by Brenda VanWinkle | Oct 2, 2017 | Love Yourself To Life
Words and the way we speak them, matter.
“If you had been here my brother wouldn’t have died.” POW! What a punch in the gut, I don’t care who you are. It is one thing to feel like I, myself could have done more but to have such a weighty and harsh accusation leveled is painful. The tone in which a thing is said, matters. Out of our heart our mouth speaks, so how we say a thing is a waving flag letting others know, “This is what I really think in my heart.”
The Bible is good at giving us life examples of how the same response can have very different results. For instance, right off the bat as the New Testament opens two people are visited by an angel to let them know they would have a son under impossible conditions. What good news! A baby! First a priest named Zacharias is doing his job attending to priestly duties when an angel appears to tell him his wife Elizabeth will bear him a son. Now we know that this was an elderly couple: in fact, we’re told they were ‘well advanced in years.’ That could mean almost anything in days when people lived a long time! Added to that is the fact that Elizabeth was barren. At least she had been until that moment when the angel spoke. Things happen when angels talk to you.
Now not only was Zach old, he was caught very off guard by this announcement. His response to the angel was, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” Seems reasonable to me but something about it smacked of doubt and unbelief and at the angel’s word Zach became mute and not able to speak for at least the next nine months, “because you did not believe my words.” Doubt and unbelief are a bit more challenging to spread around when one can’t speak and there’s no internet or texting.
Luke also tells us that an angel visited a young woman named Mary, who was a virgin. We aren’t told what she was doing that day but it is reasonable to expect she, too, was going about her everyday life. Mary was troubled at the unexpected announcement that she was graced and favored by God. The angel went on to tell her she, too, would have son but not after she and Joseph married: she would become pregnant before she ever knew a man sexually as Holy Spirit would hover over her womb and impregnate her with the very Son of God. It is impossible to imagine how it would feel go be given this incredible announcement even with time to prepare, let alone without warning! You know Mary’s response: Initially she asked, “How can this be, since I do not know a man”. Once the angel told her it would be a miracle her response was: “Let it be done to me according to your word.” She and Zacharias both asked the same basic question, “How can this be?”, but whereas his doubt caused him to lose his voice, Mary ran off to tell Elizabeth. How grateful Elizabeth must have been for someone – a relative – who was also having angelic visits and miraculous conception and could talk about it!
Another example is Mary and Martha. As we looked at last week, the M&M sisters sent word to Jesus that their brother, Lazarus, was sick. Would Jesus please come? They’d seen him heal the sick and heard so many testimonies, they had no doubt of His ability to make their brother well. You know the story, Jesus took His time and while He lingered, Lazarus died. Not only did the sisters love him but their brother would have been their protection, provision, covering, more. Now those things were all gone. What difficult news, a death.
When they heard Jesus was coming into town, both sisters ran to meet Him. Martha was first and in her own inimitable way said to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again” to which she replied yes, she knew he would rise again at the resurrection of the dead. Jesus then let her know that HE, Jesus, IS the resurrection. That whoever lives and believes in Him would never die. Did she believe? I can almost hear the impatience in her voice as she says she believes He is the Christ, the Son of God. She did not say she believed a person would never die. After all, her brother who loved and believed the same about Jesus was now in His grave. She had no grid for a physical resurrection let alone eternal life even though Jesus Himself just gave her a teaching on it. Later when they go to the tomb she argues with Jesus about opening the tomb. It’s almost like she’s saying, DO SOMETHING! No, not that, DO SOMETHING ELSE!
In contrast, when Mary came out to meet Jesus we read she fell down at His feet, the posture to which she was accustomed. To sit at a rabbi’s feet was to take the position of humility, of learning. Her words to Him were the same as Martha’s but I suspect they were said in a different tone, from a different heart position: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Part of the reason I believe her tone and demeanor was different is because when Jesus heard her He did not teach her, He wept with her.
We live in days of vast opportunity and much confusion and change. While we may or may not be visited by an angel bringing us a message, there are plenty of chances for us to be shocked and surprised at what comes our way. Each of us can identify with at least one of these Bible characters to some degree though our circumstances are unique. Proverbs 4:23 (CJB)instructs us “above everything else, guard your heart for it is the source of life’s consequences.” This week, take time to ask Holy Spirit to search your heart to determine how much of it is filled with doubt and how much, faith. Be sure faith is the dominant posture: you can do this through worship, praise, reading the Word, prayer, sharing with a trusted friend who knows Jesus well. It is important – no, it is vital – that our hearts be fully His so we respond to both difficult and good news with words of life. Words that help us Love Ourselves and thereby, Others, to Life. The world is waiting.
by Brenda VanWinkle | Sep 26, 2017 | Uncategorized
Oh, to experience the vibrancy of truly being alive each and every day! To be alive is one thing, to be active and vibrant, another. Yet how easily we accept what is less than life! It makes sense because it is easier and requires less of us. Wax fruit in a bowl looks lovely and only requires an occasional dusting; silk plants don’t need fresh water or replacing. Our neighbor has artificial grass in his yard because he got tired of mowing the real. This is all helpful and good as long as we don’t begin to mistake the dead for the living.
