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.

Let it sink in…

Tegaye.

Tegaye walked through the gate of the orphanage in Ethiopia with her three children, holding the hand of one, carrying one on her back and one in her arms.  At first glance, it appeared that the two smaller children were very close in age, and I wondered if they were twins.  When she handed one of the babies to me, it was quickly obvious that he was quite ill.  He was so thin, with sunken in eyes and poor muscle tone.  She explained to us that he has had problems since birth.  Because of his disabilities, his father left them and her family shunned them.  They all wanted her to give him up and told her he was a curse, that because of him, she was cursed.  Tegaye cried as she told her story.  She handled Natanim, her disabled son, so gently and held him close to her face, kissing him and saying, ” He is my gift from God.”  After being abandoned by her family to survive on her own, she was raped and became pregnant.  Her youngest child was a little girl, 3 months old, who looked happy and healthy.  Tegayeworked braiding hair, and she had to leave the children at home while she was working.   As she finished speaking, we all stood in silence.  Jadyn asked our interpreter, “Please, can you tell her that we don’t think she is cursed?”  Tegaye cried, and we cried.  We told her that she was doing a beautiful thing, keeping her son and working to support her children.  We were able to give her cloth diapers and wipes and clothes, and most importantly, our love and prayers for help for her family.

Jadyn.

Who is it that had the insight and courage to speak love to a suffering mom like that?  Jadyn was finishing her junior year of high school when she was invited to go to Ethiopia to share love and serve poor families and orphans.  She was no stranger to trauma and difficulty herself.  I didn’t know the details, but I knew enough to see that the issues were painful and that although there was healing in progress, there were also scars.  Jadyn traveled across the world with a group of people she really didn’t know, at a time in her life when she was sorting out who she was and where she belonged.  Early in our trip, I shared a song with her.  

“Head full of questions, how can you measure up?

To deserve affection, to ever be enough

For this existence

When did it get so hard?

Your heart is beating, alive and breathing,

And there’s a reason why

You are essential, not accidental

And you should realize

You are beloved

I wanted you to know

You are beloved

Let it soak into your soul

Oh, forget the lies you heard

Rise above the hurt

And listen to these words

You are beloved.”

Beloved.  The message resonated with her immediately-she needed those words, and she held on to them.  And, in the moment when she met Tegaye, someone who also needed to know she was beloved, she spoke that message, with grace and unmistakable sincerity.

Beloved.  

I still remember the very first time I heard that song, sung live by Jordan Feliz.  It hit me hard, and not only because it is a great song with an amazing message, but because of where I was standing.  As I listened to those words for the first time, I was standing beside a young person who was struggling to keep his head above the waters of depression and anger.  Again, I didn’t know the details, but I knew enough to see that he was feeling alone and sad.  I prayed for him as the song played; I so wanted him to hear and understand how beloved he was!  I never had an opportunity to talk with him about that moment, but I kept praying, and now, several years later, you can see smiles and peace taking over darkness and sorrow.

As I was thinking through this connection from a song to a teenager to a single Ethiopian mom, I remembered vividly a scene from my own life.  My own “beloved” moment.  I was 20.  I was sitting in Venezuela with a group of young people singing worship songs.  I was torn and tired.  I had been on a roller coaster of emotions for several years, seemingly banging my head against a wall as I tried to get unstuck from repetitive poor choices and a destructive relationship.  Not-so-great self-esteem and my deep-seated “need” to please everyone were like quicksand, sucking me back in every time I felt like I was making progress.  At that moment though, I wasn’t thinking about any of those things.  It wasn’t a “special” moment, we had gathered to sing together routinely during the preceding several weeks.  I don’t even know what song we were singing, but all at once, I heard and felt God’s incredible love.  It washed over me.  “He loves me.  He loves me.  Like deep, intense love, and not because I was getting life right or because I was great or even good.  In spite of the mess and the regrets.  It didn’t matter.  God loved me. I had been singing “Jesus loves me this I know” since I was born.  But all at once, I knew.  I cried.  I didn’t care if people noticed (that by itself is a sign of how powerful this was inside me).  There is no question that that night in Venezuela was a turning point, a conversion, if you will.  Somehow it provided me with the strength to move in a healthy direction and to keep moving that way.  There were set backs, but the tide had turned.

Beloved.  Let it sink into your soul.  God’s love is powerful, life changing.  It is real.  He loves you.  It doesn’t depend on you, who you are or what you do, and it is there whether or not you feel it or understand it.  But the feeling it and starting to understand it can change everything.  

This is why Paul prayed, 

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”  (Ephesians 3:18-19)

I pray that for you.  

