Posted in Meditations & Meanderings, Thankfulness, Thoughts

Distraction

Distraction.

My mind goes everywhere. I begin to read, and I relish three verses. Then suddenly I’ve “read” three more without awareness.

I want to pray,
but instead ponder the day.

I want to praise,
but instead wonder why this or that has happened such and such a way.

I want to confess,
but I end up justifying.

Distraction.

It’s my enemy. And I let it right through my gates. I open the doors wide in welcome.
I let it turn my attention from You.

It’s not the electronics and the diversions and the family and the to-do list. Those are just the enablers. Those are just the things I keep around as scapegoats.
The problem is me.
My refusal to be disciplined.
My lack of willingness to invest in this relationship.

Who am I as a wife when I allow this destruction in my marriage? Who am I as a parent when I don’t listen to my children? Who am I as a friend when I allow silence to build between us?
You, my Lord and Savior, surpass them all. Yet here I am, as I am many days.

Distracted.

But not You.

Never.

You are always here. Always speaking. Always nudging. Always disciplining.
Not passively waiting. You’re too good a Father to leave it up to me.

You are active.
Pushing.
Urging.
Calling.
Speaking.

Thank you.

Today I honestly and fervently confess this choice of mine. This sin. And I feel the immediate peace of Your forgiveness. I know without asking that You will help me. But I ask anyway because I know that’s the first step – or the second after repentance – to conquering this sinful habit of distraction. And I know Your Spirit will nudge me each time I fall.

So, I ask.

Help me, Lord, to be attentive to You and conquer this beast.

I love You.

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Posted in Meditations & Meanderings, Thoughts from Life

The Story of Talkative & Friend

We all know those people who monopolize conversations. I know I’m sometimes guilty of it myself. When I get going on a certain topic or thought, I have to remind myself to stop and let someone else contribute to the “conversation.” There are some people, though, who never recognize that they are the only ones talking.

I can’t help but recall a relationship between two people who shared a common interest. Each time the two would get together, “Talkative” would jump into her latest discoveries and activities in the interest. Her Friend would try to interact, but would only get half a dozen words in before being interrupted yet again by Talkative. Before long, Friend would just give up and resign herself to listening.

Here’s the catch. Talkative was absolutely, beyond a doubt certain that she knew Friend well. She “knew” just what her companion liked and disliked and just how to please her.

The reality was very different. The supposed knowledge was not based on knowing what Friend liked but instead on the “conversations” between the two in which Talkative rambled on and on about her interests while Friend listened and nodded politely, knowing she would never have opportunity to comment. Talkative automatically concluded that her Friend was expressing, by her silence I suppose, that her interests were exactly the same. Friend determined that her thoughts and opinions would never be important to Talkative, so she ceased bothering to try to communicate them.

Talkative claimed that she loved and wanted to be an interactive part of Friend’s life. But, when they were together, it was always all about Talkative. There was never give and take. Never companionship. Just the interests of Talkative.

Friend loved Talkative and willingly spent time with her when the opportunity arose. But, over time, Friend became deflated and drained. She needed the opportunity to both give and receive. She needed the nourishment that came from mutual interaction. So, she began to branch out and interact with others who shared her interests and passions. She still spent time with Talkative, but only when it fell into the natural flow of life. She did not avoid Talkative, but she no longer instigated visits.

Talkative noticed, and it hurt her feelings. But, she never attempted to find out why Friend’s interaction with her had changed. She simply made a point to – with every visit – remind Friend of the fact that she wanted them to spend time together, unconsciously increasing the wedge with her guilt trips.

I struggle each time the Holy Spirit reminds me of this relationship. First, I struggle because I have been in relationships like this, and I know what Friend is battling. I know the hurt. But, mostly

I struggle because I know I’ve been Talkative before, even though I try not to be. I am far too often guilty of not listening to and investing in others, focusing instead on what’s important to me.

But, there’s another behavioral tendency that is even more disturbing for me: too often I treat God like Talkative treated Friend.

I talk and whine and journal and let Him know my side of the story. Then, I take my thoughts and opinions and imagine that God is endorsing them. I neglect to stop and listen, instead, to what He wants to say to me. His wisdom. His truth. His guidance. His commands.

And what He wants to say to me is much more important than pouring out my “all about me” thoughts and feelings.

Because here’s the bottom line. It’s all about God. If He monopolizes a conversation, it is not because He is being self-centered like Talkative. It is because He alone has the words of wisdom. He has the answers. And He doesn’t need to hear us talk in order to know us. He created us, and He knows His creation well.

Yet I turn into Talkative and completely ignore Him. And His will. And His people. And His work.

