Giving Thanks: Finding the Peace of God

This is the second repost from November of 2010.  Hope that you all have a Thanksgiving filled with blessing.

Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.  Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. – Psalm 95:1-2

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:5-7

In one of my favorite short films, Boundin’, by the geniuses at Pixar Studios, the main character is a lamb experiencing the humiliation of shearing for the first time.  Prior to this experience, his identity was rooted in how people perceived and treated him, so when his lovely coat is stripped away, he is unprepared for the laughs and giggles of his fair weather friends.  Fortunately, wisdom comes in the form of a Jackalope who gets the sheep’s head in the right place by showing him that nothing has really changed about who the sheep is inside.  The young sheep finds a way to be at peace in his changing circumstances and the viewer is wishing they had a jackalope to come get their head in the right place.

It is hard to be thankful when we are plagued by anxiety.  We tend to shift into survivor mode when anxiousness and fear take the helm.  That really doesn’t help us become “more than conquerors.”  I don’t believe that God desires us to choose between fight or flight when faced with the challenges of this world and our own sinfulness.  I do believe there is a peace that allows us to face even the worst of all possible events in our lives with boldness and even joy.  But just like that little lamb, we need to get our head in the right place.

Paul’s admonition to “present your requests to God” is tempered by an overarching attitude of thanksgiving.  This is critical for us to understand as His children, for we often wait to give thanks after the fact.  Paul is putting forth the idea that we need to lead with thanksgiving; to be grateful for what the Lord will do.  This gets our head in the right place – looking forward to hope and the unfailing promises of God.

What is it that you hope for?  What are the anxieties that keep you from living in the peace of God?  Don’t wait for a jackalope to come along with rhyming platitudes to help you out.  There is one who understands our suffering and the way out.  Put your hope in Him and pray with thanksgiving for His providence, healing and help in your time of need.

Pressing On – Part 1: Turning the Page

I was reminded recently that we can get distracted from pressing on in our walk with God.  Things close in, demands seem overwhelming, responsibilities push for our attention and we can let our time with God dwindle away.  But pressing on in our life with God is what makes us fit for the demands and responsibilities of this life.  I hope this post is a blessing to you.

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.  Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.  For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh–  though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee;  as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.  But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.

I have heard from various job coaches and employment websites, “A good resume may help you get the job, but it won’t help you keep a job.”  This idea that what you have done is far less important than what you are doing and where you are headed comes across clearly in Paul’s statement above.  Forget your resume.  I don’t believe that Paul is asking us to be like Dory in Finding Nemo, where every moment the past is a blank slate.  Where would testimony fit in this kind of viewpoint?  What would we do with a passage like, “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering.”? (Hebrews 10:32 NIV)

I think Paul is warning us not to get stuck in the past, to not become those perennial fixtures at bars, bistros and church pews who share the same stories year after year.  They experience a flash of genius, a moment of brilliance or a dispensation of grace and that experience makes an impact.  Instead of this moment providing the motivation to turn the page in their story, it becomes a bookmark; their story is on pause and never is complete.  And like a story, our lives should be moving toward something; a culmination of events, choices and relationships, woven together by a merciful and just God.

However, you can’t get to the end of the story if you aren’t willing to turn the page.  Each page must be left behind to see what is on the next. Paul had a lot of interesting chapters to his story before he met Christ on the road to Damascus.  He had one of those amazing testimonies about transformation and redemption.  I’m sure he could have told his story again and again for years and impacted many people in his day.  But Paul turned the page.

Are you turning the pages of your story?  Are you willing to let go of what has been to live what is so you can move toward what can be?  Or are you reading the same page over and over again because it is safe and comfortable.  Put your trust in the “author and finisher of our faith” that your story is worth turning the page.  Someday, someone will need to read your story to help them turn the pages of their own.  Turn the page.

Provision: Everything We Need

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. – 2 Peter 1:3 (NIV)

When I went through basic training, we did a number of marches and two bivouacs (a fancy term for camp-out), and every time we had soldiers who were unprepared.  It was never an issue of whether they had been given the right tools, equipment or clothing; it was their attitude and lack of discipline.  The Army had given all of us the same training, technology and time; it really came down to whether you put the effort in to use it.

