Category: Bible Truths

3 Practical Ways to Overcome Temptation

 

The season of darkness has fallen, and the beige walls of the living room are creeping ever so slowly closer together with each passing day. God will faithfully draw the curtains and usher in robins and Daylight Savings Time before suffocation overcomes us in March, but until then, I’m wondering if this might be the year that does us in.

I sit on the recliner in the 4 p.m. twilight, and I read these words:

As Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord. Then they said to Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt?  Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” Exodus 14:10-13

At first sight, the plight of the Israelites fleeing Pharaoh’s armies seems to have little to do with my life in twenty-first century America. But then I get to thinking.  Moses has just led God’s people away from the bondage of slavery, out of a life of toil and struggle, and into a wide open space of promise.  The people have no way of knowing it just yet, but God is about to split a sea in two so that they can cross on dry ground to safety.

What if the enemies that seek to destroy us are just a few steps from drowning in the depths of the sea, but we’re too full of grumbling to step away?

What if the old enticements that threaten to enslave us – things like hurry, perfectionism, lust, escapist behaviors, and laziness – are just inches from meeting their final demise, but we’re too tired of the fight?

Sometimes going back to what we once knew feels right, even when what we once knew was never God’s best for our lives.

I face this temptation when the days grow short and nights grow long. I’m not tempted to fall to some socially unacceptable vice, but I’m tempted to give in to complaint and discouragement.  I’m tempted to stop looking for the good that surrounds me and dwell on the walls closing in.

What if this isn’t God’s best? What if the next breakthrough for our lives is just two steps away?  What if the sea is about to open wide, if we’ll just quit complaining, adjust our attitudes, and fix our eyes on him?

We each face areas where it’s tempting to go back to the slavery of Egypt. It might be subtle – something no one will notice, or it might be an overt behavior that could lead to ruin and enslavement.  Here are a few ways to overcome the temptation to turn back:

Refuse to Complain

The Israelites wandered in the desert for four decades because they refused to give thanks for their freedom and insisted on complaining. The avenue of complaint leads in a frustrating circle.  If we want to stop circling the same old mountain, we ought to cast aside complaint.

Give Thanks for What Is Good

No longer forced to labor long hours and make bricks from straw and mud, wandering through the desert seems like a ticket to freedom. Instead of thanking God for setting them free, God’s people complained again and again.  They complained about the food he provided.  They complained about the lack of water.  The complained about Moses’ leadership.  I wonder how the journey might have changed if they’d given thanks for the blessings instead of cursing what seemed lacking.

