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

All I Have To Be

“We are all called to the sacred task of being ourselves.” Those were words spoken at our church recently by a visiting missionary. They resonated with me, mostly because I have spent the greater part of my life wishing to be someone other than who I am. If I’m called to the sacred task of being myself, then wishing to be someone other than who I am is a serious problem.

Have you ever felt that way? I’m guessing that I’m not alone. From childhood, I’ve been plagued with these nagging thoughts that I’m not pretty enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not ____________ enough (fill in the blank with just about anything you can think of). I’m not enough. I’ve struggled with looking at the people around me and wishing to be as _____________ as they are (again, fill in the blank). 

In the years I was growing up, my sister was the object of my comparison most of the time. Some of you are fortunate enough to know her. She’s pretty great, right? Being her younger sister, I was captivated by her. And every time, I measured myself against her, I came up short. She was prettier than me. She was skinnier than me. She was smarter than me. She played the piano better. She read faster. She learned more. You name it, she did it well. And instead of celebrating her successes, I resented them because I thought they only highlighted my inferiority.

I remember having so many conversations with my parents through the years about this very thing. They were wise and saw this crippling thought pattern that was developing in me. They explained over and over that I wasn’t created to be the same as my sister. They loved me through my mess and tried to encourage me to be comfortable in my own skin. As much as they tried, I really wasn’t convinced.

As a young adult, my focus expanded beyond my sister to others around me who I perceived to be better, more talented, smarter, prettier. I found myself constantly comparing myself to others, constantly measuring myself against what I saw around me, and constantly coming up short. This mindset became a way of life, and it was debilitating. Maybe it’s why the Bible says –

“But they are only comparing themselves with each other, using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant!” (2 Corinthians 10:12b, NLT)

I needed to know the truth in this area, and God, in His great mercy, has been teaching me some truth that I would like to share. In full transparency, I haven’t mastered this truth, but I can claim progress by God’s grace.

God is the standard of measurement. Other people are not. Instead of looking around at others to measure my success, failure, value, or worth, I must look to God as the standard. Now, when I do that, I will definitely realize that I’m not good enough on my own. But when I understand that because of the price that Jesus paid for me at the cross, I am covered in His righteousness, it changes everything. I am a child of God, blameless before Him because of the sacrifice of Jesus, and I am eternally loved.

“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 1:5-8, NLT)

Comparing ourselves with others is hazardous to our spiritual and emotional health. As I was pondering comparison this week, I realized a very simple truth. When I compare myself with someone else, I very rarely break even. More often than not, I will either consider myself superior to or inferior to the other person. Both conclusions are dangerous. If I decide I’m superior to that person, it is prideful and self-righteous. I will look down on them, mistreat them, and fail to love them well. If I decide I’m inferior to them, it causes resentment, feelings of failure and inadequacy, and it can paralyze me. I would argue that it’s also prideful because it charges God with not doing a good enough job when He created me. It’s a subtle accusation that I think He could have done better.

“What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’ How terrible it would be if a newborn baby said to its father, ‘Why was I born?’ or if it said to its mother, ‘Why did you make me this way?’ This is what the LORD says – the Holy One of Israel and your Creator: ‘Do you question what I do for my children? Do you give me orders about the work of my hands? I am the One Who made the earth and created people to live on it. With My hands I stretched out the heavens. All the stars are at my command.” (Isaiah 45:9-12, NLT)

I can find joy and contentment in being who I was created to be. When I was young, I was an avid Amy Grant fan. She sang a song that to this day, makes tears well up in my eyes. Honestly, when I hear it even now, I remember that little girl who wanted so badly to be like her big sister and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t manage to do it. The lyrics of this song were a healing balm to that little girl’s heart, and it has taken years for me to begin to understand the truth in them. 

When the weight of all my dreams is resting heavy on my head,

And thoughtful words of help and hope have all been nicely said,

But I’m still hurting, wondering if I’ll ever be the one I think I am, I think I am.

Then, you gently re-remind me that You made me from the first,

And the more I try to be the best, the more I get the worst.

And I realize the good in me is only there because of Who You are, Who You are.

And all I ever have to be is what You’ve made me.

Any more or less would be a step out of Your plan.

As You daily re-create me, help me always keep in mind

That I only have to do what I can find.

