When worship is a kayak

Our new kayaks ready for the maiden voyage!

It was everything I’d hoped for. And between you and me, I’d built it up like crazy. For the past nine months—ever since posting a blog about my craving to purchase a kayak —the thought of being on the water seemed like the logical answer to any stressor. Not an answer, mind you. THE answer, without question.

Then today it happened: two kayaks actually  belonging to us pushed off from shore, and suddenly my husband and I were in the midst of everything beautiful.That’s how I felt, anyway. No more spectating from afar, no siree. Waves rippling, fish jumping, herons soaring—we were now up close and personal, practically part of them. And it was cool. Really, really cool.

My view as Bill paddled ahead of me.

As Bill paddled ahead of me (he craves exercise; I do not understand this), the peace of God washed over me. His goodness, realized in this simple, picturesque setting, was overwhelming. I was close to grateful tears. Why? Not sure. But before I’d rounded the first bend of that bayou, prayers of thanks flooded my head: God’s love (it’s so BIG); His forgiveness (it’s so PERMANENT); and His faithfulness (it’s so REASSURING) were as real to me as a blue April sky .

Then it hit me: This desire for a kayak didn’t come from me. It wasn’t a hankering for fun or a distraction from stress. For almost a year, the Lord Himself had steadily called me to these waters. He was inviting me for one reason: life-giving, God-honoring worship. And it was good. Really, really good.

The scenery on our first kayak excursion was breathtaking!

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“The LORD is a great God and a great King above all gods, in whose hand are the depths of the earth. . . . The sea is His, for it was He who made it, and His hands formed the dry land. Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker, for He is our God.” Psalm 95:3-7

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Want to check out my first kayak post from nine months ago? Here you go: https://worthydaughters.wordpress.com/2016/06/20/a-nap-is-not-a-kayak/

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Bittersweet beauty

A foggy back yard catching my eye on 1/18/2017.

A foggy back yard catching my eye on 1/18/2017.

The fog this morning was heavenly. So peaceful, so quiet. I could sense my weary soul waking up to God’s goodness and presence. Mostly, though, was that bittersweet, faith-shaping memory.

On a similar morning long ago—I was a high school junior—fog rolled in like blankets. Taking it in, thanksgiving poured out of me. I gushed about God’s creation, care, and love.  It was a simple prayer prompted by simple weather. By simple, breathtaking fog.

At the same time, unbeknownst to me, a friend named Calvin was driving his motorcycle to school. Fog was thick, and roads were busy. Either Calvin didn’t see the bus, or the bus didn’t see Calvin. Long story short, a kind young man met Jesus that day on a stretch of Florida highway.

The evening news blamed poor visibility. I blamed Someone else.

For longer than I’d like to admit, Calvin’s death messed with me. After all, the very thing I’d praised God for was the very thing that took my friend. For years, I wondered if my prayers that morning had greeted Calvin’s entrance into Heaven. For certain, the fog would always connect us: We’d both met with God because of it. But little else in those days made sense.

Some of it—young death, a good God when bad things happen—still boggles the human mind. But now, decades after mourning that first tragic loss, the fog has largely lifted. And I’ve learned two things: Wrestling with my Lord over hard things is necessary. And leaning in—not pulling away—is the only path to healing.

This morning I remembered that our church youth group sang at Calvin’s funeral, a rendition of “We’ll Understand It Better By and By.” Back then there were sobs. Today, without heaviness, I hummed that old tune. I thanked God for my friend. And I praised Him for beautiful fog.

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Angel encounter

angel-picI believe in angels. I believe in the Bible’s description of them. Angels look different from the world’s view—no cute, cherub faces. No humans-turned-angels, ever. These warriors and worshippers, created by God, are formidable foes against evil. They do the Lord’s work at His bidding, most times without our knowledge. But sometimes—and more than once in my life—I’ve felt their sure presence. Here’s one account:

My mom and I were on an unfamiliar, isolated, and overgrown country road; I was driving. We had no idea that a train was just ahead, approaching our path at lightning speed—no crossing bar, flashing light, or visibility. Just tall, thick weeds blocking the view. So as it barreled toward us, Mom and I chatted, laughed, and motored on at fifty miles an hour, completely unaware.

I wonder now about something else we couldn’t see: An Ephesians 6 battle between light and dark at that very railroad crossing.

Just as we neared the hidden tracks, an object hit my foot. Hard. I thought it was a heavy Coke bottle or textbook sliding under the seat. I remember thinking, “That’s weird. We aren’t on a hill; why are things moving around on the floorboard?” To check it out, I stomped on the brake to look down, coming to an almost-stop when a fast moving train blew by in front of our faces, not twenty feet from the stopped car.

