I am a learner by nature.
I love to read, to study, to delve deeply into what interests me.
My current confession is that the knowledge I have about God, about the Bible, can make me prideful at times. I went to a Christian elementary school and a Christian college. I’ve taken the Bible classes (including Jimmy Allen’s Romans class which has been around so long that my parents took his class when they went through school!), studied the texts, aced the tests.
For someone who never sought after a degree in ministry, I certainly know a lot about Jesus. Knowing Jesus Himself, however, is another matter altogether.
I have to be careful. I too often read books about Jesus rather than reading His Words. I too often would rather have deep theological discussions about Jesus than talk directly to Him. I too often prefer to listen to a speaker expound on the life of Christ than listen to Jesus Himself.
I could tell whether I know about Jesus, at least when I was in school, by how well I did on tests. How can we tell whether we know Jesus?
Jesus told His disciples that His sheep know His voice, that they can follow Him because they are able to recognize His voice.
I sometimes think I only recognize His voice because it is that part inside of me telling me to do something I really don’t want to do!
David, the one God called a man after His heart, gives us a clue to this in how he spoke with God in the Psalms. Perhaps one of the reasons he knew God so well is because he spoke to God about everything…happiness, sorrow, anger, joy, jealousy, revenge…truly everything.
Perhaps just being in the habit of speaking with Jesus about everything throughout every day is what brings us closer to Him. Perhaps just practicing His presence is what helps us to truly know Jesus. Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk, showed us how to do this as he went about his daily work in the kitchen of his monastery.
Brother Lawrence spoke of conversing with God as much when he was washing dishes as when he was kneeling in the chapel.
We must know before we can love. In order to know God, we must often think of Him. And when we come to love Him, we shall then also think of Him often, for our heart will be with our treasure.
Like many things, it seems to be a matter of training our minds to continually return to God.
I think I can end no better than with Brother Lawrence’s words, words that I need to hear as I strive to know Jesus in more intimate ways than simply knowing about Him:
You need not cry very loud. He is nearer to us than we are aware. Every one is capable of such familiar conversation with God; some more, some less. He knows what we can do. Let us begin then. Perhaps He expects but one generous resolution on our part. Have courage.
Have courage and begin.
She was being silly with her bowl and granola scattered all over the kitchen floor.
I took pride in not scattering my temper but in speaking in calm, low tones as I made her clean it up.
Not ten minutes later, my pride evaporated as I yelled in frustration over having to explain twelve divided by four yet again to her very distracted mind…
Even though I knew she had suffered a sleepless night and who can concentrate on very little sleep when you’re a supposedly mature grown-up, much less a tiny little six year old person?
I often become so frustrated with myself and my inability to love the way that I want to love. I yell and I fume, I am self-centered and harsh. I have good moments, when I am able to obey that greatest of commands, but my failings come fast and close between.
I have been on this journey of following Jesus for decades and can be hard on myself for not having improved faster. I vacillate between trying to love more fully by sheer force of will and trying to submit and let Jesus heal my heart, yet I always am impatient and I wish for Him to heal me more quickly.
Maybe, though, my progress (or lack thereof) is not the point.
David was a success story in the annals of Bible heroes. He is known as a man after God’s own heart, and God’s own Son is not ashamed to be known as the Son of David. You can’t be more successful than that.
Yet when we look at his life, we do not see perfection or even a nearing of perfection as his life moves forward. Far from it, we see instead murder and adultery, we see a warrior with an unimaginable body count to his credit, we see lying and coveting and keeping multiple wives and mistresses. In one particularly shameful moment, we see him taking back his wife Michal from her new husband Paltiel for purely political reasons and completely disregarding the pitiful Paltiel as he follows Michal, “weeping as he walked behind her”.
The story of David is not a story of what God wants us to be but a story of God working with the raw material of our lives as he finds us. ~ Eugene H. Peterson in The Jesus Way
How can a man like this be called a man after God’s heart?
