Saturday, February 28, 2015

Gates

 For the first time, I gaze at the ruins of the infamous Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. After many years of seeing pictures and hearing the courageous story of brave men like William Barrett Travis, I finally have the opportunity to see this amazing place for myself. Ruins. I've always had a fascinating with them. Because they depict a journey of the heart. A picture of the soul. I feel at home here. Broken walls with a meaningful story to tell. As I make my way around this fascinating historical place, one thing strikes me: the gates. The doorways. These massive things are everywhere. Once again, I am brought back to the fact that open and closed doors are images that portray the internal. Doors, gates, can either keep in or let out, depending on the intent of those using them.
For many years, the door of my heart shut in my deepest pain and kept out the light and love that it so desperately needed. Like the doors at the Alamo - those massive wooden panels that read: No Entrance. Don't come in. You are not welcome. Love is not welcome. Grace is not a guest here. Only pain. Only despair. Only darkness.



 As the years have gone by, I find that my life resembles both that of these doors and the gate that was around the corner from them. As God enabled me to throw open the doors that long shut out the good, my life became more like the nearby gate with its doors thrust wide open. All are welcome. All is safe. All is well.



 Interestingly enough, I have discovered God now using the shut doors to express a different message than before. Instead of the doors shutting in, they keep out. They are the doors to my past. The doors which say, "Don't live there anymore! Don't go back to where you once were! Step into the light of Grace and life! Walk through the open gates and take pleasure in the joyous courts of God!" Both entry/exit points are walled around by ruins. So too with my heart: I bear the affects of a life that has had its share of trouble. Of a faith that has been tested. But the doors are no longer shut. Grace has opened them. Love has spoken into the pain and poured healing balm over the gaping wounds. My doors welcome now. God has done this, and I give my every breath back to Him in thanks.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Quote of the Day

"Now, dear friend, think of all the hard things there are in your life - hard circumstances, difficult duties, grievous pains, sore struggles, bitter disappointments, hard words, hard thoughts, a hard heart of your own, a hard heart in others. Gather all these, and many more together, and pile them one on another till you have one great mountain of affliction. Your God still calmly asks the question, 'Is anything too hard for Me?'"
- Susannah Spurgeon 
in Seasons of the Heart

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Quote of the Day

"How do broken hearts mend? Do some hearts heal all wrong, all twisted and crooked and weak? What do we make of a world that needs remaking? There's only one Crossbeam that promises a whole new world. Only one Beam to line a heart up straight again, one Carpenter who can repair a torn-apart heart."
- Ann Voskamp
in One Thousand Gifts Devotional

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Message I Need To Hear Often

 It is early on a Sunday morning, and I walk into the large church, along with dear friends. I have never worshipped here before - recent travels have brought me here for a brief time - but I am eager and waiting to hear from God. As I near the doorway, I notice a beautiful plaque: it is broken, cracks running straight through. But even in the imperfection, a message of hope still shows through…a message I need to hear:

"I am the Lord, the God of all mankind.
Is there anything too hard for me?"
-Jeremiah 32:27

I stop and reflect. This simple plaque is a symbol of my soul - cracked, it shows the broken places of a sometimes harsh journey through life. But the pieces have been put back together so that the message still speaks. God still speaks through the shattered remnants of my once-hopeless and broken life. He is a God who delights in making the broken beautiful, and I have, through faith, allowed Him to do so with my heart. Just as the plaque reveals a story, so too does my life. I have had my share of troubles, of dark and desperate days. But the masterful hands of my Creator redeemed them for a greater purpose. Nothing in my past has been wasted. From the cracks, hope still runs through. The One who makes all things possible promises the same for me today: there is nothing too difficult, too broken for Him not to mend and perfect. Only He can accomplish such a miracle as this. 
As I make my way into the church, I repeat the message to myself: He is the Lord, and there is nothing too hard for Him. 



Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Eyes Lifted Up

 I walked along the sidewalk of this tiny, German settlement of a town. The wind blows gently in my face as I head toward the car. Rounding the corner, I see the church spire all lit, silhouetted against the black sky. Apart from it, there is no light to be seen on the street. I pause and snap a picture. I am miles from home in this moment, and I have never found myself in this part of the country before. It is new. And yet, something seems similar…almost like I have been here at some point...


 I lift my eyes and gaze on the beautiful church exterior. Most churches are not built like this anymore. Centuries ago, churches were built with the intent that the structure should lift one's eyes toward God. That being in church should bring one closer to their Maker. The image strikes me as being a picture of the soul: only God can light up your darkness. Only God can pierce the blackest night of your heart and allow you to see. To find hope. To live. Apart from Him, there is no light to be found. We are miles from "home" in the sense that we get lost in our own spiritual searchings and despair. We cannot provide our own direction or help ourselves see the right way. All is dark and hopeless until God shines brightly. In that moment, it all becomes clear, and we know where to walk. We know where the hope comes from…Who it comes from. 
 The silence is beautiful, and I look to the sky and breathe a holy, "Thanks." God is always speaking, always bringing light into the dark places. I can never escape Him, no matter how hard I want to sometimes. And I bless Him for the gift of Grace. For the fact that He lights up my dark and dispels the gloomy shadows of the nighttime of my soul. He is the beacon of hope that I can always look to. Lifting up my eyes toward Him is all it takes. Turning away from self to the only cure for self-pity and despair causes me to say, "Look up soul. Simply look up. The light is there and the one who follows it will never sit in lasting darkness. The Light of Life will prevail!" 


Monday, February 23, 2015

The Marines of Iwo

On February 23, 1945 a group of brave men raised the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi in one of the most iconic moments in United States history. A photographer named Joe Rosenthal captured the scene, and it has come to be one of the most famous pictures ever taken. On this day, we honor the memory and the lives of these courageous and heroic men whose actions that day helped to preserve freedom for generations yet unborn. The following poem is my tribute to them and tells their story:


The Marines of Iwo

"You go on up, Shrier," the colonel just had said,
As the fire there exploded, and around him lay the dead,
"If you get to the top, Lieutenant, send a signal down to me,
And raise, on Suribachi, this flag for all to see.

"But then, if I don't see it, I'll know that you are gone,
So I'll send up someone else, and the fighting will go on.
Hustle up there boys, with courage, and help us win the day,
And take back Suribachi for the good ol' USA."

"Yes, sir," shouted Shrier, above the deafening noise,
As he clutched the small flag and rallied his boys;
The lieutenant began then to hike the steep hill,
Hoping he could take it without getting killed.

Every step brought him closer, and he kept pressing on,
Though he very well knew he might not see the dawn.
Crawling, at times, on his hands and his knees,
There were times when all he could utter was,"Please!"

"Please don't let me die, dear God," he thought
As another wave of fire hit the men that he brought;
With eyes still glued on the crater in sight,
He continued to advance and to keep in the fight.

Finally, the top of the mountain they reached,
And Shrier remembered what the colonel had preached;
"Find something to tie this flag to," he said,
As he looked 'round about him at the ground strewn with dead.

A bare piece of pipe was found near where he stood;
To the flag it was tied; he pronounced their work good;
Raising high the bright emblem, he saluted it there,
And a wave of hope then filled the air.

Below, where the colonel was waiting to see
If the men were on top and the flag was still free,
A Marine nearby him shouted," Colonel, it's there!"
And he raised his eyes to see it soaring up there.

"But it's not big enough," he added,"for all here to see,
So I'll send up another to those guards of the free."

When the flag, which was larger, advanced so slow,
With the orders to raise it, from the shores below,
Crested the rise, the Marines set to work,
Though the danger of death seemed around them to lurk.

Five Marines, and a Corpsman, volunteered to do the task
While their fellow comrades fired to prepare for them a mask.
Rosenthal was standing ready, as the flag began to rise,
And he snapped a picture quickly as it crept up toward the skies.

