The Wedding Garment

IMG_20190303_130717982Less than two years ago, a friend and I decided to visit the owners of a local business as a simple act of kindness.  It turned out that the business was owned and operated by a family from India.  Unlike some American-born business owners, this family was very receptive to our unexpected visit.  They did not seem to mind taking the time to simply chat with us, even though we were not purchasing anything at all from their company. We were intrigued by their receptivity, and we continued to stop by a couple of times a month.  Sometimes their young adult son would welcome with us, and other times the owner’s wife and mother-in-law came to the door to greet us.   Ultimately, we met the owner, one of his other young adult children, and one of the grandchildren.   Over the course of that first year, we discussed food, travel, family, ethnic customs, language, challenges, and shopping.  It was clear that they were not bothered by our visits, which we never announced in advance.  We simply stopped by on our way to another regular errand we planned, and this place of business was on our way to that location.  

One evening, the son in the family announced to us that he was getting married in less than a year, and he invited us to the wedding.  Naturally, we were surprised and delighted at the prospect, as we counted it a privilege to be included; after all, we were outsiders with respect to their cultural and religious circle.   The parents then began talking with us about the wedding plans and clearly assumed we would be coming.   We could hardly believe that they would invite us to this momentous family event!   

As the day drew near, the mother made the arduous journey to India to shop for materials for the extra-festive sarees for herself, her own mother, and for a few of the close relatives who required special wedding clothes for the various ceremonies.  She explained how important the clothing would be for the family, and she showed us photos on her phone of some of the exquisite dresses worn by brides, grooms, and their families in India of late.   We were in awe of the bright colors, the beautiful fabrics, and the extravagance of the beading on many of the sarees.

When she returned home from India, we stopped by to visit the family again.   This time she presented us with small, exquisitely woven clutch bags as gifts from her trip.   She spoke of the food she would be preparing and the organization of the various ceremonies in different locations over the course of the wedding week.   These conversations were intriguing to us, as the wedding celebration seemed much more extensive than a typical American wedding.

A few weeks prior to the first event, which was to be hosted by the groom’s family, she presented us with exquisitely designed wedding invitations. Not only were we ourselves invited, but she and her family were inviting our husbands as well (even though our husbands had never met the family!).  Of course, we readily accepted this generous invitation and were excited to witness this wedding!

About ten days before the big day, when we asked whether we should wear short or long formal dresses for the ceremony, this precious woman brought out complete wedding garments for us to wear!   We were overwhelmed at the sight of the sarees and matching tops!   Then she and her mother gladly demonstrated how to put on the elaborately jewelled material by wrapping it around themselves multiple times and how to secure it at the end of the process.  

When the wedding day arrived, we each (predictably!) had some difficulty in wrapping ourselves in the beautiful fabric.  I had to enlist my husband’s help, and my friend’s daughter helped her.  The clothing was heavy with jewels and challenging to wrap properly and tuck in securely.  It was unfamiliar to us, yet we made every effort to ensure we looked appropriately dressed for this very special day in the life of our new friend’s family.

For me, the parallels to my relationship with God were poignant and moving.   In response to the least overture on my part, our Father receives me warmly and kindly.  He draws near to me whenever I cry out to Him.  He calls me His friend when I have done nothing to deserve that status.  He clothes me with a garment of praise and garments of salvation.  His Son shed His atoning Blood for me and  now dresses me in a robe of righteousness, “as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”  (Isaiah 61: 3, 10 NIV)  Jesus  calls me His bride and invites me to the wedding feast.  And, although I may have difficulty learning to wear those garments of praise and robes of righteousness, and I may find it a challenge to walk in my new clothes, I am thrilled and grateful for His overwhelmingly generous provision for me!

The fact that this hospitable mother-of-the-groom decided to call us her friends, though we were foreigners to her culture, and  bought us the wedding garments (mine was red, no less!), when we did not deserve to be included in her family, reminded me of all that Jesus has done for me.  God used a woman from India to demonstrate to me what He has provided for Me through His Son! 

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Father, help me to allow You to clothe me in Your righteousness! Help me to keep the garments of praise and salvation securely fastened, and empower me to walk steadily when I feel I cannot take another step without falling.  Teach me to wear well the clothes You have given me at such a high price to Yourself! 

