Repost: Foothold

Our family did a lot of things this summer, but one thing you can be sure we did was climb. From random boulders to hiking the toughest trail up the tallest mountain in Vermont, we certainly made use of some footholds!

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Originally posted April 2018

Elevation is in our genes. Not only do Tim and I find our favorite places at the tops of mountains, but our children are equally obsessed with getting to the top! From the time they could walk, these girls have been climbing anything and everything they can get their hands and feet on.

This spring, our oldest daughter, Ada, joined a youth climbing team at the local rock gym. Two afternoons a week she gets to climb her little heart out, moving from handhold to foothold, foothold to handhold as she ascends an assortment of vertical (and more-than-vertical) walls.

Last week, while watching her attempt a new bouldering (that’s climbing without a harness – but don’t worry, it’s on a shorter wall) route, I noticed her struggling to get to the top. Though she had successfully grasped the handholds above the overhang (yikes!), her body simply wasn’t long enough to gain a foothold within that route that would allow her to reach any higher.

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When we think of climbing, we think mostly of people using their hands to ascend the side of a mountain, but equally as important as the hands are the feet. Finding a ledge or crack that at least a portion of your foot can occupy is necessary, not only to give your tired arms a break, but to give you the leverage you need to boost your body higher.

Though I’m sure this is not the exact meaning of the “foothold” referred to in Ephesians 4:27, I think it still gives us an idea of what Paul was talking about.

Anger is a fundamental human emotion. When someone does something that threatens us or threatens someone we care about, our blood pressure rises and our bodies become tense. Filled with emotion, we are spurred on to fight injustice and protect ourselves and others.

And though it can in some ways be beneficial, Paul urged those who were being “made new” by the Holy Spirit (4:23) to be careful with their anger. “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (4:26-27) Since most of our anger is only the result of our egos being threatened, Paul knew it had the potential to tear down the body of Christ.

The word translated as “foothold” in this verse is the Greek “topos” which means “an inhabited place” and, in a military sense, more territory.* With more territory comes more “opportunity,” as the ESV translates it, for power and influence. The more ‘inhabitable space’ we give to the devil, the more ‘opportunity’ he has to create hurt and division in our families, churches, and communities.

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When climbing outside of the manufactured holds found in the gym, climbers take advantage of every indentation, protrusion, ridge, and crack real rocks have to offer. Over time, erosion has enlarged these ‘inhabitable spaces’ that give climbers the ‘opportunities’ they need to expand their ‘territory’ by climbing higher.

Since Adam and Eve’s first bite, elevation – of ourselves – has been in our genes. In his commentary on Ephesians 4, Albert Barnes states that: “The heart is deceitful; and seldom more deceitful in any case than when a man is attempting to vindicate himself from injuries done to his person and reputation.”**

When our egos are wounded, our tendency is to dwell on the situation. It baffles me that I can let the few seconds it took for someone to say something that offended me consume the other tens of thousands of seconds left in that day – or the following days! But the more I rehash what they said or did, trying to diagnose their sin and convince myself of their error, the more ‘inhabitable space’ I create. Dwelling is the erosion the enemy uses to carve out bitterness and resentment, which give him ‘opportunity’ in my life and relationships.

But as a follower of Jesus, I’m the one with the opportunity! Every time I want to vindicate myself, but choose to elevate Him instead, I leverage His power and grace. Every time I say, “I’m hurt, but Jesus, I will trust You with this,” I take the territory back. Every time I cut short the erosion process by saying, “Jesus, I surrender my reputation to You,” I shrink the devil’s inhabitable space. Every time I choose to “not let the sun go down” by having a hard conversation, apologizing, or offering forgiveness, I fill in the footholds – with my own two feet.

Anger is unavoidable, but the Holy Spirit is at work, empowering us to be careful with it!

*http://biblehub.com/greek/5117.htm
**http://biblehub.com/commentaries/ephesians/4-27.htm

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Repost: Set

The photos I used for this post were taken from the top of Clingman’s Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and I was thinking about them as I walked by that exact spot just the other day!

Originally posted March 2018

As a wannabe photographer, I like to think I know something about taking good pictures. Really, I know very little, but my ‘fancy’ camera and I have a lot of fun.

My favorite thing to take photos of (besides my children’s smiling faces) is flowers. Whenever we go for a walk or hike, you can guarantee I’ll be holding my family up because I’m kneeling in the bushes taking approximately 74 pictures of each different kind of flower we pass.

