It’s Clear Above the Clouds

If I had to guess, I’ve flown about 100 times in my life. As a military kid, flying was a way of life. Whether we were moving halfway around the world or traveling to visit extended family members we weren’t privileged to live near, I spent more time at 34,000 feet by the time I was 12 than most people do in their whole lives.

All that to say, I’m familiar with the process.

Yet, every single time I ascend in an airplane, I am filled with wonder. Good wonder, mostly. (I have bad wonder too – how do people taller than 5’6″ and more than 115 lbs use the lavatories, for instance.)

My flights Thursday and Sunday were no different. Like a child on her first flight, I peered out the oval window almost the entire time, waxing philosophical.

During the initial climbs I pondered, as I always do, how it is that the human brain came up with this extreme way to defy gravity. I imagine God was laughing as gleefully as the Wright brothers were when they finally got their contraption off the ground. The joy of creating and the thrill of invention is something God is quite familiar with.

Then, as we passed through the clouds, I thought, as I always do, how mysterious clouds are. They look so soft and fluffy, like cotton stuffing from a child’s teddy bear, yet we physically pass through them as if they are phantoms. I’m not up on the science, so perhaps that’s why it perplexes me that we can see clouds but we can’t feel clouds…

photo (2)

After we passed through the clouds, we were, as it were, above the clouds. We settled in at cruising altitude and sped across the round surface of the earth at over 600 miles per hour, but it felt like we were crawling… another enigma that always comes to mind when I’m flying.

It’s at this point I always think about how close, relatively speaking, I am to space. The clouds beneath me, the light blue sky bleeding imperceptibly into navy blue, I suppose, as a result of the dark, atmospheric blanket hugging our little world – it’s miraculous to me that the average human (astronauts not withstanding) can safely and successfully travel that far off the ground…

photo (1)These are the things that run through my mind on each and every flight I take. But that’s not it. There’s always more. I always have at least one unique revelation when I’m hurtling through the sky in awe.

(For instance, when I was 13 years old, flying alone, peering out the window, I decided the deceptive nature of clouds was a symbol for life – nothing is as it seems, and everything is a disappointing facade. I was delightful back then 🙂 )

Thursday’s flight was no different. With my forehead pressed against the plexiglass (I hope someone cleaned that before I got on the plane), staring straight out at the bluest of sky, I realized something.

It’s always clear above the clouds. 

When planes take off, assuming it isn’t an entirely clear day, they are below the clouds, and their goal is to get above the clouds to make a smooth ride for the passengers. Pilots may disagree with me, (and they certainly would be qualified to do so), but I personally have never been on a flight where we didn’t get above the clouds and discover every single time that it was clear up there.

We pass through the clouds, sometimes being unable to see anything at all and often uncomfortably bumping our way to higher elevation. But once we get up there, it’s clear… always.

And so the spiritual analogy practically writes itself.

There are real clouds in our lives. I spend most of my time living under them, fretting about the storms they potentially hold. Sometimes I climb inside them, disoriented as to which way is up, blindly searching for safe ground to return to. But rarely do I successfully navigate through them to higher, clearer, peaceful sky.

The Lord doesn’t want us to stay beneath the clouds, too afraid to deal with the painful things within us and that life has in store for us. The truth is, we can’t avoid all pain. If we don’t go through the clouds, sometimes the clouds come down to us – all the way down to the ground in a thick haze of fog.

And the Lord doesn’t want us to get stuck in the clouds – to begin to unwrap the parts of ourselves that need His healing, to begin to embrace the painful parts of life that are meant to grow us into Christ’s image – only to get turned around and fearful when confusion sets in. If we scramble back to the “safety” the ground has to offer, those clouds will still be there, looming, waiting for us to gather up the courage to try to deal with them again…

God wants us to persevere, pushing through the clouds, trusting that He is guiding us by our right hands, leading us to clear, peaceful skies above the clouds.  He wants us to trust Him with our hearts, our pain, our scary circumstances, our needs, our wants, our everything – even when we can’t see – and to allow Him to bring us to the place of His peace that surpasses understanding.

