Soccer, anyone?

Jack gets the soccer ball from his opponent, dribbles a little as he scans the field, and then passes the ball back to one of the defenders. That player turns the ball and passes it to his own goalie, as the other team rushes toward the goal, looking for an opportunity to take the ball back and score.  You can hear a few gasps and even a chuckle from the sidelines.  The parents cheering for the other team think our team has made a mistake and are hoping their boys can turn it into a goal.  Our goalie passes to a defender, and on goes the game.

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This is a scenario we have seen before. When our U9 soccer team has a good lead, our coach has the players pass and make sure everyone has touched the ball before they try to score.  We weren’t sure if we should expect to see this during a tournament, though, since the total points scored helps determine the tournament ranking.

But, we weren’t too surprised. Coach has let us know that he cares more about developing skills and teamwork and sportsmanship than about winning games, even tournaments (!).  He is looking at the bigger picture.  Sometimes the instructions he gives to the players don’t make obvious sense from the perspective of a moment in a game, but those players do what he says.  They trust that he knows best and that he has a plan.

So you can see where I’m going with this. We have a Coach Who sets up plays and gives instructions.  He knows far more about the game than we do.  He sees beyond what we can see as we battle through the moments of this present game.  He cares about developing a team, not just individuals.  He cares about our character and that we learn to play well.

’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ “ Isaiah 55:8-9

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Sometimes we question the wisdom of how we are instructed to live, paths we are directed to take, decisions we are led to make. They don’t make sense in the light of our goals, and sometimes they even seem like going backward.  It is at those times that we need to remember the communications we have received from the Coach and remember that He knows best and that He has a plan.

I think of the often quoted words from Jeremiah 29:11, “ ‘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 a hope and a future.’ “   Remember to whom Jeremiah was delivering this message from God-a people who were in exile.  They were the losing team, down with no obvious chance of catching back up.  Their Coach said, “Don’t worry.  Trust me.  I have a plan.”  Look at the  verses that follow verse 11, “ ‘Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity…’ “

Another story to help us get this message…

One day I planned to take our dog to walk at a local park. I loaded her up in the back of my mini van and headed out.  The drive was less than 10 minutes, but that dog cried and whined the whole time she was in the van.  She didn’t like being there.  I think if you could have asked her, she would have wanted to head right back home.  But the thing I was doing that she didn’t like was the way to get her to something she really enjoyed-a long walk in a new place.  She had to endure a little discomfort to get to the joy.

Thankfully, we are not dogs. But there are definitely times we find ourselves in uncomfortable and even painful situations, unsure where we are headed.  We have the benefit of being able to hear from the Driver and to know that He is trustworthy.  He has told us we are heading somewhere good.

Paul knew it. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”  Romans 8:18.

Peter knew it. “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  To him be the power forever and ever.  Amen.”  I Peter 5:10-11

You can know it. Trust the Coach.

By the way, the only way you got on the team was because He paid the fee. You couldn’t afford it.  He wanted you on His team, so He paid a crazy high price to give you the opportunity to sign up.  (“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver and gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”  I Peter 1:18-19)

He gave you that uniform to replace your dirty clothes. (“I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God.  For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness…”  Isaiah 61:10)

He has promised to supply all that you need to play. (“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”  II Peter 1:3)

Jack’s Coach Travis doesn’t yell at the team. They know what he wants them to do because they spend lots of time with him at practice, and they are familiar with his voice.   We need to be spending time with our Coach, reading the messages He sent, letting Him teach us along with the team, listening and learning His voice.  He loves us.  His plan is perfect.  Let’s follow His directions and trust that He is taking us somewhere amazing.

 

God, thanks that You are so beyond us. Your love is incredible.  Your sacrifice for us is more than we can comprehend.  Help us to be committed players on Your team, practicing, listening, trusting, obeying.  Help us to work together with our teammates, and help us to encourage them.  Teach us to look beyond this moment and live with our eyes on You and on eternity.  Pour Your grace on us.

