When You're Struggling in the Gray and Need a Vivid Portrait of Jesus



The rain falls all day on Saturday.

It's one of those days where time's hands slowed their pace, perfectly in sync with Spring's dawning.  

I light candles, glowing red against the gray skies.

New shoots of green grass drink the Spring rain like parched desert travelers. Trees branches bud new life as rain drops drape from them like diamond necklaces.

I brew a fresh pot of coffee.

I crack a window and turn off the TV, leaning into smells of damp earth. The patio has morphed into Noah's Ark for refugee snails.

I inhale deep, exhale long, and sigh.

Gathering the cats into my lap and snuggling warm under a blanket, I gaze up at the stormy gray skies. The stress of a hectic week flows away like the mini rivers crisscrossing the backyard.

Time ceases and I lose track of how long I just ... AM.



I marvel at the beauty of color, even when the day is gray.

Life is like that.  

Sometimes our days blur together in shades of gray and we're running at breakneck speed, missing the vibrant beauty that's waiting to be noticed.

The splendor is ever present, but only when we slow our pace can we behold the treasure.



I dislodge the cats and reach for my Bible. In those black and white pages, John paints exquisite portraits of Jesuseach chapter a canvas of our loving Savior pursuing us for relationship.

Rich, color-filled illustrations of love and sacrifice that I desperately need to remember on those gray days.

I marvel at John's portraits of Christ — so I make a list:

John 1—Son of God: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (1:14)

John 4—Soul Winner: "Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (4:14)

John 5—Great Physician: "Then Jesus said to him, 'Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.' At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked." (5:8-9)

John 6—Bread of Life: "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry." (6:35)

John 8—Defender of the Weak: "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (8:7)

John 9—Light of the World: "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." (9:5) 

John 10—Good Shepherd: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (10:11)

John 13Servant: "He poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him." (13:5)

John 14—Consoler: "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me." (14:1) 

John 19—Suffering Savior: "Carrying the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull. There they nailed him to the cross." (19:17-18)

John 20—Conqueror of Death: "Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance." (20:1)


Jesus draws us to Him. He knows what He offers is good. I pause and allow His goodness to wash over my heart and mind like the life-giving Spring rain.  

God ordained rest. He knows what He offers is good. Rushing through life turns colorful days into bland gray repetition—missed and never savored. 

So on those hard days when I struggle through darkness, this list points to the Light of the world who is my Defender, Good Shepherd, Consoler and Soul Winner. 

And this gray day explodes with dramatic color.  

I close my Bible and take a sip of coffee.  

I inhale deep, exhale long, and sigh.  

Thankful. Content. Loved.

What portrait of Jesus draws you to Him today?
Can you add anything to the list?
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Suicide's Silent Cry - Following Up


Two years ago this week, I wrote a blog post on suicide after a friend told me that she had tried to kill herself. After seeking help from family, friends and church, she is doing very well today.

Then over the weekend, I spent time with a different friend who is struggling with thoughts of suicide. We're in constant communication as we seek the Lord's guidance together and professional help for her. I don't want this precious friend to slip through the cracks of my "busyness."

Facing this topic again hit me hard. Consequently, today I am reposting my original post. It's so easy for busyness to take the front seat, allowing friends to slip through the cracks under a fa├žade of "Everything's fine."

I love you all and do not tread lightly into this subject. It's a privilege to pray for you and wrestle through the Scriptures together on our journeys of faith.

The comments are open. Let's talk.

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March 12, 2013

Eyes haunted, she said it five minutes into our conversation last week.

"In November, I tried to kill myself."

Stunned, I could only stare at my friend, tears welling up. Spilling over. She had emailed the day before asking to meet for lunch. Just to chat and talk about a new venture in her life. We hadn't seen each other in months.

"I didn't believe anyone cared if I was gone," she said. "My family dynamics, my health struggles, financial stress - it just became too much. I was just so very tired." 

Her attempt wasn't a spur of the moment decision. She had researched on the internet an over-the-counter drug that would be a lethal combination with her prescribed medication. She drove to the store, made the purchase, took the pills, and went to bed.

She silently assumed her husband, family and friends didn't care. That they wouldn't miss her. She never expected to wake up again.

But God had other plans.

When she awoke the next morning and realized her suicide attempt failed, she confessed to her husband. He was beside himself and rushed her to the emergency room.

The doctors informed her she had miscalculated the lethal dose by a mere 200mg.

Looking back, she realizes that God gifted her with a new perspective. She sought counseling and shared hard, honest feelings with her family. She opened up to her church's small group, who has inundated her with love and support.

