God isn’t too late, but He’s not early either

A deadline.

Few obstacles pound harder at my faith than a due date, a deadline, the tick-tocking down of time until God has to either come through or He doesn’t.

I know, I know.

God’s timing is perfect.  

He is never late.

I cling to the promises and repeat the reassuring phrases to myself, but God likes to push right up against time boundaries, doesn’t He?

He usually doesn’t show up early, that’s for sure.

Sometimes, He’ll let me pace nervously right up until the last second before He shows up in His glory.

To Him, one day is like a thousand years.  Time is fluid and free.

But it doesn’t work like that here on this physical planet.

Bills and meetings and due dates are a little less subjective here.

Besides that, I hate being late.  I like to be early.  I like to be the first one to arrive, the girl sitting in the parking lot for 5 minutes collecting her thoughts, not the one zooming in 5 minutes late and haphazardly throwing her minivan into park and jumping out the door.

I’m the opposite of a procrastinator (whatever you call that).  I like to have things settled two weeks in advance, not at 11:59 p.m. right before the midnight deadline.

But God knows this about me. So God helps me to cement this shaky faith onto some sturdier foundation.  And God, with His sense of humor and His infinite wisdom, does this by bringing me toe-to-toe with deadline after deadline and coming through for me at the last possible second.

Not because He likes to drive me crazy.

Because He loves me, of course.

Last week, though, I read about Jesus’ first miracle in a new way:  A wedding miracle, a miracle of substance:  Changing plain old water into the finest wine for a marriage feast on the verge of social disaster.

I think as I read that Jesus didn’t just change water into grape juice.

This wasn’t just miraculously altering the chemical makeup.

Jesus bypassed time. 

Quality wine like that would have required years to make–to ferment–, but Jesus simply told servants to fill jars with water and serve it up, and the wine simply was.

Margaret Feinberg writes in Scouting the Divine:

When it comes to making great wine, time is your friend. Yet Jesus didn’t need to wait.

In the past, I’ve tried to explain it all to Him, how some due dates are pretty set in stone and we people here on earth do actually have to follow them or bad stuff can happen.

But today, He explains it to me….

How when I tell Him something will take two weeks…

When I say there’s not enough time for Him to come through for me….

He tells me He can turn plain old water into aged wine in an instant.  Something that should take years is completed in less than a second.

GOD ISN’T JUST ABLE TO DO ANYTHING; HE’S ABLE TO DO ANYTHING AT ANY TIME.

Not only that, but even when circumstances and the world and your own eyes tell you that God is simply too late, even then He is not too late.

Jesus showed up at Lazarus’s home days after Lazarus had already died.

Jesus waited too long to come and heal His friend.

But even a deadline as firmly set as death wasn’t too much for Jesus to overcome.  After four days in the grave, Lazarus walked right out of the tomb when Jesus called him back to life.

And maybe after hundreds of years of waiting for the Messiah convinced many Jesus that God wasn’t able, wouldn’t fulfill His promises, couldn’t ever bring the miracle to pass.

Yet, Paul says,

BUT WHEN THE SET TIME HAD FULLY COME, GOD SENT HIS SON, BORN OF A WOMAN, BORN UNDER THE LAW… (GALATIANS 4:4).

The set time fully came and that’s precisely when God acted.

And the time wasn’t set by any man.  It wasn’t set by a government, by a bill collector, by a judge, by a teacher, or by any human rule or law.

GOD HIMSELF SET THE PERFECT TIME FOR THE PERFECT SALVATION, AND HE WAS NOT A SECOND TOO EARLY OR TOO LATE.

So, we’re human and in this world we have deadlines and due dates, we have words like ‘late’ and ‘overdue’ and ‘delinquent.’

Sometimes we think the clock and the calendar rule over us like arbitrary and cruel overseers, always demanding, always penalizing, always stressing us out.

But our God doesn’t need time to deliver you or time to save you.

He’s not working frantically, racing the clock, sweating with panic as the seconds tick down.

He’s not asking for extensions or inventing delay tactics while He scrambles to get things done.

GOD’S PERFECT PLAN INCLUDES HIS PERFECT TIMING.

Originally published 11/20/2015

This portion God gave me is actually enough

I’m not sure that I’ve eaten more than a handful of my own meals actually on my own in over ten years.

I know maybe it’s not the absolute truth.

But it feels like the truth some days.

It’s as if whatever food I’m eating is a free-for-all for my children.

Sometimes I grab breakfast out of the cabinet and carry it to the minivan as we rush out the door. The very second I open the cereal bar, an alarm system must be triggered because children in all corners of the vehicle ask if they can have some.

Perhaps I should be grateful.  Thank you, dear children, I did not actually need the calories from this breakfast-on-the-go anyway.