The coolest thing about having a DSLR camera is the ability to create a “depth effect” by focusing the lens on a particular flower. This causes the flower to “pop” out at the viewer and everything that’s not the flower to blur into the distance. As the photographer, I have the ability to set the focal point – I press the “take a picture” button down halfway and wherever the center point of the rectangle in my viewfinder is, the lens makes that object the “focus” or the sharpest and clearest part of the photograph.

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In Romans 8, after getting real in the previous chapter about the struggle of living with a sinful nature inside of him – having “the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out,” (7:18) Paul presents his case for an alternative way of living. Rather than making “the flesh” the focal point, he exhorts his readers to instead set their minds on “the Spirit”:

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” (v. 5-7)

Whether he knew it or not, Paul was hitting on a basic principle of human psychology: Whatever we set our minds on, we give power to. Setting our focus on something makes that thing the sharpest and clearest, allowing it to capture our attention and leaving everything else to blur into the background.

When we set our mind on “the flesh” – even if it’s because we’re trying to stop sinning – we only increase sin’s power. Focusing on our own failed or successful attempts to follow the law leads only to pride on one end or increased feelings of guilt and shame on the other. Focusing on the letter of the law makes obedience to it a “have to,” which our flesh is instinctively hostile toward (if you’ve spent any time with a two-year-old, you know how true this is!). The more we give attention to our natural desires, even if it’s in an attempt to deny those desires, the more we end up enslaved by them.

But by setting our minds on the Spirit, we allow His power to be the focus and the force of real change in our lives.

The power of sin is in the shame and defeat of failure, but the Spirit reminds us that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (v. 1) The Spirit “brings to remembrance” (John 14:26) the “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” character of our God (Psalm 103:8).

The power of sin is in the past and in the tunnel vision of self-pity, but the Spirit puts in view what’s next. When we set our minds on the Spirit, He shows us we have a purpose greater than ourselves. And when our bodies and minds are busy being used as His “witnesses” (Acts 1:8), we don’t need to be consumed with trying to gratify, control, or punish them.

The power of sin is in discouragement at the lack of change in our lives and in the world around us. But the Spirit opens our eyes to all the ways He is working, giving us power to “abound in hope” (Romans 15:13) regardless of what our flesh feels and sees.

As a parent with kids in elementary school, I’ve been introduced over the past few years to an education strategy called “Growth Mindset”.* When a child experiences failure after doing poorly on an assignment, not being able to grasp a concept or perform a skill, their minds tend to default to a “Fixed Mindset,” which says, “I can’t, so I should give up”. But a “Growth Mindset” approach teaches them to say: “I can’t right now, but I will learn”. A “Fixed Mindset” sets the mind on one’s current abilities and inherent strengths or weaknesses, but a “Growth Mindset” sets the mind on the possibility of change.

A “Flesh Mindset” puts the focus on our current ability to change ourselves based on our own inherent strengths or weaknesses – and as a result, says, “I can’t change myself, so I might as well give up”. But a “Spirit Mindset” puts the focus on God’s ability to transform us based on His strength. A “Spirit Mindset” says, “I can’t change myself, but God can, is, and will continue to work change in me.”

My default mode is set to “autofocus” and the center point of my viewfinder tends to stay on “flesh” because it’s in my face all day. I regularly set unrealistic “I can do this!” change goals for myself, honestly believing I’m going to be able to sustain the effort. I hear the Holy Spirit’s whispers of “I have a better way,” but I ignore them – and my life ends up looking like this:

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In verse 13 of Romans 8, Paul says, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Setting our minds on the Spirit doesn’t mean denying our sin or expending no effort, it means we diminish the power of sin – we let it blur into the background – by directing our effort in the right direction. Manually adjusting our focus by spending time in God’s Word, making space in our lives to pray, and putting aside distractions to listen for and then follow His leading is the surest way to “life and peace” (v. 6).

*https://www.mindsetworks.com/Science/Impact

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Repost: Float

Yes! “Boat and float”! We are soaking up these final days of summer for sure. I hope you are, too, and I hope these words inspire you to give God all the weight today!

(Originally posted January 2018)

The holidays are over and for the Desilets, that means one thing: it’s almost SUMMER! When we think of what’s ahead for us in 2018, “adventure” tops the list and most of our adventures happen when the weather is warm.

