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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.

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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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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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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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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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The Real Value of Bible List Verses

Fruit of the Spirit

“Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.”John 6:24

I used to be a big fan of list verses. That’s my name for the Bible verses that contain lists of character traits we all want more of in our lives. For example, Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 lists ways to identify love: it’s patient, it’s kind, it does not boast, it is not proud, it does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs, it does not rejoice in evil, it rejoices in the truth, it always protects, always hopes, always trusts, always perseveres, and it never fails. Colossians 3:12 tells us what virtues to clothe ourselves in: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. In fact, verses 1-17 of that chapter are one big good stuff/bad stuff list.

All of these verses are helpful, and I am still a big fan. But over the years, there’s been a shift in my understanding of them. Now I love them for completely different reasons than I used to.

You see, I used to see them as to-do lists. I wanted to accomplish the getting of these traits into my life. My motivation was right: I wanted, and still want, to live a life that glorifies God. I thought developing these things in my life was what God wanted me to do.

The truth is, though, that I am not able to develop these things in my life. I need God to develop them in me. This is what He wants to do. God Is love, therefore His active Presence in my life produces everything on the Corinthians list. The Galatians list is called The Fruit of the Spirit for a reason; those virtues flow from Him. And even the virtues from the Colossians list come from setting our hearts on what’s above: Christ, now seated at the right hand of God. (See Colossians 3:1-4.)

The list verses have great value but not as to-do lists, things for us to generate in our lives in order to glorify God. In fact, in John 5:41, Jesus said, “I do not accept glory from human beings.” His glory comes from His work in our lives not from anything we try to do ourselves.

But when we look to Him, remain in His Presence, keep our lives rooted in His Spirit, we allow Him to work through us, producing all good things. The value of the lists comes from the way they help us recognize God’s Presence and work in our lives—or the lack of such.

The Real Value

In John 6:24, the crowds realized that Jesus wasn’t with them. They wanted what only He could offer, so they went in search of Him. We can do the same thing. When we realize that our lives aren’t as loving as they should be, that the Spirit isn’t producing fruit in us, that our spiritual clothing is becoming tattered, that’s our cue to drop everything we’re doing and seek Jesus with all our hearts. The Christian life is all about learning to be where Jesus is all of the time, so that He can continue to work in and through us for His glory and our good and the good of everyone around us. The lists, lists of things God produces, help us identify problems, so that we can know when we need to draw closer to our God.

When the crowds found Jesus, He gave them the only to-do list we need:

“Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’

“Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’” -John 6:28-29

We stick close. We believe. He makes us into people who bring Him glory.

Father, thank You for inspiring Paul and others to give us lists that help us see how closely we’re living to You. When we recognize actions and attitudes that don’t come from You, from Your Spirit, from above, help us to act on that cue to talk to You, to read Your Word, to enjoy worship and fellowship with Your people who are doing the same. More of You in our lives, Lord. That is all we need. Amen.


Do you want to learn more about drawing closer to God through prayer throughout each day? Read Parachute Prayer: The Practice of Praying Continually. Click here to learn more.

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Life Preserving God’s Way

Luke 17-33

“Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.” -Luke 17:33

In how many ways do we try to preserve our lives?

  • Scrapbooks
  • Journals
  • Mementos
  • Strict Routines
  • Safe Choices (no risks)
  • Shrines to the Past
  • Refusals to Let Go or to Try Something New
  • On-line Friendships (the comforting illusion of never saying good-bye)

I think I must confess I tend to be a life preserver. A memory keeper. A chronicler. I love taking pictures and journaling memories. I love keeping in touch with friends far away, hearing what’s new in their lives. I’m also a big fan of predictable routines.

Is that always bad? I don’t think so. Some things are worth preserving in some form when we can. In several places in the Bible, God told His people to practice rituals or build monuments that would help them remember. He knew and still knows that memories of what He has done for His people build trust and identity. They also give God’s people the opportunity to pass the story on to the next generation so they can enjoy knowing and trusting God, too. There is a time and a purpose to save: when it reminds us of what God has done, when it reminds us of who we are, when it reminds us from where we came, when it helps us to love or to teach. Without memories, there is no identity, no attachment, no meaning.

