Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

There’s More

All my life, I have heard verses and passages quoted about not being afraid. One such passage is found in Psalm 56.

When I am afraid,I will put my trust in You.In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid.What can mere man do to me? Ps 56:3-4

Like many of our favorite passages, however, we stop there. What can mere man do to me? We like to stop there, because it gives the insinuation that man can’t really do anything to us. It almost has a super hero feel to it, doesn’t it? I’m on God’s side – you can’t touch me!

The problem is that David didn’t stop there. In fact, he went right on to lay out just exactly what “mere man” was doing to him! They were distorting his words and lying in wait to kill him.

When David stated that he would choose to not be afraid, he wasn’t saying that there was no reason to fear. On the contrary, he outlined several reasons to fear. But then he came right back to what God could do in the face of man’s capabilities.

There are many things man can do to us. There are many things we can and will endure in the spiritual battle against the principalities of this world. The key is not that we’re invincible. The key is that we serve a God who can answer any and every threat. No action by man or spiritual forces stands outside His strength, wisdom, power, and will. For every threat, God has a name. Protector. Sovereign. Judge. Provider. King. Comforter. Master. Ruler.

God With Us.

The passages that we pull out and memorize, knowing they offer comfort and guidance, are fantastic tools in the hands of the Holy Spirit. But, let us never forget that before and after every familiar passage, there is more. More richness. More promise. More conviction. More power.

God is more.

So, what can man do to us? Plenty. But we must never forget that God is more.

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 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 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.

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

I Love You

Sometimes I struggle with saying, “I love You,” to my Savior.

That’s hard to even admit in writing. I have written the confession in my journal many times, and that fills me with enough shame. But, to share it publicly…

It’s not that I don’t love Him. Oh how I do! But, my heart aches because, all too frequently, my thoughts and actions do not show it. How can I tell Him I love Him when I blatantly behave differently day in and day out?

If you are a parent, you know what I mean from the other end of the spectrum. In one moment, we hear our children say, “I love you, Mommy!” Then in the next, they are doing something that blatantly negates the statement. A bad attitude. An arrogance of behavior. A flagrant act of disobedience.

And, if you are anything like me, sometimes you look at your child and want to say (or maybe go ahead and say!), “You say with your mouth that you love me, but your actions show otherwise.”

Because I, in my frail humanity, have difficulty receiving words of love from my children when they blatantly disobey me, I often attribute that same response to God. He knows my heart. He knows the selfishness that reigns. He knows the times when I avoid talking to Him in prayer because I would rather be busy with other things. He knows. Oh, how He knows, so much more even than I know the heart of my children! So, how can I tell Him I love Him when He can see directly into the self-centeredness of my heart?

Recently I was reading John 21 and came to the conversation between Jesus and Peter that we often refer to as Peter’s reinstatement. I have read this passage many, many, many times, but on this particular day, it struck me in a different way. Peter had denied Jesus. Flat out denied, with curses, that he even knew his Savior. Yet Jesus did not once say, “Peter, how can you say that you love me after the way you acted?”

Instead, He simply asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”

And after the third time, Peter gives my favorite answer, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You. (John 21:17)”

Wow. Remorse filled Peter over his denial of his Savior. Yet, he could still say, “You know that I love You.” And Jesus knew that love would carry Peter through his coming life of church leadership, persecution, and martyrdom.

The truth of my heart is that, despite my stupid and selfish actions, I really do love my Savior. And He knows it. Oh what a treasure! Oh what a joy to know that I can say, “I love You, Lord!” even as I am on my face before Him in tears of repentance! And that very truth is what drives me again and again to repentance and growth. My Jesus knows I love Him. Now, may my actions increasingly reject my own selfishness and instead reflect the love He knows to be true!

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

Missed Beauty

The country of Jordan has a desert climate. For anywhere from seven to ten months out of every year, no rain falls, and the country is covered in a dull, dusty brown.

But twice a year, a miracle happens. Right after the first rains arrive in October or November, the mountains of north Jordan turn a beautiful, lush green. Clover and grass sprout everywhere and remain for a couple of short weeks until the winter chill set in. Then, it all dies again and turns a wintry gray until spring rolls around. Spring, like fall, is short-lived, those few weeks bring the most beautiful time of the year. Sometime in early March, as the warmth returns and the rains begin to recede, the whole countryside erupts into a tapestry of red, yellow, and lavender as the wildflowers bloom. Intermingled throughout it all is the deep purple of the national flower of Jordan, the wild Gilead iris, commonly grouped with black irises.

I grew up in those hills of north Jordan, and each spring we would take a day and head out to pick wildflowers – especially poppies and irises. We would come back with a trunkload of flowers to brighten the next few weeks. I loved the poppies, but there was nothing like the deep, royal purple of those irises.

When I moved back to Arkansas, I still saw irises in the spring. Blue and lavender and white and yellow and all sorts of beautiful colors sprouted in gardens and yards everywhere I looked. But, I almost never saw anything dark like those Gilead irises.

