Thursday, October 27, 2016
Jeremiah and I have just returned from a much needed three day personal retreat. We spent our time resting our bodies, renewing our souls, and reconnecting with God. I cannot tell you how good and healthy and necessary this is. The past several months have felt very much like a whirlwind running from church events to doctors appointments to camp planning meetings to family events and other work and personal obligations. Thinking about all of these things as I type them is exhausting. These are all good things. I want to fill my time with good things, things that make a difference and have an impact. I love filling my schedule with things to do.
Our culture, especially in the Midwest, is great at promoting and glorifying a “busy” life. We praise people for their productivity, hard work and full schedules. I have often been complimented for this. One friend once told me, “You get many miles out of life.” I think it is important to use time wisely and be productive, especially in our Kingdom work. However, I fear we have put way too much emphasis on this side of the spectrum and have neglected the equally important opposite end of the spectrum, rest.
From the very beginning it is clear that we were created to rest. God creates Adam and Eve on the sixth day of the Creation poem. They are created in God’s image and their first full day of existence is spent experiencing rest with God on day seven. We read over and over again in the first chapter of Genesis the phrase “evening and morning.” It is backwards from how we think about time. The Bible describes the idea of day as starting with the evening. What do you do in the evening? Rest! This pattern seems to indicate that our work comes from out rest, not the other way around.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, this is not how we think. We work hard all day so we can leave work to go home and rest. We work long hours to earn extra money so we can retire early and rest. I think this perspective of work is very dangerous. It is backwards from what God has laid out for us. He commands us to rest and Jesus models this and teaches us that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) God invites us to rest with Him, to trust that He is enough, to trust that our value and identity is in God alone and not our work.
I have found when I make rest the priority, my work is better. I’m more effective in ministering to others. I am more present with other people. I have a better attitude about those things I don’t really like doing. In these times my work has come from my rest. I have answered God’s invitation to rest and I can better do the work He has called me to do. But when I make the work the priority, things get messy. I struggle to concentrate. I miss things. I have a bad attitude. My work is sloppy. I’ve rejected God’s invitation and I make the work about me or something else other than God. And eventually I crash because I’ve been living outside of the rhythm in which I was created to live.
Think of it like the pendulum on a clock. It swings back and forth in a steady rhythm. When the pendulum swings properly the clock functions properly and keeps the right time. When that pendulum gets off balance, the clock doesn’t keep the proper time. It runs fast or slow. The rhythm of rest and work in our lives is just like that pendulum. When the rhythm is off we aren’t living the way God created us to live.
We have to intentionally manage our time to include daily rest (good sleep and time spent with God), weekly rest (Sabbath, a full day of rest), monthly rest (a day or two set aside for extra rest and renewal), and yearly rest (a vacation or retreat). This will not just happen. Perhaps you have heard the saying, “If you don’t manage your time, it will manage you.” God did not intend us to live like that. What do your rhythms of rest look like? Does your work flow out of your rest or is your work dictating your rest? Brothers and sister, we must be obedient in this. God is offering us an invitation to rest in Him and trust in Him. How will you answer that invitation?
Thursday, September 29, 2016
I’m currently sitting in the allergist office waiting my mandatory 30 minutes to make sure I don’t have reactions. It is actually a very annoying weekly ritual, but it is for my own safety and in the long run makes me stronger. The waiting room tv is playing an interview with a woman who has diabetes. She just shared that many of her friends started to pray that God would take away diabetes. She responded by asking her friends to stop praying because diabetes saved her life. I thought that was a peculiar response so I listened a little closer. She went on to explain about how unhealthy and sick she felt until the discovered the disease and now she felt strong and healthy. She was grateful for the diagnoses, because of how it changed her life.
Now this might seem like a stretch, but it immediately caused me to think about the things around us that we are constantly asking God to take away because it is annoying or hard. What if God is allowing those things to be present in our lives to make us stronger, healthier or even greater reflections of Him? If that is the case, shouldn’t my attitude be one of thanksgiving instead of one of complaining.
