a matter of life and death

hope

being able to see

obstacles
roadblocks
mountains
things which hold me back
hurt
despair
brokenness
disappointment
questions…

and then…
then being able to see past those things…
to

possibility

hope.

isn’t that what this day
this resurrection day
is all about?

being able to see
being able to hear
being able to taste
being able to smell
being able to touch…
life?

right?

moving from
death to life…

as my journey of turning Lent upside down
winds down…
maybe that is what I have gleaned

every day is about living
and being alive
and feeling alive…

I remember being in a high school
computer programming class…
no, I didn’t have a distinct interest in
computers or program design, but it was required.
and in that class, we learned about the importance
of an if..then loop

if this happens
then this is the result

makes sense, right?
choices — if this happens
consequences — then this is the result

natural occurrences
conditional statements…

how super cool is the
if…then statement surrounding Easter

if you put Me to death
I will rise

if you deny me
I will still love you

if you betray me
I will die for you

if you die to yourself
because of Me, you will live

the old is gone, the new has come

becoming
doing
changing

repentance
mystery
freedom

connecting
emptying
restoring

resilience
redemption
hope

what if all of this?

because…isn’t it a matter of life and death?

I was breathing, but not alive
All my failures I tried to hide
It was my tomb
Till I met You

You called my name
And I ran out of that grave
Out of the darkness
Into Your glorious day – Glorious Day, Kristian Stanfill

and no matter how your Resurrection Sunday played out today…
if you were disappointed
if you were discouraged
if you were deeply wounded
if you were sad or lonely or depressed…

the “then” is still the same…
the “then” is always constant

simplified…
if you…
then God…

even if you…
then God will still…

grace – truly a matter of death and life

 

 

 

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what’s your story? when life is hard…

we all have a story worth
hearing
telling
embracing…

“Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.” — Robert McKee

our life’s narrative…
can we change our story?
do we have a different narrative when
things are going well
and life seems easy….
compared to
when life is hard?

I don’t know about you,
but I find that life is hard…
most of the time.

maintaining relationships
carving out time for people and things
accomplishing daily tasks
and job-related duties
providing for a family
loving on that family
(fill-in what is hard for you…)

life.is.hard.

this statement is not meant to
be hopeless
or fatalistic
or a statement of despair…
for me, it is truthful and accurate.

period.

but…
does that change my story?
how is my (your) story affected by circumstances
and people?
is there some sort of consistency in the story line?

have you ever wondered
why bad things happen to good people
or why crap happens at all?

could it be that all the crappy parts of your narrative
add to the powerful meaning of your experience?
could it be that life is hard by design?
we are born
we die…
isn’t that the outline of a hard life?

let’s think for a moment about an easy life…

not necessarily filled with things or toys
but with the qualities that really matter
love, justice, humility, mercy
would we have to break a sweat when we worked?
would we complain about what we don’t have?
would we be content?

would we rely solely on ourselves and
have no need for faith or trust?

if that is the case…I don’t want an easy life.

yes, I think life is hard.
yes, I love Jesus.
no, I don’t think
I love Jesus less
or He loves me less
or that my relationship with Him is some how
faulty
or messed up.

my story matters
my life-is-hard story
has shaped me into the woman I am today

your story matters…
and maybe yours is a story
with not as many
hard times
or struggles
or questions as mine…
that.is.ok.
embrace it.
own it.

today
the day before Easter
I sit and ponder…

what was
what is
what will be

and I wonder
how it was for Mary and Martha
for John and Peter
for Andrew and James…
life was hard
I am sure.
imagine being there…
witnessing the accusations
the torture
the beating
the death

the fulfillment of what was
seeing the bloodied body of the One whom you loved hanging on a cross
hearing cheers
smelling death in the air
and not fully being able to see past the cross
to Sunday morning…

life.is.hard.

but…
as we sit in the tension
what was
and what is not yet…
we are able to alter our stories a bit…

will life still be hard?
maybe.
will life still go on?
surely.

Behold His holy Son
The Lion and the Lamb given to us
The Word became a man
That my soul should know its Savior – Behold, Hillsong

the story of grace.

 

what’s your story?

