Monday, November 28, 2011

The Lord is My Defender

This time of year always finds me looking back over the years to find markers of where the Lord has worked in amazing,  miraculous ways to answer prayers for me and my children.  Recently, a friend asked me to recount one of those moments for her blog.  This is one that came back to me very strongly, testifying to the truly amazing, compassionate God we serve.

As you read it, I hope it makes you think of a time or two when God surprised you with the reality of His presence in your life - as Your Defender; Your Provider; Your Healer; Your Savior... or some other unique way that you knew, for sure, God was with you.  Please join me in whispering a prayer of thanks to the Amazing God we serve for His constant love and care.  Without Him, where would we be?

The Lord is My Defender...

Trying to raise four children on a very meager $8 an hour job, quickly brought me to the brink of disaster. My ex-husband, financially secure and reveling in his newly minted play-boy life style, glanced at the situation and saw his opportunity to end the burden of paying child support. He sued me for full custody of our children, something he knew I would never voluntarily allow.

He had the financial resources and the connections to hire the best attorney in town. I had no resources to hire an attorney at all. In complete ignorance of the way the legal system worked, I thought I would just go to court and I would be assigned an attorney, since I didn't have one! I didn't know this only applied to criminal cases – not child custody battles. He taunted me in the days leading up to the court appearance that I should just not even bother showing up – I didn't stand a chance of winning since he was a well-respected professional in the community and I was a 'nobody'. Even though I was intimidated by the whole court scene, I had no intention of walking away from my children without a fight. He should have known me better than that.

Behind all of the saber rattling from my ex-husband, I turned to the only source I knew for help – the Lord. With all of the excitement and passion of most new born babes in the Lord, I 'ate' the Word of God like a starving woman – I simply could not get enough of the Word. I was desperate for God. I knew it and He knew it. I told Him every day. 'I need You, Lord, I need You. Every hour, I need you...'

On the day of the court hearing, I went to court with my knees knocking and my hands trembling. I was aware that I was vulnerable and could lose custody of my children – many of my friends had done just that.  This was a crucial turning point in my life and theirs. I walked into court alone. Except for the Lord...

I sat in a back row and watched as one case after another (all custody hearings) were called before the court. One after another, I saw the judge rule in favor of the one parent that had shown up in court. There was no contest. The parent that didn't show automatically gave away the children to the other parent. It was chilling to me and heartbreaking that a parent would dispatch his or her children so easily. Suddenly, my name was called and I approached the bench, as my husband and his high priced attorney jaunted forward, seemingly so sure of themselves that they were almost laughing on the way up the aisle to the bench.

Almost before my name was read, my ex-husband's attorney announced that I should lose custody of my children because of my inability to provide for them adequately. My ex-husband quickly added that he had brought witnesses with him that could testify to my inadequacy as a mother. Before he finished his sentence the judge slammed the gavel down, silencing the verbal onslaught from my husband and his attorney. Leaning over his desk and looking at me directly, I heard this judge ask me in a voice dripping with compassion, “Honey, do you want your children?” Answering immediately, all I said was “Yes, Your Honor, I do.” My ex-husband interrupted quickly to remind the judge again that he had brought witnesses with him to speak against me as a fit mother. The judge glared at him over the desk, and advised him sternly not to interrupt again or he would be found in contempt of court. Once again leaning over the bench like an affectionate father, he advised me that 'this man' (my ex-husband) might push this as far as it could go and, in the event that he should bring me back to court again, I should look into finding a lawyer to represent me well. Ending by smiling at me with a look of understanding and wisdom as to the game that was being played, he slammed the gavel down once again and ordered that the children be returned to me immediately as their mother.

I have never forgotten that day. I knew that God had gone into the court room with me and, against all human odds, had presided over the court proceedings on my behalf. He had placed a judge on the bench that saw through the facade of money and prestige that my ex-husband thought would win the day. I had no lawyer. I had no money. I had no knowledge of the court system and how it worked. All I had was The Lord.  He showed up that day and fought for me. I had met My Defender.  And He was all I needed...

Romans 8: 31 “If God is for us, who can be against?”

Monday, November 21, 2011

Precious to the Lord

I have a dear friend who is suffering from cancer and the radical effects of the chemotherapy that she is taking to kill the cancer. I have listened to her describe the effects of the chemo and how it has devastated her body, even while it's being used to overcome the disease that could take her life.

As someone who has never gone through what she is enduring, it has shocked me to hear her describe the effects of her treatment on her body and how drastically it has changed her life from day to day.

As I have prayed for her, searching for how to pray, what to say, how to comfort her, how to minister to her, I have felt the reality that so much of this is beyond our ability to deal with on a human level. I cannot take away the pain or relieve the suffering or wave a magic wand to make this disease go away. Well intentioned christian platitudes that do not acknowledge this reality are not helpful. I ask myself, as believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is that all we have? Or does the Gospel make a difference when we are going through a trial that saps every ounce of our energy and leaves us clinging to life by a thread? It has to be the hope of the Gospel that tells us, no matter what we are going through, Jesus Christ is in the room. He has not abandoned us to endure this devastation all alone. He has a tight, tight grip on us. He will not let us go.

It is the beauty of a Savior that loves us enough to enter into our pain with us that quickens my heart. This is not a Savior who does not know our pain, our suffering. A God who does not care. He comes right into the sick room, sits down on the bed, and takes us by the hand. He does not stand afar off. He has not forgotten us. He sees our pain, he understands our grief and our confusion. 'Lord what is happening to me? My body isn't my own anymore. It has betrayed me. I don't even recognize myself anymore. I can't handle the pain... Please help me, I'm falling – I'm frightened – this is not what I want...' He hears you, He sees you, He cares more deeply than your closest friend or loved one. I believe He feels every pain with you, cries with you, fights for you, and intercedes for you at the Throne of the Father.

