Learning, Reading, and Looking Ahead

One of our nightly routines around the dinner table is to share something we’ve learned that day. Mostly my kids stick to stuff they read or learned to do in school. A lot of times it’s– “Mom, um, what was that thing we did today?”

“Subtraction with borrowing?”

“Yeah, right. That!”

And often it involves something ridiculous (“It hurts if my brother sits on my head”) or something gross (“I learned what happens when you squeeze a pimple!”) or something that results in a reprimand (I wish they would learn that they shouldn’t share bathroom information at the table).

But truly, this has been a great conversation starter for us. When I first started seeking to make family dinners more of a priority, we all kind of sat there . . . and ate . . . and looked at each other . . . and then raced away. But most nights now we end up lingering, deep in conversations that spring up from whatever someone learned. Sometimes we never get past the first person sharing, because we get sidetracked and end up just talking about television or what we’re reading.

I’ve found myself deliberately looking for books and podcasts that will teach me stuff so that I have something to share at dinner time. Instead of having Angry Ranger write a paragraph about the country he’s studying in geography, I’ll have him find something new and interesting to share at dinner. We both win– he doesn’t have to write yet another paragraph and I don’t have to correct one!

Anyway, I’ve so enjoyed sharing what I’ve been learning with my family, that it felt like a natural subject for my blog. Maybe it’ll become a regular feature, although you know me and regular features. I’m not so much a regular feature kind of girl. I’m more of a “wait, what? I have a blog?” kind of girl.

This week I’ve learned–

  1. That the root of the word arctic has its roots in the Greek word for bear, because of the constellation Ursa Major that is found in the north. I learned this from the podcast The Allusionist, which I have recently begun listening to. I have only listened to a couple episodes, and would like to warn you that she uses a little bit of questionable language.
  2. That if you want to kiss the Blarney Stone, you have to lean back over a drop with someone holding your feet. This one was from Angry Ranger, who was researching castles in Ireland today for school.
  3. That a major artery that is blocked 60% is apparently not a cause for much alarm. I learned this from my dad’s heart doctor after Dad had a heart catheterization on Tuesday.
  4. That horse jockeys in the thirties went to incredibly unhealthy lengths to stay light enough to keep their jobs, including starving themselves, purposely becoming horribly dehydrated, and running for miles on hot days while dressed in winter clothing and wrapped in blankets. This came from Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand, which I am currently reading.
  5. That the word osculate means “to kiss.” I learned this from Angry Ranger. He read his story out loud, and pronounced it oscillate, which of course I knew did not mean anything about kissing, so I was super confused. He was pretty impressed he knew a word I didn’t know. I would have been more impressed if it wasn’t a kissing word. Teenagers.
  6. That the Doctor Who episode “Blink” is still possibly the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen. I hope the kids can sleep tonight!
  7. That I am not a fan of earthquakes. We felt the Oklahoma one this morning, and I felt slightly nauseated for almost an hour afterward! It was the weirdest thing, like the house was suddenly sitting on a trampoline.

What I’m reading right now:

  1. Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand. I’m surprised by how much I’m enjoying this, although I’m less surprised than I would have been before I read Unbroken by the same author. She has this amazing way of drawing you in so that you start caring a whole lot about something you didn’t care about at all before. I think I’m about halfway through it, and it’s definitely been hard to put down. I’ve had to start leaving it upstairs in my room so I don’t pick it up and read instead of doing the Important Stuff like making dinner and teaching the small people.
  2. The Pastor’s Kid by Barnabas Piper. Barnabas is John Piper’s adult son. I’m only a couple chapters into this book, and it’s kind of fascinating to read it as someone who is a pastor’s kid and is raising three pastor’s kids. So far I’m discovering that the dramatic change in my walk with God as an adult (just within the last few years) is actually pretty normal for pastor’s children.
  3. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saveedra. I’m not actually reading this one; I’m listening to it on audiobook. On Monday I finished listening to Moby Dick. I am loving audiobooks for moments when my hands are busy but my mind isn’t. Lots more housework gets done when I have a good book to listen to. I decided to limit myself to big old classics I probably wouldn’t pick up otherwise, and I have to admit that this afternoon I did giggle at something in Don Quixote. I really kind of wish I knew Spanish and could listen to it in its original language.
  4. The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. I don’t know exactly how to describe this book; Annie Dillard writes about nature and her thoughts and her life. I love this book for my pre-bedtime reading, because it’s interesting but not so riveting I can’t put it down, and the chapters are divided into pretty small chunks for those nights when I’m falling asleep before I get past the first sentence. It’s a very fascinating look at nature, but it goes a lot deeper than that. I definitely don’t agree with her philosophy about a whole lot of stuff, but I enjoy her writing style and am fascinated with what she writes about.