Just before Christmas last year, I found some old e-mails I’d printed out and kept many years ago. My grandmother had told me to write down cute things the boys did and said while they were little because otherwise I’d forget. Instead I kept copies of the daily e-mail messages I was sending to my mom. (This was before Facebook, text messaging, digital photography, or camera phones; e-mail was the new, great thing, and I was so thankful for it.) I was writing the messages because we were separated by a full continent, and I wanted my parents to know their grandkids. I kept copies as a simple way of following Grandma’s advice, but I never reread them until the end of last year.

And then I laughed myself silly, wondering as I did how I survived raising kids. Mothers of littles, you are heroes! As I consider each of my grown sons, I can testify, just in case you’re tempted to doubt, it’s worth every melted M & M staining the carpet, near death of a small rodent rescued just in time from testing a homemade parachute, and Brer Rabbit superglue incident broadcast by speaker phone to a room full of strangers.

If you don’t believe I mean this, let me remind you that my husband and I are preparing to adopt a sibling group and go through it all over again (hopefully minus the stains, rodents, and superglue—I’m trusting our new additions will come up with something surprising and new just as each of our boys did in turn). Raising kids, helping them reach their potential, watching them grow and mature—always worthwhile, no matter what. I’d be willing to raise mine again, but they’re doing just fine where they are . . . and so, as God is leading, my husband and I will raise some more. (I thank you for your prayers.)

Life Preserving Gods Way

I think that’s the key here. Preserving what was and what is as it is takes energy. Jesus wants us to use that energy to follow Him instead. He doesn’t want us to preserve what we’re going to lose anyway. He wants us to live! Just as I’ve raised my kids and they are living their own lives, I must continue to live mine. Do I enjoy the occasional visit with stories and pictures and memories? Yes. But my home is not a shrine to what was. It is a place where people live, now, doing whatever their hands find to do in Jesus’ name. We need to view our churches and work within our communities in the same way.

We can’t go back into the past. We can’t take the past into the future. We have to let go. And when we do, we get to enjoy all the new adventures Jesus is leading us into—ultimately, in Heaven with Him.

In any moment, all we try to preserve may be gone forever. If that is all we have, then we’ll be left with nothing when that moment comes. But moments devoted to Jesus are preserved—by Him—for all eternity. We can trust Him to save what matters as we live every moment for Him.

Jesus, thank You for this warning. Help us to live for You now, faithfully following wherever you lead. We’re entrusting our past, present, and future to You. You are absolutely worthy. Amen.

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Thanking God for What He Gives Us to Give

Thankful Giving

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’”Matthew 26:26

A new thought occurred to me when I read this passage yesterday morning. As many times as I’ve read the story of the Last Supper and heard it read during communion celebrations at church, I’m surprised—and thrilled—to have a new concept to consider. For me, it has come at just the right time. (Our God tends to work that way.) My husband and I are fairly new empty-nesters, entering what some generational researchers are starting to call our second adulthood. It’s a tempting time, a time when people are tempted to say, “We’re done! Let’s go play for the rest of our lives.” But we’ve still got a lot of life left in us—at least we still feel like we do—most days. We’re asking God how He wants us to spend this next phase of our life and thanking Him for every opportunity to serve.

This is how Jesus taught His followers to live. His actions at the Last Supper are the prime example for all of us.

Matthew 26:26 tells us that Jesus took the bread and gave thanks. I’ve always pictured this as Him saying grace before the meal, thanking God for the food as many of us do. But what I noticed yesterday was that, in this instance, Jesus didn’t give thanks for what He was about to receive, like we do at meals. He wasn’t simply and routinely thanking God for food that He was getting ready to ingest. Look more closely here. He gave thanks for what was already His, for what He was able and preparing to give—His life for us. Jesus gave thanks—then He gave.

Jesus gave thanks for the bread that represented His body which He gave away. He gave thanks not for what He had to keep for Himself but for what God had given Him to give away— to save everyone else.

It occurs to me that if we want to be more like Jesus, we have to realize that life isn’t about collecting and keeping and giving thanks for what we claim as ours. It’s about thanking God for the resources He provides that enable us to participate in His plan to provide for others wherever we see a need: our money, our time, our strength, our ideas, anything we think we possess. We trust God to care for us; we use His gifts to care for others in His name. And we celebrate the blessing of being able to do so. We give God our thanks.

