Saturday, June 30, 2018

Fullness Overflowing from All Around (6-30-18)

I definitely have felt the "overflowing" of grace and goodness from so many encouraging podcasts and songs lately but somehow haven't been able to get myself to sit down and write about them. (Could it be that I enjoy too many other things about summer??) So I'm going to limit the intro and just get to the goodies! I hope you can find a little encouragement in some of these today as well...


** The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman, Episode 40: Keep Your Rest-- I have loved every single episode of Emily's podcast and how she helps "create space for your soul to breathe," but this one on rest hit a special place in my heart. Themes of Sabbath keep coming back to me over and over, and I appreciate how Emily reminds us that rest is something we need to keep and protect rather than feel as if we have to carve out and create. (P.S. I hope you'll listen to the podcast, but if you prefer to read instead, you can scroll through the post in the link above and then click on "download transcript" to read it rather than listen. She provides full transcripts for all of her episodes, which I love having to look back on as well.)

Others who have been speaking into my life on rhythms of rest and Sabbath lately include Shelly Miller with her blog, her Sabbath Society emails (it's not weird like it might sound, I promise!), and her book Rhythms of Rest.

I've also been following the Unhurried Living blog and podcast with Alan and Gem Fadling with their encouragement to "Rest deeper. Live fuller. Lead better."

And I'm currently reading Subversive Sabbath by A. J. Swoboda. I haven't finished it yet, so I can't speak for the entire book, but there have been several great insights so far.

** The Roundabout Way: Sermon by John Ortberg from Menlo Church-- I often can find myself asking God, "Are we there yet?" or "How much longer?" But John reminds us in this sermon from a series on "Made Perfect in Weakness" that God continues to give us grace even in the desert and along the roundabout way. (The link I shared goes to the sermon video, but you can also listen to the audio from Menlo.Church's podcast (go to the date of 6-10-18) if you prefer to multi-task and listen while driving, walking, cleaning, etc.)

** That Sounds Fun with Annie F. Downs, Episode 82: Christine Caine-- If you know anything about Christine Caine, you can imagine that this interview with Annie Downs is high-energy and power-packed with spiritual depth and truth. She shares about unexpected challenges in her personal life and in today's society but encourages us to move forward in faith and embrace the adventures God has for us.

** That Sounds Fun with Annie F. Downs, Episode 83: Andrew Peterson-- This was such a wonderful and deep interview, I think I might have to listen to it again. I love Andrew Peterson's heart and how it overflows in all he says and does. And it was so neat to hear his personal stories on the influence of Rich Mullins in his life and art, too.

Annie also talked with Andrew especially about The Sower's Song, which has been so powerfully meaningful to her. I've been listening to it on repeat now, too, encouraged by reminders that in order for something beautiful and healthy to grow, the ground must be broken open, the seed has to die to sprout into a plant, and branches must be pruned to bear good fruit. All of these are painful but necessary. And God's word never returns void.

More Music...

I've been enjoying worship music from United Pursuit for quite a while now thanks to a friend's recommendation, but I just ran across one of their older songs and have had it on repeat for the past couple of weeks.

Running in Circles by United Pursuit (featuring Will Raegan)

These lyrics definitely resonate with my heart--
I'm so forgetful,
but You always remind me
You're the only One who brings me peace.
Ah, yes. I'm grateful for how God keeps drawing me back to this truth.

Looking Back...

** Time is one of the most surreal things in grief, and it's hard to believe it's been four and a half years since my husband passed away. I've been thinking back to this post I wrote four years ago (at the six-month mark) for a couple of different reasons, and thought I'd share here as well:

In the Middle of the Mess (All This Glory)

I'm thankful for how God can work even in the most difficult circumstances to keep showing Himself to and through us.

** Another old post that has been on my mind lately for different reasons is one I wrote a couple of years ago called Something's Coming. It has been a good reminder that God often allows us to feel the lack of what's missing so we can better appreciate the provision He has in store for us that's coming. Re-reading it along with the scripture reference included from Revelation also has me looking forward to our sermon series on that book of the Bible starting this week, too!

Thanks for reading, friends! I hope you've been able to find a treasure to uplift your heart today. And remember to pause and give thanks to God, who is continually overflowing with grace upon grace out of His fullness. Enjoy the long summer nights while they last! And I'd love for you to share something that's been encouraging to you lately in the comments as well!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Fullness Overflowing from All Around (3-31-18)

The calendar says it's time for Easter and spring, but the weather has had us a little unsure lately. (There's even a chance of snow predicted for Easter Sunday evening!) But Good Friday provided a little respite from the rain, clouds, and more rain with a beautiful day of sunshine, so I couldn't resist a praise walk and a little extra time at the lake after a morning of prayer and communion at church... Thanking God for many blessings!

