Finished

I read the first chapter of the Bible on January 1st of this year, and finished the last one this morning.  Ninety days.  All the way through the Bible in 90 days. Amazing.

IMG_3377

This is the fourth time I’ve followed this particular reading plan.  Each time God has used those 90 days to teach me something new.

The first time I attempted it was in 2012.  My Dad died on Day 23.  I didn’t really want to keep going, but God showed me that it was times like that when I needed His Word more than ever.  During the time of my second 90 day challenge a few years later, some Christian circles were trying to make a scriptural case for life choices that I had always believed were not in God’s plan.  After my journey through every single chapter in the Bible, seeing the story of that plan from the first page of Genesis through the final page of Revelation, I knew that the justifications they used were not compatible with the whole of scripture.  You just can’t read all the way through the Bible and come to any other conclusion.  It didn’t make me smug.  It made me want to be a better friend.

And the third time, Day 90 fell on Easter morning.  I read, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” from Revelation 22 as the first rays of sun were coming up over the Atlantic ocean.  I couldn’t have planned a more glorious ending to the challenge of three months in the Word.

So what was the lesson this time?

The lesson for me over the past three months seemed to be all about God’s story.  The story of His love for His people.  Sometimes reading through the Old Testament is a challenge.  It starts with the beauty and perfection of Eden, but quickly unfolds into sin and violence and disobedience and people running from God.  God keeps pursuing them and they keep rejecting Him.  The tension builds and builds and by the end of that first part of the Bible, the prophets are warning about death and destruction and calling for repentance. It’s pretty dark.

And then, God sends His Son to rescue us.

By the time I got to the New Testament, I could feel the relief.  I wanted to shout, “He’s here!  The One you’ve been waiting for all these years is finally here!”.  I thought about how all those prophecies I’d read were being fulfilled. Everything in those older books pointed to Christ. The Promised One had come.  And life would never be the same.

This year, the message of the cross and the meaning of the blood of Christ is particularly clear and sweet. I saw how the story began and I know how it ends.  The Lamb is alive and on the throne. And those of us who have trusted Him will someday live in a perfect world again, forever in His presence.  It’s an amazing and awesome thought!   To finish the story of God’s love and mercy right before Easter weekend is such a blessing! This year, it feels a little more personal.

I can’t recommend reading all the way through the Bible enough. There are many different plans to choose from.  This particular 90 Day Reading Plan seems to work the best for me.  It has helped me see the Bible as the unfolding story that it is.  It’s helped me see the bigger picture of God’s work in the world, but more importantly, His work in my life.

I read the ending this morning.  But I feel like it’s just the beginning.

Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.  Psalm 119:105

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.  Joshua 1:8 

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4 

Letters

I got some letters from my Dad yesterday.  On the 6th anniversary of the day he went to be the Lord.

Letters

They were bundled together with a paper clip and labeled, “Letters from Daddy”.  My sister found them recently in a box that had been stored in the back of our family attic for many, many years.  I didn’t even know they existed until last evening.  I opened the envelope and pulled out 11 typed letters that Dad sent to me when I was a little girl and he was traveling as an evangelist, preaching and telling people about Jesus.

“Hello there, rascal!”.  (Really, I have no idea what he was referring to.  Ha!)

“I am sitting here looking at your picture and hoping you are a good girl.  I miss you and pray for you. Are you still praying for me?”

“Do you go to bed when Mommy says to?  How about your prayers before going to sleep?”

“I pray for you everyday and hope you pray for me as well.  We had a very good meeting in the church last night and many people asked Jesus into their hearts.”

“Hi there little Indian!  I have your picture right up on my dresser and another at the church.  Everyone always says what cute girls I have.  Daddy is so thankful to Jesus for his three wonderful girls.  Will you always be good and love Jesus so I can always be proud of you?”

“I’m so very proud of my girls.  I wouldn’t trade them for any others in the whole wide world.”

As I sat on my couch, picking up and reading each yellowed and sometimes fragile letter, the tears spilled over.  Six years to the day he was called to heaven, my Dad was now reminding me about his love for me, for our family and for Jesus.  He was reminding me how he had prayed for me, how his greatest desire was that I loved Jesus too.

