Repost: Set

The photos I used for this post were taken from the top of Clingman’s Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and I was thinking about them as I walked by that exact spot just the other day!

Originally posted March 2018

As a wannabe photographer, I like to think I know something about taking good pictures. Really, I know very little, but my ‘fancy’ camera and I have a lot of fun.

My favorite thing to take photos of (besides my children’s smiling faces) is flowers. Whenever we go for a walk or hike, you can guarantee I’ll be holding my family up because I’m kneeling in the bushes taking approximately 74 pictures of each different kind of flower we pass.

The coolest thing about having a DSLR camera is the ability to create a “depth effect” by focusing the lens on a particular flower. This causes the flower to “pop” out at the viewer and everything that’s not the flower to blur into the distance. As the photographer, I have the ability to set the focal point – I press the “take a picture” button down halfway and wherever the center point of the rectangle in my viewfinder is, the lens makes that object the “focus” or the sharpest and clearest part of the photograph.

SET (2)

In Romans 8, after getting real in the previous chapter about the struggle of living with a sinful nature inside of him – having “the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out,” (7:18) Paul presents his case for an alternative way of living. Rather than making “the flesh” the focal point, he exhorts his readers to instead set their minds on “the Spirit”:

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” (v. 5-7)

Whether he knew it or not, Paul was hitting on a basic principle of human psychology: Whatever we set our minds on, we give power to. Setting our focus on something makes that thing the sharpest and clearest, allowing it to capture our attention and leaving everything else to blur into the background.

When we set our mind on “the flesh” – even if it’s because we’re trying to stop sinning – we only increase sin’s power. Focusing on our own failed or successful attempts to follow the law leads only to pride on one end or increased feelings of guilt and shame on the other. Focusing on the letter of the law makes obedience to it a “have to,” which our flesh is instinctively hostile toward (if you’ve spent any time with a two-year-old, you know how true this is!). The more we give attention to our natural desires, even if it’s in an attempt to deny those desires, the more we end up enslaved by them.

But by setting our minds on the Spirit, we allow His power to be the focus and the force of real change in our lives.

The power of sin is in the shame and defeat of failure, but the Spirit reminds us that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (v. 1) The Spirit “brings to remembrance” (John 14:26) the “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” character of our God (Psalm 103:8).

The power of sin is in the past and in the tunnel vision of self-pity, but the Spirit puts in view what’s next. When we set our minds on the Spirit, He shows us we have a purpose greater than ourselves. And when our bodies and minds are busy being used as His “witnesses” (Acts 1:8), we don’t need to be consumed with trying to gratify, control, or punish them.

The power of sin is in discouragement at the lack of change in our lives and in the world around us. But the Spirit opens our eyes to all the ways He is working, giving us power to “abound in hope” (Romans 15:13) regardless of what our flesh feels and sees.

As a parent with kids in elementary school, I’ve been introduced over the past few years to an education strategy called “Growth Mindset”.* When a child experiences failure after doing poorly on an assignment, not being able to grasp a concept or perform a skill, their minds tend to default to a “Fixed Mindset,” which says, “I can’t, so I should give up”. But a “Growth Mindset” approach teaches them to say: “I can’t right now, but I will learn”. A “Fixed Mindset” sets the mind on one’s current abilities and inherent strengths or weaknesses, but a “Growth Mindset” sets the mind on the possibility of change.

A “Flesh Mindset” puts the focus on our current ability to change ourselves based on our own inherent strengths or weaknesses – and as a result, says, “I can’t change myself, so I might as well give up”. But a “Spirit Mindset” puts the focus on God’s ability to transform us based on His strength. A “Spirit Mindset” says, “I can’t change myself, but God can, is, and will continue to work change in me.”

My default mode is set to “autofocus” and the center point of my viewfinder tends to stay on “flesh” because it’s in my face all day. I regularly set unrealistic “I can do this!” change goals for myself, honestly believing I’m going to be able to sustain the effort. I hear the Holy Spirit’s whispers of “I have a better way,” but I ignore them – and my life ends up looking like this:

SET (1)

In verse 13 of Romans 8, Paul says, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Setting our minds on the Spirit doesn’t mean denying our sin or expending no effort, it means we diminish the power of sin – we let it blur into the background – by directing our effort in the right direction. Manually adjusting our focus by spending time in God’s Word, making space in our lives to pray, and putting aside distractions to listen for and then follow His leading is the surest way to “life and peace” (v. 6).