But there is something so illogical about this mothering phenomenon.

As soon as my children graduate from pureed squash in a jar to their very own mini-portions of actual human food, they want to have what I am eating from my very own plate.

Even though we are eating the same food.

The same food!!!!

I may have had to cut it up into non-chokeable portions before putting it on a highchair tray; nevertheless, my lasagna did taste the same as their lasagna.

And the Cheerios in my cereal bowl are (earth-shattering announcement, here) the same Cheerios in my child’s bowl.

I know older moms are probably chuckling.  Surely my own mom is.  Because this is probably a universal mothering struggle going back generations upon generations.

Let’s face it, Eve should have gotten used to sharing her fruit with another person because once Cain and Abel came along, she’d never eat completely on her own again.

The thing is, my kids are buying into the same lie that trips us up all the time.

It’s the lie that whatever she has is better than what I have.

Maybe we’re even eating the same food.

Or maybe it really is different.  Maybe she’s sitting down to steak and potatoes while we pick at boxed macaroni and cheese.  Or maybe we’re the ones with the gourmet fare while she wolfs down some PB&J.

No matter what the dish, so often we just really want what she has.

We want the same.  And we want it to be the same quality.  And we want it to be the same amount.

We don’t trust God to care for us uniquely, personally, individually.  We don’t trust Him enough to accept what He gives with gratitude, knowing that He loves us and cares for us, knowing that anything He gives us is far more than we deserve or merit.

I read in Numbers how Moses divied up supplies to the people of Israel.

He gave two carts and four oxen to the sons of Gershon.

He gave four carts and eight oxen to the sons of Merari.

He didn’t give any carts or oxen to the sons of Kohath.

Sounds like a rip-off.  Sounds like a big, unfair, scam.

Those sons of Kohath could have raised a mighty fine protest about injustice and favoritism and the need for equal distribution of all goods.

But Moses gave out the oxen and the carts “according to their service,” and the sons of Kohath cared for “the holy objects, which they carried on the shoulder” (Numbers 7:7-9).

Every one of them received what they needed for their particular, God-chosen, unique job.  He equipped them for their calling.

He does the same for us.

Some days, I’ll confess, it feels like I don’t have enough.

I don’t just mean material goods.  I mean enough patience or enough time or enough patience or enough creativity or enough patience or enough sleep—or enough patience.  Did I already mention that one?

So many others around me seem to have plates heaped full with the very gifts and traits I feel so desperately in need of.

But I take my need to Him.

Because I don’t need any thing.  I don’t need a specific gifting or a particular object.

I don’t need to be the same or have the same as anyone else.

I NEED JESUS.  HE IS ENOUGH FOR ME.

HE EQUIPS US FOR OUR CALLING.

YES, HE GIVES ME ALL I NEED TO DO WHAT HE WANTS ME TO DO RIGHT HERE IN THIS MOMENT.

I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” (Lamentations 3:24 NIV)

LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure (Psalm 16:5 NIV)

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:26 NIV).

You are my portion, LORD; I have promised to obey your words (Psalm 119:57).

Originally published March 25, 2015

Letting Go of What I Didn’t Do This Summer

“Can we make  brownies?”

That’s what my daughter asks when I tell my kids we’re going to an outdoor concert along the riverfront.

She asks about brownies because this is what  we do.

We tote lawn chairs to an open area on the lawn, spray on some bug spray, and settle in to  listen to the music while munching on our two favorite “outdoor concert snacks:”  popcorn and brownies.

Sometimes we bring cookies instead or skip the popcorn.

But not often.

Outdoor concert = popcorn + brownies.

It’s an equation we know and love.

My kids love traditions and they eagerly hold me to them.  That’s why we poured the ingredients for brownies into a mixing bowl this morning to make our treat for tonight’s adventure.

Because what would summer be without outdoor concerts?  And what would outdoor concerts be without popcorn and brownies?

Tragic, that’s what!  Full of despair and disappointment!

Of course, that’s just silly talk.  But somehow it can feel that way.

Unmet expectations can push our weary souls right to the ground.

I love our family traditions as much as my kids do, but I also bear the burden of them and I’ve felt that weight a little this summer.

It’s not just traditions, though, that can keep me dancing on the edges of guilt.

It’s mostly what I expect of myself.  Roles I need to fulfill.  Tasks I need to  accomplish.   Must-do’s, should-do’s,  and have-to’s.

It’s endlessly seeing ideas and reminders that I could do more and I could do better.

It’s comparing myself with others and not feeling like I measure up.

Those other moms have their kids accomplishing all  these cool activities  this summer.  Look at how many books they read, places they went, projects they made!