It’s not that the clouds aren’t there anymore when you’re flying at 34,000 feet. They are. You just have a different perspective on them. The storms they contain aren’t so threatening when they are below you. And when we are truly trusting God, allowing Him to infuse our hearts with His peace, the broken parts of ourselves and our lives don’t seem quite so consuming anymore.

“For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

Isaiah 41:13

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When All Feels Lost

When the world starts to turn upside down and my stomach turns with it, it can feel like the whole globe has run clean off its orbital path, veering into the vastness of dark space waiting to swallow it whole.

When all feels lost
image via chrisroll at freedigitalphotos.net

When order and routine and the expected and all that is right get disrupted, it’s easy to believe God has lost all control and the whole system is nothing more than rotating chaos.

I give up hope. I sit down and throw my hands up in despair while I watch the whole thing fall apart through doomsday glasses. At least I think it’s going to fall apart. I’m so easily convinced God can no longer redeem.

Something inside knows better. An inkling rises against the apparently hopeless fate of the world – of me – and I am spurned on with a defiant, “No! All is NOT lost! It cannot be!”

So I put on my space suit and swim into black. I put my lasso around the Earth and try to muscle her back to where she belongs. Sweat on my brow, I pull. I pull. I pull and nothing happens.

Defeated, I drop the rope and drift. Wherever weightless space wants to take me. All feels lost. I feel lost.

And then, God.

“Time out!” He yells. “I’m still here!”

“And nothing has really changed!” He continues. “I have loved you with an everlasting love! I knit you together in your mother’s womb, and I know all the hairs on your head! I have called you by nameyou are Mine! You are precious and honored in My sight, and I LOVE YOU! I take great delight in you! I have good plans for you! I will never leave you or forsake you! I am with you always! When you walk through the fire, you’ll not be burned! Come to Me, and I will give you rest! Put your hope in Me – in My unfailing love! Trust in Me with all your heart!”

And everything else?

“I am working all things together for your good,” He says.

The truth is nothing is out of His control. Ever. The world feeling like it’s off its path? That’s just a feeling. It’s not reality. The heart is deceitful above all else, and so is Satan, the father of lies. It’s just an illusion that the Earth isn’t exactly where it should be – that I’m not exactly where I am supposed to be.

And if that’s true – if it’s true that God is sovereign, that nothing is out of His control – there is no globe petering out into infinite darkness that I need to fret over. There is no world completely off its course that I have to drag back to its proper path. I am neither helplessly doomed nor responsible for righting all that seems wrong to me…

My job is simple – to fix my eyes on Jesus. Minute by minute, hour by hour. Whether I feel right on course or lost in the depths of outer space. I must resist the urge to cry, “All is lost!” and fight the pressure to control everything. Neither action is fitting for one who is intimately acquainted with the Lord.

I will fix my eyes on Jesus, and simply say, “I trust You.”

How to Grow Spiritually

Most mornings I read Oswald Chambers‘ daily devotional, My Utmost for His Highest. If you’re not familiar with him, Oswald is like a Christian superhero, right under C.S. Lewis, but well above Larry Boy.

Somehow I started reading Chambers straight out of the gate when I became a Christian almost 15 years ago. I like him because he’s not a fluffy devotional writer. (You know the kind of crap I’m talking about. Don’t make me name names.) He typically gets to the deeper heart of the believer with no sugar-coating in a few short paragraphs. He challenges. He calls you out. And he never ends his daily lesson with a, “Now go have a great day eating ice cream and playing with puppies!” kind of feel.

That being said, he doesn’t convey a holier-than-thou attitude either. A guy can’t have the kinds of insight into the depravity of man Oswald has without having experienced the depths of his own depravity first…and often.

All that to say, Chambers knocked it out of the park today. You really need to go read it. I’ll wait. In fact, you don’t even have to come back here; my thoughts won’t hold a candle to what Chambers wrote. But in case you do come back, I’ll finish the article for you below.

