Rocky

Running is my escape. When I throw on my sneakers and set out, it’s just me and the path ahead. All I’m responsible for over the next half-hour (or so) is putting one foot in front of the other. It’s my introvert “me-time” and even though it’s a struggle to get out the door on these cold winter days – I love every minute of it!

Over the past year, I’ve gone back to my Vermont high school cross-country roots and started to do more trail running. I’m so over the suburban sidewalks and even the wonderful wide, paved paths we have so many of in our area. I want a narrow, rocky, root-covered trail winding through a forest I can get lost in.

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Trail running is so much less monotonous than pavement, track, or treadmill running because it demands that you to pay attention. The rocks, roots, and holes in the path force you to constantly evaluate the position of your body and the regular ups, downs, twists, and turns force you to think strategically about the placement of your foot with every single step – you can’t just coast.

Of course, trail running also brings with it a greater risk of injury, but for me the adventure is a worthwhile trade-off!

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When we choose to do life as a disciple of Christ, we’re choosing a path that is anything but easy. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus says: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” A narrow path presses in on you, is often filled with unexpected twists and turns, and forces you to think about every step.

There have been so many times recently where I’ve looked around at the world and thought about how much easier it would be to just be “normal” – to just be a mom or just work a job and go home to my family and not have to think about how my decisions are impacting the eternity of others. It’s not just because I’m in ministry – it’s that following Jesus every day is a rocky, narrow path.

Sometimes it’s the roots of my own sin or the hole I seemed to dig for myself by the choices I made that trip me up. Sometimes the rocks seem to come flying at me in the form of criticism or judgment. There are twists and turns of pain that I never saw coming and those uphills can be killer when I feel like I’m trying so hard but making such little progress. And there are times when things just get downright muddy!

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But when I really think about it, I wouldn’t trade this path for anything! The wide, paved road may look safer and easier, but the last thing I want to do is coast through this life.

It may be challenging, but the rocky, narrow path forces me to constantly pay attention to my position. No matter what obstacles lay ahead, I know that because of Christ I am a dearly loved child of God and the power of His Spirit resides within me. And every rock or root I stumble over gives me the opportunity to take a good, hard look at myself and see where I need to grow and change to be more like Him.

It also forces me to think strategically about the placement of every step – which means keeping my focus in the right place. The bumps in the road force me to keep my mind constantly open to how Holy Spirit is leading me in any and every situation. I can’t just coast – I can’t even look away for even for a second because I can’t guarantee what’s in front of me!

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This morning I ran the Mt. Joy trail (my current favorite) at Valley Forge Park. I was trying out a new app to keep track of my distance and about a mile into the trail, it had already announced to me three times how far I had gone and what my pace was (which I did not want to be reminded about since most of that mile had been uphill!)

I was getting increasingly frustrated, so I pulled out my phone to try to turn off the app. But as soon as I looked away from the trail – you guessed it – OUCH! I stepped on a rock and rolled my ankle. When I shifted my focus from what was in front of me over to the thing that was bothering me, I ended up in a whole lot of pain!

When you choose the rocky path the bumps are never a surprise. You can expect that on the narrow road of making your life all about loving God and loving others the way Jesus did, things are rarely going to be easy. So keep your focus on Him and whatever those next steps are that He’s leading you to take today!

If you want some help, just listen to this amazing song and get these words stuck in your head: (#proudyouthworkermoment)

“Guide my every thought
Guide my every step
Oh, let me walk in Your footprints
Teach my eyes to trust what I can’t see
Knowing that Your footprints are guiding me”

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Difference 

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My eyes scan across the table, back and forth, back and forth, looking for that piece. It’s green with some blue on one side and has a little bit of an odd-shaped ‘arm’. It’s out there somewhere and I’m gonna be the one to… Oh! There it is! Ugh, never mind.

I have a strange addiction to jigsaw puzzles. You can ask Tim – whenever we’re on vacation in North Carolina or visiting my Grandma’s house in Vermont, he has to physically drag me away from finding “Just one more!” I love all the designs, colors, and, of course, the feeling of accomplishment when you place that final piece!

Last summer, the puzzle on the table at Grandma’s house was a tough one. It had been started in February, but was so difficult that in July it was still less than halfway complete! I took this as a challenge and vowed I would get that last piece in before heading back to Pennsylvania.