Paul shares some similar thoughts with the church in Corinth. We don’t know exactly what the thorn in his flesh is, but he begs God to take it away three times. God chooses not to and teaches Paul, “My grace is sufficient of you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:7) Paul changes his attitude and decides to be grateful for this weakness and struggle. He discovers and explains in his letter that when he changes his attitude, “Christ’s power may rest in me…For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
In Genesis, we discover Joseph seems to have embraced a similar attitude. His brothers have plotted to kill him, but end up selling him as a servant. After serving in Potiphar’s house, he is falsely accused and thrown in prison. When he is finally reunited with his family and saves them from suffering during a famine he says to them, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” While I’m sure there were several times Joseph was frustrated and struggled with his circumstance, he allowed God to shape and mold him during the process.
Our God is very good and does not harm us, but he does desire to use the brokenness around for his glory. We have to be willing to allow his Spirit to work through us in that way. Are there things in your life that are causing frustration or hurt? What is your attitude toward those things? What might God be trying to teach you? How might he be trying to shape you through these circumstances? How might God be using this as an opportunity to make himself known to you and those around you?
Friday, September 02, 2016
I used to think discipling others meant I had to be perfect at following Jesus. Wrong! Not one of the disciples we see in Scripture was perfect and they went on to start churches all over the world.
I used to think discipling others meant I had to have all the answers. Wrong! The disciples in Scriptures wrestled to understand the Text. I love Paul’s story because we see him mature and grow throughout the book of Acts.
I used to think discipling others meant lots of formal meetings where I would teach what I knew about Jesus and the Bible. Wrong! Jesus disciples others as they are doing simple every day things like fishing, going to the Temple to worship, eating meals, gathering water at a well.
Paul tells the church in Corinth, “Be imitators of me, just as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NASB). We read that and freak out because we know we aren’t the best imitators of Jesus. Paul is not saying he is a perfect imitator. He is simply telling the Christians in Corinth, “I’m following Jesus. Come follow Him with me.” Do the things I do in following Jesus so you can learn how to follow Jesus too. It sounds so simple, because is many ways it is.
Annette follows Jesus and worships Him by singing praises and making music for His glory. She invites Evelyn to do the same. So Evelyn learns to follow Jesus by worshiping Him through singing and clapping. There was no long lecture. Annette just followed Jesus and invited someone to do it with her.
Now I’m not saying the process of discipleship is always easy. That certainly is not the case. Often simple things aren’t easy. Try not eating that amazing bowl of Sherman’s Ice Cream or your favorite dessert placed right in front of you; simple but not easy. I do want to challenge us not to make discipleship more challenging than it should be. Let’s keep following Jesus and inviting others to do that with us.
It starts with an invitation. Jesus says to his apostles, “Come follow me.” Who can you say that to by inviting them to come to church with you or joining one of our Fall Bible Studies. It is a simple start to a beautiful journey.
Thursday, August 04, 2016
I had a great view from my hospital bed last week. The sky was a gorgeous bright blue with big, fluffy white clouds. The tops of the tree tops were a full of different shades of green. Breathtaking! I made several comments about it throughout the afternoon. Later that evening, the clouds had dissipated, the bright blue was starting to dull, and the sun started to appear in the corner of the window. The sun made its way across the sky, and my window, and I was reminded of the many California sunsets I enjoyed on the west coast as the giant ball of fire slowly falls to below the earth’s edge. As I soaked up the sun shining in my eyes, God brought Psalm 103 to mind. There were only about three verses of the psalm I could remember, and my cell phone was almost dead. Fortunately it wasn’t long before Jeremiah returned with my Bible. I didn't even have to ask him to bring it; he knew I would want it.
I wanted to share one of my favorite Hebrew words from this psalm with you. Barak. It means to bless or to kneel. You have probably heard me say before the Hebrew is a very picturesque language. This means that the word pictures created in the Hebrew can help us better understand what the author is saying to us. When we bless someone, it is as if we are bending our knee toward them. This picture gets lost a little bit in our culture. We don’t bow before kings or queens. Kneeling is an act that recognizes you are submitting yourself to, honoring, or at the service of the one you are kneeling before. A man kneels before his girlfriend with a marriage proposal to serve and honor her.
