Part IX ~ The Father’s Blessing On The Broken

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“Jesus’s teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did.”
— The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the     Christian Faith, Timothy Keller

 

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Most Unlikely

Here? …I said with wrinkled brow.

Come on God, be serious now!

Surely this is not – The Place?

Why look! It’s such a sad disgrace.

~~~

Why would You choose a place like this?

A place Your blessings must have missed!

Nothing grows or prospers here,

Unless it’s failure’s greatest fears.

~~~

The walls are crumbling – broken down;

When others look, they only frown.

Can’t blame them God. It is a mess!

No effort’s met with great success.

~~~

Child, you are so slow to learn,

I always choose what others spurn.

If hopeless is the tag you’ve worn,

Then that’s the place where hope’s reborn!

~~~

All past failures. All past pain?

…are merely dark clouds, filled with rain,

So showers of blessing can pour down,

Erasing critic’s greasy frowns.

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I AM your God! Can you not see?

Nothing’s impossible for Me!

Just watch as mountains I remove,

Forming highways sleek and smooth.

~~~

Have I not said? Then you shall see!

The IMPOSSIBLE shall be done for thee!

And all the prayers that you eschewed?

Shall answered be – YOUR hope’s renewed!

~~~

All I ask – is you obey;

Follow Me without delay.

Here, awaits My open door;

Surrender means, just one step more…

~~~

I hear your doubts – I know your fears

I won’t ignore your anxious tears.

Just close your eyes and take a leap,

Of trust and faith, and I will keep…

~~~

Each promise that I made before

As showers of blessing now I pour,

On YOU, the child that I adore!

