Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Ryder’s Take on Christmas

Christmas was already in full swing.

My daughter-in-law, Annie had taken her two little guys, Isaac and Ryder, to a well-known chain store. Visiting the Christmas aisle was always a highlight. It was decorated to the hilt with all the usual Christmas trappings: trees and lights and ornaments and lots of gaily wrapped but empty presents. They strolled casually up and down the aisles, ooh-ing and aah-ing over the displays.

Almost two-years-old, Ryder suddenly stopped, looking around intently. Obviously he was looking for something in particular. Not finding what he was searching for, he turned to his mom, shrugging with a puzzled look.

His question to her? “Where baby Jesus?”

Ryder nailed it. In all the twinkling lights or beautiful decorations, the most important part of Christmas was nowhere to be seen.

 Christmas decorations 2

“Where baby Jesus?”

We call Him “the reason for the season”. And as followers of Jesus, we know it is true. But so often we let the busyness of buying and wrapping presents, the parties, and the annual Christmas letter be what consumes us. It begins to feel like that is what Christmas is all about.

“Where baby Jesus?”

Have we lost sight of Him in all the fun and family times? Have we forgotten Him in all the doing and details of celebrating? Have we pushed Him aside in all the busyness and baking?

So in thinking about this I decided I need to give Jesus a gift; time. Time to just sit with Him, pondering the miracle of God in human form. Time to thank Him for the kind of incomprehensible love that drove Him to leave heaven and take on the form of a baby. Time to praise Him that the wonder and joy of knowing Him, the God of all creation, is His free gift of grace to me.

In doing that, I find Him all over again. And He makes it Christmas. Because ultimately, Christmas without Jesus is like one of those presents Isaac and Ryder saw under the trees that day; beautiful on the outside, but still empty on the inside.

“Where baby Jesus?” Ryder, He is in the hearts of all who love Him.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.                                                                                                                John 1:14

  1. Stop for a moment. Ponder what life would be like if Jesus had not come.
  2. Write out your prayer, thanking Jesus for who He is and what He accomplished on your behalf.

Father, I look around and enjoy all the fun trappings of Christmas; the lights, the goodies, and time to spend with family. But none of it has meaning apart from You. You gave up heaven, so that I might join You there someday. You sacrificed Yourself, so God could forgive me for all the wrong I do. And nothing, nothing! can compare with the joy of belonging to You. Please be foremost in my heart this Christmas.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Anticipation

It’s December—let the merriment begin!

At my house Christmas is more of an entire season rather than a single day. And it begins on December 1st. To kick if off the Montgomerys have a tradition; all my kids—and now my grandkids—get a present that day.

It’s never an expensive gift. When the kids were young it might be Christmas socks, Christmas earrings, a Christmas t-shirt, or Christmas boxers. It really didn’t matter what it was. The point was to mark the start of the season, and point ahead to what was coming—the day of Christmas itself!

christmas_present

December 1st is only a foretaste of Christmas, but as a result, the whole month is filled with anticipation of the fulfillment of its promise.

It was a great idea, but it was God’s idea first. You see, He has given us the promise of heaven. That promise isn’t fulfilled yet, but He has given us a deposit guaranteeing that it really is coming; His Spirit.

When we first received Jesus as Savior, it marked the beginning of not only a new season, but a whole new eternity! Those of us who have chosen to follow Him know that living with Him in heaven is promised to us. It’s coming, but sometimes it seems like a long ways off. God gives us the Holy Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing that He will fulfill that promise.

It is His Spirit that speaks truth into my heart when the faint stirrings of doubt creep in. It’s His Spirit that affirms His love for me when I feel unlovable. And it is His Spirit that reminds me that heaven really is coming!

It’s way better than any December 1st present, and it’s only part of what’s coming!

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.        Ephesians 3:13-14

Further reflection:

  1. Does your family have any unique Christmas traditions?
  2. How do they point to the fulfillment of God’s promises?

Father, thank You not only for the promise of heaven, but that You gave us Your Spirit to guarantee its fulfillment. My heart leaps in anticipation of what it will be like to live with You forever.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What Just Happened?

Her eyes flew to mine with a shocked, “What just happened?” expression on her face. Six-month-old Bethany broke into gut-wrenching tears.

I had yearned for a girl when I got pregnant with her. I already had two dear sons, but now I had a daughter too. She was an adorable little peanut that we named Bethany, and she had completely stolen my heart. I cherished holding her, treasured rocking her to sleep, and enjoyed just sitting and gazing at her sweet little face. I remember how she looked back at me, with her big brown eyes so innocent, and so trusting.

I was a good mom, doing a lot of good mom-type stuff. That included taking her to the doctor for check-ups to make sure she stayed healthy. This day Bethany was due for her first set of shots. She cooed at the doctor as he checked out her ears and throat. She smiled when he weighed her. She laughed when he prodded her tummy to check for abnormalities.

Then I held her as he prepared to give her the first shot. Immediately she broke into tears, and the look she gave me broke my heart. But the hardest part came when he prepared to give her the second shot. She had already calmed down, and looked at me with those trusting eyes, knowing I would never do anything to deliberately hurt her. And I held her down as the doctor once again caused her pain. She looked the way she felt; betrayed, confused, and a little afraid.

baby-getting-vaccinated

I tried to tell her that I was doing it for her own good, so that she would stay healthy. I explained that the little moment of pain was a more-than-fair exchange for her long-term wellbeing. But she wasn’t buying it. The tears continued for a time, but eventually, as I held her close she grew quiet, comforted by my presence.

I wish that Bethany had been able to understand that it was because I love her so much that I allowed her pain, but she was just too young.

Oh how often I have felt the same way as Bethany. When my Father has allowed pain to enter my life, my objection is usually the same as hers: loud and immediate! I, too, feel betrayed, confused, and a little afraid. Isn’t He the One who is supposed to love me? Nurture me? Protect me? If I can’t trust Him, who can I trust? My world is rocked as I grapple with reconciling who God is—loving and good—with the hard things He allows. Nothing seems certain…

Until I stop and remember. Pain is not only an inevitable part of life, but God works all things together for my good, even this (Romans 8:28). It is not the easy things in life that build my character. If so, God would probably allow me less pain. I am a slow learner, and God chooses to allow short-term pain in order to grow me into a healthy believer. Because pain motivates me to change. It deepens my character and causes me to look to my Father for courage, for help, and for the comfort of His presence.

My faith would be unhealthy without the lessons that pain has taught me. My Father knows that short-term pain is worth the long-term gain it brings.

But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.                                                       Psalm 131:2

Further reflection:

  1. Do you, as a parent, ever allow your kids to suffer pain? Why, or why not?
  2. Has God ever allowed pain in your life that made you feel the same way as Bethany did?
  3. Looking back, what do you think you learned from it?

