Repost: Match

(Originally posted November 2016)

From the day Tim and I met playing Ultimate Frisbee at Eastern College, games have been a part of our family. We place high value on competition and, of course, can’t get enough of the ‘thrill of victory’!

As our kids get older, we are loving being able to introduce them to new games and show them how much fun a little healthy competition can be. Unfortunately, as is the case with most games, the experience of losing is much more common than the ‘thrill of victory’ and the majority of our matches end in tantrums and tears!

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One of our favorite games of late is “Go Fish”. This simple matching game is quick enough to play several rounds in one sitting (meaning each player will likely experience both loss and victory) and it’s also an easy one for game-savvy parents to manipulate the outcome of 😉.

If you aren’t familiar with the basic rules of “Go Fish,” each player is dealt a hand of cards with the goal of finding pairs of the same number. Each time you have a pair in your hand, you remove those cards from your hand. You then take turns asking other players if they have a certain card that matches one from your own hand. If they have the card, they give it to you, and you have a match! If they don’t, they say “Go Fish!” and you pick from the pile of extra cards (which may work out in your favor if you “Fish your wish!”). The first player to find matches for all of their cards wins!

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No matter what sort of hand we’ve been dealt in life, we all have areas of need. We all have weakness, struggle, pain, or just a general desire for something we feel we’re missing. None of us are perfectly complete – no matter how independent we think we are!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading through the Psalms and realizing what a huge gift they are. These song lyrics, written by David and several other writers, give us a beautiful picture of what it means to have a ‘personal’ relationship with God. Instead of just hearing about someone’s life events, we get first-person perspective on their highest highs, their lowest lows, and their thoughts about God in the midst of it all.

One of the things I noticed, particularly in Psalms 142 and 143, was how David expressed each of his needs and then “matched” them with what He knew to be true about God’s character. David’s life experiences had proven to him that God was the only one who could truly meet His needs – so he filled his songs with these requests:

Need: “When my spirit grows faint within me” (142:3)
Match: “It is you who watch over my way” (142:3)

Need: “No one is concerned for me, I have no refuge” (142:4)
Match: “I cry to you, Lord; I say, ‘You are my refuge'” (142:5)

Need: “Those who pursue me… are too strong for me” (142:6)
Match: “The righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me” (142:7)

Need: “So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed” (143:4)
Match: “I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done.” (143:5)

Need: “Show me the way I should go” (143:8)
Match: “For to you I entrust my life” (143:8)

Need: “The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground” (143:3)
Match: “In your righteousness, bring me out of trouble” (143:11)

Do you see how David matched his fear with God’s faithfulness, his vulnerability with God’s protection, his weakness with God’s goodness, his uncertainty with God’s trustworthiness, his injustice with God’s righteousness? And that’s only two psalms!

For every need we have, God holds the perfect match! And His desire is that we – like David – simply identify the need, express it, and then ask Him to meet it. We don’t have to “Go Fish” hoping we’ll somehow “fish our wish” from the piles of cards the world has laid out for us. Not only does He promise to meet our needs, but He promises to meet our needs in the best way possible – with Himself.

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Anyone who’s played “Go Fish” before knows that the most likely path to victory is to start out with the greatest number of matches already in your hand. Getting rid of 2, 4, or even 6 of your 7 cards right at the start could give you a huge advantage!

Psalm 143:5 reminds us that the best way to have our needs “matched” with God’s character is to already have the knowledge of His character readily at hand. If you’ve been reading and studying His Word, you can “remember the days of long ago” and know that He is the same God now as He was in the beginning! If you’ve been stirring up the Spirit through worship and prayer, you can “consider what [His] hands have done” in your own life and more easily be able to see how He can and will meet your current need.

So, what’s your need today? It may feel like you’re losing, but victory may just be a simple request away. Whatever it is, God’s got a perfect match for it in Himself!

