Posted in Faith Nuggets, Meditations & Meanderings

Forgiven

I love different perspectives on the same story. Consider the story of Jesus, early in His ministry, healing a paralytic during a stay in Capernaum. Most of us head to Mark 2 for this story because we get the fun of watching four friends cut a hole in the roof of the house to get their buddy to Jesus.

But then there’s Matthew’s version. Matthew glosses right over the fun details about the hole in the roof and heads right to the words of Jesus:

And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2, emphasis mine)

Hearing a living, breathing human being declare forgiveness of sins through His own authority was a novelty at the time, leaving the scribes to mentally fume over such blasphemy and the people to widen their eyes in awe. Such a thing had never been heard of before, not even among the great prophets of old!

We, on the other hand, read this with incredible and precious familiarity. We’ve seen the rest of the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We know that our forgiveness was the focus (which, incidentally, is why I think Matthew started off with that part of the story). We have the big picture.

The newness left the Jews befuddled, preventing them from accepting that God could possibly have granted authority to this Man. Meanwhile, in our familiarity, we love to criticize them. And yet, what has our familiarity done to us? Does it cause us to miss the power of this just as much?

The morning this question hit me, I felt buried under a cloud of yuck. Sleepiness had reigned over me for days as allergies, a full schedule, and multiple stresses took their toll. My journaling up to that point had been pure wonderments of how in the world God could use me as I lay buried so deeply. How could His Spirit flow through me when I felt so paralyzed by life? But, after pondering Matthew’s introduction to the story, I read Jesus’ response to His critics.

And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’?” (Matthew 9:4-5)

Suddenly, it clicked. I realized the depth of significance behind Jesus’ words. Your sins are forgiven. You see, the paralytic was more than just paralyzed. He was cut off, not only from work, but also from the temple. From community. From worship.

His friends thought he needed physical healing. Jesus knew he needed restoration.

Physical healing might allow a little more freedom in life, but it wouldn’t provide true restoration. Only forgiven sins could possibly fill that need. And it is the same with us. When we are buried in our yuck – our ailments, our bad circumstances, our utter discouragement – we think a physical change is what’s needed. But the reality is that we already have everything we need because our sins are forgiven! Our fellowship with the Father has already been restored. We are complete. Whole. Unified with Him.

The physical healing did come as well, just as I have seen the Lord reveal His power through the physical circumstances of my own life. But, it usually only happens when I finally realize that the important thing is fellowship with Him. That His forgiveness raises me above the yuck and makes me His. Makes me usable. Everything else is just a bonus.

I am forgiven.

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Posted in Faith Nuggets, Meditations & Meanderings

From Separation to Rain

Every time I read or teach about Adam and Eve and the fall, my heart breaks over their sudden separation from God. And, each time I stop and consider the fact that our Bible “heroes” were part of building what we now have fully compiled in Scripture, I realize just how different their interaction with God was. But recently the reality of this hit home more powerfully than ever before.
The starting point is in John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. (John 1:1-4)

The Word of God has always been there. Always. And, this Word was fully present with Adam and Eve in the garden. But, when they sinned, they were cut off from that Word. Cut off. No daily walks in the garden. No Holy Spirit. No written word. No nothing. Can you even imagine?

We are so immersed in the Word of God that we don’t even realize what we have. The fullness of Scripture is right at our fingertips in so many forms – bound books, audio presentations, digital searches. Within seconds, we can fills our minds with any portion of Scripture we desire.

And then there is the Spirit to illuminate that Word, helping us to understand not only the written text, but the mysteries of Jesus Christ Himself and the truth of our adoption a children of God the Father.

Adam and Eve were left with none of that. Completely cut off.

