When you look at this bouquet, some might see flowers, some might see weeds, but I just see God and his people.
These flowers came from one of my favorite places on earth: Schwarzwaldeckhaus. That’s a mouthful, isn’t it?! Sitting on top of a mountain in the Austrian Alps is a three-story cabin that serves as a retreat center for youth camps, church retreats, and other fellowship times. It is a place that has been very near and dear to my heart for many years.
Because the house sits on top of a mountain, the views are breathtaking, the cows are entertaining, the sunsets are exquisite, and the stars are indescribable. The quiet is deafening, but the time there–no matter how it is spent, alone or with others–is refreshing. It truly is a place to breathe in God and all that he creates for us to enjoy. If God were to have an earthly throne room, I think it would be here, on this mountain top.
A while ago, I had the honor of taking two dear friends, a son and his “seasoned” mom, up to the house (haus, in German). For one, it was a time to reminisce about her experiences from her younger days; for the other, it was his first view of the mountains. Like many before them, their reaction was similar to most–awe.
She related memories of being at the haus with college students and how they would walk the mountain trails, breathing in the clean air, and the soul-refreshing moments with God and each other. But one story in particular caught my attention. On one of her early morning walks, she decided to pick one flower, and only ONE, of each kind she found growing on the mountain. By the time she got back to the haus, she had a large bouquet of flowers in her hands. The week after their visit, I was blessed with time on the mountain by myself (well, and a black lab named Cara) so I decided I was going to test her story myself. You know what I found? The Church. I found God.
Cara and I started our walk down the mountain trail and I began to do the same thing my seasoned friend had done those many years before. I picked one flower of every kind I could find. It was amazing to notice how many different kinds there were. Although I walked only twenty minutes away from the haus, my hand was getting full of flowers so I decided to turn around and walk back.
I began to really admire all of the variations in my hand: the diverse, rich, and beautiful colors, the different shapes and sizes, and the beautiful intricacies of God’s designs. It was fascinating!
As I walked back towards the haus, I found other flowers I hadn’t noticed before because my perspective had changed. And, when I started to REALLY notice ones I had never seen up there before, it made me want to look even deeper into the fields of flowers. It became a source of joy and reflection of how powerful God’s hands are and the creativity in his creation.
But then, I realized I was putting God in a box by even saying he was “creative”…that was almost too “human” of a word to describe him. It’s cool to know that he didn’t really have to “think” about his designs–he just spoke the words, and they were! Admittedly, the designer in me loves to think of God, sitting in front of an enormous marker board, dreaming up every flower imaginable. A storyboard for every season, every climate, every country.
And, as random as this is, I loved that they all had one thing in common–a green stem.
Cara and I returned to the haus with our bouquet of flowers. I was curious to see how many different kinds there were, so I laid them all out on the kitchen counter. There were thirty different kinds of flowers, some with many similarities between them, but they were all still different.
After arranging them into a bouquet, I put them in water and enjoyed them the rest of the week…and what God was teaching me.
I’m sure you can extract your own faith-building moments from the story, but these were some of the things God spoke to me about:
The Lord has no equal and all that he has made is good!
Isaiah 40:14 and 26 says, “Has the Lord ever needed anyone’s advice? Does he need instruction about what is good? Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing!”
You could say the same thing about the flowers…he created all of them, they all have a name, and they were created exactly for where they belong, and even for the proper season to flourish in.
Now compare that to God’s people and his church! We are all created differently, each of us with our own particular details and intricacies given to us by God, and that is what makes us unique.
“Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – how well I know it!” Psalm 139: 14.
God has placed us where we need to be to bring him the most glory.
John 17:4 says, “I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”
And while he may only put us where we need to be for a season, his ways are always higher.
“Who knows if perhaps you were made for just such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14).
God doesn’t call us to understand the season, he calls us to be faithful!
1 Peter 5:12 encourages us, “…what you are experiencing is truly part of God’s grace for you. Stand firm in this grace.”
And another favorite of mine: “Now if you will obey me and keep my commands, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me.” (Exodus 19:5)
Perspective is also beneficial as God’s people
We all come from different situations and life stories. Yes, they make up a part of who we are–or at least who we were–but looking at people through eyes of love and God’s grace allows us to see the embraceable differences we have that make up the body of Christ. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multiple of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8.
Looking deeper into people’s lives also opens up the door to ministry and sharing the Gospel, as Philippians 2:4 suggests: “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others too.”
