Hope for the Believer who has Blocked the View of the Son

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How could I have done that?
I can’t believe how stupid that was.
I wanted to help bring the solution, instead I made the problem worse.
What if I am the reason someone else misses the point?
I wanted to help this person get closer to Jesus, what if my mistakes made them turn away from Him instead?
I’m so sorry, Lord.
I am supposed to reflect Your truth and salvation. Instead, I’m afraid I’ve blocked someone else’s view of You.

The moon normally reflects the light of the sun. What happens when the moon gets in the way? When the object meant to showcase the light ends up blocking it out entirely? What happens when the well-meaning believer steps back in fear and guilt, wondering if they have ruined someone else’s chance to see Jesus?

How gracious of God to schedule an eclipse this week. How ever-encouraging He is to us.

Let’s take a look at some eclipse facts:

The moon has no light of its own, it shines only when it reflects the light of the sun. God is gracious enough to let us be reflections of Him, but He is not reliant upon us. He is the sole source of light and life. None of it belongs to us or can be created by us. Sometimes we are tempted to take credit for some of the light we reflect. Maybe that’s because our view is not always in line with His. How dark the moon will appear without the light of the sun. When the two are displayed together, the distinction between them is clear. One is all light. One is all dark. The moon’s glow comes only from the sun. May we view with humbling clarity, the reality of our opposing estates.

“And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” ~Mark 10:18

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” ~Romans 7:18

It is an unusual occurrence for the moon to block the view of the sun and it will only last a short time. As followers of Christ, we try to do exactly that: follow Him. It’s true that we will lose step with Him sometimes and make mistakes. Jump His lead. Get distracted and fall behind. Misunderstand His direction. Mess up. Block the view of His light instead of reflecting Him to others.

Though I’m sure we all wish our mistakes were as infrequent as a solar eclipse, let’s consider what happens next. After the moon gets in the way of the sun, will it drop out of the sky? Will it chide itself in guilt to the point of its expulsion from existence? Nope. The normal course of events will recommence. The moon will resume its usual position and continue on. It will reflect the sun again.

The same is revitalizingly true for us. Mistakes happen. More so than that, they are essential to learning. Often, the way we learn best is through trial and error. When we block the light we have sought to reflect, let us not be tempted to drop out of the game. Instead, ask God to forgive us for our misalignment with Him. Trust that His goal is always that we line up with Him correctly again. Talk to Him about what went wrong and ask Him to refine your understanding and approach to representing Him well. Continue on in following Him through His word and in prayer. You will reflect His light again.

 “How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.
in the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.” ~Psalm 119:9-16

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 1:6

The moon has different levels of reflection. Sometimes the moon reflects a great deal of the sun’s light, sometimes just a sliver. This is normal, predictable even. As we move through our own phases of learning and developing as believers, there will be times when our lives reflect large amounts of the light of the Lord. There will be times when little of His light is visible as well. With every new stage of development, God is not surprised by our varying degrees of reflection. Neither should we be deeply discouraged when we deliver less than we’ve intended, but take heart in the fact that Source will never fizzle. It is our responsibility as believers to stay in constant revolution of reliance upon the Lord for spiritual growth and development, we should expect that our reflection of Him will be varied as we learn from Him. We can take heart in the fact that no matter what the moon is doing, the sun is still the sun.

“For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” ~Romans 15:4

“And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ.” ~Philemon 1:6

The moon has no ability to compromise the intensity of the sun. Reports from every news station are urging people to be careful outside during the eclipse. Optometrists fervently warn that eye protection must be worn to view the sky’s performance. Though it may appear that the moon has weakened the strength of the sun by standing in its way, that’s just not how it works. The sun is every bit as powerful as always. God’s power to work in the lives of others, His desire to be seen, and His ability to penetrate their hearts is not compromised when we make mistakes. We have no ability to weaken His intensity. While guilt may try to convince you that you have blocked Him out, made Him invisible where you should have magnified Him, be absolutely assured, dear friend: you are no match for God. You can not get in His way. His sovereignty can not be diffused.

“Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all.” ~1 Chronicles 29:11

“I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” ~Job 42:2

Dear Lord,

Thank you that you are in control. Thank you for the light and life that you offer me. Thank you that you allow, encourage, and equip me to share this with others even though I make mistakes. Some of these mistakes weigh heavily on my heart, Lord. I do not want to stand in the way of anyone else’s view of you. Please forgive me for when I have done so. Thank you that you remain the same even when I don’t reflect you accurately. You are sufficient in my deficiency. Even as I stumble, you call me closer still, extending to me that same forgiveness and love that I have wanted to share with others. Please help me learn and try again. It is my desire to magnify you in my life that others may know you too. Amen.

Green With….

Green With...

