Reclaiming the Sweetness: what to rehearse when you’re dreading tomorrow

“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith…”

Hebrews 12:2

Today is a Saturday and Cody’s here and I’m making cinnamon rolls and Abi is playing in the sand. It’s a sweet day, and I could just enjoy it. But I’m distracted by what’s looming ahead.  

Cody’s leaving Tuesday for a week-long trip to a bush location. In a month or two, he’s planning a trip to the States for his Kodiak training. He’d be gone for a month.

Right now, I’m fighting a cold, not sleeping great, and worried about handling just this next week well without him. I’m still new here. I still find walking my toddler to the market in the afternoon heat and keeping him out of the road while I buy veggies in another language…overwhelming. I rely on that hand-off when Cody gets home, and I’m tempted to compare and feel discouraged when it comes to parenting Abishai without the back-up. Cody would do a way better job, I tell myself. You can’t be all that Abi needs. He’ll be worse off for having spent all that time with just you, especially if you’re not feeling 100%.

This month, I’m going through a Bible Study called “TruthFilled” by Ruth Chou Simons.  One of her main points so far has been this: You are your own biggest influence. No one talks to you more than you do. How vital is it, then, to make sure that what you are saying to yourself is the truth?

This week, the challenge was to describe some of the worries I currently feel and then confront those emotions by drafting a mini-sermon to myself with the truth I already know, but need to work at rehearsing. Here’s what I came up with:

I don’t need to worry about my performance. I don’t need to dwell on all the things coming up and how I will meet them. I don’t need to be fearful because my body is not doing well and the demands are more than I can meet. Christ holds all creation together and that includes me and my life. (Colossians 1:17)

I can see the challenges and still look at these coming days with hope and expectation, and here is why:

“…We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord and your lives will produce EVERY KIND of good fruit. All the while YOU WILL GROW as you learn to know God better and better.”

Colossians 1:9-10, emphasis mine

It’s a prayer laying out what God alone is able to accomplish, what a maturing believer who continues to pursue a knowledge of God, even in their frailty, can look forward to and expect.

I will grow. My life will honor and please God, and I will produce every kind of good fruit as I develop in my knowledge of God’s will and spiritual wisdom and understanding, getting to know Him better and better. And that wisdom? That knowledge of Him? It is not a place I can climb to. It is a gift to those who ask.

“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and HE WILL GIVE IT TO YOU. He will not rebuke you for asking.”

James 1:5, emphasis mine

Even the next verse in James 1 brings it back to this one simple thing: “be sure your faith is in God alone.I am not called upon for my work, my discipline, or my understanding. I am asked to offer my faith.

“This is the only work God wants from you: believe in the one He has sent.”

John 6:29

And so, that which I am asked, I can most certainly do. I cannot know ahead of time what will happen or how to meet it. I cannot heal my body or perform perfectly. But I can trust Him. And that is my job. And as I trust Him, He gives me wisdom and understanding. And as I grow in wisdom and understanding, my life produces what He desires. All I am yearning for in my life springs as the outflow of a heart that decides to believe Jesus; to believe His work, to believe His words, and to depend only on Him, for this next moment, and the one after that.

There are tasks and challenges coming up that I don’t feel ready for. But my first priority is to trust the Lord. And I do that, even as I approach these things, by choosing not to worry. I choose to believe He will take care of me when I get there.

And when it comes to parenting Abishai without back-up? I never had a prayer of being what he needed anyway. Who he needs is not me. But it’s not Cody either. It’s Christ. And Christ lives powerfully in me, still faithfully cultivating growth, producing transformation, and holding out all the hope we need. I am never parenting all alone. Always, I carry about within me the treasure Abi most needs to take hold of.

Christ is sufficient for me. Christ is sufficient for him. Christ is sufficient for today. Christ is sufficient for tomorrow.

And when I do the work of deciding to believe it, He does the work of putting my heart at rest so that I can enjoy cinnamon rolls, breezy Saturdays, and my laughing, sandy toddler without any fear for tomorrow, next week, or any day after.

Frayed: grace to help us when we split under pressure

“You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake…We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”

2 Corinthians 4:5, 7

We’re in the second stage of language learning here in Papua New Guinea. Instead of going to either the classroom or a teaching session out in the village, we’ve been cut loose to learn as much as we can by being with people in their daily lives. Sometimes this means helping in their gardens, washing clothes in the river with them, visiting their homes, or going on a walk and talking with whoever we meet on the way.

