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.

Advent: Be Honest

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Day Three: Faith of a Child

Then he said: I promise you this. If you don’t change and become like a child, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3, TCV).

What is the faith of child? Why would Jesus lift up the example of a child to a group of self-righteous and pretentious church know-it-alls? Perhaps because that’s who they were. It’s not how they started out. They were the holy leaders. The ones who pointed the way—but in the process they assumed the roles of God-protectors. Their position and piety could have been a reflection, pointing the way to holy living, but instead they made it nearly impossible.

They had hopelessly lost the way. And in the process, made it impossible for anyone to follow them. 

As I was writing this, I was sitting in a coffee shop. Ear buds in and fully caffeinated. The song, “Wonderful, Merciful Savior,” came into my ears. The words, “we have hopelessly lost our way” played over and over. Then just as I realized what God was pointing out the song changed to a wonderful piano rendition of the child’s song “Jesus Loves Me.”

Coincidence? I think not. Not unlike the Pharisees of Jesus’ day we seem to have lost the gift of childlike wonder and trust. 

Perhaps it’s not too late to turn and become as children again.

TO PONDER: What used to bring you to place of trust and wonder during the holiday season? What would it take to find them again? 

TO DISCUSS: The Pharisees were consumed with being right and protecting God. In the process their lives became consumed with proclaiming rightness, while they sacrificed honesty. Jesus was calling them back to the honest living characterized by child-like faith. What could you learn from the faith of a child?

PRAYER: God, truth is you could have showed up, full-grown, and ready to lead your people. But you came as a baby. Let this season which seems often to be oriented toward children, become for us the daily reminder of your coming as that child, and our need to become as children in our relationship with you. Amen.

Think Small Day One: Faith of A Child

Then he said, “I tell all of you with certainty, unless you change and become like little children, you will never get into the kingdom from heaven (Matthew 18:3, International Standard Version).

My teeth were chattering as I held up my arms one more time coaxing my little girl to jump in the pool. To her the water looked too deep. And maybe Mommy was playing a trick.

I tried one more time. “Trust me, precious. I won’t let anything happen. Give it a try. Jump. I’ll catch you!”

Finally a different look replaced the fear that had been keeping her feet glued to the cement at the pool’s edge. With a giggle of abandon she leaped in the air and right into my arms.

The trust my daughter expressed in that act has defined my relationship with God. I may be reluctant initially, but I have learned to trust my heavenly Father’s arms—his promise to catch me.

When Jesus looked at the crowd of religious experts and told them they must change and become like children, I think in part he was referring to the same kind of trust. But even more, he was inviting them to leave the solid footing of their religious stagnation, rules, and self-absorption and find a new way of living in faith—of trusting in him.

As we move more deeply into this Advent journey will you trust God to teach you a new way to experience the age old story of Christmas?

TO PONDER: What parts of the Christmas story have become so familiar they’ve lost their mystery and power to change you?

FOR DISCUSSION: No matter our age, we can consider new ways to trust God. What can you do as a family and as individuals to move to a new level of trust in God?

PRAYER: God, I am so excited to see you anew, with fresh eyes and a trusting heart. Forgive me for the times when I doubt your love—your promise to catch me. Show me an area of my life where I can have greater “child-like” trust. To your honor and glory. Amen.

Wednesday’s Word: Trust

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I read a meme recently that said: “Whether it’s friendship or relationship all bonds are built on trust. Without it you have nothing.”

But in a day when no one seems trust-worthy—how do we do it?

Lincoln Chaffe said, “Trust is built with consistency.”

I believe it is also developed through discerning. Discerning who can be trusted, when, and why.

We trust individuals, corporations, friends, physicians all at different levels and for different reasons.

But we need first to learn to trust ourselves—our intuition, gut, intellect, resources. We need to learn to trust the process.

We need to learn to trust that the truth will rise to the surface, and that is often the process…and it often takes time to rise.

And we need to learn we can trust God.  Several times in both the Old and New Testaments there is invitation to test and trust God. Work through his promises and see if he doesn’t come through.

Trust is like a muscle. You have the potential…you just need to exercise it.

 

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Selah: Still in the Darkness

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In darkness we often find fear. Not seeing…not knowing. Where should we go? What lurks beyond our sight? Panic!

What if God is leading us to a new place of trust…in him?

