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Receiving the Rain

“As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” –Isaiah 55:10-11

On my youngest son’s most recent visit home from college, he took time to plant a garden in our backyard. He carefully researched which plants would grow together best, including a fun mix of flowers and vegetables which he told us were known to cooperate with each other. The Luffa Gourds have been my favorites. I’d never heard of such a thing, but I got to watch two tiny plants sprout from little, bitty seeds and climb all over the trellis Seth built around and above the garden for that purpose. We yielded the biggest harvest from these. We also had a bumper crop of Marigolds, Sunflowers, and cucumbers and might have enjoyed a bit of corn had the last remnants of Harvey not come through with destructive determination even in his waning strength. The Luffa Gourds were unimpressed. They’re still trying to sneak into the neighbor’s yard as I type this.

Before Seth left, he gave me strict instructions for the care and feeding of my new plants. I was to water them at least twice a day, preferably in the morning and evening before and after the hottest hours of the day. I did well at first. Sadly, I became ill a few weeks into the project. I continued to do my best, but every now and then I missed a day or two. When I was able to get back out there, I’d see some of the plants beginning to shrivel. Texas heat in summer can be a bit harsh, you know. I’d give the plants a healthy soaking and celebrate when they began to thrive again.

This is the analogy that God has given us regarding His Word. He sends it as rain for our spirits. And He never becomes ill or misses a day. His Word is available to us all the time. We just have to choose to soak it in, saturating our minds and hearts daily, strategically misting between soakings.

And when we do, our spirits will bud and flourish, yielding seed for the sower and bread for the eater. More seed equals more produce. More bread means more people are fed. The more of God’s Word we take in, the more His Spirit can do through our lives and the more our God will be glorified, we will be resourced, and others will come to know Christ.

All we have to do is read our Bibles and let God’s Spirit go to work. More water; more Luffas. More Scripture; more accomplished in and through our lives for Christ.

Father, thank You for Your Word. Help us all to read it faithfully, letting it revive our souls and prepare our hearts that Your Spirit can accomplish Your Will in and through us. Thank You for the promise that Your Word will achieve the purpose for which You sent it. Help us to receive it with joy and gratitude each day. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Eliminating Intolerances

In 2012 I came to understand the difference between allergies and intolerances this way: Severe allergies can threaten your life. People who are allergic to things like peanuts or bee stings have to be prepared to take immediate action in case they come into contact with these. Intolerances, on the other hand, aren’t life threatening, but they will make you uncomfortable, steal your energy, slow . . . you . . . down. In 2006, I learned I was lactose intolerant. In 2012, I became soy intolerant as well. I can let a little bit of each slip into my diet from time to time, but too much messes with my digestive system, joints, sinuses, and energy levels, so I try to be as vigilant as I can about eating right.

Now there’s something new going on inside of me. Doctors haven’t figured it out: a new intolerance, a virus, a disease? It’s a mystery. But I’m becoming even more vigilant about what I eat, eliminating anything suspicious in hopes that I’ll start feeling healthy again. If you happen to think of me, please pray. I really want to feel strong and healthy again.

As I’ve done my part to solve this mystery, I’ve recognized a spiritual parallel. Any sin we allow in our lives is like an allergen. It won’t just slow us down; it will halt our spiritual growth altogether and keep us from enjoying an ever-deepening relationship with Christ. As David prayed, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” -Psalm 66:18. Sin is a deadly toxin that stands between a person and God. It is something we must eliminate. We do this by confessing it to Christ (admitting that we’ve done wrong), receiving His forgiveness by grace through faith, and by turning away from it—turning to Christ instead.

As we grow in our relationship with Jesus, though, His Spirit will begin to reveal other activities, habits, thought-processes that need to go. These wouldn’t necessarily be characterized as sin, but our growing spiritual life won’t thrive, we won’t be able to reach our potential, until they go. Susanna Wesley did go so far as to classify these as sin when she said, “Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes off your relish for spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of the body over the mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may seem in itself.” Her relationship with God was so precious to her that anything that kept her from drawing closer to Him was an abomination. The more any of us comes to know and love God, the more we’ll also aspire to this.

