Honest

I love it when my children receive gifts. I love it even more when my children receive gift cards – because honestly, we do not need any more toys in this house!

But what I don’t love is the event called “Can we go to the store so I can buy something with my gift card?” It always sounds like such an easy thing – I mean, you’ve only got $10, so how hard could it be?

Forty-five minutes later as we’re wandering through the same five aisles we’ve walked through ten times each, I wonder why I thought this was going to be easy! I’ve suggested multiple options and multiple combinations of those options, but they’ve all been vetoed.

The problem is, I know what you want – you’re just not willing to say it. You want that stuffed animal, but you also know that I’m going to say a firm “NO!” to that stuffed animal because you already have so many stuffed animals they don’t fit on your bed. And you also know we recently donated several trash bags full of old ones you weren’t playing with anymore.

But in the back of your mind, you can’t let go of that fluffy, brightly-colored, glittery-eyed puppy – and so nothing else is going to make the cut! If you just admitted it, we could get the “NO!” over with and move on, but instead, we walk the aisles one more time…

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We’re all born with desire – it’s part of being human. We also learn early on that not all desires are going to be fulfilled in the way we want them to. Sometimes the things we want are “bad” because they are harmful or have the potential to become harmful. Sometimes the things we want are “selfish” because we just don’t need them.

As we get older, we gain a little more self-control over those desires. That doesn’t mean they go away – we just get better at hiding them (even from ourselves). We learn how to pray “spiritually correct” prayers so God knows we’re not being selfish. We assume that if we pretend they’re not there, our desires will somehow get small enough to disappear.

In Psalm 86, King David calls out to the Lord for mercy. After admitting his need, David proclaims his God’s greatness “among the gods” and then presents this request:

“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.”
(Psalm 86:11-12)

For David and his people, there was great temptation to worship other gods in hopes that a desire might be fulfilled. This would lead to a “divided” heart, where a portion of one’s heart was still for the Lord – but only a portion. An “undivided” heart, on the other hand, would fully trust this great God and his great wisdom, care, and provision.

A desire sought after is a recipe for a divided heart – but so is a desire stuffed down and ignored. We say we trust God with “everything,” but that “everything” is vague and really only includes “everything I’m comfortable trusting Him with.” In our attempts to be “good” and look “good” to ourselves and to God, we hold back, grabbing certain pieces of our hearts and sitting on them, hoping if we don’t acknowledge them or call them by name, they’ll go away.

Jesus has clearly called me to “deny” the fulfillment of my sinful and selfish desires (Mark 8:34), but that doesn’t mean denying their existence. Squashing them only feeds them by giving them permission to hang out unsupervised in the back of my mind. Jesus wants me to be “set free” from the power of sin and self (John 8:36), but I can’t be freed from anything I’m not willing to be honest about the existence of.

It’s my automatic reaction as a Christian to sense a sinful or selfish desire and think “Oh, I shouldn’t be thinking that,” give myself a little “Stop that!”, and move on. When I’m praying, it’s second nature for me to think carefully about what I’m saying – to manicure my prayers into what I think God would like to hear.

Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit is like, “Hello!? I know what you really want to say! Why don’t you just spit it out so I can speak My truth over it and we can move on, already!”

Acknowledging my real desires might be the very thing that frees me from their power. Being honest unclouds my fluffy, brightly-colored, glittery-eyed-puppy tunnel vision to see the many ways He is, has been, and will continue to provide for me. Being honest with God unites my heart to fully trust Him with everything – meaning I can honestly worship Him “with all my heart”.

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Solid

What was the staple item of your childhood Easter basket? Was it jelly beans? Chocolate eggs? Marshmallow Peeps? Cadbury mini-eggs?

For many of us, it was, of course, the chocolate bunny. This timeless treat has topped-off baskets for decades, giving parents an endless variety of flavors, shapes, and sizes to choose from. Dark, milk, or white chocolate? Added peanut butter or caramel? Goofy or life-like? Life-size or dentist-friendly? And the biggest one: Solid or hollow?

Growing up in a family of three children with a limited budget (or maybe just a smart mom) meant that even though I hoped every year that my box would say “solid,” a “hollow” bunny was what I would find. From the outside, a hollow bunny looks like tons of chocolate. But when you bite into it, you realize you’ve been duped – it’s really not more than a few bites!

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The words of Psalm 115 give us a clear picture of the difference between our “solid” God and the “hollow” idols we might be tempted to worship instead:

Our God is in heaven;
 he does whatever pleases him.
But their idols are silver and gold,
 made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
 eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
 noses, but cannot smell.
They have hands, but cannot feel,
 feet, but cannot walk,
 nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them,
 and so will all who trust in them.
(v. 3-8)

From the earliest times, human beings have attempted to explain the mysteries of nature and the purpose of life by pointing to the spiritual. The notion that there could or maybe even has to be something beyond what our eyes can see lies within us all. Paul puts it this way in Romans 1: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (v. 20) This notion was meant to lead us to seek after and know the one true God.

