Winning

“Don’t worry, the good guys always win!” I reassure my kids as they hide their faces under blankets in fear of what’s going to happen next. Every time we sit down for a “Mommy and Chicas Movie Night,” it’s a guarantee that these words will come out of my mouth at least once. The movies we watch aren’t even that scary – mostly cartoon comedies involving animals (“Angry Birds” and “Minions” are our favorites as of late) – but we (yes, ‘we’) all still need the reminder!

Every remotely suspenseful movie or show follows a similar pattern as the plot comes to a close. At the beginning, a problem is introduced and from that point on, the audience is taken on a roller coaster ride of apparent victory and defeat for the hero. First they’re losing, then they’re winning, then they’re losing, then they’re winning again. Then, out of nowhere there’s a surprise twist and it seems defeat is imminent – until the hero pulls off a miracle and triumphs!

Thankfully, even when watching a kids movie I’ve never seen before, I can guarantee my girls they have nothing to worry about! The good guys will always win! There have been times, though, where I feel I may be doing them a disservice because in real life, the “good guys” don’t always win.

Or do they?

At Easter we celebrate the greatest victory ever – but it’s a victory that didn’t always look like a victory…

The plot starts with a God who creates the human race and then chooses one family to be His people. He promises them His presence and protection, plus land and a great Kingdom of their own!

Then there’s a famine and they’re forced to be slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years. But wait! Through a series of supernatural signs and wonders, God frees them to go, take the Promised Land, and become a nation – which they do!

Sadly, though, things go bad and they lose everything. Defeated, scattered, and taken captive, they hold on to the hope of a coming Messiah – a Savior who would be sent by God and, with God’s power, win back their land and restore their Kingdom!

Unfortunately, “the people thought the Messiah would be the man who could beat Rome, and if you were in his shoes, you couldn’t know until you tried. The penalty for failure was crucifixion. If you got crucified, you were not the Messiah. There were at least eighteen Messiah candidates that we know if in Jesus’ day. They all met the same fate.”* Can you imagine what it was like for the people to get their hopes up only to have them dashed again and again?

But then this guy Jesus shows up and there’s something different about Him. The miracles He’s performing are proof that He has God’s power and He’s drawing crowds by the thousands! The rumors are flying – could He be the one?

In Mark 8:27-29, “Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, ‘Who do people say I am?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah.'”

This was a gi-normous claim! Essentially, Peter was saying, “You’re the one! You’re the Savior who’s come to restore the kingdom!”

But then Jesus says this in Mark 8:31-33:
“He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”

Matthew 16:22 records Peter as saying, “‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!'” We’re quick to tear Peter down for this statement, but death, especially death by crucifixion at the hands of Rome, would mean failure – to Peter it would prove Jesus was not the Messiah!

Then it happens – the worst fear of Peter and so many others comes to be as they witness His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. And, “with a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last” (Mark 15:37) This is that part of the plot where all hope is lost and defeat seems imminent.

But wait! On the third day, some women go to the tomb, only to find, “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” (Matthew 28:6) The hero triumphs in the end!

It looked like Jesus lost, but He didn’t! It looked like failure, but it turned out to be the greatest success of all time. He didn’t win the battle they were expecting Him to win in the way they were expecting Him to win it, but He won for them something far superior – the ability for anyone and everyone to become a child of God and a member of His eternal Kingdom just by believing in Him. We now have the promise of His permanent presence and protection in this life and for eternity!

Although I’m not a fan of suspense, Tim has recently convinced me to broaden my television horizons beyond sitcoms and reality shows. Last night, as we were watching one of our new favorites, we got to a scene where an FBI agent was walking into a creepy abandoned underground storage bunker. “No! Don’t do it!” I said as I covered my eyes in fear.

A few seconds later, I came to my senses, picked up my head and said, “Duh! She’s one of the main characters! They’re not going to kill her off now!” And suddenly, with this assurance, I was able to watch the rest of the scene without hiding.

In church this Sunday in Vermont, Pastor Chris said about the resurrection: “If this really happened, and we believe it as Christians, then what in the world do we have to fear?”

It’s not naive to believe that the good guys always win because it’s true! God is God and nothing will ever defeat Him or His purposes. The plots of our individual lives may go up and down like the movies, but even when it looks like all hope is lost, we have nothing to worry about because God is still winning! And when He’s winning, we’re winning – no matter what the circumstances look like.

*”Who Is This Man?” by John Ortberg, p. 166

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Splinter

As a mom I wear many hats – “tutor,” “taxi-driver,” “nutritionist,” “mediator,” “counselor,” and the list goes on. Of all my many roles, though, “nurse” is my least favorite – especially when I have to pull out these bad boys:

Splinters are a regular occurrence with our crew of climbers and every time someone shows up with one (sometimes days after getting it), I know I’m in for a battle. Because “It hurts!” they want me to “Make it stop!” but… “Do you have to use THOSE?!”

Over the years, I’ve become a professional splinter-remover. It might cause a momentary increase in pain, but I’ll get it out before you know it!

