Who are you becoming?

God cares more about who you are becoming in Him than what you are doing for Him.

That’s a great sentence, and it’s one I wish I made up. Because I don’t know about you, but I definitely spend way more time doing for God (trying to be a good wife and mother, to help out at my church, to write some sort of life-changing blog…) than I spend being with Him. And being with God is, of course, where the really good stuff–the actual life-change–takes place.

But alas, I didn’t make those words up. I stole them from our friend Ty Saltzgiver, the guy who baptized Robbie and me in the Jordan River last March.

If anyone knows about “doing” for God, it would be Ty. He spent over 40 years with Young Life, leading about a bazillion teenagers to Christ. He speaks all over the country, equipping folks to live for what matters. And he’s written 11 faith-shaping books (with number 12 in the works). If God had a “what have you done for me lately” ladder, Ty could sit on the top rung.

But God, as we know, has no such ladder. Sure, He wants us to be good parents and lovers, good bosses and workers, good servants and friends and all that–but, as Ty says, none of those things are the “main plot” of our lives. The main plot is God shaping us–changing us–into the person He wants us to be.

A person who looks a whole lot like Jesus.

I spent this past summer trying to “be” more and “do” less with God. I’d read about the disciples, and how Jesus called 12 of them to be with Him, before they did anything else. That seemed like an excellent plan. And what better time than the summer to shelve things like speaking engagements and writing projects and just sort of…hang out with Jesus?

Yeah, well. It didn’t work all that great.

I am, by nature, a do-er, and I kept forgetting the plan. But God is nothing if not persistent, and I am counting on him to keep at it. To keep at me. To work in me so that as I behold Jesus, I will begin to reflect Him, the way that God said we all could:

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. (2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT)

And if you want that, too–if you want to look more like Jesus as you spend time with Him–I’ve got some very fun news.

Every Friday in September, I’m going to pick an excerpt from one of Ty’s books–something that will draw us closer to Christ–and talk about it here. And each week, as a fun little bonus, we’ll give away one of his books.

(And I know what some of you are thinking, cuz I think this myself: Who cares about a book giveaway? I never win anything.)

(Well maybe you don’t. And maybe you won’t. But that’s okay, because all of Ty’s books are available here, and almost all of them cost less than two bucks.)

(Seriously. Two dollars. At that price, buy ’em all.)

So…I can’t wait to meet you back here next week! And in the meantime, let’s think about who we’re becoming. And let’s ask God to shape us–to transform us–into the men and women He wants us to be.

Heavenly Father,

Help us to see you and to reflect you. Make us more and more like you. Change us into your glorious image. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Amen

 

 

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Friendships and Gutters Should Flow

“Friendships, like gutters, need to flow.”

No, that’s not C.S. Lewis. Or even Chip Gaines. It’s a little wisdom nugget from this guy:

Ever since he started reading this blog, Bobby has been hinting that I might want to write about him. I don’t normally take this sort of request, but in addition to having the world’s cleanest gutters (a status he attributes to his patent-worthy gutter cleaning invention), Bobby has about 10 zillion friends, so I figured that maybe he knows something worth knowing.

And as it turns out, he actually does.

“Stuff needs to flow through gutters for them to work,” Bobby maintains. “And friendships need flow as well. Communication, vulnerability, time, laughter, shared pain, shared experiences, wisdom, insight…all of these things need to be a dynamic part of our connections if we want our friendships to flourish.”

I like that. And if you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know that friendship is a topic I love (even when I’m feeling friendless, like I was in this post):

Over the years, we’ve talked about how friendship is what college kids really need (click here for some ways we can pray good friends into their lives), and we’ve looked at why it’s important to have people who will speak truth to us, even when doing so is awkward or hard (because it’s not, as this post explains, always a great idea to just “follow your heart”).

And longtime readers may remember when we dabbled in science, drawing encouragement from research–and yes, they did actually do this to people–that proves you feel better, when you get shocked, if somebody is holding your hand. (That post came with a free printable featuring nine “friendship” prayer cards.)