It is only because of God’s love that we can love.  That’s the only way we can love ourselves and love others.

We love because he first loved us.”  (I John 4:19)

Jesus tells us that the proof of our connection to God’s love is our love for others. 

By this everyone will know that are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

It’s like the love of God for us unlocks our ability to truly give love.

More than anything, I want to live a life of love, and I can only do that by knowing that I am beloved and immersing myself in God’s love, and even copying Him.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)

You are beloved.  Let it sink into your soul.  Then go out and help someone else know how loved they are.  

-Leah

“Sometimes a heart can feel like a heavy weight

It pulls you under and you just fall away

Is anybody gonna hear you call (Oh, oh)

But there’s a purpose 

Under the surface

And you don’t have to drown

Let me remind you 

That love will find you 

Let it lift you out

You are beloved

I wanted you to know

You are beloved

Let it soak into your soul

Oh, forget the lies you heard

Rise above the hurt

And listen to these words

You are beloved”

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

Celebrate the Moments

I think I remember when it started. We had been driving all day and had at least three hours to go to reach our destination of Wawa. Now that we were in Canada, the distance was being marked out in kilometers, not the miles to which we were accustomed. We were being cautious to stay within the speed limit, especially since we weren’t in our home country. Kids and parents were tired. I had the idea of celebrating milestones. Every 10 minutes that passed, we would take a moment to celebrate with a few “Woo hoo” ‘s and “Yay” ‘s. The refrain of “Celebrate good times, come on!” rang out.


Jack was on board immediately – he’s a celebrating kind of guy, but there was some eye rolling and skepticism from the older boys. Jack and I stuck with it, and before too long the whole family was watching for the time to celebrate. We celebrated ourselves all the way to Wawa!


Since then, the celebrating of time has changed. Now we celebrate times that are special in a numerical sense, like 12:34 or 5:43 or 4:44. There are lots of opportunities every hour, we just have to catch them. Jack sometimes even stretches the qualifications, like celebrating 8:19 because 8+1=9.


When I was in Haiti in November, I was very excited to learn from a team member named Deb that we should let our faces be like 10:10 and not 7:25. Picture the hands on a clock – 10:10 is a smile and 7:25 is a frown. She even had a little song to sing with this 10:10 advice.

Nick demonstrates 10:10


What I’m getting at with all this is the importance of celebration and rejoicing and gratitude. It’s powerful! We can flip the switch from aggravation to joy just by reminding ourselves to do it. It surely sounds corny, but several times during my workday when I check to see what time it is, it’s one of those times for celebrating, and I can feel the internal smile and give a silent “woo hoo!” That split second of joy can do a lot to change my mental atmosphere. Hopefully there is a contagiousness like we experienced on that long car ride, and surely the celebrating makes the journey through the day more fun.


Some people seem to be natural “celebrators,” like my Jack. Others find complaining is more their default. I hate to admit it, but I am one of the latter. The celebrating thing takes effort and practice, but I never regret it.


A Thousand Gifts, by Anne Voskamp, describes her experience listing one thousand things for which she was thankful, right in the middle of the busy and the mundane and the painful and the frustrating. She says, “Thanks is what multiplies the joy,” and “Only self can kill joy.” Her words resonate with me-“There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things. It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing. The moments will add up.” She says that sincere thankfulness can inspire thankfulness in the people around us. Read the book-it’s great!


When you get right down to it, celebrating is just a way of expressing joy and thankfulness. And it is very Biblical!


Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord. They rejoice in your name all day long; they celebrate your righteousness.” Psalm‬ ‭89:15-16‬ ‭NIV‬‬

And from Paul to the Thessalonian church, advice that still applies today,
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians‬ ‭5:16-18‬ ‭NIV‬‬


I love this conclusion to the prophet Habakkuk’s writing:
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” Habakkuk‬ ‭3:17-19‬ ‭NIV‬‬


Maybe we can’t relate very well to failing olive crops and lack of sheep and cattle, but I challenge you to write your own paraphrase. “Though I can’t get caught up at work and though I am having marriage issues and though I’m struggling to make ends meet and though I feel like a failure… yet will I celebrate and yet will I remember that God is enough and far more than enough.”


He is. Light that spark of celebration and fan it into a flame of worship. It’s time!


God, I am thankful. Help me to seize the opportunities You give me to celebrate. Teach me to find joy no matter what my circumstances, and use that joy to encourage others and to give me strength. Remind me to rejoice in Your name all day long. May I see the moments as gifts from You.


