When Everything Is Shaken




Today I am taking in the blessing of sunshine on a cold midwinter’s day and savoring the hint of spring such a day brings. I do that even though crocuses are still deep underground and no hint of green shows on the branches of our forsythia bush.


My hope is not in what I see, but faith in the memory of other springs as well as Who created them. Today they have adjusted my thoughts caught up in the discouraging news that pummels me from every corner of the world.


It seems that nearly everyone I speak with speaks with concern about what is happening in so many places in the world. It doesn’t take long in such conversations to start to feel agitated or even fearful. It is a temptation to see no light in the darkness growing larger on the horizon.


If no light is seen, perhaps it is because we are not looking for light in the right places.


I am currently reading in the book of Isaiah as a result of a sermon series on this Old Testament book. I am struck by the reality of how dark the world was that Isaiah was living in. Yes, darkness was there in abundance, but Isaiah also pointed to the future coming of the Messiah even though he was writing between 750-700 BC.


I cannot help, but read the prophet’s words and not think of the world as it is in 2017 and see the possibility of a corollary.


What were the problems the people of God were facing back then? Rather than get caught up in the specifics of the kings (good and not good) and their friends and/or enemies, I want to look at the truth of the problems behind the problems. What were the people looking toward that deepened their darkness?


God’s people were trusting in the wrong things.


They were trusting in other kings. They had turned their back on God and determined to trust instead in the chariots and horsemen of Egypt. Later they entered into alliances with Assyria and then Babylon to help them despite how ungodly and misaligned they were from these godless nations.


They had also begun trusting in other gods, things produced by their own hands. Idolatry was rampant. It was easier to trust in what they could buy or make than to trust in the Lord.


To these they added trust in themselves. In short, they had become self-reliant. Perhaps it was their pride in their own wealth or skills, their reputation or past success that built up this over estimation of what they alone could do or accomplish.


The people of God had also chosen to seek the voice of their leaders before seeking the voice of the Lord. Their trust was in the kings and leaders they had asked God for so long before, rather than in the Lord.


On top of all this, they had not humbled themselves nor repented of their faithlessness.


Yet God loved them so much, He chose to allow everything to be shaken they had trusted in so they could come face-to-face with the unshakeable.


I wonder if that is not true of us today.


Could it be that we have trusted more in governments and leaders of all types and 85f5032ec43dc1b1fe61804e79721451persuasions, programs and treaties from one end of the earth to another, drones and technical equipment beyond our imagination, words of men more than words from God?


What I see ever more clearly is that darkness has been a reality for many years and many eras, to think or believe otherwise is to operate in denial. Before you reject that idea, consider the sense of darkness that pervaded the entire world through two deadly world wars. We can glance over our shoulder and see clearly that example.


For us, even as in Isaiah’s lifetime, there was light ahead that could be seen for those who looked and trusted in God more than in any of the things they had begun to trust.


The shaking seasons of our lives have often ultimately gifted us with the surest sense of the Lord’s goodness and trustworthiness.


Major Daniel Webster Whittle served during the bloody American Civil War, a time of great darkness in the United States. But years later, the light of the gospel and the influence of Dwight L. Moody resulted in the lyrics of 200 hymns flowing from his life. One of his refrain’s many of us still knows was written in 1883:


But “I know Whom I have believed,

And am persuaded that He is able

To keep that which I’ve committed

Unto Him against that day.”


When I look for light in the midst of darkness when everything is being shaken, I am reminded He is allowing it to reveal to me what is unshakeable.


“Some trust in chariots and some in horses,

    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. 

They collapse and fall,

    but we rise and stand upright.” Ps. 20:7-8 ESV









The Trouble With Nibbling Gnats



Gnats are such a nuisance! They fly about and create such irritation despite their small size. Have you noticed you rarely have one by itself? They seem to come in bunches or even swarms. Once they show up, they like to make themselves at home and it can be very difficult to get free of them. They feast most often on food scraps we leave out in the open, forgetting we have extended an invitation to gnats they will never refuse.