 Each person has his or her own burden to bear and story to write. – Galatians 6:5 (the Voice)

every life is a journey
every person has a story to tell…
if we would just listen.

what’s yours?

what has filled the pages as a result
of turning this season of Lent upside down?

have you taken a moment to examine your own stuff
your own thoughts and perceptions?
have you thought about the anticipation of Easter?
have you felt the heaviness
the brokenness
have you been able to determine where you are – the starting point – and been able to gather clues?
have you been able to identify who is there – even though you can’t see?
have you thrown up your hands in defeat and disgust?
have you asked questions?
have you participated in
connecting
emptying
restoring
have you been able to do the next thing – and redefined what that is?
have you been able to release and come home?

have you rewritten your story?
have you started to know what your story is?

have you allowed yourself to be broken during this season?

“I hold the broken Last Supper in front of me, a Jesus with broken hands. What did Jesus do after He gave thanks? “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them.”  He took it and gave thanks. Eucharisteo. Then He broke it and gave. How many times had I said it: “Eucharisteo precedes the miracle”? Thanksgiving precedes the miracle—the miracle of knowing all is enough. And how many times had I read it—how Jesus “took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people”?  Eucharisteo—Jesus embracing and giving thanks for His not-enough—that preceded the miracle. But why hadn’t I been awakened at the detonation of the revelation before? What was the actual miracle? The miracle happens in the breaking. Not enough was given thanks for, and then the miracle happened: There was a breaking and a giving—into a kind of communion—into abundant filling within community. The miracle happens in the breaking.”  – Ann Voskamp

have you experienced the miracle in the breaking?

But You are a Savior
And You take brokenness aside
And make it beautiful – All Sons and Daughters, Brokenness Aside

life is a journey…
and we all have a story to tell.

what’s yours?

The Lord is my Best Friend and my Shepherd.
I always have more than enough.

He offers a resting place for me in his luxurious love.
His tracks take me to an oasis of peace, the quite brook of bliss.

That’s where he restores and revives my life.
He opens before me pathways to God’s pleasure,
and leads me along in his footsteps of righteousness
so that I can bring honor to his name.

Lord, even when you path takes me through
the valley of deepest darkness,
fear will never conquer me, for you already have!
You remain close to me and lead me through it all the way.
Your authority is my strength and my peace.

The comfort of your love takes away my fear.
I’ll never be lonely, for you are near.

You become my delicious feast
even when my enemies dare to fight.
You anoint me with the fragrance of your Holy Spirit,
you give me all I can drink of you until my heart overflows.

So why would I fear the future?
For I’m being pursued only by your goodness and unfailing love.
Then afterwards – when my life is through,
I’ll return to your glorious presence to be forever with you! – Psalm 23 (the Passion translation)

attentive grace.

here’s how: coming home

connecting
emptying
restoring…

reaching out…for the thing(s) we can’t see

trusting without the use of our senses

connecting…

letting go…of what we can see

touch
taste
smell
hear

emptying…

giving…of ourselves

to those who need it
maybe even if the one in need is us

…stewardship of our words – how we talk to and about ourselves
…stewardship of our time – how often do we take care of ourselves physically and emotionally and spiritually and mentally
…stewardship of our resources – time, talents, gifts, abilities, finances

returning to the basics of our faith

restoring…

stewardship – the task of taking care of something

restore – to bring back

come home – changing direction

 

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” And Jesus replied to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself [that is, unselfishly seek the best or higher good for others].’ – Matthew 22:26-39 (AMP)

 

unselfishly seeking the best,
better than what we have
for others…
do I do that?
could that be at the heart of giving
and serving
and restoration?

It points to giving freely, for in almsgiving one gives something to someone from whom one does not expect to receive anything in return. Gratuitousness should be one of the characteristics of the Christian, who, aware of having received everything from God gratuitously, that is, without any merit of his own, learns to give to others freely.

Today, gratuitousness is often not part of daily life where everything is bought and sold. Everything is calculated and measured. Almsgiving helps us to experience giving freely, which leads to freedom from the obsession of possessing, from the fear of losing what we have, from the sadness of one who does not wish to share his wealth with others. – Pope Francis

what would giving freely look like in my life?
giving freely with
my time
my words
my finances

giving, not out of a sense of obligation
or duty
but out of a deeply rooted
love and sense of who God is

what would that look like?

radical thinking
scandal of grace
the Gospel

Can we get back to the altar?
Back to the arms of our first love
There’s only one way to the Father
And He’s calling out to us – Ryan Stevenson, the Gospel

what would it look like to
come home?

“You’ve wandered around this mountain long enough. Turn north…” – Deuteronomy 2:3 (the Voice)

beckoning grace.

here’s how: release

connecting
emptying
restoring

reaching out
letting go
serving, and being served

prayer
fasting
giving

Lent.