Father, I can’t say I enjoy pain. I may not always understand what You are trying to accomplish in my life, but You are my Abba, my Daddy, and I know You love me. I recognize that there are things I need to learn that only pain can teach me. But please, help me realize Your presence in the midst of it, so that I might be comforted.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Big Waves



The rule always was, “Don’t go out in water above your waist”, and it was a good rule. Having four kids, Mom knew she couldn’t keep track of all of us every second we were at the beach. She understood all about the danger of rip tides, and the rule was her way of keeping us safe.
The only problem was that it was boring! The waves close to the shore were small and tame. We didn’t seem to be having nearly as much fun as those kids who went further out, laughing hysterically as the waves pounded them.
We were often tempted to disobey Mom’s rule, and sneak out into deeper water. But Mom was smart. There was a payoff if we obeyed her: before we left the beach that day, Dad would take us, one at a time, out into that deeper water.
dad and child at beach
I remember so clearly how it felt that first time, as Dad picked me up in his strong arms and carried me past where I could touch the sandy ocean floor to where the white and furious waves were breaking. It shocked me to learn that Mom was right! It would have been so scary out in those churning waves if I’d been by myself. But my Dad was so much bigger than me. His grip made me feel safe, because I knew that my Dad loved me, and would never let go. I trusted him, so I could laugh in the face of what could have been frightening, and enjoy the adventure instead. I hated it when my turn was up, and Dad would take me back to the shore. I treasured those times with him as we battled the waves together.
I loved my Dad, partly because He seemed so strong, but he certainly wasn’t’ perfect. God is my perfect Father. They do have this in common: sometimes, like my Dad, God picks me up and takes me into the deep water. There the big waves of life’s challenges crest hard and fast. It’s no accident to find myself there. It’s where God has deliberately placed me to test my trust, to deepen my faith, and to teach me to hold on to Him in the midst.
The waves can be big, and may feel like they’re going to drown me. I’m in way over my head, and if I forget that my Father is with me it’s overwhelming. But it doesn’t need to be.
My Father is way bigger than my Dad; He’s smarter, stronger, and loves me far more and far better. Even in life’s big waves He never lets go of me, and always holds me safely in His arms. When I focus on Him, I actually experience His strength, His love, and His presence.
I am safe, because I know that He will never lose His grip on me.

God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in time of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the water surge.                                                                               Psalm 46:1-3 

The eternal God is your refuge and His everlasting arms are under you.              Deuteronomy 33:27 

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.                                           Isaiah 41:10 

Further reflection:
  1. Has there ever been a time that you have been overwhelmed by circumstances in your life?
  2. Describe your emotions.
  3. What did you hold on to during those times?
  4. What would holding on to the Lord be like in comparison?
Father, life can be hard, and it can be scary. Thank You that You are bigger than any challenges that come my way, and nothing is too hard for You to handle. You are always with me, and because You love me, You will never lose Your grip on me.














Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Transforming Love

She sang in the church choir, and he played in the orchestra. At first glance, they appeared to be an odd match. There had even been some strong opposition to their courtship. After all, he was seventeen years old than she. The age difference was significant; different ages brought different memories, different experiences, and different perspectives. Hard things for them, and sometimes for others, to get past.

But she had loved him for four years. At first he thought that she might outgrow it, and would not allow a relationship to develop. But after the first two years had passed, against his better judgment, he softened to the idea.

She continued to love him intensely and steadfastly. She wooed him more than he wooed her. As he grew to love her, he took the lead and relentlessly pursued her in the way that every woman longs to be pursued. And now they were engaged, and soon to be married.

I sat watching her during this church concert, reflecting on and praying for them. As she had been trained to do, her eyes roamed around the audience as she sang. Being in love obviously suited her. Always nice-looking, she now had that special soon-to-be-married glow about her.

Then her eyes stilled, and I saw it.

loving look 2

Instinctively I knew that her eyes had settled on him. Even from a distance I could see her face soften and her eyes fill with tenderness. She wore the sweet, mysterious smile of one who loves without reservation and knows that she is absolutely, completely loved in return.

I felt like an intruder as she gazed at him; love, longing, and anticipation written on her face. She was completely transformed, and absolutely, radiantly beautiful.

That’s what love does. It transforms us. It turns us from something ordinary into something beautiful. Yet as wonderful as it may be, our normal, human love pales when compared to the kind of love that Jesus offers us; merciful, gracious, sacrificial, holy, passionate, loyal, unconditional, steadfast, unfailing, transforming, perfect love.

Hebrews 12:2 challenges us to “fix our eyes on Jesus”. To the degree that we do this, we cannot help but be changed. The desire to please others is replaced by the desire to please Him; their approval pales in comparison to His, and all other loves become a shadow of one far greater. That process often takes far longer than we’d like. But we are promised that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image” (2 Corinthians 3:18). The more we look at Jesus, the more we are changed. We become more beautiful because we become more like Him.

My friend could have focused on any of the other people she knew at the church concert that night. But she chose to focus on the one she loved best. Just as she was changed from pretty to beautiful by her love for her fiancé, we too, can be changed.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus allows us to be so changed by our love for Him, and His for us, that others can see it, and long to know His love, too.

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13

Further reflection:

  1. Where do you think you focus the majority of your attention?
  2. Does it change you for the good, or not?
  3. How do you think loving Jesus is different?
  4. How might you be changed by it?

Father, I want to be changed by Your love. I want to look at You, without meaningless distractions, because You are the one I love best. Your love is redeeming and perfect, and I long to be changed by it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Finishing Well

“Yes, I can!” Seven-year-old Lisa shouted at them.

It was summer and another family camping trip was underway. Fifteen cousins provided eleven years’ difference in ages. The hikes we took were designated as either for “the big kids” or “the little kids”, depending on its length and level of difficulty. As you can imagine, the kids themselves did not always agree on which group they belonged to!

We were at Big Sur (on the coast of California) when some of us decided to hike to four- mile creek. Since the mountains made for some challenging trails, the “big kids” didn’t think Lisa could make it, much less keep up. That’s what started the disagreement.

I could see Lisa hesitate a bit, wanting to go but fearful that she may have bit off more than she could chew. Leaving the choice up to her, my only stipulation was that there would be no whining if she went! She decided to go for it.

Turns out that what we thought was a four-mile hike was actually four miles…each way! It was also a warm day, adding to the fatigue factor. Every time we thought that surely we were reaching that creek, we found another bend in the trail and the creek seemed farther away than ever. I was growing tired, myself.

To her credit, Lisa kept her end of the bargain. When she got tired she took a deep breath, but she never gave up, and she never complained. The anticipation of finishing the hike and proving her cousins wrong kept her going.

Lisa and I may not have been the first ones back to camp. We just may have been the very last ones. But the point was not to beat the other kids, but to finish.

I was so proud of Lisa, and the huge smile on her face told me she felt pretty good about it, too. She didn’t even rub it in that she was right, and her cousins had been wrong.

That day I learned something: there is always a cost to achieving a goal.

As followers of the Lord Jesus, our goal is simple: follow Him. Simple, but not easy.

There is a cost of time. In this fast-paced world we want immediate results, but it takes time to understand who Jesus is. It takes diligence to mine truth from His word (John 5:39). Meanwhile, other things clamor for our attention, making it easy to convince ourselves we’ll get to it at some point. Just like with any relationship, we cannot follow someone we don’t know. And we can’t know Him unless we make time to do so.

There is a cost of energy. While any goal worth achieving is worth the effort it takes to make it happen, we have a finite supply of energy. Usually it’s pretty easy to articulate what our priorities are, it isn’t always as easy to allocate our energy accordingly. Weariness can rob us of motivation; keeping the goal in mind is essential (Galatians 6:9).

There is a cost of perseverance. Following Jesus can be hard! Sometimes the way seems all uphill. Just when we think we’re there, life throws a curveball and we realize that the road is a lot longer than we’d imagined. Things happen that we never anticipated; ill health, financial worries, relationship issues. Only by fixing our eyes on Jesus can we keep on keeping on (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Following Jesus is the goal. Simple, but not easy. Like Lisa, I want to finish well.  Because I want Jesus to be proud of me.

