But God!

(This article appeared yesterday in the Ashland (OH) Times-Gazette.)

I came to Phoenix, Arizona in January for a women’s clergy gathering. As is often the case, the experience was blessing upon blessing. My spirit soared. My faith was enriched. I made new friends—and not just the “pad my Facebook numbers” kind. I looked to the heavens and said, “But God, I don’t want to leave yet.”

Instead of coming right home, I figured I couldn’t visit Arizona and not visit my mom who lives south of Tucson. During my visit she became ill which resulted in a diagnosis of pneumonia and five days in the hospital. We opted to continue her recuperation at home with in-home health care. To describe this time as difficult would be an understatement.

During her convalescence, my mom asked if I would be willing to stay with her—permanently. This is a plan we had discussed the year prior during another illness. Because of that conversation, my husband and I also had a series of talks. We began to make plans: I would take care of my mom and he would stay in Ohio to take care of his. 

On paper and when we spoke, these things made sense to us. Even still, Mom’s request felt like a punch in the gut. I hadn’t expected it. I still had things to do in Ashland.  I looked to the heavens and said, “But God, I don’t want to leave yet.”

I have enough Bible under my belt to know when we say, “But God…” we are in essence telling him, “No.” Not a smart move. Telling God no negates all he wants and can do for us. The petulant child comes out of us. We stomp our feet, and pitch our fit. We tell God all the reasons why his plan isn’t good enough. 

My mom is the queen of pithy statements, homey proverbs. When she wanted to cut off our childish rants, she would say, “But me no buts.” I did a little research. That phrase has been around since 1709 when Susanna Centlivre coined it in the play, “The Busie Body.” These four words were used to cut off all objections.

In my experience, God has been good at cutting off my objections. When he nips my protestations, he uses my own words to redirect me to his power and plan. My whiny “But God…” becomes his “but GOD!”

A quick search through scripture shows how Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, Jonah, and even Jesus knew the power of “but GOD!” Joseph puts the truth quite clearly when after suffering injustice upon injustice, he finally ends up being Pharaoh’s right hand man, which puts him in the perfect place to provide for the brothers who left him for dead. “You meant to do me harm, but God used it for good (see Genesis 50:20).” 

The Apostle Paul understood this too. In his letter to the Romans he writes, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).” When he writes about this to the Ephesians he lays God’s plan out quite plainly: Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins (2:1); But God is so rich in mercy and he loves us so much that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life through Christ (2:4); Therefore, you are not strangers, neither guests, but inhabitants of the city of The Holy One and children of the household of God (2:9).  

These are difficult days. Dealing with isolation, illness, financial devastation, can definitely bring out our worse whiny case of “But God…” Perhaps God, though,  is leading us individually and as a faith community into new situations that push us far beyond our comfort, far from where our own plans would take us. If we will surrender our plan, we open ourselves to power that is “but God!”

Imagine if you could interview the people I mentioned above, and ask them if they thought it was worth it to surrender their plans to God. They would probably tell you the journey wasn’t easy—but it was the best choice they ever made. 

Daily I’m learning to surrender my whiny protesting for my way so that I can find the power of “but God!” Need some extra power? Need a better plan? Check out what God can do when we but Him no buts.

Selah: What do these stones mean?

23EB1171-5018-4015-B81A-8C615ECA7F67

I love walking. I love walking in Arizona when I’m visiting my mom. Feeling blessed to be able to do that this week.

As we travel closer to Palm Sunday and Easter, I have been thinking a lot about rocks.

There are a lot of rocks in Arizona. I took the picture of the rocks on my walk the other day.

I wonder who put them there. I wonder why.

In the Bible, a pile of stones marked a special moment—a sign to remember. In the old hymn, Come Thou Fount, we sing: “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’m come.”

Do you know what that means? We aren’t singing about Scrooge. The verse is a thanks to God for his care in bringing us through or to something.

What has he brought you to…or through lately?

The stack of stones stand as a reminder to you, and a testimony to others that we have a God who goes with us (through whatever we’re facing) and brings us to where he needs and wants us to be.

Prayer: God, some of the things we’re facing seem difficult, confusing…okay—downright impossible. We can only get through with you. Help us. Sustain us. And we will give you thanks…and a testimony.

Lenten Thoughts: Fear

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” ~Thoreau

fear.jpg

My daughter thought she wanted to be a marine biologist. When it came time for college, she chose a school with a great marine biology program in Florida. For all her excitement, you would have thought we birthed the next Jacques Cousteau. The excitement quickly faded during her Intro to Marine Biology course. The professor took the class to a lagoon to “get their feet wet.” Annie froze—literally. Tearfully and woefully, she returned to shore unable to complete the assignment. The reason for her freezing: she couldn’t see the bottom. The fear of what she could not see totally immobilized her. She ended up dropping the course, withdrawing from school, and after a short stay in Florida, returning home.

fear1.jpg

Thinking of this I was reminded of Peter’s impetuous attempt at water-walking. He asked Jesus, and started out pretty confidently. It wasn’t until he took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the waves that he went down.

