Twenty-One Grains of Wheat

17 02 2015

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They were good men by pretty much any standard.

Able-bodied, hard workers who only wanted to provide for their families, but there was no work available. So they counted the cost, took a big risk, and crossed a border into dangerous territory in search of jobs.

And we all know what happened. We’ve seen the photos. Twenty-one men kneeling on a beach, each with a black-clad, faceless executioner standing at his back. Like lambs that are led to the slaughter, and like sheep that before their shearers are silent, they opened not their mouths. And their captors knew no mercy.

Good men as the world counts goodness. But much more than that. Christians. Servants of God. Knit together in their mother’s wombs, set apart, adopted, chosen, beloved. Purchased with the blood of Christ, redeemed for His pleasure and glory.

And what their captors can’t know is that not one word God spoke concerning those beloved sons failed. All were brought to pass.

And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Evil is never going to learn. Arrogance can’t understand the power of the laid-down life. And hate can’t fathom the greater love. When satan entered into Judas at the Last Supper, he tipped the first domino in the final chain of events that crushed his own head.

And so they knelt, men of whom the world is not worthy, twenty-one grains of wheat violently planted on that beach before the eyes of a watching world. And if you think for one minute that evil won, you don’t know the law of the upside-down kingdom.

They were portrayed as powerless victims before the eyes of a watching world, but in the realer Real, they were ushered as overcoming conquerors into the presence of their Lord, who found them faithful and counted them worthy to suffer for His Name.

They were good men who only wanted to provide for their families, but God had a higher calling in mind. And He will never leave or forsake the families they left behind. Their plight is on the radar of every believer now. We are their family.

When ISIS called the execution, “A Message Signed With Blood to the Nation of the Cross,” they might as well have said, “Hey, Christians. You say you’re blood-bought. A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Well, prove it. Are you willing to count the cost and take up your crosses, too?”

And once again, evil plays into God’s hand. Because it’s a question we must answer, and must not answer lightly. If I claim that God counted these men worthy — that their deaths were purposeful and their reward is great — then I must be prepared to take the same stand if it’s my husband or son or grandson kneeling on that beach.

The cost is real.

 

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Twenty-one grains of wheat, never meant to remain alone, but rather to bear much fruit — a harvest of fellow servants stirred from slumber and self-indulgence to follow Jesus with joyful abandon wherever He leads, whatever the price.

And we don’t have the luxury of ignoring the call, because to not choose is to choose.

The seeds have been planted, and the harvest will come.

Will we be part of it?

 





Choosing to See

4 02 2015

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I haven’t watched the videos. Or looked at the photos. And I don’t intend to. But my imagination is alive and well, and that’s enough.

A man trapped in a cage, watching as the flames approach. Every measure calculated to ensure he experiences the maximum amount of terror and pain for the longest possible period of time before dying.

Then the brazen broadcast to a gaping world, and we all react as expected, with shock and horror and disbelief that any human with a soul could perpetrate this kind of evil against another human.

And then?

We have a choice.

We can question God’s power and goodness. We can harden our hearts and shut our eyes and refuse to let it be about us. We can throw up our hands in despair and indulge our flesh to numb the pain. We can cheer for acts of retribution and stock our basements with food and firearms. We can surrender to terror and live in fear.

“Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’” ~ Malachi 3:13-15

Or we can stand squarely in the presence of the living God, who sees when a sparrow falls, and numbers the hairs on every head, and reigns sovereign over the affairs of men, and we can choose to see.

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Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.” ~ Malachi 3:16-18

We can fear the Lord, building each other up in Him, even as we weep with those who weep.

Because He is working out plans formed long ago with perfect faithfulness. And He was there. In that cage. As surely as He was in the fiery furnace with Daniel’s friends. I don’t know if the Jordanian pilot knew Him or saw Him, but I know Jesus was there, willing to be seen and to give the grace that has enabled martyrs through the ages to sing even as the flames rose around them.

We will not fear, because the God who orders our days is with us — the same God who opened Stephen’s eyes to the truer true, where instead of seeing rage-filled faces and jagged stones, he saw the Son of Man standing at the right hand of the Father. Instead of fear, he felt compassion and forgiveness for those whose hearts were darkened and filled with hate.

Evil has always been and — as long as this earth endures — always will be. But it will never win. Terrorists and tyrants have no authority except that which God allows for His kingdom purposes. It was true when Pilate condemned the Savior of the world to death on the cross, and it is true today.

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We have a choice.

We can return hate for hate, or we can pray to a God who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, and ask Him to take even this extremity of evil and redeem it for good. We can love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And when He calls us to suffer, we can be sure it is purposeful, and He will carry us in it with grace overwhelmingly, abundantly, and extravagantly sufficient.