Clearly, I like to write about friendship.

But getting back to the main point of this blog. Which again, Bobby thinks should be Bobby.

Bobby is part of a group of friends Robbie and I try to connect with, in person, at least once a year.

We ask each other hard questions. What are you doing to invest in your marriage? Where have you struggled at work? How might God want to use you, and your gifts, in the next season of life? What are you doing to grow closer to Him?

We laugh. We try not to make too much fun of each other, but sometimes (like when one of us breaks out an “invention” that he built all by himself and wants to know if anybody is willing to fund it) we can’t help it.

And we pray. We pray for our jobs, our kids, our marriages, and our own stubborn hearts, asking God to work on the places where we’ve strayed or grown hard, and to remind us that (even still) He calls us Beloved.

If you’re reading this post and you think, “I wish I had friends like that,” can I just tell you one thing? You probably do. Ask God to show you who might be open to deeper connections, and then reach out to one or two folks. That’s what happened with our group. As one of us made the pivot from raising her children to the Empty Nest years, she wanted people who would walk alongside her in the new season. She put out some feelers (“Who wants to be friends?”), and the rest of us jumped on board.

And if you’re reading and thinking, “I love my friends!”, let them know! There’s a reason the Bible is so full of exhortations like 1 Thessalonians 5:11; God knows that good things happen when we “encourage one another and build each other up.” Take a moment today to make a phone call, send a text, or write a note (and then remember to mail it) to let a friend know they are loved.

Genuine friendships–like free-flowing gutters–rarely “just happen.” Like Bobby said, they take commitment. Transparency. And a  willingness to overlook offenses (because even small stuff can sometimes clog up the tube).

And, of course, prayer always helps.

The Bible is bursting with good things we can pray for our friends–and these are the very blessings God longs to provide! Click on any of the earlier posts to download some prayers, or join me today in borrowing from Isaiah 61, and use one or two of these verses to lift up those you hold dear.

Heavenly Father,

When _____ is brokenhearted or in need of comfort, clothe them with a garment of praise instead of despair. (v. 1-3)

Grow _____ into a strong oak of righteousness, and may their lives display your splendor. (v. 3)

Replace _____’s shame or disgrace with an inheritance of everlasting joy. (v. 7)

May all who see _____ acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed. (v. 9)

Amen

(And yes, Bobby. I did put your whole family right there in verse 9.)

😊

 

 

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The Comparison Trap: Life Lessons from Little League

We lived in Atlanta in 1995, back when the Braves won the World Series. It was a heady time for the city, with tomahawks hanging from telephone poles and whatnot, but the whole thing was pretty much wasted on me. I don’t understand baseball. Sure, I get the whole “home run” thing, but I’ve never really grasped the subtler points of the game.

Never, perhaps, was that more evident than when I got drafted to coach.

We had just moved to Coronado, California, where I am pretty sure there’s a law that says every child has to play Little League. Wanting to be a good citizen, I signed our kids up. Robbie and Virginia were 5 and 6 at the time, and they got assigned to the same tee ball team.

All was well…until my phone rang. “We need more coaches,” the voice said.

I knew my husband was out (he traveled too much for work), but I didn’t want our family to seem unhelpful. “I can’t coach,” I said brightly, “but I can sew the team banner!”

“We don’t need banners. We need coaches.”

I tried another tack. “I can handle the roster? The snacks?”

“Listen, Mrs. Berndt,” the voice said (sounding not at all like someone who wanted to buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks), “we have too many players. Unless we can find some more coaches, Virginia and Robbie can’t play. We need you.”

I could see that this was not headed anywhere good. “You don’t need me,” I countered. “I can’t catch or throw. My baseball knowledge is zero. Plus…I’m afraid of the ball.”

(It’s true. I am.)

“It’s okay. We will train you. Just come to the coaches’ meeting on Wednesday night. See you then.”

Sigh.

I should have known something was up when I got to the stadium. I was the only gal there. The ONLY mom coach. A sea of dad coaches—all of whom seemed to know one another—lounged on the bleachers, waiting (I assumed) for the training to start.