Prayer is reaching out after the unseen; fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal.  Fasting helps express, deepen, confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves, to attain what we week for the kingdom of God. – Andrew Murray

when I think of letting go
I think of surrender….and not always in a positive light
right?

what is the “posture” of surrender?
hands in the air
defeated
choice-less

but
what
if

the posture of surrender
embodies
me making a choice
the responsibility lying with me
letting go
surrender
emptying
release…

what if that?

what if
by surrendering
I am gaining something
instead of losing?

what if
by releasing
that “thing” no longer
has control over me?

what if
by emptying
myself
I make room for something
greater and better…
far beyond what I could hope or imagine?

what if
release is freedom?

“Whatever Satan is using to bind you, Jesus came to free you. Free from…and

free to. I can’t say that enough. For far too long we’ve looked at freedom

only in terms of what we are free from. But freedom encompasses so much more

than a shedding of chains. Jesus set us free to live the abundant life by being

all He has created us to be and accomplishing all that He has planned for us to

do.”- Sharon Jaynes

what if
release is actually freedom
from
and freedom to…?

so…
what stops us from
surrendering
from emptying
from releasing?

what is it?
fear?
shame?
having to face the fact that we don’t have it all together?
losing a sense of control?

but really…aren’t the things which we don’t let go of really in control anyway?

realizing that we need God?
selfishness?
not wanting to lose our “freedom”

what if our freedom is really our prison…

isn’t this all part of the journey of Lent
of looking at things from a different perspective?

connecting  reaching out
letting go  releasing  emptying
giving  serving and being served  restoring….

why have we complicated things so much?
when did Jesus become not enough for us?

seriously…when did that happen?

what if
our posture of surrender
of release
of emptying ourselves
becomes not so much of a
“oh no – I’ve been caught”
thing
but more of
hands up
wanting more than what we have
willing to take responsibility
and do better
and be better
and wanting to experience freedom?

what if release
is at the heart of that?

Drench my soul
As mercy and grace unfold
I hunger and thirst

unfolding grace…

 

 

 

here’s how: doing the next thing

what’s the 4-1-1 on
connecting
emptying
restoring

what the skinny on
prayer
fasting
giving

how does it all work?
how can I be effective at these things?
where do I start?

well…
just Google “the 411 on prayer” and you will find the answer

how to pray effectively – learn 12 keys to answered prayer

the 411 on prayer

practice the Jesus prayer – learn a new way to pray

the secret to powerful prayer – how to receive miracles

prayer to pray this prayer – 3 simple steps to answered prayer

how to pray – this one will change your life

does anyone else kind of expect a voice-over guy to come on-air and say:

“but wait…there’s more!
prayers can be answered
if you say the right words
in the right sequence
while holding your mouth right
and standing like a flamingo…
just pay shipping and handling.”

this is a bit humorous…but is it really?
don’t we start to believe that we aren’t doing
something right
when our prayers do not get answered

the way we think they should

we didn’t say it right
or at the right time
or with the right inflection

I’m just being honest here.

when did we start making
following Christ
a series of
must-be-followed-to-the-tee
instructions…
and if nothing happens
or if bad things happen
we must be doing something wrong.

when.
did.
that.
happen.

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
    what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
    be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
    take God seriously. – Micah 6:8 (MSG)

how did we take something so plain

love
sacrifice
death
resurrection

and terribly complicate it?

Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’” – Matthew 22:37-39 (MSG)

connecting with God….
isn’t that the essence of prayer?

reaching out

with all of our
passion
prayer
and intelligence

…and in our attempt to connect
we end up dividing and isolating

doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it?

we take the
“how”
of it all
and think we can
improve
embellish
bedazzle it
to meet our own
wants and needs…
and then when it all goes south
we either don’t get it
or we blame God for it…
we are fickle people.

we complicate
we overdo
we pretty it up
we tweak it here
and shave it there
a nip
and a tuck
and the end result
is nothing more than
our own self-serving version
of who God is and what
He requires from us

come on, folks…we do this.

but…is this truly how we do the next thing?
when we don’t know what to do
do we create our own
safe
pretty
easy
next step
to bypass
the unknown
and the uncomfortable
and the painful
and the necessary?

perhaps, my friends
this is when reaching out for the unseen (Andrew Murray)
is best seen…
connecting with our Father
who is all around
constantly revealing Himself to us
who is Holy
who is living among us
who is yet to come
who is our Provider
and in teaching us that we can forgive
because He has forgiven us
and has His best for us in mind…always
and in leading us away from temptation
and in saving and freeing us from evil
and in Him who was and is and is to come. – based on Matthew 6

Jesus taught us how to do this…

And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?

