on high to pour out until I ask, or get my ducks in a row, His grace is just there, pulsing through my heart, pressing against every obstacle.  And the simplest of acts -- things like a word of faith, a small turning, a moment of worship, a whisper of love, or a cry for help -- will release the flow into yet another tributary.

Amazing grace!  May we bow in wonder as it surges through our souls.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

You're not the boss of me! Really?

The house was blissfully still as I lay on the couch resting from our family Easter celebration.  Kids, grandkids and dear friends had long gone home, the leftovers were wrapped, dishes dried and put away, Joe was in bed, and I was alone.   Just me, and a basket of foil wrapped European chocolate eggs.  For three weeks, they’d politely decorated my dining room table but now they were rudely calling my name.  Like clanging cymbals.  Spellbound, my eyes glazed over and my mouth watered as I entertained the notion of eating one.  I succumbed.  Then I ate another and another and pretty soon I’d downed six of the things.  If I hadn’t started feeling sick, I’d probably have eaten the entire basket full.

This morning, awash in self-recrimination, I repented yet again for my lack of self-control, and to be brutally honest, the sin of gluttony.   As I picked up my journal to write, a card fell out – some notes I’d taken several weeks ago from an article that suggested that our will is not some independent entity doing what it wants, but instead relies completely on cues from other sources.   This was news to me -- I’ve always seen my will as akin to an angry two year old, stomping her feet and shouting, “You’re not the boss of me!”  We were at war, and I was the one who lost far too often.  But if I can’t blame my will for making me chomp down those chocolates last night, what did?  Or perhaps more aptly put; who or what is the boss of me?

The more I thought about it, I the more I realized that the will is pliable, that it is shaped by the things that seek to tell it what to do.  Of course we’ve had a lifetime of these cues, which means that our wills do have a certain bent – but that doesn’t mean they are on their own.  Here are a few things I suspect serve to influence my will.

My Mind: Not only do my thoughts directly influence my choices, but they create feelings that actively mold my will.  For example, for most of my life I have seen sweets as a reward for good behavior (hmm – wonder where that idea comes from?).  So last night when I was tired and feeling a little let-down, I suddenly felt I deserved those eggs.  I won’t even begin to bore you with my thought processes, but believe me, they became a well-fortified defense against any logical thinking.  Unfortunately, far too often this kind of emotional interchange gives shape to the actions I take.  (Romans 12:2)

My Body:  Our bodies have certain needs that express themselves in things like hunger or thirst.  These influence our wills to make choices to satisfy those needs, but they are not always the best choices.  I wish I could blame the chocolate on healthy hunger, but I’d had far too much to eat that day.  In essence, my feelings overrode anything my body might have been trying to say – like, you’re not really hungry, are you?  Of course this is how addictions form and take on a life of their own. (Romans 6:16)

Other people: When I am attached to the opinions of others, I make decisions on that basis.  My will acts, therefore, in response to my desire to receive attention or affirmation.  I hate to think how often this happens. (Proverbs 29:25)

The evil one: Obviously Satan or one of his cohorts is always trying to influence us – he had the gall to try it with Jesus himself, so I’d best not think I’m exempt from the pressures the forces of darkness put on my pliable will.  That would be the worst sort of naiveté.  (Ephesians 4:27)

My heart:  What I mean here, is the entity that makes me who I really am, the person God created me to be.  This is the hub where His Spirit and mine commune, and from there come  impressions, nudges, intuitions, messages, yearnings and callings that have the power to shape my will into something God-honoring and joy-producing.  (Proverbs 3:1-6)

That’s my list – you might add others, but it seems to me that our lives as Christ-followers must be ones in which we seek ever more consistently to filter our choices through our hearts before we act.  Of course this requires us to live with a greater awareness of what our heart – that place of authenticity and spiritual life at the core of our being – might have to say about the things we want to do or say.  In a sense, this means letting God be the gatekeeper of our will, enabling Him to shape it as He desires.

Some might say that the choice to let Him do this is an act of my will, but I prefer to think of it as an act of grace instead.   In my heart of hearts, I long to follow Jesus, to be the person He made me to be, the one who brings Him honor and lives for His pleasure.  So when I seek to make Him the director of my will, it isn’t me that is choosing, but the grace of God in me (1 Corinthians 15:10). The key then, is to learn how to better tap into that fountain of divine enabling that ever flows from His heart to mine.

What might the other night have looked like, had I done so?  I might not have eaten a single egg, but then again, I might have had one after all, savoring each bite, giving thanks for the wonder of chocolate and enjoying the Giver of all good gifts.  I’d have known that to eat more would have been turning my will over to the tyranny of emotions that were up to no good.  And I’d have woken the next morning with a nice memory of the end to a lovely day instead of a load of guilt and an extra pound to work off.

