Blessed hunger

Copy of Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

My kitten, Sparkie, is loves to eat. He is always hungry, and will eat anything available. If a cat could be passionate about eating, Sparkie is. Nothing stands between him and a good snack. Case in point? Look what he did to my bag of potato chips earlier this week.

 

I was thinking about this verse from the beatitudes as I was doing the dishes a couple of nights ago. A dirty skillet with the some residual bits of beef barbecue (as we in Pennsylvania define it) was on the counter beside me. Soon, I heard the familiar thump of Sparkie’s paws as he landed on the counter, immediately setting to work licking out every last morsel of barbecue.  The only way to stop him was to yank the pan away from him. Even then, he tried to follow the tasty treat as I sunk the pan beneath the dishwater.

“You must be a hungry little dude,” I said to him, as he looked at me with those deer-in-the-headlights eyes of his.

It dawned on me that this stupid little animal just showed me what it meant to be hungry – so hungry that you sniff out the food, leap a height several times your own size to reach it, and stick with it until it disappears.

When was the last time I was that hungry for God? When was the last time I actively sought Him out, determined to stop at nothing until I found him? What obstacles have I overcome to grow closer to him or to seek out justice in his name? What have I done to make the words “on earth as it is in heaven” true? Have I been faithful in my efforts to follow him?

This is what it means to hunger and thirst for righteousness. It’s hungering after God and his righteousness in ways that I can’t even adequately describe. Maybe that’s why this post was so hard to write – until a kitten and his quest for just a taste of people food reminded me of the longing we should all have for the things of God.

 

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This post is part of this year’s #write31days challenge. Click here to see all of the posts. To learn more about the challenge, visit write31days.com.

Wednesday Selah: It Is Well (Bethel Music and Kristene DiMarco)

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There’s an interesting word interspersed among the Psalms. Here is one appearance:

He will receive blessing from the Lord
    and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
    who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah

Lift up your heads, O gates!
    And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
    that the King of glory may come in.

Psalm 24:5-7

Bibles that include the word in the text, such as the English Standard Version, often include a note that it is a word of uncertain origin, and may be a musical term. One concordance defined the term as a “pause.” Another defined it as “to lift up, exalt.”

Let’s take it at both. After diving back into the work week on Monday and racing through all the tasks that Tuesday brings, let’s take a pause on Wednesday and lift up the name of the only One who matters – Jesus.

This week, I chose a song that I haven’t been able to shake for the past few months. It Is Well is a powerful song from Kristene DiMarco and Bethel Music. You can hear her talk about the story behind the song in the video below.

There’s great truth when Kristene says, “To encounter the faithfulness of God is not always a comfortable thing.” When our lives are complacently swimming along, we tend not to think so much about God’s faithfulness. Still, he is there. He is faithful even when we are not.

And, those moments when we cry out to Him? You know those moments. They are anything but comfortable. Those are the moments we don’t even want to talk about. The ones that break open our souls and beg God to enter in.

Those are the moments when we need to remind ourselves that our eyes are on Him through it all.

If you haven’t heard the song before, watch Kristene sing it in the video below.

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This post is part of this year’s #write31days challenge. Click here to see all of the posts. To learn more about the challenge, visit write31days.com.

Blessed restraint

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.-2

We have an issue with meekness, as Christians. We’re just not sure what it is.

We confuse it with timidity, and deny a gift of God in the process. As 1 Timothy 1:7 (NLT) tells us, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”

Or, we think that to be timid we must be submissive. Submission is part of meekness, but it is submission to God not to the powers of the world.

Sometimes, we equate meekness with being tame or weak, but that is not what Jesus is suggesting when he says the meek will inherit the earth. The Greek word used here for “meek” is the same as word that is used to describe a horse that had been broken, suggesting power under control

In the 1700s, Matthew Henry wrote these words to describe meekness in his extensive commentary (emphasis mine):

The meek are those who quietly submit themselves to God, to his word and to his rod, who follow his directions, and comply with his designs, and are gentle towards all men (Titus 3:2); who can bear provocation without being inflamed by it; are either silent, or return a soft answer; and who can show their displeasure when there is occasion for it, without being transported into any indecencies; who can be cool when others are hot; and in their patience keep possession of their own souls, when they can scarcely keep possession of any thing else.

Henry’s words hold true today. We are meek when we submit to God, speaking calmly and firmly in the face of angry confrontation. Yet, we are also meek when we show proper anger in a way that does not make us cross over into sin. Think about Jesus whose anger at the abuse of the temple in Jerusalem sent doves flying, coins scattering and sheep running as he turned the tables in the court of the Gentiles.

That is the picture of power under restraint. Power that could have called down fire from heaven settled for making a whip out of cords to drive the sellers from the temple. Power that spoke the earth into being refused to call angels to his aid when he faced death on the cross.

This is meekness, and this is strength. When we find the place where our strength and our will meets submission to the power and plan of God, we are makarios.

