Shine

Ice cream is my weakness. Over the last few months, I’ve been taking steps toward eating healthier, and though I’ve found it fairly easy to move away from the baked goods, candy, and chocolate – a bowl of that cold, creamy goodness to end a stressful day is hard to resist!

A couple weeks ago, I succumbed to temptation and came home from Wegman’s with a half-gallon of Turkey Hill in the seasonal “Pumpkin Pie” variety. This “Limited Edition” might not be available next time and it sounded like the perfect pre-Thanksgiving treat!

When I went to put it away, I realized there wasn’t much room in the freezer, so I brought it down to the extra freezer in our basement. This seemed like a good idea as I was planning on saving it for a “special” day anyway.

But fast-forward a few days and Tim left for a week-long conference and my in-laws left for North Carolina – leaving me as the only adult in the house. During the day, my introverted-self doesn’t mind this, but nights are a different story! When my brain is home alone at night, every fictional or true story I’ve heard about home invasions or creepy stalkers becomes a real possibility (this is why I shouldn’t watch TV!).

This is especially true when it comes to the basement.

Friday night seemed like the perfect night for a bowl of Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream. But after getting through dinner and bedtime for the girls, I realized it was dark. And the ice cream was in the basement. And there was no way I was going down into that basement in the dark. Yes, I know what you’re thinking – “It’s always dark in basements!” but there was no way my fear was letting me make that descent at night while I was the only adult in the house! “I’ll just remember to go get it during the day tomorrow,” I thought and settled for a cup of herbal tea.

Fast-forward to Saturday night and guess what? I forgot to get the ice cream again. Yes, I could brave it – I could turn on the light and just go really fast. But the crawl space. And the furnace room. And all those dark corners! I settled for another cup of herbal tea and decided this might actually be an effective dieting strategy. 😉

“Fear of the dark” has long held its place on the list of things we fear most as human beings. Darkness presents the opportunity for threatening things to hide from our view. In the dark, we’re face-to-face with the unknown and experience loss of visual control over our surroundings. Darkness invokes fear because there could be a monster under your bed and a malicious stranger might be around that corner.

For Christians, spiritual darkness can create a similar reaction. If “light,” as John’s gospel claims, is “divine illumination”* which reveals the truth about Christ’s identity as the only way to know God and the only giver of the grace necessary to know Him (John 1:14-18), then darkness is the opposite of that. Spiritual darkness is ignorance or denial of (or flat out rebellion against) the truth about Jesus.

As believers, a quick look around – especially during this ‘festive’ time of year – can heighten our awareness of the spiritual darkness in our world. It’s hard to see what we feel is supposed to be a celebration of the Person who saved our lives’ ‘birthday’ turned into a materialistic, media-overblown, frenzied sham with the facade of “peace, love and joy”. And this time of year also heightens our awareness of loved ones – family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors who are in the dark about Jesus.

When we’re aware of the darkness, it brings out our fear of the unknown. We think things like, “What is happening to our country?” or “This world is going downhill!”. We are scared for our friends and family when they say things that reveal their ignorance or denial of Jesus. Panic and worry well up within us when Jesus is only seen as a “special baby” – celebrated for a few hours and then boxed up in the closet for the rest of the year.

When Jesus came to our world as a human being, he was the “Word becom[ing] flesh” in order to “dwell among us” (John 1:14). He is referred to as the “Word” because He was the human expression or embodiment of the thoughts of God. And, as John states, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” (John 1:4) By nature, Jesus is the light that reveals to us the truth about God.

“Since the sun cannot be supposed, to exist a moment without emitting light,” Jesus has, for eternity past, shone and will for eternity future, shine the truth about God.** John tells us that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5) When something shines, it is not passively existing – it is actively radiating and sees darkness, not as something to fear, but as an opportunity to shine light.

When my last night of being home alone arrived two Sundays ago, I realized I had, yet again, forgotten to go get the ice cream during the day. But I was fed up with living in fear, so I did it. I switched on that light, and confidently walked down those stairs (just kidding – I ran down, grabbed it, and bolted back up the stairs without taking a breath!)

And boy, was it worth it!

The problem with fear is not the fear itself, the problem with fear is what we allow it to prevent us from doing. Having accepted the truth about Jesus and received Him into our lives, we carry this active, shining light with us. But our fear of spiritual darkness often leads us to run in the other direction – busying ourselves with the hustle and bustle of the season. Fear allows us to huddle up in our Christian ‘bubbles’ where things feel ‘safe’. Fear causes us to avoid the conversation because we worry we’ll push someone further away.