What was that about? I believe it had a lot to do with focus and fear.

Fear is the iceberg that all too often sinks our ship. Generally, what we can see doesn’t immobilizes us. It’s everything underneath. The things that we can’t see. The things we don’t know. The things we can’t control because we don’t know what they are.

fear2.jpg

I guess Annie got her fear of murky water quite honestly—from her mother. Nelson and I traveled to South Carolina after we married to visit my grandparents. On our way back we tent camped at Myrtle Beach. Nelson bought a two-person inflatable raft. Since he knew that I was afraid of creatures that could be lurking in the murky, he would pull me out from shore and while I drifted back in he would swim about.

The system was working great until a current caught the raft and I started heading for Miami. I was panicked. Nelson had swum so far out that he couldn’t hear my cries for help. When he finally realized what was happening, he swam as fast as he could to save me. As he arrived at the raft his feet hit the bottom. He stood up–in ankle deep water. The raft was floating over a sandbar. We still laugh about how silly I looked, and the irrationality of my fear.

fear4.jpg

Perhaps that is why Paul was so clear in his teaching that as believers we walk by faith and not by sight (see 2 Corinthians 5:7). Life gets murky. The waves rise around us. If we don’t keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we’ll go under as easily as Peter did—even if we are only in ankle deep water.
What are you looking at when we are frozen by your fears? Not Jesus. So many of the stories about Jesus’ encounters were with average people addressing enormous fears and receiving unbelievable miracles.

What are you afraid of right now? Are you walking by faith or struggling with holding onto to what you can see? If you’re going to get out of the boat, keep your eyes on Jesus. If the water is murky and you can’t see what’s there, let your faith lead your next step.

fear3.jpg

 

Advent Begins

hide and seek.jpg

Ready or not…here I come.

Classic line from a child’s game, right?

I think it’s the perfect way to start our journey of Advent.

Readiness. How is one to get ready? Are we ever really ready?

We rush around getting ready for “Christmas” by buying, baking, and decorating. We’re experts in the “rush and hurry” department.

But in our hearts and minds, in our homes, and in our actions, have made room to receive this amazing give that is full of promise and saturated with peace?

He’s coming ready or not. Let’s be ready.

Loving and giving God, giver of all gifts. You know what is on our list, but you know what we truly need. In this season where the focus is often on the trappings and externals, we want to focus (oh how hard that is) and make room for the gift of your son, your self. May the mystery of what that is and how that is unfold and bring us into deeper trust and faith. Show us the path that leads to readiness and help us to walk in it. Amen.

ready or not Jesus.jpg

Nehemiah Devotions Chapter 2, Day 3

The king asked, “Well, how can I help you?” (Nehemiah 2:4, NLT)

WP Neh Devo time passing

Six months. One hundred eighty days, give or take a few, Nehemiah opened his eyes and wondered if today would be the day.

He trusted God each to be laying the ground work. And each day he prayed to be ready.

And the time had arrived.

Nehemiah opened his mouth and shared his heart with the king and queen. He laid it out. He said needed. He had prayed for favor and kindness.

And that’s exactly what he got.

I can’t begin to what had been going on in the heart and mind of the king. Was he just having a day of benevolence? In the six months that Nehemiah waited had something happened to endear Nehemiah to the king making the favor expressed as natural as the sun coming up in the morning?

I don’t know. I am just convinced that Nehemiah was seeing God’s greatness unfold before his eyes. If God could do that then there’s nothing he can’t be trusted with.

Nehemiah knew that. Do we?

WP Neh Dev 2-3 Prov 3 5-6

Nehemiah Devotions: Chapter 2, Day 2

Then I was terrified, but I replied. (Nehemiah 2:2b-3a, NLT)

WP Neh Dev 2-2 emotions

We learned at the end of the first chapter Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king. It was an important position. He was a public figure and was expected to present himself accordingly. He took his responsibility seriously and consistently presented himself appropriately. Until now.

The burden he carried had become so great that the weight began to show on his countenance. And the king noticed.

Would this be interpreted as insubordination, or dissatisfaction with his job? Neither would be acceptable to the king.

WP Neh Dev 2-2 fear

At this point Nehemiah stood at a threshold. His response would leave him comfortable in the lifestyle he was accustomed to or throw him into the unknown as he followed God’s plan.

Nehemiah demonstrates great courage, and teaches us that courage doesn’t mean we won’t fear. We read here that Nehemiah was terrified. But in spite of his fear, his faith in the one who called him was enough to enable him to stand up and proceed across the threshold into the unknown.

