Living the Scriptures


12.14.2016

The Light of Life

So Buddy the Elf has been at it again.

He got inspired when we went to Dallas (where they are, evidently, as serious about their Christmas lights as they are about their hair). No sooner had we gotten home than Buddy was off to the hardware store, where he picked up a couple million more strands.

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I love that guy.

Buddy also came home with a few boxes of something called the “Net of Life.” I think that name is a little bit misleading, like maybe it should be a sermon or something. Plus, there a lady on the package who, presumably, hung a bunch of lights on her snowy roof. We know she didn’t. She isn’t even wearing a coat.

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But whatever. The Nets (which I bet the Dallas people do not use) did the job on our bushes, and then Buddy got out the ladder and started climbing the trees. If he wanted help, he didn’t say so. I imagine that he (like most husbands) is pretty much happy to be out of the house – out of earshot – this time of the year.

My man worked for most of the day, adding strand upon strand.

Upon strand.

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Yeah.

Anyhow, when when darkness finally came, Buddy was ready. And when he plugged ’em all in, I loved it. Because I’m no fan of winter. Or cold. Or darkness. Or anything, actually, that feels like Not Summer. But Christmas lights have a way of making the brrrr go away, and of filling our hearts with hope.

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This is, of course, the same transformation that Jesus makes in our lives us all year long. “I am the light of the world,” he says. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Isn’t that an amazing promise? We are surrounded by a world full of darkness…but we don’t have to walk in it. Or fear it. Even back when Isaiah was alive, he knew the difference that Jesus would make and he called it: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)

The light has dawned. The light has dawned!

Come January, when it’s time to take down the sparkle, we can hang our hope on that. Because we may pack up the Net of Life…but the Light of Life will still shine.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)

Bhahahaha! Hours after this blog originally posted, you began alerting me to the fact that I’d read the box wrong. Even my mother weighed in, bursting through the door of our home and saying, “Jodie! It is not life. It is lite!” Ahhhh! That makes so much more sense! I couldn’t figure out why someone would market a Christmas decoration as the “Net of Life.” Obviously, my eyes are old.

In my defense, though, I don’t think people should be spelling LIGHT like LITE. “Lite” is for diets. Which Christmas is not. Christmas is all about the FULLNESS of joy. And my prayer, for you and for me, is that we will experience Jesus as the light of life…the bread of of life..and yes, even as the Net of Life – one that is big enough to cover us all!

Merry Christmas! xo

 


Living the Scriptures


12.08.2016

The Nativity: Then and Now

I love nativity scenes. I have a set made of olive wood, which I purchased nearly 30 years ago in Israel:

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A set my grandmother brought home from a trip to Mexico:

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A simple scene from my aunt, who was a missionary in Madagascar:

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And a big, beautiful one that, for all I know, was made in China:

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I do not, however, own the Modern Nativity:

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You can’t really tell from this photo, but Joseph is rocking a man bun. Mary’s drinking what looks like Starbucks (while showcasing her cheekbones for the selfie). And the baby Jesus is swaddled in what has to be some sort of handmade, organic-yarn blanket and beanie. The set also features three hipster wise men (who come bearing gifts a la Amazon Prime), a couple of well-fed animals (the cow’s trough is marked “gluten free”), and a teenaged shepherd boy who’s posting the whole thing on Instagram (#babyjesus #nofilter).

Theologically speaking, I’m not really sure what the designers had in mind when they came up with this scene. But honestly? I kind of like it. It makes me feel like the whole scene is kind of…relevant. Like Jesus really is what Hebrews 13:8 says he is: the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is as present in the lives of selfie-taking, latte-drinking, man bun-wearing people as he was in the lives of the folks who gathered around him 2,000 years ago. And I don’t blame Millennial Joseph and Mary for wanting a pic with the Lord. Had I been in their TOMS, I would have taken one, too.

I’ve always thought it would have been pretty cool to be alive when Jesus was walking and talking and telling people where the good fishing was. Sometimes, I’ve even been jealous of those first disciples and all the others who literally saw him do miracles, and who could ask him hard questions, face to face. From an evangelistic standpoint, it feels like it must have been a whole lot easier to bring people to a living, breathing Jesus and say, “Look. That’s him. He fed all those people.” than it is to convince them to entrust their lives to someone they can’t even see.

But here’s the thing. Mary and Joseph and all of those early Christians got to see and experience all sorts of neat stuff. But when the time came for Jesus to be crucified, he told his followers that it was “for your good that I am going away.” Why? Because that meant that the Holy Spirit would come. As a man, Jesus knew that he could only be in one place at a time; as a Spirit, he is able to be with all of us, everywhere, all the time.

