Which lens are you using?

That magical trip to Six Flags didn't go quite as planned. You didn't anticipate the lines would be THAT long, that she was too short to ride the best ones, that you can get a sunburn even with sunscreen, and that even the best laid plans can go south with just one Churro and a roller coaster.

Hiring the professional photographer seemed like a great idea - except it turns out the 2-year-old really does have complete control over her own smiles.

The outdoor wedding on the rainiest day of the year. The romantic evening when allergy season kicks in full force. Closing on the new house the day before the pink slip shows up.

That isn't what we pictured. It didn't turn out the way we planned it.

Imagine what the Jews thought when Jesus showed up as the Messiah. Talk about picturing something completely different! They were expecting a royal display of might and power - a force so overwhelming the Jews would be saved forever from oppression and pain.

What they got was a loving, peaceful, forgiving, ordinary carpenter with an extraordinary plan for salvation. What they wanted was instant deliverance.

What they got - what we all get - is eternal peace and new life in a place beyond the pale of our wildest imagination.

Our expectations about life are so often like the royal power the Jews wanted. We long for a country, a family, a job, and a community full of love and acceptance. We picture days of sharing the gospel to hungry seekers. We see our children growing up free to serve Jesus. We anticipate the truth of our message shielding us from wickedness.

We picture life as a Christian and wonder where it is.

Just like the family at the theme park or the smile-less child, the bride standing under an umbrella, the couple sitting on the bed with a box of tissues, or the home-owners staring in disbelief at what looks like the end of their world, we are often surprised by twists and turns, news flashes, and pot holes in our road to happiness.

There seem to be no good answers or explanations to many of those interruptions and detours. Oh, yes, it's true that we can - and often do - become stronger and more resilient with each one. But those big ones? They sure can leave us wondering Why?

Even the disciples who believed and followed Jesus closely were puzzled by His words and the reality of His life's story. They saw miracles by His hand and heard His very words. And yet they questioned why He couldn't simply make a revision to this death and resurrection part.

But Jesus knew. And He still knows. And hears every prayer and sees every tear. He will never leave us. Never forsake us. (Deuteronomy 31:6/Hebrews 13:5)

When we look at the world through the lens of what we pictured, it all looks pretty bleak. Our country, our families, jobs, and communities strangely lack the love and acceptance we expected.

But Jesus knows. He holds the world in His hands.

And what Jesus pictures for us is better than anything we can imagine.

 

We picture life as a Christian and wonder where it is. Click to Tweet

Forty days of discipline

We recognize Lent, the forty days before Easter Sunday, as a sort of parallel to the time Jesus spent in the wilderness.

During Lent, many of us decide to deny ourselves something important as a sort of test. We walk around comparing our sacrifice to others, feeling a bit smug for our herculean efforts while, at the same time, feeling sad and pitiful for our loss of treats or Twitter. 

But if our Lenten season is truly a mirror of what Jesus did, it may be that we are really missing something about Jesus and His focus.

During Lent, we see our self-denial as a form of discipline. Avoiding chocolate, caffeine, movies, social media, or bad language can definitely tax a person's resolve. The ease with which we purchase and consume, or turn on and enjoy is quite remarkable. Our pantries are full, our devices are charged and full of apps and our habits are not easily broken.

But perhaps we misunderstand the true value of this kind of discipline. We think of it as a form of punishment for prior short-comings. We approach the practice of "giving something up for Lent" as some sort of admission of guilt and impose a rigid 40-day sentence on ourselves. 

But Jesus, the Savior we hope to emulate, was free from any form of guilt or shame or sin. He had absolutely no need to spend any time at all punishing himself for transgressions. He had none.

Instead, Jesus spent time in the wilderness to better prepare Himself for the next difficult season of His life. While the evil one was attempting to keep Him distracted with temptations and lies, Jesus looked to His Father for sustenance and strength. 

So, when we consider His sacrifice and denial during this holy season, we discover a different definition for discipline. Consider the first time at the gym after years of inactivity and poor diet. Our bodies ache and we cannot do what we could years ago. Although the task seems impossible, we start slowly and develop habits of exercise and healthy eating. We discipline ourselves to live a better life. Not a life of regret and pain.  

