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Category: Blog (Page 5 of 7)

Provision for Today

I am not a planner by nature, unless it’s for something fun.  I could plan for vacations for hours on end. For normal plans, however, if it’s important, it better go on the calendar, because I do not generally think far in advance.  As a mother of four, there is plenty to keep me busy each day without thinking about the future.

On the other hand, if I am worried about something, I begin thinking far into the future.  What will happen, when….?  What will happen if…..?  For example, I may not worry about finances day to day, but if we receive a few unexpected bills, then I am immediately on the worry train.  I find myself ruminating on all of the possibilities and trying to come up with solutions. When our brains are in the midst of worry,  it’s difficult to remember that in the present we have everything we need.

The Lord commands us not to worry, telling us repeatedly in His Word that He will provide for us.  Often, He gives us just what we need for this season, or for this day, because He wants us to learn to trust Him.  Trust is the antithesis of worry.

He taught the Israelites about daily provision in the book of Exodus.  There they were, wandering in the desert, running out of food, when the grumbling and worry began.  God answered their needs by giving them a special, heavenly food, called manna.  When they awoke each morning, manna was covering the ground, and they were to collect just the amount they needed for that day. If they collected extra manna to store it up for the future, it would rot. Through this process, the Israelites learned to rely on God, their Provider, for what they needed each day.

Jesus taught the same idea in Matthew 6, preaching that God cares for us and that He will give us what we need.  He advises:

Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.  Matthew 6:34 NIV

In fact, this blog post came about in a similar fashion.  Since yesterday was a holiday, we had family at our house all day, and I did not have a chance to sit down and begin today’s blog.  In the evening, I tried to sort through ideas, but my brain was too exhausted from a day of fun, food, and people.  So, I prayed and went to bed.  As I awoke this morning, half praying (and half still asleep), I had the very clear thought: “manna.”  He gave me the idea at just the moment I needed it and not before.

Clearly, He wants us to know that He will provide for our needs today.  You can bank on it.

Pause: Find a quiet moment and read Matthew 6: 25-34.  Meditate on these verses for a few minutes.  What stands out to you?

Renew:  What are the areas of your life in which you find yourself worrying?  Is it difficult for you to remain in the present and trust that God will provide for your needs?  One helpful way to combat worry is to remember times that the Lord has provided for you in the past.  Journal, think through, or tell someone about a time that you were worried and the Lord provided just what you needed, when you needed it.

Next: Which verse in the above passage is most comforting to you?  I challenge you to write that verse down and put it in a place that you will look often: for example, on your bathroom mirror, on the dash of your car, or in your wallet. When you find worry creeping in, read this verse out loud to yourself.

In Matthew 6, Jesus says:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Matthew 6:33 NIV

That’s the ticket.  If we’re busy seeking His kingdom, then we’re about His business, and we have less time to allow worry to creep in.  Our perspective is aligned with His if we are about His kingdom’s work.

May we have eyes to see His kingdom, and may we trust that He will provide.

Pause, Renew, Next!

 

Courage – Reinterpreting Fear Signals

A few years ago, my husband and I were asked to give a short presentation about our adoption journey during a service at our church. As I sat there, waiting for our turn to speak, I could feel my anxiety rising.  My heart was pounding, and my stomach was tied in knots.  I was getting more and more nervous by the second.  “There is no logical reason for this response,” I told myself, “You shouldn’t be scared.”  After all, I was going to be talking to my friends and family.  My body didn’t believe me, however.

Thankfully, I knew that my body was doing what it does under stress – the fight or flight response.  So, rather than interpret those body signals as danger, I instead reminded myself that my body was helping me rise to a challenge.  (Because even in front of friends and family, giving a short speech really is a challenge!)  That perspective shift can be the difference between cowardice and courage: being able to push through, interpreting fear signals as a challenge to be conquered.  I’m not sure that I exactly “conquered” the presentation, but I was able to do it, and that in itself is also a victory.