What’s on my plate next week:

  1. Starting week four of Couch to 5K! I have to run for five minutes at a time this week, which sounds scary.
  2. Starting our new kids’ program at our church with a picnic and family game night! Eek!
  3. Starting homeschool co-op for the year– I’m teaching a math program (hahahaha) called Crazy8s for 3rd and 4th grade and a speech class for middle schoolers. I suppose I should do some sort of lesson plan for that.

And with that, I suppose I should move on to the Next Thing. Which is, thankfully, going to bed. Woot woot! I am a fan of going to bed.

Failure, Pride, and God’s Agenda

I wonder sometimes how much I am missing because I am so single-minded in my pursuit of my own personal agenda. What is the voice of my Shepherd saying to me that I can’t hear because I think I know what He’s going to say? Because I know what I want Him to say and have convinced myself that that’s what He is saying?

On Sunday evenings at church we’ve been studying Jesus’ last night on earth through the lens of His clueless disciples, and I have been brought up short time and again by their foolishness and its painful similarity to my own. I wonder how much different their response to the cross would have been if they had just listened to Jesus as He warned them what was coming and tried to prepare them.

How much different would Peter’s response have been if he had spent more time humbly listening and less time brashly arguing? Surely if Peter, James, and John had been paying attention to the heartbreaking grief of their Teacher they would not have fallen asleep when He asked them to pray.

But they didn’t pay attention. They had their idea about what Jesus was going to do– overthrow Rome and destroy all Israel’s enemies and rule in might from Jerusalem. And no matter how much He tried to tell them that He had come to overthrow Satan and to destroy death and sin and to serve and to give His life, the disciples just couldn’t see past their own plans and actually hear Him.

Jesus! You’re not going to die! What are you even talking about?

Jesus! Let us have thrones on Your right hand and Your left!

Jesus! Don’t wash my feet! What are You doing?

Jesus! I will never deny You or leave You alone!

Jesus! We do not know where You are going, so how can we know the way?

Zzzzzzzzzzzzz . . . .

Don’t worry, Jesus! I’ll just chop off this guy’s ear and everything will be okay! See? I said I’d fight for You!

It would be almost funny, if it weren’t such a painful picture of my own distracted heart. Because these men that Jesus had poured wisdom and love and truth into for three years deserted Him in fear. Though He had taught them and warned them, they were taken completely off guard when the test came, and they failed utterly.

I do not know that man.

When it counted, Peter failed. After all his big words, he denied Christ– not once, but three times; not just with words, but with fierce anger and vulgarity.

Oh, I have been Peter. Because I too have fallen into the trap of thinking I knew what God was doing, and then getting very angry and falling into sin when it turned out that God had a different plan. And looking back I can always see how God has been preparing me for just this— but because I was focused on something else I missed it entirely.

How it must grieve my Lord’s heart when I fail to trust Him, fail to obey, to stand up, to do what is right, though He has been preparing and teaching me for this very thing. I am so thankful for the hope we have. For Peter, the denial and the bitter tears afterwards were what it took to humble him to the depths, and that was exactly where he needed to be.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it is Peter who gives us these words–

 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.

Humility means not arguing with God. It means serving others, and allowing myself to be last. It means stopping in me tracks when God warns me through His Word or through another person that I am in trouble. It means closing my mouth and listening to what God is saying, regardless of whether it aligns with what I think He should be saying. It means praying when God tells me I should be praying.

And humility means turning back to the Lord when I have sinned. Surely some of the hardest moments of Peter’s life came when He came face to face with the Lord he had betrayed. But for once in his life, Peter came quietly and humbly, and He looked in Jesus’ face and saw– forgiveness. Second chances. Grace upon grace, abounding where all Peter’s sin had left deep craters of guilt and despair and hurt. That grace changed Peter, and when the Holy Spirit filled him, Peter was never the same again.

He was done seeking first place, seeking to be right, seeking to be safe. Peter counted it as a privilege to suffer for the sake of the One who had suffered for him. Finally his priorities and his plans were lined up with God’s, and God used him mightily.

What if I allowed God to take away my blindness, to see what He wants me to see, to hear His words? What if I humbled myself in faith, trusting His mighty hand to guide my life and protect my heart?  What if I made God’s agenda my own, and refused to go my own way?