It is not punishment. If it were, the gyms would be empty and we would be suffering for our excesses with little hope for change.

The reason we exercise with diligence and self-discipline is to focus on the prize of strong bodies and good health. We give up what is easy and fast to achieve what is lasting.

The same is true during Lent. If we want to be like Jesus, we are not fixated on what is wrong with us. We are practicing spiritual disciplines that will bring us closer to Him and life of spiritual health.  

Perhaps denying ourselves candy and junk food gives us a sense of spiritual success. And there are devoted Christians across the world who consider these 40 days as a way to get back to the basics of the Christian life - extending and deepening prayer, digging deeper into God's word and the life of Jesus, and intentionally spending time doing regular things but with a spiritual frame of mind.

But perhaps it's time that we reconsider the why's? of "giving something up for Lent."

Instead of focusing on the denial and pride of success, let's focus on Jesus, the one and only perfect Son of God. Let's be like Him, not full of regret but full of hope for the future.

During Lent, instead of focusing on our denial and pride of success, let's focus on Jesus. Click to Tweet

With gratitude to Katelyn Beaty for her wise words and honesty in this article.

The basics

Getting back to the basics. Just like Vince Lombardi's approach to football.

Do you know the story? In July, 1961, the Green Bay Packers returned to training camp - just a few months after a heartbreaking loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL Championship game. Losing that game was particularly hard because they held the lead in the fourth quarter until the last six minutes.

When they got back to camp for the 1961-1962 season, the players were plenty eager to dive right in, reaching for the next level of play with a renewed sense of determination.

Coach Lombardi, however, had a different idea.

He decided to go back to the basics.

He started off their first practice with a visual. He held up an oblong, brown, stitched, and painfully familiar object and said, "Gentlemen, this is a football."

He knew what his players wanted to do. They wanted so badly to get back the loss - erase the mistakes they made and shoot higher in their play. They wanted to rest on what they thought they already knew - the basics of the game - and, with that in their back pockets, take the field by storm.

But, again, the coach saw something else.

Lombardi knew the players could play the game. He knew they understood the rules, the fundamentals of play and positions, the standard playbook and guidelines. But he also knew something else.

Lombardi knew that, somewhere along the way, the players - and the coaches - had lost sight of those football basics. They were so busy trying to do the next thing, they overlooked the importance of the simple fact: this is a football.

As Christians, we're not so different than the 1961 Green Bay Packers.

Christians sidestep the important steps. Even long-time, mature Christians who have been Followers ever since they can remember may gradually wander away from the basics. Sometimes those daily practices seem, well, just so daily.

Now we don't forget the truth. We don't forget or take for granted Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and miraculous return from the dead. We are continually in awe that God's steadfast love never ceases. And we know that we need Him every hour.

No, we don't forget the truth. But we do occasionally slide casually over and past the basics.

Many smart people have created outlines or simple steps to remember how to practice being a Follower of Jesus. You may have your own. But, if you don't, here's a good one:

  1. Be with Jesus.
  2. Be like Jesus.
  3. Do what Jesus does.

Really, it's that simple. Easy? Not always. But we know that when we abide with Him, we'll become more like Him and grow in His love and strength to do what He would do here on earth.

Jesus doesn't expect us to be perfect. He doesn't expect that we remember every step or that we never misstep. He just wants us to get back to the basics.

 

 

 

Has God asked you to wear polka-dots?

Have you ever been asked to wear a polka-dot dress? or maybe stripes? a beret? how about wing-tip shoes or that sweater Aunt Polly made you for Christmas?

But, you say, polka-dots, stripes, berets, and wing-tip shoes aren't cool. And Aunt Polly's sweater? Nobody thinks that's a good idea.

So here's the dilemma: You can wear something you don't like to please your friend, or you can choose your own wardrobe because you, after all, are on the cutting edge of fashion. People look to you for the latest, greatest, and most hip.

The trouble is, most of your latest and greatest and most hip pieces from years past are gone and forgotten. As the fashion years changed and moved on, those shirts, hats, and shoes just didn't work any more. They were discarded and replaced by the Now look.

The fashions on last year's runway are considered passé and worthless, almost laughable. Who would wear such dated patterns, colors, and styles?