Who will we be? Talkative, or Spirit-minded Friend? It’s a choice. What choice do you make today?

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Meditations & Meanderings

Enjoying

When we read that God rested, it certainly can’t mean that he removed his hand from the work of sustaining the creation that he had just made. It means that he enjoyed it. – Aimee Byrd, Theological Fitness

For years, I’ve had these little naggings about Sabbath. It’s a big deal in Scripture, but we never quite seem to know what to do with it as Christians, other than declare it an Old Testament principle. After all, Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, and salvation is our Sabbath rest, so we’re good, right?

But about three and a half years ago, those little naggings began to form into conviction. A realization that the Holy Spirit was trying to point out an area of disobedience in my life. An exploration to discover what obedience was supposed to look like – because I didn’t have a clue!

Since then, the Holy Spirit has been slowly teaching me – us, really, as it’s a family thing – what it means to rest. We’ve made tangible changes and have grown a lot, but we also know we still have a long way to go. Last year, we read several books that helped us process through what God’s Word has to say about rest for believers, and those were amazing. But, the interesting thing is the number of places I’m still seeing rest mentioned. The necessity of it. The importance of it. The obedience of it. It seems that many people are being reminded that God did not make us for 24/7 busyness.

One lesson I’ve learned along the way is that rest is not just about stopping. Because stopping can be counterproductive. Stopping can increase anxiety instead of easing it. It can fill us with restlessness instead of rest. It can be harmful instead of helpful.

No, rest is not about stopping. So, what is it?

Last year as I was reading Theological Fitness by Aimee Byrd, I came across the quote I shared above. The day I read it, the quote jumped off the page at me, and it has stuck with me ever since. As have the thoughts I wrote in my journal the morning I read those words:

Do I enjoy what God is doing around me? Do I stop long enough to notice? Perhaps this is a key to Sabbath. Not simply taking a break, but ceasing from labor to enjoy. Enjoy what God is doing around me. Enjoy what He has done through me.

In our go, go, go lives, I’ve noticed that we often seem to have very little time to enjoy what we’ve accomplished. In fact, it seems that we never finish. Oh, we might close up a specific task or project, but we’ve already started a new one before that one is anywhere near complete. It’s a constant cycle. A constant running. We can never celebrate the completion because we’re buried in the middle of the next thing.

God created. Then God declared it good. He enjoyed His creation.

What if we were to stop and do the same? What if, every day, we were to stop and find something good from the day? What if every week we were to stop, take a breath, and just spend a day enjoying? What would change about us? About our attitudes? Our stress levels? Our health? Our outlook?

I’m going to make a choice to enjoy. Enjoy what God is doing around me. What He is doing through me. What He is showing me. Him.

Will you join me?

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Meditations & Meanderings, Thoughts from Kids, Thoughts from Scripture

More

I recently had a conversation with my girls about books they are reading during their quiet times.

First, let me back up and say that Scripture reading is the number one most critical portion of our morning devotional times. We have daily Bible readings (many years all five of us go through the same plan) and we all copy a portion of Scripture every day, just to help us slow down and truly meditate. But, we all also enjoy adding other thought-provoking books into the mix. We usually pick a devotional to read, then often have another book or two going as well.

My oldest decided to move slowly through James with me this year, and we are using two books to help us work through them: James: A Devotional Commentary and The Book of James: A New Perspective: A Linguistic Commentary Applying Discourse Analysis, both by Dr. William Varner. The second of these two books is highly academic. And here we are, a high school junior (a smart high school junior, but still just a junior) and homeschool mom a long way from her academic pursuits trying to push our way through a very academic look at the book of James.

Needless to say, we frequently feel like we’re in a bit over our heads.

Meanwhile, my nerdy middle child is always searching the bookshelves for something new to stretch and challenge her. Her current attempt is Knowing the Character of God by George MacDonald.

As we discussed the books, both girls admitted to sometimes staring at the page with no real understanding of what they are reading. And, if I’m honest, there are days I do the same. I have to go back and read and reread to try to process and let the concepts sink in. All three of us confess that, sometimes, it doesn’t feel worth the effort when we could focus our full attention on books more on our level.

But, about the time we had this discussion, my youngest unwittingly contributed to the contemplation. His Sunday school lesson that week had been about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. You can read the whole story in Acts 8, but there are two verses that really rang in my memory as I listened to my son.

Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Acts 8:30-31

The key was this: if the man had not been reading something he didn’t understand, there would not have been an avenue through which he could learn about Christ.