 

It should be pretty apparent that I am a “words” person. I like everything about words – learning new words, plays on words (but not puns – God is not a fan of puns, sir), applying one word a lot of different ways, comparing words, researching words, and taking the time to choose the perfect words to convey what I mean.

So I suppose that’s why Chambers’ opening line today blew my mind. He wrote, “Perseverance means more than endurance — more than simply holding on until the end.”

Immediately, my mind set about comparing perseverance and endurance to evaluate the validity of this statement. In English the word perseverance has a more purposeful sense of action, while the word endurance has a more passive connotation.

To persevere we put forth effort and work a plan in the hopes that we will achieve a goal. Persevering requires time and energy and often sacrifice. To persevere may be to physically do something, but it could also be the action of mentally and emotionally focusing on something (or the discipline of NOT focusing on something, as the case may be). We are active participants in this process.

To endure we hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. We don’t do anything. We let the trials and problems happen to us and hope that, in time, we will come out on the other side when the rain is gone. We are passive observers in this process.

As Chambers pointed out, perseverance is more than endurance, insinuating that endurance is part of perseverance. You have to have endurance to persevere. But the reverse is not necessarily true (although I think it can be at times). You can endure something – tolerate it, wait it out – without persevering – taking any action steps to overcome it – and be successful (for example, waiting out a tornado). But in some cases, if all we do is endure, refusing to take persevering action, we’ll never overcome our hardship (for example, if we are starving, and there is food on a plate in front of us, but we refuse to put the food on our fork and into our mouths, we will remain hungry.)

I’d venture a guess, if my definitions are correct (and that’s a big if), that there are times we ought to persevere and times we ought to endure. (Another article published today speaks more to this.)

But, to ride the coattails of Mr. Chambers, I think there is at least one aspect of our lives in which we ought never choose to endure but insist we persevere – our own spiritual growth and development.

Lest we get off on a rabbit trail about whether or not we have the power to spiritually grow ourselves, let me share the initial thought I had this morning that sparked this whole post: just holding on and riding things out is NOT spiritual growth. (I think that may have been where Oswald was going in this devotional, but I have yet to confirm with him since he’s busy being dead. In tomorrow’s devotional, however, Chambers definitely speaks to us doing our part being key to our spiritual growth.)

What I’m saying is if we are passive about our relationships with God, passive in the “growth opportunities” (otherwise known as trials) that come our way, passive in responding to the Spirit, passive in prayer, passive in being obedient (i.e., being disobedient), we aren’t going to grow spiritually. If we merely endure this life while we (im)patiently wait to get to the next life, we waste our lives and squander the opportunity to know Him intimately.

But if we persevere in our faith, actively reaching out to God through prayer and worship, actively studying the scriptures, actively responding to the Spirit’s promptings, actively focusing our emotions and thoughts on all that is lovely and true when so much around us is broken and false, we will grow closer to the One who made us to know Him and to make Him known. We will grow spiritually.

If we find ourselves spending most of our time enduring life as a Christian, all we’re doing is burying our heads in the sand. We’re fooling ourselves if we think that’s okay. Just holding on and riding things out is NOT spiritual growth. We must persevere in our personal relationships with Christ, doing whatever it takes to love Him a little bit more each day.

 

Hostages of Hope

I’m not really sure how it happened.

Maybe it’s because I keep re-reading that crazy gratitude book.

Or maybe it’s because I’ve spent more time in the Psalms this year than any other book of the Bible.

Or maybe it’s because I finally got fed up with being fed up and did something about it.

Or maybe it’s a combination of these things, swirled together by the Lord in His perfect timing to finally begin producing a change in me that’s been a long time coming.

I hardly recognize myself.

I’m positive. As in optimistic. As in not cynical. As in I have hope.

And those of you who know me well know this is a radical change indeed.

I used to quip, “I’m not a pessimist; I’m a realist.” And I always knew it was a cop out. What I really was was stuck in feelings of hopelessness, even after – well after – I became a Christian.

And I know I’m not alone. A lot of (most) Christians live in doubt and bitterness and anger and depression and cynicism.

But we don’t have to.

