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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! 🙂

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 prepareby 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. 😉 

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:

“Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s 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.

“Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as they could eat” (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,

“I don’t trust that you will do what you say you’ll do. I don’t trust that you’ll make good on your promise. I don’t trust you, and I don’t believe your promises. So I’ll do it myself. I actually trust my own ingenious methods more than your promises.”

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

“Some left part of it until morning (saved) and it bred worms and stank.”

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’re 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.

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On loving muslims, my fears, and a few things in between. (1)

“There is … a time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak.”

Ecc. 3:7

What a heart-wrenching week we’ve had. Yes? I took a week off Facebook, just needing some space. But it seemed that events unfolded faster that I could mentally keep up, and by the time I logged on again I saw many outraged status updates along the lines of, “Ok Christians: Now is the time to speak up!”

I can understand. But honestly? I didn’t know what to say. YES I stand with refugees. They’re people created in the image of God. YES I stand with the unborn. They are the most vulnerable, truly those who have no voice. There are so many things to stand with because we stand with JESUS. I clicked “like” on dozens of them, but I just can’t sum up my own complex heart-ache in a simple status update.

The truth is, I still don’t know what to say, at least not in an articulate “Here’s the way it should be” kind of way. I don’t have the foggiest idea what the magic bullet for foreign policy would be. I haven’t a clue how I would ever make sense of the incredible complexities at work in our world. I can barely figure out my 10-year-old! I guess I agree with Heidi who recently said, “Man, I would NEVER want to be the President. It’d be the hardest job in the world.”

Seriously.

What I do know is that Jesus tells us to pray for those who are persecuted, to not oppress the refugee, and to honor and pray for our governmental leaders. So that’s what I’ve been doing.

But the heaviness just felt unbearable. Finally on Saturday, I cancelled some plans, and took several hours to just sit with the Scriptures and plead with God to speak to my heart. In prayer I respectfully reminded Him that HE was the one who told me to vote for this president! This was His idea! And I poured out my heart along the lines of:

“God, I felt you lead me so clearly how to vote through our time of fasting. But now it feels confusing. I LOVE people, all people, your people, and want to extend your love to them. But here I am, a stay-at-home mom. I’m doing nothing heroic in this area. I have no refugees on my doorstep to love. I desperately just want to obey you and please you, not just in certain areas, but in every way. Please show me what to do.”

Then it came in my mind to turn to the Psalms, and there it was. Psalm 4.

Be angry, and do not sin;
    ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah (Pause)
Offer right sacrifices,
    and put your trust in the Lord.

Ah. You know those times when the Scriptures leap off the page?! When it feels like God is speaking directly to your situation?! That was this. It might not be for you, but it seemed to say to me:

Be agitated, grieved, frustrated, confused. That’s ok. Those are human emotions that you feel in the midst of this broken world. But do not let these feelings cause you to sin. You can only control you. So above all, be mindful, and careful to keep far from sin, even in the quiet secret places of your heart. Above all else, keep your heart free from sin, which mars the image of God in you and always damages God’s work in this world.

Ponder all your thoughts, emotions, ideas — ponder them in your own heart. Be careful not to “share” every thought you have. Keep here, right on your bed, and ponder all these things in your own heart. And be silent. There is a time to be silent, and a time to speak. Things are not always as they seem, so be slow to speak, and slow to pass judgement. 

And then, offer right sacrifices. You know the good you are to do, so do it. Give generously, even if no one sees or applauds. Do what is right even if no one knows. Don’t let your emotions and feelings keep you from personal worship. Do what you know is right. 

And finally, and most importantly, PUT YOUR TRUST IN THE LORD. Do not put your trust in being right. Or being applauded. Or being understood. Or accepted. Put your trust in Me. I am the God of every refugee and the God of every unborn soul. No matter how crazy things look, keep trusting me.

And then, the very next day, our gracious God gave us a tangible way to live this out, and love. Maybe more on that later. But for now, perhaps this simple Psalm might encourage your heart as well, if you also feel all tangled up inside. Let’s pray. Let’s love. Let’s forgive. So much I don’t understand, but this I do.

On the journey with you. Thanks so much for reading. 

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MANNA: Death by monotony

What did you eat for breakfast this morning? 

Coffee and eggs? Yogurt and granola? Oatmeal?

Chocolate cake? (I won’t judge.)

Whatever it was, what if I told you the good news that God was going to miraculously provide you and your whole family with [whatever you ate for breakfast]–and only that– for every single meal, for the next 40 years.

