Shortcut

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Last summer the Desilets spent a few days vacationing with our good friends, the Melhorns, at a beautiful cabin in the mountains of central Pennsylvania. One of the best features of this cabin was the wide porch that wrapped around three sides of the house and included lounge chairs, a hammock, and a even a swinging bed! And one of the best features of this porch for our friends (who are parents of a toddler) was the locking gate at the exit.

When you’re a little one and there are bigger-little ones all around you, you want to do what they’re doing and go where they’re going. The big kids, of course, wanted to be on the swinging bed, so naturally, Emmy wanted to be there also. All she had to do to get there was walk the porch all the way around to the other side of the house, but there was a problem: she knew about the shortcut.

Emmy knew that the way outside the gate and around the back of the house was faster – and more exciting! So she would stand at the gate, peering out, hoping that if she stood there long enough (and made enough noise) someone would give in and open it for her. We never did, of course, but that didn’t stop her from trying!

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As adults, we know Emmy’s pain well because we also love shortcuts – why take the longer, harder way when there’s a shorter, easier route available? Even if that road has potential pitfalls – we’d still rather unlatch that gate and take the risk!

Over the past couple of weeks at our church we’ve been learning about a subject most of us wish there was a guaranteed, safe shortcut around – conflict. One of our elders, Bill Buelow, has been sharing with us biblical truth about disagreements between believers and what God has to say about resolving these issues and restoring peace.

No matter how much we don’t like conflict, we’re humans, which means we have a soul characterized by desire, emotion, and passion.* We also have a sinful nature that skews that desire, emotion, and passion toward the wrong things. So, as we interact with other humans, conflict is inevitable – and this week Bill gave us several practical steps we can follow from God’s word as we seek to restore peace in our relationships.

In a nutshell, these steps include:
1) Evaluating your own actions, motives, and ego
2) Preparing your heart and mind to proceed with humility
3) Confronting the situation in an appropriate way

Unfortunately, it’s really tempting to look at those steps, decide they’re not for us – and take the shortcut instead. Whether it’s avoiding the situation entirely (my specialty 😉), going outside the lines by sharing our frustrations and opinions with others (so we can ‘gather a team’ of supporters), or skipping straight to the confrontation step (bypassing the potentially painful self-examination and preparation) – we love the shortcuts!

Every time we have a disagreement or conflict, we stand on that porch with a choice. The easy way looks so appealing as we peer through the gate – while the longer way seems unreasonably hard (and potentially impossible). But I know that every time I bust (or sneak) through to take the shortcut, I find out exactly why it was blocked off in the first place – and I wish I had taken the other route.

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The good news for Emmy is that she did finally give in. She took the hand of a very patient 8-year-old and made the long trek to the other side where she had a blast swinging on the bed with the big kids!

When we choose the shortcuts, we venture out on our own, but when we walk in obedience, we never go alone:

“For I am the Lord your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you.”
(Isaiah 41:13)

Are you standing at the gate today? The easy way may seem more satisfying in the moment, but God really does know what He’s talking about. He never promised His way would be easy, but He did promise He’d go with you – which means that even if things don’t work out in your favor, you’ve already got something much more satisfying than the shortcut could ever offer!

*http://biblehub.com/hebrew/5315.htm

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Stickers

Their stickiness is irresistable – setting them apart from simple, plain, boring pieces of paper. Glittery stars and hearts, or better yet your favorite Disney characters, and you can attach them to things!

As a mom, I have a love/hate relationship with stickers. They are a fun prize, an easy activity, and our motivation to survive those long waits in the doctor’s office. But when they don’t do what they’re supposed to do – when they don’t stick because they’ve lost their stickiness (after being moved 17 times in the car ride home) – they result in great frustration!

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One of the hardest things about growing in our faith is that the things we learn seem to have a hard time sticking. We listen to a sermon, read a quote, or hear a song that moves and inspires us. We are reminded of a truth about God or see ourselves in a new way because of what He’s done and we know we’ll remember those words forever!

But by the next day (or even the next hour) the details of life and work and family have invaded and we’ve moved on. I always have really high hopes after I read the Bible in the morning that “THIS time I’m gonna make it stick!” And then the next morning I open to where I left off and realize I never thought about it again!