(It’s taken me YEARS to believe that to be a true statement, by the way – that we can choose to have hope. It can be a lot more complicated than it sounds, which is why it often feels impossible, but it’s not. And that’s another post for another day.)

Not only do we not have to live in hopelessness and cynicism, upon further reflection, I think, as believers, we mustn’t.

Here’s why.

To not have hope – to adopt a cynical, hopeless perspective about ANYTHING – is to disbelieve the power of Christ.

As Christians we believe that Jesus bore the punishment we deserved for our sins on the cross, died and rose again. We believe God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, and the evidence of that acceptance is that Jesus was resurrected (1 Thessalonians 4:14).

If we are convinced the resurrection happened, we are also convinced of God’s total sovereignty (Psalm 103:19). After all, if He can make a dead man rise to life again, as impossible as that sounds, can’t He do anything (Jeremiah 32:27)?

Can’t He redeem any impossible situation we find ourselves in?

Hostages of Hope
image via sattva at freedigitalphotos.net

If we have hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we must have hope in ALL seemingly hopeless situations. There’s no room for cynicism and/or giving up and/or losing hope in anything or anyone if we believe in Christ.

THIS IS NOT NATURAL FOR ME! I can’t emphasize enough that I am NOT a naturally sunny person with a pleasant disposition. You will never catch me with a “Life is good” bumper sticker on my car. Hear me when I say I am not an optimist writing this pie-in-the-sky blog post. To hope when it seems illogical, to hope when it is uncomfortable, to hope against my natural will is just as difficult for me as it is for you.

It’s hard to not let people and circumstances affect our having unwavering hope in Jesus’ ability – His desire, and His ultimate plan – to rescue and redeem everything.

When we find ourselves feeling hopeless and cynical, I think the underlying cause is that our hope has subtly shifted from being in Christ to being in man (others or ourselves). We have to find a way to put our hope back where it needs to be.

Here is one practical way I have found to do that. When you catch yourself having a cynical/hopeless/depressed/angry thought about anything, staunchly refuse it by asking God to take away that feeling and to replace it with hope in Him (2 Corinthians 10:5). And then make yourself find something to thank Him for in that moment (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

This is a simple exercise, but it’s very difficult. Don’t worry – you don’t have to do it perfectly. But you won’t begin to change unless you start. You will find, as I have, the more gratitude you offer, the more hopeful you will become. You’ll feel yourself begin to change. Others will notice a change in you. You’ll go from being a hostage of negativity to a hostage of hope. And I think that’s exactly what the Lord has in mind for us when we become believers (Romans 6:22).

“Never partake of the cynical view of life.” –Oswald Chambers

 

One Reason God Loves Us

I don’t know a lot about knitting. But I know it’s a verb, and I’m assuming it requires the knitter’s attention to turn out halfway decent.

I bring this up because the Bible says God knit us together – you and me and every other person – in our mothers’ wombs (Psalm 139:13).

That means He actively creates us, rarely, if ever, taking His eyes off of us, and never diverting His attention from us. For 9.5 months straight, on average.

I don’t think I’ve ever done anything with that kind of commitment for that long. God knits us together 24/7. But even if I give myself grace and allow myself to sleep, I still haven’t done anything with that kind of intense focus and investment for almost 10 months.

I did read through the Bible in a year once… but that only required focus 15 minutes each day.

I did complete 17 years of schooling in 9 month intervals… but that only required focus 15 minutes each day. (Public school, baby.)

I did grow two humans for 38.5 and 39 weeks… but I was a pretty passive observer on account of God doing all the actual knitting. I handed Him “yarn” in the form of prenatal vitamins and “nutrients” from my weekly pieces of fruit, but He really did all the work.

All that to say, God does some pretty awesome work putting babies together.