Nothing splinters our relationship with God more than guilt. It’s a nagging twinge of pain reminding you of what you’ve done wrong and how you’ve failed to measure up. The sting of regret has a way of holding us back from receiving and trusting in His love.

A couple weeks ago, as I was removing a splinter from the hand of my other regular patient – my husband – he said to me, “It’s amazing how something that tiny can cause so much pain!” When we sin, we may expect the incident itself to cause pain, but we don’t realize that those leftover bits of guilt can cause even more pain if we let them stick around.

In the Old Testament, God, knowing His people would struggle with sin and subsequently, guilt, set up a system of sacrifices. As the guilty person made their offering, the spiritual penalty was lifted from them and put on the animal – blood that was not their own was shed for their forgiveness (see Hebrews 9:22). They walked away having seen a visual representation of their pardon and the transfer of their guilt.

When Jesus died, He became the final offering and “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”.(Hebrews 10:10) We no longer need to make offerings for our sin since “by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (10:14) The spiritual penalty for our sin was transferred to Jesus as He hung on the cross – and He took our guilt as well.

As a Christian, I can accept that Jesus took my sin, but I have a harder time accepting that I can let go of the guilt, too. Remorse can be a good thing when it leads me to an awareness and acknowledgment of sin, but after that its job is done. Unfortunately, like many believers, rather than let the tweezers do their thing, I have a tendency to let those splinters stay lodged deep in my soul.

Guilt is a comfort zone because even though it nags away, we believe the constant reminder will force us to change. Maybe if I keep remembering what I did and how sorry I feel, I can guarantee it won’t happen again. I’ve sat up many a night reliving things I’ve said or done, telling myself, “I won’t ever let that happen again!”

Sometimes we hold on to guilt because the emotion of ‘feeling bad’ seems a deserved punishment. Lingering guilt multiplies the pain and helps us get back at ourselves for those “I can’t believe I did that!” moments. If we just let it go, it’s like we’re ‘getting away with it’.

Other times we think if we feel bad enough for long enough, we’ll somehow prevent any further consequences of our sin from happening. Maybe if I show God how bad I feel and how sorry I am, this will all be over. Even as we worship, we keep a grasp on guilt, hoping it will produce deeper emotion as we sing to Him.

But none of this feeling extra sorry, inflicting extra pain, or generating extra motivation is necessary because God has already said, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” (Hebrews 10:17) If He’s choosing to not remember my sin, I can follow His lead and do the same! I can trust that, “where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.” (10:18) It’s then that I can truly “draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings.” (10:22)

Splinters happen and so does guilt. But anything beyond the prick of the Holy Spirit leading us to repentance is not of God. Whether it’s real or imagined, from sin or from an honest mistake, prolonged guilt has no place in the life of a Christian.

My acceptance of Jesus as Savior is also an acceptance of His acceptance of me – no matter what.* My weaknesses, failures, and even intentional sins are no longer mine – they are His and my life is now part of His much bigger plan. In her book, “Nothing to Prove,” author Jennie Allen says, “Your eyes may still feel glued to the carpet with fear and shame but God has a sneaky way of not only forgiving our past sin but redeeming the choices we thought had ruined everything.”

What guilt have you been letting nag at you?
Will you hold out your splintered hand and let the ‘Professional Splinter-Remover’ take it away today?

*”Ruthless Trust,” Brennan Manning, Chapter One

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Paddle

You may think that as an ‘adventurous’ family, we are skilled at all things adventure. It may come across that we are ‘naturals’ at the activities we do in nature. Our photos may give the impression that we do these things with ease. And though this may be true about some of our endeavors, it’s certainly not true of them all.

Take canoeing, for example.

Each summer I gladly and confidently hop into the front of one of these unstable, narrow vessels having somehow blocked out the memories of how poor I am at paddling! I’m quickly put in my place, though, with the first strong gust of wind or direction-changing current. I can turn on the elbow-grease for a few minutes and attempt to remember some of the “special strokes” to help us recover, but it always seems like I don’t have much to offer!

However, as my well-schooled-in-canoeing husband always reminds me in those moments, my job at the front of the boat is simply to paddle. The steering and guiding of the boat is his job from the back, and as long as I am willing to consistently put the oar in the water and pull back, no special strokes or skills are required!

How kind the Lord is! How good he is!
So merciful, this God of ours!
The Lord protects those of childlike faith;
I was facing death, and he saved me.
Let my soul be at rest again,
for the Lord has been good to me.
He has saved me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling.
And so I walk in the Lord’s presence
as I live here on earth!
(Psalm 116:5-9)

The writer of this Psalm, overwhelmed with the goodness of God in his life, wonders in verse 12:

What can I offer the Lord
for all he has done for me?

Although we can in no way ‘make things right’ or attempt to ‘balance the scales’ for all that God has done (even a lifetime of effort couldn’t make up for an ounce of just the gift of salvation through Christ!), we do have something to offer Him. We can’t pay Him back, but we can show our gratitude by giving our minds, hearts, ears, voices, hands, and feet to the work He’s doing on this earth!

