A Remedy for Spring Madness

DSC03675My lilacs are blooming! You know what that means? Spring is officially here. Spring can be a crazy time, can’t it? Between school-year activities winding down and summer activities gearing up, I’m not always sure whether I’m coming or going. Track meets, ball games, final concerts, graduation parties, family gatherings, travel . . . these are just a sampling of the many things you and I are probably facing in the next few weeks. Today’s blog is a throwback to one written by Stacey Kuszak two summers ago, but I think it will resonate with many of us again. During the busy weeks ahead, can we take some time for a little Peace and Quiet?

I’m a busy mom with a lot of kids. It’s summer. Everyone is home. The sheer number of people in my house on any given day creates noise. I like to blame the noise on my kids, but if I’m being honest I’m responsible for a lot of the noise in my life.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Blogs, Pinterest.  Each of these social media avenues play right into certain ways I’m wired for connection, creativity, commonality, community. But the flip side of social media is that it creates so much noise. Noise that can numb my brain, noise that drowns out any whisper that God might be breathing into my spirit. Noise that can create a discontent, a tension, a small pull in the wrong direction. Noise that creates distraction.

Distraction is one of the enemy’s favorite tools. He doesn’t need to pull us head-long into sin, he just needs to distract us from the One our soul loves. And boy are we a distracted people. Go to any summer outing and notice the people around you. I bet half of them are on their phones.

But wait . . . what was I saying?  My life is noisy and I’m distracted.

These past few weeks I have been on a social media fast. I’ve opened my bible more and have just sat with God, in the silence and solitude. I’ve turned off the radio and computer and have listened for Jesus in the peace and quiet. Jesus, himself, models this discipline for us over and over in scripture. He shows the disciples how to get away from the crowds and the noise. He often went away, alone, to be with his Father, undistracted.

All Christians know a quiet time is essential to their walk with God. That time can look different for each person: the when, the how, the amount of time. One thing I do know about getting alone with God— it has to be intentional.

I think about all the ways I hear about God in a day; whether it’s the radio, reading a devotional online, or a blog that is recounting someone’s God story. These are all good things in and of themselves, but they are other people’s words about God. They are not God’s direct word to me. God doesn’t shout over the noise of my life. He waits patiently for me to come–undistracted and ready to listen.

Lately I’ve been challenged by 1 Thessalonians 4:11, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.”  As I intentionally turn down the volume of my life, I’m finding God’s sweet whisper is music to my ears.

Sssshhhh!  Can you hear it? It’s the sound of His voice. He is calling you!

What’s Next?

On Tuesday, we had our class parties celebrating the end of another year of Equip Her Tuesday Mornings. Here are a few pictures from the MUMs gathering, and though I don’t have pictures to prove it, I’m betting the other classes had similar moments enjoying good food, laughter and sharing.

mums coffeemums musicmums prizesmums prizes2mums shareSo what’s next? The end of each year of Equip Her is always a little bittersweet. I’m sure we all are looking forward to the warmer days and more relaxed schedules that summer brings. Yet, sometimes in the midst of vacations and ballgames and swimming and campfires, we find ourselves missing those weekly times when we can dig into God’s word together and enjoy the friends we’ve made here on Tuesday Mornings.

If you are looking for ways to continue your spiritual growth and community this summer, here are a few suggestions:

For a corporate summer bible study, you might want to sign up for DWELLIINGThat’s the title and theme of the class Shereen and Marlys will be teaching on Wednesday nights during the month of June. The class will be held at Lincoln Berean Church from 7-8:30 p.m. and will look at three women who made their dwelling place with Jesus at different stages and seasons in their lives. These women shared joy and sorrow, waiting and glory. Come learn from them and from each other as well.

We will also be doing another online study here on the blog starting the first Thursday in June and running through August. Some of you joined us as we worked through Claudine’s Personal Worship study last summer. This year our focus will be Prayer. Shereen and I will be modifying the class we taught several years ago entitled Knees to the Earth: Prayer that Empowers a Woman’s Life. Using the format of the Lord’s Prayer from the Sermon on the Mount, we will be learning how calling on God and developing an intimate prayer life with Him can help us struggle well through all of life’s situations.

And, finally, for all you young mothers who crave that community with other moms, the MUMs have created a summer playgroup. They will be meeting up weekly for a variety of activities including play at the church, the zoo, parks around Lincoln and the Children’s Museum. For information about details on all these activities, be sure to join the page “MUMs Summer Playgroup” on Facebook.

Have a wonderful summer!

Waiting for the Open Window

window-viewAs we wrap up our Windows of the Soul series, there’s one last window I’d like to show you:

home window (2)

May our home know joy, each room hold laughter, every window open to great possibilities

I remember finding these adhesive words at the store nearly 5 years ago and an idea hatched about putting them on an old window from our house. That little idea became a focal point of a kitchen makeover.

