Friday, May 3, 2019

Resentment & Repentance

I don’t know exactly how this post is going to come out…….I’m still in the messiness of processing this, and writing is usually my best way of processing. So here goes.

It was a couple weeks ago, the day I read Luke 15 in preparation for Bible Study that evening, and thinking about what I wrote in my previous blog post. I went out for a walk with the baby I’m nannying, and it wasn’t long before Paraclete walloped me on the side of the head with it: You’ve been acting a lot like the older son this past year.

And it’s true. There have been various moments in the past year+ when I’ve internally cried out the questions to God…“I was doing what I thought You called me to do. What happened?? What more do You want from me? Why did You take it all away? I don’t deserve…”

Do you hear the voice of the elder son there? ‘All these years I have served you, and you never even gave me a small party.’ As if service and outward obedience earn the right to demand fair recompense.

Part of me wishes we knew more of this story—how long had the elder son harbored such bitterness and resentment in his heart? How did he respond to his father after this? Did he stay the same, hard and unforgiving? Or did he repent?

But Jesus had evidently done what He intended with the story as is.

We know that His hearers at the time, the Pharisees, didn’t take to heart the application of the story. They didn’t change their attitude – they still hated Jesus for what He claimed and preached, and they still ended up killing Him as their attempted solution.

But what about someone like me, who never set out to harbor resentment and feelings of injustice towards God? Someone who comes to see the folly and selfishness of such a heart attitude? What am I to do to change and not be like that anymore?

I think the answer to that question actually takes us back to the other two parables in Luke 15, which each follow a very similar pattern. Something is lost, the owner searches and finds it, a celebration ensues, and the parables end with the statement “I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (vs. 10, vs. 7 is similar).

But really, what did a sheep and a coin do to repent? What could they do? They don’t even have enough sense to try to be found. It was all up to the owner to find what was lost, and yet the final verse compares them to a repentant sinner.

Maybe repentance has a lot less to do with me and my ability to return to God than I would like to think.

So how should I respond when the Holy Spirit points out something like this?

I guess the first step would be to confess it—to agree with God that what He said is true. And then to repent of it—to trust God for the grace and strength to stop resenting Him for what I don’t have and instead believe His promises of all the good things He has given me.

Easy to say, hard for my prideful flesh to be willing to do.

At the root of such bitterness as the elder brother showed is belief in a falsehood: That I deserve commendation and reward for my good behavior. What is the truth about every single one of us? What do we truly deserve? Only God’s condemnation and punishment for our sins against a perfectly righteous God. All else is only by grace.

I want and expect promises of comfort and ease—but that’s not what Christ gave. He promised that we would have trouble in this life (John 16:33), and yet in the same breath He promised His peace. So why do I try to stiff arm the challenges? In so doing, I also reject the lessons God has for me in those experiences.

Can I learn and choose instead to embrace whatever He has for me, knowing that He is a good Father and so whatever He sends must also be for my good? Not a journey that my heart has made much progress on….though I know and believe it to be true.

Like I said – I’m still in the midst of processing this. I don’t have the application all neatly packaged up and ready to be implemented….Lord help me to have the humility to submit to You and repent!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Elder Brother

Once upon a time, there was a man with two sons. The older son was dutifully obedient, but the younger son was willful and independent. One day, the younger son grew tired of living in his father’s home. After demanding his share of the family inheritance, he went away to a far country.

There he lived extravagantly for a time….until the money ran out. Then down to the depths he plunged, the depths of feeding pigs. Here he realized his folly and thought out a plan: to return and ask to serve his father as a servant.

As he neared home, his father came running to meet him. There was no criticism or judgment, only love and acceptance. A great party was quickly prepared to celebrate the son’s homecoming.

When the older brother came in after a long day in the fields, the festivities caught him by surprise. On finding out the reason, he utterly refused to join in. The father left the party to plead with him—but the son angrily responded,
“I’ve been serving you for years, never breaking a single command. But you never gave me even a little party with my friends. Then this rascal shows back up, having wasted everything you gave him, and you pull out all the stops—for him!”

The father answered,
“You are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right to rejoice at the homecoming of one who we thought was dead!”

How did the older son respond? What happened next? We don’t know for sure, because that’s where Jesus ended His parable of the Lost Son in Luke 15.

