I’m Not Looking for a Dog

This post first appeared at inspireafire.com

Crate Bars

So what am I doing here?

The first time my answer was simple. I carried in a nearly new bag of dog food. Some flea and tick prevention. A bag of dental chews with just two missing.

“Do you take donations?” I asked the girl behind the counter.

“Of course we do,” she replied. “Thanks so much for thinking of us.”

And since I was already there, I signed the waiver holding the animal shelter harmless, and wandered back through the kennels.

Crate

That was the first time.

Three days later, my answer is much more complicated. I’m still not looking for a dog, but I cannot stay away from this place. With its noise and smell and sense of desperation, it is an unlikely place to find what I am looking for. And yet I know, instinctively, that here I am looking for the same thing each of these dogs is looking for.

Hope.

It is a terrible place to look. Amidst fear. Amidst rejection and abandonment. And yet isn’t that the very place to look?

Who hopes for what he already has? Paul asked. Hope that is seen is no hope at all. But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:24)

Hope is found in the most unexpected places. Because it is pain that begets hope.

I know this, as I look at the bars separating me from the inside. The spilled dog food, the soiled toys, the little touches that cannot hide the dismal nature of these holding pens.

Hope is not found in the sunshine; it is not needed there. Hope is found in the shadows.

The staff here know that I am just looking. Looking at cages. Looking at the lives inside of them. And looking at freedom.

Cartoon Dog & Hearts

Tags appear even as I wait: “On hold for someone special – adoption pending.” One staff member tells me he started just over a month ago, and already most of the dogs that were here when he started have been adopted.

This is both unbelievable and wonderful to me.

This place – this frightening and confusing and horrible place – can be the start of a beautiful new beginning.

If that is true for these cast-off canines, could it not also be true for me? And for you?

We have a Heavenly Father who is not only our supreme caretaker, but who can break off chains and knock down prison walls. When Israel was at one of the lowest points in their history and held captive in Babylon, God sent a word to them through the prophet Jeremiah: “I know the plans I have for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

While this particular proclamation was to Israel, the premise is true for us today. Our Heavenly Father has told us that he has good plans for us, and they are still unfolding. Because of His great love for us we are not consumed. He will teach us in the darkness how to hope. He will prod us in the present toward our future.

Hope can be found even in a cage. Do not forget this.

Love Springs

Toy groundhog in plants

I posted this earlier this week at www.inspireafire.com/love-springs. Enjoy this re-post, and Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

I heard that Punxsutawney Phil is predicting an early spring this year. Legend has it that this Pennsylvanian groundhog can predict the approach of spring when he sticks his head out of his den on February 2nd. If he sees a shadow, he flees back down into his hole to slumber for another 6 weeks. This year, no shadow means spring is on its way.

clouds parting

Regardless of how much trust you have in this furry, four-legged prediction, the real question we should be asking is: What season follows spring?

I often picture spring as a gradual transition from winter into summer. The days get longer and warmer; little buds appear and then begin to pop. Color flows seamlessly from winter greys to joyful hues.

But that’s not how it happens.

More often than not, spring approaches like last year’s rusty tractor. It roars to life only to sputter and fade. It coughs and wheezes and jerks into motion only to stall half-way across the yard. It promises summer only to retreat back into winter.  You may need three different weight coats just to make it through one day, and the next day you may need to wear the same three coats in reverse.

Welcome to spring.

Winter

Ah, spring! Not only is it the precursor to summer, it is also the season of love. I think of that when I see my daffodils shoot out of the ground one day only to be blanketed with snow the next. Or weeks later when  they raise their yellow blooms toward glorious sunshine only to be whacked across the face with a deluge of ice pellets. Anyone who thinks that spring is gentle has never really paid attention.  And anyone who thinks that love is gentle has never really been in love.

What season are you walking through in your relationships right now? Equally important, what season is coming next?

Perhaps you’re in the thrall of romance. Absorb it like rays of sunshine, and let it grow deep roots to sustain you.

Perhaps you’re in a season of dark desperation, not sure how much more battering you can take. Hold onto the truth that the Son will never leave you. Seek Him harder than you have ever sought Him before.

Or perhaps you’re in a season of turmoil as chaotic as spring itself – blown about by life’s demands and twirling in confusion. Identify just one small thing that you can put in order, and start there. Sometimes changes to the smallest tributaries can divert the most raging torrent.

Desert flower

Love is not always easy, but we know that love is always worth it, because God Himself is love. No matter what season of love you’re in, pursue God with open arms. Through rain and snow and sleet and sunshine, seek God. He can bring order. He can bring healing. He can bring joy. One day, you will find that your arms are no longer empty. You are holding onto Love.

Because here’s something else about spring: it never gives up. No matter how many times winter throws another punch, spring always gets back up. In the end, spring always wins.