After years of struggling silently, she had reached her breaking point.

Perhaps you can relate to breaking points. 

Her story served as wake-up call for me. 

I felt as if I had let my friend down. That I wasn't there when she most needed me.

It made me realize that I need to have more conversations with friends about stuff that matters instead of the weather or latest TV program. To ask how they're doing - really doing - and listen without interruption.

If you are reading this today and find yourself at a breaking point, please reach out to someone. A family member. Pastor. Friend. SOMEONE. Because you are not alone. You are God's precious creation, so immeasurably loved that His Son voluntarily died and was victoriously raised to life to offer you eternity with Him.

"I have loved you with an everlasting love.
With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself."
Jeremiah 31:3

If you know someone who is enduring a difficult season, call them. Send an email. Drop by. SOMETHING. Let them know you care.

It may provide a 200mg difference.

Have you ever faced suicide in any capacity?
How can we help each other better?


NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE: 1-800-273-8255
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Where's Your Flaming Fruit?



"Lukewarm people call 'radical' what Jesus expected of all his followers."
~Francis Chan

That is a convicting statement.

I mean, you have probably heard the phrase, "He/she is on fire for God!" Perhaps, people have said it about you.

But what does that really mean?  What does it look like?

Every time I hear that phrase, I pause to look closer at that person. I read their Facebook posts and Twitter feed. Check out their latest blog post or book. Peruse their website.

In a nutshell, I'm looking for fruit.

Scripture says: Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits." Matthew 7:15-20 (ESV)

We ultimately recognize Jesus followers by their fruit, not their plans.

All too often we deem someone to be "on fire for God" because of their words. They have big ideas. Lots of enthusiasm. A new project perpetually in the works.

But does it ever come to fruition? 

I'm blessed to know many talented, sold-out Jesus followers. I don't have to search for their fruit because, figuratively speaking, I can't reach them without wading through the piles of good fruit surrounding them.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God enables them to accomplish much for His kingdom. They are involved in mission work, shepherding godly children, dynamic pastoring, or helping those in need. 

Abundant fruit becomes part of how we identify radical disciples. Yet such a crop costs much. 

Prolific fruit-bearers have not lived free of difficulties, heart scrapes, or soul blows. They obediently allow God to shape them by pruning weak or diseased branches so that only good fruit comes forth.

They surrender their brokenness to God to redeem as fertile ground to plant fruit-producing crops. 

I trust them to speak truth into my life because they've been in the trenches. Patiently waiting. Studying Scripture. Listening. They recognize and wholeheartedly follow our Savior's voice.

Those are disciples on fire for God. And it's not because they say it, but because we "recognize them by their fruit.

They live truly radical, non-lukewarm, Spirit-led lives.

That's the kind of disciple I want to be. Every. Single. Day.

What about you?

Donna Pyle

How to Celebrate in the Midst of Messy


She asks me how it's going.

And I have to smile.

I tell her about the piles of research on my desk and dishes in the sink yet despite whatever mess we're experiencing, how there's always so much good. 

Like the home God has provided, health He has granted, and priceless friends who make life rich beyond measure.

There's also the hard things. Like the lists. And the 9 to 5, the deadlines, the research, and the writer's block.

It's strange how an overcrowded mind and overflowing desk can undo everything—if I let it.

For the life of me, I can't get it all right.

I'm a mess far from perfect. 

I need Jesus.

I need the perfect sacrifice of my Savior who reshapes my broken messes into breathtaking mosaics of Grace.

I need the communion table of Grace and Forgiveness that God prepares for those who love Him.

The key is remembering to celebrate when life crowds in tight.

A celebrant keeps company with Jesus and celebrates His extravagant Grace. A celebrant keeps her eyes plastered on His perfect sacrifice — precisely because she isn't perfect.  

We the imperfect, the sinners, the wounded and burdened  are the ones who get to celebrate Grace.

Christ invites us to embrace this life fully as celebrants, not because we have it all together, but because He perfectly finished it all at the Cross. The reminders shine vivid during Lent.

We celebrate the fact that God's mercies arrive new every morning. Every. Single. Morning.

Regardless of the messes, if Christ is the Lord of your life, then you are a celebrant dancing in the downpour of His Grace.

So I light a candle on my messy desk and breathe deep. 

Amidst the lull, His Grace inhabiting this moment, my hands unclench.

His peace lifts the burdens slumping my shoulders. The dishes can wait.

I notice the kitty cats purring. The birds vying for space at my backyard feeder. The bright green hyacinth sprouting up through warm soil.

