Peace: The Promise and the Command

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Our nine year old likes to sit on the couch and watch the evening news with her daddy. Some days I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. Diseases that were a world away are suddenly knocking at our door. Headlines blare about serial killers and beheadings. Armed men threaten our country and encourage others to join their crusade. You don’t have to look far to find a reason to fear.

But Jesus came to bring us peace.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

Jesus gives us peace. In the New Testament, peace is more than just the absence of conflict. Peace is the blessing and wholeness we only find in the presence of God. When Jesus gives peace, it isn’t the kind of peace the world gives–transitory, fleeting. It’s not peace that is held by military might or a king’s command. No–our Prince of Peace brought us peace in the truest form. Gospel peace is reconciliation between God and man.  It is holiness and harmony, the blessings of living justified, sanctified, and made righteous before the Lord. It is peace that is established by the Savior, not circumstances. When the world goes crazy, we have peace in Him.

It’s a promise, but it’s also a command. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

We have a choice: fear or faith. Whose voice do you key in on?  Whose words ring loudest in your ear? In that moment of crisis, who do you choose to believe? Will you believe those who tell us destruction is inevitable, that we need to protect ourselves, bar our doors, and prepare for the coming calamity? Or will you listen to the voice of the Savior who was and is and is to come?

When fear knocks at the door, we have a choice. We can choose to believe that it’s all up to us. We can believe that it falls on our shoulders to fix the problem and keep our families safe. Or we can believe that our sovereign God reigns and his kingdom cannot be shaken. We fix our eyes on Jesus, knowing that our future is safe in his nail-scarred hands. God is good. Nothing separates us from his love; nothing takes us out of his hands, and he is with us.

We have peace when we choose to believe that God is who he says he is. We put our faith in him, and the peace of God rides sentry duty around our hearts. He gives us a peace that transcends circumstances; the kind of peace that lets us slumber in the midst of the storm.

Today, choose peace. Choose to believe. The Prince of Peace has given us peace, and he never leaves us alone.



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When Faith Feels Like a Declaration

sheep unsplashFaith is hardest in the dark.

We think we know what faith means when we’re in the meadow–warm sun; clean water; green grass. Trust seems easy in those level places.

But that’s not always where we get to walk.

Some days we stand on the edge of the valley, looking down into darkness. The valley of the shadow of death. It’s a strange word in Hebrew–a compound word formed by “shadow” and “death.” Sometimes it’s used to describe the realm of the dead (Job 10:22).  It describes that place of fear where the threat is real. It’s the place where you can’t see the next step; the place where you’re not sure what lurks in the shadows. It’s a place of want:  green grass doesn’t grow in the darkness. Standing there on the edge of the valley, you can feel the weight of doubt on your shoulders.

What lies in your valley? Is it truly the valley of death, with tests and needles and waiting rooms and a thousand unknowns lining the path ahead?

Or perhaps you face the valley of the unknown. You shuffle your feet slowly, not sure if the next step is leading you out or hurtling you over a cliff. Darkness blocks your vision, and you fear what you can’t see.

Maybe you walk the valley of depression. You know the light is there–you’ve felt it before and you know others see it. But the sun’s warmth feels like a distant memory and you’re not sure you believe you’ll ever see it again.

You stand looking down into the darkness as the sun slips below the horizon, and the enemy’s taunts ring in your ears. The Shepherd? He can’t protect you here. He’s gone. You’ve wandered outside his reach. Listen to that howling. The wolves are circling, little sheep. Be afraid. This valley belongs to me.

That’s when faith becomes a declaration. It’s not a bedtime prayer or a children’s sermon–it’s a shout of defiance. It’s Gandalf in the cavern’s of Moriah, shouting “You will not pass!” It’s David standing before Goliath, sling in hand. It’s Esther with her hand on the throne-room door. It’s Peter standing before the council vowing to obey God rather than men.Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will not be afraid for you are with me. 