Keep the Past in Perspective

It’s easy to look back on the old days and remember past seasons through rose-colored glasses. God’s people forgot that slavery was grueling and harsh.  In the same way, we need to remember the parts of our past ways that led to destruction.  The party might last for the night, but the regrets leave a lasting sting the next day.  We’re wise to remember the regrets instead of only the fun of the night.

~~~

I’m not sure whether the sun has set or the drab sky is simply darkening with thicker clouds when I finish reading. One thing I know is this: I choose my mindset every day.  Today I can choose defeat and discouragement, or I can choose hope and life.  I choose the latter.

 

Because Sometimes You Have to Roll up Your Pants and Step into the Freezing Water

 

The darkness is wearing us all a little thin when the idea falls like the descending snow outside.

“Want to take Caleb to our camping spot along the river?” I ask Bekah, drawing her from screen time that’s lasted longer than proper parents would permit.

There’s no hesitation. “Yes!” she shouts.

In ten minutes, we’re bundled into snow pants, parkas, and blaze orange stocking caps, barreling down the road to a place that’s become a hidden sanctuary among conifers on hot summer nights.

“I seriously can’t stop smiling,” Bekah says from the backseat. “I try not to, but my lips just keep forcing out a smile.”

She’s watching herself in the rearview mirror, little face puckered in unequivocal delight.

We reach the parking area, where muddy water rages below the bridge, and the River Trail invites us, gate open wide for hunters to risk the narrow gravel lane along the steep banks that lead straight to the water below.

Our journey begins with a one-mile walk beneath hemlock boughs hanging low with tufts of snow and sweet birch saplings rising hopefully from what was once a verdant canopy overhead. Bekah skips and hops the whole way, and I push Caleb in a stroller suited for this kind of excursion.

A mile into our hike, we reach it. We reach the open grate bridge that normally leads us safely across an amicable stream with clear water washing over sandstone.  Today we find nothing friendly about the stream.  The water from the great river to our right has exceeded its banks, and the normally leisurely current of the small stream is a muddy torrent of rapids.  The bridge is visible, but only beneath ten inches of muddy water.

“I guess we’ll have to go back,” Bekah says, deflated.

“Let’s walk upstream and see if we can find a crossing,” I suggest, hoping to save the day.

Twenty minutes later, we’ve found no crossing over the raging waters of the bursting stream, and Bekah’s smile fades as she concedes, “I guess we’ll have to go home.”

Staring at the flooded bridge, I suddenly have an idea.

“What if I take off my shoes and socks, roll up my pants, and push you both across in the stroller?” I suggest.

The kids stare at their mom, eyes flickering in wonder.

“Let’s do it!” Bekah cheers, and within seconds, they’re both sitting in the stroller, clinging for dear life.

I shove my shoes and socks into the back of the stroller, roll my pants above my knees, and set out pushing my most precious gifts in the whole world across the muddy water as the thirty-degree snowflakes fall from heaven. We make it across the water undeterred, and within five minutes, my feet are warm again as I push my passengers toward the big bend in the river where we’ll build the fire and roast the marshmallows.

Later that night, Bekah convinces me to print the photos from our trip so she can make a memory book. I’m surprised to discover a photo Bekah snapped while I was recovering from the return-trek across the stream: a photo of me putting my shoes on.

I stare at it for a minute, and I’m taken back to one of my favorite passages of Scripture:

So when the people set out from their tents to cross the Jordan with the priests carrying the ark of the covenant before the people,  and when those who carried the ark came into the Jordan, and the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of harvest),  the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap (Joshua 3:14-16)

As God’s chosen people were about to enter the land he had promised for their inheritance, the priests carried the most precious possession: the ark of the covenant. The ark of the covenant was the very place where the presence of God dwelled.  Their commission was simple: Lead the people across the formidable Jordan River by stepping into the water.  God promised to draw back the waters after the priests took the first step, and he fulfilled his promise.

Sometimes we have to take off our shoes and step into the water of risk if we’re going to receive the abundance of God’s promises for our lives.

The priests trusted this principle.

I wasn’t thinking about the Jordan River or the priests when I pushed my kids across the numbing water in my bare feet, but a similar principle applied. We enjoyed the rewards of reaching our destination because we were willing to take a risk.

How often I’ve missed the reward of obedience because I was afraid of risk. How often my dreams remained shelved, because I was afraid of stepping out, failing, or letting others see that I didn’t accomplish my goals. How often we miss God’s best because we’re not willing to take off our shoes and step into the cold water.

If you’ve reached the flooded creek bed today, there are two choices: Roll up your pants and cross, or turn back and call it quits. This might be the day to roll up your pants and see what’s on the other side.

 

 

 

 

