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Conversations with Audy

“Grandma, do you think Grandad is in heaven with Daddy?”

“Oh, sweet girl, come sit with me.” 

So many questions from a six-year-old are easy. 

“Grandma, can we have ice cream?” 

“Grandma, why is the sky blue?”

“Grandma, can you give me an Elsa braid?”

This question? My answer was essential to this sweet child. My response was no longer the same as it had been twenty years ago. It isn’t even the same as it was five years ago. Years ago, I had deeply wounded people with my self-righteous answer to the same question. In my arrogance to dispense the “truth” of God’s word, I turned people away from God. 

As I have traveled through the years, I am learning more about a God who loves us. Not a God who sits on his throne waiting to punish us. 

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9NIV)

For many years, I have responded to others because of my flawed humanity. I have been the judge and executioner. I sat on the judge’s bench as if I could see the heart of people. As if I was in charge of deciding who gets into heaven. “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.” (Prov 16:18 NLT)

  I have taken one verse in the scripture and made it the measuring stick for everything else. It says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whosoever believes in Him (Jesus) will have eternal life.” (John 3:16) 

But we, you and me, have added many of our beliefs to how that has to happen. We have created our complicated formulas for reaching “I believe.” 

It is God and God alone who knows our hearts. God reveals his character over and over throughout scripture. 

Jesus washed Judas’ feet. Jesus still loved Peter, even when Peter denied him three times. Jesus still chose him to spread the Good News.

Even as Jesus hung on the cross dying, he accepted the criminal who asked Jesus to remember him when he got to his kingdom. Jesus did not give him a three-point plan to be redeemed. Instead, he said, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

The more I learn about Jesus, the more I understand his love and grace are ours without strings. He extends his nail-scarred hand. So join me, let’s go together. If we could see the realm where this world ends. Where Glory begins, where sorrow fades, and joy shines. As someone takes their last breath here, we can see a place outside time and space. We would catch a glimpse of a love the world cannot understand. We would see Jesus. Running with outstretched arms. “Come with me to paradise.” 

I’ve learned God loves me with a love that doesn’t have a limit. There is no time stamp or even a formula to complete. Instead, he continually reaches out a hand to help me up, to wrap around me when I need comfort. A hand that always touches my face with forgiveness. His hand extends to everyone. 

On this warm December day, I pull Audrey close. I wrap my arms around her and hold tightly to love. Then, as she looks up, I ask, “What do you think Grandad and Daddy are doing right now?” 

“Oh, Grandma, they are probably deciding what kind of wax to use on Daddy’s new Pony!”

Your Pawn to God’s Justice

Our Scene opens at a border crossing. An animated conversation between two men has become heated. A woman and child behind him clutch all they own. Tired. Dirty.

His face creased with worry; the husband pleads with the guard.

“Sir, we have traveled hundreds of miles to escape certain death. Please allow us refuge in your country. Every boy is being slaughtered. Blood is running in the streets of our town.”

Their last hope dies as the guard speaks. “Go home and return to your own country. Get your paperwork in order. You and your people have caused our country enough anguish. All our firstborns lay dead, our crops decimated. Our rivers turned to blood.

Now you want refuge from certain death. No. Go. Home.”

(Spoiler alert: this isn’t really what happened)

There is currently a meme going around on the number one news platform for most people, Facebook. It depicts a politician sprinkling flags from Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Mexico over the state of Massachusetts.

Maybe it is more comfortable to picture flags. It allows us to build our walls with objects. Flags are inanimate. They are not living, breathing mothers, daughters, fathers, or sons. A flag only bears the image of the country they represent.

Each one of those flags represents Imago Dei, an image bearer of God. Created by God. Instead of flags, maybe the image we should see is the one from our opening scene.

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. Fleeing certain death. Not certain death for Mary and Joseph. They didn’t flee their own home to save themselves. They left what they knew to seek refuge in the very same country God saved his people from hundreds of years before. Joseph and Mary took Jesus and fled to the very place that had enslaved the Israelites.