When it comes to books, there are those that entertain, some that teach and some that frighten. However, not one is of value until it is read. I have some old books with pretty red covers I use to decorate my living room but I’ve never read any of the poetry within so they just sit there looking lovely, only now and then needing a quick dusting.
However, there is one book that is worth reading and reading and then reading again. Of course, I am referencing the Bible. The only book that is alive and speaks new truths each time it is read is worth so much more than just sitting and looking pretty, only needing a quick dusting now and then. I love the Bible and read it daily but I’m a fast reader so it’s easy for me to skip over passages and verses with barely a thought. The very familiarity of the stories is a call for me to slow down and read with intention. As I have worked at doing so I’ve been seeing new things, as when I recently re- read the story of Mary and Martha.
Most likely you know the story. It is so common and we are so used to it being told we are likely to give it just a quick dusting as we pass by. Jesus liked to stay with sisters named Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus when in a town called Bethany. Luke tells us that Martha welcomed Jesus into her home, so it seems she had a gift of hospitality. Martha and Laz had a sister called Mary, who sat at Jesus’ feet to listen to Him speak and teach. This is pretty remarkable as women were not typically included in the teachings of Rabbis, but she was obviously welcome in Jesus’ home group.
On this particular day Martha got busy serving Jesus. Perhaps she loved to cook and entertain – or perhaps she felt obligated, especially with her sister doing nothing to help, just sitting there hanging on every word Jesus said. Can’t you imagine Martha stewing over the stew as she mumbled and grumbled about her unfortunate role and Mary’s oblivion to how hard she, Martha was working? Have you ever felt this way about something? Of course you have! We all have, which is what makes this story so relevant. Finally Martha just couldn’t hold it in any longer and pointed out the injustice to Jesus. His response was not what she expected. Instead of rebuking ‘perfect’ Mary, he rebuked her: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” Oh great. Just great. Now Jesus was ‘taking Mary’s side’ which most likely did nothing to calm Martha’s temper. The three words used in this story to describe Martha are distracted, worried and troubled. Ouch! Sound familiar in anyone’s life but Martha’s and mine?
Truth is: we all can relate to how Martha must have felt. She felt used and put upon with all that serving and her anger came from self-pity. Then Jesus Himself rebukes her and praises her sister (talk about fuel on a fire!). I wonder if at this point Martha hated who she was? You know what I’m talking about. “If only…” If only I were more calm: more like Mary: kinder: less type A: able to keep my mouth shut. I wonder if Martha thought that of course it would be easy for Jesus to love Mary and hard to love her? I wonder if there is a person on earth who has not had a similar thought about themselves? How impossible it is to Love Yourself To Life when you don’t even like yourself and it is hard to like yourself when Jesus doesn’t defend your self-imposed misery.
HOWEVER! There is more to the story than meets the eye. If I stop reading here I walk away thinking Jesus really didn’t like Martha as much as Mary. Let’s be real: I walk away sure Jesus loves quiet, studious Mary more than bold, loud Martha. Good for me if I’m quiet and studious. Not so good if I’m bold and loud. This mindset justifies the mistaken belief that Jesus loves another more than me. Let’s not so easily accept the ‘dead’ (lie) for the ‘alive’(truth)!
Thankfully John tells another story about this family at a later time when Lazarus is sick and dying. Both sisters sent a message to Jesus to come quick and knew He would when they reminded Jesus of how He loved Lazarus: “Lord, he whom You love is sick”. Then comes a sentence filled with wonderful, power-packed, marvelous truth: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Do you see it?! It doesn’t say, “Now Jesus loved Mary who was perfect and Lazarus who was sick and oh yeah, Martha, too.” Martha is the first one mentioned and John didn’t even mention Mary’s name. The emphasis this time is on Jesus’ love of Martha. Martha! The loud, impatient, bossy, distracted and worried one – Jesus loved HER! For the love of Lazarus, for the love of Mary, and yes, for Martha whom He loved, He came to Bethany despite the fact there were men there wanting to kill Him.