-Leah

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Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Captive Thoughts

Have you ever read something that resonated so much with you that it became something you’ll never forget? A truth that just stays with you? That happened to me one day as I was beginning to read a book that a friend gave me, The Jesus Code by O.S. Hawkins. This analogy is too good to keep to myself, and I feel compelled to share it.

“Our minds are like a hotel. The manager can’t keep people from coming into the lobby, but he can keep them from getting a room. It is the same with our thoughts. It is not a sin when an impure thought goes through our minds. The sin comes when we give it a room and let it settle down there.”

Selah. Pause and consider that. 

Not long after reading that, I heard Dannah Gresh, one of my favorite speakers, teaching about our thought patterns. She said, “Are you taking your thoughts captive, or are they taking you captive?” What a great question, right? It is based on the following passage of Scripture –

“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Every. Thought. Captive. I don’t know about you, but throughout the course of a day, my mind is filled up with thoughts. The lobby has a lot of visitors. Again, the problem isn’t necessarily when the lobby is full. The problem comes when I decide to give a room to a thought that shouldn’t get one. So, how do I know which thoughts to entertain and which thoughts to take captive and expel from my lobby? The Apostle Paul gives us specific directions.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

There’s the list. Pretty straightforward, isn’t it? If the thought I’m entertaining doesn’t align with what’s on that list, it needs to go. This is powerful, life-changing truth. So many big problems arise when we dwell on thoughts that we should be taking captive. It’s so true that those thoughts can easily take US captive.

Here’s a real-life example. Several years ago before I was married to my wonderful husband (who is one of God’s good gifts to me), I was outside mowing my lawn. Now, to fully understand this, you need to know that I hated being single, and I completely resented having to mow the lawn. I know that probably sounds silly, but I’m just being totally honest. It wasn’t uncommon for me to have a negative attitude while mowing. So, this particular day, I’m out there mowing, and all of a sudden a single, simple thought came into my mind. “No one cares about you.” Well, I was a hotel manager with a negative attitude, and I said to that thought, “Here’s your room key. Enjoy your stay.” As I continued to mow, that one little thought grew into more thoughts like it. “If anyone cared about you, they would come help you mow this lawn. You know, no one even appreciates the things you do. If you were gone tomorrow, no one would even notice.” As I entertained it, the original thought took on a life of its own. Guess what happened next? My feelings got involved (thoughts tend to have that effect on feelings). Before too long, I was frustrated, angry, and depressed. 

Then, by the grace of God, I stopped and realized that my mind had been completely assaulted. What I was entertaining was a lie that had been whispered into my mind. I was able in that moment to send that thought right back out the door. I had to remind myself of what God’s Word says and also of what was really true.

Have you ever been there? Have you entertained a thought that just took on a life of its own? A thought that was not based in truth that got a luxury suite in your hotel? Are you taking your thoughts captive, or are they taking you captive?

Paul says something profound as he continues on in Philippians.

“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9)

Practice these things. This is powerful. We can actually practice taking our thoughts captive. First, we measure the thought up against the truth of God’s Word. If the thought passes the Philippians 4:8 test, it’s a keeper. It gets a room. If it doesn’t, we find and meditate on the truth from God’s Word that counters that thought, and we take the thought captive and refuse to give it a room. Here are some examples –

Thought – No one cares about me (sounds familiar, right?).

Biblical Truth – “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand.” (Psalm 139:17-18)  “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38,39)

Decision – This thought doesn’t make the reservation list. It has to go.

Thought – I hate the way I look.

Biblical Truth – “For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:13-14) “What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim ‘How clumsy can you be?'” (Isaiah 45:9)

Decision – This thought doesn’t align with God’s Word, and it can’t stay.

Thought – I am so thankful that I’m forgiven.

Biblical Truth -“He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12) “Lord, if You kept a record of our sins, who, O Lord, could ever survive? But You offer forgiveness, that we might learn to fear You. (Psalm 130:3-4)

Decision – This thought aligns with Scripture, and it can have a room in our hotel.

