Repost: Weight

Sometimes I feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders. Maybe it’s because, as the stereotypical ‘oldest child in the family,’ I was born feeling overly responsible. Maybe it’s because I’m a mom who, like all moms, just wants to do what’s best for my kids. Maybe it’s because I’m a youth leader and want SO badly to see this next generation thrive. Or maybe it’s because I spend too much time reading my news app.

This weekend I had the great privilege of being part of a middle school retreat at an outdoor adventure center in Maryland. During the day on Saturday, students had the chance to participate in one of three options: the high ropes course, the giant swing, or the zip line.

At one point, when I was standing near the end of the ropes course, my friend Ashley, who was assisting students as they came through, was bouncing on the ‘bridge’ part of the course and leaning off the side of it. The students nervously waiting in line for their turn looked shocked and as Ashley walked back to ‘safety’, one of them said, “I can’t believe you did that! Weren’t you scared?”

“No way!” Ashley replied. “I’m not going to fall – this equipment is rated for over 5,000 lbs!”

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If you’ve ever seen a high ropes course or similar adventure activity setup, you can understand the anxiety of the students as they waited. This course was high up in the trees and the only solid places to stand on were small platforms attached to trees at the junction of each wire tightrope. Yikes! However, as Ashley pointed out, they could absolutely trust that they were going to be completely safe and, in fact, experience a thrill like nothing they’d ever felt before!

Here’s why:

1) A very trustworthy source – a trained and experienced adventure center employee – had assured them that this was safe.

2) As they stood waiting, they watched, with their own eyes, several other students safely complete the course.

3) Their harnesses, lanyards, and carabiners would keep them securely attached to the wires of this very securely constructed course. And as long as they kept one of their two carabiners attached at all times, it was impossible for them to fall.

The funny thing is that even after knowing, seeing and hearing all of that, when their turn came, they still moved very cautiously through the course, gripping the wires – or whatever else they could grab – as tightly as their hands would allow them.

They may have known that the equipment was trustworthy, they may have even believed that the equipment was trustworthy, they may have even told others that the equipment was trustworthy, but when it came down to it, unless they were willing to let go, step off and put their entire body weight in the care of that equipment, they didn’t truly trust it.

Trust, at its core, is simply a transfer of weight. When we receive Christ into our lives, we are transferring the weight of the spiritual consequences of our sin over to Him – trusting that His death and resurrection will be what holds us securely at peace with God for eternity. Then, once we have Him in our lives, we have the opportunity every moment to continue to transfer the weight of the burdens of this life onto His shoulders – because He can totally handle it.

Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Taking on a ‘yoke’ doesn’t sound like rest, but He wasn’t saying this to add more burden to our lives. He was saying, “Put your own yoke down – stop trying to do this on your own! Attach yourself to Me – I’ll carry the weight!”

When Ashley told those students that the ropes course equipment could hold 5,000 lbs, she wasn’t kidding. The required “Minimum Breaking Strength (MBS)” for the equipment we were using is exactly that – 5,000 lbs. That’s more than 50 times their bodyweight! And the truth is that most equipment, when tested, doubles or even triples the required MBS.

When Jesus said His burden was light, He wasn’t kidding. Being God Himself in human flesh, He knew exactly how much weight God was capable of carrying. And He knew that even the combined burdens of every human being at every point in all of history would look to God like we look at a tiny feather. His power – and His ability to love and care for us as His people – is double, triple… infinitely greater than we can imagine!

Every day, in every situation, I have the choice to trust. I know from a very trusted source, the Bible, that God is trustworthy. I have seen others trust Him and come out safely on the other side. But when it comes down to it, I have a tendency to say that I’m trusting, to believe that I’m trusting, and even to tell others that I’m trusting – when the reality is that my hands are still tightly gripped on whatever I can find to make myself feel safe and secure. And until I transfer the weight, I’m just out here dragging my own yoke around, thinking I’m some sort of hero for being so ‘strong’.

The crazy thing is, when I do let go – when I step off that ledge and very intentionally shift the weight of the world, the weight of my world, into His care – it may be scary at first, but I always I experience a thrill unlike any other.