The definition of courage

When I think of a Biblical example of courage, Joshua comes to mind.  As the book of Joshua opens, we find that Moses has just passed away and left his right-hand man, Joshua, in charge.  Joshua is faced with an enormous task: to lead the children of Israel into the promised land.  Moses, the greatest leader Israel had ever known, had not been able to accomplish this task.  The promised land was full of enemies to be conquered before it was to be theirs.

Joshua was well-equipped for the task though.  He had been mentored under Moses’ leadership. Not only that, God gave him a few direct and precious promises to encourage and embolden him for the task:

Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you,  just as I promised to Moses. Joshua 1: 3 ESV

No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.  I will not leave you or forsake you.  Joshua 1: 5 ESV

Joshua 1:9

Being given these promises was a key factor in Joshua’s courage. Knowing that God was promising the land to him, and that He would never leave or forsake him, was paramount to his being courageous in leading God’s people into battle. The context of fear changes when we have the confidence to know that we can take on the challenge! It changes fear from an insurmountable obstacle to a necessary struggle in the quest for victory.

Joshua lived thousands of years ago, but the promises are still true for believers today.  Jesus sent his followers on a mission too – to go and make disciples in all nations. As he sent his apostles out, just as God sent Joshua centuries before, he promised them, “Behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 19-20)

That promise is for us today!  If we are in Christ, He is with us always.  He will go before us and will give us the strength to do all that He calls us to do in His name.

Pause:  Close your eyes and ask the Lord to reveal His Word to you.  Now read Joshua 1: 1-9.  What stands out to you in this passage?

Renew:  Think about times in your life when you were afraid but were able to act with courage anyway.  What caused you to act with courage in those moments?

Next:  Contemplate the phrase: “for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”  If you were to own that phrase and fully believe it, how would it change the way you live? Repeat this phrase to yourself as you go throughout your day, thanking God that as a believer, He is not just with you, but His Spirit lives in you.

May you be filled with courage to take on any challenge that the Lord may lead you through!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Mess or Masterpiece?

One evening this week, I found the living room floor covered with toys.  It was late, I had been at work all day, and I was exhausted.  Briefly I considered telling the boys to pick up the toys, but I was too tired to care. So, I planned to do some general clean up in the morning.

A messy floor or a form of art?

I tucked my three year old into bed, and, when I returned, I found my 7 and 10 year old huddled around a pile of toys. They were exuberantly moving them around to make patterns on the floor. “Come here, Mom; look what we made.”  I came closer and looked.  “Cool, that’s very creative,” I praised.  “What is it that you’re trying to make?”

My seven year old responded sagely, “Art, Mom.  Art can be made of anything, you know.”

Now, if the situation had been slightly altered, say, we had guests coming over or the boys had already tried my patience throughout the day, then my response to their creativity would certainly have been different.  I would not have stopped to notice what they were doing before I commanded them to put up all of the toys and clean up their mess.

A similar scenario happened earlier in the week.  I have one child that learns through hands-on experience.  Although in some ways this makes him incredibly creative and an out-of-the box thinker, it also means he often makes messes and is impulsive.

One evening we had guests for dinner, and plastic cups were left on the counter overnight.  The next morning, I sat down to start homeschool with the boys, and they were all gathered around the counter in the kitchen.  I came over to find that this child had taken two cups, stacked on top of one another, and had poked a hole with a toothpick in the bottom of the top cup.  He had filled the cup with water, and it had begun shooting water like a fountain.  He even had the foresight to put a cup and pan underneath it to catch the excess water.

Again, my first reflex was to tell him to clean it up and yell at him for making a mess when it was time to start homeschool.  Instead, I admired his invention, telling him it was really creative, because honestly, it really was.  I would never have thought to do that.

Much more frequently than I like, I find myself stifling my children’s creativity, telling them to wait when they have something important to tell me, and barking commands while trying to maintain some kind of order and control.  It makes me wonder how many times I have missed little sparks of joy and creativity because of my own grown-up agenda.

Proverbs 14:29 says:

A patient person shows great understanding, but a quick-tempered one promotes foolishness.

