The Sun IS Shining

A few years ago, I took an online assessment to learn what my top five strengths are according to Gallup. (For information on the specifics of “StrengthsFinder” click here.) One of the strengths I had was “Positivity.” At the time, I didn’t see it. When it comes to the labels of “optimist” or “pessimist,” I tend to be a “realist.” I have no problem seeing potential or probable difficulties ahead and planning accordingly.

However, over the last couple of years, I have realized that I am indeed a positive person. Even if I see a glass that is only one quarter full, I’d probably say at least there is something in there…

Just last week as I sat with a friend at a café on the beach, I exhibited this strength again. We were staring out the window at the cloudy skies, and my friend commented that the sun would not be shining that day. Without even thinking about it, I responded that the sun was still shining even if we couldn’t see it.

At the time it was just a simple comment, but as I tried to think of what to write about today, it came to mind again. There are things I’ve been praying about for months or even years, things I believe God has promised me, and I don’t see them yet. The clouds have yet to part and allow the light to shine into those particular areas of my life. That doesn’t mean the light isn’t there though.

One of my favorite musicians is Andrew Peterson, and he wrote a song called “Mountains on the Ocean Floor.” (See below). It talks about how growth can take place under the surface without us ever realizing it. It isn’t until the mountain breaks through the surface that we become aware of what has been happening in unseen places.

I don’t know what it is you find yourself waiting or hoping for today. Maybe there is a specific area of your life that looks hopeless. You’ve been watching for something to change, and maybe it looks like nothing is happening. Just know that under the surface or behind the clouds, things are happening. The sun is shining, and growth is happening.

One day breakthrough will come, and we will get to see what has been building just beyond where our eyes could see. Until then, we get to practice faith – “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1) “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).

Hope in the Saturday…

We talk a lot about the Friday when Jesus died on the cross. We call it “good” Friday, and indeed the outcome was so much more than just good. I guarantee, though, that His followers would not have called it that!

Let’s look for just a moment at Luke 5 where several of the twelve men closest to Jesus met Him for the first time (verses 1-11 & 27-28). It says they “left everything” and followed Him. They and others were with Him for three years of ministry. They had seen many miracles of healing, provision, and even the dead being raised. They believed Jesus Christ was the Messiah, the One who would come and establish His Kingdom and bring freedom from the oppression they lived under. They walked away from the lives they had known, certain that they had chosen the winning side.

Now three years later, it seemed all that had changed. The one they had given up everything for had been beaten, mocked, humiliated, spit on and crucified. He must have seemed anything but the victorious King they expected.

Usually, when I hear people talk about Good Friday, as soon as Jesus is in the tomb, they fast forward to Sunday, to the part of the story we all like to think about – the resurrection, the VICTORY! Let’s not fast forward though… Let’s spend a few minutes in the shoes of those who couldn’t just read the next chapter in their Bible.

These were the men who would write their stories for us to read and learn from for centuries to come. The scriptures they had available to them talked of a promised Savior whose Kingdom would not end (Is. 9:2-7) But those dream were gone, apparently, and they had nothing left… nothing aside from fear and probably guilt (Matt. 26:56-58). In the time when their master was taken away, the disciples took off, scattering in fear. Peter followed at a distance long enough to deny Jesus and then fled.

There is very little written about the Saturday after Jesus died because it was the Sabbath. Very little could be done on the Sabbath by anyone under the law. All that we’re told happened was a guard being put on the tomb (Matt. 27:62-66).

Next time we see the eleven apostles, they are sitting in a locked room, in fear for their lives because of their association with Jesus. I imagine them sitting there in disbelief – their minds and hearts a tumultuous mixture of sadness, anger, guilt, confusion and despair, wondering how they could have gotten it so wrong. Even when they were told the good news that Jesus had risen, they refused to believe it (John 20:19, Mark 16:7, 10-14).

What I find amazing about their disbelief in His resurrection is that He had told them a number of times recorded in the gospels that He would be killed and rise again on the third day. Their despair was so complete they had given up on His words to them. They had expectations for how the prophecies and promises about the Messiah would look, and this loss did not fit into their plans. When their expectations weren’t met, they gave up on His words altogether.

They had seen Jesus bring life in place of death several times before, but surely the One doing the miracle had to have life in Him in order to speak it into something else, right? They were forgetting His words to Martha when He raised her brother, Lazarus, back to life (John 11:25-26). He didn’t just HAVE resurrection and life to give others. He IS those things! He said in John 10:10 that He came that we might have life, and have it abundantly.

Are there dreams you’ve had to bury? Have you expected God to do something and experienced despair when your hopes seem to go up in smoke? Do you believe He is who He says He is, and He can bring the abundant life He has promised – even from a place of despair and death?

This week, as we celebrate the incredible event that changed history and eternity, don’t be too quick to skip from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning. Think of the disciples in their locked room, filled with fear and despair so completely that they had given up on His words to them. What pieces of your own heart have been locked away in fear or despair? Invite Jesus to show up and bring life and hope in those locked places just as He did for His friends so many years ago. He is still the same today as He was when He appeared to them long ago.

Growing Pains

I was stretched today. I know it’s normal to be uncomfortable when you’re taken outside of your comfort zone. (That’s the whole point of a “comfort zone” in the first place. ) Today, however, I was taken well beyond that zone. (I wish stretching outside our comfort zone resulted in being a bit taller and thinner, but alas, I am the same size as I was this morning.)