What a gift.  An amazing, precious, delightfully surprising and unexpected gift.  A testament to the answered prayers of a godly parent, one who never stopped bringing my name before the throne, one who never stopped wanting to see me walk with the Lord.  I was too young at the time to appreciate it, or even comprehend it.  But last night, decades later, it fed my heart in a way that’s difficult to put into words.

I’m in the middle of reading through the Bible again, something I’ve done several times before.  I realized last night that my heavenly Father has left letters for me as well, reminding me how much He loves me, reminding me to be obedient, reminding me of how much I need Jesus.  Maybe as I read through it this time, I’ll see it differently.  I’ll see it as a love letter from my Father and know in a new way that I am precious in His sight.

Dad, I miss you so much sometimes it hurts. But thank you for all those years of prayers and love and laughter.  Thank you for showing me the way to Jesus. I might still be a rascal sometimes, but I’m still walking with God and giving Him first place in my life. So thankful for those letters, so grateful for the promise of seeing you again!

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. 3 John 1:4

Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments.  Deuteronomy 7:9

Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His faithful love endures forever.  Psalm 136:26

 

DNA

picseli-6726

It was 44 degrees here in West Palm Beach yesterday morning.  So, of course,  I opened all the windows.  I couldn’t help myself.

It’s in my DNA.

It felt like Christmas morning.  As soon as I woke up, I quickly checked the weather app on my phone to see if the forecast had been correct.  Indeed, it had been.  Within a few minutes I was bundled up in the fleece sweatshirt I never get a chance to wear unless I turn down the air conditioning, and my hands were wrapped around a steaming mug of coffee with the porch door open and the curtains blowing in the “arctic” breezes. I felt completely at home.

You see, there’s not a gene in my body that was meant for the tropics where I happen to live.  I’ve been doing some ancestry research (complete with spitting in a DNA test tube to verify my ethnicity) and tracking down “my people” across the centuries and the seas.  They came from Sweden and Switzerland.  And that DNA test?  It showed that I’m 73% Scandinavian. My people came from lands of mountains and snow and long winters.  Places where a fleece sweatshirt would be part of the daily wardrobe instead of a once or twice a year treat. I honestly think I get excited about chilly temps dipping down into South Florida because it’s in my blood to feel at home in a cooler climate.

Oh yes, God has a sense of humor, placing me in the land of eternal summer when my DNA is more suited to snow.

Maybe it’s the same way with our spiritual DNA.  We’re wired and created for another place, one so unlike the place we find ourselves now.  God says that he has “set eternity in our hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  We may find ourselves with a longing and an ache for the place where everything will be perfect and right. We know this world is not really our home with its troubles and tears. But for today and for whatever days God ordains for us, this is where we are.  So we wait and thrive and grow and learn and serve, and watch for glimpses of what will be.

For me, my glorious little cold front was a glimpse into something much more grand and eternally important.  There will come a day when I’m exactly where God created me to be.  With Him. Forever. But until then, I’ll look forward to days when I can open the windows and wear my fleece sweatshirt when the temperatures dip.  And be reminded to set my heart on eternity.

Since it’s in my DNA.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.  Colossians 3:1

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Philippians 3:20

But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.  Hebrews 11:16

Photo by PICSELI on Unsplash

ME

olivia-snow-265289

Sometimes we ask for signs.  Sometimes we don’t ask for them (because we really don’t want them), but God gives them to us anyway.  Sometimes there are mornings like this, when the signs are literal. And big. And neon.

It’s been a tough week.  I was reminded over and over again of my tendency towards self-centeredness.  As I was praying a difficult prayer of confession out loud in my car on the way to work this morning, God agreed with me.  I kind of hate when He does that.

There it was.  In big neon letters.  “ME AGAIN”.  I’m not kidding.  There’s a local consignment store here in West Palm Beach called “HOME AGAIN”.  Only the “h” and the “o” were burned out.  So in the dark, pre-dawn hours, there it was, shining brightly on the side of the road.  “ME AGAIN”.  Just as I was telling God how prideful I can be, He didn’t try to make me feel better.  He agreed with me.

“ME AGAIN” comes so naturally to us.  Our sin nature pulls us in that direction time and time again.  It’s easy to ignore it or minimize it, to think we’re not that bad, to see the obvious pride in others but not in ourselves. I wish I could have gone back and taken a picture, one that would forever remind me of my desire to put myself first, to focus on my needs instead of the needs of others.

