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Hope for the wayward heart

I would say I’m sorry for how sporadic posts have been these days. On the one hand, I know it’s a not a big deal. I¬†rest in the knowledge that no one is out there refreshing my site moment by moment, eagerly awaiting new content. ūüôā I’m not that important.

But, I also know that I’m called to write, and frankly, I haven’t wanted to. Sure, I’ll repost something old, that’s safe enough, but I haven’t wanted to freshly bare my soul out here in the wide-open internet spaces. Safer just to keep my laptop–and life–shut.

I’ve had dozens of people ask, “Are you ok??” Yes. I’m ok. It has just been a unique season like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It isn’t one thing. It has been a season of battle, a season of stripping away, a season of pruning, of weakness.

Sometimes we wonder, when walking through trials, “Is this spiritual attack? Or is this my sin? Or is this God sanctifying me?” Of course, the answer is always:

Yes.

Yes, at any given time we are facing an onslaught of the enemy, we are dealing with our flesh and the lingering effects of the fall, and we are being lovingly pruned, shaped, sanctified, by a good and gracious God. While we are wise to not be ignorant of the enemy’s schemes, we can rest in the truth that: If I am in Christ, the worst Satan can do is sanctify me.¬†There is nothing God cannot and will not use for our ultimate good.¬†

See, this isn’t a good-and-evil battle where the two sides are equally matched.¬†We might¬†feel outnumbered and overwhelmed, but like Elisha encouraged his faint-hearted servant,

“Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

We are on the offensive, friends.

But even so, this doesn’t mean we do nothing. The battle is real, and it has been raging, and I have wanted to shut down, close up, withdraw. I have felt weary and wondered what it looks like to fight when the issue at hand, the thing that’s up for grabs, the thing that’s being battled for … is my¬†heart.¬†

How do I win my own heart? 

Yesterday at church, God gently revealed the answer. I saw that I had been, as AW Tozer calls it, “tinkering with my soul.” That is, going in with a little change here, a little tweak there, like a retired man spending the day tinkering with an old car, without really accomplishing much at all.

The word yesterday was, “In order to return to our first love, our¬†affections must change.” Yes.

My¬†affections. It’s heart stuff, not behavior stuff. It’s heart stuff, not a tweak here and there. Like the men in Mark 7 who were all about adding external safeguards to make sure they didn’t sin, but Jesus reminds them that that will never work because sin comes¬†from the heart.

Sin is simply misplaced affection. 

So now what, then? I woke up this morning aching with the question, “How do I change my affections? How do I change what I love?”

We change our affection by changing our attention. 

Our hearts simply follow our soul’s gaze.¬†

“The man who has struggled to purify himself and has has nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul¬†and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do.” (Pursuit of God, p. 91)

Ahhh. My heart sighs relief.

There lies the whole of my duty for this day: Fix the gaze of my soul on Christ. Stop tinkering, start looking. Put His truth and unchanging Word before my eyes and heart and trust Him to woo back my wayward heart.

That’s hope.

From one wayward soul to another… let’s fix our gaze and trust Him to do the rest. Happy Monday, and thanks for reading.}

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The rest is thrown in (What promise!)

Their little eyes widened as the words sunk in: One HUNDRED times as much!

We giggled to ourselves thinking of receiving back one hundred toys, or one hundred cookies, or one hundred houses or sisters or brothers. Of course the essence of this promise isn’t about calculating or counting, it’s written to convey an important promise:

What you give up for God, He’ll give back in a better way, beyond what you can imagine.¬†

We were studying the Rich Young Ruler, and how sad he was as he shuffled away from Jesus, as he gave up the greatest opportunity that had ever presented itself to him. I actually found myself tearing up as I told the story, thinking how tragic it is that so many (sometimes myself included!) give up the greatest invitation ever because we can’t let go of our stuff, our rights, our way.

But it’s so fun that immediately after this story, Jesus gives a promise. And it’s a big one! He marvels at how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom, but then makes this mind-blowing statement promising that all those who give up things for God’s sake will¬†receive¬†back one-hundred times as much. Wow!

I have seen this wildly lavish love from God so many times.¬†It’s nuts!¬†I’ve been amazed at this truth that when we seek our own pleasure, our own way, our own stuff, we end up poor, we walk away sad, nothing satisfies.

BUT. When we seek the kingdom, when we give up our stuff, our way, our life, we find ourselves spoiled rotten by a generous God, lavishly loved and blessed. Sure, there’s still tribulation, trials, challenges. But the abundance so outweighs the burden.

God is GOOD. His way is good. His plans are good. Oh that we’d give up our own way to seek His and discover the goodness! When we seek our own we lose, but when we seek Him, we find the rest tossed in as well. It reminds me of the CS Lewis quote:

Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither. -CS Lewis

Or this quote captures this beautifully. So true! Not seeking our own, in a selfish sense, is the directest course you can take to secure your highest happiness. Amen!

“If you are selfish, and make yourself and your own private interests your idol, God will leave you to yourself, and let you promote your own interests as well as you can.

But if you do not selfishly seek your own, but do seek the things that are Jesus Christ’s, and the things of your fellow human beings, then God will make your interest and happiness his own charge, and he is infinitely more able to provide for and promote it than you are. The resources of the universe move at his bidding, and he can easily command them all to subserve your welfare.