*https://www.mindsetworks.com/Science/Impact

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Repost: Float

Yes! “Boat and float”! We are soaking up these final days of summer for sure. I hope you are, too, and I hope these words inspire you to give God all the weight today!

(Originally posted January 2018)

The holidays are over and for the Desilets, that means one thing: it’s almost SUMMER! When we think of what’s ahead for us in 2018, “adventure” tops the list and most of our adventures happen when the weather is warm.

And that’s because most of our adventures involve water. Lakes, streams, waterfalls, and oceans provide endless opportunities for exciting outdoor challenge activities. Whether it’s rock-hopping along a stream, boogie-boarding through the waves, or surfing the wake of a motorboat, we build our trips around the fun water creates!

One of our favorite activities, though, is to simply “boat and float”. We pack some snacks, pile into the boat, drive out to the middle of the lake and chill out in the deep, cool water. There’s nothing like the weightless feeling water gives you as your whole body relaxes, held up by the dense liquid surrounding it. The cares and worries of ‘real life’ just seem to float away.

Well, for some of us they do. Though my family loves to float, I’m not really a fan. And that’s because I don’t float. While everyone else happily dives in and lays around like it’s the most relaxing thing they’ve done all day, I sink!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

2018 is here and even though I’m not big on resolutions, there is something healthy about a mental fresh start. It’s good to look back and evaluate. It’s good to have expectations of “better” and “this year I’m going to get it right!”

But January 1 also brings with it pressure. Because this year I’m going to do better. This year I’m going to get it right. Preoccupied with our own glory, we pile on the weight and expect ourselves to be able to hold it all up.

When you think of glory, you probably think of the bright, shining lights of heaven or the MVP of a college football game being lifted up by cheering fans. But in the Old Testament, the word for “glory” is rooted in the idea of “weight”.* When something is honored above other things it becomes more important – it carries more weight.

In Psalm 86:9, David proclaims: “All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, Lord; they will bring glory to your name.” Though God’s very existence is the height of all glory and He doesn’t need any more of it, we do have the ability to “bring” Him glory on this earth. We do this by making Him more important than us – we give Him more weight.

The problem is that we’re natural born sinkers. From the beginning of time we have desired to keep the weight for ourselves. We want to be important. We want to be honored. We want to be admired and desired. We want to carry all the weight. Rather than simply floating, surrounded and suspended in the density of God’s glory, we load the pressure on ourselves to “be” and “do” better.

When I think about the coming year, I know for sure that I want to bring glory to God – I want His weight in my thoughts, words, and actions to be ever-increasing. I want David’s words to be true for me: “I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.” (Psalm 86:12)

So as I evaluate what “better” and “getting it right” look like for me this year, I have to be careful. Because no matter how I spin them, any goals of doing “better” and “getting it right” are still putting the weight on me. Not only am I desiring the praise of others when they notice my “better,” I’m also putting a “getting it right” burden on myself that I’m unable to carry! And when I inevitably don’t get the likes or fail to carry the weight, I’ll sink right into the (even more self-focused) depths of self-pity.

Floating means removing the burdens of “better” and “right” from myself and putting them on Him. Floating means realizing I have no guarantee of seeing December 31, 2018 and that all I have is today. It doesn’t mean that I sit around and do nothing all year, it just means that I take one step of obedience at a time with the understanding that God’s glory doesn’t depend on my success or failure.

In Psalm 86, David declares: “Among the gods there is none like you, Lord; no deeds can compare with yours” (v. 8) and “you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God.” (v. 10) Not only does our God deserve all the weight, He can also handle all the weight. So take a load off – move your attention from your self to Him and be weightless today.

Teach me your way, Lord,
that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.
I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;
I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your love toward me;
you have delivered me from the depths,
from the realm of the dead.

Psalm 86:11-13

*http://biblehub.com/hebrew/3513.htm

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Repost: Practice

We can’t wait to get some “practice” behind the boat this August! What might a “try something new” day look like for you?