If you clicked on this link hoping to copy down the recipe for the bubbly green drink pictured above, I hate to disappoint you, but I don’t know any green drink smoothie recipes.

I’ve heard they’re really healthy and that they’re easy to make, but to be honest, there’s something about drinking a leaf of spinach for breakfast that my stomach can’t seem to convince itself to invite.

I’ve never tasted one of those smoothies, but I have sipped from the green glass of envy. I wish I could say one sip was enough to make me stop, spit, and run, but jealousy has a sneaky way of getting past the usual radar. I’ve gulped down whole gallons of this gunk before alarms went off. It’s not that anyone enjoys that icky green taste. It’s awful. It sits in your stomach like a porcupine. It makes your head spin with dizzying thoughts that taunt your heart with all kinds of “if only’s” and “it’s not fair’s.” Yet it remains a wildly popular drink among all ages.

Chilled. Iced. Warm. Hot. Served everywhere you can possibly be. You can get it freshly brewed at any store while you wait in line behind the person ahead of you…you know, the one buying the new flatscreen you wish you could afford. There’s a travel mug for jealousy too, it’ll fit perfectly inside the cup holders in your car so it’s conveniently available while you drive past the salon on your way home. That way, you won’t spill a single drop of envy while you’re looking at the latest hairstyles wondering why yours just never comes out looking like that. Free refills are offered at all sporting events and concerts. You can fill up again and again while you’re watching some athlete effortlessly score the game-winning goal, or while you’re listening to that singer on stage, it’s almost like the music notes themselves are begging her to deliver them into the air. Just so perfect. You can even bottle it up and carry it with you before you leave the arena, that way you can drink it again while you’re at your own field practice or tryouts next week. This will ensure that you don’t forget the discouraging taste later on.

There are so many flavors too! Current envy-based flavors include: Natural Talent, Great Looks, Excessive Wealth, Superior Intelligence, Effortless Success, Irresistibly Popular, and Undeservedly Blessed.

So what is it about others that stirs jealousy in us so quickly? What makes us chug down gallons of this gunk? We can joke about drinking down a big green glass of envy, but in all seriousness, envy is toxic to the system. Every drop we allow in is poison.

A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot. -Proverbs 14:30

Envy isn’t a beverage problem. It’s a perspective problem. If we really knew what we were looking at, we wouldn’t end up with a mouth full of bitterness and muck. Instead, we’d be left with hearts full of wonder and praise.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Made in His image, the strengths, talents, or gifts we have are all direct reflections of God’s glory.

God’s glory simply can not be ignored or denied.

So that talented person you see over there? You’re supposed to see him. That gifted conversationalist? You’re supposed to notice. They’re illustrating a portion of God’s character. They’re revealing glimpses of what He is like.

The next time you’re starting to get the taste of envy in your mouth, redirect your gaze. Accurate perspective changes everything.

Let’s look at some of those green envy-based drinks that are so tempting to swallow.

How about Natural Talent? Go ahead, examine the ingredient list. This is the kind of person who looks like they don’t even have to try. They just have ability. It seems to overflow out of them without effort. Maybe it’s artistic, athletic, academic (or something else spectacular that starts with “a”), people can’t help but take note of it. Before you start to wonder why you even bother trying, if only you were as good as so-and-so at such-and-such…stop! Look up. What does this gift reveal about God’s image? What does He want you to see about Himself when you look at Natural Talent? Be amazed at the limitless ability of our Lord. Nothing is too hard for Him. He is good at everything and He is good enough to share it with us.

 

Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. – Jeremiah 32:17

 

Ok, how about the next flavor of envy? Great Looks? Yikes. This one can be a toughy. Let’s get right to the point. A beautiful person represents beauty. What does God want you to see about Himself in regard to beauty? Really think. Every beautiful thing in nature testifies that God knows about beauty. Is God’s definition of beauty always the same as ours?
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. –Ecclesiastes 3:11
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. -John 1:3
…The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. -1 Samuel 16:7

 

An envy-tinged view on Excessive Wealth can outright drown us if we’re not careful. Go ahead, take a look at someone who has more than you do. Maybe it’s a lot more. Maybe it’s just a little. Either way, more is more and it sure would be nice to have it. They never run out of money. They never have to cut corners. Before you down a toxic glass of green envy, think. Is it really the money itself, or is it the sense of security that having “more” seems to bring? Perhaps when we look upon someone who has more money, we inwardly worry that we’ll run out. What is God revealing through the view of this person who has more? Here’s a hint. Who else never runs out of resources? Who else never comes up short? Who is the only truly unlimited Provider? Instead of wishing you had more, recognize that God’s resources are limitless and rejoice in His promise to provide for your needs.
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 4:19
What about that envy-stained drink of Undeservedly Blessed? The person that doesn’t live like the Bible says. The one that skirts the system. Breaks the rules. Doesn’t appreciate the gifts he or she has. Why does God let someone like that have all this great stuff? Why do they get the easy life? Doesn’t He know other people would appreciate it more? That this person will just waste it, or flaunt it, or take credit for it when it’s not theirs? Think before you drink, friend. What is God revealing about His character in this kind of situation?
Brace yourself for this one. Guess who falls into the category of “Undeservedly Blessed?”
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with underserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. -Romans 3:23-24

