Gifted and Talented

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You hear it a lot. Shine your light. Why? So men may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. This is what we hear in church and it’s what we read in the gospels (Matthew 5:13 – 16).

Because for true, we are to be salt. And light.

I dare say, though, it’s pretty easy to get off track. All to often, we may get caught up in busyness and extra curricular works. Even good works. Maybe especially good works. Because Scripture talks about that, too.

As the book of James warns, faith without works is dead, right? So we better darn well get busy doing a work. Any work will do. And the more visible the better. Because we have to shine the light of Jesus in a dark world. How? In the form of good deeds. Something that can be measured and valued and seen by all…

At least that’s where I went off the rails just over a year ago. My heart deceived me and I was led astray by busyness. I thought I wasn’t doing enough. That I had to be more showy in working for the Lord. So I did the wrong thing. I let go of the very thing God created me to do by taking hold of what I thought I should do.

It was a yoke I grabbed hold of. And I slipped it right over my neck and kept it there. It nearly strangled me. Yes, the yoke of empty works nearly snuffed the light right out of me…

But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dearly loved brothers. Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights. James 1:14-17

Sometimes God speaks in unexpected ways and through random sources. Yesterday, His message came through someone I just met. This guy came to our home to see my husband and on his way out, wisdom fell from his lips. He said, “Leave the door open. Let the sun shine in.” And it was just like the light switched on in my soul.

I had to ask my husband if he said what I thought he did. And so I told Jason… the darkness had come back. I’d been as black as night and his words seemed big. My husband’s response?

“Shine on.”

And so God reveals truth to me through a chance encounter with someone my husband had to see. Confirmed by my beloved. Yes. Open the door. Let there be light. And most importantly, shine.

But not through empty works or passionless deeds I think I should do. Instead, may I shine in the way my Father created me to shine. Because this is the best way I can bring Him glory… simply doing what He made me to do.

Using Your Light

He also said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket or under a bed? Isn’t it to be put on a lampstand? For nothing is concealed except to be revealed, and nothing hidden except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, he should listen!” Then He said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear. By the measure you use, it will be measured and added to you. For to the one who has, it will be given, and from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” Mark 421-25

I stopped blogging over a year ago. Why? Because I thought it was keeping me from doing more important things. Like ministry or mission work. And so I set out to do something grand. I tried one thing and it failed miserably. I limped away feeling injured and ashamed.

Then, I set out to do the next thing. Oh my gosh was I busy. And I just couldn’t understand why I had to do it all alone. No one really came alongside me to aide my cause. And there lies the truth… it was “my” cause. Not God’s. A work to bring me glory, not Him.

The fact is I simply accomplished an empty work hoping to prove myself. Look at me, everyone! I’m busy. I’m doing something for the kingdom. A miserable attempt at shining God’s light because it was really just a veiled attempt to shine my own.

The worst part? I put something God gave me to the side. He gifted me with a specific passion and I neglected it for well over a year. In a sense, I dug a hole and hid my talent. I hid me. And by doing so, I ended up hiding Him. Hiding God’s light by hiding my own.

How crazy is that?

And so the above passage from Mark resonates. Because it’s a warning, really. God’s telling me to use what He gave me. He’s telling me to unearth what I’d buried. And the scariest part? If I don’t start using what He dispensed, He’ll take it from me.

“Gifted and Talented”

When I was a little girl, I was part of the “Gifted and Talented” program at school. And quite rightly, they no longer call it that because we’re all gifted and talented in our own way. We all have the capacity to shine if we’re operating with the tools He provided us.

Me? I was selected because I liked to draw. That’s why I got to participate in the program and I liked it. Because it made me feel special. It brought me some attention. And dare I say a little bit of glory?

Anyway, God stitched an artistic bone into my being as He knit me together in my mama’s womb. Later in life, He awakened another passion. He gave me the desire to write and I did so with wild abandon.

In the Fall of 2011, I began to write and it consumed me for years. The problem was I got carried away by this new “gift” and a war began in my heart. Yes, my flesh began to crave the little bit of glory writing brought my way.

Just like that little girl I was when I participated in “gifted and talented.”

That’s when I decided I should put it away. I decided I couldn’t handle the compliments so I dug a hole and buried God’s gifts. I thought it better to pursue other other methods of light shining like busyness. Ministry, I called it. Because writing and painting just didn’t seem to be enough.

Fortunately, a lesson from Matthew 25:14-30 teaches me otherwise. Furthermore, it underscores the stern lesson of using your light (or losing it).

See, there were three servants and their master gave to each “talents.” It was money… the equivalent of 200 pounds of silver or 100 pounds of gold. One was given five talents, another given two, and the last received one talent – each given according to their ability.

The first two servants did well. The one who received five gained five more and the one who received two gained two. But the slave who received only one talent dug a hole and buried it. In his defense, he told his master he was afraid so he hid it. He said, “Look you have what is yours.”

His master’s words are terrifying. “You evil, lazy slave…” He took the talent away and gave it to the one who had ten. And his words reiterate the very ones from Mark 4 I find so scary…

“For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw this good for nothing slave into the outer darkness.”

And that’s where the servant ended up. Darkness. Which brings to mind what I said earlier. “The darkness came back.” My revelation being that this is where I’ll end up when I don’t use my talent, which really belongs to God anyway.

Yes, I believe my not doing what God made me to do brought on the darkness. Because when I’m not doing what I love, I feel lifeless. Purposeless. And so the hole I dug to hide me and my talent turns into a grave…

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“I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

I painted the above picture recently. It’s my dad and me. And I like that Daddy’s giving me his love. I also like that Daddy resembles Jesus here. Jesus with a headband.

Anyway, my dad gave me what he had to give. Like a hug every. And Jesus? Well, He gave what He had to give, too. Like light. And He still gives it.

As for the darkness that recently came my way, well, I don’t think I was following Him. And the promise of light is for those who follow Him. I just got side-tracked. And the further I went in my own direction, the darker it got.

But some random man woke me up yesterday. He said to leave the door open and let the sun shine in. And from here on out, I pray that I do.

I pray to uncover what was hidden. Like the words He places within… messages that burn so bright. I pray to put my “gifts and talents” on a lampstand because that’s the best way to shine His light. The purest way to bring Him glory.

And God help me if I don’t because I believe what He says. He warns that if I keep what He gives me hidden, He’ll give them to someone else. Someone who’ll use them and multiply them.

So I pray…

Yes, God, please give me the courage to shine your light in a dark place. Equip me to use what you gave. Because You made a promise… You said more will come my way.

More gifts and more talents and more light…

All for Your glory. 

Yes, this is how I can shine my light.

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD shines over you. Isaiah 60:1

The Prodigal Daughter

10846156_10205084650657371_1107540708525779365_nAnd in those moments when it seems I have nothing, there’s always a light to lead me home. Lauren Eline, Facebook

I know what He wants for Christmas. I’ve discovered the perfect gift for the One who already gave perfection. And it’s so simple. It was something on Facebook that clued me in. See, He leaves breadcrumbs for His children all the time. Little drops of light to lead us to where He desires us to go. And that’s how I know what He wants for I followed His breadcrumbs. I’ve been leaping from one ray of light to the next and so now, I see. They’ve been leading me home. To my Father’s house. And that’s it. All He wants for Christmas is me, and all His children, to come home. That’s what He’s been trying to tell me. And isn’t this what every parent desires? To have their kids home for the holidays?

Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning. James 1:17

I am slow. So slow. Because it appears God has to show me something again and again before I get it (and again). Because we just went through something a year ago. It’s this fear thing. But His word is clear… perfect love casts out fear because fear involves punishment. And so, if I believe God loves me as His word says, should I fear? Should I expect punishment from God? And yet, I find myself going back there again and again. Just waiting for God to drop the ax. Like an errant child, I await my punishment. Most recently, the birth of my new baby set me down this path. It goes back to guilt I hold. I feel guilty for being discontent. And because I don’t think I fully appreciate what God has given, I agonize. Namely, over my children. Because if I can’t appreciate them as much as I should, then perhaps God will decide to just take them away. This irrational thought came to me a few years back…

For to the one who has, it will be given, and from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. Mark 4:25 

For a long time I thought that verse referred to things we have. Possessions. Like my kids. All that God has given. And it caused me to fear the worst. And isn’t that a crazy thought? Why should I think God wants to take away what He’s given. Why would the One who gave everything desire to take away? But thankfully, I finally realized what the writer is talking about for the passage of Scripture refers to using your light. And my life gives evidence as to how one can lose her light. See, I’m a worrier. And the more I worry, the dimmer the light becomes. And the more anxious I am, the more that light ebbs away. And when I fear, the light is nearly extinguished. Before I know it, I live in the shadow lands. I dwell in darkness because I can barely see the light. But then, I find a breadcrumb. There’s a beam of light and it beckons. Like the one I saw on Facebook last night.

The people who live in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those living in the shadowland of death,
light has dawned. Matthew 4:16

This morning I realized I am just like the prodigal son I read about in Luke 15. He asked his father for his share of the estate and his father gave it. Me? I ask my Father for His love and He gives it. And like the son who went off and spent all his father gave him, I do the same. God assures me He loves me (again and again), but I squander away His precious words. For some reason, I remain insecure despite His very clear words to me. Oh, so clear. In fact, in early November God couldn’t have spoken more directly. He was personal and intimate. And He used someone who barely knows me to convey His message. It was quite remarkable. But rather than rest in those words, I remain the prodigal daughter. I still roam blindly in the dark.

But thankfully, I have the prodigal son to look to. Oh, how surprised he must have been for He lost everything. He had nothing and dwelled with the pigs he fed. He was starving.  But finally, he came to his senses. Finally. He thought he’d return to his father and confess. He decided he’d ask to be made a hired hand… he would work for his father in order to live. But when he came to his home country, his father saw him from afar and came running. Running with open arms to greet his lost son. Dad fell upon his neck and kissed him again and again. All his son could get out was, “I’m not worthy to be called your son.” He didn’t even get out the part about working before a robe and a ring and sandals were placed upon him. He was warmly welcomed into his father’s house with a great feast… music and dancing. His father was just so happy. For his lost son had been found. His son who was dead was now alive.

And then there’s me. The prodigal daughter. I’ve been living in the shadow land of death. That’s what fear will do to you. But God, my Father, my Daddy… He told me most clearly and tenderly in November that He loves me. He said He loves my children so much more than I ever could. And He chose me to raise them. He said to not fear His will. He said I’ve been distracted by the noise around me – noise from fears compounded onto fears – worries of a 1,000 what if’s. He said I should learn to quiet myself and focus on His voice… the voice of my Daddy. The God of all creation said that’s what He is to me… a Daddy. He said when I love my children, I am most like Him. When Annabelle and Levi cry for me, in pain or in joy, I should multiply that feeling by 1,000 and I’ll begin to see how He feels for me. This is what my Daddy said. Clearly. So then, why should I fear? Because the way I felt yesterday when I kissed my daughter a thousand times is exactly what He feels for me. When I exclaimed over her little smiling face, I love you, I love you, I love you, I am most like Him. So why do I squander away His precious words of assurance? And so today, I choose not to. It’s as if I have finally come to my senses. Finally. Because Daddy told me He loves me. And today, He tells me to come home for Christmas.

 Then Jesus spoke to them again: “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

He leaves breadcrumbs. Drops of light. On that first Christmas long ago, He sent His Son as a light to the world. And He’s the One who knows the way to our Father’s house. We can follow Him. And we don’t have to fear if we lose sight of our big Brother. For those times we lag behind, we have another light to follow. Because God also gave us His Spirit. Just as it hovered over the watery depths at the beginning of creation, it hovers over our fickle hearts. For those times we wander… when worry draws us down a darkened path or when anxiety leads us astray or when fear blinds our eyes… there is a flame. It’s a candle that never goes out and it sits in the window of our darkened soul. It beckons us home. And as we draw near and peer inside, we see the house is fully lit. Warm light draws us to open the door and when we do, Daddy throws His arms open wide. He pulls us close and kisses our face a thousand times. He says, I love you, I love you, I love you! He’s so happy because the daughter who was lost is now found. The daughter who was dead, who trod the valley of the shadow of death, is now alive. She finally made it. And when she does, He says welcome home…. that He’d been waiting for her.

This is what God, our Father of lights, wants for Christmas. And His call is not just for me. Because He wants all his sons and daughters of light to come home. He’s placed a candle in the windows of our soul. It’s there to light our way. We just need to look for it…

Jesus answered, “The light will be with you only a little longer. Walk while you have the light so that darkness doesn’t overtake you. The one who walks in darkness doesn’t know where he’s going. While you have the light, believe in the light so that you may become sons of light.”  John 12:35-36

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Unto her…

Nativity

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given… Isaiah 9:6

“You have to decide… do you think God is a giver or a taker?” That was a question posed to thousands of women on September 15, 2012. And on that day, if I were to have answered honestly, I would have said taker. Despite all I had ever read about God, and all I had experienced of God, in the darkest recesses of my heart I believed the worst. I believed He was a taker. I just didn’t realize that’s what I believed.

And in truth, I continue to process that thought even now. Two and a half years later. That deep down irrational notion that God, who is the creator of all life, could be a taker of life. And that thinking brings me directly to the heart of Christmas today.

Yes, I’m brought to the inner chambers of God’s heart by the above verse I’ve heard at least a hundred times before. It’s a verse that adorns Christmas cards every year. But today, it’s new to me. Because I read it as if it’s written directly to me…

For unto me, a child is born.

Unto me, a son is given.

By God. The ultimate Christmas gift. And so today I see truth. I’ve been illuminated and find He’s a giver after all.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. John 1:4-5

It’s December 4th and Christmas is a mere three weeks away. And for the first time I feel utterly unprepared. And furthermore, I feel uninspired. In fact, I feel downright cynical. I even told my husband this week… my heart is as black as night.

See, over packed stores turn my stomach and I find holiday ads to be revolting. Especially the one that shows a gadget you can attach to your sink called a sponge bath. A $40.00 contraption adorns shelves nationwide for the one who has everything under the sun.