Every area of spiritual darkness we encounter is an opportunity. Jesus isn’t scared of or discouraged by ignorance, denial, or rebellion – He sees it as a perfect place for Him to shine the simple light of His grace! And in the words of singer Josh Wilson, “somebody needs the light you have”.*** Jesus’ light is best radiated by us when we follow His eye-to-eye, hand-to-hand, and heart-to-heart example as we interact with the people He’s placed in our path.

*http://biblehub.com/str/greek/5457.htm
**http://biblehub.com/commentaries/benson/john/1.htm
***”Pushing Back the Dark” by Josh Wilson & Matthew West

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Zoom

When Tim and I purchased our Google Chromecast two years ago, I knew it would be convenient and time-saving. We don’t have cable, so Chromecast makes it possible to “cast” our shows from our devices onto a TV screen with the push of a button. And when I tell my kids it’s time to turn their show off and they’re too entranced to hear me, I can just grab my phone and turn it off for them 😉

But what I didn’t expect was that this little device would open my eyes to a whole new world. When there isn’t a show playing, Chromecast runs a slideshow of “Featured Photos”. Some of these photos are natural landmarks or architecture and some are works of art from galleries, but a large portion of these photos are satellite images of sections of our planet zoomed out to display fascinating patterns and colors!

For example, there are photos of:

The Grand Canyon

The Betsiboka Estuary in Madagascar

And the winding rivers of the Amazon Rainforest

I leave this slideshow running as often as possible because these images have helped me see the world – and my life – in a whole new way.

As a “glass-half-empty” kind of person, I find it hard to be consistently thankful. I have eyes that tend to turn toward the discomfort or trial in front of me, and a mouth that oozes my complaints about those things. I know if I could find a way to be more thankful, I would start seeing more of the “glass-half-full” and maybe even more of what God is doing in my life!

There’s a lot of talk in the Christian community right now about being “present”. The idea is that rather than focusing on our to-do lists, goals and accomplishments, or social media feeds, we would do well to stop, be in the moment, and focus on the here and now.

That’s all well and good, but I think sometimes my problem is that I’m being too present. Sometimes I’m so entrenched in the here and now that I can’t see anything else but the here and now. Hectic schedules, relationship troubles, a house that seems to breed clutter, cranky kids (and parents!) – they’re in my face and therefore on my mind all the time.

Over the past few months, though, I’ve been challenged to push pause, stop being present, and zoom out.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.”
Psalm 136:1-3

I remember reading Psalm 136 during “responsive reading” time at church when I was growing up. I remember it because with the congregation repeating the same line throughout, I didn’t have to pay attention 😉

God gave His people songs like this for a reason. Yes, the repeated line made it easy for everyone in the congregation of worshipers to participate, but more important was the repetition of a declaration of the most important thing they knew to be true – that God’s chosen, purposeful, “covenant loyalty” was to them, and that He was “forever” acting in lovingkindness and goodness toward them.*

The history of God’s people up to this point was not straight roads and easy paths – their story was filled with trials and troubles. But this Psalm proclaimed what God, in His forever-enduring love, had done for them. Verse after verse describes His actions in rescuing them from Egypt (verses 10-15), leading them through the wilderness (verse 16), and fighting battles for them (verses 17-22). It reminds them of His creation (verses 4-9) and His constant provision for their needs (verses 23-25).

So as the people of Israel sang this song together, they were zooming out and looking at their whole story. No matter what trial or trouble they were facing in the here and now, they pushed pause and intentionally looked at the big picture. Then they gave thanks by declaring God’s goodness toward them in every detail of it.

When you’re in a trying time or just consumed with the everyday “stuff” of life, it’s easy to get stuck in the details. But hitting the pause button and zooming out helps you see a big picture view of where you’ve been and how faithful God has been – even in the hard stuff. Because of Christ and your choice to receive Him into your life, you are now the recipient that “covenant loyalty” – meaning God’s lovingkindness and goodness are in every pixel of your picture. And when we intentionally look at our zoomed-out pictures, we can point to any and every moment and say “That was His love”.

I think if we designed it ourselves, we would choose a smooth-sailing kind of life – calm seas with no waves to rock the boat! But if we zoomed out, there would really be nothing to see:

Because it’s in the waves – it’s in those moments we feel like we’re being tossed and thrown about that we see the power and beauty of His love:

If it was up to us, we would keep our lives in “in-control” predictable boxes and rows, like Nebraska:

But if we did, we would miss out on the striking patterns and colors of His unpredictable work in our lives:

If we had the choice, we would walk on never-ending soft, straight, sandy beaches:

But those rocky, jagged twists and turns that sometimes feel like pain are His carefully sculpted artwork:

When you’re lost in a maze of fields, being rocked by waves, or struggling to maneuver along a rocky coast, it’s hard to be thankful! But zooming out by looking back over our whole lives and declaring that “His love endures forever” can bring a welcome change in perspective.

“Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His love endures forever.”
Psalm 136:26

*http://biblehub.com/interlinear/psalms/136-1.htm and http://biblehub.com/hebrew/2617.htm

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Flip-Flop

If you see the Desilets family walking around with glum faces these days it’s because of one thing: November. No, we’re not getting the lack-of-daylight blues or dreading the cold winter ahead – November for the Desilets means it’s time to put our flip-flops away 😥. We’ve stretched their convenient, comfortable, non-confining use to the last possible days – but with temperatures falling into the 30s this weekend, we must finally surrender!

Speaking of flip-flops… One day this spring I was at church, attempting to sing along in worship, but I couldn’t focus because something was bothering me. There was a sharp object jabbing into the bottom of my foot. I tried to ignore it, but every time I shifted my position (which happens often with some songs!) I would feel it again. Since I was, of course, wearing flip-flops, I tried to just shake whatever it was out, but that didn’t work. Then I took the sandal off my foot and shook it with my hand. That failed, too! What in the world?

I finally gave in, sat down, and upon closer examination, found the culprit – the sole of my flip-flop had somehow completely absorbed a small piece of wood! Ouch!

We are natural born measurers. From the first time our sibling gets the “bigger” piece of the cookie to the day we throw on our dad’s giant boots and claim to be “taller” than him, we compare and quantify our world in order to know where we stand.

Our favorite thing to gauge may be sin. Like the New Testament Pharisees, we naturally survey the behavior of others in our world and, in most cases, decide we’re doing pretty well. Since we don’t struggle with certain sins, we perceive that we must be standing on some thick, sturdy soles.

But really we’re more like flip-flops! We are soft and more vulnerable to temptation than we like to believe.

1 Corinthians 10:12-13 says, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.” The solid shoes we perceive we’re standing on are only self-constructed stilts of our personal “sin ranking system” – we’re sure certain temptations will never trip us up, but Paul urges us to beware!

Though we see ourselves as unique, we are “common” and therefore capable of absorbing sin in all of its many forms. Because we narrowly perceive our invulnerability to be a result of our own “good choices,” we miss out on the broader picture of sin and its extensive infrastructure in our lives. Yes, some of our sin is straight-up going-our-own-way pride, but much more of it originates in weaknesses woven into our personality type and the particular pains and stresses this world has laid on us.

I’ll never forget the day my friend (who is one of the most loving and caring people I know) said to me, “I must believe that I’m just as capable of murder as the person who’s already killed someone.” A statement like this may sound shocking at first, but not accepting its truth is dangerous. I’ve seen it happen in my own life and the lives of others – the sins we judge most harshly (because don’t currently struggle with them) could, given the right combination of circumstances, easily become our struggle.

In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul shares that he was given a “thorn” in his flesh. We don’t know exactly what this “thorn” was (if we did we might measure ourselves ‘better’ than him), but we know it was there “in order to keep [him] from becoming conceited”. We’re flip-flops on purpose because it’s the only way we’ll learn how utterly dependent we must be on the grace we’ve been given only through Christ and the strength we are given only through His Spirit.

As I was pulling the “thorn” out of my flip-flop that Sunday, I felt around and found another one not far from it. I hadn’t noticed the second one because it hadn’t started to cause me pain yet – but it was there, ready and waiting!

The more I know Jesus, the more aware I am of how little I know myself. The more I worship Him, the more He reveals those thorns that are so absorbed into the roots of my being I can’t see them. And God is faithful, not only to provide a “way out” as the second half of 1 Corinthians 10:13 states, but also to “keep (me) from becoming conceited” by daily reminding me of my vulnerability. I may be a flip-flop, but thank God that His “power is made perfect in weakness”! (2 Corinthians 12:9)

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Warning

This summer, while driving up a winding mountain road in Vermont, I pulled over to snap a photo of the gorgeous Green Mountain view. This overlook was clearly a popular place to stop as there was plenty of space to park on one side of the road and a wooden fence on the other side, preventing people from wandering too far and tumbling down the steep slope below.

Or so I thought.

As I walked toward the sign and began to read it, I laughed out loud at my mistaken assumption:

Though the risk of falling was a legitimate concern, there was a bigger deal at hand here. To those who thought they could “handle it” and get right up to the edge, this sign warned of a less-obvious risk. I’m guessing giant hogweed and cow parsnip (?!?) aren’t something anyone wants in their near future!