Thought – I can’t stand her because she drives me crazy.

Biblical Truth – “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (I John 4:20) “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

Decision – This thought doesn’t match the truth of God’s Word, so it has to go.

Practice these things. We know the thoughts that tend to come back around over and over again to the lobby. If we can practice, we’ll be ready for them the next time they come. We don’t have to give them a room anymore. We can choose to fill our minds with what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. If we do that, there won’t be any vacancy for the thoughts that don’t belong. 

Notice what Paul said at the end of Philippians 4:9. “…practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” The end result of taking our thoughts captive is peace. Peace. What a beautiful truth. 

This is my challenge to us all for this week. Let’s practice taking thoughts captive, even if it sounds a little silly. Let’s especially practice with those thoughts that tend to trip us up. Let’s arm ourselves with the truth of God’s Word, and be ready for them. And let’s see if we experience more of God’s peace as a result.

Father, thank you for the practical truth that is in Your Word. Thank you for showing us how to walk in victory even over the thoughts that bombard our minds. Help us this week to practice these things. Give us the grace to measure our thoughts against the truth in Your Word and to take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. I pray that this will be life-changing for all of us as we apply Your Word to our lives. Amen.

-Dana

Opportunity Knocks

Have you ever wished you could be two places at once? I have. In fact, I find myself wishing that fairly often. A few weeks ago I was trying to decide whether to go away for the weekend with my husband and son #3 or to stay home for the weekend with son #1. (Son #2 had other weekend plans.) I was pretty torn. I really did want to be both places, and I kept going back and forth in my mind, finding it difficult to make a decision. What made the difference for me was remembering something I had read more than a year before in Bob Goff’s book, Everybody Always. Bob said that “some opportunities come with expiration dates.” I grabbed hold of that at the time I read it, and it inspired me to stop waiting until I had everything caught up and together and to start writing. 

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The phrase had popped up again when I impulsively stopped at Suter’s produce stand on their last day of business and came home with 15 dozen ears of corn. I explained to my startled husband that this was an opportunity with an expiration date. If we wanted corn in the freezer, we needed to make time and act.

 
And then it hit me! The answer to the dilemma of what to do with my weekend. Son #1 is a junior in high school. Spending time with him is definitely an opportunity with an expiration date. When I looked at it from that perspective, the decision was clear and I felt confident.

 
As I was seeing things as “opportunities”, and I noticed them cropping up all around. Because I stayed in town that weekend, I had the opportunity to connect with a family that had recently moved here from Guatemala, welcome them and assist their 8th grader with getting started in school. I knew of them from Anteneh, a Bluffton University student from Ethiopia who I had had the opportunity to meet several years ago at a fundraiser we were having after a trip to Ethiopia. That trip was quite the opportunity, and I had almost missed it because I thought I was too busy and couldn’t leave my job and family to go.

 
God gives us so many opportunities. He wants to use us to live His love, to touch people. Unfortunately, sometimes we get so caught up in the demands of our days, work and stuff management and keeping up appearances, that we let the expiring opportunities slip by.

 
The Apostle Paul had some advice that applies here, “Be very careful, then, how you live-not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” Ephesians 5:15-17

 
We need to live each day with our eyes open for God-given opportunities. We need to choose what is important over what feels urgent. Could I even suggest that we be praying for opportunities? Paul had this prayer request, “At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ…” Colossians 4:3.


Another thought that has helped me over the years when I have tried to sort out how to best spend my time, is a saying of Pastor Jim’s. “People before projects.” People matter. And frankly, all people have expiration dates.

 
God promises that what we invest into people will reap a reward. “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” Galatians 6:9-10

 
Some opportunities come with expiration dates.

 
People before projects.

 
Join me in looking for the best way to spend the opportunity called today.