If You’re Searching for More from Your Life

 

White light breaks through smoky billows of fog, and I watch a fluorescent orange silhouette meander through wilted fields of beige. We open the first window on our colorful advent calendar, and the kids scarf down thin squares of chocolate to mark this first day of waiting.  We’re waiting for the coming King.  Waiting for the day that marks Immanuel’s entry to the world.  Waiting for God with us.

The hunter climbs a tree on the northwestern skyline, and he’s waiting too. All this waiting draws my mind to a question Bekah’s been asking all fall.  She’s seven, and she thinks about profound things.  At least a dozen times she’s gazed at the clouds above and asked what kind of clouds Jesus will ride when he returns.

Why do I fail to regularly ponder the reality that Immanuel is coming back? Why don’t I watch the horizon for the King’s return?  Why don’t I live more intentionally – like this really might be the last day I have on this muddy earth with dandelions sprouting on brisk December mornings?

Autumn in these parts prompted me to pause often, to watch for Immanuel’s hand in my daily life and live each day to the fullest. The biggest reason for this was a shift in my soul that begged for more.

I wanted more depth, a greater awareness of my purpose, and more in my relationship with God. I asked for direction from above, and I was led into a four-month study of Matthew’s gospel, reading one chapter per week, rereading the same chapter every day of the week, and coming up with an objective and practical way to apply it.

This study has enriched my life on every level and provided the more I was searching for.  It has astonishingly aligned with the trials and life events of our autumn, speaking truth into hard situations at just the right times.  It has nudged me to pause and consider that Immanuel is always working in our midst.

Here are ten lessons I’ve learned through this study:

  1. Watching for Immanuel has the power to change everything.

The Old Testament prophecy that Immanuel would come was fulfilled in the birth of Christ. Matthew 1:23 reads, “And they shall call his name Immanuel, which means God with us.”

I spent one week listing the ways I saw God showing up in my life this fall, and while my goal was one event per day, the list filled pages. When we realize that Immanuel has come and continues to dwell among us, when we open our eyes to his hand, we begin to live in holy expectation that fills us and leads us straight to his ever-thrumming heart of love.

  1. Simple acts of ordinary daily tasks can be done with a grumbling heart or a worshipful heart. We’re prone to grumble more than we worship.

Inspired by the fact that the first thing the Magi did when they encountered Jesus was worship him, I spent a week practicing ordinary tasks as acts of worship. Somehow, learning to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, scrub toilets, and clean windows as acts of worship changed the overall countenance of my life.

  1. Sometimes the best way to break a habit is to discipline your flesh through fasting.

When we feel stuck in behaviors we want to change, sometimes the best way to produce change is to train our flesh to submit to our will through the discipline of fasting. Fasting is painful, and the flesh recoils, but once the flesh learns it’s no longer in charge, we step into a new kind of freedom.

  1. God wants more than “Please bless this day” prayers.

In Matthew 6, Jesus shows us how to pray. He offers a prayer that includes worship, confession, alignment with God’s kingdom purposes, asking for basic needs, protection from temptation, and a plea to glorify him.  Sometimes structured prayer is the gateway to greater intimacy with God.  Above all else, prayer is about a relationship.  Thoughtless prayers that ask for a quick blessing miss the heart of God who wants to commune with us.

  1. If we want to live transformed, we can’t live blind to our sins.

A discipline that’s often overlooked is the discipline of daily confessing our sins to God. If we want transformation in our lives, we ought to pray with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:13-14).

  1. Losing our lives for others looks like action, but it also looks like the right attitude.

We can offer our time and our acts of service to others without end, but if we do it with proud, bitter, or grumbling hearts, we haven’t followed Christ at all.

  1. Rest is a state of mind.

We’re called to rest in the Lord. This includes keeping the Sabbath and daily quiet time in his presence, but it also means

resting in his goodness when trouble, hardship, and daily stress threaten to undermine our souls.

  1. Every great accomplishment begins with one step.

Every great building begins with laying a single brick. Every great work of art begins with a single brush-stroke.  Every great work of faith begins with one step in the right direction. Do not despite small beginnings . . .

  1. Life and death are in the power of my words.

Every day I choose to speak life or death over my life, my future, my calling, and the people I love. I’m called to choose carefully and guard the door of my mouth.

  1. God wants us to ask for the things we need.

Some of us have fallen into a trap of over-spiritualizing our prayers. We forget to ask for the things we need on the most basic level.  We ought to pray Biblical promises more than anything else.  We ought to make sure every prayer aligns with Scripture.  But we are free to pray for practical needs in our lives.  Our good Father wants to reach down from on high and provide.

