Treasure Hunt

As a kid, I used to dream of adventurous searches for buried treasure. My own versions of Indiana Jones would play in my head as I followed torn maps over mountains and through glorious waterfalls until I stumbled into massive trees where I knew treasure just HAD to be.  Excitement would build as I dug at tree roots and my heart rate would become in anticipation until an amazing unveiling of gold and jewels appeared.treasuremaplarge  In every dream, the “feeling” associated with my discovery was utter wonderment followed by indescribable peace.  I’ve recently wondered why peace was associated with the find and realized that treasure = hope, fulfillment and an answered prayer to our needs.

There’s a reason the National Treasure movie and Indiana Jones were so wildly popular. People crave treasure because of the worth and value of everything feeling like it’s going to be okay. What we are really seeking is PEACE: peace of mind and peace of spirit.

My thirst for finding treasure has never abated. I still crave the venture of finding the pot of gold under the rainbow. But I’ve given up on sunken ships and hordes of diamonds hidden in temples: not because I think it doesn’t exist! Instead, I’ve discovered there’s a different kind of treasure far greater and more fulfilling than any we could have ever imagined and it is worth our full pursuit. Such treasure promises a peace that passes all understanding.

A very good friend of mine, Steve Foster, discovered this treasure and made it his life’s quest to unearth its glory and share it with everyone.steve1 Steve was my brother in Christ, a friend, a spiritual father and a mentor who went home to heaven on December 23, 2016. The temporary separation is and has been painful for many of us. His early departure has left us in search for something irreplaceable, of great worth, something precious and one of a kind.

When Steve unexpectedly ended up in the Intensive Care Unit, there was a poignant moment when I realized Steve was RICH! He had immense riches beyond compare. It was the moment his father took his hand and started to pray quietly, “Steve. Open your eyes, son.  Steve, we want you here with us, son.”  His wife was in his bed with him, praying in agreement. His children and family crowding every inch of his room and his friends overflowing into the hallways, eagerly hoping the prayer of a father would be answered.  But Steve didn’t open his eyes and his father continued to pray, “Hallelujah. God we love you. Your kingdom come. Your will be done.”

The sheer power of that moment overwhelmed anyone in proximity, including me. So much, I wanted to flee from the quaking I felt in my heart. But when I ran out of the unit and into the hallways, I was met by even more people; camped, crowded, standing, waiting, praying, hoping and believing for their friend and brother. The flow of faces offering hope and comfort never ceased and the prayers, in counts of hundreds, came in booming waves. There was no escaping the outpouring of love for one man and his family.

Witnessing it leaves you tearful and wordless.

It has taken weeks for me to process the loss and all I’ve witnessed and experienced. It has taken time to dwell on the best way to celebrate and honor a man and family of this caliber. At his celebration services, the main theme to describe Steve’s life was a phrase he repeated often. He had felt God gave him a promise: “You take care of my people and I’ll take care of your business.” Therefore, the stories shared about Steve’s life were about how he invested in and took care of people. That meant, as I mentioned before, Steve was RICH.

I was one of the lucky ones to be blessed by his life. I met Steve and Cathy after being invited to their home group. I was one of the youngest in the bunch and afraid of committing regularly to small groups. At the time, I found this group a little “over spiritual” so I’d sit in the back and quietly try to process what was going on. Even when tempted not to go back, something always drew me. In hindsight, it was how welcomed and loved they made me feel and more importantly, how REAL everyone was. They were free to be themselves: in all of their glory and their…not so glorious parts.  They say, as the leader goes, so does the people. And Steve was always real, down to earth, accepting, and transparent and so….everyone followed. Steve didn’t always share during group, but when he did, it was always something that would challenge you to think in a new way that wasn’t just for that moment…but for your life!

Fellowshipping together meant you were going to laugh. Steve was a hysterical story teller. The funniest stuff was always his stories about how stupid he had been (his words, I promise). He often got out of spending tickets using his humor. One time he was pulled over after running a red light in his Toyota Prius. When the cop asked him if he knew he had run the red light, he answered “No sir!” The cop gave him an upturned eyebrow to which Steve adamantly shared truth: “Well, I saw the light turning yellow and punched it! But let’s be honest, it’s a Prius! I thought I had it…but I didn’t.” He got off with a chuckle and a warning.

