As my kids have been counting down the days to summer vacation, I have been counting them down too. As a teacher, I too look forward to the end of the year—a break from lesson plans, grading, and lectures. I look forward to three months of rest, rejuvenation, and refueling. Everyone has their favorite time of the year. Summer is definitely mine.
But wait… I have kids of my own…and they require my attention. Perhaps rest and relaxation will need to be redefined.
When my kids were young, I remember wondering how in the world I was going to keep the little cherubs busy for 15 hours a day, 12 weeks in a row. I set up an elaborate calendar of playdates, swim lessons, and activities to keep their minds and bodies active. I tried to make every day a fun adventure. I compiled a list each summer of places we’d visit on sunny days, and places we’d go on rainy days. I took trips to my parents’ cabin, trips to McDonalds, and trips to Daddy’s office—just to let him know how much fun we were having. My kids loved summer, and wanted it to last forever. And part of me loved it too. But by the beginning of August, I was praying for deliverance from my scheduled craziness and together time. The start of the school year felt like a vacation from my summer vacation.
My kids are older now, a teen and a pre-teen. Summer feels different now, and I feel different too. As I look forward to the end of the school year and the start to the greatest 12 weeks of the year, I’ve been doing some planning. But this year’s planning does not involve a lot of the things it used to. This time I’ve made a list of what I’m not going to do. I tried to keep it to a top five, but I somehow made it to a top six. Feel free to add your own to the list.
Summer is almost here, and this year I’ll be ready for it.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.
As I am reading through the gospels with my children during this Lenten season, I am struck once more by how often we read about Jesus making time to get away and talk with God.
Mark records Jesus getting up in the morning, while it was still dark, to find a solitary place where he prayed. Matthew records Jesus dismissing his disciples and heading up to a mountainside where he could be alone with God. Luke writes how Jesus spent the entire night praying, calling out to God.
Luke records Jesus crying out to God in prayer on the eve of his crucifixion. And when Jesus did that, Luke writes that an angel from heaven “appeared to him and strengthened him” (Luke 22: 43). While Jesus was crying out to God in the garden, his disciples were nearby. Although he’d asked them to pray, they were sleeping.
As I closed the book for the night, tucked in my boys and headed off to my own bed, I began to wonder… how often, at the end of the day, I choose sleep over prayer. I sleep as a way to escape the problems of the day rather than cry out to God, as a way to gain strength to face those same problems.
In the Garden, on the night Jesus was betrayed, we see God once again offering something Jesus desperately needs. As a response to Jesus’ prayer, as a loving response to Jesus’ cry for help, God, gives Jesus strength.
Oftentimes, when faced with what seems like an impossible task, I find myself doing one of two things—either running around frantic, trying to control the outcome, or shutting down—sleeping—in order to avoid it.
But Jesus’ approach is different. On that particular night, He must have been physically exhausted, emotionally spent, and spiritually stretched. He knew what was coming. The task must have seemed impossible. But instead of running around or sleeping off the stress, He goes directly to His Father. He cries out to God. And God, in his mercy, gives him strength.
Many years before that night in the Garden of Gethsemane, David, God’s anointed King, spent a lot of time crying out to God. When he found himself in an impossible situation, this man of God, this man after God’s own heart, held nothing back as he expressed his distress to God. Psalm 13 is particularly telling of his need to cry out to God. Read the contrast from David’s first few lines to his last few lines.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?…
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
David cries out to God. He lets fly his frustration. But by the end of the Psalm, David changes his tune. His attitude is reworked. Somehow, as the words pour out, God pours strength in. By the end of the Psalm, David writes, BUT I TRUST YOU.
The night Jesus prayed in the garden, I can only imagine how much he might have wanted to just close his eyes and sleep, hoping that when he woke, it would all be over. Sometimes the problems of this world bring us to that point too, where we wish we could just make it all go away.
But God has a different way. He shows us that when we cry out to him, he responds. He responds with exactly what we need to accomplish what he has set for us to do. In his mercy, God gives us what we need. All He asks, is that we cry out to him.
Then Christ, with the understanding of someone who’s gone through a time of weakness, turns around and offers the same strength to us.