If you are reading the NIV, it will translate barak as praise. This isn’t a bad translation, I simply think bless is a better translation. Take that for what it is worth. A vast majority of the time in Scripture, “bless” is used to talk about us blessing God. That is exactly what is happening in Psalm 103. However, we love to use the word “bless” to ask God to give us something. Remember the word picture, blessing someone is as if we are bending a knee to them. We are asking God to bend His knee toward us to serve us. I hope that makes you as uneasy as it does me. Is there anything wrong with asking God to be with us or help us? Absolutely not! He says he will do those things. Will God bless us? Absolutely! There are uncountable ways that he has.
Psalm 103 always reminds me who is on the throne and that regardless of circumstance, I bless God and God alone. It causes me to ask myself if I’m asking God to bless me more than I am blessing God. My challenge to you is to let Psalm 103 speak to you. Perhaps you could even literally bend your knees and make this psalm your prayer.
“Bless the LORD, O my soul;
all my inmost being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all you sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like eagle’s.
The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great isis love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children—
with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.
The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.
Bless the LORD, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.
Bless the LORD, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.
Bless the LORD, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.
Bless the LORD, o my soul.”
Thursday, June 30, 2016
“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.” Hosea 2:12
In July of 2014, I had the opportunity to travel to Israel and Turkey on a study trip with some of the staff and students from Impact Campus Ministry. In a few weeks, another group will be going and I really wish I was joining them. After some recent conversations about the trip, I started re-reading my journals and blog posts from around the trip. I found a blog post that challenged me and I thought I would update it a little and share it with you.
Hiking is one of my favorite ways to connect with God; exploring His creative work, quieting my heart and listening to His voice. I spent a ton of time hiking when I lived in California even though there was a horrible draught the entire time I was there. The hills were always brown, and there was never much green to be seen. The trails were rocky and dusty. It wasn’t very pretty to most, in fact some days it made me miss the green forests of Michigan. But it always reminded me that God’s people were wilderness people.
The wilderness, or desert, is a land of “just enough.” There is just enough water and rain for the vegetation to survive. There is just enough vegetation for sheep and goats to graze. There is just enough shade to provide an overheated shepherd relief from the hot sun.
And because there is just enough and not too much, there is plenty of room to trust. There is plenty of room to trust you’ll have just enough food to survive the day. Plenty of room to trust you’ll have just enough water to survive the day. Plenty of room to trust you will have exactly what you need, exactly when you need it. It is not what I would consider comfortable, but it is exactly where I want to live my life.
One evening I decided to hike my regular route backwards. I do this sometimes just to have a more difficult hike and sometimes I just like the different perspective it gives me. That evening as I made my way up the final climb to the bluff, I was reminded of one of my wilderness moments and one of the hardest moments in my life, my battle with depression.
During that time, I was convinced the wilderness I was in was not a land of just enough but a land of no where near enough. Not enough of God’s grace to handle my weaknesses. Not enough of God’s love to love someone like me. Not enough second chances to try again after I messed up. Not enough reasons for me to even be alive. It was a very dark time. It was in the book of Hosea and the Psalms where I found any glimmer of hope. If Hosea could marry a prostitute and still follow God each day and rest in His love, surely I could handle another day. If David could tell God how broken and sad he was and write about it, surely I could tell God too.
Hosea 2:12 was one of the verses I clung to during those years. My life felt like the toughest, driest desert to ever exist, but it was in the desert that God spoke to His people. Most days it felt like He wasn’t speaking or listening at all. There were brief moments where I heard His voice. Brief moments where I knew He was there with me. Those moments sustained me. Those moments healed me.
Now I make it a habit to go to the literal wilderness to remind myself of what God has done. To remind myself that just enough is more than enough. To remind myself God is present. I sit in the wilderness to listen to His tender voice.
When the snow arrived this last winter, I did everything to avoid the outdoors. It was far too cold. However, I haven’t returned to my practice of heading to the wilderness to be still and listen. This post reminded me of how critical that is for me. Where do you hear God speak to you? Have you gone there to be still and listen? Make some time this month to create space for the Lord to speak to you.