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No One Is Immune

 

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As I continue to reflect on my adult life that was often stressed, too busy, and left me tired in ways not replenished by a weekend of sleeping late or opting out of a committee or two, I knew a great deal about what was wrong and even some of the choices I made that brought me to that bone-tired frazzled place. A graduate program in clinical counseling reveals a lot of glaring things about yourself long before you sit down with your first client.

 

The hard part for me (and maybe you) was that the choices I made and the things I did were not bad things. In fact, they were good things that others were glad I was doing. They didn’t see the toll and for quite some time I didn’t see it either.

 

I would never have called myself especially prideful. I knew there were pockets of it, but I didn’t see it connecting to my busy, stressed, and tiring life.

 

Then when I was reading Hannah Anderson’s book, Humble Roots, she brought me into sharper focus.

 

 “But being busy with good things didn’t make me immune to pride. If anything, those of us who are busy “working for Jesus” may be the first to miss that we are struggling with pride because it can hide our good intentions.”

 

When I first read her words I felt something well up inside against such a suggestion. How could that be right? I was a Midwesterner who grew up with a strong work ethic and conviction about helping others and serving in our church. My parents were active in every area of the church and we were one of those families who were there Sunday morning and evening and Wednesday night at the very least. It was the model I grew up believing in and then lived as an adult.

 

A few pages after reading those words from Hannah, she added a bit more to broaden the picture (and conviction).

 

“Pride convinces us that we are stronger and more capable than we actually are. Pride convinces us that we must do and be more than we are able. And when we try, we find ourselves feeling “thin, sort of stretched…like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.” (From J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring) We begin to fall apart physically, emotionally, and spiritually for the simple reason that we are not existing as we were meant to exist.”

 

That description of Tolkien’s resonated for a chunk of my life when I was working and PICT0166going to school. The sad part was that it became an entrenched habit. I lost track of how to relax and be okay with doing nothing even for a short period. It happened progressively.

 

Rest was not a real part of my routine. There was always something to do or something I wanted to do. I had learned early in childhood laziness was not a good thing. I had also never learned to play, kick back, and relax. Those things felt awkward and foreign to me. Rest sounded slothful.

 

Yet, over and over Jesus admonishes his disciples (that includes you and me) to rest, to leave the cares of the world behind. What can be far too easy to miss is that He wants us to rely on Him more than we rely on ourselves. That means accepting the truth that I must be dependent on Him. It means when the body He created makes clear that I am tired, He wants me to rest. It means when the mind keeps spinning, He wants me to rest. It means when I can’t find a place on my calendar for one more thing, He wants me to step back and look at His life on earth.

 

He had three short years of ministry recorded in the gospels. Those of us in the current day would have developed a strategic plan and had our calendars crammed full. We see Jesus instead having time with friends like Lazarus, Mary, & Martha. We see Him enjoying dinner with others and going away to rest or pray when crowds were seeking Him out. What a clear contrast to us in ministry!

 

Hannah Anderson gives a good description of what too many of us experience on a regular basis.

 

“When we disregard our natural human limitations, we set ourselves in God’s place. When we insist that our voice and our work is essential and must be honored, we set ourselves in God’s place. When we believe that with enough effort, enough organization, or enough commitment, we can fix things that are broken, we set ourselves in God’s place. And when we do, we reap stress, restlessness, and anxiety. Instead of submitting to His yoke, we break it and run wild, trampling the very ground we are meant to cultivate.”

 

It can be easy to forget that the power of humility does not rely on its own strength, but trusts in the One who is powerful and infinitely resourceful.

 

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The Race We Can’t Win

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I have never been an athlete. I often felt like I had two left feet while I was growing up and no gym classes ever convinced me otherwise.

 

As I look at it now over my shoulder, I am aware that much of my awkwardness related to two primary things: 1) lack of exposure to a variety of sports activities and the opportunity to develop skills in them through practice; and 2) my negative view of myself that would rarely risk trying something.

 

I applauded my daughter when she decided at age 40 to begin running after helping her home school children learn to run a mile for a physical education goal. She had never done sports growing up, but rather focused on piano, singing, and theater. I watched as she pursued first a 5K and then gradually moved up her efforts until she was able to run in a half-marathon. Her determination showed me one does not need to be a born athlete to develop athletic skills.

 

As I was watching one of the Narnia movies recently Aslan caught my attention when he admonished Lucy in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, “You doubt your value. Don’t run from who you are.”

