When Worship Wanes and I Lose My Glasses

I’m on my second walk through Psalms this year, something to which God called me before 2017 began. (Read more about that here.) If there’s one constant through the Psalms, it is worship. Every single Psalm, in one way or another, expresses worship to God.

Why is it, then, sometimes I don’t feel like worshiping? Continue reading

The Proper Perspective on Problems

We all have problems, some big, some small, and some that feel big but are actually quite small. Some problems we bring on ourselves (like overloading our schedules), but some seem to come out of nowhere (like many illnesses).

“Pure joy” feels impossible
when I’m in the middle of
something difficult.

The Scriptures call such problems “trials” and teach us to consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds (James 1:2) because of what we gain from the experience, namely perseverance and spiritual maturity. I don’t know about you, but “pure joy” feels impossible when I’m in the middle of something difficult! The promise of increased perseverance and maturity does help, but still. But there is a greater, higher reason for our problems. Read on…

These days, most believers understand that our problems aren’t necessarily punishment for sin. They may be part of the consequences—the result of our non-Christ-centered decisions (read: sin)—or part of God’s plan to get our attention, but illness, death, even financial straits aren’t God’s retribution evidenced in His followers’ lives. In Jesus’ day, however, the standard assumption was that afflictions/problems/trials were punishment for personal or inherited sins. It was natural for people to ask, “Why is this happening to me?”

Our first reaction
is often “Why me?

But we still ask that question, don’t we? Our first reaction to a problem, our first prayer, often begins with us saying, “Look at me, Jesus! Why me?”

John 9:1-12.

There was a man who was born without sight. We don’t know the details. Did he have eyeballs? Was it more like cataracts? I always wonder these things, but it’s not important.

He was a grown man, not a little boy, which makes me think he was at least eighteen years old. Eighteen years without seeing the love in his mother’s eyes. Eighteen years without watching a sunset. Eighteen years without studying Torah.

Eighteen years of thinking he bore the guilt of his parents’ sin.

In a single moment, Jesus swept away all that guilt. Jesus tells him and everyone else why. It’s the why in all of our hearts when something tragic happens…when we, though faithful, receive that crushing diagnosis…when our world crashes around our feet. This is the answer to that pervasive question, “Why me, Jesus?” Don’t miss it!

This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. –John 9:3

It happened for God’s glory.

Likewise, my problems happen for God’s glory.

I’m sure this man’s experiences over the years produced incredible perseverance and maturity in him. I’m also sure he was thrilled to be healed and probably celebrated for days. But all these things are self-centered. They focus on him and what happened in his life.

Paul understood this concept. He had more reason to boast or call attention to himself than any other believer on the planet (2 Corinthians 12:6, Philippians 3:4-6). Yet there was this one thing, this thorn in the flesh, that God wouldn’t take away (2 Corinthians 12:7-8). He had a problem, and he eventually understood that God was using it for His own glory, which is why God wouldn’t remove it. For this reason, Paul got to where he actually delighted in that problem (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). He considered it “pure joy.”

Our best perspective on a problem
is to look for how God can be
glorified through it. (click to tweet)

When we go through problems, it’s really easy to fold inward and concentrate on how it affects us. While it’s okay to be encouraged by knowing that the testing of your faith produces perseverance, etc. (James 1:3), our best perspective on a problem is to look for how God can be glorified through it. James knew it; Paul knew it, and this unnamed, formerly-blind guy learned it along with the disciples.

All this time, we’ve been asking God the wrong question when we cry out to Him from the throes of our problems. We ask why: “Why is this happening to me?” But He’s already answered that. The better question—the one He’s sure to answer if we watch for it—is how: “How can You get the most glory from this?” It takes a change of perspective, a focus on Him rather than ourselves.

When we bind our joy to His glory, we see our problems from the proper #perspective. #NotAboutMe (click to tweet)

Oh, I like this phrase: bind our joy to His glory! You can tweet that last sentence, if you want to share this post.

What’s your reaction here? How does this make you think…or rethink…about a problem in your life? How have you seen this perspective (of God’s glory) prove true in the past?

 

 

 

The Power of Peace

The Muslim persons greets other people with As-salaam ‘alaykum, “Peace be upon you.”

The traditional Hebrew greeting is Shalom aleikhem, “Peace upon you.”

Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, hippies in America greeted each other with “peace.”

We used to live in a place where “Peace be upon you” was a standard, repeated part of our everyday interactions. We said it so often that it had no meaning. But even at its best, such a greeting offers only a wish for peace. It has no power and guarantees no outcome.

When Jesus said it, on the other hand, this phrase was profound.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. –John 14:27

Since the formation of the Hebrew nation, peace had been part of spoken blessings. The Lord told Aaron (through Moses) to speak this blessing over the people:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. –Numbers 6:24-26

Jesus’ peace is more than a
polite blessing or a wish.