“Training,” as it turned out, consisted of opening the equipment locker and grabbing stuff. Not knowing what I was allowed to take, I hung back. In the end, there were a couple of leftover bats, a bucket of balls, and one tee that wouldn’t stand up all the way straight.

I threw it all in the back of my Chevy Suburban.

Practice started the following week. Our jerseys were purple, and the first order of business was to choose a team name. I opened the floor for discussion.

“The Purple Wolves!” one kid hollered. “Yeah!” said the others.

“Alrighty then,” I said, “that’s good progress! Our next job is—” (and here’s where I found myself wishing I’d paid better attention to how the Braves did it; the only thing I could remember was the tomahawk chop) “—to make up a team cheer!”

We worked on that one for a while, trying out different wolf poses and howls, and then it was (mercifully) time for practice to end. I sent the kids home with instructions to “work on their wolf stance” and told them I’d see them at Saturday’s game.

Game Day dawned with no small amount of enthusiasm. I’d found a big old beach blanket so my team wouldn’t have to sit on the grass, and I’d packed what I thought was a strong lineup of snacks. At first, the Purple Wolves seemed pretty happy.

But then they looked across the field.

“Oh no…” one kid said.

I followed his gaze. The other team wasn’t seated just yet, but you could tell where they’d be. Every single one of the 14 spots in the opposing lineup was clearly marked on the ground by a carpet sample. A carpet sample! And on top of each tidy square sat a matching red water bottle, with a little baseball stopper on top.

“We’re gonna get killed,” my kid moaned. A few others agreed. And fear spread through my team like wildfire.

Now, if you know anything about tee ball (and if you don’t, consider us friends), you know that nobody keeps score. You cannot lose. And you definitely cannot get killed.

But try telling that to a bunch of kindergartners whose parents are stacked, three deep, in lawn chairs on the sidelines. My Wolves had come ready to play…and yet they were already feeling defeated.

They had fallen prey to The Comparison Trap.

And we do the very same thing.

We can’t help it. We look across the fields of our lives and see moms whose kids make better grades. Or dads who have better jobs. Or neighbors whose lawns have no weeds. Or whatever. And we assume that their lives are all squared-away and amazing, and that ours—at least by comparison—aren’t.

One of the best pieces of parenting advice somebody gave me when our kids were little (and this is a nugget that works for marriages, jobs, and everything else) was this: “Don’t compare your family’s insides to somebody else’s outsides.”

It’s true. Anybody can look like they have their stuff all together, like they are leading a carpet-square life. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from interviewing hundreds of moms and dads over the years (and from our own family’s up-and-down life), it’s that everyone—even the Varsity Christians with the award-winning children and the primo jobs and the clean minivan—has issues. Nobody measures up. Nobody even comes close.

And if we spend our time looking at other people’s outsides instead of focusing on Jesus (and basking in his immeasurable love for our insides), we’ll be doomed. The comparison trap will feast on our joy and eat us alive.

As it turned out, the Purple Wolves won that first game. Or maybe they lost. I don’t remember. The only thing I remember–the only thing ANYBODY remembers (and people remind me of it, to this day)—is the fight that broke out on the mound.

No, the Carpet Squares didn’t attack. The brawl (which got ugly fast) was an inner-squad thing, between the Purple Wolves’ pitcher and our first baseman, after the latter got hit in the chest with a throw because his attention was elsewhere.

(Did I mention where I’d positioned Virginia and Robbie? No? Okay well. Never mind then.)

🤦‍♀️

Heavenly Father,

Help us understand who we are and the work we’ve been given, and to sink ourselves into that. Don’t let us fall prey to comparison; rather, equip us to do the creative best we can with our lives, secure in the lavishness of your love. (Galatians 6:4, MSG & 1 John 3:1, NIV)

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We Can’t Quench God’s Love

(Note: Robbie and I are in Canada this week. We’re enjoying some good “unplugged” time, but here’s a quick post–along with a pic of the evening view from our dock. This place isn’t fancy, but if you don’t mind a few snakes, mosquitos, and a composting toilet, it’s pretty much paradise.)

