Standing Guard

I wish I could have gotten a photo without scaring them off.

The cardinal pair:  Her, pecking quietly at the seeds spilling from the bright yellow feeder.  Him, standing guard from a slender branch just across the narrow strip of grass usually dominated by our German Shepherd.  The wind blew and the branch shivered, but he stood at his post, eyes fixed on his mate.

Something about it captured my attention.

They only stayed for a few moments.  I wanted to grab my camera but knew they would be gone by the time I got back to the window and if I dared to go outside they would surely fly away.  So I stood quietly, framed by morning light and mesmerized by the simple beauty of a male guarding his mate.

She was so calm and content, not even glancing up at him.  She was just doing what every living creature does every day…eating.  Such a simple, normal thing.

Kind of like doing laundry.  All the laundry that piles up in the hamper on a regular basis.  The normal mundane of my day.

Or having coffee alone in the dining room before the kids awaken, sunlight streaming in the tall windows and silence filling the air until the clomp-clomp of bare feet interrupt the quiet and the morning busy begins.

He is there.  Every moment of every day.  Whether I notice him or not, God watches me…and you.  Whether I am mopping floors or sipping tea…or struggling to settle my mind after a stressful day…He stands near, watching.  Comforting in His calm, bringing peace to the very air I breathe if I will just stop and take it in.  My Father, our Father, is a constant presence.

How does this realization affect us?  How does it make you feel?  What does it make you want to do…or not do?  For me, it gives me peace,  boundaries built by love.  When I forget the presence of God I easily lose focus and struggle to make sense of interruptions, pain, and trials.  But when I practice the presence of God, stopping to intentionally breathe in the Spirit-filled air and remember Who is always by my side, I find strength and purpose in the mundane or the struggle. I find safety under the watchful eye of my ever-present Guard.

 

 

The Forgotten Feast

Late one evening, while driving home from a banquet that had been held to celebrate the end of the latest basketball season, I heard a voice pipe up from the nether-regions of my dark and messy Explorer:

“I didn’t get to eat.”

I forced my face to stay forward, eyes on the road, while I said, incredulously, “What?”  (Read that with all the emphasis you can imagine.  Because that’s how I said it.)

“I haven’t had dinner, Mom.  I didn’t get to eat.”

I took a deep breath, willing myself to show grace and use this teachable moment.  “What would Sally Clarkson say?”  I thought to myself…

“You mean you were too busy hanging with your friends to eat, right?  You mean you chose not to eat because you were having fun, right?  Because when we left they were throwing out whole pans of spaghetti and meatballs and chicken alfredo…there was an entire banquet, a FEAST, laid out for you.  There is absolutely no reason for you to be hungry except that you chose not to eat what was provided for you.”

I paused there, knowing that continuing to lecture would be overkill and that this sweet fun-loving (and now hungry) kiddo of mine had gotten the point.  We arrived home, hungry child had a small snack, and everyone went to bed.

Then God started thunking me on the head.

 

You know the above-mentioned teachable moment I wanted to use to make a point to my child?  Well, the Lord decided to turn that one on me.

He’s pretty faithful about doing that.

Proverbs 9:1-6 (MSG)* says…

Lady Wisdom has built and furnished her home;
    it’s supported by seven hewn timbers.
The banquet meal is ready to be served: lamb roasted,
    wine poured out, table set with silver and flowers.
Having dismissed her serving maids,
    Lady Wisdom goes to town, stands in a prominent place,
    and invites everyone within sound of her voice:
“Are you confused about life, don’t know what’s going on?
    Come with me, oh come, have dinner with me!
I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread,
    roast lamb, carefully selected wines.
Leave your impoverished confusion and live!
    Walk up the street to a life with meaning.”

How often do I walk around hungry despite the literal banquet God has spread before me?  He tells us He has everything we need in place.  Every gift of the Holy Spirit is available to us, His beloved children.  Like a mother who takes pleasure in feeding her growing children, who delights in watching them savor delicious food made by her own hands, our God has spread out a Kingdom feast and sits at the head of the table, waiting for us to join Him.

