Friday, June 7, 2013

The Great Wall of Faith

The majestic lion, walking toward the two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve, looks into their eyes and sees their hearts.  The children look with wonder at this great and powerful creature, full of awe to be in His presence.  They see their true selves, through His eyes, for the first time.  Their greed, pride, mistakes, harsh words, depravity all radiate from their own hearts.  But in the eyes of the Beast is only one thing:  Love.  In that one moment, the walls of protection around their hearts are washed away like open floodgates.  The youngest son looks away, ashamed.  It is too hard to look at the Lion.  He has gone too far, destroyed too much, built up too many barriers because of his actions.  The flowing mane surrounds the animal’s warm eyes and says, only discernible to the boy, “I know your heart, let down the walls, and come to me.  Have faith to let go.  You have been brought near by me.  I will never let you go.  Just let go…and believe.”  

Walls.  We see them everywhere.  They surround me as I write the devo for this month’s newsletter.  They surround you when you sleep at night and when you go to church.  Like I said, walls are everywhere.  Like the boy, we build up walls around our hearts.  Fearful of letting go.  Unable to do the right thing.  Torn apart by the barriers we have carefully constructed to keep us “safe” from any and all harm.  The problem is that sometimes, walls keep good things out too.  If we knew how many good things we might miss by putting up walls we may think twice about putting them up in the first place. 

Did you know that the Great Wall of China is over 13,000 miles long, and because of its enormous size it can even be seen from outer space?  It sounds like the Chinese dynasties of history really wanted to make their presence known that their land belonged to them and only them.  They went to great lengths (literally) to protect their lands from invasion and destruction.  Yet with all 13,000 miles of stone, mud, and even the graves of dead laborers, they could still not keep people from getting through the massive structure.  Throughout history many walls have been constructed to either keep people out or keep people in.  These barriers were created for one thing:  protection.  Whether that is protection from the enemy or conspiracy from within, people have for centuries been trying to put up these walls of protection.  Another great wall from history is the Berlin Wall.  This wall, though providing protection, also brought oppression.  As millions and millions of persecuted Jews faced death and horrible mistreatment due to their religion, this great wall brought on by the vision of one terribly great and evil person changed the history of mankind.  This wall would, in the end, turn out to be a voice of victory and triumph for those who survived.  When, Ronald Reagan said, “Tear down this wall” a great victory was written in the annals of history.  But you see, the wall had to be torn down to receive the victory.

So what is the deal with walls anyway?  Why do they continue to stop us, to not allow us access?  Walls separate us.  They are built with that purpose to divide and isolate us from the rest of the world.  These physical walls are just a representation of what we do with the walls in our hearts.  We let sin become the barrier that keeps us from God.  It keeps us from having the relationship that He desires to have with us.  Before Christ, the Temple of God was separate; its inner workings were only for certain people.  A veil was set between the altar and its people.  It was intended that way then, but not anymore.  The Temple may have stopped us from having the relationship that God intended, but when Christ’s last breath ripped the curtain from top to bottom, the walls between us and Christ were abolished forever and ever.  And that is not to be forgotten, yet we do.  Christ changed the landscape of our access to Him for all eternity.  The way things were having been destroyed.  These walls exist because the sin in our lives separates us from God.  This sin brings death and destruction.  It creates alienation from the Creator and we are foreigners in a land that was designed to be ours.   

Jesus’ life, ministry, and most especially his death was all about breaking down the walls.  Everyone that He met needed some kind of wall torn down.  It is in our natures to build a dividing wall between ourselves and God.  Jesus revealed to people that walls weren’t necessary.  He knew full well the destructiveness of our sin.  The consequences were on His shoulders alone.  Our barriers brought His pain.  Our walls lead Him to the cross.  Jesus saw the depravity of mankind and willingly took our place so that the barriers we built would be destroyed forever. 

So why do we create these walls?  Why do we let our lives be dictated by anything other than the Savior?  Our communion with God is based on His ability to break down the walls we have constructed so we can be in perfect union with Him.  We create walls because we think we can do it ourselves.  We think we don’t need God.  That is what sin does:  it tells us that we don’t need His protection but the protection of our own constructions.  We put on the foreman’s hat, develop all the blueprints for what walls go where, and go about making it happen.  What is wrong with this picture?  Everything. 