This would be the ultimate gift, no? A device one can use to bathe their kitchen sponge. Translation… we have so much and everyone else has so much, new devices must be thought up. New gift ideas created yearly so that the uninspired shopper may be so inspired. Yes! This is what I can give. Surely my mother doesn’t have one of these! A sponge bath.

To me, well, a gift like that says I have no earthly clue what to give you so I just picked up this thing. And in truth, I’d rather give nothing at all. Like I said, I feel cynical. Nasty. And surely, I’ve insulted someone by this. To the one who likes the idea of a sponge bath (for it does kill bacteria), I really am sorry. I am. Me? I’m just feeling ugly.

And why should that be? It’s Christmas time. Why do I have the blues? And why do they call them the blues anyway? Because if you were to gauge by my feelings, I’d say they should be called the blacks. For that’s how I feel. As I said… my heart is black as night.

And so, I evaluate. Know what I come up with? Guilt. I am consumed with guilt because I have no earthly right to feel the way I do. Anyone will tell me I have it made for I have so much. I am truly blessed. In fact, I’m hesitant to write this because I’ve been taken down a notch or two at least once before. In addressing my darkness (I am a moody girl, it’s true), I have been exhorted by others.

Or reprimanded.

Oh, I’ve been chastened by the well-meaning soul. Basically, open your eyes. See what you have. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. And that’s why the ensuing guilt.

Oh, that God would help me to see truth. Oh that He would help me overcome the darkness. Because I know…

I know I have so very much.

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And so today, I write. For despite today’s dark demeanor, I have to say this year has been one of the most wonderful yet. Because just about a year ago, I found out I was pregnant.

Unto me, a child was given.

She lived inside me for forty weeks until finally, she made her way into my arms. And God help me, despite this sweet, precious gift… I still get the blues. Or the blacks. And I know why.

It’s called loneliness.

It first presented when I had my son eight years ago. I became home-bound, isolated, and lonely. Depression descended like a shroud. And I find myself here again but this time, I have a daughter. Home-bound once more. Isolated and lonely. And those times, I’m most vulnerable. When I have too much alone time, it’s just not healthy.

And so in evaluation of today’s black mood, I wonder to myself… why write? For it’s Christmas. Why mention the darkness at all? And I choose to do so now because of One reason. I know the truth.

I know there is a Light.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every many who comes into the world. John 1:6-9

Sadly, if I were to pose the question I heard over two years ago, there would be someone else. If I asked do you think God is a giver or a taker, there would be another. Because I can’t be the only one who’s gone down that road of thinking.

So I write for her today. The isolated, lonely soul. My words are for the one who deep down believes God is a taker. Oh, she’s out there somewhere and she may not even realize she thinks that way. All she knows is she’s bitter. Or resentful. Or fearful. Or maybe just plain old melancholy.

No difference for it all fuels the guilt… I know.

So amidst the hustle and bustle of this season, I pray she pauses to ponder. Why? And if she does, maybe she’d discover what lie in the deepest, darkest chambers of her heart.

Oh if she’d just take just a moment to analyze her guilt and uncover the truth. That she’d come to realize the guilt is not from God. For He doesn’t give guilt.

Yeah… my hope this year, at Christmas time, is that the woman who needs to know the truth will know it. That fear and guilt is rooted in a lie. I pray she comprehends darkness does not have to be her truth any longer. For God is a giver of light. And life.

For He gave the ultimate Christmas gift over two thousand years ago when He gave His one and only Son.

May the woman who walks in darkness realize this most amazing truth…

For unto her, a child is born.

Unto her, a Son is given.

Unto her! God gave it all. May she grasp the gift that was given on her behalf and finally, finally, get it. No, God is not a taker, after all. He is a giver. And because He gives, she can, too.

Oh, may she get it. And may I get it, too. Finally. Because not only do I write for her, but I write for myself.

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. Genesis 1:3-4

Yes, I’m hesitant to touch on darkness because I feel guilty. I know in my heart of hearts I shouldn’t feel black as night. Not now. Not ever. For God has given so much.

And my cynicism of the season in no way reflects the truth of the season. See, a sponge bath cannot convey in the least what lie at the heart of Christmas… or what lie at the center of God’s heart. In truth, there’s nothing I can buy off a shelf that compares to God’s gift.

Because Christmas is all about His gift. No present measures up to that. For unto us, a Son was given

And when the light of that truth sinks into a cold, dark heart, life is given. So instead of all the other pretty packages, maybe this year we can unwrap His gift. It’s the One wrapped in light.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of darkness, a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2

This Christmas, may we overcome the darkness that sometimes pervades the season. May we push those blues (or blacks) right out the door. Oh, that we would overlook all the trappings and recover the heart of Christmas. May we all really get it. Finally.

For God is a giver.

He gives and gives. May that inspire us more than anything else this Christmas. And may that be the One reason we give.

The Lampstand

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“Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket or under a bed? Isn’t it to be put on a lampstand? For nothing is concealed except to be revealed, and nothing hidden except to come to light. Mark 4:21-22

My sister-in-law had a pastor who used to say, if you’re not doing anything for the cause, then take down your Christian flag. I understand what he means here. He’s saying that if the way you live your life doesn’t align with Christ, then don’t fly your flag. Don’t proclaim that you’re His if what you do brings dishonor to His name. Because your testimony will leave an impression on someone. Good or bad. How we decide to conduct ourselves will touch another’s life in some form or fashion. Each action we take through the course of our lives makes up our testimony. Our lives are our witness.

And there have been several times that I’ve questioned what I’m doing here. See, I am a woman. And I am overly sensitive (my husband can attest to that). I will take what someone says to me, and analyze it, and stew on it… and if it doesn’t jibe right – then I let it get me down. If I take a remark as criticism, I begin to doubt what I’m doing. And so, today, I wonder… Am I doing the right thing here? Because if you were to read through all the posts I’ve written, quite a few pertain to struggle. And I wonder – does that honor my Lord? Or, am I bringing dishonor to His name. Am I His credible witness? Or should I take down my Christian flag because my life just doesn’t align with His. I wonder…

I’ve titled this spot “The truth about God & me.” And I think in the very beginning, there may have been some “fluff.” I’d have to go back and read to be certain, but you know, there are some places you just don’t want to go. Some things may be better left alone… skimmed over or ignored. Because as a Christian, shouldn’t your life reflect nothing but light and glory and victory and peace and goodness and love? As a Christian, shouldn’t your light be shining bright to point out all the good there is in following Christ? As a Christian, shouldn’t your life be chock full of the fruits of the Spirit? But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22

The truth is, there should be. As a child of God, I should be loving and joyful and peaceful and patient and kind and all that other stuff. But you know what… I’m not there yet! I emphasize yet. I believe this is the whole point of my blogging. See, I’ve heard some phenomenal testimonies in my time. I have heard stories of those who found Jesus, and they did a complete 180, and they haven’t been the same since. And that’s wonderful. But sadly, this is not so with me. I am a Christian woman, I have no doubt. But the truth is, I hold to my old stuff. For the flesh is hard to overcome. My testimony is one of struggle, for I battle idols and hatred and strife and jealousy and selfish ambitions and factions among many other things. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Romans 7:19.

