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Choosing to Find Neverland

Our family watched Finding Neverland the other night. I love that movie. This was the third time I’ve seen it.

If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you go watch it before you read the rest of this post. Just sayin’—I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you.

Finding Neverland is based on the true-life story of how J.M. Barrie came to write Peter Pan. At the beginning of the movie, Barrie befriends four young boys who are playing at the park, their widowed mother watching nearby. As Barrie gets to know the family, he finds ways to make their challenging life just a little less challenging—and fun! They, in turn, inspire him to write. The movie is a happy—sad—triumphant experience.

This time through, though, I became both fascinated with and frustrated by one character in particular—Barrie’s wife. Viewers will get the impression that the marriage was troubled from the beginning, but they aren’t told how these two flawed human beings came to be a couple. Viewers are shown that Barrie hasn’t given up on the struggling marriage, however. As his friendship with the widow and her sons develops, he tells his wife all about it. Then he invites her to get involved. He suggests they invite the family to dinner. Seeing the possibility of an advantageous social connection, Barrie’s wife agrees. Barrie and the family have a great time, but Barrie’s wife declares the evening a disaster. Boys behaving like boys are not the stuff of fine society.

As she becomes frustrated with her husband’s choices and disappointed in the direction their life seems to be taking, Barrie’s wife begins to withdraw and complain. Viewers often see her sitting alone in her room with the door closed. An affair is implied. Finally, she leaves Barrie altogether.

“Scandalous,” jests Barrie.

I felt a sense of tragedy.

I couldn’t help but wonder how things might have gone had Barrie’s wife been more receptive to the unexpected intrusion into her life. What if she’d set her inhibitions aside and joined in the fun at her proper dinner party? What if she’d taken notice of the widow, both as a friend and as a fellow human being in need? What if she had tried to see what her husband was inviting her to see? What if she’d embraced the adventure?

Perhaps in the end a marriage would have been saved, four orphans would have enjoyed the blessing of a new mother and father, and Barrie’s wife would have shared in the joy of his success as a writer—which, ultimately, would also have blessed her with all the social connections she craved. Instead, she quietly slipped out of the story with an embarrassed apology, seeking something better somewhere else.

Barrie’s wife told him she felt left out. But Barrie and the boys never excluded her. When the unexpected arrived, she chose to exclude herself. I wonder if we sometimes do the same.

What if, instead of feeling left out, we look for ways to join in? What if, when life takes an unexpected turn, instead of withdrawing in fear and fighting for that which we think we need, we choose to turn our whole selves right into the chaos, to see where it will lead? What if we let life overwhelm us in order to see God’s power at work—to learn that with His help we’re capable of so . . . much . . . more? What if we live surrendered, a life of letting God lead?

I’m coming to believe that God doesn’t delight in meeting our expectations for this life. Instead He’s always challenging us to let Him do immeasurably more. He lets us choose whether to accept this challenge or not, but when we do, He blesses us with joy and triumph as we glorify His name.

  • Where is God leading you that you hesitate to go?
  • Are you feeling left out as His Kingdom rolls on?
  • How can you join in?

Father, help us to know when You are inviting us to embrace something new and help us to do so—even if it seems we’re giving up a treasured dream as we do. You’ve promised immeasurably more than we can imagine, but we have to be willing to trust and follow where You lead. Please bless us with courage, strength, and a sense of adventure as we battle our fears. We know You have good plans for us if only we’ll stay engaged. Thank You, Lord! Amen.

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When God Chooses Not to Rescue You

psalm-20-4

Moses had it good. He had a wife, a couple of kids, and a steady job that gave him plenty of time to enjoy the great outdoors—alone. It gave him time to ponder, reflect, and pray. Moses was content, I’m sure.

Then God showed up in a most flamboyant way. “Moses, I’ve got a mission for you. I want you to go to Egypt and rescue my people. They are suffering.”

Moses didn’t say no, but he offered every excuse he could think up as to why God should go away and choose someone else. God said, “Moses, I chose you. Go!” (This is my simple summation. You can read the Bible words for yourself in Exodus 3:1-4:17.)

Fast forward a bit. (See Numbers 11.)

