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

Teach Me to Caddie

I was raised to love golf. My grandfather was a talented golfer. What my dad lacked in talent, he made up for in love for the game. Since my dad was my world as a kid, I wanted to love what he loved. That’s how I came to love golf. I have precious memories of being on the golf course with my dad.

Having watched a lot of golf in my life, one thing I know for sure – no one pays much attention to the caddies. Caddies are the guys whose job it is to walk beside the golfers and carry their heavy golf bags. They also replace divots, clean golf balls, and give advice to the golfer about which club to choose or what kind of shot to take. Many times, they are exceptional golfers themselves, and they know the golf courses as well, if not better, than anyone. They aren’t household names, and they are often unnoticed.

I probably already lost some of you with an introduction about golf, but don’t give up on this post yet. I promise I’m going somewhere with this.

Fast forward to the present. My husband loves watching sports of all kinds. So, on Sunday afternoons, we turn on a golf tournament when we can. It provides a peaceful cadence by which to nap – sort of like a lullaby. Sometimes, when we wake up, if we don’t have anything pressing to do, we will watch the rest of the tournament.

In a recent tournament we watched together, one of the golfers was unhappy with his shot and threw his golf club. He then walked on toward his golf ball, leaving his caddie to pick up his club. A little while later, in the same tournament, a golfer discussed his next shot with his caddie, disregarded the caddie’s advice, played an unfortunate shot, and then proceeded to exchange heated words with his caddie. I, as a spectator, had seen enough. I said to my husband, “What is wrong with these golfers? They don’t listen, mess up, get mad, throw their clubs, and expect the caddies to pick them up. If I was a caddie, I would tell that golfer to pick up his own club. I would never want to be a caddie.” My sweet husband laughed and said, “No, you wouldn’t make a very good caddie!” We laughed together and then went on about our evening.

The next day at work, I found myself knee deep in what I considered to be menial tasks. There were a barrage of questions that people should have already known the answers to and requests for help with things that were’t really my responsibility. To top it all off, there were 4 mail crates of old files that needed to be recycled. Each file folder had to be opened and all paper clips had to be removed from the papers before they could be put into the recycle bin. It was taking a long time and keeping me from what I considered to be more important work. As I was removing paper clips, I was grumbling and complaining to myself. My attitude was going from bad to worse.

All of a sudden, my husband’s words from the night before came back to my mind – “You wouldn’t make a very good caddie!” Next, I was reminded of this beautiful set of verses in the Bible –

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:3-8 (ESV)

Right there by the recycle bin in that storage room, I saw something in my heart that I didn’t like. I prayed, “Jesus, please teach me how to be a good caddie.”

You see, the truth is, the reason I wouldn’t make a good caddie is because I have a problem with pride. I have a knack for making everything about me. I want to be the star of the show, not the best supporting actress. I’m not content to do the menial tasks because I consider them to be beneath me. Doesn’t everybody know that I deserve better, that I am worth more, that I am not their servant?

But wait a minute – that’s not at all like what we just read about Jesus. Paul tells us to have this mind which is ours in Christ Jesus – this mind, this attitude that chooses to empty ourselves and to take on the form of a servant. Let’s consider for a moment who Jesus is. He is the King of all kings. All of what He did by taking on human flesh was beneath Him. It’s not that He didn’t have rights – He forfeited them in order to serve. His serving involved humbling Himself by becoming obedient to death on a cross. 

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Even typing this right now, I see my great need for God’s grace. I can’t even serve in small ways sometimes without my pride getting in the way. Nothing in my human nature wants to let go of my perceived rights in order to serve other people or to count them as more significant than myself. But when I look at the picture of my Savior that is painted in this passage of Scripture, everything in me wants to learn to live like Him. This One who upholds the universe by the word of His power told us –

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Luke 10:42-45 (ESV)

Jesus, please teach me how to be a good caddie.

-Dana

One Thing

My sweet husband had this made for me to hang in our dining room as a reminder…

Anyone who knows me well knows that I hate to-do lists. They make me feel confined. Stressed out. I’m more of a start-painting-in-the-middle-of-the-room type of person. That being said, what I don’t have written on a to-do list is always alive and well in my mind. I’m a doer, and I’m a master multi-tasker. Picture me, if you will, as a juggler with about twenty batons always in the air. I’m guessing many of you can relate.