Unfortunately, for many of us, we put our paddle in the water, run into a pile of waves, and panic – feeling like what we have to offer is totally inadequate. But I think we could learn a few things from the widow in Luke 21.

While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.” (Luke 21:1-4)

Of all the gifts dropped off at the temple that day, Jesus pointed this one out because it was different. Being God, He knew what was going on in the widow’s heart and knew what had been going on in her heart up to that point – and He wanted everyone else to know, too.

Jesus knew that in order to even begin her journey to the temple that day, she had to admit that she had next to nothing to offer. As a widow in this time and culture, she likely had no way of providing for herself. Those two small coins were all she had and in that moment of decision to pick them up and start walking, she had to be willing to admit to herself and anyone else who would be aware of her offering, that she was poor. She had to admit that in comparison to the other gifts offered that day, what she brought to the collection boxes was very small.

Jesus also knew that she had to be brave enough to offer it – even if it meant humiliation. This was a huge risk because of the public nature of the offering. She would be opening herself up to potential ridicule over her small gift. She might even be scolded and told not to even bother giving it! In the face of all the impressive gifts being given, she would surely be looked down on by others.

And lastly, Jesus knew that she had to be willing to give it all. If she was going to give anything, she had no choice but to give all that she had! And she did. In the original language, instead of saying she gave “everything she has” it says she gave her “bios” – her “livelihood” – she gave the entire means she had of sustaining her “life” at that time.

Jesus pointed this out, making clear to everyone who was listening that an offering is more about the size of the willingness than the size of the gift! Whenever you offer your mind, heart, ears, voice, hands, or feet to serve, you’ll likely feel that what you have to offer is drastically “less” than what others are offering. But the work of God’s Kingdom is not about the impressiveness of your talents and skills – it’s about your willingness to consistently and simply paddle.

What can I offer the Lord
for all he has done for me?

In comparison to what God has offered me – I have next to nothing. His kindness, goodness, mercy, protection, and salvation are things I can’t even comprehend, let alone match. But “next to” nothing is still something! Whoever you are – you have something to offer. There is some way that God is calling you to get involved in His Kingdom work. It may not be impressive, but at the very least you have hands and feet that can mop a floor or prepare a meal!

Like the widow, though, you have to be brave enough to offer it – even if it means humiliation. When you put yourself out there to serve, there’s a 100% chance of awkward, a 100% chance of feeling inadequate, a 100% chance of feeling like you’re not making a difference, a 100% chance of failure (on some level), and a 100% chance someone won’t approve of your offering. The question is – are you willing to offer what you have anyway?

The hardest part about being the front-paddler in a canoe is trusting that what you’re doing is helping! According to canoehowto.com’s instructions on canoeing basics, “It’s hard, but the paddler in the front must resist the urge to steer! That’s entirely the responsibility of the person in the stern (back) of the canoe, you’ll end up working against them if you try.”* In those moments when the canoe seems to be headed off-course and you’re efforts aren’t making a difference, you can trust that the back-paddler is in control and will get you to your destination!

We have a tendency to hold back when it comes to serving – not because we think we’re too good for it or because we’re selfishly holding on to what we have to offer, but because we don’t understand how valuable our small offering is. God doesn’t need you to serve, He can do whatever He needs to do on His own (yep, He’s that good!). But He has uniquely formed your whole life, your “bios”, to be an offering.

We can’t pay God back, but we can offer our lives to be involved in what He is doing in this world. You may have next to nothing, but next to nothing is still something. If you’ll just take a couple wobbly steps into the boat and start paddling, He will steer and guide your effort exactly where He wants it to go!

*https://www.canoehowto.com/canoeing-basics/how-to-paddle-a-canoe/

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Taste

My mother-in-law is a superhero. In our multi-generational household, not only does she put up with a whole lot of chaos, she also takes on the majority of the dinner-cooking responsibilities. We eat well and are incredibly grateful that she uses her gifts to care for us in this way, but feeding this pack of picky eaters is no easy task!

We’ve got three who will not touch anything ‘spicy’, three for whom a single seed or ‘chunk’ is a deal-breaker, one who turns her nose up at anything contaminated by the slightest bit of onion or mushroom, two who boycott the majority of vegetables, and one who is regularly warned that she can’t have any more vegetables until she eats ONE bite of something else. Cooking for us is exhausting!

In an attempt to remedy this problem, we have a “try one bite” rule. You don’t have to eat a whole serving and one bite, no matter how unpleasant, can easily be washed down with some water or milk. Who knows? You may find out it’s not as bad as you think!

It boggles my mind that after 20 years of following Jesus, I still wake up every morning believing my plans are all going to succeed! I assume nothing will go awry or bring me the slightest ounce of discomfort. I expect that I will go to sleep that night, looking back at my day with a good taste in my mouth.

And though this has happened approximately never, I still seem to think, “Today is the day!”

