How often we forget....

and the disciples said to Him, “Where would we get so many loaves in a desolate place to satisfy such a great multitude?” Matthew 15:33

Seeing this verse out of context,I am likely to assume it is the much loved and familiar story of the little boy who offers Jesus his lunch. Out of a mere five rolls and two small fish, Jesus feeds well over 5000 people. But that miracle is recorded a chapters earlier, in Matthew 14:13-21. This particular verse comes later. Jesus has been teaching and healing multitudes of people . The disciples have been on the front row as miracle after miracle have occurred.

Surely we can expect their faith to be strong. Surely, when Jesus says “I have compassion for the multitude, because they have remained with me now three days and have nothing to eat and I do not wish to send them away hungry lest they faint on the way” (Matthew 15:32), these witnesses would answer with resolute conviction Lord, we know you will take care of everything; just tell us what you want us to do!”

Surely.

Not.

In spite of all they had seen Jesus do, over the past several days, those closest to Him responded with doubt and uncertainty.

Wow. They couldn’t even remember what He had just done in a strikingly similar situation.

Wow. How fragile their faith. How feeble their memory…how disappointingly familiar.

Even though you and I have 66 books that testify to the faithfulness of God, even though we have personally experienced His grace and generosity, we act just like those forgetful disciples, don’t we? How many times have we faced an impossible situation and wrung our hands in anxiety and fear? How many times have we slipped into despair because we couldn’t figure a way out of the conundrum we found ourselves in? How many times have we forgotten Whose we are and what He can do?

Just like those disciples.

If I were Jesus, I’d have been ticked off. At least exasperated. Wouldn’t you? I mean, seriously, not only had His divine power been on display right in front of them for days on end, but also His unparalleled compassion! How could they not “get it”?

How do we not “get it”?

I am so thankful God included this story in His Word. It brings me much encouragement that the disciples were forgetful. That they could know Jesus personally, watch Him function up close and personal, and still not respond in faith.

And the most encouraging, most comforting part is Jesus’s response. He doesn’t get ticked off. Doesn’t even sound exasperated.

He says “How many loaves do you have?” And then proceeds not to admonish them, but instead to bless them with yet another miracle. (vs. 34-39)

Wow.

What a merciful, compassionate, gracious God we serve!

Lord, help us to remember Who You are! Forgive our lack of faith. Help us to call to mind Your faithfulness, Your power, and especially Your love for us. Amen.

Peace to you

Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6,7


Such a sweet passage. Such a comforting and familiar passage.


So familiar in fact, that we might just gloss over it so quickly that we miss the treasures packed inside.


So let's unpack it together, shall we?


I see three truths in these two verses, three powerful truths: a command, an instruction, and a promise.


First, the command, Do not be anxious.


Do not be anxious. In other words, do not worry.


How succinct that the Greek word translated as "anxious" means "to be pulled in different directions"! Isn't that an apt description of worry? Isn't that what happens in our minds when we are waiting for the results of that biopsy? Or when it's past time for our newly licensed driver to make it home? Or the wondering of how to make things work when there is more month left at the end of the money?
Pulled in different directions. To places of frightening speculation or fretful imaginations. Places where we face problems without answers and burdens without strength to bear them. Scary places.
Time and time again we find ourselves in these places...and time and time again we find no resolution. We tell ourselves not to worry. We tell ourselves that most of the things we worry about never happen. We promise ourselves that we will trust God and not worry.
But then things happen.
Bills pile up.
A bruise won't go away.
The trusted relationship is strained.
We cannot stop our mind from fretting.


And yet the command is not be anxious. Not to be pulled into those scary and worrisome places.


But rather to go to one place. To The Place.


Next, the instruction.
Instead of being pulled into unproductive - even destructive - directions, we are instructed how to resolve the worry.


The place of God's presence.