There’s a line from a movie that I like… there sits a man in the witness stand and an attorney hammers him, demanding the truth. Jack Nicholson’s voice rings out, “You can’t handle the truth!” Truth. It’s what we all want, right? Truth. It’s what can set one free. Truth. It’s what God demands of His people, for He desires truth in inward parts. Psalm 51:6. The 100% truth about God & me is that I struggle. And there are places that I cannot go yet in writing about Him. For I haven’t made it there yet.

A brother in Christ exhorts me to get the Bride mentality. But I can’t yet. Because the head knowledge has not made it to my heart yet. At least with regard to my being loved and cherished as a precious bride. I know He loves me, for His word tells me so. But for now… today… I have experienced God in other ways. He is my Heavenly Father, and He provides for me. I’ve experienced this. He is my wonderful Counselor and He guides me. I have experienced this. He is the still voice and speaks, for I have experienced this. He has a plan for my life. I know. I’ve experienced His hand maneuvering the seconds and minutes of my day. But cherished… by God? My head says yes, but my heart registers it not.

Another truth? I fancy myself a prophet. Because I love to proclaim God’s word and I want to encourage others. And for the longest time, I thought my mission was to proclaim freedom. But through the course of blogging, I had the shocking realization that I cannot do this! For how can one enslaved proclaim freedom? How can I help free captives when I am not free myself. Imprisoned by bars of my own making. Thus, I don’t feel free! And no doubt, I am not the only one. I am not the only one. I am not the only one. There are others… Christians… who have not experienced the freedom that is available to us through Christ. Why is that?

The truth about God & me, is I have far to go. And I am not the only one. Why fly this Christian flag of mine? Because I want women like me to know… there’s hope. I know my God is real. He speaks to me. He leads me. He provides for me. And I have no doubt that He’s leading me to that elusive freedom. He’s taking me by the hand and trying to convey to me how much he loves me. He’s been trying to show me this whole time. He wants me to know the truth. I can handle the truth. And the truth is, I’ve been bound. I am held by traditions and by rules and by regulations that were set forth by man long ago. I have been trying to adhere to all the things I think I should be doing… but Galatians 5 is clear. Christ has liberated us into freedom. Do not submit again to the yoke of slavery, for you are called to freedom!

The truth about God & me is that I am bound to law. But according to Galatians 5:14, the law can be fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. And I’ve read that love covers a multitude of sin. Love and freedom. That’s what I want. I’m seeking it with all my heart, but for some reason, it eludes me. And from what I understand, it’s there for the taking. It’s free. This is part of my struggle. But you know what? I found something precious through God’s word not long ago… it gives me great hope.

The boy Samuel served the LORD in Eli’s presence. In those days the word of the LORD was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread. One day Eli, whose eyesight was failing, was lying in his room. Before the lamp of God had gone out, Samuel was lying down in the tabernacle where the ark of God was located. Then the LORD called Samuel, and he answered, “Here I am.” 1 Samuel 3:1-3

Samuel served the LORD, but at first, he never had a personal word from God. See, his mother had prayed for that boy, and she promised that if she gave birth, she’d give that boy to God. And so, Samuel was committed to the LORD before he even really knew Him. He began to serve because that’s what he was brought up to do. And as he lie near the ark of God, he heard a voice. It was God, but Samuel didn’t even recognize who was calling. Here is a boy who had been in service of the LORD, but he didn’t even know God’s voice when it came. But God didn’t stop after one time…

To me, this is a picture of us today. I think we begin doing and serving before we even know why we’re doing what we do. I think we take on tasks that we perhaps are not even meant to do. Because we haven’t heard from the LORD yet. We haven’t heard His call. And because we can become so distracted by busyness, we further alienate ourselves from Him. We bypass relationship with our Creator because we just get too busy. And His voice is a still, small voice. In our noisy lives, can we hear Him when He calls? Will we even recognize His voice amidst the clamor we encounter every day…

Why do I fly my flag if I’m so flawed? Maybe it’s because of the passage of 1 Samuel. Because within those verses, I see light. I see hope. There’s power in those words… Before the lamp of God had gone out. See, the lamp was still lit when God called to Samuel. And if we’re His, we have God’s lamp inside. It’s lit. There are those who have encountered the fullness of God’s love and their blaze is burning bright. And there are those who have broken free of the prison of their own making, and their flame beckons others to follow. But for some… there may only be a pilot light. And the good news is, the lamp of God has not gone out. There’s still time. And in my walk with God, I think this is me. There may only be a pilot light burning right now, but the truth is… it’s still on.  No, I am nowhere near where I should be. But I am on my way. I am on my way. That’s why I fly my flag. Because… I am not the only one. No, I am not the only one. And that’s encouraging to me. I am not the only one…

We have his light in us. Some shine more brightly than others. But in a dark world, just a spark will do.

… and her lamp never goes out a night. Proverbs 31:18

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=light+of+mine+&qpvt=light+of+mine+&FORM=VDRE#view=detail&mid=7AEE361A71CF83429B977AEE361A71CF83429B97

A Tale of Two Kitties

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I may or may not have two cats. One is safe in the house, but the other is nowhere to be seen. It was yesterday at 5:00 that he lay stretched out across my deck in the sunshine. He slowly washed his paws and looked as if he were going to take a nap. And, we left our home expecting to see him when we returned. But last night, there was no flash in the dark… no reflected light off his white tufts of fur. He did not bound up the back yard toward us, which was his usual routine. And so, this morning, my heart is heavy – wondering if I will see him again.

I can’t help but contrast my two kitties, Otis and Molly. For they are different in every way. Otis is young, and Molly is old. Otis is skinny and Molly is fat. He is full of life and energetic, and she is heavy and content to sleep. He delights us every day with his antics, while she is usually nowhere to be seen. He stays outside, and she stays inside. He is a lover of adventure, and she is a lover of the dark. He is highly visible, jumping and leaping and hunting and climbing. She stays covered and hidden and scurries and flees. He is fearless and she is fearful. Basically, Otis uses what he has, and Molly does not. And as of this morning, she is here… and he is not.

Yesterday morning, my pastor preached a sermon using the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25). And believe it or not, it’s my two kitties that bring this parable to light for me. See, although the passage stresses using money wisely to further the kingdom of God, it goes deeper than that. It doesn’t have to be money, it could be anything… the abilities and the talents and the gifts that God has bestowed upon us. And it was Matthew 25:29 that nearly knocked me over yesterday. Because it happens to be identical to a verse I pointed out to my husband earlier that morning – only it was Mark 4:25. “For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”  I told my husband, we need to embrace what we have! Little did I know that I would be hearing more about it at church. And I didn’t realize how personal the sermon was going to be… a message from God directly to me.