Jesus is holding onto you, my dear friend. He has His arms around you, even if you cannot feel them. He is whispering encouragement and singing a love song over you. He is saying, “I love you, I love you, I love you. You are more precious to Me than you can possibly know. For you, I went to the cross. For you, I have purchased an eternity that is free of suffering and full of joy. Hold onto Me, my child. Don't try to figure it out. Don't try to master it. Just know that you are not defined by this cancer. You are defined by My love for you. You are not just someone with cancer. You are so much more than that to Me. You are My daughter. I have sought you, I have purchased you with My blood, and you belong to Me. I put My love on you, My child. And I haven't taken it away, even in the midst of this dark trial. I delight in you. I know this is impossibly difficult for you. It's OK to admit that. I never intended that you should suffer this all alone. Do not be deceived by the fiery trial you are going through. I am right here. I am with you. Lean into Me right now. You don't have to be strong. I have you covered. I am the One Who Comforts you, strengthens you, holds you in My arms when you are too weak to stand. I Am with you. I will never leave you. I still recognize you...You are mine. I love you. More than you can know.”

Scripture Reference: Isaiah 53:4   NKJV
“Surely, He has borne our grief and carried our sorrows...”

The Crazy Old Man...

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am thankful to God for my family, sometimes a little 'crazy', often blind to our own faults, while we see through a magnifying glass the faults of our brothers and sisters!  In the middle of passing the turkey, the mashed potatoes and the pumpkin pie, I mostly want to say, Thank You, Lord, for the family you gave me! Help us to imitate You and go a little crazy loving each other. Warts and all!

Here's another Jesus story (one of my favorites!) re-told. 
'The Crazy Old Man and His Two Kids'
I can't believe my eyes. He's  running down the road half crazed, absolutely not a shred of decency, in front of everyone.

Am I really the only sane one in the whole family? And not just sane but responsible? I wish I had the luxury of standing around morning and night peering down the road for a glimpse of that loser who breaks all the rules and gets away with it all.

No condemnation. No punishment. No acknowledgment of how good I've been - how hard I work. How much better I am than that good for nothing who comes crawling back in desperation. I stayed. I did it all right. I never gave that old man a moments worry. Ask anybody. They'll tell you. I'm the good one.

Most everyone tells me, my father is lucky to have me. He needs me. He couldn't keep it all going if it weren't for me. He needs to get down on his knees and thank me for all I've done for him. But look at the old fool. He's on the ground, weeping uncontrollably at the knees of this loser who has crawled back home with nothing to offer but his pathetic, sorry self.

You bet he's sorry. He knows what a loser he is. I can hardly stand the sight of him. He disgusts me. He's filthy. He smells. I wouldn't be surprised if he's been wallowing in the mud with the pigs. That's his speed. I was so glad when he left. He always embarrassed me. His friends. His selfishness. His greed. His insensitivity. His immaturity. His refusal to take responsibility for his behavior. I could go on and on, but, you get the picture - everyone does.

Thank God, I didn't turn out like that. Like I said - I'm the good one. Everyone knows that. Except my father. There's just no explaining Him. He actually loves the kid. I don't understand it at all. And I sure don't approve.

But, the whole thing makes me wonder... Do you think the old man loves me like that? Don't go getting the idea I'm jealous or anything. That would be ridiculous! It's just that I've never seen him so extravagantly, outrageously happy to see anyone come home than he is over this brother of mine. Said something about 'he was lost and now he's been found'. Yippee. Did he even notice that I've never been lost? I didn't need to be found.

Just one thing, though. Don't know why I feel so dead inside. After all - I did it all right. Didn't I...?

Scripture reference: Luke 15:20  NKJV
"...But when he was yet a great distance afar, the Father saw him and had compassion on him..."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Will I Know You?

One of my granddaughters loves to ply me with questions about heaven. Either she thinks I've already been there, or she figures I'm so close to the pearly gates that I must have had a chance to look the place over! I'm not sure what it is, but she asks me endless questions about what heaven is like. I tell her what God's Word has revealed to me about heaven and then, playfully, together we imagine some other things He might have in store for us – who knows? I believe Our God is a God of great surprises!

The images of heaven that God has given us, especially in the Book of Revelation, are of a heaven that is breathtakingly beautiful and beyond anything we can ever imagine. Here is John giving us a little glimpse of what he saw on the day that God gave Him a tour of His heaven.

“He who sat upon the throne was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes and they had crowns of gold on their heads...Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal...”
Revelation 4:3-6

John goes on to tell us that surrounding the Throne of God were four living creatures continually singing praises to the Lord Jesus Christ. I love everything about this description of heaven. God has spared nothing to show praise and honor to Jesus, who, as the sacrificial Lamb of God, is Worthy of all honor and glory, forever and ever. Because He paid it all for us, we will be partakers in His glory. What an incredible, life altering truth – almost incomprehensible to understand.

My granddaughter watches me with wide eyes, still completely believing that, if I tell her something, it must be true! So I tell her that God has said that “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard the things that He has prepared for us in heaven!” I tell her that Jesus said that He “has gone to prepare a place for us, so that where He is, we may be also!” He wouldn't have lied to us about that now would He? I describe for her the streets of gold, the pearly gates and the beautiful glass sea, with rainbows surrounding the throne of God. I tell her that I have many loved ones that I cannot wait to see when I get there – my father, my mother, my baby that I have never seen. And, we shall see Jesus. The One who purchased heaven for her and for me.

