Category Archives: lost & found

Nothing is Wasted

God speaks. I just want to go ahead and say that right off the top because it’s the greatest truth a person can ever attempt to grasp and this truth is so personal and precious to me.

I don’t believe in coincidence. Not at all. I’ve seen too much in my lifetime to back away from that statement: there is no such thing. While it may take years and even seasons to understand the connections, I’ve seen it time and again. Everything is connected and nothing, if we allow, nothingnot a shred or a tear or an experience… is wasted.

This is a ridiculously crazy season of life–wonderful, terrifying and beautiful. I know I seem kinda “spiri-tchool” and  all but lemme just tell you– I can be one HUMAN being.  Ya know? Lately,  I am so full of every emotion you can imagine and sometimes, just for the fun of it, I just go on and experience them all in the same day even at the same time! A few months ago I summed it up like this: “It takes a boatload of endings to make a new beginning.”   Do you feel me here?

There’s that whole “empty nest” label thing (which we are refusing to wear), the “fix up, sell all, finish and tie up loose ends and go” thing and then the real, physical emotions that accompany the letting go as gracefully as possible. It’s the effort required to let things naturally come to a beautiful end so we can embrace the beginning God has set before us. There are a bazillion unknowns and the things that we might be permitted to know are not yet made clear. The only thing— the only thing we can hold fast to at all is our speaking God
THE in our midst,
with us and for us,
Emmanuel…. God.

So when I find myself here… this place that causes me to sit down and start typing it all out… I must choose to cast aside Every. Other. Method or Mode for coping with the emotions and uncertainties. Whatever it takes, I have to choose to lean in to the One Who Knows. Obey. Trust.    When it’s hard… lean harder.

Today is just one of those days. I’m so grateful to be doing ANY of this at all, but sometimes I feel a little loose and crazy. Know what I mean? Like my feet aren’t connecting with solid ground and my heart wants to grab my head and fly out the door hollerin’ “See ya!!” So… I did the very thing I must do: I leaned harder. Asked for GOD’S affirmation and to remind me what it’s all about one more time.  He did.

Remember that story we love to tell the children in Sunday school? The version in Matthew 14 is the one we seem to like best because it’s where Jesus sends the disciples out to the other side of the sea while He hangs back to dismiss the crowds. Then, late at night, He decides to join them… walking across the water to the boat. They are naturally afraid and He says, “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!.

Peter, (we love this part don’t we?) full of bravado says, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.” Jesus tells Peter to come and well, we know that Peter starts out great.

Then he looks around.
Maybe he looks within?
Maybe he looks down and back or at others…but he isn’t looking at Jesus anymore.
Nope.

We read then that Peter begins to flounder and cries out “Lord save me!” and Jesus, chastising him gently pulls him into the boat with the others who then worship Him in awe as the Son of God.

VOLUMES have been written on this passage and I’ve heard many sermons from many different angles. Oh, but nothing comes close to the deep understanding you need to keep from going under when you’re the one gladly answering the call to “Come.”

Then the wind whips up and the spiritual attacks and distractions begin. Oh man… you’re drifting off center because the logistics are not lining up yet and gee,  it’s getting very lonely out here…There’s just so much to do!  You’re feeling a bit over your head and well, you’ve never been this far out before… and the shoreline still seems so far away. Ugh… now you’re sinking.  Aahh! “Lord save me!”  And He does.

Think about it for a moment–He does.   Bless Peter’s heart, we often imagine that Jesus might be scolding Peter with His response: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” As if Jesus might be pointing to Peter’s doubt more than his faith. Well, I wasn’t there so I’m not sure what Jesus’ words were pointing to…but I can wonder. Imagine…what if Jesus was in effect saying, “Oh Peter… look at your little faith. I’m glad to see it. Did you doubt I’d stay so near to you right now? Why?”   One can imagine…

I’d like to believe that, if the very next day the same scene was reenacted, Jesus would allow for Peter’s little faith to come to Him all over again even though eventually Peter would flounder, cry out and need to get pulled up again. I believe this because Jesus is allowing me with my little faith to do the same.