Proverbs 14:29 HCSB

Patience is not my strong suit, and I have had plenty of “quick-tempered” moments with my children. Those moments usually result in bad attitudes all around. However, when I am not rushed and when I have time to observe and listen to my children, I do find myself understanding their motivations. I am better able to appreciate their ideas and their exuberance for inventing and creating.

Pause: Are you feeling tense or stressed today? Stretching can relieve some muscle tension.  If it is comfortable for you, stand up and reach your hands towards the ceiling, stretching out your back muscles. Take a moment to stretch any other muscles that are feeling tense.

Renew: Now, read over the Proverb above. Think about a time that you were patient, and it produced understanding in your life.  What is it that you better understood?

Next: Think about a relationship or a situation in your life in which you find it difficult to be patient.  In fact, you might even find yourself feeling “quick-tempered.”  Pray, think, and journal about ways that you can work towards more patience in this area. Then, put one of your ideas into practice.  Observe whether you gain any new “understanding” in this relationship or situation as you practice patience.

May you (and I) be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger today.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Look at Me, Look at Me!

I am not proud of it, but I can admit that I am a people pleaser at heart.  I mean I really, really, really desire recognition and approval. Thankfully, I am aware of this unhealthy bent in my personality. Even so, I find myself falling into the trap of worrying what people think much more often than I would like.

Case in point:  a few weeks ago, a professional post was made about me on social media. I felt the need to keep checking how many people had “liked” or even more hopefully, “loved”  the post.  A few hours passed, and the response was lackluster.

How many likes we receive is not a reflection of our worth or value

Two sides of my brain warred with each other.  The rational side said things like, “You know that your value doesn’t come from Facebook posts.  Instagram is not an accurate reflection of who you are and what you are capable of.”

The irrational side of my brain, argued back, “It does too matter. People are on social media all the time.  Surely they’ve seen this post by now. If I had the right kind of professional reputation people would be liking that post.”

Before the war could get too far out of hand, I prayed about it.  Almost immediately, I looked at my phone’s Bible app, and would you believe it?  The verse of the day was Galatians 1:10.

Am I saying this now to win the approval of people or God?  Am I trying to please people?  If I were still trying to please people, I would not be Christ’s servant.  Galatians 1:10 ESV

Not often do I get a response that quickly from a prayer, but I was so thankful that day that God’s response was immediate and on target.  Point taken. It’s not people’s approval I should be looking for, but His. Thankfully, as His daughter, I know that I already have His approval.  If there’s a refrigerator in Heaven, my picture is hanging on it.  I know I am loved deep in my bones.  How can I know that I have his approval?  Acts 13:39 says: “everyone who believes in Jesus receives God’s approval.”

No Facebook post can compete with that.

Acts 13:39 GW

Even knowing I have God’s approval, I know that I will fight this battle until the day I die, because the battle for approval is really about my own pride. The minute I think I have won the battle, it arises again through a new situation.

I’m not the only one who struggles with the battle for approval. People-pleasing is a common struggle.  Although often it is unhealthy, the root of it springs from a very pure and healthy need: to be loved, to be valued, and to be approved.

To deny that need is not the answer.  I cannot win the battle by saying, “I just don’t care what anyone thinks.”  I would be lying to myself.  However, I can shift my thinking by reframing the thought to, “God approves of me, and that’s what matters.”

He is the most important factor by far, but He created us to be loved by people as well.  His church is made up of people, and He calls them His body. Maybe anonymous strangers on Facebook don’t love me, but my tribe does, and they matter.

An epilogue to my story:  later that evening I checked that post again. By then, it had multiple likes and a few shares. Those shares came from my closest friends and family, announcing to the social media world how proud they were of my accomplishments.

I can also receive affirmation from those who know me best and love me, faults and all.  Besides God, they are my biggest supporters and advocates.  At the end of the day, they’ve got my back, and that is a very good feeling.

Pause: Take a deep breath and exhale.  Read over Acts 13:39 (above) a few times.  Close your eyes and meditate on what this verse means to you.

