Walk

Since we began our elementary school journey seven years ago, we’ve endeavored to be a “walking” family. The exercise and fresh air are good for our souls and from door-to-door the trip is only about ⅓ mile.

Or it was until construction began.

When our school began construction two years ago, the sidewalk going in our direction was closed, which extended our walking distance. We now had to walk an extra block-ish, cross the road, and then walk back toward the school entrance. We couldn’t wait for construction to end and our shorter route to be restored.

And as of this November, it was!

But then this happened:

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You see that crosswalk? The shortest route to the first-grade entrance is obviously to cross there and continue to the right. But we have it on good word that, rather than cross where buses are coming in and out of the loop (red), school authorities would prefer that students cross where there is little to no traffic (green). Our “shorter” route has not been restored!

If you’re a rule-following kid, your rule-following parents are your heroes. If you’re an oblivious-to-the-rules kid, your rule-following parents just confuse you. But if you’re an above-the-rules kid, your rule-following parents drive you crazy!

Yes, we could take the shortcut and cross the bus loop (we’re basically holding her hand, after all). But we don’t. And though every step of that extra loop at first seemed a mile long, it’s now become part of our routine (and we don’t even get many complaints anymore 😉).

In 12+ years of parenting and 20+ years of youth ministry, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned do’s and don’ts, tips and tricks, but mostly I’ve learned that I could do everything right and still not ‘succeed’. Because there are some giant factors outside of my control. No matter how hard I try, I will never be able to cleanse my children from their particular sin patterns or prevent the struggles that are inherent in their personality and temperament.

But through all I’ve observed and experienced, I have narrowed down the one thing I can do that will affect my children more than anything else: REST.

Whether we like it or not, our stress levels affect our kids. We know this, but we also know stress is a part of life that will never be eliminated. Tight schedules, long to-do lists, relationship tensions, health woes, and difficult decisions are our every day. Who has time to rest? (Especially when you have kids!)

The cool thing about “rest,” from a biblical perspective, is that it doesn’t necessarily mean stopping. Rest, in most instances in the Bible, exists simultaneously with movement:

This is what the Lord says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
   ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
   and you will find rest for your souls.”
(Jeremiah 6:16)

“Rest for your soul” is a natural product of walking in obedience. Though we tend to think of obedience as a burden – something to add to our already long list of stressors – it’s the opposite. Rest is found when we seek God’s ways and then actively walk in them.

Jesus was our ultimate example of the “rest for your soul” kind of life – and not just when He was sleeping on the boat! 😉 Jesus entered into all kinds of stress-filled situations, but in the midst of those situations, He exuded peace because He lived in complete trust that the path His Father had for Him in that moment was nothing but “good”.

Whether your stress is in the daily grind or you’re under an unusually heavy weight, “rest for your soul” happens when you “ask where the good way is” and then “walk in it,” reminding yourself that each step leads to your good and God’s glory.

Our steps of obedience can at times feel painstakingly unnecessary, but with each step our trust increases. Over time, trust becomes a way of life and that way of life looks a lot like “rest”.

Being a rule-following parent may drive your kids crazy now, but someday they’ll thank you! 😎

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Melt

When “winter weather” threatens Pennsylvania, people get real excited. Weather reports and warnings flood our screens, grocery stores are mobbed with shoppers preparing for the worst, and everything shuts down.

We (former) *Vermonters*, however, like to sit back and laugh. Because where we grew up a little bit of snow was just a little bit of snow!

Last week, we woke up to a fresh coating of white and like true (former) *Vermonters* we looked out and said, “No big deal!” While others may have been out shoveling and clearing, we did nothing. When we walked through the ½ inch of powder to the cars on our very sloped driveway, we thought, “What’s a little snow? It’s just going to melt soon anyway!”

Until that evening when that fresh coating, which had partially melted during the day, froze to form a sheet of ice!

You would love to have had a hidden camera on our driveway over the next couple of days. Getting us and our kids and our stuff in and out of our cars while using all of our grip strength to avoid landing on our backs was a sight to be seen. The funny thing is, it wouldn’t have taken that long to walk the 20 feet into the carport, grab a cup of ice-melting rock salt from the bag and fix the problem!

But we’re *Vermonters* remember?

(Or maybe we’re just lazy 😜)

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As humans, we are prone to taking this (former) *Vermonter* approach to our hearts. We know something might not be quite right, but it doesn’t seem like a big deal, and surely it will go away soon! The development of dangerous hardness in our hearts (see last week’s post) isn’t something we ever see coming.

Thankfully, God hasn’t left us alone to figure it out – He’s given us churches full of friends to become our hard-heart-melting rock salt.