The answer can only be found inside his own heart and God is gracious enough to share that with us in the Psalms.
The answer we find in the Psalms is not that he was perfect or even that he neared perfection. The answer is that he was forgiven and that he trusted that forgiveness.
The answer to my own sin and imperfections is not to try harder or to find the right training that eliminates my sin. The answer is my own confession and the forgiveness that can only come from God. No excuses, denials or justifications.
I acknowledged my sin to thee, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”; then thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin. ~ Psalms 32.5
Resolves and promises to “not do it again” wear thin. True confession, however, rings true and brings deliverance in God’s love.
Being honest about my inability to rid my heart of sin and throwing myself wholeheartedly on His compassion and ability to cleanse me is what makes me whole and perfect in His sight, not becoming actually perfect…because that, I’m afraid, will never happen on this side of resurrection.
My lack of perfection is frustrating, but only to me.
These first few months are really hard.
Sleepless nights, hours of crying, lives revolving around nursing and napping, siblings who are desperate for attention…even the bad kind.
These first few months are really beautiful.
Baby weight snuggled on your chest, satin soft skin wrapped in blankets, warm breath from tented mouth on your cheek, siblings huddled around in adoration.
There is much that is difficult and frustrating, bringing tears and even depression.
There is an obvious beauty, a very clear purpose and reason to the difficulty.
It makes me wonder whether this is the way God sees what we call ugly. Whether He can see the obvious beauty, the very clear purpose to the very hard things in life.
Perhaps we struggle only because we feel the sleepless nights and cannot yet see the first toothless smile.
Perhaps we would find more joy in our ugly places if we would trust that God has beauty planned ahead.
Perhaps we would find more peace if we would trust that God can turn even the hardest bits of life into a reason that is adored.
Even if that reason is not discovered this side of death.
Think of those first few months…
It is an inevitable part of life that monochromatic winter begins to melt into spaces of bright color. Snow gives way to tulips and crocuses. Perhaps it is our necessary reminder that death is followed by new life. Our reminder of Easter.
It was our first Easter without Kristina.
On Easter morning, my eldest ran into the living room where we had left the figure of Jesus on the cross the night before, eyes wide with hope of resurrection. “Daddy, look! Jesus left us flowers that God made!”
Hope and joy at the end of sorrow and pain. This is Easter.
On Easter morning, gathered with our Family, we sang, “The greatest day in history, Death is beaten, You have rescued me. Sing it out, Jesus is alive! Endless joy, perfect peace, Earthly pain finally will cease. Celebrate Jesus is alive! Oh, happy day, happy day…”
During a celebration after tragedy, hearts swell and overflow with emotions that at first glance seem to be at odds. We feel both joy and gratitude, sorrow and longing.
On Easter morning, the joy is easy. Jesus is alive!
Sorrow and longing, though, those are things that are more difficult. Yet they are real and, although hard, they are what should be.
We all suffer. We all love and therefore all suffer because in our broken world, love means suffering. Those who do not love much do not suffer much. I would not grieve so deeply had I not loved Kristina so much. God loves our world and therefore God Himself suffers.
Such sorrow was felt over our first Easter without Kristina.
We acknowledge that all of this, this pain and death and sadness, is not how it was supposed to be. None of this existed before we rebelled against God.
And so we sorrow.
Our longing is for that day of redemption and transformation. The day when earthly pain will cease and death will be banished for all time. We desperately wish to be gathered into Jesus’ arms and told that all is now well.
And so we long.
Sorrow and longing.
At second look, we are reassured that these are what we should feel. After all,
Our kind, heavenly Father has provided many wonderful inns for us along our journey, but He takes special care to see that we never mistake any of them for home. ~ C.S. Lewis
At the end of it all, however, our hearts must return again to gratitude.
On that Easter morning, as we worshiped together, we sang, “You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of the dust. You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of us.”
Just as we did in the middle of our ugly places, our hearts cry out “Why?” Yet this time, it is a vastly different sort of why.