She isn't satisfied with that. Like any child, for every question I can answer, she has a million more! Will I be bored in heaven? How old will I be? What will I do all day - will I know you in heaven – will you know me? Will I just be a spirit that no-one else can see? I don't want to be a spirit, she assures me – that doesn't sound like anything I would want to be! Where will I live, will I go to school, will I get sick? Will I know you in heaven – will you know me? She asks me that question repeatedly, looking for reassurance that we will be together when we get to heaven – the touching and innocent questions of a child full of wonder about this strange thing we call 'heaven'.

I delight in these opportunities to share with my granddaughter the picture of heaven that I have in my mind's eye. I want to encourage her to understand that this isn't all there is. There is a heaven He has promised you and me. I do want to stir up in this precious child a hunger for heaven. This world is so fleeting, so temporary, so fragile. I don't want my granddaughter to so fall in love with life here, that she neglects to go after heaven. Go after God with everything you have, little one. And in the process, you will gain heaven...

I am struck by the words of Jesus when He said: “Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing.' Yet, you do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich, and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed. Anoint your eyes with salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore, be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. To him who has an ear, let him hear...” Revelation 3:17-21

Is God speaking to me – is He speaking to you? Are my eyes and yours so blinded by the riches of this world that we do not see Him standing at the door, begging to come in? Calling us to repent, to understand what is at stake, while there is still time? Have we so stuffed our ears with the cotton balls of “our priorities” that we do not hear His voice or receive His correction? He has told us He will chasten us because He loves us. Do we believe Him? Or are we so self-satisfied, imagining we lack nothing, not realizing how desperate, poor and naked we are before Him?

He has promised us riches untold in a heaven that is waiting. Are we looking for that day? Are we prepared? Or have we traded away the heaven He has purchased for the immediate gratification of things that are perishing anyway?

Like my little granddaughter, I have to train my eyes to look for Him; my ears to hear His voice; my heart to yearn for Him. I have to learn not to settle for anything less. There is a heaven waiting. I don't want to miss it! Do you?

I look at my granddaughter, just beginning life. But, I know that it is over almost before it begins. When it's over, I want to see her again. I want to have her over for hot chocolate in the little cottage by the sea that He has tucked away just for me! I'm sure I'll know her. And she'll know me!

Scripture References: 1 Corinthians 2:9 NKJV

Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Suffer the Children...

Among the most heartbreaking victims of persecution throughout the world are innocent children.  Some are kidnapped, some used for the sexual pleasure of their captors, 
some are witnesses to the most cruel atrocities imaginable, 
including the murder of their parents and siblings. 

How can we turn our backs on these innocent victims of persecution?  
Please remember to bring them before the Father in your prayers this week. 

May God surround them with His healing love, comfort them, strengthen them, 
and raise them up to be mighty witnesses to the power of God to rescue, 
redeem and transform lives against all odds.

Scripture Reference:  Matthew 18:6  NKJV

"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depth of the sea..."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Redeeming Love

She was always angry. I wanted to love her, but she pushed me away. I didn't understand her and I didn't like her coldness and harshness to almost everyone around her. She swore at her children and complained about everything. Life for her just seemed to be one long battle. Anyone who came too close suffered the sting of her rejection and abuse.

Sometimes, it broke my heart to see her, so angry, so brutal to everyone around her. But, as time wore on, I just began to judge her. She's just plain mean. She just won't make an effort. She'll be sorry some day for the way she treats people. She's just a miserable person. It was so easy to condemn her; to label her. She failed to measure up to my expectations of who she should be. And she had hurt me deeply. I had every right to judge her. Or, so I thought...

It was much too painful to try to love her. Why would I put myself through that pain? She always pushed me away, just like she did everyone else around her. Better for me to close off to her. Before she did it to me, again...

It went on like that for many years. Every now and then there would be a little crack in the concrete wall she had built around herself, brick by brick. Was that her crying uncontrollably when she thought no-one was looking? What had reached her enough to make her cry? Was that fear I thought I saw flash across her face? What was she afraid of? Was that hopelessness I saw her struggling to overcome? I began to wonder why she rarely smiled. I never remembered seeing her laugh til she cried or spin around with joy, dancing and celebrating the wonder of life. I began to wonder – what had so robbed her of the joy of life?

As I began to respond to the prodding of the Holy Spirit to move toward her in love, I began to sit with her, to genuinely talk with her and to invite her gently to tell her story. I felt the leading of the Holy Spirit to just listen to her – just listen. I began to see her for the first time as a real human being, complicated, wounded, damaged by life and carrying around scars from her childhood that had never been exposed to the Healer. By her own hand, she had buried her pain so deep inside her, no-one would ever find it. No-one but the God who saw her fear, felt her pain, and pursued her relentlessly to bring her into healing.

In time, she opened up to me and told me the tragic story of her little sister's death at the tender age of five or six. She, as the older sister, just a little second grader, had been charged with responsibility for her sister as they walked to school one winter day. Two little girls, two little sisters, crossing the street that day. Out of nowhere came a speeding car that crashed into her breaking her leg and instantly killing her sister.

As she told me the story, it was as if it had happened yesterday. She could not stop crying. The pain of something that had been buried for so many years poured out of her as if it would never end. I was watching a seven year old in a woman's body, grieve the death of her baby sister.