And all I ever have to be, all I have to be, all I ever have to be

Is what You’ve made me.

I’m learning that God created me just the way He wanted to. He gave me the personality, the character traits, the talents, the physical attributes, the intelligence, and the interests that He wanted me to have. None of it was by accident, and none of it was a mistake. I am who He created me to be. I don’t need to look around me to determine my value. I need to look up. My worth is in the One Who fashioned me and loves me beyond my imagination.

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in Your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are Your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, You are still with me!” (Psalm 139:13-18, NLT)

“God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.(Ephesians 2:8-10, NLT)

For me, this learning has been a journey, and the truth is setting me free. I hope this truth resonates with some of you, too. You are God’s masterpiece, created by Him just the way He wanted you to be. This week, let’s ask God to help us to avoid looking around us to see how we measure up and to find our value by looking up to our Creator and understanding that He does all things well. “We are all called to the sacred task of being ourselves,” and all we have to be is what He’s made us to be. 

Dear Father, would you forgive us for those times when we have compared ourselves to others and considered ourselves superior to them? Forgive us for the pride in our hearts that looks down on and mistreats others who have been created in Your image. Would You also forgive us for the times when we have compared ourselves to others and considered ourselves inferior to them? Forgive us for accusing You in our hearts of not creating us well and for not making us the way that we think You should have made us. Will You help us this week to stop looking around us to find our value and affirmation? Help us to look to You and to the truth in Your Word to understand who You’ve made us to be. Keep us from the trap of comparison, and help us to celebrate the successes of others instead of letting their successes make us feel inferior and inadequate. May we look at all of Your image bearers (including ourselves) and know that You do all things well. Thank You for creating us in just the exact way that You wanted to, and thank You so much for loving us. Help us to share that love with others. Amen.

-Dana

You Feed Them

A few years ago, I had the amazing privilege of traveling to Uganda with a team from America World Adoption. We spent about a week there teaching and loving on precious children, most of them being orphans. It would take more than one blog post to share all that I learned from that trip, but this week, I want to share with you one of the things that God taught me that has remained with me and become part of my heart.

I didn’t have to be in Uganda very long to become overwhelmed by the great need that exists there. I could list facts and statistics for you, but the truth is, those numbers will never grip your heart in the way that looking into the eyes of an orphan with HIV will. There’s something about being there, face to face with tangible humanity, that cannot be expressed in figures and percentages. When both of my hands were holding on to the hands of little ones who have experienced more heartache and loss in their short, young lives than can be imagined, and I looked around me only to see so many more just like them, I began to understand what being ‘moved with compassion’ means.

As I returned to our living quarters after spending a day working with these precious children, sensing the great need and my inability to even make a dent in it, I opened my Bible and read this passage.

“Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.’ But Jesus said,  ‘You feed them.‘ ‘With what?’ they asked. ‘We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!’ ‘How much bread do you have?‘ he asked. ‘Go and find out.‘ They came back and reported, ‘We have five loaves of bread and two fish.’ Then Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of fifty or a hundred. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share. They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed.”  Mark 6:34-44 (NLT)

This was a special moment for me because I was approaching this passage with a new understanding of what it means to be completely surrounded and overwhelmed by the needs of others. Walk with me through this passage as I share with you what our Father taught me that evening in Uganda.

1) Jesus is compassionate.
He sees people in their need, and He has compassion for them. Their needs, both physical and spiritual, are not unnoticed by Him. He doesn’t just see their needs, but His compassion moves Him to intervene. Notice, though, that His compassion first moved Him to teach them many things. That was where He started – with their spiritual needs. 

2) The disciples were compassionate.
True disciples of Jesus are also aware of the needs of others. They don’t turn a blind eye. They also feel compassion and long to see these needs met. They know Who to go to for help. Notice here though, in direct contrast with Jesus, their focus was not on the spiritual needs, but on the physical needs. Sometimes, we become so overwhelmed by physical needs that we forget that a person’s most desperate need is spiritual.

3) Jesus said, “You feed them.”
What?! Can you just imagine the disciples’ faces and their reactions? I wish I could have been there to see it! Jesus was asking them to do the impossible. They were face to face with a massive need, they had turned to Him for help, and He shocked them with three simple words. You. Feed. Them. It was a call to action. He was tasking them with something they could not possibly do on their own. But you see, He wasn’t asking them to do it on their own. Let’s keep reading.