Many people shared that Steve saved their marriages and even their lives. Their stories resonated with me because in a recent, deeply painful season, Steve stepped in and spoke God’s love over me and pulled me out of the pit of mistaken identity. He broke down the lies and offered the respite of God’s truth about my royal inheritance and position as Daughter of the King. The effect in my life was immediate and effective.

When the season for our small group came to an end, I was searching for mentorship in ministry. Steve answered the call. Cathy and Steve invested in my life, showing up at my birthdays, supporting missions and interceding for my purpose and destiny.

Steve is charismatic, intelligent, wise and had an ongoing investment in people: LOTS of people. But he balanced that outpouring with an inpouring of worship and prayer. In 2014, I went on a trip to Haiti and Steve offered to be an intercessor. Spiritual warfare and crazy stuff happened that I had never experienced before. As soon as I got back, Steve asked me, “Hey! What happened on this day/morning?” I said, “Why?” He replied, “Because the spiritual warfare was intense! I got knocked out of bed to pray and this is what I prayed against and for. So what happened?” I shared the stories with him and he calmly replied, “Oh. That explains it. Cool.”   Steve’s chuckle and bear hugs were not to be mistaken for weakness: he’s a powerful prayer warrior.  He knows how to battle darkness and darkness flees. He spent the early morning hours with the One who inspired him to love and be loved. He called him Daddy. Much of the fruit of Steve’s life came from time with him and his Daddy. And we all knew it because Daddy above would tell Steve stuff he shouldn’t have known about us otherwise. J

I watched Steve teach about true wealth and testify about treasure of great worth even as he lay in an induced coma for days. Steve’s riches walked in and out of his room continually, laid hands on him and prayed for him, comforted his daughters, prayed with his sons, brought food for his watch guards and called for prayer from all corners of the nation. Steve’s jewels stayed by his side day and night, caressed his arms and hands reassuringly and never stopped speaking life over him. Steve was rich.10730934_10152542763918634_4277685228245405805_n

Like many of us, Steve yearned for treasure of great worth.

Like many of us, he searched with a treasure map in hand and that journey took many turns. Sometimes, taken down a path of doubtful asking, “Is this right? This can’t be right!?” We end up in foreign, muddy, dark and questionable places that seem to be leading us away, not towards, our goal.  But just around the corner was a respite and God’s grace: a sign everything was going to work out.  The important thing was to keep going: keep searching and never give up.

Steve realized it’s not about finding the treasure: it’s about allowing the Treasure to find you. He discovered the greatest mystery of this life: the mystery of True Love in pursuit of us: the mystery of God’s love coming down and seeking US out… like WE ARE THE TREASURE.  Steve let himself be found by his Daddy in heaven. He let Him love him and give him eyes to see that the Prince of Peace came to give of Himself for us and to us so that we might have the peace that passes all understanding.

God in heaven, who has untold riches and treasures at His fingertips, stepped into our messy map of a world in search of something more precious than all the glory of heaven: YOU and ME.

My dear friend discovered this divinely wonderful truth and he let himself be found by God. He let himself be loved so much that he couldn’t help but overflow with a full heart. Then, like his Daddy before him, he set out on a mission with Jesus by his side to help many of us discover how to be found by the Treasure of Heaven and then identify as the priceless object of His affection.

I haven’t given up my search for treasure but learned from my friend what treasure really is. A treasure far greater and more fulfilling than any we could have ever imagined: one worth our full pursuit. One that will bring us untold rest, peace, glory and love. The pursuit of the Treasure of Heaven is the ultimate answer to the wanderlust of our soul and pays dividends of joy for allllllllllll eternity!

I have images of Steve talking about his “treasures.” First, His Daddy…then his wife, his kids and the investments of the heart. He often became emotional when talking about the riches of love he had.  But nothing was more moving than watching tears fill his eyes when he talked about how much God loved him.