This time we ask, why do You love me that much?
You went to the cross to allow us to become children of God. Wasn’t that more than enough? Why would You now also work so very hard to make beautiful things out of the dust that we are? Why would You pour so much into molding us into people who look like You?
Let us fall on our knees in joy and with gratitude for such lavish love.
On Easter morning and beyond, let our hearts swell with both sorrow and longing, joy and gratitude, knowing that Jesus is truly alive, knowing that He has defeated death.
edited from the archives
This week’s guest post was written by a dear friend from my Harding University days, Josh Keene. He is the friend who taught me about the south, including how to talk southern (y’eady? aight. ‘sgo.) and all things country-fied, and it has been beautiful to watch him grow from a Louisiana boy just out of high school into a wise and godly man, husband, and daddy. I’m grateful that he is sharing some of that wisdom with us here. Enjoy!
Earlier in March, I had the absolute pleasure of being able to attend the Ignite Men’s Conference in Lynchburg, Virginia at Liberty University. I went with the intention of being able to hang out with some amazing men of God, have some fun, and refill my cup.
Something that I have not done well over the last few years is making sure that I give some focus to self-care. In order to try to do that better this past month, I have worked hard to reconnect with some old friends who have helped tremendously in being able to refill me with the joy of the Lord, the joy that tends to be sucked out of me in my work. I am a family counselor that works with a high risk population doing intensive in-home therapy. My job is to meet with, walk with and counsel families experiencing the worst moments a family can experience.
My wife, being the woman that she is, has been encouraging me to take better care of myself for a while and it has not been until recently that I have actually begun to work on it. As a part of this goal, my wife bought tickets to this event and made sure I was able to experience an incredible weekend with some amazing men of God.
As a structural family therapist, I am continually looking for patterns and themes in and around family systems that help make sense of the issues that they are dealing with. If I had to pick a theme that I particularly noticed during this weekend conference, it would be how to be uncommon.
Uncommon? Why should we be uncommon?
As I listened to speakers like Tony Dungy, Joe Gibbs, Jerome Bettis, Alan Robertson, Phil Robertson, Rick Rigsby and so many more, the message seemed to have this same theme throughout. Take ownership of your walk with God, without worry about the expectations of others. We love others, we give to others, but we do not cater to their expectations or we will lose who we are and who we have been made to be in Christ.
Every one of us has been made sacred by God and yet we tend to settle for what is common, what is expected.
Whether it be from our family, our church, our work, our friends, expectations from others can keep us from our true purpose with God. See, it’s not just about being different, anyone can do that. It’s about being who we were always meant to be. It’s not about improving yourself, or being someone or something that you’re not because it’s the “Godly” thing to do. Jesus was not the Messiah that the Jews were expecting; he was so much more than that. He was a Saviour.
Do not settle for being the follower of God that others are expecting; be you. Submit to the purpose that He has created in you and made completely sacred to you.
Be an uncommon dad or mom, be an uncommon husband or wife, be an uncommon friend or co-worker. Be something that they never saw coming. Show love when they expect hate. Show mercy when they expect judgment. Show truth when they expect lies.
I love this quote by Wiersbe and I feel like it sums up by showing the balance that is needed. “Truth without love is brutality, but love without truth is hypocrisy.”
Find the balance and be someone that you never expected yourself to be. Be you.
This week you’ll get to hear from an old friend from my undergrad days at Harding University, Kelly Wiggains (I knew her as Kelly Duncan back then). I am grateful that we have kept in touch over the years, as she is not only a talented writer (she writes about words, books and beauty over at kellywiggains.com. You should definitely head over and explore her blog…you’ll love it! Go ahead and subscribe to receive her posts by email. While I’m thinking about it, you can subscribe to receive mine as well. Go on…I’ll wait…), but is a wise and godly woman who is also a beautiful wife and momma. Read on and enjoy her beautiful wisdom!
