Light Shine Bright

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

                A year after Freddie Gray’s death, we are still fighting for freedom. We realize that freedom isn’t free. The cost of freedom is high, really high. The pursuit of freedom will cost you everything in the fight to be “free.” And those who fight for freedom in any area understand this. Immigrants understand that freedom costs you the comfort of home. The slaves of the 1800s understood that freedom cost the lives of their loved ones. Jesus understood that freedom cost both his human life and his connection with God the Father, albeit a temporary separation. And, in spite of all this, there are many souls and voices yet crying out for freedom. So why can’t they seem to find it?

I remember visiting the Statue of Liberty as a child with my mother and brother, not really grasping the weight, and significance of such a monument that continues to stand as a symbol of hope for all those who wish to attain “a better life.” When the monument was first built, America was seen as a land of promise and hope for those who wanted to make more of their lives, and leave a better legacy for their children. The same is true for the Gospel, something we have somehow lost sight of. Listen again, and see if you hear it.

[Matthew 11:28-30 ESV] Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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.”

[Isa 61:1 ESV] The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…

            Can you hear it? Can you see it? We are all familiar with the excerpt from Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus” that is etched on the pedestal on which Lady Liberty stands, but we are not familiar with the poem in its entirety.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

            Lady Liberty is calling out to the outsiders, the outcasts, “the homeless,” those who are searching for a place to call home, to be free. And so is Christ in Matthew 28.

“Give me your tired, your poor…”

“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden…”

“…He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives…”

You see, just as the Statue of Liberty stands as a monument, a symbol of hope to immigrants traveling to a foreign land in search of freedom and a fresh start, the cross stands as another monument and symbol of hope for those traveling this side of eternity in search of freedom and redemption. Etched in the nail prints in His hands and feet are the words of Matthew 11 and Isaiah 61. I can see in my mind’s eye, a tablet at the foot of the cross on Good Friday, leaned against it, with the words written, “Come and find rest for your souls.” While Emma Lazarus, hundreds of years later, penned the words, I hear the voice of Christ echoed in the words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” The message of the Cross is hope – hope for freedom; hope for healing and forgiveness and a fresh start; hope for transformation; hope for grace and mercy. The Cross is the spiritual Statue of Liberty. And, as we encounter and embrace and accept all the hope that the Cross offers, we, too, become the manifestation of that hope in a world that is dying and in need of that same hope.

[Matthew 5:14-16 ESV] “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and pit under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

            We are called to be the torch carried by the cross. As we seek to mirror the life and ministry of Christ, we allow Him to shine through us and influence the lives around us. And how do we do that? By acting with compassion and love and grace. That same hope that the cross offers, that is the hope that we must offer to those around us. We are called to be the visible manifestation of the invisible God, through our hands and feet and mouths. We are commissioned to be the ambassadors of His grace and mercy, of the redeeming power of His love active and alive in the life of the one who chooses to trust Him with all they have.

“From her beacon-hand glows worldwide welcome.”

            We are Jesus’ spiritual welcome wagon, greeting people in love and inviting them to participate in and embrace the rest that comes with an intimate relationship with the Creator of the universe. The price for freedom has already been paid. There is nothing more that is required of us but to enter that rest in the presence of a Creator so incredibly enamored with us that He took care of the tab for our freedom for the rest of eternity. And yet we fail time and again, because we somehow have been deceived into believing that we are allowed to determine whether or not someone is “worthy” of God’s rest. This is not the way of the Cross, nor is it the message or the purpose of the cross. It is not our place or within our authority to disperse the infinite grace provided by the cross. It is available to all who believe and embrace it. Our place is to love and embrace all, without a second thought to whether or not they are “worthy.” The truth is that none of us is “worthy,” and yet God sent His Son to die and pay the price for our freedom anyway.

Marianne Williamson said it best:

“We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

            Our purpose is to shine in such a way that it draws out the light that is already in others, to be the glow that beacons the world to draw closer, and catch fire. The things that bring us together are the things that are similar in all of us. Each light is unique, and yet it shines brightly and encourages others to embrace the unique light that lives within their hearts and souls. And when we find the light in one another, we find home and freedom that can only come from the Creator, in Whom we are all one.



Conversations with the Creator

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of people and things that you have to pray for? Felt like there were just not enough hours in the day to spend interceding with the Creator for the people and situations that come to mind when you begin your conversation with God? I have. I sat in silence for half of my evening commute, just talking to God about one situation in particular that I have been asking for guidance, because I just feel like I am missing something – a lesson, something that I should be praying for and am not, something that maybe I should be doing for someone. Or simply not praying enough. And, to be honest, I am still puzzled. But I am also still asking.