You are with me.  I will not be afraid. At first it’s a whisper, then a plea. But your voice gets stronger. It becomes a chant, a cheer, a shout, a roar. A declaration. You say it as you walk, believing without seeing. And though the darkness surrounds you, your declaration becomes truth. You walk through the valley and you are not afraid, because the Shepherd is with you.

And that’s when your realize he was there all along.



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God Can Handle Your Anger

anger

Anger is one of those emotions we think we’re not supposed to feel. We can be frustrated, annoyed, or exasperated. That’s okay. But anger–raw, honest anger–is something we don’t like to admit to. It’s not socially acceptable.

Especially when you’re mad at God. Because–let’s face it–sometimes we are. We grapple with the questions of why one lives and another dies. We wonder what to do when the angel doesn’t come. We wind up in that painful place where we want to shake our fist at heaven and demand answers for our hurt.  Yet it’s easy to shy away from the rawness of our anger. It’s not nice. It’s not polite. You’re not supposed to talk to God like that.  But if the Psalms teach us anything, it’s that God never flinches from honest prayer.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
    we hung our harps, 
for there our captors asked us for songs,    
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.
 Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.

 (Psalm 137:1,4,8-9)

Psalm 137 is not on anyone’s top-ten list of “Most Frequently Preached Psalms.”  It’s a song of bitterness and regret sung by a people in exile—a people who long for the same fate to be meted out against their captors that they saw befall their children.

The rawness of their anguish is hard to read, but it’s in the Bible for a reason.  What Psalm 137 and the other lament psalms teach us is that we can be honest before God.  God is neither surprised by nor threatened by our anger.  When we find ourselves consumed by an anguished and angry soul, the best thing we can do is pour out our anger before God.  He can take it.

We live in a messy, sin-stained world.  Being on the front lines of the battle means we get hit by the shrapnel. It hurts, and sometimes anger is our gut-level response to the pain. Anger at ourselves.  Anger at our families. Anger at our churches. Anger at God.

If you find yourself in that place, the worst thing you can do is hide it.  Like water on rocks, anger has a way of wearing us down and seeping through the weak places.  The solution is not to hide our anger but to let it be healed in him.  We can’t do that unless we admit that the anger is there.  Pour it out in your journal.  Lie on the floor and shake your fist at God.  Lay it bare before him—all the anger, all the blame, all the hurt you’ve choked down and left unspoken.

I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart;
    before the “gods” I will sing your praise.
 I will bow down toward your holy temple
    and will praise your name
    for your unfailing love and your faithfulness,
for you have so exalted your solemn decree
    that it surpasses your fame.
When I called, you answered me (Psalm 138:1-3).

Then be silent and wait.  The God who refuses to abandon us in the storm whispers peace to us in the silence.  For every Psalm 137 there is a Psalm 138.  Our God will accomplish his purposes for you.  His love is everlasting and he does not forsake the works of his hands.
Wait on the Lord.  His grace turns anger into praise.



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Community Power: Blogging for Compassion

community power

We had no intentions of joining the church that August Sunday night. We had just driven halfway across the country, making the transition from serving as student ministers in Seattle to becoming seminary students in Fort Worth. Most of our belongings were still in boxes, but the truck was unloaded and our volunteer moving crew had gone home. We wanted to find a new church home, and the church only a stone’s throw away from our apartment complex seemed like a decent place to start.

It wasn’t what we thought we were looking for. It was a mostly older congregation in a transitional neighborhood. Sermons were strongly expository, tending a little to the academic. The organ was the focal point of the sanctuary and there wasn’t a praise chorus in sight. But that first night we found the community God knew we needed.

We slipped in a little late, but we were warmly greeted after the service. We met fellow students, seminary professors, and retired missionaries. They invited us to a baked potato fellowship at one of their homes. It didn’t feel like a group of strangers.  It felt like coming home.