One difficulty I ran into last week was this: men and women usually spend their days apart.

Where Cody can pretty freely come and go, it takes a little more legwork and planning to set up a safe way for me get those same experiences. I was brainstorming and doing my very best to meet all the expectations I felt, but one day, my plan fell through and my heart sunk with it.

Cody had a long hike with the men planned that day and with my Plan A out of commission, several people would have had to change their whole day in order for me to get the language time I’d been hoping for. I got disillusioned with how unfair and complicated this process felt. I cried, hard. I miss the structure. I miss our teacher laying out our lessons and making sure everyone was right where they should be. I miss the freedom to just hop in my car and go where I need to go. I miss my mom!

The next morning, one of the sweet ladies here offered to watch Abi for a few hours, and I took the opportunity to reset. I could accomplish all kinds of language study, but if I’m driven by a fearful, panicky, proud heart…what would it be worth?

I asked the Lord to help me accept that part of learning this culture is taking it in stride when a plan doesn’t work out. Part of learning to be faithful is looking for how I can be faithful with what I can do, rather than stressing over what I can’t.

I’m adjusting to a lot of new limitations. And I realize that leaving campus for these language-learning experiences has become, to my heart, a need. An idol, that when threatened, pushes me to distress. I saw that there were pressures I was allowing to influence my choices and forfeit my peace.

I was fearful of falling behind in language. I hate how it feels when I struggle to understand. We do have a really important message and I want to communicate it clearly. But deep down, I think it’s more about my fear than my good intentions. It’s important to me to feel at home, and I’m just plain afraid that I’ll struggle to settle in and I’ll burn out if I don’t get this language down. So there I was, grasping for control and fighting like crazy to set us up here, when the Lord pointed out to me one startling fact:

I had place my hope for successful ministry and life here on adequate language learning instead of throwing myself upon His grace and strength. Somewhere along the line I decided again that this is up to me. And so, I was blowing a fuse instead of begging for help.

In that moment, I saw all over again that I am a fragile clay jar. And this is by design. It helps to make it crystal clear that any power, gifting, or ability that shows up in my life comes from Christ alone. I am not the savior or the solution to anyone’s need; I am just the stained and battered envelope bearing a message of inexpressible joy:

Help is on the way. You’re going to be okay. Not because I’m here, but because HE is. And look at what He was able to do in me, in spite of all the places I split under the pressure.

Oh Lord,

Please help me to shift my hope to you and you alone. Help my stressed-out heart yield to the rule of your peace. Teach me to surrender the things I am so desperate to control. You have not just set me aside to make sure Cody learns all that he needs. You have different things to teach us, and I am positioned perfectly to learn what you have decided is most important. Make me a humble learner who is willing to learn what you are teaching, rather than rejecting it because I had something different in mind.

As I was looking over our instructions for independent language study, I noticed this breakdown for how to spend our time:

5% – Plan

50% – Participate

20% – Process

25% – Practice

Man, if only 5% of learning depends on planning, I can still learn a ton when the plan goes out the window. Maybe more than if the plan had worked. And I think great learning versus great stress depends on whether I trust the teacher.

You’re changing me. You’re teaching me that YOU are the point, not me. You are freely giving your light and your strength – sending them into my desperate need. I am frayed, but you are unphased, intact, perfect as ever, able to withstand every pressure.

You are the only source of a steady heart. The only thing on earth that can hold us secure through shifting, through trouble, and through our own inadequacy. Lord, I praise your name for who you are and for what you are doing here and now in my life. Lead me as I form my plans for this day, and lead me still when I must take brave steps into unplanned territory.

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet He did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”

Hebrews 4:15-16

Inap Yu Stretim Mi?: on rehearsing the right story

Search me, Oh God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”

Psalm 139:23-24

Right now, Cody and I are working on learning Tok Pisin, the trade language of Papua New Guinea. Every afternoon, we say to our language helper:

“Bai mi stori. Bihain, inap yu stretim mi?”

It means: I’m going to tell you a story. Afterward, can you correct me?

We do our best with the vocabulary we’ve learned so far, and we explain how our morning went, or describe something exciting we’ve experienced in the past, or sometimes we tell him about our funny moments. He listens and nods, and once we’ve finished, he faithfully points out every single thing we did wrong.