The thing with this puzzle was that the pieces were all very similar in shape and the colors were nearly impossible to differentiate from one section to another. There were times where we sat for 15-20 minutes and and enjoyed only one tiny piece-fitting victory!

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Human relationships can be just as puzzling. Though similar in our basic structure, functions, senses, and abilities – there are drastic shades of difference in our experiences, cultures, personalities, and opinions. Even those of us who are born into the same families often find it hard to fit in together!

Our incredible uniqueness is God’s masterpiece. Unfortunately, instead of allowing His artwork to amaze us, we tend to let it frustrate us. In theory, we like that we’re not all the same, but in reality, not so much.

Part of the problem is that we love the completed puzzle. We love scanning through the crowds to find “our people” who match up and agree with us – and then securing them right to our side. We love it when all the pieces are present, easy to find, and fit together to make that perfect rectangle.

But rather than that completed picture, an incomplete array of various mismatched pieces is what we’re often faced with. In a world where we are allowed to have opinions and are given the freedom to express them, disagreements are inevitable. And not just the ones about where to get the best pizza in town or what Netflix show you should waste your time watching this weekend – the ones that reach to our depths of our values and convictions of our souls.

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When we do puzzles in our family, there are several reactions to the difficulty. Some of us try a few pieces unsuccessfully and then give up. Some of us try to jam the pieces into places they don’t fit because, “It looks like it goes there!” And some of us get angry and tear apart what everyone else has worked so hard to put together! (I won’t tell you who’s who!)

When our differences are revealed, the feelings are strong. We SO want everyone to agree with us and can’t imagine how they could possibly believe any different than we do! The patterns of our world give us some clear strategies for dealing with this difficulty: Give up and walk away from the relationship, argue and try to force the other person to change their mind, or get angry and find any and every way to tear them down.

In the first 11 chapters of his letter to the Romans, Paul sums up for the believers what God has done for them in Christ. He reminds them that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (3:23-24), that because of this great act of love, “we have peace with God” (5:1) and “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1), that God is “for us” (8:31) and that His Spirit “helps us in our weakness” (8:26).

Then, beginning in chapter 12, he shows the believers how their lives should be different now because of what God has done. In verse 2 he says: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. The presence of Christ in our hearts and minds results in transformation – specifically, as Paul points out in the rest of the chapter, in how we treat people who are different from us.

Verses 3-8 deal with differences in our gifts. Because, “just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function…We have different gifts” (v. 4-6) and should think of ourselves “with sober judgment” (v. 3). All of our varying passions, abilities, and interests are necessary to the health of the church!

But verses 9-21 extend to the bigger picture of all relationships – especially the difficult ones. Paul was convinced that it was possible to “Hate what is evil” and “cling to what is good” while still loving people sincerely (v. 9). He believed, and showed by his life, that a “transformed” mind could genuinely “Bless those who persecute you” rather than curse them (v. 14). And He concluded that because we trust in a God who “in all things…works for the good of those who love him” (8:28), there was never a need to “repay anyone evil for evil” (v. 17).

Our differences can be difficult, but as ‘renewed’ followers of Jesus, we have the ability to lead the charge of embracing differences the way He did. We can “honor one another” (v. 10) by engaging in mature conversation instead of following the world’s patterns of avoidance, gossip, and lashing out on social media. Even if we believe with our whole heart that someone is wrong, we can put aside our pride and “live in harmony” (v. 16) – agreeing to disagree and trusting in the work of the Holy Spirit in the other person’s (or our own) life.

As you may have guessed from the picture above, we did finally complete the puzzle – well, except for that missing piece, of course (Aaarghh!!) Putting those final pieces in was exhilarating and my Grandma was so happy to finally regain her table space!

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Our victory was sweet, but as long as human beings are human, putting together a perfect puzzle in our relationships is going to elude us. Because even when we do the right thing, that doesn’t guarantee us a happy ending. All God is asking, though, is that, “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (v. 18) and then trust Him with the rest.

What does that look like for you today?

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Timing

Now that the holidays are over, it’s time to think about one thing: Summer! It’s almost here, people – warm weather and outdoor adventure are right around the corner! Or at least we can dream about it, right?