Mark 8 tells the story of Jesus miraculously transforming a small amount of food into enough to satisfy several thousand hungry people. We love this story because not only does it prove that Jesus had God’s supernatural power, but it also shows that He embodied God’s great compassion.

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” Mark 8:1-3

Jesus knew that with this many people in such a “desolate place,” (v. 4) His supernatural power was their only hope for food – so He made it happen: “And they ate and were satisfied.” (v. 8) Amazing! Everyone was not only fed, but they were full!

So now it was time to settle in and let Jesus continue teaching, right? That’s the picture I always had in my head, but verse 9 says that after they picked up the leftover food, “he sent them away”. He gave them the food so that they could go!

As we see from verses 1-3, the provision was meant to prepare them for the journey. They couldn’t stay there forever with Him – not just for logistics’ sake – but because His words for them were not meant to just be heard! They were meant to stick by being applied to their daily lives.

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One of the true marks of motherhood is going out somewhere, noticing that people are looking at you a little strange, and realizing there’s a random sticker stuck to your arm or better yet – in your hair! It may be embarassing, but it also makes me smile to think of my girls and wonder who decided I needed to be decorated that day.

A couple months ago, I committed to praying daily for a specific list of people in my life. I’ve never been good at remembering to pray for others, so I decided to set reminders in my phone every hour or so throughout the day. This seemed like a great idea, but after a couple days I was beginning to get overwhelmed as I thought about how I could best pray for each person. I knew if I didn’t make a change soon, I would just end up giving up!

One day, after closing my Bible and having a “That was so good! I hope I remember it all day!” thought, my first prayer reminder notification went off. I was in a hurry, so since the thoughts from my study were fresh in my mind, I decided to pick one, narrow it down to a simple phrase, and pray that for the first person on my list. Then I used the same phrase for each person I prayed for that day.

And guess what? You can’t pray the same phrase 12 times in a day without remembering it and without thinking about how it applies to your own life. All of a sudden what I read in the morning was finally sticking throughout my day!

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This weekend we had company coming from out of town, which called for a kids’ bedroom cleaning. If you’ve been upstairs in our house, you know this is big deal! Our three girls share a room and the bigger they get, the more stuff they accumulate – which means the floor of their room is a rare sight.

When things were picked up, I stood back to take in the view (because it may only last a day) and noticed at least seven old stickers stuck to the wood floor! For all the times you want something to stick and it won’t, these stickers are stuck because years of daily life have walked all over them. They are pretty much ground into that floor and not coming off anytime soon!

“Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.” (Psalm 119:97) God’s words can not only satisfy our hearts and minds as we read them, but they also have the ability to remain in our thoughts as we go. It may take some effort on our part, but when we apply His words to the mess and chaos of daily life (especially when we feel like life is walking all over us), that’s when they really start to stick!

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Aha!

When my friend Sue and I drove into Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah, we were in need of a break. After three days of driving, crowded parks, and catching up on each other’s lives, these introverts needed some quiet time – and Sue’s “Secrets of the National Parks” book showed us exactly where to go.

The trail to the “White Rim Overlook” was a short 8/10 of a mile to a majestic view of the canyon. Most people visiting parks like this head straight for the “famous” views or hikes, so the parking lot for this trail was almost empty. There were no people in sight and it was remarkably quiet – Perfect!

We quickly parked, grabbed our stuff, and headed out. After seeing the sign for the trail, we continued on, following the small rock tower ‘cairns’ that marked the path.

After a few minutes, though, we started having trouble. In our experience thus far, the National Park trails were well marked – at every turn there was a cairn and any place you might be tempted to veer off was blocked off. But this trail was all over the place and the markers seemed few and far between!

At one point our hike came to a halt – we couldn’t see a trail marker anywhere! Since we were not interested in getting lost that day (especially when no one else was around), we had a couple options: Keep moving and risk getting lost or retrace our steps to find the trail again.

I’m not one to give in and go back, so I took the next step in front of me and “Aha!” – there it was. That mere 2 and 1/4 feet (or whatever my stride length is) made all the difference – the next cairn was now in plain sight and we were on our way!