But instead of everything going my way, interruptions, complications, and irritations abound – leaving me feeling like I’ve been forced to plug my nose and wash down several forkfuls of mushrooms! (blech 😜) People and circumstances seem to have a will of their own and I can’t understand why they won’t do what I envisioned they would do. Some of these yucky bites are just minor inconveniences I didn’t see coming, but sometimes they’re onions covered in mayonnaise (double blech!) and really hard to swallow!

Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Every time our plans fall flat or our expectations go unmet, it’s on purpose – the Lord’s purpose. His plan to allow our plans to fail is for our good because we need daily doses of discomfort to remind us that we are not God!

It’s so easy to get lost in the blame game – whether it’s stuffing my face with self-pity and regret over my own mistakes or simmering in a pot of anger over others’. It’s easy to point the finger at ‘the enemy’ and call it an ‘attack’. But there’s a really good chance something – or Someone – much bigger is at work.

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no lack!
The young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.”
(Psalm 34:8-10)

Everything about God is good and so is everything He does. When things don’t go my way and I see an immediate “better” result, I’m quick to say, “God is good!”. Like the other day when my 9-year-old and I went to Wendy’s for lunch, but they were closed. She was upset, but we looked across the street and realized it was “Kids Eat Free” day at Moe’s! Woo-hoo! In those moments I’m so glad that His purpose prevailed over mine.

But it’s much harder to see that every taste we get of His work in our lives is good. When we’re seeking the Lord, He will be sure that we “lack no good thing”. Although we’d like every taste to be warm chocolate chip cookies, He gives us those less desirable bites to expand our palate so we can acquire a greater taste for His goodness.

If things always worked out the way I set out for them to, my confidence in myself would increase and my trust in my God would decrease. And since I’ve asked Him to help my faith grow, I can expect discomforts to be on my plate daily! They may be hard to swallow, but with every “taste” I am learning “see” Who is really in control.

No matter how they taste going down, all of His works are good. His purpose will always be greater than our pleasure and no matter what He’s serving today, we can say along with the Psalmist: “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” (Psalm 34:1)

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Slow

They’re my favorite animals, but I think they get a bad rap sometimes. Officially designated as the slowest mammals on earth*, sloths move an average of only 40 yards per day**! Their lack of speed even resulted in their being named “sloth” – a word that means “slow” and “sluggish”.

But sloths aren’t lazy – they’re just smart! On a diet of only leaves, twigs, and buds that take days to digest, sloths have little energy to burn which means every action is a purposeful decision – they don’t waste calories on needless movement. Their laid-back lifestyle gives them little reason to rush!

In our fast-paced “go, go, go” world, the perfectly steady, slow motion of sloths is fascinating to us. When I take my kids to the zoo, I feel like I could stand there and watch them for hours (but who has time for that?!).

If we could go back in time and eyewitness Jesus as He walked on this planet, I think we would be mesmerized by His pace. During His three years of ministry, He certainly moved, but He was never in a rush. Even though His supernatural skills were in high demand and the needs around Him were thousands-fold deep, His every action was calculated and He didn’t waste energy trying to do it all.

Jesus didn’t have a need for speed because, unlike us, He had a completely accurate view of God’s eternal plan. He knew that “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8) and that even if it looked like He was missing opportunities, moving faster wasn’t going to increase God’s ability to work through Him. Even though He saw the crowds as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36), He did not bow to the pressure to meet all of their urgent and compelling needs. He lived in complete trust that “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

If you’ve ever tried to mimic a sloth’s pace, you know that it’s incredibly hard for us humans to do. Our muscles have a difficult time moving that slow and it almost takes more effort than going fast!

As followers of Jesus, parents, employees, friends, family members, and community citizens, we are surrounded by a world of compelling and urgent needs, making “slowing down” seemingly impossible. We’d much prefer to flutter about, using up our valuable energy in an attempt to do it all. The needs are thousands-fold deep, causing us to live in fear of missed opportunities – especially when our skills and talents are in high demand.

In the animated children’s movie, “Zootopia” there is a scene featuring my ever-patient, smiling animal friends as Department of Motor Vehicle workers (If you haven’t seen it, you can check it out here: https://youtu.be/ONFj7AYgbko). Officer bunny Judy Hopps and her friend Nick Wilde the fox are working on a time-sensitive case and are in need of some information from Nick’s sloth buddy, appropriately named “Flash”. Flash, even with Officer Hopps’ increasing irritation, sees no reason to hurry, and even stops to tell his co-worker a joke!

Maybe the sloths get it and we don’t. Maybe they see that life is over in a flash and there’s no point in wasting our energy getting things done just so we can get more things done. Maybe if we intentionally and purposefully slowed down we would see that so much of what we think we’re doing to “help” is actually just our pride – after all, our skills are in high demand and if we don’t do it, who will?

A couple days ago, after having an extra-rough morning with one of our girls, I took her out for a special “Mommy Date” so we could chat. As we ate donuts, I asked questions, trying to get to the root of the problem. My mind was reeling with ideas as I thought about plans and strategies we could use as parents to help her navigate these frustrating times.