Every July our family has the huge privilege of being able to spend several weeks in southern Vermont. We love being able to escape the Pennsylvania humidity and experience the beauty of those Green Mountains!

Last summer, my mom introduced us to a rope swing she had discovered on a creek near her town. Far from the old-piece-of-knotted-string-tied-to-a-questionably-stable-branch you may be picturing, this swing was the real deal – complete with a wooden handle and attached securely to the bridge above. The kids had a blast swinging off the rocks, letting go, and plunging into the water!

But no matter how much fun it was, it was also an accident waiting to happen. An adult needed to be in the water directly below the swing – not only to catch the handle and get it to the next kid – but also to stop any kids who didn’t let go from careening back into the rocks!

If you’ve ever been on a rope swing before, you know that timing is everything. There is a very small window at the peak of your upward swing where you must let go if you want that optimal high-flying-plunge experience. Letting go too early just leaves you with a lame slip into the water and holding on for too long can be outright dangerous!

Another thing we’re all thinking about at this time of year is change. There’s something about the start of a new year that gives us hope that things will be different – or at least that we’ll be different. We’re ready to grab that handle and step off the rock, hoping that this will be the year we take that perfect high-flying-plunge into life.

But timing is everything.

If you’re human like me, you have regular moments of crisis – moments where you’ve done something you regret or where the Holy Spirit has revealed to you a pattern of sin or selfishness in your life. Man, it hurts to feel like you’ve betrayed yourself and those “I want to be a better person” and “I don’t ever want that to happen again” thoughts can seem to overwhelm for hours – or even days.

But no matter how badly we want to change, if we don’t take a proactive and practical step toward change within those hours or days, the ‘crisis’ will fade and we will default right back to the way we were before.

In preparation for our high school small group study this January, I’ve been reading through the book of Mark. One of the unique features of this book is the sense of urgency portrayed in the text. The words “immediately” and “at once” are used over and over, emphasizing the movement of Jesus as He traveled, taught, healed, and led.

But it wasn’t just about His action. Mark 1:16-18 shows His followers acting with similar urgency:

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

The window of opportunity for this change in their lives was very small – there were no days or even hours to weigh the options, pray about it, or just hope for the best. A decision needed to be made right away and if they had held onto their nets for even a few moments longer, they would have missed out!

Anyone who’s been on a rope swing before will tell you that that hardest thing to do (if you’re even able to hold on in the first place 😉) is to get yourself to let go at that critical point. It always feels safer to hold on for just a little bit longer!

In order for change in our lives to be real and lasting, a proactive and practical step must be taken at that critical point. But like Simon and Andrew – taking that step can’t happen while we’re holding on to our nets. Our lives only have so much room, so adding that new habit or taking a step toward changing that pattern is always going to require letting go of something else.

For me, I’ve noticed several instances over the past month where instead of being “quick to listen and slow to speak” with my family, I did the exact opposite – most of the time because I was distracted by the device in my hand. So starting today, after school time is no-phone time because something’s gotta go!

As we jump into this new year, have you sensed the Holy Spirit leading you to make a change? What’s one practical step you could take today to make that change a reality? What’s one thing might you have to let go of in order to take that step?

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Ditch

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Well, there’s one thing we can’t complain about this fall – we’ve had amazing weather! My 5-year-old and I have taken full advantage of these beautiful afternoons and opted outside. We’ve visited parks and playgrounds, but mostly we’ve been going on long bike rides around the neighborhood.

One of Anna’s favorite bike-ride traditions is to stop and point out things she notices along the way. This past week, one of the things that caught her attention was a large grate built into the edge of a homeowner’s lawn.

“What’s that, Mommy?” she asked.

“Oh, that’s just a grate,” I replied.

“But why is it there?” she asked.

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I explained to her that because the area around it was higher, whenever it rained the water would all run down into that one low spot. And when water collects and sits in one spot, bad things can happen – not only can it damage your lawn, but it can breed and grow all sorts of yucky stuff! Putting a grate in the ‘ditch’ allows the water to drain, preventing all the yuck.

Later on in our ride, we passed another yard with a hill. Anna, proud of herself for learning something new, said, “Where’s the ditch?” If there was a hill, she assumed there must be a ditch at the bottom to collect the water!