Renew: Read Galatians 1:10 (above) again.  Do you find that you are often struggling to please people?  If so, think about the underlying needs that are causing this.  Paul says, “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be Christ’s servant.”  Consider why pleasing people could be at odds with being Christ’s servant.

Next: This week, when you find yourself noticing that you want to be liked, to be approved of, or to be validated, take stock of the underlying motivation.  Is it healthy or unhealthy?  If unhealthy, start talking back to those thoughts: “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.”  Choose to remember those who do approve of you, particularly Jesus, and revel in it for a moment before moving on with your day.

May we know that we are loved and keep our eyes focused on what matters.

Pause, Renew, Next!

 

 

 

My Insidious Garden Foe

I have a general affinity for plant life.  However, there are two plants that I absolutely cannot stand. One is poison ivy, for obvious reasons, and the other is Bermuda grass.

In case you have never had to battle Bermuda grass, let me regale you with my struggles.  The grass is incredibly tenacious, grows anywhere the sun shines and at a rate that must rival bamboo.  Once Bermuda has taken root, it is nearly impossible to ever be rid of it.  Its growth is almost vine like, and it doesn’t just grow on the surface level of the earth.  For good measure, it grows under the surface too.  In fact, it can grow several feet below the surface.  Don’t try to smother it with mulch or pine straw: that will help it grow even faster.  It has crept into our sand box and has even slithered between boulders and into my flower beds.  Most obnoxiously, we have to battle it all summer long to grow our vegetable garden.

A beautiful garden under attack from all sides by Bermuda grass.

Don’t get me wrong.  My husband and I have put up a good fight. We’ve pulled, we’ve weeded, and we’ve even sprayed.  For the last two years, we have covered our garden with a tarp for throughout the winter to starve the remaining Bermuda grass from receiving any light. Still, when we uncover it in the spring, tiny yellow tendrils are already popping out of the dirt.   We’ve battled it throughout the summer – weeding, hoeing, and tilling to save our garden from its grasp.

A few years ago, I heard John Piper preach a sermon on sin.  He likened sin to Bermuda grass.  After the above description, I’m sure you can understand why this is a fitting analogy.  Like sin, plucking Bermuda grass at the surface level seems effective in the short term.  Over time, however, you find that the grass, like sin,  has grown deep shoots, much deeper and hardier than you ever realized.

The longer I walk with Jesus, the more aware I become of my deep need for Him.  There are layers to my sin.  Sure, there are the surface sins that everyone sees. Then, there are the ones that are a little further buried: not as obvious, but just as insidious.  In fact, some of the sins that grow the deepest roots may be ones that have been growing unseen for a very long time.

Paul writes:

The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later.   I Timothy 5:24

I think about this analogy in the summer when I’m indignantly pulling Bermuda grass out of my flower beds and garden.  While fighting to yank it out by the roots, I think,  “Take that sin!  Go back to where you came from!”   It’s really great for anger management!

As hard as I try to pull my sin out by the roots, it is nigh to impossible on my own.  No self-help strategy can get it done.  Only Jesus’ blood can overcome it. Only by God’s grace are we able to flee temptation and not give in again to yokes of slavery from which Jesus has set us free.  Sanctification is a long and painful journey, full of sinful weed pulling to make room for the good fruit that Jesus will grow in its place.

Pause:  Spend a few moments thanking Jesus for the sin that He has forgiven in your life and for the ways that He is making you a new creation.

Renew:  Take some time evaluating the sin in your life (the bad habits, faulty thinking, or ways that you hurt others).  What are those surface sins that seem most obvious?  Which sins are lurking further under the surface?  If you have not already done so, confess these sins to the Lord.

Next:  If there is a particular sin that the Lord has convicted you of, and that you are having a hard time mastering, consider finding accountability in that area – someone who has previously struggled with the same thing, a mentor, or a wise person in your life that will lovingly hold you accountable and pray with you as you do some uprooting.

May the Lord open your eyes to the depths of your own sin and the vastness of His righteousness and saving grace.

Pause, Renew, Next!