But, deep down, what we know to be true is this: no matter what the world says about current fashion and "all the rage," and no matter what we think about fashion, we look good in polka-dots and stripes. A beret looks better on us than any other hat. Wing-tip shoes will never go out of style with a sharp looking suit. And Aunt Polly's gift? Not only is it made well, with a sturdy and warm woolen yarn, it really is a great sweater. It will provide years of warmth and wear. And, to be honest, the only reason we don't like it is because of what others will think!

Except, what will Aunt Polly think? And what does the world think when they see us switch from one wardrobe, one style, one color or pattern to another year after year? What do they think about all of the past styles and fashion statements we made so emphatically and so clearly? Why would they believe that investing in a new shirt or pair of boots would really satisfy their clothing desires when we can't even wear the same thing two years in a row!

Is our Christian life so much different than this? Think about how we select what we buy and wear. Do we always choose the most current? the most trendy or "in"? Don't we often think of how we will use and enjoy each piece - not just now, but for a long time to come?

Polka dots, stripes, berets and wing-tip shoes - foundations of timeless fashion.

Aunt Polly's Christmas sweater - a gift made lovingly, just for you.

Now what about our walk with Jesus. Don't we make the same decisions about what we will look like as Christians? Don't we choose how we think and speak based on truth and love?

Prayer, fasting, giving, sharing God's word, and loving the unlovely - foundations of the Christian's faith.

Gifts of the spirit and desires of the heart - personality, talents, abilities, and passions uniquely designed and created just for you by God Himself.

What God asks us to wear - how He asks us to do life - shows the world what and Who we believe. Our outward appearance, conversation, habits, and choices tell the world as much - or more - about us as saying grace at the restaurant or sending scriptural holiday cards.

Maybe the world thinks of what we say and do as passé. Maybe we aren't hip and cool - or fleek or groovy or whatever the word of the decade is. But when we are wearing truth - when we wrap ourselves in God's words and promises - we show the world something better.

We show them a style that is timeless and never in need of flash or bling. A style worth every ounce of our investment - time, treasures, and talents.

What style are you choosing? Let us know in the comments.

 

When we are wearing truth & wrap ourselves in God's words &promises - we show the world something better. Click to Tweet

Down the lazy river

Ahhh. Drifting.

It sounds romantic and peaceful. Quiet. Slowly gliding down a lazy river. It brings memories of childhood summers or the first boat ride with someone very special.

Unless your memory of drifting induces panic. The vision of a toddler in an inner tube moving steadily out with the tide. The snorkelers who lose track of the shore as they are carried out much further than they had planned. The young campers who get too much sun as the canoe drifts downstream – and they find themselves way past the boundaries of the campground.

Drifting is easy.

Just like the toddler, snorkelers, and campers, it just doesn’t feel like anything is wrong. Not for a long time.

Just like we laugh at the spicy or slightly racist joke because it isn’t really a sin, is it? And it was funny!

Or when she tells her weird, lonely neighbor that she can’t come over for coffee because she is expecting an important delivery. It won’t come today – but she is expecting it.

Or when he justifies the padded expense account because he really did talk "business" at that pricey dinner – he talked about how much he despises his job.

Every single day we face decisions like these. And we can choose to snicker or avoid the needy neighbor or stretch the truth. We can take the easy route and drift ever-so-slightly away from the Father with every choice.

Or we can stay anchored to the truth and the Word. We can walk away before the end of the joke. We can take that cup of coffee and maybe, just maybe, find a fascinating person inside the screwball. We can submit an expense account with a clear conscience - and maybe start looking for a job that's a better fit.

And no matter what it takes to stay anchored, it's worth the effort. We know that Jesus will always be with us (Hebrews 10:23) and that we will reap rewards for making the tough but right choices. (Galatians 6:9).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Too distant. Too fast.

Thanks to HDTV, we can look deeply into the eyes of a child in a refugee camp and see crushing pain and suffering. We can walk with the mama and the babies she can’t feed or keep warm. We are painfully aware of children separated from parents, at risk for abduction and trafficking. The elderly and fragile who enjoy no respect from evil.

But so much of it is “over there.” The other side of the world.

And the distance acts as a kind of buffer, shielding us from the persistence of misery because we can simply turn it off or scroll down. There is no urgency. It seems almost hopeless and too far away from any help we might offer.