First Peter 4:10 says it this way: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

What gifts has God given you that you can thank Him for and give away in Jesus’ name? Ask Him for what purpose He has graciously placed various resources in your care. Ask Him to help you use them to meet needs, and thank Him for every opportunity you seize.

Father, thank You for all of the resources You’ve entrusted to our care. Show us how to share them for the benefit of others, for the health of Your Kingdom now. In Jesus, we pray. Amen.

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Finding Grace for Me

Finding Grace for Me“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.”Psalm 103:8-9

My philosophy of illness and injury doesn’t always work out well for me. While I’m usually pretty compassionate with others, telling them to take it easy and get the rest they need, so they can recover more quickly, I’m more likely to tell myself to just walk it off. In fact, I read somewhere that you can run off a cold, so I try to keep up with my running routine even if I have to stop every few steps to blow my nose. I try to keep up with all of my other expectations for myself, too, believing on some level that if I stop to rest, I’ll succumb to the illness or injury. I’d rather outrun it.

But like I said, this doesn’t always work out well for me. This week I had to give in and rest.

I haven’t been happy about this.

At first, I tried to console myself with the thought that forced relaxation was giving me an excuse to enjoy more guilt-free reading time. But even as I was saturating my mind in great books—really great books!—I was scolding myself for not being more disciplined. The floor needed to be vacuumed. I had a blog post to write. Minimum maintenance was not enough! My lecture to myself went on and on.

Then one of the authors of one of those great books I was reading included Psalm 103 in his work, and God drew my attention to the beginning of verse 9: He will not always chide.

Psalm 103 is one of the most beautiful expositions of the character of God and His stance toward His children one can find in the whole Bible. (If you haven’t read it in a while, click here to read it in the English Standard Version at BibleGateway.) It reveals His justice and righteous, His mercy and grace, His love and compassion and patience—all given in perfect parental balance. He expects obedience because He wants what is best for us, yet He remembers that we are dust and provides for us what we cannot while helping us grow stronger every day.

He will not always chide. He knows that would only discourage us. There will always be something we can improve on.

When I realized that I was expecting more of myself than God expects of me, I stopped. He and I had a long talk about the situation. God helped me to see that though I was calling myself undisciplined, there are some things I am extremely disciplined about—even in illness. And so I made a list.

It’s what I do.

I made a list of everything I expect or want myself to do routinely. Then I put stars by the ones I’m already disciplined about, activities I do so routinely that I can’t even imagine not doing them. There were quite a few, and most of these were the ones I would consider most important on the list. I realized that labelling myself undisciplined, especially while sick, was unfair and untrue. I may struggle to be disciplined in a few areas of my life, but generally, I am a disciplined person.

Realizing this, I decided to stop scolding myself. Instead I tried offering myself the grace that God already gave.

From that stance, God and I went over the rest of my list together. I chose one item on the list to focus on for now. My goal will be to incorporate it into my routine as diligently as the items that I’ve already put stars beside. At the same time, I’ll still be aware of the other items on my list. I’ll keep trying to incorporate those as well, but, with God’s help, I will remember that though I’m not doing these as perfectly as I’d like to, I am doing them well enough. At some point in the future, as God leads, when my current focus item has become something I can’t imagine not doing routinely, I’ll turn my focus to another item on my list.

And when I can’t get to everything, I will not chide. Instead I’ll seek God’s grace toward me.

  • In what area of your life is God offering grace while you are not?
  • What do you tend to chide yourself about?
  • What will you do to discover God’s opinion on the matter?
  • How is He calling you to obey?

Father, sometimes I expect too much of myself. I expect myself to be able to do what I would never expect, counsel, or even want other people to do, knowing it is too much. I expect more of me than even You do—and You know what I’m capable of. You created me. You know me better than I know myself. You have good plans for me. You love me just as I am. When I catch myself chiding myself, draw my attention to You. Help me to seek Your opinion on the matter and to respond obediently. I guess obedience isn’t being more perfect than I am. It’s humbly doing what I can as You lead—and trusting You with the rest. Please help me with this. I thank You, Lord. Amen.