Monday, January 31, 2011

God Lives in Egypt: A promise of love to the Egyptians...

I have a tendency to be a self-centered Christian, believing that God resides wherever I am.  I have a tendency to limit His presence to areas of the world that resemble peace, liberty, and justice for all. 

But today I was reminded of my great error.  God is not limited by human behaviors.  He is not limited by laws.  He is not bound to certain lands.  His love reaches through all boundaries and barriers.  His presence permeates every part of our world.  Today, I was reminded that He is Omnipresent...He lives in my heart, in my home, in my country...but He also lives in Egypt.

It's hard to imagine God's presence with the chaos that is going on right now in that beloved country of mine.  But today I had a picture of Jesus walking through the streets of Egypt, tears in His eyes.  He was looking at His people in love, whispering to them through the noise that He has a special place in his heart that is just for them. 

Isaiah 19 is a prophetic reminder that God has special plans for this country, and that in the end- after the pain, the chaos, the hurt and the fear...they WILL invite Him in, and He will make His home there:

"The Egyptians will lose heart,
   and I will bring their plans to nothing;
they will consult the idols and the spirits of the dead,
   the mediums and the spiritists.
4 I will hand the Egyptians over
   to the power of a cruel master,
and a fierce king will rule over them,”
   declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty.....

When they cry out to the LORD because of their oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and he will rescue them. 21 So the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the LORD. They will worship with sacrifices and grain offerings; they will make vows to the LORD and keep them. 22 The LORD will strike Egypt with a plague; he will strike them and heal them. They will turn to the LORD, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them.

24 In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing[b] on the earth. 25 The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”

In the end, there is always a plan.

Blessed be Egypt, His people.

Friday, January 28, 2011

"Christian" Depression:

Psalm 30:5
...weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

This morning I woke up feeling really good.  I was filled with an unmistakable, overwhelming joy.  It had nothing to do with anything special that was going on...I was eating my oatmeal and banana for breakfast, just got finished feeding my baby, and watching the snowflakes falling- announcing the probability of another day snowed-in.  Like I said, nothing special.  But this morning, I was filled with an overwhelming joy and gratitude for the blessings in my life- little as they may be.

Recently a friend of mine said to me "I want whatever it is you're are always happy and thankful".  If you really want to know the truth, what I am drinking, is a strong, strong dose of pain.

You see, for me, mornings like this are filled with a huge amount of gratitude, because the reality is- they didn't always exist.  I remember a season in my life that was very dark.  I remember waking up to a terrible void, an aching in my soul, a worthlessness and meaningless that seemed to come out of nowhere.  Call it what you will, but for me, I was in a deep pit of depression.

If you've ever been through depression, you know it's one of the most terrible feelings on earth.  The burden of emotion seems unbearable.  The cloud of haze seems like it will never pass, never let up, and never give up.  The feelings of loneliness begin to set in, isolating you from the world around you.  The future doesn't seem appealing anymore, and the little things in life have no meaning.   It's a dark and dreary prison cell that eventually begins to feel like a miserable home.

I have seen the prison of depression.  In different seasons of my life.  I think it's hard for Christians to admit to this because "aren't we supposed to be filled with joy at all times?".  That would be nice wouldn't it.  And for some people, that very well may be the case.  But not for me.  And not for many of God's children in Scripture. 

Depression is not a's just a feeling.  A symptom of something else.  Therefore, standing a lone- it's not the bad guy.  It can make it's way into our lives through a number of avenues- and can point to a number of things:  malfunctioning brain chemistry, hormonal changes and imbalances, difficulties in life, stress, bad relationships, distance from God, and even unconfessed sins.

Whatever the cause, when it is resolved (and trust me...though it doesn't feel like it, it WILL pass)...the experience of depression can end up being a gift- because it strips you away from all the things that don't really matter, and finds you all alone at the feet of the only One who does.  My best explanation of this idea is wrapped up in the lyrics of one of my favorite songs:

I've watched my dreams all fade away
And blister in the sun
Everything I've ever had is unraveled and undone
I've set upon a worthless stack
Of my ambitious plans
And the people that I've loved the most
Have turned their backs and ran

This is the good life
I've lost everything
I could ever want
And ever dream of
This is the good life
I found everything
I could ever need
Here in Your arms

Loneliness has left me searching
For someone to love
Poverty has changed my view
Of what true riches are
Sorrow's opened up my eyes
To see what real joy is
Pain has been the catalyst
To my heart's happiness

What good would it be
If you had everything
But what you didn't have
Was the only thing you need

Thank you Lord for reminding me that sorrow only lasts for a night, and for being the source of my joy in the morning.  Thank you for allowing me to pass through the difficult times in my life, and bringing me out the other side even stronger than where I began.  Thank you for the fire, but most importantly...thank you for being with me through it. 