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(Originally posted September 2015)

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Repost: Rush

I can think of very few times over the past several months (wait – maybe years), where life hasn’t felt like a big rush. My “urgent” to-do list only seems to grow and between school drop-offs and pick-ups, kids’ activities, errands, ministry life, trying to squeeze in some exercise (and an occasional conversation with my husband), there’s so much pressure to just GO GO GO.

Even our vacation here in the mountains of western North Carolina has felt rushed. There’s just so much we want to do and see!

But the other day we went to a place where “rush” is fairly impossible: Parson’s Branch Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This 8-mile “primitive” road takes about an hour to traverse and is only passable with a 4-wheel-drive vehicle.

What makes Parson’s Branch stand out from other backcountry roads is that it includes 18 fords. No, not Fords (the vehicle make) or fjords (a narrow arm of the sea surrounded by steep cliffs), but sections of a road where a stream or river flows over the road – and you (in your 4-wheel-drive vehicle, of course) get to drive through it!

So, as you drive along, this beautiful, winding mountain stream repeatedly crosses your path. And 18 times, you get to “ford” it.

One of the most thrilling things is to drive fast through these crossings, causing water to spray up high out of both sides of your vehicle. Of course we tried this at least once – and what a rush!

But at one particularly picturesque crossing, I told Tim to stop the car so we could all get out and get the “full ford experience”:

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Walking through the ford was breathtaking – and not just because the water was freezing! It was such a unique and refreshing feeling to plant your feet in a spot in the middle of the road and let the stream flow over and around them.

Now THAT’S a rush.

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As believers in Christ, streams of living water are constantly crossing our path. Every day we have the opportunity to pause, plant our feet, and soak up God’s word.

But if you’re like me, there’s a huge temptation to just speed through our days – to skip the fords and take the fast route instead.

My life was changed drastically three years ago when, after following Jesus for over 15 years, I finally sent all of my excuses packing and just started doing it. I started spending time in His Word every morning.

I started traveling on the “Parson’s Branch” road of life. I made the conscious choice to exit the superhighway and take the much slower road, where I have to say a whole lot of “no” to a whole lot of things and where I don’t accomplish nearly as much as I used to, but where I allow the streams of living water to cross my path every day.

But even in that, I’ve found another dangerous temptation: To speed through those “fords” hoping for the “rush” of a tweetable quote, a power verse, a new insight, or just something “thrilling” that sprays the water up high and carries me through to the next ford.

And when I rush through my time with Jesus like that, I’m missing out on the “full ford experience”. I’m missing out on the refreshment of planting my feet in that stream, allowing His words to flow over and around me – no matter how “boring” or “I’ve-read-this-passage-a-thousand-times” they may seem.

There’s a popular worship song out right now – maybe you’ve even sung these words:

Spirit of the living God
Spirit of the living God
We only want to hear Your voice
We’re hanging on every word”*

We sing this and we mean it – we want to hear His voice! But are we really hanging on every word? Because He’s given us hundreds of thousands of them, right there in front of us, just waiting to be soaked in.

Or are we only looking for the “rush” of something “new” and “cool”?

God’s word (and every single word of it) is like that stream – it’s alive and active and flowing from a constant, unending Source.

So get off the highway and exit onto the slow road. And once you get there, remember to stop and take it in – take His Word for what it is, whatever it is at that crossing, and soak it up.

Over time you’ll find it’s a rush unlike any other.

*from “Spirit of the Living God” by Vertical Church Band

(Originally posted: August 2015)

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Repeat

Words and their combinations have always fascinated me. As a child, I loved reading books and everything else in sight! Not only did I love stories and information, but the editor in me was constantly on the lookout for typos, mistakes, or things that didn’t make sense.

One of those things that didn’t make sense was the “Directions” on the back of shampoo bottles. First of all, who needed instructions on how to wash their hair? It seemed pretty self-explanatory to me. And second, why did they always end with “Repeat”? Why would you need to wash your hair again if you just washed it? Also, with no quantification on the number of times to repeat, if you were to follow these instructions literally, would you be stuck in the shower washing your hair repeatedly for eternity? My 10-year-old mind was very bothered by this!