(Originally posted January 2018)

“Try something new” day is one of the highlights of our summer vacations in North Carolina. After spending several days honing our skills at our favorite riding-some-sort-of-device-behind-the-boat activity, it’s time to leave our comfort zones and take a risk.

Not being a huge fan of water, “try something new” day for me means leaving my comfort zone behind my camera in the boat to “try something”! This year the rest of my family chose “wake surfing,” and I couldn’t pass up the challenge to try it myself. This fairly new sport involves pulling yourself up to a standing position on a very buoyant (and therefore wobbly) surfboard, letting go of the rope that connects you to the boat, and then freely “surfing” the boat’s wake.

Knowing that steps two and three would not be in my realm of possibility, I made it my goal to simply get to a standing position. Would it happen on the first try? Probably not, but I’d never find out if I didn’t try! So try I did. Once, twice, three times, four times. With each failure my chances of success were seeming less and less likely, but since the consequences of each failed attempt were low (perhaps some water up my nose and complaints from some children impatiently awaiting “their turn”) I was motivated to try and try again!

PRACTICE 01

In his November 2016 TEDx talk, learning expert Eduardo Briceño spoke of the difference between the “learning zone” and the “performance zone”. In the “learning zone,” he said, we “do activities designed for improvement, concentrating on what we haven’t mastered yet, which means we have to expect to make mistakes, knowing that we will learn from them.”* According to Briceño, successful people spend the great majority of their time in the “learning zone” where there the pressure is low and they give themselves the freedom to fail. When we see the consequences of our failed attempts as minimal, we’re more likely to attempt a skill and therefore learn it!

As Christians we spend too much of our time in the “performance zone”. We look at a possible ministry task or even a simple step of obedience like prayer or sharing our faith with others and believe the results to be dependent on our performance. When I examine my own life, it’s easy to see that the majority of my stress comes down to taking myself too seriously – I fear that I am inadequate to do what God has placed in front of me and fear that my attempt, when it fails, will negatively impact God’s work in my own or another person’s life.

The apostle Paul, after rising by his own merit to Jewish religious prominence, had an encounter with the glory of Christ that caused him to see himself for who he really was – a fragile human sinner just like the rest of us. His life completely changed course and now, by the merit of Christ and his submission to the leadership of God’s Spirit, Paul again took a leadership role as he traveled to share the gospel and set up new churches in areas where they didn’t exist yet.

But after his credentials were questioned by a church he helped start in the city of Corinth, Paul felt compelled to write a letter defending himself and his ministry. In that time, it was common practice (as it is for us now) for travelling speakers or those seeking employment to verify their education and skill by carrying “letters of recommendation” from an authority figure.* But because he believed his only qualification to be from God Himself, Paul did not carry such letters.

In 2 Corinthians 3:4-6a, he wrote: “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:4-6a) Paul knew that any visible or notable skills he had weren’t even worth mentioning because, even at the highest level, they would not have made him “sufficient”.

Because of his assurance that it was all about God’s glory and not about his or his ministry partners’, Paul says in verse 12: “we are very bold”. Before Christ, the Spirit of God was only “upon” a single person or group of people at a time, but now the power and work of this same Spirit was available to every believer, and “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Paul could continue on in bold freedom because he knew his acts of ministry were not his performance, but God’s alone.

Like Paul, we also have the ability to walk in ‘bold freedom,’ but how often do we allow our fear of making mistakes to keep us from even trying? It’s so easy to look at the ways we lack (in comparison to others) and believe God could never perform through our inferior selves. But what if, instead of living in the pressure of the “performance zone”, we stayed in the “learning zone”? What if we looked at every ministry task or step of obedience as practice and gave ourselves the freedom to make mistakes? What if, “Entrusting ourselves to Mystery [the Spirit’s unseen work], we move forward fearlessly, knowing that the future of the planet probably does not depend on what we do next”?*

PRACTICE 03

After several failed wake-surfing attempts that day this summer, I did finally get up on my feet! It didn’t last long as the board naturally ‘steers’ you toward the wake, and getting over that wave’s crest was a challenge my inferior balance wasn’t ready for. But at least I was up long enough for Tim to capture the evidence!

