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Which Is It?

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We get tangled up in things before we know it sometimes and when we do, we are faced with how we get unstuck. As we start to review what might have gotten us to where we are, we start through some of the experiences we have had to see if that can help. It’s then that we bump into a conundrum. Should we let go or hold on? Both options have been advice we have received and since they are opposites, which one do we choose?

Perhaps the problem stems from the dichotomy going on inside us. We may not want to deal with what we are facing any more so letting go of it appeals to us, but we know that is easier said than done because a decision to do that doesn’t quickly eliminate it from swirling in our thoughts. The thoughts come unbidden at such odd times like when we are just sitting at a stop light or right before we fall asleep. Could it be we are trying too hard to not think about the very thing we want to let go of?

Perhaps it’s a white bear problem. White bears? It has nothing to do with white bears! True, but maybe white bears can teach us what makes it hard to stop thinking about the problem we’re facing.

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In 1987 a Harvard psychologist by the name of Dr. Daniel Wegner was intrigued by an essay by Dostoevsky written in 1863 about white polar bears. As a result, he set up a study about blocking out thinking about white bears when you are told to do so or want to do so. He had two groups of subjects, and one was told to not think about white bears and the other was asked to tell what their stream of consciousness was while thinking about white bears over a period of five minutes.

The results of the study were revealing and gave us a glimpse into why telling ourselves not to think about something makes it harder not to think about it. Wegner discovered that trying not to think of a white polar bear ironically made it only more likely that you couldn’t get one out of your mind.

In recent months I can attest to the truth of the study results. I have been grappling with something that should seem simple enough to do, but it sets up massive amounts of anxiety for me and creates a huge problem before I even attempt it because I can’t stop thinking about it. When I attempt to do it, that anxiety skews the results and the more I try to do it the greater the reinforcement of thinking about it occurs.

Maybe we hold on too tightly sometimes as we try to manage or control something and that is what gets us stuck thinking about “white bears.”

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Sometimes we are unaware that we can be prone to hang on more easily than we can let go. When we hang on, it gives us the sense that we have some measure of control of whatever it is and reveals our challenge to trust letting go if that is the best choice. Clearly one is not always the right answer over the other. If we are being rescued from a fire or a near fatal fall over a cliff and someone reaches out and grabs our arm and tells us to hang on and not let go, that is exactly what we should do. Why? Because we can’t control what will happen to us when and if we do let go and certain death is likely. But is there another example of when we need to let go of the sense of needing to be in control and when holding on to the conscious idea of safety is not the right choice?

There’s a story in the New Testament of the Bible in Matthew 14 that gives us just such an example. The disciples of Jesus are out in a boat on a lake, and He is not in the boat with them. The lake is rough and the wind raging, and they fear death may come to them. They look up and are amazed to see Jesus walking on the water toward them. Peter calls out to Him and wants to know if it’s really Him, thinking it might be his imagination. Peter tells Jesus to ask him to come out and walk on the water to Him if it is truly Jesus and Jesus does just that. Peter looks at Jesus and steps out of the boat on the water and begins to walk toward Jesus as he was told, but then he recognizes what he is doing and looks down and cannot see beyond the waves threatening to overtake him. What was Peter holding onto and what was he letting go of in this scene?

Peter was sinking fast in the Sea of Galilee after he stopped trusting Jesus and focusing on Him and began to believe he needed to control the situation. We may not have been on the Sea of Galilee, but I am guessing we can all identify with something in our own lives that may have been similar. But we can’t leave the story before we remember the response Jesus gave to Peter: He reached out and offered his hand to rescue Him. It reminds me of a quote by American missionary, Jim Elliot:

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

Jim Elliot
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It reminds me of what John Eldredge calls “benevolent detachment.” It means giving that thing, that person, that situation that is entangling us and troubling us to Christ. It’s not just letting go of it, it is giving it to the One who can handle it as we never can. And guess what? No matter how long we may have trusted Jesus in our lives, it’s not so easy to do because we are prone to think about “white bears” and we have not discerned well what surrendering all to Him really means and what we can gain from doing so. Even with discernment, it’s something we need to practice to recognize and release our tendency to grasp rather than release.

“The secret of life is this: If we surrender everything to Christ – including everything we are, the totality of our being – He is then able to give us his everything.”

John Eldredge

What do we learn from that choice and practice?

“Nothing can be taken from us anymore because we’ve already surrendered everything.”