“Here is a theologian who puts the hay where the sheep can reach it.”

That’s how Elisabeth Elliot describes J. I. Packer in his timeless book, Knowing GodAnd I have to say that one of of Packer’s most encouraging messages (at least for bottom-shelf sheep like myself) is that nothing we do–and nothing we have ever done–comes as a shocker to God. And none of it can keep him from loving us.

Here’s how Packer puts it:

There is tremendous relief in knowing that His love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion Him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench His determination to bless me.

We can’t quench God’s love. Or (and I love this part) his determination to bless us.

That’s good stuff. But Packer didn’t make it up, of course. I suspect he got it from places like Romans 8:38, which is where Paul says that nothing–neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow, not even the powers of hell–can separate us from God’s love.

Maybe just take a moment right now and let those words settle over your soul.

And if you, or someone you love, needs a little help when it comes to receiving the reality of God’s limitless love, here’s one way we can pray:

Heavenly Father,

I pray that _____, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that _____ may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Amen

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I just want to look at your face.

So next week we’ll be with two of our adult children, Virginia and Robbie. They don’t live in Virginia Beach, and I miss them.

A lot.

Which is why I’ve warned them, already, that I might be a little bit weird. “Don’t mind me if I stare at you when we’re together,” I said. “I just want to look at your face.”

If you’re a parent (and especially if you’re the parent of a newborn), you get it. You know it’s not always polite (and you realize you might border on creepy, if you’re like me and you have grown-up kids), but sometimes you can’t look away. Like Robbie, in this 1989 photo with Hillary. You just love too much.

And as I thought about this “can’t look away” love, I remembered King David’s words in Psalm 27. “One thing I ask of the Lord,” he wrote, “this is what I seek:  that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”

That was my dad’s favorite verse. I loved my father, and I want to love God in the all-consuming way that he did. Truth be told, though, I sometimes read verses like Psalm 27:4 and scratch my head just a bit. David’s request seems so…passive. Like, in our rough-and-tumble world, does gazing at God’s beauty move the needle? Does it help?

(I mean, if we were in David’s shoes and we could ask God for one thing, would we really pick “looking at you”?)

This week, I decided to do a little word study. I’ll spare you the details (cuz when you put a honker of a book like Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible in my beach bag, I can quickly get lost in the weeds), but here’s the main scoop:

That word beauty? It’s an attractiveness that motivates others to embrace that which is praiseworthy. It’s a type of splendor that leaves us inspired and amazed. It’s how the onlookers felt about Jesus in Mark 7:37, when he healed the deaf and dumb man.

“He has done everything well!” people said.

Not only that, but Warren Wiersbe (author of The Bible Exposition Commentarysays that beauty, as it’s used in Psalm 27, means not only the glory of God’s character but also “the richness of His goodness and favor to His people.” In other words, when David focused on God (instead of all the threats that he faced), he didn’t see danger or fear. He saw peace. He saw provision. He saw the strength to move on and live well.

So where does that leave us?

I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking that that leaves me admitting I’m wrong. Gazing at God is not at all passive. It’s practical. It’s the starting place–and the returning place–for experiencing him, and then living a life that will matter.

If gazing at God feels foreign to you, or if you just need a little help getting started, check out my friend Sara Hagerty’s “adoration” series on Instagram. You’ll find her @sarahagertywrites, or click here to download a whole month’s worth of ways to see and love God.

 

Heavenly Father,

You are all that we need; your presence is all we desire. Help us fix our gaze on you, that we might daily look to you and your strength, and seek your face always. (1 Chronicles 16:11)

Amen

And P.S., all you empty nesters out there:  Gazing at God is infinitely more satisfying than staring at your kids. Especially when they know how much you miss them and then, right before they come home, they send you a photo like this:

(Seriously Robbie? What even is that thing on your face??)

🙅‍♀️

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