 

Milk and Bricks

President Lincoln came into office despised by half of his country. The North elected him, and the South quickly rejected him in exchange for their own president. He worked long and tirelessly to reunite a country that was tearing apart at the seams.

In the middle of his term, after one of the most infamous battles of the Civil War, he delivered the famous Gettysburg Address. Edward Everett, a renowned orator of his day, spoke before Lincoln. His speech was eloquent and two hours long.  Contrast that with Lincoln’s 272 word address. Yet, Lincoln’s speech was the one that has been memorialized as one of the greatest speeches in our country’s history.  It is memorized in classrooms across the United States.  Using his words wisely, Lincoln spoke peace, meaning, and importance into a tragedy. He sought to unify and bring healing and equality for all United States citizens.  His words were powerful.

The tongue is like a fire. Watch it closely!

Words have the power to heal or to destroy, to unite or to divide, to encourage or to tear down.

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.  Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. James 3:5

Imagine if Lincoln had used his tongue to kindle hatred instead of peace. The thousands of angry and grieving listeners may have needed only a spark to light a forest fire of animosity and further division.  Perhaps history may have progressed differently.

What we say matters.

As a camp counselor (many moons ago), I used a phrase to help remind campers to use their words kindly: “Milk and Bricks.”

Ephesians 4:29

It was a quick and fun reminder of Ephesians 4:29, which says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

What is the opposite of unwholesome?   Milk!

What do you build with?  Bricks!

Therefore, we could shorten the verse to a reminder: Milk and Bricks. We are to use our words for building up, not tearing down.

As we approach increasingly divisive times, let’s remember to use our tongues to put out flames, not spark a forest fire.

That’s all I have to say about that, so I’ll keep it short like Lincoln.

Pause:  Find a quiet space, and read James 3: 1-12.

Renew: James warns that the same tongue can speak both good and evil. Examine your own speech. In what ways do you use your words for good?  In what ways and in what situations do you find yourself using your words negatively?

Next:  Look for opportunities to encourage and unify this week. Get creative! For example: write an unexpected thank you note, text someone telling them how much you appreciate them, or speak peace into a moment of conflict.

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.  Colossians 4:6 ESV

Pause, Renew, Next!

 

 

 

And Hope Does Not Put Us to Shame

This week, with one phone call, I brought to a close a four year season in the life of our family.  Some decisions are difficult, and this was one of them.  My husband and I both knew it was the right decision, but sometimes knowing and having peace about a decision doesn’t take away all of the sadness that comes with it.  A door has been closed that may never be reopened, and I am left grieving.

I am grieving many aspects of this closure, but the greatest is my own unmet expectations.  I believed wholeheartedly that I would see a result that has not come to fruition. I am helpless to make it happen by my own willpower.  Only God can see it through, and He will one day if He so chooses.  Only now, it will not come in the way that I expected.

Grief has many faces.  As a counselor, I have supported people experiencing many different forms of grief: grieving love ones who have died, grieving broken marriages, grieving their own poor choices, or grieving hard transitions in life.  Grief is a normal reaction to loss, and losses are a constant part of life here on planet Earth.  Some losses are unfathomably painful, such as the loss of a loved one. Some are common and expected, such as the loss of childhood that accompanies graduating from high school.

A dead end? Or a pillar of cloud to lead us out of the wilderness?

One rarely discussed form of grief is that of unmet expectations: grieving the life you thought you’d have.  Maybe your health has taken a turn for the worse, and your future looks less active and more painful than you envisioned.  Maybe you have a special needs child, and parenting is much more complicated than you ever imagined.  Maybe you have experienced divorce or widowhood, and singleness was never in your plan.  Maybe you struggle with infertility, and it’s too difficult to go to baby showers and show support while your womb remains empty.

These losses are valid and completely worth grieving.  In fact, if we cannot grieve them, we may find the repressed feelings becoming a wellspring of stress, a root of bitterness, or a blanket of depression which isolates and keeps us distanced from others.