So yeah, I would liked to have been at the manger. I would like to have heard the angels sing, and seen the look on the wise men’s faces when they finally got to the stall. I would like to have pulled Mary aside and asked her all sorts of questions. I would like to have thanked Joseph for believing the angel (and for staying).

I would like to have held the baby. I would like to have watched him grow up.

But when I think about the Holy Spirit – his omnipresence, and all of the wisdom, comfort, conviction, guidance, and strength he provides – I am pretty darn glad to have that. To have him. And this Christmas, as I read verses like Luke 11:13 (which says that if we know how to give good gifts to our kids, how much more will God give the Holy Spirit to us), all I can do is ask God for more of the Spirit’s work in my life, and thank him for the indescribable gift of his presence.

So again, yeah. I would like to have known Jesus on earth. Mary, too. But you know what? I figure I’ll meet her one day, and (like all mothers, I guess) she’ll probably still be happy to talk about what her boy was like, as a child.

I look forward to hearing her stories.

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(And BTW, if you decide that the Modern Nativity is something you can’t celebrate Christmas without, you can order one here for less than what Mary probably paid for those black skinny jeans.)

 

 

 

 

 


Living the Scriptures


11.30.2016

Immanuel: He is Our Peace

So on Monday morning, after all of the Thanksgiving guests had left, I crept downstairs, eager to enjoy a cup of coffee in the predawn silence. We’d already decorated the Christmas tree (gotta do it when the kids are home)…

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…and as heart-warming as it is to watch six people climb on your bookshelves and elbow each other out of the way while carols from Pandora’s “Country Christmas” drown out the announcer on the U.Va. basketball game, I was ready for some peace and quiet. I looked forward to turning on the tree lights, grabbing my Bible, and spending a few moments with God.

And then I heard…snoring.

It was loud. And it was coming from the family room. Had a late-night intruder gotten into our Baileys? Would I find a strange man on the sofa? Should I go back upstairs and wake Robbie?

I tiptoed through the kitchen and quickly turned on the lights:

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Khaki.

The dog is not supposed to get on the sofa. I didn’t fully trust her arthritic legs or her tumor-filled belly to keep her down, so I’d put out a spread of books and magazines as a deterrent. To which Khaki said, “Nice try.”

I was not happy.

I didn’t like how the dog had treated my copy of Southern Lady, nor did I appreciate having to get out the lint brush. Again. Even more than these offenses, though, was the fact that Khaki had rearranged all my pillows. One of them wound up on the floor:

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I stood there, listening to the dog drone and looking at my fallen PEACE, and I thought: This is it. This is what my life has become. I get the peace all set in my life, tucked in among the beautiful velvet and linen, and then something comes along to knock it off.

Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’re staring down the weeks between now and Christmas, wishing you could experience the whole “peace on earth, good will toward men” thing, but there’s a little niggle of anxiety, or maybe even fear, that is holding you back. Maybe it’s a decision you have to make, or a deadline you are facing. Maybe it’s a sickness, or a loss, or the sense that you don’t have what it takes to do whatever it is that you feel like you are supposed to do. Or maybe it’s something totally unfounded, but still sort of paralyzing, like the time I went shopping with my mother-in-law and we got half way to the mall when she was suddenly struck by a frightening thought:  What if the stores are closed on Monday?

I don’t know about you, but there are times when I let worry – both about real concerns and and imagined ones – consume my attention. But that is the exact opposite of how God wants us to live. “Do not be anxious about anything,” he says, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

And when we do that – when we refuse to entertain anxiety and instead bring our requests straight to God – he offers this promise:  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Sounds like a plan.

But, like so many good things in life, choosing to take our worries to God and trade them in for his peace is easy to say and hard to do. It takes practice. It might even take retraining our brains, so that our default position is not so much dwelling on doubt as it is on tacking our trust to God’s promises. It’s do-able, but we might need help.

Which is where Immanuel comes in. Of all the names God goes by, I think Immanuel might be my favorite. It’s not one we think about for most of the year, but when you start opening Christmas cards and listening to carols, it pops up. And, to me, Matthew 1:23 is one of the best lines in the whole Christmas story:  The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us”). 

If you’re feeling like your peace is on the floor this Christmas, and you aren’t really sure how to pick it up and get it settled into your life, invite Immanuel to come in and help. He is the order in our chaos, the stability in our insecurity, the anchor in our storm. He is “God with us.”
And, in that very name, he is our peace.
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Living the Scriptures


11.16.2016

Blessed are Those Who Mourn

 

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Blessed are those who mourn.