Even more brutal than the tragedy of the accident that took her little sister's life, was the story that followed. Her mother blamed her. At the very innocent age of seven, she was not only grieving the death of her little sister; she was then accused by her grieving mother of being responsible for allowing it to happen. As if this little seven year old, wounded herself by the accident, had climbed behind the wheel of the car and deliberately run over her baby sister. It didn't make any sense, I knew. But to a little seven year old, not understanding her grief, she internalized her mother's accusation and claimed it as her own. As if to make it up to her mother for the unforgivable sin of letting it happen, she whipped herself with the belt of self-rejection. They never spoke of it after the funeral. There was no counseling for her to help her recover. It was a secret she buried deep inside of her until it rotted away who she was meant to be. She rejected herself and everyone around her.

As I watched the wound be lanced and cleaned by the tender Healer, I understood for the first time who this woman was. God revealed to me a woman tortured with a guilty sentence that had been chained around her neck when she was no more than a mere babe just starting out on the adventure of life. How like the enemy of our souls to intrude into this child's life and accuse her, steal from her, lie to her about herself and about her God, and leave her barely clinging to the life that God had wanted for her. Satan had killed and buried one child and killed and buried the spirit of the other. It was only a matter of time until he finished the deed and killed her body as well.

But, Satan is no match for the power of our God to redeem even the most hopeless person caught in the enemy's snare. How like our God to pursue her over a lifetime, never giving up the battle to set her free from the accusation that had taken over her soul and kept her at a distance from everyone, including Him. She struggled for the rest of her life to overcome the lies she had believed. But God had invaded her life and claimed her for His own. I believe He carried her close to His heart all the way home.

He gave me the incomparable privilege of being a small part of that healing work in her life. I was and am so grateful that He allowed me to see her for who she really was.

I loved her deeply. She was my mother.

Scripture Reference: Ephesians 4: 17-19

“That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith,
 that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 
may be able to comprehend with all the saints
 what is the width and length and depth and height -
To know the love of Christ which passes knowledge;
 that you may be filled with all the fullness of God...”

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Billions of years ago, before the beginning of time, I dreamed a dream of you! How precious you were to Me, from the moment I first saw you in the corner of My eye! I have pictures of you, my little one, plastered all over the walls of heaven! The angels always tease Me that you seem to be My favorite! I'm not denying anything to them! You own My heart, my child. For you, I paid it all...

I remember the day I chose your name! Oh, yes, it was I that chose the perfect name for you! That is the right of a Daddy! I didn't need a name book! I knew exactly who you were long before you were born. You are beautiful, my precious child, a Miracle from Me! I let your parents pick a name for you while you are on the earth. But, when you come to live with Me, I will call you by that special name I have for you - My baby, My own.  Until then, I often call you Treasured, for so you are to Me!

I spent many hours choosing from the rainbow the color of your eyes, your hair, your beautiful skin. I knew how tall I would let you grow, where you would be born and when. I remember the first time I saw you smile! I called the angels in to brag on you! I tickled your tummy and threw you in the air – your giggles filled the night with laughter – the most beautiful of all music on heaven or on earth!

I was so very proud of you, my little one! So dear to Me were you, that I struggled to let you go. It is not an easy thing for a Papa to give His dearest child to someone else to raise. The angels all surrounded Me and begged me to keep you there. I will admit, for one brief moment, I did consider it. But, then I looked at you. Your eyes were filled with innocence and eagerness – “Can I go now Papa – can I begin our plan?” So I loaded you with treasured gifts to help you on your way. I wrapped you in the blanket of My love and sent you to earth today. I breathed my love all over you and whispered in your ear. Never forget who made you, My child, My baby dear. I am always here for you – you will never be alone – turn to Me when you need Me – I am only a whisper away.

I surrounded you with grown ups to protect and care for you. I entrusted you, my little one, to those I called to care. Did they know what I was giving them when I blessed them with the gift of you? I watched them fail to help you, to love you as they should. It broke the Heart of God, for sure, to see you be abused. I saw the confusion and hurt that was growing in your heart. You struggled to remember the love that you had known when I bounced you on My knee. You struggled to remember that I loved you. You couldn't remember Me...

I saw you make a choice today, that I never planned for you. I had a dream for you, remember? I wept all over heaven when you gave up all hope today. The angels tried to comfort Me, but, a Daddy's heart is broken when His baby is abused. I was there with you, my little one. I know you didn't see. But, I will lift you on My shoulders and carry you home today. I am sorry for your suffering, my baby, my darling, my precious little lamb.

All of Heaven is yours today. For keeps. Forever. For all you mean to Me...

Scripture Reference: Matthew 19: 14 NKJV

Then Jesus said to them: “Let the little children come to Me
And do not forbid them,
For of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Consider the Lilies...

Little bird, stop singing!
Have you nothing else to do?
He flapped his feathers over me
and flew from roof to roof.

I have other things to do, he said
But nothing I like more,
Than to sing my little heart out
For the Father I adore!

The flowers in the meadows
Danced around in glee
Yes, they said in unison,
With my whole heart, I agree!

He clothes us in the finest cloth
That anyone can buy.
He feeds us til we're full inside
And we never wonder why...

For He loves us! Yes, He told us so
And we take Him at His Word!
He said He will take care of us -
To not believe Him is absurd!

Well, said I, that's fine for you,
But I have much that I must do.
I have no time for silly things
Like singing and dancing
And flapping my wings.

Why, I must work so hard
I worry every day.
What would become of me
If I trusted and obeyed?

For I have to provide for me, you know,
I have to make my way,
My food, my clothes, my very life
Are in my hands today.

Oh, said the singing birds
and the dancing lilies too,
Don't you know your Heavenly Father
Has provided all for you?

Said they to me,
You have no need to worry.
You have no need to cry.
For Abba Father told us,
YOU are the Apple of His Eye...!