-Leah

P.S. I started writing this post on Wednesday, and I have needed to remind myself of its message and practice trading cranky for thankful multiple times since then. I realize the theme is similar to “It’s Just Swim Trunks,” but it is something I am still learning. I hope it is helpful for you also!

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

It’s Just Swim Trunks

Do you remember being 13? I know I was 13 once, and despite how long ago that was, I can remember at least some of my early adolescent years. This has come to mind recently because as I mother my own 13-year-old. Sometimes, when I’m shaking my head, wondering what could possibly be going on in his head, I try to recall that stage of my own life. Here’s an example from a few weeks ago.


I can tell you one thing about 13-year-olds today: they are busy. Marco had been away visiting his cousin for several days, and was to leave the next morning for church camp. We got home around 9 pm Saturday night, and began packing for his next adventure. I got up early enough Sunday morning to finish the load of laundry so clothes would be clean for camp.

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As we were putting everything into the suitcase, Marco discovered that his swim trunks were missing. A little looking turned into a full-on search, involving both parents. The trunks should have been with the clothes that he had taken to his cousin’s house, and those clothes had been laundered. It was as if the trunks had vanished. Marco was distraught. Maybe that sounds dramatic to you, but if you had been present that morning, I’m sure you would agree that there were intense emotions at play. Luckily, we had several other pairs of trunks that would work in a pinch, but those weren’t cutting it. After we finally concluded that the desired trunks were not available to make the trip to camp, we tried re-directing Marco, comforting him, reminding him of the fun week ahead. I tried to remain calm and be patient. I held Marco’s face and looked him in the eyes and spoke truth kindly. Really, he was just mad. And he was mad at me! He somehow believed that I had lost his swim trunks. I felt strongly that I had not, but told him that, even if I were to blame, he should forgive me and move on. Actually, I had to move on myself-I was teaching Sunday school that morning and had not factored the missing swim trunks into my morning schedule. I ended up leaving Marco in the capable hands of his father, and went to greet the 4th graders at church. Marco did finally re-group, and sent me an apology text. I was able to see him off to Miracle Camp with a hug and good will between us.


Later on, as I was pondering this morning glitch, I realized that Marco had been feeling disappointment, fear of what others would think about his trunks, frustration over unmet expectations. For a little while, this was all he could see. He couldn’t or wouldn’t see the bigger picture-the privilege and fun of a week away at camp and the fact that he still had options for swimming. It startled me to realize that I often act the same way. Something comes up that I don’t like and didn’t expect. I get interrupted, things don’t go my way, I start worrying about what others are thinking, I start laying blame. My focus is on this negativity, and I miss the context of positivity. I get feeling grouchy instead of grateful.


I came across a Biblical example of a similar scenario this week when I was reading the story of Esther. Haman was second to the king, rich and famous.
Haman went out that day happy and in good spirits. But when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, and observed that he neither rose nor trembled before him, he was infuriated with Mordecai; nevertheless Haman restrained himself and went home. Then he sent and called for his friends and his wife Zeresh, and Haman recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the ministers of the king. Haman added, ‘Even Queen Esther let no one but myself come with the king to the banquet that she prepared. Tomorrow also I am invited by her, together with the king. Yet all this does me no good so long as I see the Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.'” (Esther 5:9-13 NRSV)
This guy had everything, but couldn’t even enjoy it because he was irritated by one thing that didn’t go his way.


Sometimes we miss the forest for the trees.


Last summer our family was discussing this saying, and I asked Marco if he saw the forest or the trees. He thought a minute and answered, “All I see is the town.” This is classic, and true! Sometimes we miss the forest for the trees, and sometimes we are looking the wrong direction entirely and can’t see either. We need to re-focus and ask God to let us see with His eyes. He sees the big picture.


For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For 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 NRSV)


These little blips in our days that put us into a tailspin are as minimal as missing swim trunks. We are still going to camp. We will still be able to swim. The here and now is a tiny speck in the universe of eternity, and even big disappointments and setbacks in this life cannot threaten our forever future.


Paul, a man well-acquainted with aggravations, disappointments, and much worse, said,
“…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced 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 8:37-39 NRSV)


When I first met him, my father-in-law used to tell me, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.” It is our choice: we can take an attitude of gratitude and confidence and refuse to let go of our joy, or we can growl and complain about things we can’t change.

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God, You know how my mind wants to get trapped in negativity. Please help me to see things from Your perspective. Help me to let go of frustration and be thankful. Keep me looking at You, and help me to inspire joy in those around me. Remind me that nothing can separate me from Your love, and that Your love is all that I need.

-Leah

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