Imagine

I am your favorite show’s worst critic. The phrase “That’s not even possible!” rolls off my tongue regularly as I scrutinize the details of characters and scenes. I know I’m mistakenly projecting the limitations of real life onto an imaginary scenario, but sometimes I just can’t help myself!

If you had spent the entirety of your developmental years locked in a tower with the mentally unstable woman who kidnapped you, there’s no way you’d be as socially adjusted as Rapunzel was in Disney’s “Tangled”. Also, your hundred-foot-long hair would not float perfectly behind you without getting *tangled*, and you wouldn’t have known the lights appeared every year on your birthday because there’s no way your kidnapper would have told you the real date of your birthday!

I can’t watch shows like MacGyver (the new version) without wondering why 99 out of 100 bullets shot at the main characters don’t hit them, but 9 out of 10 of their shots are dead on. And when you’re not even MacGyver and you’re locked in the trunk of a moving car speeding toward your demise and there just happens to be a container of random spare parts and you just happen to know how to turn them into a working cell phone? That would never happen!

And as I’ve watched football over the past few weeks, I’ve said out loud, “Who are these imposters? This pass-completing, 3rd-down-converting, red-zone-succeeding team can’t possibly be the Philadelphia Eagles!?” 😉

My fellow television viewers may be annoyed with my lack of imagination, but what can I say? I’m a realist!

In John 6:5, Jesus asked His disciples a question that tested their imagination:

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”

Philip’s realism was revealed in his response:

Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (v. 7)

Knowing that this was an impossible request, Philip made it clear that even the best scenario he could think of would fall short.

The next to respond was Andrew, whose spark of imagination sparked a miracle:

“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

Andrew added a disclaimer to the end of his momentary hallucination, but for a brief second, he imagined that this small amount might feed so many!

Isaiah 55:8-9 says:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

As human beings who have spent the entirety of our developmental years in these bodies and on this earth, it’s easy to see why our thoughts would be just that – our thoughts. These thoughts have been molded by our experiences and we naturally predict and plan based on what we comprehend to be the possibilities.

But God’s predictions and plans come from a much different source than ours – not only is He able to take into consideration factors we are unaware of, He also has full knowledge of what His out-of-this-world power is capable of. Unjaded by human disappointments and earthly limitations, He dreams bigger dreams for us than we can dream for ourselves.

As those five loaves and two fish, meant to feed one, expanded to feed thousands, Jesus wasn’t taken by surprise. He had “already had in mind what he was going to do” (v. 6) and as the disciples watched this unfold, their thoughts became “higher” as well. What had seemed outrageously impossible a few minutes ago was now becoming reality!

Yet even then, in the disciples’ minds, the greatest possible outcome was for all the people to get some food. If they had planned this themselves, they never would have dreamed that everyone would get “enough” to be satisfied and even crazier – that there would be leftovers! (v. 12) This was beyond the biggest thing their human thoughts could have imagined.

Our oldest daughter is an inventor by nature – when she’s not climbing walls, she’s dreaming up plans and creating things. Since I am a realist by nature, my challenge as a parent is to encourage this creativity instead of pointing out all the reasons I believe her ideas won’t work.

The other day she asked me, “Do you think I could make ginger cookies without the molasses and use maple syrup instead?” It didn’t sound good to me and even though I didn’t want her to end up disappointed, I held back and told her to give it a try.

And good thing I did! She found a recipe and made (and I’m not exaggerating) some of the best cookies I have ever tasted. Yum!

Recently I’ve been challenging myself to turn off the music when I’m in the car and use that time to pray for people. I struggle to pray for others – not because I don’t want to or don’t have the time – but because I get sick of praying the same old, same old. My realism invades my prayers as I repeat, “God, rescue her from this” or “Take away his pain” or “Help her come to know You” over and over again.

I can only pray based on what I know of that person’s life, and knowing that the Holy Spirit inside of me knows more than I do, I can ask Him to guide my prayers. But at the end of the day, all I have are my limited “thoughts”. And if all I have is what I can think of, why not say “Here is…” and then pray for the biggest thing I can dream up?!

So instead of praying for my friend to be rescued from a trial, I pray for her future ministry to people in that same trial. Instead of praying for his pain to be relieved, I pray for the people in his life who will come to know Jesus because his pain led him to their place. Instead of praying for a loved one to come to know Jesus, I look at their God-given interests and talents and pray for those who are going to be led to Jesus by their gifts.