We work on it together until we’ve straightened out (“stretim”) all of the errors. Then we record him telling the same story. After our lesson is over, we listen to his version over and over and over. We’ve learned the words, now we want to learn his way of saying them.

This morning, I realized that this process is a great picture of how the Lord wants us to approach Him. Who in their right mind tells a story and then invites someone to point out everything that’s wrong about it?

Someone who already knows they aren’t telling it perfectly. Someone who’s ready to learn.

What if I approached the Lord this way: Jesus, I’m going to tell you a story. Afterward, can you correct me?

What if I laid out for Him everything I was thinking and all the things I had experienced; then I invited Him to straighten it out? To correct me when I’m telling the story wrong? To adjust my thinking where it’s off?  To point out the issues that my own heart doesn’t see?

He is so much more than a merciful listener. He is my willing teacher. What if I humbled my heart enough to invite His critique? I think He’d be faithful to give it. What if I told my version of the story once, but then I took His words and I listened to them over and over and over, because I was desperate to get the right version into my brain?

Would my heart benefit most from rehearsing my version, or from studying His?

Lord, inap yu stretim mi?

He guides the humble in what is right
    and teaches them his way.

Psalm 25:9

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom…”

Colossians 3:16

When Mountains Crumble: a lifeline for the unexpected

“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!

…The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress.”

Psalm 46:1-3, 11

We were so careful.

We delayed our travel. We waited for negative Covid tests. We wore masks for 3 days of air travel and airports. We finally made it to Papua New Guinea. We quarantined for two weeks. An enormous amount of effort and care went into avoiding any chance of spreading Covid from the U.S to our new home. But when we arrived, it was already here.

One day before our quarantine ended, Covid cases here had reached a point of such concern that all non-essential trips to town were cancelled. Imagine moving your family half the world away with only what you can pack into 9 suitcases and then finding out you can’t go to the store.

I cried.

We got through our first week of language learning, and two residents on our base tested positive for Covid. Classes were cancelled. Sports were cancelled. The market is closed. In order to keep from potentially spreading Covid into the community, we’re not allowed to leave the center. Our leadership is carefully navigating an extremely challenging situation, and they’re doing a great job. But the timing was hard.

When I think about why I came to Papua New Guinea, there is one main reason: to obey Jesus. The path up to this point has been full of so many unexpected turns. He has not landed us where I thought we’d be or in the ministry where I thought we’d serve. But I arrived excited, ready to start our life here, looking forward to what He had for us and how He’d use us.

All the unexpected changes during our first days here sharply revealed the other reasons I had for coming here: other hopes, hidden expectations.

I was excited to explore the beauty of the country.Ok Beka, what if you can’t leave the base? Was it still worth it to come here?

I was really looking forward to the sports.What if sports are cancelled and you’re back to running by yourself? Can you still be content?

I couldn’t wait to learn language. What if you can’t have contact with your language teacher? What if developing the ability to communicate here gets put on hold?

After moving from place to place for our entire marriage, I was looking forward to finally setting up our home. —What if you’re using a house full of things that don’t belong to you? What if settling in and making it yours has to wait?

If the other reasons are stripped away, is obeying Jesus a good enough reason, all by itself?

Can you obey Jesus whole-heartedly, even when what that looks like today is vastly different than what you envisioned? When you’ve prepared for 12 years, and then you get here, but it doesn’t look like what you prepared for – can you trust that God knew exactly what this moment would look like and that He has perfectly equipped you to step into it?

During our class introductions, one of my friends shared a verse from Psalm 16. It was a lifeline the Lord had used to carry her through loss, disappointment, and discouragement in a difficult season.

Set the Lord always before you and you will not be shaken.

Before this month, I would have said, “Yeah! I do that!” But He is starting to show me how often it is something else I set before me. And when that something else lets me down, I get discouraged. I believe that, in His love, my God allows those things to fail me. It’s not wrong to be excited or to look forward to good things. But it is crucial for my heart to re-center on the One who is the source of all those good things – the One who is enough even when all the other reasons are stripped away.

He is taking me to a place where I find my hope in nothing more and nothing less than Jesus Christ – crucified, risen, living in me, victorious, able, sufficient.

If I set Him before me. I will not be shaken. Though the mountains themselves crumble into the sea. Though earthquakes come and oceans roar and plans get cancelled and we lose any inkling of what to expect.