In the end, living intentionally always comes back to the same thing for me – walking in intimate communion with Jesus, taking it moment by moment and learning from the One who is gentle and humble in heart; who takes great pleasure in shaping my will so that I can live out the destiny He planned before the foundation of the world.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Paul Harvey, well known American radio commentator, is famous for revealing surprise endings to unusual stories and little-known facts about popular news items.  He ends every broadcast with the now-famous line;  “And that my friends, is the rest of the story.”  What might Mr. Harvey say about the nondescript Jew from Nazareth who died on a cross 2000 years ago?  Perhaps it would go something like this:
On the third day after his death, Jesus of Nazareth miraculously arose, culminating the fulfillment of over 300 prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures.  He appeared at least ten times to those who knew Him, and to as many as 500 people at one time. This was no short-lived hallucination on the part of fanatic followers.  He ate with them, exhorted and encouraged them and let doubters touch the holes in His body from the spear and nails. After 40 days He ascended into the clouds in plain view of all, accompanied by angels who promised He would come again one day just as he had left.

What of the other participants in the drama of Christ’s death?  The high priest Annas continued a tradition of greed and repression.  He raised money by extortion and bribed Roman procurators, all while proclaiming to represent God.  Early records reveal his tomb near the south wall of Jerusalem by the late ‘60s.

Annas’ son-in-law, Caiaphas, enjoyed the longest reign of any chief priest in the first century.  He remained a shrewd strategist and politician, enabling his lengthy regime.  His family tomb was recently discovered on the south wall of Jerusalem. 

 Herod Antipas, the Jewish tetrarch, cultivated his friendship with the Roman emperor Tiberius, even building a town in his honor.  All the while he sought to expand his own authority, secretly craving the kind of rule his father, Herod Agrippa had known.  In AD39 he was found guilty of treason and banished to Lyones, stripped of all wealth and power.  He and his wife Herodias died later in Spain.
In Pilate’s 10 year reign, he had numerous conflicts with the Jews.  One time he overstepped his bounds, having hundreds of Samaritan Jews executed by Roman soldiers.  Ordered to return to Rome, he never arrived.  Tradition states that while on the way there, he committed suicide, not willing to face a Roman trial.  The only physical evidence of Pilate’s existence is some coins depicting pagan sacrifices, produced with his name during his rule in Jerusalem.

The accusers and mockers of Jesus Christ are gone, little more than a footnote in history.  In fact, none of them would be worthy of mention were it not for their role in His death.  

Yet those who followed Christ made an amazing comeback after He arose.  The small band who were too afraid to even attend the crucifixion, were transformed at Pentecost when Jesus poured out His Holy Spirit upon them.  Though they faced greater danger and rejection than ever, and in fact all but one were martyred for their faith, they turned the world upside down with their fervor to spread the truth about their Master.

Jesus Christ of Nazareth completely altered the course of history.  Even a casual glance at a calendar affirms the reality of his existence 2000 years ago. Everything points to the time before He lived or the time after His death.  Today, the Christian religion spans the globe, continuing to impact people from every tribe and nation.

No one has ever changed individual lives like Jesus of Nazareth.  No one has ever affected the world order like Jesus of Nazareth.  He is not only the most unique person of all time, but through the power of His resurrection, continues to put hope in the hearts of those looking for life’s true meaning.

Perhaps one of the most apt descriptions of Jesus is found every year on Christmas cards all over the world.  The author is anonymous, but the words powerful:

Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone and today He is the center-piece of the human race and the leader of the column of progress.  I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched and all the navies that ever were built, and all of the parliaments that ever have sat, and all the kings that ever reigned put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life, Jesus of Nazareth.

And that my friends, is the rest of the story.

Reprinted by permission. Contemplating the Cross: a Forty Day Pilgrimage of Prayer, Tricia McCary Rhodes, 2004, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee. All rights reserved. Copying or using this material without written permission from the publisher is strictly prohibited and in direct violation of copyright law.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

I Never Really Got This Before

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day in Holy Week that focuses on the wonder of Jesus washing our feet in preparation for Good Friday. I have been trying to be more intentional about making every day this week uniquely holy, no easy feat given the busyness of Easter preparations and life in general.  But this morning as I pondered anew the moment when Jesus cried out: My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?  I saw something I never really got before.

I've often been moved by the reality that when Jesus took on the sins of the world, He experienced all the consequences of our nasty rebellion as well.  But what hit me today was that the greatest fallout from sin is the severing of our souls from the Source of our being, the tearing asunder of who we are from the only One who really knows, the God who made us for His pleasure.

This is the pathos that festers like an open sore within the human psyche and echoes endlessly in the black hole of existence without our Maker.  In lonely glances and lustful intents, in vacant stares and hollow hopes, in bitter grief and tortuous sleep, in the agony of abandonment and the awfulness of abuse, the reminder that we are alone torments every person on planet earth.  From this agony there is no escape.  We are born into a world of sorrow, separated from the only One who can bring order to the chaos, healing to the brokenness, and meaning to our empty days.  Could there be any greater pain?

This, I believe, is what Jesus chose to endure in those final moments of Golgotha's glory.  Most people say that when Jesus cried out My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?, it was because the Father could not look upon the sin that saturated His Son's being, but this explanation falls far too short.   The truth is that Jesus could have changed things even then, drawing from His Deity to deliver Him and restore in an instant His Father's embrace.   Instead, He chose to take on not only our sin, but this detritus of desperation that has always followed in its wake.   

