bigger than me

My smile widens as I say with JOY that we were blessed with “winter” in south FL this year!!!  Mind you, this is not the fresh blanket of snow, boots, scarves and sledding kind of winter – no, it will likely never be like that.  But a south FL winter is truly lovely and when it lingers, especially in scattered days through the spring, I rejoice!!!

Picture it with me: cool, clear air (our only break from humidity all year!)… blue skies, sunshine, and puffy white, drifting clouds… gentle breezes wafting through open windows, tossing the curtains with each new gust… temperatures chilly enough at night to enjoy a cozy extra layer and the blanket on the bed, comfortable enough during the day to wear long sleeves and carry groceries in from the car without sweating… and bougainvillea and impatiens bursting with color, equally thriving in the cool, dry conditions.  The house is quiet!  We trade the constant hum of the A/C units for the sound of chirping birds and palm fronds rustling in the breeze.  For the few weeks that we embrace this glorious weather, I treasure lazy Saturday mornings, still in flannel PJs, socks and a sweatshirt, sipping a steaming mug of peppermint mocha!

Then… imagine with me the jolting reality of insta-summer crashing in on my favorite season in south FL!  Suddenly it is 90 degrees, the humidity thick enough to see with the naked eye, and the skies darken and crash with thunder and lightning every afternoon for weeks.  Just as suddenly, my mood takes a nosedive.  I am not happy.  Not one bit.  On too many days, the whole unwelcome shift makes me down right grumpy!

And just like that, everything else seems thick and heavy and overwhelming and dark too.  My whole perspective shifts.  Seeds of discontent sink deeper, temptations to fear loom larger, frustrations mount and suddenly everything I touch feels like a failure.

I catch myself saying out loud, “this is SILLY!  RIDICULOUS that weather could have this impact on me!”  So on one particularly aggravating day, I grabbed my running shoes to pound this all out on the pavement but the latest storm and soaring temperatures chased me inside.  With another shameful grumble I headed toward our community fitness center to pound the treadmill instead.

The truth is, I am spoiled to have a fitness center to go to!  And our community is blessed to have fancy treadmills with on-screen courses to view amazing natural beauty by video while running.  So already, I needed to confess my ungratefulness and whisper a “THANK YOU” to the Lord for His graciousness!

I “ran” a course called Trinity Mountains, filmed in California.  About 20 minutes into my run, I was captivated by a mountain of green to the left of the screen, an ocean of blue to the right and an expanse of sandy beach up the middle.  Even in video form it was breathtaking!

Still sorting out my clouded brain, I remembered a comment our BSF teaching leader made recently about how many of us would choose the beach or the mountains as a favorite vacation spot.  She believes this may be due, in part, to an innate longing to be dwarfed by something, by some One.  As we ponder the greatness of God, the magnitude of His creation in those mountains, the vastness of those oceans along those beaches, we gain fresh perspective about whatever we are facing.

Right there on the screen I was being reminded of how BIG God is in relation to my struggles… and how little those struggles can become when matched up against the power and eternal purposes of Almighty God.  Those nagging unmet expectations (true or perceived) that sink me into discontentment, those news reports that make my heart race and spike fear to alarming levels in my mind, those frustrations big or small that leave me with a self-label of “failure”…  the boundless glimpses of God’s creation dwarf them all.  A reminder of Who He is – His love and care for me, His perfect plans and purposes – dwarfs anything that draws me away from Him, that steals my sense of stability, joy or peace.

In these places of staggering, God-created beauty, the cares of life seem to waft away on the breeze or shrink down to size and sweep out to sea with the tide.  Somehow, there, I can let it all go and just breathe…

My Creator God is bigger than me – WAY, way bigger!  Nothing surprises Him, nothing shakes Him, nothing derails His plans.  When I am weak, He is strong.  When I am fickle, He is steadfast.  Even when I am ungrateful, He is still loves and provides for me unconditionally.  When I humble my heart and confess my thanklessness, He is gracious and forgiving.

My Savior loves me enough to want to fix what’s broken.  He allows change to rattle me to show me He is the solid rock to stand on.  He allows struggles and frustration to bring out the dark sides of my heart to show me that He can do a work in me to knock off those rough edges.  He allows my plans to fail to show me that my best investment is always in His plans, not mine.  He allows me to feel fear to show me that the reality of His Presence and the truth of His Word bring comfort that is real and unshakeable.