When praying these prayers, I regularly shake my head and say, “I can’t even imagine that ever happening!” But I’ve learned to snap out of it and say, “Why not? Jesus can do ANYTHING!”

Will I be disappointed? Maybe. But even if I am – I’m guessing God has something even greater than I can imagine in store!

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

Join 260 other followers

Muddy

“There are two river crossings in this race, but if you follow the flags you’ll never be in more than six inches of water,” the race official announced through her megaphone. For a brief moment, I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into! But as the race kicked off, I could barely contain my excitement. This was my first official “trail race” since my high school cross country days (in Vermont everything was a trail race) and I was ready for 10 miles of adventure!

Upon reaching the first river crossing about 5 miles in, I noticed the people in the water ahead of me were walking very slowly. I wondered why, as this was after all, a race, and the water wasn’t that deep!

As soon as I stepped into the water, though, I found out why: Not only were there lots of loose, unpredictable rocks along the marked route, but all the race traffic had caused the view of these rocks to be completely clouded with mud! Normally, when you’re walking through a stream you can get a rough perception of where your foot is about to land, but in this case, there was no way to tell. Your only option was to have faith that by following the flags you weren’t going to end up soaked!

One of my favorite moments in the Bible is when Joshua and the people of Israel cross the Jordan River, for the first time entering en masse into the Promised Land (Joshua 3). After 40 years of waiting and wandering, God’s guidance to “go” was clear and made even clearer by His promise to miraculously hold back the water so the people could cross on dry land.

But for the priests who were carrying the ark at the front of the line, those first steps must have been uneasy. Joshua 3:15 tells us that the Jordan was “at flood stage” that day – meaning this river was full and moving fast. There was no six-inch-deep path marked out for them and no guarantee that the rushing waters would stop. These steps of faith required them to put their feet down into the unknown at great risk – they were carrying an incredibly valuable possession!

There are so many moments in my days where I wish God’s guidance for me was clearer. If only He would show me exactly what He wants me to do – rather than leave me wondering if the nudge I’m sensing to talk to that person or say yes to that opportunity is all in my head. But recently I’ve been learning that faith isn’t taking a step because the water is clear – faith is taking the step even if it’s not. There are times where, like the Israelite priests, those first steps will lead to a supernatural clearing of the way in front of me, but it’s more likely that every step of obedience is going to be at least a little murky.

As ministry leaders, Tim and I live in constant dependence on the path-marking “flags” of God’s Spirit. This fall, after months of sensing His lead, we made a major shift in the way we do high school small groups. Even though we weren’t 100% sure, we took the risky step of announcing the changes. There were lots of shaky rocks and potential plunges as we reassigned leaders and students to their new groups – but we kept moving. A few weeks later, it was time for a re-shuffle (part of the big change we’ve made) and guess what? The water is still muddy! These are hard decisions, but if we waited until we were 100% sure, we would never move.

About halfway through my first river crossing of the race last Sunday, I got fed up with the murk (and resulting slow pace) of the muddy water and thought, “Surely, this will go faster if I just head over there where I can see the bottom clearly.” I veered a few steps to the left and – you guessed it – ended up taking a waist deep detour I almost had to swim my way out of!

In an instant-gratification obsessed society, it’s hard to wait on the Spirit’s leading and even harder to obey when we don’t see clear, gratifying results. We like the idea of sensing His direction on a regular basis, but it takes more time, practice, and ongoing risk than we’re normally willing to put up with. It’s so tempting to resort to our own ‘common sense’ and take what looks like the easy way around!

He’s got the course marked, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be muddy. Those nudges I get throughout the day or the things I know I’m called to do because they are clear in His Word are there – the question is, am I willing to obey, even if I’m not sure?

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

Join 260 other followers

Tension

From the first episode we watched, our family has been obsessed with “American Ninja Warrior”. This action-packed obstacle-course competition challenges athletes’ agility and strength – especially their upper-body and grip strength.

Our children, desiring to follow in the footsteps of newfound heroes like Jessie Graff and Meagan Martin, could be confused with monkeys based on the large amounts of time they spend “hanging” out on the obstacles in our backyard. Having small bodies that haven’t proportionally caught up to their arm muscle limits yet, they make a row of monkey bars or a trip across the “ninja line” look like a breeze!