4) Jesus asked them to identify what they had and give it to Him.
What do you have? Go and find out. Jesus was asking them to take an inventory. You don’t even begin to have enough to meet this great need, but what DO you have? Are you willing to give that? Will you take what is enough for you and be willing to give it up for the sake of others and their needs? Will you trust Jesus with what you have, believing that He can still take care of you too? Will you subtract so that He can multiply?

5) Jesus took what little they had to offer and multiplied it.
This is the greatest part. He took their meager loaves and fish and blessed them. Then, the miraculous happened. That little bit of food multiplied and met the massive need. It didn’t just barely meet the need. It exceeded the need. Everyone ate as much as they wanted, and there were leftovers – a lot of leftovers! Incredible, right? 

Here’s the truth – God can meet needs, both spiritual and physical needs, without our help. He is so much more powerful than we can even imagine. Many times, though, He chooses to use us to help. I am still filled with wonder over that. What He asks from us is that we give what we have, even if it doesn’t seem like much. Have you ever felt that way? “Lord, what I have is so small, and the need is so far greater.” That is the best place to be! That is the perfect place to watch what God can do. When we say in that moment, “Lord, I don’t have much at all, but You can have it. Take these loaves and fish that I’m offering to You and use them as You will. I am willing to give what I have,” I believe that is a fragrant offering of worship to Him. He takes our little loaves and fish, He blesses them, and then He multiplies them.

This isn’t just true in a place like Uganda or on a hillside with 5,000 men and their families. This is true in the mundane, everyday-ness of our walk with God. 

“Lord, this person I love doesn’t know You. I can’t open their eyes to see their spiritual need. But I am bringing You my loaves and fish – my testimony, sharing the things You’ve done in my life, explaining the Gospel in the best way I know, talking about what I learned in church this week. I’m willing to subtract. Will You please multiply? Please use what little I have for Your purposes and Your glory.”

“Lord, that family that just lost everything in a fire is in great need. I can’t replace their home, their possessions, or their peace. But I am bringing You my loaves and fish – my $25, my extra groceries, my prayers, my time. I’m willing to subtract. Will You please multiply? Use what little I have for Your purposes and Your glory.” 

“Lord, my church needs nursery workers. I can’t care for all the children every week, but I’m bringing You my loaves and fish – a few hours of my time once a month. I’m willing to subtract. Will You please multiply and use what I’m giving for Your purposes and Your glory?”

Are you starting to see what I saw that night in Uganda? I should have warned you – it will change you. It changed me. I still see needs all around me, and many times, I hear gentle words whispered to my heart, “You feed them.” I’m learning to identify what I have, surrender it to my Savior, and then watch to see what He can do. I’m so grateful that sometimes He lets me be part of what He’s doing in the lives of others. What an undeserved privilege that is!

Father, I pray that as we walk with You this week, You will open our eyes to the needs around us. Help us to be compassionate, and help us to ask You for Your help when we see others in need. As You speak to our hearts, show us what we have that You can use, even if it seems small and insignificant to us. As we willingly give You what we have to offer, will You please bless it and multiply it to meet needs and to demonstrate Your love and power? Thank You for choosing to use us. We know that You don’t need us to meet the need, but in Your love and mercy, You let us be part of what You are doing. Let this become the habit of our lives – giving You our loaves and fish. Amen.

-Dana


It Is Well

Horatio and Anna Spafford

The year was 1873. Horatio Spafford put his wife, Anna, and his four daughters (11 year-old Annie, 9 year-old Maggie, 7 year-old Bessie, and almost 2 year-old Tanetta) on a ship headed to France. His wife’s health had begun to fail, and he thought a sabbatical in Europe would do them all some good. You see, two years earlier, Horatio and his family had suffered significant financial loss in the wake of the Great Chicago Fire. His office and most everything in it had burned to the ground, but there was comfort in the fact that he, his wife, and his four daughters had survived. Their worldly wealth had diminished, but they had escaped with what mattered most. Horatio had some business to attend to and couldn’t make the trip with his family. His plan was to stay until a land sale was completed and then join his family in France. As it happened, the man who was to buy his land suffered a massive heart attack and died before the transaction could be completed. So, disappointed, but looking forward to his trip, Horatio waited for news of his family’s safe arrival in France. News did not come as quickly as it should have, and then finally, he received a cable message from his wife. It was sent from Wales and simply contained two words. “Saved alone.” The ship that had carried the precious cargo of his wife and daughters, the Ville du Havre, had sunk in the Atlantic Ocean, and only his wife had survived. 