In verse 18, Paul encourages our practice even more with a reminder that, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” Every “learning zone” step of obedience changes us. Though the weight of the results is not on us, we do benefit from the practice! We are in the process of being transformed to look more and more like Jesus.

So, what’s a ministry task or step of obedience you’ve been thinking of as a “performance” that you could start seeing as “practice”? Praying out loud? Studying the Bible? Offering to help a neighbor? Leading a small group or teaching in kids ministry? Joining the worship team? (Okay, that one might require some skill! 😉)

For me, it’s talking to new people. Not only am I not “good” at making small talk, I often don’t know what to say and mistakes end up spilling out of my mouth. I also feel the performance-pressure that “talking to this person may somehow help them come to know Jesus!” But this fall, I’ve started looking at every conversation I have (big or small) as practice. I’ve started talking to cashiers, fellow parents, new youth group students, and random strangers without believing the chances of their salvation are on my shoulders. Yes, my face still turns red, I still say weird things, and I’m still not “good” at it, but I’m walking weightlessly in the bold freedom that “the future of the planet probably does not depend on what [I] do next”!

*”How to get better at the things you care about“, Eduardo Briceño, TEDx Manhattan Beach, November 2016
*https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/ivp-nt/Pauls-Letter-Recommendation
*“Ruthless Trust”, Brennan Manning, p. 141

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Repost: Constant

A summer full of adventure means a summer full of laundry. All this camping, hiking, biking, and swimming has certainly kept me busy! 

In the year-and-a-half since I wrote this, my laundry responsibilities may have shrunk, but my need to constantly receive the “unearned covenant love” of God certainly hasn’t! 

Originally posted December 2017

There are a few things no one could have prepared me for in becoming a parent. Laundry is one of those things. In our pre-kid life, laundry was an occasional chore. Once a week (or maybe every other) the basket would fill up and we’d run a load.

But with kids, laundry is constant! Just when you’re feeling accomplished – you’ve collected, washed, dried, folded, and put away a load, you look down and it’s time to start all over again. You think it’s bad when you have infants or toddlers, but nothing can prepare you for having three girls who purposely change their clothes multiple times a day! It never ends!

11 years into this gig and I still feel like I can’t get a handle on it. The only option, of course, is to keep plugging away and as my mother suggests – do a load a day, no matter what. I’m still working on that goal and I’m guessing I’ll get there around the time our youngest heads off to college. 😋

More constant than laundry in my life is my self. Just about 40 years into this gig and I still feel like I can’t get a handle on my sin. Just when I think I’ve got an area under control, I look down and there’s another mess ready to be cleaned up. No matter how much I’d like to have it all together – folded and nicely organized on a shelf – I don’t think that’s ever going to happen!

In the opening address of his gospel, John takes some time to introduce his main character – Jesus. He holds nothing back in making sure the reader understands that Jesus is God and that only through Him can we know God and experience His glory. In verse 14, John says “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Before Jesus, the closest anyone had ever been to seeing God’s glory first-hand was Moses when he returned to Mt. Sinai after the ‘golden calf incident’. God had spoken His law to the people through Moses and they had responded by saying, “‘We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.’” (Exodus 24:7) But, feeling abandoned after Moses’ delayed return from another visit with God, they gathered up their gold, “‘threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!’” (Exodus 32:24 – one of my favorite lines in the Bible 😉 #humans) How quickly a clear commitment to obedience was traded for the mess of sin!

Before one of his next trips up the mountain, Moses asked God to show him His glory as an assurance that He was still with them. “And the Lord said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence.’” (Exodus 33:19) When this happened a few verses later, that name was defined: “‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished;’” (Exodus 34:6)

The name – the very definition of God’s character – was grace. Even in their blatant breaking of the covenant, their God was, at the heart of His nature, committed to them and willing to restore and continue the relationship. He showed His faithfulness by revealing to them His commands, by enforcing those commands for their good, and by offering them the substitution of animal sacrifices to cleanse them from their guilt. We don’t tend to think of it this way, but it was all grace – it was all His “unearned covenant love”* toward them.