It was with great hope that I hung these words on the wall, because at that time there was little joy left in our house and no one was laughing about anything. We were struggling to just gather around our kitchen table, much less find joy in being together.

As God would have it, my seat at the table is directly across from this window; I couldn’t avoid its gaze. At first it seemed to be mocking me, shaming me with all the “less thans” I was experiencing as a mother. Then it became a challenge to meet.

It was HOPE that pulled me to pray that the longing in my heart expressed on my wall would come true in my home. My silent prayer became, “God, give us joy and laughter HERE in this place … and open up our lives to new things that are possible with YOU.”

Isaiah 30:18 says is well:

“But God’s not finished. He’s waiting around to be gracious to you. He’s gathering strength to show mercy to you. God takes the time to do everything right – everything. Those who wait around for him are (blessed).”

God’s waiting with me so He can strengthen me. Certainly I needed strength for the battle, but what I hadn’t noticed until then was I also needed strength for His MERCY. We are little dust people, as Anne Graham Lotz says, and we can’t hold up to the wondrous mercy of God all at once. It would blow us away!

Our loving God gathers mercy as we wait. Don’t misunderstand. We’re not waiting FOR God. (Peeve alert) I wonder if the Christian community can stop saying, “we’re waiting for God to show up”? How confusing that must be for those looking for Him! He’s right here, friends, and He’s not leaving. Can we agree to only wait WITH God?

Hand in hand, waiting by the window of my soul with my Abba–now that’s how I’ve learned His mercy.

Just a few weeks ago, from my seat at the kitchen table I looked up at that window again. This time all my boys were home, and for the first time in a long time (since before I hung that window, I suppose) there was JOY and laughter. God let us be part of opening a window of great possibility for our son … MERCY!

And I notice today that the mercy in that moment was not so much that our son finally came home, but that we could not begin to take credit for any of it. The waiting has given us time to relinquish our need to be successful parents.

But God’s not finished. He’s waiting around to be gracious to you. He’s gathering strength to show mercy to you.

Do you believe that? How are you waiting with God?

Might I suggest DWELLIINGThat’s the title and theme of our summer study.

Wednesdays in June, 7 – 8:30 p.m. / Lincoln Berean Church

Marlys & I will look at three women who made their dwelling place with Jesus at different stages and seasons in their lives. They shared joy and sorrow, waiting and glory. We can learn a lot from His way with them.

And we’ll learn from each other as well. Please come!

If you register by June 1, the class is FREE, so sign up as soon as it goes live online May 1st  or at the Spotlight booth on Mother’s day weekend.

 

 The Power of Story

the power of storyby Julie Luse

Can you think of any stories you’ve heard recently or perhaps watched through a movie or TV or internet that entertained you or gave you insight or inspired you in some way?

What was it about that story that prompted those feelings?

What is it about our story that has such a profound impact on our ability to remember?  It’s like it got a high speed pass from our short term memory into our long term memory. Much quicker than information we are trying to memorize or learn.

I think it’s because God wired us for stories. Stories connect us to each other. Stories connect us to truth about ourselves. And stories connect us to our God.

For me, stories are a window that God uses to impact my soul and to draw me to him. And I have a feeling that God uses stories like that for you too.

I believe stories help people find their why and their purpose and their passion.

I could tell you a truth or I could show you truth by sharing an indisputable first-hand experience of that truth – a story.

So we know that a great story has great power. And if we understand it was God’s idea, that God is the originator of story, perhaps we could see God’s story in everything we do.

God uses stories to string you and me together. We find each other when our stories even slightly collide. When the words “me too” bubble up from inside you. That feeling that there is possibly someone on earth that gets a certain part of you – that is God’s idea and that is a little piece of heaven here on earth – Jesus in the flesh.

Just think of it! If we wiped our stories–even the hard stories we would choose not to re-live– from our memories and our lives, then there would a deep level of connection missing from our lives.

When we tell our stories, we unlock these different levels of understanding. We learn about ourselves and we learn more about the character of God by telling our stories to each other.

And don’t forget God uses stories to communicate the truth of his character and the gospel through scripture.

So today I have a fun little story for you:

One of my biggest and dumbest fears is the fear of mice. It’s incredibly embarrassing, but it plagues me. In fact I found sometimes it dictates strange behavior on my part like scouring a room for holes in which mice could get in or putting things in front of doors in an unfamiliar place so that mice will not creep in while I sleep. It’s yet another weird thing about me that is best kept to myself. Actually, there was a time in my life where I thought the fear of mice was a fear that everyone had. I thought it was pretty legit, except perhaps maybe I take it a little too far. But I’ve had some bad experiences with mice. I’ve lived in a few places where these little creatures have had no respect for my boundaries. I’ve had them in my car trunk. When we lived out in the country, my husband set up 5 mouse traps only to have them all full at the end of one day. And one time, mice babies were born in my laundry pile. So you might understand my healthy obsession right?