I remember working for a manufacturing company doing fairly labor intensive work when I finished with college.  I actually enjoyed the work itself, but it still tops my list of worst job ever.  Management and supervision consistently were at odds, creating an atmosphere of discontent and unhealthy competition between the shift crews.  Supervisors would sabotage one another to make sure their production numbers were higher; crew members would badmouth other crews; staff meetings were brief and uninformative; training was inconsistent and infrequent.  Even with all of these shortcomings, management and supervision still expected perfection.  As you can imagine, there was a lot of turn-over in low-level staff and plenty of shortcuts being taken to meet quotas.  Fortunately that job was short-lived.

I am sure that my experiences are not isolated from some that you may have had; a new job with high expectations and no support.  It is a frustrating and even damaging environment to be in for very long.  It is easy to slowly give in and do what you can to blend into the background.  If you choose not to give in, every day can be a study in frustration, anger and the want ads for another job.  In this kind of situation there is no hope in ever pleasing your boss or satisfying his standards.

God, however, is a much better boss.  He starts with mercy, teaches with love and disciplines with compassion.  His desire is for us to be like Him, but He is patient with us in reaching that goal.  And He gives us everything we need to do the job.  He gives us the right tools, the right information at the right time “to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  You will never find a job with a better benefit package than doing the work of God.

However, just as a soldier must constantly maintain discipline to be effective on the field, so we must also be disciplined to truly experience all that God has given us.  It does no good to say, “I’m a soldier for Christ” if you are not willing to live out what that means.  It is arrogance that demands the benefits of being called a workman approved by God, if we are not making every effort to submit ourselves to God.

God is loving, gracious, kind and compassionate. He loves blessing His children, but there are some things that we must strive toward.  Not because He is unwilling to give them to us, but because it is only in the striving that we become capable of handling what we strive for.  If we are called by God, we must strive toward our calling; if we are anointed for His work, we must strive to walk in the anointing despite the cost; if we are holy and dearly loved, we must strive to abide in the one who is holy – the one who is love.

The world is like that nightmare job – bad management, infighting, competition against each other instead of for each other, muddling through for the off chance we can party for a while to forget how miserable it will be when the weekend is over.  The only way we can overcome this world is to refuse to play by its rules.  So when you are having one of those “working-in-the-world” moments, remember that you work for the God who wants you to excel in all things, provides all you need to do so and gives you a multitude of brothers and sisters who will encourage and edify you toward that end.  Don’t settle for being all you can be, strive for being all He has called you to be, for He is faithful to help you on your way.

You’ll Never Blog Alone

A fellow blogger, Nick, recently posted an explanation of the blog links on his blog site so readers would know what they were and why they were there.  I think it is a great idea and therefore will be stealing it, feeling remorse only for not having thought of it first.

Below is a list of the blog sites I have listed on the right side of the page under the heading “Good Sites.”  I hope you will be able to take the time to visit them and check out the great insights and writing you will find there.

Bill Randall’s Blog: Bill is the Senior pastor at Risen King Community Church and puts forth his ponderings about life with Christ on his site.  Challenging essays on discipleship, prayer, spiritual transformation and more will certainly help you in your walk with God.

Cee-plicity: Cindy Coloma is an accomplished fiction writer with several books under her belt, a speaker, writing coach and teacher.  She is also one of the founding members of a writer’s group in Shasta County California, Quills of Faith.  Cindy writes about life, writing and other issues on her site.

Crafting Mysteries & Suspense: Cathy Elliott is a mystery writer with a heart of gold.  She is also one of the driving forces for Quills of Faith (She came up with the name), encouraging many of the members in their writing pursuits, myself included.  Her blog is about her life and writing, providing information on her speaking expertise and writing acumen. 

Ebs and Flows: Nick has put together a great site here, a collection of authors blogging on the Christian life.  On the website’s “About” page it says, “This is a blog about Christian living that is trying to stay grounded in reality while also striving for that lofty target of emulating Jesus in the world.”  Sounds good to me.

JBM Thinks: In Janis’s own words her site is “A mom’s journey of faith, family, sports, and life.”  Great writing and helpful insights from a mother’s perspective.