Don’t get me wrong. We can – and do – very often grow through books (and tasks as well) that are closer to our level of understanding. They stretch us in different ways. But, there are also many ways in which we need to push ourselves beyond our apparent capabilities. If we never reach – if we always just stay right where we are doing what we’ve always done – will there ever be an avenue of growth in our lives? Will we ever learn more, experience more, grow more, or be capable of more?

I can’t help but picture a baby taking those first tentative steps, a child choosing to give no training wheels a try, or a teenager first sitting behind the wheel of a car. From birth, we learn and grow because we stretch ourselves. Why should we not do the same as adults?

What more do you need to do this year? Where do you need to step up and challenge yourself to dig into something you don’t understand or don’t really feel capable of in this moment?

Posted in Meditations & Meanderings, Thoughts from Life

Welcome, 2018

Looking back and looking ahead are expected activities for the turn of a year. What progress was made in the last year? What goals need to be set in the new?

According to my Goodreads log, I read 69 books last year. I originally set a goal of 42, then upped that to 52 late in the summer. I’m honestly shocked by the progress. But I’m even more shocked by the realization that I didn’t change much to hit that number. I was just intentional about it.

The part that surprises me most, though, is that 26 of those books were non-fiction. Over a third. That’s huge for me. I frequently only read a handful a year – half a dozen in a good year. But this year I made it through a good portion of my to-read stack and allowed quite a few others to trickle in along the way. And I enjoyed them and gleaned from them far more than I expected. Many of them have become new favorites, including Made for More and just about anything by Mark Buchanan. His book Hidden in Plain Sight is on my list for this year.

Also, late in the summer Doug and I finally were able to nail down some good routines for exercise and were able to really get a handle on how to impact our eating without “dieting.” My progress seemed excruciatingly slow at best, and often completely stalled. But, I’m now just a few pounds shy of the halfway mark to my goal and am feeling much more comfortable in my clothes – many of them a size or two down from where I was over the summer. Best of all, these new habits – the slow but steady progress – have made it much easier to enjoy holiday eating without packing the pounds back on. Yay!

But, the reality is that those two things, as well as other progress points this year, are simply external evidence of the fact that God has been working on me internally. A lot. Some of it has been exhilarating and energizing while other portions of it have been very hard. But, for the most part, it has been like the weight loss: slow and steady. I didn’t always see the progress day to day, but I can look back and see where He worked and shaped me a little at a time day in and day out. And I’m sensing that there’s more coming. Probably some serious pushing on my comfort zone that will make some of the growth more immediately noticeable. But, it’s coming.

So, what do I see in the coming year?

Who knows? I definitely don’t! I have no great illumination regarding what progress I’ll see in the coming year or exactly where God will be working on me. I have some inclinations, just like I did several years ago when Sabbath and rest started popping up everywhere I turned. (We learned a lot of hard lessons about that this year, and still have a long way to go!) But, everything I see will take a lot of time and a lot of smoothing away my hard edges.

I’ll make a new Goodreads reading goal. I’ll be more focused on the writing, because something tells me that it might finally be time to work that back in. I’ve been learning (or trying to learn!) guitar with my son. I’ll never get it like he does, but there’s something relaxing about picking out a song or a scale. I’ll be more intentional about planning outings with my family, enjoying some sewing on our rest days, and being committed to helping my oldest finish high school well.

But most of all, I hope that I’ll be open to those edges being smoothed. I hope I’ll be more sensitive to relationships and being a servant. And I hope I’ll be more fully surrendered to the Lord being in full control of every part of every day – not just the few minutes I spend in His Word every morning.

So here goes! I’m diving in and taking action on this first day of 2018. It will be fun to look back next year and see what amazing things God does – and just how much He’s able to do even through a hard-around-the-edges child like me.

Posted in Faith Nuggets

A Little Punctuation

Several years ago, Doug and I started making our own copies of Scripture. He had found Journibles, books designed for copying on one side of each two-page spread and taking notes on the other side. We have done the Gospel of John as well as James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Jude. As they grew older, we pulled the kids into the copying, and all five of us have our own handwritten copies of Psalms and Proverbs. Doug and I are now onto Ephesians in a book that also includes Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 & 2 Thessalonians.

Copying changes the way we read Scripture. Not only does it slow us down, but it also makes us contemplate specific words and phrases that we sometimes completely gloss over. Of course, memorization has the same effect, heightening our attention and increasing our sensitivity to phrases and thoughts that we might otherwise miss.

Copying adds one more factor, however: punctuation.

