Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

Obedience Without Guilt

This may seem like a strange question, but how often do you feel guilty about obeying? I bet you do more often than you know.

Consider these scenarios. Have you ever felt guilty about:

  • taking a few minutes to read a chapter or rest for a few minutes, knowing the to-do list is still long or that you asked the kids to do a chore that you could have done instead.
  • saying no to a friend, church, or extended family activity, not because you had something else going on, but because you were just too exhausted to do one more thing.
  • enjoying what God has provided because you know He has not provided in that way for someone else.
  • speaking the truth in kindness and love because you know it had to be said, even though it hurt someone else’s feelings.

I might be the only one who has dealt with all of those and more, but I have a feeling that at least one of those struck home with you, dear reader. At least one.

Let me combat that strike with some truth. The enemy’s goal is to mar all that is good. Oh how clearly we see that displayed throughout Scripture! It started in the garden. We see it in Satan’s conversation with God in Job. We see it in the temptation of Jesus. We see it over and over and over again. If Satan can twist everything good – especially for those he has lost for eternity through salvation – then he can prevent truth from spreading. That means he is even going to try to make the things of God appear bad.

Yes, he’s going to make us feel guilty about obedience. We have to choose truth instead!

Our biggest battle comes when we begin to doubt whether our decisions are actually a matter of obedience or personal preference. The only way we will win that battle is by fully immersing ourselves in the Word of God. Last week I studied Psalm 1 in preparation for Sunday school. I love this entire song, but the first half resonate with the truth that obedience will always be clear when we’re immersed in God’s Word.

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
Psalm 1:1-3 (NASB)

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the consequences of obedience were always positive? If the choice to obey always meant that everyone agreed with us and the hard work was rewarded with beautiful results?

More often, though, obedience results in us feeling a bit like Job. Or staying hungry like Jesus. Obedience is hard. And it is always combated, contradicted, and belittled. Sometimes even by our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who do not quite understand why obedience directed us into such a hard place.

Obedience will be a challenge as long as we walk this earth. But, may we stop feeling guilty about it! May we instead ground ourselves so solidly in the Word of God that we are girded up when attacked, strengthened as we rest, and stand firm to draw others closer to Christ along with us.

Be obedient, my friend. Without guilt.

Posted in What I'm Learning

Mindful Leisure

The more I think about rest, the more I have to analyze, practically, what that looks like. If I were to put the question to the wide, wide world, I would probably receive many responses related to leisure.

Our culture is all about leisure.

We live for weekends and holidays, during which we want to unplug from everything. We have movies, books, video games, ball games, amusement parks, and all manner of activities that allow us to escape life for just a little while as we supposedly rest.

So, why do we stay exhausted all the time?

I think it’s because rest was never meant to be mindless. It was never intended as escapism. Yet, so much of our leisure is just that. It’s mindless.

Now, I’m not saying that the activities I mentioned are bad. But, when we approach them as escapism, they become something that sucks the life out of us instead of pouring it back in. If we’re going to enjoy a good ball game, snuggle up for a movie, read a book, head to an amusement park, or engage in any other activity, we need to be intentional to engage in them mindfully. We must choose to actively explore how we can avoid the mindlessness that rises as the archenemy of rest.

What does this look like?

Well, that’s just it. This is all a work in progress for me. A mission of discovery. I am creative in many ways, but I do not think outside the box well. I have a hard time breaking the mold of what has been exemplified for me. If I dislike the mold, I am more inclined to leave it empty than to recreate the shape. I know I cannot leave this one empty, but I am often stumped as to how to change it. Fortunately for minds like mine, changing the mold often starts with evaluating the mold itself to see if there are useful aspects to it.

For instance, think of one thing that so many of us struggle with: time on the Internet.