When I was asked to speak at a women’s retreat last year at a camp in western Nebraska I was excited, as long as I didn’t get the same cabin I’d stayed in the summer before for a middle school week. I’d had a bad experience with a mouse in that cabin that left me jaded and sleepless and I  preferred not to repeat that event in my life. It was cabin #6, and I had spent some time talking to God about this fear and figured we were good to go there.

But I’m a woman who deals with fear by being prepared, so I had thoroughly investigated this issue on the world-wide web and knew what needed to be done, should my worst fear come to fruition.

Like most things in my life (I swear God thinks he’s hilarious),  I was assigned to cabin #6 with my good friend Renee.

Okay, take a breath.

There was no getting out of this. They had all the cabins scheduled for people, and I was too embarrassed to ask if I could switch rooms.

No worries. I came prepared and I trusted my internet research. As soon as I arrived, I started soaking cotton balls in peppermint oil and throwing them everywhere in the room. I had actually planned on sprinkling the grounds all around the cabin units with peppermint, but my bottle had leaked out half of its contents on the drive up, and I didn’t have enough for that. I tried to relax until my friend arrived. When she did, I told her I had a few things I needed her to do for me. I knew she was willing to help with whatever–she’s a servant like that, and she loves me. And I seriously kept thinking in my head “Well, yeah, Julie, this is kinda weird, but Renee is weird too. She has weird stuff about her. We all do. I’m sure she’s seen weirder than this.”

As she walked into the room, she commented on how amazingly minty our room smelled. “It’s so refreshing,” she said. I showed her my peppermint-soaked cotton balls and told her my plans for anointing the campgrounds with peppermint oil, and she laughed. It was more like a long, drawn-out chuckle. It wasn’t a “oh, what a great idea” laugh. It was “I didn’t know you were so strange” kind of laugh. But I had hard investigative evidence from the internet that this works, so I kept that in mind. Then I pulled out the box of SOS pads and duct tape.

“What will we do with that?” she asked.

So I explained to her, that first, mice hate peppermint so that should deter them from entering this room. Then I explained that the only thing mice won’t chew through is steel wool, and I figured the SOS pads would be perfect because it’s steel wool and the soap would taste like poison. I showed her the big gaping hole in the wall (which I asked them to cover last summer after my horrible experience – but anticipated them thinking I was a crazy lady and doing nothing about), and then another big gaping hole in the wall under the bathroom sink. I explained to her that I needed her to stuff the holes with the cotton balls soaked in peppermint, then the SOS pads and then to cover them with the duct tape, two layers – just to make sure. That is, of course, unless she was too afraid, like me.  I was afraid if I stuck my fingers in the hole a mouse would jump out at me.

She tried to hold in her laugh as she told me that it didn’t scare her and yes, she could do that for me. I could tell she was trying to keep the edges of her mouth from curling up into a smile. I know she thought this was weird, but I kept telling myself she’s weird too. I know she’s done weirder things than this before.

She followed my commands, doing each step in the right order. As she bent down to cover the final hole with duct tape, she burst into laughter so hard I thought she might cry or pee her pants. I’ve never heard her laugh so hard. I instantly felt defensive.

“What? Is this weird? This can’t be that weird.”

She tried to speak through her giggling, “Oh, this is weird! This is very weird.”

At that point I started laughing too, mostly out of nervous compulsion. “Yeah, but this isn’t like the weirdest thing you’ve ever done.”

“Uh, yeah. This is the weirdest thing I’ve ever done.” She was laughing ridiculously at this point. I thought she was going to fall over.

I started to raise my voice. I was getting a little worked up. “No wait, Renee. Aren’t you weird too? Don’t you have weird stuff too? I know you’ve done weirder stuff than this.”

I couldn’t believe her answer. “No, I’m not this weird. I’ve never done anything this weird. This is the weirdest thing I have ever done. –But I still love you.”

It took her a while to stop laughing that afternoon, and I almost died with embarrassment. My suspicion that I may be one of the weirdest women on the planet was confirmed. I don’t know what’s worse here – my fear of mice or the confirmation that I am indeed Renee’s weirdest friend. What was also very embarrassing was the fact that Renee and I were there to speak on the topic of BRAVE – teaching women to lean in and conquer their fears in life so they could live more freely with God.

But, my friends, I do have to say – my plan worked. No mice. And you will not believe that this last summer while at middle school camp I, again, was put in cabin #6 and all of my contraptions were still in place.

That’s my story. But the purpose of this story was not to help you understand how weird I am.