Yes, 40 years. That’s 43,800 meals of [whatever you ate for breakfast].

You’d never have to buy it. Never have to grocery shop. Never have to meal plan. Never have to wonder what you’re going to fix for dinner. Never another question from your kids or husband about what was for dinner! You’d be eating [whatever you ate for breakfast] no matter what day, time, meal, or year it was.

Aren’t you excited???

Some hesitation, yes? Some hesitation because on the one hand, Yesit’d be awesome to have this miraculous provision. It would certainly save some $! If you spent $500/month on food, this would save you $240,000 over those 40 years. That’s great!

And yet.

Most of us recognize that we are slaves to variety, and the reality of eating the exact same thing, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, for not one, not two, but forty years would be virtually intolerable for us.

We’d have to coin a new term to describe our demise: Death by monotony.

Or, consider the clothes you have on right now. What if I told you that what you had on would never wear out for 40 years? That is, you are now going to wear exactly what you have on, and only that, for the next 40 years, and God will miraculously make it so it never wears out? Aren’t you excited?? Never have to spend another cent on clothing. Never having to decide what to wear. Wouldn’t that be great?!

Um…kind of. 

In college, I had the joy of traveling to Europe for a month. Because I knew we’d be covering many miles each day, on foot, I packed light. Very light. A few black knit long dresses, a black t-shirt, one pair of black walking shoes, a black sweater, and underwear.

That was it. I will say, I was glad to have packed that light, when traveling all those miles. It was nice not to make many decisions each day, and I splurged on a pair of jeans in Paris and then felt absolutely spoiled rotten with choices. But, by the time I got home, a month later, I never wanted to see those clothes again. The local Goodwill was still too near. I wanted them burned. 🙂 And that was only a month!

Similarly, I mentioned before that this summer we did a 40-day fast. Each day, we had a protein shake for breakfast, a certain smoothie for lunch, and spinach/brown rice for dinner. That was it. Every day. And although we truly felt great physically and spiritually, and each of those meals was satisfying and sustaining, it’s also true that when we were done I really, really really wanted a break from spinach and brown rice. It actually took a couple months before I was ready to eat that combo again. Again, that was only 40 days.

Who knew we were so driven by a desire for variety? 

I’ve been struck afresh by the miraculous manna from Exodus 16. We’re probably all familiar with this story, but I’m seeing some personal applications in a whole new way.

Now, the original plan was not 40 years. Their journey was lengthened significantly by sin: Namely complaining and unbelief. More on that later. For now, How many of us would actually be thankful for this provisionHow many of us (my hand’s up) would be howling in protest, maddened by the monotony, instead of thanking God for His miraculous provision?

On Sunday night, as we gathered for Bible study, we began by simply going around and sharing something simple we were grateful for. Girls, it was SO eye-opening. I had just deleted Facebook off my phone because it feels like an onslaught of sarcasm, divisive comments, complaining, arguing. It’s great for some people, but I’m apparently too weak to handle it, and I end up feeling sad, hurt, or agitated. What a powerful perspective-changer it was for me to sit around with these women and hear their dozen stories of all the ways God is good, of His grace and generosity.

Even the girl whose dad had just died a few days before was so eager to share the ways she was grateful for God’s goodness. What a gift! With tears in our eyes we rejoiced with her, so encouraged that she was seeing God’s goodness in the midst of her pain.

Gratitude is so contagious.

We’ll talk more about manna in the days to come, but for now, I’m endeavoring to be grateful for God’s provision.

How has God provided for you this week? 

Thanks for reading. 

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Hope for those discouraging days…

From last year, but the truth is the same: Just in case you’ve had one recently…

~

Some days end with tears. You too, right?  I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can feel the pressure mounting. A hard day, some unpleasant conflict, challenges with the kids, sad news, incessant rain, sometimes it can all just mount up, slowly through the day, and the next thing you know you’re reading aloud Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and the kids are asking, “What’s wrong with your voice?”

Well, kids, it’s cracking because I’m about to cry but now’s not the time, I have fifteen more minutes until you are tucked warmly into bed, and then I can crawl into bed by myself and cry my eyes out and let all those waves of discouragement just crash over me.

Maybe you don’t do that. I don’t very often, but I had one of those days recently, and woke up the next morning and the first words that ran through my mind: I don’t want to do this day.