Scripture Reference: Matthew 6: 25-30

...Consider the lilies of the field...”

Saturday, November 12, 2011

More Than Conquerors...

Tomorrow is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

We have the great privilege of joining in prayer with our brothers and sisters all across the world for those believers who are suffering for the cause of Christ.

There are so many for whom we are summoned into the inner chamber by God, Himself, to pray.

Tonight, I especially ask you to remember Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, a young pastor, separated from his wife and children while waiting in the cruel isolation of an Iran prison waiting to hear if he will live or die.

Please take a minute to watch the attached video, which is a letter Pastor Youcef sent to you and to me, requesting our prayers. We must stand, or better yet, kneel, before our God and cry out for this young, courageous believer, and for his family. May God turn the hearts of his captors and spare his life.

The verdict on Pastor Youcef's life is expected to be announced at Christmas time, which many believe is not a good sign. The powers that rule in Iran may be hoping that the rest of the world will be preoccupied and distracted by the pageantry of Christmas. May we prove them wrong...

Here is Pastor Youcef, in his own words.

Scripture Reference: Romans 8: 37-39 NKJV

Yet in all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life,
Nor angels nor principalities nor powers,
Nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor height nor depth,
Nor any other created thing,
Shall be able to separate us
From the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, Our Lord.”

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Whiter Than Snow...

"Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow...
Psalms 51:7 NKJV

My friend and I were laughing. It was a fiercely cold winter evening in the Windy City – well named for the ferocious winds that are characteristic of winter in Chicago. We, however, were well protected from the cold night air. We were sitting inside an expensive restaurant, warmly nestled by the fireside, laughing and enjoying one of the best meals available to those who could afford it. We could well afford to splurge on the best that money could buy. We both had high paying jobs that allowed us to satisfy our whims on a moment's notice. This wasn't any special celebration we were having. It was just us, enjoying the fruits of our labors. We expected to be well fed. We expected to be warm. We expected to be above the pain of poverty. And, so, without giving it much thought, we congratulated ourselves on a job well done and settled in for an evening of well earned celebration.

After hours of laughter and enjoying each others' company, we knew it was time to head home. The meal we had enjoyed was so extravagant that neither of us could eat all of what had been served. Not to worry – we called the waiter over to pack up our left-overs in a brown paper sack to enjoy later for a 'midnight snack'. On with my coat, mittens, scarf and hat – I was grateful that I had come well prepared. It was winter in Chicago. One had better be prepared...

Leaving the fairy tale shelter of the restaurant behind, we encountered harsh reality as we stepped outside. Old Man Winter greeted us with a shrill whistling wind and sub-zero temperatures that can cost you a limb if you linger too long in its grip. Please Lord, just get us home quickly. It's cold outside!

And then, we saw you. Standing outside the high-priced, elegant restaurant we had just left. I saw you almost immediately. You were not someone I wanted to see. You muddied the perfection of the evening we had just enjoyed. I tried to look the other way and hurry by without being stopped. But you were desperate. You were hungry. You were cold. I wondered, how could you survive outside on a night like this? No hat, no gloves, no scarf, and barely a jacket to cover your skin and bones frame.

You had obviously done this before – this begging thing. You met our pace as we tried to flee. I remember feeling so trapped in that moment. All you wanted was our leftovers. My friend was irritated. He had seen this so many times. Why did 'these people' have to hang out around nice restaurants and 'bother' us when we were leaving? He grabbed my arm propelling me forward even faster to escape the nuisance of this dirty, smelly, unashamed intruder that was you. Then I heard your voice again, “Please, can I have your leftovers. I'm so hungry...”

We could not continue to ignore your pleas. Something in your voice caused me to turn and look at you. And, in that unguarded moment, I saw you. You were more than a filthy beggar, sponging off of responsible citizens. You were a human being in need. You were lonely. You were poor, hungry, freezing, and desperate for someone to care. You were in need and we were in plenty. How could we not give out of our surplus? We wouldn't even miss it. And yet, we struggled to yield to the whisper of compassion that was growing louder and louder from some place within.

Reluctantly, as if to quiet a screaming child, we gave you our bags and you raced off to try to satisfy your hunger on the scraps from our table.

I never saw you again. I never knew your name. But, I often think of you. Who were you really?

Was that You, Jesus, dressed in rags and filth and need, wearing the disguise of the outcast? Was that You pretending to be in need, when You own the cattle on a thousand hills? Was it You shivering in the cold when it is You that tells the wind where to blow and the snow when it can fall? Was that You chasing after me that night? Asking me to stop; to open my eyes to see as You see, hear as You hear, care as You care, love as You love?

Were You asking me to be willing to exchange my self-righteous sense of superiority for the cloak of humility and kindness? Was that You pricking my conscience with the needle of conviction? Was that Your voice that I could not silence?

Did You see me? Did you see my arrogance and cold, stark indifference? Were You hiding behind the filth and poverty I wanted to ignore that night? Did you recognize me as one of Your own?

Lord, take away my filthy rags of false pride, cold indifference, lack of kindness, arrogance and so much more. Clothe me with your heart. Give me eyes to see You, ears to hear You. Cover me with the beautiful garment of Your compassion. Make me more like You...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

He Touched Me...

A Jesus story, retold...

I'm not feeling well today.  Nothing unusual there.  I've been sick for longer than I can remember now.  I suppose people just think I'm used to it.  But, I'll never get used to it. 

I hate everything about it.  I can't really go anywhere - people avoid me when they see me coming.  Nobody wants to be around me,  I see them whispering behind my back.  I see them telling their kids to stay away from me.  I see the pity in their eyes.  For some its more like hatred.  They hate being reminded that this could happen to them...