Here are a few encouragements that have been speaking into my life lately-- I hope you can find some that are touching to you as well.

For reading...

The Silence of Saturday by Max Lucado-- This post is a few years old, but I come back to it every Easter weekend. Because it seems there's always a quiet waiting we wish we could skip between death and resurrection...

For listening...

So many podcasts are feeding my soul right now, it's hard to narrow them down. I'm providing links below, but if you're new to podcasts, you might want to note that you can also use the podcast app on your phone to search for the podcast name and play it directly from there instead. That makes it easy to listen while driving, going for a walk, doing chores around the house, or whatever else you might find fitting. These episodes are definitely well worth the listen:

** That Sounds Fun Podcast (Annie F. Downs) with Tauren Wells-- Oh my goodness. Even if you aren't into music or don't know who Tauren Wells is, this podcast is filled with so much great conversation about a life of walking with God, navigating transitions, seeking His will, and more. I listened to it while driving but had to go back through part of it again later so I could take notes. Here are a few highlights:
  • Faith is doing what God has asked me to do before I see why He's asking me to do it.
  • Obedience in the process is more important than the destination.
  • Trust God with the pace... Rush always leads to ruin.
  • If I trust God with the pace, then I can actually live from rest, and I can get to the reward that God has promised me, which by the way is always Jesus.
Wow, so much timely truth for me to remember. But it's even better in context, and Annie is great at making conversational-style interviews so fun even as they're packed with deep insight, so I hope you can listen to the whole thing as well.

** That Sounds Fun Podcast (Annie F. Downs) with Cory Asbury-- Ok, another one from Annie Downs, but I can't leave it out, as this conversation is amazing, too! First of all, if you haven't heard Cory's song Reckless Love, be sure to click this link to check it out as well.
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending reckless love of God.
Oh, it chases me down, fights 'til I'm found. leaves the ninety-nine.
I couldn't earn it, I don't deserve it,
Still You give Yourself away.
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending reckless love of God.
Then you can listen to his interview with Annie Downs as he shares about his heart in worship, songwriting, parenthood, and so much more. (And messages about God's timing appear to be a theme for me lately...)

** The Glorious in the Mundane Podcast (Christy Nockels): An Easter Invitation-- Christy is one of my favorite worship leaders, as her heart for worship and relationship with God shines through everything she does. So I also love her podcast, where she shares stories from her life and devotional thoughts to help us see the glorious of the kingdom of God in the midst of the mundane in our everyday lives.

Her episode this week in preparation for Easter was especially touching to me in several ways. I loved her reminder as the seasons are changing that winter, while feeling void of life, can really be like a "cocoon of hope," preserving something valuable and waiting to reveal its beauty until just the right time. And her exhortation that "spring beckons, but winter says don't forget," resonates deeply with me as well. I'm almost afraid to say it "out loud," but in the depths of my heart, I'm sensing signs of spring in certain areas of my life after what has felt like such a long winter. I am so grateful and so prayerful, but I also want to never forget the lessons and grace God has shown me in the depths of winter. I kept pausing the podcast as I listened to Christy's sweet encouragement to relate it to my own life, thank God for His kindness and faithfulness, and seek Him in the season ahead.

Christy also shares much about the picture of abiding in Christ day to day. So often it seems for those of us who have come to Christ and received His grace for salvation, we then turn and try to live for Him by our own efforts as if it's something we can accomplish in our own strength. But she exhorts from Andrew Murray in Abide in Christ, "No, wandering one. As it was with Jesus who drew you when He said, 'Come,' so it is Jesus who keeps you when He says, 'Abide.' The grace to come and the grace to abide are both from Him alone."

I want to keep that reminder close to my heart, grateful for His grace to keep me in Him.

A little something fun...

I'm on the launch team for Bob Goff's new book, Everybody Always, so I'm getting a sneak peek at the first five chapters and am definitely loving it. If you've never read his first book, Love Does, I highly recommend it-- you'll wonder if anyone can really live like he does, but you also just might be inspired to live a "secretly incredible" life yourself in some way, too. (And if you've never read my post from his conference I attended, you can check it out here.)

