When we don’t recognize the answers to our prayers

11 11 2016

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To state the obvious, there’s a lot of pain, confusion, fear, and disappointment in the aftermath of the election. We’re all processing what happened and trying to predict what it might mean for the future. Tensions are high and words are often harsh and accusatory. And I’m not even referring to the general populace. I’m talking about those who identify as believers in Christ.

So, I thought it might be good to preach a little gospel to myself and anyone else who wants to listen in. Feel free to grab a cup of tea and get cozy.

Our culture may be saying a lot of things about us, and we may be saying a lot of things about each other, but God has also said some very specific things about His people. Here are a few of them:

We are created in His image, covered by the shadow of His wing, held in the palm of His hand, fearfully and wonderfully made, created for His pleasure and glory, chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, taught by the Holy Spirit, known, protected, shielded, shepherded, disciplined as beloved children, grafted into the vine, loved, cherished, set apart, adopted, His workmanship created for good works that He has foreordained for us to walk in.

Exhale.

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One good thing I already see happening post-election is that Christians in America are distancing themselves from political affiliations and reexamining their identity. As believers, we’re called to be in this world, but not of it. We may be citizens of a nation, but we’re called to live here as citizens of God’s upside-down kingdom. No earthly ruler is responsible for accomplishing what God has commanded His church to do.

God is calling His people to deep, meaningful, and powerful community. Can you imagine what would happen if we really believed all the truths God has spoken over us — if we walked into our inheritance and united our hearts, our creativity, and our energies in loving this broken world?

We need to own our identity as God’s sons and daughters and co-heirs with Christ, because the kingdom we live in determines the lenses through which we see all things, including the promises of God.

Consider Psalm 84:11-12. “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!”

When you read the words, “the Lord bestows favor and honor,” what comes to mind? Or what about the phrase, “no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly”? If we view this promise through the lenses of the upside-down kingdom, we remember that “favor” from God may look like loving discipline of His child, and “honor” may look like bearing reproach for His Name, and the “good thing” He won’t withhold may be the suffering or persecution He knows we need to be conformed to the image of His Son.

The more we look through the lenses of the upside-down kingdom, the less God’s Word becomes about our personal or social agenda and the more it becomes about His glory and His kingdom.

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The only way to accurately see God’s promises and commands is through the right lenses, and when we do see clearly, life becomes a glorious adventure with Him. When we don’t get our way, we can still give thanks, because we believe in His sovereign plans and purposes and power. We trust that, whatever He chooses for us, it is an indication of our Father’s favor and His faithfulness to give good and perfect gifts to His children.

God is always only good in what He gives, and always only good in what He forbids. Therefore, the only true freedom is found in absolute submission to Him.

So, how do we live in submission to this King? What are the principles and laws of this upside-down kingdom?

They’re the exact opposites of the principles of the world or the so-called law of the jungle.

Jungle law says it’s every man for himself.
Kingdom law says consider others as more important than yourself, and the greatest in the kingdom is the servant of all.

Jungle law says might makes right.
Kingdom law says the weak confound the mighty.

Jungle law says kill or be killed.
Kingdom law says turn the other cheek, go the second mile, if someone asks for your coat, give him your shirt as well.

Jungle law claims that only the fittest will survive.
But kingdom law says become as a little child, the meek inherit the earth, and the pure in heart see God.

And here’s the secret to freedom and the unexplainable joy of God’s children. We know that the best gifts He gives are actually the ones that bow us the lowest, because God resists the proud and draws near to the humble.

God’s ways are higher than ours. He knows what we actually need (as opposed to what we think we want), and He is willing to crush us if that’s the way to resurrection. We see this imagery again and again in scriptural word pictures.

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Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, and the Father is the gardener. He prunes us according to His wisdom. To us it may look like He has cut away what was most beautiful in our lives, but He always prunes with purpose, that we might abide more deeply in Him and that we might bear much fruit.

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He is the potter and we are the clay. We feel the pressure and we want to squirm out of his grasp, but He is shaping us, molding us for His purposes. We can trust God’s love to be behind every painful stroke of His hand.