Grief-stricken, Horatio sent a cable message to his wife and told her to continue on to France where friends awaited who could provide care and comfort. He then boarded a ship himself and headed for France. At a certain point during this journey, the captain of the ship called Horatio into his cabin to tell him that according to his calculations, they were at about the same location where the Ville du Havre had sunk. Horatio thanked the captain and made his way to the bow of the ship where he stood alone. In that moment, he took from his pocket some paper and a pencil. These are the words he wrote –

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea-billows roll, Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Tho’ Satan should buffet, tho’ trials should come Let this blest assurance control, That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin–oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin–not in part, but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more; Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh, my soul!

And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, The clouds be rolled back as a scroll, The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend– “Even so–it is well with my soul.”

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live If Jordan above me shall roll, No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life, Thou shalt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

Can you even imagine? I know I can’t. I’ve had some pretty bad days, but I haven’t known grief like that. Losing all four beautiful children at one time in such a tragic way seems like more than a person could bear. Yet, in the middle of the deepest grief, at the very moment he was confronted with tremendous loss and pain  and in the very location of tragedy, Horatio Spafford’s response was one of contentment. “It is well with my soul.”
Oh, how this challenges my heart, and oh, how I admire this declaration of faith in the midst of unimaginable heartache! 

In pondering this precious hymn, I am struck by many of the lyrics, but one line in particular provides a much needed insight. “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.'” 

Contentment isn’t a natural response. It is something we must learn. How can we learn contentment if all of life is smooth sailing? If we never had the opportunity to be discontented, we could never be taught by God how to be content. Here’s what the Apostle Paul had to say about this –

“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13 (ESV)

“How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or littleFor I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11-13 (NLT)

Thou hast taught me. I have learned. The similarities are striking, aren’t they? Both men who knew unbelievable hardships became men who learned contentment. I believe this is an accurate view of faith. There is a circulating misconception that claims faith in Christ is an exemption from hardship, trial, sickness, grief, and pain. Our faith in Christ is not an exemption. Among all the wonderful promises of Jesus is –

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulationBut take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (ESV)

As long as we live in this fallen world, Jesus promises that we will have tribulation (affliction, trouble, anguish). It’s how we learn to be content. As I heard in a recent sermon, it’s not an elective course in the school of faith, it’s required. 

Our faith is not an exemption, it is an unshakable belief that no matter what happens in this life, God is enough. He is more than enough. And He is teaching us that true contentment doesn’t come from having everything we want or from what this life can offer. True contentment is the abiding truth that Jesus has overcome the world. One day our faith will be made sight, and we will spend eternity celebrating the One who is more than enough. 

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” II Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV)

“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them all and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” II Corinthians 4:16-18 (NLT)

Those are some of my very favorite verses. Faith will be sight, and our hope is unshakable in Christ.

I don’t know what you may be going through. If you’re like me, maybe you’re still in the required course of hardship and tribulation. I’m still learning to be content. I have made progress, but I’m still enrolled. How thankful I am for great examples of contentment and faith like Horatio Spafford! I’m also so thankful that God never wastes our trials and hardships. When I think of the thousands upon thousands of people who have found comfort and encouragement in the words of Horatio’s well-known hymn, I smile. It’s just like God to turn tragedy into triumph and ashes into beauty.

Dear Father, I pray for my friends who are reading this blog post today and who are going through very difficult circumstances. I’m asking that You would use these words to encourage them and to help them to fix their gaze on things that cannot be seen. Thank You that You are enough and that You are the source of true contentment. Teach us to be content. Teach us to say, “It is well with my soul.” Let our faith in You inspire others to see that You are more than enough for us. I pray that You will continue to turn our tragedies into triumph and our ashes into beauty as we hold onto You in faith, believing that You are working all things together for our good. Amen.