That promise, from Matthew 5:4, has never been one of my Bible favorites. The second half of the verse is a little more upbeat – for they will be comforted – but, if I’m being honest, I gotta say that I’d just as soon skip the whole thing. No mourning, no need for comfort. Done.

But if you’ve been keeping up with this blog series about waiting on God, you knew I’d get around to mourning, eventually. And last week I promised to tackle one of the thornier questions that can attach itself to the waiting process:  What do we do with the grief, or even the anger, that can box us into a corner when our prayers seem to go unanswered, or when the outcome doesn’t look like we expected (or wanted) it to?

The short answer is to remember how much God loves you. Go ahead and take your hurts to him – tell him just how you feel – and then let him hold you. Mourn, and be comforted. If that’s all the blog you can process today, that’s enough.

If you’ve got time to dig a little deeper, I’d like you to meet my guy Asaph. He’s the fella who wrote Psalm 73. He sees all of the arrogant God-mockers getting healthy, rich, and popular, while he feels like he is being “punished every morning,” and he is shaking his head. He’s grieved, and he’s bitter. He’s mourning, and he’s mad.

Not a fun place for a believer to be.

In the end, though, Asaph realizes that he has it all backwards. The bad guys are on slippery ground. Their destiny is destruction; his future is secure. Asaph has the blessing of God’s guidance, the certainty of his love, and the promise of his presence. And that’s all he needs. “Whom have I in heaven but you?” he asks. “And earth has nothing I desire besides you.”

There was a time when I would have read a statement like that and thought to myself, “Yeah, right. God’s presence is nice and all…but I would have rather had the pony.”

Lately, though, as I’ve wrestled with the problem of pain and the questions that come with things like unmet longings and unanswered prayers, I’ve begun to appreciate the blessing of God’s nearness. Here’s why:

I was raised on verses like Romans 8:28 (which says that God works in all things for our good), Jeremiah 29:11 (his plan is to prosper us and to give us hope), and Job 42:2 (no purpose of his can be thwarted), and I struggled over the fact that I felt sad when things didn’t turn out like I wanted them to, or when God seemed to be silent in the face of my prayers. If I truly believed that God was working for good, that his plan was for hope, and that his purpose would prevail, then I had no business being anything but grateful. Even if I didn’t understand what God was up to, I felt like I should be excited about it.

But I wasn’t.

And because I wasn’t, I felt like I should apologize to God. I figured that, since he already knew my heart, I could just go ahead and be honest. So here’s what I wrote in my prayer journal (and I’m sharing this partly so that those of you who think that you need to be all holy and eloquent when you talk to God will maybe feel a little bit better about just letting it rip):

“God,” I said, “I am sorry to be so spiritually lame. I really am trying to trust you. And I don’t mean to be sad. I know all your promises about how good and powerful you are, and about how much you love me, and I guess if I honestly believed these things – ”

“It’s okay.” (Have you ever been interrupted by God? Because that’s what I think happened to me. There I was, telling him how lame I was, and he just cut right in.)

“It’s okay,” I sensed God say. “Go ahead and grieve. Your sadness is real. But it’s not a bad thing. Bring it to me, and let me comfort you.”

Wow. Talk about a game-changer. There I was, trying to push my pain into a manhole and put the cover on, and God said not to. He wanted me to come to him the way that I wanted my children, when they were younger, to bring me their skinned knees and fevers, so I could hug them and bandage their hurts. Or the way that I want them to now, with their worries and fears, so that I can pray and let them know they’re not alone. And I realized that day, as I basically climbed into God’s lap and let the tears come, that I was just like Asaph. I had it all backwards.

I thought that disappointment and anger were bad things. Things to be avoided. Things that didn’t have a legitimate place in the life of a “real” Christian. (And just as a sidebar, if we allow these things to shape our identity, dictate our perspective, or become our life’s focus, I think they are bad.) But if we can learn to see them as tools in God’s hands, we will discover that our grief and our questions are actually blessings. In drawing us into God’s presence, they are the cords that he uses to bind up our broken hearts (Isaiah 61:1), to let us know how much we are loved, and to show us that even in mourning, we are blessed.

Next week, in the final post in this series, I will introduce you to a couple of folks who have lived this stuff, and who express it so much better than I can. I realized (when I saw my friend Michelle’s organic turkey in a bag in her driveway) that Thanksgiving is almost upon us. And my hope is that, together, we can celebrate the holiday from a place of genuine gratitude, a place where waiting on God (and trusting him, even when we aren’t sure what he is doing) becomes something we can really enjoy.