The Cross has confounded me once again.  What else can I do but fall on my face and worship?.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Chelsea King -- When the Heavens Seem Silent

For those who don't live here in San Diego, Chelsea King was a precious 17 year old girl who was abducted and murdered in a popular community park in upscale Rancho Bernardo last week.  From the moment her parents discovered her empty car in the parking lot well after the time she should have been home, and knew something had gone awry, prayer began to ascend to the heavens for her safe return.  Word went out rapidly via email and text, and groups sprang up everywhere -- from vigils at the high school to huddles of moms in homes to churches across the nation on Sunday morning.  We all held out hope against hope that she would be found alive, even after they arrested a suspect.  Sadly, Chelsea was probably killed long before the first prayer was uttered on her behalf.

What was God doing?  What was happening in the heavens as untold numbers cried out?  These are difficult things, troubling situations that are impossible to understand or explain without running the risk of being cliche or insensitive or deepening the wounds that are still so very raw and painful for those who loved Chelsea.  This is surely not the time for bystanders to opine with pat answers.

But as it turns out, in the study I'm doing in Matthew this week, Jesus addresses the issue of prayer, exposing a critical myth.  Simply put, it is the notion that our ability to get God to hear us is related to something we do.  In the particular case He mentions, people supposed that the more they repeated their prayers, the better their chance that God would hear and answer. Eugene Peterson interpreted Jesus' words this way:

The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They're full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don't fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need.  (Matthew 6:7-9)

From there, Jesus goes on to offer the simple model prayer that most of us learned to recite as children.  The implications here are far-reaching.  I, for example, am ever prone to think that the words I say, or the amount of times I ask, or even the number of people I can get to agree with me in prayer will determine whether God responds or not. As I, like many others, have been consumed by the tragedy of Chelsea King, I realized that there may be those who struggle even now with the fact that the heavens seemed mute when there were literally thousands of requests that went up daily for Chelsea's safety. Frankly, it can be easy to get disillusioned with prayer, and perhaps even God himself when these things happen.

Years ago I wrote a book called Intimate Intercession, in which I set out to take a look at some tough questions.  What makes God answer some prayers and not others?  Why does He tell us to keep asking and seeking and knocking, if He isn't moved by the number of our words?  Why does He call us to persist in prayer, yet offer no fail-proof promise that when we do, we will get the things we ask for?  In the end, I was compelled to begin the book by confessing that I simply did not have the all the answers I had hoped to find.

The fact that there were thousands praying for Chelsea cannot possibly mean God was more inclined to care about her family than the plethora of parents in Haiti for whom no one had time to intercede as they watched their children die in the earthquake.  A God of compassion, His heart has surely hurt for them all.  Why the answers did not come is something hidden for now from human understanding -- for us to claim otherwise would be the worst kind of presumption.

But there are some things I know -- that God is sovereign, that He is good, that He does hear and answer prayer and that He desires to involve us in the process of accomplishing His purposes through intercession and supplication. Still, trying to put all these things together in some kind of a neat package is a dangerous endeavor. What I am convinced of however, is that God wants us to come to Him, in fact He yearns for us to unveil our hearts in His presence and share with Him our deepest needs, even though, as Jesus pointed out, He already knows what they are. And should He choose to answer in the way we have hoped for, it is always out of the bounty of His grace and goodness and eternal wisdom -- never because of how well we manage to order our prayer lives. 

So let us keep praying -- for Chelsea's mother and father and younger brother and all those who have been personally affected by her passing.  Let us pray for the teenagers who are asking questions about the meaning of life and for the community that has come together in a way many say is unprecedented.  And let us not forget to pray for the salvation of John Albert Gardner and for his parents who have had to flee the area -- they too must be unimaginably devastated.  And as we pray, may we draw near to the heart of our God who though we may not always understand, surely waits to offer solace to all who come to Him in this time of desperate need.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Loving the Poor?

I can't even remember what his face looked like as he stood there on the side of the road with his sign, asking for money, but he left me with a growing unease, a sense of a missed opportunity.  You know the type -- men and women and sometimes children, an ever growing pool of people who for reasons God only knows, have become desperate enough to stand for hours with their hands out while the world passes by, hoping for the bounty of a few generous souls.

I have to be honest with you -- I never know quite what to do with these folks.  Do I give them money when people who work with the homeless say it will likely be spent on drugs or alchohol?  I feel cynical about their stories and wonder how needy they really are or what they've tried to do to get themselves out of the mess they are in.  I don't like this about myself at all, but there you have it.  Add that to the practicalities -- I don't have cash, or any small bills with me or the light is turning green too fast or I'd have to turn around and take time out of my very cramped schedule -- you know the drill.  The result is I almost never end up helping them.