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.                                                                          Acts 20:24

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day…                                             2 Timothy 4:7-8a

Further reflection:

1. Do is the biggest goal you have for your life?

2. What do you think God’s goal for you might be?

3. When you think of seeing Him at the end of your life, which do you think you will wish you had pursued?

Father, there is nothing that matters more than following You. I want to do that more than anything. Please, help me to finish this race well, so that someday I, too, can say that I kept the faith. For Your honor and glory alone. I love You.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Never Saw It Coming

He should have seen it coming, but with his attention focused somewhere else he was blindsided, and it knocked him to the ground.

My ten-year-old son, Derek, played second base on his Little League baseball team. During the warm up for the game it was routine for the catcher to throw down to him as if someone was trying to steal that base. Derek had just turned to talk to another player when the throw came, and it caught him square on the bone right above his left eye.

It was awful to watch. Derek dropped to ground and didn’t move. Though unconscious for only a few seconds, to this mom it seemed an eternity. Holding my breath, I watched as an EMT ran to him. After a few minutes Derek stirred, and the EMT helped him wobble off the field.

The EMT’s words to me? “You need to take him to get checked out. His pupils are contracting in opposition to each other. He probably has a concussion or other head injury. Don’t let him fall asleep until he’s been seen.”

Though Derek was a bit loopy during the drive to urgent care, he remained awake and coherent. Still, frantic prayer from this mother’s heart pleaded for God’s mercy and grace.

And God answered that prayer. When the doctor examined him, he found that Derek’s eyes were again working normally. It was determined that while being knocked unconscious indicated a concussion, they didn’t need to treat him any further. Sweet, calming relief slowed the pounding of my heart. The black eye that resulted, while truly impressive, was a small inconvenience compared to what the outcome could have been.

black-eye

His attention wandered for only a few seconds, but that was all it took for Derek to be injured.

His pain is nothing compared to the pain we experience when we let ourselves be distracted from following Jesus. Though in the deepest core of our soul we recognize that He is what we yearn for most, other things vie for our affection. They might even be good things: our families; our jobs, or our friendships. But no matter how important they are, they cannot satisfy us the way that Jesus does. Saint Augustine put it this way: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”

Because He created us to have fellowship with Him. When we let other things divert us from that, we become vulnerable to assigning them a priority they were never intended to have. We settle for lesser things, because there is no pleasure, no meaning, no satisfaction greater than walking in the joy of our relationship with Him. And there is no greater pain than the regret that comes when we look back and realize what we lost when our affection wandered.

Don’t get distracted, and save yourself the pain of regret.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.                                                                                     Hebrews 12:1-3 (bold is mine)

Further reflection:

1. What are some of the things that tend to distract you from focusing on your relationship with the Lord?

2. What do you need to do to keep from being sidetracked by them?

Father, to know You is truly the deepest desire of my heart, but far too often other loves war within me. Please, open my eyes to see when my stubborn heart wants to wander, and purify it to love You best.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

No Regrets

It was on YouTube, and I almost didn’t click on the Facebook link. I ended up watching it at least five times.

It was a video of a little old lady who was 80 years old, and she was trying out for Simon Cowell’s TV show, “Britain’s Got Talent”. A singing competition filled with young up-and-comers, it wasn’t a place you’d expect to see her. But Janey Cutler had been a mother to 7, grandmother to 13, and great-grandmother to 4. Not much was daunting to her after that!

janey Cutler

Escorted to the stage by one of the hosts, her feet shuffled slowly. No one knew quite what to make of her. When asked why she was trying out, she replied: “I like singing. And my friends said, ‘Janie, go for it. Better late than never, dear!’”

Her song choice? Appropriately enough, it was “No Regrets.” I think that’s how Janey has lived her life. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAwOZvvGsRs)

The audience roared to their feet as this stooped-shoulder senior citizen belted out an incredibly powerful rendition. No one expected that kind of voice to come out of her! The crowd went crazy, roaring their approval and demanding that the judges pass her on to the next round.

Obviously touched, two of the judges quickly gave a heartfelt “yes”. But the real test came when it was Simon’s turn. He isn’t known for sentimentality, or even simple kindness. His feedback was most often cutting and derogatory.

“How many years have you waited to do that?” Simon asked her.

Janey’s response? “I’m just thankful to be here tonight.”

Even he couldn’t say no to her! “3,003 yeses!” He declared.

She seemed stunned, as if she never really believed in her own dream. Shocked, but also grateful.

Planted in the deepest layers of our heart, each of us has a dream too. Occasionally we pull it out and dust it off, fondly marveling at how wonderful it is. But we never really believe it could happen, so we gently, reverently, and sadly tuck it away.

Why do we do that? God is the biggest believer in our dreams, for He is the one who places them within us. Sometimes that dream may simmer on the back burner of the mind for a long time: dormant and unexamined, but quietly persisting. Hidden and ignored, it endures. Because if it is a dream from God, it will not go away. No matter how much we tell ourselves that “it could never happen”, some part of us recognizes that the greatest failure in never trying. It is the unpursued dream that causes the most regret. Settling for less is unacceptable, because the “what if’s” are haunting.

It may take a while for the dream to be realized, because the best ones are God-sized, and He has been known to take His time. Even Abraham had to wait 25 years until the promise that he would have a son was fulfilled! (Genesis 21:5) But God loves to fulfill that which He has promised, and if we relentlessly pursue what He has placed in our heart, the waiting only increases our gratitude when the dream is fulfilled.

Janey Cutler could have talked herself out of going for it on “Britain’s Got Talent.” Most 80-year-olds would have. Rejection stings. Instead, she chose to follow her dream, resulting in the joy of hearing “3,003 yeses!” She went on to tour with the other finalists of the show, and even recorded an album. I’m betting she died with few regrets.

I want to live seeking God’s dreams for me.

God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?                 Numbers 23:18-19

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.                                                                       Romans 5:5

Further reflection:

1. Is there a dream, hidden deep within your heart, that won’t let go of you?

2. What holds you back from pursuing that dream?

3. Spend some time with Jesus, asking Him if this is His dream for you. If it is, then go after it!

Father, You are the dream-giver. You have placed things in my heart that, apart from You, I cannot possibly do. It is too big. Too hard. Too impossible. But I know that if You are in it, my biggest regret will be in not even trying. So I offer to You my yearning, my hopes, my dreams. Do with them what You will, only let me follow You.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

China, Here We Come!

I’m leaving to go to China soon. Though I love to travel anywhere an airplane will take me, China wasn’t high on my list of places I want to see. Sometimes, though, God makes His will very clear, and it’s pretty hard to say no when He does.

Beijing-skyline

Part of a short-term missions team, I’m going with five fabulous ladies from my church. We will be there for fifteen days, encouraging and teaching house church leaders and urban professionals. They have the word of God, they love it, and they know what it says. But they don’t always understand what those principles are supposed to look like in everyday life. Specifically, they have asked that we teach seminars on family relationships.

To be honest, I feel completely inadequate to teach on this subject. I know myself well, and I was a good mom. Not a great one, but a good one. There are a lot of things I wish I had done differently, though.