Moses is now leading God’s rescued people through the desert to the Promised Land. The people are tired and cranky. They are especially unhappy with the food, so they start to complain. Moses decides he’s had enough. In fact, he has a meltdown. A mo-ment. (You know the kind.) In utter exasperation He goes to God, not with a polite request, but with a bold demand for relief:

“Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’  I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me.  If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.” -Numbers 11:11-15

His prayer made me laugh. My interpretation: “Lord, I don’t know what I did to make you angry, but surely it doesn’t deserve this slow and tortuous sentence of death by whiny toddler-adults whose lives I am not responsible for. I’m done. Kill me now.”

God chose to ignore that request. Instead he sent Moses some help.

I find that comforting. Sometimes God gives us hard assignments, missions that will push us to our limits and then some. We may be tempted to quit. If we choose to continue on though, knowing it’s what God wants us to do, we may start giving God all the reasons we can think of as to why He should choose to pass the assignment on to someone else. Then we may start begging for rescue, and if that rescue doesn’t come, we may start feeling picked on and betrayed.

But God doesn’t rescue us from the assignments He’s given us. He hears. He sees. He knows how we’re feeling and how deep the struggle is. But He wants us to finish the work, and He knows that deep inside, we really want to finish, too. (Come on. Admit it. You know it’s true.) We want to end triumphantly, hearing our God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21). And so, instead of rescue, God sends some kind of relief.

Psalm 20:1-2, a psalm David wrote for facing battle, says, “May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.”

God answers. He protects. He helps. He supports. He gives us all we need to carry on. There’s no rescue required. We don’t need rescue from the missions He gives. We just need some God relief. We need to remember that when He sends us out on assignment, He helps us complete the task. Instead of pulling us out of the distress of it, He helps us through to victory.

Psalm 20 continues along this theme. Verse 4 says, “May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.” When our plan is to complete the mission, to help others and honor His name, He’ll give all the help we need for that plan to succeed.

Lord, victory is the desire of my heart, for their good—and mine—and for the glory of Your name. Thank You for seeing my struggle and for sending all the support and strength I need. I will carry on for You. You are my God and I love You. Amen.

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On Choice: a Psalm of Sorts

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“I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.” -Psalm 9:1-2

I will thank, tell, rejoice, sing praise.

I choose to do so; this is a choice I make.

God is worthy—worthy of more than I can offer.

When I think, when I write, when I move, I can choose to offer my thoughts and words to Him instead of to past and present concerns. Or maybe in sync with these, letting Him align it all.

I can choose to focus on His never-ending Presence, the most priceless gift, and enjoy it as fully as I can—soaking it all in, though I may feel duty-drawn away. My energy, both physical and mental, it all belongs to Him.

I will choose to surrender it in thanksgiving, in stories, in joy, in praise—I love You, Lord! Amen.

Sometimes I treat spending time with God like an extravagance—a luxury instead of a necessity. I feel responsible to do so many other things first. But my relationship with God matters most. He is my life—my strength—my purpose. God first—essential to my spiritual and emotional health . . . His right as Lord of my life. I enter His Presence every morning—I try to remain there always. This is how I trust Him with the details of each day.

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Prowling Devil, Crouching Sin

abel“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” -Genesis 4:7

The Bible doesn’t tell us, specifically, why God looked with favor on Abel’s offering but not on Cain’s. It only hints that perhaps Cain gave less than his best, a token offering of obligation, in place of a gift of worship from a fully grateful heart. In contrast, Abel brought fat portions from the firstborn of his flock, showing thanksgiving for all he’d received and trust that God would continue to give more.

Cain became angry, though he probably knew what he’d done. But God responded with kindness and grace, gently letting Cain know that he could have favor, too. He only had to choose to do right. Instead, Cain followed the path he’d set out on when he chose to give God less than his best. He received God’s response to his gift with an angry heart. Then he made his situation worse, murdering his brother in a field. (See Genesis 4:8.)

When we do what is right, following God obediently with love and gratitude, He blesses us with everything we need to live out His plan for our lives. We enjoy His Presence, the knowledge that our lives honor Him, and His Spirit within. This Spirit gives us guidance and strength as we continue to walk with God.

If we choose not to do right, though, making selfish choices and holding back from God what is His, sin crouches at our door. We give the devil an opportunity to tempt us even further from God. Peter warns us just as God warned Cain:

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” -1 Peter 5:8

It works like this:

If we think of life as a journey toward greater knowledge of and a closer relationship with God, every right choice is a step toward that end. Our obedient choices draw us closer to God Who makes us more like Christ, developing strong character and a healthy heart. Every wrong choice, though, is a step away from this that gives the devil an opportunity to lead us further away. Too many steps away, steps we might not even realize we’re taking, can leave us wandering like Cain, a lion’s meal in the making.