The walls we build between ourselves and God prevent relationship, communion, and intimacy with God.  They make us feel abandoned by God (even though it’s our own faults of course).  Like God doesn’t care what happens to us or how we turn out.  We reach out to God, hoping our prayers will reach His ears, thinking He’s asleep in the boat, oblivious to our need for Him and scared out of our wits because of the stormy sea raging around us.  Our faith has gone right out the window.  In the case of the disciples, Jesus himself was on the boat with them and they were still afraid to death.  Their lack of faith built a wall around their hearts, uncertain of what to do and who to turn to.  They felt abandoned when the one person to keep them safe was taking a nap.  It’s not surprising that we live our lives like the disciples did.  We feel that abandonment, lacking faith to believe that He is right there beside us.  He is telling us to let go and just believe.  He may not be physically in the boat with us, but His presence is undeniable, even when we lack the faith to see Him.  He is with us, calming the storm with his Hands, rebuking the winds and saying to be still.  We have Jesus in our very beings; the Holy Spirit is inside of us.  The power of God is for our hands to use…for Him. 

You see, it takes faith to tear down the walls that we build for ourselves.  What we see as protection, God sees as separation.  But even our lack of faith cannot be stopped by God.  He sees our hearts, the Lion of Judah, wants to bring us near to Him, to look us in the eyes and say “Just let go…and believe.”  He nuzzles his large nose against us and lets us find warmth and reassurance in his royal mane.  He forgives and remembers no more.  He lays down His life on the stone tablet, knowing his death is not the final answer.  Remember, the stone tablet, was a place of sacrifice, a place that if one willingly gave his life for another, that death itself would be turned around.  In the darkest moment of history, when the great Lion felt abandoned by the Father, blinded by suffering, yet surrendered to God’s will, He commended His spirit to the only One who could restore.  His humanness cried out “Why have you forsaken me?” but his pain did not overshadow his Spirit.  A Spirit that would never forsake God or be forsaken by Him.  The difference between our feelings of abandonment and Jesus’ is that there was never a wall built between the Son and the Father.  Yes, the Father turned His face in that instant of necessary, but tragic history, but His son knew in faith that all would be torn down and made right for all eternity.  Jesus was the example to us that He understood the feeling just like us, like humans.  He did that so we would not let walls of guilt and grief separate us from His unconditional love and understanding.  He wanted to let us know He had been there, in our place.    

As the sun rises, the two daughters of Eve begin to dry their eyes as they try to find warmth next to the form of the great Lion.  They cannot comprehend the act they have just witnessed.  But as the rays of sunlight begin to highlight the archway above the stone tablet, taking one moment to admire its sad beauty on this tragic day, they look down to see the Lion’s body gone.  Disappeared.  As the sun crests the horizon they look up and see the most majestic being on earth!  He is here!  He is alive!  He has broken down the wall of hostility and separation forever!  He has come back as Conqueror and King!  Hope is not lost.  Faith is not gone.  We are not abandoned.  We have seen the dividing wall crushed by the mighty hand of the Almighty.  We are free and nothing separates us from the Love beaming brighter than the sun on the Lion’s face.  And with a great and mighty roar all of the earth will rejoice at His Rising Again!      

My God is not dead

He’s surely alive

And He’s living on the inside

Roaring like a Lion!        