However, by the time Psalm 115 was written, the people groups surrounding the nation of Israel had conceived hundreds of “gods”. These divine “beings” served to explain the mysteries as “everything that occurred, whether good or bad, was attributed to the gods”* More than that, they brought these answers down to earth. Gods conceived by human brains could only resemble earthly things, which gave them the ability to be visualized and then replicated into physical ‘idols’.

Most importantly, the attribution of specific powers to individual gods made them seem, even ever so slightly, under human control, as it was assumed they could be appeased through worship and sacrifices. Life in those times depended thoroughly on unpredictable, uncontrollable forces and these gods appeared to offer protection, satisfaction, and livelihood. So the people worshiped them. Even the Israelites, though they knew the one true God, also knew that He “is in heaven” and “he does whatever pleases him” (v. 3), so they constantly succumbed to the temptation to bow down to these more ‘manageable’ gods.

But the Psalmist declares that even though these “gods” looked like they had something to offer, their offers were empty. Conceived by human brains and made by human hands they held no power and could not bring the protection, satisfaction, and livelihood they promised.

In my 2019 suburban life, many of the big questions that at one time mystified people have been answered by modern science. Also, the majority of my daily life does not depend on the forces of nature – though I sometimes pray an event will not get rained out (or maybe that it will 😉), my success or failure does not depend on their ‘favor’. Medical knowledge has explained most illness and disease and I don’t live in fear of invasion or war.

The temptation to worship other gods isn’t a thing in my life.

Or is it?

I may not be bowing down to Ba’al, but if I had that new ______________, I’d be satisfied. I’m not asking anything of Asherah, but man, life would be so much better if ______________ finally happened. I’m not imagining myself in debt to Dagon, but if I could just accomplish ______________, I’d finally be ‘there’.

Every time I expect a physical item, social interaction, goal completion, or emotional sensation to bring me satisfaction, there’s a chance that I’m making an idol of it.

Every time I put my hope in something that’s created by human hands or conceived by human brains, there’s a chance I’m going to find it hollow and unable to produce what it appears to be promising.

And every time I bite in, it’s not long before I realize I’ve been duped.

The Psalmist says in verse 8, “Those who make them will be like them and so will all who trust in them” and that’s exactly what happens. Trusting in something that’s hollow only leaves me hollow. I felt empty and I thought that that thing, person, experience, or feeling would be the thing that filled me up, so I took a ‘bite’. But after I chewed and swallowed, I was still empty. It looked like it had a “mouth,” but it turns out it couldn’t “speak”. It appeared to have “eyes,” but it couldn’t “see”. Its “ears” weren’t capable of “hear[ing],” its “nose” couldn’t “smell,” its “hands” couldn’t “feel,” and just because it had “feet” didn’t mean it could “walk”.

My prayer lately has been that my hollowness would cause me to long for the solid fulfillment only Jesus can give me – and that I would continue to experience disappointment when I put my trust in the things of this world. When I find myself frustrated with that thing I took a bite of, I thank God for the reminder that only He can satisfy!

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*https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/encyclopedia-of-the-bible/Idolatry

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Hindsight

Speaking of the cold… Can you figure out this rebus word puzzle?

Rebus CHILL

If you got that one, can you get this one? You’re getting warmer!

Rebus SPRING

Over the past few weeks, the girls and I have been working hard to solve a collection of rebus puzzles.

Some of them are so obvious, you can’t not see the answer right away. The letter “P” with an arrow pointing up above it? That’s “Pup,” of course.

Some of them require a little out-of-the-box thinking. The letter “S” with a rabbit next to it? Srabbit? Sbunny? What’s another word for ‘rabbit’? Oh! It’s “Share”!

Others you feel like you could stare at for hours and never figure them out. The letter “G” with a circle underneath it? “Go?” Nope, that’s not it. Oh – how about “Ground?” Nope. It took weeks, but we finally got it – “Underground”. Get it? The “round” is “under” the “G”. 🤦

Every time we open up a new ‘level’ in this app, we flip through the puzzles and do our best to solve them. Some we get on first glance, some take a little collaborative thinking, and some leave us saying, “We’re never going to get that one!”

But, guess what? We always do – and then say to each other, “How did we not see that?”. Once you’ve “seen” the answer, not only can you not unsee it – you can’t imagine how you ever didn’t see it in the first place!

Hindsight is 20/20. Unfortunately, foresight – or even in-the-moment sight isn’t! Hard situations and crisis moments can leave us feeling puzzled and unsure of what to do. There are so many times I wish God would just hand me a list of “Instructions on How Mandy Desilets Should Handle This Exact Situation”. (Wouldn’t that be great?) He’s promised to guide me and I’m looking to Him for help, but sometimes I feel like I’m staring at the picture thinking, “I can’t do this!”