This is why we must live alert and keep a sober (as in contemplative or restrained) mind. As we make daily decisions, we must ask what draws us closer to God, what makes us more like Him, what honors His name, what helps His Kingdom grow?

Though Abel’s life was cut short, he earned a place in Hebrews’ Faith Hall of Fame:

“By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” -Hebrews 11:4

He didn’t set out to do anything special, he simply lived to honor God and offered his best to Him. We can choose to live this way, too.

Father, help us to remember that our choices matter. Open our eyes to clearly see which decisions honor You, draw us closer to You. We choose to live by faith, with gratitude. You are our God, and we love You. Amen.

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If We Had Methuselah’s Years

Genesis 5 . . .

Just imagine . . .

According to this genealogical chapter:

Adam lived for 903 years.

Seth lived for 913.

Enosh lived for 905.

Kenan for 910.

Mahalalel for 895.

Jared, 962.

Enoch, 365 . . . on earth. He walked faithfully with God, so God took him away. (See verse 24.) He may still be alive. He literally may never experience death the way most of the rest of us do. That makes his son Methuselah’s record-breaking 969 years look like, well, our 70 to 100—or maybe more like a miniscule fraction of only our very first day of life.

And most of these men didn’t even become parents until they were close to or into their hundreds!

What would you do with all of that time? How would it change your life?

psalm-90-12

Right now, I’m picking and choosing. Besides caring for my family and our home, participating in church and community activities, reading, writing, running, and flower-hunting, there are several other things I’d love to learn to do. I’d love to learn another language or two. I’d love to learn to draw the flowers I take pictures of now. I might even enjoy trying to grow a few. And I could always use more time for the things I already enjoy.

Instead, I find myself pruning activity from my life in order to make time for the things I’ve prayerfully decided matter most right now. This is the reality of human life. We learn to ask, as Moses did, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). We don’t have time to do everything. We must choose where to focus our energy to make the best use of the time that we have.

I wonder if Methuselah ever felt the need to number his days, to conserve time. Did he use his 969 years wisely? Or did he fritter them away? Maybe we’ll get to ask him someday.

S-o-m-e-d-a-y.

That’s right. For now, we pick and choose our activities to use our time as wisely as possible, knowing it is limited here on earth. But someday we’ll start enjoying eternity in Heaven where we’ll be able to pursue all the God-honoring creative endeavors we’ve ever felt inclined to try! Knowing this, we can learn to view this life as one of many seasons of our eternal life just as we break our human life into seasons of its own – the season of childhood, youth, training, home-building, career-developing or transitioning, the empty nest, mentorship, retirement . . .

There are so many seasons we get to enjoy in the span of an average life! Just imagine all God will allow us to do once we enter eternity with Him!

I’m going to try to remember this next time I’m forced to prune activities or to say, “No,” to something I’d love to do. For now, my time is limited. This won’t always be so. I can fully focus on and enjoy whatever season I am in. God has promised there will always be more!

Father, thank You for the promise of eternity—a gift we cannot even begin to understand. Until we receive it, please teach us to number our days, to choose wisely. Help us to thankfully give what we have now to You, knowing You plan to give us so much more someday. Thank You, Lord! Amen.

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Finding Purpose in Place

Place and Time“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” -Genesis 2:13

Just like He did for Adam, God has intentionally placed each of His children—that is, each and every person He created—where they are, not only in location but also in time. And just like He did for Adam, God created each of us with purpose. He gives us meaningful work—a reason to live. He didn’t just create us to exist until our time to die.

But sometimes we struggle to understand what our purpose is. Genesis 2:13 gives us a hint. According to this verse, God put Adam in a specific place to do a specific thing. According to Acts 17:26, God placed each of us in a specific place. That place is where our search for purpose must begin.

In other words, the key to discovering God’s intention for our lives may be as simple as asking,

  • “Where has God put me?”
  • “What or whom has He given me the responsibility to tend, to take care of?”
  • “How can my life help something or someone around me to produce something good?”

The Hebrew word shamar, interpreted in Genesis 2:13 as take care of, literally means to guard and preserve. What has God given you to guard and preserve or to improve or to bring out its best? When we can answer that question here, where God has put us, we’ll begin to enjoy purpose-filled, productive lives that will continue to flourish anywhere He leads.

Father, as we stop and take in our surroundings today, help us to see what we can do. You put us here with purpose. Show us what we can do. And then help us to do it for You! In Jesus, we pray. Amen.