 

Lucy was caught up in the snare that many of us fall prey to of comparing herself to someone. In this case it was her beautiful older sister, Susan, and how much she wantedmirror_mirror_on_the_wall_decal_sticker_family_art_graphic_home_decor_mural_793d7316 to look like her. Aslan reminded Lucy that it was she who had brought all of them to Narnia and to Aslan. He reminded her of the value and the importance of not running from who she was and what He had designed her to be and do.

 

Learning that truth can be a big leap for many of us even after we come to know the Lord.

 

It can be easy to ignore or deny the evidence abundant in the Bible that a flawed or weak family background does not impede our usefulness to Him. We can also forget that stumbling after we have started following Him does not preclude His use of us either even though we have good company when we believe that. Just ask Peter!

 

When our thinking and belief takes us away from the truth of who we are not, but who we can be because of His grace and mercy we can be immobilized from risking being available to Him. It can be somewhat like standing in a jail cell and seeing ourselves as stuck even though the cell door is unlocked and open, waiting for us to walk out.

 

Hearing the Good News of the gospel often comes to us because the bad news has become crystal clear.

 

We are not good enough and never can be good enough. Goodness does not reside in us, but only  Him.

 

What He wants from us first is our honesty with Him that comes from what we are willing to see about ourselves when we look in the mirror of His Word. What we are and have been doesn’t surprise Him! Adam and Eve’s major mess up didn’t leave Him wringing His hands and deciding to scrap the whole creation and start all over with a new man and woman.

 

If we start to think that, it reveals how little we understand that God’s love has never looked anything like ours. It is, after all, pretty amazing AND everlasting!

 

The race we cannot win? It’s when we try to run away from ourselves. You have likely heard that old saying, “wherever I go, there I am”.

 

The race to run away from us fuels our first step into addictions. On some level we cannot escape what we see about us or some aspect of our life. We want comfort and disconnection. We look for it in food, alcohol, drugs, shopping (known as retail therapy), romance novels, exercise, and sex. Tragically, each of those give us an initial sense of relief without a clue that the addiction can come to own us and leave us worse than when we began. When that happens, we add self-hatred to the mix and a greater assurance that no one can love us…not a holy God either. We can get stuck in self-condemnation with the enemy loudly agreeing with our assessment.

 

The enemy agrees because he never has understood salvation. It makes no sense to him at all because he always believed in his own perfection. He also never really got the power of God’s everlasting love or what it could accomplish.

 

38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8: 38-39 ESV

 

It’s time to stop running in the race we cannot win! 

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Truth – A Sifting Process

 

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My mother was an excellent cook and baker and I still have fond memories of times spent in the kitchen with her as she was baking cookies, pies, and cakes. Many of the things she did then would seem out-of-date now as we continue to look for shortcuts and easier ways to complete a recipe.

 

Back then watching her sift flour for a cake recipe was common, but rarely do I do that today nor do I hear others do so even if they skip the cake mix and try a homemade recipe. What was important about sifting anyway?

 

Sifting the flour makes the flour lighter and easier to mix with the other ingredients in the recipe and allows them to combine more evenly. It aerates the flour and gives a more consistent measurement and ultimately a finer product.

 

Often as we are seeking to determine the truth, it is obvious and evident, but that is not always the case. To be discerning about it we may often need to sift through the information before us that may very well include bits of truth, half-truths, “white lies” ce7adb06cc52d783230081183ae7cf12that seem palatable, and absolute lies that are easier to recognize. All of it requires discernment and a biblical foundation of truth.

 

The 1992 movie, A Few Good Men, has a famous line many of us recall. In a riveting courtroom scene as Jack Nicholson is being relentlessly questioned by Tom Cruise, Nicholson finally says, “You can’t handle the truth!” The statement is a pithy one for consideration not only in the movie, but also in our own lives. Perhaps that is because the truth is often harder to accept than the half-truth or lie we would prefer to believe.

 

Truth reveals. It may reveal our failures, our lack of responsibility, our selfishness, our arrogance, or even how deceived we may be. It may reveal things are not under our control or help us see those that are.

 

Clearly, truth illuminates and makes lighter the darkness that swirls around us and sometimes hides within us. I think that is likely what makes the enemy so determined to hide it, disguise it, or serve us something that looks like the truth and is easy for us to believe and yet is not the truth at all.

 

His schemes are often effective because he is skilled at confirming doubts we have about the Lord, the Bible, others, and ourselves in our lives that matter to us in one way or another. There are many reasons we succumb to his devices. After all, he has been practicing this for thousands of years and seduced many others before us.