So not to seek your own, in the selfish sense, is the best way of seeking your own in a better sense. It is the directest course you can take to secure your highest happiness.” ‚ÄĒJonathan Edwards (Charity & Its Fruits)

May we take this route. When we seek¬†His kingdom, the rest is tossed in as well. Let’s go this way! Happy Monday.¬†Thanks for reading.¬†

*Originally shared last year, still true as ever. Looking for email delivery of posts? Sign-up here: https://feedburner.google.com/fb/a/mailverify?uri=KariPatterson  (Thanks!)

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Just Show Up

Early this morning I had a conversation with some friends, and one of them just kept saying, “Really, all you have to do is just show up.”¬†Just show up was the phrase we kept coming back to. Then this is popped up from exactly a year ago …¬†perhaps it’s timely for us all.

~

I’ll admit, it began as an irritation.

Why are we the ones ALWAYS here?¬†Of course, the pastor’s family¬†has to show up at church, right? Of course the Bible study leader¬†has to show up. Of course the retreat speaker¬†has¬†to show up.

After 17 years leading Bible studies and small groups, I get what it’s like to be the one who¬†has to show up. And I’ve always counted that a blessing. The reality is, whenever we just show up we are blessed. We only benefit. I’m grateful for all these years where leadership has forced me to be consistent, because I know my tendency to be hit-and-miss.

But this year, something began aching in my heart. I always knew it was there. After years leading small groups, you know the attrition rate by heart:

Usually by the end of the study half the participants … aren’t participating.

But it becomes heightened, more clearly seen, in something small like a church plant. Although this thing certainly isn’t “ours,” there is a very real sense that our very hearts and souls are poured out into this little ragtag band of believers called Renew. Paul clearly had this same burdened heart for all those he invested in for the sake of the Kingdom.

And so the inconsistency, the attrition, the hit-and-miss … is keenly¬†felt.¬†

And yet, my optimism constantly reminds me:¬†God uses exactly who’s there for just the right purpose. He can move mightily no matter who comes and who doesn’t.¬†

And this is true. Of course God is so powerfully and gloriously sovereign, He can work gloriously with two people or two-thousand people.

And yet.

(Now my heart’s doing this crazy-thumping thing because I’m pretty sure I’m going to offend a bunch of people right now.)

I poured out my heart to God about this recently, sharing honestly with Him how hard and lonely it is to be the one always showing up. Do you know what I heard crystal clear in my heart?

“How do you think I feel?”

Tears flowed as I realized how we have hurt the heart of God. 

I believe the heart of God is deeply¬†grieved that we have made him last priority in our lives.¬†That we have made spiritual matters of least importance. That we put more thought into the state of our financial portfolio than the state of our souls. That we put soccer schedules ahead of Sunday morning worship. That we have financial needs¬†and yet blatantly ignore¬†God’s clear commands on giving to Him first. That we¬†neglect morning prayers and time in the sacred Scriptures because we really “need some sleep.”

I’m not talking about legalism, I’m talking about LOVE.

I believe the heart of God is broken because He waits and waits and waits and waits, for us to just show up. Like a husband who plans a date with His wife every Friday night, who reserves a table for 2 and sits alone in the candlelight, waiting, waiting, waiting for His beloved bride to show up.Like a husband who plans a date with his wife, reserves a candlelit table for two, and waits ...… Click To Tweet

But she never does. She needed sleep. Something came up. A friend stopped by.

He sits there, alone, waiting for us to just show up. 

I read a story recently of a family in the 60s, in Communist Russia. They loved Jesus. Every weekend, they would walk 30 miles to get to the nearest church, then walk 30 miles home, traveling all night long Sunday night, to be ready for work Monday morning.

This undoes me. Oh God, forgive us. We know nothing of carrying our cross, we know nothing of commitment.

We know nothing of true love. 

Again, this isn’t a message of condemnation, it is a PLEA that the people of God would know the heart of God, that He does not come last. Matthew says that as the end nears,

“The love of many will grow cold.” (24:12)

Please: Do not let your love grow cold. He waits for you.

Just show up.

{Thank you for reading.}

*People have mentioned it’s hard to sign up for automatic email-delivery of blog posts. Here’s the quick link:¬†https://feedburner.google.com/fb/a/mailverify?uri=KariPatterson ¬†Just type in your email and you’ll be set!

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When you feel tricked by God…

‚ÄúWhy?‚ÄĚ I yelled, out into the sky. ‚ÄúWhy did you trick me, God?

It was January¬†2002, and I remember so clearly the feeling. Standing out in the rain, soaked to the skin, confused because God was breaking my heart. I wrote our whole story out here, how¬†God brought Jeff and me together in a roundabout way that included a lot of heartache. It was most certainly not the way I thought my love story would go. Now, more than 15 years later, I wouldn’t have it any other way. But at the time I felt tricked by God.

See, I worked so hard to guard my heart. No disrespect to him, but I didn’t¬†like Jeff. Not as anything more than a friend. But it was so bizarre, it was like God actually changed my heart and¬†made me love him. I know that sounds weird, especially now because I’m madly in love with him now! But 16 years ago I wasn’t. And in a most interesting way, God kept putting Jeff before me, to the extent that I actually God clearly tell me that Jeff was to be my husband.

God set me up.

And then, once I’d fallen in love. Once I’d said yes in my heart and gone head over heels, once I’d fallen in love … then He broke my heart. Then I opened Job and felt¬†the same morning I found out Jeff was dating someone else. The same day Jeff said, “We’re never going to be together.”

It seemed God had purposefully led my heart into a place where it would be crushed. 

I felt tricked. 

Thankfully, my heart and mind were steeped in the Word of God. Job’s words were my own: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Despite how I felt, I¬†knew that God’s goodness was greater than my limited perspective. I cried, yes. I questioned, ranted, railed. The sting of rejection didn’t go away overnight. But, truly. It was worth it.