The Lord can use disappointment, difficulty and inconvenience to purify our dependence on him – to teach us the secret of joy. And in the midst of this, I would like to let him.

—-

Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart sad?

I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again – my Savior and my God…

I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.

But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me.

And through each night I sing his songs…”

Psalm 42:5-6, 8

But One Man Hid: on coming to a halt to deal with the heart

“Then Joshua cried out, ‘O Sovereign Lord, why did you bring us across the Jordan River if you are going to let the Amorites kill us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side! Lord what can I say now that Israel has fled before its enemies?…

…this is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: ‘Hidden among you, O Israel, are things set apart for the Lord. You will never defeat your enemies until you remove these things from among you.”

Joshua 7:7-8, 13

God had stopped the Jordan River in its tracks so that Israel could cross on dry land. He had brought down the walls of Jericho before their very eyes. Boldly, they sent a detachment to take out the small town of Ai, and then they were brutally defeated. Joshua was thrown. I would have been, too.

Why had God delivered mighty Jericho to them, and then brought the campaign to a screeching halt at Ai?

The rest of this chapter tells the story of Achan, a man who disobeyed God’s instructions. Israel had been given clear directions to destroy everything except the precious metals, and to bring those to the Tabernacle treasury. They were set apart as holy to the Lord. But Achan made off with just a little something for himself and stashed it under his tent.

I love how this chapter illustrates that when all of Israel obeyed the Lord, but one man kept back and hid what belonged to Him, God was not content to just carry on with the external task of delivering the Promised Land to Israel.

Joshua, in his discouragement, questioned whether they had been over-reaching by stepping across the Jordan at all. But the issue wasn’t having the confidence to go after all that God had promised. The issue was looking only for God’s claim on the territory before them and missing that the battle for his claim on their hearts was just as important.

Later, God did give Israel victory over Ai, and when he did, he told them they were free to take all that they wanted. He was not withholding from them in the long term; he was asking them to trust him and wait. But Achan’s actions in Jericho showed that his heart didn’t trust the Lord. He felt he needed to look out for himself. So God stopped the whole nation in its tracks and revealed to them what was hidden. Then, and only then, he took them forward into victory.

Just as everyone in Israel but Achan obeyed and it wasn’t enough; Jehovah looks for nothing short of a totally yielded heart in me.

Deuteronomy 6:4-6, Psalm 139:23-24 and James 1:21 explore a similar principle – that our loving God is not content with all in my heart that is honorable and well-intentioned when there are hidden areas that disobey, conceal, and hold back from Him.

But when I humble my heart and listen carefully to His word, He faithfully brings those things to the surface. He is in the patient business of drawing out the internal issues that enslave me, cultivate fear, and darken my understanding of Him. And He may even allow exciting external progress to come to a grinding halt in order to address my heart, so that when I walk forward, I do so truly free, wholly His, and unafraid.

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his.
He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.
He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.

Daniel 2:20-22

Checking Seatbelts: control freak meets roller coaster

“As for me, I look to the Lord for help. I wait confidently for God to save me, and my God will certainly hear me…though I fall, I will rise again. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.”

Micah 7:7-8

I have felt a lot of fear over the last few months.

I tend to respond to my fear by trying to control everything, but I only end up discovering how little control I have. I have been fighting like crazy to set us up for this next step, to find ways to make this adjustment smoother, to try and protect and care for my family on this roller coaster the Lord has us on.

What if I spent my time on a real roller coaster that way? What if I tried to anticipate everything we were going to feel, everything that might be scary, when to lean this way, when the lights would go out? What if I spent the entire ride constantly checking everyone’s seatbelts and re-positioning and conducting surveys to see how everyone was coping?

Half the joy of a roller coaster is that you don’t know what to expect. People ride them for the experience of being surprised, for the feeling of dropping through thin air and the shock of losing their bearings, for the rush of the wind on a ride that’s too fast for them to steer. The best roller coasters get you good and scared, but they don’t make you worry for your safety.

Oh Lord,

I have been need-meeting and checking seatbelts for so long that I don’t know what it’s like to stop straining against the harness and just be on this ride with my people. I don’t know how to just take this one unexpected drop, one unforeseen turn, and one stretch to catch my breath at a time.

Help me not to grow discouraged when something surprises me and I’m forced to see the state of my own heart. You are faithfully bringing to the surface the attitudes and beliefs that steal my joy and shake my footing. You stand ready to replace them with your peace so that I am able to delight in the unexpected journey you have prepared for me.