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. -Ephesians 2:1-9

 

Instead of filling up on envy the next time you encounter someone who seems totally underserving of good things, choose to look up. In doing so, you’ll inevitably end up bowing down. None of us are deserving. Perhaps God uses even those who appear most ungrateful when blessed, to reveal to the kindness He offers, not because of who we are, but solely because of who He is.

 

And speaking of who He is, what part of His reflection is He showing others through YOU?

Confessions of a Dreamer

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Can I tell you something? Promise you won’t laugh? I am a dreamer. I love to get lost in imagination. I could spend all day wandering in and out of wonderings. Hopscotching through “what if’s” and “imagine that’s.”

After running a few family errands recently, my husband & I found ourselves in a positively blissful situation. Both our little ones had fallen asleep in their car seats.

{That’s not the blissful part.}

Anyone who’s had kids for more than 10 or 11 minutes can tell you the potential treachery of transferring a sleeping child from car seat to crib. The odds of continued nap time after removal from said car seats are not in our favor. So what do many parents do when they pull into the driveway just as heavy little eyelids close? Why, sit in the car and let nap time prevail, of course! That’s exactly what the hubs and I did.

And that super blissful part? Ready for this? We had just gone through a Starbucks drive-thru.

Boom.

That’s right. Kids sound asleep. Fresh Mocha Frappuccinos in hand. Mega score.
As we sipped at our iced coffees, we started to talk about the car port attached to the side of our house.

{Ok, so we didn’t have much to look at…we were in the driveway, remember?}

Pretty soon we found ourselves pleasantly entangled in conversation about what we would build on to our house if we could add an extra room. I’d love a dining room. He’d love a garage. We came up with all kinds of interesting ideas (one may or may not have included an indoor-outdoor spiraling staircase, the likes of which would require blueprints that only M.C. Escher himself could draw up, but I’m fairly certain he isn’t available for home renovation projects at the moment).

The last sip of Starbucks synchronized with the first stirrings from the back seat. House dreaming over. Time to go inside. We can’t afford any of those things anyway. But wouldn’t it be cool if we could?

I’ll confess again. I am a dreamer…
Can I tell you something else? So is God.
He thought up the sky and it was established. He envisioned the ocean and it came to be. He imagined each and every creature that swims the sea or roams the earth and they appeared. He has the greatest imagination to ever exist and He possesses the ability and authority to make His dreams into reality.
Are you a dreamer? If so, you’re in good company. Can I tell you another something else?

Lean in close for this one, friend.

You are God’s dream.
He was planning for your life before the world even started.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. ~Ephesians 1:4
He lovingly envisioned every part of you and brought His plan into existence.

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
~Psalm 139:13-18

Picture that for a moment, the Creator of the world, dreaming of you. You.

Can I tell you yet another something else? The Master Dreamer implanted dreams within you. Stuff for you to get all carried away in pondering with Him. Ideas for you and He to share, to get completely captivated in imagining together. But that’s not all. These dreams aren’t distractions from reality, they aren’t fantastical amusements. These dreams are the kind that can make your heart radiate into action because He isn’t a dreamer that can be confined. His dreams are not fruitless musings. His plans materialize. His dreams come to be.

He’s built some of His dreams into you, that you will accomplish with Him. You and Him. Together.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. ~Ephesians 2:10

Most of all, His dream is for you to know Him.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. ~ 1 John 4:9

Jesus answered,“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. ~John 14:6

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. ~John 10:10

Because His dream for you includes so much more than just your time on Earth.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ~Jeremiah 29:11

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. ~John 3:16

One.

One

 

It’s hard to believe that Vacation Bible School 2017 is coming to a close. A whole year’s worth of preparation, countless hours of planning and praying, rehearsals and set-design, snacks and lesson materials, counting out glue sticks and measuring glitter, rounding up sports equipment and strategizing games. What a tremendous team effort to get ready for the children that came our way this week!

I attended VBS as a child and hold memories of this program very dearly in my heart. I looked forward to the program every summer. I jumped at the chance to be a teen helper when I became old enough. I remember the first time I was entrusted to be a department head. We had over 80 children in our group that year. I quizzed myself every night so that I’d be able to remember all their names during the next day’s session.