~~~

When I asked God to show me how to walk in greater abundance, I was a bit disappointed by the strong impression that studying the Bible was my answer. I was feeling overworked, and digging into the Bible felt like more work.

Looking back, it was work. But it was the best kind of work.  It was utterly fulfilling to find practical ways to apply the Living Word to my daily life.  It was satisfying and purposeful.  It drew me closer to the heart of God.  And now, with just two more weeks until I finish the study and application of Matthew’s gospel, I can say that I’ve found the more I was seeking.

Thank you, Emily P. Freeman, for inspiring this post . . .

When Where You Are Is Not Where You Hoped to be

 

It’s a brisk autumn morning with frost on the lawn and the kids and touching it with tiny fingers and a sense of awe that somehow slips away as years slip past. I’m staring down the face of a question that’s been echoing in my mind for twenty-four hours now: Where are you?

This fall has been marked by big bumps along the usually smooth road of our lives – bumps that make us step back and appreciate the simple things of life, bumps that make us grateful to still be here together laughing and crying and kicking soccer balls across wide spans of green grass. This question – where are you? – doesn’t loom like an accusation.  It simply invites me to step outside the momentum of my days and honestly assess what’s driving my life.

This question presented itself last week when I admitted that I was afraid – afraid of what the future might hold, afraid to take the next step toward a goal, and afraid that more than one of my dreams might be on the verge of collapse. It presented itself again yesterday morning, when a friend sent a text with this very question staring at me through the screen on my phone, and it arose two more times as I watched Christine Caine share a message online.

It’s the question God asked Adam in the Garden of Eden after the apple was eaten: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9)

God knows everything, and God knew where Adam was hiding. Is it possible that he asked this question so that Adam might step back and take a long, hard look at his situation, honestly assess it and give words to it?

Adam answers, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10). Adam answers honestly: Afraid, naked, and hiding.

The Lord responds by first cursing the serpent who deceived Adam and Eve. He then speaks difficult words for the two people who once walked in unbroken fellowship with him: He tells the woman that he will multiply her pain in bringing forth children and make her desire for a husband who will rule over her; he tells the man that the ground is now cursed because of his sin, and in sweat and toil he will eat from the ground, and it will be filled with thorns and thistles.

I read these words while Christine Caine preaches about following the Lord, and I give thanks for the price Jesus paid on the cross. The curse of Adam is that all die, but in Christ, all shall be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22).  Jesus literally paid the price for sin by becoming the curse for us (Galatians 3:13).  He reversed the ugly scene in the garden through the sacrifice of his life.

Because of Jesus, I have confidence that when the Lord asks, “Where are you?” I can answer without a fear of condemnation. There is no condemnation in Christ.

And so on this morning, frosted window panes soaking in the dawn’s first rays of golden sun, I admit to the Lord exactly where I am. I let the sun warm my face.  I receive the truth that he loves me exactly where I am, and he promises to shine light on each step of the path in front of me (Psalm 119:105).

Some of us are afraid today. Some of us are naked and ashamed.  Some of us are filled with regret, sorrow, grief, pain, and dismay.  There is grace for all of these things.  We are simply asked to come.  We are called to draw near – just as we are – and trust that the one who began the work within our hearts will complete what he started (Philippians 1:6).

I close with a question today: Where are you?

It’s not a question about where you’re pretending to be. It’s a question for the silent moments of the day when you’re alone with your thoughts and you let yourself be honest about the circumstances of your life.  Are you too tired to keep going at this pace?  Are you hurting?  Are you indifferent?  Have you grown cold and hard?

Will you trust the Lord to meet you in that place? He already sees.  He is present.  It’s for your sake that he poses the question.  Will you let him step in and work within?

~~~

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When It’s Hard to Give Thanks at Thanksgiving

 

The first rays of morning sunlight stretch through the frosted windowpane, and I open my laptop to more bad news. There are faces of grieving families and quotes about the way strangers rose up to lend helping hands, but I find my heart hardening.  I don’t want to read the stories about the kindness of strangers or the way they prayed for the dying man as his wife held him in her arms.  I’m angered by the brokenness of the world today, and I just want it all to stop.

This is my knee-jerk reaction to the latest news of tragedy in our nation. I know my heart should be soft and broken and thankful for the kindness of strangers, but I’m so overwhelmed by the frustrating fact that bad news has become our reality.

Ten years ago, I remember quoting Scripture and telling a friend that all the wars, bombings, and natural disasters are simply the signs that the end is near. I remember telling her that I was doing alright with it all, because it meant the Lord was coming soon.  And now, a decade and dozens of tragedies later, I so deeply want it all to end.

Today’s post is for anyone who is struggling to give thanks this Thanksgiving. It’s for those who are grieved from afar by the tragedies in our nation, and it’s for the families who are directly walking through their own personal tragedies.  I don’t pretend to know how it feels to be in any shoes but my own; and so, I offer these words for myself, if for no one else.

Become Someone Else’s Reason to Give Thanks

There’s a promise that he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. When it’s hard to find a reason to be thankful, break the chains of discouragement by becoming someone else’s reason to give thanks.  In her book, A Case for Kindness, Lisa Barrickman offers hundreds of suggestions.  Here are a few of my favorites: Visit Colorasmile.org and invite the kids to color a picture for a soldier overseas; put an encouraging note in a sports bag; let someone else pick the movie; show up with coffee; carry an extra umbrella for a stranger on a rainy day; compliment a stranger.

Find One Thing That’s Good

The kids and I found ourselves caught in a torrential downpour a half-mile from the house this summer. Sitting in the double stroller with the puppy, a downpour began, and it literally could not have rained harder.  I took to running as fast as possible while water pounded us in white sheets that tore in from the north.  Caleb screamed in terror, and Bekah yelled something I couldn’t quite understand in the pounding rain.  When we finally found shelter in the garage, I realized Bekah was cheering in sheer joy.  “That was awesome!” she yelled.  “I’ll never forget it in my whole life!”

Some situations are far more dire than getting caught in a summer rain shower, but Bekah’s attitude was an important reminder to me that day: In every hard situation, there’s something that’s good. It’s exactly what the bystanders interviewed on the news are doing when they comment on the kindness of strangers amidst crisis moments.

Find a Place to Plug in

A sense of isolation makes a dark season seem even darker. It’s often most difficult to reach out to others when we’re going through hard times, but this is exactly when we most need the support of caring community.  When it’s hard to give thanks for anything at all, it’s probably time to pick up the phone and text a friend, get in the car and drive to visit a relative, or jump online and look for a group that might offer support within the community.

Bring Your Burdens to the One Who Can Handle Them

Because I know that God is already aware of my burdens, I sometimes neglect praying about my needs, my pain, and my desires. God calls us to ask, seek, and knock.  He wants us to bring our burdens to him and unload.  He can handle the heaviest burden.

Not long ago, we were in a sort of a financial season of fasting in an attempt to stay within our budget. If it wasn’t an absolute necessity, we weren’t buying it.  Sadly, this financial fast fell at around the time when everyone else in the neighborhood was decorating their doorsteps with colorful mums and plump pumpkins.  Deeming these decorations luxuries, I committed to abstain from spending even a few dollars.

It was after Bekah begged me to find some pumpkins for the front stoop that I decided I should simply bring this desire before the Lord in prayer. Praying for pumpkins felt too small when families across the world have gone days without food, but I prayed for free pumpkins anyway.

Not an hour later, my mom called to tell me that they had grown pumpkins in the garden and had pumpkins waiting for us at the house. An hour later.  I’d been wishing for a pumpkin for weeks.  There just aren’t coincidences.