*If you feel that you are struggling with on-going clinical depression and can't seen to get yourself out of it: find some help.  Contact your local church, or get in touch with a professional counselor in your area.  Reach out for's out there.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Laryngitis Shut Me Up:

Psalm 1:1-2
Blessed is the one... whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night.
"Only to sit and think of God,
Oh what a joy it is!
To think the thought, to breathe the Name,
Earth has no higher bliss."
--Frederick W. Faber

I woke up on Sunday morning at 4am and realized that I had lost my voice.  It's a strange feeling not being able to talk.  At first, it almost sent me into a bit of a panic realizing that I didn't have the ability to speak any words or make any noises.  Once I finally came to grips with the reality that I wasn't getting my voice back anytime soon, panic turned to irritation. 

You don't realize how much you use your voice in a day, until you no longer have the ability to use it.  Waking up to a smiling baby and not being able to talk to her with words.  Spending the day with my husband and having to use other means to communicate.  Not being able to take or make phone calls.  And since my occupation relies on my voice, not being able to work, either.  It was quite an adjustment, to say the least.

I'm still in the process of trying to get my voice back, and to be completely honest- as major extrovert, I haven't really enjoyed the silence.  But I have learned a thing or two...

My new year's resolution this year was to get more disciplined in the realm of my spiritual life.  I started rereading a book by Richard Foster called the "Celebration of Discipline".  Each month I'm trying to tackle one of the 12 spiritual disciplines as a way to grow and strengthen my relationship with God. 

The first month my focus has been on the discipline of  Christian "meditation".  As Foster explains, the difference between the process of meditation in Eastern religions verses Christianity is this: one is a call to empty the mind in order to "detach" from the world, while the other goes beyond just "detaching" from the world- and into the realm of "attaching" to God. "The detachment from the confusion all around us- in order to have a richer attachment to God".

Meditation is, essentially, the other side to praying.  Praying demands opening our hearts to God in expressive communication- while meditation is the process of allowing Him to open His heart up to us.  It's a chance to free up our minds to hear what He has to say, to savor His words, to experience his Presence.  

For many Christians, me included, this discipline is foreign territory.  So many of us are used to a spiritual relationship with God based on mediation rather than meditation.  A go-between.  Someone who hears from God...and then let's the rest of us know.  It's much easier that way, isn't it?

"Human beings seem to have a perpetual tendency to have somebody else talk to God for them....such an approach saves us from the need to change, for to be in the presence of God is to change.  That is why meditation is so threatening to us.  It boldly calls us to enter into the living presence of God, for ourselves". 

So, at the end of it all, this is what I'm learning through my inability to speak...I'm learning to let God speak.  

Like Samuel, I'm learning that the process of hearing God's voice takes takes effort.  God can be speaking directly to me and I'm missing it because I haven't taken the time to listen.  And for me, the process of closing my mouth doesn't always come easy.

I want to learn to listen to God by choice rather than by force- not because I have to listen, but because I want to.  Because I love Him.  

As the great thinker Albert the Great says, "The contemplation of the saints is fired by the love of the one contemplated: that is, God".

May God give us the grace to empty our minds, detaching from the things of this world in order to learn to attach ourselves to Him. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

One Year Ago Today: If He Is God...

Jeremiah 29:11
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 

As my husband and I were getting ready to go to bed last night, we realized the significance of the date: 1/13/11.  It's amazing how much can happen in one year.  One year ago, we would have never imagined where we would be today.

It was the night of January 13th, the night before "Match Day"- the day my husband would be placed in residency somewhere across the country. We had no idea where we would end up the following year....anywhere from North Carolina to Boston to Chicago. 

We decided to take a look back at my journal entry that night.  The anticipation was high as we awaited the unfolding of our future.  The call we were to receive the following morning was something we had been praying about for years.  Where would we end up, and what would our lives be like?  Where would God decide to take us, and would we be happy? 

The truth of the matter is, that night was really a stretching of our faith, learning to trust God in the future we could not see.  As Elisabeth Elliot so transparently said in one of her books: If He was God, He could be trusted.  

I was reading recently about the story of Joshua as he was transporting the ark of the covenant.   They reached what seemed like a dead end on their journey as they faced the Jordon river.  I love the instructions that God gives them next: "Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river."

The journey of faith required them to act.  God could have just proved himself to them by parting the waters right before their eyes.  He could have, but he didn't.  Relationships require a certain level of genuine in the unseen.

But the moment they trusted...God met them there:

15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho.
Sometimes we have to get our feet wet and learn that true faith requires us to step out and believe.  

This story is so significant to me at this stage in my life, one year later, looking back at all that God has done.  He asked us to trust Him, to get our feet wet in this journey of life, and to believe that he would truly come through for us.  To believe that He is good.  To believe that He is God, and that He can be trusted. 

One year later we are settled into a new city, developing an incredible community of friends, surrounded by loving family, and enjoying our beautiful baby girl.  God has once again proven that He is faithful and that He is God.

Maybe you too, are waiting on God.  Maybe you have found yourself at what seems to be a dead end road, looking at the unlit path that lies ahead with anticipation and anxiety.  It's hard to trust in moments like this.  It's hard to trust when the future seems completely out of your control.  But on the other hand, it's moments like this where God allows us the opportunity to trust- because, frankly, it's the only thing we CAN do.  

