Stale

In our family, we try to be fairly healthy. We’re not the best at it, but we do try to ration the sugar, especially at breakfast on school days. There is one exception, though: SUMMER.

Summer for the Desilets is travel time. On top of some camping trips and a family vacation, we spend several weeks in Vermont for our SERVE summer youth group trip. This is a fairly consuming endeavor, so when it comes to food, all bets are off! We’ve even developed a tradition that before leaving for Vermont, we go to the grocery store and everyone gets to pick out two boxes of any cereal they want. Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes, Cocoa Krispies, Lucky Charms, you want it – you get to have it!

Sugar is very effective at creating strong reactions in my children. There is the running around screaming because “I’m so happy and have so much energy!” which wears off just in time for someone to get hurt (or even worse someone’s feelings to get hurt) and then we lose our minds!

The funny thing is that inevitably, many months later, no matter how much we love it (and fight over it) there are at least one or two boxes of this stuff left in our cabinet at home! This cereal is completely stale and no one is eating it, but I’m still not allowed to throw it away 😉

Experiences with God can be just like sugar cereal – when we see God work or feel His presence, a reaction occurs within us. In that moment, emotions like joy, passion, conviction, gratitude, and love well up. But when the moment is over and life goes back to ‘normal,’ the feelings wear off and our relationship with God can start to feel stale. We wonder if God is there or if He’s even working in our lives because we can’t seem to feel Him anymore.

Mark 8:11 takes us to a scene where: “The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.’ Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.”

As religious leaders, highly respected by the common people, the Pharisees weren’t big fans of Jesus. His impressive miracles and controversial teachings were massing crowds of thousands. His popularity was overtaking theirs, so, in an attempt to discredit Him, they put His power to the test. In doing this they were saying, “Do something that will produce a reaction in us and then we’ll be satisfied that You’re from God.”

But instead of performing for them, He “sighed deeply” in grief at their misunderstanding of His power and walked away.

In the next verses, we find the disciples on a boat with Jesus. As recent eyewitnesses to one of these impressive miracles (the feeding of the four thousand), they had experienced the satisfaction the Pharisees were demanding. But they still didn’t get it:

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” (Mark 8:14-15)

Like any good teacher, Jesus took advantage of this teachable moment – while they were thinking about physical bread, He began talking to them about spiritual bread. In warning them about the “yeast” of the Pharisees, He was telling them to stay away from the dangerous belief that God’s work is all about the actions of people or that certain reactions need to happen inside of people to prove that God is working.

The next verse is my favorite. It’s classic disciples – classic humans:

They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.” (v. 16)

I can see Jesus shaking His head with that same deep grief He experienced a few verses earlier. The disciples could not step outside of their humanity and stop thinking about their own physical satisfaction for even a moment!

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?” (v. 17)

The number one reason our faith seems stale is because, like the religious leaders, we think God can only be working if certain emotional reactions or human feelings are present. Like the disciples, we have a hard time stepping outside of our humanity and need for physical satisfaction – we want the things of God to be all about us. Our faith gets stale when we make a personal God into a “personal god“.

God is intensely personal. He formed you and He knows you inside and out – better than any other person could ever know you and better than you could ever know yourself! He cares deeply about every aspect of your life – every action, experience, thought, and emotion. He’s a personal God.

Because of this, there are many times God works through those actions, experiences, thoughts, and emotions. But I’m scared that in our Christian culture we’re starting to believe that we have to feel God in order to experience Him. We’ve started equating feelings with God – and the more we make the God of the Universe about us and our feelings, the smaller He gets. When we make Him a ‘personal good-feeling-giving assistant,’ we strip Him of His power to work in all things and all feelings and all times and all places!

We naturally seek after high and mighty “God moments” – tingly, tear-inducing, emotion that brings us to our knees or big stories of how God has worked powerfully in someone’s life. But I’ve found that God is most often at work in the exact opposite. It’s in the mundane, unseen, everyday, “real life” moments that He’s doing His greatest work!

Like the sugary goodness of our summer cereals, those high “God-moments” always wear off and even if we could repeat them every day they would get old – and we would stick them in the back of the cabinet and forget about them. Maybe God’s a smart parent who doesn’t give them to us over and over again for a reason! If He did we might start worshiping the experience instead of worshiping Him.