The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.
The Lord is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.
The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
and faithful in all he does.
The Lord upholds all who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand
and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and faithful in all he does.
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
(Psalm 145:8-9, 13-18)

For a great resource, check out: “30 Days of Praying the Names and Attributes of God” by The Navigators

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Repost: Perception

(Originally posted October 2016)

“CAUTION: PRIMITIVE TRAIL – DIFFICULT HIKING” The signs placed along the Primitive Loop of the Devil’s Garden Trail at Arches National Park serve as a warning to inexperienced or unprepared tourists. But to my experienced and prepared, ready-for-adventure self, they might as well have said “You MUST go this way!”

After seeing the majority of our arches for the day on the main trail, my friend Sue and I made a right at the sign to go the long way and complete the loop. There was only one arch on this trail, but there would be way less people and way more fun!

As we approached the sign for the Private Arch spur trail, though, the fatigue was beginning to set in. It was hot out there in the desert and we still had a long way to go – was the extra mileage worth it to see another arch? We decided that since we had come this far, we might as well, and set off on the trail.

Just then, another hiker, who was returning from the arch, walked over to us and asked, “Are you going to Private Arch?”

“Yep,” we answered.

“Okay, well you need to be careful,” she said. “You’re definitely going to lose the trail, it’s not marked well at all!”

Sue and I looked at each other like with that “Yikes – maybe we shouldn’t do this!?” kind of look.

“Is it far?” we asked.

“Yeah, it’s pretty far,” she replied.

Knowing it may not have been the best choice – we embarked on the trail anyway, agreeing to be careful and make sure we were staying on the trail.

The trails in Arches, like many hiking trails, are marked with “cairns” – small rock towers that signify each turn or change in the trail. On this “primitive” and less-maintained trail, the cairns were fewer and further between and some of them were just a scattered pile of what-once-was-a-tower. Since the last thing you want to do in the middle of the desert, when there’s very few people around, is get lost, we took it nice and slow.

After just a couple minutes, though, we got to a point where there were no cairns. There was a sandy trail off to the left, but the footprints looked old – or were they just wind-blown? We decided this must have been what our friend was talking about, so we stopped and, for a solid few minutes, looked all around the area, making sure we weren’t missing anything.

Our search came to an end when we heard the voices of another group of hikers who were, of course, coming toward us along that sandy path. Duh. We then followed that path, thinking we still had a long way to go and just a few steps later almost walked into the sign saying we had reached Private Arch. The entire trail was about 1/10 of a mile and took just a few minutes to hike!

We still can’t figure it out – did we look that clueless? Or did she just get really lost and feel the need to warn us?

Regardless, here’s what happened. We let someone else’s perception of a situation determine our attitude – and therefore our action – in it. This was an obvious and short trail, but we almost got lost because we let her perception cause us to question our judgment. We stressed and worried about something that, if we hadn’t run into her, we would have had no reason to stress and worry about!

Perception (what we hear, see, or think we know about a situation) does not always equal reality (the whole truth or most likely outcome of a situation). Many times, our perception of a situation leads us to say, “I can’t because…”

“I can’t have that hard conversation because…”
“I can’t forgive that person because…”
“I can’t ask that person for help because…”
“I can’t talk about my faith around that person because…”
“I can’t reach out to that person because…”
“I can’t spend time alone with God on a regular basis because…”
“I can’t apply for that job because…”
“I can’t get out of this relationship because…”
“I can’t tell anyone what happened to me because…”

We let our perception (the “because”) determine our attitude and action (“I can’t”).

David was the youngest son in his family. During this time of fairly constant battle and war for the Israelites, some of David’s older brothers were sent to fight in the army. David, probably in his late teens at that point, was a part-time musician and part-time shepherd boy – and according to 1 Samuel 17:15, his dad’s part-time errand-boy. Since he wasn’t fighting in the battles himself, his dad sent him to check on his brothers and bring them some food.

When he arrived, though, David found the circumstances to be less than ideal. The opposing army, the Philistines, had issued a challenge: The winner of this battle would be decided by a one-on-one, to-the-death duel! Their chosen fighter was a man named Goliath. This approximately 9-foot-tall giant “had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels.” (1 Samuel 17:5-7)

As he was talking with [his brothers], Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear. (17:23-24)

To David, what was happening in this last verse scared him more than the giant himself. Goliath was waiting for someone to step forward – but no one was volunteering. And not only were they not stepping up, they were running in the other direction! They were letting their collective perception of the situation determine their attitude and therefore their action in it.