Has God called you to step forward in faith? Are you afraid? Find your courage and confidence in the one who calls you.

Claim Paul’s words as you keep to the journey: And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Philippians 1:6, NLT)

WP Neh Dev 2-2 Phil 1-6

Sermon Seeds: Faith and Foundation

SP faith blocks

I’ve been meditating all week on Bible verses about faith. Here are a few:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Heb. 11:1

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Heb. 11:6

So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. Ro. 10:17

SP faith roots

And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:22-24

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” Lk 17:5

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Tim. 4:7

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. James 2:17 NLT

What I’m about to tell you is true. If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, it is enough. Matthew 17:20

So, how is your faith today? Growing? Fading? Active? Passive?

Today as I was reflecting and preparing for Sunday’s message, I realized I’ve been pretty comfortable with where my faith has been. You can translate that as stagnant. I don’t feel good about either of those words. I went to front of our sanctuary and knelt in prayer. And wept.

I talk about the great things God wants to do in this church, in the lives of this body of believers, in this community…in me. But am I willing to step into that growth, willing to take on the changes for me? That’s scarey…and it’s all good. God’s promise and plan shouldn’t be a fearful thing.

So this revelation is going to cost me. Bonhoeffer wrote that there is no cheap grace…the same is true of faith.

This thing we call faith is the foundation for everything we build your spiritual life upon. We need to make sure it’s rock steady.

WP faith foundation

Faith the Final Frontier

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:19

WP knitting instructions

I learn best when I can watch someone or I can see an example. Following written instructions, like how to crochet or knit, or even utilize a new cooking technique, ties my brain in a knot.

Thomas is my kind of guy. Show me. I need to see this incredible thing, because it’s just too complicated for my mind to grasp. It does not make sense.

Thomas responded skeptically, but he’s not the first person in the Bible. Sarah laughed when she heard God’s plan. Zechariah wanted a few details when he knew he had to explain to Elizabeth what God was doing. Gideon questioned God’s strategy for his army several times…just to be sure.

I get it. The things God does and says are bigger than our minds. He owns this principle: my ways are not your ways (Isaiah 55:8).

So even though Thomas “doubted,” Jesus appears and allows him to touch his side and hands. Thomas wasn’t kicked out of the club because he was confused. That is good news!

WP but wait
But wait there’s more! Here’s the better news—news for you and me: blessed are those who have not seen (who don’t get your opportunity, Thomas), and yet believe.

That’s us. Looking into Thomas’ eyes, Jesus saw you and me. He knew how hard it was going to be to wrap our brains around resurrection. And he issued a “trust me” statement.

We have to take this one on faith…and if we will…we will be blessed.

PRAYER: Father, when you looked at Thomas kneeling there in reverence, believing because you revealed yourself to him…you saw me. And when you saw me, you knew it wasn’t going to be easy to believe. Thank you for extending your blessing to those of us who have not seen you in person, but who see you by faith. Please continue to show up when we have questions and reveal yourself. Open the eyes of our hearts to see you today, for you are our Lord and our God. Amen.

WP truly blessed

When Will I See You Again?

For we walk by faith, not by sight, (2 Corinthians 5:7)

WP FCWC

I’m at Florida Christian Writers Conference. It’s a great place to be on so many levels. For one thing, the weather here is delightful. I’m also improving my craft, networking, and making new friends.

So, it might make more sense to you when I tell you I walked out on my balcony and prayed: Lord, where will I, when will I see you again? (And then I started singing, “When will I see you again?” by the Three Degrees…it’s on youtube if you need an earworm)

cropped-cropped-bible-cover1-e1409451218595.jpg

I love my regular times with the Lord. Morning routines of prayer and attention to the Word can put such a positive energy into the beginnings of my day. If there’s a sunrise or a sunset filling the sky, it feels like God is tapping me on my shoulder reminding me he’s still there.

I have an “unscheduled” personality. When I take personality trait inventories, I come out on the side of less consumed with calendars and organization and with a far greater need to “fly by the seat of my pants.” (Ok, in MBTI terms, I’m off the scale P.)

Maybe that’s why I find it much easier to walk by faith. Sure, I’ve had to learn my God will provide and he has a plan. Trust often comes slowly. But I don’t need to know exactly how he’s going to do it. I’ve read the end of the Book, I know how things are going to end—we win! (Hope I didn’t spoil it for you.)

WP walking blindly

Walking by faith doesn’t mean I’m walking blindly. I know how God operates. And I’ve learned I can trust him.

Walking by faith means I expect to see God at every turn, around every corner, in every encounter.

WP peek around the corner

And when I chose to walk this way, it is amazing what I see!