When John described Jesus as “full of grace and truth,” He was using the same terms as the “abounding in love and faithfulness” found in Exodus 34:6.* John states that “out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.” (John 1:16) Though “grace and truth were clearly present in the law… Moses could not witness their fulness because he could see only part of God’s glory. Their ultimate expression would come in the Word/law enfleshed [in Jesus]”.*

Jesus was not only completely full of the glory of God’s grace and truth, He was so full that He overflowed it to the people around Him. He embodied compassion and in the ultimate act of grace, He became the final, once-for-all substitute for the cleansing of sin.

That cleansing and restoration are available, as John says in verse 16, to all who will “receive” it. The word “receive” in this sense, is a verb meaning to “actively lay hold of,” emphasizing the initiative of the taker.* It is an act of our will to receive the grace offered to us when we first believe in Him (John 1:12), but it is also an act of our will to constantly receive the constantly available grace that is already ours.

Over the past few years, I’ve transitioned most of the girls’ laundry over to their responsibility. It’s a little risky given that they use Catalina, a tomato-based salad dressing, on almost everything they eat (and then wipe their hands on their clothes) – but it’s a risk I’m willing to take!

Not only are they learning about the consequences of changing your outfit multiple times a day (and motivated to stop using their shirts as napkins), they are learning about the constant. Almost every time I hear whining about how “I don’t have any clean pants!” and I make a suggestion that they might want to do some laundry, the reply is: “I just did it the other day!”

As constant as my sin is, grace is more constant. But as constant as grace is, its power in my life is limited to my awareness of it. “The fulness of the supply is constant;” says commentator Charles Ellicott, and “the power to receive increases with the use”.* Sure, it would be nice if I had gotten all cleaned up the day I accepted Christ or maybe if I just had to deal with a small pile here and there, but it’s the daily loads that keep me actively receiving. My daily acceptance of grace increases its power in my life. It’s never a chore to hear the simple truth of grace because every moment I hear it is a moment I need it!

*The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament, p. 781
*The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament, p. 250, John 1:14
*The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament, p. 250, John 1:16-17
*http://biblehub.com/greek/2983.htm
*http://biblehub.com/commentaries/ellicott/john/1.htm

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Repost: Warning

I have to repost this one because we’ve been to both of these places so far this summer – Bass River State Forest Campground in New Jersey and the Okemo Mountain Road in Vermont!

I’ve also been thinking lots about this topic as we’ve been talking about confessing and throwing off sin with our middle and high school students on SERVE over the past couple of weeks. (More posts about that coming this fall!)

(Originally posted November 2017)

This summer, while driving up a winding mountain road in Vermont, I pulled over to snap a photo of the gorgeous Green Mountain view. This overlook was clearly a popular place to stop as there was plenty of space to park on one side of the road and a wooden fence on the other side, preventing people from wandering too far and tumbling down the steep slope below.

Or so I thought.

As I walked toward the sign and began to read it, I laughed out loud at my mistaken assumption:

Though the risk of falling was a legitimate concern, there was a bigger deal at hand here. To those who thought they could “handle it” and get right up to the edge, this sign warned of a less-obvious risk. I’m guessing giant hogweed and cow parsnip (?!?) aren’t something anyone wants in their near future!

Sin is a big deal. The risks of crossing the boundaries God has set in place for our relationships with Him, others, and ourselves are real. The fences are there for a reason – it just may not be the reason we first assume.

In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul addressed several “sin” issues the church was facing. Just as we do in our culture today, the believers struggled with whether or not certain acts should be labeled as “sin”. As the founder of this church, Paul’s words carried great weight and his wisdom was right on. In two very similar verses, Paul says:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12)

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. (1 Corinthians 10:23)

Most of us, especially those who grew up under a “Because I said so…” parenting or church style, tend to think of sin only in terms of “getting caught” or in terms of the danger of the “obvious” consequences. But Paul challenges us to think differently – to look harder at the not-so-obvious consequences and then hold them up to the “life to the full” Jesus desires for His followers in John 10:10.

For example, the risks of gossip are obvious. My judgmental opinion about someone else could get back to them, hurting their feelings, and putting a rift in our relationship. But most of us – because we rarely “get caught” – continue on, not realizing that the brewing and sharing of these thoughts is a toxic weed that is slowly poisoning our souls.