Come now. Trust Me. One step more.

~~~

9642-illustration-of-music-notes-th  Lay down, lay down, your old chains…

Come now… take up your new name…

You’re best life up ahead now.        

                   You’re just ONE STEP AWAAAAAAY!           9642-illustration-of-music-notes-th

 

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Here?

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I live in the shadow of a mountain.

(A BIG one.)

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It’s an old volcano ~ semi-active. An ancient reminder that this place? Is a place where volcanic things happen.

My town? Is a very small town. Located in one of the poorest counties in California.

Our unemployment rate hovers around 25% all of the time.

(The percentage of hopelessness is much higher.)

This place? This is a place you want to be from, not a place you want to go to. Most folks just pass it by, while zooming down the interstate.

Most of our young who grow up here? Leave. They go off seeking opportunity somewhere else… because in truth? Why would anybody want to stay here; do anything here? Building on the crumbling ruins of what once was, and now—isn’t? Opportunities, miracles, hope? Highly unlikely you’ll find any here.

So, I have been waiting. Waiting to go. Waiting for another door to open… for a heavenly signpost to point somewhere… anywhere, else.

I wanted to be done with here.

Questions and Answers signpost
Does your dreamer’s heart keep secretly mumbling, “Not here God!”

Imagine my dismay when I heard God say to me,

“I will make all my mountains a way.”

A way? Here? (My heart sank.) Because yes, I was looking over there. To another place. A better place. A place that definitely wasn’t, HERE.

You see, wherever I look here? I do see only mountains. Mountains of deserted empty buildings. Mountains of obstacles and difficulty. Mountains of poverty and lack. Mountains of prejudice… mountains of sad events, with even sadder memories attached to them. I feel surrounded here by big black mountains—of impossible impossibilities.

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So God started sending me messages about mountains reminding me that we are in everything together.

That, wherever I am—He IS.

He keeps reminding me, my mountains, are His mountains. And today God said, “Yep! You got it exactly right,” then affirmed, “You are in the very place where miracles happen.”

“Here?” I said.

“…yep!” He answered.

(My heart sank further.)

This is not what I was hoping to hear. Perhaps it’s not what you want to hear either? Maybe that other “place” you are pining for? Is not God’s place for you either… even though, secretly? You keep hoping that it is.

So I wonder, “Is your place also an impossible place? Is God pointing you to an impossible task, right there, where you are? Are you the highly unlikely one, the no-way one, anyone-in-their-right-mind would choose one?” Is God asking you to accomplish an impossible dream? Does He keep whispering in your ear, “Nothing is impossible with Me?” [Luke 1:37]

(Yeah…me, too.)

So, I decided to remind God… (just in case He forgot) “LORD, this is “the place” my family compares to Lo Debar, remember?”

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For those of you who don’t know, Lo Debar was a small village in the Bible that was a horrible nowhere-place; a castaway-place; a place nobody wanted to be in—ever. Lo Debar means “no pasture” and as such, it is a place of no hope.

(Insert heavier sigh here.)

Okay, so then God reminded me of all those prayers I had prayed for (wait for it!) HERE. Yep. All those prayers that didn’t happen. All those prayers I gave up on… attempted to forget about. (Or, at least, I was trying to!)

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Don’t you just hate it when God reminds you of something you would prefer to forget, because that was then, and this is now?

But, I went to my Bible and read where He pointed me anyway…

God also says:

“When the time’s ripe, I answer you.
    When victory’s due, I help you.
I form you and use you
    to reconnect the people with me,
To put the land in order,
    to resettle families on the ruined properties.
I tell prisoners, ‘Come on out. You’re free!’
    and those huddled in fear, ‘It’s all right. It’s safe now.’
There’ll be food stands along all the roads,
    picnics on all the hills—
Nobody hungry, nobody thirsty,
    shade from the sun, shelter from the wind,
For the Compassionate One guides them,
    takes them to the best springs.

I’ll make all my mountains into roads,
    turn them into a superhighway…   Isaiah 49:11-12 MSG

Impossible! (I’m thinking) Highly unlikely God. Surely, not HERE Father. Please! (another heavy sigh escapes from my heart)

Then I “stumbled” upon this…

Okay God, so is this the signpost we’ve all been praying for?

(God whispered…”yep.”)

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Who Me? Out On A Limb? (gulp!)

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I just finished up a bible study group called, “Open Your Bible.”

Mostly “the basics” but I enjoyed the coffee and fellowship time we had together at our local Starbucks.

(Which was the real point for me.)

I really didn’t think this study could hold many surprises, but I was wrong. The writer positively stunned me with her last “lesson” for us. It was so good I wanted to share her thought with you.

She said and I quote,

“… the truth I have come to believe is this: Sometimes, the very best thing a Christian can do is close her bible and do what it says.”
I spend a lot of time behind a desk reading my Bible, reading books about the Bible, and writing books about the Bible…So much time, in fact, that I missed an entire season of my close friend being so sick from Lyme disease that she couldn’t get out of bed.”
She goes on to say, “You guys, I was too busy reading my Bible to go visit my sick friend.”
She finished with this, “Sometimes I’m more comfortable living IN the pages of Scripture than living them OUT.”  (emphasis mine)

Oh, yeah… out there. In the real and messy world.

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Their bibles are where I think most of the Western Church lives out its spiritual life.

We like “the safety” our nice clean, air-conditioned, padded seats provide us.