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Shakedown or Breakthrough?

cracks-2099531_640In Christian circles, we love to pray for breakthrough, discuss breakthrough, anticipate breakthrough. However, it appears we seldom actually experience it. Part of the difficulty might lie in a lack of understanding of what breakthrough entails.

By definition, breakthrough involves breaking or piercing THROUGH an obstacle or hindrance into something different; it means to leave something familiar or confining and move into something new that allows more freedom. While the concept of a breakthrough may sound grand and glorious, we often fail to experience it, primarily because we do not want to pay the price. When we count the cost of moving into an unknown, unfamiliar place, we honestly are not certain we are willing to relinquish the comfort and familiarity of the old place, however confining it might have become.

Breakthrough can be painful, and it usually entails the loss of something precious we cannot carry with us into the new place. When a baby is born, he or she loses the familiar place of comfort and constant, immediate supply of everything needed. The baby has to learn to breathe, to wait for others to supply his or her needs, and to thrive in a radically different environment. What constitutes great joy for the parents — to finally see and hold their precious child — might not be that thrilling for the baby, at least not initially. The baby is not allowed to take the womb or the umbilical cord into the new place. If that were possible, such accoutrements would certainly prove ridiculously useless when carried around outside the womb!

Similarly, when a family moves to a new location, the entire household must adjust to a new home, new schools, a new church, and often even a completely different climate! When we left Norway and moved to Texas, our eldest child had difficulty understanding why he couldn’t continue wearing his stocking cap, and he tried in vain to pull down the short sleeves of his shirt to make them longer. He also had to acclimate himself to new idioms in the language that had been unfamiliar to him in our home in Norway, not to mention new cultural phenomena (We had committed the sin of forgetting to teach him about American football at the ripe old age of seven, as we are not a football-aware family!). He left behind Helly Hansen rain gear, which were not needed in Texas but had been worn regularly when playing outside in the rain in Stavanger, Norway.

The same principle holds true for spiritual breakthroughs as well. When the time comes to move into a new season, everything familiar to us invariably begins to shake. Fear may grip our heart, and we may strive to hold tightly to the trappings of the old season, whether titles, positions, ways we have functioned in the past, sweet stages of life with our children and friends, or time-tested ways of doing things. Everything dear to us may appear to be threatened. Might it be that we are, in fact, to count it all as loss — even the things given to us by the Holy Spirit for ministry purposes, the talents and roles we hold dear, the skills that were hard-won — for the sake of moving forward into the new season with the Lord?

Even for the Lord Himself, breakthrough was not without a price. To break through the barrier of sin that kept us from the Father, Jesus had to BECOME sin on our behalf; He endured crucifixion in order to move through it into victory over sin and death. When He surrendered His Spirit to the Father, a powerful earthquake caused such a shaking that the curtain of the Temple was torn in two; Matthew records that rocks split apart, and graves were opened (Matthew 27: 50-54, TCJB). In order to break through as the Redeemer, Jesus had to sacrifice everything He was and everything He had, including His earthly body. Of course, He thereby conquered sin and death forever, but He was not allowed to hang onto anything of this earth.

If things are trembling and shaking to the point that you feel your life is falling apart, hang on tightly to your Heavenly Father, as He is with you and will carry you into the next season. Release the things you have held dear and dare to move into the unknown; He will carry you through the barricades and into things you never imagined, not on your terms, but on His (which are far better than the best we could imagine). When the ground begins to shake, remember He is rolling away some stones that have kept you in the old season! May the Lord of the Breakthrough carry you through to fresh experiences of His goodness and Presence in this new year!

Be encouraged by the song “Forever” as sung by Kari Jobe:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mv4LRl2KI2M

 

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The Joy Thief — Can You Spot Him?

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Have you ever noticed that our lives never seem to leave the fast lane?  Everything seems to operate at breakneck speed, and pauses must be carefully and deliberately orchestrated if they are ever to be experienced!  As a high-energy person, I generally thrive with a busy schedule; however, the past few years have been too frenetic even for me.  Events I await with anticipation end up seeming scrunched in between other demands that scream for attention; those long-awaited pleasures then become far too quickly a thing of the past.  Even though the past six months were rich in terms of experiences, I was not actually able to savor anything on more than a surface level.   After all, even the best of gourmet meals may as well be a fast-food hamburger if that meal is choked down without even chewing it!  Similarly, the pleasures of life cease to be pleasurable if we do not compel ourselves to actually stop long enough to experience the joys of the PAUSE! Indeed, I have MUCH for which to be profoundly thankful; my gratitude list is too long to enumerate.  Nonetheless, recently I have missed out on the joys associated with those people, things, and opportunities on my gratitude list, simply because I have been  moving too fast and feeling too anxious about the next task to be completed. 