In today’s world, where the boundaries have been blurred into an individually-defined “what’s sin for you might not be sin for me” pile of rubble, Paul’s principle for believers still rings true. The sacrifice of Christ means that the spiritual consequences of our sin (whether we called it sin or not) have been eliminated and we’ve been freed from living in a “getting caught” mentality.

However, that doesn’t mean we should throw caution to the wind and jump over the fence! The Spirit of God within us can help point to choices that will lead to “life to the full” in Jesus, but we also have been given brains to discern whether a choice is “beneficial” or “constructive,” so we will not end up “mastered” by anything.

In her book, “Why I Didn’t Rebel: A Twenty-Two-Year-Old Explains Why She Stayed on the Straight and Narrow – and How Your Kids Can Too,” author Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach recalls being raised in a home where “reasons” were given priority over “rules”.* Instead of telling their children what to do, Lindenbach’s parents (age-appropriately) taught her and her sister how to make their own choices. “Something I consistently found across my interviews with kids who didn’t rebel was that none of us could really explain how we learned what was allowed. Rather, it was an ongoing conversation about right and wrong and about what was going on in that moment.” (p. 25)

After 20 years in youth ministry, I can tell you that, when raised in a “Because I said so!” environment, young people tend to evaluate their decisions based on two things: “Am I likely to get caught?” and “Are the others I see already engaging in this activity experiencing those ‘obvious’ consequences I’ve been warned about?” Since most of the time, the answer to those questions is “No,” the risk almost always seems worth taking.

But rather that telling our teens: “Sex is bad! You’ll end up with a disease or unplanned pregnancy,” we can have ongoing discussions about relational boundaries and the power of misplaced intimacy. Rather than getting on our “Don’t do drugs – they’ll fry your brain!” bullhorn, we need to help them find healthy, personality-appropriate ways to cope with stress and pain. And instead of harping on them about how “All that social media and Netflix-binging is rotting your brain,” we can provide them with opportunities to experience life outside their norm and to find a purpose outside of themselves.

One of Lindenbach’s case studies is a young woman named Alexis, whose parents expected her to make good choices and consistently told her she was smart enough to do so. “’My moral judgments grew so strong,’ Alexis explained, ‘that it was no longer about not disappointing my parents but about the impact that rebellious actions would have on me and on my future. I didn’t want rebellious acts to become habits that became who I was.’” She knew her parents expectations, but came to her own understanding that, “’to do well in school, go to university, stay away from drugs and sex – it’s clear how they benefited me.’” Teaching our children how to “construct” their lives on “beneficial” choices will prevent them from exposure to those toxic weeds better than any fear-based, flashy warning signs ever will.

On our way out of a New Jersey State Park campground this summer, we stopped to dispose of our trash. As I walked toward the dumpster, I saw this warning sign:

Hold on a second, I thought. Why are they making a big deal about this ONE thing when there are so many other risks at play here! Hello!? What about the bacteria, diseases, and sharp objects INSIDE the container?

If all our kids see are “Don’t stand on the dumpster, you might fall off!” signs, they’ll miss out on an awareness of the much greater consequences their choices might have on their heart, mind, and relationship with Jesus. And, as adults, when we focus on the “rules,” evaluating our decisions on the basis of whether or not we’ll be “caught” or weighing only the likeliness of the “obvious” consequences, we may end up wandering on paths of poisonous plants.

Our loving Father, who sees all and knows all, has good reasons for His commands. He’s given us His Spirit as a guide, but He’s also given us intelligent minds capable of seeking out, processing, and then building our lives on His reasons!

*“Why I Didn’t Rebel: A Twenty-Two-Year-Old Explains Why She Stayed On The Straight and Narrow and How Your Kids Can Too” by Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, 2017

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Repost: Flip-Flop

You better believe the Desilets are living their best flip-flop life this summer! (Although the pair featured in these photos sadly met their demise last week 😭.)

Like my flip-flops, the older I get the more I’m reminded of my “softness,” vulnerability, and complete dependence on the “solidness” of God!

(Originally posted November 2017)

If you see the Desilets family walking around with glum faces these days it’s because of one thing: November. No, we’re not getting the lack-of-daylight blues or dreading the cold winter ahead – November for the Desilets means it’s time to put our flip-flops away 😥. We’ve stretched their convenient, comfortable, non-confining use to the last possible days – but with temperatures falling into the 30s this weekend, we must finally surrender!