But that wasn’t really an option, so I pushed off those warm covers and dragged myself into the cold morning. I found coffee waiting for me (that good man!) and this small gesture of love lured me out of my pit, just a tiny bit. I curled up, under layers of quilts, and pulled my Bible onto my lap.

Hot coffee and His Truth. Even the worst funk is no match for that combo.

In the way that only He can, by His Spirit, through His Word, these ancient truths, always fresh, envelope my heart and bring me back to light, back to hope. Two friends, who I texted to ask to pray for me, responded right away with Scripture. (Note: Pick friends who bring you back to the Word when you are down!)

Despondency is no match for Truth. The darkness is no match for Light.

His Word is sharper than any two-edged sword. It discerns our thoughts, motives, intentions. Nothing is more powerful for diagnosing the heart-issue, what’s really going on. All other wisdom falls hopelessly short — only His truth is strong enough to cut through to the core.

And the voice of Jesus, gently, softly, authoritatively, sets aright all that had been off and heals what is broken. He carefully leads us out of lies and self-centeredness, back into truth and joy.

I slowly read and re-read the Beatitudes, Jesus’ precious words for the weary, with promises and perspective to put everything aright in our souls. As I read, wrote it out, prayed, I could clearly see my wrong-thinking. I could see the skewed perspective.

Though I hate crying, the discouragement was so helpful, because it brought to the surface something out of whack.

When we respond to discouragement by masking it, faking it, or covering it up through coping mechanisms — shopping, eating, vegging out, escaping– then the issue isn’t solved, it’s just buried deeper. It’ll surface again, guaranteed.

But when we respond to discouragement by going to the Truth, the Source, the Life, He will speak that word that brings all hidden things to light, that reveals and comforts and changes us from the inside out.

In that way, discouragement actually works to our advantageit brings that broken place to the Light. Therefore, when we come through it, with renewed hope and faith, we aren’t just at the place we were before …

we’re further ahead. 

We’ve seen new truth. In some critical area, we’ve been healed. We aren’t who we were before, we’re better. We’ve proved God’s faithfulness, experienced His love, and come through the fire just a little lower, but better, than before. We’re worshippers in a whole new way.

Friend, if you are tempted to turn away from Him in your time of discouragement, to turn to a “filler” or some sort of escape, can I just plead with you to turn instead to the pages of His truth? His Word never returns void, it always accomplishes His work, it always reveals sin, brings light, brings life. If we turn to him, this discouragement can actually leave us better than before. Such hope!

{Happy Monday. Thank you for reading.}

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Everything can change in an instant

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
    but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

(Prov. 13:12)

Everything can change in an instant. 

Five minutes before Jesus said, “Come forth!” Lazarus was dead.

Five minutes before Jesus broke the bread, thousands were famished.

Five minutes before Jesus said, “Ephphatha!” the man was completely deaf.

Five minutes before touching His garment, the bleeding woman was 12-years hopeless.

Five minutes before Jesus said, “Talitha cumi,” the little girl lay lifeless.

It’s darkest before the dawn, and it’s bleakest five minutes before the miracle.

As I journey through Genesis again this year, I was struck all over again by Joseph, faithful in prison, completely in the dark the day before he interpreted Pharoah’s dream and was instantly promoted. Overnight, he was put in a position of power, in order to save many lives, was given a wife, and saw the incredible fulfillment of God’s plan for His life.

But just the night before, as he was sleeping alone in jail, he must have felt confused, alone, lost, forgotten.

I remember last year, I had shared with our Bible study women about an area of discouragement. A long journey. Years. Some confusion.

And five minutes after I closed my eyes in sleep that night, a message buzzed on my phone.

The answer.

Literally, it had come to pass, I just didn’t know it. As I listened, and learned, I realized God had done what I’d prayed for, waited for, longed for.

In an instant everything changed. 

How easy it was, then, to rejoice in this new perspective on challenges! I was ready to shout to the world, “God does answer prayer, people! Trust Him! It might take time but He is faithful!” In the rearview mirror, that long rugged path of struggle and confusion is just a distant ribbon of road, past and forgotten. I was brim-full, overflowing with hope, ready to encourage any weary travelers along the road of prayerful perseverance.

But two days later, another hope plummeted.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick. How quickly my hope wavers, heartsick. Yes, God accomplished one amazing feat, but this one? Maybe this is the one that’s too audacious. I’m so foolish for praying for something so seemingly impossible. Why risk disappointment? Why subject myself to these tears, this heartache?

Why not just “accept” the circumstances and move on?