We read and talk about the “storms of life,” those times when life is pelting you with thunder sleet or hurricane force winds. That metaphor makes the trials of life exciting and eventful. After all, those kinds of storms even get their own names. Sandy, Rita, Ike. To talk about the trials of life as the same as experiencing a hurricane, well, that just sounds dramatic.
But the more I experience trials in life, I feel more like I’m slogging through ankle-deep mud in the middle of some random field.
Like I said, storms are exciting. Eventful. We expect big rises and falls, epic rescues. Live coverage at 5.
Slogging through mud doesn’t get a rescue, kind of like that family in the book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. Every time the family faces an obstacle on their journey, they say, “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. We have to go through it.” The oozy mud is no exception.
You take a foot out of the gross.
You stick it back in, only a few inches ahead.
Now the other foot. Out.
Day in and day out, you make snail-like progress. You hold a hand if it’s offered, and you plod your way to the other side. It’s tedious and exhausting. There’s a lot of waiting and standing around. There’s not much else to do until you reach better footing.
“We’ve gotta go through it.” Squelch. Squerch.
Trials in life involve lots of plodding through the mud.
Currently, my mom is battling breast cancer. When her diagnosis first hit, my family felt the blunt winds. We drove in the middle of the night once, racing to the hospital as my mom’s lungs unexpectedly filled with fluid. We shuffled my kids to relatives once a month, so that I could go help as much as I could at treatment sessions, doctor’s appointments, test results. We had updates and reports. We wrung hands and added her name to prayer lists. It was dramatic! Highs! Lows!
But lately, we’re in the mud. My mom tries a new hormone therapy. She listens to another doctor. She tries a new medicine. We get mixed reports: good news and bad news. Squelch. Squerch.
I know those winds can pick up again at any time. Cancer is a big bully, taking cheap shots at my family when it gets a chance. But right now, we squelch. We squerch. We take a step and then take another one, realizing there’s not much else we can do or control.
We hold hands. We pray. And we look to the horizon for dry land. We know the dry land will come. That’s the hope that keeps the squelching and squerching going. If you feel stuck in the mud, know that there’s beauty in those inching steps. There’s fight and there’s victory. Small steps, yes, but progress nevertheless.
This week’s guest post was written by Deb Knoles, a beautiful lady who has known me all of my life, even while I was an angsty teenager, and yet still loves me! She is my second-mama (because everyone needs a second mother…believe me on this) and I trust her wisdom. Enjoy these wise and beautiful words from one who knows.
When I left last November for a week in Canada, the roses were still flinging out vibrant petals of scarlet, coral, and that incredibly soft pink/white that looks and feels like carefully rouged and powdered old lady cheeks. Indian Summer teased us into believing we’d have plenty more days to celebrate the garden.
A week later, I returned to the park to find the roses hanging from their canes, ghosts of former glory, drained of color and turning brittle from a plunge into the deep freeze of a brutal cold snap. Who really believes that the air can move from comfortable 65 degree days to barely 15 in a short week? We do. We live in Illinois.
The dying rose beds set me thinking about the false illusion of seasons being the length we think they’ll be (a natural mistake for those living in a state that surely takes its weather cues from menopausal women). The seasons in my own life have tricked me, too. As one of those young shoots coming out of the ground I thought: I’ll never grow up. (That one is sort of true if we’re going to get into maturity issues.) I did grow (physically at least). I did not stay young forever. Eventually, I “flowered” into womanhood and found myself married to my handsome blue-eyed man. Children arrived and I found an entire world of new seasonal misconceptions geared to each stage of their development. My kids will never be potty trained. None of us will survive the teenaged years. The nest will stay empty. But every Season’s master illusion is this: THEN (in the next season), I’ll have time. SOMEDAY, I’ll have time.