One day this spring I was at church, attempting to sing along in worship, but I couldn’t focus because something was bothering me. There was a sharp object jabbing into the bottom of my foot. I tried to ignore it, but every time I shifted my position (which happens often with some songs!) I would feel it again. Since I was, of course, wearing flip-flops, I tried to just shake whatever it was out, but that didn’t work. Then I took the sandal off my foot and shook it with my hand. That failed, too! What in the world?

I finally gave in, sat down, and upon closer examination, found the culprit – the sole of my flip-flop had somehow completely absorbed a small piece of wood! Ouch!

We are natural born measurers. From the first time our sibling gets the “bigger” piece of the cookie to the day we throw on our dad’s giant boots and claim to be “taller” than him, we compare and quantify our world in order to know where we stand.

Our favorite thing to gauge may be sin. Like the New Testament Pharisees, we naturally survey the behavior of others in our world and, in most cases, decide we’re doing pretty well. Since we don’t struggle with certain sins, we perceive that we must be standing on some thick, sturdy soles.

But really we’re more like flip-flops! We are softer and more vulnerable to temptation than we like to believe.

1 Corinthians 10:12-13 says, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.” The solid shoes we perceive we’re standing on are only self-constructed stilts of our personal “sin ranking system” – we’re sure certain temptations will never trip us up, but Paul urges us to beware!

Though we see ourselves as unique, we are “common” and therefore capable of absorbing sin in all of its many forms. Because we narrowly perceive our invulnerability to be a result of our own “good choices,” we miss out on the broader picture of sin and its extensive infrastructure in our lives. Yes, some of our sin is straight-up going-our-own-way pride, but much more of it originates in weaknesses woven into our personality type and the particular pains and pressures this world has laid on us.

I’ll never forget the day my friend (who is one of the most loving and caring people I know) said to me, “I must believe that I’m just as capable of murder as the person who’s already killed someone.” A statement like this may sound shocking at first, but not accepting its truth is dangerous. I’ve seen it happen in my own life and the lives of others – the sins we judge most harshly (because don’t currently struggle with them) could, given the right combination of circumstances, easily become our struggle.

In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul shares that he was given a “thorn” in his flesh. We don’t know exactly what this “thorn” was (if we did we might measure ourselves ‘better’ than him), but we know it was there “in order to keep [him] from becoming conceited”. We’re flip-flops on purpose because it’s the only way we’ll learn how utterly dependent we must be on the grace we’ve been given only through Christ and the strength we are given only through His Spirit.

As I was pulling the “thorn” out of my flip-flop that Sunday, I felt around and found another one not far from it. I hadn’t noticed the second one because it hadn’t started to cause me pain yet – but it was there, ready and waiting!

The more I know Jesus, the more aware I am of how little I know myself. The more I worship Him, the more He reveals those thorns that are so absorbed into the roots of my being I can’t see them. And God is faithful, not only to provide a “way out” as the second half of 1 Corinthians 10:13 states, but also to “keep (me) from becoming conceited” by daily reminding me of my vulnerability. I may be a flip-flop, but thank God that His “power is made perfect in weakness”! (2 Corinthians 12:9)

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Repost: Tension

It’s Ninja season – not only on television, but for our constantly-climbing-or-hanging-from-something children 😉! Summer is a time we’re tempted to “slack” in our relationship with God, but it’s also an opportunity to “up the tension” by reading a challenging book, studying a passage you usually avoid, or intentionally researching a world or cultural issue that makes you uneasy. How are you upping the tension this summer?

(Originally posted October 2017)

From the first episode we watched, our family has been obsessed with “American Ninja Warrior”. This action-packed obstacle-course competition challenges athletes’ agility and strength – especially their upper-body and grip strength.

Our children, desiring to follow in the footsteps of newfound heroes like Jessie Graff and Meagan Martin, could be confused with monkeys based on the large amounts of time they spend “hanging” out on the obstacles in our backyard. Having small bodies that haven’t proportionally caught up to their arm muscle limits yet, they make a row of monkey bars or a trip across the “ninja line” look like a breeze!

