Grumbling

 

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Photo by Janko Ferlic from Pexels

 

Are you a grumbler?

 

Most of us would prefer to say we are not, but it is more likely that we have all been guilty of grumbling from time to time even though the degree and frequency of our grumbling can definitely vary.

 

To be exact, grumble is a verb defined as follows:

 

“complain or protest about something in a bad-tempered but typically muted way”

 

 

Sometimes others may not hear us do it as we walk away grumbling under our breath about something that didn’t go our way or frustrated us. It doesn’t absolve us of the action or attitude, however.

 

When I was growing up, our home had a copy of the famed series, Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories, which were originally published in the 1920’s. (No, I am not that old!) There were 5 volumes and each in a different color with short stories packed into each that always had a lesson to learn tucked within the story.

 

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When I became a parent, the books moved to my house and a bit later I passed the volumes on to our daughter. It is somehow fascinating that all these years later some of those stories are still etched in my memory.

 

One of those that I recall especially well was entitled “Little Miss Grumbleton” and was about a cure for grumbling. The little girl in the story has a habit of grumbling. As a result of this bad habit, she has a consequence of being required to eat a meal she complained about when it was set before her. You see the meal was cold and not very tasty when it came time for the next meal. Everyone else in the family was enjoying a delicious hot meal while she was required to eat what she had not eaten the previous meal.

 

As the story goes, the little girl never makes that mistake again and is cured of the habit of grumbling. Who wants to eat a cold meal that was left on the table for hours when everyone else is enjoying a fresh hot meal?

 

Grumbling has been around since mankind was created and tends to represent a lack of gratitude. We see it in lots of places in the Bible.

 

One of the places we most often think of is in the book of Exodus with the Israelites as Moses goes about following God’s plan to be freed from slavery and enter the land He promised them. It can be easy for us all these years later to be critical of how they handled this “adventure,” but if we consider what their experience had been for more than 400 years we might discover our responses might have been similar.

 

Think for a moment. Pharaoh’s chariots chase you and thousands of others and there you are facing the Red Sea. Panic would be a given and then God parts the waters and you walk safely on dry ground to the other side. As you look over your shoulder as the last person reaches the shore, the waters fall back into the path you just walked on and all those chasing you are destroyed. You see God show up in a big way and likely expect He will have your back in the days ahead.

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But then you are out there in the wilderness and the water you brought with you is nearly gone. Your animals are thirsty and so are you. It has been three days in the desert without water and they arrive at a place called Marah where there is water, but it is undrinkable. They are upset and frustrated and the grumbling starts and builds. Most of us would be the same.

 

They had seen the Egyptians destroyed in the Red Sea and were following the pillar of cloud God had provided so they must have known He was aware of their location and what the landscape was like as well as the condition of the water at Marah. This was their first big test and they were not handling it well.

 

What these people had experienced during the plagues in Egypt and the destruction of the Egyptian charioteers at the Red Sea caused them to expect they were going to continue to move along without difficulty.

 

As a result, they failed to trust God to provide the water even if they couldn’t humanly see how He would do it. He had demonstrated what He could do many times over, but trust was still not resident within them.

 

You might be thinking it was so obvious that it should have been clear to them that God would provide, but ever since the Garden of Eden mankind has faltered in trusting God’s goodness.

 

Grumbling and complaining when our expectations are not met has been a long-standing habit for us. It continues to the present day and it gives evidence to a flaw to trust or have faith.

 

It can be difficult for us to determine if we are experiencing a test or consequences of being involved in something we should not have gotten involved in.

 

Our challenge is to remember God is good no matter which it is and He is there to lead and provide for us even if it is something that is extremely difficult to face. 

 

When we fail to remember God’s goodness, trust and faith falter easily.

 

“The Lord is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.”

Psalm 145:9 (NIV)

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Who Did We Think He Was?

 

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When we first come to know the Lord, we are looking to find a new life, a better life. If we’re honest, some of us are looking to escape a life that became too much for us or held us in chains of our own making oftentimes.

 

If we’re honest, we also don’t really know a lot about what we are in for. We are just counting on it being different, better, and more. Some of us may have heard stories of the Bible that gave us glimpses, but most of us don’t really know their meaning or how they apply to us.

 

It’s odd that when we make the decision to follow Him, we tend to think we are initiating the relationship with the Lord. Sometimes we have a chorus in the background with words like “I have decided to follow Jesus” and miss that we are responding not initiating.

 

He called us first!  He chose us first!