If you'd like to preorder Everybody Always and get some extra goodies, here's the link for that as well.

I was definitely convicted by Bob's social media post on Maundy Thursday-- "If I had just one last meal, I wouldn't spend it with a person I knew would betray me."

Wow. And Jesus washed his feet, too. I think I have a long way to go in that "everybody always" pursuit... but I'm so thankful for the love of Jesus. If He can love me, He can love you as well. Let's receive His grace and live from His love a little more every day.

Thanks for reading, friends! I hope you've found at least one bit of encouragement to uplift your heart today. And remember to thank God, who from the fullness of His grace keeps pouring out one blessing after another. As we focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ this weekend, my heart has been pondering this verse, too:

"He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all--how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?" -Romans 8:32 (NIV84)

His love is truly overwhelming and more than I can fathom. I'd love to hear from you in the comments how God has blessed and encouraged you recently as well!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Fullness Overflowing from All Around

I hope this weekend finds you taking in the goodness all around you, wherever you are. I'm hoping to make this a frequent type of post where I share links and encouragements I have come across or been reminded of recently, praying they can be blessings to you as well. Here are a few that have been meaningful to me this past week...

Favorite picture:

* Photo by Laura Morris

We've had a crazy weather week with lots of temperature swings (and even snow yesterday morning!), but one day splendidly got up to the 70s. A friend of mine posted this picture on social media with the caption: "We've had one warm day and our daffodils are all, 'let's do this!' 💛"

I'm with them! And I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm counting down until March 11 for Daylight Savings Time.

Blog posts:

When Cancer, Gunfire, Grief, Lent & the Unfairness of God Wreck Us [& Free Lent Devotional Calendar] by Ann Voskamp

Ann has such a way with words that can take heartache, grief, and tragedy together, somehow holding them tenderly in her hands and heart, yet simultaneously releasing them into the hands of our loving Father, knowing that He will bring beauty for ashes in His own way and time.  

She writes of the devastating school shooting this past week as well as personal stories of trauma, all screaming life is so unfair. Yet she continues with these words...
But Lent begs: 
Was Calvary fair? Was the Cross fair? Was the Crucifixion fair? 
God endured the greatest injustice in history--to justify unmerited grace for you for forever. 
Grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, by their very nature--aren't fair--but they are the fully abundant life. 
The unfairness of God--is the graciousness and forgiveness of God that actually saves us, that gives us abundant life. God being unfair--is what has actually given us life. 
Can we accept what seems very unfair in life--because we have accepted the unfairness of God that has saved our very lives? Because we accept what is His goodness--can we accept what feels like His unfairness? 
I wash my face from a morning of grief stains. But my heart won't stop leaking. Breathe. 
God isn't obsessed with creating fairness now--God is obsessed with creating closeness now--and fairness for all eternity. Seek His closeness now--trust His fairness for all eternity. 

A Letter to the Girl Who Feels Forgotten by Kaitlyn Bouchillon

Kaitlyn timed this post to be released for Valentine's Day, but its applications go well beyond relating to someone who is single (or widowed)... very encouraging for anyone waiting on God in a season filled with unknowns and heartache.

She so gently and compassionately reminds us, "The work God does within us while we wait is just as important as whatever it is we're waiting for."


The Next Right Thing Podcast, Episode 24: Look for Arrows (Not Answers) by Emily P. Freeman

I cannot recommend Emily's podcast highly enough. Each of her episodes is about 20 minutes or less in length, so it is easy to take in while still being so packed with wisdom. Her episode from this past week about looking for arrows instead of answers in a season of unknowns and transition was especially encouraging to me. The link above will get you to the podcast audio or a downloadable transcript to read, whichever you'd prefer.


Defender (written by Rita Springer)

Last weekend, I was blessed to attend a livestream of the If: Gathering event, and this worship song led by Christy Nockels completely captivated me. This link is a version by Upper Room leading in worship.

Build My Life by Housfires

I keep coming back to this song so often, and it flooded my mind and heart again this past week with a Bible study I'm doing. Our "chicks" are going through the updated No Other Gods study by Kelly Minter, and one of the lessons talked about how Sarai (Sarah) was trying to build a life through her servant Hagar. Then of course the question came to us-- through whom or what am I trying to build a life? Oh how I long for my answer to be only this, from the song's bridge:
I will build my life upon Your love,
It is a firm foundation.
I will put my trust in You alone,
And I will not be shaken.