In Psalm 25, David sings about the ways God guides us:

Show me your ways, Lord,
   teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
   for you are God my Savior,
   and my hope is in you all day long…
Good and upright is the Lord;
   therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
   and teaches them his way.
(Psalm 25:4-5, 8-9)

Because our God is “good and upright”, He doesn’t just keep all that goodness and uprightness to Himself – He is always actively leading us, as His children, toward goodness and uprightness. He does this by revealing His own ways to us and instructing us in how we, as humans, can act in those ways as well. As our Guide walks in front of us, so can we put our feet where His feet were and walk in the direction He points.

Life would be a whole lot easier if I always walked in His ways, but as much as I want all that goodness and uprightness to characterize my life, the forces of fear, judgment, and pride tend to speak just as loud (if not louder) and I end up letting them guide me instead. Although I wish I never had any failures, every time I handle a situation poorly I can look back, see clearly what I should have done, and let it become something my faithful Guide can use to show me the right path.

When we look at our rebus puzzles now, after completing several levels, we have a strategy:

  1. Details. Though not every detail of the picture is significant, you have to break it down into parts. Does that little stem off the top of that pod of peas resemble a letter? Yep! That’s an “R” which means the answer is “Pear”!
  2. Position. Short words like on, in, of, or, and, etc… find themselves inside lots of other bigger words. An “ant” “on” an “F”? Or is the “ant” “in” the “F”?
  3. Synonyms. Sometimes the word is just is what it is, but sometimes it’s not. That’s an “L” floating in water. Is that water “liquid”? Some “waves”? A “lake”? The “ocean”? A “sea”?
  4. Big Picture. It’s easy to get caught up in the details and end up trying too hard. It’s a picture of an upside-down hanger. Is there a letter in that? A number? A shape? What’s another word for “hanger”? Oh! 😂 It’s a “bat” – an “upside-down hanger”!

Every time I’m facing an “I don’t know what to do! I can’t handle this!” situation and I’m looking to my Guide for help, there’s a good chance the Holy Spirit’s going to point backwards – not to shame me for my mistakes, but so He can use the hindsight I now have from a previous situation to guide me in this one.

  1. Details. Does this situation resemble another that I’ve faced? It may not be exactly the same, but there’s a good chance I have been here before.
  2. Position. When I faced this situation previously, where was my heart in relation to God’s? Was I laying it open in trust? Or was it closed up in fear and doubt?
  3. Synonyms. What were my options for action/reaction? How many of them were based on fear, judgment, or pride? What did I choose and how did it work out for me?
  4. Big Picture. Was I overthinking then? Am I overthinking now? Do I need to step back and think about the obvious, general commands and ways of God?

The first verse of Psalm 25 is: “In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.” Trust doesn’t come naturally – it’s built over time and every opportunity that’s placed in front of me is a stepping stone. I might not know exactly what to do, but letting the Holy Spirit use that 20/20 hindsight view will give me some clues!

If you get that, can you get this one?

Rebus TRUST

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Think

A 30° day in April is worse than a 10° day in January. After basking in the glory of 75° and sunny this Saturday, we were all tricked into putting away the hats and gloves and winter coats. Make way for spring! Or so we thought…

And then Monday happened. And 30° happened.

In January I had the ability to give myself a swift kick in the pants and just get outside. For the first time in many years, I reached my winter goal of getting at least one run or hike in every week – no matter how cold it was. When Saturday’s t-shirt and flip-flops weather hit, I felt like I had crossed the finish line!

Then I looked at 30° on Monday morning, and the last thing I wanted to do was voluntarily go outside when I didn’t have to! “But it’s cold,” I thought, “and I’m so sick of the cold. I just can’t.”

But after forgetting to say “Decaf” when ordering my Americano that morning and having the feeling I might spontaneously combust if I didn’t do something active, I put my shoes on and went anyway.

And guess what? Seven minutes in and I was rolling up my sleeves thinking, “I’m roasting. I should have worn a lighter shirt!” 🤦

This is not a new lesson for me. I learn it every. single. time. I go for a run in the cold. I never want to get my running clothes on because all I can think about is how cold I’m going to be. I never want to walk out the door because all I can think about is how warm and comfortable my house is. There are many days the warm house and warm clothes win and I can’t get myself to do it!

I know the discomfort of the cold will only last for approximately seven minutes. Seven minutes is less than a mile. In seven minutes, I will forget that I was ever cold! But sometimes seven minutes feels like a long time.

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Being a follower of Jesus and being comfortable are phrases that rarely show up in the same sentence. We like all the stuff about how much God loves us and how He’s got a plan for our lives – but this whole ‘deny yourself’ thing isn’t much fun. Deep down I know that God’s infinitely wise voice is leading me toward all the good things He has for me, but sometimes I’m not so sure I want to go that way!

