I Often Don’t Like Easter Services

I often don’t like Easter services.

I don’t. I like parts of the service—usually. But I often come away less than satisfied.

The Easter story is packed with lessons:

The prophecies of Passover fulfilled
“Not my will but Yours”
Peter denying Christ
Christ bearing the punishment for our sins
By Christ’s stripes we are healed
The crushing of Satan’s head
Light in our deepest darkness
The defeat of death and the grave
Eternal hope
And so on, and so on, and …

It must be rather difficult for preachers to decide what to focus on. Most usually choose a topic that will speak to those who rarely attend church. (I think that’s a great idea.) And for those who want to break the story into meditation-size pieces, many churches offer several services the week preceding Easter Sunday. (Another great idea.)

But if I was the one planning the Resurrection Sunday service …

Continue reading “I Often Don’t Like Easter Services”

The Divine Finisher

You may remember me sharing that my word for this year (2017) is listen. So in February I asked the Lord what topic He wanted me to cover and felt impressed to study how He has modeled parenting for us. That’s been my theme the past several weeks. I figured who else can show us how to manage difficult children?

But this is an exhaustive topic. That’s actually good. Right?

Does not our heavenly Father continually entice us, make us thirsty, cause us to seek after Him, make us hungry to learn more, go deeper, grow wiser?

So in an attempt to wrap up this topic—leaving so many rich thoughts un-delved—I’d like to look at the idea that this Father does more than teach us how to parent …

He is the divine Parent.

Continue reading “The Divine Finisher”

I Just Want to Hold You

I’m not a crier.

Or, at least, I didn’t used to be. But one day my quivering voice confessed to my mom the realization that I’d never hear an enthusiastic toddler sing “Mommy,” as he ran to me, his arms reaching wide. I was wading through grief after coming to the awareness that I’d never be my children’s first mom. My arms would not likely be the ones they’d long for.

Have you been here with your nonbiological child? When all you want to do is hold them tight and tell them how precious they are—and have them believe it. To see that belief reflected in their eyes; and hear it in their voice; and watch it as they walk through life.

This desire is one of the strongest for any mom. But some of us have become painfully aware it’s not a desire that will necessarily be fulfilled. And so we find our arms achingly empty.

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This desire. It’s innate. It’s a God-image part of us. It mirrors Father God’s base nature.

This I-long-to-hold-you characteristic of God is seen throughout Scripture.

The eternal God is a dwelling place,
And underneath are the everlasting arms;
Deuteronomy 33:27a (NASB)

We see it depicted in God as our shepherd in Psalm 95:7 (NASB), For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. Psalm 23 describes Shepherd-God as the provider for our every need: places of rest, nourishing food, refreshing drink, restoration for our souls, guidance toward righteousness, comfort in the darkest places of life, safety from our enemy, empowerment for our calling, abundance, goodness, mercy, and eternity with Him.

And can’t you just picture this from Psalm 116:1-2 (NASB)?

I love the Lord, because He hears
My voice and my supplications.
Because He has inclined His ear to me,
Therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live.

And how about this image?

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
… He will cover you with His pinions,
And under His wings you may seek refuge;
His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.
Psalm 91:1-4 (NASB)

In fact God delights in our presence so much, He is never far away.

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
…You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
…Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Psalm 139:1-12 (NASB)

God is intimately aware of this longing in our hearts to draw our children close.

He smiles with us those moments we stand in moon-lit rooms, gazing at our sleeping cherubs. His heart swells with ours as we cheer from the bleachers and applaud from the auditorium. His heart aches alongside ours when a defiant one turns away from our instructions.

But one thing He does not do is embrace the emptiness that Satan’s lies have attempted to forge. Because this Father knows there is always hope. Always. Hope.

Why? Because when it comes down to it, He’s the first parent. He’s also the last parent. He is our Creator—He is our children’s creator. Author. And Finisher. The final say-so.

And whether our children want it or not—whether we believe it or not—His arms are eternally long. Our children are never out of His reach.

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Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; Nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. Isaiah 59:1 (NASB).

Now What?

It was another Help, Lord! moment.

One of my children had just blindsided me with another, never-before-used, boundary-challenging technique. Dumbfounded, frustrated, and weary, I asked my heavenly Father, “Now what do I do with THIS?”