 

God, You amaze me with how You weave stories together and place people in just the right places at just the right times to carry out Your work. Thank you for the opportunities You have given us, and for the ones You will be giving. Help us to see them and make the most of each one. Give us Your perspective as we live each day.  I re-pray these words for myself and everyone who reads this:

And this is my prayer that (our) love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help (us) determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ (we) may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.”
Philippians 1:9-11

 

-Leah

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Wonder and Worship

If advanced degrees were given for self-absorption, I’m pretty sure I would have one. I could sign my name at the end of this blog – Dana Jaffee, M.S. (Master of Self). I am an expert at making things all about me. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s the truth. Can you say the same thing? Here’s a quick little test. The next time that someone is telling you something, see what is happening in your brain. Are you really listening to them, or are you waiting (maybe impatiently) for them to finish talking so that you can tell how that connects to you or how you had a similar experience or how you feel about the topic? Maybe you passed that test with flying colors, but here’s another one. When you’re driving in traffic, and you are behind someone who is driving 45 mph in a 55 mph zone with no opportunity to pass, where does your mind go? If you’re anything like me, those thoughts aren’t pretty, and they are motivated by self-centeredness.

Even in my relationship with God, I am often way too focused on myself. I get caught up in what I’m doing, how I’m doing, how the actions of others are affecting me, how much spiritual progress I’m making, how much work there is for me to do, etc. Me, me, me. Now, just for the sake of balance, I do believe in relentless self-inspection with the help of the Holy Spirit because my heart is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). Unfortunately, my preoccupation with self is not usually in pursuit of searching my heart for sin and falling at the feet of Jesus in repentance. That would be a desirable thing. No, my preoccupation is usually about my comfort, my success, my reputation, my wants, etc. 

The truth about this ‘all about me’ mindset is that it is exhausting. When I am at the center, it is detrimental to me, and it is detrimental to those around me. It also is in direct opposition to the purpose for which I was created. I was created to glorify God. He is supposed to be the center. When I’m exhausted from this misplaced focus on myself, the absolute cure is to look up and center my attention on Him. What I must do is lose myself in the wonder of Who He is. Yes, lose myself. Let my gaze move from myself to my Maker. From sinner to Savior. From human to Holy. John the Baptist said it well. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

Wonder is defined by Merriam-Webster as 1) a cause of astonishment or admiration; 2) the quality of exciting amazed admiration; 3) rapt attention or astonishment at something awesomely mysterious or new to one’s experience. 

When I’m absorbed with myself, there is no wonder. When I lift up my eyes and ponder the greatness and character of God, I am filled with wonder. And wonder leads me away from the sinful worship of myself to the humble worship of the One Who is worthy beyond all measure.

Sometimes, we lose our sense of wonder. Sometimes, we need some reminders of the greatness and majesty of God. I hope you’ll ponder the verses below with me this week, and let them lead us to wonder and to worship.

“Who else has held the oceans in His hand? Who has measured off the heavens with His fingers? Who else knows the weight of the earth or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale? Who is able to advise the Spirit of the LORD? Who knows enough to give Him advice or teach Him? Has the LORD ever needed anyone’s advice? Does He need instruction about what is good? Did someone teach Him what is right or show Him the path of justice? No, for all the nations of the world are but a drop in the bucket. They are nothing more than dust on the scales. He picks up the whole earth as though it were a grain of sand…Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of His great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing.” (Isaiah 40:12-15, 26)

“O LORD, our Lord, Your majestic name fills the earth! Your glory is higher than the heavens. You have taught children and infants to tell of Your strength, silencing Your enemies and all who oppose You. When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers – the moon and the stars you set in place – what are mere mortals that You should think about them, human beings that You should care for them?” (Psalm 8:1-4)

“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace He has poured out on us who belong to His dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins. He has showered His kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.” (Ephesians 1:3-8)

“Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand His decisions and His ways! For who can know the LORD’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give Him advice? And who has given Him so much that He needs to pay it back? For everything comes from Him and exists by His power and is intended for His glory. All glory to Him forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36)

Dear Father, who are we that You, the Creator of the Universe, are mindful of us? Give us this week a fresh vision of Your greatness and majesty. Let us gaze in wonder at the beauty of Who You are, and let the things of earth (ourselves included) grow strangely dim. Please give us the grace to lose ourselves, to decrease as You increase in our hearts and minds. Forgive us for our self-absorption, and let us live this week for Your glory and not our own. We are humbled by Your great love for us that is beyond our ability to comprehend. Amen.