Mom and I sat in dead silence. The only sound filling our ears was the roar of a Death Beast just missing us. Above our heads, I believe another sound filled the invisible air, angels rejoicing at victory: “God will command His angels concerning you….They will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:11-13).

In the following moments as our almost-demises set in, Mom said two things I’ll never forget. One: “God sent His angels to save our lives.” Amen, Mama. Amen. Two: “Aren’t you glad I was with you? The Lord clearly has more work for me to do.” Humor in any situation. Praise the Lord for laughter. 🙂

After the train passed, we searched the floorboard for that lifesaving object nudging my foot. Nothing was there. Not even a gum wrapper. The only evidence? A lingering sensation on my ankle. And breath. Merciful, God-honoring breath.

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Straight from my journal, without much fuss (or much editing).  God’s sweet truth often reveals itself with my Bible open, pen in hand. And more and more frequently, I’m prompted to share and encourage, even though the thought of putting myself “out there” without carefully crafting a piece is uncomfortable. But isn’t that what growth in Christ is all about? And doesn’t hope shine through no matter how eloquently it’s stated? All signs point to “yes.”

 

When the enemy barks

journal-picFriday, January 13, 2017

The enemy—I don’t like saying his name, but to be clear, I’m referring to Satan—sure thinks a lot of himself. Sure, he’s tricky, and yes, he’s a havoc-maker, but he’s not the big dog.  Not even close.

While reading John 13 just now, I noticed that when Jesus talks about the upcoming crucifixion, He’s still calling the shots. There’s no hint of Christ as a victim, a helpless saint tossed around by Satan like a chew toy. Not only is my Lord well aware of the evil coming, but He also ultimately annihilates it.

Case in point: When Jesus hands a piece of bread to Judas as confirmation of the betrayer (verses 11-27), the Lord knows  full well what’s ahead. He looks at Judas and says, “What you must do, do quickly.” Is this the statement of a clueless someone in the dark? Of my Christ at the mercy of a formidable enemy? Praise the Lord, no!

It’s not until that moment—a moment Jesus clearly orchestrates—that Satan enters Judas and begins the road to Gethsemane. It’s God’s call, not Satan’s. So you see, nothing that evil dreams up can ever (EVER) trump the foresight, will, or triumph of our Lord.

Whew! I needed this truth today. As a Jesus follower who sometimes feels “beat up, chewed up, and spit out” in a world gone crazy, here is my steady hope: I’m not threatened by that old dog of an enemy; I’m a confident conqueror in Christ.   ~Ava Sturgeon

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Straight from my journal, without much fuss (or much editing).  God’s sweet truth often reveals itself with my Bible open, pen in hand. And more and more frequently, I’m prompted to share and encourage, even though the thought of putting myself “out there” without carefully crafting a piece is uncomfortable. But isn’t that what growth in Christ is all about? And doesn’t hope shine through no matter how eloquently it’s stated? All signs point to “yes.”

Holiness among us

christmas-ornamentBefore Bethlehem, shepherds, and wise men with gifts, there was Jesus. He’s simply always been, residing with the Father in a glorious place. And while He might have stayed there forever, He didn’t. Instead, for thirty-three years, our Lord left His home for an earthly journey; He faced rejection and death. So why would God’s Son choose to do such a thing? The answer astounds me, even now: To save a dying world.

He appeared on that very first Christmas night looking a lot like us—two eyes, ten fingers, ten toes. But Jesus was more than an ordinary baby; He was also extraordinary God. Can you imagine such holiness among us? Can you fathom the King’s humble birth? But there He was, the Lord of Lords, sleeping in a manger, growing up a carpenter, sitting with sinners, and dying on a cross. Why would God’s Son endure all that suffering? In a word, love.

But here are some tidings of joy: His loving sacrifice triumphed! The Christ Child who died as a Suffering Servant is now our Risen Lord. He resides once more with the Father in Heaven where angels bless His name. Can you almost feel their awe? Can you almost hear their praise? “Glory to God in the Highest!” they shout in multitudes of worship.

And we worship Jesus, too. Just as Mary held tight to her Miracle. Just as shepherds ran to their Messiah. Just as wise men brought gifts for the Master. Today, tomorrow, and forevermore, we adore Him, Christ the Lord.

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At the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

In Heaven and on earth and under the earth,

And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

To the glory of the Father.

~Philippians 2:10-11 (New Living Translation)

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A little bit of glory

A little bit of God's glory in my own backyard, 2013.

An impressive display of God’s glory in my own backyard, 2013.

Isn’t it just like God to announce His presence when we least expect it? To demonstrate His clear power on an ordinary Thursday? Or in the midst of what’s dreary and downright depressing? In my humble opinion, it’s one of His sweetest attributes. And it happened to me this morning.