What do you do when you don’t know what to do? I know I have moments every week where I feel at least slightly lost, overwhelmed, or just unsure of what the right choice is. I always wish in that moment that I had someone who could show me – with 100% assurance – what my next step should be.

When Paul prayed for the church at Collosae, he knew that one of the things they needed most was God’s direction and guidance, so he prayed that they would “be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9). Paul knew that God was the only one with that 100% assurance and His desire was to “fill” His followers with His perspective.

The thing is that it’s not just about knowing what to do – it’s about actually doing it. As Paul went on, he mentioned why God would give the knowledge of His will: “so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him: bearing fruit in every good work” (Colossians 1:10a). The knowledge, wisdom, and understanding they received from God was meant to define their stride as they walked.

And then if they did that, something really cool would happen – they would end up “increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10b). It turns out that it’s a cycle: God gives the knowledge, we act on it, and then He gives us more! “Aha!” Knowing what to do in the unclear only becomes clear after we do what we already know to be true. As Ellicott’s commentary suggests: “Do and thou shalt know”.*

Recently, I was at an event for one of my kids and in my sitting-there-forever-waiting boredom, I opened Facebook (mistake number one). It had already been a stressful day, so I was hoping for some fun pictures of my friends and their families to make me smile (why would I ever think that?). But instead, I clicked on something I never should have clicked on (why do I do these things?) and read words that I could never unread.

I quickly spiraled into panic-mode. I was trapped in a room full of people and I couldn’t get in touch with my husband (who normally calms me down in these moments). I couldn’t stop the words from running over and over in my brain and I felt totally lost – I was overwhelmed and I didn’t know what to do. I prayed and prayed, “God, why is this happening? What do I do? Please help! I need Your peace!”

But a few minutes later, instead of feeling peace, I started feeling like God was telling me to go talk to another mom at the event. “Are you kidding me?” I thought, “I’m a mess! I don’t even know her and You’re expecting me to do this NOW? You give me the peace first and then maybe I’ll do it.” I sat there stubbornly for the next few minutes thinking I must have heard Him wrong – surely He wouldn’t expect this socially-awkward introvert to do something like this on a day like today!

But… I did it anyway. And guess what? Half an hour later I had pretty much forgotten about my stress – I had had a wonderful conversation, learning about someone else’s life instead of focusing on my own, and “Aha!” – it was there that God gave me the peace.

There are so many times that we don’t know what to do – times where we feel lost and overwhelmed and we want God’s help! We want Him to fix the problem or at least show us what we need to do to fix it! Last week, as my friend Emma and I were studying this passage, she said, “Sometimes we just can’t let go of our stressful situations because we don’t think we can move on until it’s all fixed. We have to get THIS taken care of first! But maybe it doesn’t work that way.”

The problem is that God’s “will” is not my happiness and comfort. His will, according to Colossians 1, is Jesus. So instead of the peace we’re expecting, according to author and speaker Jill Briscoe, “He gives you courage”.** And every time I use that courage to obey the next step He has put in front of me, even if it’s just one single stride, and even if it’s in a completely different direction than I first thought, “Aha!” – He opens my eyes up to even more of who He is.

At the end of our White Rim Overlook hike, Sue and I stopped to look at the trail sign that we had blown by in our rush to start the hike. “Aha!” There was a good reason for our confusion – we had taken the wrong path! We assumed the trail went straight ahead when, in reality, it went to the right. Thankfully, in our confusion and wrong turns, the paths had met up and we did not end up on the 2.7 mile “Gooseberry Trail”!

I love these verses from the book of Job: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?… Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand… Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!” (Job 38:2, 4 & 21)

In our limited human knowledge and wisdom we tend to think things should be done a certain way – especially when we’re overwhelmed. But when we ask God for His knowledge, we can expect His direction might differ from the way we thought we should go. It may even be completely the opposite!

What situation do you need God’s guidance in today? The word for “understanding” in Colossians 1:9 comes from the idea of two rivers meeting – it means “a putting together in the mind”.*** So ask God to pour into you the knowledge of His will, meet it with a step of obedience, and get ready for the “Aha!” on the other side!