There is so much beauty in the Gospel: salvation, rebirth, renewal, forgiveness, and growth.  However, before the new can come, the old must be buried, which is often accompanied by mourning. Jesus died, was buried, and then raised to life, which in turn gave us new life.  Jesus said:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  John 12:24-25 ESV

Romans 5:5 ESV

 For believers, the incredibly hopeful thing about grieving expectations is that we’re not just laying something to rest.  We’re exchanging it for something better. Our loving Father has a plan much greater than you or I can know.  So, when we grieve what we so desperately wanted, but did not receive, we can look ahead with hope for what is coming.  It may still be on the horizon.  If not, eternity is the final destination, and we will lack for absolutely nothing there.  We will not be lonely.  Our health will be phenomenal.  We will be radiant.  Then, we will have new perspective and will be incredibly grateful that the Lord exchanged our paltry plans for His own.

So, I will grieve my own vision and expectation and place it in the hand of the Father, where He will exchange it for His plan.  

Pause: Take a deep breath and quiet your soul.  Read Romans 5:3-5.  In this passage, Paul begins writing about suffering and ends with hope.  How does this spiritual progression work?

Renew: Take stock of your own life.  Is there an area in your life where there is an unmet expectation or a recent loss that you need to grieve?   If so, give yourself permission to grieve.  Cry, journal, pray, talk to a trusted friend, family member, or counselor, and work through it.

Next:  Reflect this week about times that the Lord has exchanged your own plans for His.  How did it work out?  What did you learn in the process?

May the God of All Comfort embrace you and fill you with hope for the future!

Pause, Renew, Next!

A Neighborly Day in This Beautywood

One of my heroes in life is Fred Rogers .  Naturally, I was excited about the new documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” that came out last summer about Mr. Rogers’ life.  One of the quotes that stood out to me most in the movie was:  “Love is at the root of everything…all learning, all relationships.   Love, or the lack of it.”

Fred Rogers was ordained as a Presbyterian minister, and his vision was to serve through the medium of television.  He believed that all human beings have value, should recognize their own value, and should treat others as valuable.  In fact, his reference to his television “neighbors” was Scriptural in nature and can be found in the Golden Rule: to love your neighbor as yourself.

Once, Jesus was approached by a lawyer and asked, “Who is my neighbor?”

I think that’s an inherent question in many of our hearts and souls.  Who is my neighbor?  If I can qualify what a neighbor looks and acts like, then it seems easier to follow the golden rule, especially, if my neighbor looks and acts like me.

Jesus challenged the lawyer by telling him the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

A man, beaten, robbed, and left for dead, is passed by and disregarded by two important and prominent men.  A third man, a Samaritan (despised by Israelites), stopped and helped him, bandaged his wounds, and paid for his room and board while he healed. At the end of the story, Jesus turns the questioning back on the lawyer:

“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?”  Luke 10:36 ESV

I can almost imagine the lawyer reticently replying:

“The one who showed him mercy.”  And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”  Luke 10:37 ESV

Suffice it to say, that lawyer went away challenged in his thinking about who qualifies as a neighbor. This was probably not the answer he was expecting, and maybe not the answer he wanted.

Although showing compassion to our “neighbors” seems like a simple enough concept, it can be challenging and uncomfortable.  I believe most people naturally fall into one of two categories:  1) those who have a harder time showing mercy and  2) those who show mercy easily, but without boundaries.

I think the first of these categories is the one that most people think of in regards to the Good Samaritan.  After all, two men, respected by their community, passed the injured man, not bothering to even acknowledge him.   Often those who are suffering are not lovely.  They can remind us of things we don’t want to think about: poverty, grief, or pain.  To stop and help makes us acknowledge those things we would rather leave unnamed.  Helping might even lead to our own vulnerability, or at least our own discomfort.  Still, the Lord commands it, and showers us with His mercy so that we can in turn dispense mercy to others.