I believe most of us are supremely content to “live” in the pages of our Bible, rather than out there, where the world is hostile to our beliefs.

Our fears and insecurities make us impotent.

What was it Jesus said about Salt

And Light?

Yet, we appear to do little but criticize and complain about a world intent on destroying itself.

We shake our heads in sad dismay, as we turn away, running back to the safety of our meetings, singing along with all the ones just like us.

Look, I know no one likes looking foolish. No one likes being ridiculed or rejected. Yet, I can’t help remembering a sermon I heard many years ago, and all the uncomfortable questions the guy delivering it asked me.

  • If not YOU—then, who?
  • If not HERE—then, where?
  • If not NOW—then, when?

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This is not a time for passing the buck! This is OUR time. We are His Church. We are charged with delivering His message. And lest any of us forget, we will give a full account of ourselves to Him someday—face to face.

So, yes, you might blow it.

Yes, you might get it wrong sometimes.

Yes, you will definitely encounter ridicule and rejection.

But, didn’t He tell us?

If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. John 15:18 KJV

Here’s another thought. You might fall flat on your face, but you just might score! You might get it right. And, “Oh my goodness!” you might just make a huge difference in someone else’s broken world!

Out on that breezy limb, that’s where the best fruit is…

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Just think of it! You… bearing fruit; becoming a harvester; for Him.

He’s given you gifts!

It’s time to share them with this big ‘ole muddy, bloody, hurting, mudball!

Yeah—you were born for THIS!

Time to rock out for the Kingdom…

Until the whole world hears!

 

 

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Part VIII ~ What’s So Scary About Grace?

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“The targets of this story ( The Prodigal Son ) are not “wayward sinners” but religious people who do everything the Bible requires. Jesus is pleading not so much with immoral outsiders as with moral insiders. He wants to show them their blindness, narrowness, and self-righteousness, and how these things are destroying both their own souls and the lives of the people around them…
I asked her what was so scary about unmerited free grace?
She replied something like this: “If I was saved by my good works — then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with rights. I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if it is really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace — at God’s infinite cost…
THEN THERE’S NOTHING HE CANNOT ASK OF ME.”
― Timothy J. Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith

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Broken To Bless

Pottery4I think it was Ruth Graham who wrote, “…there is a broken heart in every pew.”

Many years down the road, with many a “breaking-experience” under my belt, I can say a healthy amen.

We in The Church are “a building” built from broken things.

I recall when I was the editor of my women’s church newsletter.

I went to our Women’s Director purposing a series on suffering. I offered a couple of samples topics and suggested the book of Jeremiah as our ongoing theme. Her response, “We don’t want to hear about these things. Write about happy things.”

I thought at the time, “Seriously?”

I personally knew of many people in our church that were going through a very difficult time.

There were single moms, struggling to get to the next payday, wondering how they would feed their kids. Divorced dads, hemorrhaging internally, but wearing stoic smiles. People out of work wondering only two things—where and when? Folks dealing with catastrophic illnesses, for themselves, or their families. Marriages that were being held together with scotch tape, and half-hearted,  “why-do-we-even-bother” prayers.

Could she not see? Did she not hear? Or, was it just the same old coldness of heart that chooses to walk by the bleeding and broken, choosing “the other side of the road” like Jesus related in the parable of The Good Samaritan.

Today, thirty years later—I still do not understand it.

How can people who meet together to sing about loving the Lord, listen intently to all those fine-sounding-sermons about reaching the lost, but then pass the lost, messy, and broken—looking right through them?

Perhaps it’s going through a few breakings myself. Knowing firsthand, the pain and confusion; the helplessness; the dark and intense days suffering brings.

And yes, I know there are “professional victims” in our Churches. Those who seek a continual attention-feast every time you encounter them. (Yes, I know.) I have also encountered the drama-queens (and kings) who suck all the emotional oxygen from the room. Every church has these folks.

The trick, as I see it, is to not let their choices blind you to the genuine suffering that is all around us.

We are buildings filled with the broken, and yes, sometimes messy ones. People whose lives are in crisis and need our compassion and tenderness.

Our simple and decent caring.

That is what I am pleading for here—hearts that care for the wounded and brokenhearted, rather than walling ourselves off behind aloof and superior stone walls.

Jesus calls each of us to reach for His basin and towel.

My bible says no one is exempt:

Does He not call you, too?

Jesus was always tender with broken hearts—asking what He could do.

Are we, not all called by Him, to do the same?

Is not the last word… His words to us?

 “…YOU …do as I have done for you.”

BROKEN VESSEL

Into a shop, I chanced to go
Seeking vessels high and low
When in a box I casually spied
A broken vessel—cast aside

At first glance, I thought I’d take
These broken pieces for to make
A vessel “new” from broken things
To carry songs and glad tidings

But no! My Master bid me take
This broken vessel, for His sake
And look again… “This jar was you…
Before My loving grace you knew!”

“I came into this world so dark
Received the nails that made their marks,

To gather vessels—not a few,
Shattered and broken, just like YOU;

To bring to wholeness once again,
To piece and polish, glue and mend…”