*http://biblehub.com/commentaries/ellicott/colossians/1.htm
**IF:Gathering 2017
***http://biblehub.com/greek/4907.htm

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Shockproof

“These will be perfect for us!” I said to Tim. With our very active, fairly disorganized lifestyle, ‘shockproof’ phones would surely suit us well. I had done my research and the Samsung Galaxy S5 was said to be one of the most rugged phones on the market – I even watched videos of it being dropped onto cement and run over by a car! So we signed the contract and each became the proud owner of a Galaxy S5 – the “Sport” (a.k.a. even more rugged) version.

But, alas, within a couple months, even with our extra-tough cases, we had both cracked our screens! We were, of course, *shocked* because this wasn’t supposed to happen. It was hard to accept the fact that even our best efforts couldn’t prevent the cracks from forming… and that we were now stuck with damaged screens for almost two more years!

In my early years of being a Christian I thought I was strong. The cracks I had from my childhood hardships and teenage mistakes were erased. Because of Jesus, I had overcome and was ready for any challenge that lay ahead of me. I was going to make a difference in this world, no matter how hard things got, because nothing could be too hard for Him! I genuinely believed I was shockproof.

But time after time I’ve found myself broken – shattered by circumstances and people – or most often, by my own sin. It turns out I’m much more fragile than I thought I was and just because I have the power of Jesus inside of me, that doesn’t make make me immune. Every time I think I’ve got it all together, another crack appears – and most of the time I don’t even know how it happened!

In 2 Corinthians 4:6, Paul encouraged the believers by reminding them of the incredible gift they had been given: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” As believers, a light has been powered on inside of us so that we can see the truth about Jesus and then help others see it, too.

Which sounds great… until you read the next verse:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (v. 7)

Clay jars, like glass phone screens, are fragile and easily broken. No matter how strong and powerful the light inside of us is, that doesn’t mean the container is unbreakable. Our human bodies, hearts, and minds are prone to cracks. Notice the “we” and “us” of this verse. Even Paul – the writer of a large portion of the Bible, a man who gave his entire life to growing the church and who did give his life in refusal to stop growing the church – even Paul knew he wasn’t shockproof.

When I think about this it frustrates me. Why would God do things this way? It doesn’t make sense! If you were going to choose a “vessel” for your “light,” why would you not search for the strongest thing you could find? Why would you purposely choose something weak?!

It reminds me of the scene in the gospels where Jesus walks up to Matthew, a despised tax collector – a man who betrayed his own people by working for the enemy and, in his selfishness, likely stole from them as well. Matthew was sitting at his tax collector’s booth – he was literally sitting in his sin – when Jesus looked him in the eye and said, “Follow me”.(Matthew 9:9)

Every time I watch this scene in “The Bible” series (Episode 7, about 10 minutes in – check it out if you can!) it breaks me all over again. It just doesn’t make sense! Why would Jesus choose someone like that? Why would He choose someone like me? He knew from day one how fragile I would be and how many cracks I would take on and yet He still looks at me, in the middle of my darkest moments, and says, “I choose you“. WHAT?

It turns out, though, that this cracked-up life of mine is exactly what He’s looking for. Because my cracks remind me of where I came from and how much I don’t deserve anything that God has given me. They remind me of how He’s worked in my life by covering every single one of them with His grace, peace, and love. And when I look at them, I know without a doubt that I have no room to tell Jesus how He should do His work.

A few months ago, we were finally able to upgrade to new phones (yay!). But, honestly, I kind of miss the cracks. No matter how annoying they were, there was a certain camaraderie I felt with other people whose screens were also shattered. It was an easy conversation piece as we swapped stories on how it happened – and it was never offensive to ask the question because mine was obviously broken, too.

It’s frustrating to look at our lives and realize we’re Matthew. But that means we’re Matthew! Because “while Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.” (Matthew 9:10) Sometimes our brokenness, even when it’s a result of our own sin, has less to do with us and more to do with those who can relate to us and meet Jesus because of it.

We’re not shockproof, but maybe that’s a good thing. We don’t know why God would choose us, but maybe He knows something we don’t. Maybe the cracked ones are the best ones because they allow the light to shine though. And maybe all those fracture lines in our glass reflect the light of Jesus a little differently than we otherwise would.

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