And yet…

Oh how I love that! The story wasn’t over. Instead, it was just beginning. Scripture is full of “therefore” and “for this reason” and “because of this” and all sorts of other conjunctions that make us realize just how deep the Word of God is. It flows and intersects and connects in ways we only begin to fathom this side of heaven. In His wisdom, Almighty God did not ever leave humanity completely void of Himself and His Word. From the first moments after the fall of man, He was working to restore His Word to us, first through His mighty acts toward and through the the early descendants of Adam and Even, then, centuries later, through “the Word [who] became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Isaiah explains this incredible gift so eloquently:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth
And making it bear and sprout,
And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

I love the way Kathleen Nielson explores this amazing passage in Word-Filled Women’s Ministry:

Seeing verses 8 and 9 [of Isaiah 55], we grasp even more the wonder of verses 10 and 11, that God’s words, from which we’re cut off, should come down to us like the rain and snow from heaven to give us life as opposed to death. How amazing. How merciful.

God has not left us cut off. Neither has He given us mere breadcrumbs or sprinkles of water to keep us tagging along like puppy dogs until we finally reach the restored fullness of His presence. Instead, He has rained down His Word upon us through the provision of Scripture, the sending of His Son, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Oh that we would grasp the magnificent gift that we hold. Oh that we would see that, where we once were cut off, we are now immersed. And oh that the ground of our hearts would be soft and receptive to this amazing rain.

Posted in Family, Thoughts from Life

Together

A couple of weeks ago, we headed out for a much-needed and highly anticipated family getaway. We left early on a Thursday morning because our mouth-watering, start-vacation-off-right, pancake and omelet breakfast treat was an hour away in the destination city of Hot Springs. It was a delight to hear the proclamations of, “Wow, that’s just good,” and see the expressions of delight as the kids tasted phenomenal apple pancakes, delectable omelets, fresh-squeezed orange juice, local sausage, thick bacon, and delightful apple butter. Before climbing back into the car to head on to our cabin twenty miles away, we walked off our fullness by browsing the shops that were open at such an early hour, and I once again delighted in the responses of my children as we entered a cute shop with pottery and carvings and jewelry. We ended up having to drag them out, even after they’d made small purchases and thought they were done looking. They kept finding new treasures they’d missed!

And then there was the cabin on the lake. A glorious retreat into peace and quiet and fresh air and beautiful views. A treasure for each and every one of us. Some of the time, we interacted. Walking around the park. Hiking a trail. Skipping rocks at the lake. Closing out each day with s’mores or warm beverages and a game of some sort. Other times, we did our own thing. Curling up with books either in separate rooms or scattered around the cabin’s living room. Wandering around outdoors. Sitting out on the porch with a cup of something or other, watching the rain fall.

But even when we did our own thing, we were together.

And that’s what I love about our family. We love being together. Oh, we frequently go our separate ways out of necessity, but we all like coming back together. We enjoy sharing things with one another. Laughing together. Discussing with one another. Speaking in movie or book quotes and pursuing philosophic contemplations together.

Just being together. Whether we’re interacting or doing our own thing.

When I think of all of the families I’ve known through the years, the consistent reality is that the happiest of those families are those who enjoy being together. Whether they have plans or are just being. And there is a very distinct common thread that runs through all of the families who enjoy one another. They are all intentional about their togetherness.

Togetherness doesn’t happen by accident. Neither does the desire to be together. Both must be intentionally chosen. Actively cultivated. Even stubbornly pursued through the times when togetherness is not the pleasure and bliss we enjoyed during our recent vacation.

Sometimes togetherness is hard. Sometimes we get on one another’s nerves or wish for someone else – anyone else – to be with. (And yes, there are many times when we need to be with other people, but that’s another topic for another day.) But the good only comes when we choose the work. The discipline. The intentional interaction.

As our children grow older, we know we are rapidly approaching the day when togetherness will not be so frequent or so easily accomplished. My prayer is that we will never lose the joy of our togetherness, even if it has to be enjoyed through phone calls and sporadic visits. But I also pray that our children are able to take that joy into their own adult lives as they marry and have children of their own. That they are able to cultivate and celebrate their own togetherness and teach their children the joy of that interaction.

Because it’s a beautiful thing to enjoy life…together.

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.

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?