Nuggets: When Today Doesn’t Meet Your Expectations

It’s been a bit since I shared a nugget, I know. But when God keeps you up at night, bombarding you with His precious thoughts (Psalm 139:17), sometimes you just gotta share!

I wrote a quick devotional last night for my niece, Kylie, talking about preciousness and God took it from there.

As I tuned into His precious thoughts, God brought Psalm 5:3 to my heart.

In the morning You hear my voice, O Lord; in the morning I prepare [a prayer, a sacrifice] for You and watch and wait [for You to speak to my heart].

This verse reeks of expectation: watching and waiting. But that’s not how I tend to order my day. From the moment of waking (or even going to bed at night) I have a budding plan of what must be done, what relationships must be tended, who must be seen … and a growing anxiety that there’s just not enough time to do it all.

But God says all I have to do is prepare a sacrifice and prayer, then wait and watch. Here’s what I wrote in my journal this morning:

I set so many plans and expectations on each day. I want to plan everything, right down to intimacy with my husband and what time I will have a third cup of coffee. But you, O God, have called me only to prepare my prayer and sacrifice (surrender) and then to watch. Your goal, plan and summation of my divine to-do list today is to watch and wait for you. 

In the path of your judgments, O LORD, we wait for you; your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul. Isaiah 26:8

That takes a lot of pressure of off the day, right? It effectively cuts my to-do list down to a manageable size and I have plenty of time to get it all done. All I must do is prepare myself before the Lord–commit the day to Him and surrender the rest. Then, watch in confidence of His goodness and ability to take care of it all.

Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established. Proverbs 16:3

If you prepare your prayer and sacrifice before God today–what has He left on your to-do list? What will you take care of first?

Advertisements

Nuggets: Be Unashamed of Your Body

I think Heaven should have a special appeal to all those who have struggled with body image. Not that Heaven isn’t just plain awesome, period. But, the way it’s described in Scripture, tugs my formerly eating disordered heart in a unique way.

I’ve recently listened to Pastor Chip Ingram’s series on Heaven and I highly recommend it! One of the things he presses, is that Heaven will not seem incredibly foreign. It’s not something that we can “only imagine”. Heaven is the place that God dwells, it’s where He wants to live and where He wants to live in close, face-to-face relationship with His people for all eternity. It’s actually very like what He created in the first place. And we have a pretty good description of Eden in Genesis.

My favorite line in all of Genesis is verse 2:25, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

Can you imagine (perhaps this is where we have to employ imagination) what it would be likely to be completely unashamed of your body?

We are told that we will have new, glorified bodies but we will have bodies. Psalm 139 expresses God’s intention and pleasure in the unique way He sculpted you and me. He wants me to look this way! He is happy with the way you turned out!

So, set your sight again on the eternal. Don’t get hung up on the things that moths and dust will corrupt. One day, you’ll look at yourself and truly see you as God does–with pleasure, joy and peace.

Nuggets: What Christians Must Remember About Donald Trump …

( … and all elected officials)

I didn’t stay awake to watch the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, but I did know that at 3 a.m. I would check the results with my baby in my arms–a baby who will keenly experience the repercussions of America’s decision last night.

And praise the LORD.

It’s no secret who I voted for. Evangelical voters turned out in droves for Trump and I have no shame aligning myself with that crowd.

But as I rejoiced, I felt a warning rise up in my spirit:

In recent days, I’ve heard many Christians espouse their strong assurance that God is in control. When it seemed like Hillary might win, we declared that no matter what happened, God is on the throne.

We remembered that it doesn’t really matter who is in office. God sets up kings, leaders, rulers and God tears down the same. We remembered that He does whatever He pleases in heaven and on earth in the seas and all the deeps. “HE it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightenings for the rain and brings for the wind from His storehouses.” (Psalm 135:6-7)

Now, lest we rejoice in our new found political stature as conservatives, lest we find hope in supreme court justices, a majority in the US Senate, the US House, a prolife president or the resounding commentary on the outgoing administration: let us remember what we said yesterday as we cast our ballots.

‘It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding. It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him.’ Daniel 2:21-22

Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Psalm 100:3

Broadening the Gospel Platform at the Olympics

When you watch the Olypmics, how do you feel? I have to admit, I love that rush of empowerment when my favorite athlete crosses the finish line first, or stands tear-streaked to the strains the National Anthem. It’s a good feeling.

