The Power of Hope

As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude. It is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength at all.

That’s G.K. Chesterton. And I’ve been mulling his words all week long. Because we know Easter’s coming–we have reason to hope–but what about those early believers? To Christ’s friends and his followers, things must have looked hopeless. Their savior—their closest companion—had been brutally murdered. It seemed inconceivable that He’d live again. And when I see Mary at the tomb, mistaking the Lord for a gardener, I get it. I would have, too.

“It’s only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength at all.”

If you’ve ever stood facing the bleakness—in a marriage that’s broken beyond repair, a diagnosis where the doctors have done all they can, a child who’s walked away from his faith—you know exactly what Chesterton meant. Hope needs to be more than a platitude. It has to be some sort of anchor when it looks like there’s nothing to hold.

Hope has to work.

Which is, of course, what Easter is all about.

Scripture tells us that God, in his great mercy, gives us new birth into a living hope through Christ’s resurrection. It says that hope will not disappoint. And that hope is an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God.

Isn’t that a fabulous image? Hope really is a lifeline–a strength we can count on, no matter how hopeless things look.

And as we mark Good Friday today and look forward to Easter, I’m praying for you. I don’t know where you are or what you might be facing, but I know the God of hope. And I know that He’s faithful.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him.

You are loved. ❤️

 

 

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The Madness is Real

The madness is real.

From the moment I first put on my Lucky Orange Sweater (a pre-tournament “love your enemies” gift from my Tarheel pal Lynn)…

…to waking up Tuesday morning and seeing my son’s face on some reporter’s Twitter feed…

…the rollercoaster ride that is college hoops has (for U.Va. fans, anyway) never been wilder.

And all week long folks have been texting and emailing me, saying “I can’t wait to read your Friday blog! You have so much good material! Did you see where Tony said…”

Yes. I saw where Tony said. Like most Wahoo fans, I’ve done little else this week except watch press conferences, read game-recap articles, and marvel over every single shining moment (and every humility-laced post-game interview) in Virginia’s incredible turnaround tournament.

You know the story.

After an early eviction from the 2018 tourney (one where U.Va. made history by becoming the first-ever No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16), coaches and players dug deep. As a response to what Coach Tony Bennett has repeatedly called a “painful gift,” they used the devastation as a glue of sorts, one that bonded them even closer as a team and kindled a resolve and a resilience that refused to come unstuck, even in the most pressure-packed moments.

Coach Bennett cited a line from a TED Talk (“If you learn to use it right — the adversity — it will buy you a ticket to a place you couldn’t have gone any other way”), but honestly? He might as well have been quoting Eugene Peterson. Because when Tony said that the loss had “freed him up” (making him want to be a better coach even as he realized that if he never got to a national championship game, he’d still be okay), all I could think of was Peterson’s assessment of what happened to the Israelites, back in 587 B.C.

You know Eugene Peterson from The Message Bible. But he wrote a bunch of other great stuff too, including this commentary, which I am currently loving:

(And for all you U.Va. grads, yes. I am blogging from The Stacks at Alderman Library.)

(Which is my happy place.)

(And not just because it’s where I realized, as I was studying Shakespeare with Robbie, that he had really great hair.)

Anyhow.

Run with the Horses is a look at the life of the prophet Jeremiah, who lived during a time when the Israelites found themselves in a place not unlike where the U.Va. players were, this time last year. The Jews had been exiled–not from a basketball tournament, but from their homeland. They’d been taken captive to Babylon.

And since I doubt you will read about this Basketball-and-Babylon connection in other sports columns, I’ll go ahead and tell you what Peterson said. “The essential meaning of exile,” he wrote, “is that we are where we don’t want to be.”

Roger that. In case you didn’t follow the story, the U.Va. players were ridiculed and reviled after last year’s loss, even facing death threats.

Crazy, but true.

And exile, Peterson went on, is “traumatic and terrifying. Our sense of who we are is very much determined by the place we are in and the people we are with. When that changes, violently and abruptly, who are we? The accustomed ways we have of finding our worth and sensing our significance vanish. The first wave of emotion recedes and leaves us feeling worthless, meaningless. We don’t fit anywhere. No one expects us to do anything. No one needs us. We are extra baggage. We aren’t necessary.”

Okay, so I know some of you are scratching your heads right now, thinking, “Wait. What? I thought this was a basketball story…”

But stick with me here. It is a basketball story. And it’s an Israelite story. And it’s our story.

Because whether it’s a change in our tournament status, our homeland, or our life (as in, a shift in our family circumstances, our job, our health, our marriage, etc.), exile happens.

(It did with me when I hit the empty nest years. Even though I knew it was good and right and all of those things, I didn’t like it. I felt—and I still feel, sometimes—like Peterson’s extra baggage. Like I am no longer needed. Like I don’t know where I fit anymore.)

But even in those dark or unwanted places, Peterson tells us what Coach Bennett did: “This very strangeness can open up new reality to us… With the pain and in the midst of alienation a sense of freedom can occur.”

For the U.Va. players, this very strangeness—the new reality that came wrapped as a painful gift—freed them up to play harder than ever before. Not as individual athletes, but as an entire team focused on the mantra that became “United Pursuit.”