And in His presence, there are five things to remember:
1. In everything
Nothing is too insignificant or too insurmountable to be addressed I find this so encouraging, so comforting, so exciting - we are to pray about everything! If you are like I am, you probably veer off from time to time in one direction or another. Either something seems so pressing, looms so large, feels so weighty that we act as though God cannot handle it alone and we must "help" Him by trying to figure it out on our own. Or something seems so small that it never occurs to us to pray about it so we just get stressed about it instead.
God instructs us here that everything is a potential for anxiety so He gives us instructions on how to handle everything victoriously.


2. By prayer
It is significant that our conversation with God is described in 4 different ways in this passage. Prayer, supplication, thanksgiving, requests
I don't think God is being redundant - I think He is conveying 4 different components to the worry solution.
By "prayer", I think He is instructing us to come into the presence of I AM. To bow before His power, majesty, and holiness .To recognize Who He Is. This first step towards peace sets the tone for the steps that follow.


3. And supplication
"Supplication" is often seen as our petitions, our requests. But there is a subtle - and very significant
- difference. The use of this word connotes humility. This is definitely not a coming to God with our demands, or even our wish list. Not at all. This is coming to Him with the attitude of "not my will, but Yours". Acknowledging His claim on our lives and His right to do whatever He wills.


4. With thanksgiving
How gracious of God to include this phrase! This lets us know that, not only does God have the right to do whatever He wills, but also that we can trust Him to do only what is good and loving and faithful. Regardless of what it may look like to us, we can trust that all that His does is for our highest good and His highest glory. Because of that confidence, we can thank Him. In all things.
So, as we approach Him in worship (prayer) and humility (supplication), it is also in trust (with thanksgiving). Because He is good. All the time.


5. Let your requests be made known to God
This is where we get to bring our petitions, our desires, our needs...to the only One who can fulfill them. After we have come to Him in worship, humility, and trust, then we can pour our heart out in longing. This approach often changes what we ask for! He wants us to tell Him what we want...and then trust Him to answer with the best.
I love the phrase "be made known to God" - it sorta sounds like we have to tell Him because He doesn't already know! That is laughable! The Divine, Omnipotent, OMNISCIENT God most surely knows not only what need but also what we are going to ask for - long before there is even a thought formed in our little brains! So what does this phrase intend to convey to us? I think it means the realization on our part of our dependence on Him. The recognition of our reliance on His goodness and mercy and grace to supply what we need, to grant what we are asking. Making known our requests is acknowledging that He alone is the giver of all good gifts. And that is why we come to Him - that is the essence of faith, the antithesis of worry!
When we are in His Holy presence, realizing Who He is...and who we are not, when we are able to desire His Will higher than our own, then we can freely say, as Henry Blackaby puts it "Lord, here is what I think I want, but if you have something better in mind, well, then, just cancel my request!"


And then what happens?
After the command and the instruction...the result.


When we turn to prayer with these steps of worship and humility and trust and faith, then He gives peace. Peace that guards our hearts (our feelings) and our minds (our thoughts) against worry. Peace - the confidence in the goodness of God - which comes when we choose to pray instead of to worry...and this peace which results is also what guards us against future worry. Prayer begats peace which defeats worry. And when we find Him faithful, we turn to prayer instead of worry. Which begats peace...which guards us against worry...and He proves faithful...again and again and again.






Oh, one more thing. A couple of verses later, there is a phrase that offers tremendous encouragement. Perhaps we read these exhortations and agree with them, but down deep, we know the truth - and the truth is we still worry. We want to experience His peace; we want to pray and trust instead of fretting. But that's not our reality.
What to do?


Verse 9 tells us - The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things and the God of peace shall be with you.


All these things that God urges us to do, so that we can have His peace?
Well, it's OK if you don't get it right every time.
Keep practicing.
Don't quit.
Practice what He shows us in these verses.
And, soon, you will find as I have that you won't be a worrier anymore. When trouble comes or panic threatens tranquility, you will find your default has become to pray. To trust. To thank Him. And to express your needs and hopes and desires to The Only One who gives good and perfect gifts.