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He is the refiner and we are His gold. Left to ourselves, we would remain dingy lumps of metal with dirt clinging to our surface. His fire cleanses, purifies, strengthens. He knows exactly how hot the fire needs to be to burn away all our dross until He can see His face reflected in our lives.

We want these things in theory. We may even ask Him to prune our dead branches, to shape us into useful vessels, to burn away our dross. But when it happens in real life — when the sheers cut deep and the pressure feels unbearable and the fire burns hot, we can easily lose sight of God’s purpose and forget that the suffering is not only for our good and His glory, it’s the answer to our prayers.

Have you noticed that we never fathom the fullness of God’s ways? There’s always more than we can see. We look for physical healing and God heals our hearts. We ask for blessing and He sends pain that splits us wide open, because He knows that’s the only way our souls will ever learn to breathe.

Right now the people of God in America have an opportunity to be salt and light for such a time as this. May we welcome His working in us and trust His ways. And may we recognize the answers to our own prayers, even when they come disguised in the most surprising and unexpected packages.





The Anatomy of an Ann Voskamp Book Signing (because this is what you need on election day)

8 11 2016

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Best-selling and much beloved author, Ann Voskamp, just completed a ten-day, seven-city book tour, during which she appeared at ten different bookstores to sign copies of her new book, The Broken Way. When she wasn’t being fully engaged with the hundreds who showed up for the signings, in her spare time (aka, the few remaining hours between catching flights or snagging a quick meal or squeezing in a brief sleep), she also sat for numerous interviews with every imaginable form of media, from major network TV to whatever is at the opposite end of the media spectrum.

This pace and publicity would exhaust even the most attention-starved extrovert. But Ann isn’t hungry for attention. And she’s an introvert. So, why does she do it?

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It’s hard to know what to say about Ann. Not because I can’t think of a hundred beautiful things I’d love to say, but because I know she would prefer people not focus on her at all. She knows we are created to be worshipers, not to be worshiped. To be givers, not takers. I’ve said this before, but she’s like the character Lucia in Max Lucado’s, You Are Special. While all the other Wemmicks are preoccupied with earning and assigning dots (criticism) and stars (praises), the stickers won’t stick to Lucia. Because her worth is fully realized in her Maker.

You won’t find dots or stars on Ann.

We caught up with Ann at signing number nine out of ten — her third and final event in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. I knew she was exhausted. That she’d not only been pouring out for days, she’d also taken to heart the stories she’d been hearing all along the way — people who felt safe to share their brokenness because she’d trusted them with hers. People who wanted to say thank you for the life-changing ways God had met them in her words.

So, even in her bone-weariness, this is the anatomy of an Ann Voskamp book signing.

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I don’t have to tell Ann my story of brokenness. She already knows it. Before either of us say a single word, she pulls me into this hug. There’s nothing shy about Ann’s hug. It’s like a wordless expression of all the compassion in her wide-open heart.

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Then she recognizes Jacob. Look at her face. George and I look like the ones who’ve been wrung out for days. This is the face of un-self-conscious, genuine love.

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Then she begins to sign. I have eight copies, six with post-it notes explaining to whom they will be given and a few words about each person. I watch as, book after book, she writes to complete strangers personalized messages that are encouraging, specific, and at times stunning in their application. We may be standing on no-frills commercial carpet at Books-a-Million, but this is holy ground.

And, of course, I had her sign a book for us, too.

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Finally, because I was on the launch team for The Broken Way, Zondervan’s Tom Dean took our picture together. And then I moved on.

But Ann remained. Hugging, signing books, smiling for photos, being fully present. And listening.

Story after story, she listened. Story after story, she let her heart break. And this is her secret.

Ann doesn’t have a career plan. She has a Redeemer. And she wants everyone else to have Him, too. So, after counting her thousands of gifts, the next step became clear.

Become the gift. Live broken and given, like the bread at the Last Supper. Because Jesus gave thanks, and then He gave — not only the physical bread, but His own body. And from His brokenness, we all receive life.

