Friday, July 31, 2009

Runnin' on Empty

Remember the old Jackson Browne song “Runnin’ On Empty”? It was brought back into my recent memory during the last election campaign of John McCain. As I revisited those lyrics, I realized that this could be the theme song for a good many of our lives.

“Running on – running on empty
Running on – running blind
Running on – running into the sun
But I’m running behind.” *

Even as Christians, we can be “runnin’ on empty” and “runnin’ blind.” Do you realize that? We have the race marked out for us, with Christ’s help to run it unwaveringly, but so often we train our own way and race with our own resources.

As I’ve grown in my faith over the past five years, this is a topic I’ve had to wrestle with and allow the Lord to win. It came to a point where, until I dealt with this issue specifically, I’d have to take a water break from the race God had designed for me.

My poor training started in my childhood. With no one to show me how to cope with the horrible realities I faced, I ran. Between choir and theatre and cheerleading and track and student council and color guard and friends’ houses and church events and softball and running blind into wherever I thought the sun was shining, you can bet I was empty. To fill up, I’d watch my regular television programs, all with families I wished were my own. I’d stuff my face with junk food at the same time, knowing that my taste palette would be satisfied eventually. It never was, but I kept swallowing anyway.

“But you were just a kid and weren’t taught any better,” you might say. “Besides, you coped the best you could.” This is true, but I was long into my adulthood before I realized I was still running the same way I had begun many years before. Only now I had my driver’s license.

“Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels,
I don’t know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels.
I look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through.
Looking into their eyes, I see them running too.” *

All of a sudden, it occurred to me that I wasn’t the only one wearing the tread down on my tires. Surprisingly enough, I was in a great deal of traffic, with people just like me. Probably all for different reasons, but pedals to the metal, just the same.

On the race the Lord has marked out for us, sometimes we have to sprint, and sometimes hurdles are a part of our endurance training. Some seasons are busier than others, and we have no control over it. But I’m not necessarily talking about being too busy. I’m talking about running with the wrong source of energy. About becoming distracted with the audience on the sidelines. About taking shortcuts when the path marked before us gets too rocky. About going just because we’ve always gone.

Featuring Browne’s album, Rolling Stone magazine** wrote, “The title track was actually written when Browne was driving back and forth to the studio each day to make The Pretender. ‘I was always driving around with no gas in the car,’ he said. ‘I just never bothered to fill up the tank because -- how far was it anyway? Just a few blocks.’”

Wow. What a description of my life for so many years. Does this apply to you? Are you running on fumes, thinking that your fill-up is only a few blocks away?

The Lord desires that we run our races with a full tank of Him, my friends. For our own good, and also for the sake of those witnessing the race.

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
No matter if we are on a city road or a country one, a road under construction or one fully paved—God designed us to live with our eyes fixed on Him and our hearts full of Him. Otherwise, we’ll keep “running behind, running on empty—running blind.” With the joy of Heaven set before us, let’s allow the One who ran the race before us to retrain us, perfect us. Let’s keep running on—running on full.”

*Running On Empty—lyrics by Jackson Browne
**—Dec. 9th, 2004

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Losing My Marbles

Several years ago, I was at a women’s retreat where our speaker, JoAnn Hummel, used a visual that really grabbed me. She gave each of us in the room a marble and a small lump of clay and used them to question us about the attitude of our hearts. Would we allow our hearts to be molded by the hand of the Potter, or would we be hardened to His voice like the marble? I remember squeezing the marble in one hand, clay in the other, closing my eyes, fully aware that God was going to use this kinesthetic and visual lesson from Him for years to come.

As I was reading one morning, Hebrews 3:12-15 took a high jump off the page to grab my attention:

“See to it, brothers and sisters (that’s US as believers), that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.”

Immediately, the marble and clay from years before came to my mind. God led me to a time of reflection…He was asking me to search what areas of my heart have been hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. One of the sneakiest things that I believe Satan does in my life is convince me that my sins aren’t really that sinful. Sometimes I don’t even call sin “sin” anymore. Hardening our hearts and turning away from God are not just the “majors” that come to our minds. “Well, I haven’t had an affair,” or “I don’t get drunk or steal or lie.”

When I really allow God to search my heart, He shows me that I have not only done some of these “majors” within the boundaries of my motives, but I have also turned my back on Him in many other ways as well. Most of us, if we’re honest, could say the same thing. Let me just use realistic parallels from above. (On the soapbox) Each and every time we lust over a “star” on the big screen or think that someone’s spouse is better than ours, we’ve fallen short of His plan for those of us who are married. Every time we run to alcohol or food or whatever for the sake of our sanity or in order to cope, it is beyond the scope of the freedom He’s given us. And can we actually say we don’t ever steal or lie if we think outside the box of what’s culturally acceptable? All of these things came to my mind today, as well as cynicism, self-defeating talk, gossip, impatience, worry, pride and so on. As uncomfortable as it is to speak so bluntly, I feel quite certain that each one of us could fill in our own blanks if we open ourselves up to it.