The idea of using salt to melt ice is has always confused me. When the salt is spread, it comes in contact with the wet outer layer of the ice and dissolves. In that process, it (somehow) lowers the freezing temperature of the molecules it comes in contact with, and with the freezing temperature lowered, the ice is ‘tricked’ into melting at that lower temperature. Not a scientific explanation, I know, but that’s how I see it 😉

A salty friend “sticks” (Proverbs 18:24) close, but not just for their own benefit. They are studiers of “you” and it’s through them and their outside perspective that God’s loving “truth” (Ephesians 4:15) is sprinkled on your heart. The truth may feel like a “wound” (Proverbs 27:6) because at first it feels cold, but that’s where the melting process begins.

A salty friend is someone who gets you but doesn’t always agree with you.

A salty friend cares about you, but also cares enough to gently nudge you off your high-horse when the frost of pride is settling in.

A salty friend dreams with you about what could be, but is also willing to burst your bubble when you might be taking on too much.

A salty friend listens to you vent, but ends the conversation by reminding you how much you have to be thankful for.

A salty friend listens, but doesn’t hesitate to interrupt and point out that your view of a situation has excluded trust in the God who is above it all.

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If you want to know if a storm is coming to our area, you don’t need to check the weather forecast, you just need to take a drive and see if they’ve “sprayed” the roads with salt brine yet. Science and the transportation authorities have figured out that prevention of the freeze is the best way to remedy it!

When it comes to hard hearts, prevention of the freeze by talking regularly with a salty friend is the best remedy.

Building intentional friendships with other believers is all kinds of hard. It can be awkward and bring out the *middle-schooler* in us. It can take longer for these friendships to develop than we think it should and the process requires extra flexibility as our seasons constantly shift. You may wonder if you really even need this in your life!

But you do. The stuff in your heart may seem like a little bit of powder, but the hidden camera on your driveway is revealing a different story!

If you have a salty friend, thank them today.

If not, what’s one step you can take toward making that happen?

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Frozen

When it’s 75° and sunny, I have lots of motivation to get out of the house and go for a run. When it’s 50° and cloudy, I can still muster up some enthusiasm. But when it’s 30° or below I need supernatural power – or at least someone else to drag me out the door 😉

This winter, I have someone to do just that! Tim and I have set a goal to do at least one trail run a week – regardless of the temperature and weather conditions (😱). Motivated by a bucket list of trails we want to complete, we’ve braved the cold and succeeded thus far.

Since winter in Pennsylvania = cold and damp, most trails require careful, slow maneuvering through sections of slippery mud and muck. So a few weeks ago when we set out on the Chapel Trail in Valley Forge and temperatures had just risen out of the 20’s, I was happy to see that all the mud on this shaded trail was frozen. This meant more running and less thinking, which was good because I just wanted to get this over with and get back in my warm house!

Unfortunately, my ankles reminded me that just because something is hardened doesn’t mean it’s solid or secure. Though mud is slippery, it does absorb your foot’s impact – which the crusty ridges and ruts of frozen trail-traffic do not!

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If you live in Pennsylvania, you know that temperatures at this time of the year are unpredictable. We usually hover in the 40’s, but it’s not unusual for us to drop, for several days, into the single digits.

And wherever you live, you know this is also true of our hearts. Our seasons and the atmospheric conditions they bring with them affect us more than we like to think and if we aren’t careful, the freeze can leave us hardened and crusty!

“Hard” hearts are present throughout Scripture and occur for several different reasons:

  • The Egyptian Pharaoh’s (Exodus 7-11) was the result of his refusal to acknowledge an authority higher than himself.
  • The Israelites’ (Psalm 95) was the product of disappointment after God didn’t do things the way they expected Him to.
  • For the “Gentiles” mentioned by Paul in Ephesians 4, it was denial that another being could have a say over their life of self-fulfillment and pleasure.
  • The disciples’ (Mark 6 & 8) came from an incomplete understanding of Jesus’ power over the forces of nature.

Hard hearts in the Bible were always the result of either unbelief or more specifically mis-belief in God’s nature or intentions. In most cases this hardness developed over time, in barely noticeable stages, as the heart slowly stopped absorbing truth, leaving its own truth to be preeminent.

When we think of “hard hearts” it’s easy to think of these Bible characters or even other people we know, but the whole thing with a hard heart is the subtle nature of the freeze. It happens when I allow a trust in my own authority and ability to make decisions to creep in, rather than regularly praying and submitting my will to God’s will. The frost permeates when I allow my life circumstances to speak louder to me than the Scriptures that speak of the nature of my God. The chill settles in when I stick a “not a big deal” label on my sin and decide I’m okay with “okay”. And the ice forms when I get so honed in on my own life that I limit my understanding of what God can do to my own experiences.