He also said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket or under a bed? Isn’t it to be put on a lampstand? For nothing is concealed except to be revealed, and nothing hidden except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, he should listen!” Then He said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear. By the measure you use, it will be measured and added to you. For to the one who has, it will be given, and from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” Mark 4:21-25

This morning, I wanted to see if Mark 4:25 is the same parable that I find in Matthew 25. But it’s not… and it’s the passage in Mark that really brought all this together for me. The parable in Matthew along with the book of Mark completes the picture, and what I find is Molly. She is truly a night-time kitty. Occasionally, you’ll find her during the day, but more often than not, when the sun rises… she’s gone. She’s just too skittish. Years ago, her favorite refuge was our bed. All you could see of her was a lump in the center where she had burrowed down deep under the covers. She stayed hidden. And today, you may catch a glimpse of her tail as she scurries down the steps to the basement. Or maybe if you peer under the beds, you’ll find her shining eyes staring back at you. Or perhaps you’ll find her in her newest hang-out, which we discovered recently when we heard a racket behind the closed doors of our closet. Yes, Molly is a lover of darkness, and will stay hidden most of the day. But, she is making progress. When it’s just me at home, she may venture out into the daylight. But generally, I’ll see her once the sun has set and quietness has settled on our home. This is when she emerges and graces me with her presence. And when I see her, I am delighted by her black fur, her huge eyes, and her big fat belly that nearly touches the ground, swaying back and forth as she scampers from here to there. She’s 14 years old now, so she hasn’t kept her sleek physique. The picture of her is from long ago…

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You know… I talk about Molly being a lover of the dark, but in reality, I am the same way. In truth, I have been clinging to the dark every bit as much as she does. I know this to be reality because not that long ago, God showed me something so hideous. Actually, it was just after I made the decision to take a break from blogging. I thought I knew why I was taking a step back, but now, I’m pretty sure I hadn’t a clue. For there was something within me I wasn’t fully aware of at the time. See, on August 1, I said to myself, no more writing! But it was not till August 2 that God revealed what lie beneath…  and that is what needed to come to the surface. For as the Lord says, nothing is concealed except to be revealed, and nothing hidden except to come to light…

Through the course of my blogging experience, I have often referred to my struggle with darkness. I’ve surreptitiously referred to it as an issue, a pattern, or even a stronghold – always careful – always tiptoeing around the word sin. But sin is sin, and darkness is darkness, and the pages of Scripture leave no trace of doubt in my heart:

The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness, walks in darkness, and doesn’t know where he’s going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. 1 John 2:9-11

This is the truth about God & me. I love Him the best I know how. I have been seeking Him the best I know how. But there is a part of me that I’ve been holding back… clinging to the hate that resides deep down. I have been stoking the fire for years. And as long as I hold to hate… there will be darkness. This is what I’ve been trying to process for the past three weeks. And for the life of me, some stuff remains in my heart. I’m trying… I really am. And so, I am like Molly… my black kitty who is a lover of the shroud of darkness. She hides out and runs away. She stays concealed, because it’s safe to her. The bulk of her life has been spent in darkness. And me, too…

And then there’s Otis. I don’t know that he’ll return to me and my heart aches. But you know… in one short year, he has lived a full life. He has lived so much more than Molly, for he has experienced a world she will never know. This cat called Otis has embraced life. He has let his light shine in view of anyone who would give him audience. He used what God gave him… with claws as sharp as needles, he scaled great heights and saw further than Molly ever will. With legs as fast as lightning, he covered distances that Molly will never know. With courage the size of Texas, he explored the wilderness behind our home… woods in which Molly will never travel. With the fury of a skilled hunter, he took down countless foes and laid them as gifts upon our doorstep. Otis was a burning lamp, and he did not hide his light under a basket. He used what he had. And Molly? Why, she hides herself away, nestled down in the safety of her darkness – which is her only reality. Molly may never embrace the light, but Otis fully did.

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And then, there’s me. I am a work in progress. So much like Molly, but with all my heart, I want to be like Otis. Like him, I want to embrace the light. I want to shine the light. And more than anything, I want to use what God gave me. And so, not long ago, I ventured out. But too quickly, like a scared animal, I tucked my tail up under my body and retreated back into hiding. But alas, there are truths that must be shared. There are things within me that must come out. For they’ve been there so long – buried deep, festering and brewing and bubbling in the dark. But like a volcano erupts forth in violence, so has my heart. And ever since, the lava of wrath has been pouring forth – emptying itself so that no darkness remains. Everything I thought better hidden… everything that held me captive… has finally presented itself to the light. See, I have been chasing the light. I’ve been writing about it, and reaching for it. And now, I can really see…

I thought that morning light had fully broken over my soul. But like one who emerges from the heaviness of sleep, I rub my tired eyes and face the truth. And now I know… what I thought was the fullness of morning light was really just the faintest glimmer of the dawn. But morning light is on the horizon. The darkness of hate shall be left behind. And Otis? He may turn up yet. For he may be out there right now… simply using what God gave him to use… a lamp shining bright.

Everything exposed by the light is made clear, but what makes everything clear is light. Therefore it is said: Get up, sleeper, and rise up from the dead, and the Messiah will shine on you. Ephesians 5:13-14

In the light

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From one man He has made every nation of men to live all over the earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live, so that they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. Acts 17:26-27

I’ve written extensively about the Summer/early Fall of 2010. Because as far as my relationship with God goes, that time period was a turning point. And all the years leading up to then brought me to that appointed time and place. It was in Pinehurst, NC, when I really turned to Him. Heart, mind and soul. It was a time when I sought God fervently. I threw myself into His word desperately seeking God. But alas, I turned away too quickly. And here I am today. And now, in my new boundaries, I again am desperately seeking God. And so, I live out Acts 17:27. See, in reaching out and seeking God, I found Him. And the truth about God & me is… well, in finding God, I also found myself. Because I approached Him, and I stepped into light. His light. And so, everything exposed by the light is made clear, for what makes everything clear is light (Ephesians 5:13). In seeking the truth about God, I also find the truth about myself. Thus, darkness.

Micah 7:8 is such a beautiful verse. It moves me. BUT, if I go just a bit further – things become clear.

Do not rejoice over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will stand up; though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light. Because I have sinned against Him, I must endure the LORD’s rage until He argues my case and establishes justice for me. He will bring me into the light; I will see His salvation. Micah 7:8-9

Yes, there lies the truth about my darkness. There lies the truth about God & me. And isn’t that the whole point of this blog. Telling the truth. For whatever He tells me in the dark, I shall speak in the light. Whatever I hear in a whisper, I shall proclaim on the housetops (Matthew 10:27). See, I can color it any way I want to… issues, patterns, habits, strongholds… but when it comes down to it, a sin by any other name is still a sin. This is what has been revealed to me… in the dark. All of this is beginning to make sense now. In February, start a blog (me… a blog… crazy!) And I thought that perhaps the blog would be what I had previously written… that they may know. But soon into this writing endeavor, it was clear that I had to look back. I had to go the way I came… and not that they may know, but that I may know. That I may know. The truth.