With Jesus’ incarnation, the Lord turned His very literal, human face toward them/us and now, near the end of his time on earth, He gave them peace. Not just a blessing or a wish, not just a polite thing to say. This is real, almost-tangible peace that changes hearts. That’s why Jesus said He wasn’t giving as the world gave (not just a wish or blessing). Now they had the power to calm their hearts, to assuage their fears.

Imagine a grandmother on her deathbed. She has a sentimentally and financially valuable ring—one she inherited from her grandmother, one with more stories than you can remember attached to it. She places the ring in your palm and folds your fingers around it. Then, holding your fist closed with both hands, she explains how she wants you to have the ring. This is what Jesus did in that moment.

He didn’t loan them peace.

He didn’t let them look at peace but keep it for himself.

He didn’t let them take peace for a test drive and return it later.

Powerful peace was
permanently theirs.

No, powerful peace was permanently theirs. He’d been carrying this peace around with him all the time. Maybe it’s why people were so attracted to Him, why they inexplicably trusted Him. Now, He gave that peace to His disciples (without losing it for Himself). He folded their hearts around it and made it their own.

On that night, which culminated in his arrest in Gethsemane, I like to think this was a quiet, intimate moment. Jesus told the disciples that they didn’t have to be afraid. Why not? Because peace is powerful. If you’ve felt the real thing, you know it.

Later in the same conversation, Jesus returned to the subject of peace.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. –John 16:33

I’m thankful I don’t have to watch in confusion while Jesus is arrested, beaten, and killed. Even though the disciples ran, they did eventually come back. They didn’t leave the movement. Those nuggets of peace had already begun to work powerfully in their hearts.

We have the same powerful peace
that the disciples received.

My daughter had surgery last week. One of our friends was diagnosed with cancer yesterday. Our nation is still reeling from a mass shooting in Orlando. The presidential candidates snap at each other like two roosters in a cock fight. The world…at least my world…is full of trouble. It’s not the my-Savior’s-dead kind of trouble, but it can be overwhelming. On the outside, peace looks like nothing more than the wishful thinking of a polite greeting. But as believers, we have those same nuggets of peace in our hearts. Here’s the fantastically-amazing thing: Giving away peace doesn’t minimize it in the giver; if anything, it enlarges by dividing.

Let’s redefine peace as the power that comes from the presence of Jesus in our lives.

Then, let’s commandeer “peace be upon you” as an expression of our desire for others to know that same peace.

Let’s redefine peace as the power that comes from the presence of Jesus in our lives. (click to tweet)

I didn’t even touch on how His peace sustains me through these days. What does peace in a time of crisis mean to you? How does it affect your perspective on today’s world? Let me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

When “For the Good” Doesn’t Feel So Good

The conversation shifted from subject to subject, circling back, leaping forward, in the way conversations with good friends often do. My coffee was finished, and my friend had an appointment soon. It was almost time to go when she mentioned something about a women’s ministry team at our church. This team was established and had already planned an event.

I love women’s ministry! I think we, as women, need time together outside the regular routines of life, and we need spirit-filled relationships within those routines. I’m passionate about one-on-one discipleship. I’ve spoken at women’s events. I led the women’s ministry at our previous church in another state (a bigger church than where we go now). I mean, it just made sense for me to do this. How could I have been overlooked?!? Why wasn’t I asked to participate?!

I blurted, “Oh, you should have asked me to be on this team,” hiding my hurt with a smile.

She looked at me blankly, as if the thought had never occurred to her and replied, “Yeah, we should have.”

Everything I felt started with ‘I’.

As I backed out of the driveway a few minutes later, my heart was on fire. I felt ignored, insulted, isolated…and probably some other things that start with ‘I’.

I would have said ‘yes.’

My next stop was that really large department store where we all pay our dues even though we hate buying tires and tater tots under the same roof. (Okay, maybe that’s just me.) It was about ten minutes away. As I drove, I laid my aching heart before the Lord, asking Him why my friends overlooked me or perhaps even rejected me. I told God that I wanted to be asked so I would have the chance to pray about it, to decide if it was part of His will. (Does everyone see the fault in my logic here? Does everyone see the pride that still consumes me?) Then I realized that I would have probably said ‘yes’ to being on the team.

God led my mind toward the inevitable consequences of that ‘yes’: multiple evening meetings, time away from family, tasks to complete, phone calls, brain power and emotions depleted because I can’t do anything at 50%. He gently reminded me of my callings in this ‘season’ of life. Besides the ongoing and superlative tasks of being a wife and mother, I am supposed to write. That’s where I need to spend my time and energy. I need to be home with my family in the evenings. I need to pour my heart into discipling my children. I need to reserve some attention for my husband. And I need to wear my fingers out on this keyboard.

My inevitable ‘yes’ would have put
me outside the will of God.