The pressure!

It comes from comparing ourselves with our own past.

I used to be able to read more books, get more done, finish more  on my to-do list, keep my house cleaner, manage more projects.

But that’s not this year, not this summer, not this season.

 

This summer has been teaching me more and more that it’s okay to let some things go.   We don’t have to do every good thing or every familiar thing.

I carried around guilt well into July this year about what I wasn’t doing.

We hadn’t picnicked out at our favorite playground yet.

I’m failing at this summer.

We’d barely made it through one audiobook.

I’m failing at this summer.

We did not run around the yard with an empty mason jar at twilight and catch  as many fireflies as possible, just to release them all at once before going to bed.

I’m failing at this summer.

 

I haven’t written a book, pitched a book, edited a book, or in any way spent one second thinking about a new book.

I’m failing at this summer.

Maybe this all looks differently for you.  Maybe our seasons are different and are expectations vary.

But maybe we can all identify with this feeling of just not doing enough or being enough or  being able to keep up with all our own ideas of perfect.

After all, does summer have to be “perfect?”  Maybe it just needs to be beautiful in its own unique and personal way.

Maybe any day can be beautiful without being perfect.

Does it matter to Jesus if I have the brownies for the concert?

Nope.

Is i t nice to have the brownies?  Sure!

Is it worth stressing over or beating myself up over  for not making brownies?

No.

What else can we let go of?

Are those projects another mom is doing great?

Sure!

Am I a failure as a mom if I don’t do  the same thing as her?

Not at all.

Oh–whisper that again to your soul:  You are not a failure for not doing every good thing you see around you.

You don’t  have to do it all all the time.

Don’t you just love that when Jesus fed the crowd with a few fish and loaves as they sat expectantly on a hillside,  He didn’t demand that the disciples come more prepared?

He didn’t demand that they provide the supply or that they be enough in themselves.

They offered him a little boy’s lunch and He did the rest.

Lisa Harper reminds us of this lesson:

“Just use what you have and do the best that you can”  (Lisa Harper, The Gospel  of Mark).

Tonight I have the brownies to take with us to the concert, but if I didn’t, that’d be fine, too.

I don’t need  to spend the whole evening feeling guilty for what I didn’t do.

I  can be oh so grateful and oh so joyful for the day Jesus gave me.

Living in a Neighborhood 101

Living in a neighborhood is new for us.

My kids have lived  their whole lives in a house on a busy street where cars sped around corners and it wasn’t safe to get your mail out of your mailbox,  much less bike ride or walk to  a friend’s house.   We had neighbors on one side of our yard, but an empty, wooded lot on the other side.

There was no communal place to play.  No sidewalks.   If my kids wanted to see friends, I arranged a play date and drove them back and forth.

When I wanted to  take a walk, I drove into town, unloaded the stroller, walked my son down Main Street and back, climbed back  into the minivan to drive home.

Now, though, we’re slipping into something new: Neighborhood life.

Friendly dogs pop over to  our house for random visits and we say hello to “Abby” the red-haired retriever and “Bruno” the little black and white fellow with the stubby tail from next door.

My daughter rides her bike for the first time pretty much ever and we take walks and wave to  people we know and even those we  don’t.

We call out to others about the beautiful weather when a summer’s evening feels unusually cool and we are blessed with extra tomatoes out of the abundance of a backyard garden nearby.

I feel held accountable to keep up with the garden weeds, even in the heat of July, even when I’m busy, even after a summer rain shower that makes everything grow like a jungle overnight.   No more calling it quits in my yard the first time the temperature hits 90 degrees.

After a week or so in our new house, my husband actually had to explain some neighborhood-life  tips to our kids.

  1.  You don’t have  to  ring your own doorbell when you get home from being outside.  This is your own house . You can just come on in.
  2. Don’t just invite yourself over for dinner at a friend’s.  If they are ready to eat dinner, come on home.

We’re all learning and adjusting a bit.

Maybe learning to  live in a neighborhood is a lesson for all of us.

Maybe it doesn’t come naturally, this staying close, being held accountable,  giving and taking and sharing and caring.

After all,  even Jesus’s followers didn’t always know what to  do.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Great!

But, who is my neighbor anyway and do I really have to love ‘that guy’?

The disciples surely had some growing to do in the neighborhood-life department, too.  They weren’t alike and perhaps didn’t have that much in common outside of Jesus.

They were fishermen and a tax collector, a zealot, and Nathaniel sounds to me like a well-educated skeptic.

Some were related by blood, some were friends, others were outsiders.

And, as people in close  proximity are wont to do, they fought over superiority and responsibilities and decisions.