Yes, we can be generous with our finances and sign on-line petitions for protection of the outcast.

But so much of it is “over there.”

And our world is just fast: food, internet, cars. Detours are met with distain and impatience. Microwaves are too slow, and the dimwit in front should move to the far right lane.

Our social media experiences are no different. How quickly we scroll through the jokes and amusing videos, dessert photos and updates, recipe overload, and seventeen first-prom pictures. All fun. And a remarkable way of keeping us connected. We spend very little time on each different post or tweet. It’s easy to click and like or share or “LOL!”

But that’s the point: it’s easy. Too easy and too fast. We watch a fast-motion 3-ingredient banana bread recipe video and then quickly scan a mother’s desperate update about her runaway child.

The internet and social media and smart phones. All good and serve as invaluable resources for the safe return of abducted children. They keep loved ones informed of important and fast-moving family events and situations. Yes, they keep us connected.

But it becomes a blur. Take, for example:

The posts of our “friended” missionary whose family is caught up in the refugee and border storms. How do we respond?

  • Do we stop, drop to our knees, and pray for them? Right then, right when it’s fresh? Do we take the time to really pray? … or
  • Do we read with true concern and do a bit of follow-up? What do they need? What are they really going through? How can we really help in practical ways? Do we follow through and do something?... or
  • Do we quickly click “share?” Not altogether the worst idea, but is that all? Can’t we do more? Do we “spread the word” and consider that our contribution? Spreading the word should be an invitation to join us as we do something. Because spreading the word doesn’t help if the next response is to do the same: “click” and spread it again.

In this world of social media, global crisis, and speed, sometimes our response to tragedy and pain boils down to "sharing" the crisis. But "clicking" isn't compassion. Jesus never showed compassion by pointing to those in need. We can't either.

Got any ideas? Let us know in the comments.

"Clicking" isn't compassion. Jesus never showed compassion by pointing to those in need. We can't either. Click it to tweet it.

Love came first

From her very first breath, they loved her: a love bigger than they ever imagined it would be or could be.

Mamma and daddy couldn’t wait for her arrival. They planned and prepared. The room was just right. Just right for her. The perfect color and light.

They loved her from the very first breath, and even before.

It didn’t happen right away. It didn’t happen all the time. And it didn’t happen because she didn’t love them.

She would reach for the hot stove to help with the popcorn and run toward the street when daddy came home.

Mamma and Daddy said, “No.” They loved her.

She wanted to ride her bike without the helmet so she could feel the wind in her hair.

Mamma and Daddy said, “No.” They loved her.

She wanted to go to the party. The one where the parents had gone away for the weekend ... but she and her friends “weren’t going to do anything.”

Mamma and Daddy said, “No.” They loved her.

And she grew up.

At college, they wanted her to “just try it.”

She said “No,” because her mamma and daddy loved her.

When she got her first job, the boss said “cut corners to save money.” 

She said “No,” because her mamma and daddy loved her.

When she got her own apartment, he said “you would if you really cared about me.”

She said “No,” because her mamma and daddy loved her.

God loved Adam and Eve from the first breath, and even before. He created the perfect Eden for them.

And, it didn’t happen right away. It didn’t happen until Eve thought she was missing out, until Cain wanted to be first, until people decided they knew better.

We all lie, cheat, and steal in our own ways. We worship false gods and wish we had more. We are disrespectful and easily angered.

God says, “No,” because He loves us.

And we can say, “No” too. Because He loves us.

And His love came first.

 

Questions and truth

Question.

Answer.

Another question.

Another answer.

Rinse and repeat.

Such is the love language between a child and parent.

"Why does an elephant have a nose like that?"

"How come I float?"

"What's taking so long?"

After about the sixth repeat, we do tend to growl. It's annoying, sure. But look deeper. Something very special is going on.

Have you ever noticed that the one being asked is almost always a trusted care giver? Dad, Mom, big sis or brother, nanny, teacher. When little people really want to know or understand, they ask someone they trust. They want a real answer. 

Yes, it gets more and more tricky to come up with something besides "God made it that way" or "Pretty soon." But with each question, our little ones tell us that they are looking to us for the truth. That's why they don't ask the big kid down the street or the city bus driver.

