Altars of Grace

I felt strongly led to repost something I wrote last year. I’m not sure why, but I’m going with it. Blessings!  

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FALL SIDEWALK

To journey toward holiness is to walk where the sidewalk never ends. And the path is littered with altars along the way — altars of remembrance and altars of sacrifice.

“Here…on the left…this is where God remembered me and met me and parted the sea for me.”

“Over here, on the right…this is where I laid down my Isaac. There was no thicket, there was no ram.”

 ”And up here just a little bit…this is where God got a hold of me and blinded me. And it took awhile for the scales to be removed, but then I was able to see.”

These little altars are mile markers of progress on a path that will take a lifetime to travel.

As you walk along the path, you are showered with grace. Grace falling like snow into blankets of insulation. Grace falling like rain bringing water to a thirsty soul. Grace shining like the sun and illuminating His glory. Grace falling like fall leaves, where the slightest hint of the wind brings them to submission and piles them high where it’s all you can do not to just JUMP in without concern for bugs or spiders or slithering enemies.

Grace.

Holiness is unattainable without it — yet it is given, not demanded. We cannot demand the snow insulate the earth. We cannot demand the rain hydrate the soil. We cannot demand the sun illuminate our face. And we cannot demand the wind to shake loose the dry leaves from its branch.

For the leaves only fall when the Spirit blows through them. And their fall is gentle and silent, not loud and demanding.

Grace does not give permission to remain unholy.

Grace does not give permission to remain unholy. (tweet)

Instead, grace is the bumper along the path of holiness…that path where the sidewalk never ends…that path littered with altars…grace is piles of fallen leaves and banks of snow and pools of rain, guard rails that keep you from falling over the edge.

When unholiness beckons and summons you like the enemy of Wisdom, go to your altars. The altars of remembrance and the altars of sacrifice…stop on your unending sidewalk and visit them. Remember the things the Lord has done for you — the miracles He performed, the rams He provided and the sight He restored.

Lay back on them like they were lush, green pastures and use them to restore your soul.

And after you have waited on the Lord and renewed your strength, get back up again and continue walking forward toward holiness. Soak in the Spirit as it blows grace all around you, assured it will guard you, should you stumble.

“The ways of right-living people glow with light; the longer they live, the brighter they shine. But the road of wrongdoing gets darker and darker — travelers can’t see a thing; they fall flat on their faces.” (Proverbs 4:18-19, The Message)

Building, Burning and Killing

YOKE-FILTERED

It’s hard to move on sometimes.

Leaving behind yesterday in order to be present today and embrace tomorrow is hard work. Focused work. Diligent work. It requires great risk to let go of what is good in order to leave room for what is great.

It’s risky, because what if there’s no there there? What if what is there isn’t all that great after all? What if I really miss what was good?

And there can be pain involved — sometimes heartache, oftentimes fleshache and fear. Always fear.

And there’s a fine line, is there not, between remembering the past and moving on? Like, Abraham and Moses built altars of remembrance to acknowledge God’s handiwork — and to remember and honor that is good.

But where is the distinction between looking back and building an altar, and looking back and turning into a pillar of salt?

I struggle knowing the difference sometimes. Knowing when I’m supposed to not look back and when I’m supposed to remember. There seems to be a blurry line that differentiates the two chasms.

And I think the blurry line is called yearning.

When I look at Abraham and Jacob and Moses, and all the others in the Bible who built altars, they did so out of a desire to remember what God did in the midst of their crawling season. To acknowledge His divine handiwork and protection. To remember they couldn’t do it without Him.

And then when I look at Lot’s wife and how she turned into a pillar of salt because she had a desire to hold onto what she had instead of embracing what was to come.

She yearned for yesterday. Longed for it. Wasn’t ready to embrace change.

And it killed her.

Oh how I don’t want to be her.

There’s this little gem of a story in the Bible, hidden near the end of 1 Kings in chapter 19. This story is only three verses long, but those verses have preached thousands and thousands of words to me.

It’s the story of when Elijah finds Elisha, and anoints him as a prophet and his eventual replacement.

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Elijah finds Elisha in the field, working diligently. There’s nothing to suggest that Elijah is unhappy or frustrated — it simply says he’s working 12 pairs of oxen and was with the last pair.

When Elijah wraps his cloak around Elisha, he knew instantly what it meant. He was chosen and anointed to take the mantle of prophet from Elijah, and to follow him.

Elisha’s response is phenomenal to me — he kills the oxen and then takes all the equipment and uses it to make a fire. And he cooks all the oxen — all 24 of them — and celebrates with a feast of the meat.