They fled not only Herod the Great, killing all the boys under the age of two. They also fled the religious leaders, the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and even the temple priests who stood by silently watching the horror.

The Temple in Jerusalem was more political than religious, more interested in representing Rome and the interests of Caesar than taking care of the people they were called to serve.

Instead of those flags, imagine Joseph, Mary, and a little boy, Immanuel; Jesus left miles outside a city with nothing. Still clinging to hope.

Amnesty International defines a refugee as “a person who has fled their own country because they are at risk of serious human rights violations and persecution there. The risks to their safety and life were so great that they felt they had no choice but to leave and seek safety outside their country because their own government cannot or will not protect them from those dangers. Refugees have a right to international protection.”

These refugees walked nearly 3,000 miles from their homes in Venezuela. To seek refuge in a country where many claim the Bible as its foundation.

They walk for days, weeks, and months. Leaving a lifetime of memories. A land devastated by political, economic, and health crises. Most leave only with the clothes they can fit in a backpack or rolled in a blanket. Little food and what money they may have, is not worth the paper it’s printed on. The only hope they see is before them.

Hope is offered to them in a brochure. Come, we will feed you, clothe you, we will free you from your prison of despair. Come. Follow me.

“And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

These refugees bear the same image I do. The same image you do. All these mothers, fathers, grandfathers, grandmothers, sons, daughters, and babies are nothing more than pawns in some perverted political game.

Have we become so entangled with Caesar we only see flags?

Only the light of love will drive out darkness. Walls of division will never reflect the light of God’s loving-kindness. His steadfast love. As Image Bearers, we are called to reflect God’s love.

You see, I didn’t see that meme on just anyone’s news feed. It was on the feed of someone who comes to church every week.

“For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”  (Matthew 25: 42-45)

I Surrender

Here I am, Lord. Crying at your feet again. Once again, surrendering my plans, my organized, color-coded fall calendar. In my rush to return to life as it was, I raced ahead of you.

As I lay on the floor crying over my plans, God began showing me His PLAN for a new thing. With tears flowing, my calendar on the fire of God’s will for me, I lay listening to “Oceans” and heard God calling me again to trust in His sovereign plan for me.

God always meets us at our breaking point, ready to repair broken hearts, broken lives, all the broken things. Sometimes we feel our suffering is so trivial compared to others. When people are losing everything they own, their very lives, we can feel our struggle is unimportant. But God cares for us. So wherever you may find yourself today, I pray you will hear God calling you.

“You call me out upon the waters

The great unknown

Where feet may fail”*

Our feet are weary, Lord, help us.

“And there I find You in the mystery

In oceans deep

My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name

And keep my eyes above the waves

When oceans rise

My soul will rest in Your embrace

For I am Yours

You are mine”*

Isaiah 43-2 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” Lord, thank you that in you alone, our faith rests. In you alone can we stand.

“Your grace abounds in deepest waters

Your sovereign hand

Will be my guide

Where feet may fail, and fear surrounds me

You’ve never failed

And You won’t start now”*

Lord, we surrender our fear to you. When our feet fail, guide us with your hand.

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders

Let me walk upon the waters

Wherever You would call me

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

And my faith will be made stronger

In the presence of my Savior”*

We surrender our plans to you. Help us go beyond where we could ever go without your Spirit guiding us. 

Every day we have a choice. Yet, so often, we rush ahead with our day before laying our plans on the altar of your Word. 

Lord, remind us to be still in Your Presence. To keep our eyes on you and not allow the fear of the unknown to consume our thoughts. 

Lord, during this season of so much unknown and so much change, guide us with your sovereign hand. 

I trust your plan, Lord. 

*Lyrics from “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” Hillsong Worship.