~

Over the years, I’ve seen this situation several times. It’s just Abraham all over again. God is the one who speaks the promise to him. God is the one who births the dream, gives the vision‚ÄĒHe¬†makes Abraham & Sarah’s hearts long for their baby boy.¬†And then, they are disappointed by infertility for¬†25 years. Abraham could have easily said, “You tricked me, God! You are the one who started this whole child-of-promise thing! You made me want this.”

Then once the child comes, God does the unthinkable ‚ÄĒ He requires Abraham offer up the precious child as a sacrifice to God. Again, Abraham could have easily said, “You tricked me, God! You gave me this child. You let me love him. You turned my heart toward this boy with undying affection. And now, this? You tricked me into this sorrow.”

Thankfully, Abraham does’t. He, like Job, worships despite the pain, and trusts God’s goodness above what He can see. And He is rewarded.

~

Our own journey led us this way again. I’ve never been a “kid person,” I was happy with my two, born quite a long while ago I might add (!!), but then last fall God made it very clear we were to have more. Say¬†WHAT?!¬†I’ll share more later, but¬†this was not my plan.¬†But lo and behold, as the months went on,¬†He changed my heart. He made me¬†want this. He completely turned my heart around, just as he did with Jeff those many years before. Next thing I knew, I was hoping and planning and dreaming and then … we miscarried.

Now, in all honesty, I didn’t feel angry or confused. I’ve seen God’s goodness so many times.¬†But I felt that familiar feeling, of being led specifically into a place where my heart gets set on something … then it’s gone.

Why? 

I promise I won’t be the person that’s always pointing to material in my book ;), but chapter 7 of¬†Sacred Mundane addresses this question at length. Does God strategically disappoint us? Why? How do we not lose hope? How do we not get jaded? Bitter? Cynical?

As my friend Pam Hunter recently wrote,

“The great challenge of faith is holding on to hope after you’ve lost your na√Įvet√©.”

So often, what I have called “faith” is probably just naive optimism. I told my friend Christine yesterday, “I thought I had the gift of faith but maybe I’ve just had an easy life.” Ha! Right? Sometimes our “faith” comes from a lack of experience, a lack of seeing suffering, a youthful zeal or naivet√©.

But faith comes from seeing suffering, feeling disappointment, experiencing sorrow, or witnessing evil … and still believing.

Still holding onto Hope. Faith comes when you feel tricked by God but you refuse to let your feelings eclipse the truth. Faith comes when you trust His goodness more than what you see, more than what you feel.

In the grand scheme, I’ve still had an incredibly easy life. Just yesterday we heard story after story, at church, of incredible men and women in Uganda who are choosing faith despite horrific circumstances. They are the heroes of faith, and I feel so small in the presence of their stories.

But it is not necessarily the size of their faith but the¬†object of it, and the object of theirs is the same as the object of mine, so our hope is in Jesus, forever, the Author and Finisher of our faith. He wrote it, He’ll conclude it. This story may get gnarly at times, but He’ll wrap it up with a glorious conclusion at His return and no doubt we’ll look back and see His goodness in it all.

Hold onto hope, dear friends. Even if you feel tricked. He is good, and you are loved.

Thanks for reading. 

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When you’re just so weak…

 

Last month, when we went through those 17 stressors all at once, I thought, ‚ÄúOh good. There‚Äôs my break-down-and-cry session for the year. Let‚Äôs get back into our groove and start thriving again!‚ÄĚ

But then. We were heading into a super full month ahead, so I braced myself for the busyness. The same day that I wrote that post, I found out I was pregnant. I’ll share more on that story later, why we were amazed and beyond thrilled, but suffice it to say the stressors all faded away in light of this new miracle. Yes, I was tired and nauseous, but it was worth it because it meant a little LIFE was growing inside my body.

But then, a week later, Heidi came down super sick with a high fever. I hoped it’d break quickly and she’d be better in the morning. She wasn’t. The next day she was sick. And the next. I had to leave for a retreat, and by then Jeff and Dutch were also coming down with it, so I reluctantly left them home and headed off to speak.

That night, I came down with it too. The whole retreat I felt so weak. I was also doing a fast with a family member to pray over a specific situation, so I had given up all caffeine for 40 days. Between no caffeine, being pregnant, being sick, and being away from home and not sleeping well, trying to have enough strength to speak to these dear women, I was at end of myself. I just kept reassuring myself that I’d be home soon, could rest and recover, and it’d all be better.

When I got home from the retreat, we were all four still sick. And then, that night, I miscarried.

In the middle of it, I felt so much peace. I knew God’s goodness, I was able to praise Him, trust Him, sing to Him. He spoke specific words of hope and encouragement to my soul, so although I cried most of the night, I was really ok.

But it isn’t usually the sudden blow of sadness that gets us, it’s the slow wearying effect of daily discouragement. That’s how I felt. The next day we were still sick. I kept up at my optimism, always believing the next day we’d be better. And then next day we were still sick. Heidi had hardly eaten anything in 10 days. Finally on Wednesday, I was feeling strong enough to get to Bible study, so I went.

Then, in the middle of study, I got a text that Heidi had a horrible allergic reaction to bubble bath, she was swelling up and breaking out in a rash over her whole body.

Seriously?!!

I went home, to find her face swollen, her lips sticking out, bulging, her tongue swollen, and a red puffy rash all over her body. While Jeff went for Benadryl, I sat up beside her bed, praying over her, hopeful the next day it’d be gone.