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A Prayer about God’s Way

Romans 5-8

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” -Romans 5:6-8

Lord, how did you do this? I really need to know. While we were still sinners, while we were at our very worst, knowing all that we had done, were doing, would do, and still have yet to do, You chose to give Your life for us—to give us hope, to make it possible for us to live as children in Your Kingdom now and to enjoy eternity with You forever.

What an amazing and absolutely undeserved gift! I thank You, Lord. Forever, I thank You.

But how did You do this? We hurt You, Lord! We still hurt You today. Even those of us who love You and live for You and serve You sometimes fail. And so many aren’t even trying, won’t hear Your voice, have no interest in Your will or believe that You are there.

When people hurt me, Lord, I build walls. My natural inclination is to protect myself from anyone who causes my heart pain.

But this is not Your way. And I know Your way is better. So teach me, Lord. I’m listening. Please help me understand.

Your Word says that You know how we are formed. You remember that we are dust. (See Psalm 103:14). Is this the key, Lord? You know that we are human, prone to act according to our own interests instead of in obedience to You. You know that our understanding is limited, our instincts hard to recognize and overcome. We are children still learning so much; there is so much to learn.

Is knowing this what gives You such fathomless compassion, grace, patience . . .

Hope?

Do You view us with hope, Lord? Not hope that we might be okay, like children hope they might get something for Christmas, but with that certain-knowledge-of-a-future-in-Heaven-with-You type of hope that You give to us once we chose to become Yours? No matter how we’re behaving now, You know how we’re going to turn out. Is that a kind of hope? Is hope something You can do?

Hebrews 12:2 says, “For the joy set before [Jesus], he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus endured great suffering and humiliation because of the joy that He knew would follow someday. That sounds like looking forward with certain hope to me.

Whether the terminology is right or not, it’s not something I can enjoy or apply to my relationships with difficult people. I don’t know how they will turn out. You haven’t chosen to reveal that to me. (I can see how that may be a good thing.)

But I do know that we are all formed in Your image and that we are all works in progress in Your hands—still dust. And because I know we are all in Your hands . . . and You love us . . . and You are faithful, able, and good, I can trust You, follow You, obey. I can choose to do right even when other people don’t. How else will they ever see You through me?

You loved the world so much You gave Your one and only Son that whoever believes in Jesus shall not perish but have eternal life. (See John 3:16.) I live not to protect myself from harm but to trust You with my life no matter what so that “whoever”—no matter how sinful, hurtful, or hateful—may come to believe in Jesus and enjoy eternal life with You some day.

I do want all people to come to know You, Lord. Yet sometimes I struggle over being the one You call to love them in Your name—especially if they happen to be hurting me through the process. Please continue to help me with this. In doing whatever You lead me to do, I’m learning to trust You with me.

Lord, thank You for loving so much—for sending Jesus to make our salvation possible, to teach us how to live. Help us to follow His example, loving others for Your sake. We love You, Lord. Our lives are Yours. Always. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Intentionally Removing the Bitter Root

Inch Plant Bloom“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” -Hebrews 12:15

We have an interesting plant in our yard. It’s called an Inch Plant. The flowers on this plant are a pretty shade of pink. The rest of the plant is a purplish, kind of leafy vine. It’s trying to take over the yard.

My husband has learned that if he trims the plant, he can take the trimmings and plant them in other parts of the yard where they’ll produce new plants. If he doesn’t pick up the trimmings and do something intentional with them, though, they will take root where they fall. And if he never trims the plant, it really will take over the yard—perhaps the whole neighborhood—and fast!

Bitterness is like that Inch Plant. When someone hurts us, we may choose to forgive—and even mean it. But memories tend to linger like the plant trimmings. If we don’t do something intentional with them, we may find ourselves dwelling on the memory, then on the pain. Just like that, bitterness can take root in our minds and hearts again.

Inch PlantTo be intentional, we need to take hold of the memory as soon as it forms. We need to remember that we chose to forgive and reaffirm that decision. Then we need to take the memory to God. Forgiving doesn’t mean that justice won’t be done. It means we choose to trust God’s method of handling the matter—without our action or input. We remove ourselves from the judgment seat—and even from the witness bench.

Then, instead of demanding justice or dwelling on how we were wronged, we can talk to God about how we felt when we were hurt and tell Him about whatever feelings returned with the memory. We can tell Him that we choose to forgive yet again—just as He’s forgiven us. We can ask Him to heal our hearts and take away the pain. We reaffirm our faith in God’s care and go on our way full of His peace.