I once considered writing a book titled Now What? because it was a question I asked on a regular basis. Too frequently I felt thrown off kilter. The misbehaviors I faced—almost daily—required the wisdom of an experienced professional. I frequently felt like Tim Conway, in the Carol Burnett Show episode years ago, when he jabbed himself in the forehead with Novocain. But I knew I had to formulate some sort of immediate response to the inconceivable situation, so I typically used anger to fight through the stupor.

In one of those crying-out-to-the-Lord moments, I told Him, even if there are books out there to help me, I don’t have time to read them. And even if I read them all, they still wouldn’t have prepared me for this new issue. I needed divine insight, and I needed it right now.

Have you heard that phrase, “What would Jesus do?” Asking this question actually helped me. Jesus said anyone who had seen him, had seen the Father (John 14:9). I figured no professional insight could begin to compare to the wisdom of Father God. So if I took a good look at the way Jesus handled “out-of-the-blue” behaviors, I might get some clues about my current situation.

• Because He was confident in His identity, no surprise attack ever threatened Him.

• Because He never felt threatened, He could remain in control, think clearly, and respond appropriately.

• He used Scripture to guide His responses.

• Even when lied to, lied about, misunderstood, misrepresented, belittled, betrayed, crushed, and crucified, He remained confident Father God’s purposes would be accomplished.

• He was therefore free to patiently instruct, guide, provide for, heal, forgive, encourage, beckon, comfort, and even die for a fickle, unreliable, self-centered, wayward bunch of children.

When “what thens” fly in our face, it’s time to return to the most basic truths. We are God’s and He’s the One calling the shots.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1, NIV).

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28, NASB)

But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases. (Psalm 115:3, NASB).

The Lord of hosts has sworn saying, “Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand,” (Is 14:24, NASB).

Time and time again, God took me back to the basic—yet earth-shifting—truth that He loved me. He delighted in me. My identity was based on who He declared I was an eternity ago, not on what my children did a moment ago. As long as I took regular time to remember this, I would find myself at peace and able to parent the tough stuff from a place of confidence.

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I’ve talked with many moms the past several years. I’ve heard stories of horrendous misbehaviors. But you know what? I rarely hear anything new. Crazy lying. Stealing. Feces smearing. Destruction of property (even brand-newly decorated rooms). Explosive episodes. Sexual acting out. Drug usage. Alcoholism. Debt-incurring financial choices. The list goes on and on.

No matter how horrible, none of these behaviors can ever change who God is. None change who we are. None threaten God. They don’t need to threaten us either. None steal God’s peace, or joy, or love, or decision to lay down His life. None thwart His eternal plans.

So, what then? Then is when we sit down, breathe belly-deep, and wait. Wait until the dust that clouds our thinking settles. Wait until we remember how deeply we’re loved. Wait until we’re confident in who God is, what He’s able to do. Wait until we have an answer from God.

But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31, NKJV).

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O Lord, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. (1 Chronicles 29:11, NASB).

When God Became a Father

He wanted more. He wanted something else. Though surrounded by a multitudinous army who unceasingly lavished Him with resounding praise, He craved a smaller audience—an audience of one. Someone He could talk to—face-to-face, soul-to-soul. In a intimate place … like … a garden.

And so He dreamed and planned and designed. And out of nothing, using only words, He created a home—an explosion of microscopic grandeur. But this one—soul of His soul, breath of His breath—He formed intricately, purposefully, with His own hands.

And He became a Father.

In a single moment, He knew love.

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Joy of joys! Better than merely “good”! One of His heart!

He called this one Adam. Man. Red from the earth. A name to remind this one that without the breath of God, he would cease to be—he would return to dust.

He provided for this Adam a beautiful garden, supplied with every item the dust part of him required for survival. And He provided His own presence, necessary for the God part of him to thrive.

He assigned Adam a job: tend the garden.

He warned Adam of the one choice that would siphon his breath and doom him back to dust. He protected Adam, as long as he said no to that one choice.

Father wanted man to love Him back—if even a fraction. He wanted this child to experience the same ecstasy He felt. And so He secreted His presence from man—a divine hide-and-seek—hoping Adam would long for Him and seek him out. And, like any good father, He always allowed man to find Him.