Amen.

Conformed or Transformed?

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable, and perfect.
Romans 12:2

When you go through times of disappointment or heartache or stress, it's tempting to doubt God. To wonder why He didn't "fix this" like you asked or to wish He would step in and use His power to "set things right" or to whine that He would let "whatever" happen.

This verse has some help for that.

And it has some help for parent-pain, which, if you haven't experienced it, let me assure you that you have missed the deepest, most grievous anguish that can ever be felt. The agony of not only watching your child hurt but especially the helplessness of not being able to remedy it is gut-wrenching.

It happens from the time they are preschoolers all the way through adulthood. And my own Mom tells me it is exponentially so when it's your grands. Oh my. I cannot bear the thought.

Maybe Jonathan and Mary Alice and Lucy and Max should wear warning labels that announce to teachers and friends that they have these women in their family....
I digress...
Back to the verse.
Back to the help of being victorious in the midst of pain...


Starting with the last part and working our way backwards -

This verse tells us that God's will is good and acceptable and perfect. I looked up those words that we translate from the original Greek:

Good - benevolent, profitable, useful
Acceptable - pleasing, agreeable
Perfect -complete, meeting the need

From this passage, we might be tempted to swallow hard and say, oh, ok, so whatever happens I should just suck it up because "it's God's will" so I have to say that all is well. No matter what it feels like.

No. That's not it.

Some things that happen are NOT OK. We hurt. Suffer loss. Injustices. From the wrong motives and actions of others. Sometimes from our own sinful selves. But some things are NOT OK.

So what does this verse tell us?

The key is in learning what "God's Will" means.

It's a Greek word,"thelema", that is translated as "will of God". Since Scripture also makes it very plain that God is absolutely sovereign and that nothing thwarts His purpose (Job 42:2 and Isaiah 14:27), we might conclude that we just have to toughen up and get with the program. Even when hard things happen.

But "thelema" means "inclination of pleasure towards that which is liked, that which pleases and creates joy." In this verse, the meaning signifies His gracious disposition towards His people.

Which means that, when hard things happen, we have two choices:

To see them through a lens that has been conformed to the way the world sees things

or

To see them through a lens that has been transformed supernaturally by thinking the way Christ thinks

One view is distorted and near-sighted. It brings confusion and anger and distrust. Because life never turns out exactly like we would orchestrate it if we were in charge. And that stings.

The other view is different. This view accepts that "in this world you will have trouble" (John 16:33) but it also embraces that our Sovereign God is accomplishing His great purpose with it. His glory....and our good.

He IS indeed all powerful.
And NOTHING can prevent His plan from unfolding.

And His purpose towards His people is blessing.

Even in the face of pain or disappointment or injustice.

He promises.

But in order to believe that, we have to be transformed.

And that requires having our minds renewed.

Which means changing how we think.

About everything that happens to us.

Friend, I don't know what you're facing right now. I don't know if all is peachy keen in your life or if you're in the midst of a fiery trial. Maybe someone you love is hurting and no solution is in sight. Maybe you or one of yours is staring down an intense disappointment or loss.

If you're in one of those tough spots, I'll wager that you've been tempted to feel sorry for yourself or to be angry at God or at least to wonder what went wrong to land you in this place.
I'm asking you to renew your mind with truth.
To think about things the way God instructs us to.
To look at things through His transforming lens.

His will towards us is blessing.
His purpose towards us is grace. And life. And joy.

Don't let the world tell you anything different.











Raising kids who are strong

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9


As a parent, this is surely one of my most loved verses. I want my children (and myself!) to be bold, confident, resilient, brave. And I know that God wants that, too. He spoke this directive to Joshua as he prepared to take over command of the Israelites from Moses. Moses earlier had exhorted the people with these same words, repeated them to Joshua, and then the Lord Himself said it twice in 9 short verses. I think we are supposed to heed this - be strong and have courage.