Interestingly enough, God’s peace can grow and spread just like bitterness can. We can (and probably will) pass either along to the people around us, too. Rehashing a bitter memory may tempt us sometimes, but peace is a healthier option to let take root in our hearts and minds.

Father, remind me to treat bitterness like a weed and root it out whenever it appears. I choose to forgive those who’ve hurt me. I trust You to work in their lives—just as I know You are working in mine. Help me to surrender painful memories to You to cultivate Your peace in my life. Amen.

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Progressing through Hurt with Hope

Progressing

“Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression.” -Deuteronomy 26:7

I like Deuteronomy 26. It shows a common progression through life – something we all experience, yet all in different ways. It also reveals the hope that comes from trusting God through it all.

As we travel through life, we all experience times of “misery, toil and oppression.” The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt. Most of us experience different kinds of troubles, trials, and pain. If we’re wise, though, we cry out to God through these times, knowing He will hear our voices and deliver us at just the right time. He did this for the Israelites – then He did it for them again and again. He has done it for His people throughout history. He has also rescued you and me from one thing or another all through our lives. Ultimately, He’ll come a final time to take us home to heaven where all suffering will go away for good. This recurrence of pain on earth will end.

Back to life’s progression. 1) We experience some kind of suffering. 2) We cry out to God. 3) He rescues us – in His time . . . at just the right time. 4) “Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household” -Deuteronomy 26:11. We praise Him. We thank Him. We celebrate His victory on our behalf.

But that’s not all.

Verses 12 through 15 talk about living faithfully for God after He rescues us. We follow our celebration of God’s goodness and our freedom with obedience and by reaching out to others who need rescue as well. Moses told the Israelites to care for the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless, and widows. We can ask God to show us who to strengthen, encourage, and comfort in His name.

And then, (yes, there’s another then) when we least expect it while we’re still living on this earth, we’ll probably get to go through the whole process again because, as painful as it is, each time we go through it, cooperating with God’s Spirit, crying out to God, He’ll draw us closer to Him. He’ll make us more like His Son. He’ll use our experience to build new skills that we can use to minister to others more effectively. He’ll reveal His glory in and through us . . . again.

You’re probably wishing I’d have left at least the first part of that last paragraph out. Me, too. But as I struggle through a season of crying out, I’m trusting that all I’ve written there is true. Our God is in control. He sees. He hears. He uses all for good.

“You have declared this day that the Lord is your God and that you will walk in obedience to him, that you will keep his decrees, commands and laws—that you will listen to him. And the Lord has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession as he promised, and that you are to keep all his commands. He has declared that he will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations he has made and that you will be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised.” -Deuteronomy 26:17-19

We have declared that we will follow Jesus no matter what. God has declared that we are His treasure and He will keep His promises to us. This is what really matters whether we’re crying out, rejoicing, or serving others in His name.

I thank You, Lord, for Your continued interest in me. I know You will use every painful experience for good. In You all is redeemed. Please work in and through me as You want to for the glory of Your name. In Jesus, I pray. Amen.

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Book Review: “The Inheritance”

The InheritanceIt’s been too long since I’ve found the time to read a Michael Phillips book. He remains one of my favorite authors, and his newest book, The Inheritance, reminded me why. This author is a master at creating memorable settings, and his characters within them are deep. Phillips takes us right inside their heads as he draws us into each carefully crafted scene. He reveals needed information at just the right time. The story moves slowly, but precisely, to reveal essential Truth.

The Inheritance is set mostly on Whales Reef, one of Scotland’s Shetland Islands. When clan patriarch Macgregor Tulloch dies unexpectedly and without a will, the entire community is thrown into uncertainty. To make things worse, an obnoxious oil tycoon attempts to manipulate the situation in his favor, hoping to purchase the island, remove its inhabitants, and exploit its resources for himself. Only events set in motion more than sixty years before have the unexpected potential to save the islanders’ way of life and to restore what matters most.

As I reached the end of this book, it seemed to me that the whole thing was actually a prelude to the real story to be continued in the next book of this Secrets of the Shetlands series. I’m looking forward to reading it, hopefully soon! I recommend this book to fans of George MacDonald, Scottish historical fiction, and Christian fiction with a powerful take-away message for life. I thank Bethany House Publishers for sending a complimentary copy in exchange for this honest review.