But, too often, we don’t.  Despite the tantalizing smells of “fresh-baked bread, roasted lamb, and carefully selected wines” we run right past the table and try to live our lives on empty.  “I’m not hungry!” we declare as we slam the door behind us and skip to the playground (work, school, relationships, life) not wanting to take the necessary time to fuel our spirits before engaging with this broken and dying world.

Then we hit the wall.  We run out of energy and despair over our weakness.  We stubbornly declare, “I didn’t have time,” but the truth is we didn’t want to make the time.

Because you know as well as I do the time is there.

It may mean setting the alarm earlier to spend quiet time with God before the rest of the family awakens.  I could be choosing to listen to a podcast from a trusted Bible teacher or music that fills our minds with truth in the car (or while feeding babies). Maybe it involves putting down that magazine we had planned to thumb through in the doctor’s office to pick up a devotional or (wait for it) the actual Bible in our purse or even on our phone.  Wherever we choose to carve it out, we have the time to consume the feast our God has prepared for us.  It may not happen all in one sitting.  In fact, it may mean we are taking small bites throughout the day.  It’s not really about making time to feast on the Word, it’s about making the feast a priority.

And I’m telling you, sisters, that we will never walk in victory unless we are well-fed.

We cannot walk around starving and spiritually malnourished and expect to be effective in our marriages, our mothering, or any other area of life.  Because the Word is life.  Jesus is life.  He sits at the head of the table, but the seats are too often empty.  This has to stop!  The culture is running at us, chasing down our families at breakneck speed, and we are so tired and distracted that we have no energy to fight!  But fight, we must, or we will end up on our knees with a weak and broken spirit from years of malnutrition as we watch our homes crumble.  It begins with small changes, tweaks in the schedule that we can make every single day.  I’ve heard a good rule…”Work before play.”   Well, how about, pray before work?  Or sit at the feet of Jesus before logging in?

Verse six, above, says,
“Leave your impoverished confusion and live!
    Walk up the street to a life with meaning.”

Yes, that’s it!  A hungry soul is an impoverished and confused soul!  We cannot think clearly when we are hungry.  Any parent knows this.  We have all dealt with a “hangry” child…well, I would venture to guess that many of us are spiritually hangry.  We struggle to find meaning to our lives, feel bitter and angry and tired, but the answer lies in stopping…eat, drink and be filled.  Be still and know that He is God.  He is our provider, our strength, our portion and our cup.

Then,

from that nourished and fulfilled state,

we can emerge from the safety of home to face the world and be effective, energetic laborers in the fields.  We will no longer be searching for meaning, because meaning is found at the banqueting table.  We will know who we are and Whose we are and be better able to live out of that truth, living forward and purposefully into who God created us to be at the very beginning…fully dependent, empowered disciples of Jesus Christ offering hope and life to a desperate and hurting world.

Our kids are watching.  Our friends and families are watching.  If we don’t lead them to the banqueting table and show them the value of sitting with the Lord, feasting on all He has to give us, who will?

Let’s eat!

 

*MSG refers to The Message.  It is a modern paraphrase of the Bible.  I like to use it when trying to clarify passages or get better understanding of context.  

Finding Joy in Seasons of Grief

Throughout the weeks of Lent I spent the first minutes of each morning before lit candles and a cup of coffee with a simple, yet profound, book in my lap:  The Promise of Lent Devotional-A 40 day Journey Toward the Miracle of Easter by Chris Tiegreen.

I remember well the day I purchased it.  It was displayed on a table in our local Lifeway Christian Bookstore, next to a devotional based on the writing of C.S. Lewis.  Now, being a proud Rabbit Room member and lover of all things British, my first instinct was to grab the writings of Mr. Lewis, call it a no-brainer, and head to the checkout counter.  But something about that little purple book by an author of whom I had never heard with a golden crown of thorns gracing the otherwise plain cover caused me to pause and pick it up.  I flipped to the devotional for Day 1 and knew, immediately, that this was the one I was supposed to have.  With my apologies to C.S. Lewis, I bought the little purple book and dove in, day by day, as Lent marched me forward to the Cross.

