Match

From the day Tim and I met playing Ultimate Frisbee at Eastern College, games have been a part of our family. We place high value on competition and, of course, can’t get enough of the ‘thrill of victory’!

As our kids get older, we are loving being able to introduce them to new games and show them how much fun a little healthy competition can be. Unfortunately, as is the case with most games, the experience of losing is much more common than the ‘thrill of victory’ and the majority of our matches end in tantrums and tears!

photo-nov-27-8-46-37-pm

One of our favorite games of late is “Go Fish”. This simple matching game is quick enough to play several rounds in one sitting (meaning each player will likely experience both loss and victory) and it’s also an easy one for game-savvy parents to manipulate the outcome of 😉.

If you aren’t familiar with the basic rules of “Go Fish,” each player is dealt a hand of cards with the goal of finding pairs of the same number. Each time you have a pair in your hand, you remove those cards from your hand. You then take turns asking other players if they have a certain card that matches one from your own hand. If they have the card, they give it to you, and you have a match! If they don’t, they say “Go Fish!” and you pick from the pile of extra cards (which may work out in your favor if you “Fish your wish!”). The first player to find matches for all of their cards wins!

photo-nov-27-8-41-51-pm

No matter what sort of hand we’ve been dealt in life, we all have areas of need. We all have weakness, struggle, pain, or just a general desire for something we feel we’re missing. None of us are perfectly complete – no matter how independent we think we are!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading through the Psalms and realizing what a huge gift they are. These song lyrics, written by David and several other writers, give us a beautiful picture of what it means to have a ‘personal’ relationship with God. Instead of just hearing about someone’s life events, we get first-person perspective on their highest highs, their lowest lows, and their thoughts about God in the midst of it all.

One of the things I noticed, particularly in Psalms 142 and 143, was how David expressed each of his needs and then “matched” them with what He knew to be true about God’s character. David’s life experiences had proven to him that God was the only one who could truly meet His needs – so he filled his songs with these requests:

Need: “When my spirit grows faint within me” (142:3)
Match: “It is you who watch over my way” (142:3)

Need: “No one is concerned for me, I have no refuge” (142:4)
Match: “I cry to you, Lord; I say, ‘You are my refuge'” (142:5)

Need: “Those who pursue me… are too strong for me” (142:6)
Match: “The righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me” (142:7)

Need: “So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed” (143:4)
Match: “I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done.” (143:5)

Need: “Show me the way I should go” (143:8)
Match: “For to you I entrust my life” (143:8)

Need: “The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground” (143:3)
Match: “In your righteousness, bring me out of trouble” (143:11)

Do you see how David matched his fear with God’s faithfulness, his vulnerability with God’s protection, his weakness with God’s goodness, his uncertainty with God’s trustworthiness, his injustice with God’s righteousness? And that’s only two psalms!

For every need we have, God holds the perfect match! And His desire is that we – like David – simply identify the need, express it, and then ask Him to meet it. We don’t have to “Go Fish” hoping we’ll somehow “fish our wish” from the piles of cards the world has laid out for us. Not only does He promise to meet our needs, but He promises to meet our needs in the best way possible – with Himself.

photo-nov-27-8-36-42-pm

Anyone who’s played “Go Fish” before knows that the most likely path to victory is to start out with the greatest number of matches already in your hand. Getting rid of 2, 4, or even 6 of your 7 cards right at the start could give you a huge advantage!

Psalm 143:5 reminds us that the best way to have our needs “matched” with God’s character is to already have the knowledge of His character readily at hand. If you’ve been reading and studying His Word, you can “remember the days of long ago” and know that He is the same God now as He was in the beginning! If you’ve been stirring up the Spirit through worship and prayer, you can “consider what [His] hands have done” in your own life and more easily be able to see how He can and will meet your current need.

So, what’s your need today? It may feel like you’re losing, but victory may just be a simple request away. Whatever it is, God’s got a perfect match for it in Himself!

The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.
The Lord is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.
The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
and faithful in all he does.
The Lord upholds all who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand
and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and faithful in all he does.
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
(Psalm 145:8-9, 13-18)

For a great resource, check out: “30 Days of Praying the Names and Attributes of God” by The Navigators

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 255 other followers

Gospel

When my children grow up and move on to do all the great things I – oh sorry, I mean – God has planned for them, I hope they look back at their time in this family and know one thing is true – that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life!

Unfortunately, as is the case with most families, this absolute truth has a chance of getting lost in the mix of other things we hold dear as parents. For some it may be the importance of a certain sport or team, for others it’s a style of music or career goal, and still others a specific character trait or attitude.