And a post from the past...

With the beginning of Lent this week, I've also been thinking about the blog post I wrote a year ago around that time, especially as author Shelly Miller posted about offering her free Lenten devotional ebook again this year as well. (You can check out her blog post here with directions at the bottom to get her free devotional.) Her post last year was one of the promptings for me to write this one:

When You Don't Want to Be in Need... (Be Blessed)

Since writing that post, I also read Shelly's book, Rhythms of Rest, this past year, and it was excellent for encouraging me to develop a Sabbath rhythm in my life. I definitely find myself coming back to many of its concepts in this season as well. If the idea of rest sounds wonderful but far-fetched to you, or if the notion is even a little intriguing, I think this book could be a great blessing for you as well.

Thanks for reading, friends! I hope you've found at least one bit of encouragement to uplift your day. And remember to thank God, who from the fullness of His grace keeps pouring out one blessing after another. Feel free to share in the comments how He has blessed and encouraged you recently as well!

Friday, January 12, 2018

A New Season and a Church Family Letter

Sharing what feels like a deeply personal "big announcement" in an age of social media can be a difficult challenge for me to navigate sometimes. So I'm sure those of you who know me won't be surprised that it's taking me a lot of words to share about what feels like the most difficult decision I've ever made. While many have known for several months, I've not mentioned anything about it online, so here goes... 

I've had the sense for quite a while that God has been leading me to step away from Fouts as far as church and ministry are concerned in the season ahead. After much prayer, seeking, and wrestling with God, I met with the elders in September to turn in my resignation, with my last Sunday set for January 21. Now that the actual day is drawing so close, the sadness and difficulty of it all are ramping up again, but I am still trusting that God is near and will keep showing the way. The calling to go has been insistent even though I have no idea where the next steps will lead. 

Fouts Christian Church and all the people there who have touched my life over the past 22+ years will always have such a special place in my heart, so I wanted to share this letter for all...
Dear Fouts family,  
I don’t even know how to start this letter that I’ve never wanted to write. It feels like it’s the only way I can begin to express my heart to all of you even though I know it will be completely inadequate. How could I possibly share how much you’ve meant to me for over 22 years and how deeply you will always be treasured?  
The first time Verlin and I came to Fouts at Louis’ invitation (our minister at the time), we never could have dreamed how dear you would become to both of us. We thought it would be just for a few weeks until some things settled down, but instead you became a home and a safe haven for us. What a precious gift for our new marriage to be lovingly embraced by people who never knew us before and only got to know us as a couple. I am certain that your love and acceptance for us greatly influenced the blessings of the wonderful 18 and a half years we were graced to be joined together as husband and wife. And all your comfort, encouragement, and support through his illness and after his passing were true lifelines for me, and I will forever be grateful. Over and over, you have shown what it means to carry one another’s burdens, and in doing so, you continually fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). I cannot begin to thank you enough, but I pray you will know my heart.  
I have loved every single way God has allowed me to serve here over the last two decades. Whether helping with the children, leading a Bible study, serving in clerical roles or in behind-the-scenes ways, I have counted it a true privilege to be involved in ministering in any way. But I have to say this most recent season has touched my heart even more deeply than I ever thought possible. Thank you for allowing me to grow into the role of leading with the worship ministry. It has so long been such a passion of my heart, even as my skills have been lacking or developing. Thank you for your patience, grace, encouragement, and hearts for worship. And a huge thank-you to the worship team for making it such a special joy… I love all of you!  
And to my junior high and Rooted students-- you have stolen my heart forever. I never knew I could love student ministry so much, too. But maybe I shouldn’t word it as loving student ministry, because truly I just love all of YOU! The ways you can laugh, have fun, goof off, and still be respectful to take in the purpose of why we’re here keep me inspired and on my toes while at the same time keeping me from taking myself too seriously, which you know I can be prone to do. And hey, some of you made it through AN ENTIRE YEAR AND A HALF of going through the whole Old Testament, so you should definitely be proud of yourselves! But I continue to pray and will write here as well (in case you haven’t heard it enough times) that you will see the story of Jesus in every book from beginning to end, and that you will know without a doubt that the God of the universe is ALWAYS making a way to be with His people. So as we take great delight in seeing you grow and mature, remember that you will always be His child, and at every moment are so dearly loved.  
So after writing all this and sharing how much I love this church and all of you and every way I’ve been graced to serve, why do I feel led to step down? The short answer is I really have no idea. Yet somehow I know it is God’s leading. (Or I guess if it’s not, He will find a way to lead me back!!)  
The long answer would include that there have been many stirrings in my spirit nudging me toward this direction for quite a long while, and though I could list several “reasons” in different directions, none of them are really adequate or actually explain the decision. I’ve thought to myself more than a few times, “It takes a whole lot of faith or a whole lot of crazy to leave when you don’t know where you’re going.” That’s pretty much how it feels right now. Or as a friend told me, maybe it’s a little of both!
Truthfully I still have more questions than answers even now. But over and over in many past seasons and now this one, I’ve kept coming back to the exhortation that when you have much you don’t know, pause to rehearse what you do. So this much I know: God is good. He will be good to me, to you, and to us. And He is faithful--oh, so faithful. He will never fail. And He will never forsake His own.  
So I look forward to what God will do even though I don’t know what it will look like. He always leads us in triumphal procession, so I will be excited to see glimpses of how He does that for you as well as for me. You will always, always be family to me. I hope you can feel that way toward me, too.  
I’ll love you forever.  
With lots of prayers and hugs in Christ, who loved us first,  
~ Ruth