I will always be frustrated if I am trying to adjust the roller coaster instead of just riding it. Build in me such a confidence in you that I wait on you, persistently looking to you for help, not dissuaded when I fall, not intimidated when it’s dark, always ready to hope in you once more. May I grow ever more loyal to what is true of you, and less attached to my expectations of how this will go.

There are plenty of surprises ahead where I won’t feel totally secure. But help me to trust that, in you, I am completely safe.

Not By My Own Effort: on blood, sweat, and tears and grace given freely



…We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us
. We put no confidence in human effort.

Philippians 3:3
 

I wrote a letter this morning, and as I worked to frame words that might lead to a resting place, my eyes burned. I realized that I was also pleading for myself. Maybe this morning, it’s a prayer breathed for your heart, too:

I see you and your desire to grow and to learn and to do such a good job serving and taking care of others. I see how hard you are working and how desperately you are trying. I’m praying this morning that you would feel settled in this truth: God is not disappointed in you or hoping for more from you.

So the question is this: are you hoping for more from you?

All that yearning can produce an unbearable amount of pressure, and it only helps us when we let it drive us to the cross and remind us that our best effort will never be enough, but because we have placed our trust in Christ, that longing and reaching are met in him. In him, we are perfect, well-pleasing, enough, praiseworthy, beautiful, satisfactory.

I want you to rest and to know that it is okay to be right where you are, offering yourself to Him, learning, and still finding some things difficult. 

Philippians 3:16 says this: “But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.”

Our successes and our progress are gifts. They are not earnings. And that is hard to remember when we have been laboring hard. But our hearts are reassured and strengthened for the tasks ahead to the extent that we accurately identify grace and gifts given freely to us rather than marveling at what we claim our own hands have built. 

When we lay down the illusion that we have reached this place by our own blood, sweat and tears, we also lay down the pressure to tackle the next mountain short-handed.

Instead, we can look back and trace the path of his faithfulness. We can revel in gift after gift; each reflecting the generous character of a lavish giver. And we can have confidence that no matter what we face next, no matter how spent we are, we will continue to receive good things, and we will continue to be a channel of good things to others. Not because we’re trying so dang hard, but because our unfailing fountain of life will continue to be who he is toward us. 

He is ever able to keep giving as we look to him, as we keep asking for help, and as we keep thanking him for how far we’ve come. Not by our own effort, but by his undeserved grace.


…And what do you have that you did not receive?... (1 Corinthians 4:27)

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

 

Strong Houses: on troubled relationships and the courage to tread new paths

Oh Lord…take pity on your servants! Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives. Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery! Replace the evil years with good. Let us, your servants see you work again; let our children see your glory.

Psalm 90:13-16

Cody and I got to go out for coffee one afternoon in October – we were offered some surprise babysitting so we could put some quality time toward our marriage.

It was a sweet time, but a lot of it was spent in tears as we took stock of some of the walls we’ve had up toward each other and just how we have struggled, especially through the adjustment of having Abishai, the travel problems, struggles feeding the baby, and post-partum emotions. We both felt at a loss for how to cope with that season. We reacted poorly and now we’re trying to sort through it all and break bad patterns. It’s easy to just wish it could go back to how it was before; back to when our relationship just worked. But we don’t want that. We want to press through this to the place where our marriage is better than before. We want to stare down the hard things in our relationship and work at them and believe that God is growing something even deeper and sweeter.

A hopeful moment in the conversation was when we verbalized the truth that this hard season did not take a beautiful relationship and wreck it.

Each of these stacked-up challenges added pressure to a relationship that was functioning okay, but had some harmful undercurrents. God allowed a hard season to push to the surface dynamics in our marriage that he was not content to leave the way they were. His desire is to transform what does not line up with his design and his character – not just in our hearts as individuals, but in our relationships with each other.

He is teaching us not to be disheartened or discouraged but to come to him and humbly ask him to change what we cannot. We are powerless to be any different, but in Christ, we have all that we need to walk forward; and we have all confidence that we are walking forward toward something good.

He is also teaching me to change my thinking toward my son. I am starting to see how easy it is to lose the joy of our relationship because I see parenting him as a matter of my performance. I tend to think of him in terms of the academic – a problem I can solve if only I study hard enough, a test I can get a good grade on if I put in the work. But Abishai is a complex soul, a growing heart, a person who longs for love, attention, and control just like I do. A firecracker like me who wrestles to manage the same anger, frustration and intensity, but with a lot less practice. And God have given us to each other; and given himself to us.