Slowly, praise begins to rise like incense.

We can be celebrants each day, you and I. We have that stunning privilege to worship instead of worry.

And I want to be His worshiper.

Celebrating — even in the midst of messy. 

Do you find it hard to celebrate when life gets messy?
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When God Sighs


Have you ever stumbled over a small, ordinary word in Scripture? Not one of those hard-to-pronounce names, but a standard, everyday, normal word?

It happened to me over the weekend. As I read through a set of passages to wrap my mind around something specific, I tripped right over one word. I couldn't get past it.  

Believe me, I tried, but my eyes kept going back to it.

Finding the answer to my original question promptly vanished. The one word would not go away. So I backed up, slowed down, and read the word in context:

"Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. Then he spit and touched the man's tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, 'Ephphatha!' (which means "Be opened!"). At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly." Mark 7:31-35 (ESV)

Quite a passage, isn't it? The man was deaf and had a speech impediment, so perhaps Jesus had to explain what he was about to do through gestures. In kindness, Jesus took the man away from the crowd, safe from prying eyes.

But right before Jesus reached out to heal the man, that one word stopped me again. Jesus did something I never noticed before.

He sighed. 

That reaction seemed out of place considering the miracle He was about to perform. Perhaps I thought Jesus would have praised the faith-filled actions of the people who brought the man to him for healing. Or prayed a profound prayer.

Instead, he sighed.

I have never thought of God as one who sighs. He commands. He weeps. He speaks galaxies into existence. He calls forth from the dead. He battles with Satan.   

But a God who sighs?

When I sigh it's usually because I'm tired or exasperated. Even fed up. I've sighed when my feeble resistance to temptation fails or when loved ones hurt my heart. In the Bible, Job sighed when he endured severe trials (Job 3:24).

I bet you've done your fair share of sighing, as well.

Max Lucado describes sighing this way: "Man was not created to be separated from his Creator; hence he sighs longing for home. The creation was never intended to be inhabited by evil; hence she sighs, yearning for the Garden. And conversations with God were never intended to depend on a translator; hence the Spirit groans on our behalf, looking to a day when humans will see God face to face."
 
Perhaps when Jesus looked into the eyes of that man, sighing was the only appropriate thing to do. His sigh spoke volumes:

     ...beloved, it was never intended to be this way.
     ...your ears weren't made to be deaf.
     ...your tongue wasn't made to stumble. 

It's a sigh that lies somewhere between a fit of anger and a burst of tears.

Oddly enough, knowing Jesus sighs gives me hope. It reminds me that He loves you and me enough to feel the burden of our suffering and sin-filled condition. When I'm rebellious, He doesn't wash his hands of me and turn away.

Perhaps...he sighs:

     ...beloved, there's a better choice.
     ...trust me, I'll never hurt you.
     ...lean on me, not your own understanding.

That holy sigh assures us that God still groans for His people.

And that brings me comfort today.    

What about you?
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trASH Wednesday


Before Ash Wednesday rings in at midnight tonight, Mardi Gras in New Orleans culminates with a blowout celebration.

French for Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras originally referred to the practice of one last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual 40-day fasting of the Lenten season.

Our culture has turned Mardi Gras into week-long festivals. From parades and balls to masks and elaborate costumes, it's the cue for many to overindulge in all sorts of ways.

At 11:59 p.m. on Fat Tuesday, the streets of New Orleans sit ankle deep in discarded masks, broken beads, trampled doubloons, and used food and drink containers.

Fat Tuesday creates a lot of trash.

As we enter our churches tomorrow to begin the 40-days of Lent, we drag our trash in with us. You know, the junk in our lives that we've accumulated and hung onto since last year's Lent.

Our garbage litters the pristine aisles and sullies our mind with the refuse of regrets, waste of missed opportunities, and the rubbish of shattered dreams.

Yet God lovingly invites us.

We are aware of our junk, so we approach Him with eyes downcast -- stumbling on the trash that chokes our freedom. And He welcomes us. He invites us to discard our masks and elaborate disguises that conceal feelings, hide behaviors, and keep Him at arms length.

God sees us drowning -- so He picks us out of the pile, cleanses us, and sets us on a new path.

"Who can compare with God, our God, so majestically enthroned, surveying His magnificent heavens and earth? He picks up the poor from out of the dirt, rescues the wretched who've been thrown out with the trash, and seats them among the honored guests, a place of honor among the brightest and best." Psalm 113:5-8 (MSG)

God invites us to leave the used food and drink containers at the altar in exchange for His bread of life. His communion of forgiveness.