I can't remember what it feels like to have hope.  What does that even mean to someone like me?  I remember, in the beginning, I was full of hope.  I was sure I would go to the doctor and he would give me something to heal me and that would be that. The first one I went to gave me some medicine that he said would fix my problem.  It only made it worse.  The second guy had a new experimental thing he wanted to try.  It didn't work.  And then the third doctor, and the fourth - really, I've lost count.  All of them said they could help me.  I believed them.  Now I think what a fool I was.  They were just taking my money.  I wonder - were they all laughing at me too?

I'm not permitted to go out in public and be around the people.  I stay by myself most of the time.  It's extremely lonely.  Sometimes I think I'd be better off - well you know.  It's hard not to give up sometimes.  Anyway, when I do have to go out, I always go after dark.  I wear a lot of clothes and hide my face to keep from being noticed.  I just can't handle the shame of everybody making fun of me and pushing me away.  I'm considered "unclean" - dirty.  They've called me that for so long that even I think of myself that way.  I feel so dirty.

The thing is, yesterday, I overheard them talking about some new healer.  I've heard so much about how amazing He is.  They say He can heal anyone.  I know what you're thinking.  He can't possibly heal someone like me.  Why would He even care?  How would I get there?  The crowds will be huge around Him.  I don't have the nerve to just ask Him to heal me.  Who am I that He would take pity on me?  But, oh, how much I wish I could just get close enough to touch Him.  Maybe that would be enough.  Just a little touch might make all the difference for me.  I have to try.  It's my last chance.  I believe if I can just get to Him, I'll be healed.  He is different.  There's just something different about this Jesus.

I have to risk it.  I'll just sneak in and sneak out.  Nobody will notice me.  I'm just a nobody in a crowd of important people who will demand the Healer's attention.  I am so desperate.  I have to try...

I'm so scared.  The crowd is so massive.  They're all pushing and shoving.  I fell several times.  I don't feel well at all.  Maybe I shouldn't have come.  But, there He is!  He's so close to me now, if I can just push my way through... My pain is throbbing now - maybe I should turn back.  No.  Nobody has noticed me yet.  I have to just push toward Him - I have to touch Him.  If He only knew how desperately I need Him...

Wait - wait - He's here!  I just reached Him.  I just stretched out my arm and touched the hem of his garment.  He was looking the other way, so He didn't see me!  But, suddenly, everything has changed.  I'm healed, I know it!  I felt something go through me the moment I touched the Master.

Oh, yes - that's what I call Him now. He is the Master of everything to me!  I felt strength flow into my body as if I was young again!  I'm just going to run home - yes, RUN!  I have to get out of here before anyone notices me - they would hate me for breaking the rules and coming into the crowd and...

Oh, no.  He's looking for me.  He said he felt someone touch Him.  He wants to know who it was.  What can I do?  I'm terrified.  I'm so ashamed of - of me.  I shouldn't have done it.  I broke all the rules to get to Him.  I have to go to Him.  It's too late now.  He knows it was me...

I'm sorry Jesus, I start to say - it was me.  He sees me.  He knows it was me.  I am just so scared, I'm shaking.  Can I please just go away and hide like I always do? They're all looking at me now.  They know it's me.  It's too late...

But, wait - what's happening?  He's lifting my head to look in His eyes. His eyes are so beautiful.  They are actually looking on me with love.  I haven't seen that look in so long.  Can it be true that He not only healed me, but He loves me? Why would He love me?  I don't understand a love like this.

He only just met me and yet He seems to know me.   He's looking at me as though He sees right through me.  He sees it all.  All the hurt, all the suffering, all the loneliness, all the shame.  He took it all from me today.  He gave me back my body.  But, more than that, He gave me back myself.  He cleaned away every last speck of sickness and shame that has kept me prisoner all of these years!  I have met my Healer!  I have met my Savior!  I have met my God!

Maybe you're wondering - was it worth it? All the years of pain and suffering for this? I can't explain it to you, but, yes, a thousand times, yes. If it hadn't been for all that, I never would have taken the risk to seek Him. I actually believe He was just waiting for me to come after Him!

Funny.  I hated my illness all these years. But that's the very thing He used  to help me find Him! I thought I was going to touch Him.  But, no. He touched me.  He didn't care that I was 'unclean'. He didn't hesitate to touch me. He saw me and it was OK - I didn't have to hide from Him.  He even called me 'Daughter'! 
He bent down and pulled me up and pressed my face close to His heart. I felt the embrace of love unspeakable and full of mercy. 
He touched me.  And I will never be the same.

Scripture Reference: Luke 8: 43-48   The Message

"...Jesus said, 'Daughter, you took a risk trusting me and now you are healed and whole..."

Monday, November 7, 2011

Close to the Brokenhearted...

I heard a tragic story yesterday of two mothers, both of whom will bury their dearly loved children this week. One mother lost her twenty-seven year old son, engaged to be married in the Spring; the other, a young mother whose little girl was only six years old when tragedy crept in and stole her life. Both children were taken instantly, unexpectedly. For a mother forced to accept the death of her child, there are no words to describe the grief and shock.

As a mother myself, who buried a baby only five months old in the womb, I know the heartache of saying goodby before I ever wanted to. Age of the child is irrelevant to a mother at a time like this. No matter the age, infant, toddler, adult child, a mother will carry her child with her all of her life. There will always be an open wound in her heart. Part of her will always miss their voice, imagine what could have been, and long to touch and hold 'just one more time' the child that is gone forever.