Ahhhhhhhhhh, now I see!” I answered Him.

“The centerpiece for which I search,
To show, display, inside the Church,
Is BROKEN—like so many more,
That wait for us outside these doors.”

Why are we oh so slow to learn?
Why don’t we see that what man spurns,
Is just the ONE that God will use?
He chooses MOST what we refuse!

I thank you LORD for taking me
A BROKEN THING—that all could see,
Had little use… not much could be…
Reclaimed… restored… for Your glory!

 

 

 

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The Table (Part 3 ~ Moses-Moments)

history-biblia-3I believe there are Moses-moments that all of us will encounter.

Experiences that we walk through; things that happen to us that change us forever.

They may come unbidden or unwanted. They may be a result of our choosing, or of another’s choices. But the result is nevertheless the same—we change permanently. From that moment forward we are different.

That is what happened to me in that room full of tables. I was about to encounter a burning bush, though I wasn’t aware of it. Oh, I had a vague “awareness” of where I thought God might be going, but I didn’t see that table for what it was—not at first.

As I began to set all the pieces in place: dishes, utensils, napkins, people who were doing the same with their own tables, began to notice the disparity of my “creation” with the rest of the room.

I truly was an ordinary brown sparrow in a room full of peacocks!

My “little vision” to some of those ladies, seemed grossly out of place in that ocean of flowers, and china and crystal. I wasn’t surprised by their dismay, but the outright offense of some—stunned me.

When I reached into that box, to pull the broken shards of what had once been a beautiful jar, and arranged all those broken pieces as my centerpiece, with the book, and basin, and towel, and poem?

I was not prepared for the outright rejection of what I had created.

Was BROKEN so bad; so scurrilous?

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I do remember I said a quick prayer that they would somehow understand my heart’s intention, and I left, hoping I hadn’t made a dreadful mistake.

What if they removed my things after I was gone? What then?

Would the ladies assigned to table eleven show up tomorrow and find nowhere to sit?

I was dreading the next day’s event.

UNEXPECTED BEGINNING

I walked in wearing a plain black jersey dress; black stockings. I took a simple flour-sack dish towel for an apron, tied it in a knot, in the back.

I inhaled slowly, deep breath, and removed my shoes placing them under my “hostess” chair.

(I felt the LORD Himself had asked me to do this.)

Then I waited.

I said another silent prayer that the ladies at my table would not be hurt or offended at their “gifts.”

As I lifted my eyes to survey the room, I saw women gathered in small groups; some whispering; some openly glaring; a few smiling. “Were those smiles of approval or mocking?” I wondered.

I looked down at my mud-brown bowls of brokenness and baked clay. Bowls with offerings of what I hoped would be tender encouragement. Basins with soap and towel and poem. Would these small “ordinary-offerings” be accepted, or rejected?

(Ever wish a floor could swallow you whole?)

One by one the ladies assigned to table eleven arrived. Each surprised at first; at the gifts. At the pains, I had taken for them. They read the poem, studied the jar in the center of our table, and they marveled at what they were seeing. Each “saw it” coming from Him—for them!

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It was perfect.

It was holy.

It was their Moses-moment.

I was only the server that day—He was The Host, and He met each one in their personal point of need.

I sat listening intently to each lady as they told their stories, marveling to myself. The things they were going through; the struggles each one had; the way the bowls and the poem and the jar “spoke” to their hearts. There was nothing “random” about who He had chosen for Table Eleven—not even me! God had prepared a burning bush for each one, to remind us all, that though we are broken, we are all The Chosen by Him, to make a difference in this broken world, for Him.

The best part of my story I save for last.

She was not seated at our table, but I believe she was perhaps the most blessed that day.

If table eleven was for anyone in that room, it was FOR HER.

I don’t know who she was. She walked up to the table without a word. Stood at a little distance, hanging back.

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When I turned and looked at her, our eyes locked.

I will never forget the pain I saw in those eyes.

Tears were flooding down her cheeks as she looked at that big broken jar. Big, beautiful, crocodile tears.

She looked back to me and silently mouthed the words, “Thank you.”

Then she walked away.

In the day’s events, it was a brief moment. That was all. That was enough. I have carried that “thank you” in my heart from that day to this.

(It was for me.)

It was my Moses-moment.

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The Table (Part 2 ~ Unexpected Places)

Okay, I have my list. I’ve got my plan and I’m headed to the import store for, table cloth, check. Napkins and utensils, check.

In my head, I see it—this table of mine in a sea of china, silver, and crystal.

Only my table is the exact opposite.

Instead of china, wooden plates with plain glass plates on top. Wooden spoons with wooden forks. A tablecloth, not of fine linen, but rough woven cloth, like something Moses would have worn. Plain brown napkins tied with leather thongs. In the center of the table, a basin and towel, with the book. (Yeah.) Maybe I could even write a poem?

And then it hits me—an idea!

 

What if I take a bunch of clay bowls, line them with broken bits of pottery, so the “broken” is on the inside. Put a bar of homemade soap wrapped in brown paper and tied with leather thongs. Add a rolled up towel, and a copy of the poem for each woman. Something they can take home and keep long after the event is over!

Isn’t that the theme I’m really looking for?

Okay, now I’m getting excited. So I take all my stuff up to the counter eager to check out and get on my way.

That’s when I see it. Something totally unexpected. This plain brown box, on the floor behind the counter, with a huge clay jar in a dozen broken pieces. My centerpiece!