And that’s because most of our adventures involve water. Lakes, streams, waterfalls, and oceans provide endless opportunities for exciting outdoor challenge activities. Whether it’s rock-hopping along a stream, boogie-boarding through the waves, or surfing the wake of a motorboat, we build our trips around the fun water creates!

One of our favorite activities, though, is to simply “boat and float”. We pack some snacks, pile into the boat, drive out to the middle of the lake and chill out in the deep, cool water. There’s nothing like the weightless feeling water gives you as your whole body relaxes, held up by the dense liquid surrounding it. The cares and worries of ‘real life’ just seem to float away.

Well, for some of us they do. Though my family loves to float, I’m not really a fan. And that’s because I don’t float. While everyone else happily dives in and lays around like it’s the most relaxing thing they’ve done all day, I sink!

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2018 is here and even though I’m not big on resolutions, there is something healthy about a mental fresh start. It’s good to look back and evaluate. It’s good to have expectations of “better” and “this year I’m going to get it right!”

But January 1 also brings with it pressure. Because this year I’m going to do better. This year I’m going to get it right. Preoccupied with our own glory, we pile on the weight and expect ourselves to be able to hold it all up.

When you think of glory, you probably think of the bright, shining lights of heaven or the MVP of a college football game being lifted up by cheering fans. But in the Old Testament, the word for “glory” is rooted in the idea of “weight”.* When something is honored above other things it becomes more important – it carries more weight.

In Psalm 86:9, David proclaims: “All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, Lord; they will bring glory to your name.” Though God’s very existence is the height of all glory and He doesn’t need any more of it, we do have the ability to “bring” Him glory on this earth. We do this by making Him more important than us – we give Him more weight.

The problem is that we’re natural born sinkers. From the beginning of time we have desired to keep the weight for ourselves. We want to be important. We want to be honored. We want to be admired and desired. We want to carry all the weight. Rather than simply floating, surrounded and suspended in the density of God’s glory, we load the pressure on ourselves to “be” and “do” better.

When I think about the coming year, I know for sure that I want to bring glory to God – I want His weight in my thoughts, words, and actions to be ever-increasing. I want David’s words to be true for me: “I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.” (Psalm 86:12)

So as I evaluate what “better” and “getting it right” look like for me this year, I have to be careful. Because no matter how I spin them, any goals of doing “better” and “getting it right” are still putting the weight on me. Not only am I desiring the praise of others when they notice my “better,” I’m also putting a “getting it right” burden on myself that I’m unable to carry! And when I inevitably don’t get the likes or fail to carry the weight, I’ll sink right into the (even more self-focused) depths of self-pity.

Floating means removing the burdens of “better” and “right” from myself and putting them on Him. Floating means realizing I have no guarantee of seeing December 31, 2018 and that all I have is today. It doesn’t mean that I sit around and do nothing all year, it just means that I take one step of obedience at a time with the understanding that God’s glory doesn’t depend on my success or failure.

In Psalm 86, David declares: “Among the gods there is none like you, Lord; no deeds can compare with yours” (v. 8) and “you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God.” (v. 10) Not only does our God deserve all the weight, He can also handle all the weight. So take a load off – move your attention from your self to Him and be weightless today.

Teach me your way, Lord,
that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.
I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;
I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your love toward me;
you have delivered me from the depths,
from the realm of the dead.

Psalm 86:11-13

*http://biblehub.com/hebrew/3513.htm

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Repost: Practice

We can’t wait to get some “practice” behind the boat this August! What might a “try something new” day look like for you?

(Originally posted January 2018)

“Try something new” day is one of the highlights of our summer vacations in North Carolina. After spending several days honing our skills at our favorite riding-some-sort-of-device-behind-the-boat activity, it’s time to leave our comfort zones and take a risk.

Not being a huge fan of water, “try something new” day for me means leaving my comfort zone behind my camera in the boat to “try something”! This year the rest of my family chose “wake surfing,” and I couldn’t pass up the challenge to try it myself. This fairly new sport involves pulling yourself up to a standing position on a very buoyant (and therefore wobbly) surfboard, letting go of the rope that connects you to the boat, and then freely “surfing” the boat’s wake.

Knowing that steps two and three would not be in my realm of possibility, I made it my goal to simply get to a standing position. Would it happen on the first try? Probably not, but I’d never find out if I didn’t try! So try I did. Once, twice, three times, four times. With each failure my chances of success were seeming less and less likely, but since the consequences of each failed attempt were low (perhaps some water up my nose and complaints from some children impatiently awaiting “their turn”) I was motivated to try and try again!