I know. I know. Every mom alive probably feels the same way. But trust me, I’d feel a lot more comfortable teaching about what not to do as a mother!

But that’s okay; I am getting used to being uncomfortable. I really don’t think God wants me to be comfortable anyway: He wants me dependent. Because when I try to do things in my own strength, I fail miserably. He wants to stretch me to do things that, apart from Him, I cannot hope to do. Because that is when it is crystal clear just how much I need Him.

God made it very clear that I am to go to China. And teach on particular topics. So I will do that. Knowing my own weakness, but depending on His strength. Recognizing my inadequacy, but leaning on His sufficiency. Admitting that apart from Him I can do nothing (John 15:5), but with Him all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

Am I excited? Absolutely! Because I know that when I am in over my head—as I will surely be—God is able to do His best work. Because not only will I be dependent, but I will be desperate for Him.

And that is the best place to be, no matter what country it is.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.               2 Corinthians 12:9

Further reflection:

1. Have you ever felt totally inadequate to do something you were convinced that God wanted you to do?

2. How did you handle that?

3. How did you see God show Himself strong in that situation?

Father, I am so grateful for all the promises in Your word. I count on the sufficiency of Your grace. Because of it, I know that my weakness in nothing in the face Your power. Please, do not let me get in the way of the work You want to do in the hearts and minds of our Chinese brothers and sisters. Have Your way in me, in us, that You might receive the honor due Your name.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Never Too Busy

Sometimes technology is not my friend.

My phone has one of those particularly obnoxious ring tones, and it went off right in the middle of a meeting. I hate being one of those thoughtless people who fail to observe proper cell phone etiquette! To make matters worse, I saw that it was my daughter, Lisa, who was eight months pregnant at the time. My heart rate accelerated as I wondered if she was calling to tell me she went into early labor. More than anything I wanted to answer that call. Even as all that went through my mind, my finger automatically hit “ignore”.

Cellphone

I absolutely love to talk to my kids. Sometimes though, like then, they call when I can’t answer. Like when someone else is with me. Or I’m already on my office phone. True confession here; if I’m away from my phone I might not even notice they tried to call until much later (please don’t tell them I said this).

Other times I look down at my phone, see their name and say to myself, “I’ll call them back as soon as I have more time to talk.” Then I get busy and the day gets away from me. It’s not that they aren’t important—they are! There are just so many things tugging at my attention, and I, well, I just forget.

I am so grateful that God is never too busy to take my call. It doesn’t matter how many times I do it, He always answers. No matter how many people are talking to Him, He always has time for me. It’s never inconvenient, and He listens as long as I need without making me feel like I’m imposing. God never looks down to see who’s calling so He can decide whether or not to answer. He wants to hear from me, so He never hits “ignore”. Because He loves me, and I’m that important to Him.

By the way, Lisa didn’t deliver my seventh grandchild, Ethan, for another month. And sometimes technology is my friend; I have his picture safely stored on my phone!

Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord will hear when I call to Him.                                                                                                                            Psalm 4:3

Further reflection:

1. Have you ever been too busy to answer the phone?

2. Have you ever had someone that you wanted to talk to, yet they were too busy to either answer your call or call you back? How did that make you feel?

3. How does it make you feel to realize that God Himself is always ready to hear from you?

Father, sometimes it is beyond my comprehension that You not only allow me into Your presence, but You welcome me! I am incredibly grateful that You always hear me when I call to You, You always listen, and You never ignore me. Thank You for this concrete proof of Your love!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Necessary Pain

There is nothing worse than seeing your son in pain, and knowing that you deliberately caused it. And my ten-year-old son, Derek, was definitely in pain.

We had just left the orthodontist, who once again tightened Derek’s already snug braces. I knew from experience that he would eat nothing but soft foods for the next few days. His mouth would ache too much to chew.

“Mom,” he moaned. “It hurts.”

“I know, sweetie.” I responded. “But think how gorgeous you will be when this is all done.”

braces 2

Simple words, but they gave me new insight into why God allows suffering in His children.

We didn’t put braces on Derek to hurt him. Quite the contrary. Derek had a pretty major overbite, and correcting that now would save him a lot of dental problems later on. We chose to let him suffer a bit in the short term so he would not suffer even more in the long term. Our motives were good, but it didn’t make the process any less painful.

It cost us something too: money, time, and a hurting son. But it was worth it, because though it was hard to watch we knew it was what was best for him in the long run. The pain had a purpose.

We did it because we love him.

So it is with the Lord.

Sometimes He allows us, His children, to suffer. We hurt, and we don’t know why He permits it. He is strong, and He is good, yet He allows our pain when He could easily dismiss it. But that’s the short-term perspective.

His motivation isn’t a sadistic pleasure in seeing our hurt. As our Father, I’m sure He aches for us. He was once a man, subject to the same pain and hurts as we. He was despised, rejected, and reviled. Yes, He understands what we go through. But He still allows suffering, because it changes us. In some profound, fundamental way, we cannot suffer and emerge unchanged. We simply are not the same as before. We have more compassion for those who suffer. We have more patience with those who hurt. We have more understanding that trials are hard, but that doesn’t make them all bad.

I know that the pain that braces cause is not comparable to other, deeper wounds, but the principle is the same.

God knows pain hurts, but He wants it to change us. With Him, the pain has a purpose. Think how gorgeous we will be when He is done with us!

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory( in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 5:10-11

Further reflection:

1. Describe a time when there was pain in your life.

2. How did it affect your relationship with Jesus?

3. Pick one of the above Bible passages about suffering, and commit it to memory.

Father, life is painful sometimes. I know You see it. I know You suffered far more than I ever will so that I can come to You when I hurt. Please, let me not waste it. May You redeem it, so that it changes me. Because I am most beautiful when I become more like You.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Seat-belt Checks

“Seat-belt check!” The cry rang out in the station wagon. Immediately I whipped my head around to see which of the kids did, or did not, have their seat belts on. Some of my kids cheered, but others groaned.

It was a tradition in the Montgomery family. These random “seat-belt checks” went out from either Alan or myself. If the kids had their seat belts on, they got to go to 7/11 to get a treat with Dad. If they didn’t, they knew they had no one to blame but themselves. It was a way to motivate our kids to remember, on their own and without reminding, to put those important seatbelts on.

seat belt

Plus, Alan loved his own 7/11 runs, and this gave him an excuse to not only reinforce an important safety lesson, but to bless his kids—and himself—with a fun time together.

Our heavenly Father also delights when we do what He asks. And He loves it when, because of that obedience, we are in a position where He can bless us. With more of Himself. With a greater understanding of His word. With greater joy in His presence.

It isn’t that God loves us more when we obey. Nothing we do—or don’t do—will change either the fact or the measure of His love (Psalm 13:5-6). But one of the blessings resulting from our obedience is that it opens our hearts and minds to recognize more fully the wonderful things He has already given us. A cool breeze on a warm summer day. A rich conversation with a good friend. The soul satisfaction of offering worship to the unchanging Giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). The deep delight of walking in the richness of fellowship with our Father.

Our kids had glimpses of blessings with their earthly father, but they don’t even begin to compare with the blessings that come from obeying our heavenly Father. So buckle up!

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. Psalm 54:10

Further reflection:

  1. Have there ever been times when you did not obey God?
  2. Think of a time that you did obey even when you did not feel like it.
  3. What was the outcome of each?
  4. What were the blessings you found as a result of your obedience?