 

Do we really recognize his voice? We should, but often we do not recognize the Lord’s voice either. Learning to discern the voice of the one speaking to us requires a lot of listening and discerning over time and testing what we hear against foundational truths 935732486af7344f2ea1aabbaf394031and experience. It is crucial we learn to recognize the enemy’s voice because he is nearly always whispering in the background of our daily life.

 

What are some of the messages the enemy most likes to repeat to us?

 

  • “Your words are ineffective.”
  • “Your trust is misplaced.”
  • “Your helpers are worthless.”
  • “Your godly leaders will mislead you.”
  • “Let’s make a deal. You can have your cake and eat it too.”
  • “Focus on your circumstances.”
  • “God sent me.”
  • “Be afraid.”
  • “My reward is just like God’s.”

 

You may not have heard those exact words, but I am guessing it is very likely that you have heard some of them or paraphrases of them. Consider the goals of those messages.

 

The enemy wants us to believe that our words are ineffective as a tool against the enemy’s devices when the Lord has given us the Word to speak against all the devices of the enemy. You may well remember how that played out when the enemy in the wilderness tempted Jesus and what defeated the enemy’s devices in that scenario.

 

The enemy wants us to believe that no one can be trusted so we isolate and try to do life alone on our own. Wrong! Going it alone is the one sure way to be worn out, worn down, and fall. God designed us to work in relationship with one another, to lean on one another. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 speaks to that:

 

“9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.”

 

The enemy wants us to make a deal and compromise our values, the Lord’s values in us. He also wants us to focus on the circumstances we find ourselves in rather than to keep our eyes on the Lord. He wants us to tremble in fear despite the Lord telling us over and over again in scripture not to fear.

 

If we rest in Him, we still the competing voices and learn the truth.

 

In a recent sermon, I heard a principle we can use to benefit us greatly in the processing of sifting to find the truth:

 

You cannot trust unless you fully rest and you cannot fully rest unless you trust. We must deal with this…rest/trust. They are inseparable.

 

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Life Giving or Death Dealing

 

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On a dusty shelf in my mind, I recall a little song we taught when I helped in a pre-school Sunday School class during my teen years. The lyrics included admonitions most of the tots didn’t fully comprehend, but perhaps those words came back to them as they do to me. The lines included, “Be careful little eyes what you see….Be careful little ears what you hear” and went on from there.

 

As my eyes and ears are accosted on social media pages and TV with rants of all sorts, something on the dusty shelf of my mind stirred.

 

I am interested in the news, but that can be hard to discover in the midst of the ranting, shouting, pontificating, and rambling. I am interested in seeing and hearing the fun and great things happening in the lives of my friends as well as how the Lord is moving in their lives, but not a barrage of social commentary that can bombard me if I checkout Facebook.

 

You see, all those other things seep into me even though I don’t want them to, and they can have an effect on me that pulls me offside and away from the course the Lord sets before me.

 

They can be harbingers of fear.

 

They can also cause my thoughts to go tumbling and momentarily lose sight of WHO is in charge as well as what I (or any of us) has control over and what I (or any of us) do not. They nibble at His peace, joy, and hope. They are not life giving, but more death dealing. They can pull any one of us into isolation or build little walls in our hearts that tear relationships apart.

 

That should be our first clear clue that behind so much of this, there is a power at work that is meant to destroy us and divide us that has been here since the beginning of time.

 

That power is clever and well experienced. We never suspect it is he. We label it everything else and he quietly chuckles as he watches us get caught up in the milieu. Our words change, speaking more of our differences than our commonality. Our attitudes shift almost imperceptibly at times and it can take us a moment or more to recognize something is eroding the faith and belief in the One greater than ourselves whom we say we are committed to.

 

We can forget we are one family.

 

How myopic we can be! We are a part of something so much bigger than where our focus shifts. A recent sighting of the International Space Station on a clear cool  night was a reminder of how the view from there is so different than mine.

 

Reading Jayber Crow has given me pause more than once as I have read Wendell Berry’s wise well-crafted words and insight coming from the main character, Jayber. His words go beyond noting that we often don’t understand each other very well to the pithy reality.

