Repost: Weight

Sometimes I feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders. Maybe it’s because, as the stereotypical ‘oldest child in the family,’ I was born feeling overly responsible. Maybe it’s because I’m a mom who, like all moms, just wants to do what’s best for my kids. Maybe it’s because I’m a youth leader and want SO badly to see this next generation thrive. Or maybe it’s because I spend too much time reading my news app.

This weekend I had the great privilege of being part of a middle school retreat at an outdoor adventure center in Maryland. During the day on Saturday, students had the chance to participate in one of three options: the high ropes course, the giant swing, or the zip line.

At one point, when I was standing near the end of the ropes course, my friend Ashley, who was assisting students as they came through, was bouncing on the ‘bridge’ part of the course and leaning off the side of it. The students nervously waiting in line for their turn looked shocked and as Ashley walked back to ‘safety’, one of them said, “I can’t believe you did that! Weren’t you scared?”

“No way!” Ashley replied. “I’m not going to fall – this equipment is rated for over 5,000 lbs!”

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If you’ve ever seen a high ropes course or similar adventure activity setup, you can understand the anxiety of the students as they waited. This course was high up in the trees and the only solid places to stand on were small platforms attached to trees at the junction of each wire tightrope. Yikes! However, as Ashley pointed out, they could absolutely trust that they were going to be completely safe and, in fact, experience a thrill like nothing they’d ever felt before!

Here’s why:

1) A very trustworthy source – a trained and experienced adventure center employee – had assured them that this was safe.

2) As they stood waiting, they watched, with their own eyes, several other students safely complete the course.

3) Their harnesses, lanyards, and carabiners would keep them securely attached to the wires of this very securely constructed course. And as long as they kept one of their two carabiners attached at all times, it was impossible for them to fall.

The funny thing is that even after knowing, seeing and hearing all of that, when their turn came, they still moved very cautiously through the course, gripping the wires – or whatever else they could grab – as tightly as their hands would allow them.

They may have known that the equipment was trustworthy, they may have even believed that the equipment was trustworthy, they may have even told others that the equipment was trustworthy, but when it came down to it, unless they were willing to let go, step off and put their entire body weight in the care of that equipment, they didn’t truly trust it.

Trust, at its core, is simply a transfer of weight. When we receive Christ into our lives, we are transferring the weight of the spiritual consequences of our sin over to Him – trusting that His death and resurrection will be what holds us securely at peace with God for eternity. Then, once we have Him in our lives, we have the opportunity every moment to continue to transfer the weight of the burdens of this life onto His shoulders – because He can totally handle it.

Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Taking on a ‘yoke’ doesn’t sound like rest, but He wasn’t saying this to add more burden to our lives. He was saying, “Put your own yoke down – stop trying to do this on your own! Attach yourself to Me – I’ll carry the weight!”

When Ashley told those students that the ropes course equipment could hold 5,000 lbs, she wasn’t kidding. The required “Minimum Breaking Strength (MBS)” for the equipment we were using is exactly that – 5,000 lbs. That’s more than 50 times their bodyweight! And the truth is that most equipment, when tested, doubles or even triples the required MBS.

When Jesus said His burden was light, He wasn’t kidding. Being God Himself in human flesh, He knew exactly how much weight God was capable of carrying. And He knew that even the combined burdens of every human being at every point in all of history would look to God like we look at a tiny feather. His power – and His ability to love and care for us as His people – is double, triple… infinitely greater than we can imagine!

Every day, in every situation, I have the choice to trust. I know from a very trusted source, the Bible, that God is trustworthy. I have seen others trust Him and come out safely on the other side. But when it comes down to it, I have a tendency to say that I’m trusting, to believe that I’m trusting, and even to tell others that I’m trusting – when the reality is that my hands are still tightly gripped on whatever I can find to make myself feel safe and secure. And until I transfer the weight, I’m just out here dragging my own yoke around, thinking I’m some sort of hero for being so ‘strong’.

The crazy thing is, when I do let go – when I step off that ledge and very intentionally shift the weight of the world, the weight of my world, into His care – it may be scary at first, but I always I experience a thrill unlike any other.

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(Originally posted September 2015)

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Repost: Dunk

We sat with our life jackets buckled, paddles in hand, and minds filled with excited (and maybe a tiny bit of nervous) anticipation as a Nantahala River Guide gave us our official instructions.  It was finally “rafting day” of our North Carolina vacation and even though almost everyone in our group had done this before, it was good to get a refresher on the basics: like how to hold the paddle (T-grip only!) and where to sit (“Crack-on-crack,” of course).

But one piece of advice caught us by surprise.

The Nantahala River is famous for its fast flowing freezing cold water and steady, moderate rapids – making it a perfect trip for tourist beginners who want to get a taste of the “white-water scene”.  But, like many of its counterparts, the Nantahala also has a reputation for being dangerous – even deadly.

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And so, some of the most important instructions involve what to do if you or someone you are rafting with falls out of the boat.  The funny thing is that many of these recommendations seem to be the opposite of our human instinct!

