Twenty Seventeen


Ezekiel 16

I remember you before you were beautiful. Before you stopped people in their tracks and made jaws drop and heads turn. You, who are now the fairest of all—were once the pity of all. You were a bloodied and abandoned newborn, left in an open field to die. Rejected. Unloved. At your birth no one cried, “It’s a girl!” No one cleaned you or comforted you or nursed you. They looked at you, covered in your afterbirth and blood, and tossed you out like refuse. But as you writhed and wailed and gasped for breath…. He walked by. He slowed His steps, looked at you and said, “Live!” He loved you with a fierce yet tender love, an unreasonable love. A foolish love. He pulled you out of the heap of blood and briers you lay in, He wrapped you in His arms, and He gave you life. “Live!” was the song He sang over you as He dressed your wounds and clothed you as His own daughter—as royalty. He lavished you with clothes and jewelry and food and beauty treatments as had never been seen before. You were His bride, the apple of His eye, a queen perfect in beauty. And now you were to sing His song of life over others (so they too might live). You loved Him back with an adoring love. Your heart beat happy with salvation and you could not stop singing His song of life. But soon you heard the sound of your own voice over His. Oh how sweet you sang! You caught sight of your own reflection and became enamored by your beauty, your dress, your privileged position. And you forgot. You forgot what He looked like, what He sounded like…. what He’d saved you from. You danced to the song of yourself. Your song deafened you to the cries of the despised and dying around you. They cried out for Life, but you offered them only yourself. (You, once ruined as they are now.) Now the bloodied rise up and cry “Death!” and you, so consumed with self, act surprised. You resent them in their dirty desperation and point a fair finger at their misery. How dare they not love you! Do you not see? Can you not understand? Your own song will not do, faithless bride. Your pageantry and airs will not suffice. The dying need Life himself. Oh that you would run back to Him, cling to Him as in those first days of love, and let Him sing His song over you—that they might hear and believe. How will they believe if they have never heard? You are chosen for this, beloved one. You were saved to go save. The Rescuer is slow to anger and abounding in love, not wanting any to perish but all to “Live!” So return to your First Love. Remember what you were before He rescued you. Hide yourself in Him till your heart beats with His, till your ears are full of His voice and your eyes are alight with His love. Then go and sing His song to the dying: Live! Scriptures referenced: Ezekiel 16, Ephesians 5, Jonah 4:2, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:1-4, Zephaniah 3:17, Revelation 2:2-5, Romans 10:14-17

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person holding a green plant


This past year has been one of the hardest of my life. My hubby will say the same. We watched the bottom drop out from underneath us, and at times fear and fatigue overwhelmed our faith. It’s been one thing after another, but it hasn’t been bloggable stuff. How do you write about the darkest days that threaten to undo you? How do you make sense of what feels like “too much”? No, it’s been for a small circle of dear ones—with the hope that the “comfort we have received” from our Abba during this time, we would soon be able to share freely with many others who are hurting (2 Corinthians 1:4). Last month we began to feel the edges of relief. I think I’d been holding my breath for the larger part of a year, but I started breathing again. Thinking more clearly. Hoping more boldly. I’ve always loved asking friends, after they’ve come through a season of suffering, “What held you through that time? What kept you going?” I’ve asked myself the same thing, and I would have to say that among the many tender mercies along the way, more than anything it has been the kindness of God that has carried us along. He has shown us kindness in a thousand ways, manifested in dozens of people. From complete strangers to dear family members, we have received one kindness after another: bags of groceries, prayers, cards of encouragement, gifts of money, listening ears, flowers left on our front porch, favorite drinks delivered to our front door. The list could go on…. Kindness is so powerful, isn’t it? When I’m in a vulnerable place of suffering, it’s easy for me to forget what is true: that God is kind. He is not mean. Our circumstances may be mean, but in the hand of a kind God, they are transformed for our good. Are you in a tender, suffering place, dear one? Then let this Scripture wash over your soul tonight. Hear the heart of your Abba in His words… “I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them.” Hosea 11:4 Fellow pilgrim and wounded soul, we entrust our lives to a kind God. A God who is for us and with us and in us, forever expressing the riches of His kindness to us in Christ Jesus (Romans 2:4, Ephesians 2:7, Galatians 5:22).