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
“Twelve,” they replied.
“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
They answered, “Seven.”
He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”
(v. 17-21)

Jesus holds in Himself every ounce of satisfaction you’ll ever need and He’s offering you enough of Himself to satisfy you every moment of every day. You don’t need more feelings or experiences to prove that!

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Inside

Some people are natural-born athletes. I am not one of those people. Everything about me is uncoordinated – I regularly trip over my own two feet!

There are several athletic activities that us uncoordinated people avoid – like jump roping, sports that involve balls, and group exercise classes to name a few.

My avoidance of these activities has been fairly successful – until the other day when my friend Jess invited me to go with her to a group exercise class. If that wasn’t scary enough, it was a “Dance Party” class, yikes!

My stomach was in knots as I walked into the room – this was way out of my comfort zone! I may have run over a hundred miles this year, but this kind of exercise goes against everything inside of me!

As the class started and we worked on our first set of moves, I felt pretty good. Step forward, step back, step forward, step back. “Hey, I think I can do this!” I thought. Then we added the arms and it was all over 😜

When God made Adam, He said “It’s not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18) – but I think sometimes we’d rather be alone than have to deal with some of the people in our lives! As we interact with others, it often goes against everything inside of us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14).

As human beings, we carry within us “the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). Everything inside of us wants our relationships to give us good feelings. Love is supposed to feel good. Family is supposed to feel good. Friendship is supposed to feel good. And a lot of times it does! But there are many more times it doesn’t.

When we care about someone, we expect them to care about us in return and we expect them to show it by acting in ways that line up with what we believe is right and good. That pesky sinful nature we were born with makes this difficult, though, and instead of feeling good feelings, everything inside of us wants to get mad, get even, or give up altogether!

One morning about a year ago, I was stressed out and burned out and and grumpy with my husband for who knows what and in my quiet time that morning, I felt God leading me to encourage him that day. Tim’s primary “Love Language” is “Words of Affirmation” but it’s at the bottom of my list of strengths. So as I heard him walking down the stairs, I said to God, “NO! I CAN’T! It goes against everything inside of me!”

And then I heard a very clear voice say, “No it doesn’t! If you have My Holy Spirit inside of you, then it doesn’t go against EVERYTHING inside of you!”

In Galatians 5:16-17a, Paul tells the believers to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.” There are going to be many times when God’s command for me to love seems contrary to my natural desires, but thankfully “me” is not all that’s inside of me!

A few verses later, Paul writes: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Notice he doesn’t say “the fruit of you” or even “the fruit of your obedience” – he says the “fruit of the Spirit”.

It’s not the fruit of you, it’s the fruit of Him. I don’t know about you, but love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are not things that I’m naturally good at. They are all things that go against the “me” inside of me. But in every moment of choice, the Holy Spirit is available and willing to produce this fruit in me as I yield to Him.

By the time we got to the halfway point of our workout the other night, I was getting in the groove. Being surrounded by a group of women who were struggling (and laughing) as much as I was helped, but I also discovered this secret: Whenever I was off track, going in the wrong direction, or just could not get my hands and feet to work together, instead of trying to fix the problem while in motion, I stopped moving, thought about it, and restarted.

Whenever loving your neighbor (or your spouse, or family member, or co-worker, or friend) seems impossible for you to do, you can pause and make a conscious choice to let the Holy Spirit in you love them instead. You can “remove yourself from the transaction”* – your flesh and its self-focused emotional desires don’t have to be the deciding factor!

If you’ve put your faith Christ, then you have God’s Spirit in you and now everything inside of you is not just you – it’s Him, too. And the Holy Spirit’s not a professional dance aerobics instructor smiling (way too much) and saying, “You can do this!” He’s saying “I can do this!” We love people not because we can do it, but because He can!

*Eric Samuel Timm, Outcry Philadelphia 2016

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Lean

Heights have never been at the top of my fears list. As long as there is some sort of wall or fence to keep me from falling, I can look out over any ledge and enjoy the view. Take away the barrier, though, and the paralyzing pain of anxiety sets in!

Last summer, having purchased our long-awaited and saved for first family SUV, we put it to the test by driving up the Mt. Washington Toll Road. At 6,288 feet, this peak is the highest in the northeastern United States.

