Posted in Meditations & Meanderings, Thoughts from Scripture

Unity and Harmony

Over the years, I’ve grown to love the way the Holy Spirit helps me see portions of Scripture more clearly. Sometimes, I see connections within a multi-verse passage or between two different passages. Other times, a single word jumps out at me, and I realize the preconceptions I have applied to that word. Then I get to explore and determine whether those preconceptions have helped or hurt my understanding.

“Unity” is one of those words. Recently, while studying 1 Peter, I got a bit hung up on a word in 1 Peter 3:8. I was using NASB (my favorite study translation) to read through the passage each morning: “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit” (emphasis mine).

I’d read and studied the whole focal passage (1 Peter 3:8-12) over and over again for several days already, and I’d been processing through the passage as a whole. But, “harmonious” kept standing out to me. I looked it up in other translations, and I realized that other translations seemed to favor “unity” and “of one mind.” Only NASB chose “harmonious.”

And that’s where I realized my preconceptions. You see, in my mind I often equate unity and uniformity. They are not the same. But, that’s what I frequently come to the table thinking: if you want me to be unified with you, you want me to think like you. To process like you. To engage like you. But that’s not really unity. That’s uniformity.

And uniformity is not what is meant by Paul, Peter, and other New Testament writers as they presented a concept that we usually translate as “unity.” The concept they present is one that, in my mind, is more easily expressed as “harmony.” Why? Because I’m a musical person. I grasp the idea of multiple voices or instruments playing a variety of notes in a variety of ways, together producing something amazingly beautiful. They are together. They are accomplishing a united goal. But, they are each doing so in a way that reflects their own personality. Harmony.

That is the truth of unity as expressed in Scripture. Both words are correct. But one resonates more clearly with me simply because of the way my brain works.

Peter would not have thought differently of the two. I’d have to do more research to validate this thought, but I don’t believe musical harmony was much of a concept in Peter’s day. He did, however, understand that a good fishing team needed to have multiple strengths to work together and accomplish a common goal, just as Paul described the different parts of the body functioning together. That’s harmony. Unity, but not uniformity.

I’ve always known that. But, my subconscious preconception that equated unity and uniformity has still negatively colored my reading of “unity” passages in Scripture. One little translation choice to use “harmonious” instead of “unity of mind” or “like-minded” made me stop and deal with my preconception.

That, my friends, is how the Spirit works. How He grows us and teaches us and helps us dig more deeply into the Word of God. How He conforms our thoughts and our minds to more clearly reflect the mind of Christ. May we never take that teaching lightly! And may we never cling to our preconceptions more strongly than to the teaching of the Holy Spirit.

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Meditations & Meanderings

Blog Post or Devotional?

I was fifteen when I was handed my first devotional. It was a small, leather-bound copy of My Utmost for His Highest, given to me as a Christmas present by my great-aunt Lula. I still have it. And I still read it. Not every year – it’s not in my stack of morning reading this year, but it goes through my rotation every few years.

In the “off” years, I try other devotional books. Some have been good. Others have been okay. But this year, for the first time, I stopped reading my chosen devotional book only a month into the year. It’s not that it was a bad book. I had not come across anything unbiblical or questionable. I just realized something about it: it was not really devotional. Instead, it felt more like a collection of blog posts.

I enjoy blog posts. I write blog posts. And I’m challenged and encouraged by blog posts. But, I’ve come to realize something. A blog post is not a devotional. Instead, it is a sharing of thought, opinion, or experience. It forms camaraderie as we share with one another and realize we are not alone in our thoughts, opinions, or experiences.

A devotional, however, is a very different thing. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines the word devotional two ways:
1. Adj: of, relating to, or otherwise characterized by devotion
2. N: a short worship service

Ultimately, devotional reading should be all about emphasizing our worship of and helping to express our devotion to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. While our experiences might be used as an example in a devotional, ultimately the primary thrust of the writing comes back to one thing and one thing only: a growth in the Word and worship of God. It isn’t about us. It isn’t even about fellowship and community. Those are important and very much have their place, but sometimes we need to come back worship and true devotion. Purely and simply.

When I sit down to read in the morning, I hunger for everything I take in to point me back to God’s Word. Some would say that I should, therefore, not even pick up other books in the mornings. And, there are some mornings I skip my other books and just dive into my study of 1 Peter or the upcoming week’s Sunday school passage or my Proverb of the day. But, other books, whether devotionals or otherwise, also help me break out of the rut I sometimes read myself into. They help me think outside the box I sometimes trap myself in. They make me examine myself in new ways.