-Dana

Trash Talk

At my house, we have a trash drawer. I don’t mean a junk drawer, although we have one of those too.  This is a drawer in our kitchen specially designed to hold a trash can.  When you want to throw something away, you open the drawer, put in your trash, and then shut it.  I suppose this is to keep the trash can out of sight and keep the kitchen tidy.  For the most part, it works pretty well.  The glitch comes, as you might expect, when the trash can is full.  As is human nature, we tend to overfill the trash can rather than empty it.  I’m guessing that this is a common happening in many homes.  The difference with the trash drawer set up comes when you shut the drawer on a trash can that is full beyond its limits.  The garbage overflows into the back of the drawer where it keeps the drawer from closing correctly and becomes difficult to get out.  It turns a routine chore into something a little more time-consuming and aggravating.Image result for trash drawer image

 

From my perspective, the best approach is obvious. Empty the trash can when it is full.  Simple.  Another option is to leave the trash can full, but leave the drawer open and hope someone else empties the trash.  The third scenario, the shove-the-trash-down-and-shove-the-drawer-shut option, is unfortunately an all too common practice at our house.

 

The other day, as I was extracting trash from the back of the drawer, I was thinking about how this is similar to something that happens inside of us. We all have trash, attitudes and actions that need discarded, that keep us from being the best version of ourselves (to borrow a phrase from Matthew Kelly).   When we think of the yucky stuff in our hearts, we can all agree that it piles up just like the trash in the kitchen.  And over and over, we are faced with a decision.  Do we empty the trash, or do we push it down and try to hide it?  It’s not going to go away by itself.  And just like the trash in my kitchen, the longer we procrastinate and the more we try to close the drawer so people can’t see it, the worse off we are.

 

This seems pretty obvious, and sounds logical to me. It’s easy to agree about the generalities of keeping your inner self clean, but I took it a step further.  I have been pondering specifically what trash I have, and what it means to address it before it overflows and stops things from working the way they are designed to work.

 

I have been thinking of the instruction given by Paul, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2).  It surprised me to find the same words used by Jesus in a well-known passage, Matthew 11:28-30.  “ ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ “

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Humble and gentle. Gentle and humble in heart.

Too often, I find the opposites in me: proud and harsh. In fact, I would say that the vast majority of my trash can be attributed to pride and self-centeredness.  Ouch.  I’m also pretty sure that there are lots of times that I ignore those attitudes and the thoughts and actions that flow from them, pushing them down and closing the drawer on them so at least they feel hidden.

 

What does it mean to empty my inner trash? How can I get rid of proud and self-centered and become more humble and gentle like Jesus?

 

First of all, I have to see the trash. In today’s world, we often go through our days in survival mode and at a break-neck pace, fulfilling demands and putting out fires and sometimes missing what is important because there is so much that feels urgent.  In that framework, it is pretty hard to notice when I am acting or speaking out of pride and with my own interests first.  Paying more attention to what’s going on inside me as I go through the day is a necessary step to seeing where there is trash to empty.  I think it is helpful to think of some triggers to remind me to stop and evaluate the status of my internal trash can.

 

One trigger is when I start to see other people’s trash. Jesus’ message, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5), is great advice about remembering to look for trash in yourself.  For some reason, no matter how busy I am, I do find time to notice things that other people could improve.  My goal is that when I find myself thinking about what’s less than perfect in someone else, I take that opportunity to find and empty my own pride and self-centeredness.

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Another trigger is found in the words of Jesus I mentioned earlier. Jesus said that if we are in need of rest, we should learn from Him, the One who is gentle and humble in heart.  When I start to feel frustrated or worried, that is the opposite of rest.  Those feelings are usually an indicator that I am not living in the Jesus way of humility and gentleness and that there is trash to empty.   When I find myself frustrated or worried and lacking rest, I want to pause and find the trash in me and move it out.