This is how I’m currently treating most anything that threatens my health—even that mouth-watering slice of double chocolate fudge cake that is okay for everyone else in the room to eat. As much as I want it, I reject it because I value my health more. And my relationship with Jesus is more important than my health.

But, like Susanna Wesley, I’m not going to go so far as to start listing what’s okay, what’s not, and how much of something can or should be “tolerated.” That’s taking a legalistic view of the Christian life. The many and ever-growing number of denominations in our nation prove that it’s practically impossible to agree on such a list anyway. Instead, each person has to do what David did—and do it with a sincere heart—one that wants an ever-deepening relationship with Christ. Each of us has to ask God’s Spirit to reveal anything that weakens our reason, impairs the tenderness of our consciences, obscures our sense of God, takes off our relish for spiritual things, or increases the authority of the body over the mind. And, just as I’ve had to eliminate different foods from my diet every few years for the sake of my physical strength, God may ask us to rethink different activities, habits, and thought-processes over time as we grow closer to Him. He leads us to grow up in Christ gradually, knowing that to demand perfection at the moment of salvation could overwhelm and discourage us, could cause us to give up.

We turn away from sin in order to enter a relationship with Christ, then we allow His Spirit to help us remove anything in our lives that impairs our spiritual development and health. As our sincerity and desire for God grows, so will our determination to remove anything that weakens us. Another prayer of David reveals He had this heart for God: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” -Psalm 139:23-24. I want to develop such a heart for God as well.

Lord, just as I want to eliminate any food or product that is stealing my strength and health, I need Your help and guidance to eliminate any activity, habit, or thought-process that a thriving spiritual life can’t tolerate. I want to draw closer and closer to You! You gave me life; You are my life. I surrender to Your scrutiny, testing, and knowledge. Lead me in Your way. Amen.

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Acquiring the Taste

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” -Psalm 34:8

Bringing four pre-teen/teenage girls into our home has, naturally, required a lot of adjustments from everyone. Because my husband and I eat gluten- and soy- and mostly dairy-free and the girls have never known such a thing, food has been one of our family’s biggest challenges. Two or three nights a week, I actually cook two different meals. For now. I’m always on the lookout for healthy recipes the girls will eat. Eventually, I’ll have a cooking repertoire that suits everyone most of the time.

In the meantime, we’ve started talking with the girls about acquiring tastes. My husband and I have had to master this skill. Let me amend that. Mike has always been an adventurous eater. I’m the one who had to learn (as I developed a few food intolerances) that there is more to life than hamburgers and French fries, grilled cheese sandwiches, and macaroni and cheese. Moving from place to place required some food experiments, too. And every time we visit our son and daughter-in-law they introduce us to a new food. Thanks to Bridget we now enjoy foods like quinoa and spaghetti squash. I learned the recipes using these that she served us, then scoured Pinterest for more. Just as Mike and I have acquired these tastes, we’re gently coaxing the girls to at least try to do the same.

Just as we’re encouraging our daughters to taste and see that different foods are good, God invites us to taste and see that He is good. Psalm 34:8 is one of those verses that is so familiar, we tend to take it for granted. I’ve always seen it as an invitation to those who don’t know Him yet. As we were having our acquiring tastes discussion with the girls, though, I started to see it differently. God isn’t always an easy taste to acquire, and, though He never changes (Hebrews 13:8), the better we get to know Him, the more intense His unique blend of flavors becomes. He is always challenging the comfort of our palate; with Him, we must be adventurous.

This is especially true whenever we are tempted to doubt His goodness. Perhaps we’ve known Him for years, believing that He is good. Then something painful that we just can’t understand happens, and we wonder how a good God, a God Who loves us could allow such a thing to happen. This is when we must taste and see that He is good. This is when we choose to trust—like Habakkuk did, like Job, like Old Testament Joseph, like Mary the Mother of Jesus, like Paul, like Corrie ten Boom, like Catherine Marshall, like Mother Teresa, and more recently like Stephen Curtis and MaryBeth Chapman, Carol Kent, Ann Voskamp, and Katie Davis Majors. All of these (and so many more) have testified of experiencing challenges, hardship, trauma, and loss, yet, instead of walking away, they clung to Christ. They tasted and found that He is good. At least one even expressed her belief that someday she’ll look back over all she’s been through, thank God for it, and tell Him that she wouldn’t change a thing.