Knowing we have no chance of keeping up with our kids, Tim and I have begun issuing each other daily “ninja challenges” – the first of which was to hang (yes, just hang) from the ninja line for 10 seconds (yes, just 10 seconds). It sounds easy, but hanging from this slackline is no simple feat!

And that’s because there’s too much slack. This line is adjusted to hold up our children, but our adult weight and height require us to work that much harder to stay off the ground. There’s not enough tension to hold us up!

It turns out a little tension can be a good thing.

A relationship is defined as the connecting line between two things and the relationship between God and human beings has a long history of tension. Most of the time, we think of this as a bad thing because, after all, tension = tense = stress = bad. And as Christians, we expect our connection with God to be good, not bad! But since He’s God and we’re not, some level of tension is always going to be present.

Here’s how it happens:

Many of us grew up learning Sunday School truths about a God who is mighty and powerful and who uses that power to do supernatural things to help people. We hear stories about His great love for us and His plans to guide us, care for us, and meet our needs. Even those of us who came to know Him as an adult, get a “WOW!” first impression of this God.

But inevitably there comes a point where these truths don’t seem to be holding up. That supernatural power didn’t show up when you needed it. The “love” and “care” you’re supposed to be experiencing is noticeably absent. Instead of guidance, you hear silence.

The Bible is filled with examples of this tension:

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Isaiah 40:27

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
Psalm 130:1-2

Why have you wounded us past all hope of healing?
We hoped for peace, but no peace came.
We hoped for a time of healing, but found only terror.
Jeremiah 14:19

These cries echo our own experience today. We look around at our world, our circumstances, and our struggles and wonder: “If You really are ‘in control’, why aren’t You fixing this?” or “If You’re as ‘good’ as you claim to be, why aren’t You showing it?” The tension mounts as we attempt to reconcile who we believe God to be with what we’re seeing of Him in real life.

If you read on a bit further in these passages, you’ll find that they all end in the same way:

Can any of the worthless foreign gods send us rain?
Does it fall from the sky by itself?
No, you are the one, O Lord our God!
Only you can do such things.
So we will wait for you to help us.
Jeremiah 14:22

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
Psalm 130:5-6

Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:30-31

The Hebrew word for “wait” in these passages means more than the “passing of time” we might think of. It’s rooted in the idea of “twisting” or “stretching” and describes the “tension of enduring, waiting”*. Waiting on the Lord means to remain in the tension – to stay in that place of discomfort and disagreement in your relationship with Him. Because it turns out too much slack is actually the problem.

Slack in our relationship with God happens when we avoid the tension. It develops as we start dismissing the things about God we don’t like or that don’t make sense to us, forming our own “comfortable” view of Him. It grows as we close our eyes to the world around us and sprinkle a spiritual sugar-coating of “God is good” on the situations we don’t want to accept. It may feel good for a time, but if that relational line between you and God has too much slack, it’s not gonna hold you up!

Today’s “ninja challenge” involved setting up a slackline (the kind you walk on like a tightrope) in a local park and standing on it for 10 seconds (yes, only 10 seconds – it’s much harder than it looks!). After several very wobbly attempts, we finally cranked up the tension. A couple tries later and an 11-second victory was mine!

If you’re feeling comfortable in your relationship with God, that may be a red flag that it’s time to up the tension. Maybe you need to open your eyes to the events going on in our world, find a mentor, and start asking some hard questions. Maybe turning the crank looks like opening your Bible and studying some of those passages you’ve avoided because they don’t fit with your theology. Maybe it looks like opening up to a trusted friend about your doubts. Or maybe it means you stop sugar-coating and get brutally out-loud honest with God about a situation in your life.

Tension in my relationship with God may not feel good, but it is good. It’s in the tension that I am pushed to learn things about Him that I otherwise wouldn’t have paid attention to. It’s in the tension where I allow Him to put His finger on the nerves, revealing areas of my life I need Him to do some work on. It’s in the tension that I start seeing faith as a choice to put my life in God’s hands even if He doesn’t come through in the way I expect Him to. Embracing the tension may seem counterintuitive, but it’s in the “waiting” that He holds me up!

*http://biblehub.com/hebrew/6960.htm

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

Join 260 other followers

Hydrate

13.1 miles is a lot of miles. So when my friend Maddie asked me if I was running the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon this fall, I laughed. Having never run more than 9 and never raced more than 5, the thought of even signing up for this race made me sweat!