We “hop on” for a “quick” look, only to find we have wasted thirty minutes without realizing it. How can we turn that around? By choosing to be purposeful in our time on the web. Think about Pinterest. Many of my friends laugh at me because I avoid Pinterest as often as possible. It’s a bottomless pit of overwhelming. But, when I have a specific task to accomplish, it can be very helpful. I choose my keywords, set a time limit, start a search, and then take my finds and go apply them to whatever project I wanted to tackle. A few years ago, ten minutes on Pinterest and a couple of hours of sewing resulted in several adorable gowns for my girlies to pack for camp. I had so much fun making those gowns, and the whole experience was one of mindful leisure and rest.

Mindfulness. Intentionality. Purposefulness. And fun! That is actually restful!

I have so much to learn about rest. How to avoid feeling guilty when I say no to people so I can obediently rest. How to balance personal and family rest. How to anticipate the Sabbath so I don’t spend the first few hours of the day wandering aimlessly trying to figure out what to do to avoid the mindless leisure that so often comes to mind first (and never satisfies!).

But I am excited to know that God will teach me as I discipline myself to rest His way. Mindfully.

 

Posted in Marriage Monday

Just Normal

Some days I struggle with knowing what to write about marriage.

First of all, I am no marriage expert. We are in our nineteenth year of marriage, but I still have so much left to learn. We have a good, secure marriage, but we still have our ups and downs. The downs always make me nervous about offering any marriage “advice.” I am glad to share our experience in hopes it will help others. But, I never want anyone to be intimidated because they think we have it all together. For the record, we don’t!

I do hunger to encourage others in marriage, though, whether it is young women looking forward to the experience, young marrieds learning how to become one flesh, those who are just going through ups and downs like we are and need some encouragement, or those who are struggling and need a listening ear and a prayer partner. Even when I struggle to know what to write, that desire to encourage prods me on.

Unfortunately, that desire does not answer the question I’m still stuck with. What do I share? If I am to talk about our experiences, what do I say? Our experiences are just so normal.

And then it hits me: we are often ashamed of normal in marriage.

Our entertainment presents the idea that being a settled married couple is boring and to be avoided. We learn from magazines articles and self-help books that it is important to keep marriage exciting and fresh. Normal, mundane, day-to-day marriage is to be avoided if we are ever to survive and remain together.

So, again and again, we see couples work hard to keep their marriages fresh and exciting – and anything but normal. And again and again we see those same marriages fall apart. Why? Because normalcy is inevitable in life.

Just as in our spiritual walk, how we handle the exciting or challenging times of life is not a clear indication of our strength. Instead, our actions during those stretches represent the endurance we have developed during the normal, mundane, and even boring stretches. Those are the times when we can establish discipline, exercise muscles, and solidify the relationships we will lean on in the abnormal times.

Marriage is not about keeping things exciting or interesting or fun. Instead, marriage is about growing in strength during the mundane normalcy of life so we can enjoy the highs of excitement and weather the lows of challenge and struggle. During the normal times, we keep talking to one another. We share the routine details of our lives so we both understand exactly what normal looks like for the other (and can quickly recognize the moment life steps outside the normal bounds). We play together. We establish times of rest together. We “date” one another. We put extra effort into making one another smile and laugh. We pray and study together.

We simply choose to live life intertwined in the normal. Then when the abnormal comes around, we are inseparable, no matter then strain.

I think I just might be proud of the normal.

 

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

The Enjoyment of Rest

Do you ever read the early verses of Genesis and sigh with longing? I do. The beautiful garden. Perfect interaction with nature. An intimate relationship with God. True, perpetual rest.

Interestingly enough, though, the true rest was not an absence of work.

We honestly don’t know how Adam and Eve spent their days in the garden. All we know is that they didn’t just flit around mindlessly without purposeful activity. They were the garden’s keepers. Because all we know is the curse, we have no idea what it looks like to keep a garden in an environment of perfection. We know the effort it takes to coax food out of the ground through toil – to work hard to ensure good soil, keep back the weeds that also love the good soil, and maintain a proper balance of irrigation. Without a day-to-day description of how Adam and Even lived before the Fall, we can only make guesses as to what beautiful, rewarding, curse-free work looks like.