Those who fear the Lord speak with one another, and heaven takes notes. He may not spare us from the flames, but He will spare us in the exact same way He spared His Son. And evil will again be the means of its own undoing.

This is what I will choose to see.





A Word for 2015: Abide

6 01 2015

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I don’t know who originally started it, but I like the trend of choosing one word as a focus for the year. It feels less rigid than New Year’s resolutions, and as Anne-with-an-e would say, offers more scope for the imagination — like I’m standing on the edge of a vast meadow, scanning the horizon, catching a misty glimpse of glorious design, then moving forward into an adventure certain to hold many challenges and delightful surprises along the way.

This is my fifth year to choose one word. 2011 was Rest. 2012 Contentment. 2013 Receive. And 2014 Known. The progression has felt more like building on a foundation than jumping from one stepping stone to another. Rest leading to contentment, preparing my heart to receive all God’s gifts with humble and trusting gratitude, discovering again and again that He opens and closes doors for my good (even when I don’t get what I think I wanted), reinforcing the assurance that I am deeply, intimately known and loved beyond my capacity to comprehend it.

Which brings me to a new year and a new word.

I considered the word Small, because I am. And Sufficient, because He is. I also considered Light, because the darkness cannot overcome it (and the darkness these days is getting awfully dark). And Purpose, because everything we see (even the darkness) must ultimately serve His eternal plan. I love these words and all the depths of meaning they embody, and perhaps I’ll choose one or more of them another year.

But when I thought of the word Abide, it was like all that I loved most about the other words distilled and blended and absorbed into those five little letters.

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By dictionary definition, Abide can mean stay, live, tolerate, endure, or wait. All of those meanings have substance and are worth pondering. But the picture that came to mind when I landed on the word was the one Jesus painted in John 15, specifically verses 4-5:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

He is the true vine. I am only a branch. A chosen, grafted-in, beloved branch, but still, only a branch. I can do nothing apart from Him, but the more connected I am to Him, the more freely His life flows into and through me, and the result is much fruit for the nourishment and delight and eternal good of others.

A branch makes no demands. It has no agenda. It doesn’t choose where it grows or how visible it is or what kind of fruit it produces. A branch simply abides in the vine. And His roots reach deep into the eternal purposes of God, and the sap rises with holy urgency, and the branch that stays in His Word, lives in His light, tolerates the gnawing teeth of pain, endures the oppressive heat and bitter cold, and waits patiently for His good timing? That branch explodes with fruit.

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When I abide, my eyes are on Him, my ears are tuned to His voice, and my heart aligns with His. People may misunderstand, accuse, mock, or persecute, but they can’t sever that connection. And the fruit will come. And the Father will be glorified.

Because that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Shouldn’t that be the “why” for everything I do? If my primary purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, then I need to learn how to abide in Him, to lean on His wisdom, and to walk in His light. And when I do? Jesus said His joy will be in me, and my joy will be full.

I can’t think of a better life or better reward than that.

So, the journey of 2015 begins. Only God knows what it will hold and how life will look when it ends.

Hopefully we’ll need lots of baskets.

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Do you choose a word for the year? If so, I’d love to hear yours. And if you’ve written about it, please share the link along with your comment!





In which goodness and beauty collide in fields of gold

15 12 2014

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Ah, friends. I don’t have to tell you the world is full of real pain and brokenness, and sometimes it’s flat out overwhelming. But meanwhile there are beautiful souls quietly, faithfully doing what they love to undo what they hate. They aren’t seeking fame or trying to draw attention to themselves; instead they’re pouring their energies into shining a light of hope into dark and aching places. And we do well to encourage them in every way we can. Which is why I’m writing this post.

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DSC_0275photos from recent First Aid Arts training

First Aid Arts (formerly Arts Aftercare) exists to bring the healing power of artistic expression to survivors of human trafficking and other forms of extreme trauma. As more and more non-profit organizations serving wounded communities learn about the tools available and the reports of remarkable breakthroughs, requests for training in their toolkit continue to pour in from around the world. With all their hearts they long to respond to every single request, but they’re still a small organization and can only reach as far as their financial resources will take them.

And yet, our God is a God who provides in surprising ways.

Now the founders, Curtis and Grace Romjue, have an opportunity to use their musical gifts to spread the word about First Aid Arts while partnering with Rock Against Trafficking in their efforts.

Here’s what Grace wrote about it to their friends:

Curtis and I recorded a video of our cover of Fields of Gold (Eva Cassidy’s version). We are hoping to be included on a compilation produced by Rock Against Trafficking (an awesome organization!) that will be used to raise funds for anti-trafficking work. Most of the other artists on the album are Grammy-winners, so this would be a great opportunity for exposure for our work with First Aid Arts, using creative expression to help trafficking survivors heal.