We are unique, we are different, but when we are all put together, we’re beautiful because of Christ! That “green stem” is Jesus. As a body, we have in common the forgiveness he offers us and the ability to live for him, bringing him glory. What a humbling honor! That the God who knows my name calls me to be his own: “…he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing (righteousness), he gave them his glory!” (Romans 8:30)
Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Now go pick some flowers!
Have you ever experienced the doors of your church building opening and closing for the last time? Maybe too many people moved away. Perhaps spiritual truths weren’t being spoken. Maybe your building was too big for the congregation to support financially. Maybe something happened that caused a split in the church.
I’ve been there, done that. Maybe some of you have, too.
That happened to the first church I remember attending when I was very young. When you’re little, you don’t remember the why. You just remember the Easter egg hunts with the new twirly dress your mom made. Or dressing like a scarecrow for the fall festivals, the cake walk, and bobbing for apples.
It was where I remember watching a “Jonah and the Whale” puppet show. My parents had worked tirelessly on a papier-mâché whale made from chicken wire and strips of newspaper dipped in glue and painted to look like the fish we all imagined in the Bible story. That giant fish was wonderful, and it made that story come to life for me.
It was also the place where I experienced my first foot-washing service. While I was only six or seven years old at the time, it impacted the rest of my life! It was life-giving and life-changing.
The church building’s expenses had become too much for the congregation to maintain, so the decision was made to sell the building. At the time, I didn’t know what was going on, nor did I need to. I just knew we weren’t going to that church building anymore and I didn’t know why.
But church was a part of my family and it was a part of my life. I never knew it any other way.
Fast forward ten years. Our family had moved to another state. I grew up with a wonderful, spirit-led and serving youth group, graduated high school, and was now in college. One summer Sunday, I realized that Satan was doing a pretty good job tearing apart my church family. That church had also been life-giving and life-changing to me. But it was clear those doors, too, would soon be closing. And they did, but I still loved the people and missed that family.
Throughout college, I admit, I did the dance called “church hop.” I couldn’t find a church in the area that was like my home church, so I wasn’t satisfied. Allow me to put the emphasis on I, because, looking back, that’s what it boiled down to. I had made church about me and how it would best suit me. I wanted the worship music and the digging into scripture, the handshake and the smile at the door. While I wanted people to know my name and who I was, I didn’t do my part. Let’s be real: I didn’t want to commit to the flawed person I was, or to serve a Holy God for the sake of the church.
I’m not sure what I struggled with more during that season, the fact that I was contradicting what I had grown up loving and being a part of my whole life, or that I wanted it to be like my church back home, and it wasn’t. Either way, they were lousy excuses. Let’s call them what they were.
But by grace, God navigated me through that season by means of something I never intended…he tends to work that way.
My dissertation topic was over Church Interior Design. The fancy, academic title for the paper was, “Church Interior Aesthetics: Do the interior aesthetics of a worship environment affect the retention of the post-modern generation?” According to my findings, the answer is yes, but you can’t write the word “YES” for 100+ pages. But, when you spend more than two years of your life on a paper, you’d better love your subject matter, because you will eat, breathe, and sleep your topic. Thankfully, the experience taught me a lot.
In order to explore the topic efficiently, I read close to fifteen books, countless scholarly articles, attended upwards of thirty churches in the area, and others when I was out of town. They were all different sizes, “flavors”, instruments, a capella, traditional and contemporary worship (everything in between), longitudinal seating plans (two sides with a center aisle), circular, and half-round layouts, warehouses, 120+ year old buildings, brand new facilities, stained glass, dark holes, casual, suits, dancing, “high church”… You name it, I probably saw it.
Truthfully, in the beginning of my research, I was so busy observing and taking notes that I wasn’t truly participating in the service. I was also judging it based on my own preference. And yes, you are going to have those, but my own preferences became a distraction and a stumbling block. I certainly wasn’t worshiping in spirit and in truth.
As my visits continued, God began to do what God does–he softened my heart. I began to see beyond the research and to watch God move in people’s lives! I watched God answer prayer, and I saw people give of themselves to serve others. While visiting “other” churches, I encountered his presence. I experienced the warmth of a handshake; the depth and reverence of the old hymns and of contemporary worship songs; the intricate beauty of stained glass and the peace of darker spaces with candle light and hands lifted high.
I was watching Matthew 18:20 play out: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am among you.”