Let’s not add guilt or condemnation to our list, my friends, but Scripture is here not only to give us a positive boost of energy, but also to correct our behaviors and our motives. The verse above says, “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today…” We don’t know how long we have on this earth to do what He’s called us to do. If our hearts become hardened as marbles, it is difficult to encourage one another Today, isn’t it? That’s because we’re so bogged down with sin that we aren’t calling “sin,” it cripples our effectiveness to do so.

“Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” (Hebrews 4:7)

If you have heard His voice today, as I have through the power of His Word, which is “living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword (vs. 12),” take a moment to consider what He’s asked you to do in these verses. “There is therefore, no condemnation, for those who are in Christ Jesus…(Romans 8:1),” but His desire is to free you from what binds so that He can mold you as clay.

Together, let’s lose our marbles for Him—as long as it is TODAY-- so that we can encourage and share in Christ, holding His confidence firmly till the end.

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have One who has been tempted in every way just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16

Monday, July 27, 2009

Window Shopping

What kind of shopper are you? Are you a hunter….knowing exactly what you want before you go, setting out for the kill and getting back home before anyone knew you were gone? Or are you a reflective shopper? “Oh, I wonder how this would go with those pants at home….naaa….doesn’t fit quite right at the shoulders.” You go from store to store only to come home empty-handed. Maybe you’re a mix of these two types—the passive-aggressive shopper: You ARE going to come home with something to wear, but you just can’t decide what you want, so off you go….scooping up blouse after pants after dress after belt after shoes. “I can always return what I don’t want later,” you tell yourself while heading to your car with numb fingers and a crick in your shoulder. What kind of shopper are you?

Since the combinations are endless, let’s pretend that we are all window shoppers. We determine that we won’t go inside a store until something really fantastic catches our eye, even if we have to go from window to window, squinting at every last detail….as soon as we see that thing we can’t resist, we’ll go in and check it out! The truth is that we’ll probably choose to go into the store that most clearly displays their items: front, back, price tag showing, etc.

This is a little bit of the picture of living out the gospel of Christ. We’ve all heard the phrase, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one anyday.” So true, isn’t it? Jesus is the only One who can save the lost, but He draws unbelievers to us to do some “window shopping.” I used to think that, as Christians, we were the item underneath the bright light, and that we needed to be perfectly beautiful all the time, doing and saying all the “right” things. The truth is this: We are not the One on display---Jesus is----and our lives are the reflection of Him.

“We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.”
2 Corinthians 6:3 (NIV)

It is clear when we read this verse that the Lord wants us to keep His windows sparkling, so they’ll need to be squeegeed on a regular basis through the cleansing of the Holy Spirit. Why? Not so that Christianity will look pretty and perfect to everyone looking in….but so that it will be pure and unclouded to them. The verses that follow explain how we can present Christ clearly to others (I like the way “The Message” translates it):

“Our work as God’s servants gets validated-or not-in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly…in hard times, tough times, bad times…working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness and honest love; when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing His power; when we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed…ignored by the world, but recognized by God…immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy…having nothing, having it all.:” (Read 2 Corinthians 6:3 thru 10 to see the verse in its entirety, as I omitted some for space.)

If we make ourselves the object on display, we will fail miserably. If we make Him Front & Center of all that we do, then others may see Him clearly, which is the goal of any true window shopper, isn’t it? Let’s take the time right now to pore over these verses, asking Jesus to help our lives to reflect Him honorably. Ask Him to show us spots or smudges that we haven’t cleaned up or that have been unnoticed in the corner of our frames. The most awesome truth of all is that when we show off Christ in this way, some will be desperate to have Him too, no matter what kind of shopper they are. And when they walk inside, they will be delighted to possess this priceless Treasure, all the while, throwing their Discover Cards away…

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Stumbled on a Thought

I was in a pretty good mood that day with an extra spring in my step. While bouncing down the hallway at my children’s school, all of a sudden, I tripped over my own feet. Since I managed to catch myself before my bottom hit the floor, it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could’ve been. I noticed no one was around, so after a humiliating sigh of relief, I went on my merry way.

Another day, I took a pretty good tumble off the stage when I was leading worship in kid’s ministry at my church. This fall wasn’t from clumsiness, rather a lack of awareness of the poor lighting on the edge of the stage. And I fell ALL the way on my rumpus this time, with an audience of fourth grade boys enjoying it about as much as a movie with all you can eat popcorn, candy and soda pop.

It occurs to me now, after many days similar to these, that most all of us have them. It is the case in our faith journeys as well. We can go through moments of great “highs” spiritually, skipping around joyfully singing His praises. Unexpectedly we trip, and the high mountaintop we were just singing on becomes more of an anthill we’re wounded from.