It wasn’t. It looked like chemical burns all over. It itched terribly, and no matter what we tried, we couldn’t seem to get it under control. The next day, it was slightly better but still there. And the next day, still there. This was day 12 of sickness, on top of the exhaustion, no caffeine, and miscarriage, and Jeff or I had commitments 7 nights in a row, and I was just. At. The. End.

By the time all the sickness and reactions ended, it was the day before I was supposed to speak at a conference, in a session for Pastor’s Wives. I so desperately wanted to give them a powerful, hope-filled message. I wanted to make the session worth their time. I wanted to encourage them.

But I had nothing. I had no special insights from the Scriptures. I had no clever 3-point sermon, no alliteration or outline or fill-in-the-blanks, I had NOTHING. And I still needed to pack for our week of travel and clean the house and do laundry and homeschool these kids and make a dozen arrangements, and all I could do was cry. I spent my last hour of ‚Äúprep time‚ÄĚ lying on my face before God, sobbing. No matter how hard I tried to pull myself together, I couldn‚Äôt stop crying.

And there, with my face on the floor and the tears and snot soaking the carpet, the words of Jesus came to me,

‚ÄúMy grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.‚ÄĚ

There it was. Not only the message for my session and the message for my soul. I grabbed my Bible and began scouring 2 Corinthians, amazed to see how often Paul himself pours out his own list of laments, how often he was weak, hungry, weary, sleepless. How often he was at the end of himself. And yet over and over we see the reason for it:

That the power of God can be displayed.

I’m always praying for God’s power to be in display. But how often I tend to think that God’s power will be displayed through my power. I want God’s power to be displayed through my powerful preaching, or writing, or wisdom. I want God’s power to be displayed through health and strength, through exhilarating times of worship, through energizing church services, through successful endeavors.

That’s fine, but there’s no denying that more often than not, in the Scriptures, God’s power is displayed through our weakness. In fact, God’s power is made PERFECT (its very best display) through my weakness.

Of course I’m willing to be strong for the sake of Christ, but am I willing to be weak? Am I willing to be humbled? Am I willing to look small and unimpressive? Am I willing to pursue a path that purposefully puts my weakness on display?

The next day, in a packed room of pastor‚Äôs wives, I laid out my story of weakness. It wasn‚Äôt polished or pretty. Some might say it was pathetic, but then we opened up the Scriptures and let them preach. Oh and did they preach!!! They preached hope to us all‚ÄĒthey told us that in our sorrow we are comforted so that we can comfort others (that‚Äôs ministry!). We saw that the treasure of the gospel is contained in weak and unimpressive jars of clay (that‚Äôs us!) to show that the power if His not ours. We saw that Paul was shipwrecked and beaten and hungry and exhausted, and that he was content with all that because it meant the power of God was put on display. And we saw that a messenger of Satan was even allowed to harass Paul, because when he was weak, then he was strong.

God met us in a powerful way, not because of my strength but because of His.

No one likes feeling weak, of course. But the gospel gives us something greater to live for than just our own feelings and fancies. We get to live for Christ. And the Scriptures promise us a reward that is far beyond anything we can possibly imagine, for those who choose the way of weakness for His sake.

Are you weak today, dear friend? Don’t lose hope. You are in the prime position to see God’s power perfected in your life. Your weakness is not a sign of God’s absence, it is an opportunity for His glory to be in display this very day.

Take courage, cling to Christ, for when you are weak, then you are strong.

{Thanks for reading.}

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My life and worldview rocked to the core…

This last week, I felt like chains fell from my wrists, ankles, mind.¬†I opened this book and began¬†scarfing down¬†what I’ve been starving for for so long and didn’t know it. I cannot remember the last time I felt so¬†FED by a book, by truth. About what, you ask?

Worldview.total truth

I know, this seems so dry, boring, unexciting. Please, track with me:

Even though my entire life is about the¬†Sacred Mundane, even though my passion is destroying the sacred/secular duality and seeing all of life as a means of seeing and glorifying God, even though I just¬†wrote a stinkin’ BOOK on this topic, I now see that I myself DID in fact allow my faith to be pushed to the margins of my life and relegated to a privatized corner of religious activity, safe and virtually ineffective, rendered useless for effecting change in the public spheres of life.¬†

See, I only spoke on safe topics. Only at religious events where Bible teaching was acceptable. I NEVER talked politics, current events, or spoke out on cultural issues. Truthfully, I was content to be the Bible-reading girl who shared little devotional snippets here and there about how to be more joyful in your mundane.

But here’s the thing that’s blowing my mind: God is the CREATOR of this world. Think about that for a moment. He’s the CREATOR. Not just of America. Of the whole world. So, He KNOWS exactly how things should be, all wisdom and insight and genius and creativity¬†all come from Him.

He is the SOURCE of all things. All wisdom. 

So, we should then be able to see¬†all of life through the lens of the Scriptures. I’m laughing as I type this because my book has an ENTIRE CHAPTER on this topic. BUT, I have never been taught¬†how to develop a biblical worldview. That is, I’ve never learned how to intelligently engage with current events, culture, media, politics, arts, through the uniquely¬†biblical lens of the Scriptures.

And here’s why:

In our culture,¬†Christianity has been allowed to survive because it has been relegated to an obscure corner labeled “personal religious beliefs” which renders it completely useless for having any real impact on the¬†actual¬†goings on in our world. That is, we’re fine if people want to pray the sinners prayer, but DO NOT bring that Bible stuff into the workplace, government, education, healthcare, etc. No no.