And I John 3:1: “What kind of love the Father has given to us–that we should be called children of God, and so we are!”
Maybe more importantly for me, God was stirring up John 4:24 in my heart: “God is spirit, and those who worship him MUST worship him in spirit and in truth” (emphasis mine).
It doesn’t say, “…and those who worship him must worship him with your own preferences in mind, judging the guy next to you, or the bad lighting. And make sure you are obvious about glaring at the guy who is slow to change the slides during the worship songs…”
I’m thankful to have experienced that not only for my own heart’s sake, but for the sake of how I interact with other people now in their faith journey! Oswald Chambers once wrote:
“Never make a principle out of your experience; let God be as original with other people as He is with you!”
Praise be to God!!
Fast forward eight more years. My church family is also closing the doors in its current location. That building holds over forty years of memories. Children’s church and youth groups. Marriages, births, and funerals. Times of tears and rejoicing. People giving their life to Christ and experiencing the joys and trials of salvation. LIFE!
For most, the congregation is excited about the new things God is going to do in the future. For others, it has been a time of angst, fear, confusion, and sadness because of the connection to that location. And both of those things should be respected: being a part of the excitement of the unknown and being empathetic towards change and the unknown.
Last night, we had a rehearsal for one last big Worship Night in this building. People from over the decades will come back into town to be reminded and encouraged of what God has done and will continue to do through the church. As people were arriving, a woman I don’t know well asked me, “So, how are you doing with all of this? Are you struggling with emotional attachment to this building?”
“No, I’m more attached to the people and the purpose!” And I meant it.
I’m thankful that I can honestly say that now. People around the world are potentially or literally surrendering everything–their belongings, their families, even their lives–in order to be a Christian and worship with others. But they know He’s worth it! It’s not about a building.
In Francis Chan’s book, Crazy Love, he talks about how his wife and kids felt led to minister to China for a time. In their underground worship gatherings, he said:
“The most surprising part of our time together was when they asked me about church in America. They laughed hysterically when I told them that church for Americans tends to focus on buildings and that people will sometimes switch churches based on music, child care, preaching, or disagreements with other believers. I honestly was not trying to be funny. They laughed in disbelief at our church experiences, thinking it was ridiculous that we would call this Christianity.”
I wish this wasn’t true for churches worldwide, let alone the States. Unfortunately it is, because I’ve witnessed it. And it breaks my heart, no matter the language. But I believe in a God who created us to worship him in spirit and in truth, even if we struggle with that sometimes. I believe in his grace, his mercy, and his forgiveness, and I believe in his redemption!
God may be calling you to something new. He may be asking you to close the doors on something–for reasons you may or may not understand. Your faith may be challenged like crazy right now. But I am praying that God gives you clarity in your season. Not necessarily clarity in the sense that you understand his plan perfectly, but rather clarity of faith and unwavering trust in the God who has called you to his purposes! I pray that you will worship him in spirit and in truth, no matter where he takes you. That you will actively engage in people he puts in your path so you can be the Gospel to them.
So, if a door is closing in your life, please try not to look at it solely as a thing of death. Rather, see the new life that can come through the resurrecting power of Christ. I encourage you to be life-changing and life-giving to someone. Watch God do what he does best: bring glory to himself!
Originally posted: March 2016
Chip and Dale–the famous Saturday morning cartoon duo we all know and love. What a pair, right? Chances are you have childhood memories of Saturday morning cartoons. Perhaps you watched Chip and Dale, the furry little chipmunks made famous by Walt Disney. If you were like me, you ate a bowl of Lucky Charms while still in your PJ’s.
Chip and Dale were quite the pair. They were always stirring up trouble or trying too hard to get a simple job accomplished. Trying to outrun or outsmart Donald Duck or cramming their tree full of acorns was the norm for those little guys. Chip was always the thinker, and Dale was always getting them both into trouble. But no matter their troubles, they always managed to show up together the next Saturday morning. And that encouraged me.
They were two different characters but they worked well together. They needed each other. Chip and Dale were also famous for putting the other one first when they came to a hole or small space they needed to squeeze through. They would stand there for minutes at a time just trying to allow the other one to pass first. Cheerfully, they would stand next to the opening, with a hand opened towards the hole.
“You go,” Chip would say.
“No, you go,” said Dale.
“I insist, you must go first.”
“No, after you!”