  • The moment a baby is conceived, all the DNA is present to determine eye color, hair color, height, personality quirks, etc.
  • God makes the baby’s heart beat within the first 18 days after conception. (It might be even sooner, but we have yet to develop the technology to prove that.)
  • The spine and eyes are clearly visible by 24 days.
  • By 6 weeks we can detect brain waves.
  • At 7 weeks the baby has its own blood type and develops 100,000 new brain cells every minute.
  • By 8 weeks the baby has all the organs an adult human has.
  • At 12 weeks the baby’s rubber bones harden.
  • The second and third trimesters are spent growing so the baby can live outside the womb on its own.

(I’d be remiss not to point out the strictest laws in the US allow abortions to be performed until 15 weeks. But that’s another post.)

As these ideas tumbled around in my heart the other day, I realized something. Maybe part of the reason God loves us so ridiculously much is because of how much time and emotional energy He puts into making us. He methodically crafts us, cell by cell, intensely concentrating on building us just the way He wants to build us. And as the weeks go by, His already limitless affection for us only increases. (I know, this doesn’t make sense, but neither does infinity plus 1 equals infinity. Nevertheless, it’s true.)

I remember the day I fell in love with my first child. We went for an ultrasound at 19 weeks to find out if she was healthy and what gender she was. I hadn’t seen a ton of ultrasounds in my day… maybe not any. When a picture of my baby popped on the screen, my breath was gone. I could see every vertebrae, every bone in her hands and feet, her sweet profile. And all of a sudden she was real and she was mine and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I didn’t know one thing about her, but I knew I loved her with all my heart.

One Reason God Loves Us

The Lord feels that way about you and me. He felt that way the day He conceived of us in His mind; He felt that way every day He spent creating us in our mother’s wombs. And He feels that way every day He spends continuing to fashion us into the image of Christ. He is highly emotionally invested in us simply because we are His.

Grace and Peace to You

I drove in the winter sun, feeling warmed not just by the rays streaming in through my windows but from somewhere inside my body.

I’m not sure how many miles I covered before I realized it – I had been smiling the whole way.

I noticed the feeling of warmth and the curve of my lips because they aren’t my norm; they caught me by pleasant surprise.

I didn’t have to inquire what was going on with me; I knew.

His peace.

In that moment, throughout that drive, the Lord was giving me His peace.

Jesus had said it to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you,” (John 14:27).

I thought as I drove – isn’t it only by His grace that He gives any of us peace? 

His peace is a gift we get to experience because we are His, and we are only His because we are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8). Out of His great grace, He bestows peace upon each believer. He leaves it with us; we can choose it anytime we want.

And when I access that peace? When I feel that peace given me by the Lord’s grace? I walk gracefully.

I walk grace-fully.

There is nothing more beautiful than a believer who knows in the depth of her heart Whose she is and walks in that power. There is a grace about her – on her face, in her words, in her steps, in her actions.

Her walk with the Lord and through this life is full of grace.

I can’t remember for sure, but I may have laughed aloud when I realized it. By God’s grace, He gives us peace, which fills us with grace. 

What a beautiful cycle. Grace begetting peace; peace begetting grace. And the cycle doesn’t have to end… ever.

I wondered as I drove, maybe this is what Paul had been trying to teach believers all along?

How many times did Paul start or end his letters with “Grace and peace to you”? Grace and peace. One leads to the next, and vice versa.

Not two hours later, Satan tried to knock me off this truth I was standing on. He looks for opportune times (Luke 4:13).

Someone who is supposed to love me spoke words that cut deep. Unintentionally, the message this person sent me was you’re a failure, and I am ashamed of you.

I got back in my car, but this time I felt the cold of the winter air. There was no trace of the grace nor the peace I had felt earlier.

I did all I knew to do. I thanked God. “Lord, thank you for this conversation that just took place. It wrecked my heart, yes, but it is giving me the chance right now to come to You, to grow closer to You, to learn to walk in Your truth.”

I drove slowly, processing with the Lord what had just happened. I knew what was said to me – what was implied about me – was not true. But that didn’t make it hurt any less. Because the person who said it is supposed to love me.

The Lord spoke truth to the lies I had just heard, words of His sovereignty over my path, my past, my choices. He affirmed I hadn’t failed, despite this person’s opinion. He affirmed He was quite proud of me and spoke to the strength it took to walk the road He had for me. He reminded me that ashamed people shame people; the words spoken to me were not about me, they were about the person who spoke them.