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anonymous woman walking in refugee camp

In a world of refugees….

Today I sat with a friend from Romania whose family has suffered upheaval and persecution as far back as she can remember. Her heritage is heroic. Her Jewish grandmother fled to Romania to escape the Germans. Her German grandfather escaped a Siberian concentration camp and endured an arduous 14-month journey home. Her Romanian aunt and uncle—Christians under Communist rule—fled to the United States for religious freedom. Listening to my friend’s stories, passed down from generation to generation, reminded me that I am incurably American in my way of thinking. Security and comfort, that is what we know and prize here. How can I even begin to imagine a world where I must run for my life or tyrants will take it from me? I don’t get this refugee reality at all.  I cringe to admit that sometimes the nonstop needs in my own little corner of this world can overwhelm me, and it’s hard to find time to cultivate compassion for people I may never meet. If I can’t keep up with the people and tasks within arm’s reach, how can I ever care for those a world away? It’s one of the reasons why I need to “abide in Christ”—so I have His heart for both my reality here in California and realities worldwide. I need Him to teach me what He wants me to do with the time and resources He gives me each day. When to give myself to what is right in front of me—and when to educate myself on what’s going on in the larger world. When to make time for mercy that reaches across the miles. Truth is, my heart gets bigger when I remember that I serve the God of nations. He is not a 21st Century American God. And I’m a better friend, neighbor, wife, and mom when my heart beats beyond this country’s borders. My son especially needs to see me pursuing the physically and spiritually impoverished. He needs me to live in the uncomfortable question, “How can we give and sacrifice to love suffering peoples for Christ?” History proves that a refugee crisis is nothing new, and it guarantees we will always have refugees among us. So what will we, the Body of Christ, do to care for them? I’m not saying I’ve got this figured out. Far from it. But God’s working on me, and I love Him for it. So here’s a small way I’m attempting to enlarge my heart this month. I’m having my son join me in: Collecting coins and bills in a jar, the sum of which we’ll send to Samaritan’s Purse in March. Their relief efforts are some of the best on this planet. Watching videos like this one together. And this one. Learning more about the refugees traumatized by ISIS, war, and other forms of persecution. Praying for God to bring the gospel and physical relief to refugees around the globe. (This article!) Chances are, our impact will be infintesimally small. (That’s okay: impact is the Lord’s work, not mine.) But perhaps the simple acts of dropping coins in a jar, of praying while I wash dishes, of talking to my son about people groups like the Yazidi—maybe these are the small faithfulnesses that will grow my love large. In a world shouting loud its opinions of this crisis, would you consider joining us in your own small, quiet way? What if we were all praying and giving as we went about our days’ work, asking God to give us His heart for these who have lost so much—and who need Him so desperately? Photo credit: Vadim Ghirda.

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close up shot of a person reading a bible