Tonight, Ann will return home at last — back to the farm and the strong arms of her Farmer, to her seven children and the happy chaos of ordinary family life. Tonight, the USA will elect a new president. And I can’t help but think, with all that’s going on in the world, it’s no coincidence that this invitation to the church comes right now.

To whom much is given, much is required. And we have been given so much in Christ. We have peace in a world full of tribulation. We have light where darkness presses hard. We have hope where fear shouts the loudest.

So let’s be the gift. For such a time as this.

 

 





This Many

10 09 2016

img_6416Yesterday I used the “I’m this many” photo above to announce my fifty-ninth birthday on social media. The responses were fun, enthusiastic, and appreciated. But there’s no getting past a simple fact. That’s a whole lot of fingers.

Have you noticed that a year is only twelve months, and a month is only a handful of weeks, and a week lasts about five minutes? At least it feels that way. Like I’m not just over the hill, but this hill is getting steeper by the second, and the brakes on my little red wagon gave out long ago.

The older I get, the more I can identify with those scriptures that say we are like grass, springing up in the morning, and mown down in the evening. The green is fading, and I can hear the mower engine cranking up in the distance.

Life is short.

img_6470This aging thing is getting a little too real, but I have to say, yesterday was a good day right out of the gate. First I was greeted by these flowers and this commonest of birthday phrases, whimsically lettered by a hand that holds my heart in the most un-commonest of loves.

This is one of the best gifts, and one that only time can buy. It’s the knowing that comes with overcoming together again and again — choosing against all odds to believe that broken things can be restored, that pain is purposeful, and that love is a battlefield worth defending. It’s hundreds of forgiven hurts and thousands of shared joys and a belonging that no amount of wrinkles or gray hairs can threaten.

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It started with the flowers. Then he took me to lunch at a French bistro. Lobster bisque, and warm goat-cheese salad with walnut vinaigrette, followed by a delicious fluffy-mousse-with-fruity-drizzle complimentary dessert from our waiter, which we’d mostly devoured before we remembered to take a picture.

But the best part of the lunch was the conversation.

“So, I’m fifty-nine,” I said. “Got any advice to offer from the other side of sixty?”

I was sort of joking/not joking, but he paused and then answered seriously. “Actually, to be honest, turning sixty kinda messed with my head. There’s no stopping this train, and there’s no going back.”

And then, almost in unison, we expressed the same thought — the same sense of urgency to make the most of this gift of time, redeeming the moments, filling them with meaningful, eternal pursuits. Let’s be fully present, we said. Fully engaged, fully aware — embodying the hope we’ve been given, the goodness we’ve tasted and seen, the gospel we believe.

While we have breath, let us praise Him with our words and our lives.

Even the best French cuisine can’t compete with that.

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Then, after lunch, a visit from grandchildren, with hand-drawn birthday cards, and sweetly sung birthday songs, and — later by text because they forgot but meant to — recordings of angelic voices lisping birthday prayers for Emzee. Early faith, fresh in the bud, sure to be tested, God’s to keep and mine to pray for, to love, to listen, and to speak into, when we sit in our house and when we walk by the way and when we lie down and when we rise up.

Grandchildren. Another gift that only time can give. A treasured jewel in the crown of “this many.”

In the evening we walked across the street to my father’s house — the place where we spend most of our evenings, sharing a meal, telling stories, watching tv. Tonight George has planned a special dinner, and I’m not allowed in the kitchen to help.

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It’s pork tenderloin stuffed with mushrooms and spinach, grilled butternut squash, and buttery dark-grain toast, followed by FaceTime fun with far-flung beloveds, opening cards and presents, blowing out candles under the loving gaze of the tenderest daddy on the planet, and then a thick slice of ridiculously rich chocolate cake served with vanilla gelato. And I honestly want to know. What could be better than this?

I may be edging my way past middle age, but I have no inclination to mourn my youth and no need to resist the relentless march of time.

I’m this many. This many years of experience. This many memories of grace. This many songs sung, friendships grown, adventures shared, roads journeyed, and fears conquered.