Father, You are a great Dad! I want to walk with You, hearing and obeying Your voice, in such a way that my heart and mind are open to see all the many blessings You give. Thank You, that whether I do that or not, Your love for me is unfailing and unchanging.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

DOINK!

It was a sound he’ll never forget, and it still gives him nightmares.

To say that our oldest son, Eric, is competitive would be an understatement. You name the sport, he wanted not only to play it, but to excel in it. Football, baseball, soccer—he loved them all.

Eric and his younger brother Derek both played competitive soccer. One Saturday Derek’s team was scheduled to play right after Eric’s, and on the same field. All the guys on Derek’s team knew Eric, so even as they were warming up they kept an eye on the game in progress. That certainly motivated Eric to run faster and work harder to put the ball in the net. Because of that, he had a great game going, but the other team still led 1-0 going into the final minutes.

When the other team fouled, Eric’s teammate sent a ball arcing towards the net. Adrenaline pumping, Eric looked up and saw his chance. He dribbled around the last defender and found himself going one-on-one with the goalie. Derek’s team stood watching, cheering his certain goal. Eric went wide, cutting the angle off the goalie, and shot—a powerful, curling rocket.

DOINK! It was the sound of the soccer ball as it ricocheted back off the crossbar. Falling at the feet of the defender, the opportunity was lost.

soccer goal missed

Eric was so very close. Just a fraction off, but it meant that the goal never happened. Not only did his team lose that game, but the embarrassment of missing in front of Derek’s team was heartbreaking for him. But that’s the rule of soccer; if the ball doesn’t go into the net it doesn’t matter how good a shot or how close it was. It doesn’t count.

As God of the universe He will accept nothing less than perfection. Now, we all miss that mark! Some of us miss it by a little, some by a lot. Some fail very publicly, others fail privately, in the deep, hidden things of the heart. And it doesn’t matter which it is, God sees all of it. If the goal is perfection none of us will achieve it.

Which is why I’m grateful that God, in His richest mercy, allows another way. He doesn’t keep score of our failures. Instead, if we come to Him in genuine sorrow for our sin, He offers forgiveness. His promise is that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. “ (1 John 1:9)

No matter what I have done, no matter how far I have wandered, nothing is beyond the reach of His grace, for it is “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning...” (Lamentations 3:22-23). He not only forgives us, but “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12).

Unlike the sound of “doink” as Eric’s goal was missed, I hear ““Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.” (Romans 4:7-8)

Which sound would you rather have ringing in your ears?

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin…Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:1-2, 10

Further reflection:

1. Describe an experience where you sinned, either publicly or privately.

2. Did you go to God for His forgiveness for it?

3. How did receiving forgiveness feel?

Father, I know how often I fail, and how far short I fall of Your standard of perfection. But I also know that You love me, and are always ready to forgive. May the time between my sin and coming to You for forgiveness be short, that I might not live with regret.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My Hope is in You

I walked in the door after working at church, and with just one look at my husband knew something was wrong. Alan’s a great non-verbal communicator. I didn’t ask him what it was, though. Once you ask, “What’s wrong?” you have to deal with the reality of the answer. And I instinctively knew I didn’t want to.

We chatted for a minute and I wondered if I had been wrong. But I still could sense his tenseness. And I was still avoided asking why. After about ten minutes he came and sat next to me on the couch.

“I got a phone call from Matt.” He started. “They had to call 911 and take the baby to the hospital.”

Matt is married to our daughter, Lisa, and the baby is Ethan James. He was only eight days old. They live in Indiana, and our first time to even hold him was still two weeks away.

I cannot explain how much you can love someone you’ve never met, but our newest grandson had already become very dear. My heart skipped a beat at this news.

newborn Ethan

Alan went on to explain that Ethan had quit breathing twice in rapid succession, and was turning blue when they called for an ambulance. Lisa rode with her new son to the hospital.

Once there they ran every test that made sense. An EKG checked his heart and blood work screened for abnormalities, but nothing showed a red flag. They were all sent home a few hours later with a diagnosis of reflux. The theory was that when Ethan was laid down after eating the milk was coming back up and gagging him, causing his breathing to stop.

“Don’t put him down for a while after he eats. Prop the head of his crib up. And keep a close eye on him.”

That’s all they got. Watch to make sure he’s breathing. Not much comfort for parents of a newborn.

First thing the next morning they went and bought an apnea monitor, so that they didn’t have to spend another night listening to see if Ethan was still breathing. It was a very wise investment.

While I was relieved to hear about the monitor, this is what went through my head: “That’s good. But our trust is in You alone.”

God is the Author and Creator of life. To some of us He grants many, many years. Others live only days, or minutes.

Frankly, I don’t understand that. Those who long to be parents but miscarry and will not know their children this side of heaven. Babies dying of SIDS. Parents burying their kids. Everything in me cries out how wrong that is. And I am again reminded how differently God sees things.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “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

It’s the struggle of the imperfect, finite mind to even begin to comprehend the holy and infinite. I cannot fathom it. But feelings lie, and I can only cling to what I, in the very deepest part of my soul, know to be true: God is good. Those babies are not lost—they are with Jesus. However short, their lives have meaning that is not measured by the length of it, but by the One who loves them most. Grief and faith wrestle; God alone is constant.

Ethan’s apnea monitor went off a few times the next few nights, but hasn’t since. We will get to hold him and count his fingers and toes for ourselves in six days. God is good.

He would be good even if He had chosen to take Ethan.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:13-16

Father, help me to trust what I know is true about You more than I trust what I feel. You love each person created. You grieve with us when our babies die. You are the only One who truly understands—You watched Your own Son suffer and die. Hold those who grieve close to Your heart. Heaven becomes more precious as those we love wait there for us.

Further reflection:

  1. What hard thing has God allowed in your life that you don’t understand?
  2. Do you believe that, in spite of it, God is good?
  3. Take your hurt, your pain, and your suffering to Him. Cry and wail and tell Him how you feel. Then rest, knowing that He understands your feelings, He loves you, and He is indeed good.

Father, You are good. Even when I don’t understand why You allow tragedy and such deep sorrow, I know You are good. I believe that. Help my unbelief.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

In the Midst of the Storm

Ka-boom! The crashing thunder blasted a mere split-second after the lightning flashed. Hard on its heels another volley ricocheted. Again and again and again the sound and the noise exploded in dramatic harmony.

We don’t get thunderstorms like that very often in southern California. Cocooned in a downy comforter on my couch, I was kind of enjoying it.

lightning 2

My dogs, however, were a different story.

My puppy, Duchess, was badly frightened. This was her first thunderstorm, and she did not like it. Each blast caused her to cower in fear, whimpering. I held her on my lap, calmly speaking words of encouragement. Though I pet her soothingly, neither my touch nor my words were of any consolation to her. She only felt her fear, and refused to be comforted. Only as the storm subsided did her quivering calm, and she relaxed.

On the other hand our older dog, Daisy, had been through a few of these storms. She was definitely on alert, and sat tucked close into my side, eyes firmly fixed on me. When lightning lit up the room and the thunder exploded, she just kept looking at me, confident that if I wasn’t worried, she didn’t need to be either.

In the midst of the storms of life, we each get to choose how we react.

Some of us react like Duchess, who was needlessly afraid. I was with her, but as she reacted to her circumstances she could not even hear the encouragement I offered. My touch didn’t even register, because her fear of the storm was bigger than her trust in me.