We made some visits to other churches just to be sure, but we kept coming back. I couldn’t scratch off all the boxes on my church checklist, but the checklist eventually went out the window. We had found something more important: a community of faith to encourage, equip, and launch us into ministry life.

Community makes a difference in our pursuit of Christ. Participating in the family of faith refines and strengthens us. We learn from those who have gone ahead of us in faith and encourage those who follow us in turn. God reveals himself in the gathering of his people, and there is a power in our communion we can’t match on our own.

We need community, but community can be hard to find.  One of the tragic effects of poverty is the feeling of being isolated and alone. Children living in poverty can feel adrift, like no one cares. But when you sponsor a child through Compassion, your sponsored child discovers the awesome power of community. One of the great things about Compassion is that it is a church based program. Sponsored children may have once felt alone, but now they are learning what it feels like to be part of a loving, supportive community. Your letters let them know that you care and that they are loved–by you, by their church, and by our gracious Father.

Will you help a child discover the power of community by becoming a sponsor? $38 a month helps rescue a child from extreme poverty by providing food, education, medical care, and opportunities for personal growth. Click here to find children in need of a sponsor.



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City of Light

I’m writing today at 5 Minutes for Faith.

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Our small town lights shine at the end of the dark country road, letting me know home is just ahead. We don’t have an airport or supercenter; the brightest lights in town shine over the football field. Yet in the distance porch lights and streetlights are enough to light up the night.

Jesus said that we are the light of the world; “a city on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 6:14). I’ve often read this passage and thought of it in individual terms. I have my light and you have yours, and we all shine.

But I don’t think that’s exactly how Jesus meant it.

Read the full post at 5 Minutes for Faith

 



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When Shame Meets the Savior

shame

Twelve years is a long time.

It’s a long time to wait.  A long time to hope.

A long time to suffer.

We aren’t told exactly what the nature of her ailment was, but most assume that her “hemorrhage” was some type of menstrual disorder. Under Levitical law, a menstruating woman was regarded as ceremonially unclean (Leviticus 15:25). She was unclean–unable to enter the temple or participate in temple worship. As if that weren’t enough, her uncleanliness was contagious. Even the bed she slept on and the chair she sat on became unclean, and anyone who touched those objects became unclean.

What does that do to you when you live it for twelve years? Especially when your culture and community revolve around issues of cleanliness? First century Judaism emphasized issues of ritual purity beyond the dictates of Scripture. Many Jews purified themselves not just before entering the temple but before entering Jerusalem itself. Even laypeople commonly purified themselves before meals and before prayers. And for twelve years–twelve years–she could not get clean.

No wonder she “endured much” and “spent all she had” at the hands of the physicians (Mark 5:26). But nothing helped.

Until she met Jesus.

I wonder if she pulled her robes tighter and tried to hide her face as she pressed her way through the crowd that day. Did people recognize her and pull away, fearing her shame would rub off on them?

Did she try to avoid touching them because she believed it too?

And if we’re honest, don’t we believe it? Shame whispers in our ears that our failures show–that everyone would reject us if they knew the truth. So we pull on the gloves, lock the doors, and put on our brave face. Conceal. Don’t feel. Don’t let it show. No wonder that movie is so popular. Truth is, shame keeps us all frozen.

Shame makes us put on our masks. We hide our uncleanliness to keep others from seeing it, rejecting us, and magnifying our shame. When we hide, we miss out on grace.

If we continue to reach for masks, grace will not be essential to our lives; it will remain optional. As long as the masks remain, the loneliness remains. But when brokenness is acknowledged, grace is on the doorstep. (From Fail by J.R. Briggs.)

Grace was on her doorstep that day, and she reached for it with everything she had. She whose touch made things unclean reached out for Jesus and grasped the edge of his robe, believing that just a touch could make her clean. And miracle of miracles, her touch didn’t make Jesus unclean. Jesus made her clean.

Look what he says to her: “Daughter.” Daughter. From the very first word he erased her shame. Daughter. It’s a word of acceptance, approval, and affirmation. She came to him as a supplicant, and Jesus welcomed her as a child.