I’ve been thinking about this parable the past few days, because a Bible study group I am part of looked at Luke 15 last Thursday. Reading the chapter, listening to a children’s version of the story, and discussing it with the group recalled to my mind another study I had taken part in, years ago.

That book/video series was Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God. It’s been so long since the latter study, but some of the concepts have really stuck with me. I will try to specify which points I know come from Keller’s book – and hopefully I won’t miss any!

But my focus isn’t on what Keller shared about the story—as good as that was. My focus is on the personal application…for me, in this season.

As Keller points out, there’s not just one son in this story: there are two. A lot of the attention of the story and the readers is usually on the younger son, the prodigal* who returns home. But after his interrupted speech in verse 21, the younger son fades into the background of the story and a new dynamic takes center stage.

See, the older son was the ‘good kid’….or was he really? His response to the father in verses 29-30 reveals a heart that while outwardly obedient was inwardly resentful and even hateful. Some of us can easily see ourselves in the beginning of the story—a child living recklessly and thoughtlessly, who only later comes to his senses. But how many of us are willing to own up to the times we’ve been like the older son: self-righteous and angry that we don’t get what we “deserve”. {I believe one person can go through seasons of being either one of these.}

Keller argues that this story represented both of the groups of people Jesus was addressing (tax collectors & sinners vs. Pharisees & scribes – see vs. 1-2). The first group were like the younger son, and the elder son pictured the second group. Working hard to earn God’s favor and blessings. Angry that some people would just waltz in and get it regardless of the bad things they had done. Feeling like they deserved success and recognition for their stellar behavior.

[Well, it’s a week later and I’m just wrapping this up and finally posting it. I’ll do a separate post with the more personal application.]

*One of Keller’s excellent reminders is the original meaning of the word ‘prodigal,’ referring to extravagance (see verse 13). The way I typically think of this word (as a person who got off track) is because of this story—it’s changed the use of the word. Thus Keller’s title, The Prodigal [Extravagant] God.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Joy Doesn't Come from Smooth Sailing

I’m in a weekly study of joy, just going through the Bible looking at each mention of the word and studying/reflecting on the context of the rest of the chapter. I’ve definitely been enjoying this time with a couple other ladies from my church!

This past Saturday we looked into Psalm 105. The mention of joy is near the end of the chapter, but the verses before definitely lead up to it. So here are my reflective notes on Psalm 105….

105:1-6 – The call/application: To be in relationship with God! Speaking to Him and speaking about Him to others. Seeking Him out, and remembering His marvelous works. And thus the rest of the Psalm!

105:7-12 – God’s character, specifically focused on the promise He made and His commitment to keeping it.

105:13-15 – Historical overview: God’s protective hand over His people—not allowing the kings of the nations to harm them.

105:16-22 – Joseph—tested by the LORD until the time was right for him to take charge.

105:23-25 – Israel’s time in Egypt—numbers increased, but so did hatred of them.

105:26-36 – The plagues sent against Egypt, to compel them to let God’s people go.

105:37-41 – God’s provision for His people during the Exodus—booty, a cloud/fire protection, food, and water.

Why all of this? Verse 42 points back to verse 8—God had made a promise to Abraham, and He remembered it!

105:43 – Thus “He brought out His people with joy, His chosen ones with gladness.” It took centuries of time and apparent setbacks before the right time came for God’s plan and purposes to be fulfilled. Joseph didn’t feel joy when he was sold into slavery, but that was a step in the joyful Exodus. Four hundred years of Israelite slaves didn’t experience the joy of release—but their descendants did.

105:44-45 – God did all that so His people would receive the land of the Gentiles and keep His law there [which they did NOT do very well!].

This chapter was a good reminder for me this week. Tomorrow marks a year since I left Uganda, and that anniversary could get me stuck in grieving what I miss and what I lost last year. But this chapter is a reminder to me that God doesn’t just work joyful things through the good times. No, He is working out His plan in ALL things, no matter how hard/bad they look or feel to us at the time.

I find it interesting that, unlike a sermon, this Psalmist started off with the application. Verse 1-6 are full of commands: to sing, to glory in His name, to remember His wondrous works. And yes, sometimes that includes remembering the hard times, as this Psalm does—but to do so with eyes focused on the ways that God fulfills His promises and redeems the suffering into joy!!!