Trust him with your future.  Trust that He cares.  Trust that if He truly is God....He can be trusted.  Take a step of faith, and then sit back and watch Him prove Himself to you. 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Fear of Being Invisible: What Facebook Can't Do...

James 1:27
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

I was reading a blog post the other day about lonelinessThe blogger was discussing the massive pull to social networks such as facebook.  He contributed this need to connect with the reality that many of us are incredibly lonely, living our lives in search of some validation. 

This post reminded me of something my friend Brad once said: "The greatest fear of man- is the fear of being invisible".

That comment hit me because I believe it to be true.  We are living in a very paradoxical age- surrounded by avenues of communication, but isolated more than ever.  Longing for someone to witness our lives...and somehow make us worthwhile. 

If we're honest, we will come to terms with the truth that there are many lonely people out there.  You might be one of them.  I really believe that Jesus has a special place in his heart for those who feel alone.  This verse is an example of that heart- a call to reach out to the loneliest people we can find.  Its command is clear- to look after the orphans and the widows, those who have been neglected by society.  This is true religion.

This day and age, "orphans and widows" are all around us.  The old lady walking along the street by herself, the teenager from an abusive home, the immigrant trying to find a way to fit in, the child stuck in the ugly cycle of the foster care system.  We are surrounded by orphans and widows, but if we aren't looking, we won't find them. 

I'm convinced that within this verse is a command to reach out to the lonely, those who have no one else to run to and no where else to turn.  It's time to take inventory of the fruit of our religion- by counting how many people we are reaching out to, rather than simply counting our "facebook friends".

This is true religion, the kind God looks down on and smiles.  Maybe it's time to take this command seriously and sponsor a child through Compassion International or Christian Orphan Outreach.  Maybe it's time to carve out some time to volunteer at the local pregnancy center or nursing home.  Maybe it's time to take a look at the people right outside our door- our neighbors and our friends, and begin living in a way that makes others feel validated- that makes them feel visible.

On the other hand, maybe you are the one feeling all alone and invisible.  Maybe you are longing for someone to reach out to you.  It's time to take free yourself from the pit of loneliness.  It's time to recognize your needs and reach out to those around you...

May God give us grace to recognize our own needs as well as reach out to touch the needs of others.  May we learn the art of validation, and of making others visible.  Amen.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Greater things are yet to come....Homeboy.

John 1:47-50
 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
 48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
   Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
 49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
 50 Jesus said, “You believe[a] because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.”

I love that God's word meets you where you're at.  What I mean by that, is that I can be reading a passage I read 100 times, but this time God uses a certain verse, in a certain way, to touch my heart.  And He always seems to know just what I need.

For some reason, I found this passage amazing last night as I was reading this chapter in John Jesus is just starting his ministry.  It's hard to fathom that, since for us, the name Jesus holds so much depth, meaning, and fame.  But at this point in scripture, he was just a regular young guy, in his early thirties.  No fame, no prestige, nothing.

He runs into Nathaniel, a young Hebrew.  Nathaniel had just been told by his friend Philip that he had found the Messiah, the one they'd been waiting for, the one who would come to save them. 

Nathaniel wondered if it Jesus could really be the one.  Jesus, of Nazareth?  How strange for the Messiah to come from such a lowly place.  It didn't quite align with Nathaniel's ideas and expectations...

How familiar does that sound?  I find myself doubting Jesus time and time again.  Maybe not with my words- but with my feelings, my heart, and my life.  Doubting him through my worry, my fears, and my insecurities.  But the beautiful thing about our Jesus, is that He never lets our doubting get in the way of his love for us.  He pursues us like a desperate lover, doing whatever it will take to allow us to be loved by Him.

"I saw you while you were still under the fig tree".  He knew just what Philip needed in order to believe.

But my favorite part about this passage is what Jesus says next:  You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree....but you will see greater things than that.  

I find Jesus so humble in how he approaches us silly human beings.  He could blow us away with his power...He could send fire from heaven and thunder from hell.  He could surround us with an incredible choir of angels, singing praises to His name...and say "Check that out homeboy..."

But he doesn't.  Instead, he meets us where we're at...and asks us to follow him from there.  He meets us where we're at, and bids us to come along.  He opens his power and his heart up to us piece by piece as we allow ourselves to truly commit to him.  "You will see greater things than that...if you come along for the ride.  If you follow me.  If you trust and believe.  I will take you to incredible places."

I'm glad Nathaniel took the chance on this young man from Nazareth.  I'm glad he decided to give it all up and follow this man who claimed to change his life.  I am glad...and I'm also challenged.  I want to live the kind of life that believes- not just when I see with my eyes, but just because I know the heart of the God I am choosing to trust.  I want to believe more, and more, and allow God to usher me into greater and greater things.  I don't want my doubt to hold me back anymore.  I want to wake up everyday, recommitting myself to the relationship I have with Jesus, and expecting great things. 

God has promised us great things....greater than we have ever imagined.  Not necessarily what we expect...because sometimes the unexpected is far better than we could have ever planned.  I want to step out of the way and allow God to have His way in my heart and in my life.  

Greater things are yet to come...will you choose to follow?