As we were driving home, I was still in “This-is-my-opportunity-to-be-Superhero-Fix-It-Mommy” mode and was so focused on my conversation with her that I ran a red light and ended up in the middle of a busy intersection, frantically trying to maneuver my car to safety. I was so focused on the problem and my plans that I forgot that my purpose in that moment was to simply drive the car and keep my child (and other drivers) safe!

Pride is sneaky and it’s so easy to get caught up in the urgency and opportunities that touch our lives. We don’t have the low muscle tone of a sloth, so our attempts to follow Jesus’ example of slowing down are going to take some effort. I need to practice regular evaluation of my heart’s intentions and my understanding of God’s purpose for me in any given moment. I may perceive that my skills and talents are in high demand but they are never a necessity to an all-powerful God!

“Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
(Psalm 127:1-2)

P.S. Speaking of slowing down, I’ll be taking a some blog-time off to give my brain a rest – see you in a couple weeks!

*https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/it-s-official-three-toed-sloths-are-the-slowest-mammals-on-earth/
**http://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/why-are-sloths-slow-and-other-sloth-facts

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Clear

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There’s nothing like a cool August morning on Lake Groton in northern Vermont. You just can’t beat waking up in a lakeside cabin, grabbing a cup of coffee, and walking outside to take in the crystal clear view of green mountains reflecting in undisturbed waters.

One morning last summer, though, the view was anything but clear:

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Thick, heavy fog had completely covered the lake surface, making it impossible to see the other side – or even the lake itself!

When I first walked outside, the only things visible were the dock and chairs. But as the morning went on and the warmth of the sun evaporated the mist, things began to appear.

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With every minute that passed, more was visible. The trees became greener and the blue of the sky was increasingly revealed.

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After about an hour, the last of the low-lying clouds retreated and our view was fully restored.

Isaiah 44:22 says: “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” This verse is such a fascinating picture of God’s work in our lives! The disorienting sinful nature we are born with continually clouds our judgment, leaving us in a fog when it comes to right and wrong. And not only that, it also obscures our view of God and His work in our lives.

But because of His great love, we who were once “strangers,” unknowingly “alienated from God” and “darkened in [our] understanding,” have had our eyes opened so that we might be “reconciled” and, therefore, “brought near”*. When our sin is “swept away” by the blood of Christ, our view of God is no longer hindered by its haze.

The thought that I – a tiny little human – could somehow be given a even glimpse of the splendor and majesty of the God of the Universe boggles my mind! Unfortunately, though, it’s hard to be content with a glimpse because I want to see it all – I so want to understand God and mostly, I want to know exactly what He’s doing in my life. But like the clearing of the mist, God’s revelation of His work never happens all at once.

In Mark 8:22-25, there is a story of a blind man whose sight was restored by Jesus:

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”
He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”
Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

Notice that Jesus’ work in the blind man’s situation happened in two stages. He was given sight, but at first he could only see partially. It was in Jesus’ continued work where the man’s vision was fully restored and he could see everything – including his Healer – clearly.

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!

(Romans 11:33)

God’s work in our lives is often exactly that – “unsearchable” and “beyond tracing out”. This is frustrating for us, but He doesn’t work like a television show where all the pieces come together, the answers are revealed, and the mystery is solved in an hour or less. Sure, we hear stories of people looking back and seeing clearly how God worked in a situation, but that doesn’t mean that’s a guarantee for us. There may be many things we never understand.

In Isaiah 44, prior to the verse mentioned above, God goes into detail describing the exact sin His people, Israel, were guilty of:

“The blacksmith takes a tool
and works with it in the coals;
he shapes an idol with hammers,
he forges it with the might of his arm.”

(Isaiah 44:12)

The idols God’s people had chosen over Him were gods made with human hands – they were gods originating in human minds whose ways fit into human understanding.

As author Peter Scazzero describes: “God is immanent (so close) and yet transcendent (so utterly above and far from us). God is knowable, yet he is unknowable. God is inside us and beside us, yet he is wholly different from us… Most of the time we have no idea what God is doing.”** If we’re going to call Him our “God”, then we must come to terms with the fact that He is not required to work only in the realm of our human perception!

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Looking back, that morning at Lake Groton was anything but disappointing, because even in the fog, the view was still worth looking at! The process was beautiful and in rushing it we would have missed out on an amazing experience.

Clearly, God is more interested in the process than the product because, as Jesus illustrated in His healing of the blind man, the process involves the greater thing. The experience of His loving touch as He continues His work in our lives will always outweigh the lesser product of our understanding of it.

*Ephesians 2:12, Colossians 1:21, and Ephesians 4:18, Acts 26:18, Colossians 1:22, Ephesians 2:13
**”Emotionally Healthy Spirituality”, p. 129

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Shortcut

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Last summer the Desilets spent a few days vacationing with our good friends, the Melhorns, at a beautiful cabin in the mountains of central Pennsylvania. One of the best features of this cabin was the wide porch that wrapped around three sides of the house and included lounge chairs, a hammock, and a even a swinging bed! And one of the best features of this porch for our friends (who are parents of a toddler) was the locking gate at the exit.