God is so good.  With each day and every page, I was reminded of simple truths, known in my mind but often forgotten in the heat of the moment.  (You may have seen some of the quotes I shared on Instagram and Facebook throughout the 40 days of Lent.)  Truths such as these:

  1. You are called to celebrate the revelation of the coming kingdom long before you see it.  Your new citizenship is far more glorious than your old.
  2. Those moments of crisis are a mark of all good fiction, and they are also a mark of God’s best stories.
  3. The world says, “How dare you call me sinful?” and stays enslaved.  We say, “Yes, I am that and more,” and are set free.
  4. The dawn is most beautiful after the darkest of nights.
  5. The ways of the world have to surrender to the decrees of the insistently, stubbornly, relentlessly faithful.

And then this sentence…on Good Friday as the beautiful strains of Andrew Peterson’s new album, Resurrection Letters, Volume 1, washed over me and brought me into a beautiful place of worship…”Friday is not the end of the story.”

Is it Friday in your life, where you are, today?  Are you standing at the foot of a cross, dreams shattered and heart broken, in disbelief?  Are you caught up in a storm, not of your own choosing, and tossed about on a sea of tears?  Finding joy in those seasons can be difficult, if not impossible.  How do you find joy in sickness, death (whether of a loved one or of a dream), a rebellious child, an adulterous husband, or poverty?  How do you see the “good” in the very, very bad?

There was nothing “good” on Good Friday.  To all outward appearances the Son of God ended up just being an innocent man murdered on a cross between two thieves.  Everyone who had believed in him walked away disappointed and afraid.  Their hope was gone.  The words he had spoken to prepare them for this day had pooled into a jumbled mess of confusion in the back of their grief-stricken and panicked minds.  There was nothing for which to be thankful.

Nothing.

But what they could not see was the other side of the veil.  Their earthly eyes, blinded by tears and worry, were not attuned to the hum of voices and the drumbeat of Heaven building up into a cadence of victorious joy that would burst through on the morning of the third day when the dead body of Jesus suddenly drew a deep breath and sat up, unwrapped the grave clothes that bound Him in death, watched the light of the morning sun break through as the angel rolled the stone away and walked clean out of that tomb.

It may be Friday in your life, and right now there is nothing good about that.  But will you choose to hope?  Will you cry out to the Father along with me, “I believe, help my unbelief?”  And can you rest on Saturday, just as our Savior rested, knowing that Sunday is coming?  Resurrection is coming?  

He will make the joy so worth the pain.  It’s a promise.

Friday is not the end of the story.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  Revelation 21:3-4

Holy Week Reflections: The Grace of Dawn

The last of the dark clouds drifted across the rising sun, just over the trees topping the hills.  Beams of light flooded the room as the sun, at last, broke through and shone freely.

Such is the season of Lent.

In this Holy Week, as I reflect on the last days of Jesus’ earthly life, I am struck by the symbolism God has placed in all of nature.

In this season of life, as naiveté  is stripped away and the world groans in longing for His return, I am struck by my need to remember that my Jesus is acquainted with sorrows…accompanied by grief.  He sits with me in compassion and understanding because He knows.

He has suffered and sits with us in our suffering.

I have lit the Lenten candles each morning, watching as each day the new candle adds light.  I look to the Light as I pray before the candlelight, settled in my dependency, determined to keep walking forward.  I dwell, fascinated by the curling smoke as the candles are extinquished one-by-one, for a few long moments.  I sit in holy grief, knowing my sin nailed my savior to that cross, yet sit in hope, knowing that he won.

He rose.

And I am free.

Lent, unlike Advent (which is filled with child-like anticipation of the Newborn King), is heavy.  It is the knowing of my faults, the realization that His suffering should have been mine.  It is taking the time to sit in the weight of my sin while knowing, with each passing day, that my sin has been nailed to the cross and I bear it no more.

Praise the Lord, Oh my soul.

Lent is stepping into the suffering of Jesus, because He stepped into mine.  It is identifying with the cross, allowing Him to bear mine.  It is looking ahead, to the day when He stood, filled with breath and life, and walked out of that grave and took me right along with Him.

Lent is hope.  It is promise.  It is Grace.

It is the golden ribbon of morning puddled along the far black horizon, taking shape as Hope dawns faithfully day after day.

He is risen.  He is risen, indeed.