As I walked my own children up the big steps and into the sanctuary this week, I wondered what their VBS memories will look like. I prayed that God would speak to their hearts, that they would know His love and want to love Him too. I wonder if they’ll serve one day in craft, or drama, maybe help transform the church with decorations, perhaps plan lessons or partner others in prayer.

On our first afternoon of VBS week, as our kitchen swirled with coloring pages, songs, and stories from the morning program, I asked my little boy, “Who did you play with at VBS today?”

He happily answered, “My teachers.”

I asked, “How many kids are in your class?”

He matter-of-factly replied, “None.”

He’s four. Surely, he’s misunderstood me. I asked him again about how many children were in his group. He again said, “None.”

Hold up.

I’ve taught the preschool class before. I remember well the years when we’ve had to divide this group into extra sections because there were so many kids. We’ve had years when we’ve almost run out of crafts and a decent multitude of knees have gone numb balancing all the littles who want to sit on their teachers’ laps. I asked a third time, “But what about the other kids? Who are the other kids in your class?”

He plainly stated one more time, “I’m the only kid. It’s me and the teachers.”

He was right.

One kid. All week.

He was the only kid in his class. I don’t ever remember this happening before at VBS. One kid in a class. I felt really badly for his teachers. How they must have prepared and prayed for a big turnout. I thought of all the crafts they must have cut out, all the name tags they must’ve had ready. What about game time? How do you divide up your group and play a game with just one kid? And the lesson that his teacher probably spent hours studying, no doubt hoping to have big impact on our community with. I’m sure she imagined a classroom bursting with busy little people, instead she delivered it to one.

My boy came home each day absolutely bubbling over with news about the craft he made, the drama skit he saw, the games he played, and how much fun he had at Vacation Bible School. The whole preschool program for one kid. I wonder if my son’s teachers went home to tell their families they only had one student. I wonder if my little boy will remember the unusual year he spent VBS as a class of just one.

You know what though? It’s not so unusual.

In fact, Vacation Bible School has always been about just One.

 

The One that calls us.

The One that first loved us.

The One whose Word is sure.

The One we strive to introduce others to.

The only One that is our reconciliation.

The only One that is our hope and salvation.

The only One whose applause matters.

The only One who is worthy of our effort and praise.

 

My little boy’s teachers could have counted this week as a bit of a belly flop. They could have looked at all they had prepared and shrugged in disappointment about low turnout, or even dissolved this class entirely since they only had one child attend. Looking past all other counts, they beautifully illustrated our primary role as followers of Christ during VBS week and always. With big smiles, willing hearts, and unfading enthusiasm, they demonstrated what it looks like to faithfully serve our audience of One.

 

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 

~Colossians 3:23-24

 

~Vicky

 

 

Christmas Spirit

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“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

Have you ever stopped to think about the significance of those words: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”? Have you ever wondered why or how this happened? Or, perhaps most importantly, what it means for us?

It’s easy to get caught up in what we deem to be the “spirit” of Christmas: fir trees, lights, ornaments, sweet-smelling turkeys, meticulously wrapped gifts, creative window displays in department stores, hot chocolate, Bing Crosby on the radio, White Christmas (or The Christmas Story in my case) on the tv, smiles, wishes of good cheer, and family gatherings. For many of us, communities are festive, houses are decorated, and spirits are bright.

But for others, this time of year is not one of cheer and celebration. Rather, it’s full of painful memories, overwhelming stress, and feelings of despair. Every year homes burn to the ground when trees catch fire. Every year there are traffic accidents that unexpectedly claim the lives of people joyfully traveling to see their loved ones. Every year there are people whose finances don’t permit culturally pervasive binge-shopping, and they struggle with the hopes and expectations of innocent children, while fighting off their own feelings of guilt and shame. Every year there are those who see empty seats at the family table, and are reminded that some of those with whom they would give anything to spend the day will never again walk through the door with their smiling faces. There are still others who sit on cots in tents with dirt floors, pining away for the day when they can return from their tour to see their loved ones once again. And for some, Christmas is just another day – no different from any other day that brings feelings of hopelessness, hurt, and despair.

Christmas, I submit, is meant for those who struggle. It is meant for the hurting. It is meant for those in despair. The Word – that is, Jesus – became flesh. In plain English, God became a human being. He entered into our world, our space, our family, and took up residence among us. I enjoy the festivities just as much of the next person, but in reality, they are nothing more than smoke and mirrors. They have no eternal significance. They can distract from the importance of the incarnation. One day they will fade from memory just like everything else. The true “Spirit” of Christmas lies within the person, and incarnation, of Jesus Christ.

What the incarnation represents is hope. Think about it. The King of kings, the God of the Universe, sitting on His throne in Heaven attended to by His legions of angels, saw fit to come down to save His broken, despairing children. But He didn’t come with great fanfare, or even with displays of power. Instead, He left His throne to be born in a feeding trough, in a forgotten stable, just a number in a census and a face among many faces. And though just a face, He represented everything that humanity was in need of: hope, purpose, sacrificial love, and salvation.