If I had said ‘yes’ to the women’s ministry team, I would have done good work. I would have felt positive about my contribution to our church body. It would have looked Christ-like, and I would probably have garnered praise from others in our church. But I would have rejected my very-real calling as a Bible study writer. I would have been outside the purposes of God. By causing me to be overlooked, our wise Heavenly Father protected me from myself and from a pattern of disobedience that would have eventually affected all my relationships—especially my relationship with Him.

I pulled into a far-away parking space (because I can always use the extra steps) and just sat there in the car, praising God. In ten minutes, He took me from complaining and questioning to thanksgiving; isn’t that fantastic? When he prevented my invitation to the women’s ministry team, He did something good for me; it just didn’t feel so good.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. –Romans 8:28

#Confession: Sometimes “for the good” doesn’t feel so good in the moment. #NotAboutMe #GodsWill (click to tweet)

God was working this situation for my good even when it didn’t feel very good. When have you seem Him work “behind the scenes” to protect or promote you? How have you experienced the truth of Romans 8:28?

Women of the Bible: Jochebed

She lay awake in the dark, listening with one ear for soldiers’ footsteps outside her window. Her other ear strained for the slightest whimper of her new baby boy. He cried out only once before she could reach him, offering her heavy breast to calm him. She held her breath to listen, but her own heartbeat echoing in her ears blocked any other sounds. While he nursed, Jochebed resumed her silent prayer to Yahweh, the God of her ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. -Hebrews 11:23

Her tears anointed the child in her arms, a physical manifestation of her pleas for a savior. She begged God to redeem them from this slavery, from the bonds that tightened so stealthily around their necks. Her people hadn’t come to Egypt as slaves. They were God’s Chosen Ones—the Hebrews—and only entered Egypt to escape famine. But now they were tied to this place. Now even their newborn babies belonged not to them but to Pharaoh. She had cried with too many mothers as they mourned the loss of their sons, born healthy but thrown to the currents and crocodiles of that cruel river.

Somehow, he was the answer
to her prayers for a savior.

As she prayed, she felt the same confidence of the night before…and the night before that. She was doing the right thing. This child was special, not just “mama-loves-you” special but specially chosen by God. He was no ordinary child. Somehow, he was the answer to her prayers for a savior.

But how long could she keep this up? How long could she hide him in the house? His lungs were getting stronger. The neighbors were looking askance at her. And what of her older children? What if the overseers questioned Aaron and Miriam?

 

I love this story because Jochebed was a thoughtful, faithful rebel! Read more about her courage, confidence, and creativity in my guest post at My Life. His Story..

Moses’ mother was a rebel, full of courage, confidence and creativity. This is faith.(click to tweet)

At the Intersection of Curiosity and Faith

I suppose I was a late-bloomer. I didn’t become curious about God until I was nineteen. Before that, I just swallowed whatever my parents and church told me. Sure, I read the Bible (over and over). Sure, I prayed. And went to church camp. And did “mission projects” in our city. But I never asked about it. I just did it because I was supposed to, and it never crossed my mind not to believe. (Give me a little credit here: It was the Bible Belt in the 1980s. Things were different.)  When I went to college, I started rubbing shoulders with people who had the guts to say they didn’t think the same way and didn’t believe the same things.

Fancying myself far more open-minded than I actually was, I sat down with my pastor to ask him the questions punching holes in my untested faith. He told me my questions were from Satan and I shouldn’t entertain them any longer.

Yes, he did.

As I walked away from that conversation through the adjacent gravel parking lot, I wanted to vomit. I knew he wasn’t right, but I didn’t know why or how. I faced a choice. If the pastor’s words were true, if my questions were satanic in origin, then God was weak. He could be attacked and needed to be defended. I didn’t see any point in following that god (intentionally lowercase ‘g’). If the pastor’s words were false, then the church (at least that one) was afraid of the culture, afraid of being challenged and thus it was ineffective. Why would I want to be involved with that?

“If our faith can’t stand up to a
simple comparison with other
religions, what good is it?”

Around the same time, I took a Comparison of World Religions class at my very large, very secular public university. Some Christian friends discouraged me, saying it would destroy my faith. I remember asking them, “If our faith can’t stand up to a simple comparison with other religions, what good is it?” There were two Christ-followers in the class: me and a young man I vaguely recognized. We sat together. It helped, but those months were still full of jolting eye-openers as I heard how the rest of the world perceived our faith. We didn’t stand up and try to defend ourselves through shouting matches. We listened and exchanged ideas with others in the class. Ultimately, that class didn’t destroy my faith; on the contrary, it strengthened it.