Ah, yes. I’ll have time “then”. I thought for sure that would be true NOW. But just as I pushed back the borders of that completely illusive season of “having time”, I became a mother of toddlers again. This time my toddlers are 93 and 89. The term is literal. My parents toddle. Dad uses a walker and Mom uses my arm to counterbalance a back twisted by spinal stenosis, arthritis and scoliosis. They are darling toddlers. For the most part, they are gracious, respectful and endearing. Unless they are cranky, unreasonable and maddening. Pretty much like the younger version of toddlers. Well, really. It’s pretty much like all of us I suspect. It’s just more noticeable to the person who bears the mandate for being a caretaker.
Dead roses and sleeping trees. And my ridiculous notion that I’d someday have “time.” Interesting mind companions for a quick walk around the park. One of the perks of cold weather de-nuding the trees is that the structure of branches is thrown into sharp relief against the sky. You see a tree’s real character in the winter. With the leaves gone, I noticed a tree that has a branch that grew down, dug roots in the ground and then stretched skyward again.
I wonder what drove that branch down so deep. I wonder at the resilience that shot it back up toward the sky after its brush with the ground. What kept it from just hanging out down there and giving in to gravity? There’s a story there in the tree that I will explore “when I have time”. If I have time. The grand illusion still has me in its grip.
Trees have stories. So do people. It’s a little—no, a LOT–intimidating to think what might be revealed in me when the leaves of my younger self have all fallen away. What’s going on under all the foliage?
In my parents I see the structure of a lifetime of good habits. Their discipline to always put everything back in its assigned place means they still live in a clean, well-organized home. (Oh, how I wish that could be said of my home!) They are thankful, gracious people. They’ve built their lives on faith and prayer and considering other people’s feelings and well-being mostly at the expense of their own. Their character holds up even as their bodies break down.
If I were a tree, I’d have collected a good many rings on the old trunk.
While I’m still young enough to camouflage a few of the branches I like to keep hidden, I’ve noticed that some of the leaves in my life have already reached their autumn. The golds and reds are fading to brittle brown and will soon drift away and leave all those branches bare to the wind. Perhaps this season of being a parent to my aging parents is designed to prune out the branches, give some design to the plain limbs and stretch out the stunted growth on others.
If I could be done with at least some of my selfishness, some of my false sense of pride, some of my striving for goals that don’t matter to anyone but me (and certainly don’t matter to God), perhaps the pattern those limbs trace against the sky would spell out “Glory to God”.
It’s a hard thing to watch these people I love face the very real indignities of aging. Death so often is wielded as a malicious weapon. The golden cord is severed with cruel speed in the too young. But too often for the elderly, as bodies begin to die one part at a time, that thread of life stretches out to the most tortuous tension. It delays a happy homecoming with weary days of travel on unfriendly roads. Dignity gets lost in adult diapers and poor digestion, in weakness and failing vision, and in the frailty of paper thin skin and bones. And still we who love our aged blessings long for more time with them. One more golden memory. One more shared laugh. Is time ever “just enough” for us? I am grateful to know that when it comes, God transforms the sting of death into the most glorious life of all. We’ve just got to trust that His timing will accomplish all that needs to be done even when we vehemently (and mistakenly) think we might have a better suggestion as far as His clock management goes. He never stretches a season too long or ends it too soon for the harvest He reaps. I’m grateful, too, that He asks us only to trust and not to understand. Understanding His timing is so far beyond my grasp.
Whatever our season of life, we can let God use the challenges to shape us into a more beautiful pattern. We can embrace the moment (this one right here and now!), revel in the glories of our season, and live it well. Or we can cling to the deception that we are just marking time till “then” and refuse to trust the Timekeeper. Either way, the clock ticks, the hours pass and the imprint shows up on our souls. Eventually, it will be evident to all what was real and what was just Spring’s window dressing.
Today’s post was written by Amanda Wen, a dear friend whom I met while in worship ministry at our church. She is an amazing cellist as well as having the ability to write beautifully! We had the first three of our children within months of each other, which made it even harder when they moved away from us. She is wise as well as funny, which is a beautiful combination. I know you will enjoy these words from her heart.