A Lukewarm Life

We got a new coffee pot the other day. Our old one took over 45 minutes to brew a pot, moaning and groaning as it gave its last hurrah percolating that final, awful, 2/3 full pot of brown water. We knew it was time to part with the old, and embrace the new.

And what a revelation the new one is!

With our old coffee maker, we became used to coffee that was warm-ish. In fact, I would usually have to pour myself a cup, and then throw it in the microwave for 30 seconds just so it would remain warm long enough for me to drink. Now, with the new machine, the first sips of deliciousness nearly sear our lips because it is so hot! (This is a feature I love, whereas the dear husband needs to add an ice cube or two before he partakes of the dark goodness.) The new pot holds heat from the first cup to the last dregs, both equally warm. We had become so used to the old that we acclimated to it, knowing that it wasn’t exactly what it should be, but in our apathy, we accepted it anyway, unwilling to change until the machine took its final, seizing breath.

We live, we work, in a culture that hates change, that chooses comfort over all else. We have acclimated to the world around us, and, no matter how much we complain or despise it, we do nothing to change it. Because, well, change is hard. It takes work. It takes a deep conviction, and few of us have strong convictions about much of anything anymore.

With every passing day, I am realizing the apathy the North American church has acclimated to. We are no longer hot, burning with the fire of the Holy Spirit deep in our bones, passionate about spreading the Gospel message of salvation, mercy and love. No, we are lukewarm, claiming Christ, but not living in Christ. Speaking with our mouths, while our hearts grow cold, and our hands idle from refusing to minister to others.  We cast judgement upon others, while never judging ourselves for our own hypocrisy. We choose fear over faith, comfort over compassion, Facebook newsfeeds instead of the Good News of Christ. We have forgotten that we are part of the upside-down kingdom of Christ…where the least are the loved, the broken are restored, and the sacrificial Lamb is the King.

Revelations 3:15-16

15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

It seems even more prudent now, in this day and age, that we live out our lives with conviction and passion and Christ-centered, holy love. Now is the time to throw out the lukewarm of our lives and be consumed by the fire of the Holy Spirit. Now is the time to engage with the culture around us….not to combat culture, but to open up our arms of compassion and exemplify the mighty power of Christ as we lift up the brokenhearted, bind the wounded, care for the widow and orphan, doing the things Christ himself taught us to do.  I believe the only way…THE ONLY WAY…the world around us will see Jesus is if we really begin to be the hands and feet of Jesus, where our words and our actions are in accord. We can’t speak about loving our neighbor while we leave them outside in the cold, hungry and hurting. We can’t speak about being Christ-followers when we follow the world. The culture around us knows Christians…but they don’t know Christ, because they can’t see Him in us.

Church, let us no longer be lukewarm, but let us burn bright, on fire for the Lord.

Let us begin to live our lives as we were created to do…in worship to the Creator, honoring Him with EVERYTHING that we are, everything that we do, and let it be every day, every hour, every minute and not just one hour set apart on Sundays. Let our Saturday nights be as holy as our Sunday mornings.

Let the world around us see Christ in us, let them know we are truly a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), transformed by His love and grace and mercy.

Let us be a body of believers who live to serve, not to be served. Let us reach the world, not from a place of superiority, but servanthood.

Let us embrace forgiveness, let us know love as a verb, let our hearts be broken for what it is that breaks the heart of God and let it stir us to action.

Let us be careful with our words, using them to lift up another, and let our tongues be silenced when we seek to wound another. Let us speak in truth AND love, not just one or the other.

Let us love our enemy, let us know our neighbor.

Let us no longer be acclimated to the comfortable and constant, satisfying our selfish desires, but instead let us embrace change and transformation.

Let us spit out the lukewarm.

Church, it is time we rise up. Rise up and shed the coat of apathy that is weighing us down. It is time to rise up, to plant our feet firmly on the solid rock of Christ and to be bold and courageous. It is time to rise up, set down our cups of coffee and lift up our hearts to the Lord.

It is time.

My Psalm of Lament

I was invited to speak at a women’s retreat recently. Though I am not a preacher nor public speaker, I said yes to the invitation. The theme of the weekend was a spa retreat (perfect for my massage therapist self) and the focus was on the psalms. The following was my offering for worship.

Psalm 139:1-18, 23-24

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
 
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
 
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.
 
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

“Stop Crying.”

 “Stop complaining.”

“You are such a crybaby.”

“Why are you so emotional over this?”

“What is wrong with you?”

“Get over it.”

“No one needs to see your tears. Go away.”

I heard these types of things over and over in my youth. My parents and siblings would say it. Schoolmates would tease me. I was the emotional kid, the sensitive one, the tenderhearted child.

Eventually,  I learned to hide the tears. I learned to stuff down the emotions. Just like everyone else, I wanted to be accepted and loved, and if it meant that I had to hide who I was, I would do it, just so everyone around me would be comfortable. My already introverted self became even more inwardly focused. I trusted very few people to know the true me, and even then, I still guarded the most tender places of my heart and never let anyone in.