I learned something valuable about friendship through this story – true friendship is not pretty. It’s weird and embarrassing and uncomfortable and forgiving, and it feels good to have someone love us despite our most hidden and embarrassing idiosyncrasies.

Another purpose of this story could be that those weird things about us, maybe don’t seem so weird when we know someone’s story – where they’re coming from – for instance, my history with mice.

Whatever the purpose – it’s a good story, right? There is power in a good story.

The elements of a great story and what that means for us

What is it about a great story that moves us and compels us?

There are so many ways a story can compel us. We may love it because it is honest, or tragic, or we can relate, or it is true of something we all think but no one will talk about. The story could be funny. It could be a great adventure. The protagonist in the story could conquer some big hurdles in life.

Isn’t it crazy how a story can hit us right in the heart of what we are currently struggling with? Or it can hit us in a way as to take our mind out of our struggle and give us a fresh perspective on it.

There are elements that literary experts and teachers say make a good story.

A great story will always have conflict, a quest, a critical choice and, hopefully, a resolution. Perhaps this is why we love fictional stories, because most of them have a resolution. In fact I don’t like a story in a book or movie that doesn’t have a resolution.

Perhaps that is why it’s easier to fall in love with fictional stories than our real stories of life. Because often times, we spend way too much time in the conflict and many of our stories are still waiting for resolution.

Challenge to live/see the story

I’ve spent a lot of time running away from stories like that in my life. But running away from the story does not make it cease to exist.

And I think God’s point is that we would share these kinds of hard stories with each other. What if God has a hard story in your life that he purposed so you would tell it? What if His plan was to use your story as you told it to others because there were many more people it would help?

What if we could look at life like a story? What if, instead of seeing these women sitting around us, we saw stories of God’s amazing provision and restoration. What if we truly believed that our purpose on earth was to live life with each other, to love one another and share stories of encouragement and struggle that would spur us on further in our faith?

Hebrews 12:1 says “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.”

When we share stories with each other, we realize there are many women who have gone through what we’ve gone through. We are not alone, and we can make it through like they did. When we share God’s stories from scripture, we realize there is a great cloud of witnesses waiting for us in heaven who have gone through the things we have gone through. Sometimes our stories pale in comparison to theirs so we realize things aren’t as bad as we think.

So I ask you this:

Are you struggling to see God’s fingerprints on your story? If you are, then maybe you should share it with a friend, so they can help you see proof of an active and intimate God.

Are you struggling to make sense of your story? If you are, then maybe you could write it down in a journal and come back to it with some fresh eyes down the road only to realize He really was walking with you through your hard time. Maybe you could ask God to help you see your own story as you write.

Are you struggling to love the people around you? If you are, then I challenge you to consider their stories–the journey that God is bringing them through. It may explain why they do some of the things you find unlovable.

My dream for us as women is to strive to live a story worth telling and for us to realize we all are living stories worth telling right now. May that kind of perspective change the way we look at our lives. Perhaps you need to make some changes to live a better story. Or perhaps you need to realize this hard thing you’re living through now is indeed a story worth telling.

If you’ve enjoyed hearing from Julie today and would like to read about life and God from her perspective, please follow her on her blog, julieluse.com.

God’s Word, Weeds and Bearing Fruit

grapesBy Sara Eyster

As I have listened to our speakers this semester, each one has remarked on the ways she has seen God speak to her. And in each one, I noticed the speaker had knowledge of scripture in order to recognize it was God who was speaking. As I re-read the book, The Windows of the Soul, I noticed the author, Ken Gire, has extensive knowledge of scripture also. Scripture speaks to us in our everyday circumstances and when that happens, we receive intimate insight from the Lover of our Souls.

You have heard me quote Ravi Zacharias, and I will repeat it again. He said, “If you are in the scripture regularly, God will have a context in which to reach you.” How true. If you are searching for a word from God, look in your Bible. It is in there. He knows what you need to hear.

As you may have guessed, my window of the soul is the Window of Scripture. I have found this to be consistently true from the beginning of my walk with Jesus–my answers are in scripture. Actually, as I ruminated over my life story, I found two instances when scripture uncomfortably hit the mark even before I knew Jesus. I remember the day and circumstance when God spoke to me both times. So I see how very powerful scripture is.

I believe our church holds Scripture in a very high and holy regard, but in our private lives is that often true? In this quote from R.C. Sproul, he is talking about the church, but for our purposes, I want to change the word “church” to “our lives.” I’ll read it that way and you reflect on whether this describes you at all.

“I think the greatest weakness in [our lives] today is that almost no one believes that God invests His power in the Bible.  Everyone is looking for power in a program, in a methodology, in a technique, in anything and everything but that in which God has placed it – His Word.  He alone has the power to change lives for eternity and that power is focused on the Scriptures.”

Do we believe in the power of God to work in our lives? Do we believe God’s power is invested in the Bible? Do our lives demonstrate that? Are we living like we believe it?