-Dana

*Information about Horatio G. Spafford taken from the book Well With My Soul by Rachael Phillips (2003 by Barbour Publishing, Inc.) pp. 8-34.

Good News for Red Socks

Work. What comes to mind when you see that word? Maybe you think of your job, household tasks, or things you do in service to others. Maybe you instantly feel stress, pressure, pride, or a sense of achievement. Maybe you’re reminded of adages you’ve heard all your life like, “Hard work pays off,” or “The price of success is hard work.” There are some great quotes out there about hard work. Here are a few I found that are worth sharing:

“Nothing will work unless you do.” Maya Angelou

“Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Thomas Edison

“Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.” Booker T. Washington

For sure, there is truth to be found in these adages and quotes, and there is great value in a solid work ethic. I like to think of myself as a hard worker, and my guess is, most of you do too. The truth is, there never seems to be a shortage of things that need to be done, and it’s important that people like us are getting them done. 

The Bible has much to say about the value of work and also the vice of laziness. A quick tour through Proverbs will prove that to be true. It is also true that there is much work to be done for God and for His Kingdom, and we are definitely called to be doing that work. That being said, there is a danger that can happen in our hearts when we find ourselves working for the wrong reasons. This is something I have to guard against all the time. You see, sometimes I find myself working for God because I’m trying to earn more of His favor. I default to this notion that I can earn my way into His good graces by doing things that I think will please Him. I am constantly in need of reminding myself of some basic truths.

God is perfect and holy.

That seems pretty obvious, right? It doesn’t seem like something I should need to be reminded about, but it is. Sometimes, I forget that His perfection and holiness are so far out of my reach that there is no possible way I can attain them. When I was doing children’s ministry several years ago, I used this analogy that I grew to love because of the vivid imagery it provides. Imagine you have a perfect white shirt that you need to put in the washer. Would you put it in the washer with bright red socks? Of course not! Why? The perfection of the white shirt would be marred as soon as it came into contact with the socks. This is a very simplistic comparison, but it helps my simple mind to see this truth. God is completely perfect and pure. Sin cannot be allowed near His holy presence because it would forever mar His perfection. This presents me with a big problem.

I am not perfect and holy. I am a flawed sinner.

I’m the bright red socks. This means that I cannot have access to God’s presence in my sinful state. Now, some people might look at me and say, “That’s an overstatement. You’re a pretty decent person. Most of the time, you are nice to other people. You’re not an awful person.” Nice red socks, but red socks still the same. In my human nature, I sin all the time. I have wrong thoughts, bad feelings toward other people, and attitudes that are completely selfish. I have lied, cheated, mistreated other people, and a whole host of other things that prove that the socks are red. The red socks don’t belong in the same washer with the perfect white shirt. The problem is real, and it is bad news.

Jesus is the answer.

I’ve heard it said that we have to understand the bad news before we can understand the good news. There is incredibly good news for sinners like me! Jesus came to bring us a solution. He lived a perfect, sinless life so that He could pay the penalty for my sins. Because of His sacrifice on the cross, these red socks have been made perfectly white. Don’t believe me? Check out what this verse says –

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Isaiah 1:18 (ESV)

Because of my sinful heart, I deserve eternal punishment. (Bad news) Because of the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus, He traded His righteousness for my sins, took my punishment, and totally transformed my heart. (GOOD NEWS) Now, because of what He did, His perfection covers me, and I have access to God’s presence.

Salvation is a free gift.

So, you may be thinking, “What does this have to do with working?” Good question. I have a tendency to forget that what Jesus did for me is a free gift. When that happens, I start thinking that if I’m good enough and do enough good things, I can earn my own way. There are so many things wrong with that way of thinking. Let’s see what the Bible says –

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:9 (ESV)

“God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” Ephesians 2:9 (NLT)

So, here’s the truth. When I believed that Jesus is the Son of God and paid the penalty for my sins, God saved me by HIS GRACE. It was never about what I could do to help myself. It was always about His great love for me and His amazing grace. When I start to think that I can be good enough or do enough good things to earn my salvation, that dishonors God and devalues what Jesus did at the cross. It is an inappropriate response that makes it all about me. If my salvation depends on my ability to be good enough, I am eternally doomed. I can’t make the red socks what they aren’t. They will still be red. Only Jesus can bring the necessary transformation. 