This view of the beginning of Psalm 34:8 connects it more logically to its second half: blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. As we walk with God, getting to know Him more fully and learning to trust Him more, sometimes the tastes will be sweet, sometimes bitter, rich, tart, acidic—you get the idea. But when we choose to take refuge in Him and determine to acquire the taste, we’ll live in the knowledge that He is good, and our lives will be blessed—no matter what.

Father, thank You for loving us enough to challenge our palate, so that we can gain a deeper, richer, fuller knowledge of You. Sometimes this is painful, but it always confirms that You are indeed very good. Teach us to walk in confident trust—for our good and Your glory. We love You! Amen.

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Our Most Inspirational Heritage

“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith.” -1 Timothy 1:3-4

Oh, no! I hear the old lady singing – again. Now the spunky island princess. Softly. Building . . . building. Brace yourself – here it comes! Four adolescents and their beloved hero, all at the top of their lungs: “I AM . . .”

Can you name that princess, star of the latest cartoon musical slowly driving parents out of their minds? When our boys were little, I could almost quote Pocahontas line for line. Now Moana is getting all the air time.

Every few years, a new princess. I’m okay with that. I love the movies almost as much as my children do. I’d just prefer to see them only once or twice instead of over and over . . . and over . . . again.

I’ll come back to this.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me if I knew why genealogies were so significant in Bible times. She was reading through Chronicles. Talk about endless genealogies! I told my friend that if I remembered correctly, it was more cultural than theological. The people of that day found their identity in their ancestry . . . not unlike our island princess. Moana struggled to understand her purpose until she learned that her ancestors had been voyagers. Suddenly all became clear; she knew what she was called to do and found the strength to do it in knowing who her people had been. People in Bible times were the same – and so are some people today.

But what if your people didn’t leave you an inspirational legacy? What if, instead of being the son of King David, you learn you are a child of Saul? Because of his poor choices, he was rejected as king by God. Or even more confusing, what if both David and Manasseh, Judah’s most notorious king, are in your family line? Are you bound to go one way . . . or the other, enslaved to your ancestry? Truthfully, we’ll all find both heroes and villains when we climb our family trees. I think we tend to think we have to follow in the footsteps of those closest in lineage to us. This can be troubling for those whose parents or grandparents made hurtful choices for their lives.

Thankfully, though, once we receive Christ as our Savior, we’re adopted into God’s family, grafted forever onto His family tree. We may trace our biological family lines for the fun of it, discovering the unexpected people and places we’re connected to. But we won’t find our identity in these. Our identity is in Christ, Who gives our lives a meaning and purpose and direction and power and calling greater than that of any spunky island princess. We are not bound to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors. Jesus came to give us the perfect legacy.

You wanna sing with me? Nevermind, I still can’t sing. But I know who I am. I am God’s child. I am a child of the King of Kings.

Lord, may our lives reflect this heritage. Amen.

“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” -Romans 8:15-16

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Okay, Stones – Your Turn!

Dear Blog World,

I’ve missed you! I hope you’ve missed me, too. I also hope you’ll forgive my extended absence and welcome me back. I really do have a lot to say. In fact, I’ve been saying it in my journals all along, processing . . . learning . . . praying . . . absorbing. Now I’m ready to write out loud again.

Where have I been?

In April, we added three new children to our family. I still feel kind of like I’m not quite telling the truth when I say that I have seven children, but I do. God has grafted a total of four beautiful girls – biological sisters – into our family tree in the past year and a half in much the same way He grafts those who receive His Son as their Savior into His. (Someday I’ll have to write more about that.) But in case you didn’t know this, whenever you add a family member, whether by birth, marriage, adoption, or alien invasion, there are adjustments to make for all involved. These adjustments pretty much filled my brain with fuzz.

And then I got sick. One day I was fine. The next I woke up and was not. We’ve only recently gotten a partial diagnosis about what’s going on. The good news is it’s not life-threatening. Now we’re just waiting to see if what it is can be treated or if I’ll have to learn to live with it. I’m already doing the latter, hoping this living-with-it-thing is temporary, but knowing that life must go on. If you think of me, please keep me in your prayers. (Maybe I can even be one of your Parachute Prayers . . . whenever you see a wildflower . . . I’ll let you work that one out.)