"Oo-rah!" the cry then sounded, and it trickled through the ranks:
From the top to the bottom, on the beaches, in the tanks;
The ships which sat in harbor sounded whistles loud and clear,
"The Marines once more have done it!" were the words from ear to ear.




The Marines went on to win what had been their toughest fight
Just because they kept on going, and they suffered for the right;
Now their names ring true to many, for those six they gallant were:
Their deeds of honor signaled that the victory was ensured.

Shrier, Hayes, Gagnon, and Sousley, with their buddies, saved the day;
Strank, Bradley, Block, and Johnson there, for freedom paved a way;
On this day we pause to honor those of them who gave it all
And raised the flag on Iwo - answered there the country's call.

These Marines of Iwo Jima who, for freedom, took a stand,
Did us honor on that mountain in that far-off distant land;
And it started with an order, but it ended with a cheer,
And the faith produced on Iwo keeps on going through the years.

One may think within that picture Rosenthal made famous there,
We can hear an order coming, piercing through the noisy air:
"If you get to the top, Lieutenant, send a signal down to me,
And raise on Suribachi this flag for all to see."




Saturday, February 21, 2015

O Love of God!


"The springs of love are in God, not in us." So said, Oswald Chambers, and I wholeheartedly agree. As the song below so aptly puts it, 

"…I marvel at the mystery: that One so great
could love someone like me - undeserved and free!"

O love of God! How can one truly fathom such depths of mercy and grace! 



Friday, February 20, 2015

A Love Beyond Comprehension


"Though our knowledge of Christ's love 
is imperfect, we may know
enough to shame us that 
we have not loved him more. 
His love allowed
him to suffer the most dreadful things on our account…
The love of Christ
was a conquering, triumphant love. 
It bore down whatever stood whatever
stood in its way. It grappled with the displeasure of God…
Though we cannot
attain the fullness of the fountain of his love, 
we may receive a fullness of the
vessel from the fountain."
- Vincent Alsop in Voices From the Past



Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Quote of the Day

"Christ's love is as the pouring of 
sweet water on flowers, which makes 
them cast a more fragrant perfume."
-Thomas Watson

Monday, February 9, 2015

Living Well

 On Saturday, I walked into the church and looked around. The place was packed with people, and there was standing room only. So Katie, I thought. I instantly noticed the lime green and navy blue colors her friends and family members were wearing...and the Seattle Seahawks jerseys that seemed to be everywhere. I wouldn't have even been surprised if the quarterback Russell Wilson had showed up to the service also. So Katie. I looked at the many different ages of those who were present. Once again, so Katie. Katie had the ability to touch the lives of everybody she met...and she did it well. As I got to my seat and listened to the sounds of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" filling the room, I read the back of my program:
 "Katie was born with the capacity to make your heart smile and brighten your world. Often, all it took was a flash of her megawatt smile. She was a happy child who delighted in everyone and everything around her (except spiders and clowns!) She loved her family, friends, and church. Spending joyful time with them was her top priority. 
They say a person's true character is revealed when they face adversity. Katie faced more adversity in 18 years than most of us will face in our entire lifetimes. She never let it beat her. Katie did not lose a battle to cancer, she won by keeping a beautiful attitude through it all. The Lord blessed Katie with a spirit of joy and peace, and God's love shined through her."


 As the service got underway, it became clear to me that Katie not only showed others how to die but, more importantly, how to live...and to live fully! I saw the fresh bouquet of lilies on the memory table and it struck me as the stories and memories unfolded: like her favorite flower, Katie's life was brief but it was truly one of the most beautiful lives I have ever observed. The more I heard about her, coupled with what I already knew from experience, I became increasingly thankful that I had the privilege of knowing this amazing young lady! 