Had I been more open, more vulnerable, if those around me had actually listened, or paid attention, perhaps my youth would have been different. Perhaps I wouldn’t have had to deal with the demons of depression. Perhaps the thoughts of suicide wouldn’t have been there. Perhaps, if I had someone, anyone, that I trusted enough to share with, I would not have had to carry such a burden alone.

But I felt alone. And it was a heavy, heavy burden to bear.

The first time I remember contemplating suicide was at age 13. That is also the first time I remember really feeling the presence of God in my life. I grew up in the church, in a very strict, traditional church.  I knew of God, but I didn’t know God. To me, God was this strict disciplinarian who was sending me to hell, no matter what, because I was a mess and a sinner.  But this day, this day that was one of the worst days of my life, is also a day that I cherish in a bittersweet way.

As I sat with a razor blade against my wrist, trying to muster the courage to end my life, I felt arms around me. In my darkest moment of hating myself, I felt the tangible presence of the Lord and I heard His voice speak the words, “ I love you.  You are more than this. You are my Beloved.”

Never before had I felt love like that. Never before had I felt wanted, cared for, or known, like I did right in that moment, when God held me on that bathroom floor. I cried like I never had before. The God who had knit me together in my mother’s womb began to knit the broken pieces of my heart back together.

And I would love to tell you that that was it. I was cured, I  was healed, I had joy again, and I never battled the darkness again.

But I would be lying.  

I have battled that demon of depression on and off through the years, sometimes succumbing to its darkness. I have spent months barely able to keep from drowning in its depths.  I have spent years teetering on the edge, sometimes fighting the darkness with medication and counseling, other times just mustering through it, leaning on very close friends and my husband.

But in all of it, I have learned to turn to God over and over again. I have learned that I cannot flee from His presence, He is there beside me in the heavens and in the depths.

Now, I grew up in a faith tradition that focused more on teaching creeds and catechism than encouraging us to read Scripture. Memorization of our religion’s rules was more important than reading the Bible, and, with the exception of the Gospel read during worship, I never heard much scripture in my early years. I wasn’t familiar with Psalm 139, nor any other psalm, other than perhaps the 23rd psalm.

I was probably in my early 20s before I read the Bible for myself. It was during another dark season and I was at a place of no hope. I had nothing left to turn to, so I turned to God. I began to read the Bible. And, like so many people do, I played a game of Bible roulette and opened the page to Psalm 6.

1 Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger

or discipline me in your wrath.

2 Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;

heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.

3 My soul is in deep anguish.

How long, Lord, how long?

4 Turn, Lord, and deliver me;

save me because of your unfailing love.

5 Among the dead no one proclaims your name.

Who praises you from the grave?

6 I am worn out from my groaning.

All night long I flood my bed with weeping

and drench my couch with tears.

7 My eyes grow weak with sorrow;

they fail because of all my foes.

8 Away from me, all you who do evil,

for the Lord has heard my weeping.

9 The Lord has heard my cry for mercy;

the Lord accepts my prayer.

10 All my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish;

they will turn back and suddenly be put to shame.

It was as though every line from this psalm was my thoughts, my pain, typed out across the page. For the first time ever, I realized how alive the scriptures were, how God spoke to me through the words on the page. “All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.” Oh, how I knew that feeling. And I knew enemies, I knew the battle strategies of Satan, who used shame and guilt to wear me down. I felt battle-scarred and broken.  I felt as though the enemy had been pummeling me for years and suddenly, here were these words of scripture that spoke to the weariness and to seeking the Lord to fight my battles for me.  I found hope in the midst of this psalm, and in the pages that followed.

As I began to read Scripture, as I spent more time in the Word, I found freedom within its pages. I had always been told not to question God, just to believe what I was told.  But within Scripture itself, I found writers questioning God. I saw people wrestle with doubt. I saw fear. And I saw faith. It bolstered my faith, not diminished it, by reading of those who battled through hard times, who struggled in trusting God and yet they kept their faith. Rather than causing discord within me, it fanned a fire and a passion within me to know this God, a God of compassion and love and justice, and not just of judgement. My eyes felt as though they were finally open.

Perhaps you have had this same experience. Perhaps you have wrestled with your own seasons of doubt and fear. Perhaps you have also had the joy and the wonder of the Scriptures being opened to you, and God’s love pour out to you through the pages. I hope that you have. I pray that you have experienced the love of God and the knowledge of who He is.  

For many years, I ran from God, feeling unworthy of His love, of his forgiveness.  I realize now that though I am unworthy,  Jesus has given me worth.  By His blood I am made new, redeemed and purified. I also realize now magnitude of his mercy and grace because, even in my brokenness and sin, He still lavishes it upon me and loves me without bounds.

I wonder how many of us have spent time running from God. I wonder how many of us have spent time in hiding, shackled by fear, chained by shame.  Don’t let the enemy lie to you. You are worthy of freedom, of redemption. You are a precious daughter of the king of heaven and you too have been made worthy, have been made new. You too are loved without bounds, and are lavished with mercy and grace.  As God has continued to work in me, bringing me healing as He has showered me in his grace, I have become more bold in proclaiming my faith and belief in Him. Even in the times that I don’t get the answers I am seeking, in the time I am seeking, God has proven to be faithful in my life and i can trust that he knows what is best for me, in His timing, not mine.