But this is the Lenten season when I am seeking to "divide my bread with the hungry", to "cover the naked" and not hide myself from fellow human beings (Isaiah 58).  And this is the month I am studying the Sermon on the Mount and my verse for today was: Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.  And this is the year I am seeking to be intentional to listen to those nudges of the Holy Spirit and to do what He impresses me to do.  The problem is that by the time I've gone through all the remonstrations in my mind, the opportunity is gone and I have no idea what the Lord might have wanted me to do. 

The next day Joe and I drove past a young woman I have often seen in our local strip mall holding a sign that says "Family hungry -- will you help?"  I told Joe my story and struggle, and before we'd gone a block there was another woman, only this time she was a lot older and our car was stopped at the light right beside her and Joe had a ten dollar bill and I handed it to her with a huge sigh of relief.  I don't know if the Lord was leading me or not, but I knew I had to do something.  We started talking seriously then about this and concluded that we really need to have a plan in place if we want to be available for Jesus to use us as He wills.  I remembered that our missionary friends in Bangladesh prayerfully budget a certain amount of money for beggars (the streets are literally lined with them there), and then keep that amount in the car so they are ready to give at any moment they feel led.  Why couldn't we do the same?  There's a young mother in our church who has her kids help mer make up zip-loc bags with water, granola bars etc. so that she is always ready to help.  What if I did something like that?

This morning my study in Matthew led to many other verses that echoed God's heart for the poor.  I realized that being intentional often means planning ahead so that I can be at His disposal in the moment.  Two passages I read spoke clearly to this:

Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.   2 Corinthians 9:7

Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share. 1 Timothy 6:18

I want to be ready to share, to have purposed in my heart to give, so that when opportunities come up -- whether on the side of the road or elsewhere -- I can joyfully respond as the Lord leads.  I've decided to make up some of those zip-loc bags and instead of money, put McDonalds gift cards in them.  Each month I'll put together as many as I can, based on how much money the Lord has impressed me to be ready to share in these kinds of spontaneous expressions.  I'm heading out to Walmart today!

But more importantly, I'm praying that in the process the Lord gets ahold of my heart and I can begin to really see what He sees and feel what He feels, so that I can love  those who suffer the kind of need that drives them to the streets for help with the kind of love He has for them.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lessons from the Water Faucet

I have been frustrated the past few days.  Though I've started out each morning with desire to make a difference by being more intentional about the things I did and said, at the end of each day I couldn't see much fruit.  Frankly, my New Year's resolution had begun to feel more like the finger of failure, pointing accusingly in my face.

This came to a head yesterday as I went to a shower for a neighbor.  I felt certain this would be a great chance for God to use me as I interacted with people from all walks of life, most of whom have no relationship with Him.  And though I kept asking Him for guidance, no doors seemed to open and as I left I felt like all I'd done was socialize with small talk.  So much for being intentional...

But as I went to bed exhausted from a very busy weekend, I remembered a story I heard a long time ago by an old preacher from the South named Ron Dunn.  We first heard this beloved man when we were in college, and though he has gone on to be with the Lord, his legacy lives on in my heart and many others.  So this morning I did an internet search and found a website with sermons, articles and other stuff.  I was amazed to find the story, and knew I needed to share it with you. Dunn wrote:

Until a few years ago I worried a great deal about whether or not I as a pastor was doing enough for the Lord. If I had one of those days of just answering letters and administrating, I would lie in bed at night saying, “Lord, I haven’t even witnessed to a single person today; I was so busy doing these little things.” There was always too much work to do, and I lived in a constant rush, giving hardly any time to my family.

But one day as I walked into the kitchen, I noticed that the water faucet was looking a bit discouraged. When I asked what the problem was, the water faucet said, “Well, I am really down because I know I have failed you today, master. I haven’t washed your hands once, I haven’t quenched your thirst once, I tried to turn myself on, but only squeezed out a few drops. I know that you are displeased with me.”

“Water faucet,” I said, “I have passed by you a hundred times today. If I had wanted you to quench my thirst or wash my hands, I would have turned you on. I don’t want you turning yourself on − you’ll just waste water and make a mess. You have been a pleasure to me today because you have been available. I don’t measure your faithfulness by how much water you pour out in a day. I measure your faithfulness by your availability.”

You know what? I can come to the end of a day now and say, “Lord, I didn’t do such and such today, but I was available, and if You had wanted to use me in that way, You could have.” It is such a peace, such a relief. I’ve come to that great discovery that no matter how hard I work, I will always be behind, so why worry? God is not my responsibility. I am His responsibility.
I  hope that encourages you -- it has me.  Though I am still going to press into being intentional with the Lord, I realize that the best way to do that is to simply be available.  The rest, I'm relieved to say, is up to Him.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Didn't See it Coming

Lent really crept up on me this year -- I just didn't see it coming.  I have been observing this in different ways for the past 15 years, and have always taken the time ahead to pray, plan and prepare. I didn't have that luxury this time and as the day approached I felt restless and uncertain about what I might do.  Liquid fast?  Fast from sweets?  Media? Nothing was really landing until last night as Joe and I were talking about it, and suddenly I just knew.  Before I share it, let me say that there is great peace in this whole 'being intentional' thing, knowing that where I am weak, God will more than compensate, because He is always intentional, and is always working in my life. 