 

He knew what He was getting when He chose us. He knew that when He chose the first disciples as well. He knew they were not the most highly educated in the rabbinical teaching of the day. He knew their life had been coarse and hard without rank or privilege. He knew one of them would deny Him and another would betray Him before it was all over, but He still chose them.

 

I sometimes wonder if He chose such an assorted group of disciples to show us how welcoming He would be of us no matter what our situation, status, background, or mistakes.

 

Perhaps the bigger challenge we faced was dealing with our expectations of the life after we decided to follow Him. Some of us were exposed to some bad theology right off the bat and expected we were entering into “the good life” here and now where prayers were answered as we desired and the worst things wouldn’t happen to us because we were His. Some of us weren’t exposed to any theology at all and made it up as we went along to fit our circumstances or desires. Few of us understood what lay ahead. We were and are not so much different than the disciples we can sometimes read about with a certain smugness about how different we may think we are.

 

We didn’t know what the beavers of Narnia knew about Aslan, that He wasn’t safe, but He was good! We were somehow sure he would be safe!

 

Then when we got sick or didn’t get the promotion we were hoping for after working so hard or when our marriage fell apart or we walked through cancer with someone we loved, we couldn’t even see how He could be “good” and allow all that to happen when we were sure He had the power to make it otherwise.

 

Perhaps we missed that the Lord doesn’t waste anything EVER. He uses it all for His glory and our good. When He fed the 5,000 and the 4,000 on the hillsides, multiplying the few loaves and fish available, there were baskets left over and all of the crumbs were picked up. The Bible doesn’t say what He did with the baskets of leftovers so I am left to imagine.

 

Today when we have a gathering around food and as usual, there is more than we need and many leftovers, what do WE do? We don’t throw them away. We wrap them up and often send them home with those who were there. I wonder if they sent the leftover baskets with the multitudes that had walked miles to be there, sat for hours listening, and then needed to walk home again. After all, these were poor people, likely the poorest, and He had fed their hearts, spirits, AND stomachs. Even if what was left were just scraps, I might guess they would be grateful.

 

He uses everything in our lives as well.

 

He uses the darkest periods of our lives to shine forth His light more brightly and blesses it for others to gain hope in their dark places. He uses the doubt that plagues us even after we thought we had conquered it, to remind us of His faithfulness. He uses our loneliness to draw us into deeper intimacy with Him and discover the deepness of His love. He uses the times of plenty to prune us of our selfishness and share with others. He uses our exhaustion to remind us we are finite and need to steward the body that we are encased in. He uses our fear to show us how to depend on Him and that He is with us even when we cannot see Him. He uses our stubbornness to break us of our self-will that keeps Him at arm’s length from Him and those we love. He uses our heartache to grant us comfort that multiplies in us and we pass on to others.

 

This Jesus of ours is more than we ever knew He was at the beginning of our walk with Him and we, just like Peter and the rest of them, come to know Him better while we walk with Him. He also shows us more of ourselves than we knew.

 

You see, He is more interested in our character than He is our comfort. It is our character that reflects Him…or doesn’t.

 

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Leveling the Praying Field

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Prayer is an activity that all of us ought to be familiar with and yet it remains one of those aspects of our spiritual lives that is often gathering dust on the shelf. Not only are our lives speeding by so that we rarely take time to be still, but we also succumb to looking to others to do the praying.

 

Leveling the Praying Field: Helping Every Person Talk to God and Hear from God by Donna Barrett is unlike most books or articles on the topic of prayer.

 

Donna opens her introduction as follows:

 

Do you feel like prayer is important, but just not your “thing”? If you were totally honest, would you admit that you find prayer boring? Or perhaps you’re not sure it makes a difference or is really the best use of your time. Perhaps you find prayer intimidating because you don’t feel like you’re good at it, don’t know how to pray, how to use the “right words,” or how to have the endurance to stay with it.”

 

This opens the door to facing ourselves honestly and how we may have fallen into the trap of turning prayer over to those we consider “intercessors” or “prayer warriors”. That becomes our excuse for not even trying to pray and misses the point of prayer being a connecting point God wants between each of us and himself.

 

Donna’s passion is that everyone no matter what stage of life, what level of Christian maturity, what gender, or what level of education will get in the game, get on the field, and start looking at prayer differently.

 

Her newly released book invites the reader into her thoughts, heart, and experiences with prayer from childhood through her call to ministry in various places and capacities as a pastor in the Assembly of God. This is not a “how to” or a recipe. She invites the reader to see prayer as the dialogue between a child and a father at the most basic and intimate level.