Ditches can be purposeful and helpful things. However, you don’t ever hear people say, “Let’s go hang out in that ditch!” or “This ditch is magnificent!” With all that muck and junk down there, a ditch isn’t really a place you want to visit or spend any amount of time!

The funny thing is how often I become one. I, like most humans, have this tendency to allow the dripping negativity of others to collect inside my heart and mind. When people in my world (or even not in my world) say things that threaten or offend me, I let those words sink down deep while I sit in the muck trying to stir up my response:
“Well, they just need to hear this…” or
“If they knew that…” or
“They should understand what…”
Because my (always accurate, of course 😉) opinion must be known!

In our Moms Bible Study this fall, we’ve been studying the wisdom found in the book of Proverbs. A couple sessions ago we focused specifically on our words and how we use them. One of the things we talked about really hit home for me:

“Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.” (Proverbs 18:2)

We all have opinions and sharing them with others is part of getting to know each other. Many of our opinions are non-threatening – like where we like to go for pizza (Angelo’s!) or our favorite TV show (Survivor!). We are uniquely-formed beings with unique tastes, preferences, and ways of expressing our individuality.

Some of our opinions, though, are more threatening because they involve our personal perception of a situation or our judgment of another person’s character. We may not always share these opinions openly, but as soon as we start entering ‘ditch’ territory – as soon as we feel threatened or offended – they seem to be on a race to our lips.

And, I don’t know about you, but I always find that my “delight” in “airing” whatever I so desperately needed to get out (like a couple weeks ago when I told my husband exactly what he “needed to hear”), is short-lived. I don’t feel any better and, in the end, I often make things worse!

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Proverbs 13:3 says, “Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.”

Just like the grate in the neighborhood lawn, we have the opportunity every day to choose ditch-prevention. Instead of letting negativity, threats, and offense sink into our souls and muck things up, we can let them run right through and go where they belong. And who knows? Maybe if we don’t let that stuff hang around, it won’t find its way back out in our responses.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve found the most helpful ‘grate’ to be one simple question: WHY? First, I ask myself – “Why is this offending or threatening me?” There’s always a below-the-surface reason that I don’t at first realize. Is it my pride or selfish ambition that’s been wounded? Am I reacting out of fear or perceiving a personal attack when that may not be the case?

And then, as I form my response, I ask “Why am I sharing this?” Is it because I think I’ll feel better after my opinion is made known? Is it because I think I can change their mind and then they’ll be ‘right’ like me? Or will my response show humility and a sense of care for everyone involved?

As followers of Jesus, we are aiming to do life the way He did, and He did it with ultimate humility and love. He knew who He was and knew He needed nothing from this world – and therefore nothing could be taken from Him. As God in human flesh, He knew all wisdom and truth, so He was never threatened by anyone’s opinions.

In his book, “Unoffendable,” author Brant Hansen puts it this way: Christians “should be the most refreshingly unoffendable people on a planet that seems to spin on an axis of offense.” We know Whose we are and, although we need nothing from this world, we do have something to offer it.

Lord, help me to be unoffendable today. Instead of letting the negativity puddle, let it drain right though me. Guard my lips so I can use my words to show others your love. Amen.

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Raisins?

I stared at the ceiling awaiting the results as Dr. Assad reviewed the x-rays. Having upped my dental-care game over the past few years, I was sure this long silence meant good news!

My joy turned to near-tears, though, as he began to list off tooth after tooth that was in need of repair. And he just kept going. At the end, he stood up and said, “I’m not even sure what to tell you. Your gums are receding, your crowns are falling apart, and you have several new areas of decay. You’re going to need a lot of work done.”

After surviving the initial emotional meltdown, I got myself together and did what I always do in these situations: Pulled out my phone and asked my trusted old pal Google for help: “What have I been doing wrong?”

Of course the answers are the same as always – brush two to three times a day (✔), floss (✔), fluoride rinse (✔), and stay away from certain foods (working on it…). But as I read through the lists of foods to avoid, one of them caught me by surprise: Raisins?