Their perception was:
“If he’s that tall, he must be more powerful than me!”
“If he can carry all that weight (his coat alone weighed 125 pounds), he must be incredibly strong!”
“If they chose him, he must be an exceptionally successful warrior!”

But maybe David saw something else. Maybe instead he thought:
“Just because he’s tall, doesn’t mean he’s powerful. It just means he’s tall.
“He may be able to carry all that weight, but what if that weight will actually slow him down?”
“Just because they chose him to be the ‘big scary guy you guys don’t want to fight’ doesn’t mean he’s actually a skilled warrior.”
Maybe David looked at Goliath and compared Goliath’s size to God’s – instead of his own.
Maybe David realized that Goliath might not be as scary as they thought.

And guess what? He was right. One rock in a slingshot and he took him down. Goliath was expecting a hand-to-hand sword fight and this attack blindsided him. Maybe Goliath just underestimated David’s abilities, but if he really had been such a great and mighty warrior wouldn’t he have seen it coming or found a way to fight against it? Maybe he wasn’t so powerful after all.

Maybe our perception of the giants in our lives – those “I can’t because’s” is not always correct. Maybe they look big and scary. Maybe we’ve heard that they’re big and scary. But there’s a good chance our perception of their power is causing us unnecessary stress and anxiety. Our perception of the situation is determining our attitude and therefore our action in it.

A few days later, as Sue and I were reaching the turn-around point of a hike in Hidden Canyon, we ran into a pair of hikers who, again, offered their advice:

“Are you headed to Observation Point?”

“No, we weren’t planning on it,” we replied.

“Well, you should totally do it, it’s the best view in the whole park and you’re like a third of the way there already!” they said.

“Hmmm,” we thought. “This was supposed to be our easy day, but if we’re already a third of the way there, maybe we should do it. We wouldn’t want to miss out on the best view in the park!”

As we started up the trail, we could see this area that we were sure was the “top” of the trail and we thought, “Yeah, that doesn’t look too bad!”

Well… a solid few hours and almost 2000 feet of elevation gain later, sucking in our last drops of water, having NOT worn our hiking boots that day, we finally reached Observation Point.

Yes, the view was outstanding, but unfortunately, we had again let someone else’s perception of a situation determine our course of action. If we had done what we easily could have done and pulled out our handy-dandy park guide, we would have seen that this was not a good choice! We would have seen that the “⅓” we had already hiked was, in reality, more like “⅛”! We would have read that this was a “strenuous” 8-mile round-trip which we were not prepared for. We could have made the choice to pause and see the reality of the situation, but we didn’t.

The reason David was able to see the truth about Goliath was because of His close relationship with God and therefore His ability to see things from God’s perspective. David knew that – worst case scenario – even if Goliath was the “champion” they claimed him to be – that God was still greater. He knew that even if he died in this battle, it was still better than doing what the rest of the army was doing – living in defeat without even taking one step towards trying.

With every “giant” situation you have in front of you today – there’s going to be a worst-case scenario (or multiple almost-worst-case scenarios) that come to mind. You can let those perceptions determine your attitude and your course of action (“I can’t because…”) – or you can pause right now and ask God for His perspective.

Maybe He’ll show you that those giants aren’t so scary after all!

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Repost: Chains

(Originally posted September 2016)

Exciting. Unusual. Bold. Risky. Hazardous. Uncertain.

I’m a big-talker about my love for adventure. It began when I was a camp counselor in high school and I’m still a firm believer in the power of overcoming fears and pushing through obstacles while being surrounded by nature.

The problem is that when it comes down to it, I’m also a big scaredy-pants! Not only do I have a fear of heights, but I’m also afraid of spiders, bugs, snakes, and the dark. The only thing I have going for me is a fierce sense of perseverance and pride in being ‘adventurous’ – so I rarely let my fears stop me.