Like Asaph, I want us to be able to bring all of our questions and complaints before God and find our joy not in his answers, but in his nearness.


Living the Scriptures


10.21.2016

The Power of Love

When Hurricane Matthew visited Virginia Beach two weeks ago, he left us without power for five days. That in itself wasn’t so bad (I am a big fan of candlelight), but he also knocked out our phone, cable, and Internet access (hence the lack of blogposts) until yesterday. Truth be told, I didn’t really miss those things, either (especially not when you consider what the people in Haiti have been through, or even our water-logged friends just over the border in North Carolina).

What was a bit tricky – and this was a first, in my hurricane history – was the fact that a forest of downed trees and power lines meant that Robbie and I (along with a handful of neighbors) we were basically trapped in our darkened houses for the better part of a week. This pic doesn’t show the full carnage, but you can see why getting a car out would have been kind of iffy:

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When people realized our plight (and it was hard not to:  Firemen, police, the local news, and even the National Guard showed up on our corner to check things out), we began getting all sorts of offers. Did we need coffee? The loan of a car, if we could reach it? Would it help if people just threw food and flashlights over the power lines?

We said we were fine (and we pretty much were), but then Robbie went down to check on the basement. Most Virginia Beach houses don’t have ’em, but our place was built during Prohibition and it came with both a basement and what was left of a still. Because I guess, back then, there were fewer hurricanes and more thirsty people.

Anyhow.

The water was rising. We had a pump, but no way to power it. The very cute generator we had purchased after the last big storm had benched itself, after just a few hours of playing time. Should we, I wondered, try bailing? It sounds so romantic and adventurous in books. Robbie was less than enthused, and eyeing the flight of steps and our bucket, I had to agree: As a basement app, bailing is sort of meh.

We were stumped. But then Along Came Gary.

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Gary Cole is the sort of man you want in your daughter’s father-in-law. We got him as part of the package when Annesley married Geoff, and the minute he heard about our situation, Gary picked his way through the trees (keeping an eye on the still-popping power lines) with a black box that he called an “inverter.” Being an English major and all, I immediately deduced that an inverter is something that changes a direct current into an alternating current so that you can use the engine in your Toyota to get the water out of your basement. Obviously.

Here’s what the thing looks like, up close:

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Gary’s contraption made short work of our water problem. Most guys would have popped a Bud and given themselves a high five at that point, but not Gary. For one thing, he’s a milk-and-cookies guy. And for another, he’s thorough. He stood back and looked at our whole house, in all of it’s food-spoiling glory. No generator? No problem. Gary said he knew a guy. And the next thing I knew, Gary and The Guy had hauled The Guy’s generator through the trees and into our driveway.

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All I could think, as I looked out the window, was how these men (and all of our other friends and neighbors who banded together to help one another) were living out verses like Philippians 2:4 (“Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others”), Galatians 6:10 (“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us to good to all people”), and Matthew 22:39 (“Love your neighbor as yourself”).

I wouldn’t wish a hurricane on anybody. They can be nasty things. But having been through a boatload of them (smallish ones, anyway), I must say that those storm clouds can have a silver lining. In bringing our normal, busy, self-centered lives to a halt, they make us stop and notice each other. And in a world that feels increasingly adversarial and selfish, it was really nice to see these verses about looking out for one another come to life – and to realize afresh what love does.

And, since I didn’t get to post a Friday Prayer last week, I’ll tap into the (a-hem) power of one of the letters that the Apostle John wrote, toward the end of his life. Let’s make these simple words both a prayer and a resolution for our lives:

Let us love one another, for love comes from God. (1 John 4:7)

Amen.

 

 


Living the Scriptures


10.04.2016

Raise Your Ebenezer!

Back when I started blogging three years ago, the website brainiacs told me I needed to lump my posts into “categories.” So I did. And I feel pretty good about “From the Bookshelf” (where I recommend some of my favorite reads) and “Prayer Helps” (which features scripture prayers and other tools), but the “Try This” category is sort of hit-or-miss. Long-time readers will remember the Mac-n-Cheese and Peas and Fleas failure, and I still get occasional emails from people who tell me that it didn’t go so well when they put Grandma under the sheet.

Today, though, I think I have a “Try This” winner. Not only has this one stood the test of time by serving as an anchor to the past, but it provides a launching pad for things like hope and security as we look toward the future.

Make yourself an Ebenezer stone. Like the one in the second stanza of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” (the one that made some contemporary worship leaders change the lyrics, since nobody knew what they were talking about).