Grown-ups are no different. Think about it. When we ask an honest question, we want an honest answer. 

Especially when it's an important question. Which job do you think I should take? why is she so mad at me? can I afford that house? do you love me?

For things most important, we want the truth. And, we ask some doozies:

  • Who am I?
  • Why am I here?
  • What's wrong with the world?
  • What can make it right?

Thankfully, we know who we can ask. Someone we can trust. Someone who never changes, and whose answers have been and will remain constant.

We ask God. And He says:

  • You are the crowning glory of My creation. You were skillfully and wonderfully made in My image. You are a treasured child of God.
  • You are here to do good and glorify Me.
  • You are to blame for what's wrong in the world. You all are. You've listened to the voice of the Deceiver. You've chased after the lies of health and wealth and having it all.
  • I can make it right. When it's lost, I will find it. When you can't do it anymore, I'll be there.

We never had the answers. And, we were probably never meant to.

But, we can be absolutely confident. Even when everything around us is in chaos and the world - our world - seems to just spin out of control, our hope is not gone. His answers are true.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow lived during the Civil War, when the future of the country looked bleak. He suffered great personal loss when his wife died of burns she sustained when her dress caught fire. Longfellow could not even attend her funeral because he, too, was severely burned trying to save her. And, just that following year, his son ran away to fight in the war, only to return home after being badly wounded, almost paralyzed.

But as a strong man of God, the desire of his heart was to find the peace that only God can give. During the Christmas season of 1863, Longfellow wrote these words that, when set to music, became a glorious and promising carol:

I heard the bells on Christmas day,
Their old familiar carols play.
And mild and sweet their songs repeat of peace on earth, good will to men

And in despair I bowed my head.
"There is no peace on earth," I said.
“For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then rang the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor does He sleep.
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth, good will to men.”

Even in his grief, Longfellow knew that God really was the answer.

No matter how big a loss we experience or how big a mess we create, God can overcome. It's true.

How has God answered your questions? How has He rescued you?

 

 

Disappointment

We don’t admit to our disappointment in Jesus.

No, we say God is good.

We say, Maybe we can't hear His voice right now.

And, We just need to be patient

...and pray more

...and wait.

It’s fine.

We’re OK.

But, we’re not OK.

We’re mad as the dickens.

We want answers.

We want to know when?

and where?

and why her instead of me? Us instead of them?

Disappointment.

It clouds our days;

interrupts our nights.

But You are a good, good Father.

You can take all the disappointment

and hurt

and anger.

 

And then there's me.

What happens when I disappoint Him?

When I don’t listen?

or

follow

or

obey

or

wait

or

trust?

Does He pitch a fit?

or

turn His back

or

shake His fist

or

give up?

No.

No, He doesn’t.

He simply comes to Earth,

humbly and quietly,

and...

...dies for me.

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

 


 

 

 

When everything is different

This is a peaceful time of year. At least, it should be. During the weeks of Advent, we relish the promises of God and joyfully anticipate the day we celebrate His Son's birth. We are reminded of His goodness to us...of the blessings He has revealed...of His love personified in the Baby Jesus.

As Christmas approaches, we are encouraged to slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures of faith and family. We are reminded of the unbelievable impact that the birth of Jesus had on this world. And, we hope that finally, this year, this holiday season will be unlike those of the past - just a blur of hurry and shop and bake and prepare. We long to slow down and soak in all of the miracle that Christmas really is. 

Slow down. S-l-o-w d-o-w-n.

But, for some sweet souls walking along side of us, January, even with its drab bitterness, cannot come soon enough. For them, December will not be joyous or fun or even tolerable. It will be excruciating. They smile through gritted teeth and go through the motions of holiday spirit. But they are miserable and sad or mad because, this year, something is different.

The traditional mound of presents will be skimpy in comparison because the rent and utilities steal the entire unemployment check.

The house will be quiet and subdued as the chemotherapy takes its toll.

The plans now include two Christmases for the kids - one with Mom, one with Dad. 

Or maybe this will be the first time Christmas will come and go without the loved one whose name we can barely whisper, but whose voice we long to hear.