What if instead of panic and fear that pushes us to run—a foolish choice at best since we cannot see where we are going—God wants us to sit still?

This morning I had a conversation with another believer who was describing how God pushed aside her daily To Do list and offerered her his instead.

And there was only one thing on it.

What if God is inviting us to set aside our busyness and multi-tasking ways and do his one thing?

What if we got still in the darkness—the unknown—believe God’s word and promise, and just wait until he showed us the next step to take?

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13)

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Lenten Thoughts: Tantrums

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On a quick trip to Walmart recently, I realized I come out with much more than bags of food and necessities. I often come away with fodder for reflections. On my last trip, my attention was grabbed by a three year old child throwing a “fall on the floor, bloody scream” tantrum. The only person whose attention she didn’t seem to grab was her mother.

Where do tantrums come from? Typically, they seem to be about not getting my way or not getting the attention I think I need. Pondering the recent tantrum I observed, reminded me of a time when I was part of a church mixed bowling league.

One night a couple on our team was unable to get a sitter and had to bring their daughter with them. She was about two years old. As the evening wore on, her parents became more and more involved in their game and less aware of her. Her behavior escalated as she worked to get their attention. At first they scolded her, finally she got a swat on her bottom. Her wails of “pain” could be heard by everyone in the alley. Finally, the mom pulled the little girl into her lap and rocked her to comfort. The girl quieted and was asleep within just a few moments.

What can bring on a tantrum? When things don’t go my way. One of my grandson’s favorite questions is “Why?” Why can’t I have candy all day? Why can’t I play outside in my slippers? Why do I have to take a nap? Why do I have to pick up my toys? Why questions are often accompanied by little feet stomping, all pointing to things not going the way he wants.

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How much drama is created in our lives when God doesn’t work the way we think he should? How many times do we question his wisdom, purpose, or plan? After a very dark time of questioning, my husband shared with me he learned to quit asking why. He felt God was reluctant to answer that question, but he always seemed to answer, “What’s next?” The difference is the distance between trust and tantrum.

Drama demonstrates a lack of trust.

Drama is the voice of one who thinks he knows better. It is the behavior of one who feels she needs more attention. The Good News is God knows our need better than we do. His plans and purpose, while not always understandable, are always for our good.

God doesn’t hand out acting awards, but he does promise to hold us in the palm of his hand, remember all our tears, and count the hairs on our heads. He can be trusted.

When we surrender our drama, we find his peace.
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Lenten Thoughts: Routine

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Do you have certain things in your routine you just have to do or you feel disjointed or incomplete? For some, they have to read the morning paper or watch the early news first thing in the morning. Some can’t get going without their first cup of coffee. Others have a bathroom routine that is scripted down to the minute. The same can be said for how they face the things of work or how they wind down in their day.

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Right before my husband and I got married we saw a movie about an ice skater who went blind. It was called “Ice Castles.” As she practiced with her partner, over and over, to drill the performance into her body, he reminded her that she could do this. As they skated out on the ice at competition, he squeezed her hand and whispered the word, “Routine.” When Nelson and I were married that is what he had engraved on the inside of my wedding band.

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Now, there are some who might see that as negative or sarcastic. I mean, really, who wants their relationship to become “routine”? People are always looking for fresh and new. Manufacturers understand that and are always seeking to make their product “new and improved.” Routine typically carries with it connotations of complacency and boredom. I don’t agree.

Having a routine helps me feel grounded and safe. I like the predictability and security of knowing what is supposed to come next. Thankfully, though, I’m not completely locked into that. Some people absolutely loose it if you change their routine. In their minds, the whole day is shot if their routine is disrupted. Somewhere along the way I developed the ability to toss my routine and be adaptable and flexible. It’s helped me survive.

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I believe that God wants to offer us this balance between predictability and adaptability. We can count on him. The Word tells us that he is the same “yesterday and forever” and he will “never leave us or forsake us.” Knowing these things about him, we learn to trust in the “no matter whats” of life. We can trust when we are hit with an unexpected curve-ball in our health, finances, career, or relationships because God becomes the source of stability that gets us through the uncertainty and back to what feels “routine.” Often in the process, we learn to create a new routine, new patterns and rituals, based on the new growth we experience as a result of trust.

There’s an old hymn that reminds us: “We have an anchor that keeps the soul, steadfast and sure while the billows roll. Fastened to the rock that cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.” As you move through your day, and your daily routine, be thankful for what you can count on, and open to the possibilities for growth and grace.