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” –Albert Einstein

I can’t remember every train of thought I explored in the days following that conversation with the pastor or every puzzle I sorted through from the religions class, but over time, the many years of Bible reading paid off. I remembered Moses, who talked back to God and told Him He couldn’t kill all the Israelites (Exodus 32). I remembered Abraham, who asked, “How long do I have to wait for an heir?” (Genesis 15). I remembered Gideon, with his, “Okay, just one more test, Lord” (Judges 6). I remembered Thomas, who needed to see the holes in Jesus’ hands (John 20). All of these people doubted. All of them had questions. All of them pushed back. Every time, God took it and He answered. Not once in the Bible does God reject a follower for asking questions.

There is no challenge that leaves
God rocking on His holy heels.
(click to tweet)

So I laid all those questions out before God, side by side, and I said, “Show me!” There was no epiphany, no dramatic vision, no angelic visitation that left me trembling in my boots. And quite honestly, no straight-forward answers. Over time, however, God became bigger to me than the Bible verses from Sunday School. I pushed and pulled and prodded on every side. I learned there is no question too big to ask Him, no challenge that leaves Him rocking on His holy heels. In fact, I think He delights in the questions. Even when I run at Him in anger, screaming and crying and beating my fists against His figurative chest, He doesn’t waver. He doesn’t get offended. He doesn’t walk away. He also doesn’t always answer the question I give Him, but He does always answer–often by showing me something of Himself.

That’s what God did with Job. Job complained and debated—all without sacrificing faith. Job said (and I’m summarizing Job 29-31), “Why are you doing this to me, Lord? What did I do to deserve it?”

God didn’t respond.
He redirected.

In answer, God didn’t answer. God didn’t respond; He redirected. He said essentially, “Look at who I am.” He showed Job something of Himself (Job 38-41). Rather than frustration, Job learned to be satisfied with God. No, not satisfied…delighted. Job delighted in Who God was and God blessed him. End of story.

We’ll never have all the answers. But, as Marcelo Gleiser said, “This realization should open doors, not close them, since it makes the search for knowledge an open-ended pursuit, an endless romance with the unknown.” I think God delights in our questions because ours is a revelatory God. That means He reveals Himself to His creation…just not all of Himself. Like a couple on the precipice of marriage: gradually getting to know more of each other, culminating in full revelation on their wedding night.

Speaking of romance, I’ve been married for nineteen years. Just a few months ago, I learned my husband and I have the same favorite LifeSaver flavor. (How could I not know that, I ask myself!) It was a diminutive but delightful discovery, the kind that comes every now and then in marriage. I’ve been curious about God for even longer than I’ve been married. I’ve asked questions; I’ve waded into the tough stuff; I’ve rejected many traditional trappings in favor of authentic faith. That’s a lot of curiosity. But here’s the best part: I’m not done. I’ll never be done. I don’t want to be done.

God can handle all our questions, doubts, and fears. He stands ready to answer them, and the answer is always the same: I AM. Look: even my #testimony is #NotAboutMe, from @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Fascinated by curiosity in general? Check out this interesting scientific approach to the topic.

How have you questioned God? Did the experience strengthen or weaken your faith? Let us hear about it in the comments below!

 

wholemama

We Are Built to Last

It’s a long-standing Rubbermaid slogan: “Built to Last,” but it’s also an apt description of our life in Christ…and of wheat. Intrigued?

I had the privilege of guest posting on Walk With Me this week. You can read my full thought process *there*. Comment on that blog (I’ll reply.) or come back here (where I will also reply) to like and comment.

Enjoy!

 

Fame and Infamy: A Retelling of Luke 8:40-56 (part 2)

Two desperate people. One famous, one infamous. Both loved by Jesus. Both restored.

Intimate Impurity, Stolen Salvation

Twelve years. Twelve years of shame and judgment. Twelve years without the touch of another person. Twelve years of poking, prodding doctors who lined their purses with her desperation.

News travels fast in a small town. Continue reading

Fame and Infamy: A Retelling of Luke 8:40-56 (part 1)

News travels fast in a small town.

“Jesus is back,” the servant whispered in Jairus’ ear, hope fueling the boldness it took to disturb his distraught master. The girl, almost a woman actually, didn’t look any better than she had when Jairus sat down beside the bed hours earlier.

Jairus raised one eyebrow and sighed. Nothing else had worked. Continue reading

When It Rains

We had a lot of rain in East Tennessee this week. It reminded me of something Jesus said…

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  –Matthew 5:45b

When I was younger, rain meant we couldn’t play outside, so I thought Jesus’ comment about rain was a negative example, as in, bad things happen to both good and bad people. Later, I learned that in the ancient Near East, the sun and the rain were good things. Thus the application for us goes like this: “God gives out gifts of wisdom, talent, beauty, and skill according to his grace—that is, in a completely unmerited way.  He casts them across the human race like seed, in order to enrich, brighten, and preserve the world” (Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor, Penguin: New York, 2012. 191).  Without disputing this truth, I think the negative perspective is also true.  Consider this example… Continue reading