But you know, something tells me I will remember it, even without the picture.  I’m hoping that each time I begin to go down the path of pride, I’ll think about that sign and be quicker to make the conscious choice to not to have it be all about “me again”.  Prayers of confession aren’t always accompanied by literal and shining confirmations from God that we are indeed sinful creatures.  We’d like to just confess, wrap it up and get on with our lives. He will always forgive, but maybe God knows that we still need to think about it for awhile, to have the reminder ready for the next time pride rears its ugly head.

And as we all know, there will be a next time.

Thanks, Home Again.  Your burned out bulbs gave me an extra honest time with God this morning, and reminded me once more that it can’t be all about “ME AGAIN”.

 

Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:18

A person’s pride will humble him, but a humble spirit will gain honor. Proverbs 29:23

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?  Jeremiah 17:9

 

Photo by Olivia Snow on Unsplash

 

Storms

break-70968_1280

Sometimes you weather literal storms, like ones named Irma who leave you without electricity for 10 days.  And sometimes you weather more personal ones, like the death of one of your best friends, which leaves you with a hole in your heart.

September 2017 will not be forgotten easily.  The dire warnings and use of the words “catastrophic” and “worst case scenario” by meteorologists started coming on Labor Day, a good 6 days before Irma was expected to impact us.  It was a week of uncertainty and fear.  When it was determined that my home might not be the safest place to “hunker down” (another term I’d be ok with never hearing again), gracious friends invited me to weather the storm with them.

The prediction of a direct hit for my area turned out to be wrong, but we still had the Category 1 winds.  When I arrived back home the morning after Irma blew through Florida, everything was intact.  Except the electricity.  What followed were hot and sticky days and nights where my only salvation was a battery operated fan which miraculously kept running when I was convinced those batteries should have been dead.   I made a quick trip to New Jersey for relief, and then came home again 4 days later to two more dark and hot nights.  When the power company finally pulled into my parking lot on the evening of September 19th, I almost kissed them.

The other September storm in my life caused an ache that won’t be fixed with a visit from Florida Power and Light.

A dear friend lost his courageous battle with cancer on Monday afternoon.  I’m so grateful that I had the chance to see him one more time the night before, to pray with him and ask that he would find peace with God in those dark hours of pain.  We didn’t know they would be his final hours.

I realized this morning that both of these storms drew me closer to the One who calms the seas and stops the wind.  When I was fearful of what could potentially happen when Irma arrived, God gave reassurance that no matter what, He would provide for me, even if it meant the loss of my home or worse.  And when I received the news that Noel had been released from his earthly struggles, God saw my tears, and I remembered how Jesus wept at the death of a friend as well.

There will always be storms.  Some we know about days in advance and have ample time to prepare for, and some hit hard and fast and leave you reeling, wondering what happens next.   But our response needs to be the same.

Look for God in the middle of them.

“Master, Master, we are perishing”.  Then He arose and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased and there was a calm.  Luke 8:24

He calms the storm, so that its waves are still.  Psalm 107:29

You rule the raging of the seas, when its waves rise, you still them.  Psalm 89:9

 

Punctual

 

annie-spratt-96527

I was born on my due date.  And I’ve been punctual ever since.

My Mom was just recounting the story of my birth to me again a few nights ago.  I was due on July 19th.  Her doctor assured her that I wouldn’t be coming for some time, so he proceeded to go on vacation.  But apparently even then, I’d have none of that nonsense.  Sure enough, on July 19th at 9:30pm, I made my entrance into the world.  I blame that for all the subsequent years of worrying that I’d be late for something.  Just ask my friends.  If I’m ever late for for an event or meeting, call the authorities, because it probably means some evil has befallen me.

I’ve become an expert at figuring out exactly when I need to leave to get someplace on time.  There have been moments when I’ve actually TRIED to be late so I’d get there the same time as most others.  But inevitably, I’m on time.  And more often than that, I’m early.  Sigh.

It’s funny then that God’s work in my life has been centered so much on timing, and my lack of control over it.  It’s HIS timing, not  my own. He’s had to teach me over and over again about patience, about not running ahead, about not jumping to the conclusion that He’s late in some way.  I think it was Beth Moore who once said, “God is never late.  But He sure misses a lot of opportunities to be early”.  Kidding aside, it’s easy for me to think that God hasn’t been exactly punctual with answering my prayers and acting on my behalf in areas of my life that are so important to me.