Even an openness to new can become routine!

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Nehemiah Devotions Chapter 2, Day 3

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

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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?

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Curing A Quickaholic

I’m an ESFP with ADD. I like things to move along at a pretty swift pace. I don’t like glitches in my plans. I am not a fan of detours. I loathe meetings that drag on unnecessarily.

In the terminology of Sue Monk Kidd, I’m a textbook “Quickaholic.”

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I recently purchased Ms. Kidd’s book When the Heart Waits from our local library book sale. When I read a non-fiction book, I am an underliner and write-in-the-margins kind of reader. I’m only about twenty pages in and I think I’m going to need a new pen.

The author describes a time of retreat at an Abby. She took a walk and saw a monk sitting very still under a tree, the picture of tranquility. She approached him later and asked how he could sit there and do nothing. Here was his response: “Well, there’s the problem right there…You’ve bought into the cultural myth that when you’re waiting you’re doing nothing…When you’re waiting, you’re not doing nothing. You’re allowing your soul to grow up. If you can’t be still and wait, you can’t become what God created you to be.” (When the Heart Waits, page 22)

I couldn’t read any further. For one, my eyes were full of tears. It was one of those revelatory moments that hits you simultaneously in your gut and brain, taking your breath away.

I get it God.

Those five years I spent out on the farm, caring for a woman who never spoke my name, who never wanted me there, were your plan. It was no different than when you planted your people in a hostile foreign land and told them to put down roots–literally plant and make babies. In that same chapter (Jeremiah 29) you assured them that even though it made no sense, you had a plan.

No sooner had I regained my composure but my cell phone chimed, notifying me of an incoming email. It was from a writer friend. A friend who has been through a painful ministry journey of his own. A friend I contacted recently about a book I thought we could write together. A book about calling, healing, and hope. He wants to do it, is excited about it.

But you knew that God.

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When I thought you were doing nothing, that I was doing nothing, you were weaving your plan together.

And none of it happened quickly.

You are never in a hurry.

Loving and long-suffering God, continue to heal me of my tendency to short-cut and short-circuit your plans. Thank you. Keep teaching me and using me. Amen.

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Taste, Test, and See

A few days ago, my wonderful husband surprised me with a trip to Chipotle for dinner. He had a gift card. We love that we can buy a meal and turn it into two or three.

Lots of other people love Chipotle, too. The line was pretty long, but we don’t mind the wait. I used the time to scan the menu board. Here’s what caught my attention:

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I never noticed this before, probably because I get the chicken every time. I was intrigued…but not enough to risk my dinner and next day’s lunch on something I wasn’t sure about.

As we were just about to check out, an unusual boldness bubbled up, and I asked the gal slathering the guacamole on my bowl if I could have a taste of the sofritas. It was no problem for her. She passed a cup to the sofritas scooper, he put a very large scoop in the cup, stuck a plastic fork in it, and handed it to me with a smile.

Once we were seated, I tasted the new stuff. I started with a little nibble. I had never heard anything good about tofu. I watch a lot of Food Network and Top Chef shows and no one ever says, “Oh goody, tofu!” Not without sarcasm.

The texture was a lot like the chicken I always get, and with all the spices…I couldn’t tell it wasn’t my regular fare.

But I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t tried it.

Did you know that God wants us to give him a try?

Taste and see that the Lord is good! How blessed is the one who takes shelter in him. (Psalm 34:8, NET)

When I came to faith I likened it to the old “Nestea Plunge.”

https://youtu.be/3pPR004UWQo  I thought I had to fall into God totally.

God knows that doesn’t work for everyone. So try him. The old hymn says, “For I’ve trusted, and tested, and tried him, and I know his promise is true.”

Scripture includes several examples of times when God wants his people to take steps towards him. I learned the joy of giving because of God’s invitation to test him:  “Bring the entire tithe into the storehouse so that there may be food in my temple. Test me in this matter,” says the Lord who rules over all, “to see if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until there is no room for it all.” (Malachi 3:10, NET)

So whether it’s the beginning of our faith journey, or at a new learning juncture, God wants us to know he can be trusted. He will pass the test.

PRAYER: God, thank you for knowing sometimes we need to sample your greatness before we can take the plunge. Thank you for your goodness and faithfulness in all the areas of our lives. Amen.

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