When this busy multi-tasker comes to the account in the Bible of Martha and her sister, Mary, it always gives me pause. Take a moment to look at this short passage with me.

“Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good partwhich shall not be taken away from her.'” (Luke 10:38-42, NASB)

When I read this, oh how my heart hears my Savior say, “Dana, Dana, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary.” How is it that my priorities can get so turned around? Why is it that I so often pursue what’s good, only to miss out on what is best? Why do I strive to serve others in my own strength instead of from the overflow of my relationship with Jesus?

Notice how Jesus didn’t even have to elaborate on what the ONE THING was. He just spoke of what Mary had chosen. She was sitting at the Lord’s feet and listening to His word. Our thirsty souls long for this. At our core, we know that this is our deepest need. Think about it for a minute – all those things we’re busy doing? They won’t last.There will always be another load of laundry, another meal to make, another room to clean, etc. Jesus says that what Mary had chosen would not be taken away from her. It would last. Time spent at our Savior’s feet is never wasted time. It is the most important thing we can do, and the result of it is something that can’t be taken from us.

In Psalms, David says something very similar.

One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD and to meditate in His temple.” (Psalm 27:4, NASB)

David knew the truth about priorities. In the middle of adverse circumstances, he was only after one thing. We could say he was after God’s heart, right?

Pause with me today, and let’s evaluate our priorities. What is our one thing? Is it our relationship with Jesus? Does the rhythm of our lives flow from what we are learning from Him? When living in His presence and learning from Him are our priorities, then the things that we do will have lasting value. 

Lord Jesus, help us to seek after only one thing – sitting at Your feet and listening to Your word. In our busy worlds, help us to maintain a heart that prioritizes You above all else. Even when storms are swirling around us and we can’t see an end to the to-do lists, give us hearts that refuse to trade in our time with you for things that are temporary. May we be people after Your heart. Amen.

-Dana

Good Gifts

Image result for thanks be to god for his indescribable gift

I got a really good gift for my birthday last year. My son, Ben, 15 years old at that time, gave me windshield wipers. I don’t know about you, but I had never received windshield wipers as a gift. I was ecstatic! You see, the existing windshield wipers on my car had long passed their prime and desperately needed replaced. They were barely functional; visibility was quite limited in any significant rain or in snow. Ben identified my need, took the initiative to order the correct wipers on Amazon, and installed them. I felt so loved and cared for! And I could see!


I’m always wanting to find just the right gift that resonates with the recipient, communicating my care for them and meeting a practical need, but I have to confess that it is rare when I manage to come up with one of those “just right” gifts.

God is the ultimate gift giver. His greatest gift, of course, is the gift of Jesus, His only Son.
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
God didn’t stop there. Jesus tells us that God is like a good father, giving good gifts to those who ask Him.
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:11

I have walked through the end of life with my mother-in-law and also alongside several other families through serious illness and death of a loved one. I remember during the days leading up to my mother-in-law’s passing, that my husband and I were repeatedly amazed that God gave us what we needed when we needed it. It happened over and over. Child care, food, sleep, peace, time… so many examples of His giving and His care for us. Since then, this has been my prayer for people going through a dark time. That God would give what they need when they need it. Those gifts are messages to remind us of how He cares for us and how valuable we are to Him. Like Ben, He sees the need and takes the steps required to meet it.

This is my prayer for anyone reading this blog. I pray that God will give you what you need when you need it. I pray that you will recognize His love and care for you. Actually, this blog itself is a gift. It is a gift to be able to share ourselves with others. Telling about what God has done brings joy.
And we are writing these things so our joy may be complete.” I John 1:4
Hopefully, this will not just be a gift to us but also will be a gift to you. I pray that God will take this and use it to be what people need when they need it. I pray that He will multiply the gift many times over so that many will know how much He cares for them.
Look for the gifts God is giving you today. Feel His love, meant just for you. Then, reach inside yourself and give gifts to others. It is always more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35)

-Leah