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Last year I began studying the book of John verse-by-verse, but because I believe it’s important to stay flexible, I took a break and did some other studies. I was excited to pick back up where I left off this January, and that excitement lasted… all of a few days. First came a passage I’ve studied and taught on many, many times, so I’m kind of over it. Second was a passage that seemed overly theologically complicated and not worth my time. And when I got through that, guess what? Another passage I’ve studied and taught on so.many.times.

My heart wants me to do the bare minimum, shut my Bible, and move on because “I already know all of this” and “Maybe I should look for something more exciting to study”. But I also know that this is exactly how those crusty ridges and ruts begin to form. Even if I’m not learning something super new and cool (or finding something I can write a super new and cool blog post about 😉), the interaction of my heart with God’s Word is keeping it warm and absorbent!

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Presence

When my friend Sue and I drove away from the Las Vegas airport headed for a tour of the National Parks of Utah, I expected to be impressed. Though I grew up in the mountains of Vermont and had taken in many of the east coast’s best views, I’d heard from several sources: “You haven’t seen anything yet!”.

As we toured the parks, I was certainly impressed, but what I didn’t expect was that one of my most awe-inspiring moments would not be a mountain, but a giant slab of rock in the middle of the desert.

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From a distance, the sandstone “fins” in Arches National Park looked cool and I was excited to hike among them. We saw many spectacular things that day, but I’ll never forget the moment I stood at the bottom of this and looked up:

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I couldn’t help but stand there for a minute, soaking in the sheer enormity and overwhelming presence of this rock. It seemed to rise up forever and also seemed like it might lean over and crush me at any minute!

People are annoying. We all have habits, quirks, and mannerisms that drive each other crazy. And though chewing loudly, pronouncing words incorrectly, or being unaware of personal space can be irritating, it’s the addition of our natural lean towards sin that really irks each other. All sin can be narrowed down to self-focused, self-interested, self-fulfilling behavior – and man, do we hate it when other people are selfish!

We can (at times) dismiss the rude cashiers, slow drivers, or the hygienically-unaware, but when someone else’s self-interest interferes with or threatens our plans, desires, comfort, or well-being, our brains (and blood pressure!) go into high gear and we respond with judgment.

Jesus is pretty clear in his rebuke toward our judgy behavior:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

In order to survive as humans, we need to judge. If our minds did not have the ability to discern right and wrong at some level, we would be in danger of extinction! The problem is that we take the verb “judge” and switch it to the noun “judge” by marching up to the bench, sitting down, and slamming down our verdict. Eve’s temptation in Genesis 3 was the potential to “be like God, knowing good and evil” and, since then, we’ve all been born believing we are the ultimate authority on right and wrong.

Though we do have the potential to be “like” God in many ways (we can be loving, joyful, patient, kind, gentle, and good) there are some ways we will never be like Him. Abilities like creating something out of nothing, having power over the forces of nature, giving life, and judging in complete, unbiased truth are reserved for God and God alone. The Judge’s seat is taken, there is no jury, and no apprentice positions are available!

A few weeks ago, after several years of begging and pleading, one of my kids finally agreed to read through the Chronicles of Narnia with me. We’re reading in chronological order, so we began with the prequel to the series, “The Magician’s Nephew”.

In this story, Digory (the magician’s nephew) and his friend Polly accidentally land themselves in a strange, dark world just in time to experience Aslan the lion’s creation and introduction of life to Narnia. Unfortunately, Digory and Polly also accidentally bring with them the evil queen Jadis, whose presence threatens Narnia’s peace and beauty.

Aslan sends the children on a mission to retrieve an apple from a special tree and bring it back to him. In the garden, Digory is tempted by Queen Jadis to use the eternal life-giving apple for his own purposes, but (*SPOILER ALERT*) he resists and returns the fruit to Aslan in victory:

“Well done,” said Aslan in a voice that made the earth shake. Then Digory knew that all the Narnians had heard those words and that the story of them would be handed down from father to son in that new world for hundreds of years and perhaps forever. But he was in no danger of feeling conceited for he didn’t think about it at all now that he was face to face with Aslan.”*

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When I’m far away I might feel big, but when I’m close-up and looking up, there’s no chance of being high on me. Putting myself in the presence of the only One who is all-present, all-knowing, and all-righteous is the best way to be reminded that I am none of those things (and that I may, in fact, be at the top of someone else’s “annoying” list!).

Holy Spirit, overwhelm my mind with so much awe and wonder at the sheer enormity of Your greatness and goodness that there’s no longer any room for self-conceit. Reveal to me today any situation where I have snuck up and tried to take Your judge’s seat. Interrupt my trains of thought when I believe myself to be the source of all truth and speak Your truth to me. Amen.

*The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis, Chapter 14

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