For my kids, though, I worry it may be this: That public toilets are the source of all evil.

20161121_152557-01

Before I go on, let me say that I am so thankful for the existence of the “public restroom”. As adults, we may have the ability to ‘hold it’ until we get home, but with little ones, that’s not always possible – and definitely not a risk any parent wants to take! With the advent of your first potty-trained child, you become acutely aware of the location of the restrooms in places you frequent.

However, there are times when the risk of having to deal with wet clothes or a smelly car seem overshadowed by the much greater risk of allowing your small child to sit where who-knows-who’s germ-covered-self has also sat or where some poorly-aimed-squatter has also attempted to avoid who-knows-who’s germs! YUCK!

In our family, it’s near-gospel truth that public toilets are to be avoided at all cost. And if you can’t possibly hold it, you must abide by the following rules:

  1. The seat must be wiped first (even if it doesn’t “look” dirty)
  2. If there’s a seat cover available, you must use it (it may not help, but it makes your Mommy feel better!)
  3. Absolutely NO hands on the toilet seat (even if you think you’re falling in)
  4. Flush with your foot (Yes, I understand this may require an extraordinary feat of balance)
  5. Even if you “didn’t touch anything” your hands must be washed (the air in there is surely just as filthy!)
  6. If you so much as think about touching that door handle with your bare hand on the way out, you will be washing those hands all over again!

No matter how slight the risks of being exposed to dangerous bacteria or contracting a virus may be, this is a life-or-death situation and if my rules aren’t followed, watch out, because a mommy-freak-out is on the way!

20161121_152635-01

When Jesus used the word we translate as “gospel”* in His teaching, He was speaking of the “glad tidings” or “good news” of “the kingdom” (see Matthew 4:23, 9:35 & 24:14). In Luke 4:18, He explains why this news was so “good”:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed”

The message of this “good news” became reality when Jesus Himself laid down His life to become a victorious once-for-all sacrifice, restoring whoever would simply believe in Him to a right relationship with God – the source of all true help, healing, and freedom. Now that’s good news!

In 1 Corinthians 15:1, Paul reminds his readers, “of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved”. After Christ’s death and resurrection, the term “gospel” took on a different meaning – rather than just being “good news,” it came to specifically refer to the message of salvation through Christ.

Around the middle of the second century A.D., though, another shift happened, as idioms of “gospel truth” and “take as gospel” came about.** Because the “gospel” message of Christ’s death and resurrection was the central and absolute truth of Christianity, “gospel” began to mean “something regarded as true and implicitly believed” or “a doctrine regarded as of prime importance”.***

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, one of his goals was to clear up some confusion about the gospel. With all of the mixed messages they were getting, He wanted to make sure they understood what was truly at the core of their faith:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

As believers today, we have to be careful about the “gospel truth” we are preaching. We may not be a pastor giving messages from a stage, but our words and actions are constantly communicating what is “of first importance” to us. Are we messengers of the “good news” or is something else being given equal (or even greater) emphasis?

We live in a messy world where it can be easy to live in fear, while consequently (and even unintentionally) elevating the “gospels” of ‘safety’ or ‘morality’ or even ‘tolerance’ and ‘justice’ to “first importance”. It’s not that those things aren’t important or layed out clearly in Scripture, it’s just that it’s way too easy to set up blanket rules and zealous absolutes that distract from the core message of Jesus.

2016-11-22_09-56-18-01

In all of my fretting and freaking about taking my girls to public restrooms, I’ve created a monster. My youngest has developed a magnetic attraction to public toilets – especially port-a-potties! My elevation of the importance of this issue has only drawn my curious, limit-pushing child toward it – accomplishing the exact opposite of my goal.

It’s great to have passion and then to take a stand on those matters we’re passionate about, but when we allow those matters overshadow the most important Matter, there’s a chance we’re missing out. Instead of spreading the message of the best news ever, we may be inadvertently sending people in the other direction. Or even worse – drawing them to ourselves, but never giving them the true “reason for the hope that is in [us]”. (1 Peter 3:15)

We don’t have to be intimidated or antagonized by the mess around us because there’s GREAT news! Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, loves to change people’s hearts and lives (and, oh yeah, He’s really good at it!) True help, healing, and freedom are found in Christ alone.