I gave in, though (Maddie can be very convincing! “It’ll be FUN,” she said 😉) and the training commenced. Beginning with 4 and 5-mile “long” runs in May, we gradually added on miles, hoping to reach 13 by mid-September.

One day, after running 6 miles in 90-degree heat (and being sure I could never.go.any.further), I got on my phone and ordered one of those little hand-size water bottles I’d seen ‘real’ distance runners carry. If I was going to do this, I could never run that long without water again.

And it worked – my 7, 8, and 9-mile runs were much more bearable when I was hydrating along the way!

HYDRATE (2)-01

In John 4, Jesus encountered a woman who knew something about thirst. First of all, he met her while she was collecting water at a well, but further, while most women would have made the trek in the cool of the morning or evening, she was there in the heat of midday. And when Jesus, stepping outside the social boundaries of His time, asked her for a drink, she revealed a deeper thirst – a thirst for truth:

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) (v. 9)

Jesus, knowing that He Himself was the gratification of this thirst (see John 14:6), replied:

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (v. 10)

Confused (and probably frustrated that He didn’t seem to answer her question), the woman continued to question Jesus – in the end revealing an even deeper thirst – a thirst for unconditional love:

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
“I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” (v. 16-18)

As the conversation progressed, Jesus patiently and deliberately exposed her thirst – not to shame her – but to show her how desperately she needed His “living water”. Though the water from this well was sacred to Samaritans (see v. 12), it was only a cistern of standing, temporarily-refreshing liquid. But what Jesus had to offer was the constantly flowing “bubbling up, gushing forth”* stream of His life-giving Spirit.

I love the innocence of the woman’s response to Jesus’ offer:

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (v. 15)

We chuckle at her misunderstanding, but maybe she was on to something. Her thirst had led her to this place – both physically and spiritually – and the thought of being free from this daily chore was appealing! She just didn’t (yet) have the eyes to see that Jesus was freeing her from the greater chore of trekking to “wells” that would satisfy her desire for truth and love.

Life with Jesus is a marathon and the gulps of water you take at weekly visits to the well (or from other sources) aren’t going to keep you hydrated for the long-haul. God has given us the gift of His Spirit, whose constant flow is constantly available to us. Like my running bottle, He’s always right there and little effort is required to access His “living water”. Every time we simply engage in communication with Him by acknowledging His presence and submitting our need to Him, we are taking another hydrating sip!

HYDRATE (1)-01

I was feeling confident the day Maddie and I began our 10-mile practice run a few weeks ago. Water in hand, I was ready to accomplish this milestone distance! But my small sips were not enough and when the nice lady in my phone finally told us we had reached our goal, I almost fell to the ground. I felt completely wasted – I couldn’t go another step, let alone another mile – let alone another 3.1 miles!

I learned my lesson, though, and the next time I ran, I drank a full bottle of water beforehand and still carried the small bottle with me. I felt much better at the end of that run and went into race day knowing what I needed to do.

Unfortunately, my strategy backfired. In my pre-race anxiety I drank two full bottles and then had to deal with the *consequences* of my actions. Five miles into the race I couldn’t take it anymore and had to make the dreaded port-a-potty stop, which was not only disgusting, but also a total a waste of my valuable time!

Our bodies need more water than we think – and if we want our relationship with Jesus to be “living,” we need more communication with Him than we think!

This week I’ve had way too much to do and not enough time to do it. So this morning, I opened up my Bible, read through the passage I’ve been studying, closed it, checked “time with Jesus” off my list, and got ready to move on to the next task.

But as I started to stand up, I felt a very clear nudge to pause (part of which may have been that the six-year-old on my lap was working on a ‘very important’ coloring project and couldn’t possibly move) and pray. It occurred to me that I had read and studied God’s words, but that didn’t mean I had engaged in communication with Him. At first it felt like a waste of time, but it turned out to be exactly what I needed!

Not a single ounce of your communication with Jesus is ever wasted – you can’t over-hydrate your relationship with Him. In fact, if you’re not receiving hydration from Him throughout the day, it’s likely that what’s being wasted is time spent trekking around to other wells looking for something to satisfy your thirst. But gallons of truth and unconditional love are just a prayer away!

How’s your “hydration” level today?

*http://biblehub.com/greek/2198.htm

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

Join 260 other followers