According to the American Dental Association, “Sticky foods are your mouth’s worst nightmare” and “When it comes to picking healthy snacks, many people put dried fruit at the top of the list. But many dried fruits are sticky. Sticky foods can damage your teeth since they tend to stay on the teeth longer than other types of food.”*

Who knew, right? All this time I thought I was making a “healthier” choice and I may have been causing just as much damage!

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I had a similar reaction when I read Hosea 2 a few months ago:

And the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” (Hosea 2:1)

Wait, they loved what? “Cakes of raisins”? I mean, I like a few raisins every once in a while, but I’m not sure I would ever find a whole ‘cake’ of them to be a temptation! Why was this even mentioned?

If you’ve read much of the Old Testament, you know that God’s number one desire for His people was that they would simply worship Him – and then continue to keep Him first in their hearts. Unfortunately, the worship of other gods – often more dramatic and sensuous – proved to be a perpetual source of temptation for them.

Hosea was a messenger sent by God to His people during a time of crisis. Though they had once been a prosperous kingdom, “the more they increased, the more they sinned” (Hosea 4:7) – and their repeated habits of trusting in their own way (10:13) and giving God ‘lip-service’ while giving their hearts to idols (10:4-5) – eventually led to their destruction.

When God instructed Hosea to marry the wayward and adulterous Gomer, He was giving the people an example of His deep love for them – even though they preferred ‘cakes of raisins’ over Him. Of course, it wasn’t the ‘cakes’ themselves that were the problem, there are plenty of references to them being used as everyday food throughout the Bible. The problem was what they represented: the self-indulgence of idol worship.

To God, it wasn’t so much their sin that was the problem, but their love for their sin. They may have occasionally repented and asked for forgiveness, but in the end they still let the ‘cakes of raisins’ stick around. In doing so, they were revealing the condition of their hearts and what they truly loved – which wasn’t God.

Hebrews 12:1 says, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us”. Sin, like raisins, has a way of “clinging” to us and preventing us from “running the race” as a follower of Jesus. We know that God loves us deeply because He gave His Son so that we could be forgiven and free! But when it comes down to it, we tend to let our sin ‘stick’ around longer than we need to.

For many of us, we let the guilt and shame linger – there’s something about beating ourselves up over our mistakes that makes us think we’ll somehow feel better about them. Some of us cling to rules and ‘trying harder’ – we know we’ve messed up and we don’t want to do it again, so we obsess over sin-prevention. The rest of us get stuck in defeat – using excuses like “This is just who I am” or “It’s not really that bad”.

The thing is that when we turn our focus to the punishment we feel we deserve, we’re no longer worshipping the One who already took the punishment for us. And when we obsess over anything, even sin-prevention, it can easily become the winner of our hearts. Even in resigning to defeat, we’re making the sin what we cherish. We may think we’re making the healthier choice, but God wants so much more for us!

There’s not much I can do about my teeth – my genes have pretty much doomed me to a mouth full of fillings (although this raisin-avoidance thing shouldn’t be too difficult!). But there is something I can do about my sin – I can admit it, receive the forgiveness, and move on. I will slip up and, in moments of weakness, choose self-indulgence, but I also have the choice to not let those moments stick around and drag me down.

Hebrews 9:14 reminds us that “the blood of Christ” has been offered in order to “purify our conscience” so that we can “serve the living God”. As long as we’re still humans living on this planet, we’re going to sin, but the whole point of being saved by Christ is that we’re free. Our sin no longer gets to hold us back from living the full life God has for us!

What sin are you allowing to ‘cling’ to your heart today? Don’t let it stick around! Call it what it is, receive the forgiveness, and let’s get moving!

*American Dental Association (http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/nutrition/food-tips/9-Foods-That-Damage-Your-Teeth)

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Aware

If there was an award for “Most Spaced-Out Mom,” I would win it. It seems I was born with an innate ability to tune out anything and everything – especially when it comes to things I don’t really want to deal with. Repeated complaints about the fact that your sister just looked at you wrong? Not my problem. Requests for me to get you a snack when you have two hands, two feet, and a brain that can work together to accomplish that task? In one ear and out the other.

Most of the time, though, the information my kids are trying to communicate to me is actually important! The problem is that if I’m working on or even thinking about something else, they have to work hard to get my attention. I have an uncanny ability to focus – but only on one thing at a time.