John Eldredge
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The Challenge of Change

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If I were to ask you if you like change, I wonder how you would answer that question. We can tend to have some strong feelings about change − either pro or con.

Some of us are adventurous and change in nearly any area offers us the excitement of discovering something new. We like stretching ourselves to expand what we know and testing what we know already. But sometimes that may be in a few areas, but not across all aspects of our lives.

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One person in our family when our children were young was adventurous with food. No matter what restaurant was mentioned, he was eager to try it. He loved trying something on the menu that he had never tasted before. We now have a grandson from another branch of the family tree who is much like that and recently enjoyed sampling snails while he was vacationing in Paris.

Others of us like challenging ourselves physically with new or extreme sports to test the limits of our abilities and experience the thrill that goes with it.

This summer many of us will go on a vacation. Some will go back to the same cabin or same condo where we have gone for a long time and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Others of us explore maps, tour books, and the Internet to find new destinations each year.

Some of us have personalities and preferences that are wired to like and need structure in our routines so anything that brings a change to those things can leave us feeling at sea.

Many of these things represent a category of change − things we choose to experience that are different. Harder changes are ones that are not of our own choosing. Those come in various types and sizes and may push us to the limits of our adaptability.

Change is a constant in life. We have far less control than we might think or wish.

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Growing up and getting older will be a change we happily anticipate as we think about things we will be able to do that we cannot when we are a child or teen. There is no question we will grow up and get older even if we don’t wish to do that, but as we do we will learn that some things we could do and be previously are lost to us. New responsibilities and tasks come our way. Time to play is limited to fewer hours or even minutes in any given day or week.

We also get in touch with how that process of growing older doesn’t go as slowly as we wish. We change schools, homes, jobs, relationships, churches, routines, and more. Our bodies change − sometimes without warning − adding to what we can do or taking away something we thought would never change.

We look forward to the change of leaving home and living on our own (sometimes in a new city or state or even country) and we plan the kind of life we want to have (sometimes similar to our parents and other times quite different). Then about the time we feel settled in this new life with a family of our own, change comes to us again − our own children grow up and go on their own way.

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Whether we love these changes or dislike them, we take with us things that can help us in this new place or season − experience, abilities, skill sets, and more − that can serve as a foundation for where we find ourselves.

“When things around you change − where you are, where you’re going − the one fact that remains constant, the one anchor that holds fast, is where you have been.” 

Lisa Wingate in The Language of the Sycamores

The significance of the word “anchor” in the quote is how it fits in our spiritual lives.

An anchor is a very early Christian symbol that has been found in ancient catacombs. It brings together the cross and nautical Christian symbolism. That anchor is more significant than where we have been.

In ancient times, an anchor was a symbol of safety and symbolizes Christ’s unfailing hope in the midst of life’s upheavals and uncertainties.

Change is a constant in this life whatever our proclivities may be. There is little doubt that sometimes change will not be a choice we make, will not be easy or without cost to us. Our source of help is clear in Hebrews 6:13-10 (TPT):

13 Now when God made a promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater than himself, he swore an oath on his own integrityto keep the promise as sure as God exists! 14 So he said,

“Have no doubt, I promise to bless you over and over,     and give you a son and multiply you without measure!”

15 So Abraham waited patiently in faith and succeeded in seeing the promise fulfilled.16 It is very common for people to swear an oath by something greater than themselves, for the oath will confirm their statements and end all dispute. 17 So in the same way, God wanted to end all doubt and confirm it even more forcefully to those who would inherit his promises. His purpose was unchangeable, so God added his vow to the promise. 18 So it is impossible for God to lie for we know that his promise and his vow will never change!

And now we have run into his heart to hide ourselves in his faithfulness. This is where we find his strength and comfort, for he empowers us to seize what has already been established ahead of time—an unshakeable hope! 19 We have this certain hope like a strong, unbreakable anchor holding our souls to God himself. Our anchor of hope is fastened to the mercy seat which sits in the heavenly realm beyond the sacred threshold, 20 and where Jesus, our forerunner,has gone in before us. He is now and forever our royal Priest like Melchizedek.”

In the midst of change, He is our unshakeable hope.

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His Time…Not Ours

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Have you noticed how often we get upset about time?

It seems like we often complain about it. We can be running out of it or feel like it is making us wait too long. We (even those who are not rigid) tend to have some sort of schedule for our day more days than not. Sometimes there are set appointments and then there are the things we just hope to do (or not do) in a day.

