Friday, January 31, 2014

The Masterpiece in our Midst

Recently, I read a story about an Indiana man who went to a rummage sale and spent a few dollars on a couple of pieces of used furniture and an old painting of some flowers. When the man got home with his new purchases, he decided to hang the painting strategically over a hole in his living room wall.

A few years later, he was playing a board game called Masterpiece in which players try to outbid one another for famous artwork. Much to his surprise, one of the cards in the game featured a painting of flowers that looked strikingly similar to the one he had hanging on the wall:

Intrigued, he began researching on the Internet and discovered that his painting resembled the work of Martin Johnson Heade, a 19th-century American painter best known for landscapes and flower still-lifes. Wondering if he were onto something, he emailed Kennedy Galleries in Manhattan (which handles many of Heade’s works) and asked if they would be willing to take a look at his painting. They agreed, and, after examining the painting, were able to authenticate it as a previously unknown work by Heade subsequently named, Magnolias on Gold Velvet Cloth.  “This is an important discovery, and the painting is a magnificent example of Heade’s work at its best,”[i] said Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., author of the definitive book on Heade’s paintings. 

As a result, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston purchased the painting from the man for an incredible $1.2 million. Not a bad return for a few dollars investment! The man (who has chosen to remain anonymous) is no doubt now living somewhere in Indiana in a house without holes in the walls.

I can’t imagine how exciting it was for this man to realize that he unknowingly had a masterpiece hanging on his wall. He thought he was living with something ordinary, but all this time he had a treasure hiding in plain sight.

Like that painting, the presence of God is with us all the time, even when we don’t recognize it. It is just as David wrote so beautifully in Psalms:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
Your right hand will hold me fast. (139:7-10)

There is nowhere we can go that God is not present. He is with us at work, while running errands, on the golf course, when the kids are screaming. He is present with me as I write this, and right there with you as you read it. He is a treasure hidden in plain sight, just waiting for us to discover Him.

I tend to think of God as being present where I “left” Him – in the chair in my bedroom where I read my Bible, or in the church sanctuary where I was last Sunday. But, when I remember that He is with me wherever I go, I can reach out to Him to receive just what I need in that moment, whether it’s strength, wisdom, or just the joy of knowing that He’s there.

A. W. Tozer said, “At the heart of the Christian message is God Himself waiting for His redeemed children to push in to conscious awareness of His presence.”

Are you aware of His presence today?

[i] Judith Dobrzynski, “Painting Packs a Million Dollar Surprise,” June 4, 1999,

Friday, January 24, 2014

Becoming Spiritual Navy SEALs

This past week I saw the movie “Lone Survivor.”  Based on the NY Times bestseller, the film tells the story of Marcus Luttrell and his Navy SEAL team on an ill-fated mission in Afghanistan. It begins by giving viewers a glimpse of the grueling six-month training program required to become a Navy SEAL. No doubt you have heard how demanding this training is, and how trainees are pushed to the brink in every possible way. They swim miles in the freezing cold Pacific Ocean…in the middle of the night…after watching videos about shark attacks. Hypothermia and pneumonia are common. They run such long distances in heavy combat boots that many sustain stress fractures in their legs and ankles. And if at any point the instructors think a trainee is not performing well enough or with enough enthusiasm, he is invited to get “wet and sandy,” which means running headlong into the frigid ocean and then rolling around on the beach.

Why in the world do these men subject themselves to such agony? I guess it’s because they know that there is purpose in the pain. They are committed to the idea that what doesn’t kill them makes them stronger, knowing that they will come out on the other side as the most well-trained warriors in the world, entrusted with some very important missions.

In the same way, I believe God uses trials as part of a spiritual “training program” designed to help us reach our full potential and live out the purpose for which we were created. Romans 5:3-5 says:

Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

God is not the author of evil, but He uses everything – including pain and suffering - to make us more like Christ. As Jim Denison says, “God redeems all He allows.” But when we are in the midst of a trial we often don’t see it as an instrument of maturity. Instead, we think that God has forgotten us - or worse – is punishing us. We end up turning away from Him rather than drawing nearer, and then do everything we can in our own strength to stop the pain.

When we realize that there is purpose in the pain, it is much easier to turn to God and let Him do the necessary work to mature us. For it is in the crucible of suffering that we learn to die to ourselves and let Christ live through us. The result is an intimacy with Him and a greater sense of purpose than we have ever known.

I know some who have recently come out on the other side of this training, and it is an awesome thing to behold. I’m seeing businessmen and entertainers, missionaries and pastors emerging from trials with a new sense of calling, ready to be courageous world-changers. Having died to themselves, they are ready to live for God. Their mission is the gospel. Their weapon is love.

To those who are suffering, I want to encourage you. God has not forgotten you, nor is He punishing you. He loves you very much, and has had you in training. Don’t give up on God, but turn to Him with your whole heart. He promises that in due time you will come out on the other side full of perseverance, character, hope, and love by the power of the Holy Spirit. Take heart, and get ready to join the ranks of the world-changers.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Welcome to SARA SPEAKS

Welcome to SARA SPEAKS

photo credit:
I'm a naturally quiet person who married into a naturally talkative family. It's a running joke with them that when I want to speak up and jump into the conversation, my husband has to help me out by waving his arms, pounding on the dinner table and announcing, "Hey everyone, Sara has something to say!" The lively bunch quiets down just long enough to hear me say something profound like that the pot roast is really tasty or could someone please pass the potatoes.

Truth is, for most of my life I've been just as happy to be the listener as the speaker. But, despite my best efforts to fade into the woodwork, in recent years I have felt the gentle but deliberate prodding of the Lord to speak up more and more. There are things contained in my heart that have been bubbling up to the surface with such joy that I am unable to hold back any longer. Indeed, sometimes it feels as if God Himself is encouraging me, saying, "Hey everyone, Sara has something to say!" As a result, over the last few years I have developed a love of public speaking and now seek out as many opportunities for teaching and preaching that I can.

Now, I am working on speaking up through my writing.

So here goes.

Through this blog, I will be speaking up every week. It is intended to be a platform - a place to share my thoughts and insights, dreams and plans. I am seeking to further my career as a speaker and writer, so I will use this site as a place to keep you updated on my speaking schedule and the progress of the book I am currently working on.

But more than that, this little screen is intended to be an altar. Every week, I hope to bring glory to God by being obedient to "put myself out there" and communicate those things contained in my heart. As I place my words on the altar of this page, they will be an offering, a sacrifice of love and worship to the One for whom I was created.

I am passionate about prayer and spending time with God, so you will find that much of what I write will be about finding intimacy with Jesus and discovering our purpose through a living, breathing relationship with Him. I am also passionate about spiritual renewal and reformation in the church and will write much about that as well.

My hope is that God will take my words and encourage you to go deeper with Him, igniting a bonfire in your soul so that you may burn brighter and feel more alive than you have ever known.

Welcome to SARA SPEAKS.

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