“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.

“The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply.” – Matthew 6: 5-8 (MSG)

could it be that the foundation of all of this
connecting
emptying
restoring
is simply love?

could that be what this is all about?

could this be the “how” that drives it all?

more thoughts to come…

Over and over again, Your love and Your mercy begin
No matter how far, You find me where I am

reaching out for grace…

 

 

 

 

 

 

what now? redefining the next thing

I am learning,
or maybe
re-learning and
remembering
the important things…

connection
reaching out
serving and being served

as I continue to explore Lent.

often, I don’t know
what’s next for me…
and I question
the decisions I have made
the paths that I have taken
where I am headed
God’s plan for me.

and I find myself afraid…
ever been there?

fearful of…
the unknown
the “what now”
the wilderness

me too.

“God takes us into wildernesses not to abandon us – but to be alone with us.  Wildernesses are not where God takes us to hurt us – but where He speaks to our hearts.  Wildernesses can be safe because we are always safe when we are always with Him.” – Ann Voskamp

don’t you love the word “wildernesses”?
I do…
love the word that is
I have no affection really for the location

it seems like I forget that
Jesus came so that I could have life to the full…
when I am broken and feeling alone.

I came to give life with joy and abundance. – John 10:10 (the Voice)

 Now to the God who can do so many awe-inspiring things, immeasurable things, things greater than we ever could ask or imagine through the power at work in us – Ephesians 3:20 (the Voice)

you too?
I don’t feel like I am “winning”….
I definitely feel defeated – and dare I say – a “loser”

but….
what if the “next thing”
is not necessarily “winning or losing”?
what if the “what now”
for me is…

a wilderness
or silence

and….
what does it look like to win anyway?
what does it look like to lose?
is the opposite of winning – losing
or simply not winning?
and is the opposite of losing – winning
or simply not losing?
are those things the same?
and what does that look like?

does your head hurt yet?
sorry if it does…
this is what my head does
all.of.the.time.

so…back to the original thought/question…
what now?
maybe, for me at least, the answer to that
is not at all a question
but a change in perspective
a redefinition if you will

and a remembering
to connect
reach out
and serve and be served.

prayer
fasting
giving.

could the next thing
be that easy?
ah yes…
maybe it is that simple…
but not that easy.

I am thankful that I don’t have to have any of this figured out
that every day
every next thing
every wilderness
brings me deeper
and higher
and closer
to the One
who calls me
Beloved.

Relight the fire that burned so strong
Reminding me what You have done
My one request is to be changed
So lead me to the cross again

what now? grace.

 

 

 

 

 

what now?

 

“When you don’t know what to do next, just do the thing in front of you.” – Elisabeth Elliot

what’s in front of you?
what’s your next thing?
what now?

______________

The number 40 appears in the Bible again and again as the number of days (or years) in which a person (or a people) undertake a cleansing and life-changing journey. Rain pouring down on an ark for 40 days and nights. Forty years in the desert for the tribes of Israel before they can enter the Promised Land. Forty days in the wilderness for Jesus during which he resists the temptations to turn from God’s will. – Karen Herzog

the Lenten season is
reflective of Jesus’ 40 days/nights
of fasting and prayer
right before the Spirit led him

“Jesus saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon Him, alighting on His very body.

Voice from Heaven:  This is My Son, whom I love; this is the Apple of My eye; with Him I am well pleased.” – Matthew 3:16-17 (the Voice)

then the Spirit led him into the wilderness
to be tempted, to be tested

the Voice translation indicates that even though Jesus had fasted for 40 days
and was hungry
he was also curiously stronger

I wonder what it looks like in my life to be curiously stronger?
have I ever been that…

  • strong
  • curiously strong

is that what this season is all about?

let’s kind of break this down a little, yes?

God “identifies” His Son

Jesus knows Who He is

“This is My Son, whom I love; this is the Apple of My eye; with Him I am well pleased.”

“My identity must be anchored to the truth of who God is and who He is to me. Only then can I find a stability beyond what my feelings will ever allow. The closer I align my truth with His truth, the more closely I identify with God—and the more my identity really is in Him.” – Lysa Terkeurst

the Spirit leads Him into the wilderness

Jesus knows where He is

The Spirit then led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil

Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights

Jesus knew He was not alone

Satan questioned everything about Jesus…and tested Him

if You are…

“If You are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread”

“The more Christ fulfills the cravings of our souls, the more he changes our taste capacities from the inside out. The more we walk with him, the more we want him. The more we taste of him, the more we enjoy him. And this transforms how we live and what we live for.” – David Platt

if You are…

“If You are the Son of God, jump! And then we will see if You fulfill the Scripture…”

Jesus didn’t take the “it is what it is” attitude..