Dear Lord, we thank you for this time before Easter—time to reflect on the story of your great sacrifice for us, of the pain you must have felt leading up to the crucifixion, and of the humanity of Christ, for it is through his humanity that we see how to come to you, how to cry out to you, and how to pray. Thank you for always responding to our prayers with exactly what you know we need. Help us to remember that your grace is sufficient for us and that through our weakness, your strength shines through. In gratefulness, we give you praise. Amen.
One of my practices during Lent is to read through a book called “The King Nobody Wanted,” an old book of my mother’s that she saved from her childhood—a book that she read to my brothers and me each Lenten season when we were growing up. It tells the story of Jesus’ ministry, crucifixion and resurrection. While deeply rooted in Scripture, it reads more like a novel, and is responsible for much of my understanding of who Jesus is, what he did here on earth, and why he had to die so that I might be able to live.
While I certainly didn’t understand it at the time, I believe my Mom was reading this story each year as a way to help us prepare our hearts and minds for Easter. And now that I’m the Mom, I do the same. As life swirls around so quickly, readying our hearts and minds is both gratifying and necessary.
Jesus walked with his disciples for years, teaching and training them to understand the impact of His work on earth. And when the time came for Him to say goodbye, He took the opportunity to gather with them one last time, in the upper room, to celebrate the Passover feast and to remind them once again, how deeply He cared for them.
The Passover feast was celebrated each year at the same time. It was an especially holy event for the Jewish people in that it observed the time when God spared them from the plague of physical death and brought them out of slavery in Egypt. Jesus took the opportunity to celebrate the symbols associated with Passover and infused them with fresh meaning as a way to remember the sacrifice He was about to make, a sacrifice that would save us from death and slavery as well—a spiritual death and a spiritual slavery. While his disciples may not have known it at the time, Jesus was preparing their hearts too.
After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22: 17-20)
Jesus would offer his body so that we could be passed over by the wages of sin that plague our daily lives and instead, be restored to a right relationship with God the Father. He poured out his blood so that we could be spared from the iniquity that causes not only a spiritual death, but leaves us separated from God. He offered himself up for each of us as a once-and-for-all, everlasting and Holy sacrifice, so that we could have an eternal connection with the One who is sovereign, who is mercy, who is always with us.
The days preceding Easter are a wonderful time to prepare our hearts. Your tradition may call for observing Lent, attending services, or giving something up to recognize the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. Perhaps you read through the gospels or watch a Passion drama. Regardless of what you choose, recognize that Jesus took time to prepare the hearts of his followers for what was to come. He knew how painful it would be for those who loved him to see him suffer and die on a cross. But He also knew to let them know that this would not be the end, but only the beginning of a fuller life lived in relationship with him.
And as He prepared to leave those he loved, Jesus reminded them that because of His sacrifice, this life is not all there is. And until that time when they would see Him face to face, He would always be with them, just as He is always with us.
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)
Father, thank you for what you did on the cross for us. Help us to prepare our hearts and minds the same way that you prepared the hearts and minds of your disciples, so that we can understand the true depth of your love for us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
My son came home from school one day and grabbed the dust pan and broom. I had wondered if this boy who rarely jumps into chores without my prompting had suddenly become responsible and independent during the course of the school day. As I was getting ready to sit down and congratulate myself for training him right, I heard him say, “Got it!” With that declaration, he grabbed a Ziploc bag from his pocket and carefully poured in the dust bunnies he had collected from under our couch.
By the expression on my face, he could see that I was quite confused. “It’s for science,” he said. “We are studying what kind of stuff makes up dust. We’re dissecting it!”
I didn’t know if I should be proud or offended that he knew just where to find these suspicious little dust-globs. I thought that I’d been successful at keeping those little buggers hidden. When it was time to host a party or even just a friend or two, I would take great pains to go through the house collecting and eliminating these pesky little reminders that people actually live in my home. I much prefer creating the impression that my family so squeaky clean and happy that even the dust bunnies don’t gather here.
But my son knew better. He knew just where to find the shady characters. And now, he was going to dissect the very dirt that can expose me for what I am… a hider, a fake, a person who needed help. By literally sweeping the dust under the rug, my house appeared clean and free from people who might want to dissect it.