Simply Jesus

I’m sure you have heard by now that Billy Graham went home on February 21st.  And I’m sure you have heard the name of Jesus thrown about more…and more positively…on all the media outlets than has been heard in years.

Now, I don’t watch as much news as I used to.  It brought me down,  made me angry, and generally cast a cloud over what would otherwise be a good day.  But the past few days I’ve tuned in a little more, clicked on those Facebook videos with highlights of Franklin Graham talking about his father and Kathie Lee passionately explaining the impact Billy Graham had on her and her family.

And throughout all the conversations, so far as I have heard, no one has refuted the Gospel of Jesus Christ as shared by Billy Graham.

billy-graham-prayer

I wonder why.  Why the reverence for a man who shared there is only one way to Jesus?  A man who didn’t bow to political ideology or ride the waves of Progressivism?  Why aren’t they debating Christianity this week, but allowing the Gospel to be presented over and over without interruption?  Why do the secular talk show anchors show only the deepest respect for Billy Graham and his legacy even though many of his beliefs were the polar opposite of theirs?

I know Billy Graham was not a perfect man.  He had flaws and struggles and, dare I say, sin just like you and me.

For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  (Rom. 3:23)

Billy Graham needed Jesus.  And he knew it.  He was wide open about it.  But he also knew he had the answer to all of life’s big questions regarding death and eternity…Jesus Christ.

Billy Graham lived for Jesus.  Period.  Billy Graham taught Christ and Christ crucified.  Period.  His message was simple.  Always simple.  Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

No one can argue with a man who was so singularly focused.

We make it so hard, don’t we?  We put God in a box and tell people what we think they need to do in order to open it.  Stop this.  Do that.  Don’t go there.  Straighten up.

But not Billy Graham.  He said, over and over, that God wants us just as we are.  We can’t clean ourselves up.  We can’t make ourselves worthy.

But Jesus can.  And He did.

He did it simply and humbly.  Nothing about Him drew the crowds, but everything about Jesus did.

“So many people think that somehow I carry a revival around in a suitcase, and they just announce me and something happens—but that’s not true. This is the work of God, and the Bible warns that God will not share His glory with another. All the publicity that we receive sometimes frightens me because I feel that therein lies a great danger. If God should take His hand off me, I would have no more spiritual power. The whole secret of the success of our meetings is spiritual—it’s God answering prayer. I cannot take credit for any of it.”

Simple.  Yes, friends, the Good News of Jesus Christ is simple.  Come as you are and let Him do what He does best.  He will handle the changes that need to be made.  He will show you what is next.  He will carry you and remind you of who you are and WHOSE you are when you doubt.  Because He is who He says He is and He will do…always…what He says He will do.

“I’m counting totally and completely on the Lord Jesus Christ, and not on Billy Graham. I’m not going to Heaven because I’ve read the Bible, nor because I’ve preached to a lot of people. I’m going to Heaven because of what Christ did.”  -Billy Graham

I’ll close with this…the gospel as shared by the man who very likely led more people to Christ than anyone else in history.  Read this, please.  It really is this simple.  And if you want to surrender your life to Jesus, I would love to introduce you to Him.  It is no accident that you are still reading this!  God loves you passionately.  All of Heaven awaits.

“I have one message: that Jesus Christ came, he died on a cross, he rose again, and he asked us to repent of our sins and receive him by faith as Lord and Savior, and if we do, we have forgiveness of all of our sins,” said Graham at his final Crusade in June 2005 at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in New York.

May we, as the body of Christ, find a new boldness in this season where the culture is hearing the Gospel anew.  May the home-going of our era’s greatest evangelist spur us on to take up the Cross and follow Jesus.  And may we purpose to keep it simple.  Because coming to Jesus is.

If you would like to know more about having a relationship with Jesus Christ, please email me at alifeofsimplejoys@gmail.com.  You can also find more information at stepstopeace.org.  I would love to help you find the same hope and peace that He has given to me.

When you have Christ’s full attention.

In Luke 8, Jesus is surrounded by a crowd of people who want to see him, touch him, and be healed by him. Word had gotten out about the miracles being performed by him and curiosity runs rampant throughout the cities and villages through which he travels.