  Perhaps the most inspiring thing about Katie is that she lived her one life well...and to the fullest. She didn't live in past regrets but instead was always focused on the here and now - on the good she could do today. Even up to the last couple of weeks before her death, she continued to volunteer for the Alaska chapter of Make-A-Wish Foundation, which had already given her some incredible moments. It seemed only fitting for her to want to give back. Again, so Katie. Always reaching out to others, always thinking of how they were feeling or what would make their lives better. Hardly have I met a more unselfish individual who was so determined to make the most of the time she had on this earth. I watched the slideshow during the service and thought: Katie had more life in her while battling cancer than some people have in 80 years of living a healthy and normal life! That unbridled zest for life was in her to the very end; in fact, she was sitting in bed laughing with her family just hours before she slipped away. She went out smiling. Some time before her death, Katie said the following, 
  "I'm not dying of cancer, I'm just living a shortened life with some limits on it. I do not want to be known as the dying girl. I want to be that girl that made life worth every second for as long as she could...I'm going to spend the rest of my life living; not dying." 
That's how this remarkable girl viewed the role she had to play in life. Though limited, she wanted to play her part with style and grace, which she did to the very end. Katie made it clear that, once she was gone, people shouldn't focus on her death but rather celebrate her life. As the memorial service ended, I felt as if that had been achieved. I sensed a joy amid the sadness, a rejoicing in spite of the pain. Katie knew where she was headed. She made that clear to all she met. From the moment cancer reared its ugly head, she accepted the journey as part of God's plan for her and embraced it fully. 


Seattle Seahawks' quarterback Russell Wilson
with Katie following one of her many surgeries. 

  When I left the church, music was playing, and a bunch of her friends and family had formed a flash mob and were dancing. It's what Katie would've wanted. Like many others, my life was changed for the better because of her. And I say good-bye to her, more resolved than ever to live fully. Katie, you will always be remembered in the hearts of those who knew and loved you. Thank you for showing us all what it means to live our one life well. 


Saturday, February 7, 2015

True Love



"In this was manifested the love of God
toward us, because that God sent 
his only begotten son into the world,
that we might live through him.
Herein is love, not that we loved God,
but that he loved us, and sent his 
son to be the propitiation for our sins. 
Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought
also to love one another."
- 1 John 4:9-11


Friday, February 6, 2015

Quote of the Day



"How marvelous that when we had rebelled against Him,
he should, by a display of such amazing love, seek to draw us back.
No! never should we have had a grain of love towards God unless it
had been sown in us by the sweet seed of His love to us. Love, then,
has for its parent the love of God shed abroad in the heart…"
- Charles H. Spurgeon in
Morning By Morning

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Where Love Originates

 February is considered by most to be the season of love. It's the season of telling people that you love them - of giving roses and tokens of affection to your special someone, of romantic dinners and private get-aways. But, in recent years, I have come to ask a very important question: is this all there is? Is this all that love is really about? I ponder and ask myself further: Is love merely about human feelings, emotions, and arrows shot from Cupid's bow? Where does true love originate? 
  The realization comes to me that the origin of love did not start with humanity. It began with God. God's love existed before time ever did, and He imparted a capacity for that love into the hearts of human beings, thus reflecting the truth John Milton described so well when he said that humanity was "majestic, tho' in ruins." When God created the world and the first human beings to inhabit it, He taught them how to love. But here is the most startling thing of all: when they turned their backs on Him and rejected that love of His, He didn't turn around and do the same to them - He showed them the greatest act of selfless love imaginable: He sent His Son Jesus to earth to die for the sins of humanity and restore that broken love! We've all heard that verse which says,

"Greater love hath no man than this:
that a man lay down his life for his friend."
-John 15:30

 In no way was this better exemplified that in the life, death, and resurrection of the Sovereign Lord. Is that not a wonder? That Jesus would love humanity enough to give His one life for them…even when they cared little for Him or had any desire to return that love?!!! In and of myself, I have no ability to love God, to follow Him, or to believe. 
I must be taught to do so. Taught by the One who is the truest example of love. Through Him, we learn what it means to be unselfish, to be kind, to be gentle, to treat others with respect and dignity. By looking to Him and following Him, we are transformed from unloving human beings into caring people who love like He does. 
  This season, I choose to focus on the love of God. Because, without Him to show the way, I would have no reason to love those around me or to accept the love they show toward me! God must give the grace and provide the example. 