My God is bigger – than everything.  I can trust Him.  In His safe embrace, I can breathe.  As my vision of Him expands, my perspective on everything else, including me, shrinks to its appropriate and manageable size – one that honors God because I acknowledge that He has a perfect and eternally purposeful plan in all things.

bigger than me

He invites me to kneel and quiet my heart

He invites me to His table, to remember His eternal provision

He invites me to be still, in worshipful satisfaction

He invites me to His throne, to make requests with thanksgiving

He invites me to be engulfed by His great love,

for it is vast and it is sufficient

His very Presence is my soul’s rest

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it is FINISHED.

Today is a precious day for me.  Thirty-six years ago, June 16th was a Monday, the first day of summer vacation from school.  I lingered in bed, thankful for a lazy day ahead of me, but already deep in thought about a question posed in a gospel message at church the night before: “are you SURE of heaven?”

The honest answer was – NO.

No, I wasn’t sure, and I wasn’t sure how to become sure.  I believed the Bible to be God’s Word.  I trusted Him.  So why wasn’t I confident that I would be with Him in heaven one day?

I wrestled with all I knew about Jesus suffering on the cross to be my Savior, to pay the penalty for my sin – the one thing keeping me from peace with God.  But I kept thinking I was missing something.  What was I supposed to do?  To think?  To believe?  How exactly was I to find the confidence in my eternal security I longed to know?

Even at age 12, I was over-thinking everything, desperately searching for anything I could do to ensure my own salvation.  That is when I heard the Lord’s “still small voice” for the very first time.  He broke through all my confusion and brought one simple verse to my mind and heart:  “Jesus said, It is FINISHED.”  John 19:31

My mental gymnastics melted away in that moment.  JESUS had FINISHED the work of securing my salvation!  He did what I was incapable of doing for myself.  My salvation wasn’t dependent upon me at all.  The only sinless Man to ever walk this earth had already met the requirements of holy and righteous God – for me!  What more did I need?  A brief moment of doubt crept back in.  Could it be that simple?  Yes!  It absolutely is that simple.

God said it, I believe it, that finishes it!

The One who created me also gave His own life to redeem me, to make me right with God when there was nothing I could do to make that happen.  Jesus loves me and longs for me to be with Him.  He is preparing a forever home for me, with Him, in heaven!

Thirty-six years later I am more profoundly thankful than ever for my Savior’s COMPLETE work of redemption on my behalf!  Because of Jesus, I stand accepted by God, righteous in His eyes, His beloved child.  I KNOW that my Redeemer lives and He is preparing a place for me to dwell with Him in heaven eternally.  I take God at His Word, for He is trustworthy – and therefore I AM sure of heaven!  Until that day comes, I pray that He will draw me ever closer to His heart and that my life will bring glory to His Name.

Are YOU sure of heaven?  Do you realize that you CAN be sure?  You can KNOW with certainty that heaven is your eternal home!  Read more here! ~

Truly, Truly, I say to you, he who hears My word,  and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.  John 5:24

He who has the Son has life, he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  These things I have written to you who believe in the Name of the Son of God, THAT YOU MAY KNOW that you have eternal life.  John 5:12-13 

For by grace you have been saved through faith.   And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.  Ephesians 2:8-9

For everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved.  Romans 10:13

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16 

My Father’s house has many rooms… I am going there to prepare a place for you… I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.  John 14:2-4

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Mary

She was relatively unknown, possibly as young as fourteen when she is first mentioned in the gospels, but she was called to fulfill a big role in God’s grand plan of redemption.  Mary – we aren’t even given a last name, simply that she was from Nazareth – was chosen by God to carry, birth, and raise the Lord Jesus, fully man yet always divine, the Son of the Most High God.  Her role was honored and important, mightily blessed, yet incredibly challenging at times.  She knew the power and presence of the Holy Spirit long before the early believers at Pentecost several decades later.  But her calling would still be carried out in largely unseen, private, simply faithful and steadfast moments in a humble home.

So what can I learn about God from her story?  How can I see His hand working and answer His call on my own life as I ponder hers?  There are many intricate details that captivate my attention.  But today, I find myself lingering over some of the more difficult moments she faced.

I never thought about the fact that Mary was the only person present at both the Lord’s birth and His death.  Mary was probably the one person on earth who spent the most time with Jesus – face to face, in conversation, physically touched and impacted by Him in so many ways for 30+ years.  But we are given so few glimpses into that relationship, those day to day interactions.  Could it be because each of us has our own intensely personal connection with our Savior that the details of His relationship with Mary are appropriately private, above and beyond any possible comparison?