This was clear when the idea for my Lenten fast came last night.  While I'd been oblivious to the fact that the day was approaching, God wasn't.  In His sovereign grace, He has been using several things in my life to prepare me anyway.  From a sermon Joe preached a couple of weeks ago to my study in Matthew to memorizing the beatitudes, one theme has resounded loud and clear and that is God's heart for people, in particular those who suffer great need.   He brings this home in a message to the Israelites on the subject of fasting, where He describes the kind of fast that brings Him pleasure:
"Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Isaiah 58:6-7
Of course as believers, this is what it means to bring the kingdom to earth, and as such is our privilege as a way of life.  But for the next 40 days I am going to seek to be far more intentional about doing this.  For example, Joe and I decided we wouldn't eat out or buy anything beyond basic needs so that we will have more to give away.  Beyond that, I am asking God to open my eyes every day, no matter where I am or what I am doing, to the needs of people around me -- even those in my own home.  And when the Lord answers, I want to act as His Spirit leads -- in prayer, service or simple words of kindness.  My mind is already racing with other ideas of things I can do to be pro-active about this.

So this year, as I focus on Christ's death and resurrection once again, I believe I am going to experience Christ's presence in amazing new ways.  This is His promise:
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, 'Here I am.'
I can't wait!  So what are you doing this Lent?

Monday, February 15, 2010

This Surprises Me

I've had an epiphany of sorts this morning.  As I was praying about my week and looking back on yesterday, I asked the Lord how 'intentional' I'd really been.  I pondered the three parts of our resolution -- delighting in God, dialoguing with Him throughout the day, and doing the things His Spirit impresses me to do -- and I realized that I fail most with that middle part -- dialoguing with Him.  I've become fairly habitual about talking to God, but so often fail to connect with that inner voice where He whispers His heart back to me.  What is it then that keeps me from being more intentional?  I simply forget to listen to the Lord.

This surprises me because I thought my struggle was in the 'doing' His will.  It also gives me hope for I realize that my heart does really want to follow His call and do His will -- this is really who I am.  So I am asking for a greater grace to listen today, to hear His desires as I go about the business of life.  And that means more intimacy -- isn't His plan beautiful?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A 60-Second Valentine Dessert to Die For

So this has absolutely nothing to do with living intentionally, unless you failed to be intentional about planning a special Valentine treat for your loved ones. As  was driving today, the radio was tuned to gourmet chef Melinda Lee, and she gave this speedy recipe for a chocolate mousse that sounded divine.  Since I happened to have all the ingredients here I decided to make it for Valentine's day.  I just finished, and although I haven't tasted the chilled product, I licked the spoon enough to know it was heavenly for anyone who loves chocolate and has a blender handy.  And that's when I knew I had to share it with you.  So here goes:

Ingredients: 6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips, 1 egg, 1 tsp. vanilla and 1 cup of heavy cream.  

Put the cream on low heat -- you want it to get to the point where it is bubbling around the edges, but not full boil.  Meanwhile, put the chips, the egg and vanilla in the blender and chop it up for a minute or so.  When the cream is bubbling, take the center of the lid off the blender and while you blend on low, start slowly pouring the cream in.  This will cook the egg and melt the chocolate and within a minute you are done!  Pour it into a large bowl or several small ones -- I filled 5 small souffle ramikins.  Chill until it is set -- that's it!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Intentional means Unpredictable

I love it when God crashes in and shows Himself faithful in undeniable ways.  Our first car crisis -- that of the young woman living with us -- was solved quickly by an ex-mechanic friend who came here, discovered the problem and fixed it for free.  It was truly a testimony to her of God's provision, something she sorely needed as she shared with me how she completely 'freaked out' when she'd gone to bed the night before.  This opened the door for us to talk quite a bit about what faith is, and how to live by it, instead of always scrambling to find a way to make things work, often to our own detriment.  My heart was overwhelmed as I saw her tear up -- a rarity -- over God's care for her.  I know He deposited something important in her life through the experience.

Our son's car, on the other hand, is definitely headed for the junkyard.  And I'm now the one trying to remember how to live by faith.  The Lord has impressed Joe and I with the need to wait and not try to solve the problem for him too quickly.  Not that we have some great plan -- it's just that I really like to line up all my ducks, and tend to be pretty resourceful about coming up with solutions.  But this Living Intentional resolution -- to delight in the Lord daily, to dialogue with Him throughout the day, and do the things He impresses me to do -- swirls around like a song I can't get out of my mind.  Life this way is certainly unpredictable.

And so we wait...and that for me brings all manner of temptation to fear the worst-case scenarios. (He'll lose his job, he'll sink into terrible depression, he'll live with us forever -- you get the point).  Then of course that leads to all kinds of self-recrimination (people are hungry and homeless in Haiti and you can't handle a little problem like this?)