Set up road markers for yourself; establish signposts! Keep the highway in mind, the way you have traveled. Return, Virgin Israel! Return to these cities of yours. How long will you turn here and there, faithless daughter? For the LORD creates something new in the land – a female will shelter a man. Jeremiah 30:21-22

Yes, go back… the way I traveled. And that’s what I’ve been doing. Retracing steps… the steps that led me to Him in the first place. And what I see clearly is perpetual sin. See, when God shows you something about yourself – over and over and over and over again – that you should turn from, but you don’t… well simply, that’s sin. That’s dwelling in sin. And it’s a choice. And my life is proof positive that the result of choosing sin is darkness. How funny. How often I’ve written about the darkness and depression that surrounds me, and holds me, but I just didn’t know why. Well, He shows me. He has shown me. Over and over again. Through His word. And I can turn this way and that until finally, finally… I relent. And then, I repent. There’s that word. A touchy word, right? No one wants to hear it. But, it’s what the prophets of old proclaimed. It’s what John the Baptist shouted when he prepared the way for Christ, and it was the first thing our Lord and Savior preached when He began His ministry. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near! How lovely to hear that it has come near. He is near, God is near. For in Him we live and move and exist (Acts 17:28). It’s in the 17th chapter of Acts that I read, “God now commands all people everywhere to repent.”

Darkness, desert land, dry land, wilderness wandering… yes, I can color it any way I please, but if I want to tell the truth about God & me (and I do), then my darkness comes from my sin. This is my truth. But as the prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of darkness, a light has dawned.” Yes, morning has broken on my path, and all things are made clear. And I am tired and weary. So tired… of myself. He’s told me over and over again, go beyond me. And yet, I’ve stayed right here in my own little hole with perhaps a little too much introspection (it can make you selfish, you know). And I’ve still not turned to Him… to what He’s told me to do. And so, there lies the key to my darkness. It’s sin. And I am ready to turn from it. Because I don’t want to dwell in the darkness anymore. And this is what repentance is… turning from what you know you shouldn’t do (the darkness), and turning to Him and what He says to do (the light).

It was not long ago that I thought, “a woman shall encompass a man.” It’s referenced above (Jeremiah 30:22)… “A female will shelter a man.” This is Jesus. Mary carried Him in her womb, and he was birthed into the world. God in the form of man. And the Son of Man walked perfectly… a blameless man. He was tempted in every way that we are, and yet, He knew no sin. And yet, He took on all sin. That’s the whole point of the cross. The cross is the biggest turning point in one’s life, because it was there that Jesus took on the sin of the whole world. He died for that sin so we wouldn’t have to. And do you know what happened? From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over the whole land. As Jesus hung on that cross, cloaked in our sin, the darkness covered the land. He cried out, “My God, My God, why have forsaken Me?” See, God cannot look upon sin. But then, when Jesus finally died carrying our sin to the grave, the veil in the temple was split into – from the top to the bottom. It was this veil that separated the priests from the Holy of Holies. It was that most inner sanctuary of the temple that housed the ark of the covenant, and the mercy seat. It was there that God’s presence would appear. But, upon Jesus’ death, the veil was split. In so doing, through Jesus, we have direct access to the Holy of Holies. And His light.

Jesus took our sin to the grave. And we can be forgiven that sin. But first, we must turn from it. We must repent. In so doing, we exit the darkness and enter His light.

“This, then, is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who practices wicked things hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed. But anyone who lives by the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be shown to be accomplished by God.” John 3:19-21

In the dark

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I’m not sure how many more blogs there will be. Because it seems as if this blog has been a journey. And perhaps at some point and time, I may actually find my way. I’ve had that feeling several times now. Once, I even typed up a “Gone Fishin'” blog, and was ready to “hang it.” But, more words came. And I guess the reason I mention a possible ending is because of all the darkness. I keep going back to “dark times.” But you know, I think I already know the answer to the darkness. I’m quite sure God has told me what to do about that. But oddly, I see ahead to more twists and turns of this blog. And as I’m being led along, it appears that I’m in a holding pattern of sorts… for now. See, the light shines and beckons me. And if I can just make it there, I’ll be okay. I creep closer and closer, and drag myself to the edge of light, but then something sends me off in another direction. Delayed.

You know, I wrote a book in the fall of 2011. It’s my story… all about God & me. And at first, it was titled, “From Darkness to Light… that they may know.” But the funny thing was, the light was still out of reach. Because on the heels of writing it, I sank to such a depth of darkness, it took some time to rise above it. And so, it was last summer that I rewrote my story. As a matter of fact, I believe it was in July… one year ago. And so, the second draft was called, “My True Deliverance… Wilderness Wanderings of a Modern Day Woman.” And here I am today, still writing my story. But this time, through blog format. And what’s apparent to me today is that I’m still walking in the dark. And despite my best efforts, I persist in wandering through the desert. And so, I wonder. Perhaps what I originally thought was an offering to God… a standing stone to memorialize what He has done for me… is actually my “Farewell.” Because I am writing about what’s closest to my heart and mind. It’s everything that’s important to me… and it’s what I want for my son, and for my family, and for my friends to know. It’s everything I would want to pass on to those I care the most about. My fare ye well, so to speak.

This is what the LORD says: Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind, who makes human flesh his strength and turns his heart from the LORD. He will be like a juniper in the Arabah; he cannot see when good comes but dwells in the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land where no one lives. Jeremiah 17:5-6

Do you know what the Arabah is? It’s desert. And this is such a picture of me. For there is still this part of me that places my trust in human flesh. There is still part of me that turns from God. And so help me, I cannot see the good when it comes. I have been dwelling in a parched place, a lonely place, a dark place… but it’s really my own doing. But you know what. I feel more hopeful right now than I have in a long while. I feel the stirrings of revival down deep in my soul. And I can sense the warmth of His light filtering through haze. Yes, hope is taking root. And it’s good.

You know… God called His people out of Egypt. He delivered them from slavery, and made Moses their leader. And after a dramatic deliverance from the Egyptians through the Red Sea, God led His chosen people through the desert on a journey to the land of promise. And at first, the people sang praises to God. But it only took a few days before praise turned to complaint. And then, complaint turned to distrust and disobedience, which kept them wandering the desert for 40 years. And it was through their wilderness wanderings that the children of Israel discovered just how much they needed God.

And then… there’s me. I felt that God delivered me from a place I didn’t want to be, and led me directly into my promised land of Virginia. But in looking back, I can see what really happened. For the footsteps that led me to my hometown really deposited me into the middle of a desert land. Because that’s how I’ve been living the past three years. I’ve been dwelling in a parched land, despite being in the very place I wanted to be more than anything. I could not see the good when it came. And so, praise turned to complaint, and then to distrust, followed up by disobedience to God! And thus, I am in the dark. And thus, God feels distant. And so, it’s here… in the midst of my wandering that I realize the truth. I know how very much I need Him. Because nothing else will work. Nothing. Because when you’re in the dark, well, quite obviously… you need a light. Eventually, you simply get tired of walking blindly.

And here’s the best part… I once was blind, but now I see. And because my sight is restored, I finally realize… there’s purpose to this darkness. See, if I never experienced the dark, how would I ever recognize the light? And the darker the days, the brighter His light burns. And so finally, this wretched soul can see. Because there is light… His light. And because His light is within me, I find that my dark is not so dark after all. And I finally understand that God has been here with me this whole time. Not just in the good times, but also in the center of the storms. He’s here in the midst of the darkness… right here with me… simply waiting for my eyes to adjust.