As we pulled into the entrance, we saw this sign:

I laughed as I read this and jumped out of the car to snap a photo of it for my cousin, Elizabeth, who was with us that day. Heights are an issue for her and though she was not going to “appreciate this experience,” I thought she might appreciate the memento 😜.

As we set off, I could hardly contain my excitement – I’d been wanting to do this for years! As the elevation increased, so did Elizabeth’s anxiety, and I remember thinking, “She’s freaking out about nothing! This isn’t bad at all!”

Then we got above the tree line:

On this narrow road (with NO GUARDRAILS, remember) two cars needed to fit! What may appear to be a gradual hill off to the left is an almost vertical thousands-of-feet drop-off and since we spent most of our ride up with the drop-off on the passenger side of the car, I was just a couple feet (and NO GUARDRAILS) away from this:

So, here’s the scene from the back of our car:

And here’s the scene from the front:

I was so freaked out that I couldn’t even bear to look out the window! All I could see in my head was us tumbling over the side of the cliff and by instinct I was leaning into the middle of the car. For some reason in my head, my weight was a determining factor in our car staying on this road, and by keeping my weight toward the middle, I was surely saving us from disaster!

As human beings we have been made “in the image of God”. (Genesis 1:27) We tend to think of this phrase as meaning we reflect His appearance or more importantly, His qualities, but being made “in the image of God” means that, apart from the rest of creation, we have the ability to reason and make decisions about right and wrong.

Genesis 1:28 records God’s instructions for Adam and Eve to “subdue” and “rule over” creation, but a couple chapters later, in Genesis 3:5-6, the balance of power was upset. God had set Adam and Eve to rule, but there was one part of creation that He did not give them authority over – themselves. And when temptation presented itself in the form of a talking serpent who said:

“For God knows that when you eat from [the tree] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

When they picked the fruit and took the bites, Adam and Eve chose self-rule over God’s rule. They turned from being made “in the image of God” to being “like God,” setting into motion a power-struggle that has defined humanity since.

It’s not like I wake up and say, “Hey, I think I’ll sin today! That sounds like a great idea!” It’s just that when it comes to things like my relationships, my time, my health, or my finances, I tend to lean toward the middle of the car – I lean toward control over my own destiny. As humans we want to make our own decisions, decide for ourselves what’s best for us, and have the final say in what’s right and what’s wrong. We want to rule.

Unfortunately, we were not created for self-rule. God offers His all-knowing, all-seeing, perfectly loving and caring rule over our lives and no matter how knowledgeable and wise we think we are, the only thing self-rule has ever resulted in is pain. Every time I lean away from God’s authority in my life, I upset the balance of power and hurt happens.

Thankfully, Colossians 1:13-14 reminds us that God “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

The word “dominion” in this verse means “power, authority, or weight”.* When we lean toward ruling our own lives, we’re putting ourselves under a weight that we were never meant to carry and a burden we were never meant to experience. Self-rule is a deceit that leads to spiritual depression – it looks like leaning away from God’s oppressive and confining rules and making your own choices would relieve you of a burden, but it turns out it only adds an unbearable one. Being in charge of your own life may seem great when things are going your way, but when things go wrong, guess who the weight falls on? You.

As Adam and Eve found out in Genesis 3, self-rule is a place where what looks like freedom gets quickly flipped into shame and separation. When temptation is staring me in the eye, it appears to be offering me freedom from God’s ‘unreasonable’ commands, but the moment I take it (or very soon after) the whispers of “It’s all about you! Do it your way! Get what you want!” turn into “It’s all about you! It’s all your fault! You did this to yourself!”

Self-rule looks like a lightening, an unburdening, or a freeing, but it turns out to be the exact opposite – depression, worry, shame, and separation. It really is a dominion of darkness!

But when Jesus, who Paul says in Colossians 1:15 is “the image of the invisible God” – the exact representation of His authority and power on this earth – died and rose again, a transfer was made. Jesus came to rescue us from the heavy weight of self-rule and bring us into a new Kingdom where His rule leads to release – because even though in this Kingdom it’s not about you, *sigh of relief* it’s not about you.

The weight of authority over our lives was always meant to be God’s because He’s GOD and He can handle it:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)

He’s above it all, over it all, and bigger than it all. It’s all from Him, through Him, and for Him! When we receive Christ into our lives and put our faith in Him, we no longer have to live under the dominion of self-rule and we now have the privilege of living under His perfectly wise and perfectly loving rule where the burden is lifted and put back on Him where it belongs.