Pull Up A Chair

“For my grandfather’s entire family deserves death from my lord the king, but you set your servant among those who eat at your table.” (2 Samuel 19:28)

As the golden, orange leaves drift to the ground our eye is drawn to a mile-long table, groaning under the weight of an abundance of food. People are coming from every corner of the earth. Every age, every color, every race. They each carry their own chair, not one the same. Everyone finds a seat at the table.

 Throughout the Old Testament we see God’s story unfolding primarily through his chosen people, the Jews. As we watch their story unfold, we get a front row seat to an epic tale. Not a fairy tale, or a sci-fi movie. Not a comedy, or a reality tv show. No, we get to see a story of great victories and great loss. Amazing stories of conquering heroes. Betrayal. Murder. Love. Division. Unity. Jealousy. Anger. Promise. Hope. Love.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, we learn there is nothing new under the sun. The Bible is an epic story of God’s people. Unlike us, God gives a clear, honest, gut-wrenching story of His people. You and Me. A story of a lot of messed up people. The beauty of the story? God doesn’t want us to remain broken and messed up.

He sent a little baby to restore humanity. Jesus’ birth is what unites a divided people. His birth and ultimately his death on the cross, erased the line that divided Jew from Gentile. We can’t see the birth of Jesus without seeing the shadow cast by the cross.

As Jesus had his last meal on the night he was arrested, he reclined at the table with his followers. Before dinner he washed the feet of his disciples. Even Judas, who would betray him. Still he washed his feet. He invited Judas, his betrayer, to sit at the table with him.

He still invites us to sit at his table. No matter our past. No matter our betrayal. Do you feel disqualified to have a place at the table? Jesus family tree wasn’t much to write home about. King David, an adulterer and murderer. Rahab, a prostitute. There is a long list of people that failed.

Yet Jesus invites us to take off our past. To let go of our shame, or hurt, the shattered pieces of our lives. He wants to wash our feet. He wants to recline at the table with us and listen to our stories. There is always room for one more at the table.

The Little Things

33 His father and mother[b] were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and told his mother Mary: “Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed[c]— 35 and a sword will pierce your own soul—that the thoughts[d] of many hearts may be revealed.”

36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, a daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well along in years, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,[e] 37 and was a widow for eighty-four years.[f] She did not leave the temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayers. 38 At that very moment,[g] she came up and began to thank God and to speak about him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.[h]

39 When they had completed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The boy grew up and became strong, filled with wisdom, and God’s grace was on him. (Luke 2:33-39CSB)

As I read this passage in Luke, God reminds me that every voice, every gift, every life is important to His plan. Tucked in this passage of Joseph and Mary’s visit to the temple to dedicate Jesus, we get a picture of two people, Simeon (Luke 2:25-32) and Anna. Two people, a man and a woman, bear witness to who this baby is and who He will become. It was a fulfillment of the law which required two witnesses for any legal challenge.

I know I often skim past all these little “distractions” as I read scripture. But I am learning to slow down and see why God includes these details about Anna. Simeon’s story was more about what he had to say about Jesus. Anna’s story is more about who she was than what she said. Who she was is important.

In the first two sentences we have a clear picture of Anna. She was the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. Phanuel means, “Face of God,” and Asher means, blessed. She was a widow who had been serving God in the temple by praying and fasting for 84 years. That is a whole story all by itself! She had been faithfully serving God, quietly praying for the people of Israel. Probably praying for those that passed the “old lady” by every day.

She looks at the face of God in this baby. In the busyness of the people rushing in and out of the temple, she and Simeon see the redemption of God’s people. This child who will reveal the hearts of people.

Our light in the darkness. Our redeemer.

Reservations? Sorry, No Room

“And laid him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:7)

Hesitantly, I slink into the room. Every face turns to me. Judgement immediately flickering across their faces. Once again, I have been found lacking. My bright, cotton dress doesn’t fit with their subdued silk designer fashion. My hair doesn’t fall into nice shiny, beachy curls. Even after 40 years of practice my make-up will never look like theirs. I don’t fit. I will never measure up to that unspoken code. I feel left out. Alone in the crowd. Have you ever felt like you were peering through a window? Never invited to be part of the group?