For a goal-oriented person who likes to hustle and shoot high and work with all my might, it is a strange thing to discover that sometimes the best thing I can do for my relationships is to relax toward them; to stop fighting to make sure everything goes right and to lay down my many expectations, both for myself and for my people. Marriage and parenting are both callings that take hard work and I want to do a good job so badly. But a big part my job is to enjoy, appreciate and notice the sweetness of the gift I have been given.

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Family is not just a job; it’s a treasure. It’s a context in which we work out our understanding of who God is and who we are – it’s the most important place for us to stand still and see him work on our behalf.

Family is where we grow in how we handle pressure, weariness, pinch points, and passion. It’s where we practice sharing, giving, encouraging, handling insult, and allowing for faults. It’s companionship for the funny moments, the little stresses, and the daily decisions that no one else may witness.

It’s not an arena for competition. It’s a garden for tending: a place for spotting beauty, giving thanks, and celebrating the growth of good fruit. It’s a sanctuary of waiting, trusting, hoping, holding steady and holding our breath to see what will break through the surface. It is soil that holds all kinds of potential, a calling to plant seeds faithfully and cultivate the good growth and new life God gives.

It is not a computer program with predictable input and output. No. It is far more beautiful than that.

Oh Lord,

Help me to see it, to really see it, and to thank you.

Please give us gladness in proportion to our former misery. Let us, your servants, see you work again. Satisfy us with your love. In our marriage and in our family, teach us to come to you for the strength to tread new paths. Fill our hearts with hope toward what you can do with what feels wrecked, with the deep ruts we don’t see a way out of, and with the scarred, tender places where have snagged a hundred times already. We invite you to step in, to transform what we are helpless to change. Lord, we need you desperately. Let us see you work beyond our highest expectations and let our children see your glory.

With each of my people, help my heart to see this truth: they are not my audience, they are not my rival, and they are not my project. They are your gift to me. And you are the builder who is knocking away our crumbling places so that you may lay steady foundations in their place.

May I learn to let my soul rest, to thank you, and to take courage – for you give good gifts and you build strong houses.

Unless the Lord builds a house,
    the work of the builders is wasted.
Unless the Lord protects a city,
    guarding it with sentries will do no good.
It is useless for you to work so hard
    from early morning until late at night,
anxiously working for food to eat;
    for God gives rest to his loved ones.

Children are a gift from the Lord;
    they are a reward from him.

Psalm 127:1-3

Stay In The Room: on grace with each other that doesn’t give up

While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head. The disciples were indignant when they saw this, “What a waste!”

…but Jesus, aware of this, said, “Why criticize this woman for doing such a good thing to me?”…from that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.

Matthew 26:7-10, 16

Greed, dishonesty, and theft were already at work in Judas. But here, we witness a turning point. He sees someone freely pour out something precious for Jesus – a treasure wasted, in Judas’ opinion. A loss. A disagreement about how to manage resources. A “That is it!” moment. And Judas heads into the night, in more ways than one.

His story teaches me that I need to be wary when I start to get frustrated with how things are being managed, when resources start to become more precious than people, when the way a decision is handled tempts me to throw up my hands and throw in the towel. May I have the wisdom to hold my tongue and tread carefully when my heart grows angry enough to say “That is it!”

Bad decisions often follow.

In this season of much disagreement – in our nation, in our churches, and in our homes – my need to tend to my heart is greater than ever. It is labor-intensive to weed out the pride, bitterness, greed, and criticism that so easily take up residence within me.

As we work alongside others to manage the time and resources God has given, and as our lives are impacted by the decisions of others – how desperately I need him to give me a gentleness and a calm toward choices that are handled differently than I expect and toward events that may unfold differently than I hoped. We are not called to control our future, or to control each other. We are called to control ourselves in how we think about the future and in how we handle each other.

I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself. In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge…let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then…you will overflow with thankfulness.

Colossians 2:2-3, 7

In all that is uncertain, I can be completely confident that I understand God’s mysterious plan: it’s Christ himself. The savior who laid down his life to rescue any of us who place our trust in him from the penalty and power of our sin. The author and finisher of our faith who lives in and through us and leads us forward when things get hairy. The solid rock where we find our firm footing. The vine that produces in us the kind of life that lays itself down for the sake of others, and reaches so far beyond our sad standard of love.