He shares parables, one about the Sower, another about the Lamp.  He challenges those crowding around him to do more than just be curious or seek to be able to say, “I saw Jesus,” or, “I was there when…”  He encourages them to own the faith that is being planted in their hearts.  Let it take root, be bold to live it out and don’t hide it from the world.

The people continue to press in, wanting more, wanting everything He is willing to give them.

Then his mom and brothers show up, wanting to talk to him about something.  They try to get through the crowd to Jesus, but cannot because the people surrounding him are literally smashed hip-to-hip and shoulder-to-shoulder.  And if you know anything about Middle-Eastern culture (Shoot, if you have ever ridden on a subway!) then you know they aren’t about to part and let someone go through just because they politely say, “excuse me!” If you want to get through the crowd, you have to fight to do so.

So the disciples, seeing Mary and the boys’ frustration, try to help.  “Your mother and brothers are standing outside.  They want to see you.”

Now, for a long time Jesus’ response seemed kind of sassy to me.  Out of place, even.  But today as I read this passage and compared it with a couple of modern-language translations (this often helps clarify difficult passages) I saw something different.  Jesus refused to turn away from the desperate, searching crowd pressing in to him, begging and demanding to receive blessing and teaching from him.  He said to the disciples, “My mother and brothers are those who hear the Word of God and do it.”

I don’t believe Jesus was dismissing his mother or his brothers.  I believe his words were spoken for the benefit of the crowd.  In essence, he was telling them…

“You matter.  You are loved.  You are important to me, as important as anyone else I have ever known…including my own family.  You have my full attention as long as you need it.”

He knew the hearts of those surrounding them, their desire to learn the Word of God and please their Heavenly Father.  They wanted to be made better, to know what they were doing wrong and be taught how to live in a way that honored and pleased God.  And that attitude of humility, of strength and determined pressing in to the only One who could provide what their souls needed, captured the full attention of Jesus…so much so that he told his Mom and brothers to, in my words, “Hold tight for a sec, I’m busy and this is something that can’t wait.”

How does that make you feel?  I tell you what, it brings me such a sense of belonging.  To imagine that my seeking after him, asking for wisdom and wanting everything he has for me, captures his attention so much that he will tell his own mama to wait…

Wow.

This seals the deal for me, that no distraction or activity is more important than pressing in to Jesus.  No social event, no social media, no time-consuming “what-have-you” that is done to “fill time” is a better use of my time than finding out how to know my Savior more intimately and use the gifts He has given me to bring glory and honor to him.  It doesn’t mean I don’t relax or enjoy reading a good blog.  (Hello!)  It means that everything I do is funneled through the sieve of my relationship with God.  That I purpose and do my best to live without wasted time.  In the words of Brother Lawrence…

brotherlawrencequote

Or, “Lord of all blogs and Facebook memes, make me a saint by writing only from your inspiration and not to gain attention for myself.”

Or, “Lord of all craft rooms and boxes of paint, make me saint by creating beautiful things that remind us of You and by cleaning up my mess.”

Or even, “Lord of all books and overloaded shelves, make me a saint by reading great words that draw me closer to you and help me understand the Great Story you are writing over us.”

I could go on and on…insert your favorite way to relax or have down-time and just see how, maybe, God can use it…use you doing it…to refine you and draw you closer to Jesus.  To give you an opportunity to have His full attention because He sees your pursuit of wisdom and spiritual maturity and HE HONORS IT.  He honors it by turning His face toward you and talking to you as if you are the only person in the room.

Jesus’ actions in this chapter tell me something very important…

Obedience is thicker than blood.

May we find ways to weave obedience to the teachings of Jesus and the promptings of the Holy Spirit in the tiny, mundane details of our every day routine!  It will be in this that we become a people who truly know how to filter out the noise and live simply…for Him.

Less is…less.

My everyday tasks are made more simple when decisions are straightforward.

As you probably remember, I spent the better part of Autumn 2017 purging like a crazy woman.  I got rid of possessions that I did not need, no longer wanted, and were just taking up space.  One thing that surprised me was the stuff in my kitchen.

It surprised me because I had done a “purge” just a year or so earlier…Marie Kondo style.  But, apparently, I did not go far enough.