The beautiful gifts I’ve been given during this season from our Speaking God are sometimes subtle. Today it was deeply personal. In the midst of an inner meltdown, I got a call out of the blue to help a neighbor. Taking our son’s car, I was sure to plug in my phone for the call from Boot Camp which could come at any time. Equipped with a bluetooth thingie, it picked up on my music playlist and randomly played this sweet song by Jason Gray entitled “Nothing Is Wasted”.

Wow. I wanted to pull over.  I first heard that song during a season of deep pain when I wondered if God would ever lead me back out of the wilderness and show us the path of His call. Say what you will but this was a reminder… His reminder that He is near. He is faithful. He is leading and guiding and that nothing… not a shred, or a tear or an experience is wasted in the hands of our Redeemer.      I can lean as hard as I want.

Here: give it a listen.

Those Rumors You May Have Heard? They’re True.

We are told of a man….. a merchant by trade, known throughout the ages as one who can spot something of real and lasting value. More than a skill, this merchant appears to have been on a mission, driven to seek the best and the finest.  Experience has taught him about quality; he knows it when he sees it, perhaps even when others do not, and he’ll spare no expense to obtain it.

That’s all we know for, in just two short verses and one simple matter-of -act statement found in Matthew 13, we’re told simply that this merchant was compelled to search, gifted enough to know what to seek, and led to find a single pearl of great value. Upon it’s discovery, and recognizing it’s tremendous worth, he sold everything and bought it.

Like other parables from Jesus, this one is ripe with meaning. In the context of the discussion, Jesus has been instructing his disciples on Kingdom matters: value, redemption, growth, purpose and perspective. He’s teaching them what’s important to God and therefore what should be important to them… and those of us who follow. While ultimately, we know this parable is about the nature of God, Jesus explains, it’s for our benefit too: 

  • God wants us to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.
  • He desires that we should know His nature and have His image marked upon our souls.
  • He wants us to recognize lasting treasure and real value when we see it and to imitate the examples set before us as best as we can— to seek, find and spare no expense to bring our “pearls” into the Kingdom coffers.

You might know that pearls are born over time out of discomfort. A small irritating grain of sand gets lacquered by an oyster (typically), eventually becoming a highly prized gem. That’s a lesson in itself. But Jesus doesn’t focus on the process of how the pearl came to be. Instead he draws our attention to the outcome and the kingdom response to something so precious.

Notice also how Jesus points out this merchant’s success. He was a savvy  businessman with plenty of fine pearls already, yet we don’t sense that it was wrong for him to keep on searching. Something deep inside urged him on, knowing there was something more to be found. He surely valued what he had— a collection so beautiful and fine— but that didn’t stop him. Seeking, he found something of greater worth and had no problem selling ALL the rest to make it his own.

“The kingdom of heaven is like _____ ”. 

Here*  six times in six different ways Jesus expresses the kingdom equation in the simplest terms and the lavish kingdom response that turns our world economy upside down and inside out. This kind of extravagance made little sense then and even less now. Each time Jesus is spelling out further what He’d been teaching about the kingdom earlier in Matthew 6 where basically He says, “Look, your needs are known. Your needs are going to get met. Stop striving to meet your own needs and seek the kingdom first. The kingdom of heaven is like_____ and the treasure is tremendous and all the rest? You’ll be amazed by how those needs are met along the way.” (Some BIG time Lorretta paraphrasin’)

Obviously, I’ve been thinking a lot about these things. As one who’s been brought into this kingdom by a judgement value and price set by God alone, it’s humbling enough to make me put on my merchant’s cap and look for others. Depending on where you find yourself today, a variety of ideas may spring to mind as you mentally “fill in the blanks” Jesus (thankfully) left in these parables. 