Tim Kayser’s Blog: Tim is the executive pastor at Risen King Community Church.  He is a great preacher, a kind teacher and trusted friend.  He has put together an annotated biography of books he read during his sabbatical.  Some fascinating information if you are interested in the theology of the church.

Handling Brokenness Part 1: The First Step is Admitting You Have a Problem

But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” – Genesis 3:9-13 (NRSV)

I hate what Adam did to Eve in the passage above. Not only was it a weak and unkind response to God’s question, but he also reminds me of me. Here is the woman God made just for Adam talking to a serpent and Adam never says a word. Here is the flesh of his flesh and Adam stands by and does nothing when she picks the fruit and eats it. He stands by like the kid who dared his friend to knock on old Mr. Jenkins door, waiting out of harms way until the friend waves him the all-clear. Then as soon as he is at the door with his friend the door opens and an unhappy Mr. Jenkins demands to know why they are on his porch.

I have been on both sides of that story and I didn’t like how it ended either way. It is humiliating to realize you are a coward; a coward for allowing someone else to do the dirty work and a coward for letting someone cajole you into doing the dirty work. I am certain that if I had been in Adam’s shoes I would have had a fruit pie made before the serpent even started talking. I have had too many opportunities through the years to see my brokenness in full bloom to think otherwise. My only comfort is that I am pretty sure most everyone else from Adam on would have the same problem.

We have made it too easy to understand brokenness as normal and even romantic. We say things like:

“I did it for love.”

“The devil made me do it.”

“That’s just the way I am.”

“My mother/father didn’t love me enough.”

“If you loved me, you would accept me the way I am.”

And the list could go on. They are phrases and ideas that try to rationalize our brokenness, to place the blame elsewhere, but our brokenness is ours and ours alone. Let me be clear that the experiences we have that break us and twist the truth in our hearts and minds are real and regrettable. However, there is a difference between being hurt and using the fact that you were hurt as a rationale for remaining broken.

We may come by our brokenness through our own disobedience, the disobedience of someone else or a combination of the two, buy regardless of where our brokenness comes from, it only bears fruit in our lives if we choose to do nothing about it. We have to decide that wholeness is a worthy pursuit. We have to choose not to be defined by our brokenness, but by the One who can make us whole.

So that leaves us with some questions. Are we willing to discover our brokenness? Are we willing to see our weaknesses and wounds with God’s eyes and endure the pain that healing requires? Can we forgive those who broke us (including ourselves) and extend love and mercy? For wholeness does not come easily or without pain and suffering. It is does not come in a convenient checklist or a witty self-help book. It is through a willingness to seek truth without fearing the consequences. This is the wholeness Christ suffered for, the life He died for, the joy He rose for and He is a gentle healer.

In the words of one well acquainted with brokenness: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” – Psalm 139:23-24 (NRSV)

My Life as a Tree: Growing Strong by Being Still (Skipping Rocks #6 – Part 1)

Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. – Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NRSV)

My then 6-year-old and I were on one of our walks to the pond when she said, “I wish I could be a tree. Then I could watch the birds and the beavers and things and they wouldn’t be scared and run away.” I asked, “Wouldn’t you be sad that you couldn’t move around at all?” She thought for a moment and replied, “The trees here don’t mind.” I couldn’t argue the point.

The conversation stuck with me as we skipped rocks on the pond, watched the egrets fly in to perch among the gray pines and talked about our days with each other. When it was time to head back in to get ready for dinner, I told her to go in without me and I watched her skip/run/dance her way back to the house. It occurred to me that someone with that much energy would have a hard time being a tree. I went back and settled in on the small beach we used to skip rocks from and thought about the life of a tree.

The Scriptures are well-forested with metaphors using trees, often referring to the spiritual life of the individual. The parallels of the spiritual life and the life of a tree seem obvious at first thought: trees depend on water for life = we depend on God for life; trees produce fruit in season = we produce fruit in God’s timing; trees by a stream are more likely to have long life = we have eternal life through God; etc. But on that day I felt like God wanted me to get something else. This is the first of four observations from that evening at the pond.

