Plus

We did the math: A warm, sunny, fall day, plus an afternoon free of after-school activities, plus a four-year-old now confidently riding a two-wheeler equals one thing – time for a Desilets family bike ride! As Tim and I packed up the bikes, water bottles, and snacks, we wondered, “Why don’t we do this more often?!” We picked up the girls from school and headed over to the Schuylkill River Trail for a fun-filled adventure.

But less than a minute in, the fun quotient of our excursion went into the negative as the frustrations began to add up. Our failure to check the pressure in the bicycle tires (or bring the pump to remedy this problem) left one kid instantly in tears and unable to continue. Plus, our “if I don’t get food within five minutes of leaving school, I lose my mind” child had apparently neglected to eat the snacks we packed for her and quickly ran out of steam. We could have stopped and turned around right there, but our youngest was having none of that – she came for a bike ride and she wanted a bike ride!

What was supposed to equal stress-relief resulted only in stress-increase, and as we drove home, we wondered, “Why do we ever do things like this?!”

It’s discouraging when your best intentions end in frustration. You have a vision in your head of how something is going to go and expect the real-life outcome to match, or even exceed, your expectations. But when mistakes and mishaps occur (often one after another) you wonder if it’s even worth the effort!

This happens in our relationship with God as well. We all have next steps the Holy Spirit is leading us to take, and though they sound good ‘on paper,’ there’s a good chance that even with our best intentions, things won’t go the way we expect them to. Whether it’s reaching out to a friend who doesn’t know Jesus, getting involved in a ministry, starting a Bible reading plan, or kicking a bad habit to the curb, we often start out saying, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” but end up thinking “Why did I even try?!”

Although there’s no mathematical formula to following and living our lives for Jesus, the apostle Peter does encourage believers to “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8) I don’t know about you, but I sure do want and need all of those things in my life “in increasing measure”!

In Matthew 6, in His teaching on worry, Jesus assures us that rather than being distracted by the toil of adding things to our own lives, we should “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (v. 33) Notice that it doesn’t say “you will add these things,” it says they “will be added”.

In God’s Kingdom, He does the math and as we “make every effort” to take those next steps, He’s adding to our lives the goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, and love we’re seeking! Unfortunately, the method He uses to create those qualities almost always involves circumstances and people not going or doing things according to our expectations. Even our best intentions have some element of self-focus and it’s through frustration and trial that ‘self’ gets subtracted to leave room for His character to be added.

Though our perfect Desilets family bike ride didn’t happen that day, we did learn a few things – always leave a spare pump in the car, and make sure the snacks get eaten! But more than that, through the frustration, we all had at least some small amount of goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, or love added to us that day.

God’s math doesn’t always compute in our heads, but the solution is clear to Him. He’s not asking you to take that next step because He needs you to, it’s just that every time you do, He gets to add more of “these things” to you. It may not work out as you had hoped, but the “increasing measure” of His character in your life will always be a plus!

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Winning

“Don’t worry, the good guys always win!” I reassure my kids as they hide their faces under blankets in fear of what’s going to happen next. Every time we sit down for a “Mommy and Chicas Movie Night,” it’s a guarantee that these words will come out of my mouth at least once. The movies we watch aren’t even that scary – mostly cartoon comedies involving animals (“Angry Birds” and “Minions” are our favorites as of late) – but we (yes, ‘we’) all still need the reminder!

Every remotely suspenseful movie or show follows a similar pattern as the plot comes to a close. At the beginning, a problem is introduced and from that point on, the audience is taken on a roller coaster ride of apparent victory and defeat for the hero. First they’re losing, then they’re winning, then they’re losing, then they’re winning again. Then, out of nowhere there’s a surprise twist and it seems defeat is imminent – until the hero pulls off a miracle and triumphs!

Thankfully, even when watching a kids movie I’ve never seen before, I can guarantee my girls they have nothing to worry about! The good guys will always win! There have been times, though, where I feel I may be doing them a disservice because in real life, the “good guys” don’t always win.

Or do they?

At Easter we celebrate the greatest victory ever – but it’s a victory that didn’t always look like a victory…

The plot starts with a God who creates the human race and then chooses one family to be His people. He promises them His presence and protection, plus land and a great Kingdom of their own!