The thing is, I make these assumptions because I don’t have access to His calendar.  My due dates are not His due dates.  He knows exactly what He’s doing with the schedule of my life.  He knows the right time to move forward or to hold back, to reveal or to let things stay hidden and unknown.

His time is “kairos” time.  That’s a Greek word from the New Testament that doesn’t mean MY time.  It means the RIGHT time.  The OPPORTUNE time.  The PERFECT time.

So in light of that I must believe that God, too, is always punctual.  Just in a much different way than I am.  His timing is perfect and right.  He is never late, even when the circumstances seem otherwise.  I have learned, and still am learning to trust His timing.  When another birthday comes and my life looks different than I thought it would, it doesn’t mean He skipped a day or ignored a reminder on my calendar.  I don’t need to worry about belated blessings with God.  I can rest in the assurance that those blessings will come (and have come) exactly when He means them to.

I’ve said this so many times. “God always has a plan…and His timing is always just right”.  It was right on that July 19th many years ago, and it will be right on all the days ahead.

But seriously, if I’m ever late for something, come looking for me…

He has made everything beautiful in its time.  Ecclesiastes 3:11

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.  Psalm 139:16

The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food in due season.  You open Your hand; You satisfy the desire of every living thing.  Psalm 145:15-16

 

 

picture credit: Annie Spratt

 

 

Chapter

book-1760993_1280

 

A chapter of my life closed out slowly over the past six months.  And a new one began yesterday.

I didn’t expect it.  I figured the Fall of 2016 would be like many before – settling into the routine of work and students back on campus and waiting not-so-patiently for the tropical temperatures to dip just a little.  I went on one of my retreats with God at the end of July, seeking His will for the coming days, talking with Him about what I thought my Big Fall Issues would be.  Little did I know that just a few days later, my world would feel the unsettling tremors of an issue I hadn’t seen coming. Things that had always provided familiarity and security were about to change.

I learned that things weren’t going well at my church, the place I’ve called home for the last 9 years, the people who had become my family when my own was so many miles away. Within a few weeks, my pastor and friend had resigned and I started to feel waves of anxiety begin to well up deep inside.  Satan tried to slip in with his taunts about how unfair life is, how I should be facing this Big Deal with a husband instead of working it out on my own.

I wanted to run ahead and see around the corner, to see what would happen and where I’d end up.  Sometimes I wanted someone else to make the decisions for me and not have to rely on my own flawed wisdom that so frequently got clouded over with emotion and questions and fear.

It was a process.  This chapter had some twists and turns, hard conversations with God and with others, some wrestling and much seeking. But between the first line and the last one of this particular part of my story, there was an undeniably strong undercurrent of certainty – that Jesus was and continues to be the Author and Finisher of my faith.  This didn’t catch Him by surprise. While I was spending time with Him in that hotel room in late July, wanting to make sure we were on the same page, He knew what was coming.  He knew that I’d go back to the journal notes I wrote that night and would come to the realization that He was indeed preparing my heart.

He could have made it clear that I was to stay and be a part of a new chapter at my church, and I was ready to accept that, knowing that He could still use me and bless me there. But instead, He released me.  I use that term because I don’t think it would have been wrong for me to stay.  He has called others to stay and work through the coming challenges and transitions.  And I know that through their obedience, He will bless them.  Releasing me opened the door to see where He might lead next.  And He has led me to a sister church a half mile from my front door… five minutes away…a church I’ve driven past every Sunday morning for years, always wondering why God hadn’t placed me there instead.  But I knew that driving another 12 miles and another 20 minutes was His will for that particular period of my life. I smile when I think about His timing.  His perfect timing.  I’m now in a church in my home town, one where I hope the proximity will open doors to more involvement and ministry opportunities and who knows what else.

And so yesterday morning I was officially received as a new member. It felt momentous and important. I don’t know what story the next chapter will tell. I’m so grateful for the last one, with the blessings and the challenges and the people that made me grow. I’m grateful that I know God is still working in the lives of those who stayed as well.  I’m grateful that God has reminded me that He is always in control, that His ways are never random, never a waste of time. He always has a plan.  For us. For His church.

And for me.

Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who  for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.  Revelation 1:8

The Lord will perfect that which concerns me.  Psalm 138:8