But, what does that have to do with rest?

Some time ago, my family made a change in our schedule. We realized that we were going non-stop seven days a week for weeks on end because the normal down time of our culture simply did not work for us. Sundays are work days for a pastor’s family. Period. Even for the kids. They might not have as many responsibilities as Dad or even Mom, but they still have to be “on” all day on Sunday. It’s work. And, most of our Saturdays were becoming consumed with this obligation or that. Even if it was enjoyable obligations, it still was not optional and was not rest.

So, we shifted school and my work so that the whole family could share Doug’s day off.

Obviously, as a pastor, he doesn’t always get that day off. Sometimes needs that fall on a Friday are just not optional. But, we have still been able to become much more proactive about distinguishing between those things that are and are not optional and preserving Friday as a day of rest.

But, the rest part has not been automatic. Thanks to the curse of sin, rest – real rest – is not something that comes naturally. Our natural inclination seems to be to replace rest with escapism. Run from work. Run from obligation. But escapism is never truly rest.

So what is rest? Real, biblical rest?

Well, we can look at what little we know of the garden. We can look in the laws God outlined for the Israelites after rescuing them from Egypt. And we can look at the discussion of Sabbath rest in Hebrews. Gallons of ink, millions of words, and hours upon hours of thought and study have gone into this question. There is no way I can simply or definitively solve the problem in one simple blog post.

But, I can share one thing that I know for sure: Rest is not about the absence of work. On the contrary, rest is enjoying the things God is doing around us. His work.

I can’t find the exact Mark Buchanan quote, but in his book The Rest of God, he talks about orchestrating every day of our week around the Sabbath. The three days before look toward it, working in preparation for it. The three days after look back upon it, implementing its message into the routine of life. (Great book – I highly recommend it!)

That is Sabbath rest. Taking a day to enjoy the work of God so greatly that it permeates every corner of our curse-soaked work week, allowing us to see God’s hand even as we fight through what so often feels like mire.

I hunger to learn more about true rest each week because I know it drives me a little close to the way I was created to live – in the beautiful rest of perfect work alongside my Savior and my God.

Posted in What Works for Me

Make It Your Own

I love to read, but, as I’ve shared before, I’m not always great at it – especially if it is non-story-based non-fiction. I might enjoy the topic and writing style immensely, but I struggle to retain what I have read. For a long time, I let this dissuade me from reading much non-fiction. What good were the books doing me if I did not retain them? Last year, I decided that had to change.

Here’s the kicker, though. It has not been just about changing my reading plan. I have also had to change my reading habits to help me retain. As I look at the titles I have read over the past year, I realize how much more I have retained from those titles than from any previous non-fiction attempts. So, what has been different?

I’ve been determined to make the books my own.

When I was in high school and college, I recognized my struggle with processing information, and it motivated me to work extra hard. I highlighted, underlined, took notes, and wrote in margins when possible. I did this with my Bible as well. And it worked! My books and their content were my own. The added effort provided a multi-faceted input that allowed me to truly interact with the message and sear the information into my heart and mind.

During my junior year of college, though, I heard someone talk about how marking up your Bible kept you in a learning rut, and it was better to let the Holy Spirit speak afresh every time instead of always seeing what you’d learned the last time. The logic is debatable, but the following summer when a dog managed to get ahold of my Bible and rip it to shreds, I “started fresh” and broke the habit of marking up my Bible. Meanwhile, I started wanting to loan out my books, so I didn’t want to mark them up, either. And with that, my interactive habits stopped.

Unfortunately, I never formed new habits to replace the broken ones.

As I became determined to challenge my reading habits this year, I knew those new habits had to be formed. So, I’m actively exploring ways to get back to making what I read my own. Here are some of the things I’m trying:

Slow Down

Some people – including members of my family are speed readers. I am not. My “to read” stack stays pretty large and daunting, and sometimes I’m tempted to rush through a book just to get to the next one. But, it is better to never get to the bottom of the stack than to miss the great content in each book of choice. In order to process, I have to slow down and really read.