 

Her writing style is to invite you into a conversation with her as if you were enjoying a favorite cup of coffee looking at this topic. As you read and “listen,” it will be evident this is not a subject she teaches as much as one that she lives out in every venue she finds herself.

 

I know exactly what that feels like as a friend who has conversed with her many times about prayer.

 

Donna reminds the reader:

 

“He created us to relate with Him, to respond in a give-and-take, to bond emotionally, and to communicate, even in an infantile way initially. But then we shut Him out, stare off as if He isn’t there, and tune Him out.

God has always planned to redeem a family for Himself from “every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9). This love relationship includes and is facilitated by prayer − the incredible privilege of hearing and speaking with our Father God.”

 

Whatever your experience with prayer is or has been, whatever part of the body of Christ is your home, this book will offer you insight to what gets in the way of a vibrant relational prayer life and inspire you to get on the field, get in the game, and experience the Lord as never before.

What Do We Emphasize?

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Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi from Pexels

 

Each of us has interactions with a variety of people who are connected with us in various contexts. Some people are those in our neighborhood. Some are a part of the body where we worship. Some are those we meet through work.

 

Some of these people are newer to us and we share at more of a superficial level. Others know us well over a longer period of time. In both scenarios these individuals gradually get to know our stories little by little as we grow in trust and connection learning when, how, and what is wisdom to share.

 

What do we share about our testimony in Christ when those opportunities arise and the Lord nudges us to tell someone?

 

I think it can be easy (and understandable) not to share every detail of the journey and how the Lord met us. That would require a very long conversation for most of us. And it is not always wise or necessary.

 

If we are tuned into the Lord, I believe He shows us what part of our story will reach the heart, mind, and spirit of the other person.

 

apple-break-child-261889Even so we have a choice of what we emphasize in the telling. How often do we emphasize only the victories?  How often do we share too much about the darker part of our story that perhaps we don’t need to share?

 

It requires wisdom to allow the Lord to use us to share our testimony, but when He leads we should not hesitate to do so.

 

As I was reading in Exodus, I took note of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, who was a Midianite priest and leader. (You may know that the Midianites were descendants of Abraham and Keturah whom he married after Sarah died.)  He first met Moses when he was on the run out of Egypt and hardly sure of what lay ahead of him.

 

Jethro took him in and gave his daughter Zipporah to him to become his wife, but Jethro was not a believer in Yahweh. Moses was with him until God met him at the burning bush and sent him to Egypt to lead the people of Israel out of bondage.

 

When we next see Jethro, he has come with Zipporah and the sons of her and Moses to meet Moses near Sinai after the Pharaoh’s army was defeated as the sea collapsed over them. Moses goes out to meet him and after greeting each other, they go into the tent of Moses. If we  were to listen in on the conversation in the tent, it would be logical for Jethro to want to hear about what has happened since Moses left. Even though he likely heard about the story to some degree, it would make sense that he wanted to hear directly from Moses.

 

Consider what testimony Moses shares with this Midianite priest:

 

“Moses told his father-in-law about everything the Lord had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel’s sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the Lord had saved them.”

Exodus 18:8 (NIV)

 

Moses shared a balanced account with Jethro. He told him about the hardships and difficulties along the way, but he balanced those with the deliverances from dangerous and deadly challenges.

 

That balance was very wise as he shared with an unbeliever. He didn’t give Jethro the impression that God didn’t allow his people to face many dangers and tests, but that God did provide ultimate deliverance.

 

Jethro’s response?

 

“Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the Lord had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians.”

Exodus 18:9 (NIV)

 

But he doesn’t stop there:

 

He said, “Praise be to the Lord, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. 11 Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.”

Exodus 18:10-11 (NIV)

 

Jethro, an unbeliever, is won over by the testimony that gives a clear picture that accepting Yahweh as God does not mean life will be free of issues or problems, but that God will ultimately bring deliverance. He demonstrates his conversion a verse later when he brings a burnt offering to God that was something that was then understood to atone for past sins and to appeal for forgiveness and acceptance.

 

What a good model to help point to a balance when we share our testimony of God working in our lives.

 

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

More Than Banana Bread

 

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Photo by Marta Dzedyshko from Pexels

 

If you let your mind think through your friends, you will likely attach some specific thing to each of them − something that sets them apart from everyone else. It’s a wonderful thing to have different friends from different seasons that connect with us through something unique.

 

If I were doing that exercise, one of my friends would have the words “banana bread” beside her name. She makes it often and it shows!  It is unparalleled in consistently being delicious. She knows my husband loves it and she never fails to bless us with some throughout the year. She bakes a great fruitcake also, but anyone who knows her knows about her banana bread.