And there it is. Our everlasting discovery and hope: the love of the Father for us. It fuels everything and I cannot think of a greater way to honor my friend than to pick up the mantel of “treasure hunting”.  May our eyes be open to the eternal investments we make in God, with God and in one another.

Thank you God for your everlasting love! For seeing us as your treasure.

Thank you for Steve and allowing us to be blessed by him.

Thank you for enabling us to be loved by you! May we seek you and then to be found by your True Love.

May we hear and follow Matthew 6:19-21

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

In honor of Steve Foster 10/18/62-12/23/16. Till we meet again, brother.

-Angela

Wrestling Sin and Grace: What k-8 Wrestling Matches Taught Me

Are you a proponent of grace? Or do you believe if we embrace grace too much, it’s like we are giving ourselves an excuse to sin? Ever wonder how a believer lives as both sinner and saint? I have and typically, when I fall short of goodness, guilt and shame takes over and I feel unworthy to offer anyone, especially God, ANYTHING. I take myself out of communication and out of the “race” of faith (ref in Heb 12:1)

My niece (8) and nephew (5) just entered the competitive world of wrestling and I had the privilege of attending their very 1st tournament. Like a good aunt, I made sure I took video, photos, waved, cheered and cried for them. My emotions paled in comparison to their nerves, pressure and the rollercoaster of winning and losing.

As GREAT as it was as an aunt to be there with them for the very special day, my favorite part was watching my baby brother (who happens to be 28) coaching his kids on the sidelines. Something about it sparked my heart to fullness. Maybe it was the sense of pride and excitement he shared for his kids. Maybe it was the thought that he’s such a good dad. Or, maybe, it was the love of the paternal relationship in action. Those kids trusted their dad completely. I found it comedic that they didn’t seem to be making decisions about their moves on their own, AT ALL! Instead, they looked for their dad’s face in between the other kid’s armpits and raised their heads from the mat to make sure they were hearing him correctly. Even in the heat of action, they were dependent on his experience and guidance & seemed lost without it.   When things went wrong, they didn’t hesitate to walk off the mat and go to mom and dad for comfort. Their undoubting trust in their parents exemplified the relationship I believe God the Father wants with us: complete and utter faith that dad has your back.

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Dad comforts on the sidelines

 

But after contemplating how this is applicable to our spiritual life, I heard Holy Spirit speak about one more aspect to it all:   “He told them to get back on the mat.”

My sister in law was on the sidelines when my little nephew lost a round. Intense tears streamed down his face.  I could hardly stand to see him so upset! I wanted to comfort and shout that loosing was “outrageous! You were robbed!” ANYTHING…to make the tears stop. But as my nephew ran to his parents for those exacts responses, they did something I may not have had the wisdom to do: they hugged him, gave him a short word of encouragement and had him get back in the match.   My sister in law looked at me as her little 5 year old walked off, his chest still convulsing from the involuntary waves of sobbing and said, “It just kills me to see him like this! But I know it’s for his own good to experience it and get back in there.”

WHOA. Whether it was intuition or practice, she was right. What may seem cruel was actually the best thing for that little boy. Protecting him completely from life’s loses and trials would actually, do him NO GOOD.  Instead, it was important for him to continue down the path of resistance…all the while knowing mom and dad were there to support him, cheer him on and coach him for next time. Win or lose… the lesson was the most valuable part of kid’s day.

Often, we stray from the safe path God has for us. We get hurt when we wander away from His will for us. We get ourselves in trouble or, unpredictable life side-swipes us and wrestles us to the mat, puts on the hurt on us and makes us tap out.

It’s in those times, we look around (and usually UP) and cry out for comfort and for the pain to stop. Like a good dad, God allows us to step out of the ring for his comfort, guidance and reassurance. And in those moments, it’s nice to be off the wrestling mat, away from our opponents and in his arms. It’s what we need most in those moments. But, we can’t stay there. In His wisdom, the loving Father will wipe away our tears, give us a pointer or two and turn our shoulders back towards the ring and say, “The match isn’t done, Son. Get back in there and keep going.”