You see, life lately has been a tad gloomy. And like many reading this blog, more questions abound than answers. But as I heard long ago, when we’re not sure what to do, we must do what we know. And what I know is that God’s Word is life.

So around 6:00 I opened my Bible. Next up in my “Read It in a Year” plan? Chapters 42-43 of Ezekiel. Silent sighs. Ezekiel’s vision of a man measuring the future Temple continued, and I’m admittedly uninspired by numbers. Regardless of today’s content, though, I readied myself for more Temple stats.

Then it hit. From seemingly nowhere, in the middle of architectural minutiae like “the area was 875 feet on each side with a wall around it,” the Glory hit. Glory with a capital G, and besides an undeniable encounter in my own living room (more on that shortly), Ezekiel saw it, too: “Suddenly, the glory of the God of Israel appeared from the east. The sound of His coming was like the roar of rushing waters, and the whole landscape shone with His glory….I fell face down on the ground” (43:2-3).

That “face to the ground” posture is familiar. It’s how believers respond when the Glory comes. The reverence, the worship, the sheer gratefulness that a Sovereign God sees us—simply overwhelming. Is He always there? Yes. Is He always working on our behalf? Yes again. But sometimes, in the middle of our dry-and-despondent days, we need extra-special, Spirit-filled reassurance. And He’s all too willing to shine.

Ezekiel got glimpses of Glory. I did, too. Today, as the words of this Old Testament encounter sank in, another thought suddenly emerged. My eyes blurred with tears. Now, think what you will, but this internal dialogue happened next:

God: “Do you trust Me?”

Me: “Yes, Lord.”

God: “Have I ever let you down?”

Me. “No, Lord. You’ve always seen me through.”

God: “Will you stop trusting me now?”

Me: “Why would I, Lord? Your plan is perfect. You’re all I have.”

God: “Then focus solely on Me.”

And just like that, I was back. Well, face down in worship, but I was back. Still full of questions, still facing day-to-day stuff, but different: Serene. Steady. Strong.

I picked up my Bible to finish today’s reading. Little known fact: did you realize that gutters around the future Temple altar will be 21 inches deep and 21 inches wide? (Ezekiel 43:13). 🙂 Better yet, do you realize that God’s glory is available to all? That He’ll show Himself to you? Even in the drab—especially in the darkness—His radiance permeates all.

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For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

(2 Corinthians 4:6-9)

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The insecure ship of shallow

olivia 2When the words of A Daughter’s Worth poured out of me, the purpose felt loud and clear. Girls were seeking value in boys, popularity, body image. They were struggling to matter. They were drowning in the fight. And I knew the answer to their angst was a loving Heavenly Father.

Strange thing is, as the book took off, God revealed what I probably already suspected; those teen insecurities can linger. Twenty-somethings who taught the study began emailing about their own Christ-worth being challenged. It happened to me as well. As I discussed A Daughter’s Worth with hundreds of teens, my own issues bubbled up. And I was forty-something.

No matter the age, two scriptures can soothe wounded self-esteem: One says that God heals the heart (Psalm 34:18). Another, that we are special to Him (2 Corinthians 6:18). These verses reassure my own worth; they should. But in light of these assurances, there’s a responsibility to go deeper: If we believe God, then why would we stay in insecure waters? Why wouldn’t we leave the me-focused shore to dive, strong and steady, into Christ-centered purpose?

Granted, most new believers wade through a “who am I now?” adjustment. It’s a necessary journey, trying to comprehend that despite a life of swimming in sin, we’ve now been washed clean. We are gloriously, miraculously His. We are forever changed—for the better.

But when we long-time followers truly transform, then insecurities diminish.  We find confidence and contentment in who God says we are. We find purpose and passion in God’s empowerment of regular, imperfect us. Granted, we may not be the prettiest, smartest, or wittiest in the room. But that’s fine. It’s not an issue. Because when we go deep, He’s all we need.

Just yesterday I journaled this thought: “I’ve belonged to God for decades. It’s time to trade shallow, self-absorbed faith for the holy esteem of King Jesus. All eyes on Him ‘cause I’m sick of looking at me.”

Want to stop swimming in circles of self? Me too. Here’s my prayer: “Lord, I need a mature faith. I want the adult swim. So it’s time to look squarely on you, the Savior beckoning me to deeper waters. Please show me how to get there. Please give me wisdom, endurance, power, purpose. Give me more of you. And don’t let me return to shore, Lord. ‘Cause that ship of shallow has sailed.”

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This post is a revision of 2015’s “An eye for deeper waters.” ~Ava Sturgeon

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