This many selfish ambitions let go, simple gifts received, and dreams refined.

This many assurances that all things work for good, all things serve His plan, and all things will be made new.

I’m small, fading like the grass, seen, known, and so very deeply loved. My little red wagon may be flying down the hill, but the wind is in my face, and I know the One who sets its course and knows the way I take.

Happy Birthday to me, fifty-nine fingers and counting. Thank you, friends, for all the ways you’ve made this journey amazing. You’re a beautiful part of “this many.”

 

 





Kocho, Part II

16 06 2016


One of my all-time favorite stories is the account of Joseph’s life, beginning in Genesis 37 when he was seventeen years old, and ending with his death in Genesis 50. The subtitles alone give an intriguing glimpse of the drama, conflict, betrayal, injustice, cunning, and ultimate triumph of his remarkable life. Check it out (with my mini synopses):

  • Joseph’s Dreams (in which he foolishly brags to his brothers about his dreams of future greatness)
  • Joseph Sold by His Brothers (in which their jealousy gets the best of them, Joseph is sold as a slave, and he gets his first taste of betrayal and injustice)
  • Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife (in which he determines to be the best slave ever, gains favor and trust with his master only to be thrown in prison for the very thing he refuses to do, and gets his second taste of betrayal and injustice)
  • Joseph Interprets Two Prisoners’ Dreams (in which he determines to be the best prisoner ever, gains favor and trust with the warden, gives good news to one of Pharaoh’s servants and asks for a returned favor, is forgotten for two more years, and gets his third, all-too-familiar taste of betrayal and injustice)
  • Joseph Interprets Pharaoh’s Dreams (in which thirteen years after he was first sold as a slave, he stands before the most powerful man in the world, calmly gives God credit for his gifts, interprets cosmically important dreams, and hatches a plan to save the known world from starvation)
  • Joseph Rises to Power (in which he gains favor and trust with Pharaoh and basically runs Egypt; no biggie)
  • Joseph’s Brothers Go to Egypt (in which his brothers come to buy food and don’t recognize him, so he messes with them a little bit)
  • Joseph’s Brothers Return to Egypt (in which they come back for more food and he messes with them again)
  • Joseph Tests His Brothers (in which the brothers humble themselves, and Judah confesses their sins and offers himself as a slave in place of Benjamin)
  • Joseph Provides for His Brothers and Family (in which Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers and says, “It was not you who sent me here, but God.” BOOM!)
  • Joseph Brings His Family to Egypt (and then . . .)
  • Jacob and Joseph Reunited (and then . . .)
  • Jacob’s Family Settles in Goshen (and then . . .)
  • Joseph and the Famine (in which he exchanges grain for land and buys the whole world for Pharaoh, and then . . .)
  • Jacob Blesses Ephraim and Manasseh (aka, Joseph’s sons, and then . . .)
  • Jacob Blesses His Sons (and then . . .)
  • Jacob’s Death and Burial (and then . . .)
  • God’s Good Purposes (“. . . you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” MEMORIZE THAT and then . . .)
  • The Death of Joseph. (The End.)

Only not The End, really. Because there are ripples through history and will be until Jesus comes back again.

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And all that to say . . . Kocho. When I think about Kocho, I think of Joseph. How sometimes life doesn’t seem to make sense, and injustice is real. And in those times, we have a choice. We can whine, complain, and give up. Or we can believe that the God who sent Joseph to Egypt and meant it for good is the same God at work in our lives today.

Last October I shared Kocho’s story. (You can read it here if you missed it.) Kocho is from the Nuba Mountains, lives in a refugee camp in Doro, South Sudan, and works as a nurse assistant for Doctor’s Without Borders — both to help others and to try to save money to pay his way through school. And it seems like every single step he tries to take into his future dreams is met with roadblocks, setbacks, and miles of pointless red tape.