Isn’t that a portrait of God’s heart for us? Jesus didn’t come to shame us but to save us and to make us whole.

That’s what he did for her.

And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction” (Mark 5:34).

Your faith has made you well. The Greek word for “made you well” can also be translated “saved you,” or “made you whole.” What Jesus did for her he does for us–saves us, heals us, and makes us whole.  All that’s required is for us to admit our brokenness and reach out for help.  His grace meets us there.

Are you tired of living in shame’s lonely shadow? Has that secret–that burden–whatever it is–kept you prisoner, fearing what other people would say if they knew?

Have you been afraid God will reject you too?

If that’s you, then know this: Jesus will never turn you away. He is waiting to receive you. He’s standing at the door, waiting to shower you with grace that washes away all your shame.

Just take that first step. Touch him, and let him fold you in his arms.

And listen to what he calls you: Daughter.

Shame always flees the presence of the Savior.

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Perfectionism, meet Perfection

I met Rebecca Trammel last spring at a writers conference and knew that I wanted to share a bit of her story. She’s got something to say, girlfriends, so listen up: 

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Let’s face it sisters…the bar is set high. The confines of social acceptability are narrowly set but loosely defined. The thing most painfully clear is that no matter hard we try, no matter what we do, no matter how much we achieve, we fail. So, WHY do we strive for this ever evasive, non-descript goal of perfection?

I have been the poster child for the frustrated, type-A perfectionist. I don’t know about your story but in the storyline of my life, striving has never met success! Rather, it collides recklessly with pain and defeat. In my naivety, I blindly walked off the plank of perfection and nearly drowned in the throes of a ravenous eating disorder. I didn’t have anorexia… Oh no, girl! ANOERXIA HAD ME! Perfectionism, while nearly destroying me, never gave me what I so desperately craved.

There is an insidious, venomous lie that tells us that without this non-descript “perfection”, life will be a dismal disappointment and we will be hopelessly incomplete. We strive endlessly to make our lives be good enough in order to be accepted, loved, appreciated and validated. We fear our shortcomings because we believe they diminish our value. All this is a lie, but most of us have bought it hook, line and sinker. This is why we are willing to sacrifice deeply and go to great lengths to attain that which we have actually already been given. Perfectionism is only Perfection’s deceptive decoy. Perfection is not a goal, it’s a Person. Jesus Christ is the only One Who ever was or will ever be flawless and He offers Himself to me saying, “In your weakness, I will be your strength. I am looking for someone to be strong for.  Whatever you have done wrong or has gone wrong, I will make right if you put your entire self in my nail scarred hands. You don’t have to be afraid anymore. Your value is backed by the stable currency of My incorruptible blood. I will NEVER leave or forsake you. Please don’t be afraid; let My love take away every fear.”

Here are the nuggets of truth I offer you from the ocean floor of perfectionism: There is no need to strive. I don’t have to be perfect to be perfectly loved. I am His and He, Perfection Himself, is mine! FOREVER!

Lord Jesus, thank you for the truth that not only saved me then, but saves me now. Please help me turn away from all of my tight-fisted striving so with my heart wide open, I might freely receive what I could never attain by my efforts.  I was destined to thrive in You…and may You thrive in me! In Jesus precious name, Amen!



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Silencing Energy Thieves

silencing energy thievesEnergy thieves.

We’ve all got them.

You know who it is in your life. The mercurial boss whose mood swings keep the entire office tiptoeing around the land mines.  The “friend” whose phone calls you screen because you know the conversation is going to be an hour of drama. The constant critics who leave you feeling like you’ve been nibbled to death by ducks. The impossible-to-please relative, or the antagonist who lurks in the background, waiting for you to mess up.

You’ve got faces in your mind right now, don’t you? Me too.

So did Jesus.