And then Elisha says goodbye to his family and follows Elijah.

Walks away completely.

Here’s what is so fascinating about Elisha’s story: working in the field was good. Working for his family was good. He was doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing, and working hard at it. He was probably even really happy doing it. He probably had no complaints.

But when the time came for God to call Elisha into something new, he destroyed everything about his old life. He gave himself nothing to come back to, nothing to fall back on. He wanted to be 100%, all in on what God had called him to.

My husband always says that God doesn’t just call us out of anything without calling us in to something.

And that’s what happened to Elisha — God called him out of his field work into his new anointing.

And Elisha was willing to follow God’s leading 100%. By killing everything that represented the old, it gave him the freedom to fully embrace the new. By giving himself nothing to come back to, he had no choice but to give everything he had to his new calling.

There have been times in my life when I’ve killed the oxen and burned the plows — completely let go of what I was doing before God moved me and never looked back.

There have also been times when I’ve built altars to remember God and Who He Is and What He’s Done to honor His work in my life.

But there have also been times when I’ve looked back. When I’ve yearned and wished and dreamed it could be the way it used to be. Times when I’ve resisted the necessary work of transforming and changing — and those are the times I’ve turned myself into murky and confusing pillar of salt, frozen in fear of tomorrow and unable to move forward toward my promised land.

Oh how I don’t want to be her.

When Abraham and Jacob and Moses were done building their altars and remembering, they got up, got going and moved on (Deut 2:24, The Voice). There were places they had to set their feet on and take and claim.

And after Elisha feasted and said his goodbyes to his family, he left and joined Elijah and became his right-hand man, eventually gaining a double-portion of Elijah’s anointing.

Building altars and killing oxen and burning plows frees me up to the transformation God is doing in me. It shows God I’m saying yes to letting the old die so the new can live. It shows Him I’m no longer yearning for what was — when it really wasn’t that great anyway — and am instead yearning for What Can Be.

And even though there might be heartache and fear involved — I’ll be more heartbroken to miss what God might have in store. I’m more fearful of not being obedient than I am of change.

I’d rather be a pillar of burnt yokes than a pillar of salt.

I want nothing to come back to, so that I can give everything I have to God’s next thing. (tweet that)

Oh how I want to be her.

What do you need to build and kill and burn in your life today? Are you ready to get up, get going and move on so you can take claim to your promised land?

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Not Just Enduring, But Standing

This is a post from the archives that I needed to be reminded of again. Hope it blesses you, too.

PINK BOXING GLOVES

I can be a pretty weak-willed woman. If I set my mind to something, I can visualize myself doing it with success — saying no to things I shouldn’t eat; refusing to say the thing that’s rising in my throat; running all the miles in my training program. But typically something happens between the vision and the action that derails me. It erupts out of nowhere like a volcanic chocolate lava cake. It dances on my tongue like Tic-Tacs. It makes running 6 miles feel like I’m trudging through a swamp.

It’s called temptation.

The initial resistance to temptation is strong. After all, I’ve decided what it is I’m going to accomplish, therefore my will is able to say no. But after any length of time, the doubt, desire and destruction arise and it’s just. so. hard.

I’ve always tried to remember the verse in 1 Corinthians as a sword to wield during these times. You know the one,

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (10:13)

I say it, I think it, I meditate on it…but again, there’s a disconnect between my head and my actions.

Please don’t think I’m a heretic; I believe every scripture is God-inspired and God-breathed. But being the writer-creative-type that I am, I think the disconnect for me is in the literal wording of this verse. In my mind, it sounds passive. The phrase, “so that you can endure it” doesn’t illustrate to me the armor-of-God bearing, authority-taking power of Christ that He died to give us.

So naturally when I’m faced with a plate of brownies or the impulse to talk sharply to my kids, the idea of simply enduring the temptation or bearing the temptation doesn’t make me feel victorious. And it doesn’t make me want to resist it, if I have to be honest. And even if I have resisted, I still feel weak afterwards.

  • Jesus said He gives us authority to trample on snakes and scorpions, and to overcome all the power of the enemy (Luke 10:19).
  • He gave the disciples the authority to drive out demons (Mark 3:15) and cure diseases (Luke 9:1)
  • He said that whoever believes in Him will do the works He has been doing and will do even greater things than those (John 14:12).

So we can overcome the enemy, trample on snakes and do greater things than Jesus…yet simply endure temptation and try to bear it?

I’m sorry, but I just don’t think so.