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

When You Don't Want to Be in Need... (Be Blessed)

The words from the doctor were pretty deflating. “Well, as we get older…” is not a comforting phrase to preface bad news, either. More discouraging thoughts soon followed--feeling guilty for my own poor eating choices, reprimanding myself for not paying more attention to my health, and dreading the possibility of even more results and consequences that could be coming.

But a beautiful day off after an extra-busy stretch provided a nice respite (although my aching knees after a short walk rushed back that dreaded age-thought again). So I sat down on the deck to read a bit and was encouraged by a few blogs, including one on Lent and rest. I was feeling uplifted and validated in knowing I need to take time away from the busyness that always pulls at me and was considering signing up for her Lenten devotional when the last few words of the post stopped me dead, practically appalling. The author encouraged her readers to leave a comment telling where they live and “what you want Jesus to do for you during Lent.”

Excuse me? I know I’ve never been much of a Lenten-participator with my church background, but isn’t Lent more about remembering the suffering of Christ and focusing on what He has done for us? What He has done, as in already completed, surely not selfishly asking Him to do something more?

But after pondering these thoughts for a while, I really became more appalled with my own self-righteousness instead. My mind suddenly turned back to the lesson I taught our junior high Sunday School class the day before. How could Solomon, who was given great wisdom from God, make such foolish decisions? Could it be that when he was first graced with the divine asking for whatever he wished, the new king was acutely aware he needed God to help him lead the nation? He humbly asked God for what he needed most, the wisdom to rule God’s people. But as he gained that wisdom and then multiplied riches and wives, to all outward appearances he had everything he needed. Do you think he kept asking God for help? Or did he rely on what he already had? How close to God can a person stay while feeling completely self-sufficient?

We don’t really know all the reasons for Solomon’s foolish decisions, but we do know he turned from God’s commands clearly stated in Deuteronomy 17:14-17. And as verse 17 warned, Solomon’s heart was led astray by his many wives. So what does all this have to do with Lent, or my relatively minor but hitting-me-hard-at-almost-40 health concerns?

I think in all of it I need to come back to the simple beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

Being poor in spirit often is not what we want to choose. The original word for poor conveys an even stronger meaning--destitute, reduced to beggary, helpless, aware of our low estate. It feels better to think we have things under control on our own without having to ask for help or “feel needy.”

But the kingdom of heaven? That’s worth everything. Or as Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matthew 13:44). In his joy he sold all he had. He willingly and gladly became destitute in every other way to gain the greatest treasure.

The treasure is worth it. But it’s a blessing that comes only to those desperate enough to seek Him, acknowledging the depths of our poverty of spirit and confessing we have nothing without Him.

This is a lesson I feel like I have to keep learning. Truly I have seen so much of God and His kingdom in times where I’ve felt most desperate, in the middle of the mess, both in situations many of you know and in others I can’t even share publicly. I wouldn’t trade those glimpses of seeing God more closely for anything self-sufficiency could make me feel like I have.

But somehow it doesn’t seem to take long after a difficult season for the temptation to rise up again. The voices can sound like, “I don’t need anything. I can handle this. Why ask anyone for help? Just get it together.” Sound familiar?