He left that one tree to test man’s love. Would Adam trust Him enough to choose obedience? Would Adam look at everything God had provided for him and know deep satisfaction? Would Adam crave the presence of God above all else?

But if, heaven forbid, Adam chose the one thing God forbade, then God was ready. Man would have to leave the garden—banished from His tangible presence. But some day He’d provide a way back. It would be a long journey, but Father knew the way.

He would always be Father. He would always provide—though now that provision would require toil and bitterness. He would always protect—though sometimes His ways would seem cruel. He would always warn and instruct and guide—reducing His love to a set of laws and consequences. He would have to enforce these laws because man would fail—over and over and over.

Eventually, He would surrender His own breath so man could be redeemed. But He would revive and send it forth again as a Spirit. His very Spirit would breathe renewal to the Father-child communion He’d always longed for. And once again, Father would embrace His children. Though marred and scarred, they’d be back. Back in His arms.

And that’s all that mattered.


I don’t know what kind of human father you had. No matter how wonderful, or how horrible, he can’t begin to compare to Father God.

Father God designed you, created you, and named you His own special name. He walks with you, plays hide-and-seek with you, and stirs a longing for Him deep within your soul.

He provides for your every need. He guides you, instructs you, expects obedience of you, and disciplines you. He knows your frailties, and understands you are but dust.

He died for you, forgave you, rose again for you, and redeemed you. He set things right for you and now dwells moment-by-moment with you.

He comforts you, holds you, sings over you, and assures you.

You are His joy of joys, apple of His eye, breath of His breath, love of His love.

You are His child.

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We all watch ourselves parent just like we were parented. Don’t we? Unfortunately, our parents fell short—some more than others—leaving us less than adequate models to follow. But God in Himself has provided a better—a perfect—example. To become the best moms possible, we need to study how God parents.

For the next several weeks, we’ll look at God’s role as Father in the Bible. I have a feeling we’ll find that God didn’t necessarily employ a set of skills or follow a list of “how to’s”. I think we’ll find He parented out of the deep recesses of His heart.

I don’t know about you, but I love delving deep into God’s heart and learning what makes it tick. So, pull out your shovels, and let’s dig in. We’ll start next week, going back to just after the very beautiful-but-sad beginning. We’ll look at the ways God parented the children He’d just kicked out of their garden home. Though they may not always have known it, He did not send them out alone.

I look forward to discovering with you what He was up to.

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so. Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.

Genesis 1:27-31 NIV

 

Even When it Hurts

It was my first birthday as an empty-nester. My husband took the day off work and planned a fun-filled day. A homemade breakfast with fruit, scones, and clotted cream. A visit to a butterfly garden and a conservatory where we discovered a bonsai tree as old as I was. A picnic lunch and later dinner at The Cheesecake Factory. What a splendid day.

Mostly.

No one else remember my birthday that year. No cards or calls from my parents, sisters, or kids. This was very odd – never happened before or since. But at some point midday one child did text me a pleasant birthday greeting.

As we texted back and forth, this child little-by-little began sharing their grievances. They reported how they were seeking counseling … and the counselor felt they suffered from post traumatic stress disorder … a result of trauma in Russia … and in our home … and … I began to sense the conversation taking a turn in a direction that didn’t seem very celebratory. So, I finally said, “It sounds like you have some things you need to share with Dad and I. Why don’t you put it in an email and we’ll get back to you in a few days.”

I knew I needed to offer an open heart – just not on my birthday.

The letter came and we got slammed pretty hard. This was not the first time one of my children had sent a harsh letter. By this point in my parenting experience I had learned the importance of these letters. They were never easy to read. They hurt. But they also communicated hope.

Like puking – my children were getting toxicity out of their systems. Once it’d been shared – and (gross as it sounds) received – the poison lost its power. Continuing with this analogy, if you’ll bear with me, I didn’t have to ingest what they spewed at me. I could receive it, but I didn’t have to take it in. Sometimes I had to be like an armadillo – with a hard exterior while maintaining a soft interior.

I’d learned that if my children sensed I wouldn’t listen, or feared I would only come back at them with parenting rhetoric, they would have kept silent. They shared their pain because they wanted to know if I really cared.