It speaks so loudly no one could possibly miss it!

 

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The clerk assures me, “It’s only junk, and once logged in on the breakage list, destined for the trash.”

Yes, I can have it.

I set the box on the floor of my car, and start for home when God shows up. Not like last time but I did feel just like Moses staring at that burning bush. It wasn’t an audible Voice but I know God spoke.

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From this plain brown box, through a broken jar, He spoke straight into my heart.

He showed up again, in an unexpected place, in an unexpected way, and I knew.

He was up to something BIG.

 

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The Table (Part 1 – Social Doofus)

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I wonder how many people are like me?

I live in this weird parallel universe of making myself do what I need to do, while at the same time feeling totally incapable of doing it.

(I think it’s a holdover from my childhood.)

I remember the first time dad stood me on a kitchen chair in front of the washing machine. I was seven years old. He began explaining what all the dials meant and how to use them. Terrified of letting him down, I struggled to comprehend all that he was telling me. How would I remember all these directions?

Most of my life has held moments and experiences that felt just like that day standing on that chair.

  • My first time sitting behind the wheel of a car.
  • My first apartment in a large city where I knew almost no one.
  • My first job interview in that city interviewing for a job I had zero experience doing.

Does life do that to each of us? Thrust us into situations we have zero talent, or ability, or training for? Then, we have to “step up” and somehow, or some way, pull the rabbit from the hat?

Yeah—I think so. And that is definitely me, and the assignment to Hostess—anything.

I have no natural gift of feeling at ease in social functions. ZERO. I ask you then, “Whatever possessed me to sign up to Hostess at my church’s premier women’s social event: Hats Off To Hospitality?” And, at the last possible minute?

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Total insanity!

I’m standing there in front of the sign-up sheet, looking at all the “taken tables.” Only the least desirable spots in the room are still available.

“Just choose one.” I think.

(Yeah, sure.)

So I take number eleven, way off to the right, next to the wall and the doors to the kitchen.

Talk about the worst possible spot!

(I mentally picture bending to fill someone’s glass, just as a busboy boots me in my you-know-what, with one of those swinging doors!)

Now, what?

Well, I’m supposed to come up with a table theme. So I think of the book I’m currently reading, Jim McGuiggan’s, “The God of the Towel” and I think, “Yeah, maybe I could do something with that?”

I make lists for everything, so of course, I started making my list.

I thought I knew just what to buy; just what I was going to create. I smile remembering because God was about to tweak my plan with a few ideas of His own. He was about to take my moment of temporary insanity and pull off something, well let’s just say, I was about to learn that being a social doofus is a REAL KINGDOM ASSET to God’s way of doing things.

In my greatest fumbling weakness?

He was about to work His quiet little miracles!

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Beloved Prodigal… (Part 4 ~ What’s Your Name?)

WHAT’S YOUR NAME?

On Pinterest, I call myself “Molly-O.”

I chose Molly because I wanted a nickname for Martha. “O” is because I aspire to become an Overcomer each day, whether I feel like it, or not.

And… Jesus gets every bit of the credit for any overcoming ’cause I still struggle some days, and yeah, the tears still gush at times when I wish they wouldn’t.

What’s that old saying: Pain is universal but misery is optional? It’s true. We can’t always choose what happens to us, but we can always choose how we will ultimately respond.

Only we decide on the who we will choose to become.

Let me add here, I have had it easy, real easy compared to what Believers have suffered on the other side of the world. Yes, there have been wounds. I have scars. So what, right? Nobody gets a picnic. Live a few years and life will teach youwere all messy and broken. And yes, I still get a little prickly, especially if I even think I’m about to get hammered from a pulpit. But I’m in church and that’s a flat-out miracle!

So now, I advocate for you—the broken and discarded.

Mainly because I know—it wasn’t Jesus that discarded you or pushed you away.

untitledYou may believe you have good reasons to be mad at God or distrusting of Him.

I can understand that, but you don’t—not really.

People maybe.

Welcome to the human race.

We’re all of us, every single one, sinful and selfish.

Like pain that truth is universal.

I don’t know where you find yourself today, or why you have chosen to leave the Church, or at the very least stay safely outside the fold, keeping to the frayed fringes.

I don’t know if you find yourself “wandering on every high hill” as Ezekiel says, but my hope is that this book will come alongside you wherever you are, bringing with it some real understanding for what you’re feeling.

It’s Mercy that washes wounds and Hope that brings the bandages.

I hope you find both here.

Broken Vessels are priceless in God’s eyes.

He sees your brokenness as an asset to His Kingdom.

You are not a liability.

He wants you to come home.

(Me too.)

We need you, and yes, I know there are some in The Church that are phony and meaner than a pack of junkyard dogs.

(I know.)

But there are GOOD people, too, and you are missed.

We are the weaker for your being AWOL.

We need you!

(Jesus and I think it’s high time someone told you so.)

It’s time to forgive and be forgiven.

It’s time to get back in The Game.

It’s the fourth quarter and were behind; fourth down and we need what only YOU can bring to the team.

There’s A Harvest waiting and the time to harvest is NOW.

So I’m praying… I’m asking you… Beloved Prodigal, please.

Please come home.

 

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