 

So, how do I get rid of the trash? Yes, first I have to see it, but how do I change it?  The great news is that I don’t have to do it by my own will-power.  Take it from David, a man who had some trash that needed to go.  Psalm 51 records his prayer that God would clean him up.  In verse 7 he says, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow,” and in verse 10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”  The way to get rid of the things need discarded from inside me is to let God do it.  If I am willing and ask, He does the cleaning. Sounds too good to be true, but try it!

 

My sister reminded me of a song we used to listen to in the 80’s, by David Meece. I had forgotten all about it, but the lyrics are just right for trash removal…

Replace It With Your Love

David Meece

Where there’s hate give me love
Where there’s pride make me be humble
Where there’s pain don’t let me feel resentment deep inside
I want You to make it right

So replace it with Your love in my heart
Replace it with Your love in my heart
Just take out all the hatred and cleanse every part
And replace it with Your love in my heart

When I’m tired lift me up
When I’m weak, Lord, don’t let me falter
But if I fall, don’t let me harbor bitterness inside
I want You to take it out

Lord, I’m just a man who wants to be like You
Living in Your perfect love in everything I do
So now I’m yielding I’m yielding all to You
To take out every wrong I feel inside
So replace it with Your love in my heart
Replace it with Your love in my heart
Just take out all the hatred and cleanse every part
And replace it with Your love in my heart

If you have time, listen to the song :).

 

Just like emptying the kitchen trash, emptying the heart trash is a job that we get to do over and over again, and making a habit of doing it instead of putting it off makes life smoother and better.

 

Jesus, thanks for Your words about being humble and gentle. As I go through each day, help open my eyes to my pride and self-centeredness. Remind me to take it to You and let You replace it with Your love. Thank You that You love me in my mess and that You empower me to become clean.

-Leah

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Log Slide Overlook

*This post is dedicated to Jeff Eiden, who, one day on the side of a sand dune, was a shining example to me of God’s heroic love.

My sister, Leah, and brother-in-law, Jeff, have a cabin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan not far from Lake Superior. A few years ago, we spent Thanksgiving there together. One morning, we loaded up in their minivan and made our way to an area of the lake called Log Slide Overlook. This is the place at the top of the sand dunes where loggers moved logs from the top of the dunes down to the lake for transportation. The view from the overlook is breathtaking. I remember standing there with Jeff and my nephews, looking down and being awestruck by the beauty of the lake. All of a sudden, I realized that Jeff was gone. I looked all around, and I couldn’t see him anywhere. After looking all around for a few minutes, I started to get worried. Then, almost as quickly as he had disappeared, there he was again. When I asked him where he had gone, he said that he had gone all the way down the dune to the lake. He said, “You should try it – it’s beautiful down there.” Well, I am always up for an adventure, so I started getting excited. After I had taken one or two steps down, Jeff said, “Be careful. It’s not that easy to climb back up.” So, thinking that I should just see what I was getting into, I took the couple of steps back up. No big deal. I had this.

Off I went. Going down the dune was SO much fun! I would put my foot down, and it would slide. Put the other foot down, slide some more. I gained more joy with each slide of my foot. Slide, slide, slide. Super fun! When I got to the bottom, WOW. I was at the edge of the lake and surrounded by the sand dunes. The view from down there was even more incredible than the view from the top. I was filled with joy and captivated by the wonder of it all. 

I wish I could tell you that the story ends there with all the joy and wonder, but that wouldn’t be the truth. All that joy and wonder soon began to fade as I started to attempt to make my way back up the dune. Attempt. Yes, you read that correctly. I will say that I started out with strength and determination. I put my foot in the sand, and guess what? It slid down. Just like before. Only this time, I didn’t want my foot to slide down. I put the other foot up in the sand. It slid down too. Foot up, slide down. Other foot up, slide down again. And this was the way it went. I was working so hard and making very little progress. Very. Little. Progress. I was determined though. My family was waiting for me up there. Step up, slide down. Step up, slide down.