I’ve been spending time in the gospels lately, and it struck me on this read-through how constant the presence of the energy stealers were in Jesus’ life. Matthew, Mark, and Luke call them the scribes and Pharisees. John simply calls them “the Jews”–a reference in John’s gospel to the Jewish religious leaders who opposed Jesus, not the nation as a whole. They’re there, lurking at the edges of almost every story.

When Jesus heals a lame man and pronounces his sins forgiven, they’re there. How dare he say that? Does he think he’s God or something?

They’re there when he sits down to eat with friends. What is he doing eating with those sinners?  Doesn’t he know sin is catching?

They nibble at him like ducks.  Your disciples don’t fast enough! They’re picking grain on the sabbath! And they didn’t wash their hands before they ate!

They spread lies about him. He casts out demons? He’s obviously got a demon himself!

They set traps for him. Adultery carries the death penalty. If he spares her, he’s breaking the law. If he judges her, we hand him over to Rome. We’ve got him now, boys!

And they finally conspire to put him to death. Raising the dead?  We can’t have that. Time for him to go.

Jesus’ energy thieves were a constant presence, yet they never distracted Jesus from his mission. Somehow I don’t see Jesus laying awake at night wondering what stunt the Pharisees were going to pull tomorrow. Or rehearsing conversations in his head for the next time they asked him a ridiculous question.He had strong words for them at times, but he never let them keep him from fulfilling his mission.

How did he stay strong?  How did he keep on preaching, keep on healing, knowing they stood in the background looking for ways to accuse him? I’m not sure this is all the answer, but I think these things are part of it.

  • Jesus knew his identity. One thing energy thieves have in common is their desire to define you. They throw labels at you. They try to explain how you should react and feel. “Oh, I’m sorry that upset you. You should be less sensitive.” They try to control your thoughts, actions, and beliefs. Jesus rejected the labels others put on him and defined himself as who he truly was.  Great Physician. Messiah. Lord of the Sabbath. Bread of Life. Son of God. You, dear friend, are a child of God. You are a new creation–redeemed, transformed, and renewed. Know your identity and walk securely as the citizen of the kingdom God has made you to be. The only label that matters is the name God has already given you:  His.
  • Jesus accepted the reality of sin. I believe when Jesus set out on his mission he knew that not everyone would follow him. He knew he would face opposition and rejection.  He knew that sin prefers darkness instead of light. He knew this, and so he wasn’t surprised when the energy stealers gathered at the periphery of the crowd. I think sometimes it’s the surprise that gets us. We know the reality of sin, but we still expect those around us to act like saints. Employers are supposed to be fair. Friends are supposed to be loyal. Christians are supposed to act like it. When they don’t, we get broadsided and waste energy wondering why sinful people sin. People are going to mistreat us. We can’t change that. But we can choose how we respond.
  • Jesus focused on his mission. Jesus knew what he came to do: bring healing to the brokenness of sin. He lavished attention on the wounded. The lepers, the sinners, the prostitutes, the tax collectors–he had all the time in the world for them. But he didn’t waste time or energy trying to fix those who refused to recognize their own sickness. He didn’t shy away from confronting it–but he didn’t chase them down and beg them to like him, either. Sometimes we look at the energy stealers in our lives and try to fix them, as if the right words or right set of circumstances could somehow convince them to change. That’s not our job. Oh, we shouldn’t hesitate to call sin what it is, but it’s the Spirit’s job to convict and transform. What has Jesus called you to do? Focus on that, and let him take care of the detractors.

We can’t escape the energy stealers, but we can refuse to let them steal our joy. We can choose to act as children of light, bringing the light of Jesus into our circumstances and transforming them with the power of the gospel. We can refuse to divert our attention to those who only want to destroy and derail. We can be loving servants, secure in the knowledge of who they are.

Because they can try to steal your energy–but they can never take you out of His hand.

 

 

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Slow Me Down, Lord

dandelion from unsplashHe was grabbing a gallon of milk from the dairy case when I saw him. It took me a moment to recognize him. Six years ago he was a scrawny freckle-faced kid. Now this tall young man is starting his senior year of high school and playing on the football team.