For the Israelites, the new reality meant settling down, finding out what it really meant to be God’s people in a strange land. It meant choosing to flourish–to build homes, to grow families, and to pray for the people–in the land where they never wanted to be.

And for us, exile can mean the same thing. When we find ourselves in an unexpected or unwanted place, that can (and should) be the prompt that motivates us to discover what God is up to. To seek Him with all of our hearts. To live for what really matters–focusing not on what we don’t have, but on what we do.

“Exile,” Peterson wrote, “is the worst that reveals the best.”

That was certainly true for the Israelites. Their exile led to what Peterson calls “the most creative period in the entire sweep of Hebrew history,” one in which they “lost everything they thought was important and found what was important:  They found God.”

And it’s been true for the U.Va. team. Coach Bennett is quick to point out that losing a basketball game (even if it’s a blow-out defeat like what our guys suffered in 2018) is far from “the worst” thing in life. Even so, I think he would agree with Peterson. How we respond to exile—to adversity—is what makes all the difference.

“Though it’s not the way I would have chosen,” Coach Bennett said, in the days prior to Monday’s championship game, “it’s part of our story. And if we use it right, it’ll produce something very valuable.”

It did for U.Va.

And, if we let it, it will for us too.

🧡💙

And P.S. if you want something else “valuable,” you can get my “fascinator” hat off of Amazon. It’s currently out of stock in the orange color (must have been a run on ’em, what with all the well-dressed U.Va. fans), but maybe you want a pink one for Easter? Click here.

You’re welcome. 😊

 

 

 

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How Jesus might get to the Final Four

When our children were in preschool, the school nurse used to push a snack cart (loaded with treats that measured up to her strict nutritional standards) from classroom to classroom each morning. She genuinely loved the kids and her job, so I was surprised to see her storming down the hall one day, her face flushed with indignation.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“One of the children just called me her servant!” she exploded. “I didn’t know how to respond!”

I felt my eyes light up as I burst into laughter. “A servant!” I exclaimed “I can’t think of a higher compliment!”

Bewildered, the nurse stared at me for a long moment before moving on down the hall, again at a loss for words. She may have thought I was nuts, but at least she didn’t say so.

_________________________________________________

That’s how I started the chapter called “Praying for a Servant’s Heart” in Praying the Scriptures for Your ChildrenAnd I couldn’t help but think back to that story this week–particularly the nurse’s confusion–when I read this article about the “Five Pillars” on which Coach Tony Bennett has built U.Va.’s basketball program.

Servanthood is one of Coach Bennett’s biggies, along with Passion, Unity, Thankfulness and Humility. And it’s easy to see why most of these attributes matter–and not just on the basketball court.

We cannot imagine a business succeeding without a passionate buy-in from its leadership. And  as any team member (or parent!) will tell you, unity is a good and pleasant thing, and a house divided against itself cannot stand. Gratitude–whether toward other people or God–helps us focus on life’s bigger picture. And in addition to being an incredibly attractive character trait, humility equips us to withstand setbacks (cough-UMBC-cough) with strength and grace.

But…servanthood?

Nobody talks about servanthood all that much anymore. It seems an odd duck in a world where everyone’s goal seems to be to get to the top. Whether it’s in the NCAA tourney, a business venture, or the grocery store checkout line, we all want to be in control. We want to be first. We want to be great. And in a culture that rarely notices or rewards an others-centered outlook, you have to wonder whether cultivating a servant’s heart is all that important.

Coach Bennett evidently thinks so. And, as it turns out, so does Jesus. In fact, were He to map out the road to the Final Four, it might look something like this:

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

That’s Mark 10:43-45. And trust me:  In bringing these verses into a basketball convo, I’m not being flippant. I love March Madness, but I love Jesus even more. And as we move toward Easter, I want my life to reflect His.

I want to pray for–and cultivate–a heart that bends toward others.

If you want that too–for yourself, or your kids–you’ll find a collection of scripture-based prayer prompts in the Children book, as well as in the Teens version. I’d go back and copy them for you right now but it’s Thursday night and U.Va. is about to tip-off against Oregon, and I really feel like they need me.

So I’ll leave you with just four of my favorites (along with some 💥bonus info 💥 below), knowing that–win or lose–Tony’s guys have got their Pillars in place.

Heavenly Father…

Let ______ do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility may ______ value others above themselves, not looking to their own interests by to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4) 

Motivate ______ to serve wholeheartedly, as if they were serving you, Lord, not people. (Ephesians 6:7)

Open ______’s ears to the cry of the poor so that they won’t be ignored in their own time of need. (Proverbs 21:13 NLT)

May _______ serve others in love. (Galatians 5:13)

Amen

(photo credits Matt Riley/UVA Media Relations)

Bonus Material:

I’m traveling and taking next week off from the blog, so here’s a little P.S. to be thinking about:

The Philippians passage we prayed above goes on to tell us that our mindset should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, as he voluntarily made Himself nothing and took on a servant’s nature. So if you’re trying to instill a heart for service in your children (or, um, recognize it in your spouse), maybe keep the focus on attitude over accomplishment.

Like, if you happen to have daughters named Hillary and Annesley and they unload the dishwasher for you without being asked, and then you realize that all of your cupboards have dirty dishes in them, don’t freak out. Affirm your little helpers and thank God for answering your prayers.