I wish I were far more spiritual, but this is where I'm at. I woke up at 4:30a.m. wrestling with what in the world is going to happen, especially the first day he has to start taking the long bus ride that involves a few transfers, just to get to work.  If I could plot a different path, I would -- but then I would miss out on what God wants to teach me, and the joy of seeing His faithfulness in a different way, over time.  He's never failed us yet -- isn't that the lesson I wanted these kids to learn?

Monday, February 8, 2010

It's Gonna Cost You, but What a Ride!

Yesterday as we came home from church eager to watch the Super Bowl (Go Saints!), a car belonging to a young woman who lives with us was parked sideways across our cul-de-sac.  She and a few of her friends -- some young local marines-- were trying to  figure out how a nail in a tire could have ended so badly. Apparently, her car's brake system froze up when she tried to drive with the spare on it.  Now it wouldn't go forward or backward.  Joe had them put the original tire back on, we prayed a lot, and were finally able to get the car, squealing all the way, up to the curb once again.

Last night Joe and I were processing how we could help this young woman who has no money, no job and no options to get this car fixed.  Why are we in this predicament?  Because a few years ago I sensed the Holy Spirit nudging me to find a way to minister to those in prison.  Little did I know the paths my 'yes' was going to take me.  To make a long story short, a beautiful young woman who came to Christ through our ministry there needed a place to stay when she got out, and once again, there was that nudge of the Spirit.  That's what happens when you choose to follow Jesus -- one thing is always going to lead to another, (which may explain why I so often find myself resisting those initial urges).

Honestly though, it has been a joy to have her here.  Watching her try to navigate her new life -- enrolling in school, trying to get a job, etc. -- has opened my eyes to the numbers of young people, who for all practical purposes have no parents to look out for them as they seek to enter adulthood.  This young woman left home because of abuse as a 13 year old, fending for herself and using every means possible to get by in this world, which basically explains how she ended up in the brig. 

So last night I was lamenting to Joe that if this were our own child, we would find a way to get the car fixed and what in the world do these thousands of parent-less children do when life throws them a curve ball like this?  I believe I was really feeling the Lord's heart in that moment, but we still weren't sure what we were to do, primarily because we had no idea what the thing might cost and whether we could even manage it if we wanted to.

This morning my words came back to haunt me when our 23 year old son, (who lives with us so he can get out of debt) called to say his car had caught on fire on the freeway.  Thankfully he managed to get it to the side of  the road and get himself out without injury, but it looks like that trusty toyota corolla may be headed for the junkyard.  You have to smile at the irony of the whole thing, if only to keep from crying.

What's amazing is the amount of calm I feel about all of this.  After the initial shock, I began to realize that this is an opportunity for us all to watch how God will work.  I've seen His faithfulness all my life, but these two young people haven't, and I know He wants to show them His love and trustworthiness.  I'm looking forward to the process, even as I realize this is going to cost us, one way or the other.

And that's the thing about being intentional, about listening to the Lord's voice and living in intimate communion with Him.  This journey with Jesus has a price, but oh what a ride He takes us on! And I, for one, wouldn't have it any other way.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Valentine Cookies and Christ's Reign

"What are the areas where Jesus does not have full reign in your heart?"

This is the question the Holy Spirit has been pressing gently upon me as I've studied Matthew.  Thankfully, this hasn't been a frustrating, guilt-ridden activity like it once could have been.  Instead, I've found it intriguing, even when the Spirit spoke the word, "food" and I knew I was in for it.  Eating healthy has always been a struggle for me.  First of all, I hate the taste of anything green, unless it's mint chocolate chip ice cream.  Second, for all sorts of social, familial, emotional and physical reasons I am addicted to sugar. I have spent no small amount of time and money trying to overcome this. I even wrote my own personal blog for a few months once, trying to hold myself accountable.

But as I've been pondering the promise that the kingdom of heaven is near, it came to me that the truth is I've never really BELIEVED that this was hindering the joy of Christ's reign in my heart.  And I want THAT JOY more than anything else. 

The kingdom is near, so why do I miss it in various areas of my life?  It all comes down to the issue of repentance, a topic which has been sorely misunderstood in our Christian culture.  So here are a few truths I've been processing, and which are helping me press into this with hope:
  • Repentance is not so much a decision, but a process. There is that initial decision to turn around, but that is only the first step.
  • There is a highway in my heart that either opens the way for Jesus to go deeper or hinders me from fully receiving Him in fresh ways. I must  travel that road first, rooting out rocks, smoothing rough places.  This is the process of repentance.
  • Change has to happen in attitudes and actions and change takes time.  I haven't stopped repenting just because I've failed.  I only stop repenting when I give up completely.  But even then I can always begin again! Altering life-long habits and attitudes (which is the biggest part of it for me), never happens all at once.
  • Everything is possible only by grace, and thus repentance is no self-improvement program, but a way to allow Jesus  to work for His glory and our joy.
I have a whole new appreciation for John's call to "Repent, for kingdom of heaven has come near."   That I can experience more and more of the reign of Christ is an awesome and holy truth, for His rule is my joy, even when I may not feel it.  It is.  This is what I reminded myself last night when I helped my grandkids decorate Valentine cookies and was sorely tempted to stuff my mouth with those frosting laden beauties.  But now that I've shared with you, I guess there's no turning back-- and that's a good thing!