For example, if you were to have the unfortunate experience of falling out of your raft, your instinct might be to put your feet down and try to stand up. Instead, though, you are to float on your back with your feet out of the water until the others in your raft can get to you.

Along those lines, if someone in your raft does take that accidental polar plunge, it’s now your responsibility to pull them back into the boat.  There are several ways to do this: Hold a paddle out to them, grab them by the life jacket, or dunk them.

Wait, what?

You could hear the nervous laughter go through our little audience – “Ha ha, he’s totally kidding, right?”  Our un-white-water-educated brains could not comprehend this!

“No, I’m serious!” he said.  “If you’re struggling to pull someone up, pushing them under will allow the life jacket to do what it was designed to do – propel them up and out of the water, giving you that extra boost you need to get them into the raft.”

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As I read the words of Jesus, I find that He spent a great many of them preparing His people for what was to come.  When He told the disciples about His departure from this earth, they were understandably nervous!  But then He told them that it was actually going to be to their advantage that He go away.

Wait, what?

“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)

Just like those original disciples, we often have a hard time wrapping our limited minds around what God is doing. In fact, our biggest questions often come down to, “If God is in control, why does He allow bad things happen to His people?” and “If God loves me, then why is my life so hard right now?”

I’ve been right there with you in those questions. I’ve experienced the plunge into those raging waters that felt like they were going to consume me. And at times I’ve even felt that rather than rescuing me, God was actually pushing me further under.

But it’s in those desperate, weak, and sinking moments where the Helper – the Holy Spirit – goes to work.  That’s where, like that life jacket, He begins His job of propelling us upward.

Because it’s the helpless who know they need an Advocate.
It’s the hurting who will cry out for a Comforter.
It’s the lost who will admit their need for a Guide.
It’s the broken who will listen to the Reminder of God’s mercy and love.
It’s the weak who will depend on His Power.
It’s the dead who know they have no hope except to be brought back to life in Him.*

It may go completely against our human instinct, and of course the Spirit’s work is not limited to us being “down,” but sometimes that extra “dunk” is exactly what allows Him to propel us right out of the pit!

Thankfully, none of us actually needed to apply our rafting guide’s advice that day – we all stayed safe and (relatively) dry in the boat.  But, there was no hesitation in keeping our life jackets tightly buckled and our minds prepared for what might be headed our way.

So maybe the next time I feel like I’m sinking, instead of going into panic mode, instead of trying to put my feet down and stand on my own, I’ll simply surrender and allow my Helper to do His thing.

Because it turns out that dunk may be to my great advantage.

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*John 14:16-17 (NIV/ASV), John 16:13, John 14:26, Romans 15:13, Titus 3:5-6

(Originally posted August 2015)

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Repost: Rush

I can think of very few times over the past several months (wait – maybe years), where life hasn’t felt like a big rush. My “urgent” to-do list only seems to grow and between school drop-offs and pick-ups, kids’ activities, errands, ministry life, trying to squeeze in some exercise (and an occasional conversation with my husband), there’s so much pressure to just GO GO GO.

Even our vacation here in the mountains of western North Carolina has felt rushed. There’s just so much we want to do and see!

But the other day we went to a place where “rush” is fairly impossible: Parson’s Branch Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This 8-mile “primitive” road takes about an hour to traverse and is only passable with a 4-wheel-drive vehicle.

What makes Parson’s Branch stand out from other backcountry roads is that it includes 18 fords. No, not Fords (the vehicle make) or fjords (a narrow arm of the sea surrounded by steep cliffs), but sections of a road where a stream or river flows over the road – and you (in your 4-wheel-drive vehicle, of course) get to drive through it!

So, as you drive along, this beautiful, winding mountain stream repeatedly crosses your path. And 18 times, you get to “ford” it.

One of the most thrilling things is to drive fast through these crossings, causing water to spray up high out of both sides of your vehicle. Of course we tried this at least once – and what a rush!

But at one particularly picturesque crossing, I told Tim to stop the car so we could all get out and get the “full ford experience”:

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Walking through the ford was breathtaking – and not just because the water was freezing! It was such a unique and refreshing feeling to plant your feet in a spot in the middle of the road and let the stream flow over and around them.

Now THAT’S a rush.

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As believers in Christ, streams of living water are constantly crossing our path. Every day we have the opportunity to pause, plant our feet, and soak up God’s word.

But if you’re like me, there’s a huge temptation to just speed through our days – to skip the fords and take the fast route instead.

My life was changed drastically three years ago when, after following Jesus for over 15 years, I finally sent all of my excuses packing and just started doing it. I started spending time in His Word every morning.

I started traveling on the “Parson’s Branch” road of life. I made the conscious choice to exit the superhighway and take the much slower road, where I have to say a whole lot of “no” to a whole lot of things and where I don’t accomplish nearly as much as I used to, but where I allow the streams of living water to cross my path every day.

But even in that, I’ve found another dangerous temptation: To speed through those “fords” hoping for the “rush” of a tweetable quote, a power verse, a new insight, or just something “thrilling” that sprays the water up high and carries me through to the next ford.

And when I rush through my time with Jesus like that, I’m missing out on the “full ford experience”. I’m missing out on the refreshment of planting my feet in that stream, allowing His words to flow over and around me – no matter how “boring” or “I’ve-read-this-passage-a-thousand-times” they may seem.

