What If?

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“I don’t wanna go through the motions
I don’t wanna go one more day
Without Your all consuming passion inside of me

I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking
What if I had given everything
Instead of going through the motions?”

– Matthew West, from “Motions” –

Funerals aren’t so bad.

Well, some.

All the ones before today were tolerable. A few tears, a heart-wondering at how a body can just be empty of soul. How can aliveness be suddenly gone?

But the ponderings go heavenward and turn sweet at the edges, the after-glow of the sun setting soft on skin.

And it’s not so hard to remember that there’s an eternity and God is there too, holding and communing with living souls. Souls in worship, in delight far beyond ours. Far past our ant-like perspective, finally seeing the big-picture of all that was suffered and blessed and made whole in this thread that is earth-life.

But today was not one of those not-so-bad funerals.

It was a heart-scarring that happens when people who don’t know God are snatched away and the lost-too family is left groping. And I don’t have the words to comfort.

Some, like the preacher at the front, pray that the family will be comfortable.

Meanwhile, in the back, one face in a sea of them, I stand with eyes closed to the beaming-down sun and pray that God will let His own Son’s beams come down. To first make them uncomfortable—that the comfort won’t be a Band-aid on the broken pieces, but will be a contrite spirit that leads them to the only Source of comfort.

I hear the obituary—of hobbies and games and quirks and little “white” sins that are supposed to be funny.

Oh, how sad to be remembered as a game player.

How desolate, to be held in memory as a cheat.

What life-poverty, to be only recalled as ornery, one who can talk her way out of trouble.

What then, will be said of me after I take that last breath?

On my deathbed, I don’t want to have to wonder if I made a difference.

Like Matthew West’s song:

“I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking

What if I had given everything…?”

What if?

Life will have questions, regrets. All of us that are human, besides Jesus Himself, will have regrets. We’ll wish something had been different.

Some of us will regret time wasted on frivolity.

Others will be sorry that what we perceived as spiritual crowded out the “small things,” the little gifts of the heart, to the least of these.

To be sure, at the end, His glory shining in our eyes will make our failures fade. Glory, because Christ leads us to triumph at last.

Joy, because His grace covered so much.

But, oh, how much we will regret each stepping off the path. We will mourn each moment we were not perfectly yielded to His plan.

We will have rejoicing. Yet, when tried by fire, how many of our works will remain?

I will never believe that works get us into heaven.

That is Christ’s doing alone.

But the Bible is clear on this—God wants to reward us for obedience. How good is this, girls? To reward us for what we only accomplished in His strength!

Don’t feel guilty about thinking about rewards. In a lecture on stewardship, teacher Randy Alcorn agreed that asking for rewards would be wrong of us. However, for God to offer them—this is just another grace.

As Mr. Alcorn taught, what could be more amazing than a loving Father giving rewards to the undeserving? For Him to bridge the gap and then to keep on bridging, for Him to pick us up and then be the One to keep carrying us all the way home—does this bend you to your knees?

A Parent giving a Christmas present to the child who couldn’t even stay good one day, much less all year. A Parent who knows the child deserves coal, but instead showers him with gifts, because He is good. Because He can. Because He loves.

What kind of love would do that?

The kind of Love that died, but couldn’t be kept down.

The kind of Love that is able to keep you from falling.

The kind of Love that will fill you if you will bow to Him.

How much are you willing to give?

How much joy do you want to give Him, of how great a reward He gets to give the child He ransomed?

Will you surrender?

Or, at the end of this vapor-life, will you have to wonder?

“What if?”

“What if I had given Him all of me?”

 “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

– Matthew 16:25, NIV –

Thanks to George Hodan and Public Domain Pictures for today’s photo!

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Happiness Is…

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What is happiness, exactly?

Have you ever noticed how much the culture talks about it?

It comes in subtle and not-so-subtle waves.

Self-esteem. “Me” time. Get the credit you deserve.

101 Ways to Be Happy. Top 7 Tips for Becoming the Best You.

Ever seen something like that?

One article reported that some big companies have even hired Chief Happiness Officers to help their employees find some joy in life.

Happiness is an obsession with us all. We all look to be satisfied, filled, purposeful, enriched. We look inside ourselves to find an answer–and when that inevitably fails, we search for something else to anchor us, something to bring meaning. Something, anything, to make us happy.

Superior knowledge, intellectual prowess, cutting wit. Entertainment, work, sports, hobbies. Music, art, books, media. Cosmetics, physical fitness, romance.

It all rings hollow.

Why else would Solomon say this:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

– Ecclesiastes 1:2, NIV –

And trust me, Solomon would know. He tried it all–women, money, power, wisdom, fame. He’d tasted what the world had–and it went stale in his mouth. Soggy and tasteless and worthless.

Some of us go back to being stuck on ourselves and thinking we’re the best thing since buttered popcorn. But how does the self-obsession pan out? Solomon says it all–meaningless, meaningless, meaningless.

So if I asked you where to find true happiness, what would you say?

Would you parrot “Jesus” like the five-year-old Sunday School kid who has that same answer to every question?

Or would you really mean it when you said that only God can satisfy?

More than meaning it, have you experienced it?

The theoretical fact that God fills doesn’t do you or me any good unless He fills us–personally, deeply, individually.

And this joy–here it is:

That we are worthless, yet valued as rubies.