Again, not surprisingly, God speaks to me when I am in the garden.  Especially when I am weeding. You will remember that weeds appeared after Adam and Eve thought they could be like God. And I feel the pain of our fallen world on a hot July day. Yet it serves to direct my thoughts while I weed, as to my own wrong attitudes. Whose kingdom is it anyway? What wonder awaits the gardener in heaven – no weeds!! That’s a reason to worship!

In Ephesians 2:10 Paul declares “we (you and I) are God’s workmanship” – His masterpiece!  Amazing!  Here on planet earth, we believers will be so changed by His power that no one will recognize us! Others will look at us, and we will be so winsome that the neighbors will say, “I want to know a God like that! I want what she has!” Husbands will be won over without a word. Children will learn how to respond to Jesus with love and respect and honor. When God holds us up in the heavenlies, even the angels will gasp at what we have become.

Just what exactly does that kind of change look like?

Galations 5:22 gives us one description – the Fruit of the Spirit. Yes, we are back to that weedy garden.

When Paul says “fruit of the spirit”, he is describing a change brought about by the Spirit of God living in us after we are saved. And the “fruit” is not “fruits.” We don’t have some of these fruits; it’s all one fruit. The change that God’s spirit produces is singular, and it is a matter of our heart.

Below I have defined each Greek word for fruit in the context of the verse. I purposely made most of the definitions very simple.

  • Love is putting the good of another ahead of our own. It is loving first before waiting to be loved. It is respecting first before being respected.
  • Joy is simply gladness of heart because of God’s grace in our lives whether the times are happy or heavy.
  • Peace is untroubled well-being because we are free from the distress of our sins.  God promises us peace in tumult or tranquility.
  • Patience is long-suffering, forbearing even when we have the power to retort or avenge. It is evenness in proceeding to action.
  • Kindness is grace that pervades our whole nature, mellowing what was harsh or austere. It describes our disposition and not necessarily our acts of kindness.  There are other words for acts of kindness.

Here is an interesting one:

  • Goodness enables us to counsel with knowledge, even with rebuke, to bring about good. It is often used with kindness–kindness and goodness. Others may take a rebuke from one with a mellow disposition.
  • Faithfulness is simply being sincere and serving with regularity and dependability.
  • Gentleness is not outward behavior or our natural disposition only. It is an in-wrought grace of the soul expressed primarily toward God. It is that attitude of spirit by which we accept God’s dealings with us as good and do not dispute or resist. It is a balance born of strength of character, a condition of the mind and heart.
  • Self-control is sober-mindedness. We are able to put limits on our own freedom for the benefit of another. Self-control comes from the Greek root word “thinking” as in being able to control one’s thought or inner attitude of mind as well as the passion of the heart.

I don’t know about you, but this fruit is impossible for me to produce in my own strength.  I might say to you that I am thrilled to have God plant and ripen this fruit in me, but I’ve heard about pruning. Most fruit requires some pruning to produce a better crop. The Bible talks about pruning. Sounds harmless enough, doesn’t it?  A snip here and a snip there. Tidy things up a bit.

And yet, pruning involves sharp clean shears. Pruning involves an intimate knowledge of the plant or tree or vine being pruned. Pruning takes a practiced eye–the knowledge of a master gardener who has the good of the plant at heart.

I have a grape arbor. Bill built it for me in 1999, so it is old enough that the branches from the vines grow all over it now reaching across the top and down the sides. The arbor has 4 metal poles with wire stretched across the top and down two sides.  He also fashioned a heavy wooden bench so we can sit under the vine canopy to rest in the summer with a glass of lemonade. It hovers over the lane to the vegetable patch and has cutting gardens on either side of it.

When I prune each year, I must know what I am doing or there will be no fruit. I take my directions out there every March with my clippers and ladder. And each spring, I find myself resisting lopping off perfectly healthy and strong 8 foot branches.

I steel myself to the task and cut all but 8 branches on each vine (about ¾ of the branches). Four of them I cut back to two buds maybe the length of 4 inches. On the other four, I leave 6-8 buds maybe 2 feet long. Now I have 4 branches, 2 inches long, and 4 branches, 2 feet long,  I worry I might shock the vine and kill it cutting so much off, but that has never happened. Pruning isn’t easy. The branches have woven in and out of the arbor and their tendrils around the wires are holding fast.

This puts me in sober mind of myself. I spread my branches far and wide. I make my plans. I love activity. I love planning, making lists. Sometimes I procrastinate. Other times I rush ahead. Sometimes I lose my patience. Sometimes I worry. Sometimes I judge. Sometimes I complain. Sometimes I talk too much. Sometimes I am critical. Sometimes I plan too much. Not necessarily in that order.