Now, I realize that when we hear “Ebenezer,” most of us think of Scrooge. But he wasn’t the first Ebenezer. Nearly 3,000 years before Charles Dickens tried to get Londoners to provide for the poor with A Christmas Carol, the prophet Samuel tried to get the Israelites to acknowledge God as their provider by setting up an Ebenezer stone. If you are fuzzy on the details, here’s the story (and you can read more in 1 Samuel 7):

The pesky Philistines had come to attack the Israelites (again), and the Israelites were scared. They didn’t have a king yet, so they turned to Samuel. “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines,” they begged. Samuel agreed. But that didn’t stop the Philistines from advancing; they “drew near” while Samuel was praying! But then something wild happened: The Bible says God “thundered with loud thunder.” As a result, the Philistines panicked, the Israelites gave chase, and the end result was what has to be one of the most epic (an unexpected) upsets in history. To commemorate the victory, Samuel set up a stone and named it Ebenezer (which literally means “stone of help”), saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.”

Today, if you google “Ebenezer Stone,” you might get a picture like this:

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I like it, but I can’t see Samuel setting that thing up. I’m thinking his rock might have looked a little more like this:

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Who knows? But how the stone looked isn’t the point of the story. The point is that the stone served as a marker, a place the Israelites could return to in the years to come, a reminder of how God had fought for them and protected them in their darkest hour.

We can do the same thing. When God does something for us, we can take a rock (it doesn’t have to be big) and make our own Ebenezer. I did that earlier this year, when Robbie transferred to U.Va. I thought he knew all about the school (we’d taken him there since before he could walk), but I was wrong. Robbie knew all about the football stadium. The library? Not so much. He had to find that, and then he had to go looking for all of his classes, his advisor, and a host of other unfamiliar people and places in what turned out to be a big and sometimes daunting world.

Robbie is a surfer, and I guess those first few weeks were a little bit like paddling out through the breakers, trying to get to the smoother part of the ocean, where things settle down and you can wait to catch your wave. And when he did – when Robbie finally texted us with some good news and we felt like he was maybe hitting his stride – the words “thus far the Lord has helped us” just popped into my mind. So I found a stone (a smooth one from the beach, which seemed appropriate for my boy) and marked it:

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On the flip side, I put the date:

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In years to come, Robbie might never remember what was happening in his life in September of 2016, but he will know that the Lord was right there with him, helping him paddle through the waves.

I love the story of the Ebenezer stone. I’ve made them before, and I am sure I will make them again. I have a spotty memory and my heart is prone to wander, so I need those tangible reminders of God’s faithfulness – both so I can thank him and so I can look forward with hope and confidence, no matter what the future holds. The God of “thus far” is the God who “ever shall be,” and to me, that is exciting.

And you know what’s even more exciting? We might not have a Samuel in our corner, but we have Someone even better. The Bible says that Jesus is praying for us, right now. Romans 8:34-35 says that he always talks to God about us – and that nothing can separate us from his love! So even when we aren’t sure what to pray (like, when we don’t know which direction our Philistines are coming from, or what we should do when they attack), we can count on the fact that God already has us covered.

And that right there is enough to make me head back to the beach to find some more stones.

 


Living the Scriptures


09.21.2016

Should You Pray about Fantasy Football?

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Virginia and her friend Chris came home over Labor Day weekend, which I guess must be the kickoff to Fantasy Football season, because at one point Chris excused himself to go “draft” his team. I have no idea how the Fantasy draft works, but I wanted to be supportive, so I told Chris I’d pray for his picks.

If Chris thought that was strange, he didn’t say so. But when another mom (whose son was drafting his team at the same time) heard what I’d done, she lodged a protest. “Does that mean that all of the other guys are gonna get jammed, cuz you prayed for Chris to get the best players?”

I started to say that the other guys were welcome to pray about their draft picks too (or to get their friend’s mothers to pray), but my pal wasn’t finished.

Didn’t I, she wanted to know, think it was a little self-absorbed or shallow to be praying about something like football (and not even real football) when there were people with cancer out there? Wouldn’t my time be better spent praying for them? And was it even right, spiritually, to pray for a sports victory?

I’ve heard those questions (and plenty more, just like them) before.  I remember speaking to a group of young moms and, afterwards, one of them came up and told me what she’d thought of my talk:

“I don’t think it’s right to pray for my kid’s spelling test when there are people who need jobs, or when ISIS is on the loose. I don’t want to be clogging up the lines if somebody with something really important is trying to get through. And if I start praying about stuff like spelling tests, won’t God just think I am bugging him?”