Because Jesus didn’t tell us to do that.

Because just that morning in my Bible study with the kids our passage was Matthew 7:7-11. Heidi had moved her tiny finger along the lines, slowly reading aloud in her sweet little-girl voice,

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”

The kids giggled at the thought of me handing them a  stone for lunch, or dishing up a bowl with a slithering snake in it. Of course not! They understood this lesson loud and clear.

Jesus knew we’d need encouragement. He knew we’d lose heart and lose hope. He knew we’d be tempted to believe that our Father doesn’t want to give us good gifts. He knew we’d be stray from truth and begin crafting theologies to justify our experience instead of pressing in to see our experience fall in line with God’s Word.

He knew hope deferred would make our hearts sick, but He urges us to keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking, because that answer is a tree of life. It will buttress our beliefs and give us new strength to fight. There’s nothing like experiencing the power of answered prayer.

No wonder there’s so much opposition, urging us to quit.

But let us remind ourselves: Everything can change in an instant.

{Keep on asking, seeking, knocking. Don’t give up! Happy Monday; thank you for reading.}

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RESOLVE: Love our enemies (What it does & doesn’t mean.)

I want you to know, I am resisting the temptation to turn this blog into a steady stream of CS Lewis quotes. Really though, I am falling in love with Mere Christianity all over again. He is a master of brevity, logic, wit, and wisdom. His humility and humor, coupled with candor and keen insight, give him this winsome way of speaking hard-to-hear words without apology, and his complete lack of appealing to sentiment or emotionalism is so refreshing.

In other words, he isn’t trying to make me cry or conjure up some feeling or experience, he’s simply presenting the plain truth of Christianity, and allowing me the space to make an intelligent decision on whether or not I will follow this Jesus Christ with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength.

I do. I do want to. And this means also agreeing to perhaps the most difficult of Christ’s commands:

The call to love our enemies. 

When something’s repeated, we do well to pay attention. Thursday morning I had read aloud to the kids from Jesus’ sermon on the mount:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. … For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Then, that afternoon, when I stepped on the treadmill and opened Mere Christianity, CS Lewis spoke on the same subject. I paid attention. Several things I observed, about what this does and doesn’t mean.

  • Loving means, first of all, forgiveness

There is no use talking about loving our enemies until we have forgiven them. Love is impossible while grudges are held. Only as forgiveness flows freely can we hope to let love flow as well. I don’t think we have a real grasp on how profoundly difficult real forgiveness is. I have a hunch that most of us hold onto more little grudges than we care to admit. At least I think I do. Last summer, when I went through an extensive exercise on forgiveness, I was surprised how many things the Holy Spirit brought to mind. It was kind of embarrassing, but freeing too.

  • Loving doesn’t mean a feeling of fondness. 

We have got ourselves on the horn of a ridiculous dilemma because we’ve redefined love as something overly emotional. If we “fall” in love our out of love, how have we any hope of loving someone detestable? Lewis writes,

” Love your neighbor” does not mean “feel fond of him” or “find him attractive.” … That is an enormous relief. For a good many people imagining that forgiving your enemies means making out that they are really not such bad fellows after all, when it is quite plain that they are. … Hate the sin and not the sinner.”

  • Loving our enemy means hating his or her wrongdoing in the same way we hate ours.

This is what really brought clarity and conviction for me. Do we feel a little tiny bit of gladness when someone we despise does something despicable? Trump-haters: Do you gloat just a little bit when he says something stupid or unwise? Obama-haters: Did you love it, just a little, when he does something else worth criticizing? Do you forward jokes or memes that ridicule, belittle, or rejoice in someone’s faults?

Do I find myself just a little bit happy when that person I don’t care for does something that validates my feelings of ill-will? 

Lewis writes,

“Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. But it does want us to hate them in the same way that we hate things in ourselves; being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again.”

  • Loving our enemies doesn’t mean they are never punished. 

Here is where Lewis helped me with something I’ve been chewing on for months. Does loving our enemies mean we never report a crime? Does it mean we never fight in a war? Where do individual responses differ from governmental ones? Does turning the other cheek mean that if someone bombs our west coast we invite them to bomb our east coast too? Of course that last one’s ludicrous, but how do we navigate. He goes into a passage on pacifism and makes some clear and helpful distinctions, then says,

“Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment. … Remember, we Christians think that man lives forever. Therefore, what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or hellish creature. … We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it. In other words, something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one’s own back, must be simply killed.”