And when God begins to prepare me, to correct me, to teach me, to prune me, I hold onto my plans and the way I am (because in my mind, I’m  pretty sure I am usually correct).  I hold on tighter than ever. My tendrils are tenacious, and I have lots of them. They curve tightly around this habit or that treasured plan or inclination to selfish sin.  “No! not that one, God.  It was growing so well.  It looks so good and feels so strong.”  Besides, all the branches are healthy. They don’t look harmful. They look good, but the master vine dresser knows what I need.

Left to myself, I would grow rampantly, crawling over not only the arbor but the cutting gardens on either side, smothering and shading everything else. I might even invade the trees close by. I would produce no fruit at all since all of my energy would be spent growing the branches. And though the branches might look luxurious and people might admire them, they would become a nuisance and a hindrance–even a stumbling block.

Ladies, I am brought up short every March. Just last week again I was startled at how much pruning is required to produce grapes. But summer comes on and all the new branches are fuller than ever and heavy with grape clusters that we turn into jelly and sparkling grape juice.

It is the same with me. As long as I let the Spirit of the vine dresser do His work, I will produce fruit. It may smart for a while. It may feel uncomfortable, but God has never been wrong in His plan for me. I can endure the pruning when I trust in Him, and I can trust Him when I know His character.

He is not like me. He has always been and forever will be. I can trust a God like that. He loved me before I loved Him. He is the only One who is able to forgive my sin and restore me. He is dependable, and I can trust a God like that. He will never change His mind about me. He knows everything about me, and He still wants me to know Him. I can trust a God like that. I can experience His presence in every circumstance of my life. He has all power and ability. He is in control of everything, and I can trust a God like that.

Take Time to Reflect

Sometimes we simply need to take time out from life and spend a few quiet moments before the Lord, meditating on his Word and remembering His promises. On Tuesday, Carey led us through the following time of reflection. If you were not able to join us, I hope you will take the time to read the following verses, listen to the words of the songs and spend a few quiet moments alone with God.

river-142311_1280Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, And lead me along the path of everlasting life.  Psalm 139: 23-24

1. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. What is the state of your heart today? Is there anything that is causing anxiety? Can you lay it down and let God have it this morning? [Read and reflect on the following verses.]

Psalm 31:7-8 I will be glad and rejoice in your unfailing love, for you have seen my troubles, and you care about the anguish of my soul. You have not handed me over to my enemies but have set me in a safe place.

Psalm 34:17-18 The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

Psalm 37:23-24 The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.

[Listen to the words of this song.]  

2.  Point out anything in me that offends you.  Do you have un-confessed sin in your heart this morning? Ask God to reveal it. [Read and reflect on the following verses.]

Psalm 15:1-3 Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord? Who may enter your presence on your holy hill? Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts. Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends.

Psalm 19:12-14 How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 32:5 Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

[Listen to the words of this song.] 

3. And lead me along the path of everlasting life.  Is there something you can do today to move forward on the path of everlasting life? Is God asking something of you that you need to respond to? [Read and reflect on the following verses.]

Psalm 1:1-3 Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.

Psalm 32:8-9, 11 The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”…So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him! Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!

Psalm 90: 14, 16-17 Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives…Let us, your servants, see you work again; let our children see your glory. And may the Lord our God show us his approval and make our efforts successful. Yes, make our efforts successful!

[Listen to the words of this song.]  

Seeing God in the Details

On our first spring-like day of the season, it seems appropriate that we had Sunshine share with us. Here’s what she had to say:

photo credit: Darrell Godliman/flicker.com

photo credit: Darrell Godliman/flicker.com

By Sunshine Metschke

When Laura asked if I would contribute my voice on this topic of Windows of the Soul, my brain started spinning with all the ways I personally connect with God.

I delight in architectural design. I have zero capacity to design things, but I marvel at buildings that are both structurally sound and at the same time, eloquently detailed, bringing beauty to the landscape. I admire the individuals who have the talent to design and create such structures.

When I used to have cable, I would watch the History channel and get wrapped up in the stories of how cathedrals were raised over the course of decades . . . sometimes centuries, and I would marvel at the extensive physical labor that was involved and the primitive – yet effective – technology that was used to carve stone and LIFT stone and create these structures that, ultimately, pointed people to their Creator and became a physical sanctuary amidst the challenges of life.

Several years ago I was on the Berkeley campus in California on a beautiful July day. I was not on an official visit, nor did I sign up for a campus tour. I was just a random person wandering around the campus, soaking in the California sun surrounded by the buzz of summer classes and literal tree-hugging protests. I walked through buildings at my leisure, looking at historical pieces and again, marveling at the structures.  One building in particular was breathtaking – the Hearst Memorial Hall of Mining. It had an atrium three stories tall, with multiple domes on the ceiling that were filled with skylights. The detail in this part of the building was incredible – iron railings with a green patina, pendant lights, a fabulous brick design leading up to the skylights, arched doorways.  It was the type of building fit for a gala event with music and dancing and celebration.  Industrial yet elegant. And standing silently, and probably illegally, in this gorgeous building, I connected with the grandeur of God. This memory is still impacting me nearly 7 years later.