Some losses are simply beyond the scope of words to describe. As women, we just know. We know when we look into your eyes that you are devastated. We pray with you. We cry with you. We hurt with you. We wrap ourselves around you, wishing we could take the pain away, and knowing, we cannot.

We lift you today to the God of All Comfort, knowing that He stands at the grave with you and weeps. May you know His constant care and the depth of His love for you - until you are home and reunited with your loved one forever.

I am attaching a video from Selah. This song was written by the mother of a child that died soon after birth. It is in the form of a lullaby to a baby. But, really, this is for any mother that is heartbroken at the loss of her child. No matter the age – every mother who loses her child grieves the loss of her baby...

Scripture Reference:  Psalm 34:18

"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit..."

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Lord is My Keeper...

I'm learning to pray the scriptures. Especially, the Psalms! Here's one of my favorites, taken from the beautiful Psalm 121. I've adapted it for me, but you are welcome to use it for yourself or a loved one for whom you are praying.

Especially, when I am worried, unable to sleep at night, this prayer comforts me and brings me into the presence of the Lord... May the Lord, your Keeper, draw close to you and reassure you of His constant love and care for you, no matter the battle raging over your life today. He is with you...

Prayer from Psalm 121

Lord, my God, I pray I will remember to lift up my eyes to the hills
and remember where my help comes from.
Remind me, O Lord, that my help comes from YOU
Who made the heavens and the earth.

Help me remember, Abba, Father, that you have promised
Not to allow my foot to slip.
Be with me when I toss and turn at night
Dear God, for You do not slumber.
I thank you, Lord, God, that you are the same God
Who watches over Israel – You do not slumber, You do not sleep.

Thank you, Father, My Lord and My God,
That You are my Keeper,
My shade always at my right hand.
You have promised me that the sun will not harm me by day,
Nor the moon by night.

How can I thank you enough, Dear God
That You keep me from evil?
You preserve my soul.
Lord, my God, watch over me as I come and go
From this day forth and forevermore...

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Into the Fire...

One of the amazing things about looking at the world from my 'virtual front porch' is that I can see not just across the street, but all the way around the world. I can see the little girl in Africa dying from starvation. I can see the family in Japan, desperately searching for comfort after the loss of their home and loved ones. I can see men losing the battle to provide for their families because of poverty that we cannot even imagine. I can see mothers weeping for children who have died before they saw their first birthday. I can see children abandoned to the streets to fend for themselves, never having had the opportunity to go to a Sunday School class to learn about Jesus. I can see missionaries who have left it all for the love of Jesus Christ.

I can see innocent believers, suffering for their faith; little girls kidnapped and raped because of their christian beliefs; mothers and fathers beaten, tortured and imprisoned – even murdered, simply because of their faith in Jesus Christ. I can see believers like you and me coming together for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is amazing technology. In less than a month of writing this blog, I have been connected to people who live well beyond the borders of 'my front porch', and amazingly, well beyond the geographical boundaries of my country.

I believe God is doing something far beyond anything you or I could ever imagine. I believe He wants to use every means available to reach the lost, while there is yet time, for the hour is late, indeed.

Today, I am posting a video of persecuted believers around the globe. For many of us, reading about persecution from the safety of our living rooms, it is hard to believe what is happening to people simply because of their faith. But for those who are living through the horrors of persecution, let there be no illusion – persecution is real. As members of the Body of Christ, bound together with our suffering brothers and sisters around the world, we are called to 'remember those in chains' for the sake of the Gospel. It is our great privilege to stand with them in their hour of need. I believe God is calling us to take our place at the wailing wall and cry out to Him for mercy on us and on this broken and bruised world that needs Him desperately.

Once a week, I will be highlighting a different area of the world where believers are suffering for the cause of Christ. If you have suffered for the Gospel, or if you know someone who has, please leave a comment so we can pray for you. Let's not hesitate to use every tool God gives us to connect to one another. The world is His and He is ours. All to the Glory of God.

Please remember to pray for those who are tortured, burned alive, beaten and murdered for the sake of the Gospel. May God comfort them in their trials and strengthen them for the fire. May He give them the grace to endure. And may we be faithful to stand with them in prayer. For the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ...

Scripture Reference: Hebrews 13:2

“Remember the prisoners as if chained with them – those who are mistreated – since you yourselves are in the Body also...”

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Living Water

He Leadeth Me Beside Still Waters...

(3rd in series on Phillip Keller's book “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23”)

Thirsty today?!   'Got Milk'?!  Or a coke or, maybe, a Miller?! Satisfied?! Not for very long!

According to Keller, and as we know all too well, this is an age old problem for sheep and humans alike. He takes us down into the caverns of Africa and paints us a picture of the 'good' shepherd working to quench the thirst of his needy flock. (p. 57)

I recall so clearly standing under the blazing equatorial sun of Africa, watching the native herds being led to their owner's water wells. Some of these were enormous, hand-hewn caverns cut from the sandstone formation along the sandy rivers. They were like great rooms chiseled out of the rocks with ramps running down to the water trough at the bottom. The herds and flocks were led down into these deep cisterns where cool, clear, clean water awaited them.

But down in the well, stripped naked, was the owner bailing water to satisfy the flock. It was hard, heavy, hot work. Perspiration poured off the body of the bailer whose skin glistened under the strain and heat of his labor... Everything hinged on the diligence of the owner, the shepherd. Only through his efforts, his sweat, his strength could the sheep be satisfied...”