Jesus didn’t have it easy. Isaiah called him a “man of sorrow” and “acquainted with grief.” People didn’t hold him in very high regard (they “esteemed him not”). He understood the worst of what this life has to offer. He lived a life of tears, pain, suffering, and tragedy. He knew the fates that awaited his followers: persecution, imprisonment, and gruesome deaths. He saw broken people all around him, and though he healed some, he had to wait before he could offer to heal them all – on the cross. He hungered, thirsted, was tempted, faced persecution, was ridiculed and resented, and eventually was tortured and put to death. But he went to that fate willingly, because He knew what it would bring instead: joy, peace, wholeness, deliverance, freedom, purpose, life.

When you find your spirit heavy this Christmas, remember what it is all about: Jesus became like you and me, so that He could give us the greatest gift of all. He became like you and me, so that He could demonstrate the fathomless depths of His love for us, and graciously offer a gift that can pull us from the deepest pits of despair into the eternal joy and satisfaction of living as adopted children in the presence of God. He took every hard right-hook this world had to offer, and countered with a knockout blow. So, don’t despair. Get up. Remember who Christ is. Remember what He did. Accept the gift He offers you. Encounter a life of wholeness, love, and peace.

And for those of you who know this and aren’t despairing, remember that we didn’t receive this gift just to go about business as usual. Jesus became like us so that we might become more like Him. What does that mean for us? It means bringing His message, His love, His healing, His hope to a world that desperately needs us. It means that instead of simply allowing ourselves to be caught up in the spirit of the season, we allow the Spirit of God to guide our actions and look for opportunities to be a blessing – to incarnate the gospel – to others. Make a difference this Christmas. Be a blessing to someone else. Seek out opportunities to demonstrate that the gift Jesus offers doesn’t just last for a season; it changes us for a lifetime. Change Christmas in your communities this year so that people see Jesus coming into their world, all over again.

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ.

~ Sean

Embrace the Suck

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“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful frit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” Hebrews 12:11-13

We have a saying in the Army that I believe aptly describes an experience I had on Monday: Embrace the Suck. A friend and I decided to take on an interesting challenge. There is this hike called the Devil’s Path, a 25-mile grueling trek over 7 peaks and tens of thousands of feet of elevation change in the Catskill Mountains. This wasn’t my first go at the hike; I had, in fact, taken 2 groups on the trek over the last 2 years. But the major difference was that we took 3 days to complete the journey on each of those previous trips. For whatever reason, my friend and I decided that it would be a great idea to attempt what is widely considered to be the toughest day hike on the East Coast, in a single day.

We began our journey with a carb-loaded burst of energy, smiles on our faces, and a spring in our step. Peak one, not so bad. Peak two, not so bad either. Peak three, still not too bad. We thought, “Hey, we’re making great time, this is awesome!” But around the halfway point, our bodies started to hurt. We found ourselves burning so many calories that no matter how much we ate (and we got sick of eating), we couldn’t escape energy debt. Our legs were screaming at us in protest, and our knees groaned with agony during the brutal downhill runs. Our clothes were soaked in sweat. We began to think that maybe, just maybe, those people who had called us “idiots” for attempting the trail might actually be right.

By the last section of the trek, with about 6 miles to go, we were in survival mode. That, and a little bit nervous that we were fast running out of daylight and would have to attempt some steep, wet (from a week of rain), and rocky climbs and descents with headlamps. Just get up to the ridgeline we said. Just make it to the lookout. Only another mile to St. Anne’s Peak and our last brutal uphill battle. Just one more foot in front of the other. Just don’t fall. Well, falling is probably going to happen at this point, so just don’t die. If we do die, just make it close enough to the end of the trail so it’s easy for people to find our bodies. Yeah, you get the picture.

In the end, we made it. Drenched in sweat, totally exhausted, joints and muscles nearly catatonic from shock, we stumbled down the final stretch of the trail, signed out of the logbook, and loaded up my truck. We had done it. All of it. The Devil’s Path was conquered. The 13-hour marathon was finished. We were heading home.

Why would we subject ourselves to such an ordeal? Because in my experience, embracing the suck yields incredible benefits. It changes perspective, builds physical and mental fortitude, and teaches valuable lessons. Embracing the suck opens us up to true character development. It maximizes the impact of perseverance. It helps us to find the beauty hidden within the anguish. For us, the difficulty of the Devil’s Path was matched by the breathtaking beauty of the mountain peaks, the enchanting fir forests, and cascading streams and waterfalls. Every step brought us deeper into a world replete with God’s creative fingerprint. Each step brought us deeper into a reliance upon God’s strength to sustain us. Each step reminded us that we can do far more than we think we can, especially when the One leading us is the Lord.