*https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g2098
https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2097&t=KJV
**http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/take+as+gospel
http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/gospel+truth
***http://www.dictionary.com/browse/gospel

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 255 other followers

Ditch

photo-nov-15-3-26-37-pm-01

Well, there’s one thing we can’t complain about this fall – we’ve had amazing weather! My 5-year-old and I have taken full advantage of these beautiful afternoons and opted outside. We’ve visited parks and playgrounds, but mostly we’ve been going on long bike rides around the neighborhood.

One of Anna’s favorite bike-ride traditions is to stop and point out things she notices along the way. This past week, one of the things that caught her attention was a large grate built into the edge of a homeowner’s lawn.

“What’s that, Mommy?” she asked.

“Oh, that’s just a grate,” I replied.

“But why is it there?” she asked.

photo-nov-15-3-27-07-pm-01

I explained to her that because the area around it was higher, whenever it rained the water would all run down into that one low spot. And when water collects and sits in one spot, bad things can happen – not only can it damage your lawn, but it can breed and grow all sorts of yucky stuff! Putting a grate in the ‘ditch’ allows the water to drain, preventing all the yuck.

Later on in our ride, we passed another yard with a hill. Anna, proud of herself for learning something new, said, “Where’s the ditch?” If there was a hill, she assumed there must be a ditch at the bottom to collect the water!

Ditches can be purposeful and helpful things. However, you don’t ever hear people say, “Let’s go hang out in that ditch!” or “This ditch is magnificent!” With all that muck and junk down there, a ditch isn’t really a place you want to visit or spend any amount of time!

The funny thing is how often I become one. I, like most humans, have this tendency to allow the dripping negativity of others to collect inside my heart and mind. When people in my world (or even not in my world) say things that threaten or offend me, I let those words sink down deep while I sit in the muck trying to stir up my response:
“Well, they just need to hear this…” or
“If they knew that…” or
“They should understand what…”
Because my (always accurate, of course 😉) opinion must be known!

In our Moms Bible Study this fall, we’ve been studying the wisdom found in the book of Proverbs. A couple sessions ago we focused specifically on our words and how we use them. One of the things we talked about really hit home for me:

“Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.” (Proverbs 18:2)

We all have opinions and sharing them with others is part of getting to know each other. Many of our opinions are non-threatening – like where we like to go for pizza (Angelo’s!) or our favorite TV show (Survivor!). We are uniquely-formed beings with unique tastes, preferences, and ways of expressing our individuality.

Some of our opinions, though, are more threatening because they involve our personal perception of a situation or our judgment of another person’s character. We may not always share these opinions openly, but as soon as we start entering ‘ditch’ territory – as soon as we feel threatened or offended – they seem to be on a race to our lips.

And, I don’t know about you, but I always find that my “delight” in “airing” whatever I so desperately needed to get out (like a couple weeks ago when I told my husband exactly what he “needed to hear”), is short-lived. I don’t feel any better and, in the end, I often make things worse!

photo-nov-15-3-25-58-pm-01

Proverbs 13:3 says, “Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.”

Just like the grate in the neighborhood lawn, we have the opportunity every day to choose ditch-prevention. Instead of letting negativity, threats, and offense sink into our souls and muck things up, we can let them run right through and go where they belong. And who knows? Maybe if we don’t let that stuff hang around, it won’t find its way back out in our responses.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve found the most helpful ‘grate’ to be one simple question: WHY? First, I ask myself – “Why is this offending or threatening me?” There’s always a below-the-surface reason that I don’t at first realize. Is it my pride or selfish ambition that’s been wounded? Am I reacting out of fear or perceiving a personal attack when that may not be the case?

And then, as I form my response, I ask “Why am I sharing this?” Is it because I think I’ll feel better after my opinion is made known? Is it because I think I can change their mind and then they’ll be ‘right’ like me? Or will my response show humility and a sense of care for everyone involved?

As followers of Jesus, we are aiming to do life the way He did, and He did it with ultimate humility and love. He knew who He was and knew He needed nothing from this world – and therefore nothing could be taken from Him. As God in human flesh, He knew all wisdom and truth, so He was never threatened by anyone’s opinions.

In his book, “Unoffendable,” author Brant Hansen puts it this way: Christians “should be the most refreshingly unoffendable people on a planet that seems to spin on an axis of offense.” We know Whose we are and, although we need nothing from this world, we do have something to offer it.

Lord, help me to be unoffendable today. Instead of letting the negativity puddle, let it drain right though me. Guard my lips so I can use my words to show others your love. Amen.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 255 other followers

Raisins?

I stared at the ceiling awaiting the results as Dr. Assad reviewed the x-rays. Having upped my dental-care game over the past few years, I was sure this long silence meant good news!