The bottom line is, if we are to love our neighbor (including our enemy) as ourself, then we will despise the evil done while still hoping for redemption. Love never gives up hope. Love never secretly rejoices in wrong-doing. Love yearns for wrongs to be righted and evil to be thwarted. Love rejoices in the truth.

Well, this has gotten far too long and we’ve not even scratched the surface. But hopefully at least the mention of the topic will get our gears turning and let God go to work on those hidden places of our hearts. Let’s RESOLVE to love our neighbors, and enemies, a little more this year. Thanks for reading. 

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RESOLVE: Fix what’s broken inside

It was Sunday morning and we were having a little family worship gathering since our regular church service had been cancelled due to ice. I was already thoroughly agitated, feeling like it was wholly unnecessary to have cancelled corporate worship. The temps were rising, snow was melting, and I couldn’t help thinking of faithful believers all over the world who travel through far more treacherous and dangerous conditions in order to gather together. Why were we such wimps?

Please understand: I wasn’t pointing fingers. What bothered me was me. What bothered me was that I was willing to risk my neck in order to go wherever wanted, but I was all-too-willing to cancel plans that didn’t directly serve me. I was eager to spend money on self-serving purchases, but felt livid when our power bill doubled or when an unexpected medical expense caught me off guard. Wasn’t I grateful for HEAT? For MEDICAL CARE?

I couldn’t quite articulate why I was so sad, but the whole morning just felt off. Then Heidi, sitting on my lap, opened her Bible at “random” and started reading aloud, completely unprompted. She just happened to read Ezra 9:5-15 and I could barely believe my ears.

This is the passage where Ezra discovers that the returned Jewish exiles “have not separated themselves from the people of the lands with their abominations.” That is, they were inter-marrying with the ungodly inhabitants of the land, even though God had clearly forbidden them.

Ezra’s response reflected how I felt.

“As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloack and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled … and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the LORD my God.”

Ezra then goes on to pray, to repent on behalf of all the people who have mixed-in with the world, and asks God for wisdom on how to proceed, how to make it right.

The answer is one of the hardest, I believe, in all of Scripture.

The people of Israel had to go through, person by person, and make right the wrong they had done. The men who had intermarried had to separate from their foreign wives. Now this might seem harsh to us, or even bizarre, but this serves as a picture to us that God does not take worldliness lightlyHe doesn’t just shrug His shoulders and say,

“Oh sure, why not. You can just do your own thing.” No. He says, “I have a better way for you. I want you for myself. If you have intermingled with the world, if you have “married” the customs and ways of this world, you need to go back and painstakingly separate again.”

Honestly, this story makes me uncomfortable. It took three months for the entire process of re-separating, and I cannot imagine the sound of weeping, the hurt and pain and disappointment and anguish that took place. Innocent children were probably devastated. Women were probably left destitute. And we are so quick to blame God and say, “How could you make their consequences so harsh? Don’t you care?”

Yes, He does. That’s why He gave them the prohibition in the first place. That’s why He said,

“Don’t go the way of the world. Don’t marry it. Don’t fall in love with it. It will only lead to unimaginable heartache in the end. Your family will suffer. Your loved ones will suffer. Please, my beloved child. Obey me.”

I knew, as we read those words, that God was highlighting areas of my own heart. Where I had let myself love the world. That’s why I was agitated. Something needed to be made right.

Something inside needed to be fixed. 

Just then our housemate, Michael, stuck his head in the door,

“Jeff! You’ve got a broken pipe in the garage!”

Oh no. We raced downstairs, and there it was spraying like a hose through the drywall and into our (converted) garage, soaking the couch and carpet. (Yes, we had kept the faucets running, but apparently the freeze from earlier in the week had weakened the pipe, and then it finally broke.)

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Thankfully, the guys got the water off, the drywall torn out, and quickly found that the broken spot was small and easily repairable. (Grace!) But still, it would take time, money, work.

Fixing broken things always does. 

Jeff took off for Home Depot, and I came back upstairs, curled up under the quilt, and knew exactly what my next RESOLVE would be: Spirit-guided introspection to see where brokenness had caused an inter-marriage with the world. Then, painstaking re-separation from whatever wasn’t God’s way.

{I understand this isn’t the most exhilarating resolution out there. But our Father loves us so much He can’t let us go a way that will lead to heartache in the end. Let’s resolve to let Him show us what’s broken, and commit to making it right, by His strength, no matter what time, money, or work it may take. It will be worth it. Thanks for reading.}