My life is a story of God being with me. I can point to time after time when He broke in on my darkness, when He rescued me from my own stupidity, when He brought His words to a rolling boil to melt my hardened heart. I’ve brushed up against Glory through His Spirit, His Word, His people. And His world. He has met me in stars and sunsets and music and fire and water and color and dark and dawn and thunder and lightning and silence. My God—He has revealed Himself to me at every turn, in every season. But after all of this—after all the ways He has marked my life with His love—I forget He’s here. It is the worst form of amnesia, to forget the One who created me, rescued me from sin and its damnation, made me infinitely rich in His love. How can I be daughter of the King Most High, yet prone to live as a beggar’s child born into a generational cycle of poverty and despair? You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth. As someone else once confessed, I am often an atheist in practice. I’m prone to live as if there’s no God. Forgetfulness turns me faithless. I question and cower and complain. I wring my hands in worry. I drink the cup of discouragement to its dregs instead of quenching my thirst in His cup that runs over with joy. But He is not forgetful. He does not forget me. Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. God knows I am newborn-needy, and with greater tenderness than even a nursing mother, He tells me again and again in His Word to remember. Colleen, I know you’re forgetful, so bring to mind all the ways I’ve provided for you. Protected you. Rescued you. Loved you. Recall the greatness of Who I Am again and again and again till there’s a well-worn path in your brain—a neurological groove of gratitude and awe.  Is it strange that the cure for my amnesia is remembering? Like the cure for a couch potato is turning off the TV and exercising, it sounds simple but it screams against all that comes naturally to me. Funny thing is, I can remember a lot of things without even trying: the expectations I haven’t lived up to, my never-ending list of to-do’s, that catchy new song. And I’d never dare to forget my morning cup of coffee. But keep the God of the Universe at the forefront of my mind? Why is this so difficult? The God who has always been with me—He is with me still, even in my amnesia. He smiles at me in my need and pours Grace over my lack. He gives me the desire and obedience to remember Him, to think on His goodness—because He knows it is my good. So I hang Scriptures on the walls of my home, and I put verses to music so they get stuck on repeat in my head, and I open my mouth to tell the people around me how good God is to me (and I sidle up to those who talk about His goodness back to me). I carve out time alone with my Savior so He can reshape my thoughts and desires. I journal. I pour out my heart, I reflect, I answer questions like these: What am I grateful for today? How have I seen God’s kindness expressed to me through another person?  What does the cross tell me about God’s relentless love for me? Here, in the sweet quiet of my Father’s presence, reflecting on His past and continual goodness to me, I remember who He is and who I am in Him. My distracted, anxious thoughts (of Self and Circumstances and Others) are dwarfed by my magnified thoughts of Him. As St. Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Is my heart trying to find a resting place apart from Christ? We can be busy about a lot of good things, but if they’re keeping us from remembering The Best Thing, our hearts remain restless. Dear One, is your heart at rest? Or has rest been eluding you as of late (as it has been me)? Tonight let’s ask God to help us remember all that we have in Him. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.  Psalm 63:5-7 Click here for a list of Scriptural commands to remember. Other Scriptures referenced: Deuteronomy 32:18; Isaiah 49:15, 54:5; Psalm 23:5, 16:2

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close up photo of coffee on table

Date at dawn

I penned this almost eight years ago in the midst of a desperate season, when I was hungry for the Word and a quiet space to process my hurting heart. A small booth in the back corner of Panera Bread became my sweet refuge that Spring. This journal entry is a beautiful reminder to me that God knows just how to pursue us, woo us, in every season of our life. (How are you experiencing Him in this unique season of yours, dear one?) April 3, 2009 It’s 6:01 on Friday morning, and I’m at my neighborhood Panera Bread. These days I get up between 4:30 and 5:00 to make it here by the time the doors open. My Bible and C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain sit beside my cup of coffee. There’s a group of old men that beats me to the door every morning. (One of them dresses as if he’ll be attending the Santa Anita horse races later this afternoon.) They take up two tables by the door and talk for hours on end. Another old man sits by himself a few tables away and reads through his Coke-bottle glasses. He carries a manila folder with a big superman-like S drawn on the front. I’d like to know what’s in that folder. Then there’s a quiet Asian woman whose hair is always pulled back into a ponytail and who reads her Bible and journals—then slips out quietly around 6:45. Once or twice a week, six medical doctors convene at the big conference table in the middle of the restaurant. They eat bagels and talk about important stuff. The classical music doesn’t start playing until about 6:15, just about the time one of the Panera employees drags the cafe umbrellas outside. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone sitting outside this early in the morning. It’s too cold. Too dark. Of all the Panera regulars, my two favorites are about to walk through the door: two Redlands High School girls who I became friends with in this corner of the restaurant last Monday morning. I wonder if any of the students at our school would, of their own volition, get up and go sit at a coffee shop at 6:30 in the morning? The periwinkle sky has just caught my eye, and it looks like the midnight’s lighthearted storm left behind some billowy remains. It’s beautiful. Everything is wet and cloudy and peaceful. Just what my heart needs before my day full of responsibilities that far exceed my capabilities. Which is why my favorite part of Panera is the part that’s unseen and indescribable. Unbeknownst to everyone around me, there’s someone else at my table with me. I walk in here every morning in desperate need of more than just coffee. (Although that’s important, too.) I need Him. His words. His truth. His hope. His wisdom. I need to lay my day before Him and ask Him for His strength and joy. And He gives it in abundance. He’s not stingy or tired or grumpy. He’s here with me, eager to accomplish His purposes in and through me today. I want to be a regular with Jesus. I want to know what He’s like and what He’s up to each day. I want to sit and observe and listen and learn. And then do. I want to go from here and obey what He’s spoken to my heart. Thank You, Lord, for this little corner. This healing place. This daily cup of joy…