Satan continued to poke and prod…hoping to trip Jesus up

“And still the devil subjected Jesus to a third test. He took Jesus to the top of a very high mountain, and he showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in all their splendor and glory, their power and pomp.

If You bow down and worship me, I will give You all these kingdoms.”

then Jesus
in His brilliant wisdom
told Satan to get out!

“Get away from Me, Satan. I will not serve you.”

___________________

so…
Jesus was “identified” publicly
He was aware of where He was
He was not alone and knew Who was with Him
from the beginning, we were a big deal to Him
He is both the question and the answer
and
through it all, even in the midst of

his hunger
and
his becoming curiously stronger

we were on His mind…

our next steps were on His radar
we were His next thing…
we were His “what now”

Nothing like that had ever happened before—no eye had ever seen,
    and no ear had ever heard such wonders,
But You did them then for the sake of Your people, for those who trusted in You. – Isaiah 64:4 (the Voice)

it’s interesting to me
and intriguing to think about
the fact that we are God’s
memory of the familiar
we are familiar to Him

then
now
forever

So I give you a new command: Love each other deeply and fully. Remember the ways that I have loved you, and demonstrate your love for others in those same ways. – John 13:34 (the Voice)

and equally as interesting
is our lack of memory of the familiar

my lack of intimacy
lack of association
with the constancy of Jesus

 

so, what now?

“When you don’t know what to do next, just do the thing in front of you.” – Elisabeth Elliot

and rely on the memory of the familiar
the pattern of grace
the message of mercy
reaching out
connecting
serving and being served.
the here and now of grace…

Hope is stirring deep inside me
Making all things right – Kari Jobe

when questions are answers: connecting emptying restoring

 

connect

empty

restore

praying

fasting

giving

 

“Prayer is reaching out after the unseen; fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal.

Fasting helps express, deepen, confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves, to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.” – Andrew Murray

kind of looking outside the box
we tend to put God in…

kind of turning that box upside down
and shaking things up a bit…

not being satisfied with how things have been
how things are…
but seeing beyond to how things can be

reaching out…for the thing(s) we can’t see

trusting without the use of our senses

connecting…

letting go…of what we can see

touch
taste
smell
hear

emptying…

giving…of ourselves

to those who need it
maybe even if the one in need is us

…stewardship of our words – how we talk to and about ourselves
…stewardship of our time – how often do we take care of ourselves physically and emotionally and spiritually and mentally
…stewardship of our resources – time, talents, gifts, abilities, finances

returning to the basics of our faith

restoring…

maybe the question is
not where
but how

not what
but why not

not why
but how much

not when…
but always.

always.

connect empty restore

grace is the answer…

 

 

 

 

when questions are answers

victorygreenhills.org

the art of asking questions…

clarification – why do you say that?  how so?
reasons and evidence – what would be an example?
viewpoint and perspectives – what would be an alternative?
implications and consequences – how does that tie in with what we learned before?
question about the question – what was the point of the question?  what does that mean?  how does this apply?

or…

where are you?
the starting point…
gathering clues

who’s there?
who is this?
I can’t see…

why bother?
it is what it is…
what’s the big deal?

could there be answers in these questions?
or
is the question actually the answer?

I think that is what I have been journeying through
this Lenten season.
looking at Lent differently
and asking a lot of questions

who
what
where
when
why
how

and starting out with the presupposition
that I don’t have any answers…
today, I am wondering if I really do have the answers
because I am asking the questions.

or…
am I searching for answers
while the question eludes me?

hmm..

what if what looks like it’s falling apart
is actually falling together? – Ann Voskamp

what if the answer is the question.

Who do you say that I am?
Do you want to be well?
Why do you call me Lord, Lord?
Why are you so afraid?

where are you?
who is this?
why bother?

you’ve just got to do the next thing even when nothing feels like it’s changing anything. – Ann Voskamp

“Prayer is reaching out after the unseen; fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal.

Fasting helps express, deepen, confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves, to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.” – Andrew Murray

in the questioning
in the pondering
in the sorting and sifting
…we learn to
reach
and let go
…we learn to
pray
and fast
…we learn to
wait.

grace to do the next thing.

There’s a place where fear has to face the God you know – Casting Crowns, Oh My Soul

 

 

 

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