And so does love. Even when it hurts.

That Still Small Voice

Fire

Happy Father’s Day! This post originally appeared at http://www.inspireafire.com/still-small-voice/. I’m re-posting it here in honor of my dad!

“Let your conscience be your guide,” my father used to say.

Compass

Let your conscience by your guide.

I don’t remember him ever telling me what my conscience was, but somehow I knew. It was that still, small voice that stopped me when I was tempted to go along with the wrong crowd. It was that slight, uncomfortable prodding when I was tempted to take the easy way out. It was the seed of something beautiful that would grow with me and become at times the clear, almost audible voice of God.

Sometimes that voice needs to work through a lot of tangle before I can hear it. I am reminded of this when I read the story of Elijah in the cave (1 Kings 19). There was a great and powerful wind, followed by an earthquake, followed by fire, but the Lord was not in any of those things. Instead, these cataclysmic events were contrasted with the gentle whisper of the Lord.

The thing that struck me recently about this story was not the contrast of catastrophic power with gentle instruction, but the fact that the catastrophic power came first.

We read this story in a few lines and it seems like Elijah waited only moments before he could walk to the opening of the cave and talk with the Lord. When my life is in cataclysmic upheaval I wish that I, too, could wait for just a moment and then walk out of the devastation and into gentle instruction. I yearn for God to say to me: “You are not the only one left. Come out of there. Let me tell you what to do.”

But we don’t know how long the winds blew as they tore apart everything that once seemed secure. Or how long the earthquake rooted everything into upheaval. Or how long the fire burned to rubble even what little remained. What we know is that even after all of that, the still small voice was still there for Elijah.

And that still small voice is still there for us.

Footsteps

He is guiding our steps.

Sometimes we have to go through wind and fire before we are in a place where we can hear His voice, but we have a promise from God that even when we cannot hear Him over the tumult, He is still by our side, guiding our steps. He is still stopping us, prodding us, growing us, until we come to a place where we can hear Him more clearly again.

I recently asked my father what lessons he hopes he passed on to his children.

“Integrity,” he answered. And in that one word he summed up a multitude.

Integrity is how you treat people. Integrity is how you do your work. Integrity is when you listen to that still small voice…  and let your conscience be your guide.

I have more than one Father teaching me that lesson.

Easy

Wouldn’t it be great if it were easy?

That’s what it said on the back of the cereal box. It said some other things too, but my eyes stopped right there.

Wouldn’t it be great? Wouldn’t it be great if it were easy?

I used my pocket knife to cut around the words, and then, to save the coupon printed on the inside of the box, I peeled it. Or at least I tried to until someone with fingers more dexterous than mine took it from me and stripped it like a piece of tape. The irony was not lost on me. It was hard just cutting those simple words out.

So maybe the real lesson was something more like this: sometimes the things most worth doing are the hard things.

That seems like something my father would say. Succinctly and tossed out light as a fishing line to reel in years later. It sounds like something my heavenly Father would say, too. “Those hard things, pay attention. They are teaching you something.”

Like forgiveness being born out of hard relationships. Like humility being born from hard struggles. Like perseverance being born out of fear.

Think about it: When we have choices and no clear answer we learn patience. When we have too much to do and not enough time we learn acceptance. When we have to say good-bye we learn to keep going. When we are at the end of ourselves, we are most likely to look out and see God.

I think of Joseph, sold into slavery in Egypt. (Hard.) Or Moses, trembling before Pharoah. (Hard.) Or Jonah, sent in no uncertain terms back to Ninevah. (Hard.) How about Noah building an ark, or Abraham walking away from his home, or Ruth following her mother-in-law into an uncertain future? (Hard, hard, hard.)

What do you think about Jesus’ disciples? Do you think they had it easy? Have you ever really thought about what it would be like to follow the Son of Man who had no place to lay his head? Amazing, yes. Easy? Doubtful.

And isn’t that the path we are also called to? Oh, we are in a different time and a different place to be sure. But God is calling each one of us to be remade in the image of Christ. That doesn’t sound easy to me. It sounds like there are a whole lot of hard things I need to learn. And relearn. And relearn again.

Maybe the reality is like that song I heard while driving home the other day: the trials of this life may in fact be God’s blessings in disguise. Jesus said that His yoke is easy and his burden is light, but He also said the way is hard that leads to life. The truly easy path may in fact be the one that looks the most challenging right now. After all, Noah got to his rainbow only after going through the storm.

Wouldn’t it be great if it were easy? Yes. But sometimes what we want and what we need are two very different things.

Sometimes we get to the easy only by going through the hard.

For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few… Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 7:13, 11:29-30).

Some Doubted

I was reading the other day from Matthew 28, after Jesus’ resurrection:

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted (Matthew 28:16-17).

Some doubted.