In Romans 13, Paul pleads with his readers to “wake from sleep” and “put on the armor of light” (v. 11-12). He instructs them to “walk properly as in the daytime” by living life as if this “light” was shining on them, exposing their actions at all times (v. 13). And how should they do this? First, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” and second, “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (v. 14)

When I ‘suit up’ for my day, ‘clothing’ myself with Christ is a great place to start. Connecting with Him and being reminded that “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20) snaps me out of my self-focused, comfort-driven daze. But that doesn’t mean it completely goes away! Throughout my day, it’s a guarantee that temptation will fade right back in – whether it’s an invitation to gratify my sinful nature or the thought that I’d rather turn around and go home than follow through with an opportunity God has placed in front of me.

When Paul said “make no provision” he meant to not ‘enable’ or ‘allow for’ sin and disobedience to happen.* The way we do that enabling is, as the NIV translates, by “think[ing] about” it. Of course we must “think about” our choices, but Paul is talking about the kind of thinking that plans ahead with a focus on the fulfillment of a desire. In other words, the more I think about my desires, the more I’m likely to make the choice to fulfill them.

Making “provision” happens when I engage in lengthy debate with myself over a choice. Is that really the Holy Spirit leading me or is it just my guilt speaking? I start to rationalize: “I think I can probably handle this, it’s not really that bad. I’ll just do it this way.” or “I’m just so stressed I need to do/say this right now because it will give me relief”. Or “There’s no way I can face that situation! I won’t handle it well!” and “Serving in that way will take too much of my energy and I’m just so tired…”

Lately, once I’ve decided I’m going for a run, I don’t think – I just go. I’ve learned to not, as my Grandma might say, ‘hem and haw’ over the decision. I get dressed, throw on my shoes, and run out the door before I have time to talk myself out of it!

I don’t want to be uncomfortable. And ‘denying myself’ is a fast track to uncomfortable. Obeying God when He’s leading me out of my comfort zone? I don’t think that’s going to feel good. It would be much easier to stay in my warm house, in my warm clothes, sitting in my warm chair… Yeah, that would be better. 😉

But when I do obey, does the initial discomfort last more than seven minutes? Honestly, I’m not sure it ever does. Temptation tends to lose its power, and those hard things never end up being as hard as I thought they’d be. It’s amazing how quickly I *warm up* after taking those first steps to just do it!

*https://biblehub.com/greek/4307.htm

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Loaves

As a kid there was one thing I looked forward to about church every Sunday: the end of the service. Though the little kids only had to sit through halftime, the bigger kids had to stay. Not only was I bored, but after getting there early and then sitting through Sunday school and church, I was hungry!

Unless it was a communion Sunday – because then we got food! But not really. I remember anxiously watching the ushers bring the loaves of bread around and then, following my mother’s instructions, ripping a ‘small’ piece from the loaf. ‘Small’ meaning the largest piece I could get away with, of course!

As I watched the ushers carry the almost-full loaves of bread back to the front of the sanctuary, all I could think was how unfair it was. Surely there was enough for everyone to have had more! There weren’t that many people in the room – why didn’t they just pre-cut the bread and let everyone have a whole slice?

Well, I guess it would have been hard to wash down with that tiny half-sip of grape juice, anyway. 😉

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If you’ve ever had a ‘good’ quiet time with God, then you know what I mean by a ‘good’ quiet time with God. One of those times where you close your Bible or devotional and, with a deep sense of satisfaction, think “Wow! That’s so good!”. Sometimes it’s just the inspiration you need to face a challenge coming at you that day. Or a verse that brings you to your knees in awe of our great God. Or even a conviction you’ve been avoiding.

Whatever it is, feeling like you’ve heard from God in a personal way rocks. There aren’t many words to describe the sense of fulfillment it brings!

John 6 tells the story of Jesus miraculously turning five barley loaves and two fish into enough food for over five thousand people. With word of His healing abilities spreading rapidly, large crowds were before Him at every stop. And in this “desolate place” (Matthew 14:15), after many hours of watching and listening to Jesus, the people were understandably hungry.

So He fed them. And He didn’t just provide enough for each of them to have a bite – they all got “as much as they wanted” and ate “their fill”. (John 6:11-12). There were even leftovers!

After not only witnessing a miracle like this, but physically experiencing it for themselves, you can imagine the people were then hungry for more! So when they couldn’t find Jesus in that same place the next day, they followed Him to “the other side of the sea”. (v. 25)

But when they found Jesus, He said to them: “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.’” (v. 26) Jesus could see their hearts and knew exactly how to expose them. They were there because they wanted more – not because the food was a gourmet treat or because they were desperate for some free eats – they wanted more of the “WOW!”. The physical sensation of experiencing Jesus’ miracles firsthand was a ‘meal’ worth chasing!