He’s been trying to get a medical degree to return to the Nuba Mountains and help his people, who for years have been caught in the crossfire between the government of Sudan and the rebels occupying their territory. But, as I explained in my previous post, Kocho is a man without an official ID. He has no papers and can’t obtain them, because anyone from the Nuba Mountains is considered a rebel by association. And without papers, it’s hard to be accepted anywhere for study, or even to cross borders, for that matter.

Kocho is brilliant, gifted, and eager, but one after another, doors slam in his face. Just when it looks like a way has opened, rules change for one program, or random requirements are added for another one. And what does he do? Wherever he finds himself, he determines to be the best he can. Just like Joseph.

He smiles. He serves. And when you ask him how he feels about the delays, he says God must want to teach him patience. He also says that he prays he will never achieve any success that would shift his focus away from Christ and onto himself. And he means it.

So, Kocho is content. He continues to work as a nurse assistant. He also pastors youth, teaches and leads singing in his church, and is currently studying business — partly because it was the only program he could get into for now, and partly to pave the way for entrance into medical school in the future.

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Kocho’s grades in business school last fall

And even as he smiles and serves and works hard at whatever his hand finds to do, he has no idea how he will pay for the education he needs to be able to eventually return to help his suffering people in the Nuba Mountains.

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Cathy and Ruth in Doro, South Sudan

So his friends (and mine), Ruth and Cathy, set up a fund. And you’re invited to give. And to pray. You’re also invited to share Kocho’s story, because the only way anyone will know about this fund is if people like you and me help spread the word.

And someday? When all God means for good in Kocho’s life bears its fullest fruit, we will have the joy of knowing we were part of this Joseph story — a story setting ripples in motion that I believe will continue to spread, bringing salvation and healing and hope to many, until Jesus comes back again.

Because it wasn’t a government or a war or rebels or armies or chance that sent him here.

It was God.

 

P.S. Whatever you choose to do,
Thank You, friends.
You always amaze.

 





When God Answers With A Song

12 05 2016

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I can’t think of a better way to share this story with you than to simply copy and paste this conversation as it unfolded.

The first email arrived on January 11. The sender’s name was unfamiliar to me. The subject line simply said, “song.”

I opened it and read these words:

I just wanted to thank you for your insightful, convicting words that were featured on Ann Voskamp’s “Holy Experience” devotional last week. I was very touched and moved by what you wrote. It presented the familiar account of the “Good Samaritan” in a new light to me.

I’m a stay-at-home mom, but also a singer/songwriter, and, as so often happens when the Spirit stirs something within me, I went to the piano right after reading your article, and a song called “Mercy Calls” immediately came to me.  Most of it was written within an hour. I will share the lyrics here with you and hope to record it soon. I will send that to you as well, whenever I get it done.

So, much appreciation for your ministry, and for sharing what God put on your heart. I will continue sharing that message in this song.

Mercy Calls

Mercy calls, will I listen?
Mercy calls, will I hear?
Mercy calls, will I answer?
Will I serve or will I fear
When mercy calls?

There are so many needs
If I open up my eyes to see
Where should the light that’s in me shine
For it’s in the darkest place
That we need God’s gift of grace
To live the Truth and make it come alive

Like the Good Samaritan
Mercy had a cost for him
But he paid it anyway
What’s done for the least of men
We are doing unto Him
Is the price too high for us to pay?

If we would receive God’s mercy, mercy we must give
Blessed are the merciful, that’s how we’re called to live
Dying to ourselves and laying down our lives
Sharing the love of Jesus Christ

Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with thy God
Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with thy God

© Cyndi Aarrestad, January 8, 2016
Immediately after reading devo about mercy by Jeanne Damoff

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I wrote back the same day:

Oh, Cyndi! Wow! This is absolutely beautiful. I can’t wait to hear the recorded version.

I can’t begin to express how humbled and encouraged I am that God used those words to quicken this gift in you. I’m bowed low in awe and gratitude to Him, and THANK YOU so much for sharing it with me!

Really. I’m speechless. Just thank you again and again.

Cyndi: Thank YOU so much, Jeanne.  It always amazes, humbles and encourages ME how God uses the members of His body to minister to one another in a beautiful, ripple effect.  As we faithfully give what God pours into our hearts, He uses it to create an ever-widening circle of blessing.