I feel like this might change everything.

Currently– September 2016

It’s been awhile since I blogged. Last week our family went camping for a few days, complete with many fun adventures including hiking down near-vertical hills, rain and drizzle and general dampishness, tangled kite strings, and a game of Scattergories in which one of the favorite answers was Engelbert and Bob Save Christmas. After the crazy summer we had, a week off was just what the doctor ordered, and now here we are on September 1, getting back into our routine and looking forward (kind of) to the full force of all our fall activities starting next week.

Today I’m starting back to writing in my blog more faithfully, I hope, and I thought a Currently post would be a good way to get back into the swing of it.

Current Books: Right now I’m enjoying Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. I recently finished Ben-Hur and the audio version of Moby Dick. My new audiobook is Don Quixote, which I might be listening to for the next five years.

Current Playlist: I’m really enjoying podcasts while I do housework or drive places. Anne Bogel’s What Should I Read Next gave be both of my current books, and I just this week started listening to The Allusionist. Also still listening to Daily Audio Bible.

Current Shame-Inducing Guilty Pleasure: The bajillion books I read last week while we were on our little vacation. Including three YA novels, because sometimes you just gotta go light. Also Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix.

Current Colors: I don’t feel particularly excited about any colors right now, although it is now September and I’m looking forward to fall foliage.

Current Food: Grapes. I’m obsessed with grapes.

Current Drink: Water. And coffee. And water.

Current Favorite Favorite: Hugs from my children. And flip-flops, which is sad, because flip-flop weather will soon be at an end and I’ll have to cram my feet back into stupid shoes again.

Current Wishlist: A haircut, a cleaning lady, and a date night with my husband.

Current Needs: I don’t know. Self-discipline comes to mind. LOL

Current Triumph: Getting through about 96% of yesterday’s to-do list

Current Bane-of-my-Existence: Organization and busyness and how I use my time. I’m working through the book Homeschooling at the Speed of Life and trying to figure out how to do all the things God has given me to do without losing my mind. Also my son is working on this train model thing and was just hammering in his room. Before 7am. Also math.

Current Crazy Thing: Our whole family is doing the Couch to 5K program. I’m not the worst runner in the family, but I’m definitely not the best either. We started in the middle of the Iowa summer heat and humidity, so that’s been a joy. LOL

Current Mood: Pretty happy. I’ve been studying God’s grace in my devotions this week, and it’s hard to study God’s grace and not be happy.

Current #1 Blessing: God’s patience with me. I test it regularly. It’s still there. The steadfast love of the Lord NEVER ceases, can I get an Amen?

Current Outfit: Still in my pj’s. It’s only 7am.

Currently On My Mind: Getting ready for our church’s new children’s ministry, which starts next week, as well as the classes I need to plan for our homeschool co-op, which also starts next week.

Current Quote: “God does not expect me to pour out anything He has not already poured into me.”

Current Photo:
IMG_2884

This is us on a hike last week. The grass was well over my head for part of the trip, and I feel like it’s kind of a miracle we didn’t lose Pooka.

Current Reality: I started this blog post at 6:30, and now it’s 12:15 and I’m just finishing it up. This is homeschooling. LOL

God of Delight

He brought me out into a broad place;
he rescued me, because he delighted in me.

Here is a truth that I feel like I can never fully grasp– that my God delights in me. Spending, as I do, all my time with myself, I know just how extremely un-delightful I can be. I won’t pretend to know my own heart, but I will say that the more God reveals of the inner workings of my life, the less delightful I realize I am.

And yet, somehow, this great Creator of all things– this Almighty God, whose voice is like thunder and hail and burning coals— this Lord for whom only one “holy” does not suffice, whose throne room is filled with the songs of angels crying out “Holy! Holy! Holy!“– this God who is so far above me that He knows all the stars of all the galaxies by name— this amazing, awe-inspiring Master of all things knows me, and more than that, He finds delight in me.

This God loves me so much that He did the unthinkable for me– He sacrificed His own Son for my rescue. His own Son– the only truly delightful person to ever walk the earth– perfect and sinless and compassionate and deserving of nothing short of all the honor and all the glory for all eternity– how He humbled Himself for my sake! I do not know any words to describe the agonizing mercy of the cross. The price of my rescue was incomprehensibly high. And yet– He delights in me.