But I want to be more like Jesus,
“Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made Himself nothing…” (Philippians 2:6-7a)

Other versions say He “emptied Himself” as He made Himself poor and “of no reputation” for us, so we could have the treasure of the kingdom of God. I can barely take it in, this upside-down kingdom. But the grace of it hits me afresh.

So I echo the words of Paul… “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

So what do I want Jesus to “do for me” during Lent? I don’t know yet. But maybe at least I won’t be offended by the question… Maybe I won’t be foolish enough to think I can give anything to Him except this life that’s already His. Maybe I’ll ask Him for a little more humility to take in that the extravagant love He poured out at the cross and all along that road is something He desires to keep pouring out for me every day. Or maybe I’ll even pray for my aching knees so I can more fully enjoy long walks as the weather gets nicer. I think I’m going to need them more and more “as I get older”…

What about you? When is it hard for you to acknowledge you are in need? My prayer is that you’ll be encouraged by the love of our Savior who “longs to be gracious to you” and “rises to show you compassion” (Isaiah 30:18).

Blessings to you!

Friday, June 10, 2016

From the Living Room with Bob

Recently I had the amazing opportunity to attend a Living Room event with Bob Goff and friends at Disneyland and Downtown Disney in Anaheim, California. I cannot even begin to capture all the blessings of the trip in words, but I'd like to share some of the key take-aways from Bob's messages in hopes that they can be an encouragement and inspiration to you, too.

First of all, if you haven't read Bob's book, Love Does, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is an easy and uplifting read filled with stories from his life and experiences that can make a person wonder, "Does anyone really live like this?" But he does. And each adventure is also intermingled with deep spiritual truths and exhortations for us to live what he calls a "secretly incredible" life as well. So when I came across a chance to hear him speak in person at a fairly small "Living Room" style conference, I felt compelled to take a Bob-like leap (for me), hop on a plane across the country, and see how God might use it to speak into my life. I definitely was not disappointed!

Truthfully, I'm at a loss for how to even really convey so many profound illustrations that touched me so deeply, but I will give it my best effort and pray that the blessings can overflow to resonate with you as well. So here are some highlights from what Bob articulated (filtered through my interpretations, of course):