Thursday, February 4, 2010


"So, what did you do today, hon?" my husband asked as I put the finishing touches on dinner.  I proceeded then to outline all I'd accomplished -- cleaned house, 4 loads of laundry, grocery shopping, cleaned out a cupboard and fixed dinner.  I was feeling pretty proud of how industrious I'd been, but apparently it didn't make too much of an impression on him, because as we sat down to eat, he asked me again, "So what did you do today?"

I can't really blame him for not being wowed by my achievements, but this morning as I sit here with the Lord I am pondering what it means to be intentional in the midst of life's never-ending mundane moments.  Sitting here, I've realized that the day actually had a great gain for me due to the fact that while I was cleaning and folding laundry, I listened to some messages from John Piper's conference on Christian Hedonism.  (When I want a jolt in my spirit, there's nothing like John Piper!)  See for yourself by clicking here.

Piper's message was on C.S. Lewis' life and passion.  It spoke of how Lewis explored deeply the 'inconsolable longing' for joy that is within every person -- which nothing in this world can satisfy.  This longing is what actually drew Lewis to Christ.  These things were not new, but what washed over me like a fresh rain as I listened was the caution to not make an idol of joy, which can so easily happen when we put our eyes on how we feel or what we are experiencing of Christ, instead of His inherent worth and beauty.  Simply put, the message was a good reminder that I need to be very INTENTIONAL about remaining Christ-centered even in my desire to have tangible intimacy with Him.

I could go on and on, but the point I'm trying to share here is that a simple decision to spend my cleaning time listening to a message, brought me to a hugely transforming and much needed reality.  It was a little thing to do, a small burst of intentionality, but with great benefit for my soul. 

Now if I'd only shared that with Joe, he might have been a bit more impressed...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


In my desire to be more intentional, I've begun listening to sermons online while I put on my makeup.  Yesterday I heard one on New Year's resolutions that was pretty discouraging.  According to the research, not too many people make them anymore, and of those who do, only about 8% make it past the FIRST WEEK!!!

I only have one word in response: GRACE.  I will not succeed in living more intentionally because I made a resolution to do so, but because my Heavenly Father is the One who put the idea in my heart and will thus give me the grace to continue.  What this means practically is that when I've failed for a day or two or even a week or month, my only recourse is to come to Him in my weakness and ask for greater grace.  The beauty is that He loves to give it, that He waits on high to be gracious to us (Isaiah 30:18). 

And by His grace, I plan to beat the odds.  How about you?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Haven't Changed the World Yet

I was leaving my gym on Wednesday and one of my classmates was waiting on the sidewalk.  I said goodbye and headed to my car when a small voice inside said, ,"Maybe she needs a ride."  Immediately I went through the mental gymnastics of a hummingbird on speed.  What if she needs a ride everyday?  What if I'm going to have to be her transportation?  How can I do that, given my time constraints? Do You want me to invest in her life?  Am I ready for another relationship?  On and on it went in the space of 15 seconds -- amazing, isn't it?

Finally that little voice said, "Just offer her a ride."  So I did.  She didn't need one after all -- she was waiting for a friend. 

I share that because I think it is going to be fairly normal as I seek to live intentionally.  It isn't that I'm going to be scaling the heights of radical obedience and changing the world in the process in 2010.  I can romanticize that idea and spend the entire year telling myself I'm ready for the BIG CALL.  But I'm guessing that far more often the Lord will simply be nudging me to do some small thing.  No glamour, no grand sacrifice -- just little acts of obedience, which Jesus said was way better in the end.

 To be honest, I wish I were far more holy about this.  Will I ever get to the point where those mind games don't have to happen before I simply say "Yes"?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Thanks for Holding Me Accountable

For the last few days I've wanted to post some thoughts here but knew I needed to get my Haiti giving established first since I wrote about it here.  I realized this blog, whether anyone reads it or not, will be a great help in keeping me accountable to live intentionallly.  For that I'm grateful (I think)!  So we decided to give to our own denomination's mission board, largely because all the money goes directly to Haiti, and there are missionaries on the ground there  to distribute it who know the people and the needs.  If you're looking for a place to give, click here.

I was talking with a friend on Sunday who mentioned that at the end of the day on Saturday she really couldn't account for how she spent her time.  I know the feeling.  What does it take to be more intentional about our time?  What it DOESN'T MEAN is evaluating our day by how much meaningful stuff we accomplished.  That is a sure fire way to turn this challenge into a duty and take away all the fun.  Instead, it means pressing into the other two parts of the challenge first -- delighting in the Lord and dialoguing with Him throughout the day.  The questions therefore, that I am trying to ask each day are: Lord, in what ways did we communicate today?  Was I listening?  Were You speaking?  Were we enjoying communion?  After those questions, I can ask -- and did I do the things You impressed me to do?