But, in the midst of my query with a seemingly silent Creator, I thought about all the people who I care for that, if I took the time to, I would be interceding ad infinitum for them. I recently finished reading Mark Batterson’s book, The Circle Maker, and I have learned a lot about prayer, the nature of prayer, the power of prayer, and the reality of prayer. It has alleviated some of my frustration and encouraged me a ton. Many see prayer as a discipline; others view it as a conversation. The truth is, it is both. Prayer is the practice of engaging in a continuous conversation with the Creator. As Tony Evans describes it, prayer is our way of inviting God into history, giving Him full access and entry to influence history in and through us. The most important and encouraging thing that I have learned about prayer is that our prayers never die. Prayers don’t have an expiration date. So, while it matters to some degree that we pray in the moment that God brings someone or something to our mind, it is also important to remember that, because prayers don’t expire, every time you pray specifically, those prayers accumulate. Think of it as putting money in the bank. Every prayer you breathe in conversation with the Creator is an investment in the lives of the people you pray for. And God honors persistence! But, remember to always check your motives. You can pray all day long for something and it not come to pass because you weren’t praying with the right motivation.

[James 4:3 NLT] And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong–you want only what will give you pleasure.

            The other thing that I learned about prayer is that, even when I am at a loss for words, the Holy Spirit is right there with me, interpreting and interceding for me.

Romans 8:26-28 (The Message) Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked out into something good.

            I love the way the Message interprets that passage. It paints such an amazing picture of how the Holy Spirit “carries the conversation,” so to speak, when we run out of things to say to God, or we really can’t find the words to articulate what we are feeling in the moment. But that is the way He helps us. And because, “He knows us better than we know ourselves,” we can be sure that He can understand the burdens of our hearts and souls. So, what is the bottom line here?

I don’t want prayer to seem like this “pie in the sky” effort from us to God to try to get His attention. We already have His attention because we are His beloved children, and He is sitting, waiting expectantly for us to reach out to Him, to communicate transparently about the things that He knows are on our hearts. Jesus died on the cross in order for us to have a direct line of communication to God the Father. And then He included a Helper for when we are experiencing challenges communicating. I find that to be very comforting.

So, let the conversation begin. It doesn’t have to be eloquent or perfect or just needs to be honest and come from a pure heart, a heart that desires the right things. I promise you this – the more you talk to Him, the easier it gets, and the more you will come to know the sound of His voice. It won’t matter where you are or what you are doing. You will know when He is speaking to you, because the lines of communication will already be open and flowing. You should even expect a response! That’s the way a conversation works. And, eventually, it will become an ongoing conversation, and you will look forward to His response. Just try it and see.

[Psalm 34:8 ESV] Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Anticipating the Future

            Anticipate the future by embracing the lessons of the past while choosing to fully participate in the present. Both the past and the present are tools to prepare you for the future, for your calling, for your destiny. No one knows what the future holds but the Creator of all things. But life is about the journey. The word journey can be used as a verb or a noun. As a verb, “to journey” means “to travel over or through.” As a noun, “journey” is “travel or passage from one place to another.” Or, in the journey of life, from one season to another. How you digest and respond to each stage of life frames the journey, writes your story.

            The future is made of dreams, visionaries, and legacies, or rather, legacy-minded people. Dreams are the seeds of legacies. But they will only grow if there are visionaries who will fight for those dreams, and work to help them grow and mature into legacies that can be left for the next generation. A dream without work is simply an idea. A dream is defined as “a strongly desired goal or purpose.” There is an anonymous quote that says, “If you can’t stop thinking about it, don’t stop working for it.” Everyone has a dream, because everyone was created and born with a purpose in mind. So, if there are things that you dream about, projects that you keep thinking about, don’t ignore them. They are tied to your purpose, and you have been blessed with a unique set of gifts and talents that make you well-suited to bring those dreams to fruition. Visionaries are people who have clear ideas about what should happen or be done in the future. They are the ones who know definitively that their dreams are no coincidence; they are the manifestation of their purpose and passion. Visionaries are people of action. They write the blueprint, and then they get to work on making those blueprints reality. But visionaries are also people of faith. Often those dreams are so much bigger than one person, and it requires a certain measure of faith in order for those things to come to fruition. Mark Batterson, author of “The Circle Maker,” makes this statement over and over in his book: “Work like it depends on you. Pray like it depends on God.” Big visions and big dreams require faith to provide the increase. But it doesn’t mean that you don’t work hard for those visions and dreams while asking God to open doors and opportunities for you to keep moving forward.

Don’t just sit back and watch your present become your past, and your future become your present. You must decide to become an active participant in how all that plays out. That’s what visionaries do. They learn from their past as they actively engage the present moment, with all the hope and anticipation of influencing the future. They don’t wait for life to happen to them. They partner with the Creator and plan to affect the future in a deep and tangible way. Visionaries see the possibilities of the future, and do all they can to make their dreams and visions a reality. Anticipating the future requires gleaning as much wisdom as you can from the past, while finding joy in the present moment, and then allowing that wisdom and joy to produce an undeniable hope that the future ahead is pregnant with promise.