What is there for me to do but to worship this amazing God? How can I withhold even the smallest part of myself from the adoration and service of this merciful and gracious Lord? The only response that makes any sense– the only reasonable act of worship— is to offer my whole self as a living sacrifice.

But I am so inclined to climbing off the altar– to singing “I Surrender All” even while I’m contemplating my escape. I am so foolish in my rebellious neglect of the cross I am called to bear— the gentle and easy yoke of my meek and lowly and loving Savior— in favor of my own ridiculous burdens that drag me down and cause me such sorrow and heartache.

Here is where I must return– always here: daily worship of the great God of the universe, for as I come face to face with His holiness and His greatness and His love and His justice and His delight in me I am made humble and willing again to draw near and take once again His yoke. I must return always to daily confession, falling again before Him, naming my sins and claiming His forgiveness, repenting again and turning back into the path He has called me to walk. I must return again and again to Scripture– to His Word of truth that sanctifies me.

All of this for love, for the love of Him who made me, who paid the price of my ransom though I was never worthy of such a price being paid. All this for the love of Him who delights in me. How can I not delight in Him?

He becomes daily the desire of my heart.

What If . . .

Perspective

What if this heart that is breaking
Is opening up to know grace?
What if these eyes that feel blinded
Are seeing the light of His face?

What if these hands that are empty
Are soon to be filled with His gifts?
What if this ground that is shaking
Brings me nearer to God as it shifts?

What if the hard place I’m fighting
Is really the cleft in the rock?
What if this narrow valley
Is a pasture where He feeds His flock?

What if wind that is blowing
Creates a song only emptiness sings?
What if the darkness I’m cursing
Is the shadow of His wings?

What if in sorrow and hardship
I trusted and refused to fear?
What if out of all the suffering
Jesus’ face is about to appear?

And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.

2016 by Erin Jo Kilmer
togetherforgood.wordpress.com

The God of Peace

As we consider God’s prescription for fear and worry, we discover that God has even more for us than even peace that surpasses all understanding. He so often desires to give us so much more than we even think of asking for! This amazing God of love and compassion wants to give us more than just peace– He wants to give us His very presence, that we might be held safe and sound.

In my last post, we looked at God’s instructions for accessing the peace of God– His description of what it really means to have faith that can turn away from fear and choose peace instead. As we found in Philippians 4:4-7, faith rejoices, stays calm, gives thanks, and brings each request to God. Today we turn our attention to verses 8 and 9, in which Paul teaches us the secret of drawing near to the very presence of the God of peace.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Step 5: Faith Fills Its Mind with What Is Good

I struggled for years with my thought life– with this guilty knowledge that I was expected to control my thoughts, but without any kind of real understanding of how to do that. Scripture says to set your minds on things above, but I had no clue how to do that when my mind was continually being inundated with things of the earth. Controlling my actions was hard enough– how was I supposed to control something as nebulous as my thoughts?

This understanding has come to me over time, and I certainly still struggle with a mind that is so very full of earth. However, as I look back, in God’s grace He has given me a good deal of victory in the area of my thoughts, teaching me this process of dealing with thoughts that are impure, unholy, doubtful, or filled with fear or worry.

Recognize, name, and confess sinful thoughts. At first this is a near-constant process. This is what it means, I believe, to take every thought captive. When I realize I have succumbed to worry, I need to call it what it is– a sinful lack of faith– and confess it to God. (The same is true for any other sin of the mind, be it lust, anger, envy, discontentment, pride, etc. I believe the steps to overcoming those sins are the same as for overcoming worry and fear.)

Turn away from things that tend to cause sinful thoughts. Obviously, we cannot turn away from all of the responsibilities and circumstances of our lives that tend to cause us worry. But we can choose what we allow into our homes and our minds. I can turn off music when it includes ideas or words that I don’t want in my mind. I can stop reading a book that is full of inappropriate relationships or racy descriptions. I can be more selective about what I watch on television. I can unsubscribe from blogs or withdraw from social media if I realize that what I’m reading or seeing makes me feel jealous or discontent. And if my thought life is a real, ongoing struggle for me, then I can find a friend to hold me accountable to do those things.