~~~

If you’re reading today with a heavy heart, my prayer is that you’ll lift your face to the One who made you and find hope for the journey. He promises to go with us, even in the darkest valleys – even when we have no sense of his presence.  When I can find little else for which to give thanks, I give thanks for this: for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Life Takes a Detour

 

Bekah was born on a clear November evening. As mothers do, I remember that day when we turn the calendar to the month of her birth.  I remember the way the oak trees along wolf creek beamed with tawny leaves, glowing radiant orange beneath the setting sun the night before she came to us.  I remember the contrast of kelly green fields of clover against the leaf-strewn wood line, and I remember thinking she’d never arrive.

Preparing to welcome our firstborn to the world felt mostly like one giant detour in the plans we had made. I planned to continue teaching right up to my due date.  We planned to vacation in the summer.  I planned to continue leading Bible studies, ministering to teens, and dedicating entire weeks of my life to youth retreats and mission trips throughout the pregnancy.  I was sure I’d be able to keep running until at least the seven-month mark.

None of that happened.

It was a detour that hurt. I felt like my entire life had been taken away.  I was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum – severe pregnancy sickness – and forced to an immobile position on the couch or in bed throughout much of the pregnancy.  So much for running, mentoring, and teaching.  It all had to stop.

It was a crushing detour. So many of the things that were closest to my heart were taken away, and I was forced to simply rest – alone with my thoughts and my nausea.

What do we do when life takes a detour? What happens when all of our best-made plans are suddenly stripped away?

Looking back, I’ve realized that often, what I thought was a detour was actually the destination God had ordained for my good.

I can truthfully say that the months of hyperemesis were a destination of sorts. Throughout those months, I learned that my worth is not at all related to what I can produce or whose life I can make an impact upon.  I learned that God loves me relentlessly even when I’m too sick to engage in any sort of spiritual discipline.  I learned that it’s ok to need other people.  I learned that if all I had left in this life were Jesus, he would be enough.  It wouldn’t be easy.  But I’d make it.

Toward the end of the pregnancy I made a list of 102 things I learned through the sickness. I’m not sure where I put that list.  I’m pretty sure I made it with the hope that God would see all I’d gleaned from the experience and spare me throughout the course of future pregnancies. (I was sick the second time too, so apparently the list didn’t accomplish the entire purpose I had hoped for it, but that’s ok.)