Religious belief is allowable in your private life, but here in the public realm, we make decisions based on purely objective Reason.

Here’s the problem:¬†There is no such thing as objective Reason.¬†

But, I’ve believed it. I’ve swallowed the pill that says, “Yeah, I can’t give¬†biblical reasons for any of the things I believe which have widespread¬†implications, so I guess I just can’t be part of this discussion. I guess we have to have public arguments based solely on secular principles.”

But secular principles are not neutral.

Nothing’s neutral. Nothing’s objective.¬†Every philosophical system assumes some beginning “first principle.” That is, ALL knowledge depends upon religious truth. So even the secular “objective” reasoning depends upon some assumed self-existent truth. As Pearcey writes in¬†Total Truth:¬†

“It’s a mistake to even to think of reason as neutral, in the sense of being independent of any philosophical or religious commitments. All systems of thought begin with some basic premise — some ultimate principle that is regarded as self-existing or divine. Reason is merely the human capacity to reason from those starting premises. In short, reason is always exercised in service to some ultimate religious vision. People interpret the facts in the light of either biblical revelation or some competing thought.”

Yes! See, ever so subtly, over the years, even during my college days and throughout the past 18 years, I have slowly and subtly believed the lie that “religious” knowledge must be confined to private spheres, while “objective reasoning” (which, doesn’t exist) is the only tool to use in the public spheres of government, education, science, etc. And since the only real knowledge I have is biblical knowledge, I figured that I better stay away from these public spheres because I clearly didn’t have anything to add.

So what happened was, God ruthlessly kicked me out of the private realm! During my nice quiet 40-day fast (a private religious activity where I minded my own business), He went and did something crazy — He told me who to vote for! And THEN, He clearly told me to share publicly who I voted for. GAH! I cried my eyes out, sweat, lay awake at night, and panicked. Even though I certainly wasn’t telling anyone else what to do or implying I had the corner on the truth, I was terrified to EVEN SET FOOT in that realm.

I was terrified to apply spiritual insight to a public sphere. 

And, because I didn’t have the tools to think critically and¬†articulate biblically-informed views, when people asked me, “Why did you do that?” I shook my head, blushed, and said, “Um, I felt like God told me to.”

Not exactly a compelling answer.

See, I do believe that just by virtue of reading through the entire Bible 18 times, every single day for the last 18 years, that I have developed some sense of biblical worldview.

The Bible is the loudest voice in my life, hands down. I’ve “heard” more from the Scriptures than any person, even my parents, spouse, anyone. Nothing has spoken louder in my life than the Bible, applied supernaturally to my life by His Spirit.

So, that’s enough to at least make some sense of things, but I’ve never learned how to then intentionally develop a biblical worldview on public issues, and¬†certainly never dared to say one out loud, for fear of being seen¬†as idiotic, simplistic, uneducated, and narrow-minded.

And while¬†I’m probably all those things, so is everyone else in light of Who God is, and His truth is TOTAL TRUTH. He has the genius insight on all things, and when we abandon His Word as THE SOURCE of all truth, then we inadvertently take up the “religion” of secularism, unknowingly falling prey to its false systems which are, at the core, contrary to God.

So, I don’t know where any of this will take me, other than¬†to my knees. That’s where it’s taken me so far. I find myself feeling ALIVE like I have never felt before. I find myself feeling JOY like I’ve never felt before. I feel CONFIDENCE like I have never felt before. Not in myself, but in GOD!¬†Sure, I don’t have the wisdom in and of myself, but HE has the answers, HE has the hope, HE has the truth, He has the words of eternal life, not just the ones that apply to private spiritual matters, but ALL THINGS THAT PERTAIN TO LIFE, are found in the knowledge of CHRIST.

In Christ is ALL knowledge. 

Christian, rejoice! There is a place for your voice in this world, for your Christlike care and compassion, for your wit and wisdom, for your humble critique and keen insight. Take heart, Christian!

Do not let your faith in Christ be relegated to a meaningless margin of your life. Jesus redeems ALL of life, for His glory. I’m excited to continue journeying this way with you.¬†Thanks for your grace and patience with me along the way. Thanks for reading.¬†

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When you just aren’t strong enough to bear the load…

It happened Friday night — the unraveling, crumbling, ugly-cry, loudly-sobbing, can’t-talk sort of breaking point that seems to come along once or twice a year. I could kind of see it coming, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. ¬†I didn’t know anything was wrong, but the littlest thing can send you over the edge when you’ve been teetering on the brink and didn’t know it.

The thing is, I don’t usually sit down and consider how little things affect me, until it all piles up and I’m officially crushed. Besides, there isn’t time. When I was a teenager, busy with sports and school and work, my mom would remark how I was aways healthy until a vacation, then I’d come down with a cold. It was like my body knew to “hang on” through the busy season and then when there was enough space I could go ahead and “let out” all the stress, in the form of a cold.

I find that I’m like that now, emotionally. I will automatically hold it all together, until everything quiets down and there’s enough space, then I’ll go ahead and “get sick” emotionally. This is not a conscious decision, it just happens.

Anyway, it happened. And for awhile I couldn’t talk, I just silently cried, and Jeff waited to patiently, wiping my tears and holding me, and eventually I choked out the words that came from down so deep it felt painful to speak them:

“I’m not … tough enough to be a leader.”

That was it.

I felt like a butterfly trying to carry a brick up into the sky, and no matter how well-intentioned, those wings weren’t meant to carry that weight.¬†

Then, as I began reflecting back on the small things that had compounded, I realized that SEVENTEEN difficult/challenging situations to navigate or lead through had surfaced in my life in the last two weeks.