Turn toward things that cause holy thoughts. Paul gives us a list of what we should think about– what is true, what is honorable, what is just, what is pure, what is lovely, what is commendable, what is excellent, what is praiseworthy. Once I have recognized and confessed an impure or incorrect thought, I need to replace it with a pure and correct thought. What does this look like? Well, for me, most often it means Scripture. If I am struggling with fear, then I focus on a verse that speaks to my fear– I am with you always, even to the end of the age; or nothing is able to pluck [you] out of my hands; or nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing is more true than Scripture, and the truth of God’s Word is able to drive out the lies of the enemy and the world and our own deceitful hearts. That is why it is so important to hide God’s Word in our hearts. I truly believe it is our best defense against worry, fear, doubt, impurity, and deceitfulness in our thought lives.

Other ways we can fill our minds with what Paul tells us to think about include reading good books– books on Christian topics, yes, but also just good books— books that are excellent and lovely and commendable. We can deliberately put beautiful things around us in our homes or workspace– even on our phones– things that draw our attention back to what is pure and lovely. We can fill our homes with music that is excellent and praiseworthy and full of truth.

All of this is a deliberate choice. It will not happen by accident. It requires us to be submitted to God, willing to sacrifice whatever God requires in order to have our thoughts made holy– that we might find ourselves in the presence of God. And it is a process that will not happen overnight. God call us to be faithful in the midst of the battle, trusting that the outcome will be what He has promised.

Step Six– Faith Obeys

Paul told the Philippian church to follow his example, doing the things he had taught them and shown them and lived out before them. Basically, he told them to obey– to live out their faith. The book of James is full of this idea– that our faith must result in action or it’s not really faith. Faith is not just a warm fuzzy feeling; it is a catalyst that causes change and action in our lives.

I have spent many mornings pouring 0ut my fears and anxieties before God, only to have His Spirit gently remind me that I have not obeyed Him where He has led me. So often my worry and unsettled feelings are the result of a bothered conscience. Here is a truth that I fight against far too often: If I am disobedient to God’s clear leading, then I will not have access to the presence of the God of peace. Disobedience is turning away from God. How can I expect to come into His presence when I am turning away from Him?

A real faith that leads to real peace in God’s presence says “How high?” when God says “Jump,” knowing that if God says to jump there’s a good reason for it. A real faith obeys the Word of God when it says “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth,” or “Go into the world and make disciples,” or “Be subject to the authorities . . . for those that exist have been ordained by God,” or “Love your neighbor as yourself.” A real faith obeys when the Holy Spirit’s prompting says to turn off that television show, call that friend you had a fight with, close your mouth, share your faith.

And this is the real faith that ushers us into the presence of God, where we experience His great and sufficient power in our weakness, His glorious beauty and holiness, and the peace and security that can only be found when we are near to the God of all comfort.

Friend, if you long to be nearer to the God of peace, it’s time to stop merely longing and let that longing drive you to doing. Believe that He wants to comfort you and be near to you. He sent His Son to die for you to allow you this priceless access to His presence! Believe that He has given you clear directions to His presence. Think about what He commands you to think about. Do what He commands you to do. And discover the joy that comes in the holy presence of the God of peace.

The Peace of God

I love the book of Philippians. I’ve probably studied it more than any other book in my Bible, and it’s all marked up and underlined and circled and notated because it seems like every time I turn there God teaches me something new.

Last fall, when I was facing a very real battle with fear and anxiety, God brought me back to Philippians 4 once again. I don’t know how many times I’ve read this passage– I have memorized most of it at one time or another– but last October is when I really came to an understanding that here was a prescription for worry, fear , and anxiety.

Sometimes I get frustrated by believers (and even Scripture passages) that say things like “trust God” but don’t explain how I’m supposed to do that. I’m a practical girl. I want to trust God, but I need to know what that looks like. I think for a lot of years I thought of faith as a satisfied, contented feeling of happy trust. Like that awesome feeling I have always had when my dad hugs me. The problem is, I seldom have that feeling when I really need to have faith. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t force myself to feel happy and contented and satisfied. Especially when I’m scared, worried, and being attacked by an enemy with a seemingly endless supply of fiery darts of doubt.

That’s why it was such a beautiful thing when God brought me to Philippians 4 and showed me that here is God’s way to combat and overcome fear. Over the next two blog posts, we will look at how to find the peace of God, and how to know the God of peace. God’s peace, that passes all understanding, is available to us today as we seek to obey God’s instructions in this passage.

 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Step One: Faith Rejoices

How do you rejoice when you’re in a deep valley, when you’re surrounded? This verse is clear that we are not just to rejoice when things are awesome. We are supposed to rejoice always— which means in sorrow, in fear, want, in desperation. This is audacious rejoicing. It is opening up my mouth and singing every song about joy I can think of out loud even when I’m scared. It is turning up the music and dancing around the kitchen with my daughter. It is writing down a list of who God is and what He has done, that I may have something to focus on. It is saying out loud, “Lord, I praise you for this trial.” It is praying for joy and then living like I have it until I start to feel it. This joy comes from the Lord, and it is a great strength when we are weak.