Maybe it is predictability we desire or perhaps it is control that we wish for. Whatever our situation we are not very amenable to interruptions much of the time despite living with an assurance they will occur. Sometimes we can manage them fairly well, but if we are on a deadline or focused on a project it’s not something we will rejoice about.

It can be easy to forget that God is the author of time and always has been.

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That doesn’t mean we take no responsibility for stewarding it, but that we develop a more realistic appraisal for how much of it we can manage. It is far too easy to make a commitment with a realistic expectation we can fulfill it and yet fail to include the possibilities that might impact that plan. It can be as routine as a car problem or a cold, a homework crisis we need to walk a child through or a senior relative who has a need we cannot ignore in the moment.

I am aware I have much to learn in this area. I see that over and over again as I read about the life of Christ. Page after page in the gospels show us one example after another where He is interrupted, and that interruption never seems to ruffle his mood or attitude. Invariably the interruption adds to our knowledge of Him and results in a miracle or two.

Jesus is teaching a group of teachers and religious leaders around Him who had traveled a great distance to hear Him. There are several men trying to help a man who was paralyzed laying on a bed get in to hear Him and maybe receive a miracle as He had done other places, but there is no way into the crowded room. They come up with a plan to open up the roof and carefully lower the man into the room where Jesus is teaching. Talk about an interruption! (Luke 5:17-39)

The teachers of the law and religious leaders are none too happy and Jesus knows exactly what they are thinking. He uses them as an example and in the midst of this interruption heals the man.

We see Jesus seeking solitude and going off to be alone and yet crowds follow Him over and over again. His disciples even interrupted Him while he was sleeping when a storm arose, and they were in fear on the sea.

Often Jesus is interrupted while He is traveling from one point to another. In one case Bartimaeus is healed of his blindness on the road to Jericho. At another point while He is on his way, He notices Zacchaeus up in a tree and that interruption results in salvation coming to Zacchaeus.

God uses interruptions to alert us to see something we did not notice.

If we pause, we might recognize why He wanted us to make note of what we were missing and how He might want to use it.

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At another time Jesus was asked to come to the home of Jairus, a man of position, so that He can heal his daughter who is very ill. On his way there, a woman who is of low estate touches the edge of his robe. (She doesn’t even warrant a name in the scripture that tells the story.) Her desire is healing from an “issue of blood” she had for 12 years that would have meant she was labeled “unclean”.

Clearly Jesus is urgently needed in the household of Jairus to attend his ill daughter and Jairus is a man of importance, but when the woman touches the robe of Jesus He stops and asks her what she needs. Her answer brings his response back of a healing. And in the midst of this great thing, Jairus finds out his daughter has died. He might well wonder at the delay to care for this woman, this interruption could have made the difference. But Jesus tells him not to be concerned because his daughter will be okay.

How much I/we can all learn from these examples and others like them?

We can be on our way to something important, but an interruption may point to something the Lord sees we should attend to. If that is the case, He will surely help us with that very important thing that is delayed.

Read the wise words of C.S. Lewis:

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely real life – the life God is sending one day by day.”

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I Can’t Find It!

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My husband and I set out to our favorite grocery store a few days ago for a bit longer list of things to find after being out of town for a week. There were more things to replenish as well as items for the food I expect to prepare for the week. Somehow it has been a bit more of an adventure over the last several years since the pandemic began. Items we would never have expected to have difficulty finding have been scarce or non-existent so having both of us on the hunt has been a help. Maybe you have had similar quests.

List in hand along with a hunt for sales to guide the meal planning, we entered the store to find a remodeling going on in most every area of the store. Now we had an added twist to the usual shopping. The hard part was having the signs to guide you in each aisle were still for the old layout AND not all the revamping was complete, so some things were where we expected to find them, and others were not. We each took a cart on the hunt for what we needed while looking for sale items.

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The process was not producing a lot of results, but then we discovered that more than the usual number of employees were scattered around the aisles trying to help all of us locate what we were looking for. What added to the fun was they weren’t always sure either since everything is in a state of flux and will not be completed until sometime this fall. In one instance after a futile attempt to find an item by an assistant manager, I found the person in charge of the department where the item was supposed to be, and she discovered none of that item was in the cooler. She asked me to wait at that exact spot so she could go back into the supply area to see if she could locate any. In a bit of time, she returned with the item held high in one hand and offered to help any time I saw her in that department.