❤️

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Don’t be afraid; it’s Puppy Day

We lost Max, our golden retriever, last fall. It was super hard, but in a demonstration of His infinite kindness, God arranged things so that all four of our adult children could be home when we said goodbye.

Max wasn’t the best looking dog, or the bravest. And he didn’t know any commands. But you could tell that, if he had known what we wanted (like, if he’d ever realized what things like “Sit!” meant), he would gladly have done it. Max’s chief attribute–the trait that colored his life–was an overwhelming desire to make his people happy.

I miss our boy, more than I ever imagined I would. And with National Puppy Day being tomorrow (thank you, AND ONE Marketing, for the heads up on that), I figured I’d revisit some of the lessons Max taught us. Including this one (originally published a few years ago) about not being afraid…

The Answer for Life’s Scary Stuff

Our dog Max (you know him as the rock eater) is an anxious dog. There are a lot of things that scare him. Sudden movements. The bathroom floor. His food bowl.

And, perhaps most of all, other dogs.

We went on a walk the other day and came upon a big black lab. As if his size and color were not threatening enough, this guy was sporting a pirate scarf where his collar should have been. Max stopped in his tracks.

I tried coaxing and commanding, tempting and tugging, but Max wasn’t having it. He did not want to pass that dog. Given the whole pirate vibe, I might have understood his trepidation…except for one thing.

The dog was fake.

Not, like, taxidermy fake. This one was, like, fake fake. It couldn’t bite or growl, and it certainly didn’t smell. It just sat there, day after day, fake-guarding the “Outer Barks” shop in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

I had to laugh. I tried to see things from Max’s viewpoint, but I just couldn’t. The whole thing was ridiculous – and his neurosis was hurting our progress.

And then I stopped.

Because as I stood there (smiling at other pedestrians and trying to be cool, like maybe Max and I were just sort of “resting”), I realized that I do the same thing. I start out like Enoch (he’s a Bible guy who “walked faithfully with God” for 300 years), but then I look down the road and see something – a real something or a fake something – that could be a problem, and I balk.

Which is not God’s idea of how things are supposed to play out.

God knew we’d come up against some scary stuff. Real scary stuff (like cancer), and fake scary stuff (like what people will think, or even say, when they see us dance, which is–to my children’s everlasting mortification–not something that normally keeps me off the floor when the band starts playing Bon Jovi. Or ABBA.)

God knew we’d face threats, and that fear would be a problem. And so he gave us the answer. He gave us the Holy Spirit: “The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

Put another way, God gave us a Spirit who can make us bold in the face of uncertainty, loving when it might be easier to just turn away, and self-controlled and steady when life feels anything but calm. He gave us a Spirit who can equip us to do the good things that he has prepared. He gave us a Spirit who can strengthen us to walk faithfully with him on life’s longest journeys (no matter what sort of pirate-dog stands in our way).

God did not give us a spirit of fear. He gave us the Holy Spirit. So let’s stop with the balking already.

Let’s move.

Heavenly Father,

Over and over again, you tell us, “Do not be afraid.” (Joshua 1:9; Isaiah 41:10; and John 14:27)

As we confront things–real and imagined–that scare us, would you please fill us afresh with your Spirit? Let our lives be marked by power, love, and self-discipline. And may your perfect love drive out every fear. (2 Timothy 1:7; 1 John 4:18)

Amen

 

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Rest for your soul (no calorie counting required)

So I started tracking my eating habits last week, using a phone app that shows the caloric content and nutritional value of everything you consume.

I’ll spare you the details; as my mom said when one of her children bought a juicer and started talking about drinking carrots, “I will listen because I am your mother, but I must warn you that this sort of conversation bores people.” But as I was logging my raspberry intake (did you know that they have just 1 calorie each?), Robbie wondered what I was doing.

My man is all about apps, and when I showed him how the thing worked, he wanted to play. “How do I tell it,” he said, “that I just ate a bag of Cheetos the size of my head?”

Not once in all of those youth group warnings about being “unequally yoked” did I ever think I’d wind up with a spouse who was so metabolically different than me. Back then, all I cared about was that Robbie loved Jesus. Now, though, I think single people should maybe consider how they match up with someone, diet-wise. Because honestly? It’s kind of discouraging to live with somebody who can lose weight pounding Thin Mints while you sit there counting almonds (116 calories in 15 of ’em) and discover you’ve gained two pounds that week.

But, as a wise woman might say, this is the sort of blog that bores people.

So I’ll stop with the nutritional stuff and revisit the subject of yokes. Because even as Paul tells us not to team up with nonbelievers—a command that stems from the Old Testament’s admonition against mis-matching an ox and a donkey (which seems like something a farmer could have figured out on his own?)—Jesus invites us to link up with Him. He invites us to put on His yoke.

“Come to me,” Jesus says to the weary and burdened, “and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29)

Rest. For your soul.

Doesn’t that sound appealing? It’s the promise of peace. Relaxation. Fulfillment. And freedom from things like worry and fear.

All things we want, right?

Right. But…how do we get there, exactly?

