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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