To heal our hearts. And redeem us from our sin.

As I prepare to walk into church tomorrow night for our Ash Wednesday service, I'm painfully aware of the rotting trash curling around my feet. The rancid yards of it trailing behind me. The putrid bags of it I carry in my heart.

Self-centeredness. Entitlement. Pride.

Trash.

I'm so thankful for a loving God who still welcomes. Still invites. Endlessly loves. Continues to initiate that relationship with me that means everything.

He does the same for every single person who seeks Him.

He excels at redeeming us from our trash.

How are you preparing spiritually for Lent? 
 
*This is a blog archive re-post from 2014*

The Deposit We Take For Granted



Today, 86,400 of the most precious commodity has been deposited into my stewardship account.

And yours.

We are given this incredible gift every single day.

86,400 seconds is mine every time the sun rises, orbits, then sleeps.

And as the clock's hands go round and round today, I will either invest those seconds to grow exponentially for eternity, or let them tick by wastefully into a meaningless abyss.

I have a choice today. So do you.

We can choose to speak words to encourage and build, or spew words that hurt and deflate.

The Apostle Mark understood such a precious investment. He understood that time passes in an instant. He realized the urgency at stake, so he penned the word "immediately" no less than ten times in his Gospel's first chapter alone.

Carpe diem.

Seize the day.

Before the unstoppable train of this day gathers steam, seize an important moment to pause and utter this prayer, "God, give me the wisdom to spend Your deposit wisely today."

What awaits me today?

What awaits you?

86,400 moments to express joy, fear, gratitude, happiness, sadness or regret -- and once gone, those moments are forever out of our grasp.

So what shall we do? Perhaps...

"To encourage one another daily, as long as it is called 'Today.'" Hebrews 3:13

To write words that will inspire a mind.

To sing a song that will soften a heart.

To tell someone that you love them.

To tell them about a Savior who loves them more than you ever could.

God has given us the gift of time, that ultimately all belongs to Him.

So...
How will you spend your 86,400 stewardship deposit today?
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What the Devil Is Really After


We tend to think that the devil is after our happiness.

Our spouse.

   Our children.

      Our security.

Well, he is.

But those are merely distractions to the devil's ultimate goal:

To steal your faith. 

Because without it, it's impossible to please God.

Paul, a pillar of faith, expressed nearly palpable relief in his final letter: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Tim. 4:7)

In the end, we all reach the finish line of this life. But the never-ending, drama-filled struggle along the journey is this: will we keep our faith?

Now, that's not the same thing as keeping our salvation. Salvation is a gift from God and not something we can just give back. We receive it by grace through faith, and not by works.

Faith is our active belief that God is who He says He is and does what He says He will do. During difficult seasons, we may struggle with actively believing that God is good.

   Or faithful.

      Or even listens to us.

That's when the enemy does his best work to knock the wind out of us. To kick us while we're down. To feed our doubts with fear. For me, that translates into targeting those I love most in this world.

But this truth changes everything:

God does not abandon us - even when we struggle with a crisis of faith. He is with us. His Holy Spirit resides in us and acts as God's interpreter in our lives, nudging and guiding us back toward Him. The same power that raised Christ from the grave and conquered death LIVES IN YOU. 

God holds you in the palm of His hand and nothing can snatch you from His iron grip of love. 

You are never at the devil's mercy. You are at the extraordinary, life-giving mercy and sustaining grace of our Savior Jesus Christ, which leads to eternal life free from suffering.

So if you are experiencing a crisis of faith, remember:

He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

God's love does conquer all. 

He is our refuge and fortress, so stand firm in the strength of His might, wearing His armor into your daily battle.

Because His love wins. Always.

What reassurance does this provide for your battle today?
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For Those Days That Leave You Speechless



Over the past week, I've been pondering the story of Zechariah in Luke 1. Those verses brought to mind this truth:

Sometimes we experience moments that leave us speechless.

You know, those almost incomprehensible life stunners that silence us:

    ... a blessing too immeasurable to grasp

    ... a heartbreak too deep to comprehend

    ... a long-awaited dream coming to fruition

    ... a tragedy too senseless to understand

When was the last time you experienced such a moment?

For me, it was that horrible day when Dad called long distance to tell me he had cancer. And again two and a half years later as I gave the eulogy at his funeral. 

The blood thundering in our ears drowns out all else. Pulse racing. Knees weak. Head spinning as we attempt to grasp the enormity of those moments.

We tend to remember exactly where we stood and who stood with us when we couldn't stand anymore.