Step Two: Faith Stays Calm

I had to do a little bit of word study on the word reasonableness up there in the quoted Scripture. It is translated multiple ways in different version of Scripture: gentleness, gentle spirit, moderation, graciousness, humility, forbearance, fairness, modesty. All of these words speak to me of the quietness of faith. In a hard time, in a battle, in fear, faith is still gentle and compassionate and gracious. How convicting is this? I know that I am so prone to freak out on my kids when I’m experiencing worry. Instead I need to pray for God to set a watch over my lips. I need to do all those things I tell my kids to do when they’re upset and about to lose their temper– to take a deep breath, to count to ten, to get some exercise, to pray. I am reminded of the verse In gentleness and quietness is your strength. And of the loving example of Christ, who opened not His mouth even when accused. If I pray in the morning for God to guard my lips, He never fails to remind me when I’m about to open them to say something unkind or cutting or angry. I have also found that quiet music playing in my home helps me to stay calmer.

Step Three: Faith Gives Thanks

Gratitude is a major antidote to worry. “Count Your Blessings” isn’t just a good hymn. It is a way of life that protects us from fear and anxiety as we discipline ourselves to bring to mind the good things the Lord has given us. Speak your gratitude out loud, or write it down. If you can’t think of anything to be thankful for, turn to Psalm 103 and thank the Lord for His benefits. Turn to Ephesians 1 and thank Him for the spiritual blessings we have in Christ. Nothing can change these things. Make a list. Make a poster. Take pictures of special gifts and post them where you’ll see them. Write a note to a friend and tell her why you thank God for her.

Step Four: Faith Brings Every Request to God

Pray! Pray pray pray pray! Pray out loud and pray silently. Pray for an hour and pray for ten seconds. Pray alone and pray with a friend. Pray every time the worries come to your mind. Tell God you are casting your cares on Him and that you believe He will care for you. Ask Him to help your unbelief. Tell Him every single little thing that is filling you with fear and worry. And enlist the help of other prayer warriors. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again here– prayer is the thing in my life that has made the biggest difference in my walk with God.

As we do these things– as we rejoice, be still, give thanks, and pray– God promises that His peace will guard our hearts and minds. Isn’t that what we need when we are in the valley, in the battle, in the desert? Something to guard our hearts and our minds? This peace– it is beyond understanding, and it shines out to the world around us as God works in our lives in the midst of our sorrow, our fear, and our anxious moments.

Friend, you do not have to give in to fear, to worry. Trust and obey. Test your good Father, and see if He will not pour out His peace on you as you walk in obedience to His good plan.

Faith in the Fog

faint fringes fogIt’s foggy out my kitchen window this morning. The window nearest me faces east, and many mornings I sit and watch the sky change from black to deep indigo to dark blue to fiery red and orange before regular old daylight streams through. Keeping an eye on the sunrise while I have my quiet time is one of my favorite things to do.

But this morning, the sky changed from black to indigo to gray. The trees are fuzzy and indistinct against their nondescript backdrop, and they are perfectly still in the early morning mist. Some mornings are like that. And some mornings bring raindrops rolling down that window; they bring storms and and high wind, dark skies and thunder. Some clear and hot mornings the sky goes from dark to light with no glorious flash of sunrise beauty.

My favorite days are the sunrise days, of course. The days when I glance up and see brilliant orange and pink and golden clouds, when it takes my breath away and I have to stand up and go to the window to get a better look. It always feels like this beautiful reminder that I am not just sitting here, crazy early, scribbling away in a journal– that I am meeting with God and that He is here. Sunrises always feel like a personal gift to me from their Creator– my Creator. He gives this jaw-dropping beauty and the eyes to see that it declares His glory.

But today, with its fuzzy fog making everything out my window drab and nondescript, is not an indication that God is not with me. How foolish would I be to look up at the sky and think that because there is fog, I am here alone. The reality is that God is always near me, whether He chooses to send me an extra hug via the Sunrise Express or not. He is with me when the lightning flashes and the wind whips the trees and I wonder if the power will go out and I get distracted by the romantic idea of having my quiet time by candlelight (until I remember that the coffee pot requires electricity). He is with me when the sky is uniform iron gray and cold with the promise of snow and ice. He is with me regardless of the weather.