Seventeen.

And none of them are bad or catastrophic, but each one¬†weighed on my heart. They caused me to ache, in some way. They took prayer. Several left me at a loss for how to proceed, at least for a time. Some hurt. Some left me confused. Some just took time and energy to determine the best course. Some took weighing how others would react or respond. Some required taking into account many different factors at play. Some required forgiveness. And most of them were things that wouldn’t be appropriate to discuss with anyone else.

So while no one of them was a “big deal” so to speak, they all piled up, and as I crawled under a blanket, in the dark, I cried out all I could think to say,

“God, help me. Please encourage me. Please help me be humble. Please … I feel so alone.”

Alone? It sounds silly to say, right? Certainly if I’m facing¬†seventeen different people-situations, my life is not lonely! ūüôā

But loneliness¬†comes from bearing a weight that can’t be shouldered by anyone else.

But then I heard it so clearly, there in the quiet:

“These are My sheep.”

Oh. Yes. There IS someone who can shoulder this burden. In fact, He must. Because HE is the Good Shepherd and He loves people more than I ever could and He is GOOD and and He is for me, and for them, and when I am tired and weary and fragile and weak, He has already promised me this:

Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.…

Wow. When the words of Scripture spring to life and speak to your soul, you are changed.

Suddenly, the hopelessness slipped away. The warped perspective cleared. The fears fled. The anxiety dissolved. Peace flooded in. Rest settled. Hope rose. He held. 

Interestingly enough, one of the things weighing on my heart was writing the material for an upcoming Pastor’s Wives conference. I so desperately want to bring words of hope and life to them. I want to help them thrive. Guess what the verse is for our time together?

“Come to Me, all you who are weary…”

Yes. He’s so good. And so I prayed for God to translate every challenge into¬†wisdom, into more revelation of His love and guidance, to turn every situation into an opportunity to teach the goodness and wonder and wisdom of God, to encourage these precious pastor’s wives, and any others who might just happen to feel weary along the way sometimes too. My seventeen situations weren’t all church-related, they were¬†life¬†related.

I know I’m not unique in this,¬†we all sometimes feel like we’re not strong enough to bear the load.¬†And Jesus invitation reaches to¬†you too.

“Come to Me…”

Thanks for reading. 

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MANNA: First Sabbath

As I type these words I’m tucked under this quilt, snuggled up warmly with my Bible and books at my side. My stomach just growled so I ran downstairs and grabbed the already-prepared protein shake I’d mixed up last night. I feel downright giddy, curled up here in my happy place with time to think, pray, read, write. ¬†Glory!

What a gift to have an accidental Sabbath.

Of course it’s no accident to God, He said Sabbath should be a¬†thing. Right? But we don’t make it a thing and so then we have to stumble into Sabbath and go, “Ahh! What a great idea!”

See, today (Saturday), I had all-day plans. They were good plans. Godly plans. But then some things fell through and details changed, and next thing I knew I was needing to make a last-minute decision whether to go away for 11 hours (doing good things!), or to stay home. I sometimes panicked and paralyzed by having to make hurried decisions, so I asked Jeff to pray for me, and as we prayed I turned to my regular Bible-reading spot for the day.

It was Jesus saying, “The Sabbath was made or man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).¬†

Ah, that’s right. Sabbath.¬†

In that moment, I felt God was giving me the impression that I was free. Just as the disciples were free to eat the heads of grain in the field, I was free to do what was best for the refreshing of my heart and soul.

My choice was clear: I stayed home. 

And now, I found myself facing an accidental Sabbath. See, I had already made-ahead my breakfast and lunch, to take with me. I had already prepared the food ahead for Jeff and the kids for the day. Thinking I’d be gone, I had already tidied the house, caught up on dishes, laundry, etc.

The whole day stretched out before me gloriously blank. 

Sabbath.

And as I sat down to read, pray, and write, the things that fill and refresh my ¬†heart like nothing else, I was reminded of the MANNA story again, and realized with awe, something I’d never considered before:

Manna was the first Sabbath observation.

While we learn that¬†God rested on the Sabbath in Genesis 3, and it could possibly be that Adam and Eve¬†naturally followed His lead (especially before the fall), there is no Sabbath commandment given, and no mention of humans observing the Sabbath, anywhere in the Scriptures …

… until Manna.

Exodus 16 is the first human observation of Sabbath, and God goes to such great lengths to explain what Sabbath is and how it all works, that clearly they had never known to observe it before.

And how it worked was this: Each day they were to gather that day’s portion. No more, no less. But on the 6th day, they were to gather (and prepare),¬†twice as much. God would miraculously provide exactly¬†twice as much as they needed. Why?

Because on the 7th day, the Sabbath, there would be none. 

On the Sabbath day, they were not to go out to gather, because there would be no manna (it would be a completely fruitless endeavor, so don’t even try), and they were to rest and eat what had¬†already been prepared¬†by them the day before. So, one day did require a bit extra work, but the next day was sweet, supernatural Sabbath rest.

And of course, again, in classic Israelite fashion, just as some of them had tried to save some overnight and it stank, some folks went out to gather manna on the 7th day, and guess what?

They found none.

Trying to get ahead, trying to gather-up on the Sabbath is fruitless labor.¬†Sure, you can do it, but it’s pointless.

You won’t have any more to show for yourself than if you stayed at home and slept. ūüėȬ†

God’s economics.