Ordinary days take on HD clarity at such moments. Vivid details that stun our mind and silence our mouth.

It happened to Zechariah.

After decades of serving as a priest in the temple, the lot fell on Zechariah for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to burn the incense in the Holy of Holies. His moment was momentous enough, but God wasn't finished.

Zechariah disappeared behind the temple curtain. For a long time. Perhaps the people worried. After all, he was pretty old.

But he wasn't in there alone. A surprise visitor dropped in.

To his astonishment, Zechariah stood face to face with the angel Gabriel. They talked about Zechariah's tired prayer regarding a forgotten dream: a child of his very own. And Gabriel told Zechariah,

"Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John." Luke 1:13

His brain couldn't grasp what his ears heard, so Zechariah doubted the message and the messenger.

And lost his voice for over nine months.

God silenced Zechariah until the truth of His promise was revealed in His perfect timing: that Zechariah wouldn't just be any ordinary father, but father of the forerunner to the Messiah.

Zechariah didn't choose to go silent. We normally don't either.

Sometimes it takes speechless moments to still our rambling mouths so we can hear God's rich, boundless promises.

In a world that clamors for our attention, how do we hear and follow God's guidance?

We listen in the silence.

Whether our momentous moments are full of joy or sorrow, God isn't finished with us. Regardless of anything else, God still walks with us.

   Leading.

      Guiding.

         Always.

So if you're living in a season of stunned silence, instead of adding noise, simply pause.

Inhale.
Exhale.
Listen.
"I have loved you with an everlasting love." Jeremiah 31:3

When was the last time something stunned you into silence?
Do you tend to listen more closely during those times?

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When We Want to Pray Like Jesus Did


Over Christmas, I purchased my very first guitar.

I have no plans to take the music world by storm. I simply want to add acoustic beauty to the end of my personal quiet time each day. Just for me. Just for Jesus.

When I step out to learn something new, I intentionally seek out the best teacher. After purchasing a beginner's guitar book with DVD online, I asked one of my friends who plays in his own band to teach me the basic chords that comprise most songs.

When it comes to prayer, I want to seek out the best. Because sometimes my words or attitude don't make music. Sometimes I hit wrong chords or miss a beat through self-centeredness. Praying the "right" words is not my concern as much as learning to pray with heart and soul leaned in to Jesus.

Prayer is not so much a formula as it is the desire to seek God wholeheartedly in all things. To be an intercessor. So to learn, who would know how to pray better than God in the flesh?

How and what did Jesus pray for?

Jesus prayed before meals.

Before the miracle of feeding the 5,000, Jesus prayed. "Then He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass and taking five loaves and two fish, He looked up to heaven and said a blessing." (Matthew 14:19) Scripture doesn't record what Jesus prayed. It was likely a standard meal blessing. But He prayed. He acknowledged that the blessing they were about to receive came from God and no one else.

In the upper room with the disciples, Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper -- the ultimate meal. Scripture records: "And as they were eating, He took bread, and after blessing it, broke it and gave it to them." (Mark 14:22). Even knowing He would die within 24 hours, Jesus still gave thanks for the meal that God provided.

Jesus even sang some prayers. When He and the disciples left the upper room on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane, they sang the "Hallel." This traditional hymn was comprised of Psalms 115-118 and sang during the time of Passover. Jesus sang even though He knew that He would die within 24 hours.

I wonder. If we knew the date and time we would die, would we still be able to sing?

Jesus also offered prayers of thanksgiving.

"At that time Jesus declared, 'I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and revealed them to little children, for such was your gracious will." (Matthew 11:25-26) When we fail to give thanks to God, it reflects the condition of our relationship with Him. Not offering thanks for God's rich blessings is a sign that we take those blessings for granted.

When was the last time you thanked God that you were born in America? That in this wonderful nation, we enjoy the finest medical care, freedom to worship, the opportunity to learn, and even for the electronic device we are using right now. Giving thanks keeps us humble and provides a proper perspective.

Jesus also prayed before making important decisions. He prayed for the disciples.

But the coolest thing? He prays for YOU and me.

Right now. Even as you read this, He's praying for you: "He always lives to intercede for them." (Hebrews 7:25) Jesus is before the throne of God interceding on our behalf 24/7/365 because Satan is there accusing us 24/7/365. Jesus intercedes for us so that God sees us through His sacrifice, through His blood shed for us, and sees us as blameless.

Jesus didn't pray for wealth, fame, or more social media followers. He prayed for things and people that could make an eternal difference.

Those prayers make beautiful music for heart and soul.

May the same be said of us.
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