That we are unlovable, yet loved beyond measure.

That our deeds would kill, yet the One who died did it for His murderers.

That these dry bones would live again.

That this love is contrary to all we deserve. That we can’t ever delight in our bigness.

That the heavens and earth tell a story….

And that story is NOT about us.

John Piper said this well:

“It is about the greatness of God, not the significance of man. God made man small and the universe big to say something about himself.”
— John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life —

And that’s the good news.

It was never supposed to be about us anyway.

Which is why navel-gazing is so woefully unfulfilling.

So the solution? How to find joy in this life, right here?

Giving. Thanking, Dying to self, on this day. And tomorrow, And the next.

John Piper says that the joy is in the giving.

Ann Voskamp says the wild happiness is in the thanking–for the little, the big, the everything.

Laura Story says the blessing is in the storm.

Most importantly, my Jesus says the life is in the dying.

Isn’t this the hardest kind of dying, the kind that must be done every day, every breathing minute?

The kind that stretches out the hand even when its the last two pennies to your name?

The kind that keeps thanking God when you can’t for the life of you see the sun?

The dying that crucifies flesh and self, again and again.

“There is a warning. The path of God-exalting joy will cost you your life. Jesus said, “Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” In other words, it is better to lose your life than to waste it. If you live gladly to make others glad in God, your life will be hard, your risks will be high, and your joy will be full. This is not a book about how to avoid a wounded life, but how to avoid a wasted life. Some of you will die in the service of Christ. That will not be a tragedy. Treasuring life above Christ is a tragedy.”
— John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life, emphasis mine —

So, here’s your ultimatum.

Are you willing to die?

Willing to risk, to give all, in order to find the true riches?

To “sell all” to gain the treasure?

To give today, every day, knowing that all the way it’s all Christ and none of you?

Because somehow, in His gracious way, even our faith-filled inability is promised reward.

That He can pour into a life and bring a child home, and then heap praise on victories won in His strength.

Can we ever give enough back to a God like this?

No, but we can try.

Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open.
– John Barrymore –

Or, maybe through a door Someone Else opened?

How about being His hands, being His feet and being a helper of someone’s joy today?

(2 Corinthians 1:24)

Even in Darkness

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Once upon a time, I had a really bad day.

A day that left me with an ache for days after.

Have you ever had one of those, a day that you knew God was there, but it was still so, so hard?

When you’d never been more confident in His plans, but giving over that stubborn piece of your heart got harder and harder each time you tried to lay it on the altar?

The day passed. I tasted the bittersweet. Bitter–because the sacrificing only got more costly. Sweet–because I knew my Jesus would be enough even in darkness.

The next days weren’t easy.

A lot of prayers. A lot of tears. A lot of wobbly smiles and Mom hugs and jumbled thoughts and wondering if this cloud would ever let the sun through again.

You’ve been there too–days that leave a stamp on your heart and you doubt the memories will ever really fade. And yet, God was there.

But that day, once upon a time, is not what I want you to remember.

It’s something else I learned, weeks after that day my light seemed to flicker out…

Sometimes God pulls back the curtain and lets me get a peek at His masterpiece.

This particular brushstroke in this painting we call history came to me in an e-mail.

On the dark day,

The day that laying down my self-will was so hard,

But I knew it was still worth it–

That day, God did something with me.

With a life that felt out of control, but was never really out of His.

Even when it felt dark.

When I thought that I couldn’t possibly be doing anyone else any good because I was so broken inside,

When just handing God my heart took all my breath away,

His grace was still amazing.

And He took this little flickering candle of a life and magnified the light, and this little light shone.

I didn’t know it, but a young girl was watching me on that day.

She saw me smile.

She saw me laughing, sharing a meal with my mom. Even when I was torn apart inside, God made a refuge for me and I laughed and loved and stuck close to my best source of hugs. (Thanks, Mom!)

And that little girl listened.

She learned that my mom and I are best friends. She could see that I respected her and that I wasn’t ashamed to be not just a daughter, but a friend to my mom.

The point?

It’s not that I was trying to pull myself together and put on an act.

But that even when I felt like I had nothing left to give, God was faithful.

Even when it took my whole soul striving to just keep moving forward, God was in the middle, still willing to use a vessel so broken.

And that bad, bad day?

I’m not sorry I had it.

I’d do it again, in fact, if I could get that email again too.

What did it say?

It was the mom of that little girl, and I could almost see the tears in the lady’s eyes as I heard her words.

After seeing how my mom and I are such good friends, that young girl decided she wanted to be friends with her mom just like that.

She hadn’t really seen another girl before that would admit to enjoying her mom. But God took my mom and I to just the right place.

And, licking an ice cream cone, I got to shine.

Even in darkness.

Sisters, don’t despair the black days. They aren’t wasted.

Don’t mourn the days that seem to spin far out of your control. No matter how hard it gets, keep surrendering.

In your pain, in your deepest weakness–this is God’s favorite place to work.

You may never know what a difference you made to a life.

But, then again….

….Maybe God will hold back the curtain and give you just a little glimpse….

“Take my love, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store;
Take myself, and I will be,
Ever, only, all for Thee.
Ever, only, all for Thee.”

– from the hymn “Take My Life and Let It Be” by Frances Havergal

Thank you to Edward McCabe and Public Domain Pictures for today’s photo!