For me, today, it’s a little more plain and real than it was even a year ago. I don’t have to look far to see my collection of “fine pearls”: a solid home, a successful business, a loving community, healthy houseplants! The list goes on. Twenty-eight years of marriage, three grown children and a decent 18-year run at self-employment have provided us with a flexible lifestyle in a place we’ve grown to love. As Christ followers, we’ve been privileged to invest 15 years in our local congregation, cultivating our gifts and talents while raising our family. We are about to be “empty nesters”. We are blessed with good health and mobility.

We are comfortable.
We have enough.

By worldly standards— even by the basic American Christian understanding we are considered “successful” and it would be no big deal to keep on as we are without a hitch.

Except, like that merchant,  we have been led by God to seek the Kingdom’s more. This is why, within the coming year we will sort, sell and moderately store all that we have to take a ministry position overseas in January 2019. It’s why we have begun to tell our business clients that we’ll be stepping away by then (not now!) and why Christmas with our children was so precious this year. It’s all about to change: we have found a pearl of great value and we’re selling (most) everything to purchase it.

Lord knows it’s not easy. In fact, once you set aside all the ridiculously romantic ideals of doing such things, it’s downright terrifying. It should be. It’s also the most peace-filled place we’ve ever been.  All we know as we prepare to go is that there is a God who loves us and the world so much that in spite of our sin, He sacrificially made a way for us to know Him and His great love. The kingdom of heaven is like… more than we will ever really understand, more than we will ever really deserve and yet, it’s like… right in front of us at all times and there are others who need to know this too.

As with all  such things of great value,  there’s sacrifice involved— a constant stream of releasing things to God’s care as we seek first His kingdom with the remainder of our lives and step beyond all that we’ve known to acquire this “pearl”.  In pondering these things; the parables, the pearl and the price, I’m beginning to recognize, by God’s grace, that the “pearl” isn’t necessarily a thing, place or position. Ultimately, yes, it’s the prize of the stored up “treasure” we’re promised at the end of time but in practical terms, the pearl of great value is obedience… the “everyday yes” to whatever God has called us— and you— to do.

We are very much in process and the details of how to do such a thing are still a bit hazy. The invitation however,  is clear: “Release. Give up everything to secure THAT “pearl”. And all the rest?  That will be the icing on the cake.  I promise.”

Would you like to know more about what’s going on? Email me at dl@stembridge.us  and I’ll add you to the Facebook page and prayer letter list. Thanks!

* ( six times in six different ways…) I originally wrote “five”– missed one, sorry! 

Now What?

In the typical vernacular of American hyperbole, the recent solar eclipse was promoted as the “Event of the Century”,  and met with the greatest fanfare and attention one might expect on the occasion of meticulously aligned celestial bodies.    It was spectacular.

While everybody was looking, God did it again: His miraculous nature on display. Some expressed awe over an easily explained scientific phenomenon, however no one would ever deny that NASA scientists neither put the sun and moon up there, nor did they orchestrate such an astounding event. No, like the rest of us, they could only watch in amazement as yet another, every day miracle testified to the unfathomably  precise mind of our Creator, God.

There, plain as day, the Sun and Moon effortlessly glided past one another, exchanged pleasantries (I’m sure), waved to the watching crowd and continued on their way.
Back to work people
.    Just like that it was over.

That same Sun and Moon are still right where we left them, more or less,  dancing their rhythmic do-si-do and declaring the glory of our Creator- right now – with scarcely anyone in attendance. Pulling tides, fueling photosynthesis, boiling mist into clouds to bring rain to parched ground and the countless other miraculous things we take for granted every day.

That moment is gone with another taking it’s place in the record books as a large portion of a large Texas is waterlogged and still in terrible distress. Same God. Same sun and moon. Radically different results.

This, on the heels of media-fueled firestorms disputing deep issues of truth and equality and how to represent our shared history fairly. Even the ugly bits. For my part, I confess my testimony shines brighter because I’ve been given the gift of grace to share the darker places honestly. There are scars because there is healing and this is the reference point orienting my course for the future.  Focus makes all the difference, even for a nation.