What drew them together wasn’t their “sameness.”  It was  simply going where Jesus was going, following where Jesus led them,  working together as a team to  minister as Jesus sent them out.

They were fellow-travelers and “bunk mates.”  Surely, they had to learn to be each other’s neighbor along the way.

In the Old Testament, Ruth declared her never-ending,  stick-to-it loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi like this:

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God (Ruth 1:16 ESV).

This is what she promised :  “I’ll go with you.”

There can’t be many sentences in this life more powerful than that. 

Not just “I’ll pray for you” or “I hope you have a nice trip” or even “I’ll watch your stuff until you get back.”

Not that.  This:  I’ll pack my bags and put on my walking shoes and I will  go with you.  

The disciples traveled together.

Ruth and Naomi traveled  together.

Who is  traveling with you?

Stacey Thacker writes,

The presence of a friend can encourage us to not turn back in grief, but to look forward with hope (Fresh Out of Amazing). 

We all need a little  whisper  of hope today and we all know someone who needs us to whisper hope to them.

None of us can traipse along as fellow-travelers with every single person we meet.  We’d be drained and exhausted.

But we can’t  set off all by our lonesome selves  either.

Instead, God draws us to the right people and we choose to follow His lead.  We whisper the words to them….or maybe they whisper to us:  “I’ll go with you.  We can be neighbors.”

The past can’t be my home anymore

It’s not often I  zip  around town in my minivan alone.

I’m usually toting a passenger (or two or four or more).

But that night, the stars had aligned and the schedule had been arranged and all of those things so that I hopped into my minivan after some errands in town and headed home.

I drove.

And thought.

Thought.

And drove.

Prayed and thought and drove.

I was just enjoying the sweet quiet as only  a mom of four kids can do  when she’s out by her lonesome self.

It should only take me about 5 minutes to  get home from  anywhere in town now that we’ve  moved to  the new house, but I drove for about 12 minutes before I turned onto a familiar road.

It wasn’t the road to my brand new home, though.  I had managed to  drive far past that, all the way to my old house.

I  sheepishly turned around in my former neighbor’s driveway and backtracked down the road to  what was supposed to  be my destination all along.

HOME.

If I don’t stay alert  even now when I’m making this drive,  I’ll pass right by the road to  my new house and I’ll  trek all the way back to  where I used to  live.

This is me in default mode.  This is what I  fall  back to.

This is where I end up when I’m not paying attention.

We all have these  “old ways,” the habits of the past, the “who we used to be.”   And when we’re distracted, or weary or plain old apathetic, maybe this is where we end up all  over again.

Maybe we default to worry and stress.

We default to overbooked and overwhelmed.

We default to bitter and unforgiving.

We default to resentful.

We default to people-pleasing.

We default to sharp words.

Maybe we don’t even realize it until we look up in a daze and wonder how we ended up back here all over again?

It’s when I start feeling complacent about controlling my tongue,  that I start losing  my temper and lashing out.

It’s when I start feeling like I know how to  keep myself from getting overwhelmed by stress that I just about break down because I’ve let the to-do list nigh on destroy me.

We’re not alone, of course.  This is all just being human.  We’re not perfect and those old sin habits can drag us right along.

That’s why I feel  for the disciples who  kept defaulting to old habits and old ways of thinking.  No matter how many times Jesus explained how He’d be persecuted and killed and then raised again, they didn’t get it.

They didn’t see with spiritual eyes.

There was a day when they set out on their travels with Jesus and forgot to pack the bread for lunch.  Jesus told them to watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees and they completely missed his message…again.

They thought Jesus was picking on them for leaving the bread at home by mistake.

As i f Jesus needed them to pack bread.

They’d watched Him feed the five thousand and the four thousand, but one day without a full lunchbox sent them right back to that old place of fretting over provision.

Jesus asked them “Do you not yet perceive?”  (Matthew 16:9 ESV).

The Message paraphrase says,  “Haven’t you caught on yet?”

And that’s me at times, defaulting back to my old ways of thinking and doing, not quite catching on yet to what Jesus has done in me and wants to do in me.

What we do then, though, is what matters most.

Because what I want to do is just give up right there.

I’ll never get this right, Jesus. 

I’m such a failure, Lord.  I’m failing at everything.  I want to be used by you and I just….keep….messing….up.

But we can’t give up right there because that past isn’t meant to be our home anymore.

Slowly.  Slowly.  We keep turning the old over to Jesus and letting Him make us new.

Slowly.  Slowly.  He changes us within so our default itself is different.

We default to peace.

We default to joy.

We default to gentleness.

We default to trust.

It’s okay to be in progress.  It’s okay to trip up and mess up sometimes.

It’s not okay to stay there in that old place where we don’t belong anymore.