And, miraculously, even though before when they disobediently saved some overnight it got worms and stank,¬†this time when they obediently left half of it over night, it did not stink and there were no worms.”

God says,

“By the way, my laws trump natural laws. My word wins over what you’ve seen before. No matter what your logical mind tells you about how things work,¬†My way will always stand.”

God’s Word pleads with us:¬†My plans for you are¬†GOOD. My laws lead to LIFE. My restrictions REFRESH your soul. My child, listen to me.¬†

Granted, we aren’t part of a theocracy today. Religious rules don’t govern our work schedules. No one day is always off-limits for events. Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t seem overly concerned about that. He reminds us that Sabbath was made for man. So if your Sunday looks like mine and it’s the¬†busiest¬†day of the week, perhaps another day might be better for rest. Or if you have six kids in soccer every Saturday, perhaps a worshipful Sunday morning service, followed by a crockpot¬†meal and quiet afternoon nap might be just the ticket to make sure that even Mama gets the holy rest that every soul requires. What a great habit to teach our kids, that¬†ceasing from activity is just as sacred as the greatest social cause or religious work.

It is in the holy rest that we remember, “Ah yes, He is God. We are not.”

So Father, teach us your ways. Grant us the humility to pull away and rest, to require our families to rest, to recognize our limitations, to learn your easy yoke and your light burden and let You be the One who holds the world. 

{Thanks for reading.}

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MANNA: Not heroes, just hungry.

So the Israelites complain, and God is so gracious that He hears their complaint, and graciously provides for them in this ingenious way that

1) Satisfies their legitimate need (hunger) while

2) NOT indulging their sinful cravings,

3) Teaching them priceless lessons on trust and obedience, and

4) Testing their hearts whether they will walk in His ways.

God is so smart. He says:

‚ÄúBehold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day‚Äôs portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.” Ex 16:4

So, God provides food for them. It is a flaky substance, like wheat flour. It rested like frost, on everything, and they would go out and gather it up early in the morning, because by the time the sun was hot, it melted and was gone. So they had to gather it up in every morning, and then do something with it. 

What did they do with it? Boiled it or baked it. So their choices were basically pasta or bread.

But here was the beautiful thing about manna. There was always exactly the right amount.

‚ÄúWhoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as they could eat‚ÄĚ (v. 19).

You weren’t to gather more than you needed, just what you needed. 

And there was no hoarding, or stocking up, or saving some for tomorrow. Each person had to get their own, every day, and they were strictly commanded NOT to save up any of it for the next day. Why? Because God had told them that tomorrow He would give them more. That’s why. He said each day He would rain down a day’s portion.

See saving up extra would be essentially saying to God,

‚ÄúI don‚Äôt trust that you will do what you say you‚Äôll do. I don‚Äôt trust that you‚Äôll make good on your promise. I don‚Äôt trust you, and I don‚Äôt believe your promises. So I‚Äôll do it myself. I actually trust my own ingenious methods more than your promises.‚ÄĚ

Yikes. Right? So what happens? In classic Israelite fashion, they ignore his warning and …

‚ÄúSome left part of it until morning (saved) and it bred worms and stank.‚ÄĚ

See, this is no ordinary bread. God’s miraculous manna probably had the fiber of grains, the protein of meat, the vitamins of fruit, and the antioxidants of vegetables. It probably had the best enzymes and nutrients we can imagine, yet all miraculously wrapped up in a wheat-like flake that tasted like a honey-wafer (Ex. 16:31).

Did you catch that?!

Manna tasted like vanilla wafers!

Vanilla wafers that give me the nutrients of spinach and steak. Yes please!

But, immediately they have to trust that if they use up all their resources for any given day, God will give them the resources they need for the next day. But if they don’t, if they hold back from distrust, if they clench onto what they have, fearing tomorrow, anything leftover will rot, and the next morning will stink.

No rollover manna. No rollover food. No rollover resources. No rollover energy.

You have today’s. Period. That’s it. You have now. You have what you have. You have here. You have this reality. You have this life. You have this day. You have these children. You have this house.

Use it. Spend it. Cook it. Serve it.

Now, let’s talk as moms, just for a moment: Who do you think was cooking that manna? Who was kneading it, mixing it, boiling it, baking it? Who was tempted to save some for tomorrow? Who was the one responsible for feeding those babes, who was ever-mindful of the many little tummies in her care?

Mama. It was Mama’s manna. This was a test for everyone, of course, but I’m going to venture to say that the mamas felt it most keenly. Those mamas needed to trust that every single day, God would provide everything she needed for her whole family.

Which makes me wonder: What do we gather?

See, we will gather what we believe sustains us.

God’s Word¬†actually fills and sustains us. So often we turn to what gives us a little jolt, a high, even if it’s negative. Just today in school we read about the propaganda of the Spanish-American war, how newspapers would print false information, making situations seem worse than they were, just so sales would go up. That tells me how much we often crave controversy, drama, conflict. But so often those sources actually¬†drain. We might feel an initial buzz. But they leave us emptier.

Only God’s Word, His unchanging truth, His spoken word to our hearts in prayer, only this has what can sustain our hearts and souls. ¬†Jesus said man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds by the mouth of the Lord.

This gives a whole new perspective on “quiet time,” or spending daily time with God, in His Word and in prayer.

It is not another thing on the list. It is FOOD.

See, If the Israelites thought that gathering manna was just an arbitrary chore they had to do, like God was trying to think of things to keep them busy, another box to check off their daily to-do list, they wouldn’t have gathered it. Time is too precious to waste outside gathering white flaky stuff off the ground.