Dust is not something we want on display. It’s not something we proudly hold up as a prize to be earned. Rather, dust is unwanted, something to hide. Dust is, well… dirty.
Sometimes I clean up my life the same way I clean up my house. I polish, sweep, and scrub away anything that might give the impression that I am somehow less than. I sweep some things under the rug like failures, mistakes, and shame. My “dust” could be the argument I had with my brother, the anger that sometimes takes over, or the regret that still plagues me from my childhood. Polish up. Sweep away. Buff and shine. Yes, I clean up quite well.
But on Ash Wednesday, we enter into that sanctuary buffed and shined only to kneel before the altar and receive the sign of the cross with the dust of the earth. We allow ourselves, our whole selves, to be seen. We put it all out there. We walk back down that aisle exposed for who we really are. And we see the dust on others too.
In that dusty cross placed on our foreheads, we are reminded where we came from. We are reminded that we were once just dust, but in the hands of our creator, we became something beautiful. We became sons and daughters. And even in our dirty, broken state, we are still deeply loved. And because of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, we are clean.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in
Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)
Dust is a public testimony to who we really are—broken people in need of a Savior. The dust removes the façade that Christians are somehow cleaner or brighter or better than others. Rather, the ash on our foreheads reminds us that from dust we first came and to dust we will return. There is a richness in that dirt… a transparency to our condition. The dust levels the playing field and points instead to Christ.
So this Lenten season, consider gathering those dust bunnies in a Ziploc bag, not to dissect but to acknowledge that even dust can be beautiful when touched by the hand of God who loves us.
*Lent begins this Wednesday, February 14th
Our culture applauds what we can produce, what we can show, and what we can upload to social media. But God notices us even when we are tucked away in hidden places. I loved talking with author Sara Hagerty about how sometimes being hidden is a good thing and that God still enjoys us, even if we’re living what the world might consider an unproductive life.
Click HERE for a podcast of my radio conversation with Sara Hagerty.
Sometimes we allow the negative labels of others shape our identities. But God has His own dream for our lives, and it’s worth discovering. Ministry leader and fabulous woman of God Jo Saxton (I like her name!) shares her journey of broken identity in hopes that we will find the courage to discover our own. God is in the business of restoration, as pointed out in Jo’s new book, The Dream of You. Click HERE to listen to the podcast of our interview on Faith Radio.
I was always a little nervous about praying out loud in a group. Even praying a dinner blessing would sometimes cause a bit of stress. I would worry that I was somehow doing it wrong. The words always sounded fine in my head but when they left my mouth they were somehow less than lovely. I wanted to take them back, to edit, and then put forth my prayer in perfect grammar and proper theology.
I have tried acronyms in order to craft the perfect prayer: P.R.A.I.S.E., ACTS, PRAY, P.R.A.Y.E.R. They are all wonderful tools and have brought great clarity to my prayer time. But for me, I find myself holding back. I find myself more concerned with the format than I do with the subject.
At least I know I’m not alone. Maybe you’ve struggled too? Jesus taught his disciples to pray. They wondered how to communicate with the God who loved them, so Jesus encouraged them to come to him whenever they felt a need. He wanted them to know that the door was always open.
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Luke 11:9-10)
There have been other times in my life when I can’t seem to stop the words from spilling out. These prayers may not have any continuity. There is no structure. But these prayers are real as well. Read More
I like the concept of setting some resolutions for the new year. I feel like January is a time of reset, a chance to take a deep breath and head into the next year with a plan to become someone, well… better. Numerous polls and articles list the top resolutions. Some people want to be thinner, some stronger, some wiser, some wealthier. Some want to be more generous, while others want to read the Bible more. Most of these goals have something in common—people want to be better versions of themselves. Let’s face it, we all want to improve. And the start of a new year gives us an opportunity to start fresh.
After all, the writers in the Bible are continually encouraging us to try and follow Christ’s example, reminding us to be… better.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Julius Caesar instituted New Year’s Day on January 1 to honor Janus, the two-faced god who looks backwards into the old year and forwards into the new. The custom of New Year’s resolutions began in ancient times, as the Romans made resolutions with a moral bent—mostly to be good to others. To them, Janus was the god of beginnings.