Suddenly, I recognized the presence of the joy-stealer and realized that he had been stalking me for several months!   Specifically, the taste of a spritz cookie I baked using my mother’s recipe brought this revelation of joy and how I had missed it!  In Marcel Proust’s book,  À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, one bite of a madeleine cookie evoked a tidal wave of memories from the author’s childhood.  For me, that spritz cookie caused me to experience a sudden breakthrough of vibrant joy that I had not felt in a long time.

After all, Jesus warned us about the thief:  “ The thief comes only in order to steal, kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, life in its fullest measure”  John 10:10 (CJB).  The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy everything in my life that expresses God’s Presence:  my faith, my peace, my health, my joy.  When I notice my joy has evaporated, I need to remember that I have an enemy; somehow I had allowed him to plunder my joy.  Isn’t it wonderful that God can use such an insignificant thing as a small cookie to reveal to me my need for a fresh infilling of His joy and my need to pause long enough to savor it?

How do I take back what has been stolen?  The first step is to stop and reflect long enough to recognize its absence.  The second step is to repent for careening thoughtlessly along the highway of life with only the goal (however noble) in mind.  The third step is to ask Jesus, the ever-available Restorer, to make my heart new and restore to me the joy of my salvation (see Psalm 51).  

Father, empower me to experience fully Your Presence and goodness in the little delights of this holy-day season!  Grow larger in my heart, in Jesus’ Name!

 

 

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Sink or Swim?

wooden raftSwimming, in theory, should come naturally, once one masters the techniques.  Supposedly, once one learns to swim, kinetic memory ensures those skills can be summoned whenever necessary at any point in the future.  However, swimming in a pool is quite another matter from swimming in a turbulent sea!  Similarly, paddling a canoe on a still lake is far less challenging than steering that same canoe through river rapids in a steep canyon!

Although we like to think of our life with Jesus as a place of safety, experience has taught us that it occasionally feels undeniably risky!  Instead of feeling snug and safe with Him in the boat (NOTE:  HE was sleeping, but the disciples definitely were not in any state resembling repose!), we lurch about on the turbulent seas of life as we desperately cling to our fragile rafts.  The waves crash over us, we are wet to the bone, and we wonder where our Prince of Peace might have hidden Himself!

Usually at some point in the midst of such storms, I remember that our Messiah subjected Himself to every sin, temptation, test, and storm imaginable during His life on earth in a human body.  He endured pain, sorrow, grief, and trauma far beyond what any of us could possibly have endured — and through each ordeal, He maintained a righteous attitude of heart without flagging.   If we are to reflect Jesus in this life, our cruise season on Earth with our Lord will not be merely still waters, nor are our vessels built with high, protective walls to shield us from every ripple in the sea of life.  Instead, we are awarded a wooden raft — a cross — to which we must cling for survival.  It may not FEEL safe, but He is with us on it; in fact, He was nailed to it on our behalf and can still save us through any circumstance life brings us.   Although He never promised to shield us from getting wet, or from feeling the wind on our faces, or from being bent over and clinging to that wood just to survive, He is faithful to be present with us in every situation.  Even when we are unaware of His nearness, He is with us; He guarantees He will save us THROUGH this stormy life, even though He does not always rescue us FROM it or from every painful or challenging circumstance.     

Father, thank You for providing the wooden raft of Your cross for me.  It is far more powerful than it sometimes seems in my more desperate moments!   Thank You that Your cross HOLDS through every storm and can carry me to the other side of every challenge.  Thank You that You are victorious when I cannot be; You are more than enough to compensate for all my weaknesses and inadequacies.   The place on that raft — Your cross — may seem risky for me, but it purchased my safety and assures me of Your Presence in me!   When the salt spray is in my mouth and the wind stings my eyes, help me to remember that You did this before me and will never abandon me.

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Waypoint or Destination?