Thursday, April 18, 2013

This Kind of Death is Sweet

Do you ever wonder if we look out from our front porch window and think we are only observers to the world around us?  We think that what we see with our eyes and hear with our ears is for everyone else but ourselves.  We are just looking through a smudgy mirror hoping that what we see is something worth crossing over into the participatory.  We look out and see an existence, a world, that is not what we thought it would be or should be according to our point of view (at least from the window's standpoint).  So many times I feel this way.  Looking out, so hoping to see something that intrigues or interests me enough to step out the door and be a part of something.  I have slowly been discovering that the window isn't the problem.  We aren't afraid of participating necessarily, even though observing is much easier most of the time, but we  are afraid of change. We may like what we see from the window, but until we see it and feel it and hear it up close, we realize that our perspective down here in the midst is much different than on the porch.  And we aren't ready for that change, even though the perceived change is all in our heads a majority of the time.  But it is change nonetheless and we as humans assume the worst.  This is the place that my husband calls Assumptionville.  Apparently I hop on that train a lot, but I think it's just because I am a very passionate and spirited young woman.   
So here we are down in reality, being a contributor to society and suddenly things go askew.  We think certain things shouldn't be the way they are, so instead of being proactive we start slowly backing away from reality hoping that no one will notice.  Now, that's not always the case, on better days we acquire new perspective, learning and growing, becoming a better person, seeking to be more involved and active in the world.  On these days we are open to change, adaptable, willing to adjust and work on our flexibility.  

Where does this lead then?  What path should be taken?  Do we reverse back to the safety of our porch window or do we take a giant leap of faith and summon up the courage to change whether it hurts or not.  We, the human race, is afraid of change.  It's simple really.  We are content to work our 9 to 5 job 7 days a week, 8 hours a day, clock in and clock out.  But for what really?  Does our existence swing on when we are getting paid or not.  Even from a psychological standpoint, we clock in and out so we don't have to face the reality around, in, and through us.  We are content to live behind the window, happy to exist in the bubble of what we see as normal and right.  Complacency and apathy coexist in this tiny little bubble we call our home.  It is safe and secure, no one can bother you, and you can be content to observe eternally.  But this is not how we are meant to live.  We are not just meant to change but to be changed.  We can change how we take the route to work, or what color we paint our toenails, but it doesn't change us.  We must be open to change in order to be changed.  When we speak in front of a large crowd and feel accomplished for facing our fear or we change our eating habits so we are more healthy and confident in ourselves, we are changed.  We are not the same as we were before the speech or before the lifestyle alteration.  It is these intangible qualities and attributes that we are missing out on by not being willing to be changed.  In the words of Ebeneezer Scrooge, "Bah Humbug."  He was the king of stubbornness and just plain meanness.  His disregard for others and their terrible fates was what characterized him as a person.  He was an insufferable and lonely old man who did not want to be changed.  As fate would have it, the external forces around him took matters into their own hands, and saw it fit for him the chance to want to be changed.  Well, as we most all know the end of this story,  Mr. Scrooge became a changed man.  His selfishness was changed into  generosity, his meanness into kindness, his self-righteousness into humility.  He fought and balked the whole way, but his defining moment came when he realized the truth about himself.  He was like us sitting behind the porch window (or his office desk in his case) watching the world go by us and perfectly content to see it do so.  He was an observer of life.  He became an active and life-changing piece in the greatest puzzle ever made.  Humankind is resilient, we don't want to give up.  But sometimes, giving up means changing who we are and becoming something better than we thought we could be.  Life is change.  Without change we are not living.  Who wants to live a dead life instead a breathing corpse?  I know I sure don't want a life like this one.  So why do people live this way?  Why do we continue this vicious cycle of death and stubbornness all because we are too afraid to smash the window and step out onto the porch of newness and a life worth living.  Where do we go from there?  We don't necessarily have to know, but we do know that we must courageously take that first step and hope and pray that the next one will lead us where we are meant to go.  Can we take that step?  Are we brave?  Are we scared?  It is a resounding YES to all three!  Any step worth taking is worth the risk it takes to get to the desired destination.  And whether we are fearful about the unknown, we must realized that we are not alone.  We are never alone.  The Divine is looking over us, we are caught in the grip of His mighty and gracious hands.  He does not look at us through a window, He sees in and through us, creating a pure heart and a steadfast spirit that yearns and seeks to follow Him no matter where the steps take us.  For you see, without that first step of faith, dependent on Him we would never get anywhere.  Like I said, we are never alone, He is right there with us, all the way, to the very end, seeing the path before us and instructing us on which way to go next.  He is the reason we participate instead of observe.  For He doesn't just observe but He is alive and active in every aspect of our lives.  From beginning to end.  Because a life not well lived, is no life at all.  Live the life you were called to live, change when you need to be changed, love when it is time to love, and never let death have the final say.  