Here’s what I’m hearing in Hebrews: Suck it up. No, more than that. EMBRACE the suck. The end of the journey is worth persevering through the pain. If we give in to our hopelessness, if we cave to the burning feeling in our muscles and the pain in our joints, if we throw in the towel because of the rising tide of nausea in our stomachs, we will never know what it is like to experience the joy of reaching our destination, and the feeling of accomplishment that comes when we realize the splendid purpose in all of our pain and hard work. And if we ignore God’s corrective action in our lives, we relegate ourselves to walking and re-walking the same old path, never actually finding any restful healing and instead aggravating the injuries we already have. We stagger. We fall. We twist ankles and dislocate joints. And more depressing than anything else, we miss the beautiful vistas while we are stumbling around blindly in the dark part of the forest, far away from the marked trail.

Hebrews 12:11 reminds us that discipline is painful, but it pays off for those who learn from it. This is why we embrace the suck. We know there is a payoff. We know that if we can flex our muscles, get up off of the ground, and start moving in the direction we need to go, God will reward us. He’ll continue fashioning us into the people He wants us to be. He’ll help us to achieve the full potential only He knows that we are capable of. He’ll heal the aches and pains, the broken bones and arthritic joints, the fractured egos and wounded hearts. We’ll find ourselves stronger than we have ever been before, if we can simply do the hard thing, and endure the discipline. We’ll find ourselves running the race in record time when we recognize that God disciplines for our benefit, and if we stop fighting it, we’ll start being fueled by it.

So when the corrective action does come in your life, just remember: embrace the suck. Make it your mission to learn the lesson God is trying to teach, and remind yourself that the purpose of that lesson is always good, and is always meant to make us more of who He knows we can be. The destination will be well worth the journey, no matter how hard it might get along the way. Face it, and embrace it.

~Sean

Guardian of the Nap

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Right around 2pm, the atmosphere in my home transforms from fresh and pleasant into something like the island where the wild things are. Lego towers that had been constructed with great care are torn down and tossed around in whirlwinds of destruction. Conversations turn from playful to painful. Exhaustion-induced frustration seeps in and holds hostage all patience and rational thought.

It’s nap time.

In his 3 year-old opinion, he absolutely, positively does. not. need. a. nap. There are more basketballs to shoot, bikes to ride, more Lego towers to build and for goodness sake, the playground with the twisty slide is just a block from our house! Tantrums ignite to atomic levels as I pry the basketball out of my little boy’s fingers and carry him up to his room. He thinks I am punishing him by taking away something that he loves.

My child is tired. He has been all sorts of busy this morning and now what his body and mind need is rest.

Only…he doesn’t know that.

He isn’t able to see his need for rest. But I can. I can see the cues he doesn’t realize he’s exhibiting. His eyes are droopy, his mood is crummy, and those basketball shots he can usually make with ease? He hasn’t hit one in the last dozen he attempted. The worst part is that his exhaustion interrupts our relationship. Big time. He can’t hear from me or respond to me in this overtired state. We simply can’t connect like we’re meant to.

I am the guardian of the nap. I take my role in meeting his needs seriously. I will safeguard his schedule and protect that time spot so that he is not deprived of what he needs, even if it means defending him from himself.

Once he has rested, my little adventurer will be back. His mind will be refreshed, his body will have had time to recoup, and our relationship can continue uninhibited by the constraints of fatigue.

We accept the idea of nap time for toddlers so easily, yet how often do we push ourselves to keep going physically, mentally, even spiritually long after we are exhausted? How many times have I argued that rest isn’t as important as completing my to-do list? This isn’t how God intends for us to live. Is there something in your life that you are clinging to even though God may be prompting you to put it down and rest? Let Him be the Guardian of your schedule. Consider what He may have removed from your life this year, this month, or even just today, not as punishment, but that you may have rest. Thank Him for taking His role of meeting your needs seriously and safeguarding your time for rest, especially when you are too tired to see it for yourself.

…for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” -Matthew 6:8

Dear Heavenly Father,  Thank you for being the Guardian of rest. Even though we protest sometimes, thank you for stepping in to remove certain things from our lives in order to create space for rest. Please help us be diligent about scheduling rest into our agendas as our relationship with You suffers when we neglect our need for rest.  Amen.

~Vicky

The “Show Ups”

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It’s that time of year again! Vacation Bible School, “Ocean Commotion,” is almost here and we are gearing up for the week ahead. Some of us are memorizing lines for the drama skits, some of us are studying the scriptures to deliver lessons, some are coordinating crafts, some of us are cutting out name tags, some are dishing out snacks, some are learning song lyrics and motions, some of us are collecting registration information, some are moving furniture, some are decorating our church, some are praying for all these details and more, in preparation for all-out-awesome ocean adventure about Noah and the great flood.