There are two parts to Christ’s invitation. The first part is to come (“Come to me”); the second is to connect (“Take my yoke”). Both parts lead to rest–but it’s the second part of this promise where things can get a little bit tricky.

Because coming to Jesus sounds easy. But wearing His yoke—surrendering to His Lordship, yielding to His teaching, living in such a way that our thoughts and our actions sync up with His plans—feels a bit problematic. What if we are not good enough? What if we get distracted? What if that yoke feels too heavy or tight?

This is where God’s grace comes in. The grace that saves us when we come is the grace that equips us to stay. It’s what opens the door to soul-rest. And even though I’m not entirely sure what it looks like, I know that Christ’s “yoke” is something I want. I don’t want to just come to the Lord. I want my life to be utterly connected to His.

And so here’s what I’m doing:  I’m reaching for Jesus. And every time I feel myself pulling away (which is, like, every day, as I slip toward sinful habits, slide toward worry or fear, or just get caught up in the To-Do List Tangle), I reach out again. “Keep me connected,” I pray. “I don’t know how to do this, Jesus; I need You to hold me.”

And you know what? He does.

I’m not there yet (and I doubt I ever will be, this side of heaven), but I think I’m beginning to  understand what Paul meant when he wrote, “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me.” (Philippians 3:12 MSG)

If you want to join me in the pursuit of unbroken connection (and I can’t think of a better time to “reach out for Christ” than during the season of Lent), use the prayer prompt below, or craft one of your own.

And if you got stuck back there with the Cheetos, and you’ve been wondering just how many calories there actually are in a serving that big, let’s just put it like this:

Robbie could have eaten 700 raspberries instead.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for inviting us to come to you and find rest. Equip us to stay–to stay connected, to take up your yoke, to learn from you–so that we will find rest for our souls. (Matthew 11:28-29)

 Amen

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You Can Use My Name

So this is officially “Celebrate Your Name” week.

I know this because my hip young friend, Peyton, runs an award-winning marketing firm, and she published a content calendar on her website this week. It’s chock full of things we might not otherwise know.

For instance, if you missed out on “World Compliment Day” on March 1, you can still take advantage of “National Napping Day” next Tuesday. And don’t tell my husband (because he’s currently looking at litters online), but March 23 is “National Puppy Day” (which probably means that my coffee table is about to get chewed).

Anyhow.

When I downloaded Peyton’s calendar and saw the bit about celebrating our names, I thought to myself: That’s kind of freaky. In a freaky good kind of way. Because as timing would have it, I have been thinking a whole lot this week about names. Well, one name, anyway.

I have been thinking about the name Jesus–and, in particular, how we use it in prayer.

You know the drill: We ask God for something, or say grace over a meal, and then (sometimes without even thinking) we tack on a quick “…in Jesus’ name, Amen.” Having spent most of 2019 in the Gospel of John, I think I know where this practice comes from. Over and over again, Jesus tells us to ask in his name:

I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.  (John 14:13-14)

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit–fruit that will last–and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:16)

Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:23-24)

Reading verses like these back-to-back, you get the idea that He mean it. Jesus intends for us to know His name–and to use it.

Which, for me, raises a couple of questions.

I know how I’d feel if I gave somebody the use of my name–like, if I recommended someone for a job, or I wanted to make an introduction. I’d want that person to speak and behave honorably (and not to do anything that might, by virtue of my endorsement, reflect badly on me!). Did Jesus, I wondered, ever have that kind of concern?

I wanted to know more about how this “you can use my name” thing really works, and I figured Andrew Murray would have something to say. I picked up my copy of With Christ in the School of Prayer (which is getting more dog-eared by the day) and sure enough:  He has a whole chapter on this very topic.

Murray contends that when we pray in Christ’s name, we are actually praying in his nature–which is love. Prayers “in the name of Jesus” presuppose that our interests are aligned with God’s. “No one,” Murray says, “would give another free use of his name without first being assured that his honor and interests were as safe with that other person as with himself.”

Not only that, but the power that our prayers carry also depends on our relationship to the Lord. God looks not just to our lips, but also to our lives to see what His name is to us. And as we “walk in the name of the Lord our God” (Micah 4:5), we can effectively pray in the name of the Lord our God–with full confidence that, as Jesus promised, we will receive whatever we ask.

And finally (and this goes to my question about the potential for misusing Christ’s name), Murray says that the phrase “in my name” has its own built-in safeguard. When we bear the name “Christian”–living and acting and praying as children of God–the power that’s in the name works. When we try to live (and pray) out from under that power, it doesn’t.

Okay. That’s enough Deep Thought for one day. Let’s download our content calendars, thank God for giving us a Name we can celebrate, and look forward to napping next week!

😊

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for giving us the privilege of bearing your name when we call ourselves Christians. Please show us what your name really means, and how we can use it in prayer, so that You will be glorified in our midst. (John 14:13-14)

Amen

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Hit the Ball Back

Every family, I guess, has its own lexicon.

Several years ago, I curated a few favorite Berndt sayings (things like Paddle hard, Eat the ugly frog first, and Keep chocolate handy) and painted them on a “Family Rules” board.

Paddle Hard is a take-off on Colossians 3:23, which served as a theme verse for our staycation one year.

The Ugly Frog is a twist on Mark Twain (“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first”).