The experience reminds me that life often seems to move in the opposite direction of what I had planned or hoped. Sickness comes – sickness more serious than hyperemesis.  Dreams are crushed.  Plans are shattered.  But God is still good.

And sometimes the detour is actually the destination. Sometimes we fully believe God called us to climb to the top of the mountain, and we do everything we can to get to the summit.  When an unforeseen valley springs up between the foothills and the summit, it’s easy to wonder where God’s at in the valley.  And when the valley winds through the mountains and eventually leads to an entirely different mountaintop, it’s easy to wonder what God’s purpose is.  It’s easy to wonder if we heard God wrong.

But often, we heard God correctly from the beginning. He simply wanted to show us the first mountain to get us moving in the right direction, and he knew all along that he would lead us to the valley that redirected the journey.  God does this.  And we can rest in knowing that when we seek him with our whole hearts, we will find him (Jeremiah 29:13).  He will lead us on the journey.

Watching Bekah barrel through a leaf pile in the yard, seven years feels more like a week.  And I’d take that detour all over again for this one mountaintop moment with her.

purposefulfaith.com

Sarah Frazer

This post is shared on two blog link ups. Thank you Kelly and Sarah!

Why Life’s Pressure Points Are Some of the Greatest Gifts

 

There’s a giant sycamore tree by the creek. My hands are feet from touching when I try to reach around its pale bark in some sort of earthen embrace.  What captivates me most about this tree isn’t its size; I’m most captivated by the angle at which the giant grows.  It leans at close to a 45-degree slant, deeply rooted in the earth and dropping yellow leaves far into the creek.

The tree is along the path we take when we hike behind the house, and it’s a reminder of several spiritual truths in my life:

Be Careful about Judging What You Don’t Understand

The creek is lined with dozens of straight-standing sycamores. They are gallant and honorable.  Their bark shines silver in the autumn sunshine, and they bear the glory of their Maker.  Interestingly, not one of these trees is as large as the slanting sycamore.

One by one, we’ve watched as the tall, straight trees topple to the ground in violent wind storms and crash, uprooted, in microbursts that rip through the valley. Somehow, the slanting giant remains firmly rooted, bearing fruit in season, year after year.

I’d be quick to label this tree less worthy than its straight counterparts. But time has proven that this tree is deeply rooted.  This reminds me to be careful not to judge what I might not fully understand.  What’s visible on the outside doesn’t often tell the whole story.

In the same way, man looks at outward appearances, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). We’re wise to remember these words.

Everyone’s Journey to God is Different

Something about trees reaching toward the sky reminds me of seeking the Lord. This tree reminds me that we’re all on a journey toward knowing God more, and no one fully arrives until we see him face to face.  While there are pivotal moments along the way – black and white moments of decision – no two paths look exactly the same.

The friend who has very little conception of God is at a different place along the journey. We’re called to walk with one another, encouraging one another to draw closer.  And just as no two trees in the forest are exactly the same, no two paths are ever identical.

Adversity Produces Strength

I’m not sure what caused the giant sycamore to lean as it does, but it’s safe to say that this tree faced adversity that caused it to grow sideways. It’s often the most difficult trials of life that strengthen our character most.  Hard times hold the potential to shape us into the image of our Creator.

The financial struggles, the seasons of illness, the lost jobs, and the shattered dreams hurt. They also strengthen us and conform us to the image of the One who endured hardship for us.

The Call to be Set Apart is a Gift

We’ve often walked the trail past the sycamore and noticed other hikers standing in its shade, marveling at its slant, and sitting at its base. This tree stands out among the other trees of the forest.  It is set apart.

Sometimes the call to be set apart in our lives feels too difficult. Saying no to things others deem acceptable and standing firm in a shifting culture isn’t easy.  But the call to be set apart isn’t meant to be a burden.  It’s meant to be a gift.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss writes: “I learned early on that to be ‘set apart’ is not a punishment; it is not an attempt on God’s part to deprive us or to condemn us to a cheerless, joyless lifestyle.  It is a priceless privilege – it is a call to belong, to be cherished, to enter into an intimate love relationship with God Himself, much as a groom declares his intent to set his bride apart from all other women to be his beloved wife; to fit into the grand, eternal plan of our redeeming God for this universe; to experience the exquisite joys and purposes for which we were created; to be freed from all that destroys our true happiness.”

And so, as the tree slants hard, I remind myself that the pressure points of life are often the greatest gifts of all.