Sin is a big deal. The risks of crossing the boundaries God has set in place for our relationships with Him, others, and ourselves are real. The fences are there for a reason – it just may not be the reason we first assume.

In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul addressed several “sin” issues the church was facing. Just as we do in our culture today, the believers struggled with whether or not certain acts should be labeled as “sin”. As the founder of this church, Paul’s words carried great weight and his wisdom was right on. In two very similar verses, Paul says:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12)

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. (1 Corinthians 10:23)

Most of us, especially those who grew up under a “Because I said so…” parenting or church style, tend to think of sin only in terms of “getting caught” or in terms of the danger of the “obvious” consequences. But Paul challenges us to think differently – to look harder at the not-so-obvious consequences and then hold them up to the “life to the full” Jesus desires for His followers in John 10:10.

For example, the risks of gossip are obvious. My judgmental opinion about someone else could get back to them, hurting their feelings, and putting a rift in our relationship. But most of us – because we rarely “get caught” – continue on, not realizing that the brewing and sharing of these thoughts is a toxic weed that is slowly poisoning our souls.

In today’s world, where the boundaries have been blurred into an individually-defined “what’s sin for you might not be sin for me” pile of rubble, Paul’s principle for believers still rings true. The sacrifice of Christ means that the spiritual consequences of our sin (whether we called it sin or not) have been eliminated and we’ve been freed from living in a “getting caught” mentality.

However, that doesn’t mean we should throw caution to the wind and jump over the fence! The Spirit of God within us can help point to choices that will lead to “life to the full” in Jesus, but we also have been given brains to discern whether a choice is “beneficial” or “constructive,” so we will not end up “mastered” by anything.

In her book, “Why I Didn’t Rebel: A Twenty-Two-Year-Old Explains Why She Stayed on the Straight and Narrow – and How Your Kids Can Too,” author Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach recalls being raised in a home where “reasons” were given priority over “rules”.* Instead of telling their children what to do, Lindenbach’s parents (age-appropriately) taught her and her sister how to make their own choices. “Something I consistently found across my interviews with kids who didn’t rebel was that none of us could really explain how we learned what was allowed. Rather, it was an ongoing conversation about right and wrong and about what was going on in that moment.” (p. 25)

After 20 years in youth ministry, I can tell you that, when raised in a “Because I said so!” environment, young people tend to evaluate their decisions based on two things: “Am I likely to get caught?” and “Are the others I see already engaging in this activity experiencing those ‘obvious’ consequences I’ve been warned about?” Since most of the time, the answer to those questions is “No,” the risk almost always seems worth taking.

But rather that telling our teens: “Sex is bad! You’ll end up with a disease or unplanned pregnancy”, we can have ongoing discussions about relational boundaries and the power of misplaced intimacy. Rather than getting on our “Don’t do drugs – they’ll fry your brain!” bullhorn, we need to help them find healthy, personality-appropriate ways to cope with stress and pain. And instead of harping on them about how “All that social media and Netflix-binging is rotting your brain,” we can provide them with opportunities to experience life outside their norm and to find a purpose outside of themselves.

One of Lindenbach’s case studies in her book is a young woman named Alexis, whose parents expected her to make good choices and consistently told her she was smart enough to do so. “’My moral judgments grew so strong,’ Alexis explained, ‘that it was no longer about not disappointing my parents but about the impact that rebellious actions would have on me and on my future. I didn’t want rebellious acts to become habits that became who I was.’” She knew her parents expectations, but came to her own understanding that, “’to do well in school, go to university, stay away from drugs and sex – it’s clear how they benefited me.’” Teaching our children how to “construct” their lives on “beneficial” choices will prevent them from exposure to those toxic weeds better than any fear-based, flashy warning signs ever will.

On our way out of a New Jersey State Park campground this summer, we stopped to dispose of our trash. As I walked toward the dumpster, I saw this warning sign:

Hold on a second, I thought. Why are they making a big deal about this ONE thing when there are so many other risks at play here! Hello!? What about the bacteria, diseases, and sharp objects INSIDE the container?

If all our kids see are “Don’t stand on the dumpster, you might fall off!” signs, they’ll miss out on an awareness of the much greater consequences their choices might have on their heart, mind, and relationship with Jesus. And, as adults, when we focus on the “rules,” evaluating our decisions on the basis of whether or not we’ll be “caught” or weighing only the likeliness of the “obvious” consequences, we may end up wandering on paths of poisonous plants.

Our loving Father, who sees all and knows all, has good reasons for His commands. He’s given us His Spirit as a guide, but He’s also given us intelligent minds capable of seeking out, processing, and then building our lives on His reasons!