When God freed His people from their captivity in Egypt, He sent them en masse, on foot, into a desert wilderness. Moving these hundreds of thousands of people would be an extraordinary task, but He would not leave them alone. He gave them visible guidance through pillars of cloud and fire and He also provided food for them.

The majority of this food was a substance they named, for lack of a better term, “manna,” meaning “What is it?”. Manna was “white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey.” (Exodus 16:31) Every night it miraculously came down from the sky, coating the ground with fresh, belly-filling and energy-giving nutrition.

At first, the hungry people couldn’t get enough of this stuff, but it wasn’t long before: “The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!'” (Numbers 11:4-6)

Like manna, the words of God often seem to repeat themselves. Though there are hundreds of thousands of words in the Bible, many of which are new and exciting during the early years of our faith, the time comes when it all starts to sound the same. It’s tempting to skim (or skip) over passages because “I’ve read this story before” or check out during a sermon because “I already know all of this”.

If you surveyed Christians on why they struggle to spend time reading, listening to, or studying God’s Word (and got them to answer in total honesty) I believe boredom and “It all sounds the same” would be close to the top of the list. With a constant feed of new things to read on the screens of our smartphones, the “same old, same old” of the Bible rarely seems like an appealing choice!

But since “repetition is the key to learning,” it appears God might know what He’s doing in all of this. Just like we learn math principles by repeating them with different numbers and grammar principles by repeating them with different words, our ever-changing circumstances and situations provide us with endless opportunities to apply and re-apply the basics of God’s Word.

I’m convinced we can never hear the foundational truths of God’s great power and purpose in this world too many times. No matter how long we’ve been saved, there’s never a time when we don’t need to hear the gospel of Christ’s great love and sacrifice preached to us. We can never be over-reminded that the Spirit is at work in us, drawing us to obedience and, through that obedience, drawing others to Himself.

Recently, I pulled an old devotional book off my desk and opened it up. A gift from my high school Bible study leader, I read every page of “My Utmost For His Highest” by Oswald Chambers during my first two years of college. As I flipped through the pages, I was shocked to see that the things I had underlined are the same things I might have highlighted today! If I read it all back then, how could it seem so new to me now? With my life and world in a constant state of change, the same words that challenged me 20 years ago are still challenging me now.

After letting it bother me for so many years, this week I finally asked my trusty friend Google about the “Repeat” instruction found on shampoo bottles. Is it a marketing ploy to get consumers to use (and therefore buy) more shampoo or should I really be washing my hair more than once? It turns out there may be merit for some people in shampooing twice as the first wash will “clear away dead cells and waxy oil,”* making it possible for the second wash to penetrate further for a deeper clean.

Because the Word of God is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12), even the repeated words are never duplicate. Those “same old” verses and ideas have a chance to be “new” every day because I’m never the same exact person in the same exact situation I was in yesterday! Even if I feel like I’ve heard it all before, the repeat application of God’s words are His purposeful work of penetrating my very human (and very forgetful!) soul and spirit.

So, the next time God gives you some “manna” you feel like you’ve read or heard a million times, instead of complaining, skipping over, or dismissing it, take a closer look and take it in – “Lather, rinse, and repeat!”

(Speaking of repeating… it’s that time of year again! The kids will soon be on break from school and my brain is about to be consumed with writing and planning for our summer SERVE youth group trip. I’ll be back after Labor Day with more of these words, but until then I’ll be reposting some of my favorites from the past two years. Enjoy and thanks for reading!)

*http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/01/shampoo-twice-tips-lather-rinse-repeat_n_1922563.html

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Stale

In our family, we try to be fairly healthy. We’re not the best at it, but we do try to ration the sugar, especially at breakfast on school days. There is one exception, though: SUMMER.

Summer for the Desilets is travel time. On top of some camping trips and a family vacation, we spend several weeks in Vermont for our SERVE summer youth group trip. This is a fairly consuming endeavor, so when it comes to food, all bets are off! We’ve even developed a tradition that before leaving for Vermont, we go to the grocery store and everyone gets to pick out two boxes of any cereal they want. Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes, Cocoa Krispies, Lucky Charms, you want it – you get to have it!

Sugar is very effective at creating strong reactions in my children. There is the running around screaming because “I’m so happy and have so much energy!” which wears off just in time for someone to get hurt (or even worse someone’s feelings to get hurt) and then we lose our minds!