God’s plan and his instructions have much more to do with how I live through the events unfolding around me that it does with what those events are.

…you must clothe yourselves with tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives

Colossians 3:12-16

He does not require me to be carefully placed and painstakingly balanced within a very specific set of circumstances in order to display his power. The mystery and wonder of Christ in me is that his strength is enough and I can be thrown to lions, dropped in a furnace, overcome with illness, locked up, chased down or silenced with stones and He will still do exactly what he intends to in and through my life.

My hardships, weaknesses, and circumstances do not limit him in the least. Nothing threatens his plan for my life. And he asks me to fill my life not with questions about the future or a determination to steer it, but with the message of Christ as my firm foundation that gives me the fortitude to face absolutely anything, and to walk through it extending grace to other people.

When it comes to staying encouraged, maintaining unity, conquering evil impulses, and walking in new life – Christ is the secret, the source of power, and the only strategy.

When the pressure dials up, may I be confident that I understand exactly what God’s plan is and exactly where to turn for the help to carry it out. May I learn to sink my roots down deep into him and hang on tight. May I set my eyes on him alone and be renewed as I learn to know him.

Everything is wrapped up in him and to the degree that my life is, too, I live thankful, at peace, and able to extend a grace that doesn’t give up. It is out of that steady place that I can work willingly at whatever I do, forgive anyone who offends me, make allowance for the faults of others, take on his tender-hearted mercy in my interactions, put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking with me, and invite him into my most desperate moments, trusting him to transform what I am helpless to change.

Oh Lord,

When we reach our “That is it!” moments with each other, give us the courage to stay in the room and keep fighting for this to work. Give us the wisdom to turn our back on the night, not on the relationships that have become strained. Encourage our hearts so that we don’t give up on each other.

Take us deeper into an understanding of you so that we are changed from the inside out. Help us to offer ourselves and all we have daily to be used however you please. Remind us that we are united by something so much more significant than the issues that weigh down our relationships and leave us wanting to slam the door. Give us a glimpse of the forgiveness we have been given, and may it soften our hearts toward each other.

Equip us to understand how to walk in your power and display the life and abundance you offer to all who believe – to all who lay aside their pale efforts and revel in what you have accomplished on the cross – to all who trust you for this next step, too.

…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength...

Isaiah 40:31

And That Is Why The Curtain Tore: on what it means when God rips things in half

“Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain in the sanctuary of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.”

Mark 15:37-38

The curtain hanging in Israel’s temple separated the Holy place from the Holy of Holies. It barred the way to the presence of Jehovah.

Only once a year, and never without a sacrifice, one man could step past the curtain as the representative of a sinful people before a flawless God. One after another, animals’ lives were offered as their substitute.

They were granted atonement – the promise that God would overlook their disobedience. They would not be judged this day. A tenuous peace held, but the curtain and the division it represented remained.

“…The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship…For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins

But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time…For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy.”

Hebrews 10:1, 4, 12, 14

And that is why the curtain tore. God was done with the patch jobs that could never totally deal with the problem. He was done with living at a distance. The time for his promise had come. So he laid down his own life and paid the price for good. And he ripped in half the symbol of the division between himself and us.

The curtain was not taken down and reverently folded. It wasn’t pushed aside like the curtain of a window that can be drawn shut again. It was torn – in a violent, final display of how God feels about there being a barrier between us.

It was a door thrust open with enthusiastic invitation.

Colossians 1 says this: “You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.”

Lord –

May I remember that, because of the cross, I stand before you blameless, without a single fault. You do not draw a curtain shut between us; you do not close yourself off from me.

Trustworthy, steady hope casts aside my hesitations and leads me through a torn curtain and into your inner sanctuary – to confide in you, to consult with you, to beg for your help face to face, to rest in your company.

There’s no waiting room or receptionist I must find favor with or schedule a time with to get past the closed door of a busy God who’s in high demand.

I can breeze in with all the assurance of my excited one-year-old who yells my name, pushes his way past my computer and paperwork, and scrambles onto my lap with grin. He is totally confident that he is wanted there. And I am your priority, just as he is mine.

Your desire is not for me to pause at the curtain.

Thank you, Lord, for paying such a high price to deal with my sin once and for all. Thank you for ripping in half the symbol that would restrain me from entering into your presence boldly.