This verse has come up again and again recently, and I just so happened to come across a translation that changed everything for me. It’s from the New International Reader’s Version:

“You are not tempted in the same way all other human beings are. God is faithful. He will not let you be tempted any more than you can take. But when you are tempted, God will give you a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

Now that, my friends, is something I can latch on to.

I know the pure nature of temptation is that it’s hard; I’m not try to figure out a loophole to not being tempted, or to minimize how hard it is to withstand temptation. Believe me, I get how hard it is. A plate of my Aunt’s famous brownies later, I still get it.

But what I am saying is that I need some hope when it comes to temptation. That even though it took everything in me to resist, I wasn’t left a whimpering heap twitching on the floor afterwards. I want to resist it, feel the spiritual and physical benefits of resisting, and feel like Christ and I just did something together that was pretty spectacular.

That it was something I only could have done with His help and through His strength.

I want to do a dance and then bump some holy fists afterwards.

So when I read the version that says God will give a way out so that I can stand up under it…well, it fuels my desire to kick temptation in the backside. It makes me want to fight, not stand there and take the hits and proclaim afterwards, “At least I didn’t die!”

It paints a picture in my mind that shows me on my feet with my shoes of readiness that comes from the gospel of peace, my sword out and swinging and my belt of truth secure around my waist reminding me that “you, Lord are a shield around me, you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.” (Psalm 3:3)

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Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about.

What about you? What helps you when you’re faced with temptation? 

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When You Pursue Your Dreams and Fail

BOY SUNFLOWER FIELD

We tend to pursue our dreams in secret, don’t we?

We tip-toe toward them in our fuzzy slippers and robes during the darkest hours, daring not to make a sound as if we don’t want to wake up the dream slayers — the fears and doubts and uncertainties that are deaf but know we’re coming anyway.

We whisper our dreams softly, don’t we?

It’s almost impossible to hear them ourselves and it’s easy to forget we ever uttered them at all. Instead of living them out loud, we tuck them into our books at night and they sit on our nightstand collecting dust until it’s time to read again, then fall asleep again, then dream again.

Why are we so quiet about having dreams, or speaking dreams or pursuing dreams? Can I share something with you?

I’m tired of whispering my dreams.

Not many people know this, but in the past nine months I’ve had an amazing publisher interested in my book — a book that has been a dream of mine for six years. It passed Acquisitions Committee and then went to Publications Board twice. After the second time, they finally settled on a no.

I’ve been sitting with that no for a couple of weeks now, and honestly I’m okay with the answer. But what I’m not okay with is how I’ve handled the process of this dream.

Because I never told more than a handful of people what was happening during the entire nine months. Somewhere along the way in my life, I’ve believed that in order to have a dream you have to keep it quiet until it comes to pass. Like there’s some superstitious jinx on sharing it that will prevent it from becoming a reality.

But you know what the consequence is for pursuing dreams so fearfully and quietly? We lose dreamers. (tweet) We stop teaching others that regardless of the outcome, it’s healthy to dream. And most importantly, we lose the opportunity to show others how to trust Jesus, even when we pursue our dreams and “fail.”

From the world’s point of view, I have failed in reaching my dream. By not getting a book deal, I can easily become convinced that dream has died and that I need to pursue a more “realistic” dream.

But can I tell you something?

I think I actually succeeded. Because every other time in my life when I’ve been faced with rejection, I’ve allowed it to break me. I’ve taken it personally and let it dictate who I am and what I’m worth. And you know what? This was the first time in my life I didn’t do that.

Can I tell you something else?

Over the past nine months, I wasn’t sure if I wanted God’s will for my life more than I wanted this book. I quite honestly had a very, very hard time separating the two, and it became my constant prayer that the book wasn’t becoming an idol. I wasn’t sure where my heart truly stood on the matter.

And you know what else?

While I’m still saddened and disappointed by this loss, my peace and trust in my Lord has not wavered. Even for a second. I know and trust — even when I cannot see — that He has a plan for me and my life. And I know now, by that nonsensical yet supernatural peace, that I do want His will more than a book.

And my most favorite thing of all?

Through this my daughter has gotten to see that we don’t always succeed in everything we set out to do. That sometimes we can reach out and touch our dreams for a split second, but they can still slip out of our fingers in an instant — but that doesn’t stop our dreaming. It just makes us press in and work harder and believe God more. I am proud that she got to see me cry and mourn, but that I can put my hope in Jesus — the Dream Maker — and not just the dream itself.

Because “we are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan” (Romans 8:28, The Voice, emphasis mine).

So in the end, I think I won.

Why would I stay silent about that kind of success?