In verse 35 Jesus assured them He was worth chasing – but not for the reasons they had been doing so: “‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’” In Himself, Jesus had something to offer that would be more fulfilling and more satisfying than anything He could do or any way He could excite their senses. And they would experience that when they believed in Him just for Him – not for what they could get out of Him.

When I open my Bible, flip to today’s page in my devotional, turn on that worship song, or close my eyes to pray, I’m aware that there are loaves upon loaves of ‘stuff’ to be ‘gotten’ from Jesus. I know that He has the power and ability to “WOW!” me by exciting my senses with His words or His presence. But am I only going to Jesus for what I can ‘get’ out of Him? Am I after my “fill” or just after Him?

No matter how I feel as I get up to move on with my day, I can be assured that Jesus’ promise in John 6:35 is real. No matter how small the portion feels, I will never leave hungry or thirsty when I come to Him!

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Label

It’s amazing how much stuff we humans accumulate. Especially when we’re kids!

Last week, after tripping over one.more.thing. while tucking the girls in at night, I decided it was room-cleaning time. Though we try to make light ‘pick-ups’ part of our routine, every now and then we need a total overhaul! And with a lost library book as extra motivation, it was time.

Picking the stuff up was the easy part. Figuring out what to do with all the stuff was the problem. Is it trash? Recycling? Donation? Are you sure you need to keep that?

As the process dragged on, it was hard not to think about how much easier it would have been to go through the room myself. As an adult, I have 40-ish years of experience with “stuff,” and as their mom, I know what should be labeled “keep” and what should be labeled “GO”. But convincing them of that was a much harder task!

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When one of our students wants to start reading the Bible, I usually suggest they start with the book of Mark. It’s short, so it’s reasonable to set as a goal and Mark’s “to the point” writing makes it easy to get a solid picture of who Jesus is.

One of the themes that’s easy to pick up on in the first two chapters is Mark’s emphasis on Jesus’ authority. Proclaiming Him from verse one as the unique and only “Son of God,” Mark then tells of Jesus receiving a sign of this authority at His baptism: “And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” (1:10-11)

Then, without wasting any time, Mark dives right into the proof. In verse 22, he describes that those in the synagogue “were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” In verse 27, they were “all amazed” that ‘”He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”’ Verses 40-41 describe Jesus’ authority over disease and the human body: “‘If you will, you can make me clean.’… ‘I will; be clean.’” Chapter two begins with Jesus using this authority over the human body to prove His ability to forgive sin.

In our 21st century American life, the word “authority” makes us roll our eyes. We like to make our own decisions and be the judge of what’s right for us. We’re self-aware and know what we can handle, after all. We’re also experts on labeling our “sin” and deciding whether or not we can keep it.

In our “relationship with Jesus”-focused 21st century Christianity, it’s easy to forget that Jesus is not only “friend,” but also “Lord”. Yes, He loves and cares for me. Yes, He is filled with compassion and I can lean on Him for support. But I can’t forget that when I signed up to receive Him, I also received His authority into my life.

My heart is as frustrating as my kids’ room in the dark – it seems like I keep getting tripped up on one.more.thing I didn’t know was there. And the worst part is when Jesus comes in and starts telling me what to do about it! After labeling it with its real name (I’d prefer if He kept it a little more ‘politically correct’), He tells me what to do with it. Then, if I don’t do it, He keeps bugging me about it. (Recently, after several attempts, He got me to get rid of my ‘guilty pleasure’ TV show – He can be a real stinker sometimes!)

There are days when I wonder why He doesn’t just get it over with and clean me up, already. Surely with all that authority and experience, He could just snap His fingers and with a ‘spoonful of sugar,’ make it all go away.

But as a good parent, Jesus knows the process is more important. He knows “relationship” happens when I make the choice to acknowledge His authority by agreeing with Him about my sin and then obeying His instructions about it!

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Content

Speaking of marriage… I’m a cup-half-empty kind of girl who married a cup-half-full kind of guy. Or more accurately, I’m a cup all-the-way-empty girl who married a cup all-the-way-full guy. My husband doesn’t just see the positive side of every situation, he can’t even fathom that a negative side exists!

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The origins of this test, used to separate optimists from pessimists, are unknown, but the results are often spot on. Those of us who look at life through a general lens of “have” tend to see that the cup contains something. And those of us who look through a lens of “have not” tend to notice that the cup is missing something.

But science tells us we’re both incorrect – because the cup is actually full. Even if there isn’t a single drop of liquid in it, it is always filled with something – air! And air isn’t nothing. Air is matter – it has mass and takes up space. It is made of molecules of nitrogen, oxygen, and other gases. It may look like “nothing,” but, given the fact that we can’t survive more than a few minutes without it, it’s more like everything!

When Paul wrote the closing of his letter to the Philippians, he took some time to thank them for their generosity toward him and his ministry. He reported that he was now “amply supplied” because of their choice to “share in [his] troubles” by sending him aid “when [he] was in need” (4:14-18).