I was reminded that in life, we will get taken down and taken out . Sometimes, it happens TO us. Most of the time, we stumble in sin.   No matter though, it’s important to know that GRACE ABOUNDS so that we CAN get back in the race.

GRACE is the Father, on the side lines, wiping away the tears and giving us pointers and saying, “GET BACK IN THE RING.” Grace isn’t our excuse or just a get-out-of-jail-free card. Rather, grace is the Father allowing us to stay in the race (ring, match, battle for life or whatever you want to call it!”

Grace is behind teaching, “…let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.…” (Hebrews 12:1-2) With fresh eyes, I read this and see an emphasis on running the race.

I am no stranger to the struggle Paul speaks of when he says, “…I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Rom 7:18-19) But I have realized that Sin’s intention is to keep us off the mat, out of the race and cancel the fight altogether. Sin’s goal is to have us take ourselves out of the race because SIN, embodied in the Enemy, knows that GRACE will ensure that we WIN THE FIGHT. If the enemy can convince us we don’t have a chance and are not good enough, worthy enough or bold enough to fight, he wins by default. And although the enemy may be RIGHT about our shortcomings, he’s WRONG about our ability to fight. Jesus Christ promised we WILL overcome. Not because of what we do, but because of what He DID.   He secured the victory on the cross and promised the win… BUT… you HAVE to get back in the circle. You have to keep wrestling. You HAVE to participate.  If we allow the father of Lies to convince us to quit, we will miss what God has for us AND what we have in us to bless the people around us.

Does being a proponent of grace mean we excuse ourselves blindly from our shortcomings? No. But neither do we give power of the Accuser to bind us again. The goal, my friends, is to set aside the weight of sin (and it’s guilt and shame that comes with it). It is at the foot of the cross under Grace’s covering and KEEP MOVING towards God! Like my niece and nephew with their dad, we are intended to have un-daunting trust in God’s ability to say, “You are forgiven…now get back on the mat.”  IMG_3552

Trust that Grace has your back. Trust that He cares that much and nothing surprises Him. Trust that he will continue a good work in you and bring you to a place of completion. Just TRUST….and get back in there!

Love: More than a Verb and a Noun: Inspired by an Act of Sacrifice

What does it mean to love?

Many of us associate love with a feeling (particularly a good feeling). If you feel good or it makes you feel good, it must be love. If it hurts and makes you feel bad or challenged, it must not be love. Diving into this question makes me think about all the different types of love, depths and choices we make in its name.

  • Do I LOVE Starbucks? Sure On some level. I have affection for my favorite coffee in the morning.
  • Do I LOVE my car? In the sense that I love how it gets me from one place to the other.
  • Do I LOVE correction? Mmmm…it doesn’t feel good. But in hindsight, I’m grateful for it and see it as an act of love.
  • Do I LOVE my bunny? I must have. I wept like a baby when he passed away.
  • Do I LOVE my parents? I’m sure of it. I know I would do ANYTHING for them…even when/if I want to do something else and it’s an inconvenience to me.

And by that response, I wonder if the depth of our love is measured by what we are willing to DO for someone in spite of our feelings?

John 15:12 says “Love each other, as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Jesus is talking about sacrifice=love. I used to always take this literally: I knew if I was willing to jump in front of a bus to save a friend, I must love them to the extent that God loved me and that was the greatest love of all.

But what if the sacrifice is so much more? Could laying down one’s life be an act of ongoing love and not just one final act? Dying to ourselves, our wants, our desires and conveniences in order to put someone else’ needs first = love. Doing something for someone knowing they may never appreciate or return the favor…. must be an act of love.

… or so I deduce… in my humble opinion.

So why all the ramblings on this question? Because I have been deeply touched by another act of sacrifice and love that I’m inspired to pick up the mantel and carry it forward.