But if they believed the TRUTH, that it was FOOD, you better believe they’d be out gathering it up!

We will gather what we believe sustains us.

We will make time for what we believe benefits us. What truly nourishes us and energizes us. What helps us.

They were out gathering up white flaky stuff because they were needed to eat.

See, never do we say, “Wow, can you believe how disciplined those Israelites were? They went outside and gathered manna¬†every single day for 40 years. Wow, what heroes!”

We never say that.

It wasn’t that they were so disciplined, it’s that they were desperate.¬†

They weren’t heroes, they were hungry.¬†

Are we hungry? Are we desperate for God? Or do we think we’re so wise we have all the answers ourselves. Do we think we don’t need His wisdom, His insights, His direction, His guidance, His strength, His love.

See, the reason I get into God’s Word and spent time in prayer each morning is not that I’m a disciplined person. I’m a desperate person. You wouldn’t¬†believe the junk I have in my heart sometimes. It’s ridiculous. You wouldn’t¬†believe how clueless I feel when I face each day and the complexity of so many situations. You wouldn’t¬†believe how NOT NATURAL this living-by-faith thing is, and how lost I am without His love and constant guidance. You wouldn’t believe how¬†unqualified I am to lead or serve or speak or¬†do anything.

Let’s not settle¬†for being¬†disciplined. Or¬†having the right answers. Or finding a verse to tweet. Or checking off a box.

Let’s be desperate. Let’s be hungry. Let’s recognize our need and turn to the only hope. Our Manna. Our source. Our daily bread.

Thanks for reading. 

 

 

 

photo by vuk piper

MANNA: Cause for Complaint

Back to manna. After considering what it’d be like to have spiced almonds (my breakfast) for 43,800 meals straight, I’m really grateful that I have a fridge full of options at every meal.

Variety is such unsung luxury. 

Now, back to the Israelites. Keep in mind that in Exodus 16 (when the manna sitch is taking place), they have been traveling for¬†45 days. It’s been 45 days since they left Egypt, 45 days since they roasted the Passover lamb and had their hurried feast of unleavened bread.

This past fall, we took our 3 week roadtrip, and I packed most all of our food from home. We picked up a few fresh things here and there, but for the most part I brought it all. After 3 weeks I was ready for some new food!

Now, keep in mind the Israelites¬†hadn’t had any new food since they left Egypt a month and half earlier. They probably¬†packed extra raisins and dried food, maybe¬†some skins of water and wine. But not much. Only what they could carry while they walked. And they’ve got babies, old people, animals. Millions of people. There were more than 600,000 military-aged men (20 and older), plus women and children, so we‚Äôre looking at somewhere around 2.5-3 million people.

This is roughly equal to the entire Portland metro area. (In the city are approx. 800,000 and in the Portland-metro area is about 2.5 million)

Can we even fathom that?

Now, consider the chaos that ensued when Portland just had SNOW.¬† Right?! When they were driving cars, through inclement weather. Consider the chaos of having people protest downtown. Consider the chaos of Christmas shopping. I don’t even venture into Portland in the month of December! We are talking a lot of people, and we have roads, buildings, cars, buses, max trains, cell phones, electricity, flashlights, convenience stores, police. Right??!

So, basically, the entire Portland metro area, 2.5 million people, minus all the modern conveniences that help us control crowds and manage chaos, all leaving the city, and traveling out into a vast wilderness desert, with no food or water. No cell phones or loudspeakers, no stores or hotels.

No campgrounds. No bathrooms.

And for the first 45 days they had nothing. They were probably completely exhausted. Desperate. Hungry. Losing hope. Sure, God had miraculously parted the Red Sea and delivered them from slavery, but now they were just wandering in the desert. And so what do they do? They do what I do and you do when faced with trying circumstances:

They complained.

If they had had Facebook, they would have pulled out their phones (which would have died by then anyway), and written status-update-vent in all caps: (v. 3)

WOULD THAT WE HAD DIED BY THE HAND OF THE LORD IN THE LAND OF EGYPT, WHEN WE SAT BY WITH MEAT POTS AND ATE BREAD TO THE FULL, FOR YOU HAVE BROUGHT US OUT INTO THIS WILDERNESS TO KILL THIS WHOLE ASSEMBLY WITH HUNGER.

Translation: Why do you hate us, God?! We’d be better off dead than in your care!

 Of course, they were slaves in the land of Egypt. They’ve forgotten that part.They were slaves, in Egypt, being beaten and mistreated horribly, and yet their current desperation has erased all memory of that and painted the past as a perfect situation compared to the present.

In other words: All they can see is the immediate problem.

Just like me.

How quickly I forget God’s miraculous provision!¬†How quickly I move on to complaining.

How quickly my wide-eyed wonder becomes narrow-minded unbelief because I can’t see how He’ll make good on His Word.¬†

How quickly I forget His goodness.

Now, God is good and gracious and provides for them completely. More on that next time. But for now, oh how I long to ask my Father for things in a way that demonstrates faith!  I want to pray full of faith, not full of grumbling.

I want to lift my eyes to the hills and know His help will come, not cast my eyes on the ground and wonder where He’s gone.¬†

You too?

Let’s be careful how we pray. Let’s be careful how we speak. Let’s watch our words and be sure they rightly esteem the God who is¬†constantly¬†working for our good and His glory.

I’m not trying to be fake, reflecting something false, pretending everything’s perfect. (2.5 million people camping in a desert is anything but perfect.)

I’m trying to¬†real, reflecting the TRUTH, that God is good.¬†

Thanks for reading.