A beautiful day in the neighborhood…

On the other hand, some are so merciful, they hardly know where to stop.   The Good Samaritan didn’t go overboard.   Caring people can get so consumed helping others, that they may not set proper boundaries, and therefore get overwhelmed and burned out.  I am encouraged to see that although the Samaritan helped the man in significant ways, he really went on with his life afterwards.  He paid an innkeeper to care for the injured man and said that he would come back to check on him.  He did not cancel his work engagements for the week.  He did not move the man into his home for the next six months.  He did not offer to buy him an all new wardrobe.  He did what was needed in the moment.  He offered compassion, kindness, and tangible help to a man who was suffering. Mercy, even to our neighbors, can have boundaries.  Doesn’t that make showing mercy seem much less overwhelming?

Pause:  Find a quiet place to read the story of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10: 25-37.  What stands out to you in this passage?

Renew: Take a personal inventory.  Is it difficult or easy for you to show mercy to others?   God commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Is it difficult for you to show mercy to yourself?  If you answered yes to either of these questions, think and pray about how you might begin to change this.

Next:  Keep your eyes open this week and wait for the Lord to show you someone to whom you can show mercy.  Neighbors are all around us!

Love is a fruit of the Spirit and, for the believer, really is at the root of all things. Love leads to compassion and action.  May you be encouraged and blessed as you find your “neighbors” this week.

Pause, Renew, Next!

 

The Spark of Curiosity

Recently, I had the unique privilege of observing a room of 6 and 7 year olds give class presentations.   One little boy gave his presentation on his favorite Star Wars toy.   He pulled his BB-8 figurine out of his back pack and held it aloft as he spoke to the class.  As soon as his presentation ended, numerous little arms shot into the air to ask him questions about his toy.

“Does it talk?”
“No,” he replied.
“Does it do anything cool?”
In answer, he took it to the table and demonstrated how BB-8 could spin around like a top.   Eight little bodies sat watching in rapt attention.
“Is it heavy?” one of his classmates asked.
“No, not really,” he nonchalantly answered, “Do you want to feel it?”
BB-8 subsequently made the rounds through little hands testing his weightiness.

Can you imagine how different seminars and board room meetings would be if adults were allowed to behave this way during presentations?  “Can I touch it?”  “Can I hold it?”  “Does it talk?”

Children experience the world through their senses and are primarily led by curiosity.   Then, sometime after childhood’s wide-eyed wonder, we become boring adults full of to-do lists and skepticism.  Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”

Perhaps this is why Jesus warns:

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. Luke 18:12 NIV

How might a child receive the kingdom of God?  They receive it with fascination and awe, ready to embrace and accept it without the cynicism and uncertainty with which adults often struggle.

“Come here guys, look at this bug!” Even the dog is curious.

Curiosity and wonder are God-given gifts, to explore and enjoy his creation.  He delights in our creativity and discoveries.  We are, after all, made in His image, and He is the Creator.  As Creator, He gave us His entire creation to explore and investigate.  The discoveries seem never-ending.  No matter what field of study, there are always new discoveries and “breakthroughs”: in Genetics, in Neuroscience, in Astronomy, in Paleontology, and in Technology, and those are just a few in the fields of math and science.  Musicians learn their craft through curiosity, pushing their instruments to new sounds, new movements, and new pieces.  Teachers are at the front lines of curiosity, igniting the love of learning for new generations.  No matter what field of study excites you, chances are curiosity led you there.

As healthy as curiosity is, it can also have a negative side.  For instance,  click bait on the Internet thrives on our curiosity and the desire to know.  Curiosity drives us to rubber neck at the scene of an accident.   Addictions often begin with simple curiosity.

What if we could recapture our sense of innocent curiosity and wonder once again?   What if we could see the universe through the eyes of a child, wanting to unabashedly discover the world?  The Psalmist felt some of this wonder himself as he wrote:

The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.  Psalm 65:8 NIV

The wonders of God never end.  We cannot reach the end of discovery.  Like a favorite book that you never want to finish,  each page turn leads to a new discovery.

Once, at a conference, I heard John Piper speak about heaven.  He likened knowing God face to face and spending eternity with Him to climbing a mountain range.  You reach the top of one mountain having thought you’d seen it all, only to discover there are endless mountain ranges in front of you left to discover.  His facets and depths are unfathomable.  He is too great for us to wrap our minds around.