  • We're all at the kids' table, with Jesus. From the beginning of the event, Bob continually made it clear that the biggest blessings and most positive influences come from places of togetherness and commonality rather than from levels, hierarchy, or position. Even the title of the gathering, Living Room, was designed to be a "place without stages," with a more relaxed style of sharing than a typical conference (although technically there was a stage so we could see and hear). So rather than striving to be at the "cool" table or a place of honor, we were instead encouraged to consider a family get-together, sitting at the kids' table with all of God's children. What a beautiful picture.
  • If you want to do something awesome for God, do it for His kids. What parent doesn't take extra delight when a person does something uplifting for one of his or her children? In the same way, God's heart is especially touched when we reach out to encourage one of His beloved.
    • The message of the Gospel can be summed up in one word: WITH. God with us, us with each other--these are the keys to abundant life.
    • Play catch with God. This was probably one of my favorite and most personally impactful illustrations from the conference. Bob brought out a softball and began tossing it to different people seated among those of us listening. As he spoke, he painted a simple but captivating picture for us to envision of our lives with God. Put yourself in the position of a child playing catch with your father. If he asks you to come out and play, do you refuse to go out because you're afraid of dropping the ball? And what if you actually do drop the ball? Your father doesn't quit playing to go find someone else better at catching. He just steps closer and keeps playing catch. If he throws the ball wide, we can run wide. If it's short, we can step in. If he throws it high, we can stretch to get it. But in every situation we can keep growing and learning while in a place of full acceptance with our Father.
    • The only thing that counts is faith expressed through love. This statement from Galatians 5:6 was a continual theme running throughout the conference. Nothing else is more important. He also added, Instead of doing things that work, do things that last. Love always lasts.
    • We are not the hero or the victim. Just keep playing catch with God. 
    • Be "Tree Number 4." Bob used this exhortation many times to reiterate the previous point that we are not the hero or the victim. He told the story of when he auditioned for the leading role in a school play. Instead of getting the part he wanted, he was assigned to playing Tree #4. All he had to do was stand there and wiggle his fingers. But he still needed to do his part. Everyone has a role to play, and every contribution matters even if it's not the one you originally had planned. Just do what's in front of you. And when you don't know what to do, wiggle your fingers.
    • Seek to obey for the next 30 seconds. When Bob took skydiving lessons, he said that although there was a lot of preparation and instruction in advance, the test itself (actually taking the plunge and doing it) only lasted 30 seconds. In life, when facing a difficult or overwhelming situation, ask yourself, "Can I obey for the next 30 seconds?" After that, you may need to add another 30-second interval (or more), but just keep making the choice to obey at each moment.
    • It isn't the fall that kills you, it's what happens after the bounce. We need to catch each other on the bounce. I think I'll leave out the extra details and explanation to this one! But the point is still too good to not mention. When someone falls, we can help pick them back up and not let them be even more injured by another crash as soon as they come back up.
    • Our words have power. Think card stock, not paper. Bob showed us the notes he was using for his talk, written in marker on card stock. He said he doesn't even keep regular paper in his house or office. Instead, the card stock is a reminder that anything he says or writes needs to be valuable enough to be on quality stock, not just flimsy paper. So before you say something or write it, think to yourself, "Is this cardstock-worthy?" Always remember that your words matter.
    • Don't be too quick to title your chapter. Bob mentioned that, in writing his book, some of the best chapter titles were ones that couldn't be named right away. With difficult stories and events, it takes time and distance to allow a better title to emerge. A chapter that feels like "rejection" might later be titled "release." A situation where it feels like "I'm done" could later be more appropriately named "I'm back." He encouraged us to wait until enough time has passed before we give a title to the chapter of a season in our lives. Then write the next chapter; don't keep reliving the past ones.
    • Risk being misunderstood--Speak anyway. Respect others, but follow Jesus. Other people won't always get it. Love anyway. Share anyway. You will be misunderstood, but what will you do after the bounce?
    • Keep becoming the next humblest version of yourself. This was another concept Bob referred to many times throughout the conference that resonated deeply with me. I can't help but think of it with the passage from 2 Corinthians 3:18 as well. As we are transformed into the image of Christ "from glory to glory," we keep becoming more and more humble at each step. We don't have to look too far ahead, but as we keep growing, we can also keep having a conversation with the next humblest version of ourselves. He encouraged us to let the person you are inform the person you're becoming.
    • Do you want to simply agree with Jesus, or will you do it? Love isn't something to merely talk about. We need to take action.
    • How is your life working for those around you? Don't just ask how things are working for you, but look to see how you are impacting others. What can you do to let the people close to you know that you're thrilled to do life with them?
    •  Going far is more important than looking pretty.  On the last afternoon of the conference, we got back to our seats after lunch to find a piece of paper on each chair. When everyone was seated, Bob encouraged us to make our best paper airplane. (I can't remember the last time I had made one of those... Mine was VERY simple, but I was proud that I even remembered how!) When we had all made our airplanes, he asked for a few volunteers who considered theirs to be among the best-designed. Three people came up, and one by one they tossed their planes to see how far they would go. Then the rest of us all threw ours all at once--fun moment! After all the airplane launches, Bob regained our attention, took another piece of paper, and just crumpled it into a wad. He said that many of our airplanes were nicely designed, and some traveled well while others only managed a short distance or even a nose-dive. But then he threw his crumpled wad of paper to the back of the room. As you can imagine, it went considerably farther than even the best airplane. He said that sometimes we can get consumed with looking pretty or having the right externals, but we should be more concerned about going far. Even if we feel beat up or broken, we can still accomplish great purposes. Just seek to go far.
    • What is your definition of love? If it doesn't involve commitment and sacrifice, it isn't love.
    • It's better to be interested than interesting. People are more touched by your genuine interest in them than by how interesting you are. Show that you care, and you will go far in relationships.
    • Go big with your love. You will risk crashing hard, but you will be doing the only thing that matters. The risk is worth it. The only thing that counts is faith expressed through love.

    Toward the end of the event, Bob articulated that he hoped we would each be able to say, "I'm not who I was before I came." I want that to be true for me as well. I long to truly live what I've learned and be changed in my attitude and heart as I keep playing catch with God, day by day. I hope that you can be encouraged and spurred on with these thoughts as well. What can you do today to express your faith through love? Can you take that next step? Maybe just start with 30 seconds...

    Sunday, February 28, 2016

    Something's Coming!

    A few days ago I came home from Bible study so fired up that I lightheartedly wrote on Facebook an open invitation for anyone to call and listen to me give a sermon recounting a few lessons from Beth Moore on the book of Revelation. (I knew I sure wouldn't be going to sleep anytime soon that night!) Well, you might not be surprised to learn that not even one person took me up on the offer! However, some of the points Beth made in her DVD study, Here and Now... There and Then, are still resonating so deeply on my heart that I feel compelled to share here with hopes it can be an encouragement to others as well.