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In his November 2016 TEDx talk, learning expert Eduardo Briceño spoke of the difference between the “learning zone” and the “performance zone”. In the “learning zone,” he said, we “do activities designed for improvement, concentrating on what we haven’t mastered yet, which means we have to expect to make mistakes, knowing that we will learn from them.”* According to Briceño, successful people spend the great majority of their time in the “learning zone” where there the pressure is low and they give themselves the freedom to fail. When we see the consequences of our failed attempts as minimal, we’re more likely to attempt a skill and therefore learn it!

As Christians we spend too much of our time in the “performance zone”. We look at a possible ministry task or even a simple step of obedience like prayer or sharing our faith with others and believe the results to be dependent on our performance. When I examine my own life, it’s easy to see that the majority of my stress comes down to taking myself too seriously – I fear that I am inadequate to do what God has placed in front of me and fear that my attempt, when it fails, will negatively impact God’s work in my own or another person’s life.

The apostle Paul, after rising by his own merit to Jewish religious prominence, had an encounter with the glory of Christ that caused him to see himself for who he really was – a fragile human sinner just like the rest of us. His life completely changed course and now, by the merit of Christ and his submission to the leadership of God’s Spirit, Paul again took a leadership role as he traveled to share the gospel and set up new churches in areas where they didn’t exist yet.

But after his credentials were questioned by a church he helped start in the city of Corinth, Paul felt compelled to write a letter defending himself and his ministry. In that time, it was common practice (as it is for us now) for travelling speakers or those seeking employment to verify their education and skill by carrying “letters of recommendation” from an authority figure.* But because he believed his only qualification to be from God Himself, Paul did not carry such letters.

In 2 Corinthians 3:4-6a, he wrote: “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:4-6a) Paul knew that any visible or notable skills he had weren’t even worth mentioning because, even at the highest level, they would not have made him “sufficient”.

Because of his assurance that it was all about God’s glory and not about his or his ministry partners’, Paul says in verse 12: “we are very bold”. Before Christ, the Spirit of God was only “upon” a single person or group of people at a time, but now the power and work of this same Spirit was available to every believer, and “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Paul could continue on in bold freedom because he knew his acts of ministry were not his performance, but God’s alone.

Like Paul, we also have the ability to walk in ‘bold freedom,’ but how often do we allow our fear of making mistakes to keep us from even trying? It’s so easy to look at the ways we lack (in comparison to others) and believe God could never perform through our inferior selves. But what if, instead of living in the pressure of the “performance zone”, we stayed in the “learning zone”? What if we looked at every ministry task or step of obedience as practice and gave ourselves the freedom to make mistakes? What if, “Entrusting ourselves to Mystery [the Spirit’s unseen work], we move forward fearlessly, knowing that the future of the planet probably does not depend on what we do next”?*

PRACTICE 03

After several failed wake-surfing attempts that day this summer, I did finally get up on my feet! It didn’t last long as the board naturally ‘steers’ you toward the wake, and getting over that wave’s crest was a challenge my inferior balance wasn’t ready for. But at least I was up long enough for Tim to capture the evidence!

In verse 18, Paul encourages our practice even more with a reminder that, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” Every “learning zone” step of obedience changes us. Though the weight of the results is not on us, we do benefit from the practice! We are in the process of being transformed to look more and more like Jesus.

So, what’s a ministry task or step of obedience you’ve been thinking of as a “performance” that you could start seeing as “practice”? Praying out loud? Studying the Bible? Offering to help a neighbor? Leading a small group or teaching in kids ministry? Joining the worship team? (Okay, that one might require some skill! 😉)

For me, it’s talking to new people. Not only am I not “good” at making small talk, I often don’t know what to say and mistakes end up spilling out of my mouth. I also feel the performance-pressure that “talking to this person may somehow help them come to know Jesus!” But this fall, I’ve started looking at every conversation I have (big or small) as practice. I’ve started talking to cashiers, fellow parents, new youth group students, and random strangers without believing the chances of their salvation are on my shoulders. Yes, my face still turns red, I still say weird things, and I’m still not “good” at it, but I’m walking weightlessly in the bold freedom that “the future of the planet probably does not depend on what [I] do next”!

*”How to get better at the things you care about“, Eduardo Briceño, TEDx Manhattan Beach, November 2016
*https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/ivp-nt/Pauls-Letter-Recommendation
*“Ruthless Trust”, Brennan Manning, p. 141

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