And that bit about Chocolate? That’s just basic survival, to us.

I love this old board, but there is one rule–one good family rule–that I forgot to include.

Hit the ball back.

Hit the ball back began with our son, who views much of life through the lens of athletics.

As a preschooler, Robbie learned math. It wasn’t on purpose; we just parked him in front of the television (fourth child) and asked questions like, “How many points does U.Va. need to score in the next minute if we are going to beat Carolina?”

As a fourth-grader, Robbie sometimes forgot to turn in his assignments–until we explained that homework worked exactly like basketball:  It didn’t actually count unless you “sunk it” in the teacher’s basket.

And then one day, another dad offered to drive Robbie to lacrosse camp. I knew the fellas would be in the car for awhile, and I wanted Robbie’s conversation to sparkle. Trouble was, he had three older sisters, which meant we didn’t actually know whether our boy could talk.

It was time for some pregame coaching.

“When Mr. McKee asks you a question,” I said, “don’t just answer with a yes or a no. Pretend that whatever he says is a tennis serve, and return it. Give him something that he can hit back.”

I don’t know how the ride went (Robbie thought it was great, but then again, he thought he got all his SAT-Math questions right), but Hit the ball back became a family staple that day.

Years later, after our children were grown, I realized that nobody hit the ball back better than Jesus. Whether He served the ball or returned it, the Lord always invited folks to come play.

How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked, when the disciples wondered where they could find food for 4,000 people.

Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Jesus wondered, sparking a dialogue that led to Peter’s confession:  “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked a blind beggar, the one who refused to stop shouting. “Rabbi,” the man replied, “I want to see.”

Jesus, of course, knew the answers. He knew how much bread was on hand, that He was God’s Son, and that the blind man wanted to see.

So…why all the questions? What was Jesus trying to do?

Think about it.

Jesus could have just blurted stuff out (“I am GOD!“), or healed people as He wandered by. Athletically speaking, though, that would be like Roger Federer, playing tennis with me. Federer could serve (or return) the ball 24 times, and the set would be over. And at the end of the match, I would never have moved from the baseline, my game would be unimproved, and–worst of all–I would not know a single thing about my amazing opponent (other than what I already did, from TV).

But that’s not what God wants for our lives.

God wants us to move. He wants us to grow. And most of all, He wants us to get to know Jesus.

Which only happens when we engage.

Jesus didn’t question the disciples for His sake (again, He already knew all the answers), but for theirs. He wanted to draw them into connection, to the place where their lives could be changed. And He still wants to do that today.

What do you have?

Just as the disciples offered their loaves, we can give God our resources and talents (meager as they might be), trusting Him to use them to satisfy many.

Who do you say that I am?

That was Christ’s question to Peter, and He asks the same thing to us. Either He’s God, or He isn’t. What do you say?

What do you want me to do?

This last question might be my favorite, because it’s God’s invitation to pray. The blind man probably figured that his need was obvious. When prompted, though, he made his request anyway. Let’s be like him. Let’s not shrink back. Let’s put our needs out there, knowing that we’ve been invited, and let’s hit the ball back when God serves.

❤️

Oh, that we might know the Lord!
    Let us press on to know him.
He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn
    or the coming of rains in early spring. (Hosea 6:3 NLT)

Thank you, Lord, that we can know You, and that we can ask for Your help.

Today I need ______.

Thank You for Your promise to respond.

Amen

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Just a quick thought and a blessing

One of the best things about being a parent is getting to watch your children grow up.

That’s also one of the hardest things, particularly when the paths our kids choose don’t line up with our vision for what “their happiness” is supposed to look like, or when we aren’t really sure what God’s best plan is for their lives. It can be easy, during those iffy or uncertain times, to be tempted to give in to fear, or to worry because we aren’t really sure what how to pray.

But let’s don’t. Instead, let’s take back that ground with a blessing, releasing our ideas and agendas to God and trusting Him to accomplish his plans in the lives of the people we love.

And if you’re in a spot where maybe you don’t love a particular choice your child makes, know this: A blessing is not the same thing as an endorsement. Rather, it’s simply a way of acknowledging God’s sovereignty in our children’s lives and inviting him to shepherd their future.

Just a thought. And if you like it, you’ll find a collection of well-loved “scripture blessings” in the Adult Children book.

For now, though, here’s our family’s favorite:

Heavenly Father,

Bless ______ and keep them; make Your face shine on  ______ and be gracious to them.

Turn Your face toward ______ and give them peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

Amen

 

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She Has His Smile: The Power of Being an Image Bearer

I’ve been missing my father this week. His birthday was February 18th; Dad would have been 80 this year.

People used to say that we favored each other. They said I had my dad’s smile (which made me happy), as well as his nose (which made me less so)…

Three years ago, I wrote a post about some of the good gifts Dad gave me (the best being an introduction to Jesus), and I shared a bit about his cancer journey. And this year, as I reflect on his legacy, I’ve been thinking of how many things—physical attributes, as well as interests and skills—fathers pass down to their kids.

A classical pianist may teach his children to love Mozart and Bach. A businessman may want to raise up a successor. An athletic dad may urge his kids to play sports.

(Or try to, anyway. If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know that Dad’s passion for tennis didn’t exactly translate into a skill-set for me.)