"I love my Lord, but with no love of mine,
For I have none to give;
I love thee, Lord, but all the love is Thine,
For by Thy love I live.
I am as nothing, and rejoice to be
Emptied, and lost, and swallowed up in Thee."
-Madame Guyon
  

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Little Acts of Love

 He said his name was Danny. As we walked out of the local mall, he came over to us and asked a simple request: "Could you get me something hot to eat? I haven't got any money." His lonely gaze met ours, and it was clear that he was homeless. Carrying his belongings on his back, his face was red from the bitter cold outside. Just inside the mall was a pretzel stand. My mom agreed to buy him a pretzel. As I watched her walk Danny over to the pretzel stand, I thought about how many people might have passed up the opportunity to reach out to him. I had already seen a lady pass by him prior to him talking to us. I also thought of how desperately this world needs kindness, of how starved it is for love. For His love! I prayed quietly as my mom handed Danny his pretzel and began to ask him if he had lived here very long. "All my life," came the reply. He was a hometown boy…one of us. A local. Just a young man who had fallen on hard times. Don't we all? In that moment, as we left him eating his pretzel just inside the doorway of the mall, I walked away contemplating the fact that our simple act of care and kindness could end up changing his life. We will probably never know…but stories have been told of how one person changed the future of someone who was down and out because they took the time to stop and show they cared. Maybe…just maybe…I thought: Danny was touched by God through us. Maybe that day his heart was warmed through a little act of love. 
 This world can often be quite unforgiving and unloving. People rush on past those who hurt the most and will not take the time to listen and reach out. I see it all the time. I have sadly done it more than once myself. But going forward, I resolve to live differently. To not be counted among those who are too busy, too stressed to pause and give a hand to another in need. There are lots of Dannys out there who just need to be told that they matter. That someone cares for them. Who need to be shown the love of the Savior. Jesus said it himself: those who give a cup of cold water (or in our case, a pretzel) in his name will gain eternal rewards (Matt. 10:42). Those who do these acts of love will be blessed by God (Matt. 25: 34-40), and God will also bless those who receive these gestures of caring from His followers. Truly, with every act of love they become the door through which God can reach the aching hearts of a dying and desperate world. Don't turn down the chance to become a blessing. Your "Danny" just might show up today, and you could have an opportunity to show them the love of God. 


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Meaning of Love


"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not
envy, it does not boast,
it is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered, it keeps
no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil
but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts,
always hopes, always perseveres. 
Love never fails."
- 1 Corinthians 13:4-8


Perfect Love


"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, 
because fear has to do with punishment. 
The man who fears is not made perfect in love.
We love because he first loved us."
- 1 John 4: 18-19

His love is enough to drive away all of my darkness, and it's all that I ever will need!



Quote of the Day

"He who sings a song to Christ in the night, sings the best song in all the world; for he sings from the heart."
                      - Charles Spurgeon

Monday, February 2, 2015

Sing Forever

I stare down at the page, and the words seem to leap off of it. I read, and their meaning speaks loud and clear:

"Praise ye the Lord. Praise the Lord, O my soul.
While I live I will praise the Lord: I will sing 
praises to my God while I have any being."
- Psalm 146:1-2

This doesn't mean that there won't be times when the praise seems to come hard, or when I don't even feel like praising at all…it does mean, however, that I must still find a way to sing. Sing the thankfulness…sing the blessing…sing the joy - no matter how hard life may be. The beauty of a grace-filled life is that He makes it possible for me to sing forever, whatever the season. In the darkness, sing. In the pain, sing. In the sorrow, sing. Sing soul…for the Creator of your existence is honored in full when you praise. When you thank. When you utter the timeless truth: He is good! You are loved! While you have any life within you, offer up the sacrifice of joy. God has been too good to you to shut yourself off to His blessing. To cease being open to Grace. Keep singing…