As I was hugging the console of our car near the end of our drive up Mt. Washington this summer, I sat up and started laughing – this time at myself! “What in the world am I doing?” I thought, “Why do I think that my 140-ish lbs could possibly make a difference as to whether or not this 2 TON vehicle stays on the road? Why do I think that this lean is giving me any control?”

It occurred to me in that moment that I could have been hanging out the passenger side window, leaning completely in the other direction, and it would not have changed a thing! But then I realized there was one thing it would have changed – it would have changed me. It would have changed my own understanding and my own level of trust in the driver, my husband, who really was in control.

When you receive Christ into your life, He moves you out from under the weight of self-rule and into the freedom and release of the perfect and perfectly loving rule of His Kingdom. But that doesn’t mean you always want to stay there.

I know there are many times every day where I want to lean back – moments where I want to be “like God” and do things my way. There are so many times where I know what God would have me do, but I don’t want to do it His way because my way feels better, my way feels safer, my way feels more comfortable and more satisfying to me. I go right back to the self-rule Adam and Eve chose in Genesis 3:5-6.

But there’s another 3:5-6 I have the ability to choose:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
(Proverbs 3:5-6)

Your lean doesn’t determine your destiny (because God’s gonna do what God’s gonna do!), but it does testify to where you’ve put your trust.

Where are you leaning today?

*http://biblehub.com/greek/1849.htm

Still

Parents of school-age kids know one thing to be true: May is crazy month! Between the concerts, presentations, class parties, and championship games, you’ve gotta squeeze in end-of-the-year projects, end-of-the-year gifts, and find that missing library book. After six years of this, I’ve learned to see it coming, but it’s still a whirlwind!

For introverts like me, May is a particularly rough time. Thankfully, since the weather is usually nice, I can get some quality alone time by going for a run in one of our local parks.

The Audubon Trail is my favorite local “getaway”. From the wooded trails of the Audubon Nature Center to the winding riverside path through Lower Perkiomen Valley Park, this 4-mile loop is mostly quiet and peaceful.

I say “mostly” because there are a few exceptions – most notably, when the trail merges with Egypt Road to cross the Perkiomen Creek. I dread this section because, after forgetting that I live in suburbia for a couple miles, I’m suddenly running just a few feet away from the loud rush of oncoming traffic!

The cool thing I’ve found, though, is that if I just turn my head and look in the other direction, I see this. The busyness and chaos behind me is easily forgotten in the stillness of this view:

When life gets overwhelming, we search for peace. Mostly we just want to make it all go away by hiding in our cozy beds and watching Netflix, but since that doesn’t usually work out so well, we look for other ways to still the stirring chaos.

As I search for peace in my own life, I know that Jesus is the only answer. Not only did He live at perfect peace when He walked this earth, but He also promised to give us that peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Over the past several years, I’ve developed a habit of receiving this peace from Jesus during my alone time with Him. Especially during stress-filled seasons, it’s imperative for me to take the time to grab my Bible, put my earbuds in, and forget the world as I pray and read. It’s my daily walk on that serene wooded path.

But what I often fail to realize is that this stillness is also available to me on the Egypt Road bridges of my days – all I have to do is turn.

Psalm 23:2 says that God, as my wise and caring Shepherd, “leads me beside still waters.” No matter what chaos is going on in or around me, His peaceful still waters are always immediately available.

Author and speaker Jill Briscoe calls these waters, “the Deep Place where nobody goes”. In her book of the same title, she tells story after story of leaving the “shallow places where everyone lives” to go to “the Deep Place” and have “conversations with God on the steps of my soul”. Even in the midst of conversations, social situations, and other circumstances, Jill describes turning in her mind to Jesus – to talk, listen, and receive His peace in that exact moment.

Though I wish I could spend all of my days wandering the quiet wooded paths, my life – especially in this season – is more like the busy Egypt Road bridge. Thankfully, the peace that Jesus gives is “not as the world gives” and it’s available to me 24/7. Every time I pause and turn and look in His direction, my perspective changes. In the still waters I see more clearly who He is and who I am as He “restores my soul” (Psalm 23:3)

Even with the chaos of life surrounding us, we can experience His peace!