On one of our last days in Utah, my friend Sue and I set out to hike to Hidden Canyon, one of the “chain” hikes in Zion National Park. With every step up from the base of the mountain, I was getting more and more excited about this adventure – a cliff trail so narrow they need to give you chains to hold onto? This was right up my alley!

When we finally reached the cliff section, I took hold of the first chain and began making my way, hand over hand, up the trail. To my right was a slick, steep drop into the canyon below – and to my left, some nice, safe, strong metal links to ease my fears.

After a few minutes, though, I had a moment. One of those life-defining moments where you have to stop in your tracks because you hear the Holy Spirit speak so clearly: “Umm… really? You are a healthy, athletic, experienced hiker! Clinging to these chains is actually making this hike MORE dangerous for you. Be confident in who you are!”

As I stood there and thought about it, I realized how silly it all was. Yes, if a sudden gale-force wind appeared or some maniac came barreling down the path, I may have been in danger, but it was true – my dependence and focus on the chains was putting me at a higher risk to lose my balance or even trip over my own two feet!

In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul, writing from prison, said this to his audience: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6) Not wanting them to be discouraged by his chains, he instead encouraged them with his absolute confidence that God was at work and would continue to be at work in their lives.

Later on in the letter, he again reminded them that “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (2:13) Not only was God doing His work in them, but it was for a purpose. Paul was thoroughly convinced that a constant shaping and molding process was happening in the lives of all believers in order that they might “do good works, which God prepared in advance” for them to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

Why did Paul say these things? Because he wanted them to have the same confidence. He wanted them to continue boldly in their mission – even if it was unusual, risky, hazardous, and uncertain. He wanted them to know that they were not on their own in this adventure of faith – God was not only at work in them, but He had uniquely prepared each of them for this purpose.

Being a follower of Jesus can’t be defined as anything less than an adventure – because when you have the God of the Universe working inside of you to fulfill His purpose, that means things like overcoming fears and pushing through obstacles become a part of your everyday life!

And I don’t know about you, but for some reason the chains of insecurity almost always feel safer than standing up and doing the things I know that God has already prepared me for me to do. I prefer to cling to the “Well, I’m not really sure if God wants me to talk to that person, so I should probably wait” or “If I don’t confront that situation, God will just work it out” or “I’ll probably just screw it up – surely He can find someone else to do it!” It may look like faith, but really I’m just putting myself at even greater risk – not of falling – but of missing out on the adventure.

No matter how old you are and no matter what you’ve been through – God has used every one of your circumstances and experiences thus far to shape you for whatever is coming next. He’s developed in you strengths, skills, and gifts that will enable you to do whatever He’s asking you to do.

So today you and I have the chance to choose confidence – to let go of the chains and stand tall on the fact that that He has done good work! Of course we are constantly dependent on Him and His leading, but we must also learn to trust in the work He’s already done.

When I let go of the chains on the Hidden Canyon trail, I was surprised to find that my fear of falling actually lessened. Sure, the chains were there if I needed them, but guess what – I didn’t need them I walked confidently to the end of that section of the trail – enjoying it instead of holding my breath.

I can’t even tell you the number of times the Holy Spirit has brought this memory to mind over the past few weeks. He has given me opportunity after opportunity to be brave and just do that thing He has placed in front of me in that moment. Man, it’s scary, but it’s all about the adventure, right?

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Repost: Gradual

(Originally posted May 2016)

Last summer we had the opportunity to visit one of Tim’s favorite childhood spots – Sand Bar State Park in northern Vermont. This park, built on the shores of beautiful Lake Champlain, offers a very unique and memorable swimming experience.

The water in this area, which would normally be around 150 feet deep, was naturally filled over time with sediment from the Lamoille River as it drained into the lake. The resulting wide area of shallow water makes the swimming area perfect for small children (and people like me who don’t like to get wet!).

As you take a few steps into the water, your brain automatically expects it to get deeper, but you keep going and it barely seems to change at all. It’s a crazy feeling to walk a hundred feet off the shore and still be only a few feet deep!