Can I tell you my favorite part about Vacation Bible School every year? It’s the “Show Ups.” Alright, I admit, I just totally made that phrase up. But the “Show Ups” really are real. Let me tell you about these “Show Ups,” since, well, if I don’t describe them, we’ll never get anywhere here.

A “Show Up” is the kind of person who walks into the building and says something along the lines of: “I’m not a great artist, but if you need something painted or colored in, I’ll do my best.”

The “Show Ups” also say things like, “If you teach me how to use the copier, I’ll stay late and run off all those handouts.”

And you know you’ve come face-to-face with a “Show Up” for sure when he or she says, “I heard they need some help for VBS and I don’t know if they can use me, but here I am.”

I love the “Show Up’s.” Some of them start working on VBS a whole year in advance, some of them become available mere hours before the program kicks off. They might be directors, support staff, department heads, prayer warriors, set-up or clean-up volunteers, or any mix of anything in-between. The defining characteristic about the “Show Ups,” is that they’re in. The “Show Ups,” show up. They might not have all the answers about how the program will work. They might not be completely confident that they can accomplish all that VBS seems to require. And for understandable reasons. Goodness, Vacation Bible School is really an enormous undertaking. There is just so much to do. So much to plan. So much to orchestrate. And hey, everyone has their own life to manage along with putting together Vacation Bible School. It’s just such a huge project.

Kind of like an ark.

Through all the information I’ve read this week about Noah, my favorite scripture is this:

Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” – Genesis 6:22

Noah wasn’t perfect, but he found favor in the eyes of God. He heard the commands of the Lord and followed to the best he was able.

I wonder what was going through Noah’s mind when God gave him the instructions for building the ark. I don’t know what he was thinking as he was presented with this gigantic command. I don’t know if he thought he would do a good enough job at the request God set before him. I don’t know if he had a zillion questions about how on earth this would all work out. I don’t know if he had any idea how important his life was in a world full of people who weren’t interested in God. I don’t know if he had a single inclination or talent for building. But I do know how he responded. He showed up.

And God did the rest. God took care of the specifics of the ark’s blueprints and guided Noah through the work. God brought the animals. God organized it all and carried every bit of the plan through to completion. All Noah had to do was show up. Noah was a “Show Up.”

Noah’s greatest work wasn’t the construction of the ark. It was his obedience in walking faithfully with God. I think it’s pretty amazing that no matter how small or great the assignments set before us may seem by human standards, we have the same opportunity before the Lord. God won’t be flooding the earth again, so I don’t think He’ll be asking for another ark, but there will be assignments in our lives that seem to present the same magnitude of challenge and obstacles that feel too big to overcome. We need not worry about our level of skill. There’s no reason to spend our time fretting over our usefulness. We don’t need to have all the answers, or any even. The greatest achievement of our lives will always be centered upon our faithfulness in following the Lord. He will take care of the details. All we need to do is be willing to show up.

You coming?

~Vicky

In Dependence Day

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I like words. Okay, for anyone who has ever had a conversation with me, I’m sure that statement came as no surprise. If gab counts as a gift, consider me gifted. Really gifted. Not always eloquent or full enough of tact, but, yeah, I can talk til the proverbial cows come strolling on home. Maybe it’s because I consider it totally amazing that we can string together individual letters and create words. Vowels and consonants can unite to become novels, sonnets, screenplays, emails, text messages, blogs even! Written thoughts that connect us with others. Cool. Way cool.

I love how lots of words contain other words. Sometimes just a single syllable can evoke whole streams of ideas and emotion. I don’t know how you feel about words, but let me see if I can coax the alphabet into illustrating my point here.

I’ll pair up these squiggles and straight lines that we like to call letters and let them swing their partners round and round, do-si-do style. But I have to be careful, we can’t have them all crashing into each other. An absolutely crucial element in word-choreography is leaving a space in the appropriate spot. Some places must be left open. Try to live a day without the space bar on your phone or computer and you’ll see what I mean. OrIcouldjustshowyouwhatImean.Canyoureadthis? Ok, that’s enough, my spellcheck feature is starting to hyperventilate.

It’s pretty obvious that space is a big deal. Without the space between letters and words, everything is all jumbled and confusing. Space in the right spot changes things. Watch what happens when we put a space in the right spot this holiday weekend.

We go from Independence Day to In Dependence Day. Do you see it? Look again. Read it nice and slow. Independence. In dependence. Two completely different ideas.

“Independence” means self-reliance, often by separation from support.

“In dependence” means to be completely reliant upon, to have a need for, to be sustained by support.