After a much longer time than usual, we were headed out the door home with bags of food in tow. But it was all an opportunity for some great reminders. We have been blessed for a very long time by being able to stop by a store and find what we were looking for on a regular basis and at a price that was reasonable as well. How easy it can be to take something for granted when it is always there. Secondly, most of us are not very good at waiting and with our world turned upside down in more than one or two ways, we have been reminded that even if we are not rigid about a routine, we like a rhythm and flow to our lives so we can better navigate the unexpected.

But as I was having my time of devotions, I sensed the Lord wanted me to see something more than even those things. Life will often throw us curve balls. Some will not be major challenges, but others will leave us reeling and we will become disoriented trying to find our footing and the path through the upside-down environment. Sometimes the challenge can be external like a job loss or accident or a major move, but even in those the internal landscape can be thrown off course.

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That’s when everything else before the crazy, anxiety-producing upheaval becomes critical. If we have been building a solid foundation of beliefs and values on those more ordinary days and grown our faith in God, we can find a foothold to start to handle what we are faced with a bit more easily. It’s what we read about where survivors of so many things are concerned. The skills are learned before they are needed and if they are practiced, they can make all the difference when disaster strikes, and our world starts to crumble, and we can’t seem to see the way ahead.

Members of military services know that well. They prepare for as many possibilities as possible to be equipped for what may lay ahead.

“The primal fear that sweeps over men and women in survival situations is the fear of not having enough. This reaches to the core of human need. It might be food, water, clothing – whatever ‘enough’ means to each person. This panic has overcome many otherwise steady souls.”

John Eldredge

More than a few of us have seen the evidence of that during the pandemic and we see it as well as the world becomes darker and more dangerous. Crises always expose who we are.

As I reflected on the grocery store upheaval, I was reminded that whatever lays ahead is something I cannot see or predict and yet my preparation for that can be happening every day by how I care for my soul and how I develop my relationship with God. If I make time with Him a priority, I can come to know Him more intimately and develop a trust that better weathers upheaval in my life or the world around me. Learning to listen when I am not in the midst of the battle helps me to know his voice so well that I can recognize his whisper when hearing Him is most needed.

As a child in the small country church where I grew up, one of the hymns I recall was one with lyrics written by Daniel Whittle in 1883 and the refrain points to the key for us:

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.”

Daniel Whittle
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Are You A Game Changer?

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I can almost hear you saying, “Who me?” as you read this title. Then after the question comes those other things so many of us say – “I am just a …” or “I am not…” But if we say that (I can be tempted too.), we are missing the big picture truth.

Today as I was reading a note in my study Bible, I read this fabulous sentence:

“…everyday faithfulness by ordinary people can, by God’s grace, change history forever.”

The note was connected to 1 Samuel 1 and the example was Hannah (future mother of Samuel, the prophet) who was just a wife and a woman dealing with the agony of barrenness crying out to God in the midst of her situation not once or twice but repeatedly.

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If you know the story at all you know that God answered and gave her a baby boy, Samuel, who would be a major prophet in Israel and anoint its first two kings, Saul and David. Can you imagine waiting for a child and then dedicating that child back to the Lord after he was weaned? I am sad to say I cannot. Her faithfulness and God’s response results in her taking Samuel to minister in the Lord’s Temple for the rest of his life.

That faithfulness is then rewarded with more children – three sons and two daughters.

Hannah is not the first person you might think of when you reflect on stories in the Bible, but she was a game changer for sure. Her faithfulness changed the course of history. So did the choices of Rahab despite not being a member of the tribe of Israel. She too became a game changer and her life was spared as a result.

It doesn’t take a long time in reading the Bible to discover a lot of the game changers that altered history are not all the big-name folks that immediately come to mind.

Why is that important?

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As the world around us is reeling and fear seeks to overwhelm us, sending us shrinking into a corner until this crisis passes, the Lord is looking for ordinary people whose “everyday faithfulness” change history right now. That may not be on the world stage and may receive no accolades, but it matters to the Lord and also to what He may lead you to be during this time.

I know you are hearing many ideas being offered about this very thing and they are good. Even so, that place of “everyday faithfulness” you may be called to might look quite different. Right now, we are scattered rather than together in one place or another and that opens endless possibilities to the Lord and can help us keep our perspective in alignment.

One small light in a dark place can create an incredible amount of light.

“Everyday faithfulness by ordinary people can, by God’s grace, change history forever.”

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