If we’re truly honest (and a little quieter), it’s the truth we all must walk by and all we’re left with at the end of every day.  Whether it’s one day gazing at the heavens in stark amazement or the next with eyes cast wide in disbelief at the overflowing waters of the sea, we must surely be struck by God’s power on display and our complete inability to do anything about it.

Not that we’re completely powerless. But we do tend to focus on things that really don’t matter– pushed along by popular opinion and media-driven mob mentality or most often frantically rushing through life striving to feed a seemingly insatiable appetite for goods and pleasure.

So bone wearying and tired.
So lost.
So meaningless.

What really matters?
I mean…REALLY.   What is the end goal?

Have you noticed?    It’s so easy to mindlessly tick off life events as if the only goal is their attainment while time slips through our fingers like the pages of a Very. Slender. Book.  If we could imagine such a book and that each page represented  a year of a “typical” life, most people would agree that 80 + years is a pretty long life, although to hold it in your hand it wouldn’t seem that long.

Our slender story begins when God the Author, in grand “Let there BE” fashion writes His miraculous “Once… Upon… A… Time…” and WHOOSH!  We’re born!      Then what?  

Well… for most of us it takes about 18 pages to grow up!  Page 3, we’re potty trained.  Page 5,  we start kindergarten. In the next 13 pages we lose teeth, fall in love, get mad at our parents,  learn to drive, go to proms work our first job and GRADUATE!  Then what? 

Possibly, we start a full time job.
Or go to college.
Maybe we find a mate
Get married, settle down and start a little family with little stories of their own!  Then what?

Pages 26 through 40-something have us raising that family. We might buy a house and a car, own some pets,  take a few vacations and lots of pictures,   SURVIVE TEENAGERS,   work a whole lot more and retire at page 65.      Then what? 

Hopefully our health is still good and the economy’s been kind.  In the final 20 or so pages we can finally enjoy life and maybe some grandchildren. Maybe we still need to work part time or there’s time to pursue some hobbies. Play a little golf… Take a cruise.  And…   then…   what? 

Nobody likes to talk about it, but at some point, the book of our earthly life will come to a close. There will be no more pages left to turn and no more time left on earth to write our story.   We will die.         Then what? 

Our earthly story is over but it’s not the end of us.

At this point, God’s word  teaches that the only two options for our final “Then What” are either eternal joy with Him in heaven because of the forgiveness we embraced through the cross of Jesus… or it’s the justice of eternal suffering and separation in hell because we refused to repent and receive His gift of salvation.

See, hopefully, at some point in the preceding pages of our life we heard and received God’s saving Gospel by faith. We understood we are sinners separated from God, but in His rich mercy, He made a way offering us forgiveness by sending his Son, Jesus who lived a sinless life and then took our place and paid the price on the cross for our sins.     And then what?

He defeated death and rose again on the 3rd day to claim the victory for us. So that we can live truly ALIVE now no matter how many “pages” we have and then.. someday when our earthly chapter closes, the next one begins with God eternally in heaven.

But only For those who believe.
Only For those who receive.
It’s what Jesus is teaching about in John 14: 6 when He said

      “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

I don’t know what page you’re on today. Me? I’m on page almost-50-something. I don’t know how many “pages” I have left.   None of us does.

What I can tell you is that at some point on about “page” 13 or 14, I heard the Gospel and received God’s salvation offered through Jesus. Since then, all of my “Then What? ” events have been forever shaped and guided by God’s Holy Spirit. Not living perfectly or without pain, but with a purpose.

That moment of decision causes me to joyfully testify and share about God’s mercy and goodness and to care enough that someone else may know Him too and ask, now what?

Maybe today you need to believe and receive God’s gift of salvation and start writing a new story on the pages you have remaining. So when there are no more words left to write in your earthly story the very next chapter begins in His presence.  I’m here for you.

Maybe you say you believe but you haven’t been living like it and you know deep inside that needs to change. Today.

This matters because our stories are never written in isolation and in a grander way, so many of our moments blend and count in the lives of others.

We need to live like that.
We need to love….like that.

Because, let’s face it: time… is short and the pages… are really few.

Being Written by Him,