Pause: Take a deep breath and close your eyes.  Think of the last time you stood in awe of God’s creation.  Picture that scene in your mind.

Renew:  Like the children in the classroom, we experience the world through our senses.  Think about how you primarily experience the world: is it visually, audibly, or kinesthetically?  How can you encourage your own  or your children’s sense of awe and wonder?

Next:  Give yourself permission this week to be curious.  Get out and experience creation.  Explore with wonder like a child.

May your curiosity lead you to new discoveries, and may you be filled with awe like a child.

Pause, Renew, Next!

 

The Blame Game, Gas, and Grace

It was a typical Monday morning, and I was running late.  Between getting my children and myself ready in the morning, I seem to never have an extra minute to spare.  I hastily climbed in the van and turned it on.  With dread, I noticed that my gas gauge rested on E.  

A wise woman once told me that, when things go wrong, people intrinsically blame either themselves or others.  Well, I can admit it:  I am usually an “other blamer.”  In this instance, my husband got the full brunt of my blame, since he had been the last one to drive the van.  “Why didn’t he fill up the tank?!!!,” I thought.   If he had been sitting next to me at that moment, I’m sure he would have gotten an ear full.

Since I didn’t have time to stop for gas without being late to work, I drove on the fumes of denial, hoping the gas warning light would not come on.  Unfortunately, halfway to work, it lit up.  I called my husband, told him the situation, and asked if he thought I had enough fuel left to make it it to a gas station after work.  He calmly stated that it would be fine, reassuring me that the van had plenty of miles to go before it ran out of gas. So, I switched my focus to work, not giving it another thought.

After work, I remembered that I needed to fill up.  I got back in the van, turned the ignition, and started calculating which gas station was closest.  Glancing at the dashboard, I did a double take. My gas meter now read “full”.  There were only two logical explanations:  either my car’s meter was reading incorrectly or my husband had come and filled up my tank while I was at work.  I called him, and, yes, with our boys as witnesses, my husband had come and filled up my tank.

A full gas tank, thanks to my husband!

 As surprised and grateful as I felt, I was equally ashamed for the anger I had felt towards my husband that morning.   I began thinking about this scenario and realized  that I often treat God the same way.  I cry out to him for help, but often inwardly blame him when I’m stressed that things aren’t working out.  I can get frustrated that He won’t answer my prayers in the way I want and in my time frame.

I’m certainly not the only one with this problem.: Israel, of the Old Testament, was the same way. God longed to care for His chosen people, but they continuously found ways to be angry and disobedient.   God promised to provide for them, but they tried to get their needs met through other means (namely, Egypt).  Still, in the midst of their rebellion, God had Isaiah proclaim to Israel:  

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;  therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!  Isaiah 30:18 NIV

I’m so thankful for the long, enduring mercy of the Lord.  He consistently comes to His people’s rescue.  He longs to show compassion, kindness, and mercy. He enacts justice.

During times of fear and frustration, it’s easy to misread the intentions of others – even our loved ones.  Clearly, I misread my husband’s intentions and was quick to blame him for forgetting to refill my tank.  In the same way, we often misread the Lord’s intentions.  Just as my husband reminded me how much he loves me by coming to my rescue, so the Lord shows love to His people by rescuing them through Jesus.

Pause: Take a deep breath and close your eyes.  Meditate on Isaiah 30:18.  What about that verse stands out to you?

Renew: Spend some time reflecting on how you respond in times of stress and frustration.  Are you a self-blamer or an other-blamer?  Do you find that you misread others’ intentions when you are in this state?  How does this affect your relationships?

Next:  Take time this week to intentionally notice and journal:

  1. When others go out of their way to show you mercy and grace.
  2. Times you notice the Lord is showing you grace and mercy.

Focusing on these areas will change your perspective on your relationships – both with others and with God.

Do you find yourself waiting on the Lord right now? Then, Isaiah 30:18 says you are blessed.  He longs to show you mercy and grace and bring justice. Keep waiting on Him.

Pause, Renew, Next!

 

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