I’m in the middle of having to upgrade some of my recording programs, so I’d appreciate your prayers that I can get past all the “technical difficulties” and on with sharing the songs!  Thanks!

Me: Amen! I too am amazed by God’s kind, beautiful, interwoven ways. Praying for you, Cyndi, that the Lord will bless your ministry through song and give you grace, patience, and insight as you navigate the “wonders” of technology. 🙂

I visited your website. You have a lovely voice and delightful style, and I’m more excited than ever to hear Mercy Calls once you’ve recorded it!

Thank you again for being His instrument and a gift to me.

Cyndi (mid-February): I FINALLY was able to get my system all working and have time to record “Mercy Calls.”  (I still have some glitches to work out, but I’m so thankful to the Lord for His help, wisdom and strength!)

So…I’ve attached the song here for you.  You’re the first one to hear the finished product!

I hope and pray it will be a blessing to all who listen to it, and encourage them to show mercy!

Thanks again for the inspiration!

(Friends, listen to this! Yes, I mean right now. You’re welcome.)

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Me: Oh, Cyndi. I have no words. And by “no words,” I mean I’ve started typing several sentences and then deleted them, because I honestly can’t express the wonder of hearing this beautiful gift God gave you, knowing He used my words to inspire you, and feeling this humbling sense of His kindness to His body, giving us to each other that we might speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, spurring each other on to love and good deeds and a holy urgency to love Him and all people well–especially the least of these.

Thank you for the honor of hearing this first. Please let me know if I have permission to share it. I would love to put it on my blog, tell this story, and direct people to you and your music, but I don’t want to run ahead of what you have in mind for the song.

I’m so grateful to our good, gracious God that He has crossed our paths in this way. You are a blessing to me, and I pray He takes this song and makes it a blessing to many.

Cyndi: Thank you for your beautiful reply!  It is so precious how God is working in and through each of His vessels for His purpose.

By all means, you can feel free to share this song. It would bless me to know it is reaching a new audience. I have been praying about what God wants me to do with it….and am thinking of somehow making it available as a download connected to some kind of outreach donation.  I’m just not sure exactly how to go about doing that. Maybe you have some ideas?

For now…rejoice with me in God’s goodness!  I too am grateful for the way He has orchestrated the meeting of two hearts seeking to do His will.

(Then in a separate email):

I almost a forgot about this….

Several days after writing “Mercy Calls,” I was looking at your site, and read the blog article on the clay pots.  This song came from that inspiration!  It’s just a little chorus, but it kind of sums up what I think you were expressing. I’ve been singing it quite often.

So…thank you twice over for your insightful writing!

Love,
Cyndi

Chorus

Humility, not I but Christ
Dying to self, Christ magnified
Humility, my pride dethroned
All glory given, to Christ alone
Let Him increase, let Him be seen
And let there be less and less of me
A servant’s heart, a willing mind
Till Christ in me, alone is glorified

© Cyndi Aarrestad, January 18, 2016
After reading Jeanne Damoff’s writing on her blog

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Me: I love this! What a blessing you are! Thank you for your beautiful and encouraging ministry. I’d love to hear this one, too! 🙂

Cyndi (mid-March): Hello again, dear sister!

Our God is so awesome and amazing! I just wanted to share what has happened with Mercy Calls lately.  As I mentioned to you, I have been thinking of perhaps using it as a download connected with donating to a charity.  Well, God had other plans first! I guess He was reminding me that charity/mercy are needed just as much close to home as across the globe! Very sadly, several weeks ago, our dear friends and neighbours (a family of 6), lost their home and belongings in a fire.  Thankfully no one was home and so they were all unharmed.  Our surrounding community has come together in amazing ways to support and help them, and God is already working the situation out to bring blessings.