I think it is a wonderful description of what happens when we leave our failures laying around in our thoughts. No sooner than we have done so than gnats of another type come swirling about that keep us focused on those very failures. Before long we have lost our focus and the failure and the gnats are all we see. When we do, we are likely to feel as if we have tumbled into quick sand because we get stuck there.



We should forget past failures, for they do not define us.”


I love this quote by Barry C. Black. It’s true that our failures can teach us much perhaps, but they are never what define us. Sadly, we can easily fall prey to allowing them to do that when they become our primary focus.


Let me suggest an example. My house can be actually very clean, but if I happen to forget a plate with an apple core on it gnats will not be far behind. Now it would be foolish to berate myself for having a very dirty house from top to bottom because of one apple core left on a plate. Most of us would be upset that we forgot the apple core, but we would not label ourselves as bad housekeepers if the rest of the house were clean and tidy.


Why is it then that we can so easily do that very thing about some failure we remain acutely aware of? We can review it and focus on it like gnats attracted to a scrap of food. If we do it long enough, we will be tempted to believe that failure is what defines us and often we will label ourselves by that very thing. We do not move forward. We do not attempt something else.


I cannot help but think of the apostle Paul. He persecuted Christians and stood by holding the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen. Then on the Damascus road he saw the light when Jesus appeared to him. He, like Peter and many of us, have so many things we are not proud of that point to our weakness and failure. Despite Damascus road, Paul could have allowed those very things lay out in his thoughts and made them his focus.


It is a great comfort to realize that same Paul (formerly Saul, the Pharisee of Pharisees) writing from his jail cell in Rome in 62 A.D. gives us the prescription for just such a problem in Philippians 3:13-14:


“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” ESV


Paul chose not to focus on the failure, nor did he allow the challenges he faced on his missionary journeys to deter him and give fodder for the gnats. He pressed on. Paul’s perseverance became a testimony of the power of the gospel at work within him after he saw the light on the Damascus road.


Paul didn’t rehearse his failures; he proclaimed Christ’s victory.


magazines-time-1Clearly, Paul models a lot for us to consider when nibbling gnats enter our space. Some of the other quotes you see in and around these paragraphs do as well.


I think the other truth we must face is that if we have accepted Christ and repented of all our sins and failures, we dishonor Him when our focus is on failure instead of His victory won on our behalf.


One of my favorite passages is Hebrew 12:1-2 and I think it fits in the context of what Paul tells us in Philippians.


“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” ESV








Our Complicated Lives


Recently I was blessed to read and review Barry C. Black’s latest book (Nothing to Fear) published through Tyndale House. There was a great deal that spoke to my heart, mind, and spirit in the book. One of the chapters near the end especially grabbed my attention. The title was “Live A Less Complicated Life”. When I looked at the title I was aware I would likely read a lot more of what many are writing and urging all of us to consider—simplify our lives.


As I began to dig into the chapter, I found many of the things I thought I would see as well as some things that were worded in a fresh way and caught my attention. One example is these sentences near the very beginning of the chapter:


“How can we stay fearless in a world that seems to guarantee to every life the complications of misery and trial? Perhaps the answer is to stop believing that ‘whatever will be, will be’, and to begin, with intentionality, to choose simplicity, the less-complicated road not often taken.”


I can easily confess that I have lived most of my life chocked to the brim. I can give you hundreds of reasons why, including that most of them were really good things. One of the craziest of those was when I was teaching full-time while going to graduate school, being a wife, and being a mom. During those five years, we also had two children graduate from high school and later one of those graduate from college and get married with all the things those add to a schedule. I was also still trying to stay active in a ministry at our church. Yes, I know it sounds crazy.


5ed6df054070e800add001983a1ea4ebOne of the side effects was that I got used to living that way and thought it was “normal”. I got used to less sleep, less exercise, less time to read and relax except on vacation. There was less time to enjoy cooking in the kitchen or meandering through a shopping mall with my favorite coffee. There was also less time for leisurely lingering over time with the Lord each morning.