Monday, April 15, 2013


Heart pumping… wildly

 Pulse racing…instantly

 Palms sweating…profusely

 Head reeling…relentlessly

 Ears listening…intently

 Eyes opening… suddenly

 Soul wrenching…achingly

 Spirit awakening…finally

 Jesus revealing…mercifully

 God dwelling….eternally


Life transformed…

Body freed…

Mind renewed…

Spirit reborn…

Heart committed…

Soul awakened…

Friday, April 12, 2013

Taking Out the Trash

Trash is nasty. Simple as that. It is gross and disgusting and makes your nostrils experience terrible and scarring smells that may even traumatize the tiny little hairs inside too. Think about it....what kinds of things do we put in the trash? Rotten food that got left in the fridge for way too long, paper receipts that you kept from like 50 years ago and you waited entirely too long to throw them out, plastic bottles from all the water we buy instead of drinking out of the faucet. I'm not even going to expound on all the other despicable things that I can't even imagine right now....things that make worms and maggots and cockroaches live in bug heaven. So why do we have all this trash to throw away, and I don't mean from an environmental standpoint either? Why do we have so much stuff that seems so valuable at one point in our lives and the next it's just junk, waste, refuse? We even have created jobs for people to collect our trash. How sad is that. The fickleness of the human condition unfortunately.  We, as Americans, consume entirely too much trash.  We create mountains out of it and cover it up so we can forget that it even exists anymore.  Oh, and don’t even get me started on the people we call “hoarders” these days who make a living (if you can really merit the word considering their pitiful existence) out of piling up trash as collector’s items.  It’s as if a 6 month old carton of milk is as valuable as the Heisman Trophy.  Get real!  We all know that an 8 month old carton is much more special…..So I beg to offer this question:  How do we accumulate all this trash in the first place?  A word that Americans know so well…..EXCESS.  It is so ingrained in our society that most people don’t even think about it as a problem.  I know that there are a lot of initiatives out there dedicated to improving the environment and caring about the future generations.  But the environment isn’t the problem….we are the problem.  And it’s not a physical problem either.  It’s a heart problem.  There’s no high blood pressure, stroke, or heart attack involved, just pure and adulterated WANT for more than we already have.  Our lives are full of trash in our emotional, mental, psychological, and spiritual landfills that we can’t see the forest for the debris.  Debris that we created. 

This trash that we collect in our lives is hoarded up in our hearts and we are seemingly helpless to get rid of it.  We are walking around like the homeless guy on the street with the Walmart cart that is full of his most precious possessions (because that’s all he has in the world and we consider it to be trash).  We look down on people like this.  People who use our trash to find food, shelter, warmth from the freezing cold, and even under the most extreme and fatal situations, death because they have nowhere else to go.  We think we are so much better, but in fact we are just a whole bunch of fakes, better posers, that walk around with invisible Hefty bags hovering over us and under us.  The twist ties and pull strings are pulling at us and digging into our skin, but we take no notice because we are in denial.  We would rather have a million unseen scars all over our bodies than admit to ourselves, or anyone else for that matter, that you have a lot of junk you are carrying.   We have trash blinders over our eyes.  We can’t even identify and sort through the mess we have accumulated.  And for what reason?  Because we don’t want to see how messed up we all are…really.  We live in TrashDenialLand.  It’s a wonderful place, there’s free admission, and everyone is welcome, as long as you keep your own waste to yourself, not shoving it onto someone else.  That merits a dismissal from the park.  No more rides for you buddy.  Too much trash being tossed around here, as the security guard leads you out and adds a few bits of rubbish that keeps falling out of your supposed extra heavy duty non-biodegradable plastic bag. 

That’s the absurdity, we know we are carrying around the trash, yet we refuse to acknowledge it.  It’s like the pesky child who keeps annoying us in the grocery store over some stupid box of sugary cereal, knowing you are desperately trying to ignore their incessant pleading and begging.  You know they only want the toy at the bottom anyway.  So you act like you hear nothing and throw a huge box of Shredded Wheat in the buggy instead.  