Then there’s a famine and they’re forced to be slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years. But wait! Through a series of supernatural signs and wonders, God frees them to go, take the Promised Land, and become a nation – which they do!

Sadly, though, things go bad and they lose everything. Defeated, scattered, and taken captive, they hold on to the hope of a coming Messiah – a Savior who would be sent by God and, with God’s power, win back their land and restore their Kingdom!

Unfortunately, “the people thought the Messiah would be the man who could beat Rome, and if you were in his shoes, you couldn’t know until you tried. The penalty for failure was crucifixion. If you got crucified, you were not the Messiah. There were at least eighteen Messiah candidates that we know if in Jesus’ day. They all met the same fate.”* Can you imagine what it was like for the people to get their hopes up only to have them dashed again and again?

But then this guy Jesus shows up and there’s something different about Him. The miracles He’s performing are proof that He has God’s power and He’s drawing crowds by the thousands! The rumors are flying – could He be the one?

In Mark 8:27-29, “Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, ‘Who do people say I am?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah.'”

This was a gi-normous claim! Essentially, Peter was saying, “You’re the one! You’re the Savior who’s come to restore the kingdom!”

But then Jesus says this in Mark 8:31-33:
“He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”

Matthew 16:22 records Peter as saying, “‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!'” We’re quick to tear Peter down for this statement, but death, especially death by crucifixion at the hands of Rome, would mean failure – to Peter it would prove Jesus was not the Messiah!

Then it happens – the worst fear of Peter and so many others comes to be as they witness His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. And, “with a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last” (Mark 15:37) This is that part of the plot where all hope is lost and defeat seems imminent.

But wait! On the third day, some women go to the tomb, only to find, “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” (Matthew 28:6) The hero triumphs in the end!

It looked like Jesus lost, but He didn’t! It looked like failure, but it turned out to be the greatest success of all time. He didn’t win the battle they were expecting Him to win in the way they were expecting Him to win it, but He won for them something far superior – the ability for anyone and everyone to become a child of God and a member of His eternal Kingdom just by believing in Him. We now have the promise of His permanent presence and protection in this life and for eternity!

Although I’m not a fan of suspense, Tim has recently convinced me to broaden my television horizons beyond sitcoms and reality shows. Last night, as we were watching one of our new favorites, we got to a scene where an FBI agent was walking into a creepy abandoned underground storage bunker. “No! Don’t do it!” I said as I covered my eyes in fear.

A few seconds later, I came to my senses, picked up my head and said, “Duh! She’s one of the main characters! They’re not going to kill her off now!” And suddenly, with this assurance, I was able to watch the rest of the scene without hiding.

In church this Sunday in Vermont, Pastor Chris said about the resurrection: “If this really happened, and we believe it as Christians, then what in the world do we have to fear?”

It’s not naive to believe that the good guys always win because it’s true! God is God and nothing will ever defeat Him or His purposes. The plots of our individual lives may go up and down like the movies, but even when it looks like all hope is lost, we have nothing to worry about because God is still winning! And when He’s winning, we’re winning – no matter what the circumstances look like.

*”Who Is This Man?” by John Ortberg, p. 166

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Splinter

As a mom I wear many hats – “tutor,” “taxi-driver,” “nutritionist,” “mediator,” “counselor,” and the list goes on. Of all my many roles, though, “nurse” is my least favorite – especially when I have to pull out these bad boys:

Splinters are a regular occurrence with our crew of climbers and every time someone shows up with one (sometimes days after getting it), I know I’m in for a battle. Because “It hurts!” they want me to “Make it stop!” but… “Do you have to use THOSE?!”

Over the years, I’ve become a professional splinter-remover. It might cause a momentary increase in pain, but I’ll get it out before you know it!

Nothing splinters our relationship with God more than guilt. It’s a nagging twinge of pain reminding you of what you’ve done wrong and how you’ve failed to measure up. The sting of regret has a way of holding us back from receiving and trusting in His love.

A couple weeks ago, as I was removing a splinter from the hand of my other regular patient – my husband – he said to me, “It’s amazing how something that tiny can cause so much pain!” When we sin, we may expect the incident itself to cause pain, but we don’t realize that those leftover bits of guilt can cause even more pain if we let them stick around.