Vacation would mean I would need the first couple of days to get enough sleep to enjoy the time. I would take a deep breath of the fresh air, read a great book, enjoy fabulous time with my husband, and take in spectacular scenery before jumping right back into the pushed schedule.


If I am honest, I will tell you that I am not sure I would change much of it given the circumstances and goals at the time; but after two years of retirement with less complications, I see how rich my life can be when it is full and yet simpler. Much of that comes because no job or role demands I do something or go somewhere at a specific time or place whether it affects my sleep or quiet time or not. One of the benefits is that I sleep better at night and another is losing a few pounds because there is not so much cortisol surging through my system.


Hans Hofmann, a twentieth century abstract expressionist painter defines simplicity this way:


“the ability…to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak”


Even though he was undoubtedly speaking of this in the context of his art, it is a definition that speaks volumes to me.


Black’s book lists nine principles to address the theme of the chapter and I won’t detail all of them here, but one of them is not on a lot of lists you might read on this topic and bears repeating here. Under “Number your days” Black brings the truth home in convicting words:


“We are not to number our weeks, months, years, or decades; life is too fragile and brief. We’re told to number our days. This suggests to me the importance of enjoying the spice of every day of life. Could it mean that we should live every day as if it were our last, because one day it will be?

 The body doesn’t seem to adequately forewarn us when we’re reaching the end of life’s journey.

 But the Bible warns us, ‘Be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.’”


Of course we are to serve and do a great many things with the time that has been allotted to us, but we ought never to fail to simply ‘be’ as well.


A few years ago one of my dearest friends and I had lunch together at a lovely restaurant set in the midst of a beautiful landscape including a lake, trees, and various bushes. It was autumn and as each of us got back in our cars to get back to our complicated lives and were driving the winding lane to the street, I noticed a row of trees whose color was vibrantly spectacular!! I called my friend on her cell phone to comment on them and she said she hadn’t noticed them.


Yes, it was a small thing like many small things we can miss. I have often been the one who missed seeing something of great beauty too, but this one instance reminded us both we needed to choose to be more intentional about living a less complicated life. This incident is one we tease about, but remember often. The good thing is that neither of us has missed the beauty of stunning autumn color when we are leaving a restaurant again. That’s a blessing because it reminds us of God’s goodness and creative genius.



Such A Small Thing, But How It Blinds




I sometimes think it is the nibbling things that will do me in, do us all in. What do I mean by nibbling things? I am talking about little things here or there that we ignore or accept as ‘not so bad’. I can easily think of dozens of examples. Of course eating comes to mind and that old ad that says, “I bet you can’t eat just one!” For me that would be one cashew or peanut when a full dish sits on the table. Aren’t they supposed to be eaten by the handful just like popcorn (my other favorite snack)?


There are thoughts that nibble away at the truth inside us as well. It can be as small as a friend who doesn’t return a phone call or fails to remember a birthday. A stray nibbling begins—‘I wonder if she really likes me’, ‘I thought she cared about me’, etc.


All the ploys have one overarching purpose—to deceive us. Deception is Satan’s trademark and he is truly gifted at it as we see all the way back in the Garden. The problem is that we too often miss his subtle devices today since he really doesn’t show up as a serpent while we are out admiring the apples on our trees in the orchard.


Back in that other garden he created a doubt in Eve’s mind and then deceived her into 92b3251ae011d042dbfa93628ee83d17over-riding what she knew she should do. He does that with you and me as well, but it doesn’t stop with one bite of an apple (or cashew). His ultimate goal is to get us to tolerate sin within us little by little in small ways. Sin seduces us into tolerating it or sinking into despair.


The result? We become self-deceived and that sets us up to be able to do things that have escalating levels of sin and a conscience that gradually falls asleep and never gets bothered by what we are doing.


No, it doesn’t happen all at once nor to all of us to the same degree, but when we do not or will not face the truth of what we choose we open ourselves to a pattern of self-deception that automatically leads to deceiving others (sometimes without even having an awareness).