In my father’s house there’s a place for me. I am invited. He loves me just as I am. In my hot-pink, cotton dress, straight hair and slap-dash, make-up job. He loves me.

Mary and Joseph were unable to find room anywhere in Bethlehem. Had word spread from Nazareth about their “situation”? Had they been left out? We don’t know. We only know “there was no room for them.” God made room for Jesus in the stable.

While we try to fit into a world that tells us bigger is better, more will fill the empty places. The penthouse suite is what we need. God challenges us to look at the world through the lens of His love. When I am broken, He can mend me. When I am lost, He will find me. When the road ahead is dark; He shines His light. When there is no room; He makes room.

God invites us to look at the stable through the eyes of love.  In that little stable, God opened wide the door for everyone to enter.  He set the stage for our redemption., our restoration.

Making room for more. How like God to show His promise and plan through a lack of room for Mary and Joseph. Everything was full. God, through His mercy made room for more. He made room for all people to enter into His promise.  We don’t have to worry about a reservation, we are already invited. All we have to do is say yes.

Your Best Gift

” Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11)

These men, these magicians, magi, wise men upon looking at Jesus fell to their knees and worshipped him. These men who worshipped the stars, charted their lives according to the stars movement, travelled to worship a king because of a star. 

Worship is to regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion.

When faced with Jesus the wise men made a choice to leave their idol worship and fall to their knees and worship Him. When faced with Jesus we all have a choice.

Worship isn’t about whether I raise my hands during a song at church. It isn’t whether I dance like King David did, “David was dancing will all his might before the Lord.” (2 Samuel 6:14)

True worship is about surrender. It’s about surrendering who I am, who I think I should be. It is about allowing my life to be surrendered to God. It is recognizing those idols that try to pull me away from regarding God with extravagant respect, honor and devotion.

It is recognizing that He alone is worthy of my worship. He is worthy because He has proved Himself to be worthy. When I lay on all the broken pieces of my life. When the darkness tried to slither its way into my mind. When the winds howled and the waters rose to flood my soul, Gods love, His light reached into the darkest recesses of my heart and overcame the darkness. I worship Him because He carried me when I couldn’t walk. He mended me when I was shattered.

“Falling to their knees, they worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” The best gift I can offer Is a heart surrendered in worship to Him. For He is worthy.

Ready. Steady. Go!

When he (King Herod) had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied… (Matthew 2)

I hate to admit this but sometimes, probably more than sometimes, I feel threatened when I think I might lose my place. I liked sitting on the front row at school. It gave an appearance of being the good student. In some churches the front row is a place of honor. A status symbol.

The prophets of God had been silent for 400 years when the cry of a baby broke through the dark-silence. During those 400 years the chief priests had achieved positions of great authority and honor.  They were the ones to interpret the law. They had a vested interest in their position. They kept up the appearance of seeking God. Then these foreigners entered their land and asked where the baby who would be king was to be born. When confronted with the birth of the Messiah they made a choice. They chose to keep their position.

These men had been writing about the coming Messiah. They had studied scripture. They had memorized scripture. It was written and attached to their heads. The Messiah in theory wasn’t the same as living, breathing promise.  Their hearts had become like stone and they were unable to make the six-mile journey to Bethlehem and worship the long-awaited King. They were unable to make the 18-inch journey from their head to their heart.

It is so easy to become complacent. Surrounded by messages we see every day that tell us to be more, buy more, see more, consume more, more is better. Many times, in the midst of more we miss the simplicity of God’s message.  I can become so caught up in the reading. The writing. The studying. I miss the real message. God gives me a choice. Stay in Jerusalem and keep your position. Or, come travel with me to Bethlehem. Follow the Star. Leave your heart of stone. Leave who you think you should be. See who you can be when you allow your heart to be changed.