One of the limitations of this mystery illness is that I can no longer sing. Okay, so all I really did before was make joyful noises to my King, but now I can’t even do that. When I go to church on Sunday, I stand and listen and pray the words to the songs. If I try to sing, my lungs hurt, my heart flutters, and I have to sit down and assure myself I’m okay. The doctors in the ER don’t want to see me anymore. (That’s okay. I never wanted to see them in the first place. Not that they aren’t perfectly nice people, but . . . well, they’re in the ER.)

A few weeks ago, instead of listening and praying, I was whining to God about the situation. (Technically, that’s praying, but it’s not very worshipful.) The following verse came to mind: “‘I tell you,’ [Jesus] replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out'” -Luke 19:40. I almost laughed out loud, thinking, “Okay, stones. It’s your turn!” I’ve had that thought in my head each worship service since.

Our God is so amazing, He just has to be praised. If the Pharisees try to shush His people, He can make the stones cry out instead. If one of His children has a physical limitation that keeps her from adding her voice to the mix, He can call in a few rocks to fill in for her too. So far He hasn’t chosen to do this.

But He could. Wouldn’t that be something?!

Lord, how I thank You that one way or another, Your Name will be praised. And one way or another, I will find a way to praise You even if I cannot sing! You have worked miracles on my behalf and for the benefit of my family this year. I’ve been amazed to see what You can do when You decide something must be done. Nothing and no one can stand in Your way. I’ve seen the truth of this – and I love You for it! No one else deserves my trust, my life, my heart like You do. I will praise You however I can. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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The First Denial

“And Jesus said to him, ‘Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.’” -Mark 14:30ESV

On hearing Jesus’ statement that they would all fall away, Peter and the remaining disciples all declared emphatically that they would be loyal to Jesus no matter what. Peter went so far as to vow that he’d be faithful even if everyone else was not. This, of course, is when Jesus told Peter he’d deny Him three times before the rooster crowed twice.

I’ve been giving this passage some thought, and I’ve decided I don’t think Jesus meant this as an accusation. I don’t see Him pointing His finger in Peter’s face and shaming him or the other disciples. And I don’t really think that He was expressing disappointment in Peter and the other disciples either; He knew them better than they knew themselves. How could they have ever let Him down if He never expected them to stay faithful? In fact, for this reason, I’m not even sure Jesus’ words to Peter had to have been a set in stone prophecy. (Stay with me here.)

What if . . . really . . . what if, instead of becoming defensive, arguing with Jesus, and adamantly declaring his loyalty a second time, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (v. 31), what if Peter had stopped to think about Jesus’ words? What if, instead of saying never, Peter had said, “I don’t want to do that. Lord, help me!”?

Maybe, just maybe, Jesus was making a simple statement about Peter’s character as Jesus knew it, letting Peter know what would emerge from his nature if Peter refused to listen, learn, and change. If that was the case, then maybe, just maybe, if Peter had paid attention and taken Jesus’ words as a warning to heed, maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t have denied Jesus at all. Peter’s refusal to do so was his first denial—a denial of the truth about Himself that Jesus had graciously revealed—a truth that quite possibly could have been changed had Peter accepted it and asked for Jesus’ help.

I wonder if maybe this is why Jesus later asked Peter three times if he loved Him. (See John 21:15-17.) This passage is often referred to as Peter’s reinstatement. Through the dialogue, Jesus takes action to forgive Peter by restoring their relationship and recommissioning Peter to serve. I’ve heard it taught that perhaps Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him three times because Peter denied Him three times. I know that Jesus used different Greek words for love within the dialogue, both translated the same in English. And I’ve heard a few different explanations about why He may have done this.

But . . . what if . . . also . . . Jesus simply wanted Peter to slow down this time before giving an impulsive answer, before making a declaration that time would prove he didn’t really mean?

Jesus loved Peter. He told Peter what he needed to know about himself, so that he could be aware and make better, more informed choices. So that Peter could change. When Peter denied the truth about himself, resulting in his denial of Christ, Jesus graciously gave him another opportunity to see and process truth, so Peter could grow into the person God intended him to be.