We have to move back to Jesus, always back to  Jesus.

Jesus, bring us back to you.

 

My Dad is the Boss

“My dad is the boss of you.”

My son explains this to his big sister’s friends, as if it’s an essential fact of life that they need to know.

These older girls climb into our minivan and strike up a conversation with him.

He launches into his typical introduction:   “I am Andrew Christopher King.  And my dad is the boss of you.”

Just like that.

He’s become rather obsessed lately with this hierarchy of authority.  It slips into  his conversations and even into his prayers.

At night, we let the youngest child choose which family member gets to pray in what order during our nighttime prayers.

So, when he chooses, he just doesn’t say the name of the chosen sister.

No, he adds a little clarification:

“Catherine will pray next.  Catherine is my friend and I am the boss of her.”

Or, maybe if this had been a source of contention during the day, he’ll say it like this:

“Catherine, my friend, and she is not the boss of me.”

This is probably all my fault as one of my great Mom fall-backs in the midst of a major preschooler meltdown is to announce, “You are not the boss.   I am the boss.  Mommy and Daddy are the boss.”

Sometimes, after all,  three-year-old kids miss that truth on their own.  They think their own whims and wishes and wills rule over all.  Here they reign in all their tyrannical glory.

Until Mom upsets all that by staking a claim to the boss’s title.

I guess he’s  trying desperately to find at least one person that he can boss around.

Truly, I understand his tiny attempts to assert control over  a big wide world where he has so little say in what happens.

I sympathize with that feeling of helplessness….of things not going the way you want…people not doing what you want them to do….all kinds of life trampling over all kinds of plans.

Maybe our instinctive reaction to life out of control is to  try to be in control.

We try to rescue and save and salvage.  We try to  put the pieces together and hold it all with Krazy Glue.

We try so hard to be the boss.

And the danger of that is, of course, we’re not.   We’re not sufficient for that.  We’re  not capable of managing it all  and doing it all  and running it all.

I am not the boss.

And, instead of that realization being terrifying, it can be liberating.

After all, “My Dad is the boss” and He’s greater than the unexpected and the unknown.  He’s greater than the dreaded date on the calendar and that one relationship that always seems to breakdown into disaster.

He’s greater than the overwhelming to-do list,  the difficult decision, and the impossible circumstances.

That’s what we need to know really.

In John 4, we discover Jesus’ longest recorded conversation in the Gospels, not with a disciple or follower, not with a rabbi or pharisee, not with a man.

Instead, he talked with a Samaritan woman while sitting at a well in the heat of the day.  And she tangled that conversation right up with worries about religious practices and traditions.

She didn’t understand when he talked about “Living Water” or the well or even why a Jewish man would talk to a Samaritan woman in the first place.

So, she asks this question:

12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”   John 4:12 ESV

Are you greater THAN…

That’s what everything came down to for her and what it comes down to for us.

Is Jesus Greater than those we’ve turned to and trusted in?

Is He Greater than anything we face?

Is He Greater than our weakness?

Is He Greater than the mountain that looms and the valley that surrounds?

In a blog  post, author Kelly Minter wrote:

we tend to get stuck: right at that point of believing someone or something—right in the dead center of our lives—is greater than Jesus. Or the reverse, that Jesus is not as great, loving, or powerful as whatever it is we’re hoping will quench our thirst or quell our fears or satisfy our longings.

Maybe this whole issue of who is the boss isn’t just a preschooler’s issue.

Maybe this is for us.

We love and worship and follow our God who is greater than this.  All of this.

Nothing can overwhelm or overcome Him and nothing else could satisfy us or rescue us.

He is Greater.

 

Making a Way Through the Impossible

My son wrestles with two large toy trucks on our way into the orthodontist.  He’s determined to carry them both inside himself.

One falls to the ground.  He stoops to pick it up and as he grabs hold of the digging arm on the one truck, the other crashes down next to it.

But oh, Mommy cannot help carry these trucks.  I offer.  I even finally grip onto that yellow bulldozer as a sign that he didn’t need to handle both trucks at once.

Instead of letting go, my son silently holds on tighter and lifts that heavy machine out of my grasp.

These trucks are his treasures.  He is not letting go.

Finally, after several crashes to the pavement, the trucks arrive in the dental office where they make paths through blocks, scale the sides of chairs and roll across railings.

At home later, they do what big trucks should do.  They push tiny objects off the living room table and onto the floor.  They blaze trails through toys and flatten ground.

As an infant, my son learned the names of these vehicles as some of his earliest vocabulary:  “Truck.  Car.  Digger.”  Now, he speaks with infinite more expertise:  “Bulldozer, Dump Truck, Excavator, Crane, Cement Mixer, Delivery Van.”