The funny thing is that inevitably, many months later, no matter how much we love it (and fight over it) there are at least one or two boxes of this stuff left in our cabinet at home! This cereal is completely stale and no one is eating it, but I’m still not allowed to throw it away 😉

Experiences with God can be just like sugar cereal – when we see God work or feel His presence, a reaction occurs within us. In that moment, emotions like joy, passion, conviction, gratitude, and love well up. But when the moment is over and life goes back to ‘normal,’ the feelings wear off and our relationship with God can start to feel stale. We wonder if God is there or if He’s even working in our lives because we can’t seem to feel Him anymore.

Mark 8:11 takes us to a scene where: “The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.’ Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.”

As religious leaders, highly respected by the common people, the Pharisees weren’t big fans of Jesus. His impressive miracles and controversial teachings were massing crowds of thousands. His popularity was overtaking theirs, so, in an attempt to discredit Him, they put His power to the test. In doing this they were saying, “Do something that will produce a reaction in us and then we’ll be satisfied that You’re from God.”

But instead of performing for them, He “sighed deeply” in grief at their misunderstanding of His power and walked away.

In the next verses, we find the disciples on a boat with Jesus. As recent eyewitnesses to one of these impressive miracles (the feeding of the four thousand), they had experienced the satisfaction the Pharisees were demanding. But they still didn’t get it:

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” (Mark 8:14-15)

Like any good teacher, Jesus took advantage of this teachable moment – while they were thinking about physical bread, He began talking to them about spiritual bread. In warning them about the “yeast” of the Pharisees, He was telling them to stay away from the dangerous belief that God’s work is all about the actions of people or that certain reactions need to happen inside of people to prove that God is working.

The next verse is my favorite. It’s classic disciples – classic humans:

They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.” (v. 16)

I can see Jesus shaking His head with that same deep grief He experienced a few verses earlier. The disciples could not step outside of their humanity and stop thinking about their own physical satisfaction for even a moment!

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?” (v. 17)

The number one reason our faith seems stale is because, like the religious leaders, we think God can only be working if certain emotional reactions or human feelings are present. Like the disciples, we have a hard time stepping outside of our humanity and need for physical satisfaction – we want the things of God to be all about us. Our faith gets stale when we make a personal God into a “personal god“.

God is intensely personal. He formed you and He knows you inside and out – better than any other person could ever know you and better than you could ever know yourself! He cares deeply about every aspect of your life – every action, experience, thought, and emotion. He’s a personal God.

Because of this, there are many times God works through those actions, experiences, thoughts, and emotions. But I’m scared that in our Christian culture we’re starting to believe that we have to feel God in order to experience Him. We’ve started equating feelings with God – and the more we make the God of the Universe about us and our feelings, the smaller He gets. When we make Him a ‘personal good-feeling-giving assistant,’ we strip Him of His power to work in all things and all feelings and all times and all places!

We naturally seek after high and mighty “God moments” – tingly, tear-inducing, emotion that brings us to our knees or big stories of how God has worked powerfully in someone’s life. But I’ve found that God is most often at work in the exact opposite. It’s in the mundane, unseen, everyday, “real life” moments that He’s doing His greatest work!

Like the sugary goodness of our summer cereals, those high “God-moments” always wear off and even if we could repeat them every day they would get old – and we would stick them in the back of the cabinet and forget about them. Maybe God’s a smart parent who doesn’t give them to us over and over again for a reason! If He did we might start worshiping the experience instead of worshiping Him.

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
“Twelve,” they replied.
“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
They answered, “Seven.”
He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”
(v. 17-21)

Jesus holds in Himself every ounce of satisfaction you’ll ever need and He’s offering you enough of Himself to satisfy you every moment of every day. You don’t need more feelings or experiences to prove that!

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Lean

Heights have never been at the top of my fears list. As long as there is some sort of wall or fence to keep me from falling, I can look out over any ledge and enjoy the view. Take away the barrier, though, and the paralyzing pain of anxiety sets in!

Last summer, having purchased our long-awaited and saved for first family SUV, we put it to the test by driving up the Mt. Washington Toll Road. At 6,288 feet, this peak is the highest in the northeastern United States.