I can almost picture the long line of sheep, mamas and papas and little lambs too, lopping along lazily following the shepherd, trusting that he knows where he's taking them and sublimely oblivious to what it costs the shepherd to meet their need. Keller draws our attention to those stubborn sheep who refuse to follow the shepherd and decide to drink wherever they please along the way. The water they choose is from filthy watering holes, full of deadly parasites, animal waste, and dead carcasses decaying in the water. The sheep that make this choice will be deathly ill and in immense pain very quickly. If only they had trusted the shepherd to meet their need.

So like the stubborn, rebellious sheep are we! Often not understanding the depth of His love for us, we decide to meet our needs our way, and stop at all the alluring watering holes along life's path. After all, I really do know what will best meet my needs, don't I?! Doesn't our culture celebrate at every turn that “I did it MY way!” What's wrong with that?!

I've often ignored the leading of the Shepherd in favor of my own choice. How about you? Ever been tempted to get into a relationship that wasn't really 'clean' by the Shepherd's standards? Ever wanted to just try drinking away your troubles at the neighborhood 'watering hole'? Ever compromised what you knew the Lord was asking of you “just a bit' to get that thirst met? Ever been bitterly disappointed that you were at least as thirsty afterward as you were when you started to drink and bathe in that muddy watering hole? It didn't seem like such a big deal at the time. Water's water. And I was thirsty. After all, I am in charge of me - right?

For a while, it seemed like I was just as well off as those boring, 'follow the leader' sheep that waited obediently to have their needs met by the Shepherd. But, while they were resting in the pasture, I turned deathly ill. I panicked. I needed the Shepherd. Too late, I realized, He knows how best to meet my need...

Too late, I learned, none of it satisfies. I thank Him today that He loved me anyway. He never gave up on me. He led me to the Fount of Living Water. His name is Jesus. Follow hard after Him. Only He satisfies...

Scripture Reference: Jeremiah 2:13

My people...have forsaken Me; the Fountain of Living Waters
And hewn for themselves cisterns – broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Marked by What?

The beautiful Psalm 23 captivates me. The writer is wooing us into a deeper love relationship with the Shepherd! He's lovingly, tenderly, making us hunger for more. I invite you to linger a little longer with me over this much loved psalm of King David's and 'see what we can see...'

This is the 2nd in a short series I am doing on the book by Phillip Keller: “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23.”

The Lord is My Shepherd.” David's psalm opens with these very familiar words. This is a clear, bold statement of ownership. From God's perspective, He is staking His claim on us. We are His. And He is ours! He owns us. He clearly wants us to know and understand that we are His prized possession, for which He has paid the ultimate price.  He will care for us all the days of our lives. We can count on that. But, the one thing He will not do is share us with another God.

Keller, from his experience as a sheep owner, explains the process of taking ownership of the sheep. He gives us an unadorned picture of what took place when the shepherd claimed ownership over his sheep.

The shepherd “takes each ewe in turn and laying her ear on a wooden block, notches it deeply with the razor-sharp edge of the killing knife. There was pain for both of us. But from our mutual suffering, an indelible lifelong mark of ownership was made that could not be erased. Every sheep that came into the fold would bear the mark of ownership by the shepherd.” (p.24)

The mark could be seen from a distance by anyone wanting to know who was the rightful owner of the sheep. There was no hiding or mistaking the mark of the shepherd, branded in blood into the very body of the sheep. There was no having it two ways – the sheep could only belong to one shepherd! Such a simple statement, but so pregnant with meaning: The Lord is MY Shepherd.

There really is no mistaking the parallels for us as believers, is there?! It is a painful experience to “lay our head on the wooden block” and allow the Lord to put His mark on us. I tend to want to avoid the cutting tool. I want to squirm away from the mark of the cross. I want to belong to the Shepherd – sometimes! Does it really have to be so exclusive? Do I really have to abandon all my other gods? The gods of my culture: money, sex, immediate gratification... And, of course, everyone's personal favorite - the god of SELF!

I don't always want to be clearly identified as belonging to the Shepherd. Sometimes, it's just inconvenient. Sometimes, it hurts. Sometimes, I am rejected because I have His mark on my forehead. I can't avoid the reality that some of His sheep are being slaughtered, just because they belong to Him. Some of them are being starved, tortured, imprisoned and abandoned because of His ownership over them. In some places in the world, it is outright dangerous to be marked by the cross.

I have to ask myself, am I willing to be His? What mark do people see when they look at me? Who or what is it they would say owns me? What is the mark that covers me? What does Jesus see when He looks on me? Does He recognize me as belonging to Him? Or am I clearly branded with the mark of another god?

Scripture Reference: Matthew 7:22-23

Many will say to Me on that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, cast out demons, and done many wonders in your name? And I will say to them, depart from Me for I never knew you...”

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

He Watches Me...

The 'worries' got a hold of me today.  It is NEVER pretty when that happens in my life!  I kept hearing this old hymn running through my mind.  When I finally paid attention, I realized the Lord was trying to quiet me - quiet my anxieties, quiet my fears.  So for today, I decided I would just share with you some of the lyrics of this famous old hymn.  I find He often uses the beautiful old hymns of the church to speak to me and lead me into worship.

If you are fighting to overcome 'the worries' today, listen for His voice.  He just might be singing you a love song to quiet your heart and still your fears...

"His Eye Is On the Sparrow" by Civilla D. Martin, 1869-1948

"Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come, why should my heart be lonely and long for Heaven and home, when Jesus is my portion: My constant Friend is He;

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me...

'Let not your heart be troubled,' His tender word I hear, and resting on His goodness, I lose my
doubts and fears; tho' by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sing because I'm happy,
I sing because I'm free,
for His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Scripture Reference: Matthew 10: 29-31

 "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet, not one of the them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father in heaven.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So do not be afraid; YOU are worth more than sparrows."