I completely “get” the fist pumping, water-smacking, “can’t believe I made it this far,” maddening-need-to-do-it-again–amass more medals than Michael Phelps–emotional high. I think I can understand the powerful feeling of fame, matched only by the soul-crushing shame of loss on the worldwide stage.

And, along with the rest of America, I love a feel-good story: everything from baby Boomer to Kathleen Baker’s refusal to be cowed by Chrone’s Disease to the courageous German gymnast who finished for his team despite a torn ACL. In fact, it’s a nice distraction from the incessant pavement-pounding of this political season. In a way, it makes it easier to pretend (for 2 weeks) that all’s right with the world, that all these nations simply enjoy a friendly rivalry contained in the sporting arena.

I will be parked (as often as possible) in front of the television for these all-too-short days of friendly, inspiring competition. But, there’s something the majority of media leaves out, even out of the feel-good stories. And that’s the multiple stories of faith.

It’s easy enough to hide our faith under a basket when our greatest exposure is the guy at the supermarket, the daycare provider or our co-workers, but can you imagine the pressure these athletes face to hide this most important and inflammatory topic from a world filled with people who have no problem killing based on faith?

But some have chosen not to hide it. Some have chosen to use their platform, however brief it may be, to declare the love, grace and power of Jesus Christ in their personal lives and His desire to be Lord of every life–before the day when every knee will bow without exception.

” … so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth … ” Philippians 2:10

You won’t hear these stories on TV, so I feel compelled to do my tiny part to broaden the platform for one of these bold athletes. Meet David Boudia:

Praying Like a Sinner

[This devotional, first published in ‘Tween Girls and God is intended for youth.]

Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God … “

Trista glanced across the yard as she climbed into the backseat of her family’s minivan one Sunday morning.

“The Carlsons never go to church,” she said to no one in particular. Daddy fastened Trista’s younger sister in her carseat, opened the door for her mother and then climbed in behind the wheel. Slowly, he backed out of the drive. No one replied, so Trista turned it into a question.

“Daddy, why don’t they go to church? I mean, God says we should, I know it’s in the Bible somewhere. Does that mean they don’t believe in Jesus? If they do believe in Jesus, does that mean we are better Christians? Does that mean they are bad people? Does that mean … ”.

“Slow down, Trista,” her mom interrupted. “If you don’t stop asking so many questions, your dad can’t give you an answer. Besides, I think this is a very important conversation. The things you’re saying sound a little prideful.”

“Trista, have you heard the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector?” Daddy asked. “Jesus tells the story in Luke chapter 18.”

“No. I don’t think so,” Trista said.

“Well, Jesus was talking to some people who were pretty sure they were really good people. They believed that they were doing a good job of keeping all of God’s commandments and that God must be pretty pleased with them.”

Daddy, continued, “So the story is that there were two men who went to pray. One was a very important religious leader and the other was a tax collector. In those days, tax collectors were considered to be bad people. Sometimes they cheated people out of their money.

“The religious leader stood off to the side, far away from the tax collector. Then he started to pray out loud, ‘God, I’m so glad that you didn’t make me like that tax collector over there. I’m a really good person. I do everything you say to do.’

“But the tax collector stood off to the side and looked sadly down at the ground. He cried, ‘God, I’m so sorry for the bad things I’ve done. Please have mercy on me.’

“Jesus finished the story by saying, ‘I promise you, the humble tax collector went home forgiven, not the prideful religious man.’”

Now it was Trista’s turn to hang her head. “I think I understand, Daddy,” she said in a small voice. “God isn’t happy when I am proud of myself and think that the good things I do make Him happy with me.”

“That’s right, sweetheart,” Mom spoke up. “Jesus died for our sins—for everyone in the whole world. You and I are only saved because we believe in Him, not because we go to church or do anything good at all. Also, it is not our place to judge other people. Actually, I know Mrs. Carlson from the bank. Their family goes to a different church and they worship on Saturday nights.”

Trista turned to look out the window and watched the other cars streak past. She wondered where they were going. Quietly, she whispered a prayer:

“Jesus, thank you for forgiving me when I am prideful and when I do bad things or don’t do the things you want me to do. Thank you for parents who teach me to believe in you and to understand the Bible. Help me to be humble and to remember that I am saved because of your grace, not by anything I do.”