There’s a popular worship song out right now – maybe you’ve even sung these words:

Spirit of the living God
Spirit of the living God
We only want to hear Your voice
We’re hanging on every word”*

We sing this and we mean it – we want to hear His voice! But are we really hanging on every word? Because He’s given us hundreds of thousands of them, right there in front of us, just waiting to be soaked in.

Or are we only looking for the “rush” of something “new” and “cool”?

God’s word (and every single word of it) is like that stream – it’s alive and active and flowing from a constant, unending Source.

So get off the highway and exit onto the slow road. And once you get there, remember to stop and take it in – take His Word for what it is, whatever it is at that crossing, and soak it up.

Over time you’ll find it’s a rush unlike any other.

*from “Spirit of the Living God” by Vertical Church Band

(Originally posted: August 2015)

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Repeat

Words and their combinations have always fascinated me. As a child, I loved reading books and everything else in sight! Not only did I love stories and information, but the editor in me was constantly on the lookout for typos, mistakes, or things that didn’t make sense.

One of those things that didn’t make sense was the “Directions” on the back of shampoo bottles. First of all, who needed instructions on how to wash their hair? It seemed pretty self-explanatory to me. And second, why did they always end with “Repeat”? Why would you need to wash your hair again if you just washed it? Also, with no quantification on the number of times to repeat, if you were to follow these instructions literally, would you be stuck in the shower washing your hair repeatedly for eternity? My 10-year-old mind was very bothered by this!

When God freed His people from their captivity in Egypt, He sent them en masse, on foot, into a desert wilderness. Moving these hundreds of thousands of people would be an extraordinary task, but He would not leave them alone. He gave them visible guidance through pillars of cloud and fire and He also provided food for them.

The majority of this food was a substance they named, for lack of a better term, “manna,” meaning “What is it?”. Manna was “white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey.” (Exodus 16:31) Every night it miraculously came down from the sky, coating the ground with fresh, belly-filling and energy-giving nutrition.

At first, the hungry people couldn’t get enough of this stuff, but it wasn’t long before: “The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!'” (Numbers 11:4-6)

Like manna, the words of God often seem to repeat themselves. Though there are hundreds of thousands of words in the Bible, many of which are new and exciting during the early years of our faith, the time comes when it all starts to sound the same. It’s tempting to skim (or skip) over passages because “I’ve read this story before” or check out during a sermon because “I already know all of this”.

If you surveyed Christians on why they struggle to spend time reading, listening to, or studying God’s Word (and got them to answer in total honesty) I believe boredom and “It all sounds the same” would be close to the top of the list. With a constant feed of new things to read on the screens of our smartphones, the “same old, same old” of the Bible rarely seems like an appealing choice!

But since “repetition is the key to learning,” it appears God might know what He’s doing in all of this. Just like we learn math principles by repeating them with different numbers and grammar principles by repeating them with different words, our ever-changing circumstances and situations provide us with endless opportunities to apply and re-apply the basics of God’s Word.

I’m convinced we can never hear the foundational truths of God’s great power and purpose in this world too many times. No matter how long we’ve been saved, there’s never a time when we don’t need to hear the gospel of Christ’s great love and sacrifice preached to us. We can never be over-reminded that the Spirit is at work in us, drawing us to obedience and, through that obedience, drawing others to Himself.

Recently, I pulled an old devotional book off my desk and opened it up. A gift from my high school Bible study leader, I read every page of “My Utmost For His Highest” by Oswald Chambers during my first two years of college. As I flipped through the pages, I was shocked to see that the things I had underlined are the same things I might have highlighted today! If I read it all back then, how could it seem so new to me now? With my life and world in a constant state of change, the same words that challenged me 20 years ago are still challenging me now.

After letting it bother me for so many years, this week I finally asked my trusty friend Google about the “Repeat” instruction found on shampoo bottles. Is it a marketing ploy to get consumers to use (and therefore buy) more shampoo or should I really be washing my hair more than once? It turns out there may be merit for some people in shampooing twice as the first wash will “clear away dead cells and waxy oil,”* making it possible for the second wash to penetrate further for a deeper clean.

Because the Word of God is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12), even the repeated words are never duplicate. Those “same old” verses and ideas have a chance to be “new” every day because I’m never the same exact person in the same exact situation I was in yesterday! Even if I feel like I’ve heard it all before, the repeat application of God’s words are His purposeful work of penetrating my very human (and very forgetful!) soul and spirit.

So, the next time God gives you some “manna” you feel like you’ve read or heard a million times, instead of complaining, skipping over, or dismissing it, take a closer look and take it in – “Lather, rinse, and repeat!”

(Speaking of repeating… it’s that time of year again! The kids will soon be on break from school and my brain is about to be consumed with writing and planning for our summer SERVE youth group trip. I’ll be back after Labor Day with more of these words, but until then I’ll be reposting some of my favorites from the past two years. Enjoy and thanks for reading!)

*http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/01/shampoo-twice-tips-lather-rinse-repeat_n_1922563.html

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