Others react like Daisy, who allowed my presence to determine her reaction. My touch and my voice were what she listened to, far more than she listened to the tumult around her. She certainly didn’t sleep through the storm, but it didn’t cause her turmoil, either.

The storms of life are hard, and they are inevitable. They bring noise and confusion and scary possibilities. But our reactions are determined by what we focus on. We don’t have to like the storms, but the only way to have peace through them is to listen for the voice of the One who controls it. To recognize His presence in the midst, close to us. To draw near to Him and take comfort from His whispers of encouragement, allowing Him to still our fear and determine our response.

Ultimately, God wants us to trust Him, not—like Duchess—after the storm, but—like Daisy—in the midst of it.

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

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”                             John 16:33

Further reflection:

1. Have you endured one of those storms in life yet? If so, describe it.

2. Did you react in fear, or by focusing on God?

3. If you reacted in fear, what could you do differently next time to respond in faith instead?

Father, You have indeed overcome the world. During all the storms of life You are there, near and offering solace. Please help me be more aware of Your presence than I am of the storm itself. Deepen my trust in You, help me hear Your voice, and allow Your presence to determine my response.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mom’s Worth

It was yet another trip to the emergency room.

My mom had suffered from Parkinson’s Disease for many years, so trips to the ER were not uncommon. A blocked carotid artery, a broken hip, and depression had sent her there on multiple occasions. I was very fortunate in that I had two sisters, Barb and Annette, to share the responsibilities of caring for her. But there was plenty of responsibility to go around.

My Dad had also been fighting lung cancer that metastasized to his brain. The surgery to remove the brain tumor along with the follow-up treatment had aged and weakened him dramatically. He could no longer drive. He who had been the strong one as Mom deteriorated now needed our help, too.

Doctor visits. Money management. Overseeing help in their home. We were now parenting our parents.

Because of that, my sisters and I had grown to dread that middle-of-the-night phone call that would alert us to a new crisis. This time Mom had developed an infection that caused disorientation and hallucinations.

Emergency_Room

After the doctor sedated Mom to give her relief, Barb and Annette went home. It was my turn to stay with her until she was moved to her room.

So I began to pray, and in my fatigue and my sorrow, these were my words: “Father, isn’t it time for Mom to come home to You? Why are You keeping her here? She’s sick. She’s scared. And she can’t do anything for herself!”

I cannot explain how I heard His response. It wasn’t audible. But it was very clear.

“How dare you!” His voice thundered in my heart.

“Your mom does not have worth because of anything she does or does not do. Her life has worth because she was made in My image, and I said so!”

Oh…of course. The tumult in my heart stilled. Because, as always, He was right. Realizing that truth, I called my attitude what it was--sin.

My life, your life, is not measured by what we accomplish, or what we don’t. It has worth because each of us is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) and we have purpose and will remain on this earth until the Lord Himself calls us home.

As I thought about it more, I realized something else: Mom was actually doing a lot! Maybe not in and of herself, but because of her struggles my sisters and I had changed. Our hearts softened as we watched her decline. Loving her without expectations came a bit easier, and compassion deepened as she grew weaker. We rejoiced when we would see a spark of her old self, and grieve when her confusion caused her to think my Dad a stranger who had invaded their home. She taught us to rely on Jesus in new ways: we needed His strength, His wisdom, His perseverance, and His peace. Especially when we grew tired. Mom could not give us what she always had: support, encouragement, and affirmation. It was our turn to give it to her.

I look back now, and am so grateful for the extra time I had with my mom. My sisters and I are not the same because of it. She influenced us until the day she died, because she had great worth in Your eyes.

The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7

Further reflection:

  1. Describe a time you assigned worth based on what a person accomplishes.
  2. Have you ever felt that your own worth was defined by your accomplishments?
  3. How is your perspective on this different from God’s?

Father, You see things differently. You alone give us worth; thank You that it isn’t based on what we accomplish, but it is rooted in our image-bearing soul. Teach me to rest in Your unchanging perspective.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bell’s Palsy

“Look, Mommy, my mouth doesn’t work right!”

It was the 4th of July, and my family had gathered for a barbeque. Six-year-old Bethany had been playing outside with her cousins when she ran giggling into the house.

“Smile!” I demanded, curious as to what she meant.

She meant what she said. When she tried to smile only one side of her mouth curved up. The other side was frozen, unresponsive.

My mom panicked at the thought of a stroke, but I had a friend who had experience Bell’s Palsy. That’s where my mind went. We rushed Bethany to the emergency room, where she was indeed diagnosed with this strange malady.

Bell’s Palsy results when the facial nerve that runs through the side of the face swells. Usually caused by some kind of infection, the swelling causes weakness and paralysis on that side of the face.

In Bethany’s case, the Palsy was pretty severe: she had absolutely no control over the facial muscles on that side of her face. Her smile was lopsided, her taste buds were off, and she could not blink that eye. Because of that, we had to put eye drops in every hour to keep it from drying out and cracking. At night, we had to squeeze ointment in it and tape her eye shut. It was a bit of a pain, but extremely necessary.

visine

Did I love her less because of the handicap? Absolutely not! In fact, it drew my heart even closer to her. I’m her mom, and I willingly did whatever I could to help her get through it, and over it. My heart hurt for her even as I tried to encourage her.

It took several months before the swelling reduced enough for her to regain muscle control. She still has a bit of residual weakness in her eyelid: she cannot wink without an exaggerated effort. We can live with that!

In terms of our human nature, God see areas of weakness in each of us too. We all struggle with different character flaws as we go through life; pride, a biting tongue, selfish motives. Even if no one else sees it, God does. Yet He is our Father, and none of that makes Him love us less. He sees us as we are, yet also longs to see us strong and healthy. His love motivates Him to do what is necessary in our lives to see that happen.

He encourages us. He is patient with us in the process, but He is persistent. Ultimately, if we let Him, He heals us and grants us new strength.

Because He is our Father. He knows us, and loves us still.

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:13-14

Further reflection:

1. Where do you see God at work, strengthening your character?

2. What methods has He used to help you grow stronger?

3. Are you cooperating with Him to change, or fighting Him?

Father, You understand how very weak I am. I am grateful that it neither changes Your love for me, nor causes You to give up on me. Show me where You are working. I want to grow stronger—please help me to work with You to that end, and not to fight You.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Ride of Your LIfe

The picture captured the joy of the day.

My daughter and son-in-law, Megan and James, were visiting California on vacation. One of the few things they really wanted to do was go to Disneyland. Who could blame them? Disneyland is called the happiest place of earth, and on that day it certainly was for us. Thunder Mountain, Star Tours, Space Mountain, and Pirates of the Caribbean, we whooped our way through them all. But our favorite? Splash Mountain! There’s nothing like a good soaking on a hot day.

As you can see, each of us enjoyed the ride, but not exactly in the same way.

 splash mountain

 

Life is a lot like Splash Mountain; everyone reacts to it differently.

Some people go through life cautiously, a bit fearful of what is coming. Others enjoy the ride, but still need to hold on to something secure. Then there are the daring few who go through life with arms raised, wind whipping their hair, fully giving themselves to the adventure.

We get to choose how we respond to every situation, every challenge. Enjoying life might look different for everyone, and while there is no inherent right or wrong to it, it all boils down to motive. Do we respond to life’s challenges with fear, or with faith?