James 3: 2 says that
“we all stumble in many ways.” One way could be that we tripped because we’re clumsy, which would represent sinning. OR it could be that some obstacle was in our path that we just didn’t see coming, such as a decision to be made or an illness or even a hurtful comment someone made to us. We may even stumble over our doubts regarding the ways of the Lord. Whatever the case, sometimes the falls are big, and sometimes they are small. Often, the bruises from them heal quickly; other times, the bleeding doesn’t stop for a good while.

Could it be that this is a normal part of walking in the faith? While we as believers of the King will never EVER fall from our promise of Heaven, we’re going to lose our footing now and then on this earth. When we do, Jesus is right beside us. He stands in the gap for us. He comforts us. He corrects us. He prays for us--and He is faithful to pick us up in His perfect time. Even though His peace, love and joy are always a part of us as believers, we don’t always feel them with our emotions. When this is the case, we would be wise to search His promises and choose to lean on them, trusting that He will minister to us in the unique way we need at that time.

Let’s be prepared, friends, praying that when temptation comes, He will give us an escape—praying that when someone hurts us, He will be our encouragement--praying that when something happens that we don’t understand or couldn’t be foreseen, He will give us the faith to trust in Him anyway. Most of all, let’s pray that when we crawl or limp through the valley for any reason--be it stress or depression or hormones or sin or circumstances or WHATEVER--that He would comfort, teach and grow us up there—right in that place.

And may we be quick to take His strong hand the instant He’s ready to pick us up and lead us to higher ground—fully restored, renewed and refreshed for the next leg of the journey.
“And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ,
after you have suffered a little while,
will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
To Him be the power forever and ever. Amen.”
1 Peter 5:10-11

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fruit & Restoration


I'm taking a bit of a break right now...time with the Lord, time with family. I look forward to renewed inspiration and thinking during these moments.

In the meantime, the July issue of Exemplify Magazine is online, and it is ripe with teaching with the theme of "Fruit of the Spirit." I am blessed to be one of the featured writers this month.

Click here to read these fruit-filled articles.

See you all soon!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Psalm 71 Perspective

"From birth I have relied on You;
You brought me forth from my mother's womb.
I will ever praise You.”
Psalm 71:6

I’m amazed as I flip through previous chapters of my life—amazed at God’s faithfulness, His unfathomable love and favor upon me, even through the world’s ugliest offerings.

Chapter 1: My Childhood

The world offered me abuse, anger, despair, hopelessness and pain.

~ But looking backward, in the midst of it all…

God saved me with sacrificial love, Fatherly affection, protection and compassion. He showed Himself faithful.

“Deliver me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the grasp of evil and cruel men.
For You have been my hope, O Sovereign LORD,
my confidence since my youth.”
(vs. 4-5)

Chapter 2: My Youth

The world offered me a broken family, ridicule, deception, bad counsel and manipulation.

~ But looking backward, in the midst of it all…

God overwhelmed me with true love, a church family, unconditional acceptance, & pure, unadulterated Truth. He showed Himself faithful.

“Since my youth, O God, You have taught me,
and to this day I declare Your marvelous deeds.”
(vs. 17)

Chapter 3: My Young Adult Years

The world offered me temptation, betrayal, empty pleasure, feelings of inferiority & illness.

~ But looking backward, in the midst of it all…

God worked in me true fulfillment, God-confidence, grace, encouragement & healing. He showed Himself faithful.

“Though You have made me see troubles, many and bitter,
You will restore my life again;
from the depths of the earth You will again bring me up.”
(vs. 20)

Chapter 4: My Not-quite-as-young Recent Past

The world offered me more temptation, grief, discontentment, distractions, depression & confusion.

~ But looking backward, in the midst of it all…

God gave me a learning curve in His infinite mercy. He poured out His power, His comfort, His wisdom, His strength and stability in me. He showed Himself faithful.

“And I'll take up the lute and thank You
to the tune of Your faithfulness, God.
I'll make music for You on a harp,
Holy One of Israel.
When I open up in song to You,
I let out lungsful of praise,
my rescued life a song.”
(Vs. 22 & 23, the MSG)

Chapters 4 & Beyond:

The world will offer me more of the same, I’m sure--even worse as I learn to deny myself and follow Christ more devoutly.

~But looking ahead, in the midst of it all…

I will follow hard after the Lord, remembering His love through all of my past. And as I set my eyes on the future hope of Heaven, just as He has always been faithful, I pray He will find me the same.

"Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God,
till I declare Your power to the next generation,
Your might to all who are to come. (vs. 18)
I'll write the book on Your righteousness,
talk up Your salvation the livelong day,
never run out of good things to write or say.
I come in the power of the Lord God,
I post signs marking his right-of-way."
(vs. 15-16, the MSG)

Your turn, friends. What do you have to say about your life from the perspective of Psalm 71?
Are you looking at your circumstances through His grid?
How have you found Him faithful?
When He comes, how will He find You faithful?