“We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.” Isaiah 64:6 (NLT)

That’s pretty strong wording, isn’t it? Our ‘good enough’ will never even begin to be good enough. Perfection is something that we cannot attain this side of eternity. Oh, how we need Jesus and His righteousness!

God’s love for me isn’t based on my performance.

Here’s the best part. God loves me on my worst days (when I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, yell at my husband for no reason, have fits of road rage on the way to work, completely ignore my Bible and feel no need for prayer, mistreat my co-workers, complain all day, display an ungrateful attitude, etc.) AS MUCH as He does on my best days (when I wake up singing a song, make my husband breakfast in bed, let all the other drivers pull in front of me, read 10 chapters in the Bible, spend 2 hours in prayer, share the Gospel with my co-workers, maintain an attitude of gratitude, etc.). Why? Because God’s love for me is unconditional and perfect. It does not fluctuate based on how I measure up. No amount of work will gain me any more favor than I already have. Amazing to ponder that, isn’t it? 

These are the truths that I have to be constantly reminded of when I fall into my default of working for the wrong reasons. Yes, I must work hard to do the things I know God wants for me to do, but I have to remember that the only way I can do those things is through His grace and power at work in me. I work for Him because I love Him; I don’t work for Him so that He will love me more. He already loves me perfectly. He loves you perfectly. If this is something you also need reminded of, my prayer is that the truth of God’s perfect love will set you free. 

Heavenly Father, your love for us is indescribable and so very hard for us to comprehend. Thank you for making a way for red socks to be made perfectly white. Thank you for sending Jesus to live the perfect life that we couldn’t live. Thank you for the price He paid to take the penalty for our sins and to wrap us forever in His righteousness. It is only by Your grace that we can approach Your holy presence, and our hearts are eternally grateful. Help us to remember that we can never earn our own way, and let our work for You be motivated only by our love for You. Amen.

-Dana

Celebrating Dependence

Yes, you read that title correctly. I know this is the time of year for cookouts, fireworks, and celebrating our nation’s INDEPENDENCE. And what a celebration that is! Freedom and independence from tyranny are always worth celebrating, and I definitely will be among those joining in that celebration this week.

I have been pondering another reason for celebration in the last few weeks though. As a follower of Christ, I want to celebrate my DEPENDENCE on Him.

That little cutie is my nephew, Jack. Isn’t he adorable? I might be slightly biased, but honestly, I don’t think there’s ever been a sweeter face than that. Now, Jack isn’t this little anymore. He’s growing and changing faster than I can even tell you. But back when he was this little guy, I had the honor and privilege of spending my summers with him and his brothers.

I can remember at this stage, when I would try to help Jack with something like putting his shoes on or cutting his food into manageable bites, he would put his little hand out and say, “No! Jack got this!” Well, the truth of the matter was, Jack didn’t “got this.” He desperately wanted to do everything for himself, and he did not want my help. Typically, what would happen next is that he would struggle to do the task at hand for a little while. Then, after struggling, when help was offered again, he would begrudgingly accept it.

So, what does that have to do with celebrating dependence? Well, I don’t know if you can relate or not, but lots of times, I’m just like that little boy. I’m in a situation that is too big for me, and instead of accepting the help that my Father is offering, I throw my hand out and say, “No! Dana got this.” Now, I don’t say it out loud, and maybe I wouldn’t even admit it, but that is what my heart is saying. Ridiculous, right? And being the amazing Father that God is, He doesn’t rescind His offer, but He patiently waits while I struggle to do it on my own and then realize that I don’t “got this.”

You see, the truth is I need God for everything. Yes, everything. Here’s what Jesus said –

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

Notice, He didn’t say, “You can do some of the easier things,” or “Make sure you call on me when things seem too hard for you.” He said “nothing.” Nothing. Apart from Him, we can do nothing. Oh, we can sure try, and if you’re like me, sometimes we do. What He is telling us is that the only way we can do anything of value is if we are abiding in Him and depending on Him. The things we do apart from Him will fall flat.

Over and over again in Scripture, God tells us that He is our help or our Helper. What an amazing thought – the Creator of the universe wants to help us! Here are just a few of those verses –

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

“Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.” Psalm 54:4

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2

There are many more verses like these. Amazing help is offered to us. So, the choice is ours. Will we accept the help that is being offered to us, or will we choose to deny our need and our dependence? Will we let go of the tendency to try to handle life’s situations on our own and forego the struggle that is inevitable if we insist on doing things in our own strength?