*“Why I Didn’t Rebel: A Twenty-Two-Year-Old Explains Why She Stayed On The Straight and Narrow and How Your Kids Can Too” by Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, 2017

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Pet

Philadelphia Zoo members know that the best time to visit the zoo is in the winter. With no crowds of tourists or school field trip groups, you’re free to visit all your favorite animal friends in peace. You might even have a close encounter with a baby gorilla or a get a “kiss” from a lion!

But there’s one exhibit that’s a little eerie in the winter: The Reptile & Amphibian House. When you’re alone in this dimly lit building, decorated with a floor-to-ceiling size stone cobra head, surrounded by creepy-crawly sharp-toothed (or poisonous) creatures, you get a little jumpy.

One day last year, after Anna and I were done “aww”-ing over the cuteness of a swimming Pig-Nosed Turtle, we turned to our right only to come face to face with this:

I swear these guys hang there, perfectly still, with their heads above the water, just waiting to catch unsuspecting turtle admirers off guard, and make them jump!

But the best part is the sign next to them that says this:

If you do the research, you’ll find that yes, there is in fact a market out there for pet Caiman. Although experts advise against bringing these dangerous reptiles into your home, many people convince themselves they are up for the challenge. As babies they may appear to be “manageable,” but the problem is that they grow – and so does their bite!

From the beginning of time, sin has been a creepy-crawly, sharp-toothed, poisonous presence in the lives of human beings. God, as the Creator of all that is seen and unseen, is the ultimate Expert – He put every system into place, so He knows how it’s all supposed to work in the best way possible!

But, even with full knowledge that we are only creations of the Creator, we get it in our heads that we know better than Him. Instead of loving and caring for each other, we put ourselves and our own agendas first. Instead of following God’s guidelines for relationships, we do what “feels right” to us. Instead of giving and sharing what we have to help others, we remain content in living “above” them. Instead of adoring God with our whole hearts, we make things and people what we desire.

Sin seems so harmless at first and we’re sure we can handle the consequences (if there even are any), so we take it in as a pet. We give it a cage to try to contain it, feed it a little here and there, and expect it to stay under our control. Unfortunately though, like Caiman, sin has a tendency to grow – and so does its bite. Before we know it, we lose control and end up hurting ourselves and others in the process.

In Romans 8:11-14, Paul writes that “the Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.”

Although the spiritual consequences of my sin have been so mercifully removed from me by the sacrifice of Christ, sin still lurks at my door on a daily basis. I know I’ve been forgiven, but that doesn’t mean sin is something I want in my life – as a follower of Jesus, the last thing I want to do is cause pain in my own life or the lives of others!

In Romans 8, Paul suggests that we “put to death” the deeds of our sinful nature. In other words, it’s time to go to battle! For this battle we need more than just effort – we need a strategy. Unfortunately, most of time time we choose a weak one.

First, we try to convince ourselves about our sin. Temptation to do something we know (or at least suspect) isn’t God’s best for us presents itself and thoughts such as “It’s harmless” or “I can handle it” pop into our minds. Soon we’re engaging in dialog with these thoughts, allowing our hearts and minds to be persuaded by our own sinful hearts and minds that this is “not a big deal”.

But God has given us a much more effective strategy! As believers we have the Expert of all experts living inside of us – and one of the Holy Spirit’s main roles is to “convict” us or “convince [us] with solid, compelling evidence”* about sin. It’s only “by the power of the Spirit” that we have any hope of putting sin “to death” and we only access that power when we’re listening to His voice, engaging in dialog with Him, and letting Him be the expert!

Even when we’re convinced, though, many of us fall into a second weak strategy: We know our “pet” was a bad choice and it’s time to get rid of it, but instead of continuing to listen to the Expert, we try to overpower it on our own. We mistakenly believe that putting sin to death requires us to remain in the room with it and somehow not indulge.

But the “power of the Spirit” is not some sort of supernatural boost in willpower! The power of the Spirit is His wisdom in guiding you into better decisions so you don’t end up in the situation in the first place. The power of the Spirit involves Him drawing you to spend more time understanding His character, making Him more desirable than your sin. The power of the Spirit is accessed when you follow His leading to ask for help and accountability from other believers in your life. Having “no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do” doesn’t happen in the moment of temptation – it happens in the days, weeks, months, and years before the temptation as you let the real Expert be the expert in your life.

We’ll never eliminate sin from our lives this side of heaven, but we can choose better strategies in putting it to death. Our hearts and minds are always going to try to convince us that sin is manageable, but we have Someone greater than our hearts and minds inside of us!

*http://biblehub.com/greek/1651.htm

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