Looking back, I realize that God is more than just the god of beginnings. He is God over our past as well. And sometimes, looking at what He has brought me through helps me to realize that He will also lead me forward in hope and confidence.
As I turn my head and look back at 2016, I am grateful for all that God has shown me this year. He has shown me great kindness through the love of my children. He has shown me great grace, in forgiving me when I have fallen far short of who I can and should be. He has shown me great compassion as I grieved the loss of two dear friends who left this earth far too soon. He has shown me great understanding, how that loss has changed me—sometimes not for the better. He has shown me great love when I have been somewhat unlovable at best and downright awful at worst. I am so grateful for the way in which he sees me as holy, thanks to the cover of Jesus’ sacrifice. And as I look back, I realize how that sacrifice and the love that continues is what has sustained me through this past year.
So, as the Romans chose to do, I will look forward to 2017, resolving to focus on what God has in store for me. I pray that it will be healing. For the sake of myself and for those I love, I do need to heal. But regardless of how quickly that happens, I resolve to look forward to wholeness—a completeness that can only come through looking first at Christ, and realizing that I am not alone. I am surrounded by other believers who will cheer me on in the year ahead.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2a)
I hope you will join me in looking back and seeing the great gifts from the past year, and in looking forward to focus on the great gifts that lie ahead as we daily place our trust in Him. And know that you’re not alone. I, and many others, will be running that race with you.
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power… (2 Thessalonians 1:11)
Let’s look forward to this new year together.
Amidst the wonderful smells of turkeys basting, gravy simmering, and pies baking, I smelled something foul this past weekend. I caught a whiff of it on the way to Grandma’s house, passing homes basking in the glow of twinkling lights and plastic nativity scenes. I stole a sniff of it when I noticed the peppermint creamer served alongside the caramel macchiato and pumpkin spice varieties. I couldn’t ignore the disgusting odor settling into our conversation around the Thanksgiving table as well-meaning aunts and uncles asked my kiddos what they were hoping might show up under the tree next month. The scent is not easy to ignore. It’s the sneaky stench of Christmas panic.
This panic likes to boil up like a pressure cooker. It starts sometime in November and increases in strengths and potency as we move into December. I don’t really know if this sense of panic is only reserved for mothers. I can’t imagine this impending dread is gender specific. I just know that it’s real, that it’s palpable, and that it is already threatening to overtake that sweet, lingering aroma of Thanksgiving thankfulness—a time that we are supposed to give only gratitude. No gifts. Just thanks.
I have decided that this year, I’m going to be intentional about keep the air around me fresh from the stench. I made a choice to at least preserve the month of November as stench-free. This is not easy as my stack of Christmas cards sit unlabeled on the dining room table. The smell is difficult to ignore as I open up the paper stuffed with shopping ads and coupons. The aroma of greediness and busyness threaten to overpower my sweet smell of peace. But I am trying. This year, I am trying to ignore the sneaky stench of Christmas.
My kids are obsessed with the show, American Ninja Warrior. It is a program of intense moments, showing men and women tackling an obstacle course of tremendously difficult challenges, starting with the easier feats and moving on to these crazy, complicated tests of physical endurance. One of the most difficult obstacles is the “warped wall.” It’s a nearly vertical climb of 12 feet… that means these people are basically running up a wall, in Spiderman fashion, without a web to assist them.
One of the women who completed the course was asked how she tackled the warped wall obstacle. She said, “I picture myself getting over the wall, not getting up the wall.”
I only wish I could apply that kind of philosophy to the walls I face. Whether it’s a physical hurdle, a relational wall, or a spiritual one, I tend to stand at the bottom and stare at the problem—wondering how I’m ever going to make it up.
I have a little plaque on my front hall table that says, “Faith is… picture it done,” a quote famed by Josiah Cullen, an 11-year-old boy who has an innate gift to see God’s words in action.
Faith is, picture it done. – Josiah Cullen
So why does it seem that when faced with an obstacle, we tend to focus on the obstacle itself, instead on the power of the One who can not only get us over the wall—but can even destroy it if He chooses?