I understand where questions like these come from. It can be easy to think that God is wired like we are, and that he can only handle a certain amount of stuff on his plate at any given time, so he needs to prioritize. But that’s not true, of course. And when we pray, we never bug God. He actually likes to hear from us. When we come to him with our concerns, we demonstrate both obedience (since he tells us to pray) and honor (since what we are essentially doing is acknowledging his lordship over our lives).

As to whether or not it’s okay to pray for life’s little things – fantasy football, spelling tests, and even hair appointments (which one of my friends regularly asks me to pray about, on her behalf) – I don’t know. I think if something matters to us, it matters to God, and if he knows how many hairs are on our heads, you gotta believe he knows whether we’re eyeing Odell Beckham Jr. or Antonio Brown at wide receiver. And, just like we don’t mind it when our kids ask us for a puppy, I think God doesn’t mind if we ask him for a win – as long as we leave room for the fact that he might have an even better plan in mind, and that maybe not getting a puppy right now is actually the best way to accomplish his purposes for the people and the teams that we love. (For more on this “pray-and-trust” approach, click here.)

And maybe I take things too literally, but when the Bible says that we can (and even should) pray about anything, at any time, I feel like it’s okay to jump in. Consider just a few invitations:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. (Philippians 4:6, NLT)

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. (Ephesians 6:18)

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sings songs of praise. (James 5:13)

There are all sorts of theological reasons for prayer, but at the end of the day, I think the reason why God wants us to pray comes down to this:  God wants us to pray because he loves us. He wants that sense of connection, that fellowship, that relationship that happens when we communicate with him. And as a mom, I get that. I love it when my kids text or call. It’s almost pathetic, actually, how quickly I scramble for the phone. And it doesn’t matter how boring or insignificant the topic is (a recent call involved a discussion on the merits of commando hooks as necklace holders); I love to hear my kids’ voices.

Speaking of…  God doesn’t give a rip how we sound (he’s already heard it all, anyway), so don’t worry if your thoughts come out in a jumble, or you don’t think that you sound “holy” enough to approach him, or that you somehow have to suggest your idea or present your case in a way that will capture his interest. Just jump in and do it…whether it’s for your next draft pick, or for something really important. He is big enough to care about it all.

“Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.”

 

 

 

 

 


Living the Scriptures


09.14.2016

The Potter and the Clay

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say, “Really, there’s nothing else we can do. We’re just going to have to trust God.” I’ve said the same thing, myself.

We say that like it’s a last resort, like trusting God is some sort of consolation prize for folks who aren’t strong enough, or clever enough, or well-connected enough to get the job done. Honestly, though, trusting God isn’t just part of our job. It is our job. It marks the beginning, the middle, and the end of every good endeavor.

Sure, we all have stuff to do – works that God has “prepared in advance” – but, at the end of the day, he’s the one who is responsible for outcomes and accomplishments. It doesn’t matter whether the task at hand is monumental or minuscule, if something lines up with God’s good plan, he will get it done. We may pat ourselves on the back, but the credit ultimately belongs to him because, after all, he is the one who works in us to “will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13) Or, as Isaiah puts it, “We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)

For many of us, though, putting our lives into God’s hands and trusting him with the results can present a bit of a problem. Who knows what the Potter might have in mind? What if we wanted to be a statuesque vase and, in God’s skillful hands, we start to resemble a cereal bowl? I have a whole collection of questionably shaped artifacts from the happy hours my kids spent in art class; what if my life turns out looking like that upside-down turtle shell?

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“A great many Christians seem practically to think that all their Father in heaven wants is a chance to make them miserable and take away all their blessings,” writes one of my favorite vintage authors, Hannah Whitall Smith. It’s true. All too often we think of God as Someone who has a long list of holy-sounding things that we are supposed to do, and an even longer list of fun-sounding things that we aren’t. If we decide to trust him (that is, if we wholeheartedly surrender ourselves – our dreams and our goals, our reputations and our relationships, our work and our play) and say not, “My will be done” but “Thy will be done,” we worry that we’re gonna miss out on the good stuff.

But here’s what Hannah has to say about that:

“Some of us know what it is to love, and we know that could we only have our way, our beloved ones would be overwhelmed with blessings. All that is good and sweet and lovely in life would be poured out upon them from our lavish hands, had we but the power to carry out our will for them. And if this is the way of love with us, how much more it must be so with God, who is love itself! Could we but for one moment get a glimpse into the mighty depths of His love, our hearts would spring out to meet His will and embrace it as our richest treasure; and we would abandon ourselves to it with and enthusiasm of gratitude and joy, that such a wondrous privilege could be ours.”

Could we but for one moment get a glimpse into the mighty depths of His love, our hearts would spring out to meet His will and embrace it as our richest treasure.