My joy turned to near-tears, though, as he began to list off tooth after tooth that was in need of repair. And he just kept going. At the end, he stood up and said, “I’m not even sure what to tell you. Your gums are receding, your crowns are falling apart, and you have several new areas of decay. You’re going to need a lot of work done.”

After surviving the initial emotional meltdown, I got myself together and did what I always do in these situations: Pulled out my phone and asked my trusted old pal Google for help: “What have I been doing wrong?”

Of course the answers are the same as always – brush two to three times a day (✔), floss (✔), fluoride rinse (✔), and stay away from certain foods (working on it…). But as I read through the lists of foods to avoid, one of them caught me by surprise: Raisins?

According to the American Dental Association, “Sticky foods are your mouth’s worst nightmare” and “When it comes to picking healthy snacks, many people put dried fruit at the top of the list. But many dried fruits are sticky. Sticky foods can damage your teeth since they tend to stay on the teeth longer than other types of food.”*

Who knew, right? All this time I thought I was making a “healthier” choice and I may have been causing just as much damage!

photo-nov-08-3-54-03-am

I had a similar reaction when I read Hosea 2 a few months ago:

And the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” (Hosea 2:1)

Wait, they loved what? “Cakes of raisins”? I mean, I like a few raisins every once in a while, but I’m not sure I would ever find a whole ‘cake’ of them to be a temptation! Why was this even mentioned?

If you’ve read much of the Old Testament, you know that God’s number one desire for His people was that they would simply worship Him – and then continue to keep Him first in their hearts. Unfortunately, the worship of other gods – often more dramatic and sensuous – proved to be a perpetual source of temptation for them.

Hosea was a messenger sent by God to His people during a time of crisis. Though they had once been a prosperous kingdom, “the more they increased, the more they sinned” (Hosea 4:7) – and their repeated habits of trusting in their own way (10:13) and giving God ‘lip-service’ while giving their hearts to idols (10:4-5) – eventually led to their destruction.

When God instructed Hosea to marry the wayward and adulterous Gomer, He was giving the people an example of His deep love for them – even though they preferred ‘cakes of raisins’ over Him. Of course, it wasn’t the ‘cakes’ themselves that were the problem, there are plenty of references to them being used as everyday food throughout the Bible. The problem was what they represented: the self-indulgence of idol worship.

To God, it wasn’t so much their sin that was the problem, but their love for their sin. They may have occasionally repented and asked for forgiveness, but in the end they still let the ‘cakes of raisins’ stick around. In doing so, they were revealing the condition of their hearts and what they truly loved – which wasn’t God.

Hebrews 12:1 says, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us”. Sin, like raisins, has a way of “clinging” to us and preventing us from “running the race” as a follower of Jesus. We know that God loves us deeply because He gave His Son so that we could be forgiven and free! But when it comes down to it, we tend to let our sin ‘stick’ around longer than we need to.

For many of us, we let the guilt and shame linger – there’s something about beating ourselves up over our mistakes that makes us think we’ll somehow feel better about them. Some of us cling to rules and ‘trying harder’ – we know we’ve messed up and we don’t want to do it again, so we obsess over sin-prevention. The rest of us get stuck in defeat – using excuses like “This is just who I am” or “It’s not really that bad”.

The thing is that when we turn our focus to the punishment we feel we deserve, we’re no longer worshipping the One who already took the punishment for us. And when we obsess over anything, even sin-prevention, it can easily become the winner of our hearts. Even in resigning to defeat, we’re making the sin what we cherish. We may think we’re making the healthier choice, but God wants so much more for us!

There’s not much I can do about my teeth – my genes have pretty much doomed me to a mouth full of fillings (although this raisin-avoidance thing shouldn’t be too difficult!). But there is something I can do about my sin – I can admit it, receive the forgiveness, and move on. I will slip up and, in moments of weakness, choose self-indulgence, but I also have the choice to not let those moments stick around and drag me down.

Hebrews 9:14 reminds us that “the blood of Christ” has been offered in order to “purify our conscience” so that we can “serve the living God”. As long as we’re still humans living on this planet, we’re going to sin, but the whole point of being saved by Christ is that we’re free. Our sin no longer gets to hold us back from living the full life God has for us!

What sin are you allowing to ‘cling’ to your heart today? Don’t let it stick around! Call it what it is, receive the forgiveness, and let’s get moving!