For better or for worse, children are image bearers–a connection that reflects our relationship to our Heavenly Father, I think. Remember what God said, back when He was creating the world? “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.”

That’s Genesis 1:26. And it comes right before God outlines our destiny. In a nutshell, our original job description was to reproduce, fill the earth, and basically take responsibility to love and care for God’s entire creation.

Sounds like a tall order, right? (Especially after that whoopsie, early on, in the Garden.)

It is a big job. And it would literally be mission impossible, except for two things.

The first is the power of redemption. What sin destroyed, God’s grace restored.  Thanks to the cross, we are back in the destiny saddle.

And the second is the power of prayer. To quote Andrew Murray (my current “dead author” obsession), prayer is “the power through which blessing can come to others.”

Put another way, prayer is the conduit through which God’s provision can flow.

It is the number one way we can love and care for our world.

It is–and buckle up, Murray fans, cuz this is one of his best–“proof of man’s godlikeness, the vehicle of his communication with the Father, and the power that is allowed to hold the Hand that holds the destinies of the universe.”

(It’s okay. I’ll wait while you read that one again. I had to.)

Because here’s the thing:  God could have chosen to work around us, or even in spite of us, but he didn’t. He chose to work in us, and through us, to bless other people. God chose us–us!–to be the channel through which His power is unleashed in our world!

Why? Why?

All I can think, as I consider our status as “image bearers,” is that it’s because of how much He loves us. Not because we are clever or well-behaved or (thank goodness!) athletic. Our Heavenly Father loves us–and listens to us–just because we are His.

So let’s just go ahead and take hold of His Hand. Let’s come before our Father today–the Daddy whose image we bear–and look into his face.

And if we aren’t sure what to ask for, or even how to get started, that’s okay. We can do like the disciples did, back when they beheld Jesus, and say, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

Heavenly Father,

Thank you that You’ve called us your children, and that we’re being transformed into Your image. May we gradually become brighter and more beautiful as You enter our lives and we become like Jesus. (2 Corinthians 3:18 MSG)

And when people who know You look at us, may they think to themselves, “She has His smile.”

Amen

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Let’s take the long way

I used to write financial planning books.

(I know, I know. Insert eye-roll emoji. Robbie would.)

I didn’t think up the money management stuff on my own; I mostly just wrote down whatever Ron Blue or Larry Burkett said, and then added some semi-colons. And while I don’t remember everything I learned from those gurus (like, if you asked me what a “pour-over will” is now, I’d probably reach for the corkscrew), there are at least three truths that have stuck:

First: God owns it all. (Helpful to remember, especially when you think about tithing. Or buying a house. Or even a new pair of shoes. Would God do that with your/His paycheck?)

Second: Financial freedom comes from spending less than you earn. (Harder than it sounds. See earlier note re shoes.)

And finally: Time is a tool–and the more you have of it, the better.

That last point, the one about time being our ally, also holds true in prayer. Just like extending our time horizon in financial planning can allow the “magic” of compounding to exponentially grow a nest egg, so giving God time to work in response to our prayers releases Him to do more–immeasurably more–than anything we might think we desire.

And just like taking the long view in our finances can help us ride the market’s highs and lows without panicking, so adopting a long-term prayer strategy can help us wait well and keep praying–even when the answer seems slow in coming.

Which happens, right? In every season of prayer…

The toddler who won’t sleep through the night. The teenager battling loneliness. The adult child who has walked away from his faith. The spouse who is looking for work. The sickness–physical or emotional–that just won’t go away.

It can be easy, in the face of delayed provision or unanswered prayers, to want to give up. Maybe, we think to ourselves, God has some secret reason for withholding an answer–and the most pious thing we could do would be to just quit.

But let’s don’t.

Instead, let’s take the long view, recognizing that God is at work–even when we can’t see what he’s doing, and even when the waiting is hard. And I don’t know much about all the ways that God works (less, even, than I know about handling money), but here again, there are three things that are true:

First: God loves us. Lavishly and without condition, even on our worst days.

Second: He is all-powerful. It doesn’t matter what our need is; he is able to help.

And finally: His timing is perfect.

God might be timing things so we learn perseverance. That’s a quality I want my own kids to have; seems like God might want it to shape our lives, too. Sure, I love it when prayer works like a vending machine (request in; answer out), but honestly? The blessings that come after a hard fight or a long wait are the answers I treasure the most.

He might be giving us an opportunity to hone our request. Just like earthly parents can get an earful sometimes (one of our kids recently asked for a kitten that comes with its ears folded down, which I gather costs more than some cars), so our Heavenly Father hears all our petitions. Sometimes, though, He has a different idea. (Like, He might want us to get a free cat. Or even no cat.) And when He does, we are wise to follow Christ’s example and pray not just for what we want, but in submission to God’s better plan.

Or God could be testing our faith. Not so that He can know how we measure up–He already has that intel–but so that we can. We need to know that we’ve staked our trust in something that’s real, that our confidence is well-placed, and that the ties that bind us to Jesus are strong.

God could be doing any number of things while we wait. I don’t know. But let’s not give up. Instead, let’s take the long view, knowing how much He loves us–and recognizing that even though we might not see the whole scope of what God is doing, He makes everything beautiful in its time.