So that’s my goal for tomorrow and this week: to remember His faithfulness and the joy that He works out through the suffering and the scars.

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Fruit of Suffering

A friend and I hung out for several hours on Wednesday afternoon. It was a fun time, but we also talked some about heart-level things. One of the verses she reminded me of was the one about Christ's promise to follow suffering with restoration.

Yesterday and today, I have been wrestling with my emotions yet again. I'm still not sleeping the best, waking up around 3 each morning and unable to fall back asleep. After two weeks of this, it is beginning to take a toll emotionally. And yesterday, a praying, supportive, encouraging friend from church finished her earthly race. She was ready to go, but I am still grieving our loss--which of course is heaven's gain!

All that to say, I needed this passage this morning. And I wanted to share it in case it encourages anyone else too.

1 Peter 5:5-11 - Submit to God, Resist the Devil

5:5 The calling for each of us is to humbly submit to one another. The motivation is that God gives grace to the humble!

5:6-7 So we should humble ourselves under God's hand & cast all our cares on Him--that He may exalt us at the proper time.

5:8 A strong warning: we most definitely do have an adversary, who is out to get us & devour us. So we must be sober (self-controlled) & vigilant (watchful), looking out for his traps.

5:9 Resist him!!! How? By FAITH! Knowing that I am not alone in experiencing the sufferings of brothers and sisters throughout the world face the same.

5:10 The God of all grace is the answer! He called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus! Yes, He allows us to suffer for a while. BUT, He promises to perfect (restore), establish (confirm), strengthen, and settle (establish) us.

5:11 Yes, Lord, to You be all glory and all dominion, forever and ever!

I wanted to look a little more at those four words of promise in verse 10, so I checked them out using the Strong's numbers on

perfect - #2675, which means to complete or prepare. It implies doing an action to something to "bring into its proper condition (whether for the first time, or after a lapse)." The same Greek word is the one used in Matthew 4:21, when James and John were mending their father's nets.

establish - #4741, which means to make fast. It implies buttressing, propping up, or supporting something. This is the Greek word used of Jesus in Luke 9:51 when He set His face towards Jerusalem.

strengthen - #4599, which basically just has the one meaning. But it also implies a strengthening that still allows for mobility "i.e. able to move in a way that achieves something in the most effective way." Interestingly, 1 Peter 5:10 is the only use of this Greek word!

settle - #2311, which means to lay the foundation of. Two other usages of the Greek word bear mentioning here: Matthew 7:25 (the house that did not fall because it was founded on the rock), and Ephesians 3:17 (Paul's prayer that the believers would be grounded in love).

These words are the promised fruit of our enduring the suffering of temptation by the enemy. Because no matter what I face from our adversary, God is greater, and--spoiler alert--He wins!!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Praising God, Even in Trials

The past week has brought yet another change, an unexpected turn. On Monday morning, facing what had rather suddenly become my last day to go into the Lahash office, Paraclete gave me a couple words that I knew must be a Bible verse—about God not letting our feet be moved. A quick concordance search later, I found it in Psalm 66:9. That branched out into a three-day study of the whole chapter. Here are my thoughts on it :)

66:1 “Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth!”

66:2 “Sing out the honor of His name; Make His praise glorious.” I need these reminders today!!! I do praise You, Abba, and I pray for the humility to praise You even in the midst of challenges.

66:3 God’s works are awesome, and even His enemies shall submit to Him!

66:4 All the earth—that is phenomenal really!!! That there would be global praise! The whole world can’t agree on anything else!

66:5 “Come and see the works of God; He is awesome in His doing toward the sons of men.” Amen, I know that is so true even though it doesn’t always feel good.

66:6 An example of God’s mighty deeds—not only once but twice turning water into dry land—worthy of praise!

66:7 God’s power rules, and He sees all the nations! So the rebellious should not exalt themselves!!!

66:8-9 “Oh bless our God, you peoples! And make the voice of His praise to be heard, Who keeps our soul among the living, and does not allow our feet to be moved.” Our call is to bless God and praise Him! He keeps our soul among the living (amen to that!!!) and does not allow our feet to be moved….or to slip! I do praise You, O Lord, for Your amazing graciousness to me!