When you’re a little one and there are bigger-little ones all around you, you want to do what they’re doing and go where they’re going. The big kids, of course, wanted to be on the swinging bed, so naturally, Emmy wanted to be there also. All she had to do to get there was walk the porch all the way around to the other side of the house, but there was a problem: she knew about the shortcut.

Emmy knew that the way outside the gate and around the back of the house was faster – and more exciting! So she would stand at the gate, peering out, hoping that if she stood there long enough (and made enough noise) someone would give in and open it for her. We never did, of course, but that didn’t stop her from trying!

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As adults, we know Emmy’s pain well because we also love shortcuts – why take the longer, harder way when there’s a shorter, easier route available? Even if that road has potential pitfalls – we’d still rather unlatch that gate and take the risk!

Over the past couple of weeks at our church we’ve been learning about a subject most of us wish there was a guaranteed, safe shortcut around – conflict. One of our elders, Bill Buelow, has been sharing with us biblical truth about disagreements between believers and what God has to say about resolving these issues and restoring peace.

No matter how much we don’t like conflict, we’re humans, which means we have a soul characterized by desire, emotion, and passion.* We also have a sinful nature that skews that desire, emotion, and passion toward the wrong things. So, as we interact with other humans, conflict is inevitable – and this week Bill gave us several practical steps we can follow from God’s word as we seek to restore peace in our relationships.

In a nutshell, these steps include:
1) Evaluating your own actions, motives, and ego
2) Preparing your heart and mind to proceed with humility
3) Confronting the situation in an appropriate way

Unfortunately, it’s really tempting to look at those steps, decide they’re not for us – and take the shortcut instead. Whether it’s avoiding the situation entirely (my specialty 😉), going outside the lines by sharing our frustrations and opinions with others (so we can ‘gather a team’ of supporters), or skipping straight to the confrontation step (bypassing the potentially painful self-examination and preparation) – we love the shortcuts!

Every time we have a disagreement or conflict, we stand on that porch with a choice. The easy way looks so appealing as we peer through the gate – while the longer way seems unreasonably hard (and potentially impossible). But I know that every time I bust (or sneak) through to take the shortcut, I find out exactly why it was blocked off in the first place – and I wish I had taken the other route.

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The good news for Emmy is that she did finally give in. She took the hand of a very patient 8-year-old and made the long trek to the other side where she had a blast swinging on the bed with the big kids!

When we choose the shortcuts, we venture out on our own, but when we walk in obedience, we never go alone:

“For I am the Lord your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you.”
(Isaiah 41:13)

Are you standing at the gate today? The easy way may seem more satisfying in the moment, but God really does know what He’s talking about. He never promised His way would be easy, but He did promise He’d go with you – which means that even if things don’t work out in your favor, you’ve already got something much more satisfying than the shortcut could ever offer!

*http://biblehub.com/hebrew/5315.htm

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Stickers

Their stickiness is irresistable – setting them apart from simple, plain, boring pieces of paper. Glittery stars and hearts, or better yet your favorite Disney characters, and you can attach them to things!

As a mom, I have a love/hate relationship with stickers. They are a fun prize, an easy activity, and our motivation to survive those long waits in the doctor’s office. But when they don’t do what they’re supposed to do – when they don’t stick because they’ve lost their stickiness (after being moved 17 times in the car ride home) – they result in great frustration!

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One of the hardest things about growing in our faith is that the things we learn seem to have a hard time sticking. We listen to a sermon, read a quote, or hear a song that moves and inspires us. We are reminded of a truth about God or see ourselves in a new way because of what He’s done and we know we’ll remember those words forever!

But by the next day (or even the next hour) the details of life and work and family have invaded and we’ve moved on. I always have really high hopes after I read the Bible in the morning that “THIS time I’m gonna make it stick!” And then the next morning I open to where I left off and realize I never thought about it again!

Mark 8 tells the story of Jesus miraculously transforming a small amount of food into enough to satisfy several thousand hungry people. We love this story because not only does it prove that Jesus had God’s supernatural power, but it also shows that He embodied God’s great compassion.

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” Mark 8:1-3

Jesus knew that with this many people in such a “desolate place,” (v. 4) His supernatural power was their only hope for food – so He made it happen: “And they ate and were satisfied.” (v. 8) Amazing! Everyone was not only fed, but they were full!

So now it was time to settle in and let Jesus continue teaching, right? That’s the picture I always had in my head, but verse 9 says that after they picked up the leftover food, “he sent them away”. He gave them the food so that they could go!

As we see from verses 1-3, the provision was meant to prepare them for the journey. They couldn’t stay there forever with Him – not just for logistics’ sake – but because His words for them were not meant to just be heard! They were meant to stick by being applied to their daily lives.

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One of the true marks of motherhood is going out somewhere, noticing that people are looking at you a little strange, and realizing there’s a random sticker stuck to your arm or better yet – in your hair! It may be embarassing, but it also makes me smile to think of my girls and wonder who decided I needed to be decorated that day.