    Truthfully there are so many depictions thus far in our study that have hit me with perfect timing in my life and prayers right now. Even though the first five chapters are among the most familiar to me of the book, I love how God's Word can speak fresh truth every time we open and study it. And I have to add that Beth Moore can bring things out of it more personally and deeply than any human being I've studied under, too. But with all the personal stories and many thoughts I'd love to share, the scene I want to zoom in on now is from the fifth chapter of Revelation. Picture this with me in the words of John the apostle:
    Then I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals." 
    - Revelation 5:1-5 (NIV 84) 

    It is such a profound scene--please take it in for a moment.

    But here's what gets me: Why are verses 3 and 4 needed? Why doesn't an answer come as soon as the angel asks Who is worthy? Why is there searching in heaven and on earth and under the earth? Why does John weep and weep with intense external expressions of grief? Is there any purpose in the waiting and looking and grieving?

    Beth believes there is and explains it like this (paraphrased): Before we can fully appreciate anything of great glory, God will always provide for us to feel the lack, to notice what's missing. That's His usual way.

    Then she brought us back to a story from the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis 2:18-22.  Shortly after God created Adam, He said in verse 18, "'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'" But the next statement in Scripture is not the one telling how God created woman. Instead we see a reminder of all the animals and birds He created and how He brought each of them before Adam to be named. Beth asks us to consider how that might have made Adam realize his need even more profoundly as the end of verse 20 reiterates, "But for Adam no suitable helper was found." Only after all this do we see God filling in the lack and creating a helpmate for Adam from his rib. God's provision is perfect, but in His own time and His own way.

    As Beth was sharing these thoughts from Genesis, my mind suddenly turned back to another of her studies, to something I was scrambling to look up when I got home that night. In the first session of her DVD study, Breath: The Life of God in Us, Beth shares much about the Holy Spirit in the first two chapters of Genesis. One of the points she has us take down asserts, "The creation narrative repeatedly displays a curious method." We then record four examples along with their references in Genesis, showing this progression in the story of creation:

        "Substance without form. (1:2)
         Form without animation. (1:9-10)
         Animation without image. (1:20-25)
         Image without equivalent. (2:18-20)"

    And for the conclusion she declares, "The overarching message of what's missing is this: Something's coming!"

    Something's coming! That's the phrase I couldn't get out of my head. God is providing, but somehow we can't see or appreciate it until we feel the lack, until we know what's missing.

    As I've pondered these thoughts even more over the last few days, many more examples come to mind as well. The entire Old Testament points out over and over again our need for a Savior. The law cannot be kept by anyone. Sacrifices have to be repeated because nothing is good enough, and everyone keeps sinning. After Malachi there are 400 years of silence. God's people wait for "a voice of one calling in the desert" (Isaiah 40:3, Matthew 3:3, etc.). And even now we "groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Romans 8:23).

    Something's coming, but we feel the lack. We groan inwardly as we wait eagerly.

    "But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently" (Romans 8:24b-25).

    Ah, patiently. That's where I can really struggle.

    But these reminders spur me on in hope. Even the lesson itself that night shed light on answers to prayer for me. Just one week prior I had finally voiced a concern I had been praying about and wrestling with for at least a month or two. As Beth was teaching, I was overwhelmed with the thought that from the moment I actually articulated the struggle to someone out loud, causing me to feel the lack even more intensely, I then began to see provision after provision, grace upon grace, of God's working and speaking to me in that area. I'm struck by it all afresh even as I type.

    At the same time, a heartbreaking situation for a dear friend was on my mind so much as well. I don't want to minimize it. The pain of the immediate and the not knowing are immense, I'm certain. My heart continues to ache and hurt as I pray for all involved, too. But I know God is providing for His beloved children. And I know that when the provision comes, He will be all the more praised because the lack is so evident there is no doubt that only One can fill it.

    Something's coming... We don't know when. We don't know what it will look like. We feel the lack, much like John. He wept and wept... but then...

    "Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders." (Revelation 5:6a)


    John saw true Provision right in front of him. One day we will, too. Until then, we groan inwardly, we wait eagerly, and we pray.

    And those prayers? They are never missed and never forgotten. They're in a bowl, before the throne.
    (See Revelation 5:8 and 8:3-4.)

    Even so, come, Lord Jesus.