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This post is part of this year’s #write31days challenge. Click here to see all of the posts. To learn more about the challenge, visit write31days.com.

Borrowed hair, Insta-friends and letting your light shine

Close up of a fountain in downtown Greenville. Yes, I was holding my phone over water.

Close up of a fountain in downtown Greenville. Yes, I was holding my phone over water.

Today was so much more at Allume.

More laughter from Chrystal Evans Hurst as she told her story of having borrowed hair (a wig, to put things in context), borrowed clothes and borrowed jewelry as she went onstage at an event to proclaim “I am a kingdom woman.” When it comes right down to it, that’s the defining characteristic of a kingdom woman, isn’t it? All we have is borrowed from God. Our kingdom work is our attempt to offering back to Him.

More insight from Logan and her publishing team. I’ve always known there was more to writing a book that research and putting thoughts to page. The team showed just how much work it takes over a long period of time. Writing, it seems, is as much patience in the process as it is arranging words in lovely sentences.

More creativity from Rachel in her afternoon session on showing God’s glory in Instagram. I loved my third trip into downtown Greenville with a group of Insta-friends as we chased light, pattern and color down Main Street.

And, I can’t forget more flavor from Tupelo Honey Café. I had to miss dinner because I had to be at the airport to catch a flight home, but a Charleston chicken sandwich with a side of mac and cheese almost made up for it.

IMG_4014Soon, I settled into a window seat on a flight north, where I would land in the dark at a temperature about 20 degrees cooler than the place I had left. As the plane banked to the right while on its ascent, I could see a quarter-moon shining above the lights of the city below. Each light is a house, a business, a place of worship. Each light has a story. From my perspective in seat 20D on United 3753 to Dulles, I could only guess at the stories.

God’s perspective is much higher and much closer at the same time. He doesn’t have to guess. He already knows our stories, and He has given all who walk with him a light. Jesus himself called us the “light of the world.” Each of our lights have story to tell – a unique story of how the Lord met us in the mess and of the beauty that is continually emerging from the ashes.

Somewhere there is someone aching to hear that story – your story. Don’t hide it. Declare it for the world. Let your light shine.

This is the second post about my weekend at Allume. Catch up on the first one here
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This post is part of this year’s #write31days challenge. Click here to see all of the posts. To learn more about the challenge, visit write31days.com.

Sunday Soundtrack: Uncluttered by Gwen Smith

It’s late, but it has been a busy day recovering from Allume. I’ll do a wrap-up post for day two of the conference tomorrow, but today I wanted to keep with the Sunday Soundtrack by sharing the music video for Gwen Smith’s song, Uncluttered. She sang this song on the first night of the conference. In some ways, it became a recurring theme throughout the event.

Sugared bacon, kindred spirits and Dust in the Wind

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It has been a full day. I’m sitting on an outdoor patio, having just returned from a quick walk of a block or two into downtown Greenville after dark. I couldn’t help myself. I loved North Main Street so much in the daytime I had to see the lights in the trees, hear the sounds of the musicians on the street and smell the temptation of an international array of foods coming from restaurants after the sun went down.

Allume has been everything I had hoped it would be. If you could label places as makarios, this would be one of those places. It started with Alisha Gordon opening my eyes to the danger of a single story in a whole new way right after a breakfast featuring a strange delicacy known as “sugared bacon.” We up North need to adopt that tradition right there.

Then, I met a kindred spirit in a session with Gwen Smith. My Sunday school class would be pleased to know I am not the only teacher who so loves diving into the word of God that they chase tangents. Her words on making first things FIRST may well be the major takeaway of the conference for me, as drenched in Scripture as they were.

Then, two more sessions on writing. Write fearlessly. Write truth. Write from brokenness, but don’t leave people there.

On a slightly warm fall afternoon, I walked five blocks down Main Street to a Falls Park on the Reedy. It’s a downtown park complete with waterfalls and a suspension bridge. An older man was playing Dust in the Wind on an unplugged electric guitar in a plaza at the entrance of the park. It seems like such an unusual choice for a street musician.

The falls were beautiful and busy as families ignored the posted signs prohibiting climbing on the rocks. One adventurous photographer climbed out into rocks at the very point at which the falls spilled over the edge. I watched him from Liberty Bridge, a suspension bridge spanning the Reedy River, spellbound by his adventurous spirit almost as much as I was annoyed that someone would act so recklessly.

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Downtime with my roommates – two wonderful women who were strangers a week ago and are friends now. Dinner. Silken-voiced Reeve Coobs singing old hymns and new worship songs to take us to the throne. Sara Hagerty reminding us how God adores us.

And now.

Now, I am along on a plaza filled with tables on green chairs. I hear the people at the restaurant and bar behind me. I see the cars going down Main Street. I watch people walking in groups.

And I wonder if they have seen God today as I have.

This is the first post about my weekend at Allume. Check out part two here.

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This post is part of this year’s #write31days challenge. Click here to see all of the posts. To learn more about the challenge, visit write31days.com.