Journaling

Let me admit from the get-go that the habit of journaling slows everything down even more! I’m a writer, and I still get frustrated at times with the amount of time it takes to process through journaling. But, for writers and non-writers alike, journaling is an incredibly powerful tool. When we journal, we have to interact with and show an understanding of what we have just read. And journaling can take many forms. It can be coherent sentences and paragraphs, lists or a series of phrases referencing the original material, voice recordings, or even art. The key is the interaction and “teaching back” nature of processing what we have read. And yes, sometimes that will also include underlining, highlighting, and writing notes in the margin!

Talk It Out

I love reading a book at the same time someone else is reading it. This year, I’ve read several books simultaneously with my husband, oldest daughter, or a Bible study group. Having read the same information, we talk it out and share how it impacted each of us. This works for Bible reading as well. I love being on the same Bible reading plan as the rest of my family! But, this also works for books I read on my own. When something stands out to me, I like to process through it by sharing with my husband, the kids, an accountability partner, or friends. Like with journaling, this forces me to process what I have read in a coherent manner.

Own Two

The first time through, I almost never mark up a book. But, there are certain books that automatically go on the “buy a loaner copy and reread” list. When I’m able, I snag an extra copy to have on my shelf. This copy stays unmarked and available for loaning out. At least once a year, I want to pause from reading new books and go back and reread one of the books from that list. And in the reread, I will probably mark it all up and really make it mine! Not every book is worth this. But, some really, really are.

How do you make sure you really process what you read? I’d love new ideas!

Posted in Marriage Monday, Repost

Wishfulness or Certain Hope?

This is an article I wrote for Family Magazine last year. To try a free sample of Family, click here.

Once upon a time, little girls had hope chests.

Some were fancy, while others were just plain wooden boxes. No matter what the construction, each chest held items made and collected in anticipation of that “someday” when the keepsakes would be used to turn a house into a home – a home the grown up little girl made with her brand new husband.

Although occasionally we may run across a young woman with a hope chest in today’s culture, these keepsake boxes seem to have become a thing of the past. Nowadays, the collection of items for a new home waits until the engagement has been announced and the wedding date set. Wish lists are created through gift registries, and new houses are turned into homes by friends and families who shower the happy couple with gifts.

Have We Lost Something?

On the surface, the change in tradition is just a cultural shift. But, a deeper look reveals a more critical change – a shift in our symbols.

The hope chest was aptly named, because it was a tangible symbol of hope. A girl and her family took action on the hope that one day she would marry and have a home of her own. It was faith in the unseen.

Wedding showers and engagement celebrations, on the other hand, represent a faith in what is seen. A relationship is present, and, unless something unforeseen happens, a marriage will ensue.

Were it just about the hope of a husband and family of her own, this shift in symbols might not be all that big of a deal. The tragedy lies in the fact that this shift reverberates into marriage itself. Our hope lies in the tangible of circumstances and actions rather than in the intangible nature of God himself.

We have replaced certain hope with wishfulness.

Because life itself is so continually uncertain, how we face that uncertainty represents what we believe about biblical hope, whether it be as young girls looking forward to the “someday” of marriage or as women clinging to the “someday” of answered prayer within marriage.

What we should believe is visible in Hebrews 11:1.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Or perhaps we can flip over to 1 John 3:2-3.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Oswald Chambers has this to say about the certainty of our hope in Christ:

Certainty is the mark of the common-sense life; gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sigh of sadness, it should be rather an expression of breathless expectation.

Hope Is Not Common Sense

Precious friends, there is absolutely no certainty in any aspect of our common-sense life, including marriage. A marriage that is trucking along nicely right now may be blindsided by a financial crisis, illness, depression, temptation, or spiritual laziness. It could even be that what you believed to be true and certain was actually a lie.