I am also drawn in by pieces of art.  I love to walk through this hallway here at Berean and the other galleries around the building and get a glimpse of an artist’s talent and innovation. I am always impressed with how artists will incorporate various media into their pieces to articulate their vision. I respect the vulnerability with which artists reveal themselves to us, and tell us a bit about their stories, their experiences, their hopes, their perspectives. I love how photographers capture simple, sweet and elegant moments of life with their unique vantage points, and also how they document the heart-wrenching and life-changing moments that change the course of our individual and collective histories.

I marvel at science. I haven’t always marveled at this discipline – in fact I’m sure I have cursed it a few times. I got my only F in high school Biology because I just could not wrap my brain around the subject of mitosis. I once pulled a D in college Biology because I protested the dumb topic I was given for my final research project. I was supposed to write an 8-page paper with the answer to why King Henry the Eighth’s urine was pink, but instead I called my professor when it was due to say, “look, here’s the answer.” But, now I value science so much more because I understand the connection it has with God.  Who created the brains that can think science-y things?  Who gave humans the capacities to discover and explore and ask and research?

Probably one of my favorite ways to connect with God is by watching little people develop. I am in awe of the way the human body conceives, carries, and grows a tiny person!  There are so many intricacies that can only be traced back to an intelligent designer, that I am just constantly amazed. I love watching my boys make connections and grow and become their own personalities.  I love watching them develop spatial awareness as they fit shapes into sorters, stack blocks, learn how cars roll, learn how to throw a ball, learn about gravity when they drop food on the floor OVER AND OVER AND OVER.  Sam is almost 2, but at about 14 months, he began to understand simple questions or commands, even though he had no verbal words to communicate.  “Should we go get a snack?” I’d ask and he would shake his head “uh huh” and run to the pantry with the excitement of a puppy about to get a treat. I find great joy in celebrating the intricacies of human development.

Of course it’s easy to get caught up in the beauty of our God as reflected in nature. The changing seasons, the details of the life cycle of leaves and flowers and how plants are pollinated and how smart birds are. And how can you encounter the majesty of a snow-capped mountain and not thank the One who put them there? Sidenote: I don’t delight in squirrels and firmly believe God created them purely for His personal enjoyment.

I think it boils down to this: I connect with God through intricacies. The intricacy of architecture. The intricacy of an artist’s painting or sculpture. The intricacies of science – which I now admire. The intricacies of the human body – beginning with conception and evolving throughout our lifetimes. The intricacies of nature. All are glimpses into the character of our amazingly articulate, artistic, detailed and absolutely genius God.

But as I prepared for this morning, I started to ask myself, when did I first begin to recognize these connections to God in my life?  When did I begin to truly see His work in the situations around me?  I realized, for a large part of my life, it was easy for me to see God’s handiwork in the lives of others, but I hadn’t yet recognized His constant presence in my own life.

Sometime in the late 90s, I attended a workshop at my in which the facilitator asked us to create a timeline of our major life events – the good, the bad, the ugly – and challenged us to begin thinking differently about these events. Instead of just random events that marked our lives for better or worse, we began to recognize how God was orchestrating events, people, and places to lead us on a different journey.

One of these “major life events” for me happened in my toddler years. My parents divorced, I think sometime before I was two, and my mom and I lived with my grandparents. This time of my life had always caused questions, confusion, feelings of abandonment, and I made up my own truth about the events that surrounded it.

Throughout the workshop, I began to see this event – what had always been a negative association, wondering where God was in all of this – as a doorway to opportunity.  My birth father’s leaving and relinquishment of parental rights opened the door to a better future.  When I was 4, my mom remarried  to the man I now, and have always, called my father.  And now, looking back through a different filter, I could see this as the beginning of God’s provision: a stable father figure, who was hard-working and provided everything we needed (and many times also what we wanted); a consistent and loving church family which gave me a solid foundation for my faith and an environment in which I could thrive; the opportunity to go to college and choose a career, and much more.

So, it’s been easy for me to articulate the ways in which God has been my provider, because, since I started looking at life through a different filter, I’ve seen His provision time and time again: An unexpected check coming in the mail at just the right time. A wave of warm weather for a mama that’s been stuck inside with two adventurous boys during a frigid winter. A delivery of used boy clothes from a friend. A random “I wuv you, mama” from a little voice in the back seat after a particularly rough morning. Just enough food in the pantry to stretch the grocery budget for the week.