In fact, as I was writing that last paragraph, we were at a playground and it occurred to me that the small voices I was hearing saying “We’re done. Let’s go, Mom!” were coming from my own children… after they had already exited the area!

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Attention is a need we all have from birth – whether it’s from our parents, our friends, our spouse, or random strangers – we have a deep need to be noticed, listened to, and cared for by the people around us. When we don’t get the attention we need (or want), something inside of us feels unworthy and over time we can start to believe the lies that say we are not valuable.

When Jesus walked this earth, one of his most important missions was to show us the value of every human life. He came to show us God’s compassionate and gracious, steadfast and enduring love – especially toward those whom the religious leaders of the day had deemed unworthy of it. Since it was physically impossible for Him to look into the eyes of every person alive on earth at that time and tell them how deeply they were valued by God, he chose very specific instances with very specific people to communicate this message.

In Mark 5, Jesus and His disciples are on their way to heal the dying young daughter of a synagogue leader. The situation is urgent, but there’s a hold up: a huge crowd has “pressed around” Jesus. (v. 24) It’s not that they were trying to block Him from getting to the little girl, but in their eyes, this might be their chance – their only chance – to get the attention of this miracle-working man.

One member of this crowd was a woman “who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.” (v. 25-26) We cringe at the thought of an illness like this in our world today, but in this time and culture, it was exponentially worse. Not only did it leave her weak and sick, it also meant she was cut off from human relationship. Even worse, she would have been subject to harsh judgment, especially by the religious authorities, as this condition was “popularly regarded as the direct consequence of sinful habits.”*

When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. (v. 27-29)

At which point, Jesus, making His way through the crowd, suddenly stops and says “Who touched my clothes?” (v. 30) The disciples, of course, answer: “You see the people crowding against you… and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?'”(v. 31) Jesus’ question made no sense to them!

But in His ultimate God-in-human-flesh awareness of every single person around him, Jesus knew that one of those who touched him needed to be pointed out. Just as He was headed to heal the daughter of a wealthy, powerful ruler – everyone needed to be made aware that a poor, weak, and lonely woman had also been healed. And even though she tried to stay hidden from the attention, He wouldn’t let her:

Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (v. 33-34)

In healing this woman, Jesus was teaching a serious lesson about the value God places on us as His children – but He was also teaching an important lesson about what it means for us, as His children, to have faith.

As they watched this all go down, I wonder if Jesus’ disciples recalled a very recent situation where their faith was called into question. At the end of the previous chapter, we find them on a boat caught in a “furious squall” where “the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.” (v. 37) Jesus, rather than helping them bail out the boat, was “in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.” (v. 38)

The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 38-40)

So what’s the difference? Why was the woman’s faith commended and the disciples faith challenged?

The disciples thought that because Jesus was not physically helping them, He must not be not aware of their plight – and therefore He must not care. But the woman believed that even if she didn’t see Jesus physically look into her eyes and proclaim her healing, that even if He didn’t notice her touch among all the other hands grasping for His attention, that didn’t mean that He wasn’t aware. And it certainly didn’t mean that He didn’t care.

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Awareness may not be my strongest suit as a parent, but the crazy thing is that for some reason my kids still trust that I care. I know this because they haven’t given up on me yet – the stories, complaints, and requests keep rolling in – even when I’m giving them no physical evidence that I’m paying attention!

Even if you can’t see how Jesus is working in your situation, you can trust that He’s paying attention. Even if He hasn’t moved in the way you expected Him to, you can trust that you are incredibly valuable to Him. His awareness is not a human awareness and His work is not dependent on physical evidence. Even if you think He must be sleeping or too busy being mobbed by the crowds of others in need, you can trust that He’s always aware, He always cares, and He’s always working.

*Cambridge Commentary Mark 5 (http://biblehub.com/commentaries/cambridge/mark/5.htm)

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Perception

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

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

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

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

“Yep,” we answered.

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

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

“Is it far?” we asked.

“Yeah, it’s pretty far,” she replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few days later, as Sue and I were reaching the turn-around point of our Hidden Canyon hike (see last week’s post), we ran into a pair of hikers who, again, offered their advice:

“Are you headed to Observation Point?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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