Bottom line: it’s okay to hold on, as long as you are holding on to what is true and not to your fears. It’s also okay to release control, as long as you are giving control to the One who is trustworthy.

Because the happiest place on earth really isn’t Disneyland. It’s wherever we, in faith, allow Jesus to lead us.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.        Isaiah 41:10

Further reflection:

  1. Which way do you respond to life: cautiously, comfortably, or with wild abandon?
  2. Do you think it is based on fear or faith?

Father, life is such an adventure! When I need to hold on to something secure, may I hold on to You, the only real security there is. When I give up control, may it only be to You, since You are trustworthy. And when I abandon myself fully to life, may it be only when and where You direct me to do so.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Olympic Gold

I, like many in America, have been glued to the television this week and avidly watching the Olympics. So many stories are told; of joy, of heartbreak, of dreams fulfilled or of dreams dashed, of defeat and of redemption. All of the athletes had one thing in common: they dreamt of Olympic gold.

One story epitomized them all; Jordyn Wieber.

As a gymnast, Jordyn had spent thousands of hours, countless days, and many years of training in preparation to be in the Olympics. Complete focus and dedication to the sport ruled her life, and it was perhaps her life’s greatest passion. She had given up a lot in order to attain her goal. To date it had paid off; she was the reigning world all-around champion, making her the favorite to win here in London.

She failed. Nothing catastrophic happened, she was very good. But there were small errors that added up, and two of her teammates edged her out. Failing to qualify for the individual all-around competition had not been a serious consideration, and the devastation on her face told the story.

jordan wieber crying for olympic gold

But it wasn’t the end of the story.

Jordyn went on to participate for the USA in the team all-around competition. Tension was thick as everyone wondered if she could overcome her disappointment, and go on to excel. She who had been the team cheerleader was now encouraged by her teammates.

When she beautifully executed each of her events, her coach greeted her with hugs and encouraging words of affirmation. Her teammates rejoiced with her. At the end of the competition, her face communicated a different story; one of elation, victory, and redemption. Together, they had won the gold medal! Perhaps that success was all the sweeter for the earlier defeat.

 wieber with gold

She could not have done it without training and discipline, without the support of her family and her teammates, or without her coach.

What is true in gymnastics is true in life, especially in the life of one who follows Jesus.

No matter how much we discipline ourselves to follow Jesus, we will fail. No matter how hard we try, we are imperfect, sinful creatures who will fall short . Sometimes miserably. Sometimes very publicly. And we grieve, because we do love Jesus. We have trained ourselves to do right, and never wanted to disappoint Him.

But, like Jordyn, that is not the end of the story. We have a God of second chances. And third. And fourth. He not only forgives us our failures, but gives us other opportunities to get it right.

We have teammates—others who love Jesus—who encourage us. They remind us that failure is not final, and cheer us on to keep on eyes on the goal; to honor Jesus by giving Him our best. Because no matter the failure, with Jesus there can be redemption. He is the coach who roots us on. As we follow Him, He can bring good out of the worst failure. His grace. Our weakness. That’s how it works.

At the end of this life, I yearn to hear “well done”, from my Savior. Gold medals are a noble goal. But those words from Jesus? Now that’s a prize worth striving for!

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:13

Further reflection:

  1. Have you ever, in spite of your best efforts, failed when you did not expect to?
  2. If so, what was your predominant emotion?
  3. Were you given the chance to redeem that failure, and succeed?
  4. What can you, as a follower of Jesus, do to move past failure towards a new victory?

Father, I am beyond grateful that because I belong to You, my inevitable failures do not define me. Nor do they limit what You can do in my life in the future. Thank You that my weakness is not greater than Your strength, and You only ask that I press on. Help me to do so with all that is in me, so that when I see You face-to-face, I might hear those words that I long to hear: “Well done.”

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

In His Shadow

Whenever I can steal time with my kids and grandkids I’ll take it, so last week those of us who live locally escaped to Big Bear Lake for a few days. I brought home some fantastic memories, and one great insight.

It was a wonderful time of boating and parasailing on the lake, roughhousing with my three grandsons, and playing board games with my family and laughing so hard it hurt. On the last morning we decided to take a walk before wrapping things up.

The neighborhood was gorgeous. Luxurious vacation rental homes were surrounded dark green pine trees and framed by that uniquely mountain blue sky. My son, Derek, watched the unusual way my three-year-old grandson, Ryder, was walking.

 family hike for His Shadow

“What are you doing?” he asked Ryder. Ryder had been looking down as he walked close to his Aunt Bethany, carefully moving, stopping, or turning when she did. He had stayed close to her side most of the weekend, so this was no exception. He shyly looked up at Derek, and very softly confessed: “I like to walk in her shadow.”

He chose to walk in her shadow. Because he loves her and enjoyed her company, he thought it a good thing to copy what she did.

And there is was…I realized that all I really want is to walk in Jesus’ shadow.

If I am in His shadow, I am also surrounded and enfolded by His presence. I am near to Him, following Him, and walking where He leads. And there is no place I would rather be.

Like Ryder, I choose to walk in the shadow of the One I love.

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.                                                                                                                             Psalm 36:6-7

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”                                                                                                                              Psalm 91:1-2

Further reflection:

  1. Does walking in someone’s shadow have a positive or negative connotation for you?
  2. Take your journal (or other paper) and make a list of the benefits of walking in Jesus’ shadow.

Lord, I want to walk in Your shadow. I yearn to stay close to You, to go where You go, and follow where You lead. Thank You for making room for me in the shadow of your wings, and for the promise of rest there.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Lessons from Lady

I’ve learned a lot from the dogs I’ve owned.

When I was a kid we had a dachshund named Baron von Bruno. Bruno came to us from a home that also had two very big dogs. Bruno had learned that if you don’t eat fast, you don’t eat at all. To say that Bruno ate fast is like saying a tornado is a big wind—it’s a gross understatement. Unfortunately, I never really bonded with him.

Then there was Iggy, short for Ignoramus. That was an appropriate name for him, as he wasn’t very smart. A German Shepherd mix, he just didn’t understand that barking and jumping on my kids were not the right way to get attention. In spite of all our efforts we just couldn’t break Iggy of his bad habits. When he nipped and broke the skin on one of the neighbor kids, he had to go. I was the only one sad about it.

Duke was one of my favorites. He was this big, imposing Labrador/great Dane mix whose deep, ferocious bark was enough to send the postman running. Safely hidden behind that intimidating demeanor beat the heart of a marshmallow. While I have no doubt that Duke would have protected us at all costs, when he perceived no threat he was just a great big lug who loved his family. I was his favorite. He followed me wherever I went, even waiting outside the door whenever I took a bath and greeting me afterwards like I’d been gone forever. Though Duke died several years ago, I still miss him.

All of my dogs were different. Some of them were by nature compliant, others very hard-headed. Some were easily satisfied, others never so.

I’ve decided that I want to be like another of my dogs, Lady.

golden_retriever_4

Lady was the first dog I owned as an adult. She was a beautiful golden retriever, and from the day we brought her home she was loyal to the core. One of her greatest delights was to obey us, so when discipline was necessary Lady would tuck her tail between her legs and plead for forgiveness. Her soft brown eyes and her whole body communicated her regret. She was always sincerely sorry and quickly learned from her mistakes.