So if we keep wearing the denial face and continue to accumulate more and more trash, do you know what we become…..buried alive.  Just like the hoarders on TV we become ruled by our garbage.  (Random side note:  I have never understood why a band would name themselves Garbage, but sure enough someone has done it.  Sad isn’t it.) 

Trash has never been a good thing.  It is the stuff we don’t want to look at or deal with and eventually we just become used to carrying it around with us while we just keep picking up more and more as we go through life.  It destroys our minds, our emotions, our decisions, our relationships, our futures.  We must be gluttons for punishment.  Who can live such a life?  Unfortunately people do this every day.  But is that really life?  Are we meant to live our existence carrying all this trash around?  Do we have to remain hoarders, or is there a treatment, rehabilitation, a life-altering experience that can get us out of this cycle of destruction.  You better believe it. 

I am reminded of a classic movie from the early ‘90’s.  It made Julia Roberts a bona fide movie star:  Pretty Woman.  A major motion picture about a hooker, street trash who realizes her life could be better.  She was walking the streets of Hollywood Boulevard and just happens to be in the right spot at the right time.  A handsome executive, looking for a good time, seeks out someone on the street corner, and there she is waiting.  Little did she know, but Vivian’s life would be changed forever by one man.  She meets Edward, played by Richard Gere (a huge star from the 80’s) who sweeps her off her stiletto feet and gives her a deal of a prostitute’s lifetime; a week of spending time with him and a buttload of cash as payment.  It was so much cash that she could get out of the business completely and get a “real” job.  Things weren’t as simple as she seemed though.  How difficult would it be to give the girl a makeover and successfully integrate her into the hoity toity society of Los Angeles?  There were some flubs and hiccups along the way, but what Edward never expected was that this fiery young woman would change his life as well.  Two completely different people from two completely different worlds, brought together on a trashy street corner, both with a burden and emptiness both from excessive living and the want for more.  What they finally realized was that they didn’t need more, they just needed each other.  They had to get rid of the trash in their lives in order to be together.  And as the story goes, they lived happily ever after….

That story reminds me of how God so desperately wants us to give him all our trash so we can be together with Him.  We walk the streets like Vivian hoping to find the next up and coming thing that we think will complete us and make us happy, but we end up disappointed every time.  Imagine the scenario:  Jesus owns a garbage company.  Let’s call it Grace Garbage Disposal.  He comes by anytime of the day, morning, noon, or night in hopes that he can throw some waste in His truck and haul it away.  So what are we waiting for people, where are all those Hefty bags right now?  Quit lugging them around and getting scoliosis from the heavy weight that keeps compressing our lives into nothing but pain and suffering.  The Lord says He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  We don’t have to be crushed any longer.  Leave the bags at the road, haul them to the trash center, and hand them over to Him.  That’s the incredibly amazing part of the Grace Garbage Disposal.  The trash goes away.  It ceases to exist.  There is no landfill to take it to; God doesn’t need one.  Jesus proclaims:  “Come to me, all of you who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls; for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Can we not shout this from the depths of our souls, that we can be freed from the chains of EXCESS and WANT that create so much waste in our lives and drags us down until we cannot see the hand of Jesus until He is plunging it into the depths and pulling us out by his mighty strength.  He can do it, and He will if we ask it of Him.  He wants nothing more than to pull you out of the mire and place you on solid ground, build on the foundation of Christ and steady for all eternity.  Not a landfill, but a Solid Rock, carved by the Cornerstone Himself, etched in blood and pierced with the Body that was given for us.  His Grace doesn’t end, not even when you give over the garbage.  It is unconditional favor, because even as we give the trash of our lives over to Him, we can still be pulled down by the burdens of this world that seek to entangle and ensnare us.  So we must continually keep handing those Hefty’s over to the Grace Garbage Disposal, until one day we will be forever with the CEO whose home never ever creates anymore trash for all eternity.  The streets may be paved with gold, but there is no need for any trash receptacles, especially on Hollywood Boulevard.