The Ugly Sweater Contest won't be so hilarious - because the reigning champion won't be on the U.S.C. runway...Someone else will have to read the Christmas story...And, we'll have to decide - do we hang up his stocking?

How on earth can the the world continue in a frenzy of planning and shopping and baking as if nothing changed? Because everything has changed. Forever. 

Everything is different.

For some of those grieving great loss, this may be the very first holiday they must endure without. And they face eleven more months of "firsts." First Christmas, first New Year, first Valentine's Day, first Mother's Day, first birthday, first vacation... And for some, this will be the last "first." For them, next year's anniversaries and celebrations will be just one degree less painful. But this is the first Christmas without.

God, please extra bless them all. 

For many of us, the message this year is the same: slow down and savor the moments. Read the Scriptures and live each day, whether festive or ordinary, on purpose, with both eyes and both ears open. Be still and contemplate the magnitude of God's gift - His Son.

But, let's be especially mindful of those who would rather just skip it altogether. Skip Christmas and every other holiday or anniversary or birthday for as long as it takes to be able to simply survive the crippling pain of recent loss. 

Let's rejoice. Let's celebrate. Let's slow down. And, let's remember.

 

 

Wildest dreams

Has anyone ever prayed Ephesians 3:20 over you? Did you listen?

Here’s the Message Bible translation of that verse:

God can do anything, you know - far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams.

Wildest dreams. Visions of wealth to share with loved ones. The high and philanthropic hopes of lottery winners to pay off bills, buy Mom a home, and donate lavishly  to those in need.

Wildest dreams. Visions of making it big in show business or sports. Starting a foundation for the underprivileged or creating a line of organic snacks.  

But, it rarely turns out that way. The money dwindles while the winner wonders where it all went. The comfort of wealth and fame doesn’t diminish the feelings of loneliness while the need for more and more grows with each new purchase. Wild dreams turn into nightmares. Or worse...they just wither away.

But the dreams God places in our hearts - those desires to bless the kingdom with our talents and gifts - those dreams are neither wild nor crazy.

Some dreams are seen early. Some come later. And, many of us truly believe we have always said, “Anything.”  

But many of live as if it is up to us to not only imagine the dream but also blaze a trail to its success. Or we break His heart: “I’m just small and powerless. Get real. God is not going to use me to change the world.”

So we drift about, making decisions that seem right or clever or strategic at the time. But so many of those decisions move us yet another step further from what God really has for us: the wildest dream we could ever imagine.

We can turn this around.

What if we did the first things first:

1,  Spend time daily with Jesus, in reading and prayer (mostly listening).

2.  Use the time and finances we have been given to glorify God and further the kingdom.  

But then, let’s step it up a bit. How about this...?

3.  Instead of focusing on “my” dream, focus on “our” dream.

Frankly, it’s a bit exhausting trying to figure it all alone. Which verse? which blog post? which telephone call or job offer? Should I cast my line? or wait and listen? When will I know...really know?

Listen, nobody has been expected to do this in isolation. We are called to work together:

  • And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24) When was the last time you really took time to "stir up" somebody to do his good work?
  • Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17) When was the last time you challenged someone to believe in the wild dream God placed in her heart...because you believe in that same dream for her?
  • Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered. (Proverbs 11:25) When was the last time you blessed someone else by building her up or believing in his dream?...even if you always thought that was your dream? (That's a tough one.)

Most Christians can remember how it felt when they were truly doing God's work through them. They still savor the feeling of peace and power, knowing that their contribution to the Kingdom was pleasing to the Father. 

When was the last time you prayed Ephesians 3:20 over somebody else and breathed life into them? Put your hand on the shoulder of a brother or sister and just try it: “God can do anything, you know - far more than … your wildest dreams.” 

To Serve and Glorify

Scientific definition: Work is done when a force that is applied to an object moves that object.

Bleech.

We spend the morning plunging the sink in vain. We are tired and cranky. But the clog didn’t move. And, nothing was accomplished. In fact, it was a waste of a morning and we still have to call the professional.

The boss asked for artwork and slogans for the advertising campaign, only to rip every speck of  artwork and jingles to shreds. “Start over.” An entire week of working late and into the weekend with nothing to show but failure.

The eggs for customer 3 at table 12 were returned to the kitchen. And you would have thought that the end of the world as we know it was right around the corner. As an experienced line cook, you lose.