I think from now on I’m going to live my dreams out loud instead of tip-toeing toward them in my fuzzy slippers and robe. Not because I’m seeking attention or accolades for myself, but because I don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to spur another on in victory. And maybe if we all saw each other courageously pursuing dreams — regardless of the outcome — we’d find the courage to pursue more of ours, too.

So here’s to beating the drum and marching loudly in the dream parade — eyes on the Conductor as He orchestrates everything to work toward beautiful and good things.

Note: This is not a post where I’m searching for affirmation or encouragement or assurances that my book will get published some day. Just wanted to encourage you, my friends, to look toward the sun and find your dreams and pursue them loudly.

What about you? Do you have any dreams you want to live out loud? Please share — let’s encourage each other to wildly dream and love the Dream Giver.

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A New Normal

MIKE PHOTO-DREAM-01

I’m reading Holley Gerth‘s new book, You’re Made for a God-Sized Dream: Opening the Door to All God Has for YouEvery single page is highlighted. I can’t devour it fast enough.

The other day I read the chapter on the disclaimers about God-sized dreams once they come to fruition — disclaimers like you’ll never feel ready. You won’t like your dream sometimes. You’ll feel alone at times.

And then the disclaimer that leapt off the page and has shaken my shoulders and has been riding piggy-back since I read it:

ONE DAY THIS DREAM WILL BE YOUR NEW NORMAL.

Those words have rolled around my brain like marbles caught in the dryer, making noise and banging against every corner of my thoughts. And as I ponder that one sentence, God brings to my mind the past God-sized dreams I’ve had and how they are now my new normal.

  • The husband I didn’t feel I deserved.
  • The daughter who has blessed my socks off and is growing in grace and wisdom.
  • The son I waited two miscarriages and years to have.
  • The job that gives my husband freedom to work in his giftings and succeed.
  • Friendships that edify, encourage and build me up…not tear me down.
  • A household of peace and laughter and freedom to fail.

Each of these were a mustard seed of a God-sized dream long before they became my new normal. They were passing thoughts at first. Then they became prayers. And then blossomed into full-fledged dreams.

And now, with another God-sized dream becoming clearer and getting a little closer, it scares me in the best possible way that it might one day be my new normal, too.

The weight of it pressing in on me is strangely comforting like a heavy wool blanket on a cold night….hearing Him whisper to get ready…feeling an incredibly calm peace yet not understanding it at all…it makes me shake in fear and leap for joy all at the same time.

One day this dream will be my new normal.

I know this current God-sized dream might look different when it comes to pass than I originally thought, and that’s okay. My husband and my family and my friendships have all turned out differently than I once believed they would. In the best possible way, they are different than I thought they would be.

And God, in His infinite love, made them perfect for me.

  • My husband is everything I wanted and also everything I had no idea I needed.
  • My daughter challenges everything I thought I knew about parenting, and makes me a better mom.
  • My son brings so much joy and laughter after years of pain and tears.
  • My husband has the confidence and courage to pursue God-sized dreams of his own.
  • My core friends don’t live nearby and I see them very irregularly, but the residue of our conversations and time together linger with me for weeks and months until we see each other again
  • The chaos and messiness of my house is what brings the peace and laughter, and the freedom to fail also brings freedom to succeed.

No, it’s not what I expected. But I suddenly could never imagine any of those dreams being any different than exactly how they are right now.

One day this dream will be my new normal.

The funny thing about our dreams is that while you’re dreaming them, nothing seems as big as that dream at that time. Praying and waiting for a husband is Everything. Having children is a soul ache. Strong friendships are a desperate plea not to drown alone.

And then one day they’re just a normal part of your life. Isn’t that the weirdest thing ever?

Because as long as I’ve been waiting for this current God-sized dream to come to pass (six years and counting)…at some point, it will become a distant dream added to the list, and a new God-sized dream will take its place.

It really is the weirdest and holiest thing ever — standing on the edge of a God-sized dream and peering down into it, it seems as big as the Grand Canyon and impossible to cross over.

Then one day you simply check it off the list and move on.

How can you imagine moving on when you’re standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon?

But it happens.

Because each dream God gives is simply a stepping stone to a bigger dream. (tweet) And once in a while He reminds you to look back and you see that the two of you — God and you — have built a bridge and you’re already halfway across that canyon.

One day this dream will be my new normal.

What God-sized dreams have you staring into the vastness right now? What dreams seem impossible? Don’t lose heart, or give up hope, or give up at all.

Keep standing there on the edge. Look back every once in a while and remember the stepping stones that have brought you to your current dream.

And soon you’ll see the bridge, spanning across a magnificent landscape.

ONE DAY THIS DREAM WILL BE YOUR NEW NORMAL.

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