Blessed mourning

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

If there is a single verse that shows the inadequacies of the English language when it comes to describing makarios, it is this one. “Blessed” isn’t quite perfect, but there are translations that use “happy” or “fortunate” to describe those who mourn.

Those were the last words I would have used to describe what it was like when I was moving through the fog of losing my mother nearly eight years ago. I am not a violent person, but I’m certain anyone who tried to use those words to comfort me would have seen more of my temper than maybe anyone ever has.

But, then I remember. I received many text messages in those few days from the teens in the youth group I led telling me they were praying for me. There was an inexplicable clarity in the decisions I had to make. Friends brought over part of their Christmas dinner, and neighbors gave us food to share with those who dropped by. We even managed to have a small Christmas Eve dinner. It was a little different than the big celebration Mom always had, but it was a time for us all to be together.

Those were simply the tangible acts of comfort. My Grandmother best summarized the intangible comfort we all felt. I can’t remember when she said it. I can’t remember why she said it. All I remember is that she said, “I don’t know how people get through this without Jesus.”

That’s what Jesus meant when he said those who mourn are blessed because they will be comforted. Trusting in him brings a peace in the midst of a storm that can simply not be explained.

This is where makarios becomes a stronger description than any word we have in English. One sense of the meaning speaks to finding fulfillment in the Lord despite outward circumstances.

We are makarios when we mourn over the loss of a loved one, or when we mourn over the darkness and sin of the world. Or, when we are broken or suffering or in pain. Jesus is there, and we are filled.

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This post is part of this year’s #write31days challenge. Click here to see all of the posts. To learn more about the challenge, visit write31days.com.

Saturday Shares: Shakespeare, the Bible and women leaders

I didn’t spend much time online this week so my list is a little short. They are categorized under heart, mind, soul and strength as outlined in this post – or they would be had I spent more time on the Internet this week.

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Soul

 

There’s something about classic literature that does my soul good, so to speak. I doubt I am alone in this. If you have about three hours to spare, pop over to the PBS website to watch David Tennant’s Hamlet from a few years back. It’s a stunning adaptation and will get you ready to go see Benedict Cumberbatch play the lead role when the current Barbican production is broadcast in theaters.

Mind

Chuck Lawless offers a simple Bible reading plan to get started:

Many of us overcommit to reading the Word when we first get started. We set our sights high (e.g., “I’ll read every day, and I’ll finish the Bible in one year, even though I’ve never kept that commitment before”) and then get discouraged the first time we miss a day. If you already know you’re unlikely to keep a commitment, start smaller. You’ll never read more until you at least read some.

Julia Mateer writes at Gifted for Leadership about the need to identify women with leadership potential:

Who recognized your leadership potential and put you into a position of influence? We all get into leadership because someone else saw our potential and helped us get there. Now we as leaders have the opportunity to do that for other women. We must identify women leaders so we can impact our communities with the full strength of the church.

 

 

Blessed emptiness

 

By StateofIsrael (Basilica of the Annunciation) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By StateofIsrael (Basilica of the Annunciation) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Jesus already had their attention.

By the time the crowds settled in on a Judean hillside to hear the first extended teaching of the New Testament, Jesus had called his disciples to follow him. He had started to proclaim the kingdom of God. He was healing diseases and casting out demons. He was teaching the people and calling them to repentance. As the fourth chapter of Matthew draws to close, we read that “large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.” (Matthew 4:25)

When Jesus saw the crowds, he sat down and began to teach. What comes next is a declaration of the characteristics of those who sought the kingdom he proclaimed. Some commentaries have called the declarations that have become known as The Beatitudes a manifesto of the kingdom.

And, it begins on a decidedly unexpected note.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.” Matthew 5:3

We have looked before at the word translated here as blessed. It is makarios. It’s a single word that encompasses the concepts of happy, content, balanced, harmonious and fortunate. It’s a word used of those who find fulfillment in God, and who know that fulfillment despite their outward circumstances.

But, who are the poor in spirit?

They are sinful – as we all are – and they know it. They are broken, empty people. They can offer nothing to the kingdom out of their own power, strength or intellect. They are, to use a phrase Jesus would later use, “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)

They are nothing, but they know the one who is everything. They may be broken and empty, but they know who heals and fills them. They know the simplest of offerings can be magnified. They are harassed and helpless but know the Shepherd.

The beginning of Jesus’ first major teaching starts with people who have come to the end of themselves. It comes to those who, like the Prodigal, have come to the Father declaring their unworthiness, but who have been invited to share in all the Father has.

For theirs, he promises, is the kingdom of heaven.

And please don’t miss the present tense in this promise. The kingdom of heaven isn’t a reward we seek as if it were the destination at the end of a long, painful journey. It is here. It is now. It is reaching into our lives every moment as we lean into the grace and mercy of the Lord himself.

Out of our emptiness, we are indeed blessed. Here. Now. No matter what.

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This post is part of this year’s #write31days challenge. Click here to see all of the posts. To learn more about the challenge, visit write31days.com.