They are a musically talented family, and Darryl, the husband, has been a huge part of the recordings I have done for many years.  It seemed only natural to have a benefit concert for them, which we are in the process of preparing for.  But then, the one day I just felt that familiar nudge of the Spirit, prompting me to compile some songs for a benefit CD for them.  Guess what the title is?!? Mercy Calls, of course!  All the songs center around the theme of helping/caring/serving others, and being instruments of God’s compassion.  I can already see how God is using this…many people whom I wouldn’t have expected (and who don’t usually listen to Gospel music)…are buying it (to support the family of course), but I am praying that God will really speak to their hearts through the messages of the songs.  It’s just created a really neat opportunity to minister!

Anyways…I just thought I’d let you know how the ripple effect from your writing has touched us here.

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Me: Oh my goodness! Cyndi, you are such a blessing and encouragement to me! THANK YOU for sharing these ripples, and thank you for listening to the Lord and for using your gifts to serve others and magnify Him. You inspire me.

I plan to post Mercy Calls and the story behind it on my blog, and I’d love to include a link to the benefit CD if that’s okay with you. Could you send that to me?

Cyndi (April): The “Mercy Calls” CD is now available on iTunes and here is the link:

https://itunes.apple.com/ca/album/mercy-calls/id1099291007

I appreciate your offer to share this, and I truly hope it blesses and inspires all who hear it.

Me (mid-May—not in an email to her, but right now to you):

Most of the time we never know what our small offerings stir in others — the kind, supportive word to the frazzled mom of three children wrestling her way through the grocery store aisle; the plate of fresh cookies to a neighbor; a handwritten note to a friend; a bold act of sacrificial faith that quietly emboldens others to do the same.

And maybe we think our voice doesn’t matter. What difference will it make if I add more words to the cacophony of noise clattering around in the cybersphere?

It makes a difference. Your offering matters. Share your words — your small, brave, healing, selfless words.

And don’t be surprised if God answers with a song.





A Word for 2016

9 01 2016

Small

A clay jar is a made thing, imagined and crafted by its maker. He determines its capacity and purpose, and expects only that it do what it was made to do.

In Perelandra (the second book in C.S. Lewis’ amazing space trilogy), the central character, Ransom, accomplishes a magnificent feat. He travels to a world inhabited by its first man and woman, and — by speaking truth to lies and ultimately defeating a demon-possessed tempter in hand-to-hand combat — he prevents a Genesis 3-type fall and secures a curse-free existence for all future inhabitants.

Before Ransom returns to Earth, he stands before the crowned king and queen of Perelandra, and the weight of what he has just accomplished begins to sink in. What will this mean for him in the future? What kind of fame, reward, and legendary status await one who rescues a whole world from brokenness, sin, destruction, and death?

An angelic being quickly reassures him with these words:

“Be comforted, small one, in your smallness. He lays no merit on you. Receive and be glad.”

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Not only does Ransom return home without trophies and accolades, he takes with him a wound on his heel that will remain a painful reminder of his battle with evil for as long as he lives. In a very literal sense, he is conformed to the image of Christ.

He receives the better reward.

And in his smallness, he is comforted.

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I think it’s safe to say that the wedding guests in Cana never gathered around the six stone water pots and lavished them with praise. The pots weren’t set on pedestals, festooned with garlands, and worshiped for the miracle of water into wine. Most likely, those water pots continued to function as ordinary water pots and the servants who’d filled them as ordinary servants. Except for what they knew. Which changed everything.

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But there is something in me that wants more. Something entitled. Something desperately selfish.

I say I want my life to be hidden in Christ, but I’m quick to bask in the praise of men.

I say I want to be dead to self, alive to God, and content with the portion He chooses for me, but I still find myself comparing, competing, envying, and resenting.

I say I want to be small in my own eyes, but my heart betrays me. When I don’t get credit for something I did? When I’m overlooked or excluded? When he answers my prayer for humility by actual humbling me? Then I see how far I have to go before I’m satisfied in Him alone, no matter what.

 

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Before John the Baptist was born, he was set apart to be the forerunner for Christ, and he fully embraced that calling in spite of the fact it largely meant a life of seclusion and eccentricity. And when the multitudes actually listened to him and redirected their attention to Jesus, John’s disciples were indignant for his sake. But he said,

“A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.