PRAYER: When will I see you again? Oh God, those words do not come from a doubting heart, but a heart believing you can be found all the way throughout my day. Those words come from a heart anticipating you will show yourself in amazing ways. Looking forward to seeing you.

Surrender

We started our study of Conrad Gempf’s book, Mealtime Habits of the Messiah in our Sunday school class last Sunday. And as I suspected, we didn’t get very far, very fast. In fact, we only got through half of the introduction. Lest you wonder…this is a good thing. There was much discussion and participation. Our class has grown so much that we have to find a better way to squeeze us in–such a glorious problem!

So while I was studying and preparing for the upcoming class the topic of surrender was mentioned…but the way my mind stuck on it you would have thought that it was the main theme. Rumination at its best.

Surrender. Not a popular word. Somehow it has become the definition of weakness, of defeat. We don’t want to surrender to our enemies, our spouse, our boss, our grandchildren. And yet we daily surrender to our passions, our obsessions, our addictions. Go figure.

For a bit, I want to focus on what surrender means in the spiritual sense…at least for me.

Here’s the problem as I see it: we think surrender means giving away everything and getting nothing. And somehow in that process I get lost…the me that I am, is gone. If I surrender to my spouse I cease to exist and it’s only them. If I surrender to God…then there’s no me. And we can’t fathom not being. That’s why we fight death so fiercely.

Until we begin to understand God, this surrender thing makes him seem like some cosmic terrorist: why surrender? He’s just going to kill us anyway.

Our thinking is really twisted…thanks to the great deceiver and the work he’s been at since the garden. See, he started his number on the first folks, Adam and Eve–and primarily Eve. His job has been to distort God’s purposes and He’s really quite good at it and we’re really quite sucked into it. His opening remarks were to twist the words and purpose of God’s reasoning. “Did God really say that?” “I’m sure that’s not what he meant.” And then she bit and bought the apple.

What does this have to do with surrender? Everything. We think everything is ours and to get a piece of God we have to give it all up. As if to hold God in my hands I have to lay my stuff down. And there in, or in there, lies the problem.

Nothing I have is mine. It may be in my possession, but it doesn’t belong to me. Having trouble with that? I understand. I was dealing with my grandson on the concept just the other day. He was playing with a neighbor boy, who happens to remind me of Eddie Haskill (if you don’t remember Leave it to Beaver, go look it up on youtube). He’s older than my grandson and constantly tries to take advantage of his naivety. Especially when it comes to trading. (This is a boy concept which I don’t get very well.) Eddie-boy tries to grandson to give him something or things and in return gives him junk that he tries to pawn off as really great stuff. Grandson wants to be friends with Eddie-boy so he goes along with it.

This trading isn’t too big a problem until grandson starts to trade off the stuff that we have paid for (aka: of high value to us as it should be to him). That’s when I step in as the enforcer and put the kibosh to the whole thing. The last incident left grandson in tears and confused and me trying to explain. I wanted grandson to know that we provide these things for him so that he will have things to do and play with while he is at our house (daily). He is allowed to play with them and in some sense they are his things, but they don’t belong to him. He is also charged with the care of these things.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that this is how God sees things, too. He provides it all–but it’s still his. All he asks is that we acknowledge that and take care of it.

I think that was why the Rich Young Ruler (see Mark 10:17-27) had such a hard time when Jesus told him to sell all that he “possessed” and give it to the poor. He didn’t really understand who the true owner, possessor, was. He really bought the lie (of the evil one), and thought he owned it. He thought to give it, to surrender, meant that he would lose it all. As if to think that God really needed his possessions? I don’t need to own all my grandson’s toys. In fact, when he’s grown and gone, so will the toys. It would just be nice if he recognized the provision occasionally, but that might be a lot to expect from a seven year old.

But we’re adults and it seems to be what God is asking of us.

Could this be what Paul was saying to the Romans (Romans 12:1-2) when he describes our reasonable service/sacrifice as one that is living? He says God wants a living sacrifice. That is what is holy and pleasing to him. Too often we think we quit living if we surrender.

(I just had a moment…a thought…I was thinking about Abraham offering Isaac. There seems to be some parallels. Would God have allowed Abraham to kill Isaac? Or was he wanting to see if Abe would give, surrender his son–give back to God what ultimately was his anyway? Going to have to think on this some more.)

If you’re still reading along with me, then you have exceeded blogdom’s suggested word count and I thank you. Let me hasten to close…

Surrender is not to be feared or avoided. In many ways it reminds me of how I define confession: agreeing and owning what God already knows about me. Surrender is recognizing who truly owns everything and receiving it back as a trust–whether it’s my life, my money, my toys…you fill in the blank. I’m not, you’re not, the owner, but the steward.

And here’s a thought: God trusts you with his very best and treasured possessions. How will that impact your living?