Repost: Constant

A summer full of adventure means a summer full of laundry. All this camping, hiking, biking, and swimming has certainly kept me busy! 

In the year-and-a-half since I wrote this, my laundry responsibilities may have shrunk, but my need to constantly receive the “unearned covenant love” of God certainly hasn’t! 

Originally posted December 2017

There are a few things no one could have prepared me for in becoming a parent. Laundry is one of those things. In our pre-kid life, laundry was an occasional chore. Once a week (or maybe every other) the basket would fill up and we’d run a load.

But with kids, laundry is constant! Just when you’re feeling accomplished – you’ve collected, washed, dried, folded, and put away a load, you look down and it’s time to start all over again. You think it’s bad when you have infants or toddlers, but nothing can prepare you for having three girls who purposely change their clothes multiple times a day! It never ends!

11 years into this gig and I still feel like I can’t get a handle on it. The only option, of course, is to keep plugging away and as my mother suggests – do a load a day, no matter what. I’m still working on that goal and I’m guessing I’ll get there around the time our youngest heads off to college. 😋

More constant than laundry in my life is my self. Just about 40 years into this gig and I still feel like I can’t get a handle on my sin. Just when I think I’ve got an area under control, I look down and there’s another mess ready to be cleaned up. No matter how much I’d like to have it all together – folded and nicely organized on a shelf – I don’t think that’s ever going to happen!

In the opening address of his gospel, John takes some time to introduce his main character – Jesus. He holds nothing back in making sure the reader understands that Jesus is God and that only through Him can we know God and experience His glory. In verse 14, John says “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Before Jesus, the closest anyone had ever been to seeing God’s glory first-hand was Moses when he returned to Mt. Sinai after the ‘golden calf incident’. God had spoken His law to the people through Moses and they had responded by saying, “‘We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.’” (Exodus 24:7) But, feeling abandoned after Moses’ delayed return from another visit with God, they gathered up their gold, “‘threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!’” (Exodus 32:24 – one of my favorite lines in the Bible 😉 #humans) How quickly a clear commitment to obedience was traded for the mess of sin!

Before one of his next trips up the mountain, Moses asked God to show him His glory as an assurance that He was still with them. “And the Lord said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence.’” (Exodus 33:19) When this happened a few verses later, that name was defined: “‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished;’” (Exodus 34:6)

The name – the very definition of God’s character – was grace. Even in their blatant breaking of the covenant, their God was, at the heart of His nature, committed to them and willing to restore and continue the relationship. He showed His faithfulness by revealing to them His commands, by enforcing those commands for their good, and by offering them the substitution of animal sacrifices to cleanse them from their guilt. We don’t tend to think of it this way, but it was all grace – it was all His “unearned covenant love”* toward them.

When John described Jesus as “full of grace and truth,” He was using the same terms as the “abounding in love and faithfulness” found in Exodus 34:6.* John states that “out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.” (John 1:16) Though “grace and truth were clearly present in the law… Moses could not witness their fulness because he could see only part of God’s glory. Their ultimate expression would come in the Word/law enfleshed [in Jesus]”.*

Jesus was not only completely full of the glory of God’s grace and truth, He was so full that He overflowed it to the people around Him. He embodied compassion and in the ultimate act of grace, He became the final, once-for-all substitute for the cleansing of sin.

That cleansing and restoration are available, as John says in verse 16, to all who will “receive” it. The word “receive” in this sense, is a verb meaning to “actively lay hold of,” emphasizing the initiative of the taker.* It is an act of our will to receive the grace offered to us when we first believe in Him (John 1:12), but it is also an act of our will to constantly receive the constantly available grace that is already ours.

Over the past few years, I’ve transitioned most of the girls’ laundry over to their responsibility. It’s a little risky given that they use Catalina, a tomato-based salad dressing, on almost everything they eat (and then wipe their hands on their clothes) – but it’s a risk I’m willing to take!

Not only are they learning about the consequences of changing your outfit multiple times a day (and motivated to stop using their shirts as napkins), they are learning about the constant. Almost every time I hear whining about how “I don’t have any clean pants!” and I make a suggestion that they might want to do some laundry, the reply is: “I just did it the other day!”

As constant as my sin is, grace is more constant. But as constant as grace is, its power in my life is limited to my awareness of it. “The fulness of the supply is constant;” says commentator Charles Ellicott, and “the power to receive increases with the use”.* Sure, it would be nice if I had gotten all cleaned up the day I accepted Christ or maybe if I just had to deal with a small pile here and there, but it’s the daily loads that keep me actively receiving. My daily acceptance of grace increases its power in my life. It’s never a chore to hear the simple truth of grace because every moment I hear it is a moment I need it!

*The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament, p. 781
*The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament, p. 250, John 1:14
*The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament, p. 250, John 1:16-17
*http://biblehub.com/greek/2983.htm
*http://biblehub.com/commentaries/ellicott/john/1.htm

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

Repost: Warning

I have to repost this one because we’ve been to both of these places so far this summer – Bass River State Forest Campground in New Jersey and the Okemo Mountain Road in Vermont!

I’ve also been thinking lots about this topic as we’ve been talking about confessing and throwing off sin with our middle and high school students on SERVE over the past couple of weeks. (More posts about that coming this fall!)

(Originally posted November 2017)

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 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

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

Repost: Flip-Flop

You better believe the Desilets are living their best flip-flop life this summer! (Although the pair featured in these photos sadly met their demise last week 😭.)

Like my flip-flops, the older I get the more I’m reminded of my “softness,” vulnerability, and complete dependence on the “solidness” of God!

(Originally posted November 2017)

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!

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 softer 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 pressures 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)

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

Repost: Tension

It’s Ninja season – not only on television, but for our constantly-climbing-or-hanging-from-something children 😉! Summer is a time we’re tempted to “slack” in our relationship with God, but it’s also an opportunity to “up the tension” by reading a challenging book, studying a passage you usually avoid, or intentionally researching a world or cultural issue that makes you uneasy. How are you upping the tension this summer?

(Originally posted October 2017)

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.