How time flies.

As he headed for the checkout lane, thoughts of my own munchkin brigade danced in my head.  Because it’s true what they say–the days are long but the years fly. My babies are still babies, but I know the day’s coming when I’m going to blink and see their grown-up selves standing in front of me.  When I won’t be teaching them how to brush their teeth but teaching them how to drive. When I’ll be proofing college admission essays and hoping that the roots they’ve grown are strong enough to hold steady in the wild winds of this crazy world.

Time does fly. Slow it down, Lord.

Or maybe this:  Slow me down, Lord.

It’s fall.  And with fall comes the renewal of our routine. Gymnastics and piano. Wednesday nights at church. Homeschool co-op. Speech therapy and Mothers’ Day Out. Schoolwork is in full swing, and our days entwine with the dance of reading lessons and math, science labs and grocery runs, trying not to miss a beat.

I’m in the middle of it all. I can feel it in myself–the pressure to get through this thing so we can get to the next thing. The afternoons when I’m almost willing to pay the kids to go watch TV and stop talking to me for a minute. The sense that we have to rush through the day because the clock is ticking and soon it’s time for bedtime and baths so we can start it all over again tomorrow.

Slow me down, Lord.

Because now is what matters.  Now is the only moment we’re given. And it’s in the now that we capture the memories to string like pearls–the precious jewels that make up a life well lived. Those moments like watching a child figure out that letters make words and words make stories and stories make up whole new worlds. Moments like the moment of triumph when she finally jumps off the diving board after a summer of false starts. Moments like the wonder of a monarch perched on a zinnia that stays almost long enough for chubby fingers to pet it before it flies away.

Slow me down, Lord.

Slow me down–long enough to teach me to number my days. Long enough to be fully present in this moment. Long enough to conquer the selfishness that tempts me to see them as interruptions to the schedule instead of gifts from you.

Slow me down, Lord. Long enough to love them. And long enough to see you.



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Back to School: Blogging for Compassion

Anyone else have their Facebook feed lit up with Back-to-School pictures this week?

We started our school routine the first week of August.  That gives us the benefit of doing things like a museum field trip this week–which means we’ll have the place to ourselves except for all the other homeschool parents who had the same idea I did.

But for all you moms who are rejoicing over the first day of school freedom, this is for you:

I love my kids, but being able to leave the house by yourself?  Yeah, that’s priceless.

As we celebrate (or commiserate over) our kids heading back to school, it’s a good time to remember children around the world for whom education is a priceless opportunity.  Here are a few pictures of Compassion children from Guatemala:

Aren’t those awesome? Education is one of the main pathways out of poverty.  But it’s not a road all children get to travel.

  • Worldwide, nearly 80 percent of primary-school-age children attend school. In least developed countries, this figure is around 66 percent.
  • The largest out-of-school population is in sub-Saharan Africa, where around 45.5 million children of primary school age are out of school.
  • Of the 67 million primary-school-age children who do not attend school, 53 percent are girls.
  • Worldwide, only 49 percent of children of secondary school age actually attend secondary school.
  • Of the 49 percent of secondary age students who do not attend school, 52 percent are girls.
  • The world’s functional illiterates include more than 130 million children who do not attend school, 73 million of them girls. (statistics from Compassion)

As you’re celebrating back-to-school week with your family, you can also make a difference in the life of a child. Sponsoring a child with Compassion provides your sponsored child with educational opportunities, medical care, food and clean water, and life-skills training.  Compassion’s church based ministry also insures that sponsored children get a chance to hear about Jesus.  That’s a priceless opportunity.

If you’re not sponsoring a child, consider sponsoring a child today. If you’re already sponsoring, tell us in the comments where your sponsored child lives.  And if you’re a homeschool mom like me, check out these free homeschool lesson plans from Compassion.



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