465303034-612x612When we are passionate about something we are doing, particularly a spiritual pursuit or passion,  we typically make every effort to ensure the visibility, desirability, and even attractiveness of our cause.  We might have a passion to pursue Jesus Christ in all His fullness and to experience the truth and power of the Gospel, a passion to end modern-day slavery, a passion to end abortion, to eradicate racism, to end child labor in African coffee fields, to dig water wells for communities without clean water, to provide education for the homeless or fair wages for those in the clothing factories in China. While there is nothing wrong with drawing others to a cause we deem worthy of their attention, we need to be aware that we (and our “ministry” or “cause”) are a waypoint, as opposed to a destination.    If we are not careful to serve only as a stopping point, a location where people might find a bit of rest and a place to get their bearings before continuing their journey, others may fail to reach their goals; they may camp out with us and completely forget about traveling onward to reach their own intended destinations.  

In the case of Aglow International, the local groups are (quite appropriately!) called lighthouses.  Lighthouses illuminate the safe approach into a harbor potentially fraught with obstacles.   Local Aglow groups use the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit to refresh, equip, and train “travelers” to continue to their various areas of Kingdom assignments this side of heaven.   However, in my experience, it can be far too easy to expect people to come to US, remain with US, champion our particular cause, and never move on past a certain point.  

This principle applies to families, churches, and any other ministry or movement.   The purpose of parenting, for example, is to raise self-sufficient, independent young adults who pursue their own paths in life.   My thirty-year-old should not rely on me to tie his shoes!   He should be well equipped, if I have done my job properly, to make his own decisions and pursue his own passions (which may not be expressed the same way as mine).  Similarly, churches are families of believers where people are equipped to touch the hearts of others outside that immediate family with the good news of Jesus.   If churches never train and launch anyone, they will never impact the surrounding community.   

I often ask myself whether what I am doing revolves around me and my personal causes, or whether I am designing what I do to include, train, and send others on the road to their respective “harbors.”  Do my ministry activities focus on drawing others to me, or do they facilitate others in connecting with the Holy Spirit and hearing His voice for their own areas of impact? Am I seeking followers to come camp with me permanently, or do I remember to shine the light, serve up something fortifying and refreshing, and perhaps provide a temporary stopping place, before launching them back into the water?

In the case of Aglow lighthouses, the goal is to serve as a waypoint, a stopping point, an equipping post; Aglow is NOT a destination.   Aglow groups seek to position themselves in a harbor at a point of need or challenge in their respective communities, and they strive to shed light on the safe path through those challenges into the harbor of the truth of the Gospel.  Aglow leadership trains and launches others into various fields of ministries, which are always a function of the individual’s particular gifts and passions.

Let’s remember that our lives are NOT a destination — they serve to point the way for those around us and to encourage them in the area of Kingdom activity THEY are called to pursue.  It is no coincidence that Jesus said to GO into all the world (Mark 16:15); let’s shine our lights in strategic locations to help others find their way!  WE are NOT the destination…. 

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Living from a Platform of Peace

HaKotelDo you ever feel as if you are barely hanging on wherever life has taken you?  Are you hanging on by your fingernails, or are you flourishing, even on the wall of adversity?  Sometimes I feel as if I am about to fall into the nether reaches of a deep pit.   What precipitates this sense of peril?  It is not always the greatest challenges that shake my stability; instead, it is often the smaller disturbances that disrupt my internal sense of peace, particularly concerns about the people I love most.

The Holy Spirit spoke to me recently and revealed to me that this loss of peace was rooted in fear; He gently said, “You are not trusting me with ___________ [insert a situation or the name of a person you love].”  I immediately acknowledged that He had put a finger on a part of my heart that, in fact, did NOT trust Him!

Since that moment, I have been learning to function from a more solid platform of peace; although I certainly have not mastered the art of flourishing on the wall, I am becoming a better student of that art!  First, when faced with a challenge or a worry, I need to ask myself where I am sitting, as my position will determine my perspective on that challenge.  Ephesians 2:6  states that God “… raised us up together with Him and made us sit down together [giving us joint seating with Him] in the heavenly sphere [by virtue of our being] in Christ Jesus [the Messiah, the Anointed One]” (AMPC).  The perspective from the heavenly realm with the Lord will certainly prove different from my own human perspective!  How do I practice this approach?  I literally imagine myself running into God’s arms and jumping into His lap!  I then ask Him to give me His vision and His perspective on my situation.  I also take great comfort in being seated with my heavenly Daddy.