I love how bluntly that is stated. One might think that having been an eye witness to Jesus’ resurrection would be enough to dispel doubt. Here are Jesus’ closest friends. They travelled with Him for three years. They witnessed His miracles. They performed miracles themselves under His direction. At the end, they saw Him captured and put to death; some of them saw where His body was laid in the tomb. And now they were physically in the presence of His living, post-resurrection being. They could see him. But some still doubted.

Even in the very presence of the newly resurrected Jesus, some doubted. If that is true for some of Jesus’ closest friends, then how do we stand against doubt?

We might think, God if you could just…. then that would be enough. But I see Jesus shaking His head the same way I see Him shaking his head at Philip who said, “Show us the Father, and that will be enough for us” (John 14:8). Evidence can support faith, but it cannot eliminate doubt. And that, my friends, is where this gets interesting. Read carefully:

When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted (Matthew 28:7).

If I knew Greek I’d do a word study on this line, but even across several English translations the same picture emerges: The eleven disciples climbed the hill. They saw Jesus, and they worshiped Him.

It doesn’t say that some of them worshiped and some of them doubted. It says “they worshiped him.” Only then does it add that some doubted.

Doubt did not preclude worship.

Think about that. We can worship, even when we doubt.

The passage continues with Jesus coming and speaking to them. Not to “some of them.” Not to the ones who did not doubt, but to “them.” Inclusive.

“Go and make disciples of all nations,” He instructed them.

All of them. Even those who doubted.

Satan would love for us to think that doubt is a stumbling block. He wants doubt to reduce our worship, sever our Christian relationships, and prevent us from telling others about God. But I do not see doubt as a stumbling block when I read God’s word. Instead, I see Jesus, coming to me, His follower who doubts. And He is saying: Come, worship me. Then go, tell others about me.

This is what I find so amazing about these simple lines:

Yes, some doubted.

So what?

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-19).

There Are No Losers Here

I have a tragic flaw.

Okay, so I have more than one, but this is the one I’m going to tell you about today. I love sports, but sports do not love me.

(Sigh.)

I’ve tried softball, but I tend to duck and cover when the ball comes my way. I’ve tried flag football, but I cannot catch a football to save my life. In middle school, I played basketball.  I loved basketball. Sometimes I even did something amazing, like make a basket. But in three years of playing, my team never won a single game. Not one.

I was thinking of this a few weeks ago as I was running past the tennis courts. (In case you’re curious, I took tennis lessons for two summers and still can’t hit the ball.) As I jogged past watching the players, I had the audacity to think: maybe running is my sport!

Keep in mind that even as I had this thought, I was wheezing and gasping near the back of the pack. Hope does not disappoint, Paul says (Romans 5:5).

And here’s the hopeful thing about running.  Running is the only sport where every person at the starting line could win. I don’t just mean everyone has the potential to win.  I mean everyone can actually win.  Simultaneously.

I realize only one person crosses the finish line first. And when the summer Olympics roll around there will only be one gold and one silver and one bronze. But the very heart and soul of running is not about besting the other guy; it’s about besting yourself. Running is about stretching, growing, pushing, improving. It’s about hitting that next personal record. Every other sport has a winner and a loser.  In other sports, even in the friendliest just-for-fun matches, one team can win only if the other team loses.

Not so with running.

One of the unexpected things I love about running with a group is the opportunity to cheer each other on. We each have different goals, but every week we all start out, and every week we all cross the finish line. It doesn’t matter who crosses first or second or last. Every week we are improving . We laugh in amazement, “I remember when I couldn’t even…”

There are no losers here.

Perhaps Paul knew what he was doing when he compared faith to running a race. After all, Jesus Christ came so that whoever believes in Him  – not just the ones who believe first or strongest or best, but whoever believes! – might not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

 God wants all of us to win the faith race. This does not mean it is easy. Paul even says, Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it (1 Corinthians 9:24). In other words, every one of us should train as though we are going for the gold, even though our true goal is far more valuable than that. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable (1 Corinthians 9:25).

In this race we are running, we all have obstacles to overcome. Each of our races may be different, but the Bible tells us how we are to face them.  We are to run with endurance (Hebrews 12:1).  We are to run looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). And just like with my running group, we are to consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together…but encouraging one another… (Hebrews 10:24-25).

In this competitive world, it is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking someone else must lose in order for us to win. If we stop to think about it, we will suddenly realize we are actually all on the same team. The route ahead may look hard, but with Jesus as our Coach and God’s Word as our training manual, we can run our race knowing that every one of us will make it across that finish line.

High fives all around, my friends. And let’s keep running.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Today’s Quote

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” ~Edward Abbey

Who among us would choose difficult over easy?  And yet sometimes, isn’t that the point?

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance;  and perseverance, character; and character, hope.  Now hope does not disappoint… (Romans 5:3-5)