Heavenly Father,

Let us not become weary in prayer, but help us remember that at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

Amen.

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Stopping the Spiral (Valentine’s Day Wisdom from Lisa Jacobson)

Love is more than a feeling. We know that. We know that there are plenty of times when it is more of a choice.

Trouble is, we don’t always know what that looks like, relationship-wise.

And so, when I saw my friend Lisa Jacobson talking about this exact topic on Instagram, I asked if she’d mind sharing some of her thoughts in this space. Because whether we’re navigating a relationship with our Valentine, our Galentine, or even our kids, it’s good to know what to do when we feel the “Great Spiral” coming on.

Here’s Lisa:

The Great Spiral (and how to avoid it!)

The morning began so well.

My alarm went off. I got right up and jumped in the shower. Popped breakfast in the oven.

On my way to a strong start in a new year. You see, I’m determined to be ready for church on time—which has not always been my strong suit.

But then just when everything was going so well, my husband walked in, observed my outfit, and with some surprise, said something like, “You’re wearing that?”

I was wearing a green, cable knit sweater and jeans. (Admittedly, not my typical attire as I tend to dress up a bit for church.)

So I shrugged my shoulders and told him it was supposed to snow. And with that, he smiled and left the room.

For him, this was merely an observation. A question of curiosity.

For me, it was criticism. Condemnation even.

And I felt the Great Spiral coming on.

Maybe it wasn’t a good morning.
Maybe I’d made a poor choice.
Maybe I can’t even dress myself right…

STOP

Time for a little talk with myself. “Lisa, you know he didn’t mean anything by it. Remember, HE LOVES YOU.”

And I DO know that but when I take something wrong…it’s so difficult to get back right again. All those old voices and past hurts flood my head until I can’t think straight.

So there I stood.

With only a few minutes to decide whether to let this moment defeat me

OR

To take my thoughts captive and choose love instead.

I had a choice to make.

And I wrestled awhile.

Then walked out of the room, slipped my hand into his, and we made it to church on time—casually, in my sweater and jeans.

Taking Your Thoughts Captive

I don’t know if you ever struggle with the Great Spiral like I do. But it’s amazing how someone can say or do something that will quite unexpectedly send my mind into a deep dive.

Not only hard on my heart, but rather hard on my relationships too.

And I used to feel helpless when that happened.

One wrong move and there she goes….

Until I came onto this verse:

“…bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

That’s when it dawned on me that I don’t have to be ruled by my runaway thoughts: I can take them “captive.” It’s on me to be in charge of my mind—rather than the other way around.

And same with you.

So the next time someone you love says something that threatens to send you into a spiral?

STOP.

Remember what is true.

And then don’t let the offense – whether real or imagined – take you for a ride.

Take those thoughts captive.

Choose love.

❤️

Want more practical relationship wisdom from Lisa Jacobson? You’ll find her over at Club31women.com, or follow her on Instagram @club31women. 

And P.S. — if you’re like I am, and you know that you can’t stop all those runaway thoughts on your own, why not turn Lisa’s “aha” verse into a prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Help me destroy every proud obstacle that keeps me from knowing you. Work in me to capture my rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5, NLT)

Amen

 

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Focus on the Family (and the antidote to worry and fear)

Last fall, I was honored–no, make that thrilled–to sit down with Jim Daly and John Fuller, co-hosts of the Focus on the Family radio program.

We talked about parenting, and how our prayers for our kids change as they grow. And we covered things like worry and fear, and the fact that (as much as we might not like it) God often shapes our faith in life’s valleys. And that He will shape our kids’ lives, and their faith, in those low places too.

Jim and John are the most gracious hosts. Plus, they’re great dads; I found myself wishing that I were the one asking the prayer-and-parenting questions, and not the other way ’round!

The program airs today, and if you’d like to check it out, click here.

But if all you’ve got time for is just one little thought, here’s an encouraging note from the show:

Prayer is the antidote to a parent’s worry and fear.

When we find out something that scares us–whether it’s the news that our first grader has been stealing crayons from the classroom supply closet, our teenager got pulled for drunk driving, or our adult child’s marriage is falling apart–our default response is often worry. Or anger. Sadness. Or fear.

(All legitimate emotions–and all places I’ve been.)

But what if that’s not the whole picture? What if God sees things differently? What if, instead of prompting us to panic, He is clueing us in to a problem–letting us see our child’s need–specifically so we can pray?

God has good plans for our kids. And prayer is His invitation to us to partner with Him in accomplishing His purposes–even when we don’t see how things could work out, or when it doesn’t look like the needle is moving. Prayer opens the door to provision, that God may be glorified in our lives.

If you’re facing something that’s making your heart ache today–something that fills you with worry or fear–remember God’s promise in Psalm 34:18. He is close to the brokenhearted. He saves us when we are crushed.

Lean into that closeness. Let God’s strong arms comfort you. He’s a parent; He gets it.

And then, as you draw courage and strength in God’s presence, don’t give panic a foothold. Instead, lift your head, along with your hands, and let your default position be one of prayer.

Heavenly Father,

You are the God of our family. You have loved us with an everlasting love and drawn us with unfailing kindness.