But as a teacher, Paul did more than just thank them – he also took advantage of the opportunity to educate them on an important spiritual truth:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (4:11-13)

As a follower of Christ, Paul looked at “content” through a general lens of “have” rather than “have not”. Even if the Philippians had not supported him financially, he knew “the secret” was to see his glass as always full, even if its contents were invisible to the physical eye.

We all want to be content, and for many of us, “content” is what will happen when our cup gets filled – a.k.a. when we get married. As young (or not-so-young) single people, we dream of meeting the “one” who will complete us and be the puzzle piece that fills up all our unmet needs.

And then we actually get married – and find out that’s not the case! After elevating our spouse to a god-like level, idealizing their need-meeting abilities, their idols come toppling over – and we fall right down with them. Every time I sense frustration and discontent in my relationship with Tim, I know it’s because I’ve been expecting him to fill a cup he was never meant to fill.

Laurie Krieg and “Hole in My Heart Ministries” compiled this list of the core needs God placed inside of humanity before the Fall in Genesis 3. These needs are present in all humans, and, though they can be met in part by other humans, are only met fully and completely by God Himself:

I need to be . . .

Affirmed: Overwhelmingly approved of
Desired: Specially chosen—no pretense necessary
Included: Wanted in this group, team, or partnership; belonging
Loved: Unconditionally accepted
Nurtured: Cared for; held
Purposed: Filled with a sense of profoundly mattering
Rested: Re-centered and reset in mind, body, spirit; includes having fun
Safe: Unafraid; trusting everything is under control
Seen: Noticed inside and out
Unique: Delightfully special
(Read more about these at: https://www.himhministries.com/core-needs.html)

As a follower of Christ, I want to believe that He is all I need, but when I have this other human right here who could meet those needs, I want him to do it! I tend to look at like this: Tim fills my cup first and then Jesus can fill what’s left. But the reverse is true: Jesus has already filled my cup, and anything Tim adds is only the overflow.

Your cup is constantly full – even if it looks and feels like it’s empty. When Paul said “I can do all this through him who gives me strength,” (4:13) he wasn’t talking about receiving supernatural power to succeed in life or reach his goals, he was talking about receiving the supernatural vision to see the air as a thing. The contents of your cup may not always seem tangible, but they’re necessary to your survival!

Which of the “core needs” listed are biggest for you?

Which have you been depending on others to fill, rather than God?

Which can you thank God for already filling today?

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Fresh

Everybody poops.

Yes, it’s true. Even though we don’t like to admit it. Especially when we’re toddlers.

Though it’s been years since diaper-changing was a part of my life, I have many not-so-fond memories of the potty-training process. I’m sure there were some toddlers out there who, keenly aware of their own bowel movements, immediately reported them to their parents and asked to be changed. But this was not the case in our family.

For my (and I think most) children the process looked something like this: Poop in diaper. Resume normal activities which include sitting, standing, rolling, etc… as if nothing ever happened. Hear parent’s suspicion that you may need a change. Vehemently deny parent’s suspicions. Continue sitting, standing, rolling, etc… until said parent finally picks you up and uncovers the proof. Whine and cry during entire changing process as if it was the worst thing that ever happened to you.

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It’s easy, as a toddler, to get comfortable sitting in our own waste.

And just as easy as an adult.

I wrote last week about the “work[ing] out” of our salvation, and how our faith gets its greatest ‘workout’ in our relationships. And if that’s true, then being married is like being in continuous, intense, marathon training!

There’s something about spending many years living with, dividing chores with, making millions of decisions with, and putting up with the quirks of another person that draws the sin right out of you. It’s uncanny how all of my greatest flaws and deep-rooted pride make their stink known, especially when Tim and I disagree!

For me, and maybe you, too, the process looks something like this: Get in disagreement. Believe I’m right (because I am, of course! 😜). Sense pride making its way out. Sit, stand, and roll around in it by taking personal offense that my “rightness” is not being acknowledged. Sense more pride. Sit, stand, and roll around in it some more by adding “tone” to my comments until I feel like I’ve “won”.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul offers up some solid advice on how to live like Christ in our relationships. In chapter 3, his focus is on false teachers in the church who had been leading the Philippians to put their confidence in their “flesh” rather than in what Christ had already done. In response to their error, Paul proved that he, if anyone, did have reason to put confidence in his flesh, but one encounter with Christ revealed to him that those attempts to achieve “righteousness” on his own were nothing but “rubbish” (Philippians 3:4-9).

Because of this, Paul encouraged the believers to “press on” toward Christ by “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (3:13-14). For Paul, Christ meant a clean, fresh start where he left behind the burden of pride – both in his attempts at righteousness and his failures at achieving it. No longer dwelling in his own mess, he was free to move toward what Christ had in store for him.