However, there was a quirk to her personality; she would only obey us when we could catch her eye and have her look at us, or when she was close enough to hear our voice. If she were too far away she would follow her own impulses, even if they put her in danger.

One of the clearest examples of this happened as I was walking her one day. I slipped her off the leash, knowing she would stay close. What I hadn’t counted on was the arrival of another dog on the scene. When this malevolent mutt challenged Lady, she wanted more than anything to fight. Every instinct commanded her to do battle. The dogs circled each other, intent on looking a weak spot in the other to attack. I shouted at Lady to come, but she was too focused on the enemy to hear.

As panic escalated the volume in my voice, my words finally penetrated. She turned to look at me, and her self-will and the instinct to fight visibly drained out of her. The desire to please me overrode her other emotions, and she meekly trotted back to my side. Though she may not have understood why I didn’t want her to fight, she trusted me to know best.

I learned a lot from that dog.

She modeled for me the importance of staying close enough to my Master to hear His voice. When I listen to Him, I am content to do what He asks (Isaiah 30:21). When I wander too far away, I don’t even hear Him when He calls to me.

She demonstrated the necessity to look at my Master instead of the circumstances around me (Hebrews 12:1b-2a). He is a good Master. Obedience not only pleases Him, but benefits me as well. If I take my eyes off of Him, my self-will inevitably gets me into trouble.

She exemplified the reality that I cannot always understand my Master’s ways, because they are different than mine (Isaiah 55:8-9). I can trust Him to know what is best, and I can always go to Him to seek forgiveness when I do wrong (1 John 1:9). He is quick to forgive, and helps me learn from my mistakes.

Lastly, Lady taught me that loyalty to my Master is to be my first priority (Exodus 20:3). He requires—even demands it—but He is also deserving of it.

When things are right between me and my Master, everything else is right in my life. Even Lady understood that.

Further reflection:

1. Which of these are hardest for you to do; staying close to Jesus, focusing on Him, understanding His ways, seeking His forgiveness, or being loyal?

2. Why is that true?

3. How do you think your life would be different if you allowed Jesus to be your Master in these different ways?

Father, You are a good Master. I long to be like Lady, desiring only to please You, and eager to listen for Your voice. When I don’t understand Your ways, please help me to trust You to know what is best. When I do wrong, help me to quickly and sincerely seek Your forgiveness. And when other things seek to hold first place in my heart, remind me that You alone deserve it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My Tanzanite Ring

Some gifts are precious because of what they communicate about the nature of the giver.

There was a tanzanite ring I saw once at our local mall that was just my taste. The color of the lovely purple stone was enhanced by the small diamonds surrounding it. I really wanted that ring, but my husband and I decided we’d rather continue to eat than buy it. With three kids in college at the time it was a pretty easy decision.

Several months later Alan and I managed to get away to the beach for a few days, courtesy of one of those timeshare promotions. As we browsed through one of the stores in the area, I spied it; my ring, and it was on sale! I pointed it out to him, and even tried it on to show him how it was just made for my hand. In disbelief I heard him say, “We’ll take it.”

tanzanite ring

Quickly reality coupled with a large dose of guilt set in, and the words tumbled out of my mouth; “Honey, thanks, but you know we can’t afford it.”

Firmly and decisively Alan repeated; “We’ll take it.”

I wear my ring almost every day, not only because it is beautiful, but also because it was an extravagant gesture of Alan’s love for me.

Because of the way He loves us God, too, is extravagant in the gifts He gives.

He delights to give us His extravagant grace. It is grace that made a way for us to be reconciled with Him (Ephesians 2:8-9). Grace gives us both the desire and the power to do what pleases Him (Philippians 2:13, NLT). Blessings that we do not deserve flow from it.

From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. John 1:16

God also rejoices to give us His extravagant mercy. Where grace gives us what we do not deserve, mercy chooses not to give us what we do. Mercy frees us from condemnation (Romans 8:1). Mercy chooses compassion over righteous anger (Psalm 51:1, Lamentations 3:22-23). It is mercy that, on the cross, exchanged our sin for the righteousness of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21) and gave us birth into a living hope through His resurrection (1 Peter 1:3).

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.                               Micah 7:18-19

Both grace and mercy are the result of God’s extravagant love. That love sought us when we turned away from Him. It continually calls us to a deeper fellowship with Him. Unchanging and unconditional, His unfailing love fills the whole earth (Psalm 33:4-5).

I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.                                                                                            Psalm 57:9-10

We cannot earn His gifts. We can only praise the One who gives them so extravagantly.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.                                                                                        Ephesians 2:4

Further reflection:

  1. Has anyone ever given you an extravagant gift?
  2. How did you feel about it?
  3. Take a few minutes to ponder God’s gifts, and journal a prayer of thanks to Him for them.

Father, when I stop to think about the richness of Your gifts, I am overwhelmed. The grace, the mercy, and the love that flow from Your heart are beyond my understanding. Help me never to take them for granted, but to give You the praise that You deserve.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Like a Child

Though she was barely two-years-old, she clearly understood the meaning of the word “goodbye.” She was not a fan.

Our daughter, Lisa, had just pulled up at the Fort Wayne airport to drop off my husband, our daughter Beth, and me. We took turns leaning in to say good-bye to little Emma. Her little face crumbled in dismay as she began to understand that we were actually leaving.

Twenty seconds after Lisa drove away I got this text from her: “Emma’s crying.” Though we were sad Emma was upset, it was also felt good to be missed.

We had spent five days in Indiana with our two daughters, their husbands, and little Emma. Though it was a short visit, we’d squeezed in a lot of togetherness. Much of that time was spent playing with Emma.

 Emma for like a child

 

I had chased her as she giggled, both of us sure that if I caught her it would be fun.

We’d taught her to call us by name. She already had “Papa” down pat, and had learned to say “Beh” for Beth. Though Grandma was a harder title to master, she did manage something like “grammy.” I’m absolutely sure of it.

When she needed help with something, she brought it to one of us, knowing we’d be willing.

We love her and she accepts it without question. No “Do you love me?” No “why do you love me?” No “Do I deserve it?” She just knows that we do.

It’s that kind of childlike, unquestioning faith that God wants us to have about His love for each one of us.

He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:2-3

Kids don’t always know all the right words to say to explain what they are thinking, and that’s okay. We’re just glad they come to us! When we talk to our Father, we don’t need to get all the words right either. God understands them before we even speak them (Psalm 139:4), for He hears the whispers of our heart .

For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying.                                   Romans 8:26b-27a, NLT

Kids don’t question the love we have for them, they just accept it. They know it is real, and it is trustworthy. How much more can we trust our heavenly Father, who loves us perfectly?

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!                                                       1 John 3:1

He yearns for us to come to Him, sure of our welcome, and confident that our Father loves us. He delights in us when we ask for what we need, knowing without question that we are loved. Above all, He rejoices when we receive, and then rest, in that knowledge.

Just like Emma.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?...I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.                     Romans 8:35, 38-39

Further reflection:

1. Do you know that God loves you?

2. Do you ever struggle with accepting it?

3. Use your concordance to look up the word “love”, and write down what you learn about the reality of God’s love for you.

Father, Abba, my Daddy…I know that You love me. Yet sometimes I struggle with feeling like I don’t deserve it. In my head I know Your love is perfect. Please help me, like Emma, to simply accept it, and to rest in the assurance that Your love is unchanging and unfailing.