I don’t know what it is about these trucks that hold this little man’s attention so, but I know why suddenly, after a lifetime of not caring much about them, I find myself newly impressed.

They make ways.

They flatten obstacles.

They clear paths.

What  a reminder for those of us who need some “ways,” some impossibilities cleared and some mountains moved.

We can look at circumstances: at bank accounts and how the numbers don’t add up, at agendas and jam-packed calendars, at job expectations and the number of hours in a day.

We can see that and think ,”There’s just no way.”

No way for hope, for rescue, for there to be enough.  No way for the good and the beautiful to come out of this rotten mess.

But here’s the good news: We serve a God who makes ways.

He parts waters so his people can walk straight across a sea  on dry ground.

He leads the nation through the wilderness and all its enemies.

He strikes down evil kings and raises up righteous ones, He rescues His people from annihilation over and over again.

The prophet Isaiah reminded his people that the Lord

... is the one who made a road through the sea
    and a path through rough waters.
17 He is the one who defeated the chariots and horses
    and the mighty armies.
They fell together and will never rise again.
    They were destroyed as a flame is put out.
18 The Lord says, “Forget what happened before,
    and do not think about the past.
19 Look at the new thing I am going to do.
    It is already happening. Don’t you see it?
I will make a road in the desert
    and rivers in the dry land. (Isaiah 43:16-19 NCV).

No way out of the mess you’re in?

No problem.  Not for our way-making God, the One who makes paths through the desert and springs up rivers from the dust.

Today, I read once again about the biggest impossibility of all.

Romans 3:20 tells us:

no one can be made right with God by following the law. The law only shows us our sin.

There’s the obstacle of our sin, that huge mounding imperfection blocking us from right-standing with God.

We can’t be good enough. Not ever.

So what are we sin-prone folks supposed to do?

Steep ourselves in rules, have-to’s, must-do’s, traditions, and legalism?

Or give up on holiness altogether?  Make excuses, justify, try to skirt the consequences?

These are our own “ways” and they are tangled up paths that lead us away from Jesus.

Paul says in the very next verse:

21 But God has a way to make people right with him without the law, and he has now shown us that way which the law and the prophets told us about. 22 God makes people right with himself through their faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-22 NCV).

GOD HAS A WAY.

He bulldozes over the problem of sin.  He plows through the strictures of the law and he lifts into place the weighty foundation of grace in the form of a cross.

And if He can do that, if He can make this astoundingly miraculous path to forgiveness and grace even when I didn’t deserve such rescue, I know I can trust Him in my every impossibility, my every hopeless situation, my every closed door, my every mountain of a problem.

He can make a way.

 

Originally published June 24, 2016

The Place Where You Don’t Want to Be

One little dog was shaking, just trembling all over while her owner held her tight.

Another larger dog tugged and tugged on his leash back towards the exit. When the veterinary assistant came to walk the fella to the back, he shuffled backwards trying to escape.

Our own cat was settled in his carrier where he had tucked himself into a ball in the farthest back corner.

Every time I glanced inside the cat carrier, he darted his eyes around nervously and then mewed at me.

I think he was saying, “I don’t want to be here.”

Welcome to the crowd, buddy.  Nobody wanted to be there that day.

Of course, our vet’s office staff is wonderfully friendly and everyone there is gentle and considerate.  They patiently waited with animals and carried little trembling puppies back cooing at them all the way, “It’s all right, little guy.  This will be over in no time.”

And, of course, the vet is where these animals all needed to be that day.  It was for their own good and their own benefit.

Still, none of them came bounding into the waiting room all excited to hang out with the doctor.

The staff called my cat’s name and I toted him into the clinic and set him on the exam table.   The vet checked him all over and the whole time, my cat kept trying to climb back into the safety of the carrier.  He was persistent.  I’ve never seen him want to get in there before, but right at that moment, it’s the one place he wanted to be.

He wanted to feel safe.  He wanted the known.

I felt like saying, “I hear ya, buddy.”

Maybe we all know exactly what it’s like to be where we don’t want to be.

We can philosophize and speak truth to ourselves, knowing that God only sends us where He goes with us.

And He only takes us places that are for our own good.

That’s true, of course, but it’s nonetheless bewildering to end up where you don’t want to be and never intended to go.

When the apostle Paul boarded a ship headed for Rome in Acts 27, he knew the sailing would be difficult.

The timing was bad.  The crew had delayed too long.  The winds were against them.  The port was unfavorable for a winter stay, but continuing on their journey could be disastrous.

Paul tried to tell them not to sail ahead, but they didn’t listen to him.

So, where’d the ship end up?

Not in Rome. Not right away at least.