At this point, I might mention that according to the caution sign at the top of the overlook, the dune is a 500 foot climb with a 300 foot gain in elevation. Did you catch that? There was a caution sign. Oh my. The things I get myself into.

There I was, climbing and climbing. Exhaustion began to take over. All joy – gone. All wonder – lost. Enter feelings of exasperation and anxiety. I was overwhelmed. So, I stopped. I stopped. I sat down. I was about halfway up, and I quit. I got out my cell phone, called my sister, and said, “I can’t make it back up.” To make matters even more interesting, she asked a couple of questions and quickly determined that I was hypoglycemic. Hypoglycemia is caused by a low level of glucose, which is your body’s main energy source (at least that’s what it says on the Mayo Clinic website). I had only eaten an apple for breakfast several hours earlier, and I didn’t have enough fuel to get me back up that dune.

I hope you can picture this scene. My family at the top of the overlook. Dana sitting in the middle of the sand dune with probably 250 more feet to climb. Out of energy. Shaky. Weak. Overwhelmed. 

As it turns out, we have a hero in my family. At least, he sure was a hero to me that day. Down came Jeff armed with a bottle of water and a Clif bar (how appropriate, right?). There are tears in my eyes as I’m typing this. That brother-in-law of mine knew what I needed and moved beyond the knowledge of my need to action. He stayed with me while I put into my body what was needed to provide energy. He encouraged me. He believed in me when I had already quit. Guess what? It worked. 

I finished the bottle of water and the Clif bar. I got up. And I stepped and slid the rest of the way back up that dune with my faithful rescuer by my side. He didn’t rush on up the dune ahead of me. He stayed with me, providing the encouragement that I needed. And I made it. What a joyful reunion it was at the top of the overlook!

So, you might say, why am I telling you all of this? I have been reminded of this experience on a couple of different occasions this week. I found myself in a situation at work that seemed very much like this sand dune. Trying, trying, trying to make progress, but for every step upward, there was a slide downward. It seemed like the harder I worked, the bigger the mess became. It was a sand dune moment. 

I have struggled with my weight for pretty much my whole life. About 10 years ago, by God’s grace, I lost 60 pounds. For the most part, I had managed until a few years ago to keep most of that off. But today, I find myself in the struggle. One step upward, one slide downward. A sand dune moment.

So, here I am in the middle of the sand dune faced with a long climb ahead. How about you? Have you had any sand dune moments lately? Are you climbing, but not really getting anywhere? 

This morning, my question to God was, “What are You trying to teach me in these sand dune moments?” I’m not sure I know all the lessons I’m supposed to be learning, but I will share some encouragement (just in case I’m not alone on the dune).

Call for help. Sounds simple, right? Why is it that we struggle so long without calling for help? Sometimes, maybe the best thing we can do is stop and call for help. Our Father knows what we need and moves beyond the knowledge of our needs to action.

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NLT)

“The LORD says, ‘I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in My name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue them and honor them.'” (Psalm 91:14-15, NLT)

“So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:16, NLT)

Increase your spiritual energy. In sand dune moments, it could be that we are lacking in the main sources of our spiritual energy – the Bread of Life and Living Water. Time at the feet of Jesus will give us the strength that we lack on our own. We can’t make it up the dune without Him.

“Jesus replied, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.'” (John 6:35, NLT)

“Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.'” (John 4:13-14, NLT)

Get up and keep climbing. Persevere. Once we have called for help and refueled, we have to just keep climbing. Jesus is near to us. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us, and He will make the climb with us, offering hope and encouragement through His Word. 

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6:9, NLT)

If you see someone stuck on a sand dune, help them. Maybe you don’t relate to this today. You’re not having a sand dune moment. Do you know someone who is? Reach out to them. Point them to the Bread of Life and the Living Water. Encourage them. Cheer them on. Believe me, it will matter so much.