As we have journeyed through the psalms this weekend, once again I realize how much beauty there is within them.  I am overwhelmed with the honesty and truth they contain.  They speak to our lives.  They run the gamut of emotions, from love, to anger, to fear, to uncertainty, to depression. And sometimes, all of that happens in the same chapter. There is pain, there is suffering, there is loneliness and anger and disappointment. But there is also gratitude. There is joy. There is celebration. There is every aspect of the human experience and, woven through it all, is the presence of the Lord.

The psalms all point to God. They show us the many aspects of His nature. The psalmist continually reminds us, as he reminds himself, that God is sovereign, God is good, God is holy and God is our refuge, our safety, our hiding place.  Every single chapter tells us how the Lord watches over us, is our shield, is righteous, hears us, brings justice, is majestic, reigns forever, protects His people, has unfailing love, saves us.  They bring us back into communion with God, by reminding us of who God is.

 The psalms speak of trust in God, when there is nothing else to trust in. They speak of obedience to the laws of God, clinging tightly to the truth of the Divine. They give praise, they cry out in despair. They express the fullness of humanity in all of the 150 chapters. The psalms remind us how we can find God in the MIDST of our human experience.

And God knows the fullness of humanity. In sending His son to live the human experience, to be born into our broken world, our God connected with us in the best way He could. We love, we serve, a God who knows what we are feeling, what we are going through, because He himself experienced our humanness.  What a beautiful gift God gave us in that!  

I know that this is a heavier message that what you may have been expecting. But God has put me in a season where I am trying to be obedient to Him as He has called me into a place of honesty and vulnerability.  Even though my personal psalm today is one more of lament, I can praise God. I turn my eyes to Him, because He has saved me from the pit. He has redeemed me. He has given me hope, not just for my days on this earth, but for my eternity living in joy with him.  

Sisters, in whatever season you are in, whether it is one of joy and celebration, or whether it is one of lament and confession, God is hearing your voice. He knows you. He knit you together, he knows your innermost thoughts. In every season of our life, our song rises to God. Even in our times of lament or anger, God hears our cries and knows our burdened hearts. His love is what softens our hard edges, what cares for our shattered souls. Our personal songs of praise, lament, wisdom, pilgrimage, confession, vengeance, and thanksgiving all rise to the ears of God, and He knows our hearts. Let us do as the psalmist did, and turn all of our personal psalms into praise. Let us worship the God of the universe. The God who has redeemed us from the pit, the God who has walked through this human experience and knows the depths of sorrow and pain, the God who loves us in the midst of it, and loves us through it. Let God be praised.

I want to end today’s message with Psalm 150.  Will you read it with me?

Praise the Lord. 
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.
 
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
 Praise the Lord.

Finding the good in Good Friday

Every year it happens.

I cry on Good Friday.

Now, for those who know me, they already know that crying is not an unusual thing for me.  But Good Friday…it’s a different kind of crying.

Good Friday overwhelms me. Every year, as I contemplate what this day means, I am overcome by the depth of mercy and love that God has poured out. For me.

Broken as I am, sin-sick, twisted and torn, I am still loved. I am still made holy through a beautiful, horrible sacrifice of undeserved, abundant love.

Today is the day we remember. Rather than minimize it, as we often do, today is the day we look fully into the agony, the suffering, the pain, and the death of Jesus. Today is the day when we see just how much God loves us when we realized just how much He went through.

My Savior suffered. He was betrayed by one of His twelve closest companions.  He was abandoned by the rest. He endured shame. He knew rejection. He was spit upon, stripped of His clothing, beaten, humiliated, tied down to a pillar, whipped. His blood ran. Mocking Him, soldiers made Him a crown. The thorns ripped the Holy skin of my Savior. They led Him like an animal in front of the crowd, and the crowd turned on Him.

This same crowd that shouted “Hosanna!” a few days prior now screamed “Crucify!”

My Savior carried His heavy cross through the streets of the town, bent down low beneath it’s weight. Exhausted. Weakened. Nailed upon that cross, raised up for the crowds to come and jeer at Him, left to die a criminals death.

My sins nailed Him there.

I am overwhelmed.

And then…

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“Father, forgive them….”

Even in His agony, in the shadow of death, Christ extends mercy. Forgiveness. Love.

And He did all this willingly, took the weight of my sins, of humanity’s sins, upon His shoulders, offering Himself as a holy, spotless sacrifice for the redemption of the world.

It wrecks me that my God loves me so much that He would endure that. For me. For all of us. For every person who has ever lived or will ever be, God poured out His love on the cross that day and we are washed clean.

I don’t deserve such mercy. I don’t deserve such grace. And yet….

Forgiven.  Redeemed. Bought by the precious blood of the Lamb. The Lamb who triumphs over death with His resurrection. The Savior who brings hope into a broken world. The One who defeated the enemy and gives us a seat at the banquet table of the Father.

I am overwhelmed.