As we pulled into the entrance, we saw this sign:

I laughed as I read this and jumped out of the car to snap a photo of it for my cousin, Elizabeth, who was with us that day. Heights are an issue for her and though she was not going to “appreciate this experience,” I thought she might appreciate the memento 😜.

As we set off, I could hardly contain my excitement – I’d been wanting to do this for years! As the elevation increased, so did Elizabeth’s anxiety, and I remember thinking, “She’s freaking out about nothing! This isn’t bad at all!”

Then we got above the tree line:

On this narrow road (with NO GUARDRAILS, remember) two cars needed to fit! What may appear to be a gradual hill off to the left is an almost vertical thousands-of-feet drop-off and since we spent most of our ride up with the drop-off on the passenger side of the car, I was just a couple feet (and NO GUARDRAILS) away from this:

So, here’s the scene from the back of our car:

And here’s the scene from the front:

I was so freaked out that I couldn’t even bear to look out the window! All I could see in my head was us tumbling over the side of the cliff and by instinct I was leaning into the middle of the car. For some reason in my head, my weight was a determining factor in our car staying on this road, and by keeping my weight toward the middle, I was surely saving us from disaster!

As human beings we have been made “in the image of God”. (Genesis 1:27) We tend to think of this phrase as meaning we reflect His appearance or more importantly, His qualities, but being made “in the image of God” means that, apart from the rest of creation, we have the ability to reason and make decisions about right and wrong.

Genesis 1:28 records God’s instructions for Adam and Eve to “subdue” and “rule over” creation, but a couple chapters later, in Genesis 3:5-6, the balance of power was upset. God had set Adam and Eve to rule, but there was one part of creation that He did not give them authority over – themselves. And when temptation presented itself in the form of a talking serpent who said:

“For God knows that when you eat from [the tree] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

When they picked the fruit and took the bites, Adam and Eve chose self-rule over God’s rule. They turned from being made “in the image of God” to being “like God,” setting into motion a power-struggle that has defined humanity since.

It’s not like I wake up and say, “Hey, I think I’ll sin today! That sounds like a great idea!” It’s just that when it comes to things like my relationships, my time, my health, or my finances, I tend to lean toward the middle of the car – I lean toward control over my own destiny. As humans we want to make our own decisions, decide for ourselves what’s best for us, and have the final say in what’s right and what’s wrong. We want to rule.

Unfortunately, we were not created for self-rule. God offers His all-knowing, all-seeing, perfectly loving and caring rule over our lives and no matter how knowledgeable and wise we think we are, the only thing self-rule has ever resulted in is pain. Every time I lean away from God’s authority in my life, I upset the balance of power and hurt happens.

Thankfully, Colossians 1:13-14 reminds us that God “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

The word “dominion” in this verse means “power, authority, or weight”.* When we lean toward ruling our own lives, we’re putting ourselves under a weight that we were never meant to carry and a burden we were never meant to experience. Self-rule is a deceit that leads to spiritual depression – it looks like leaning away from God’s oppressive and confining rules and making your own choices would relieve you of a burden, but it turns out it only adds an unbearable one. Being in charge of your own life may seem great when things are going your way, but when things go wrong, guess who the weight falls on? You.

As Adam and Eve found out in Genesis 3, self-rule is a place where what looks like freedom gets quickly flipped into shame and separation. When temptation is staring me in the eye, it appears to be offering me freedom from God’s ‘unreasonable’ commands, but the moment I take it (or very soon after) the whispers of “It’s all about you! Do it your way! Get what you want!” turn into “It’s all about you! It’s all your fault! You did this to yourself!”

Self-rule looks like a lightening, an unburdening, or a freeing, but it turns out to be the exact opposite – depression, worry, shame, and separation. It really is a dominion of darkness!

But when Jesus, who Paul says in Colossians 1:15 is “the image of the invisible God” – the exact representation of His authority and power on this earth – died and rose again, a transfer was made. Jesus came to rescue us from the heavy weight of self-rule and bring us into a new Kingdom where His rule leads to release – because even though in this Kingdom it’s not about you, *sigh of relief* it’s not about you.