All the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain surrounded by smoke. When the people saw it they trembled and stood at a distance. Moses responded to the people, “Don’t be afraid, for God has come to test you, so that you will fear Him and will not sin.” And the people remained standing at a distance as Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. Exodus 20:18, 20

The people feared the thunder and lightning. The dark smoke intimidated them, and so they stood at a distance. But not Moses… He knew it was God. He knew God’s nature, and did not fear the storm. And so Moses went forward… and approached the thick darkness where God was. God was in the darkness. And so, when I have those moments, I must remember. He’s with me… in the dark. And there’s purpose. It’s so that I’ll really see Him. Because when I’m at my darkest, His light shines the brightest. This is when I need Him the most.

And so, like Moses, I shall not fear the storm. Because I know God is in the midst of it. And the purpose of the dark is so that I’ll learn to trust Him. Because when I’m at my darkest, it’s then that I realize nothing else will do. Nothing but Him. Because I need Him, I’ll turn to Him. His light will draw me. For God does not intend for His children to walk in the dark. No, He calls them out of the darkness… into light.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of the darkness into His marvelous light. 2 Peter 2:9

So, what have you got?

If you’re alive and walking God’s green earth, then He has a plan for you… His thoughts are of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. And sometimes, that’s just hard to imagine. We look at our small lives, and wonder how in the world the God of all creation could possibly have a custom-made plan for each of us. Because we simply cannot fathom how we can be of any use to Him. We may even think, “I have positively nothing to offer.” Because times are hard, right? And the cost of living is rising. And because we’re so busy, time has become a commodity. Since we feel constraint, perhaps we hold back. But I know in my bones that holding back cannot be part of God’s custom-made plan. And as such, with regard to contributing to God’s kingdom and His plan, I just have to ask myself a question. I’ll pose the same to you. “So, what have you got?”

I can speak only for myself here, but at the basest level, I have me. And I have a pulse. And because I am living and breathing, I have God-given life. At the very least, I have that, right? And so, indeed, I possess life. And God has placed me strategically on this earth… for His purpose and His plan. He wants me to use what I have, which is life.

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness”- He has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ. Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who live are always given over to death because of Jesus, so that Jesus’ life may be revealed in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you. 2 Corinthians 4:6-12

So I see. I am but a clay jar housing life, but also, so much more. Because inside, there is light and knowledge of God’s glory, and the face of Jesus through His death and His life, and God’s power. And I have spirit… the Spirit. All of this is contained within me, an earthen vessel, to be used for God’s glory. But He doesn’t want me to keep this treasure to myself, for it’s to be shared.

“The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.”       John 7:38

God wants for me to lavishly pour out these treasures, so that they splash onto and into the clay jars surrounding me. Because what I possess should be doled out freely… until everyone I come into contact with is drenched. I can be emptied, poured out as a drink offering, without the fear of drying up. Because the Spirit is endless. And I believe. And so, this is what I have… a river within me, and there are those who thirst.

There’s the story about a woman who lived long ago. We find her in the fourth chapter of 2 Kings. She was near the end of her rope. Her husband died, her debt had mounted, and finally, the creditors were coming to take away her two children as payment. And so, she did the only thing she knew to do… she approached the man of God. And Elisha asked her, “What can I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” She said there was nothing… nothing, but a jar of oil. But whereas she saw only need, Elisha saw opportunity. He told her, “Go and borrow empty containers from everyone… from all your neighbors. Do not get just a few. Then go in and shut the door behind you and your sons, and pour oil into all these containers. Set the full ones to one side.” And that’s what she did…

Long ago a woman filled empty jars with oil until there were none left. And that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do today. See, God fills us – His clay jars – with His own oil. We have the Holy Spirit. And He can fill us to the brim. He can pour into us until there’s no more room and we’re overflowing. Because the Holy Spirit is not a commodity… Its supply is limitless. And so, now, when we contemplate the question, “So, what have you got?” We can answer… We have a river. And it flows from deep within… streams of living water.

Yes, God has a purpose and a plan… for you, and for me. We are His earthen vessels, each one made to be filled. Until there are none left…

A Bowl Girl

“Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause you to hear my words.” Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. “Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand…” Jeremiah 18:2-4 and 6

About seven or eight years ago, my husband and I visited a town called Seagrove, which is known for its pottery. We spent several hours there visiting shop after shop and admiring all the different vessels. Before visiting Seagrove, I never gave much thought to pottery… I just thought bowls. But in Seagrove, I saw a treasure of urns, jugs, pitchers, soap dispensers, plates, platters, and cups, among other earthenware. Each shop housed a myriad of vessels, each one a different shape and size, each one varying slightly in color or texture. No two were exactly alike. And that’s what makes pottery special. Each piece is unique and not to be duplicated. Kind of like us… God’s own earthenware.

Although I was faced with many beautiful pieces that day in Seagrove, I selected a bowl. See, I’m a bowl girl and I simply adore them… all shapes, all sizes. When we were first married, I received several sets, but I didn’t part with any of them. Because to me, there’s something satisfying about the way a bowl looks. I have so many today, but my favorites are the old and scarred ones. I have several pieces of Fire King that remind me of my grandmother. I also have a couple of white bowls that belonged to her, and those are my favorites. Although the white ones are the most simple, and have not a spark of color, they are dearest to me because I remember how my grandmother filled them with sausage gravy. Just like pottery, her sausage gravy cannot be duplicated… hers was unique.

There were a lot of flashy, bright bowls in Seagrove, but I chose a more subdued one… kind of deep brown overlaid with olive green, and almost unrecognizable is turquoise peeking through. And what I really love about this bowl is how it shimmers and gleams in the sunlight. At first glance, the bowl looks drab, but upon closer inspection you see the glimmer. However, it has to be in the light to shine. And you know what I did? At first, it was displayed on my sofa table. I thought it was pretty and wanted to showcase it. And where it was, it did catch some light. But basically, it just sat there… lifeless. A few years later, it was packed away into a box and kept in storage for close to a year. When it was unearthed, I again put it on display. With each move, I used that bowl as a decoration… a piece of knick-knack. And so, over time, it lost its appeal. It became part of the lay of the land around my house. I didn’t really admire it anymore. Finally, it was relegated to the top of my fridge. Still on display, high and lofty… but in the shadows of the room. There, it caught no light.

Just a few months ago, I decided to get that bowl down from its high place. See, to me it had lost its sparkle and shine. It wasn’t as special anymore, and so I decided to use that bowl for what it made for. I actually put it on my counter where it humbly housed fruit… it became serviceable. And so I was surprised when my cousin admired it in its lowly state. She even had to pick it up and peer closely at how the flecks of light sparkled in the sun. And it caused me to take a second glance. Because I had forgotten the shine. It was a dust catcher for so long, I forgot how beautiful the bowl really is. And what strikes me today is that unless I brought that bowl down off that high place where it used to be, it never would have caught the light. It would have been high, but in the dark. It would have stayed dull and unappealing. But that bowl, when low, really shone.