Secondly, I ask myself where I am planted. Although I am well aware that Paul instructs us to be rooted and grounded in Christ, I must confess that my heart often feels uprooted and transplanted to rocky soil or soil full of sorrow or despair.  The Holy Spirit is able to re-ground me and refresh me; He reminds me that my roots are in Jesus.  I am learning to submit my disturbed feelings — fears, unbelief, doubts, dis-ease — to Jesus; I do not deny my emotions, but I release them to Him.  It is His nature and character to comfort, heal, and encourage me.  I ask Him to help my thoughts reflect Who He is.  He is faithful to do that, as He has given to every person a measure of faith, and Jesus Himself is the author and finisher of that faith.  We can trust Him with our doubts, fears, and anxieties!

Finally, I am practicing what Psalm 149 describes as a powerful weapon of warfare:  verbal praise.   Praise is particularly powerful when expressed from a position of rest.  We read in verses five and six:  “Let the saints be joyful in glory; let them sing aloud on their beds.  Let the high praises of God be in their mouth and a two-edged sword in their hand” (NKJV).  The rest of that psalm describes the effects of that kind of praise in the spiritual realm.

Operating from a position of peace means to assume the correct position (be seated in heavenly places and be rooted and grounded in Jesus).  Father, help me to remember my assigned seat with You and to stay connected to the ROOT!  Empower me to wield spiritual weapons rightly with Your high praises in my mouth and Your two-edged sword in my hand.  Praise will defeat the enemies of my soul and the enemies of those I love.  Praise will invite the Presence of Jesus Christ into every situation and circumstance.

 

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Shake It, Shake It, Baby!

earthquake-1665892_640Does it feel as if there is a “whole lotta shakin’ going on?”   Do things you have taken for granted seem to be shifting and shaking?  It seems that spiritual earthquakes are becoming more commonplace.  Our ways of doing things in church, in our ministry groups, and even in our households are changing.   Instability seems to rule, and confidence in our circumstances has become a thing of the past.

However, as challenging and disturbing as it may seem, this shaking process is a part of the Lord’s methodology for these end times.  “For this is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: In just a little while I will again shake the heavens and the earth, the oceans and the dry land.  I will shake all the nations, and the treasures of all the nations will be brought to this Temple. I will fill this place with glory, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.   (Haggai 2:6-7  NLT)  God promises to shake everything before He comes in all His glory.  In fact, the earthquake releases the treasures into the Temple.   

Indeed, God desires that we trust in Him alone — not in our families, our friends, our circumstances, our education or credentials, our employers, our governments, our ministry methods, or even our pastors.  He longs for us to abandon every confidence that is not established on Christ alone, the chief Cornerstone. “Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem, a firm and tested stone. It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on. Whoever believes need never be shaken.”  (Isaiah 28:16)   Jesus Christ is the only One that will be a sure foundation stone that lasts forever.

As the various circumstances in my life begin to change and even shake, and it feels as if an earthquake is about to strike, I must remember to call on the Lord, who will be my rock of defense in times of trouble.  When everything falls away, He remains.   At times, even the things He has directed me to build and the areas of ministry He has opened to me seem on the brink of collapsing.   What should my response be?  I must declare that it is well.   I have confidence in God alone, and even that confidence is not of my own doing, but given by Him.

The Holy Spirit’s current word to the Church might be:  “Awake! Awake, TziyonClothe yourself with your strength! Dress in your splendid garments, Yerushalayim, the holy city! For the uncircumcised and the unclean will enter you no more. Shake off the dust! Arise! Be enthroned, Yerushalayim! Loosen the chains on your neck, captive daughter of Tziyon!” (Isaiah 52:1-2 Complete Jewish Bible)  If we recall that the earthquake following the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was accompanied by the dead coming to life and the curtain of the Temple being torn in two, we can rest assured that any personal earthquakes we are experience are designed by the Lord to release treasures from dark places and fill the temple of our hearts with His glory.   The key is to let go of everything we tend to cling to during the shaking process.   Instead, let us cling tightly to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, our strong tower, the One who is never shaken but remains forever!

 

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