The Universal Battle Plan for Anything You’re Facing

What’s your battle?

I’m the first one to admit I’ve fought the same battles over and over–be they marriage struggles, remnants of eating disordered habits and behaviors, jealousy of others, bitterness, boredom in my walk with the Lord … simple frustration. These aren’t characteristics that describe a thriving believer in the one true God–one who has firmly grasped the Gospel and is influenced by nothing more than the Gospel.

So this morning, after a perfect Thanksgiving holiday with family, I sat back down before the Lord for my usual morning quiet time–the sanity of routine returned. But the luster was gone.

I got the best kind of answer. Guess what? I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m simply doing when I should be waiting, listening, leaning …

Walk with me through Jehoshaphat’s problems. He was facing the ancient enemies of Israel. The Moabites and Ammonites were chronic irritations for the Israelites–generational plagues. It might have been tempting to look back and see what he’d done before to hold them at bay. Or, to muster all the armies of Israel in “the name of the Lord” and go out to do battle against this horde of evil. After all, doesn’t God want us to valiantly resist at all times?

That would have been a safe assumption–I think: I’ve got a nation here to protect, a nation called by the name of the Lord! Surely, God would have me take up arms and do diligent battle!

Instead, Jehoshaphat was admittedly afraid. The Bible makes no effort to hide this “weakness”. And, “he set his face to seek the Lord.”

Jehoshaphat’s next words are stunning:

“Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. Our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying,  ‘If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.’

“But now here are men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, whose territory you would not allow Israel to invade when they came from Egypt; so they turned away from them and did not destroy them. See how they are repaying us by coming to drive us out of the possession you gave us as an inheritance. Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 2 Chronicles 20:6-12

Can you imagine? Have you ever just looked at God and said, “Guess what? I don’t know what to do, so I’m just going to sit right here in front of you, shut up and look at you.”

Rather than have you go look up the battle plans God gave to Jehoshaphat, I’ll outline here what happened next:

  1. God told Jehoshaphat to not be afraid. He told him exactly where the enemy would be, what they would do and that he didn’t need to do a thing: “You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf … “
  2. Jehoshaphat bowed
  3. All Israel fell down and worshipped
  4. The priests stood up and praised loudly
  5. Jehoshaphat stood and commanded everyone to hear and believe the Lord
  6. He told them to give thanks — even before the battle was fought or won

So, I ask again: What’s your battle? How are you fighting? Have you drawn up your battle plans yet? Have you told God that you really need to be involved a bit more?

What would happen if you said: “I don’t know what to do, so I’m just going to sit right here in front of you, shut up and look at you.”?

The Weight of the World At Christmas

carry holiday ornamentI bet you didn’t expect to find an intersection between Greek mythology and Christ–did you? For that matter, would you expect to see a connection between the chaos of politics and the peace of Christmas?

The iconic Christmas passage, other than Luke 2, is doubtless Isaiah 9:6

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Currently, we are beleaguered by the constant press of politics, international relations, government failure and deception. And while many of us struggle to remain hopeful that there is an end in sight: that a new administration will somehow improve things … we all know it’s not very likely.

The United States government isn’t doing a very good job of heralding peace within our own borders, let alone in relationship with other governments or in our attempted role as mediator.

In your own home, is there peace? Or, does it feel like, whether discussing national issues, what’s for dinner or where to go for Christmas that the weight of the world is on your shoulders?

That little idiom harkens to the story in Greek mythology of the luckless Atlas, cursed to bear up the weight of the world on his shoulders.

But did you notice, that–far from myth–Jesus already told us through Isaiah that He Himself bears the weight of the world on His own scarred shoulders?

” … the government will be upon his shoulders.”

And it gets better. Not only does Jesus bear us up, shoulder the burden, He promises peace–that passes understanding, that has no end, that promotes righteousness and justice:

Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.

A far cry from what we experience in the world today … right?

Jesus doesn’t just work in the big picture either. He’s not merely concerned with bearing the weight of governments and world leaders. The first part of this passage calls Him our Counselor, Father and Prince of Peace. This great God is the savior of the world and the peace-bringer in your home. He is the messiah and the counselor who whispers behind you which way to go:

Your ears will hear a word behind you, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right or to the left. Isaiah 30:21

 

 

I Can Do All [Crappy] Things Through Christ Who Strengthens Me

Manos sujetando una barra.Hombre colgando.