The point is that if we're not living intentionally, the first course correction is to be more intentional about intimacy with Him.  That's how we keep from getting the cart before the horse, so to speak.  Make sense?  and for the record, I worked on REALLY MEANINGFUL stuff all day yesterday, and yet realized this morning that I'm not sure how much I dialogued with the Lord.  Hope to do better today.  How about you?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Haiti, the begats and being intentional

I have to admit I've felt some striving in these first few days of intentional living, but that's not all bad.  I've learned to let that feeling draw me to the Lord and instead of trying to impress Him, just tell Him how desperately I need Him.
So I was reading the newspaper on Thursday and thinking of those suffering in Haiti and that word -- intentional -- resounded ever so strongly in my ear.  I thought of all the times I have wanted to respond to things like these and didn't.  I began to pray about it and last night my husband and I simply asked the Lord, "What do you want us to give?"  It was great -- we both heard the same amount, and though it would be sacrificial, we felt such joy because we knew that God had spoken. 
Hearing God's voice is critical to being intentional, for it's the only way we can walk in freedom AND obedience with joy.  It's not so much about all the things I'm going to DO, but the way I plan to listen more, and then do what the Spirit impresses me to do.  Make sense?
Speaking of being intentional -- you gotta love those begats (that's the geneology in Matthew 1).  Because we know God is an intentional God and does all things for His own pleasure, it is a wonder to see prostitutes and murderers and adulterers and just run of the mill folk in the lineage of Christ.  How encouraging to know that it is HIS pleasure to use broken, messed up people.  Matthew seems to go out of his way to make this clear, even listing women, which was unheard of.  What an amazing God we have...
And it's great to walk with all of you --  Please share your own adventures in intentionality to encourage us.
Now I just need to hear His voice about where to give our offering for Haiti -- I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Living Intentionally -- are you ready for this?

This is the New Year’s resolution I didn’t want to make.  It took root in the waning weeks of 2009 as I was mindlessly perusing the pages from my previous year’s prayer journal and noticed how often the Lord had spoken to me about something in the morning -- whether it was to call a neighbor or write a note or simply spend focused time in prayer -- and I hadn’t followed through, usually because I forgot.  Discomfort soon led to conviction, and as I sat there bemoaning my weaknesses, the Lord gently whispered the word ‘intentional’ to me.  That’s when the battle began.  To make matters worse, the more I wrestled with the Lord, the more I realized I was going to have to share my struggles with you.  So before I lay my soul bare, here’s the resolution I’ve finally found the courage to put into words:

In the year 2010, I resolve to live every day more intentionally by delighting myself in the Lord, dialoguing with Him throughout the day, and doing the things His Spirit impresses me to do.

See, it isn’t that bad!  Or is it?  To be honest, I have turned that third phrase – doing the things His Spirit impresses me to do – every which way but loose, trying to get away from the simplicity of its call.  Ever prone to a performance mode that can border on legalism, I found myself offering all kinds of arguments.  Was it really possible to be at the beck and call of the Spirit of God on any given day?  What if I couldn’t do it?  Worse yet, what if I didn’t want to?  What if the Spirit impressed me to do things that were embarrassing or trying or simply inconvenient?  Before I knew it I’d digressed into all sorts of self-condemnation about how immature I was to even have to wrestle with such thoughts – shouldn’t I be way past this?

I thought of how excited I was last year when the Lord impressed me with the resolution to learn how to live in His love.  This seemed something different altogether.  Really?  Aren’t all God’s plans for our good?  Doesn’t obedience always lead to joy?  I knew the answers, and yet I resisted for reasons I couldn’t articulate.  Slowly the Lord began to reveal to me how I wanted to have all the answers, to know I could do this and do it well, before I made a commitment.  But His plan was that the resolution would be a vehicle for me to learn how to live intentionally, just as last year’s became the vehicle for living gloriously in His love.  Given that, why should I want to throw up my hands in defeat before I’ve even started?  Why not, instead, simply admit my fears, my failures, my weaknesses and concerns, and spend the year pursuing the depth of intimacy with Jesus that such a challenge might enhance?

So that is what I am doing.  In His tender grace, God has brought me gently along and as I write this, I am beginning to feel a kind of joyful anticipation about it.  I want this resolution -- to live more intentionally -- to change me in the same kind of profound ways that living loved has.  I do hope you will join me, mainly because I need the support but also because I sense that God is putting similar impressions on many hearts today, due to the urgency of the hour.

While we will use the same tools for diving into God’s Word, I am excited about the focus I believe He has given me this year, which is to spend the entire year in the Gospel of Matthew, learning from the One who has walked the intentional way before us.  For more information on this and how we can journey together, click here.

Finally, I plan to chronicle my own path a little more often through this blog.  I will still send out occasional devotionals via email, but if you’d like more, or want to share your own ups and downs, victories and failures – you can join me here.  I'd love to hear from you!

Whether you feel called to embrace the Living Intentionally 2010 Challenge or not, I pray 2010 will be a year in which you experience greater grace from our Lord to live immersed in His love and passionate for His glory.