A couple months ago, I committed to praying daily for a specific list of people in my life. I’ve never been good at remembering to pray for others, so I decided to set reminders in my phone every hour or so throughout the day. This seemed like a great idea, but after a couple days I was beginning to get overwhelmed as I thought about how I could best pray for each person. I knew if I didn’t make a change soon, I would just end up giving up!

One day, after closing my Bible and having a “That was so good! I hope I remember it all day!” thought, my first prayer reminder notification went off. I was in a hurry, so since the thoughts from my study were fresh in my mind, I decided to pick one, narrow it down to a simple phrase, and pray that for the first person on my list. Then I used the same phrase for each person I prayed for that day.

And guess what? You can’t pray the same phrase 12 times in a day without remembering it and without thinking about how it applies to your own life. All of a sudden what I read in the morning was finally sticking throughout my day!

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This weekend we had company coming from out of town, which called for a kids’ bedroom cleaning. If you’ve been upstairs in our house, you know this is big deal! Our three girls share a room and the bigger they get, the more stuff they accumulate – which means the floor of their room is a rare sight.

When things were picked up, I stood back to take in the view (because it may only last a day) and noticed at least seven old stickers stuck to the wood floor! For all the times you want something to stick and it won’t, these stickers are stuck because years of daily life have walked all over them. They are pretty much ground into that floor and not coming off anytime soon!

“Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.” (Psalm 119:97) God’s words can not only satisfy our hearts and minds as we read them, but they also have the ability to remain in our thoughts as we go. It may take some effort on our part, but when we apply His words to the mess and chaos of daily life (especially when we feel like life is walking all over us), that’s when they really start to stick!

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Aha!

When my friend Sue and I drove into Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah, we were in need of a break. After three days of driving, crowded parks, and catching up on each other’s lives, these introverts needed some quiet time – and Sue’s “Secrets of the National Parks” book showed us exactly where to go.

The trail to the “White Rim Overlook” was a short 8/10 of a mile to a majestic view of the canyon. Most people visiting parks like this head straight for the “famous” views or hikes, so the parking lot for this trail was almost empty. There were no people in sight and it was remarkably quiet – Perfect!

We quickly parked, grabbed our stuff, and headed out. After seeing the sign for the trail, we continued on, following the small rock tower ‘cairns’ that marked the path.

After a few minutes, though, we started having trouble. In our experience thus far, the National Park trails were well marked – at every turn there was a cairn and any place you might be tempted to veer off was blocked off. But this trail was all over the place and the markers seemed few and far between!

At one point our hike came to a halt – we couldn’t see a trail marker anywhere! Since we were not interested in getting lost that day (especially when no one else was around), we had a couple options: Keep moving and risk getting lost or retrace our steps to find the trail again.

I’m not one to give in and go back, so I took the next step in front of me and “Aha!” – there it was. That mere 2 and 1/4 feet (or whatever my stride length is) made all the difference – the next cairn was now in plain sight and we were on our way!

What do you do when you don’t know what to do? I know I have moments every week where I feel at least slightly lost, overwhelmed, or just unsure of what the right choice is. I always wish in that moment that I had someone who could show me – with 100% assurance – what my next step should be.

When Paul prayed for the church at Collosae, he knew that one of the things they needed most was God’s direction and guidance, so he prayed that they would “be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9). Paul knew that God was the only one with that 100% assurance and His desire was to “fill” His followers with His perspective.

The thing is that it’s not just about knowing what to do – it’s about actually doing it. As Paul went on, he mentioned why God would give the knowledge of His will: “so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him: bearing fruit in every good work” (Colossians 1:10a). The knowledge, wisdom, and understanding they received from God was meant to define their stride as they walked.

And then if they did that, something really cool would happen – they would end up “increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10b). It turns out that it’s a cycle: God gives the knowledge, we act on it, and then He gives us more! “Aha!” Knowing what to do in the unclear only becomes clear after we do what we already know to be true. As Ellicott’s commentary suggests: “Do and thou shalt know”.*

Recently, I was at an event for one of my kids and in my sitting-there-forever-waiting boredom, I opened Facebook (mistake number one). It had already been a stressful day, so I was hoping for some fun pictures of my friends and their families to make me smile (why would I ever think that?). But instead, I clicked on something I never should have clicked on (why do I do these things?) and read words that I could never unread.

I quickly spiraled into panic-mode. I was trapped in a room full of people and I couldn’t get in touch with my husband (who normally calms me down in these moments). I couldn’t stop the words from running over and over in my brain and I felt totally lost – I was overwhelmed and I didn’t know what to do. I prayed and prayed, “God, why is this happening? What do I do? Please help! I need Your peace!”

But a few minutes later, instead of feeling peace, I started feeling like God was telling me to go talk to another mom at the event. “Are you kidding me?” I thought, “I’m a mess! I don’t even know her and You’re expecting me to do this NOW? You give me the peace first and then maybe I’ll do it.” I sat there stubbornly for the next few minutes thinking I must have heard Him wrong – surely He wouldn’t expect this socially-awkward introvert to do something like this on a day like today!