Reference:   Holiness, The Heart God Purifies, Moody Publishers, p. 33-34.

 

 

Thanks to Arabah Joy, Kelly Balarie, and Missional Woman for sharing this post!

https://arabahjoy.com/category/grace-truth-linky/

http://missionalwoman.com/

purposefulfaith.com

How to Start Seeing What’s Right Instead of Seeing Only What’s Wrong

 

October has come with its warm, mild afternoons. It has come with clear skies and seventy-degree days – with rolling fields of gold and beige and tawny wood lines and promises about what’s to come.

I used to dislike October because it felt like the slow death of summer, and summer was the season I loved most. In October we said goodbye to any possibility of dipping our feet in creek water.  In October we stowed away all but our favorite pair of shorts and pulled out boxes of sweaters and scarves.  In October we snuggled under fleece blankets on cool, rainy days that foreshadowed the winter months to come.

Sitting in the sun on a cloudless October afternoon, I’m reminded that every day of my life, I face two choices: Look for what’s right, or look for what’s lacking. I can complain, on this sunny October afternoon, that it’s not warm enough for swimming in creeks, or I can give thanks for the beauty of leaves changing color and geese overhead.  I can focus on the long months of winter that will soon come and keep me from sitting on the deck in the sunshine, or I can embrace the ebb and flow of seasonal changes.

In his letter to the Philippian church, Paul writes, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

It’s noteworthy that this admonition is spoken on the heels of Paul’s encouragement for the people of God to live in harmony. It seems two women among the Philippian church were at odds, and it was stirring enough controversy that Paul saw fit to address these women from afar in his letter.  I’m reminded that dwelling on whatever is pure, lovely, and good can be applied to October afternoons as well as to the way we think about the people in our lives.

Surely this applies across the board of my life. Surely focusing on what is right, instead of dwelling on what is wrong, will have a positive impact on my parenting, my career, my marriage, my friendships, my current living situation, my financial state, my health, and more.

When I focus on what is right in my life as a mom, I’m immensely thankful for the opportunity to invest in two little lives and pour into them on a daily basis. Amidst the yelling, hitting, and occasional biting, reminding myself of what is right helps my perspective when it seems everything about this is difficult.

When I focus on what is right in my career, I give thanks for the moments that assure me that my words really do make a difference in the lives of others. I give thanks for the way this season fulfills a greater calling on my life, and I’m grateful for the lessons I am learning through the difficult parts.

When I focus on what is right in my friendships, I’m grateful for women who have walked alongside me through the valleys and cheered me along over mountaintops. Looking at the good in relationships reminds me to extend grace, hold shortcomings loosely, and believe the best about my friends when conflict arises.

Finally, sitting beneath the sun as bulldozers unearth pipeline across the road, I consider the struggle we’ve had with our current home and the longing to move to a cabin somewhere in the woods. It seems our neighborhood is constantly changing, and one construction project after another leaves our backyard anything but quiet.  It’s easy to focus on what’s wrong with our situation and squirm to change it.

A hawk screeches high above the poplar tree by the deck, and I resolve to fix my eyes on what is right about this moment. Suddenly, the roaring engines of the excavators across the road feel far less obtrusive, and I couldn’t be more thankful for waving fields of goldenrod and hawks circling above.

 

 

Six Promises for When You Feel Abandoned by God

 

Caleb stirs from his nap with red eyes and a cowlick that stands straight up in salute to the sun or praise to God – I’m not sure which. I always wondered why mothers of boys let their little ones run wild in public with hair sticking out in every direction.  Now I understand.  Little boy hair does whatever it wishes, and no amount of water, saliva, mousse, or hairspray can tell it otherwise.

We descend to the living room, and the slow and painful process of his awakening takes place as I hold him on my lap. We read books and watch blue jays on the lawn.  We’re half way through Corduroy’s saga of the lost button when Darrell’s white truck pulls into the driveway, and Caleb’s off my lap in seconds, pounding on the window to welcome his father onto the property after a long day.

After the welcome hugs and cheers, I kiss the guys goodbye and slip into my walking shoes for a little bit of time out of the house. Like clockwork, Caleb erupts into primal screams.  “No!  Don’t leave me, Mama,” he yells.  “Don’t leave me!”

“I’ll be back in a half-hour,” I assure him, but he’ll have none of it.