Clean, fresh starts are available to us at salvation and also at any everyday moment. But in the heat of an argument, it’s so easy for me to act like a toddler! There’s something in me that’s aware of the mess (the Holy Spirit seems to have an impeccable nose for it), and yet I’d rather just sit in it. Because admitting it and letting go of it by making a change seems too hard.

In chapter three of their book, “You and Me Forever,” Francis and Lisa Chan provide a serious marriage “workout” challenge: “The one who wins the argument is usually the one who acts less like Christ”. It’s crazy how I can be fully aware of the stench of my pride, but everything inside of me wants to keep pressing on for the “win” with my “toned” presentation of facts and feelings.

Over several months of marriage counseling (one of the best things we’ve ever done!), Tim and I have learned the magic of the simple phrase: “Can I try that again?” In any moment, a fresh start is available. A simple request to “try that again” pushes the pause button, pulls us both down off our high horses, and allows us to start the conversation again – minus the “tone”.

Yes, it’s hard to acknowledge my pride in the moment, but forgetting what lies [in my] behind is the surest way to free us up to move toward each other and toward Christ!

(Full credit for this illustration goes to Jessica Mello, my dear friend who is deep in the throes of toddler parenting 😲)

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Reins

Speaking of horses… Riding one can be a challenge. Especially when you’re doing it for the first time!

Though I had taken some ‘pony’ rides as a kid, riding a horse at Village Creek Bible Camp two years ago was my introduction to the ‘real thing’. After being outfitted with a helmet and given some basic instructions on how to use my voice, hands, and feet to get my horse moving, it was time to give it a try.

And off I went! Or not so much…

If you want to understand the humor of this scene, you need to know that not only do I have very little hand-eye-foot coordination, I also don’t do “right” and “left”. On top of that, my short term memory when given a quick list of instructions is close to zero. I had no idea what I was doing!

Thankfully, Tim and the other riders were there to help me, and after a few minutes, my horse and I were in business. I certainly wasn’t a professional, but we were moving and, even better, moving in the right direction. I was in control!

That is until we started doing the “fun” activities. Which included a relay where I had to “race” (😂) toward a barrel, slow down and get close enough to the barrel to grab an object from on top of it, navigate around the barrel (without knocking it over), and then “race” back. Needless to say, my team did not win!

Controlling my horse was hard, but you know what would have been impossible? Trying to also control someone else’s!

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In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul spent a large portion of his words encouraging the believers to “complete [his] joy” by working on their relationships with one another (2:2). He filled up a whole paragraph with instructions to be like-minded, loving, tender, compassionate, others-focused, and humble (2:1-11).

He then followed those words with this verse: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12). At first glance, this verse doesn’t seem to fit into a discussion about unity and relationships, but it may actually be the key verse of the whole chapter.

“Salvation” is a spiritual process. Though our “sin” exists in the physical, its debt and true consequences are in the spiritual, meaning our liberation from it first happens in the spiritual. But it doesn’t stay there. We live in the physical, so salvation must be “work[ed] out” in the physical – and the place where it gets the greatest workout is in our relationships.

You would think that among those of us who are “saved,” it would be easy to work as a like-minded, loving, tender, compassionate, others-focused, and humble team. But obviously it’s not or Paul wouldn’t have needed to write about it!

Living according to Paul’s instructions is hard and it’s mostly hard because we forget about the “fear and trembling” part. I like being “saved”. I like knowing that I’m forgiven and that the Holy Spirit is working in my life to change me. But, it’s easy to get comfortable and start thinking I’m somehow in control of my horse – and everyone else’s.

If I was in control of how “salvation” works, everyone would “get it” right away and change would happen fast! All those hurts, habits, and hang-ups would disappear and we’d get moving to share Jesus with the world!

But how quickly I forget the length of time it took for me to “get it” and that change in me hasn’t and isn’t happening anywhere close to my timeline. If I can’t even rein in my own horse, why do I think I can reach over and control someone else’s?

To “work out” my salvation with “fear and trembling” is to remember that the God who saved me is still the God who is saving me – and everyone else I come in contact with. I deserved wrath, but instead have been showered with mercy. I did nothing to deserve it – and neither has anyone else. He’s the one who “reigns” and His reign is over all (Psalm 93:1). His work in people’s lives is His work and because He’s God, He knows how to do it best.

When we walk out of that place of “fear and trembling,” pride becomes our god and we start trying to grab each other’s reins. But when we stay there, like-minded, loving, tender, compassionate, others-focused, and humble teamwork is possible!

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Narnia

If you haven’t read the “Chronicles of Narnia” books, perhaps you’ve seen the movie or at least heard of the magical storybook land. Sung into existence by Aslan the Lion, and under his powerful and faithful protection, Narnia is a place unlike any other – and especially unlike its neighbor to the south – Calormen.

Which is where the third chronological book of the series, “The Horse and His Boy,” (which Ada and I are currently reading) begins. Calormen is a country ruled by a monarch called the “Tisroc” (whose name, when spoken, must be followed by the phrase “May he live forever”) and a ruling class called the “Tarkaans”. But more than the monarch himself, the forces of rank, entitlement, and therefore, strife, preside over Calormene society.  