If we don’t achieve the objective, fix something, finish the job, or present the illusive perfect product, no “work” was done. Let’s just pull the covers over our heads and call it a day. We are failures. We did not perform to expectations. There is no feeling of accomplishment. No reward for the effort. No acknowledgement. Whether we are listening to the harsh words of a distracted, demanding supervisor or our own pesky voice of self-doubt, we hear, “You’re a big fat waste of time.”

And that, dear ones, is what turns work into toil. Even King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, grieved the futility of work he had done. In Ecclesiastes 2:22-23, he asks, “What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest…” And if we are not currently experiencing the crushing effect of toil, we surely know someone who is. There are just too many of us enduring work because we believe there is no alternative except grin and bear it or try to move on.

But, just gritting our teeth doesn't make it OK. And a change of occupation isn't always the right answer.

But is that really how Believers are asked to live?

John Stott gives us a much more accurate picture of work as seen through God's eyes:”Work is the expenditure of energy (manual or mental or both) in the service of others, which brings fulfillment to the worker, benefit to the community, and glory to God.”

Scientific work: force, apply, object. Cold and, well, scientific.

Sacred work: energy, service, fulfillment, benefit, community, glory. Beautiful.

Maybe this side of heaven, we won’t know how far the fruit of our labor has reached in service to the Kingdom. How the smallest gesture might reveal a little Jesus to a seeker or bring the Word closer to a hopeless stranger. We may not be appreciated or acknowledged. We may not be compensated fairly. Our names probably won’t appear on the marquee or in the Hall of Fame. There may never be a rise to the top or a standing ovation.

But, I know for sure--down deep, way in there where it counts the most--that, if what we do serves others and glorifies God, well,  we are doing real work ... sacred work.

Thank You, Jesus, for loving us, giving us meaningful work, and strengthening us so we can do it all for You.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. Colossians 3:23-24

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wilderness

Picture the wilderness. Barren, brown, and lifeless landscapes. Is it a dramatic Hollywood film or a National Geographic pictorial essay? Long-robed nomads with kerchief masks to shield their faces from the dusty desert winds. Or a personal experience?  Five years old and lost at the county fair or the mall—so terrified that you might as well have been in the middle of nowhere, abandoned and alone.

All scary and bleak.

But sometimes the wilderness is inside—an emotional place so dry and sparse that our very souls seem to be fading away. A place so desolate that there is nowhere to turn for relief—because everywhere we look, it’s the same brown and barren lifelessness. The loss of a job...or enduring a job that steals the joy out of life. The loss of a loved one. Unanswered questions about childbearing...or child rearing. A move that didn’t work out the way we planned. A broken relationship for which there seems no hope.

Just as Jesus was famished when he emerged from the wilderness, our emotional wilderness experiences leave us exhausted and hungry. Hungry for new or restored relationships. Hungry for salve to soothe a wounded heart. Hungry for peace when everything and everyone around us seems determined to prolong war. Hungry for an answer.

Yes, we know. When we pray, there is always an answer. Sometimes, the answer is “yes.” Sometimes, it’s “no.” Sometimes, “wait.”  And when we are in a good place, any answer will do, because God is always good. Always. We can trust Him. We can depend on Him. Yes, we know.

But, in the wilderness. Ah, in the wilderness, everything is different. We want to hear “yes.” We want the explanation. We want a solution. We want relief.

Both “no” and “wait” are just this side of unbearable.

But sometimes, especially in the wilderness, the answer is not This is why..., or This is when..., or This will be....

The answer is Jesus.

What we are truly searching for is not a new job or a whole family or peace in our world. The truth is that we live in a broken world, in a god-forsaken wilderness. And Jesus is the only One who can meet all of our needs simply and miraculously because of who He is. And, He knows that, for some of us, the wilderness is the only place where we will stop and look for Him.

The wilderness is barren, brown and lifeless, scary and bleak—both the geographical, out there in the vast expanse of the unknown, and the emotional, out there where the reality of daily living can be empty and hopeless. And Jesus never promised relief from our wilderness. He never promised that all of the pain would be healed or all of the plans revealed.

But He did promise that He would be with us and that He would answer when we call. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

- Nancy Wolfe