I ran to the Deep Place where nobody goes and found Him waiting there.
“Where have you been?” He asked me.
“I’ve been in the shallow places where everyone lives,” I replied. I knew He knew. He just wanted me to admit I’d been too busy being busy.
“I’m running out…” I began.
“Of course,” He said. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
He sat down on the steps of my soul in the Deep Place where nobody goes and smiled at me. Angels sang; a shaft of light chased away the shadows and brightened my daily day. I smiled back.
“I’m such a fool…”
“Shhh,” He said, putting His finger on my lips.
He touched my hurried heart. Startled, it took a deep breath and skidded to a near stop. My spirit nestled into nearness in the Deep Place where nobody goes.
My soul spoke, then: He answered with words beyond music. Where “on earth” had I been while “heaven” waited? Such grace!
*

*”The Deep Place Where Nobody Goes: Conversations with God on the steps of my soul” by Jill Briscoe, p. 16-17

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Mosaic

When our plane landed in Minneapolis last Wednesday morning, I could only think of one thing: Where’s the nearest bathroom? My two cups of coffee that morning, combined with the anxiety of what I was about to undertake (being the main speaker at a retreat that included adults – yikes!) had me scanning the terminal for restroom signs as soon as I walked off the plane.

After finding one, I hooked a right and rushed in, only to be brought to a standstill by the sight of this:

Mosaics are fascinating works of art. Small pieces of colored tile or glass perfectly placed in patterns that, when you step back, blend visually into a larger picture. From far away, you would barely know the individual pieces exist, but the closer you get, the more you see how their unique shades and shapes work together to form the picture.

Our obedience to God is beautiful to Him. Though we’ll never get it all right, every day He presents us with hundreds of opportunities to follow His lead and choose His ways over our own! Every time I obey, I’m placing another piece in the mosaic of what God is doing in and through my life.

Some pieces are easy and obvious – I know clearly what God has asked me to do and there is little to no stress involved in my choice to obey. These pieces are often routines in my life or things that my personality naturally bends toward anyway.

Some pieces are just awkward and odd. At almost 40 years old, I know myself well and yet I daily sense nudges to do things I would normally put on my “weaknesses” list. It’s tempting to ignore the Spirit’s leading and discard a piece that doesn’t seem like a good fit, but I always find out He has a perfect spot for it I couldn’t see.

Some pieces are sharp and scary. In these instances, it’s not that obeying is going to cause some discomfort, it’s that it’s probably going to hurt. My first reaction is “No way!” because I don’t think I need them. Jesus can be pretty persistent, though, so swallowing my pride and just placing the piece is usually the best option!

The third chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes opens with this truth: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” (3:1) This well-known verse is followed by a list of potential “matters” we face as we do life on this planet. Our days are filled with choices and the writer, King Solomon, acknowledges the variety and polarity of the work God has asked us to do – it’s complicated!

However, he sums it up by saying that God “has made everything beautiful in its time.” (3:11) Our close-up view looks like a mishmash of mismatched bits, but since He stands outside of time, He sees the completed work. Some of those obedience pieces we hold in our hands may seem meaningless, unfitting, or unwanted, but He’s got a perfect spot for every one.

As he sums up the book, Solomon writes: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” (12:13) With God as the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful designer of our mosaics, what else do we have but to obey? It can seem so hard in the moment, but just a glimpse of His perspective should be motivating enough!

Last year, Anna and I worked together to make a plaster garden mosaic. I was pretty excited that she got this as a gift and also pretty excited she was going to need my help with it – I’d always wanted to do one of these!

The instructions suggested laying out our pattern on the table before setting the pieces into the wet plaster. This seemed silly since, in my mind, the pieces were going to easily shape and fit themselves together like the picture I had in my head. It’s a good thing I obeyed, though, since it ended up being a lot harder than it looked!

I’m so glad I’m not designing what God is doing in and through my life. As the ultimate Designer, God sees the completed larger picture and has hand-crafted every piece that makes it what it is. I’m not in control, but every day I have the privilege of holding the pieces He’s given me and every time I obey, I put one of those pieces in its perfect place. My obedience cannot and will not earn me salvation or any ‘extra’ love from God, but it sure is beautiful to Him!

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