This is true freedom in our lives as Christ followers – our total dependence on Jesus.

This week, while we join with all of our fellow citizens in celebrating the great freedom and independence we have in this country, let’s also be sure to celebrate our DEPENDENCE on the One Who has given us everything we need for life and godliness.

Apart from Him, we can do nothing.

-Dana

Endurance. Character. Hope.

“No hills, please.” That was a recent thought in my mind as Aaron and I were running in our new favorite location, River Cliff Union Cemetery in Mt. Gilead. At the time I was having that thought, I knew a hill was coming, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. You see, my legs prefer a flat route. It’s so much easier that way. As we continued to run, I thought about how I feel the same way when it comes to life in general. No hills, please. Just smooth, easy paths. What purpose do hills serve anyway?

Well, it turns out, they do serve a purpose for runners. According to Runner’s World, running hills improves your running form, improves your muscular strength, and provides a cardiovascular boost. The bottom line is that running a path with hills requires endurance. 

The same can be said for the hills we encounter in our lives too. They require endurance. The Apostle Paul spoke of these things – 

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:1-5 (ESV)  

I recently heard suffering defined by Elisabeth Elliott in this way – “Suffering is having what we don’t want or not having what we do want.” When you think about it in those terms, suffering can mean a lot of different things to different people. Think of suffering like hills in our path. Some are smaller than others. Some are really steep, but short-lived. Others, are steep and seem to go on forever. The truth about these hills is that no matter the size or duration, they produce in us endurance. 

The progression in Romans 5:3 has always been interesting to me. Doesn’t it seem like hope should come first? I have hope so I can endure, right? That’s not what it says though. It says the byproduct of endurance is character, and the byproduct of character is hope. The hope is actually produced from the character that is developed when we learn to endure through hardship and suffering. Those crazy hills DO have a purpose. 

The word for ‘endurance’ in Greek is hypomone. It means steadfastness, patience, constancy. The Strong’s Concordance notes that in the New Testament, it refers to the characteristic of a person who is not swerved from their deliberate purpose and their loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and suffering. Endurance develops our character, which in turn brings us hope. Hope is a beautiful thing. It’s something we definitely want to have, but there isn’t a shortcut to getting it according to this passage in Romans. 

Do you have any hills in your path right now? Take great comfort in the truth that those hills are there for a reason. They are working something in you. Don’t give up. Endure. Persevere. Your character is developing. Hope is growing. In case you need a little more convincing, here are a couple of other truths from God’s Word –

“Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness(hypomone). And let steadfastness (hypomone) have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4 (ESV)  

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance(hypomone)the race that is set before us,looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)  

That race is bound to have some hills, but let’s run it with endurance. Let’s even try to embrace the hills, knowing that they are purposeful and producing something in us that can’t be produced any other way.

Runner’s World gives some advice for how to run uphill – lean into the hill, think about running tall, and look ahead rather than down. Pretty good advice, isn’t it? Let’s lean into the hills that God has made part of our race, let’s think about running tall up those hills, and let’s look to Jesus Who not only founded our faith, but also is perfecting it.

One of my favorite video clips is a scene from the movie Facing the Giants. If you’re facing a hill today, consider taking a moment to watch it. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, it always inspires me to keep pressing on. The link is below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sUKoKQlEC4

Dear Father, I pray for anyone reading this post who is struggling with hardship right now and feels like giving up. Please give them the strength that they need to endure. Help them to lean into the hill, think about running tall, and fix their eyes on You. Surround them with brothers and sisters who will cheer them on and encourage them as they let this hardship develop character in them. I pray that Your work in them will produce abundant hope that will never disappoint because Your love has been poured out in their hearts through the Holy Spirit that You have given to us. Thank you that these hills are purposeful, and that Your grace is sufficient to enable us to keep on running with endurance the race that is set before us. Amen.

(We would love to hear from you. If you are facing a hill right now and would like for us to pray, if you have encouragement to share with others who are running uphill, or if you have a truth you hang on to when you are in an uphill run, please leave us a comment below.)

-Dana