Our children are your children. Save them, gather them, lead them along level paths where they will not stumble.

Turn our mourning into gladness; give us comfort and joy instead of sorrow. Satisfy us with abundance, and with your bounty.

(Excerpted from Jeremiah 31:1-14)

Amen

❤️

P.S. Robbie and I are so grateful for Focus on the Family, and for all the ways they have encouraged and strengthened our marriage, our parenting, and our faith. To access more info on everything from helping your kids overcome rejection to protecting your family against today’s opioid epidemic, click here.

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Let’s take prayer out of church

Happy New Year!

I am already in love with 2019, mostly because of the people I’ve been spending time with, and the places we’ve been. “Captain” Robbie and I started the year on a boat with our people…

…and since coming ashore, I’ve been hanging out in the classroom with Andrew Murray and Jesus:

I first read Murray’s With Christ in the School of Prayer back in college, when my brain worked a little better than it does now. Honestly though? Murray’s words are richer the second time around, even if I do have to process some paragraphs twice. (The book, originally published in 1885, says that it’s been “updated for the modern reader,” but I’m guessing that “modern” maybe means different things to different people…)

Anyhow.

Having been “in school” now for almost a month, I can’t wait to share what I’m learning with you!

For starters, Murray maintains that prayer is the most important and influential thing we can do. It is, he says, “the highest part of the work entrusted to us–the root and strength of all other work.”

Underscoring his point, Murray notes that Jesus didn’t teach anybody to preach; rather, He taught people to pray. And His very first pupil wasn’t one of the disciples. It was (and this was an eye-opener for me) the woman He met at the well.

You know the story. Jesus is tired. And thirsty. And probably hot, since it’s the middle of the day. He’s alone by a well and when a Samaritan woman comes along to draw water, He asks her for a drink.

And she says…no.

Not in so many words, of course. But instead of getting water for Jesus, the gal can’t figure out why He’s asking. “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman,” she says. “How can you ask me for a drink?”

Again, you know the deal. Samaritans and Jews didn’t fraternize much; to the Jews, Samaritans were “unclean.” And this gal wasn’t just average unclean; she was extra unclean, having had five husbands and a sixth man now sharing her bed. Still, though, Jesus engaged her…

Which is where Andrew Murray comes in.

The woman wanted to know whether worship should happen in Jerusalem (like the Jews thought) or Samaria (like her people thought). Jesus told her that neither answer was the right one, since “a time is coming and has now come when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth.”

That’s John 4:23. And the way Murray sees it, Jesus was saying that prayer is not confined to a place. It wasn’t limited to Jerusalem or Samaria, any more than it is limited to our churches or even our individual prayer closets. Instead, true worship happens when the Spirit of the Son, dwelling within us, reveals the Spirit of the Father and teaches us how to pray.

All of which points to two truths:

Truth #1: It doesn’t matter who we are or where we’ve been; Jesus wants us to pray, and he is eager to teach us. Never think you are too broken or clumsy or ignorant about churchy stuff to sit in Christ’s classroom. If he took time for the Samaritan woman (whose questions were legit), he will delight in taking time to teach us.

Truth #2: True worship works a whole lot like breathing. Instead of confining our praises and prayers to a particular place or “quiet time,” the Spirit of Christ in our hearts can (and should) connect with God all day long.

And I know, I know. Right now, some of you are thinking: But who has all day? I can barely find five minutes to pray!

I hear you. I thought the same thing, back when we had four kids under age six, and I spent most of my days doing things like cutting grapes, finding socks, or trying to catch a worm so Hillary could take it to school for Pet Day. (Lame, I know, but not nearly as bad as my grandmother, who gave my mother a saucepan on a leash to play with. Truly. But “Fluffy the Pot” is a story for another day…)

Prayer, I figured, was reserved for people who had more time, less children, and a whole lot less laundry than me.

But the thing is, we do have the time. We really do have “all day” to pray.

When we get dressed in the morning (or fold the umpteenth pair of clean socks), we can ask God to clothe us (or our kids) with things like compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12)

When we slice up an apple or bite into a berry, we can pray that God will fill our lives with the fruit of His Spirit: things like love, joy, self-control, and peace. (Galatians 5:22)

When we head into a meeting, especially if we aren’t sure how things will go down, we can do like King David and ask God to shape our words and our thoughts so that what comes out will be pleasing to Him. (Psalm 19:14)

And when we collapse into bed at the end of the day, we can thank Him for being the one who offers rest to all who are weary, whether we are burdened in body or soul. (Matthew 11:28-29)

You don’t have to know the verses; you get the idea. Prayer prompts can be found everywhere. And the more we keep our eyes and our hearts open to Jesus, trusting Him as our Teacher, the more he will show them to us!

And speaking of prompts…

If you want a little help jump starting your prayer life in 2019, you can download a free monthly prayer calendar here. There are versions for children, teens, and adults, and you can use the prompts to pray daily or by topic, simply adding the names of the people you love.

And speaking of people you love…

I am more than a little bit grateful for you. Thank you, dear Friends, for sticking with me during the “blog break” last month. I have some fresh ideas to share in the new year–thoughts on family life, prayer helps, and more–and I look forward to seeing where the Lord leads. And as always, I am praying for you:

May God bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)

 

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