66:10 But the reason seems counterintuitive….an abrupt turn: Because God has tested us and refined us! Which means being liquified by hot temperatures! Ouch, but I don’t like the truth of that verse!!

66:11-12a gets even worse. These do NOT sound like things to praise & bless God for—God bringing affliction on us??? Oh man! Going through fire & water, I can certainly understand that feeling. But praise & blessing is exactly what the Psalmist is calling us to!!! Oh help me, Lord, to have that heart of submission!

66:12b “But You brought us out to rich fulfillment.” BUT GOD!!!

66:13-15 Bringing offerings to God’s house, paying Him our vows (promised deeds). 

66:16-17 Please God, bring these verses to fulfillment in my heart & life!!!!

66:18 If [when] I regard iniquity, God won’t hear.

66:19 “But certainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer.” I praise You, O God, for this truth!

66:20 “Blessed be God, Who has not turned away my prayer, Nor His mercy from me!” So so so so very true!!!

Friday, January 4, 2019

A Short Study in Peace

Last night, I had a vague feeling trying to settle over my soul. The cloud of depression was trying to make a comeback after a week of doing really well mood-wise. This time, I was determined to fight it. I told God, “I don’t trust myself. But I do trust You. Please lead me & guide me in this fight.” And He has and I believe He will continue to do so!

Yesterday the verse He brought to mind was “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3, emphasis mine).

So this morning, still feeling a bit apprehensive, I decided to spend my quiet time looking at some verses about peace. {All italics are my own emphasis.}

Jesus’ comments about that in His valedictory address (John 13-17) immediately came to mind:

John 14:27 – “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Yes Lord, Yes! Please let Your peace rule in my heart!

John 16:33 – “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world”!!! We don’t have peace in ourselves or in our circumstances—we have peace in Christ. Amen!!! Jesus never promised an easy/comfortable life—He actually promised trouble. But He also promised peace.

Next I thought of a verse about peace passing understanding. I had to use a concordance to find it, as it wasn’t in Ephesians like I initially thought.

Philippians 4:6-7 – Don’t be anxious!! Make your requests known to God, by praying with thanksgiving. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” And then of course that is followed by vs. 8, all about meditating on the things that are true and noble!!! Verse 9 is the command to the Philippians to follow Paul’s example, and then the God of peace will be with them!

I then pulled out a little notebook taking note of some various key words and tracing them through Scripture. Under the Psalms section, I found a couple relevant ones:

Psalm 4:8 – “I will both lie down in peace and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” As someone who has struggled off and on with insomnia in the past year, sometimes severely, this verse is especially meaningful!

Psalm 55:18 – “He has redeemed my soul in peace from the battle that was against me, for there were many against me.” As I have before, I think You, O Lord, that my enemies are not and have not been the people around me. They care about me and want my best! But I believe that there are enemies in the spiritual realm who would love nothing more than to get me down and discouraged again. BUT GOD!!! You are Haggo'el, myRedeemer, and I praise You!

Coming full circle, I went back to the verse that had started me on this little journey:
Isaiah 26:3 – Please, Lord, strengthen again my trust in You in the coming days and weeks! As my pastor’s wife said at breakfast yesterday, please help me to send off my team with grace and joy. And help me to give You all the glory for that—for I know that in myself I cannot do that.

Peace is NOT the absence of trouble, but rather the fruit of trusting God in the midst of it.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Broken Cisterns or The Spring

Caveat: This is something I’m in the process of learning….I don’t really know yet what it looks like to practice applying it! So I write this not because I have all the answers, but because I’m on the journey of discovery.

Recently, I had a heart-to-heart talk with one of my sister-friends. As I was prayer-journaling for her afterwards, part of a verse about broken cisterns came to mind…and I saw how it possibly related to her situation, but how it definitely related to mine.

I didn’t look the verse up to read the whole thing right away. I should have!!!!

Instead, I started writing about the process of repairing a leaking cistern—something I experienced at my house in Kasana, Uganda earlier this year. How the muck from years of use has to be cleaned out. How pick axes have to hammer away at the old cement coating for hours and hours, causing brokenness before the resurfacing can be done. How even after the repair work is finished, the cement has to cure for a couple days before the pipes can be reconnected for the cistern to start refilling. And how God has to send the rain.