Knowing we have no chance of keeping up with our kids, Tim and I have begun issuing each other daily “ninja challenges” – the first of which was to hang (yes, just hang) from the ninja line for 10 seconds (yes, just 10 seconds). It sounds easy, but hanging from this slackline is no simple feat!

And that’s because there’s too much slack. This line is adjusted to hold up our children, but our adult weight and height require us to work that much harder to stay off the ground. There’s not enough tension to hold us up!

It turns out a little tension can be a good thing.

A relationship is defined as the connecting line between two things and the relationship between God and human beings has a long history of tension. Most of the time, we think of this as a bad thing because, after all, tension = tense = stress = bad. And as Christians, we expect our connection with God to be good, not bad! But since He’s God and we’re not, some level of tension is always going to be present.

Here’s how it happens:

Many of us grew up learning Sunday School truths about a God who is mighty and powerful and who uses that power to do supernatural things to help people. We hear stories about His great love for us and His plans to guide us, care for us, and meet our needs. Even those of us who came to know Him as an adult, get a “WOW!” first impression of this God.

But inevitably there comes a point where these truths don’t seem to be holding up. That supernatural power didn’t show up when you needed it. The “love” and “care” you’re supposed to be experiencing is noticeably absent. Instead of guidance, you hear silence.

The Bible is filled with examples of this tension:

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Isaiah 40:27

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
Psalm 130:1-2

Why have you wounded us past all hope of healing?
We hoped for peace, but no peace came.
We hoped for a time of healing, but found only terror.
Jeremiah 14:19

These cries echo our own experience today. We look around at our world, our circumstances, and our struggles and wonder: “If You really are ‘in control’, why aren’t You fixing this?” or “If You’re as ‘good’ as you claim to be, why aren’t You showing it?” The tension mounts as we attempt to reconcile who we believe God to be with what we’re seeing of Him in real life.

If you read on a bit further in these passages, you’ll find that they all end in the same way:

Can any of the worthless foreign gods send us rain?
Does it fall from the sky by itself?
No, you are the one, O Lord our God!
Only you can do such things.
So we will wait for you to help us.
Jeremiah 14:22

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
Psalm 130:5-6

Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:30-31

The Hebrew word for “wait” in these passages means more than the “passing of time” we might think of. It’s rooted in the idea of “twisting” or “stretching” and describes the “tension of enduring, waiting”*. Waiting on the Lord means to remain in the tension – to stay in that place of discomfort and disagreement in your relationship with Him. Because it turns out too much slack is actually the problem.

Slack in our relationship with God happens when we avoid the tension. It develops as we start dismissing the things about God we don’t like or that don’t make sense to us, forming our own “comfortable” view of Him. It grows as we close our eyes to the world around us and sprinkle a spiritual sugar-coating of “God is good” on the situations we don’t want to accept. It may feel good for a time, but if that relational line between you and God has too much slack, it’s not gonna hold you up!

Today’s “ninja challenge” involved setting up a slackline (the kind you walk on like a tightrope) in a local park and standing on it for 10 seconds (yes, only 10 seconds – it’s much harder than it looks!). After several very wobbly attempts, we finally cranked up the tension. A couple tries later and an 11-second victory was mine!

If you’re feeling comfortable in your relationship with God, that may be a red flag that it’s time to up the tension. Maybe you need to open your eyes to the events going on in our world, find a mentor, and start asking some hard questions. Maybe turning the crank looks like opening your Bible and studying some of those passages you’ve avoided because they don’t fit with your theology. Maybe it looks like opening up to a trusted friend about your doubts. Or maybe it means you stop sugar-coating and get brutally out-loud honest with God about a situation in your life.

Tension in my relationship with God may not feel good, but it is good. It’s in the tension that I am pushed to learn things about Him that I otherwise wouldn’t have paid attention to. It’s in the tension where I allow Him to put His finger on the nerves, revealing areas of my life I need Him to do some work on. It’s in the tension that I start seeing faith as a choice to put my life in God’s hands even if He doesn’t come through in the way I expect Him to. Embracing the tension may seem counterintuitive, but it’s in the “waiting” that He holds me up!

*http://biblehub.com/hebrew/6960.htm

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