But… I did it anyway. And guess what? Half an hour later I had pretty much forgotten about my stress – I had had a wonderful conversation, learning about someone else’s life instead of focusing on my own, and “Aha!” – it was there that God gave me the peace.

There are so many times that we don’t know what to do – times where we feel lost and overwhelmed and we want God’s help! We want Him to fix the problem or at least show us what we need to do to fix it! Last week, as my friend Emma and I were studying this passage, she said, “Sometimes we just can’t let go of our stressful situations because we don’t think we can move on until it’s all fixed. We have to get THIS taken care of first! But maybe it doesn’t work that way.”

The problem is that God’s “will” is not my happiness and comfort. His will, according to Colossians 1, is Jesus. So instead of the peace we’re expecting, according to author and speaker Jill Briscoe, “He gives you courage”.** And every time I use that courage to obey the next step He has put in front of me, even if it’s just one single stride, and even if it’s in a completely different direction than I first thought, “Aha!” – He opens my eyes up to even more of who He is.

At the end of our White Rim Overlook hike, Sue and I stopped to look at the trail sign that we had blown by in our rush to start the hike. “Aha!” There was a good reason for our confusion – we had taken the wrong path! We assumed the trail went straight ahead when, in reality, it went to the right. Thankfully, in our confusion and wrong turns, the paths had met up and we did not end up on the 2.7 mile “Gooseberry Trail”!

I love these verses from the book of Job: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?… Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand… Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!” (Job 38:2, 4 & 21)

In our limited human knowledge and wisdom we tend to think things should be done a certain way – especially when we’re overwhelmed. But when we ask God for His knowledge, we can expect His direction might differ from the way we thought we should go. It may even be completely the opposite!

What situation do you need God’s guidance in today? The word for “understanding” in Colossians 1:9 comes from the idea of two rivers meeting – it means “a putting together in the mind”.*** So ask God to pour into you the knowledge of His will, meet it with a step of obedience, and get ready for the “Aha!” on the other side!

*http://biblehub.com/commentaries/ellicott/colossians/1.htm
**IF:Gathering 2017
***http://biblehub.com/greek/4907.htm

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Glasses

20/20 vision is something I’ve always been proud to have. I’ve never questioned whether or not I was seeing something accurately and when other people were struggling to read a sign up ahead, I could always see it perfectly.

It wasn’t until I got married that I realized how much I took my clear vision for granted. It was so hard for me to understand that my husband needed his glasses on in order to see things! I remember trying them on and being shocked at how different our eyes saw the world.

In his letter to the Colossian church, Paul addressed some issues they were facing as a body of believers. One of those issues was confusion and debate about what ceremonies and traditions Christians should follow. Along with that debate came a whole lot of judgment, which Paul knew would only cause division and pain.

So, after presenting a clear explanation of the thing that brought them together in the first place – the gospel message of salvation through Christ alone – he reminded them to “let no one pass judgment on you” (2:16) or “disqualify you” (2:18) based on “things that are on earth” (3:2).

In the following verses, Paul points out that instead of focusing the how of church it’s the relationships within the church that need the attention! He tells them to put away the “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk” (3:8) of the “old self” (3:9) and instead put on the “new self” (3:10). As recipients of completely undeserved peace with God, they could also “let the peace of Christ rule in [their] hearts” and live as “one body” (3:15).

Unfortunately, you and I both know this is easier said than done. The “earthly things” are all to easy to focus on, which means we disagree often and just can’t figure out how others could possibly see things so differently than us! It’s amazing how quick those “old self” ways rear their ugly heads, resulting in division and pain.

In verses 12-14, Paul lists those attributes of the “new self” we can actively “put on” in order to prevent this. Love, when chosen, (even in the midst of disagreement), “binds everything together in perfect harmony” (3:14). Because even though we’ll never be able to clearly see life through another person’s eyes, we can try to put on their glasses.

In any disagreement or difference of opinion, instead of throwing a blanket judgment on someone, we can choose kindness by asking questions and learning about that person’s life. We can choose humility by trying to see things through the lenses of their past experiences and preferences. And in that, we might even find it easier to have compassion and find forgiveness. “Bearing with one another” might not be so difficult if we took simple steps to see things from the other person’s perspective.

Recently, I again became aware of how much I took my perfect eyesight for granted when I ended up at the eye doctor myself. Over the past year or so I’ve noticed a decline in my ability to read road signs and things like digital clocks from across the room. I am almost 40, so I assumed this might be a normal – but my doctor informed me otherwise. It turns out I’ve developed a slight astigmatism and will need to start wearing glasses when I’m driving at night. Yikes!

But I remember the moment I put them on for the first time. I called Tim right away to tell him that the whole world had just gone HD! I had no idea that I wasn’t seeing clearly until I put those glasses on – and saw clearly.

When Jesus prayed for us in John 17, He didn’t pray “that they would do church this specific way” or even “that they would all agree on everything” but “that they may all be one” (17:21). Being one doesn’t mean we see everything the same way, but instead that we simply make the effort to step into each other’s shoes and look at things from another perspective. And you never know – putting on the “new self” glasses of “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” may just give you clarity you never saw coming!

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