Isn’t that an awesome sentence? It’s from Hannah’s book, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, which I recommended in a blog earlier this summer. Her theology reminds me of what Tim Keller wrote in his book, PrayerHe says, “We have the assurance that God, our heavenly Father, always wants the best for his children.” What’s more, Keller writes, you can trust that the Holy Spirit will help shape your prayers (Romans 8:26) and you can “come before God with the confidence that he is going to give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows.”

I think that’s pretty cool.

And I’ve been asking God for a lot this summer, as loved ones wrestle with health issues, career moves, relationship challenges, and a whole host of unmet longings. Thanks to Hannah (and also to Keller), I am praying specifically about what I would like to see happen – and then letting God answer according to his best plan. “Thy will be done” is not the prayer warrior’s way of throwing in the towel; rather, it is an acknowledgment that we are incredibly, lavishly loved by a Father who always does immeasurably more than anything we could imagine. It is a recognition that, even though we might not understand God’s ways, we can trust his heart. And it is a signal that we are doing our job – and that we are depending on God to do his.

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)

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And P.S. if you are wondering why I call Hannah “Hannah” and Keller “Keller,” it’s because I feel like I know Hannah. You know how that is, with some celebrities or authors you admire? You feel like, if you could only have lunch or go on a run with her, you would be good friends. That’s how I feel about Hannah Whitall Smith. Anybody who has four of their seven children die before reaching adulthood, marries a Christian guy who repeatedly cheats on her, gets arthritis so bad that she winds up in a wheelchair, and then publishes a book called The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life is somebody I want to know.

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Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911)

 


Living the Scriptures


09.08.2016

Find Your Confidence and Keep It

Okay, so maybe posting that “Rough Road Ahead” photo the day before U.Va.’s home opener wasn’t the best idea. Or offering that prayer for perseverance. I kinda feel like I jinxed us.

Honestly, though, I think we can all be a little encouraged by U.Va.’s loss. Because getting all pumped up – and then having things go utterly sideways – could happen to anyone. And when I saw the headline in the paper this week (the one that said U.Va. needed to “find some confidence”), all I could think was, “Yeah, me too.”

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I can’t tell you how many times I come up with a plan (one that I think God has inspired or endorsed) and then, almost before I get started, I find myself getting clobbered. Unexpected obstacles, frustrating delays, and stunning defeats don’t just happen in football. And it can be easy, when you find yourself on the wrong end of a whomping, to wonder if what you’re doing is worth it.

I think it was Vince Lombardi who said that failure isn’t getting knocked down; it’s when you don’t get back up again. That’s a good one. But I like what the writer of Hebrews (who, incidentally, would have made a great football coach) said even more. He knew that those early believers had faced insults, persecution, and suffering. He figured they’d keep taking the hits. But he told them to stand their ground, and he offered this game plan:

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:35-36)

And so here’s thing thing:  If you feel like God has given you a job to do, or if maybe your mission isn’t as easy as you hoped it would be (and I’m looking at you, U.Va.), don’t be discouraged. Instead, anchor your trust in God, get back in the fight, and stand your ground.

And, whatever you do, do not throw away your confidence. It will be richly rewarded.

We do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. (Hebrews 10:39)


Living the Scriptures


08.18.2016

My Dog Rocks

I’m not the world’s biggest dog person, but I do like them, particularly when they are as easy-going and cheerful as Khaki and Max.

You’ve met these two before. They cheer for the Hoos:

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They are good with kids:

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And they still say “Merry Christmas” to everybody:

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They are nice dogs. Plus, they are incredibly low maintenance. One time, for example, we went away for the weekend and left Max and Khaki in the care of a neighbor. When we got back on Sunday and I went over to pay the kid, he panicked.

“Mrs. Berndt! I can’t take your money!”

“Sure you can,” I said. “The Bible says a worker deserves his wages.” (I didn’t really say that, but it’s in there – Luke 10:7 – and it would have been impressive if I’d remembered it then.)

“But,” the boy protested. “I really can’t. I never went to your house! I forgot!”

Well now, that was interesting. We’d gotten home and found the dogs happy as ever. They were hungry, sure, but that was nothing new. And they hadn’t made any kind of mess in the house. They seemed good. Chalk one up in the plus column.

I tell you this back story so that you will understand when I say our dogs really don’t require much in the way of attention. And so that you will forgive me when I tell you that, when Max refused to eat his kibble last week, I was not all that concerned.

The next day, though, he started hunching when he walked.