A space in the right spot changes things.

Have you reserved space for Jesus in your life? Living life independently of Him, is like trying to read a book with no spaces between words. Everything is jumbled and confusing. Like the space between words brings understanding to written language, Jesus brings clarity to our lives. His presence must be plentiful. We should reach for Him as automatically as we reach for that space bar we use when we type or text. He should be in the middle of every aspect of our lives.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. John 15:5-8

This weekend, we celebrate our great nation’s victory in establishing independence. I love that word. What beautiful dichotomy it presents. The freedoms I enjoy and the rights I have been blessed with as a citizen of the United States of America did not come for free, yet I have earned none of them for myself. The independence I celebrate today is a result of my dependence upon those who fought and continue to fight for our country.

We are most free when we are most dependent on God. Relying on our own strength and understanding limits Him in our lives and traps us into despair. When we rely fully on God, we are free to be cared for by Him in the way He has always intended. Living independently of Him, without reserving space for His presence in your life, cuts you off from Him. What happens to the branch that is cut from the tree?

Practical ways to rely on God, live in dependence of Him every day:

1. Pray. Talk to Him. The best way to know someone better is by communicating. Remember that communication is meant to go both ways. Prayer involves talking to God and listening for His Word back to you. “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for the Lord’s people.” -Epheisans 1:18

2. Read the Bible. You will hear back from God most often through His Word. Learn about who He is and how He wants you to live. His way is always best. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” -Psalm 119:105

3. Live in obedience to Him. Even when it is hard (especially when it’s hard), follow Jesus, as a student follows an instructor. “With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”Psalm 119:10-11

4. Refuse to worry. Worry is a symptom of attempted independence from God. If you are worrying, you are focusing on your own strength instead of God’s limitless power. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” -Philippians 4:6

 

Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for the blessings You have poured out
over our country for the past 240 years. We know that
every good thing we have has come directly from You.
Please help us as individuals and as a nation 
to live in dependence upon You every day.
Amen.

 

Happy Birthday, America!

~Vicky

Just a Trim?

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“Right this way,” she said, as I followed my hair stylist to her station. I think I was walking behind her, but there’s a very real chance that I was skipping. When a mom-of-littles gets the rare opportunity to sneak out of the house for a haircut and an hour all to herself, you’ll know her by the way she is skipping through the salon. The signature dried pancake batter on her sleeve and the cheerios dangling from her ponytail might also be noticeable, but it’s the skip that really stands out. So, yes. I was most definitely skipping, pancake batter and all.

I’m not sure if it was the gloriously refreshing heated towel around my neck or the fumes from all the hair spray, but my mind started to wander as I sat in front of the big mirror. I thought of my sister. When we were younger, we’d walk into the salon together and I’d ask for the quick trim. Always. Just an inch or two off the bottom, straight cut, nothing too risky. My sister though? She’d climb up into the spinny chair and when the stylist would ask what she wanted, her response was, “You pick. Surprise me.”

The stylist would always step back and smile in this half-uncertain, half-intrigued kind of way.

I can’t say for sure what those stylists were actually thinking, but I can tell you that my inner control freak was really starting to sweat (and maybe convulse a little). What?! You’re seriously going to let someone else make this decision for you?

Her stylists would always take a few minutes to look her over before they’d begin. They’d examine her cheek bones, the shape of her face, thickness and texture of her hair, and all the while, my sister sat calmly waiting.She’d happily chat while her stylist combed and snipped. She looked comfortable and relaxed, but her stylist?

Her stylist looked delighted. Alive and free to create, holding a wide-open pass to use their flair and imagination without limits, without borders. Her haircuts always came out fantastic. Other customers would even hang around waiting to see the final product, then gush with compliments once the new ‘do was complete. Her stylists absolutely beamed over their work. They always thanked her repeatedly for letting them have so much fun with her hair. When she came in, they weren’t limited to the bare minimum of their ability, she allowed them to really use their talent. I’m pretty sure I even saw one of them skip on the way back from the sink.

I wonder what God’s expression is when we invite Him to freely be the Master Artist that He is. When we approach Him in prayer, hopeful that He’ll work in big ways in our lives, let’s not ask for the “quick trim.” We limit ourselves when we limit Him. Let’s really let Him be God. Let’s entreat the most creative mind in existence to transform us. Let’s welcome the same trustworthy hands that sculpted the stars to reshape us, because giving God the freedom to do things His way isn’t a risky decision; it is His guarantee of our hearts’ satisfaction and it is His heart’s delight to create us anew. Imagine the bounce in His step and the incredible things He will do when we trust Him with our lives enough to say, “Go ahead, God. You choose. Surprise me.”

 “For the Lord taketh pleasure in His people, He will beautify the meek with salvation.”

-Psalm 149:4

-Vicky