In the Old Testament, God, knowing His people would struggle with sin and subsequently, guilt, set up a system of sacrifices. As the guilty person made their offering, the spiritual penalty was lifted from them and put on the animal – blood that was not their own was shed for their forgiveness (see Hebrews 9:22). They walked away having seen a visual representation of their pardon and the transfer of their guilt.

When Jesus died, He became the final offering and “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”.(Hebrews 10:10) We no longer need to make offerings for our sin since “by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (10:14) The spiritual penalty for our sin was transferred to Jesus as He hung on the cross – and He took our guilt as well.

As a Christian, I can accept that Jesus took my sin, but I have a harder time accepting that I can let go of the guilt, too. Remorse can be a good thing when it leads me to an awareness and acknowledgment of sin, but after that its job is done. Unfortunately, like many believers, rather than let the tweezers do their thing, I have a tendency to let those splinters stay lodged deep in my soul.

Guilt is a comfort zone because even though it nags away, we believe the constant reminder will force us to change. Maybe if I keep remembering what I did and how sorry I feel, I can guarantee it won’t happen again. I’ve sat up many a night reliving things I’ve said or done, telling myself, “I won’t ever let that happen again!”

Sometimes we hold on to guilt because the emotion of ‘feeling bad’ seems a deserved punishment. Lingering guilt multiplies the pain and helps us get back at ourselves for those “I can’t believe I did that!” moments. If we just let it go, it’s like we’re ‘getting away with it’.

Other times we think if we feel bad enough for long enough, we’ll somehow prevent any further consequences of our sin from happening. Maybe if I show God how bad I feel and how sorry I am, this will all be over. Even as we worship, we keep a grasp on guilt, hoping it will produce deeper emotion as we sing to Him.

But none of this feeling extra sorry, inflicting extra pain, or generating extra motivation is necessary because God has already said, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” (Hebrews 10:17) If He’s choosing to not remember my sin, I can follow His lead and do the same! I can trust that, “where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.” (10:18) It’s then that I can truly “draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings.” (10:22)

Splinters happen and so does guilt. But anything beyond the prick of the Holy Spirit leading us to repentance is not of God. Whether it’s real or imagined, from sin or from an honest mistake, prolonged guilt has no place in the life of a Christian.

My acceptance of Jesus as Savior is also an acceptance of His acceptance of me – no matter what.* My weaknesses, failures, and even intentional sins are no longer mine – they are His and my life is now part of His much bigger plan. In her book, “Nothing to Prove,” author Jennie Allen says, “Your eyes may still feel glued to the carpet with fear and shame but God has a sneaky way of not only forgiving our past sin but redeeming the choices we thought had ruined everything.”

What guilt have you been letting nag at you?
Will you hold out your splintered hand and let the ‘Professional Splinter-Remover’ take it away today?

*”Ruthless Trust,” Brennan Manning, Chapter One

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Paddle

You may think that as an ‘adventurous’ family, we are skilled at all things adventure. It may come across that we are ‘naturals’ at the activities we do in nature. Our photos may give the impression that we do these things with ease. And though this may be true about some of our endeavors, it’s certainly not true of them all.

Take canoeing, for example.

Each summer I gladly and confidently hop into the front of one of these unstable, narrow vessels having somehow blocked out the memories of how poor I am at paddling! I’m quickly put in my place, though, with the first strong gust of wind or direction-changing current. I can turn on the elbow-grease for a few minutes and attempt to remember some of the “special strokes” to help us recover, but it always seems like I don’t have much to offer!

However, as my well-schooled-in-canoeing husband always reminds me in those moments, my job at the front of the boat is simply to paddle. The steering and guiding of the boat is his job from the back, and as long as I am willing to consistently put the oar in the water and pull back, no special strokes or skills are required!

How kind the Lord is! How good he is!
So merciful, this God of ours!
The Lord protects those of childlike faith;
I was facing death, and he saved me.
Let my soul be at rest again,
for the Lord has been good to me.
He has saved me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling.
And so I walk in the Lord’s presence
as I live here on earth!
(Psalm 116:5-9)

The writer of this Psalm, overwhelmed with the goodness of God in his life, wonders in verse 12:

What can I offer the Lord
for all he has done for me?