 

As I was reading a passage in 1 Samuel (1 Samuel 23:16-17) today, I paused to read the following footnote:

 

“A true friend does not minimize or make light of the sorrow or difficulty another may be experiencing but, rather, helps the other find strength in God.”

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Photo by Anthony from Pexels

 

The statement fit perfectly for this “banana bread” friend and my thoughts drifted back to the year 1995. It was one of those years that remain etched in your memory forever.

 

At the time I was working as a clinical counselor and marriage and family therapist in a Christian private practice a half hour north of our home. My husband was working in the same profession in a practice 45 minutes south of our home. Our two adult children were living hundreds of miles away in Maryland and Tennessee.

 

My parents lived just two miles away with my younger brother who was developmentally delayed and mentally ill. I was grateful to have them near and to be in good health even though my dad was then 84 and my mother was 79. I couldn’t really handle thinking about the time they would go home to be with the Lord and I would become guardian to my brother with all the challenges that would create.

 

I could never have imagined that concern would come true in 1995.

 

My father was very healthy with none of the ailments most folks bump into by the time they are in their 80’s. He was a soft-spoken gentle man who had served the Lord his whole life. He was the anchor for my mother who experienced a variety of chronic health concerns. I expected one of these conditions would likely result in her death prior to my father’s, but I was wrong.

 

In late February 1995 my dad developed pneumonia and was hospitalized within a week. The disease resisted all medical treatment and five and a half weeks later on a cold starry March night, he passed from this life into the next. My own grief was set aside to deal with my mother who crumbled from this loss of the one she had married 55 years before.

 

She had started to falter while my dad was hospitalized and needed to be hospitalized twice herself during the same time period. So it was no surprise the hospital called me when my father died and looked to me to make all the decisions.

 

That compounded exponentially when my mother died exactly three months to the day of my father and I became my brother’s guardian.

 

Again there was little time for grieving. I needed to handle my brother. I also needed to try to manage while working and sorting out what and how their home and belongings would be handled. Our children were able to be present for only a short time before returning home to work and their own families.

 

It was several months later when I needed to tackle going through the things in my parents’ bedroom. It felt overwhelming to be intruding on such personal belongings and I was weary of making decisions. I chose a day to go to their home, but I had no idea what to do with the things in their bedroom.

 

Think about your own closet and dresser drawers and then think again. You might remember you sometimes tuck things into those drawers, on a closet shelf, or a night stand drawer you weren’t sure of what to do with or wanted to keep for a little while. You might remember you have clothing with holes in them that you don’t throw away because you wear them when gardening or something else, but you would never want someone else to see them.

 

blur-cup-drink-355097On the appointed day I received a call from my friend,  Shirley, whom I referred to who makes amazing banana bread. She wanted to know what I had planned for the day and when I told her what it was and that I was overwhelmed, she responded in a way that I recall as if it were yesterday.

 

She offered to drive to my parents’ home (She lived nearly 45 minutes away) and suggested she bring banana bread and tea and would be there to help in any way I needed.

 

A few hours later I sat on the bed or floor of my parents’ bedroom as she sat near by. Each item I picked up required a decision and I was struggling.

 

It was then that she suggested a plan of sorting into categories. There would be things I might choose to sell, others I could give away to an organization who would pass them on to those in need, others might be ones to throw away, another pile would be “I don’t know,” and a last category would be to a nursing home she often visited that she knew would be happy for some of the things.

 

I cannot begin to tell you how her suggestion made the load lighter. As I picked up each item, she sat nearby and listened to me sometimes tell a story about the item if it was one I had given to either of my parents. Sometimes I would just share something about them and she listened.

 

Banana bread and tea accompanied the hours spent. When the drawers and closet were empty and piles in each category, she then offered to take each pile in large bags to disperse them to the places they were to go.

 

The tenderness of her heart and the care she demonstrated that day are treasures tucked into my heart even 24 years later. How well she loved me! She listened to my heart and words without minimizing or offering religious platitudes. It was the greatest of gifts.

 

You see, Shirley is far more than banana bread even though she has blessed me with it often. At another crisis time, she arrived at my door with a roast beef dinner after I had been injured when a car struck me in my office parking lot. But Shirley is more than the food she makes and offers to many so freely.

 

Shirley is a friend who loves well without demanding, one who responds to a need she senses before even being asked, and one who listens without offering unasked for advice. She knows how to respond to someone in grief or difficult circumstances by being present.

 

Shirley is Jesus with skin on many times.

 

Sometimes that means banana bread.

 

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Shirley