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Last week I had the incredible opportunity to attend a children and student ministries conference in Atlanta, GA. One of my favorite sessions was led by Pastor Andy Stanley as he shared about how the church saved his life.*

In his message, he explained that it wasn’t one message, one program, or one person that made the difference for him – but rather the cumulative effect of many years of being influenced by his church as he grew up. Andy shared that the church informed his conscience and view of God, showed him that his life had purpose, helped him form lifelong friendships, gave him a window into God’s activity in the world, and taught him generosity.

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Some of my earliest childhood memories have to do with church. Every Sunday, even in the crazy infant and preschool years, my mom would pack us up and we would spend all morning singing Bible songs, going to Sunday School classes, trying to stay quiet in church, and hoping it was a “coffee hour” Sunday (because that meant one thing: baked goods.)

As I reached my late teen years, though, I began to see a Christian world outside of my small-town church and became increasingly discontent with where God had put me. I saw newer worship styles, heard more relevant messages, and met people my age who shared my beliefs. I suddenly felt that for all those years I had been missing out, so I wanted out.

But, 20 years later and now, as a parent myself, I, like Andy Stanley, look back and realize that God used that imperfect little congregation to save my life! It wasn’t one dramatic drop-off into the deep-end moment – but gradual, step by step, week by week, almost imperceptible changes in my growing heart and mind.

So thank you, First Baptist Church of South Londonderry, for informing my conscience and my view of God. Thank you for teaching me the same Bible stories over and over again and for making me memorize John 3:16 and Psalm 23. Thank you for teaching me that, “Wide, wide as the ocean, high as the heavens above; Deep, deep as the deepest sea is my Savior’s love”** and for showing me that it was possible to forgive just as I had been forgiven.

Thank you, First Baptist, for showing me that my life had a purpose beyond myself. Thank you for telling me the stories of men and women who gave their whole lives to serving God – and for encouraging me to take steps toward that life. And thanks for letting the students take over that service that one Sunday where I gave my first message 😉

Thank you, First Baptist, for faithfully putting your tithes and offerings in those little envelopes so that I could go to summer camp, where I met people my age who loved Jesus, too. Thank you for giving so that I could be surrounded with friends who showed me what a personal relationship with God could look like at my age.

Thank you, First Baptist, for teaching me that “Jesus loves the little children of the world,” and for showing me pictures of a world in need – not just to open my eyes to their plight, but to show me that I could do something to help.

And thank you, First Baptist, for planting in me seeds of generosity that helped me understand that love was meant to be given away.

In Ezekiel 47, the prophet is shown a vision of a river, flowing out of the temple – the place where the Spirit of God was known to dwell. As he is led to walk through this river, he points out that after 1,000 cubits (about 1/3 of a mile) the water is only ankle-deep. Then after another thousand it’s still only knee-deep. After another thousand it’s now waist deep. And then another thousand cubits later, the water is finally over-his-head deep.

Like walking into the Lake Champlain sand bar, the depth increase would be so gradual it would be almost impossible to feel the difference from one step to the next. But over time the river grows to fullness and in the end it “enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live.” (Ezekiel 47:8-9)

As Spirit-filled believers, we have rivers of life flowing out of us – and when we pour into the lives of children and students, we have the potential to save lives. It may not feel like you’re making a difference because the effect is so gradual – I’m sure there were times when my Sunday School teachers thought that nothing was sinking in, but it was. The fresh waters of the Spirit flowing through people like you into the hearts of the next generation has the potential for so much life.

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You don’t have to be a superstar, you just need to show up. You don’t need to create the best church, you just need to be the church. You don’t even need to work directly with kids if they’re not your thing – you can give financially to ministry activities, support parents, or just be an example of what it looks like to be a growing follower of Jesus.

The love and support of an active, involved local church congregation could change everything for a child. It did for this one and I will be eternally grateful.

*Andy Stanley, Orange Conference 2016, “Save A Life”
**”Wide, Wide As The Ocean”, C.A. Miles, 1914

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