The weight of authority over our lives was always meant to be God’s because He’s GOD and He can handle it:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)

He’s above it all, over it all, and bigger than it all. It’s all from Him, through Him, and for Him! When we receive Christ into our lives and put our faith in Him, we no longer have to live under the dominion of self-rule and we now have the privilege of living under His perfectly wise and perfectly loving rule where the burden is lifted and put back on Him where it belongs.

As I was hugging the console of our car near the end of our drive up Mt. Washington this summer, I sat up and started laughing – this time at myself! “What in the world am I doing?” I thought, “Why do I think that my 140-ish lbs could possibly make a difference as to whether or not this 2 TON vehicle stays on the road? Why do I think that this lean is giving me any control?”

It occurred to me in that moment that I could have been hanging out the passenger side window, leaning completely in the other direction, and it would not have changed a thing! But then I realized there was one thing it would have changed – it would have changed me. It would have changed my own understanding and my own level of trust in the driver, my husband, who really was in control.

When you receive Christ into your life, He moves you out from under the weight of self-rule and into the freedom and release of the perfect and perfectly loving rule of His Kingdom. But that doesn’t mean you always want to stay there.

I know there are many times every day where I want to lean back – moments where I want to be “like God” and do things my way. There are so many times where I know what God would have me do, but I don’t want to do it His way because my way feels better, my way feels safer, my way feels more comfortable and more satisfying to me. I go right back to the self-rule Adam and Eve chose in Genesis 3:5-6.

But there’s another 3:5-6 I have the ability to choose:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
(Proverbs 3:5-6)

Your lean doesn’t determine your destiny (because God’s gonna do what God’s gonna do!), but it does testify to where you’ve put your trust.

Where are you leaning today?

*http://biblehub.com/greek/1849.htm

Still

Parents of school-age kids know one thing to be true: May is crazy month! Between the concerts, presentations, class parties, and championship games, you’ve gotta squeeze in end-of-the-year projects, end-of-the-year gifts, and find that missing library book. After six years of this, I’ve learned to see it coming, but it’s still a whirlwind!

For introverts like me, May is a particularly rough time. Thankfully, since the weather is usually nice, I can get some quality alone time by going for a run in one of our local parks.

The Audubon Trail is my favorite local “getaway”. From the wooded trails of the Audubon Nature Center to the winding riverside path through Lower Perkiomen Valley Park, this 4-mile loop is mostly quiet and peaceful.

I say “mostly” because there are a few exceptions – most notably, when the trail merges with Egypt Road to cross the Perkiomen Creek. I dread this section because, after forgetting that I live in suburbia for a couple miles, I’m suddenly running just a few feet away from the loud rush of oncoming traffic!

The cool thing I’ve found, though, is that if I just turn my head and look in the other direction, I see this. The busyness and chaos behind me is easily forgotten in the stillness of this view:

When life gets overwhelming, we search for peace. Mostly we just want to make it all go away by hiding in our cozy beds and watching Netflix, but since that doesn’t usually work out so well, we look for other ways to still the stirring chaos.

As I search for peace in my own life, I know that Jesus is the only answer. Not only did He live at perfect peace when He walked this earth, but He also promised to give us that peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Over the past several years, I’ve developed a habit of receiving this peace from Jesus during my alone time with Him. Especially during stress-filled seasons, it’s imperative for me to take the time to grab my Bible, put my earbuds in, and forget the world as I pray and read. It’s my daily walk on that serene wooded path.

But what I often fail to realize is that this stillness is also available to me on the Egypt Road bridges of my days – all I have to do is turn.

Psalm 23:2 says that God, as my wise and caring Shepherd, “leads me beside still waters.” No matter what chaos is going on in or around me, His peaceful still waters are always immediately available.

Author and speaker Jill Briscoe calls these waters, “the Deep Place where nobody goes”. In her book of the same title, she tells story after story of leaving the “shallow places where everyone lives” to go to “the Deep Place” and have “conversations with God on the steps of my soul”. Even in the midst of conversations, social situations, and other circumstances, Jill describes turning in her mind to Jesus – to talk, listen, and receive His peace in that exact moment.