Isaiah 50: 2 warns us about the path we can find ourselves on:

“Woe to those who call evil good

and good evil,

who put darkness for light

and light for darkness,

who put bitter for sweet

and sweet for bitter!” ESV


How do we get caught in the trap Satan sets for us? In many ways deception acts like a narcotic because it numbs us and prevents us from feeling the pain we do not want to feel. It helps us justify the choices we make. We’re late so we speed. We’re stressed so we eat chocolate. We need copy paper for our printer at home so we take some from the office. Our spouse hasn’t been showing us much attention so we flirt just a little with the neighbor.


It can be a bit like the story of the frog in the kettle. The kettle is on the stove, but the fire is not lit so the frog jumps in. While enjoying the water, the fire gets lit and soon the frog cannot get out. The frog did not believe he was at risk to be hurt or die until it is too late.


We can start to believe what we have rationalized as being okay won’t hurt us either. Now Satan has us where he wants us. We are deceived, lying to others and ourselves about our choices. Over time our heart gets hardened so we no longer recognize or repent of our poor or sinful choices.


Too often from the very beginning, no one holds us accountable. If we are blessed with someone who loves us enough to hold us accountable early on, we will regain our footing on the solid rock of Jesus.


God meant for us to be in community one with another. We don’t see ourselves accurately many times and when we have someone who walks with us on life’s journey extending us love, grace, and mercy PLUS accountability, we improve our vision significantly and repentance becomes a habit so that our heart doesn’t harden and our soul doesn’t die. That person helps us see the small thing long before it grows into the dragon that intends on devouring us.








Our Relay Race



I am not a runner and never have been, but I respect anyone who does. Our daughter had not been a runner either, but made it a goal to start running as she was helping her kids to learn to run a mile as a homeschool mom. What a great goal! She surprised herself with her accomplishment and went on to run a number of races after that including running the Army 10-miler and a half marathon. We couldn’t have been prouder of her disciplined training. She encouraged me often to try it and if we had lived nearer to one another, she might have succeeded.


Even so, as a part of fulfilling God’s purposes, we are all in a relay race. We pass the baton from one generation to another. For a long time the goal has been to leave the world in a better place, one generation after another. For better or worse, we pass on a legacy to all those who follow after us.


You hear that message when you hear an older generation make a comment about wanting their children or grandchildren to have a better education or better job than they had. You see it in the sacrifices of the older generation to provide it for another. I watched it unfold in my life as well.


ee402eb47e7734aed2c8611f2717e4e4My grandparents, aunts and uncles, on my dad’s side of the family moved from eastern Pennsylvania to Ohio for the opportunity to purchase large adjoining acres of rich farmland to provide an expanded future for my dad’s generation. My dad’s generation discovered my generation did not have a great interest in farming so their goal was to provide good education to launch my generation into adulthood. And so it continued as my generation sought to provide an even better education and more opportunities.


Many of us were born out of families and generations that considered sacrifice to be an honor and a responsibility. The sacrifices they often made were less about “getting ahead” themselves or getting “more stuff” and more about what future they could give as they passed the baton to the next generation.


One generation that has often been heralded for sacrifice has been called “The Greatest Generation”, those who were of the WW II era who volunteered in unprecedented numbers whether for battle or to work in factories to make the world a safer, better place for their children.


Now that I am older with children and grandchildren of my own, I pause to wonder. In some ways we have already passed the baton to our adult children and have been blessed to see some of the legacy that is showing up in our grandchildren. We get to see glimpses, but the full view of the legacy will be beyond our lifetime.


Barry C. Black put it this way:


“God expects us to be world changers, to live lives that matter, to make someone or something different, ensuring that the world is a better place because we lived here.

 We become world changers because God first changes us.”


How true are his words! God must change us first. Only when we are reconciled to Him who made peace on the cross, can we let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts in all of our relationships. It is really the gospel that transforms us from the inside out. The gospel doesn’t compel us to love against our will, but instead changes our will.


Only the power of the gospel can cause us to become more like Him in words, attitudes, and actions. Then we can truly be salt and light in this world and leave a legacy of His love, grace, mercy, and truth as we pass the baton in this relay.


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