What we are told is that Mary treasured all of these things in her heart… not shared, not boasted about, not even thought “out loud” (as I am often guilty of doing… rehearsing the details out loud as a way of “processing” them).  No, she simply treasured all of those moments – some private, some public – all of her observations of this remarkable Child growing into a Man.  Mary listened to His words and pondered them.  She learned to trust in this God Man she was getting to know so intimately.  She trusted Him to make clear to her just what she needed to know when she needed to know it.  She understood before He was even born that He came to be her Savior and humbly responded, “I am the Lord’s servant.”  She was confident that He would provide for her every need… always… perfectly.

I have a hard time even allowing myself to linger over thoughts about Mary at the foot of the cross, watching the brutal death of this One she raised.  What depths of human emotions must have overwhelmed her!  The physical and emotional torture He endured would have been excruciating enough to observe.  The injustice of the whole scene must have made her insides burn and ache.  But to add insult to injury, she was close enough to see and hear the Roman soldiers divide His garments and cast lots for one that was a single-woven piece (possibly one she had made for Him?).  I can’t begin to imagine the range or extent of emotions Mary battled that day.

When someone we love is going through a dark valley, we often remind them of the Lord’s promise to be with them: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you… for I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior… you are precious and honored in My sight and I love you.”  Isaiah 43:2-4 ~  Those are the times we trust the Lord to “come close,” to “bear them up on eagles wings,” to carry them in ways we can’t conceive or explain.

In passages about the Lord’s death, we see Jesus coming close to His own mother.  The words from Isaiah become real and tangible in those dark moments.  We can imagine His eyes meeting hers, His heart deeply caring and providing for her… His love for her drowning out the horrific scene and causing her to fix her eyes only on HIM.

I feel a brand new appreciation for another one of my favorite verses, Zephaniah 3:17, “He quiets me with His love!”  I can only think, in that moment, Jesus quieted Mary’s raging emotions with His love – that somehow He reassured her that He was still with her, somehow He reminded her to trust that her worst nightmare would bring glorious redemption and unalterable, everlasting LIFE!!!

Did they talk about these things in their home?  What did He tell her?  How did He prepare her?  We don’t know… but we can trust that His care for her in that moment (and always) was not just sufficient, but overflowing!  And His love for her would have swept away in one giant wave any concern for the “stuff” those soldiers so callously bartered for.  The only value His garments held at that moment was the fulfillment of Scripture, proving one more time that God’s Word is flawless and dependable, and therefore so is His love and His salvation!

So, what do I observe and ponder as I get to know this One who transforms my every day life?  Do I treasure the unique and intensely personal relationship that is growing between me and my Savior?  What difficult days does He call me to walk through?  Do I search for His eyes, allow myself to be captivated by His love and His power, to be quieted by His tender care and sovereign will?  May He sweep away in one giant wave any temporary concerns that cloud my vision today, help me to fix my eyes only on HIM and trust in His perfect provisions… always!

Read more here! ~ Luke 1 & 2 – John 2:1-12 – John 19:23-30

mary not overwhelm

this is LOVE

Your face lights up when you say their name.  Your heart skips a beat when they smile, especially in your direction.  You hate goodbyes and eagerly anticipate every new hello.  You can’t wait to spend time with them.  You spend hours listening to their stories, sharing your own, getting to know each other deeply.  You let them take you on the wildest adventures and invest in lessons to learn their favorite activity so you can enjoy it together.  You fix things just the way they like them because you know it touches their heart.  When you overflow with details about them or the times you’ve spent together, friends and family just tilt their head with a knowing smile and indulge you because they know this is your heart.  This is love.

It could be a spouse, or a child, or a parent, or a friend, or a mentor.  This person has impacted you in unique and special ways.  You respect them.  You enjoy them.  You learn from them.  There is a heart-to-heart connection, an unspoken understanding, and yet something fresh and new that helps you grow in unexpected ways.  They bring out the best in you.  You trust them.  They mean the world to you and nothing brings you greater joy than to know you mean the world to them too.

My thoughts started down this path the other day when I was challenged by two questions posed by Donald Norbie in Choice Gleanings“When you leave this life, what will others remember about you?  Will they remember your love for the Lord?”

Do others know that I love the Lord?  What will others see – or more importantly, what will the Lord see – in my attitudes or actions today that expresses a deepening love for Him?  If knowing Him and loving Him is my priority, does that change what I do or how I do it?

I was sitting at the kitchen table with a typically full Monday ahead of me.  Laundry.  Groceries.  Meal planning.  Exercise.  Phone calls.  Mapping out the rest of our week.  My usual Monday felt so far from anything focused on love for my Savior.  So I whispered a simple prayer that the Lord would guide my thoughts through each step in my day and give me His vision for any changes that could draw me closer to Him or bring Him more glory.