If you watch the video and enjoy it, will you do us a favor? The Rock Against Trafficking competition is being hosted at TalentWatch.net. Search for us (The Humble Bold), it will ask you to “Sign Up” to rate us (takes two minutes), then rate our video and also give us a “likability” rating on our profile video.

Feeling more than a little nervous to share this with everyone. Thanks for your support!

So, here’s where you and I come in. We have an opportunity to do something beautiful together this Christmas season, and all it will cost us is a few minutes of our time. Here’s how it works:

First, watch the video.

Isn’t that gorgeous?

Next, go to TalentWatch.net, click the “register” button in the top right corner, and go through the short registration process.

Then, after you activate your registration, you can click here to go directly to their personal artist page. (Their band name is The Humble Bold.)

Once you’re on their page, watch their short profile video and rate its “likeability.” (The adorable two year old ups the ante quite a bit here.)

Then rate the song. You can also leave a comment if you like. And that’s it! You’re done!

The contest runs until April 15, 2015. Each person can only rate an artist once, so please share this opportunity with all your friends, relatives, and online communities! And please, please, please pray for God’s continued blessing on the work of First Aid Arts. They deeply appreciate your prayers. Oh, and if you still need a few last-minute Christmas gifts this year, they just launched their shop!

So much goodness and beauty. So much to celebrate. Thank you for helping make the world a little brighter.

 

 





Echoes

25 11 2014

 

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A canyon can
be
a mountain top
salted with saints,
majestic ones,
in whom is

All
my delight.

Light
from glowing ember
singing star

Far
from distraction
by distraction

Near
His heart
and yours
and ours, we

Come
and take, eat,
this is one
body, one
spirit, one
hope, one
high calling to

Walk
worthy of
the bond of peace
over all
through all
in all
humility, and

All
shall be well, and
all
shall be well, and
all
manner of thing
was
is
and ever shall be

world without
end

well.

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I don’t often post poetry in this space, but today it seemed appropriate. My heart is full, thankful for gifts of God’s presence and people at Laity Lodge this past weekend, heavy for Ferguson and all the ways our pride and blindness rob us, leaning into divine purpose that makes all things new, and looking toward a day when the redeemed from every tribe, tongue, and nation will worship with one voice around the throne.

Thanks for the inspiration to the High Calling community, Marilyn McEntyre, who invited us to slow down and play with words, Vincent Bacote, who reminded us to be salt and light, the psalmist David, T.S. Eliot, the apostle Paul, doxology, and Julian of Norwich, who said:

“In my folly, . . . I often wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the onset of sin was not prevented: for then, I thought, all should have been well. This impulse [of thought] was much to be avoided, but nevertheless I mourned and sorrowed because of it, without reason and discretion.

“But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.'”

And so it shall. Hallelujah.





It’s time to play

14 11 2014

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“We can all see God in exceptional things, but it requires the culture of spiritual discipline to see God in every detail. Never allow that the haphazard is anything less than God’s appointed order, and be ready to discover the Divine designs anywhere.” ~ Oswald Chambers

Laura Boggess’ book, Playdates with God, is an invitation to practice God’s presence. To “discover the Diving designs anywhere.” To understand that every moment is sacred, and to joyfully search for God in them all.

Like a gentle caress, it hushes those persistent longings for significance we all have and softly beckons to come and find the beauty in being small.  It’s a call to remember. To become as a child. To skip into the kingdom, masks off — comparisons, competition, and personal agendas laid down.

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I love it when I meet myself on the pages of a book. When entering an author’s experience is like finding a category for my own. When someone else’s words explain me.

I met myself all over this book. It was as though Laura had watched the movie of my life and graciously wrapped her beautiful words around many things God has been patiently and persistently teaching and un-teaching me. Time and again, memories surfaced to be viewed through the lens of God’s sovereign goodness and faithfulness. Time and again, I felt the wonder of it and whispered my grateful awe.

No matter how old we get, play is important, because play is acting out story, and truth is best understood through story. Laura explores this concept in great depth, reminding us to let the gospel lead our internal narrative. When we find ourselves in a season of suffering, we endure and press on, because we trust the end of the story — an ending already written with perfect love. How many times has God proved this to be true in my life? I’ve long ago lost count.

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What Oswald Chambers calls “the culture of spiritual discipline,” Laura calls playdates with God. The more we practice this spiritual discipline of seeing God in every detail, the more time slows down and we truly live. We enter the moments of our own lives, consciously receiving His many gifts, and all of life becomes a delightful adventure with God.