Stillness is not a laudable characteristic in our current culture of fast-paced, instant gratification consumerism. Even the gamers who have melded into their couches are in a constant state of motion internally and externally. Yet the first characteristic I noticed about the trees was that they remained in place. This is an important piece in understanding the use of trees in scripture. Trees do not move. Their branches sway and their leaves flutter, but they are anchored to a singular place. This is too their benefit if the place is good and to their detriment if it is not good. I believe that when God describes our life with Him as the life of a tree, He is asking us to get rooted and be still. We can still wave our branches and flutter our leaves, but we must stay where life is certain.

It reminds me of the oft stated request from parents to their children, “Will you be still?” On most occasions, it is not a lack of motion that we are really after, but an attitude of obedience and attentiveness. It seems to me that our Heavenly Father is making the same request. His desire is not for us to be sedentary, but to be constant and imperishable. By thinking of our life with God as a tree by a stream, we can pursue growth, change and fruitfulness in a stable and reliable environment. Unfortunately, we are not trees and we can move about like that disobedient child, losing sight of the one we love, but inadvertently disregard.

When my daughter and I started our walks to the pond and along the stream, stillness was one of the most difficult disciplines to teach her. She was not only in constant motion, but she was not taking the time to be aware of her surroundings, to soak in what was happening around. Because of this she missed things. It was humorous to hear her comment on how she thought her eyes must be getting better since she seemed to notice more things now. In fact, her eyes were just as capable before, but she would not be still long enough for them to truly focus on what was right in front of her.

The stillness we can learn from the trees, and God’s desire for us to be like them, is invaluable to living a life that is content and pleasing to Him. It is, however, one of the hardest disciplines that we can develop in our life with God. The next time you pass by a tree, take some time to be still (inside and out) and see where God can take you in those moments. I believe they will be moments you will treasure and grow from and will help your roots dig deeper.

How I Learned to Roll With the Ripples: God’s Un-Random Acts of Kindness (Skipping Rocks Part 2)

Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. – Hebrews 12:10-11 NIV

It had been a not so great day. For the past couple of months I had been looking for work without any nibbles. I had reached that tired point where continuing on was an obligation without much dedication. The mail had arrived with another, “While we appreciate all of your skill and experience…” letter and frustration had me in its despairing grip. It was time for skipping rocks.
I walked to the creek, kicking a few weeds with satisfaction and sat on the beach once again. Any goodness or rightness associated with that place was lost on me that day. With robotic movements I began to pick up rocks and attempt to skip them on the small pond. The key word here is “attempt.” Frustration came over me again. The wind had picked up that afternoon and the steady ripples made an uneven surface, unfriendly to skipping stones. But I had met God in this place before, so I waited and listened and watched.
In time the wind would subside for a few moments, allowing the water to become calm enough for skipping. Timing was critical due to the small window of opportunity allowed by the temporary stillness. Listening for the rustle of leaves upwind; watching the reeds upstream for movement; noticing the stilled waters of the upper pond a brief moment before the lower one. These all became indicators of the coming opportunity for a treasured event. I let loose each stone with much more care and concentration, not wanting to waste the anticipated moment.
The rewards were immediate and satisfying as I watched stone after stone make the series of arcs from point of contact to the next across liquid glass. God had met me again and humbled me with each stone’s tap against the water. I had been so obsessed with finding work that I had lost sight of His will. Instead of becoming more and more in tune with His movements and motions, I was intent on skipping rocks in my own time and way. I needed to sit quietly at His feet and wait for His window of opportunity.
It was no more than a week later that I received a call from a church needing an interim preacher. They were looking for someone willing to make the trek into the mountains to speak on Sundays until they could find a full-time pastor. This allowed me to continue seeking work on God’s timetable and still be used by Him in the body. It is such a blessing to be in on what God is doing in my life rather than cluelessly barging ahead, trying desperately to fulfill my responsibilities as a provider.
I hope that I will not have to learn this lesson again. I hope that I will listen for the breath of God rustling through the events of life. I hope that I will watch for the movement of the Holy Spirit in the world around me and participate with His ministry. I hope I will see what is coming with wisdom and knowledge. In His time, in His way, in His will.