You know, that bowl went through a lot to look like it did. There was a process it endured not only to make it shine, but also to make it serviceable.  First came a drying period. A kiln used low temperatures to dry out the ceramic, and remove all of the water before the final firing. When the vessel was ready, the kiln used higher temperatures and a process called burnout. The kiln was heated to such a temperature that all the impurities were burned away. The next process was sintering, which means the particles of ceramic bonded to each other… the bowl became structurally stronger. That process actually changed the particles of the ceramic from clay into finished ceramic. The final stages of making the ceramic bowl involved glazing. It’s when the piece became sealed and acquired a finished look. This process involved such high temperatures that the oxidation of the exposed ceramic increased so high that the quartz crystal structured with the ceramic actually melted and flowed together. Not a comfortable process, but it’s what makes pottery so beautiful. And it sounds downright painful in light of the fact that this is exactly what God does with us. But it’s this process that gives His vessels their shine.

“Woe to him who strives with his Maker! Let the potsherds strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ Or shall your handiwork say, ‘He has no hands’? Woe to him who says to his father, ‘What are you begetting?’ Or to the woman, ‘What have you brought forth?'” Isaiah 45:9-10

God is making each one of us into a vessel for His glory. And we can either let God have his way with us, or we can fight the process. And how much we struggle will probably determine the length of our stay in the kiln. It would probably be helpful if we could begin to understand what kind of vessel it is that He’s forming. Are we urns, filled with God’s living water ready to splash it onto whoever thirsts for eternal life? Are we soap dispensers, spurting out the truth that makes sinners clean? Are we platters, holding mounds of God’s word that nourishes the soul? Or are we bowls, teeming over with the fruit of the Spirit? In essence… how has He gifted us? Is He making us an evangelist, a teacher, a missionary… or something else?

Or perhaps what’s more important to understand is where we are in the process. Are we dry as we wander through the desert on a pilgrimage to Him? Or we in that burnout process, where our impurities are being purged? Are we becoming structurally stronger as we bond to Him? Have we been transformed yet, from clay to ceramic? Are we sealed by Him? Have we been brought through such high temperatures that our selfishness has melted away, leaving only godly desires flowing alongside His own? Have we made it to that final process where we are being glazed by His fire? If so, take heart… because we’re getting ready to shine.

The fact is we are all His vessels, created by Him for His purposes. He is the potter, and we are the clay. And once we know what we are, we can be used by Him. And He wants us to know. See, I’m a bowl girl. Or I hope to be. I hope that I can step down from my high place, and cease striving with Him. I pray that I will humbly let Him make me into whatever it is that He wants me to be. If I can do that, then He will place me on His countertop… for His service. And perhaps I’ll teem over with fruit… His fruit. And just maybe, parts of me will be lit up… just like that bowl that sits on my own countertop.

Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you… the LORD will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. Isaiah 60:1-2

Self-Serve

First comes faith… we have to believe that God is who He says He is and that He did what He said He did before we can go any further with Him. Without faith, it is impossible to please Him. And so we start there… with faith. But what next? How do we come to know God? He promised that if we sought Him with our whole heart, we would find Him, right? So quite naturally, we move on to the next step which is searching His word. Because within the pages of Scripture, we find Him. We learn about His character, about His nature, about His mighty acts. Through His word, we gain knowledge about God. That’s what I set my heart to do three years ago, and I pored through His word. In the fall of 2010, I veered off course for a while. But when I got back on track, I started searching His word with a fine tooth comb. I have a voracious appetite for His word, and it’s what sustains me. Jesus said that Man shall not live on bread alone, but from every word that comes from the mouth of God. He also declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

But within the past year, something has occurred to me. Oh, I have gained much knowledge, but what about my heart? Is it beginning to resemble His? If I’m going to be completely honest (and this is the truth about God & me), I have to say… “not so much.” Yes, I have a passion for His word. I love it. I want to read it, I want to share it and discuss it. I love His word. But what about Him? Do I simply love Him, as I am so commanded? And what about His people? Do I love them as He tells me to? Those are the greatest commandments. Jesus said to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… that’s the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself. Well, as I examine my heart, I have to say I am not quite doing this. I am trying to love God the best I can… I am loving him with my mind, with the knowledge I’ve gained. But my heart? God help me, it’s not a heart of flesh yet. It’s still somewhat stony, because there are people all around me that I can be loving in tangible ways… but unfortunately, I have not moved beyond my comfort zone to reach out. I have not truly extended my hand to those in need.

I’ve referred to darkness that surrounds me… darkness that I can fall into quite easily. Well, I guess that would be called depression and I go there at times for no apparent reason. And with my mind, and all the knowledge I’ve gained, I’ve tried to fix this problem. But to no avail. I even fasted this past January for 21 days. Not from all food, but particular foods. See, I wanted it to be a spiritual thing, and for those 21 days I purposed certain issues to God. One of those issues being my darkness. But you know… even that spiritual thing turned into something for me. Because I lost weight, and I liked that. And so, the spiritual fast turned into multiple trips to the scales. That wasn’t for God. And in hindsight, I have to wonder if God prompted the fast at all. Because the truth is He already told me how to escape this darkness. It was in the fall of 2011 when I saw a passage of Scripture that so moved me I immediately copied it onto an index card and placed it in plain view for a while. But you know, I don’t think I ever acted on it. Because I still live in darkness. And I still fail to move beyond the comfortable nest of my home and church. This is what God said through Isaiah 58:6-10:

“Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you: the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday.”

What is apparent to me is that I have been living selfishly. I have been serving myself heaping helpings of God’s word, gobbling it down and savoring every word, but then… I am the only one nourished by it. I’ve grown fat on God’s words, and feel pretty good about all this knowledge I’ve gained. I’ve sacrificed hours of my time seeking Him, reading His word and praying. I tithe and give money to World Vision. I’m doing everything I should be, right? Wrong. I follow the rules and keep my hands clean. This makes me a Pharisee and a hypocrite. Because I have neglected the weightier matters of God’s word… justice and mercy and faith. Jesus said to go and learn what this means… “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” And I believe this is what He wants for me to learn. Because until I can learn this, healing will elude me. He tells me… extend my soul. If I could just be an extension of Him, then my healing will spring forth speedily. If I could just move my eyes off of me, and onto those that surround me, my darkness will be as the noonday. See, He doesn’t want my sacrifices of tithes and prayers and Bible study. Not unless I can attend to the most simple, and yet weightier matters, too. Because these – mercy… justice… faith – ought to have been done without leaving the others undone. And let me not forget love. If I could just love as He did…. sacrificially.

I have a love for God’s word. And it’s through the study of His word that I know, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” And because of John chapter 1, I know, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” Jesus is the Word of God become flesh. If I love His Word, then I do love Him. The problem is all the self-serve I’ve been indulging in.

There’s not a thing wrong with studying God’s word. We’re commanded to. However, it should change us. And it will, if we let it. It will change us if we just do what He says to do. But what He says to do is challenging. Because it means removing ourselves from our bubbles of security. It means in addition to praying for ourselves, we pray for others. It means in addition to writing out checks, we go out there and meet with those who are in need. It means to not hide ourselves from our own flesh. We all have some of those family members, right? The ones who cause trouble… the ones who have so many problems it’s just easier to turn the other way. God tells us to love our neighbor, not just in word but in deed. He tells us to get out there and get dirty. And it’s then, and only then, that our healing shall spring forth speedily. It’s only then that our light shall break forth like the morning. Perhaps then, we will all shine bright in the dark… like Jesus did.