I was a child in the 60s, long before cell phones and the internet and so much paralyzing fear, when little ones traipsed unattended to a neighbor’s house. I was so tiny I had to reach up to ring the doorbell. And then came the breathless wait. Would anyone be home? Would someone want to come out to play?

Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and I knock.”

Tiny once again, I fling the door wide.

Yes, Lord. I’m here. And all my time is yours.

Let’s play.

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You can purchase a copy (or ten) of Laura’s wonderful book here, or anywhere fine literature is sold. Don’t leave Jesus standing at the door, friends. It’s time to play.

 

 





What One Drop Can Do

30 10 2014

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Water is powerful. We all know that.

It’s an instrument of life and of death — at the same time a basic necessity and an imposing threat.

Water can restore an entire parched nation, or destroy that nation with a single monster wave.

But what can one drop of water do?

Here’s an interesting thing about water. One drop by itself is small and seemingly insignificant — a sparkle of dew evaporating moments after it meets the sun. But what is a tsunami if not a multitude of single drops united and moving in one direction?

I’ve been absent from this space for a month and a half — not because I didn’t want to be here, but because I’ve needed to be elsewhere. And I realize now that God has been teaching me the unspeakable joy of sinking into His purposes and disappearing into His life-giving flood.

Remember that virtual baby shower I invited you to for Zhanna, my lovely friend in Kazakhstan? You came, and you invited your friends to come, and drop added to drop until a stream of generosity splashed happily into the hearts and hands of a precious family.

Friends, we did it. We and God-only-knows who else, like a gentle, relentless rain. We each gave our little bit to God, and He gave those twin baby girls their very own bedroom.

1925256_10152790266663809_112165036379060704_nthe babies’ bedroom

10689511_10152790266558809_1239792690113925506_nfamily-sized kitchen to replace their tiny one

Here’s what Zhanna wrote in a letter to their ministry supporters. (Imagine her musical Russian accent behind these words):

“Our family expect two baby girls! It was real surprise and miracle from our LOVELY FATHER! When we have known about it, we were worried about so many question, especially about the place where we will live with such a big family! We have little apartment and it is not enough for all of us. Finally God gave us such a great friends, who collect money for us and support us, that it gave us opportunity to rent bigger apartment and moved there. Some people will rent our apartment, they will pay to us, we will add little more money and will pay for our new apartment. Thanks to God and to Friends!

In a private message for those who gave she wrote, “Thank you so much, God cares through you about us so much! We feel His Love, Miracles, and Mercy through you! You are real our family!

And she’s right. We are real family. We’re meant to belong to each other, not to compete. We’re better, stronger, more beautiful when we pour out together — a river of life buoying the weak, refreshing the weary, and finding our own deepest delight as we disappear into His higher purposes. I love the way the Water Song from Hinds Feet on High Places puts it: Oh, what a joy it is to race, to find the lowest place.

So, it seems lately, in multiple ways, God has enlisted me in this race to the lowest place, and I’m finding it’s the happiest place to be. There are more stories I’d love to tell you . . .

  • About the Arts Aftercare Training held in Dallas earlier this month and the delightful privilege of working behind the scenes there, washing the beautiful feet of those who minister to survivors of human trafficking and severe trauma all over the world.
  • About meeting Ruba Abbassi and learning about her ministry to Arab women and Syrian refugees in Jordan, hushed to be in the presence of a small, surrendered one God is using to change the world.
  • About the sweet stirrings in my heart, not to aspire to the pampered life of a fancy vessel set on a pedestal, but to be like those rough and ordinary water jars at the wedding in Cana, standing at the ready for Jesus to fill and empty again and again — adding my one drop to the many, together brimming over — enough for Christ to transform into a river of the very best wine.

Oh, how the world needs to taste this grace.

We have a choice. We can insist on being a solitary drop, sparkling for an instant, and then gone. Or we can sink into the ocean of His love, swept up into divine purposes, dissolving into the great compelling of God. It means letting go. It means complete surrender. No stipulations. No restrictions. No anchor wedged in selfish ambitions. Only the hilarious yes as we plunge into a rollicking flood of amazing grace, bowing to His will, and watching the desert blossom in our wake.

Friends, I’m all in. Wanna come?

* * *

I may be the worst “blogger” in the world.
To all who’ve stuck with me, thank you for your patience.
I really do love you and miss interacting with you,
even if my reasons for absence are happy ones.

I do hope to blog more often. There are still God-sized,
water-into-wine stories from Kazakhstan
I haven’t yet wrapped in words.
Those and others are begging to be told.

To those of you in The High Calling community,
I’ve registered for the retreat in November.
Can’t wait to finally meet some of you face to face.








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