Although we can in no way ‘make things right’ or attempt to ‘balance the scales’ for all that God has done (even a lifetime of effort couldn’t make up for an ounce of just the gift of salvation through Christ!), we do have something to offer Him. We can’t pay Him back, but we can show our gratitude by giving our minds, hearts, ears, voices, hands, and feet to the work He’s doing on this earth!

Unfortunately, for many of us, we put our paddle in the water, run into a pile of waves, and panic – feeling like what we have to offer is totally inadequate. But I think we could learn a few things from the widow in Luke 21.

While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.” (Luke 21:1-4)

Of all the gifts dropped off at the temple that day, Jesus pointed this one out because it was different. Being God, He knew what was going on in the widow’s heart and knew what had been going on in her heart up to that point – and He wanted everyone else to know, too.

Jesus knew that in order to even begin her journey to the temple that day, she had to admit that she had next to nothing to offer. As a widow in this time and culture, she likely had no way of providing for herself. Those two small coins were all she had and in that moment of decision to pick them up and start walking, she had to be willing to admit to herself and anyone else who would be aware of her offering, that she was poor. She had to admit that in comparison to the other gifts offered that day, what she brought to the collection boxes was very small.

Jesus also knew that she had to be brave enough to offer it – even if it meant humiliation. This was a huge risk because of the public nature of the offering. She would be opening herself up to potential ridicule over her small gift. She might even be scolded and told not to even bother giving it! In the face of all the impressive gifts being given, she would surely be looked down on by others.

And lastly, Jesus knew that she had to be willing to give it all. If she was going to give anything, she had no choice but to give all that she had! And she did. In the original language, instead of saying she gave “everything she has” it says she gave her “bios” – her “livelihood” – she gave the entire means she had of sustaining her “life” at that time.

Jesus pointed this out, making clear to everyone who was listening that an offering is more about the size of the willingness than the size of the gift! Whenever you offer your mind, heart, ears, voice, hands, or feet to serve, you’ll likely feel that what you have to offer is drastically “less” than what others are offering. But the work of God’s Kingdom is not about the impressiveness of your talents and skills – it’s about your willingness to consistently and simply paddle.

What can I offer the Lord
for all he has done for me?

In comparison to what God has offered me – I have next to nothing. His kindness, goodness, mercy, protection, and salvation are things I can’t even comprehend, let alone match. But “next to” nothing is still something! Whoever you are – you have something to offer. There is some way that God is calling you to get involved in His Kingdom work. It may not be impressive, but at the very least you have hands and feet that can mop a floor or prepare a meal!

Like the widow, though, you have to be brave enough to offer it – even if it means humiliation. When you put yourself out there to serve, there’s a 100% chance of awkward, a 100% chance of feeling inadequate, a 100% chance of feeling like you’re not making a difference, a 100% chance of failure (on some level), and a 100% chance someone won’t approve of your offering. The question is – are you willing to offer what you have anyway?

The hardest part about being the front-paddler in a canoe is trusting that what you’re doing is helping! According to canoehowto.com’s instructions on canoeing basics, “It’s hard, but the paddler in the front must resist the urge to steer! That’s entirely the responsibility of the person in the stern (back) of the canoe, you’ll end up working against them if you try.”* In those moments when the canoe seems to be headed off-course and you’re efforts aren’t making a difference, you can trust that the back-paddler is in control and will get you to your destination!

We have a tendency to hold back when it comes to serving – not because we think we’re too good for it or because we’re selfishly holding on to what we have to offer, but because we don’t understand how valuable our small offering is. God doesn’t need you to serve, He can do whatever He needs to do on His own (yep, He’s that good!). But He has uniquely formed your whole life, your “bios”, to be an offering.

We can’t pay God back, but we can offer our lives to be involved in what He is doing in this world. You may have next to nothing, but next to nothing is still something. If you’ll just take a couple wobbly steps into the boat and start paddling, He will steer and guide your effort exactly where He wants it to go!

*https://www.canoehowto.com/canoeing-basics/how-to-paddle-a-canoe/

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