I thought it was a great analogy that I wanted to share with all of you.

But then, the next morning when insomnia awakened me before dawn, I pulled my Bible off the shelf and opened to the actual passage. I read the whole chapter, but one verse is where I focused:
“For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters,
And hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Jeremiah 2:13

The problem is TWO-fold. It’s not just that the people are trying to rely on broken cisterns that can’t hold water. It is ALSO that they forsook God’s spring as the source that they SHOULD be relying on!!!

And so the real call here isn’t to put in the work and effort to repair the broken cistern, like I had thought it was the night before.

The call is to return to HIM!!! See Jeremiah 3:1b:
“‘But you have played the harlot with many lovers;
Yet return to Me,’ says the Lord.”
As I wrote in my quiet time journal, “The call is to leave behind the cistern method [completely] and tap into a spring!!!”

Paraclete reminded me of a couple passages from John where Jesus talked about a similar idea.

John 4:10 & 14 for one, of course! Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that He could give her living water, springing up into everlasting life.

And then John 7:37-39: The call for thirsty people to come to Jesus, that He would make their hearts flow with rivers of living water. Not the often nasty water from cisterns that isn’t safe to drink or cook with, because frogs and snakes and who knows what else have lived and died in it.

As I wrote, “The new covenant ain’t about repairing our broken cisterns!!! It’s about changing our water source completely. And John’s commentary on Jesus’ declaration is important: vs. 39—the promised river of living water is the Spirit of God—it’s a Person! Who indwells us and reminds and teaches us!!!”

That was all several days ago. What brought it back to mind and spurred me on to blog about it was last night at the church accountability group I’m part of. I can’t share about what was shared in the group, for confidentiality reasons. But as I was praying in the car on the drive home, Paraclete brought this concept back to mind.

Any time I am looking to counseling or therapy or a book or medication or anything else physically external to fix me, I’m trying to resurface my broken cistern and missing the real point.

That’s been a growing realization ever since I joined this group back in September. I’m not saying that ANY of those things I listed above are categorically bad. I am taking part in all of them, as I seek continued mental health/healing. BUT! If my faith is in any one of those things, or even in all of them collectively, that is misplaced faith.

I believe that every one of those things can be powerful and needed tools, like tools for gold working or surgical instruments. But it is GOD who is the great Craftsman/Surgeon—it is HE who must be the force behind doing the refining/healing work. And I must actively choose to surrender to Him and to yield myself to the process—and yet also to take part and be involved in it. God must do the work, but I must choose to practice applying what I’m learning.

Praying in the car last night, I just thanked Jesus for His amazing patience with me. Because I am such a slow learner!

Honestly, I’m not entirely sure where relationships with other believers falls. I guess that it IS still a “mere” tool—but I think it is part of a trifecta of the most powerful tools: Bible reading/study/meditation, intentional/conversational prayer, and Spirit-led conversations with believers.

Because on Saturday, when I had spent the whole morning home alone, spiraling down into a depressed state faster than a coin in the final stage of a coin tornado, it wasn’t prayer or Bible reading that pulled me out of it. {I was trying to try those things, and they weren’t stopping the mental circles of self-talk.} It was my host mom coming home, seeing my distress, grabbing me in a hug, and praying for me. It was Lahash’s director and his wife coming over and spending a couple hours listening to me share my struggle and praying for me. It was talking to my accountability partner on the phone, sharing with her and listening to her share with me. It was talking to my parents, also on the phone, and sharing with them too.

Well….I didn’t know my blog post about cisterns vs. The Spring was going to include those last two paragraphs too! But there they are :)

And honestly I’m out of words now. Except for this: Please join me in praying for myself—and maybe for yourself too—that God will teach me how to put this idea of changing the water source I rely on into practice. And that I will do that hard work!!! Because it’s ME, making those moment-by-moment decisions, that can change my life. OF COURSE, I cannot do that in my own strength. It has to be Paraclete motivating and enabling me—just as John said in 7:39, it is HE (the Spirit) who is the river of living water!

So here’s to practicing living out the tension/balance of Philippians 2:12-13:
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”

May it ever be true of us.