Instead, just as Paul predicted, they ended up shipwrecked on the island of Malta with the total loss of their vessel and cargo.

This wasn’t Paul’s destination or plan. He knew God wanted him in Rome.  He planned to head to Rome.

But here he was in Malta instead.

We’ve likely been to Malta before also.

Not the physical place, of course, but in Find Your Brave, author Holly Wagner describes Malta as the place you didn’t plan on being and that wasn’t on your map or itinerary or agenda.

It’s still being single long after you thought you’d be married or mourning a miscarriage after the joy of a positive pregnancy test.

It’s unexpected unemployment or a failed business or a rejection letter.

It’s a prodigal child or a broken marriage or a job you just hate instead of the one you wanted.

It’s cancer.

It’s that place of waiting, still waiting, always waiting even though you thought the promise would be fulfilled long ago.

For Paul, Malta was the place where people ended up because they didn’t listen to wise advice and made poor decisions.

Even there, though, when it was their own fault, God was at work, allowing Paul to perform miracles and be a witness to the natives and the ship’s crew.

God redeemed the disaster and restored the journey.

And ultimately, Paul still ended up in Rome, but his time in Malta wasn’t a waste.

That’s the key for me: When I find myself in Malta, I can engage right there.  I don’t need to fret about getting to Rome.  God can take me where He wants me to go in His perfect timing.

For now, I can be fully present in Malta.

WHEREVER GOD HAS BROUGHT YOU, YOU CAN BE ALL THERE.

God is never surprised by our location or unable to use our circumstances.

Even if we don’t know how we got here, God knows.
Even if we don’t want to be here, God can use it.
Even if we don’t know how to get out of here, God does.

And even if we feel abandoned in this place, God is always with us and always at work.

 

Originally published 06/10/2016

Ways to Have a Quiet Time without Quiet or Time

“You dropped your head.”

That’s what he tells me as we leave church.  He points to a spot on the floor with this twinkle in his eye, just waiting for me to fall for the joke he’s played on me many times before.

He gets us all the time.  “Your shoes untied,” when you’re wearing ballet flats without laces.  “You dropped your head” and people look to see if their head actually is rolling around on the floor, abandoned.

But I don’t even move my eyes. I just lean right over to him, pat him on the arm, and say, “You know what, I probably did.  I probably did drop my head.”

Some days, you know?

Some days maybe you feel like you’ve been running around without any command center on top of your shoulders to help you hold it all together.

You feel a little famished, starving for time in the Word.

You feel a little parched, desperate for the Living Water of His presence.

You feel maybe like you really are missing that head of yours.

One missed quiet time turns into a week and then a month and more if we’re not careful.  Sometimes we think if we can’t pray for a solid hour on our knees in a prayer closet, or if we can’t finish a whole Beth Moore lesson in one uninterrupted sitting, or we miss a day or two in our devotional or our Bible reading plan, then maybe we just need to wait until we can get it perfect.

If you can’t do it right, why do it at all?

Why?   Because we’ll drop our heads, that’s why.  We have to be women of the Word and women of prayer even if it means we need to adapt and adjust for the busiest seasons of life.

Maybe it means we just hold on for dear life to the hem of Jesus’ robe until life finally brings us to a place where we can sit uninterrupted at His feet again.

Sometimes faith has to be on-the-go…..and the good news is that God’s presence can invade the minivan.

Here are 7 ways to have a quiet time when you don’t have quiet or time:

1. Make a Bible To-Go Bag:  Keep a bag in your car with anything you might need for an impromptu quiet time while you wait in the minivan to pick up your kids: a devotional you only use for those times, paper, pens, and an extra Bible or maybe just a Bible app on your smartphone.

2. Find Great Bible Apps:  Load your phone with apps that will let you read the Bible, listen to the audio Bible, tune into podcasts, read devotionals, memorize Scripture, and keep a prayer log.  I’ve listed my favorites below.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • Bible (by LifeChurch.tv)
  • BibleGateway
  • BibleMinded
  • PrayerNotes
  • Scripture Typer

3. Use Prayer Prompts:  Pray while cooking dinner, doing dishes, folding laundry, driving home from work.  Pick specific places or activities that will remind you to pray every time you do them.

4. Break it up:  I don’t have time to read a devotional, read the Bible, do a Bible study, write in my journal and pray all at once.  I need to do these things all day long, a little here, a little there, grabbing time when I can.  Try breaking up your quiet time into 10-minute activities you can spread throughout your day.

5. Do it with your kids:  If your kids have memory verses for their church activities, memorize the verses with them.  Read the book of Matthew together and choose a devotional to read as a family.