The Lord grabbed my attention with things that were simpler than I expected.  Two verses immediately came to mind:  “If you love Me, keep my commandments.”  John 14:15 ~ “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.”  John 13:34  Do the things He directs… the way He says to do them… and love others.

To follow His commands, I need to know them.  So despite a full day ahead, I thought, “I could show love for Him by putting my list on hold and lingering here at the table with my open Bible.”  Deciding to read, to listen, to invest in getting to know Him better, to understand His heart well enough to please Him – this is love.

To better understand what I read or what I experience, I need to ask questions – I need to come into His presence and listen for His voice.  Reaching for Him in prayer at any moment in my day says that I value His input, I need His direction, I crave His wisdom and I need the fruit of His Spirit to infuse me – this is love.

Spending time with the Lord will always change me.  He will always touch my heart, challenge my character, impact me deeply in ways that will overflow.  The more time I spend, the more time I will want to spend.  It will become harder to be out of contact, the eagerness to spend that time will intensify.  I will trust Him to take me on the wildest adventures.  I will work hard to learn new skills He wants me to use for Him – this is love.

As I stepped into the active part of my day, through the errands and chores and even in my workout, these thoughts kept coming:

When I hold my fully planned day (or empty day) out to the Lord with open hands and a willing heart, it says I want Him to confirm it or redirect it, that I trust that He has a plan that is better than mine… always! – this is love.

When I am willing to take those detours, as small as stopping to smile or share a few moments of conversation with a stranger or as big as completely scrapping my plan to help someone in greater need, it says that I know my best days are when He surprises me and I just go where He leads – this is love.

When I recognize every provision and blessing He sends, from the beautiful sky to the needed rain to a delicious meal to protection from a near-accident on the road, and take time to thank Him and to praise Him for it – this is love.

When I see others the way He sees them, see their unique beauty and worth, and I treat them the way He would treat them if He were walking right beside me, it says that I want to love whom He loves, and I want to love them the way He does – this is love.

When I get all excited about something new I have discovered about Jesus and share every thrilling detail with anyone who will listen, I give testimony to the reality of God in my life – my face lights up and His glory shines through His own transforming power at work inside me – this is love.

When others cannot possibly spend 10 minutes in conversation with me without hearing something about my Savior, they know what He means to me – that this is love.

When I desire simply to touch His heart, to bring delight to Him, to do things just the way He likes them, the way He is teaching me to do them, I honor Him – this is love.

When I humble myself to confess something that has come between myself and my Savior – some sin in my life that interrupts my relationship with Him – and I ask for His forgiveness and for His help to repent and be transformed by Him – this is love.

When I take time simply to adore Him, to be awed by His very nature, and fall before Him in worship and praise and honor, especially when no one else sees or knows about those quiet moments for an audience of One – when I choose to put on praise music and sing along as I fold laundry or wash dishes – this is love.

When those moments of worship transform even the simplest tasks from “getting it done” to “serving my family with joy and diligence” it says that I value the roles He has given me and I want to honor Him by giving my best to them – this is love.

When I pull back from life’s demands, the tugs on my heart to go and do and conquer and even do great, eternally important things for God, and choose to just sit as the feet of my Savior, to be tucked away in His embrace, longing simply to be captivated by Him – this is love.

When I rest in His provisions and leave the planning up to Him, when I simply delight in Him and treasure HIM, I will never need to wonder if others see my love for the Lord – how could I ever spend that time with Him, with eyes for only HIM, and the impact of that love not be evident?

“When they looked up, they saw JESUS only.”  Matthew 17:8

“Whom have I in heaven but You?  There is nothing on earth I desire besides You.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever.”  Psalm 73:25-26

God is the very definition of LOVE.  My Savior gave everything to bring me into an intimate and eternal relationship with Him.  May He continue to touch and win my heart and draw me into a deeper and deeper love for Him in return.  I know I mean the world to Him, may it delight His heart and bring Him JOY to know that He means the world to me too!

this is love

[photo credit:  Char Geletka]

May the mind of Christ my Savior live in me from day to day,

By His love and power controlling all I do and say

May the Word of Christ dwell richly in my heart from hour to hour

So that all may see I triumph only through His power

May the peace of Christ my Savior rule my life in every thing

That I may be calm to comfort sick and sorrowing

May the love of Jesus fill me, as the waters fill the sea,

Him exalting, self abasing, this is victory

May I run the race before me, strong and brave to face the foe

Looking only unto Jesus as I onward go

May His beauty rest upon me as I seek the lost to win

And may they forget the channel, seeing only HIM.

[K. B. Wilkinson 1859-1928]