 

“People generally suppose they don’t understand one another very well, and that is true; they don’t. But some things communicate easily and fully. Anger and contempt and hatred leap from one heart to another like fire in dry grass. The revelations of love are never complete or clear, not in this world. Love is slow and accumulating, and no matter how large and high it grows, it falls short. Love comprehends the world, though we don’t comprehend it. But hate comes off in slices, clear and whole – self-explanatory, you might say. You can hate people completely and kill them in an instant.”   Wendell Berry

 

Certainly the words attributed to the philosopher/barber, Jayber in Wendell Berry’s epic story pierce bone and marrow to the truth. Some pages later he adds:

 

 “Hate succeeds. This world gives plentiful scope and means to hatred, which always finds its justifications and fulfills itself perfectly in time by destruction of the things of time…

 

But love, sooner or later, forces us out of time. It does not accept that limit. Of all that we feel and do, all the virtues and all the sins, love alone crowds us at last over the edge of the world. For love is always more than a little strange here. It is not explainable or even justifiable. It is itself the justifier. We do not make it. If it did happen to us, we could not imagine it. It includes the world and time as a pregnant woman includes her child whose wrongs she will suffer and forgive. It is in the world but is not altogether of it. It is of eternity. It takes us there when it most holds us here.”

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What Did We Expect?

 

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As I look around my little corner of the world, it seems like there are more than a few challenges going on in the lives of most everyone I know.

 

Peeking beyond that to a broader view beyond my corner, I see even more challenges. It’s a bit like looking at range after range of mountains that do not end.

 

The challenges come in all sizes and shapes.

 

They come no matter what the season we are in.

 

Some challenges are ones we choose and are for some good goal, but others come unbidden by us.

 

It’s one thing to choose to run a marathon, take a rigorous college program, signup for the military, or go on a mission trip. Those are all tough, but it’s those other challenges we didn’t sign up for that can seem especially daunting.

 

None of us sign up for accidents, a job loss, a failed relationship, a diagnosis of cancer, the death of a child, abuse, or a betrayal in ministry, but some of these and others I did not name still come anyway.

 

What is amazing to me is that somehow we can be so shocked when life doesn’t work out or go according to our plans. What did we expect?

 

At it’s very best life is an adventure. At its worst, life is a trial or a series of trials that may feel never ending.

 

Somehow some part of us still likes to believe in the illusion that we have more control than we do or were ever meant to have. Some of us believe if we follow the rules, are just good enough, or make very few mistakes, everything will be fairly smooth.

 

When things don’t work out that way, fear, anger, or hopelessness can paralyze us.

 

We want life to be safe (at least relatively speaking). As believers, we especially want to feel the safety and protection of the Lord with a confidence He will keep us from harm. When life hands us a different menu, we question whether God is good or who we believe He says He is (more often than we might want to admit).

 

I love the C.S. Lewis Narnia series. It is so rich in meaning and depth. One favorite scene in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is when the children ask the beavers if Aslan is safe. The beavers respond that he isn’t safe, but he is good.

 

Having confidence in God’s goodness is one of the linchpins of faith. When it is absent, our trust falters, our faith melts away like an ice cream cone on a summer’s day, and hope flickers like the wick at the end of a candle.

 

Here’s the truth we forget. We are caught up in a great story, a great adventure. It has been that way from the very beginning. Our challenge is to accept the challenge, move forward in the adventure, and keep the linchpin in place so in Him we triumph against all the odds that might be arrayed against us.

 

You see, as I read through THE STORY (the Bible), I see that truth everywhere.

 

Life is scary despite all the beautiful, exciting, wonderful things we discover in the adventure.

 

If that sounds unrealistic, ask Noah, Moses, Jonah, or the long list of heroes of the faith we learn about through His Word. Sure, we know they are heroes now, but if you could ask them if they felt that way when the flood was raging, the Red Sea lay ahead, or the belly of a whale was home, I doubt they would tell you they felt no fear.

 

So how did they become heroes? What did they do with the fear they experienced? What can we learn from them on our own adventures?

 

I think the key is something I heard quite some time ago.

 

Courage isn’t the absence of fear, but the byproduct we receive when we face our fear.

 

Ask any Medal of Honor recipient if they felt courageous when they threw themselves in harm’s way to save another and the answer will definitely be they did not. What happened in one terrifying moment’s time caused them to step into the situation for the sake of someone else, and God met them there.

 

That’s what He did with Joshua and every other favorite hero of the Bible.

 

I am reminded of one of Corrie Ten Boom’s stories of her life with her sister, Betsy, in Auschwitz during WW II. As Corrie was seeking to encourage Betsy as they faced unspeakable horrors and fears, she told her a story. She reminded her of trips they would make on a train with their father. Corrie brought back to Betsy’s memory how their father would not give them their tickets for the train until it was time to board the train because they wouldn’t need them until then.

 

Corrie gave a marvelous example of how God meets us just at that greatest point of fear and gives us just a few seconds to face it only to realize His gift of courage.

 

That’s the key to dismantling fear that cripples us.

 

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”  2 Cor. 4:7 (ESV)

 

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