Unfortunately, too much material written for women these days tends to fall into the “blog post” category. It may be packaged as devotionals or spiritually nourishing books or even Bible studies, but the focus is primarily on encouraging one another in shared experiences, doing little to drive us back to worship of Christ or to Scripture itself. It does not break us out of our ruts. It does not help us think outside our little boxes. And it does not force a deeper level of self-examination that compares our hearts and lives to the purity demanded in Scripture.

There is a huge place for expression of mutual comfort and a sense of fellowship. This lets us know that we are not alone in our struggles. That we have fellowship. Oh, how desperately we need that! But a deeper need – our deep, burning, foundational need – is to become more like Christ. To learn a greater devotion to Him. And if what we choose to take in only focuses on the encouragement of human community and not on our deeper need for growing devotion, we starve our spiritual selves.

So that brings us to this question: are we daily challenging our devotion to the Lord? Are we engaging in true devotional time, or are we merely contenting ourselves with blog posts?

Posted in Thoughts from Life, What I'm Learning

Sufficiency and Tightropes

I’m procrastinating today.

We slept in a bit this morning, which has me running a little later on the routine than normal. But, that’s not really what has me moving slowly. In reality, it’s the subconscious knowledge that, if I keep putting off writing, I once again won’t have time to get a blog post written, edited, and published before I absolutely have to get to work in order to get my hours in before church. That subconscious knowledge has actually become my safety net. And I’ve been spending more time in the safety net than on the tightrope where I belong.

You see, I have quiet a few blog posts stored in my files right now. Some are just thoughts tapped out quickly that need to be fleshed out. But others are fully written and just need to be edited. I have good intentions of starting my morning with some editing, photo searching, and publication prep so I can get one of those posts up. But each morning I find a whole list of other things that just have to be done. Then my time is spent, and I have to get to work. So, the posts never go up.

But it’s not really because of a lack of time or because of so many other things that are pressing. It’s really because staying in the safety net is more comfortable. It keeps me from falling. Because I know that I’m not going to stay on that tightrope. I will fall. How much easier to just stay down here where I know I’m going to end up anyway?

I’ve always been like that. I’ve never been a risk-taker or a daredevil. Thrill has never enticed me. In some ways, that’s a good thing. There is a place for people like me, because we like to keep the show running. We like to be in the background providing everything the thrill-seekers and dreamers and brainstormers and visionaries need. We make their ideas happen because we’re good at the practical and the organizational and – to be completely honest – the boring. That’s our place. That’s our strength.

But, too often it’s also our hiding place. And we have a litany of reasons to hide. One of the big ones for me is a feeling of insufficiency.

One of my daughters surprised me one day by verbalizing exactly how I feel so often, especially in the presence of my children. They are so talented. So amazing. They all have such incredible skills. I feel pretty mediocre standing next to them. Yet, one morning my daughter expressed how she felt useless and untalented, especially compared to her siblings. They, in turn, stared at her with mouths gaping and quickly began stating all of the ways she was so awesome and her talents were so amazing and useful, especially compared to how they viewed their own talents and strengths. As I worked to build up and encourage each of them, I also ached because I knew exactly how they all felt.

Insufficient.

They believe about themselves the same things I believe about myself. We may have our skills and talents, but what difference do they actually make in the real world? How can we possibly compare to the extraordinary offerings of so many other people? What impact can we, with our piddly contributions – actually make?

We recognize that we’ll never know if we don’t try, but we’ve also all – yes, even my three precious children at their tender ages – have tried and have fallen off the tightrope. Multiple times. Sometimes because of our own failing and other times because we’ve been shoved. Every time because of some insufficiency.

We long for the tightrope. We even do all of the preparations needed to walk the tightrope. And really, we don’t mind falling in the process of learning to walk the tightrope. But, we know that we won’t always fall on our own. Sometimes we will be knocked down, whether accidentally because of a lapse of attentiveness on someone else’s part or intentionally because of jealousy or rudeness or pride. But, it will happen. And in that fear, we stay in our safety net and wish that we were already experts on the tightrope. Already skilled to the point of being able to better resist the shoves. Unsure that we can handle both the learning and the struggling.

That’s why I’m procrastinating today. That’s why multiple posts remain in my folders, unedited and unpublished. And that’s why I’m forcing myself to publish this post today. Because it’s time to get out of the safety net and get back on the tightrope.

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.

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.