But God is so much more than just a provider!  So let’s put on a different set of glasses for a moment and think through some of the other areas that He reveals Himself to us:

  • I recognize God’s creativity in my 4-year-old who makes up jokes. Like, “What did the chicken say to the other chicken?  Nothing. They’re just chickens!” I also see God’s creativity in my peers who are in the midst of raising little people, but they’re exploring their passions at the sewing machine, by baking bread, by writing food blogs and designing goods to make life work a little smoother. God’s creativity is all around us.
  • I know God’s gentleness, as I constantly reflect on how He has pursued me as His child.
  • I have experienced God’s salvation, not just from a life of eternal misery, but salvation from MYSELF and the misery that I cause.
  • I have leaned into God’s wisdom as the Spirit has prompted me to walk in a certain direction or speak an encouraging word.
  • I’ve seen His trustworthiness time and time again, as I relinquish my desire to control a situation, and allow Him to work out the details.
  • I’ve seen His compassion through a friend that delivered flowers to my door when I returned home from the hospital after having a miscarriage.  She knew I was resting and didn’t want to disturb me, but she left flowers, and honestly, I could feel her big, strong, loving hug just by looking at the cheerful gesture.
  • I have felt His nearness at a time in my life when I felt physically quite alone. One day when I was working in the office, about 2 ½ years into my three-year separation from my husband, I remember being at the end of my rope. It was after lunch and I wasn’t quite sure which of my office mates had returned to their desks yet.  In a desperate and sheepish voice I called out, “Are you all here?” And everyone peeked their heads out of their cubicles and turned their chairs around.  And I confessed, “I don’t think I can hold on any longer.” And I crumbled. And they came rushing to me. And through their tears and hugs and sobs and prayers, I physically felt the nearness of God.  Psalm 27:13 says, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” I have felt His nearness and I have seen His goodness through those around me.
  • I’ve seen His grace through the leaders on this staff.  10 years ago I would have classified myself as a know-it-all. I had never been an administrative assistant before.  But as an administrative assistant, my ideas were always the best. I always had the right solution to any situation. My way of doing it was always the most efficient. I was kind of a steamroller, and I was honestly pretty destructive. But I experienced God’s grace time and time again as I sat under leaders who loved me, who saw the best in me, who gently called out my sins, and who offered forgiveness. I deserved to be shown the door. But instead, I was made better because of God’s grace through others.
  • I have known God as my Sustainer as I struggled through those early years of marriage in pain and confusion, waiting for the next shoe to drop.  And somehow there was never a shortage of shoes TO BE DROPPED. But, when I had nothing with which to carry on, God continued to sustain me.
  • I see God’s redeeming power as I reflect on my marriage that – for half of the 10 years we’ve been married – was tumultuous, full of pain and confusion; but is now on a path of friendship, intimacy, and reflecting God’s redemptive love.
  • I am thankful for God’s sovereignty, as I have more than once attempted to manipulate a situation to my own desirable outcome. And God’s sovereign intervention created an outcome that was SO MUCH MORE than I could have ever manufactured.

So those are just a few examples from my life in which God has revealed glimpses of His character to me.

When we begin to reflect on the ways that God has revealed Himself in our lives, we begin to train ourselves to look differently at our past and future experiences, using a different filter – the filter of God’s character.

But what about those times when God is really difficult to see?

When the relationship appears like it will never be restored? When a life-altering diagnosis strikes someone you love dearly, and the future looks grim? When you’ve lost your job and there are no prospects on the horizon?  When a child has wandered far away, with no promise to return?

Though we’re not experiencing God’s goodness at the moment, does that mean that He is not good?  Though we don’t see His redemption at the moment, is He not redeeming all things? When the situation is raging out of control, does this mean that God is not in control?

These are the moments that our faith comes to the forefront. The moments we must trust who He says He is. Trust what we know to be true about Him. And if we don’t know Him, then these are the times to get to know Him in life-giving ways. How?  In His Word. Who does He say He is?  My Rock, My Fortress, My Hiding Place, My Redeemer. What does He say He will do?  Protect, Provide, Shelter, Cover, Comfort. And so much more.

So how about you?  How is your vision these days? Is it clouded with confusion, or is your path clearly revealed by the light of God’s truth?  Do you need practice looking at your life through a different filter?

I’d like you to reflect on the areas where you’ve seen God’s character clearly in your life.  What was the situation, and which aspects of God’s character can you now identify as being present? What areas do you need to trust He is working . . . He is providing . . . He is exactly what you need?

In closing, can I pray for you?  For us?

Father, thanks for giving us each unique avenues to connect with You. Would you give us new eyes to see You, as you reveal your character to us?  And in those moments where you are very hard to see, would you give us the faith to trust who You are?  Lord of our hearts, be our vision. Don’t be anything else to us except everything that You are. Amen.