Recently, my little pet bunny passed away. I found him in the morning in a position that suggested he went peacefully. He was about 12-13 years old (super old for a bunny) and I had known it was possibility for a couple years but it hit me pretty hard. Maybe the tears were for more than my little companion of 11 years: maybe they were also for my grandpa who I lost 6 months earlier; for my friend who just lost her daddy; for my other friend who just lost her mom (my childhood adopted parents) and for my friend who just lost her brother…

All I know, I was a mess and confronted with dealing with a body and death that I didn’t want to deal with. So I told a friend who offered to help me take care of it. My goal was to get far away: “Do whatever with it, “I said. “It’s just a body at this point and I don’t care.”

Yep…I was pretty certain I didn’t care and certain of what I needed … until… my friend asked if I wanted to know what happened with the body. “When you are ready, I will tell you, but if you are not…”

My curiosity won over my fears and I tentatively said, “Fine, tell me.”

I was presented with a picture of a stone grave and a video of a remembrance service. Immediately, I wept.  They were not tears of sadness: they were tears of joy and relief and gratitude. I thought I knew what I wanted/needed while trying to cope with it all…but alas…THIS was a far better option. And I didn’t even know I wanted/needed it until it was presented to me. To my surprise, I loved the idea of my sweet boy cared for in that way…honoring our 11 years of companionship. Sure…he was just a bunny…but something about that act of service for me… was profoundly touching.

Wallaby's grave
Wallaby’s (bunny) grave

It dawned on me later what my friend had to do to pull all that off: contact my family, leave work, pick up the body, travel to destination, work with/involve my brother; dig the grave, arrange for the photos and video; come up with meaningful words and return to present me with a gift of peace of mind. Was this all Inconvenient? Untimely? Yes! I’m very aware that it was. And yet… it was an act of sacrifice… not just given freely but joyfully.

“Love each other, as I have loved you.” (John 15:12).

I’m left pondering the depth of the question: what is love? What does it truly mean to love and be loved?

Can the depth the question stirs be answered this side of heaven? I’m not sure. I do however believe the Bible when it says LOVE IS GOD. If GOD IS LOVE (1 John 4:8), it means love is as eternal, mysterious and as infinitely powerful as God Himself. Far beyond our understanding, it is a feeling, a choice, a motivation, a presence that surrounds us and engulfs us: a living breathing personification of life itself. It is the bread for our soul, water for our thirsty spirit and it is as abundant and seemingly unexplainable as the air we have and breathe.

Love is more than a verb, it’s a noun. And today, I’m grateful for the act of sacrifice (the verb) and the persons (God and my friend) who have personified it for me. I pray for my opportunity to do the same for another…to lay down my life for the sake of another and ask you to look around and see who you might bless today? I promise you…no act of love, no matter how small or large, will go unnoticed.

Many Blessings,

Angela

“AH-HA!!” Moment: Crushing His Head!!!

Just sharing one of those “AH HA!” moments where enlightenment slaps you upside the head and  your eyes pop wide open!

WOW!  WoooHOO!  This is ASTONISHING! Ready??!!

Jesus was crucified on the place of the skull called Golgotha. Supposedly, it physically looked like a head/skull in the time of Jesus.

The cross was planted on top of that head when Christ was crucified.  But the cross, meant for torture and death, would become a symbol of new life because Christ was resurrected from the dead, defeating death and all the power of Satan.

This was God’s plan in the beginning.  In Genesis 3:15, God says “… I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers;  he [Christ] will crush your [Satan’s ] head,   and you [Satan] will strike his [Christ’s] heel.”

serpent and cross

I just want to point out one this for today (if you haven’t already seen it):

The CROSS of Christ that would lead Him to defeat Satan and DEATH happened on top of a head! Metaphorically A N D literally! 

(WIDE EYES. OPEN MOUTH!!  BIG SMILE!!!  GIGGLING! )  Pardon my child-like excitement but isn’t that the COOLEST thing E V E R?!

God made SURE the Cross was plowed through the HEAD of the enemy… with such precision and charisma! God cares about the details, doesn’t He?! WOW!!