Nothing bad happened today. I was invited (read “volunteered”) to accompany a singer for a number of songs during an event in a local church. I play the guitar just enough to sing along and lead worship on occasion, and that’s fine most of time. Until today, I had never played accompaniment for someone else, and it was a stretching undertaking for a number of reasons which aren’t important. The point is, I was taken far outside my “zone”, and it was a very challenging experience.

I could have avoided the discomfort. There were a couple of instances during the process when I could have said “no.” No one forced me to pick up the guitar and strum it. I made the choice to say yes to a request.

As I have thought about the situation this evening, I have realized once again that it is most often in the uncomfortable places where growth occurs. When God told me my word for 2016 was “Growth,” I knew that on some level it would involve growing pains. Saying “yes” to God and other people often involves discomfort. Sometimes, it is momentary discomfort of playing a guitar in front of a group of people and feeling completely inadequate to the task. Other times it may involve saying goodbye to loved ones and moving far away or missing big moments in the lives of those we love.

Growing pains are not fun, but growth rarely happens without them. Yesterday, I celebrated two years of living in Ireland. It has been an amazing experience, and I would not trade the life I have today for anything.  I am not the same person who arrived here back then, but all of the growth that has occurred has brought a measure of discomfort and pain.

Still, pain isn’t something to be feared. It’s not a thing to be sought after for no reason, but growth and even healing require a certain amount of discomfort. If we avoid experiences that take us out of our comfort zone, we will never reach our potential or discover the new things God may want to do with us. I have no idea what might be coming around the corner in my life, but I pray that I have the courage to continue saying “yes” to opportunities no matter how uncomfortable they make me.

What are you avoiding that might take you beyond where you are comfortable? What might you need to say “yes” to today? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Winter is past.

Calry Tulips (2)

A friend of mine was praying for me a couple of weeks ago, and God gave her a picture of me walking through a field of tulips. In the picture, someone walking in front of me would occasionally pick a tulip and hand it to me, and this continued until I had a nice bouquet. She also heard the phrase, “the winter is past.”

This seemed significant to me because one of the verses hanging on the door of my wardrobe says that very thing. Song of Songs 2:10-12 says, “My Beloved spoke and said to me, ‘Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.’”

I am ready for Spring, the season of new life and new beginnings! However, as we are nearing the celebration of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, I am reminded that this season of new life is dependent on the season before it. Just as Jesus had to die and be buried before we could celebrate His resurrection, the seeds have to fall and be buried before they can begin to grow and bring new life to the earth. The times of rain are necessary for the appearance of flowers on the earth.

Perhaps the past season of your life has been a difficult one filled with long, dark nights and with mourning buried dreams. Hold on. Winter is past. The time of singing has come! Perhaps it feels like you are just entering a “winter” season; maybe it seems like everything around you is falling to the ground and the night is growing darker and longer. Hold on. Winter will pass, and the time of singing will come again.

Whatever season of life you find yourself living in today, make the most of it. Be aware of the beauty that can be seen in every phase of life. Whether our lives are full of new growth, “burials”, or anything in between, there is beauty to be found if we will look for it. It may be easier to sing as the days get brighter, but the songs sung in the winter may be the most beautiful we ever sing.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” Philippians 4:4-7.

I pray whatever season you’re in now, that God will open your eyes to the blessings and beauty surrounding you in the midst of it, that His love and grace will carry you through, and that your song will bring glory to Him and joy to many.

What’s in your hand?

This past Saturday evening, I got to spend time with a group of ladies who came together to worship Jesus and encourage one another. We heard stories of God’s leading and provision, sang a couple of songs, prayed for each other, and listened to a word that one of the ladies shared.

She told pieces of stories about several people in the Bible who were faithful with the seemingly insignificant things they had available, and they saw God work miracles in their lives as a result. She was sharing with us that while others may seem to have so much to offer compared to our meager offerings, we all have something to contribute, and God can do amazing things when we offer whatever we have to give. (See the stories of Moses, a widow on the verge of losing everything, and David for more details.)

The speaker shared about how easy it is to look at the people who are doing the visible, up front ministry tasks (like leading worship or speaking) and think that the ability to encourage or be a friend to someone seems pretty small in comparison with the impact those more “visible” people can make. But as she was talking, it was hitting me that those in the more visible roles of ministry often have the same feelings of insignificance.

I have had people say to me how great it is that I can play the guitar and sing and lead in worship. Some have said they wish they could write or teach or even just hear from God like I do. I sat there on Saturday night feeling like a couple of the women there were thinking I would likely gain nothing from the speaker’s encouragement because they see me as offering the more significant – or at least more visible – gifts to God and His Body.

The truth is, though, that I needed that encouragement to offer what’s in my hand. I was scheduled to lead worship at church the next morning, and I was feeling completely inadequate to the task in that moment. I’m grateful for the gifts of teaching, singing and writing that God has given me, and yet far too often, I see them as almost useless to God. I wonder how many people really read my words or whether the music and teaching really touch anyone. How could these things that might as well be a stick, a tiny measure of oil, or a few stones and a sling ever be enough to deliver a nation, save a family, or bring down a giant?

Of course, the answer is that in our own strength, they can’t be enough to make much of a difference. When offered to God, though, they can make all the difference in the world! As we allow Him to empower us to use the things He has placed in our hands, the world can change in ways we have not dared to dream!

What’s in your hand today that God might want to use for His glory?