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The main character is a boy named Shasta who, as we are introduced to him, is about to be purchased by a Tarkaan to become his slave. But while the transaction is being finalized, Shasta meets the Tarkaan’s horse – who just happens to be a talking horse from Narnia. Shasta listens as the horse, whose name is Bree, describes his homeland:

“Narnia,” answered the Horse. “The happy land of Narnia—Narnia of the heathery mountains and the thymy downs, Narnia of the many rivers, the plashing glens, the mossy caverns and the deep forests ringing with the hammers of the Dwarfs. Oh the sweet air of Narnia! An hour’s life there is better than a thousand years in Calormen.”*

It turns out that Bree, who had been kidnapped and brought to Calormen, was waiting for an opportunity to escape and return to Narnia, but needed a rider in order to not be captured for being a ‘stray’ horse. Shasta, also eager to escape, agrees to be his rider. Bree is slightly concerned, though, as young Shasta has never ridden a horse – which leads to this very important part of the conversation:

“Poor little beast,” said the Horse in a gentler tone. “I forget you’re only a foal. We’ll make a fine rider of you in time. And now—we mustn’t start until those two in the hut are asleep. Meantime we can make our plans. My Tarkaan is on his way north to the great city, to Tashbaan itself and the court of the Tisroc——”

“I say,” put in Shasta in rather a shocked voice, “oughtn’t you to say May he live forever?”

“Why?” asked the Horse. “I’m a free Narnian. And why should I talk slaves’ and fools’ talk? I don’t want him to live forever, and I know that he’s not going to live forever whether I want him to or not. And I can see you’re from the free north too. No more of this southern jargon between you and me! And now, back to our plans.”*

Being a “free Narnian” meant that Bree had no obligation to bow to the Calormen monarch. Even though he existed in Calormen and even though he could have faced consequences for not saying “May he live forever,” he didn’t because he knew he didn’t have to. Bree knew something greater, Narnia, existed and he knew he was securely a citizen of Narnia, and so he was able to exist within Calormen, but not be enslaved to its forces.

The “Calormen” that we live in isn’t much different. Instead of the Tisroc, though, it’s our own fragile egos that we hold up and bow down to in worship, “May they live forever!”. Balanced on the pedestal of our own moral or personal superiority, we can’t help but criticize (and panic at the slightest criticism of ourselves). Obsessed with getting what we believe we’re owed, we walk in entitlement (and then can’t.handle.life. when we don’t get what we think we should get). Turning all of our energy toward the uplifting of the “self,” we’ve become angry, stressed, and depressed.

In his gospel, John tells us that Jesus knew “that he had come from God and was going back to God” (John 13:3). Jesus existed in this land of rank, entitlement, and strife, but because He knew something so much greater existed and that He was securely part of that and returning to that, He did not ever, even for a second, bow down to those forces. Rather than pulling rank, demanding what was rightly his, or striving in competition, He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7).

And contrary to our instincts, the result of this emptying and service was not anger, stress, or depression – it was freedom. Because Jesus did not exert all of His energy in the grasping and lifting up of His human ego, He was released from slavery to it.

As a follower of Jesus and a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, I have a secret! I know about “Narnia”. I know there is something greater than all this rank, entitlement, and strife, and I know I’m securely a part of it. As a “free Narnian,” I don’t have to bow down to my own fragile ego. I don’t have to worry that someone’s going to push me off my pedestal – because I know I don’t belong there anyway. I don’t have to be disappointed when people don’t give me what I want – because I already have everything I’ve ever needed in Jesus. I don’t have to be offended when someone doesn’t lift me up – because I’ve already been given the greatest uplifting ever as a child of God.

Liberated from the burden of having to hold my “self” up, I’m free to follow Jesus’ example. If I’m not busy making a big deal about me, then I’m free to “count others more significant than [myself]” (Philippians 2:3). If my mental space isn’t consumed by figuring out how to get what I’m owed, I’m free to look “to the interests of others” (2:4). Without carrying the weight of a heavy shield of defense, I’m free to “do all things without grumbling or disputing” (2:14).

Although Bree the talking horse was born in Narnia, he had lived the majority of his life in Calormen. So though he knew about Narnia, he had some anxiety about returning there.

Near the end of the journey, Bree encounters a friendly Hermit who gives him some advice:

“It doesn’t follow that you’ll be anyone very special in Narnia. But as long as you know you’re nobody very special, you’ll be a very decent sort of Horse, on the whole, and taking one thing with another.”*

Contrary to our instincts, freedom comes from the surrender of self rather than the exalting of it. Holding my ego up is an exhausting, 24/7/365, full-time job that Jesus has released me from!

*”The Horse and His Boy” by C.S. Lewis

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