They would almost get to the point of getting caught by Donald Duck before they would make up their minds to see who would disappear down the hole first.
Imagine the Chip and Dale of Christianity–the way it should be! We are all different because God created us that way, but we all need each other: to serve each other. We may be like Chip with the brilliant ideas, or we might be a little more like Dale, who seems to get into trouble a little more often than we’d like. Or, perhaps you have a wavering faith–not because you don’t believe in God, but because life tends to win front row seats. Either way, we all need to help build each other up and put each other’s needs first by bearing each other’s burdens in love.
Humbly serving others with our talents and gifts causes great things to happen in the Kingdom of God! If we all had the attitudes of Chip and Dale, everyone would just want to serve each other, even if our “enemy” is right on our furry little tails! When serving others wholeheartedly, we allow God to work through us to minister and reach out to others by putting them first. In today’s world, that seems to be a rare concept. If only life were more like Saturday morning cartoons with Chip and Dale!
In a way it can be, if we’ll begin to look at others as better than ourselves, serve without reservation, love unconditionally, and seek God in new ways so that we can become more like the verse in Isaiah that says “Here I am, send me!” (6:8). Then, watch that “life abundantly” thing that John 10:10 talks about become even more evident in your life.
My Kingdom or His?
Maybe you don’t struggle with this, but I do. Not intentionally, but I struggle with choosing my own kingdom over God’s. I don’t always cling to the part in the Lord’s Prayer that says, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done…”, but I’m learning. By His beautiful grace, I’m learning.
We all have our own version of a kingdom: our jobs, homes, families, spending habits, technology that consumes our lives, our hearts and how we treat people. Oh, how the list goes on. Because we have our own kingdoms, sometimes those collide into other peoples’…not because we do or don’t want them to, but because it’s life and it’s just part of the journey. When that collision happens though, we have a choice. My kingdom or His? My will or His?
In a great book I’ve been reading lately called It’s Not What You Think, by Jefferson Bethke, he defines kingdom this way:
“For there to be a kingdom, there must be a king, kingdom citizens, and a governing structure or way of life. A lot of us have the first two, not realizing the last one comes with it. We take Jesus as our savior, we become citizens of his kingdom, but we fail to realize that for that to be true, our lives now have to come under his reign.”
Too many times, I’m still king of my own kingdom.
I run things how I want to. It’s out of habit–but I’m not proud of that.
You know that old song by Joni Mitchell called “Big Yellow Taxi,” with the lyrics that say: “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone…They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”? About this time last year, I was in the process of making one of the biggest mistakes of my life, and at the time, I didn’t even realize it.
My life had been colliding with someone else’s but I was choosing my own kingdom instead of learning and embracing the joys of theirs, even when I thought I had. Only after I had “put up a parking lot” did I realize the subtle ways Satan creeps in and convinces you that your kingdom walls are strong and safe the way they are. You don’t need the trouble or hassle of cutting out a door or a window from your heart–I mean, wall–of stone to experience the incredible joy that comes from a beautiful view of something beyond yourself. After the other kingdom left, as Bethke says,
“It didn’t take long to realize just how selfish I was, just how hurtful I could be with comments, and just how unfocused I could be as a leader and servant.”
And his next comment, I confess, I know to be true:
“It’s only when we clash with another kingdom, or a new way of life, that we realize how poor the one [my kingdom] before truly was.”
And I have to live with that, probably for the rest of my life. Oh, to be able to rewind the clock.
How Different Kingdoms Can be Beautiful
The wedding I was a part of in Vienna a few months ago was a precious reminder of how beautiful different kingdoms coming together can truly be. The bride from Africa, the groom from Austria–and even his parents are American and Austrian. As I read over the guest list, my heart rejoiced with how beautiful the differences coming together in one room would be. There were people from Austria, Hungry, Africa, New Zealand, Romania, America, Asia, Germany, France, Switzerland…the list was long. Different kingdoms collided. But through the love of Christ and the Holy Spirit welcomed into that place, it wasn’t about our individual kingdoms. It was about the Kingdom of God.
Colliding into the Kingdom of God is beautiful. The door and window He cuts out provide a breathtaking view of who He is and who he created us to be–together, one, and whole. Chiseling out room in your heart for other kingdoms to collide with your own is a God-honoring expression of love. It honors the Creator, it honors His Kingdom…it allows room for His will to be done.
God, by your grace, thank you for tearing down my kingdoms.