Gently, because of His grace, He was breathing peace back into my demolished heart. My soul re-inflated with His peace, slowly, steadily. And then I was able to look at the person who hurt me so with grace and say, “Lord, his rock of a heart needs You. He is cold and closed and hurting, and he is in desperate need of Your saving. Soften him to Your love.”

Even in the difficult times, His grace bestows peace to enable us to walk gracefully.  If you find yourself lacking either, the solution is to go to Him and talk it out. If you are a believer, He has left you peace. It’s yours for the taking. Go get.

What to Do When You’re Sinking

We all know the story of Jesus and Peter walking on water, but some things about it struck me differently today.

First, Jesus made the disciples get into that boat and sail on ahead of Him INTO A STORM while he wrapped up a long day of teaching with some solitary prayer time (Matthew 14:22-23). In other words, while He was safely on land…

That doesn’t sound like the western Christian life at all… Lovey-dovey Jesus makes us go into uncomfortable, frightening, even dangerous situations?

Then, in the middle of the night, Jesus decides to walk across the lake toward the boat. And do you know how the disciples reacted? The Bible says, “They were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear,” (Matthew 14:26).

So for those keeping score at home, Jesus sent the disciples into a terrifying situation, and then He Himself terrifies them!

“But Jesus immediately said to them, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid,'” (Matthew 14:27).

If the disciples were anything like me, Jesus’ words did very little to actually quell the fear inside them.

Peter, evidently, was like me, because he needed more proof that this ghost-like creature really was Jesus.

“‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water,'” (Matthew 14:28).

And that right there is where the similarities between Peter and I end. I would’ve been more prone to say something like, “Lord, if it’s you, come get in the boat with me, and maybe bring some ice cream?”

Jesus’ response to Peter is even more startling than Peter’s offer to get out of the boat. Jesus says, “Come,” (Matthew 14:29).

“Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus,” (Matthew 14:29).

Peter RISKED HIS LIFE to COME TOWARD JESUS.

Peter accepted Christ’s invitation to come!

Peter walked in obedience to the Lord in terrifying, dangerous, nonsensical circumstances…

But.

“But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!'” (Matthew 14:30).

The wind didn’t all of a sudden kick up after Peter had gotten out of the boat and was walking in obedience. The wind had been there all along. Peter had been aware that it was gusty before he made the choice to come toward Jesus.

But while he was in the boat, the wind was not nearly as terrifying as it was when he was attempting to walk on water.

The dangers of the wind became more readily apparent without the safety of the boat. So, too, Peter became more afraid of the wind.

Fear paralyzed Peter, and he began to sink

But when he began to sink, Peter did the perfect thing: he cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Peter didn’t call to the other disciples to throw him a life preserver, nor did Peter start trying to swim back to the boat.

He knew those things wouldn’t work in the midst of a storm in the middle of a huge lake.

Peter knew the only One who could save him was Jesus. 

And I love – LOVE – what happens next.

“Immediately, Jesus reached out his hand and caught him,” (Matthew 14:31).

IMMEDIATELY!

Jesus didn’t let Peter bob below the surface a few times just to teach him a lesson.

Jesus didn’t give Peter a talking to about trust before He offered to help.

Jesus immediately saved Peter.

And how Jesus saved Peter is just as beautiful – with His own hand. By His own touch, with His own strength.

Jesus could’ve told the wind and the waves to stop to save Peter. But He didn’t. Or He could’ve instructed the other disciples to throw Peter a line. But He didn’t. Or He could’ve coached Peter to swim to Him, but He didn’t.

He didn’t do any of those things.

When Peter, gripped with fear and short on faith, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out His hand and saved Peter

What makes us think He won’t do the same for us?!

As we take steps toward Jesus, obeying Him to come, there will be fear and doubt and we will begin to sink. But He is too good and loves us too much to not respond immediately to our plea, “Lord, save us!” 

All we have to do is cry out.