Each member of this family had their own unique ability, personality and story, just like your family and every other, and Jesus loved each of them uniquely, personally and fully. I had not previously seen this truth that tells me of Jesus’ specific love for Martha. Seeing it, I have hope that, just as for the love of Martha Jesus risked His life by returning to Bethany, He loves me that much as well, even in my imperfection. On another day not long after this, for the love of Martha, for the love of you and me, He GAVE His life so we, the worried, troubled and anxious ones, might live in joy and peace.
This week, when those moments of insecurity come: when you realize you can’t be as holy or good as someone else: when you need some reassurance that perfection is not your qualification to be loved, bring to mind Martha. Remember that the Bible took space to specifically say that Jesus loved her and in doing so, offers a reassuring hug to each of us as well. Put your name in place of hers and let the truth of His love for you sink in. Knowing and accepting His acceptance of you enables you to recognize the living reality of how valued and loved you are and is a sure-fire way to
Love Yourself To Life.
by Brenda VanWinkle | Aug 14, 2017 | Uncategorized
This coming Wednesday Jim and I lead a pilgrimage to Ireland and Iona, retracing the steps of Columba who lived in the 500’s. I have finally given in and joined the world of Instagram and hope to post there, so if you’re an Insta-grammer that’s where you may follow along. I’d love to hear from you! Also, I’m delighted to be a speaker at the Gather Conference here in Colorado Springs, September 28-30. Hope many of you can join us; for details check my Bespoken Facebook page. Now on to this week’s blog:
So many good and wonderful things find life in the rain.
This month we say farewell to someone I met in the rain many years ago. Twenty years, to be precise. Twenty years ago this very month I met a young man who was to become a son and brother in our household. Now two decades to the month later, apart from a miracle intervention we bid adieu. He is in a coma in a hospital on the other side of the globe, totally inaccessible to us. I don’t know if it is raining there today, but I know it is raining in me as the storm of grief settles in. It won’t stay: I won’t allow it to remain long enough to identify me, but it has marked me and I will feel its raw ache long enough to maneuver the valley of the shadow of death. And I will come out the other side rejoicing.
It was August 1997 when our family moved itself to a country a world away. What an adventure! We prayed and planned and packed for months and months ahead of time until The Day arrived. I remember that our son slept for much of the 14 hour flight and when he woke he was crying even before his eyes were open. How my heart broke for him. I would rub his back and assure him it was going to be ok, that he was going to be ok, that his life was not ruined. He would fall asleep then I would cry. Loving enough to risk everything for the very ones you love the most requires all one is and has. Loving that much hurts. It is scary. The outcomes are not predictable and the challenges feel overwhelming. Fear and doubt nip at one’s heels and questions of ‘is it worth it?’ bow only to remembering the conviction of having heard the voice of God say, “Come, follow me.” Love like that is wild and rare and oh, so very, very worth it.
These past months have been quiet ones for me in terms of writing and travel/speaking. At the same time they have been some of my busiest in years, what with a wedding and three moves to new houses and/or locations with us and two of our daughters. During these months I have had a very deep and desperate call to prayer for the generation that follows my own. Even a cursory look around shouts the reality that what we have been doing, “The way we’ve always done things”, is not working. Though we love God with all our hearts and long to express His goodness (which leads to repentance) through our life and actions we often find that our message goes unlistened to. That it is not wanted or able to be received in the way we know to express it. At time it feels irrelevant – how can this be?! – the very Good News that God is love and Jesus came to rescue us from sin and death – and it feels irrelevant? The cry for mercy, for understanding and the ability to make a difference to a hurting world, an orphan generation, is deep and profound within me, as I know it is within many of you.
How grateful – beyond thankful – I am to say that my son (and the rest of us!) did survive our assignment all those years ago. Each of our grown children walk with God and our family is strong and we love and honor one another: God is so faithful. When we lived overseas a man I honor and respect very much, Gary Russell of China Harvest, told me that Psalm 126 was a scripture I would see lived out in my life. It became ‘my’ psalm, a life-line of sorts to hang on to in both good times and bad. That which began in the rain so long ago is coming to a close with weeping and with joy. The years ahead will unfold with shouts of deliverance as I carry my ‘sheaves’, those I love and for whom I have laid down my life – with me. They are the treasures I will one day lay at the feet of the One my heart loves most.