Stunning. But then? We get this glimpse at a tiny crack in John’s armor. He hears of all the miracles Jesus is performing, while he remains imprisoned in Herod’s dungeon, hidden, set aside, seemingly forgotten. So he sends messengers to Jesus, Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

And Jesus skips the question asked and answers the implied one.

“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.

Jesus said this knowing that John would remain in prison, and Herod would behead him at the request of a dancing girl and her vengeful mother.

But I believe He also said it tenderly, knowing what we don’t know and seeing what we don’t see.

We don’t know what transpired between John and his Father in the moments before and after this seemingly senseless and humiliating execution. We don’t see what he saw or hear what he heard — the “well done” and “welcome home” of the One he devoted his life to serve. Every question at last answered. Every longing finally fulfilled. His joy once and for all truly complete.

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So, my word for the year is “small.” And I want to be like these little ceramic jars, made by a potter friend to be left in random places at Christmas time, each one unique, and each with a note explaining to the finder that the jar is a free gift, given because of all Jesus has given him. Given for the joy of giving joy. No credit sought, and much gladness received.

And I pray I’ll embrace this sacramental smallness not only with words, but with my life. That I will mean it when I tell God I want to be a living sacrifice — one clay vessel among His many, cleansed, set apart, ready for Him to fill and use however He chooses, whether anyone ever notices me or not.

This is my prayer — for freedom from selfish agendas, freedom from entitlement, freedom from offense, freedom to be small.

To be comforted in my smallness.

To receive and be glad.

All for Him.





Like Leaves Falling

22 12 2015

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Creation understands. Birth. Life. Withering. Dying. Returning to the dust.

The leaves don’t cling to the green. When winter whispers her soon return, they explode in a colorful psalm, embrace the outstretched hand of the wind, and dance their way to decomposition. There’s no competition. No argument over which leaf left the more lasting impression or legacy. As one, they sink into the earth, and their memory vanishes.

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I need to learn from the leaves. Because I don’t want a life of “clinging to the green.” I want to be okay with Isaiah’s declaration that all flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, and — as much as I believe in wisely stewarding it — this body is breaking down.

So I’ve been thinking. About how to live the autumn of my life well.

I’ve been searching for the secret of the leaves, and I believe I’ve found it.

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I’ve been thinking about Jesus, and how all power belonged to Him — how He could have had everything this world has to offer (and was tempted to take it), but was pleased to do things His Father’s upside-down way.

He was formed in the womb of a poor, unwed teenager, and born in a stable. His birth was announced to shepherds — rough, disreputable men whose testimony wasn’t allowed in courts of law. As a toddler, His life was threatened by a murderous king, and His parents fled to Egypt as refugees. As a man, he never married or had children, and had no place to lay His head. He enlisted house servants to both assist and witness His first miracle.

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He left His glory to enter His humanity and our brokenness fully.

For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
    a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Isaiah 53:2

He welcomed the outcast, dined with tax collectors, healed the sick and oppressed, and fed the multitudes. He spoke in veiled parables, redefined the Sabbath, and invited the condemned to repentance. He was silent before false accusers, allowed mere men to mock and humiliate Him, and willingly absorbed the wrath of God on the cross.

All because He knew. He knew that three days later He would rise. That the grave isn’t the end. That death doesn’t win.

For the joy set before Him, He laid aside everything that was His right, and took on everything that was our due. And even now, He knows my frame. He remembers that I am dust. And when I don’t understand His ways, He gently lifts my head and asks me to look beyond this withering grass to the steadfast love that never ceases, to lay down my life and be caught up in His immeasurably more, that I might join in the triumphant song of the saints through the ages.

Birth. Life. Withering. Dying. Returning to the dust.

But that’s not the end. Because a Baby was born in Bethlehem, we rise up laughing, swept into the beautiful, dancing purposes of God, where it’s grace upon grace upon grace.

Just like leaves falling.

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Wishing you a glorious Christmas, my friends, and the freedom to soar with Him into the New Year. With much love.








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