Oh! That reminds me: My pastor drew this other line for us on Easter.  It’s another awesome “extra” that just confirms God’s fingerprint:

Eve and Adam were designed to live in the beautiful Garden of Eden. They fell in sin while in the garden and were evicted. But Jesus was buried in a tomb…where?  IN A  GARDEN.  When He was risen from the dead, He stepped out of a tomb and into a rich man’s garden!  All things, begining to end will be redeemed under the genius of God’s omniscient love and grace!

WOW! It’s just a kiss from Heaven isn’t it?!!!

Yours Truly,

ASTONISHED ANGELA

Sharks in the Pool

The promise of adventure drew me to the water that night.   I loved swimming and mom and dad never let me swim at night…especially without them! That night would be my chance to have some real fun! Still, a little voice inside pleaded, “No! It’s not safe. ” I listened for a moment and then pushed it away, determined to take advantage of a rare opportunity. But like all who venture into the exhilaration of the darkness, I had to come face to face with my fears.

When the gate slammed shut behind me, metal clanging and clicking into the locked position, I felt the ambivalence of fear and excitement.  I moved my toes out of my jelly shoes and onto the cold tile edge and gazed into the memorizing glow of the deep blue. The yellow hue of the street lamps and the deeper color of the pool in the shade of night was excitingly new but I realized how different the familiar pool looked without the piercing rays of sunshine revealing everything within it. Tonight, it looked… eerie. Scary.

A familiar voice behind me asked, “Well? Are you going in or not?”

“I just want to get my feet wet first,” I lied, pasting on my fake fearless-smile.  So I stepped down into the cool water, grasping the icy steel pole for assurance and aware of the chill that ran up my spine. I paused to watch the deep end suspiciously. The shadows under the surface seemed too dark. Even while squinting, my eyes could not focus. The dim light was washed in waves before it could show me what was really under the water’s surface.

The voice behind me laughed. “You sure are taking a long time. What are you scared of?” Well, for one, there’s Jaws! irrational-fear As I looked into the deep end I thought, surely a shark could fit in here? Maybe even come through those dark, creepy, giant drains?

“Well?” the voice urged. “You wanted to come out here. Jump in!”  He was right. I did say yes when he asked. And since he was the whole reason I was allowed to come, I felt obligated to show my gratitude by pressing on. So I took another step down into the water, sending more ripples into the layers of blue and gray around me.

With my eyes fixed on the deep end, I waited. Was that a gray fin I just saw under water? The drums of the Jaws theme matched the beating of my heart and I was no longer sure I was safe. The thrill of the unknown cover of night wore off and I longed for the warmth of the day. But just when I thought it was time to run home, the voice behind me said, “You can’t chicken now. Keep going!”

So I took another step, waist deep and listened to the silence of night. I was used to the loudness of the pool: people laughing, other kids screaming, splashing and music. Now, it was way past my bedtime and silent everywhere. I could only hear the sound of the water swishing lightly in and out of the drain and oddly, I felt alone.

“Well?” He urged again. I looked at him behind me, in the warm, well lit, shallow end.   He seemed to want what I wanted: an adventure. He was here to help me and I didn’t want to disappoint him. I decided to trust him with my fears by asking the question, “Can sharks get in the pool?”

I knew it sounded stupid as soon as I said it. Yet he chuckled reassuringly and consoled, “No. It’s okay. Jaws can’t possibly fit in here! Don’t worry. You don’t’ have to if you don’t want to. It’s always safe over here on my end.” He motioned to the area next to him.

How silly I felt. Silly, scared little girl! I looked back into the dancing shadows of water…fixed on the round yellow light that marked the deepest, farthest end of the pool.   Just go for it, I thought. Claim your adventure and jump in! I let my feet leave the step and started to swim out, keeping an eye on my feet beneath.   But the more I moved, the more the shadows seemed to take on a life of their own and I become convinced I was no longer alone under cloak of darkness.   The thrill of the adventure died under the grip of fear and I needed refuge.

I swam quickly out and turned to the safety of the shallows, where the light seemed a bit brighter and the water a little warmer. But, to my dismay, safety was the mirage for the true danger of the shark was waiting in the shallow end all along. And I was his silly little prey.

Signed,

9 year old girl