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, NLT)

Dear Father, You see us. You know when we struggle – when we are trying hard, but not making much progress. You see the steps upward and the slides downward. So many times, we struggle and struggle without even asking You for Your help. Forgive us for that. Will You please come to us on these sand dunes and help us? We are so aware of our need for You. Give us the Bread of Life and the Living Water. Fuel our spirits. We bring our exasperation, our anxiety, our striving, and we lay all of it at the feet of Jesus. Please exchange it for peace, joy, and hope. Give us the spiritual energy we need to get up and keep on climbing. We know that with Your help we can make it up this sand dune. Help us, Father, to look around us and to encourage others who may be experiencing sand dune moments. Thank You so much for Your love for us, Your help, and Your provision. Amen. 

-Dana

Quicksand

Ever feel like you are in over your head? Like you’re fighting a losing battle, and the situation is too hard, too much, and you are certainly not enough? Of course you have. We’ve all been there at one time or another and to one degree or another. Some of us feel this in our daily lives, that overload and stress from expectations we place on ourselves or allow others to place on us. Sometimes it hits much harder. A painful relationship, a serious illness, a toxic work environment, the death of a loved one. Sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances that seem insurmountable or unbearable.

I recall one such time in my life. The situation was difficult, it certainly was not what I had expected/planned, I felt like I was flailing and failing. I was worried about how it would play out for my family. I was hurting. As I stood in church, singing the closing song, my mind suddenly went to Mary. I thought about how she had been asked to do something very difficult.

Let’s take a minute to read the details…

“…the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’

But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’

Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?

The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’

Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.” Luke 1:26-38 (NRV)

So a young girl, probably a teenager, gets the news that she has been chosen to carry Jesus. This is a great honor, but not without cost. She surely understood, at least to some extent, that this was going to change her previous life plan and cause some suffering. I love what she said as all this was dawning on her, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” She was willing.

I thought about Mary that Sunday morning in church, and I realized that I had also been chosen. In a way that was very different and yet somehow similar, God had chosen me to be in the difficult place in which I was finding myself. I was also being given the opportunity to “carry Jesus.” It was not the way I had envisioned it would be, and there was brokenness involved, but this was where God had placed me. My heart responded, “Let it be with me, according to Your word.” And then I sang with the congregation,

And I will fall at your feet

I will fall at your feet

And I will worship you here.

I will worship You, right in this hard place. It was a powerful moment in my life, a change of heart. I was right where I was supposed to be, and my role was to worship.

This reminds me of Bear Grylls. Ever heard of him? He is the survival guy that is forever putting himself (voluntarily, which is crazy!) into survival situations, and then demonstrating how to get out alive and in one piece. I once saw him in quicksand. He let himself get sucked in until he was good and stuck. The muck was up above his waist. From his quicksand pulpit, he emphasized the key to escape. Do not struggle and fight. All that does is drag you down and get you more hopelessly stuck. Apparently what is deadly about quicksand is not so much getting swallowed up but being immobilized and exposed to the sun.

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I love the analogy here! When we find ourselves in something sticky and challenging, immobilized and overwhelmed, we should not struggle and fight. We need to calm down and be still. David had learned this even before Bear Grylls. He wrote what he had heard, “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 One translation reads, “Cease striving, and know that I am God.”

The default reaction if you are in quicksand is to panic and try to get out. The default reaction in challenging situations is similarly to worry and fret and try to make a plan to get out. We need to remember that the better way is to surrender, to “let go and let God.”

Many times when I am talking with people about difficult times they are dealing with, they mention the Serenity Prayer.

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God, grant me

The serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference

Maybe we can expand on that:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. God, help me to accept that You have a plan and that You are able. I don’t have to struggle to change my circumstances. Teach me to rest in You.

The courage to change the things I can. Give me the courage to say “Yes,” to what You are doing and to let myself be changed by it. Help me to change my mindset from stuck to still and to learn to worship.

And the wisdom to know the difference. Show me when my effort is moving me toward You versus when my activity is just adding to my frustration and immobility.

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.” Psalm 40:1-3

-Leah

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