Say it with me now …

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13

What does that mean to you?

Do you have it scribbled on a sticky note in your gym bag? Is it on one of your coffee mugs to psych you in the morning, “I CAN wake up!” We’ve all heard it touted from various sports fields and courts.

Yes, it’s true. None of those things would be possible with out Christ.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

But if we take a close look at what Paul was saying, he really didn’t have any intention of implying that God’s crazy, awesome, supernatural, sustaining power was specifically designed to help you finish the marathon. Read the whole passage, starting with verse 10:

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (emphasis mine)

The context of Paul’s famous phrase was him telling the Philippians not to worry about him. No matter that he was in jail even as he penned the letter. A quick cross reference with 2 Corinthians 11:25 tells us that Paul was no stranger to physical pain and suffering. And it’s from that place that he tells the Philippians, “I can do anything … ”

Basically, I think, boiled down, Paul was saying, “I can deal with all the crappy stuff through Christ who strengthens me.”

Paul wasn’t claiming that he could obtain any promotion, conquer any athletic feat or leap tall buildings in a single bound. No, he was telling them that he could survive anything. Christ’s strength was his anchor, his sustenance, his confidence to endure suffering, pain, loss, defeat and rejection.

If you reframe this famous line in the context of the Apostle Paul’s original words, what is Christ enabling you to do today? What are you confident he will enable you to face tomorrow?

When Seasons Collide

Dead leaves on bench

Dead leaves on bench

It’s the collision of the seasons.

Here I stand on the precipice of my favorite season–autumn. Summer is merging with colder air, the leaves are giving up their green and their death grip on brittle branches. I’ve already broken out the jeans (still paired with flip flops), and I’m reticent to recall shorts.

All this exquisite splendor is the harbinger of time well spent with loved ones and favorite people in front of the fireplace, with a good book, cuddled on the couch, over a good cup of coffee (or a deliciously dark beer!)

And so, my soul is singing with anticipation, but I’m sad too, my heart is a little wounded and my hopes are fragile. It’s strange for me, this mix of opposing feelings. But I suppose it’s good–that tears are mitigated by laughter and disappointment with excitement. 

I’m not sure how much time I’ll get to spend with my husband this fall. Yes, last year about this time he was leaving for Africa, so count my blessings (more on that later) he’s safe here in the states. But, we have suddenly launched into a season of such intense training and planning that I scarcely see him for a half hour a day. And waiting in the wings are a few weeks where they will work straight through the weekends–at least 21 days in a row.

And this sadness, I might have shared earlier, but I wasn’t ready–a couple months ago, I miscarried the baby my husband I never thought we could never have.

We never planned or risked the hope of getting pregnant. So when we learned in late July (with utter shock!) that I was expecting, we were floored. Just as surprising was the joy that overtook us! We couldn’t wait to hold our baby! But that wasn’t God’s plan. Somehow, our little one lived a purposeful life, and filled the purpose of his life in just 11 short weeks.

We survived that.

But now, the pain is refreshed each month. We’ve dared to think we can try now. We’ve dared to step into the realm of miracles only God can do–and to hope. And that’s scary.

So, as you can see, my emotions (fragile as they are), are swirling like the autumn leaves shimmying to the ground. And it’s tempting to complain to God–a lot. It’s easy right now, to form all “prayer requests” around the little phrase, “God please!!”

God, please give us a baby. God please give us more time together. God please give my husband a day off. God please help me to be kind and compassionate and understanding …

You know, I think all that is okay. Today I was scrounging for peace–the peace that God promises in Philippians when we present our requests to God:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

And suddenly, it dawned on me. There were prerequisites for that peace. I’ve met one prerequisite by simply praying, the second one is harder–with thanksgiving. 

I can’t have this unbelievable peace as long as my prayers sound like whiny pleas. Of course, I still believe God will answer those prayers, but I’m sabotaging my own peace if I insist on whimpering and repelling His peace with self-imposed anxiety, even as I pray. My attitude, even my emotions, is my responsibility.

So, I changed my prayer:

God, thank you for your marvelous plan of blessing and deepening our marriage in this season. Thank you for balancing the sorrow of this season with nature’s beauty. Thank you for giving us a baby, for making us parents. Thank you for teaching me your own faithfulness through pain. Thank you. Yes, thank you.