“Maybe it’s his dreadlocks,” I suggested. Being a golden retriever in a house where grooming is not all that de rigeur, Max has been known to grow a few long ones, and I thought maybe they’d somehow gotten mixed up together and hog-tied him.

Robbie concurred, and gave Max a dread-cut. But that didn’t help.

“Maybe it’s one of his tumors,” I suggested. (He has a few of them on his belly, one that looks and feels like he maybe swallowed a jellyfish.)

“No,” Robbie said. “The vet says those things are harmless. But he’s clearly hurting. You need to take him in.”

Ugh. The last time I took Khaki to the vet, she refused to get on the scale (a reluctance with which I sympathize) and, in the ensuing struggle, I wound up on the floor, treating (subjecting?) all the other waiting pet owners to an eye-full of my underwear. And I am not making that up. I didn’t want to go there again. But it had to be done, and so off we went.

Max was content to be prodded and poked, but when the vet tried to roll him over, he whimpered.

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“Hmm,” the vet said. “I think we need to do an X-ray.”

That sounded pricey, but what was I to do? To refuse, while my dog lay there whimpering, would appear more than just inattentive.

They took Max away. Ten minutes later, the vet came back. “Does Max eat anything unusual?” she asked.

(If you have dogs, you know that’s not a question you want to answer. It feels – particularly after an X-ray – more like an accusation than a legitimate query. I could think of any number of things Max might have ingested, but I stayed silent. Clearly, the vet had some knowledge she wasn’t sharing.)

We stared at each other, and finally she blinked.

“Like rocks?” she suggested. “Does he eat rocks?”

Ahhh. Rocks.

I knew Max was guilty. It’s not something I am particularly proud of (nor have I ever actually witnessed the deed) but, having found evidence in the artifacts, this was something I could not deny. But I didn’t want them to think less of my dog, so I decided to get on Max’s team and own it.

“Yes,” I answered, confident that I was doing right by my dog. “Sometimes he does eat the driveway.”

Maybe that was first for the vet, because she didn’t say anything. Instead, she inclined her head toward the door, the one leading into the back room (the one where they take animals when they have to do things they don’t want pet owners to see). “Follow me.”

I did. And there, on the X-ray machine, I saw this:

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Those little white things? Gravel. And even an English major like me could see that Max’s belly was full of them.

“Can I take a picture of that?” I asked. “I mean, so I can show my husband, so that he will understand about the bill?”

(I didn’t really need to show Robbie. He likes dogs, and I knew he wouldn’t complain about the charge. I wanted the picture so that I could show you. You don’t write a blog for two years and then pass up an opportunity like this one.)

The vet grabbed my phone and snapped the pic (I guess she didn’t want me to get too close to the machine) and then shooed me back out to the waiting room. Not knowing what else to do, I posted the photo onto our family text thread, and explained the situation.

Son-in-law Geoff was among the first to weigh in:

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Who else, indeed? I was definitely not feeling the love.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the vet came back to deliver the verdict. “We have two choices,” she intoned. “We can do surgery, or we can induce vomiting.”

Well then. I knew which one I would pick. Wouldn’t you? I gave the go-ahead. And then, as soon as she was out of the room, I updated the family to let them know the plan, and to ask them to pray for Max’s upcoming humiliation:

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The situation was going from bad to worse. Not unlike this blog.

(And I know what some of you are thinking. You signed up for these posts to get “prayer verses and encouragement” delivered directly to your in-box, and you are now lying in bed, reading your iPhone and wondering if you should switch to Tim Keller.)

But stay with me. Because I figured there had to be some spiritual application in this experience. And there is.

Max came out of there fine and, since we’ve upped his food rations, he’s never been better. But I wondered whether he was the first of God’s creatures to eat rocks. So I typed “gravel” into the search box on BibleGateway. And, wouldn’t you know it, there’s precedent.

Proverbs 20:17 says that people who practice deceit will find themselves in Max’s condition:  Food gained by fraud tastes sweet, but one ends up with a mouth full of gravel.

And for anybody out there who is considering adultery, Proverbs 5:3-4 offers this warning: The lips of a seductive woman are oh so sweet, her soft words are oh so smooth. But it won’t be long before she’s gravel in your mouth, a pain in your gut, a wound in your heart.

If you’re a regular on this blog, you know I don’t normally come down hard on people. I want you to know you are loved. But if you are thinking of lying or stealing, or if you think you wanna cheat on your spouse, think again. A mouth full of gravel? A pain in your gut? You can’t make this stuff up. And if that doesn’t make you think twice about straying from the straight-and-narrow, I don’t know what will.

Maybe just take another look at that X-ray.

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