I cling to this verse in parenting on at least two levels - one, to address my own fears and inadequacies (of which there are many!) and two, to encourage my children to be strong. Not strength as the world offers (which is usually false bravado and an attempt to mask insecurities). Not a foolhardy ignorance of danger or reality. But strong in the Lord. Mighty in spirit. Not afraid. Not fragile. Able to withstand difficulties and persecution and disappointment. And to withstand it well.


What does it mean to be strong, to be mighty in spirit? And how can we develop this in our children? And in ourselves! Let's unpack that verse and see...First, the context. The Israelites are about to begin the conquest of Canaan, the land God had promised to them. They had been redeemed from the slavery of Egypt and were on the brink of possessing the blessing of the rest of that redemption. But it was obviously not going to be a walk in the park. There were geographical challenges (large bodies of water to cross and a desert to endure) not to mention the fact that the land was already occupied and possessing it would require displacing those who were there.


Plenty of reason for fear for sure


Yet God repeatedly instructs them not to. How is that possible? Were they (and are we) just supposed to deny reality, stuff down our feelings and march stoically off into the unknown?


Not at all.


The keys to a life of courage, of living without fear or discouragement or dismay, are found right there in the text. Let's see what they are...


The first keys I see that God provided for the Israelites are the same ones He makes available to His people today. Sandwiched in between His two commands not to fear...verses 7 & 8, we see


being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success[a] wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success


1. Obedience to His commands
2. Consistent meditation on His Word


So, if we want to be strong and courageous, if we want to grow kids that are mighty in spirit, we must know that the foundation to those qualities is to obey what He says to do and to feast ourselves continually on His Word.


And the other keys I see to "fearing not" are found in the definitions of those Hebrew words - "be strong" and "courage". The word that we translate as "strong" is a word that the Hebrews used frequently for construction, for building. Its meaning is deeper than "strong" - it carries with it the idea of being attached firmly to something, to be held fast, preserved. Hmmm, sounds like God is explaining to us here that our strength comes from holding fast to Him, being bound tightly to His Word. Oh yes!
And the word for courage is equally as rich. It means more than just being brave - it conveys the idea of wisdom and virtue and excellence. SO, "courage" is more than an attitude - it is also action of righteousness!


As I have prayed for my kids through the years to be mighty in Spirit, God has consistently laid out practical ways to cultivate this attribute. Encourage obedience to HIM, not merely to parents. (That is the basis of obeying all authority!) Memorize and meditate on His Word. Talk about His Word all through the day....all through our lives. Exhort one another to hold fast to His truth, particularly in dark times, when the light is hard to see. And sow seeds of righteousness. Over and over and over. Do the right thing. Do the kind thing, the faithful thing, the generous thing, the gracious thing, the joyful thing, the loving thing, the forgiving thing. Over and over and over.


There are plenty of things in life to be afraid of. Plenty of things that seem to threaten our security and our well-being. But God wants His kids to face them all with confidence and courage.

And He provides the keys for us to do so.


Will we take Him at His Word?


Remember

Probably everyone who reads this remembers where they were and what they were doing on September 11, 2001. I was pregnant with my youngest. At home doing school with my older 3. My hubby was in Atlanta.

My Mom called me about 9:15 that morning. She saw it on the news. Events were still unfolding. We had no idea that subsequent attacks were pending. I was torn between wanting to get the information and wanting to protect my children. But I wasn't torn about wanting everyone home. Glad my babies were right under my wings but I wanted our protector home. Atlanta was a lifetime away.

We all recall the horror. The disbelief. The aftershocks of grief and fear and anger.

But I also remember the spirit of unity among our people and the realization of our need for God. This was bigger than American pride. We had been brought to our knees all right, but not in desperate humiliation...rather we responded to the crisis with confident reliance on our God.

On this anniversary of the greatest tragedy our generation has ever seen, may we remain in just that same place. Just where God wants us. On our knees. Needing Him. Trusting Him. Seeking Him. Finding Him.

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. Luke 18:1