The opposite could also be true. A marriage that seems to be in the full throes of failure and without hope could actually be right on the verge of complete restoration. What appears to be a long, dark tunnel with no end in sight might in reality just be a short stretch, with visible light and healing blocked only by that sudden turn you cannot see ahead of you because of the darkness.

Common sense tells you to trust in what you can see. Common sense keeps you trapped in fear that what is good might sour and what is bad may never change.

But hope is not common sense. Instead, hope is certainty in something much more solid that what you can see. Hope is certainty in Christ himself, the Almighty God who not only sees the unseen, but controls it.

When I think of those old-fashioned hope chests, I picture a young lady caressing each treasured item in breathless expectation of the unknown. For years, she has collected piece after piece. Some have been passed down from generation to generation. Some have been fashioned by the hands of her mother or grandmother. Still others she has lovingly prepared herself. She is uncertain of the future, yet each item represents her certainty in a promise. True, the occasional fear will tickle the back of her mind. What if these treasures never find a home? What if the hoped for future never materializes? Yet, the items themselves remind her to not lose hope in the future laid out for her.

How much more powerful is our hope in Christ? That is all the certainty we need.

This article was originally published in Family Magazine, 2016 Issue 2, then on WellPlannedGal.com.
Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

An Unexpected Word

Are you ever surprised by a word in Scripture? You’re reading along in a familiar passage, and suddenly you realize it doesn’t say what you thought it said. This happens to me a lot. Usually, it is because I’m reading the familiar passage in a less familiar translation, and the shift in wording makes me pause and rethink the passage.* Recently, though, something stood out to me that I only thought was different in that day’s translation.

The verse was Luke 12:12:

Whenever they bring you before synagogues and rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how you should defend yourselves or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what must be said. (Luke 12:11-12, HCSB, emphasis mine – read all of chapter 12 for better context.)

The word that jumped out at me was “teach.” For some reason, I had always perceived that word as “give.” I grabbed my NASB to see what it said, since that’s the translation I read most frequently. It also said “teach.” Next, I went back to translations I would have read as a child: KJV and NIV. Guess what? They both said “teach” as well. So did ESV.

For some reason, my brain had always processed a word that wasn’t there at all in any translation I’d read. So where did it come from?

I started skimming through the rest of the Gospels, and I finally found it in Mark:

When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit. (Mark 13:11, NASB, emphasis mine)

Both “teach” and “give” are correct. Both are biblical. But, I’d completely missed “teach” because my brain automatically inserted “give” into both verses.

So, what’s my point? Well, I’ve mentioned it before, but this incident just reinforced the truth: I can never exhaust a passage. No matter how familiar, there is always something I have missed or was not yet ready to learn. The Word of God is so rich and full that I can never ever exhaust its depth. Never. That’s the general application here.

But, there is a specific one as well. It’s easy to look at these particular verses and think, “Oh, I don’t have to worry about that. The Spirit will dump it into my brain when I need it.” But that’s not what is being said in either verse, whether we are talking about the Holy Spirit teaching us or giving us the right words.

The key here is that we do not worry in advance about a specific incident because we are to be constantly sitting at the feet of the Holy Spirit. Day in and day out, in every experience, with every prayer, and through every reading of God’s Word, we are to be both learning and receiving from the Holy Spirit. This is an on-going reality. We don’t worry about the moment in which we have to make a defense because it is to be no different from any other moment. In all situations, we are to receive the teaching and gift of the Word of God through the Holy Spirit.

An unexpected word drove home that truth.

I love being startled by God’s Word. Jolted into an understanding by something I’d never paid attention to or noticed before. When is the last time that happened to you? I pray that your understanding of God and His Word may be deepened today because of an unexpected word.

*It’s a good idea for your primary study translation to be one that is considered a literal translation, such as NASB or ESV. But, reading in multiple translations is very beneficial to study as well, as little variances between translations can help reinforce the scope of what the original language was communicating.