Jesus does the same for us. He warns us, so we can make better choices. He reinstates us when we fail. He loves us and patiently leads us, helping us mature into the people we were meant to be.

Lord, You know me better than I know myself. When you reveal character flaws that could lead to sin, help me slow down and listen. Help me change, so my actions will honor, not hurt, You. And thank You for loving, patient, restoration whenever I fail. I’m following You, Lord. I love You. Amen.

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Responding Like Jesus

“He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” -Isaiah 53:3NLT

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” -Hebrews 5:7NIV

The Sadducees and Pharisees harassed and heckled and challenged Jesus everywhere He went. Yet He always responded with patience and wise teaching. Most of his tormentors rejected this, slinking away silenced. But others who witnessed these encounters, including some of the Sadducees and Pharisees, noted and learned from Jesus’ response. Our amazing Lord turned His challenges into teachable moments for others instead of letting His enemies put Him on the defense. Later, when He was alone, He prayed for those enemies—and most likely for Himself—for needed strength to face them again and again.

Father, please help me to remember Jesus’ example in this. Teach me how to respond to challenges and insults with patience and wisdom and sound teaching. Then remind me to bring and release the pain from such encounters to You. Help me forgive those who hurt me and pray for them as well. In Jesus’ name, I pray. I choose to follow His ways. Amen.

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Being Confident of This

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion util the day of Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 1:6

You get discouraged when you fail or discover imperfections in your character. You fear God will give up on you.

But the opposite is true.

God is working in you, bringing these to light to remove them, to show where He’s ready to apply His gentle touch, so you can cooperate with His work in you.

Be confident of this. He began the work in you; it is a good work. He will bring it to completion for His glory and for your good.

Thank You, Lord. Amen.

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How Not to Harden into Salt

“But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” -Genesis 19:36

I tend to feel a lot of sympathy for Lot’s wife. Having moved many times, I can relate to the longing to look back. Even when I’m ready to move, to experience a grand adventure in a shiny new place, once there, I miss friends and familiarity. But Lot’s wife was forced to move quickly with no time even to pack. God’s command to not look back would have been a challenging one to keep. Only complete trust in His goodness even in harsh circumstances could have enabled Lot’s wife to follow through.

Thankfully, God hasn’t commanded all of us to never look back. We can cherish the memories of past seasons of life. Maintain some traditions. Keep in touch with friends. We only run into trouble when looking back tempts us to go back or keeps us from moving forward. Life is a journey toward eternity. If we stop or try to go back, we’re not letting Jesus lead us onward through the next phase of our trip.

Childhood. Youth. Early days of marriage. Parenting preschoolers, elementary schoolers, teenagers. Launching children. Enjoying the empty nest.

I really liked my empty nest.

But God is filling it back up!

There are days now when I face down stubborn or wipe yogurt spills up off the couch and pause to look back . . . with longing . . . at the quiet, ordered life I was able to enjoy for a few years.

There is no going back, though, without turning into salt. And deep inside I know, the time for quiet, ordered came too soon to last for the rest of my life. I don’t know how long I’ll get to live on this earth, but forty or fifty years of quiet and ordered just might have driven me insane. I’m thankful God called our family into this new thing. I’ve lost all control, but I’m eager to see where God is taking us all.

Back to thoughts of turning to salt. When water dries up, it leaves a mineral residue. The Bible refers to Jesus as the Living Water. It also says that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us, but could it be that when we stop following, the Living Water flowing through us evaporates as Jesus tries to lead us on? He calls us forward, but we stand still, looking back determined, baking in the harsh sun. Eventually we stiffen up, harden . . . until nothing is left but a residue of salt.

When hardships and challenges come, we must look beyond them to Jesus before us and follow Him on through. We’re on a journey to Heaven where the best is yet to come. Looking back may give the illusion of comfort, but our hearts, our lives, will harden with that choice. Best to stay close to Jesus, practicing trust in His goodness, come what may. He is the One enabling us to follow Him all the way.

Jesus, please keep us moving forward, following You through each new phase of life. When we reach our destination and see Your name glorified above all, we will be so thankful we did not choose to turn back.