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In truth, they wanted a relationship with me. If they hadn’t, they would have walked away and I’d have never heard from them again. Their harsh words were an attempt to get painful memories out of the way of a positive relationship.

I learned that it accomplished nothing to try and set the record straight. Their perspective may have been totally wrong, but it was reality to them.

At the same time, I didn’t apologize for something I didn’t do, or for something I did that before God believed was right. But I at least learned to say, “I’m sorry you’re hurting.” Or “I’m sorry for the ways I hurt you (without agreeing to their specific offenses). Will you please forgive me?” Because the truth is, I did plenty to hurt my children outside their list of offenses.

And I also learned to say, “Thank you for sharing your heart with me.” Because as cutting as their words were, they were still a gift. My children were facing pain in their lives – a healthy thing for them to do. They couldn’t begin healing if they kept past hurts stuffed in the back corners of their hearts.

If your children at hurling angry, hurtful words at you, I have a feeling that deep inside they are pleading, “I hurt and I need a mommy to care.

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It may be time to crawl into your armadillo suit and let them spew. Don’t correct – right now, anyway. Just receive. Say thank you, and then give yourself time and space to recover.

You may need to revisit the conversation at some point. I never did. I believed the most important thing for me to do was to really listen.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
James 1:19 (NIV)

Experiencing Eternity in Moments

Five of us circled around a corner booth. We snuggled cups of warmth while sharing about our Christmases, wedding plans, and future concerns—close friends who never tire of laughing and crying and praying together. We stayed so long, one friend left an extra tip and I ordered dessert just to give a little extra money for the use of the corner. (Besides, I had resisted ordering the gluten-free turtle bar way too long.)

Are there people in your life you could spend hours with and be so content you fail to watch the clock? Like when you first fell in love, or when you get to escape the house to meet with other adult people. Time is simply not noticed. That is, until it starts blaring at you, “Time’s up! Gotta go! You’ve duties to fulfill!”

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Ah, time. It can be our dearest friend, yet strictest taskmaster.

My husband had January second off work so I took the opportunity to sleep late. I did eventually tackle some projects but first I enjoyed as much time with the Lord as I desired. My mood put me in an odd frame of mind, evaluating the way we humans measure time. Or more specifically, why we make such a big deal out of a new year.

Why do we bang pots and pans, toot kazoos, kiss our sweethearts, and cheer as a silly ball drops? (What’s with the dropping anyway?) Why do communities ring church bells and set off fireworks? Some years I think, “It’s just another tick on the clock.” I wonder, what God thinks of all the hoopla each 86,400th second of every 365/6 days?

So, I asked him. He answered me in the strangest of ways. He said,

“Eternity to me is little moments like this, loving my child. It’s right here. Right now.”

To God, time doesn’t matter nearly as much as people do. God’s not slow, yet not in a hurry. He just cares about being with us. Face-to-face. Heart-to-heart. That’s what He celebrates. God with man residing.

Time with God. It can be scheduled. It can put into a neat little box. God doesn’t care. He doesn’t notice how long or how short. He just delights in being with us. And He longs for us to notice Him and to take a moment to slow our steps and look Him in the face. That’s what sets off the fireworks in His heart.

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We often quote that a thousand years are like a day to God. It’s true. It’s written in Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8. In comparison to the God of eternity, a lifetime can fly past in a blink. But we often miss the middle of 2 Peter 3:8: “One day is like a thousand years.” Just think. God has the ability to turn those moments with us into a millennia of time. He can stretch the sweetness of an embrace into a galaxy of star bursts.

I don’t know exactly where to go with this response the Lord gave me—other than to revel in the idea that nothing matters to God nearly as much as being with His children. The only way to keep our world, and calendar, and to-do list in order is to be deliberate about ordering it all around time with Him—even if that time is for a few brief moments. Long enough to look in His face. See His love. Hear His whisper. Receive His hug.

This is the God who lives outside of time. When we meet with Him, He funnels eternity into moments. And those moments explode in our souls and change our perspectives, so we are not longer confined to the circumstances of “now” but free to live beyond now. Free to choose to not be defined by our current situations, but by eternity.