Thank you for teaching me that the windows you carve into my heart are so I can see you more clearly–so I can see others more clearly! Let your kingdom come, let your will be done!!
Thankful for Spring Break
I’m not sure who came up with the idea of Spring Break, but I’m thankful, and God bless them! Come mid-March every year, I don’t know who needs it more, the students or the teachers…maybe even the parents! Regardless of whether you go out of town or do a stay-cation; go to the beach or the mountains; veg out in your PJs watching Netflix, or get up and cram as many rollercoasters as possible into a day, Spring Break is a glorious thing.
During this Spring Break, projects around the house have kept me occupied! I’ve repainted a bathroom, scrubbed from top to bottom, actually hung that pile of clothes in my closet, cleaned out the garage, and started elevating a layer of my front flowerbed. And this is only day THREE!
A Wilted Plant Brings Back Memories of Another Neglected Plant
Raising the flowerbed meant digging up the perennials and setting them aside until I could get it rebuilt. I pulled up some begonias, lilies, salvia, and some other plant I never can remember the name of. Because our winter was really mild this year, the plants were already well on their way to showing healthy growth for the season.
It only took me a few hours to build up the next layer, but in a very short amount of time, I looked over at the salvia and its leaves had gone from healthy, bright green, and standing straight up to the sun, to completely wilted and looking like a plant you forgot to water before vacation. You know what I’m talking about! It looked pretty pathetic. Seeing the sad little plant reminded me of something that happened in college…and it encouraged me.
The Busyness of Life Leads to A Sad-Looking Plant
My first senior year of college, my roommates and I lived in an apartment on campus. The apartment came furnished, so we didn’t have a whole lot of choice when it came to originality, but we made it home with our own unique touches here and there. I love plants, so that was one of my additions to the living room. An end table separated the sofa and over-stuffed chair, and the plant sat there, next to a tall lamp and family picture of one of the roommates.
As is the case with many college students, though, many things get neglected when you are in the rush of a semester’s end: doing laundry, eating healthy, taking a shower, exercising, making your bed, checking in with Mom and Dad…and watering plants. Out of everything on that list, I’m pretty sure watering plants and making your bed are pretty low on the “to-do’s” (assuming you ever made your bed in college to begin with).
One day after class, I came back to the apartment to eat lunch. While I was putting together a sandwich, my mom called to say hi and catch up. Sadly, we probably hadn’t talked in a couple of weeks, so it was nice to hear her voice for a while. I didn’t want to eat while we were talking, but as I was walking around our living room, I noticed I also hadn’t watered my plant in a couple of weeks either. It was pretty pathetic looking–droopy leaves hanging down over the edges of the pot, barely hanging on–so I walked back into the kitchen to fill up a glass of water and poured it into the plant in hopes that it might come back to life in a few days.
A Sudden Revival
While I was talking with my mom, I decided to sit down in the chair and just enjoy our conversation. I was looking at the poor plant while she got me caught up on Dad, my sister, brother, and life. All of a sudden, I found myself NOT paying attention to my mom but rather watching this plant come back to life right before my eyes. I’m sure I interjected our conversation with an occasional “uh-huh” or “oh, really”, but I can honestly tell you I have no idea what my mom said to me for the next ten minutes.
The once lifeless leaves, slowly made their way upright, in order to stand straight, healthy, where they belonged. It mesmerized me. I was amazed that something I had neglected for a while, by simply pouring in a glass of water, the plant did what it knew to do–to live–the way God created it.
Finding Living Water in Every Day
The biblical connection for me that day is probably obvious. But that day started something in me: a love for seeing God in the little things; everyday life devotionals.
How many times have I neglected the living word of God…that living water which overflows with abundance? Those precious life-giving words, particularly on the days when I really need to be reminded of their power?
Because of that plant-reviving day, one of my favorite verses has been John 7:37-38, where Jesus says:
“Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’”
Drink God’s Living Water into Your Life
Living water is found in Christ; it is found in the Scriptures. On the days or even years where your spirit is dry, shriveled, and seems lifeless, I encourage you to drink in the power of God’s words into your life. We all get busy. We all feel pulled in a hundred different directions, and we all put things at the bottom of the list. But you can start putting the word of God into your heart by sticking a note on the steering wheel. Write it on your mirror, or read a daily verse on your phone!
Let God minister to your heart through his word.
Let him bring new life through living water to fill you back up and do what you are called to do–to live–the way God created you!