The Big Visit

“Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:10)

Scene 15: “Wise Men Visit the King”

Fade in slowly, as scene opens a small, one-room home in Bethlehem can be seen. Three Magi, otherwise known as We Three Kings of Orient glide into the frame. Dressed in brightly jeweled, lavish robes of silk and ermine they have wandered from Afar, a region in the East. Parking their camels in the nearest lot, they now bear tiny treasures they will give two-year-old Jesus.

Our modern minds like to clean things up a bit. Led astray with the pictures we form from songs, paintings and our own fickle minds, we see a scene with our “Hollywood” eyes. Reality seldom exists in our vision.

Scripture doesn’t tell us how many wise men there were. We only know they brought three gifts. It was more likely to have been a caravan of several magi and servants. Historians record they followed the star for two years.

Magi were often sent as ambassadors of good will. It was customary to honor a king with gifts. Lavish gifts. The gifts they brought would not have fit in a two-year-old’s treasure box or little genie bottles.

God reveals His character in every story and picture we are given throughout the Old and New Testaments. In the very gifts the Magi present we see a God who provides. Mary and Joseph were about to pull up roots and flee to Egypt. Even in those days, moving wasn’t cheap. God provided gold for their move and exile.

The frankincense and myrrh weren’t just to make things smell good. Frankincense was used for sacrifices. Myrrh was frequently used for burials. God shows us how the story will unfold. The birth of Jesus will always point to the death of Jesus.

Through Adam and Eve’s disobedience and sin in the garden, our world became broken. Through the birth of Jesus, God provided a way for restoration. In the same way God provided for Mary and Joseph, Jesus sacrifice, His death and resurrection provide a way for me to be restored. God’s plan from the beginning was to bring restoration to the world. He restores all things broken. Marriages. Friendships. Neighbors. He takes our broken pieces and makes them whole again. He has already provided the way for you.

Are You Listening?

“No wise man, medium, magician, or diviner is able to make known to the King the mystery he asked about. But there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.” (Daniel 2:27)

Have you ever wondered if anything you are saying is being heard? I remember my Mother often saying, “I am talking to a wall.”  Usually a brick wall. When I became a wife and a mother I finally understood, I was the wall she was talking to.

In the book of Daniel, we learn that after interpreting a dream for King Nebuchadnezzar, “He (King Nebuchadnezzar) made Daniel ruler over the whole province of Babylon, as well as chief over all his wise men.” Daniel and his friends continued to worship God in a godless culture. They always gave credit to God for their knowledge. They did not rely on magic, astrology, or sorcery to advance in the King’s courts.

I wonder if Daniel ever felt like my mother? Did he wonder if these wise men of the King’s listened to his stories? About this God who walked with them. About a child that would be born. A King that would one day rule in peace?

Daniel threw a pebble in the vast ocean of the Babylonian culture and it continued to ripple through generations of wise men. Until one day. Six hundred years later they looked up. Echoing through the years they remembered.

 “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.” (Isaiah 9:2)

It was that shining light they saw and followed. It is estimated that the wise men, the magi, traveled for two years to their journey’s end. I have not always been a great traveler. When we would go to Indiana once a year from West Texas, it took a full day just to get out of the state. And another day to cross the remaining four states. Two days. Long days. Miserable days for my parents. I cannot imagine a two-year journey to worship a King you didn’t even know. Simply because one man told a story to your ancestors.

They chose to journey out of their dark land because they saw a light shining in the sky. They chose to journey over 600 days because of a 600-year-old story. They chose to journey to worship a King that would bring peace. These wise men chose to see beyond the boundaries of their own culture and beliefs. To put their hope in the Star of Bethlehem.

Do you feel the darkness threatening to overwhelm you? Have you lost all hope for brighter days? That light still shines for us today. The Star of Bethlehem, Jesus, still shines His light for each one of us. What may appear just a flicker of light, of hope, will only continue to grow. Light always, always overwhelms the darkness. Just keep moving.