6. Exercise your faith:  People often jog to their favorite work-out music or hop on the exercise bike and watch TV.  Try replacing that with God-time.  If you’re on the exercise bike, you can read your Bible or devotionals or listen to podcasts of sermons.  If you’re walking or jogging, you can be listening to worship music, sermon podcasts, an audio Bible, or just praying.

7. Study online: I help to lead online Bible studies at The Womens Bible Cafe.  I love that I can spend one hour in accountability, fellowship and encouragement and I can do it while my baby is napping in the next room.   Many other ministries offer online studies also.

Most importantly, give yourself grace:  If you expect the perfect quiet time to happen, then you’ll likely give up completely and never take time for God.  And you’ll probably drop your head.  Take every opportunity to spend time with Jesus even if it’s short, messy, interrupted, and on-the-go.  If you fall behind, don’t get overwhelmed. Just start fresh where you are supposed to be and keep going.  And when the day is done, rest well and start fresh with new mercies for a new day.

How do you make time for God when you don’t have quiet or time?

 

Originally published 10/27/2014

Packing for camp and other summertime wisdom

 

The first time we sent our older girls away to summer camp, it was just for a weekend.  For younger kids, it was a “get your feet wet” kind of experience, stay two nights at camp, have lots of fun, and then plan on coming back for the full week the next time.

So, for a two-night camp, we packed three shirts and three pairs of shorts so they’d have a spare plus a pair of jeans and a skirt and top they could use for a chapel service if they needed to look nice.

I picked them up at the end of the weekend and they were dressed in some crazy outfit : Skirt and camp t-shirt or jeans (in 100+degree weather).

Why the fashion mish-mash?

Simple. They ran out of clothes.

At home, I opened up their duffel bags and discovered their clothes were wet.  All of them.

This year, our packing strategy was simple.  Pack pretty much every piece of clothing they own.

Well, that might be a bit exaggerated.  But seriously.  I packed a lot of extra clothes plus two beach towels and two bath towels and two different swimming outfits.

We packed a lot.

Then, for the entire week before camp, I gave them great words of wisdom.

I said things like, “Make good choices.  Listen to your counselors.  Don’t be afraid.  Try new things.  Be kind and make new friends.  Sleep.  Don’t spend all your money at the camp store in one day.”

Oh, and this little treasure, “If you buy soda at the camp store, do NOT buy Mountain Dew.  Sprite has no caffeine–fine.  Coke has some caffeine, not the best, but I won’t freak out.  But please do NOT buy Mountain Dew.”

Those words came from experience.  Last time I picked them up, they’d discovered Mountain Dew for the first time.

But I also gave them this little tidbit of advice over and over and over again: “Hang up your wet clothes.  Seriously.  Towels get hung up to dry.  Do not toss your wet swimsuit and towel into your suitcase with your other clothes.”

These are some of the last words I said to them before we waved goodbye at drop-off.

“I love you” and “Hang up wet things.”

My husband, on the other hand, had his own wisdom to share over and over before camp. And when we said goodbye, he said it again. He leaned over to kiss their heads, told them, “I love you,” and then give instruction:

“Wear sunscreen.  At all times.  All over your face.  Use your bug spray.  Wear your hat every single time you go outside.”

This is the what we worry over because we’re not with them to make sure they are safe, taking care of themselves, and keeping their clothes dry.

Or that they aren’t drinking Mountain Dew, are eating reasonable meals, and are being respectful to their camp counselors.

They will be making choices every day and we have to trust that after all our training, these choices will be good ones.

So, we said goodbye for the week.  We met their counselors, dropped off their luggage, watched as they picked out bunks, and then left.

And now, I’m praying and praying and praying.

This independence-training has been gradual: a few hours of preschool a few days a week.  School days.  Middle school starts in just two months for my middle girl with more decisions, bigger ones, and more independence.

Do they know what really matters?

Today, I read how David commissioned his son, Solomon.  What were those essential things David said before he died and Solomon took over the kingdom?

He said,

And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.  If you seek him, he will be found by you…Be careful now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be strong and do it (1 Chronicles 28:9-10 ESV).

I’m sure David trained Solomon in other ways.  He gathered the supplies Solomon would need to build the temple so that his son would be fully equipped for his calling.

But this is the essential truth:

Seek the Lord.

Serve Him wholeheartedly.

Be strong and do the work He has called you to do.

And when it comes down to it, this is the essential truth for us and the essential truth I want my kids to remember when I’m not with them.

Of course, wearing sunscreen and hanging up your towels doesn’t hurt!

But in the middle of a thousand messages and overwhelming choices, here’s what God tells us:

Seek me.
Serve me.
Be strong and fulfill your calling.

This is what really matters.

 

Originally published 7/20/2016