All of this feels so basic, so obvious, and yet so many times I live like He’s not near me. I ask Him where He is when He has told me I am with you always, even to the end of the world. I flail about in panic and fear when He has told me that He is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Friend, there are times when God gives us beautiful skies and sunshine and glorious painted sunrises and clear vision of the path ahead of us. And there are times when He gives us fog, or rain, or the dullness of routine, or skies cracked with lightning and danger. But none of that changes anything, if we belong to Him.

He is with us every single day, asking us to walk by faith, to trust Him to reveal the path a step at a time. He is with us, asking us to take that step of obedience up the cloud-topped mountain, out into the mist-veiled valley, across the howling desert, or over what seems to be an empty precipice. He asks us to hold onto Him– onto hope– and to trust that He is leading us to someplace beautiful, someplace where we will see more than a beautiful sunrise, someplace where we will see the very face of Christ and be transformed.

For we walk by faith, not by sight.

Hearts Bound to His, part 3

I think that one of the places where the 21st century church is most broken is in the area of accountability. I don’t know if I’ve ever, in all the years of Christian school and Bible college and wonderful church families, been a part of a situation where healthy confession of sin and accountability was the norm.

I expect most of us have been in some kind of Christian environment where we were judged (or saw others being judged) so harshly for sin, where gossip and condemnation were the normal responses to confession or getting caught, that we have internalized the lesson that believers are not safe people to share our sin-burdens with. And I expect that most of us who have been part of the church for a long time have been guilty on multiple occasions of gossip, of judgment, of uncomfortable chair-shifting and subject-changing and murmurs of you don’t need to air all your dirty laundry here.

The problem is that there is nothing shameful about struggling with sin. The shame is found in the dark and secret places, in the giving in, in the fear of being caught, in the fear of being known. The shame is found in my heart when I feel like nobody else could understand, that I will be judged, that this must stay a secret no matter what. A secret struggle will most often end in defeat, because God created us to need each other.

I have written here before about my desperate struggle with food and eating. I will tell you that the thing that finally helped me find consistent victory– where the little stumbles did not turn into all-out defeats– was accountability. It started with my sister, then as God worked in my life I was able to open up to some of the ladies in my church, and then I wrote about it here in my blog. Each step in opening up more completely has led to greater victory, because I know that people who love me are praying for me and are going to ask how I’m doing.

Don’t get me wrong. There have been many times when writing in this blog and putting things out in the light for everyone to see has felt like public nakedness. There have been times when I have hit “publish” with my heart pounding and a sick feeling in my stomach. But openness has been such a powerful thing in my life as I fight the sin that so easily takes over. And I have learned that I don’t need to protect my fragile heart– that being clothed in the righteousness of Christ and the full armor of God is protective covering enough, far more powerful than keeping everything locked tight and shut away.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you go post about last night’s knock-down-drag-out family fight on Facebook. I’m not even suggesting you start a blog. What I’m suggesting is that we, as the body of Christ, seek to truly be part of one another’s lives. I’m suggesting that when you are facing a sin that seems to just keep getting control, it’s time to invite someone else into that secret space and ask for prayer and accountability. I’m suggesting that you pray today and ask God to show you a trustworthy person or group of people who will walk with you through your battles and encourage you and pray for you.

And, perhapseven more importantly, I’m suggesting that all of us seek to be that trustworthy person in someone’s life, that we repent of our judgmental attitudes and our personal discomfort when someone confesses a sin struggle. I’m suggesting that we ask God to open our eyes and remind us of exactly who we were before Christ saved us, that we stop and take a good look at the Cross and the price required for our own salvation, that we seek to respond to the sin of others with the same mercy and compassion that Christ did. I’m suggesting that we seek to make the body of Christ just that– a body that is knit together and that supports its weaker members and does what is needed to strengthen and uphold them.

This past spring I sprained my ankle, and for a week I was on crutches. As I limped and hobbled around my life, the other parts of my body had to be stronger than normal to bear the burden of my injury. My hands carried my weight on the crutches. My uninjured foot worked extra hard. The muscles in my back and my shoulders strained, and my core muscles tightened to help me maintain my balance. This is what a body does. It can’t help it. It works together to support the weaker parts, because if it doesn’t, it falls. And in the end, my ankle healed and was again able to do its work.