You see the measuring cup photo above?  I had four of these 2-cup Pyrex lovelies.  Plus one 4-cup measuring cup, two Pampered Chef batter bowls (small and large) and about eight various sets of measuring spoons and measuring cup sets.  As I boxed up the kitchen for the move I stopped and looked at my unintentional collection.  What was my purpose in owning all of these?  Some had been given to me, others were decades old.  Some were purchased to replace older ones (often because the color was prettier) (I so enjoy pretty kitchen things!) but the older ones never got donated or discarded.  I had a very large kitchen with plenty of storage and, well, the older stuff just got pushed to the back of the drawer or cabinet.  There were a couple of them that had sentimental value because of who had given them to me but I no longer used them.  They were taking up space.  Period.

I took a deep breath and decided to choose wisely.  I kept the batter bowls (because Pampered Chef!) and only two sets each of measuring spoons and measuring cups.  The rest were donated.

This is only one example of the cleaning-out process that preceded our move, but now that we are here in our new home I am so thankful that I did that brutal purge.  Because, until now, I did not realize how often my little decisions had just a teeny bit of added stress due to having too many choices.

When I cook, now, my choices are easy.  Grab what I need and move on.  No more rearranging stacks, shuffling things around or standing there staring blankly before finally picking out what I need.  My everyday tasks are made more simple when decisions are straightforward.

Read that again.

My everyday tasks are made more simple when decisions are straightforward.

We clutter up our minds when we clutter up our homes.  We become saddled under the weight of our possessions because we refuse to let things go.  This applies to our physical lives as well as our emotional and spiritual lives!

Proverbs 2:4-5 says,

If you sift through the clamor of everything around you
    to seek her like some precious prize,
    to search for her like buried treasure;
 Then you will grasp what it means to truly respect the Eternal,
    and you will have discovered the knowledge of the one True God.  

(The Voice)

Sifting through the clamor.  That can manifest in so many different ways:  getting rid of possessions, thinning out our book collection (The. Hardest. For. Me.), turning off the TV or radio and learning to function in absolute quiet, getting up (and going to bed) earlier so fatigue doesn’t cloud my thinking, choosing friends more wisely, sticking to a grocery list or (gasp) reading a good and beautiful book instead of scrolling mindlessly through social media.  It is in the little choices, made all throughout each day, that we begin to reduce mental strain and find white space in our lives, space that allows rest and results in the restoration and recognition of who we are created to be.

God never called us to be busy for busy’s sake, or to have a calendar so filled to the brim that we dread waking up in the morning.

In 1 Corinthians 3:3, Paul says,

you are still living in the flesh, not in the Spirit. How do I know? Are you fighting with one another? Are you comparing yourselves to others and becoming consumed with jealousy? Then it sounds like you are living in the flesh, no different from the rest who live by the standards of this rebellious and broken world.

(The Voice)

I believe the need to have and consume and hoard (whether physically or spiritually) is a form of living in the flesh.  It is sign of a lack of faith, of fearing there will not be enough or holding on to an idol.  We compare ourselves to others and want to keep up, have what they have, or even do what they do.  But if it causes stress or burdens us, holding us back from becoming who we are created to be, it most likely should not be in our lives or homes.

This is not a legalistic proposition, but a practical one.  It doesn’t mean we all have to sell our possessions and give everything to the poor (unless God calls us to) but it means we are intentional with what we have in our homes, creating beauty and space and an inviting environment within which we raise our children and entertain guests.

It means cultivating spiritual disciplines and making sure the time is there, each day, to spend time with God in prayer and reading His Word.  Non-negotiable.

It means being selective about who we “let in” as close friends, trusting the truly trustworthy and choosing to be an influencer for the Kingdom instead of being constantly blown back and forth by the winds of society for the sake of “fitting in.”

I guess it is a little strange that God would teach me this from a pile of discarded measuring utensils!  But, as usual, He shows up in the everyday mundane…when it is quiet and I am alone with my thoughts.  But as I dwell on the truth He has given me, I pray that I am obedient, letting it transform my life and making me more like Jesus who was fully satisfied in His Father.

Yes, may that be true of me.

And I pray it will be true of you.