Though I wish I could spend all of my days wandering the quiet wooded paths, my life – especially in this season – is more like the busy Egypt Road bridge. Thankfully, the peace that Jesus gives is “not as the world gives” and it’s available to me 24/7. Every time I pause and turn and look in His direction, my perspective changes. In the still waters I see more clearly who He is and who I am as He “restores my soul” (Psalm 23:3)

Even with the chaos of life surrounding us, we can experience His peace!

I ran to the Deep Place where nobody goes and found Him waiting there.
“Where have you been?” He asked me.
“I’ve been in the shallow places where everyone lives,” I replied. I knew He knew. He just wanted me to admit I’d been too busy being busy.
“I’m running out…” I began.
“Of course,” He said. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
He sat down on the steps of my soul in the Deep Place where nobody goes and smiled at me. Angels sang; a shaft of light chased away the shadows and brightened my daily day. I smiled back.
“I’m such a fool…”
“Shhh,” He said, putting His finger on my lips.
He touched my hurried heart. Startled, it took a deep breath and skidded to a near stop. My spirit nestled into nearness in the Deep Place where nobody goes.
My soul spoke, then: He answered with words beyond music. Where “on earth” had I been while “heaven” waited? Such grace!
*

*”The Deep Place Where Nobody Goes: Conversations with God on the steps of my soul” by Jill Briscoe, p. 16-17

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Plus

We did the math: A warm, sunny, fall day, plus an afternoon free of after-school activities, plus a four-year-old now confidently riding a two-wheeler equals one thing – time for a Desilets family bike ride! As Tim and I packed up the bikes, water bottles, and snacks, we wondered, “Why don’t we do this more often?!” We picked up the girls from school and headed over to the Schuylkill River Trail for a fun-filled adventure.

But less than a minute in, the fun quotient of our excursion went into the negative as the frustrations began to add up. Our failure to check the pressure in the bicycle tires (or bring the pump to remedy this problem) left one kid instantly in tears and unable to continue. Plus, our “if I don’t get food within five minutes of leaving school, I lose my mind” child had apparently neglected to eat the snacks we packed for her and quickly ran out of steam. We could have stopped and turned around right there, but our youngest was having none of that – she came for a bike ride and she wanted a bike ride!

What was supposed to equal stress-relief resulted only in stress-increase, and as we drove home, we wondered, “Why do we ever do things like this?!”

It’s discouraging when your best intentions end in frustration. You have a vision in your head of how something is going to go and expect the real-life outcome to match, or even exceed, your expectations. But when mistakes and mishaps occur (often one after another) you wonder if it’s even worth the effort!

This happens in our relationship with God as well. We all have next steps the Holy Spirit is leading us to take, and though they sound good ‘on paper,’ there’s a good chance that even with our best intentions, things won’t go the way we expect them to. Whether it’s reaching out to a friend who doesn’t know Jesus, getting involved in a ministry, starting a Bible reading plan, or kicking a bad habit to the curb, we often start out saying, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” but end up thinking “Why did I even try?!”

Although there’s no mathematical formula to following and living our lives for Jesus, the apostle Peter does encourage believers to “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8) I don’t know about you, but I sure do want and need all of those things in my life “in increasing measure”!

In Matthew 6, in His teaching on worry, Jesus assures us that rather than being distracted by the toil of adding things to our own lives, we should “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (v. 33) Notice that it doesn’t say “you will add these things,” it says they “will be added”.

In God’s Kingdom, He does the math and as we “make every effort” to take those next steps, He’s adding to our lives the goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, and love we’re seeking! Unfortunately, the method He uses to create those qualities almost always involves circumstances and people not going or doing things according to our expectations. Even our best intentions have some element of self-focus and it’s through frustration and trial that ‘self’ gets subtracted to leave room for His character to be added.

Though our perfect Desilets family bike ride didn’t happen that day, we did learn a few things – always leave a spare pump in the car, and make sure the snacks get eaten! But more than that, through the frustration, we all had at least some small amount of goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, or love added to us that day.

God’s math doesn’t always compute in our heads, but the solution is clear to Him. He’s not asking you to take that next step because He needs you to, it’s just that every time you do, He gets to add more of “these things” to you. It may not work out as you had hoped, but the “increasing measure” of His character in your life will always be a plus!

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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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