I come back from every walk, and yet he fears this might be the one time when I don’t return. I kiss him on the head again and leave, despite the crying.  It’s best to just get on with it.

Walking down the road, I’m struck by the parallels between my son’s thoughts and my own thoughts. I recall a dozen times when it felt like the Lord had completely forsaken me: that race I lost, that bad breakup, Bekah’s medical condition, forty weeks of sickness – twice, the day the car broke down at the bridal shop with my baby girl screaming in the backseat, and more.

Things don’t go my way, and I’m prone to find myself wavering. I’m prone to wonder.  Prone to leave the God I love.  But his promise is this: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).  Why do I, like little Caleb, doubt that he means what he says?

I think long on this as I walk, and I list the promises for the hard times:

God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28).

Nothing can separate me from his love (Romans 8:38-39).

He will go with me through the high waters and the fires (Isaiah 43:2).

He won’t withhold what is good from me (Psalm 84:11).

He is close to those who are brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).

He will use these fiery trials for his glory (1 Peter 1:6-7).

I’m suddenly struck by the reality that I often live like I don’t believe these promises. I live like they count for the struggles and trials of others but not for my own.  What if I actually lived like I fully believed every word that proceeds from his mouth?

I would have less fear and a greater capacity to love. I would give freely and store up fewer treasures on earth.  I would encounter an abundant kind of life that I’ve been craving all along.

Returning home, Caleb has forgotten about the meltdown that took place when I walked out the door. He’s chasing his dad and his sister around the yard with delighted squeals.  I kiss him on the head and go inside to finish cooking dinner.  The comfort of resting in these promises feels like an invitation to sheer joy.

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This post was shared as a part of a link-up at Fresh Market Friday.

The Power of Margin Time

 

I asked Caleb what he wanted to do for his birthday, and he wanted hotdogs and marshmallows for breakfast and a trip to the sandy beach. He settled for powdered doughnuts for breakfast, but I came through on the trip to the sandy beach.

The sandy beach is the name the kids have affectionately labeled a stretch of sandy shoreline along the creek behind our house. In winter we build fires at the sandy beach, and the smoke wafts up through a thick canopy of hemlock trees.  In summer we swim in the waist-deep water with the rock wall on the far side of the swimming hole.

We’ve been known to catch bluegills and crayfish in the shallow part of the pool, and surrounded by wilderness, the sandy beach feels like an escape to a different world.

The day of celebration dawns clear and cool.  I leave the calendar wide open and free of plans, and so our walk to the sandy beach is slow and filled with frequent stops. We stop to rescue a caterpillar from the middle of the dangerous road.  We pick goldenrod and ironweed and joe-pye weed for a late summer bouquet.  I gather a handful of green acorns for him to throw off the bridge when we reach the creek.

When we finally make it to the bottom of the hill and past the red barn, we notice that we’re not alone at the creek. Our neighbors made the half-mile trek to the creek as well.  The boys’ grandpa doesn’t get around as well as he used to, and so he drove the scooter down the road with his grandsons close at hand.

The boys are quick to tell us that they didn’t catch any fish today. Even worse, the fishing pole broke, and an essential part of the reel is submerged in the clear water just below the bridge.  We gaze down from above, and the lost part sparkles from the depths of the clear water.

“Go get it, Mama!” Caleb commands, and I know he’s onto something.

It wasn’t safe for the boys to head into the water on their own, but this is a task we can handle. Grandpa laughs and tells me it’s not necessary, but the pleading gaze of the little boy who is like a second son to our family captures my heart.  I don’t need to think twice.

And this is how I find myself wading across Wolf Creek on a sixty-degree morning in search of a piece of fishing reel.

The boys take off their shoes and stand in the mud along the creek, and I manage to wade into the thigh-deep water, reach to the bottom, and secure the treasure.  There are cheers and hugs.

An hour later, sitting along the bank of the sandy beach with Caleb, I consider all the times I’ve missed opportunities to bless others because I’m in too big of a hurry. My to-do list daily threatens to rule my life and dominate my decisions, but this is never God’s best.

God’s best is a life without hurry – a life that leaves margin time between activities: time to pick goldenrod, save caterpillars, and show kindness to neighbors. Surely, there are seasons when margins are narrower, but when there’s a choice – and there’s often a choice – wide margins hold the power to bless.  When there’s a choice, I decide to choose the wide margins and live with eyes wide open for what God is doing in my midst.