So, if this finds you wondering if saying “yes” to the call of Jesus is worth the price, my prayer is that you Love Yourself To Life to the degree that you cannot help but love others with all that is within you and give Him your Yes. That which you sow in tears will one day be reaped in joy – that’s the promise of Psalm 126.
Psalm 126 The Voice Bible
Remember when the Eternal brought back the exiles to Zion? It was as if we were dreaming – Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues were spilling over into song.
The word went out across the prairies and deserts, across the hills, over the oceans wide, from nation to nation:“The Eternal has done remarkable things for them.” We shook our heads. All of us were stunned – the Eternal has done remarkable things for us. We were beyond happy, beyond joyful.
And now, Eternal One, some are held captive and poor. Release them, and restore our fortunes as the dry riverbeds of the South spring to life when the rains come at last.
Those who walk the fields to sow, casting their seed in tears, will one day tread those same long rows, amazed by what’s appeared. Those who weep as they walk and plant with sighs will return singing with joy, when they bring home the harvest.
by Brenda VanWinkle | Jun 26, 2017 | Uncategorized
“One must wait till evening to see how lovely the day has been.” It is 6:30 in the morning Pacific Time and I’ve just had an evening moment.
Funny, isn’t it, how one innocent little movement can unexpectedly stir one’s soul into awakeness and awareness. This morning it was the pool skimmer that did it and this quote I read recently flooded over me and ran down my cheeks. Though my eyes, filled as they were with tears could not see, I suddenly saw many things my heart had not noticed in the heat of the day. We’re back in Redding for our daughter’s wedding and we are staying at a guest house built by the new owners on the property we once knew as home.
We’ve been back numerous times as the new owners are dear friends. The kind of friends with whom one takes great risks as hearts, by the Spirit, choose trust over legal documents in the buying and selling of home. Coming back has never been difficult for me and last night as we left the big house to walk out to the little house they have so lovingly built here to house guests I made the comment that living here seems like a long-ago dream. Like something I thought of once but I’m not sure ever really happened. It is a dream house on a dream property in a dream location and somehow ‘dream’ is all I felt.
Then this morning, coffee cup in hand, I walked out into the lush paradise of the back yard. Noticing the normal bits of leaves and pollen on the pool surface I automatically did what I used to do each morning, that is grab the pool skimmer and begin to clean the surface. That’s when the salt-water rain began. The tears I’d not shed for the past two years could be contained no longer and I skimmed and I remembered and I wept. The sudden awareness washed over me that I’d never really said a proper ‘goodbye’ to home. In the final weeks of our packing to move in early 2016, our little grandson Eli James, a three-week old at the time, became suddenly quite ill and this grandma was needed in Colorado. Thoughts of Eli consumed our days and the actual packing up and moving is but a blur. From Colorado to Ireland to California to Colorado to Ireland to Colorado – back and forth for two years in a near constant flurry of motion. Why? As Steven Curtis Chapman sings in a not-not-so-new song, “We will abandon it all for the sake of the call.” Has it been worth it? YES. Would I do it again if that’s what it took? YES. For the sake of the call but for the love of the Savior I say “YES” ever and always.
Has it been worth it? Eli is now 18 months old and as healthy and funny and active as an 18 month old boy should be. We live ten minutes from he and his siblings, our son and daughther-in-law and within two hours of each of our grown children. Worth it? Worth more than gold.
Has it been worth it? Last night as we sat in the living room of the big house we recalled evenings a number of years ago when a group of friends, many of them students from Ireland and Northern Ireland, came to our house to pray for an assignment the Lord had given: To see His Kingdom come in a town called Drogheda on the eastern coast in Ireland. We prayed, we worshipped, we cried out for the Lord to have mercy on this town which none of us had ever seen. We obediently did all we heard Holy Spirit ask of us, then Jim and I took a team to Drogheda to worship and prayer walk and bless. Again, having done all we knew to do, we left there trusting Jesus to do all He promised:
This past Friday, the day before we left to drive to Redding, we received a skype call from friends who live near Drogheda. They called to tell us that in the past months over 300 people have given their lives to Jesus – in Drogheda! That a church there is alive and growing and preparing people to go to the nations with the gospel – that the Kingdom is, indeed, coming in power and Presence to this town so far away from both Redding and Colorado Springs, the places we have known as home in the intervening years.
This morning my tears are watering the grief and reality of what we once had and no longer own, softening the blow of letting go once and for all. But mingled in are tears of gratitude and worship that the One who loves us most is so very good. So faithful. So longing for people everywhere to come home.
Sometimes, one must wait till evening to see how lovely the day has been. It has been a lovely day, indeed.