Now, keep something in mind. Our entire concept of the written language and the way words, sentences, and paragraphs are distinguished differs greatly from that of the original writers. Our English culture and language rely heavily on punctuation, so it is required to adequately translate Scripture. Hebrew and Greek? Well, that’s a whole different story. Consequently, I try to be very careful basing interpretive thought on punctuation. But, as I copied Galatians 2 not too long ago, I couldn’t help but notice a punctuation choice the NASB translators had made. They put quotation marks around everything from the second half of verse 14 through the end of chapter 2.

In this passage, Paul is sharing with the Galatians about a time when he opposed Peter publicly. The whys and whats of this argument are the discussion of another blog post, but the question of how much he might have said to Peter is what caught my attention. Some translators say that the second half of verse 14 was all Paul recorded of his challenge to Peter: “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” But, for some reason, the NASB translators extended Paul’s speech through verse 21 where he ends by declaring to Peter, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”

Honestly, the context of the passage remains the same with or without the quotation marks. But, the inclusion of this particular punctuation in the NASB forced me to stop and think about how the Galatians would have received the statement of Christ dying needlessly as opposed to how Peter would have received it.

Peter, who was passionate about everything.
Peter, who walked with Jesus through His entire earthly ministry.
Peter, who was devastated after denying Christ during His trial.
Peter, who experienced the incredible joy of being reinstated after Jesus’ resurrection.
Peter, who preached the first public sermon and had to quickly figure out how to organize a rapidly growing body of new believers.

To look at Peter, who had been through all of this yet had recently lapsed into behaving as if obeying the Law was critical to salvation, and state that “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” That makes it personal. Very personal.

If anyone could be struck in the heart with the truth of Christ’s death trumping the Law, it would be Peter. Peter lived it. Peter grieved it. Peter saw the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ.

Saying this to the Galatians would remind them of the importance of putting obedience to Christ above all else. Saying this to Peter would have brought back every experience, every emotion of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

Maybe the quotation marks belong there and maybe they don’t. But the morning I copied those words, I received them with Peter in mind. I imagined what Peter would have felt as Paul closed out his rebuke with that statement. And it was as if I read the statement for the first time.

I’ve never been a Jew, ethnically or religiously. I have never adhered to Old Testament dietary and interactive laws. But I have clung to other things. To Baptist tradition. To habit. To human teaching. And sometimes, I need to hear this statement through the ears of Peter. I need to remember that nothing, nothing, nullifies the death of Christ. His death took care of everything. His grace does not require my traditions or habits or deep-seated learning.

I will have habits and build traditions and receive teaching that help me live out that grace. But, it will never require those things.

Sometimes, even something as little as a quotation mark can go a long way toward reorienting our minds.

Posted in Faith Nuggets

These Things

1 & 2 Peter tug my heart in a special way. I can’t quite put my finger on why this is true, but they just might be my favorite epistles. Although I’m not currently reading in Peter’s epistles, I was recently flipping through my journal and was reminded of a thought from last year’s reading of 2 Peter 1.

Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.
Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind.
2 Peter 1:5-15

My journaled thought came from the end of this passage – the constant reminding. I am a teacher. I teach my own children. I teach youth. When I have opportunity, I lead or co-lead Bible studies. And I don’t mind repeating things. Ask my kids. Ask my Sunday school class! Half the time when any of the girls ask a question, I look back at them with a look that asks, “What do you think I’m going to say?” They know I’m going to remind them of the importance of a daily interaction with the Word of God. I have told them time and again that it’s up to them whether or not they actually heed my advice and make Scripture a prominent aspect of their lives. I cannot force them to do what they should. But, I can make sure they don’t forget the teaching.

At first glance, the last verses of this passage endorse my tendency to remind. But, as I ponder what verse 15 is really saying, I realize that the reference to “these things” is very specific, hearkening back to the qualities listed in verse five through seven: faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. And suddenly, I’m convicted instead of applauded.

If I possess these qualities, I am “neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” and I “will never stumble.” But if I lack these qualities, I am “blind or short-sighted, having forgotten [my] purification from [my] former sin.” If I remember these things, I will be effective as a teacher, not because my listeners will all heed every word, but because every act of obedience brings glory to my Savior, and He uses it to produce fruit in His time and His way. But if I forget them…

My heart breaks with the realization of how often I forget or actively ignore the command to walk in these things. No wonder there are so many times when I cannot find wisdom, when I feel like I can’t get anything right.

Every now and then I put a sticky note on my monitor with a verse I want to regularly see and remember. The one currently staring at me is Ps 110:169, which reads, “Let my cry reach You, Lord; give me understanding according to Your Word.” I think He’s answered that prayer with the reminder of 2 Peter 1:5-15. And now, I think I have a few new verses that need to be stuck to my monitor and seared into my brain that I may live a life in which I am not useless or fruitless and do not stumble.