*American Dental Association (http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/nutrition/food-tips/9-Foods-That-Damage-Your-Teeth)

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 255 other followers

Aware

If there was an award for “Most Spaced-Out Mom,” I would win it. It seems I was born with an innate ability to tune out anything and everything – especially when it comes to things I don’t really want to deal with. Repeated complaints about the fact that your sister just looked at you wrong? Not my problem. Requests for me to get you a snack when you have two hands, two feet, and a brain that can work together to accomplish that task? In one ear and out the other.

Most of the time, though, the information my kids are trying to communicate to me is actually important! The problem is that if I’m working on or even thinking about something else, they have to work hard to get my attention. I have an uncanny ability to focus – but only on one thing at a time.

In fact, as I was writing that last paragraph, we were at a playground and it occurred to me that the small voices I was hearing saying “We’re done. Let’s go, Mom!” were coming from my own children… after they had already exited the area!

aware1

Attention is a need we all have from birth – whether it’s from our parents, our friends, our spouse, or random strangers – we have a deep need to be noticed, listened to, and cared for by the people around us. When we don’t get the attention we need (or want), something inside of us feels unworthy and over time we can start to believe the lies that say we are not valuable.

When Jesus walked this earth, one of his most important missions was to show us the value of every human life. He came to show us God’s compassionate and gracious, steadfast and enduring love – especially toward those whom the religious leaders of the day had deemed unworthy of it. Since it was physically impossible for Him to look into the eyes of every person alive on earth at that time and tell them how deeply they were valued by God, he chose very specific instances with very specific people to communicate this message.

In Mark 5, Jesus and His disciples are on their way to heal the dying young daughter of a synagogue leader. The situation is urgent, but there’s a hold up: a huge crowd has “pressed around” Jesus. (v. 24) It’s not that they were trying to block Him from getting to the little girl, but in their eyes, this might be their chance – their only chance – to get the attention of this miracle-working man.

One member of this crowd was a woman “who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.” (v. 25-26) We cringe at the thought of an illness like this in our world today, but in this time and culture, it was exponentially worse. Not only did it leave her weak and sick, it also meant she was cut off from human relationship. Even worse, she would have been subject to harsh judgment, especially by the religious authorities, as this condition was “popularly regarded as the direct consequence of sinful habits.”*

When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. (v. 27-29)

At which point, Jesus, making His way through the crowd, suddenly stops and says “Who touched my clothes?” (v. 30) The disciples, of course, answer: “You see the people crowding against you… and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?'”(v. 31) Jesus’ question made no sense to them!

But in His ultimate God-in-human-flesh awareness of every single person around him, Jesus knew that one of those who touched him needed to be pointed out. Just as He was headed to heal the daughter of a wealthy, powerful ruler – everyone needed to be made aware that a poor, weak, and lonely woman had also been healed. And even though she tried to stay hidden from the attention, He wouldn’t let her:

Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (v. 33-34)

In healing this woman, Jesus was teaching a serious lesson about the value God places on us as His children – but He was also teaching an important lesson about what it means for us, as His children, to have faith.

As they watched this all go down, I wonder if Jesus’ disciples recalled a very recent situation where their faith was called into question. At the end of the previous chapter, we find them on a boat caught in a “furious squall” where “the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.” (v. 37) Jesus, rather than helping them bail out the boat, was “in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.” (v. 38)

The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 38-40)

So what’s the difference? Why was the woman’s faith commended and the disciples faith challenged?

The disciples thought that because Jesus was not physically helping them, He must not be not aware of their plight – and therefore He must not care. But the woman believed that even if she didn’t see Jesus physically look into her eyes and proclaim her healing, that even if He didn’t notice her touch among all the other hands grasping for His attention, that didn’t mean that He wasn’t aware. And it certainly didn’t mean that He didn’t care.

aware2

Awareness may not be my strongest suit as a parent, but the crazy thing is that for some reason my kids still trust that I care. I know this because they haven’t given up on me yet – the stories, complaints, and requests keep rolling in – even when I’m giving them no physical evidence that I’m paying attention!

Even if you can’t see how Jesus is working in your situation, you can trust that He’s paying attention. Even if He hasn’t moved in the way you expected Him to, you can trust that you are incredibly valuable to Him. His awareness is not a human awareness and His work is not dependent on physical evidence. Even if you think He must be sleeping or too busy being mobbed by the crowds of others in need, you can trust that He’s always aware, He always cares, and He’s always working.

*Cambridge Commentary Mark 5 (http://biblehub.com/commentaries/cambridge/mark/5.htm)

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 255 other followers