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woman turning around on green fields
Bible study

I don’t have to scream anymore

They’d been running around in circles all morning, yelling, begging their god to answer them—to no avail. So they screamed louder. Louder and longer. And when screaming didn’t work, the 450 desperate prophets drew swords and started cutting themselves till they were a mob of sweaty, stumbling, blood-soaked oafs, still convinced their god would eventually answer them. An entire nation looked on, with all their money on Baal. These prophets knew how to bend Baal’s ear, so it was only a matter of time before he answered. Only one man stood apart from the motley crew, taunting: “Pray louder! Maybe Baal is relieving himself or traveling or sleeping! Louder!” “They raved on . . . but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.” ~~~~~~~~~~~~ Although thousands of years have passed since that showdown on Mount Carmel, Elijah’s culture is reminiscent of ours today. Like Baal, the gods of our age seem always to demand more—so the modern masses run in circles, screaming and bleeding like their pagan predecessors. Theirs are fever-pitched cries that threaten to drown out what we God-fearers hold sacred. They scream against the very existence of God. They run themselves ragged to redefine gender and marriage and family. They spill their womb’s blood at the altar of convenience. And still it’s not enough. Deep down they scream because their gods won’t answer them. Their gods have no voice. And the silence is terrifying. So…. more noise, more running, more blood. ~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Bible tells us that Elijah was “a man with a nature like ours,” and his fervent prayers worked miracles. He didn’t have to yell or scream. He didn’t throw a fit to make his point. He prayed. He obeyed. He waited on God to act on his behalf. And when the prophets had worn themselves out and Baal didn’t show up, Elijah said, “Now come to me.” And he stacked the odds against God. He put God’s reputation so far out on a limb that only a miracle would do. Then he prayed: “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Only one who knew God well could courageously ask for such things. And in response to Elijah’s faith, God answered with fire. “And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.’” Dear One, we have the potential to influence our world as Elijah did. (After all, he had a nature like ours!) But in our clamor to be heard by the masses—to keep our seat in the political arena, to prove ourselves right, to demand fair treatment—we are in danger of forgetting our most precious position: a seat at the feet of Jesus. He hears us. He sees us. He answers us. Sure, to the world we look foolish and misguided in our faith, and we will be mocked and marginalized. But when we drop to our knees we’re talking directly to Elijah’s God, “the God who answers by fire.” We know the One whose voice “flashes forth flames of fire and strips the forests bare,” so we don’t have to strain our voices to vindicate ourselves. But the godless masses—they have to scream. It’s their only hope of being heard. Their gods, they are forever blood-thirsty, forever demanding more. As one Proverb tells us, “Death and Destruction are never satisfied.” But the One True God shed His Son’s blood so we wouldn’t have to bleed. Christ’s death so perfectly satisfied God that Christ could say, “It is finished.” No more running in circles for us. No more screaming. And oh how the masses are dying to hear that good news. As a former screaming, bleeding enemy of God, I long to reach out to those who are still running frantic and say to them, “Let me show you the God who created you, who hears you, who loves you.” So send us, Lord. Send us to those who are exhausted from crying out to deaf-and-dumb gods. Even today may we speak Your words, may we be those who…. …bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” ~~~~~~~~~~~~ Scriptures referenced: 1 Kings 18; Isaiah 64:4; Matthew 11:28; 1 Corinthians 3:18-21; Psalm 29; Proverbs 27:20; Isaiah 52:7; John 19:30

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