Friends, this is how we are supposed to be as the body of Christ. My ankle couldn’t keep the pain a secret from the body– every part of me was affected by it. Its weakness was well-known throughout every fiber of my being as I fought with the crutches and the ice packs and the pain. If I had ignored it, or if my other parts had failed to come alongside and share the extra burden for awhile, I could have seriously injured myself trying to walk normally on that weak and bruised ankle.

We are not meant to keep our pain and our bruises and our weaknesses to ourselves. We are not meant to struggle on alone, and we are certainly not meant to ignore the needs and hurts of other members of this Body of Christ.

Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Oh friends, let us love one another with this kind of strengthening and building love. Let us grow up, supporting each other, binding our hearts to our good Savior and to one another as we speak truth and pray for each other.

But God has so composed the body . . . that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ.

Opened Doors, Expectations, and Obedience

The real test of obedience doesn’t come on Friday night at camp, when you raise your hand, when you respond to the preaching and the impassioned invitation and the beautiful music and go forward and “make a decision.” It doesn’t happen on Sunday morning, when the pastor’s plea touches your heart, or at a woman’s conference when you see the distance between your reality and your “ought to be” and decide to make a change.

That decision is a beautiful thing. But it is, at best, the opening of a door.

The real moment of truth comes Monday morning, when you set the alarm, get out of bed, and open God’s Word. It comes on Tuesday afternoon, when you take that opportunity to share Christ with your friend. It comes on Thursday, when you seek someone to hold you accountable, and on Friday when you keep your mouth shut and refuse to join in with the corrupt communication of your friends or coworkers or teammates. It comes on Saturday morning, when you spend your time in prayer instead of sleeping in, and on Sunday at church, when you follow through with that decision you made to get more involved in the ministries there.

I know that not everyone just got back from an emotionally-charged week at church camp, but I think we have this habit of expecting God to do huge things at camp or conferences or whatever, of responding to His work in our lives during those times, and then of not following through when the emotional high is over. This is a cycle I have seen in my own life, time and again, through years of being named a Christian.

It is amazing to get away and to expect and then see God work, doing great things. It is a beautiful thing to be refreshed in that way, with our responsibilities temporarily lifted so that we can really focus on our walk with the Lord.

But what if the main reason God works so mightily in those weeks or weekends away– camps and conferences and retreats– is because that is when we’re expecting Him to do His work? What if we are limiting God’s ability to work in our lives because we’re not expecting Him to show up and do something amazing on a boring old Tuesday morning?

And what if what He really desires to do is meet us every single day and do a great work in our lives? What if Thursday afternoon in the middle of a regular week of school and work and life could be just as incredible as Friday night at camp?

One of the things that came up a lot with my girls at camp last week was personal devotions– time with God each day, reading His Word and praying. I think this is an area where a lot of believers feel a lot of guilt, because we know our time with the Lord is not a high priority, or not as good as it should be, or seems pointless. We’re not sure where to start or what to do once we’ve got our Bibles open. And for a lot of us who were raised in the church, we feel, perhaps secretly and guiltily, that the Bible is so familiar that there isn’t much else for us to learn.

The truth is that God’s Word is the expression of the heart of God, a heart that is so far beyond our ability to understand that we will literally spend all of eternity on our quest to know Him fully. This means that we can never plumb the depths of His Word during our time in this life. And I think most of us would mentally assent to that, but still struggle to believe it. We would make the decision at the conference or the special church service, but still scratch our head over Noah’s ark on Monday morning, wondering what there can possibly be in that passage that we haven’t heard a million times before.

Here is what God has taught me: I must come expectantly to God’s Word each day. I must trust that the Bible has something for me every single day, that He is as amazing as He says He is, that He wants to teach me and meet me in the pages of His inspired Book. And so I must open my Bible and read it, study it, expecting that I will find words of life for me today. Faith says I feel like this is so familiar and like there can’t possibly be anything new here, but God says His Word is profitable and will not return void. So I am going to read it and trust that there is something profitable here for me.

And then– and this is extremely important– once God has revealed something to me, even if it is something basic, I need to obey it. I really believe that one of the reasons we don’t see anything new in the Word of God is because we’re not obeying what we already know we’re supposed to be doing. It’s like we’re standing at the bottom of a long flight of stairs, looking up. I can memorize every detail of all the stairs in front of me, but if I don’t take the step up the first one, I’m never going to see what waits higher up.

Friends, don’t wait for the next scheduled spiritual mountaintop to expect great things. God wants to start doing a good work in you today as you step out in faith-filled obedience.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.