Then, several years ago, my mother-in-law surprised me with the gift of several black iris bulbs. I was so excited! Doug and I went and bought a pot and some good soil, and we planted those irises according to the best directions we could find.

Then, we waited. The green leaves sprouted, but no flowers appeared. The next year we moved the pot to a more sunny location. Still no luck.

The year after that we were in a new home, so I transplanted the bulbs into a spot already populated with flourishing irises. I watched and waited. The established irises bloomed beautifully, but my transplanted bulbs still produced nothing more than tall, strong leaves.

I felt so disappointed. And in my disappointment, I almost missed the beauty that did exist before me.

There is something regal about a cluster of irises. They stand tall, and their petals flow with amazing grace and perfect shading. And in my yard – for the first time ever – I had a whole patch of beautiful light purple and blue flowers. But, because they were not the dark purple I’d hoped for, I almost disregarded them.

I am ashamed to admit that the dismissal of those not-quite-dark-enough purple irises reflects the way I dismiss God’s gifts so very often. I am a planner. A plotter. The type of person who takes possible scenarios and plays them out to logical conclusions. In the process, I establish what I think should happen.

Ironically enough, God rarely, if ever, works the way my daydreams try to dictate!

When His reality – His amazing gifts – fall into place, I far too often get pouty because they are not what I wanted to see. I miss the beauty of His provision because I’m staring at the flowerless leaves of my expectations. My demands, if I am honest.

This spring, I’m watching all of my irises. We have had a sunny spring, but cold is expected. It is possible none of my flowers will bloom this year because of the freeze. Or, because they have been slower to sprout than the established irises, it might be that my black bulbs are the only ones that flower. Who knows? What I do know is that I intend to soak in whatever God sends. I will choose to not miss the beauty He sets before me, whatever the color.

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

Worth It!

My son has loved Legos since before he could walk or talk. He had a funny way of showing his passion at that age. We would build something for him, and he would take great delight in tearing it down and begging us to build something else for him to destroy. I honestly believe that his excitement for destruction lay in the realization that he could watch us build again and again, because he anxiously awaited the day he could build for himself.

At age seven, after discovering several fun Lego sets and kits, my son learned that there was such a thing as Lego robotics. Honestly, he had no clue what that entailed. He only knew that “Lego” and “robot” were combined in the same concept. He was hooked.

My husband knew much more about it, having learned that the Lego Education line encouraged kids to learn programming and electronics skills ranging from the most basic to highly involved. He also knew that our son was nowhere near ready for that kind of challenge. But, he encouraged Steven to start saving, confident that by the time he reached his financial goal, he would also be ready for the challenges involved.

For the next three years, Steven saved diligently. Every now and then he would dip into those savings for a major purchase. A bicycle to replace the one he’d outgrown. A mechanical Lego cargo plane to help him learn a little bit about the difference between his familiar Lego creations and the Mindstorms kit he was saving up for. Other little things here and there. But finally, shortly after Christmas this year, he had enough money saved up. The mailman delivered Steven’s order just a few weeks ago, and he has already learned incredible things! Pacing himself, he is discovering what he needs to learn bit by bit to achieve ultimate programming goals.

Steven recently asked me how he got started saving in the first place. “You heard the words ‘Lego’ and ‘robot’ and were hooked!” I explained to him that he had no idea how big of a deal this kit was. Doug and I did, but he did not. All he knew was that it was worth the time and effort it would take to save up for it. He knew it was worth the sacrifice of not being able to spend money whenever he wanted. Even as a young child, he grasped that this was important to him – without even knowing just how far it would take him.

Even now, the big picture is too great for him. He can only focus on one thing at a time, learning what is right in front of him. But, he is investing in the little tasks now because he knows that opportunities he can’t even imagine are still ahead of him if he is diligent.

Is that not the perfect picture of salvation and faith? How many of us truly knew what we were grabbing hold of when we first declared that Jesus had become Lord of our lives? How many of us knew the challenges and promises bound up in that moment? My guess is that none of us truly grasped the depths of our new life. We just knew it was worth it. It was something we desperately hungered for, and we were willing to go wherever it took us.

Oh how amazing to know that I do not have to grasp the fullness of what I have received from Christ in order to live in His will. He understands for me! He knows my present, my capabilities, my future, and the promise of all that lies ahead. He knows the challenges and the joys, and He is ready and able to walk through each one of them with me when I am ready. He is guiding me through each step so I will not reach a goal too soon, nor will I have to wait too long. Every moment of His plan for my life is laid out in His wisdom and perfection. When I’m ready for the next challenge, He will lay it before me. In the meantime, I can trust Him with the one in my path at this moment. I don’t have to have it all figured out to progress through His will. I just have to do the task set before me right now and watch as the little goals along the way change, grow, and evolve while I conquer each hurdle.

Even as a young child, Steven knew the kit was worth his time and energy. Now he knows each step of learning is worthwhile. And, in faith, both of us know the same thing is true in our spiritual walk.

It’s worth it!