Faith Isn’t Stationary

I would sit on my mom’s lap and fidget with her cross necklace trying to turn down the volume of the booming voice in the sanctuary. The pastor of my early youth was a product of the Billy-Graham-tent-revival-altar-calling era. He used boldfaced words, exclamation points, and dramatic gestures to preach the word of God. It was mainly out of fear of burning forever in hell that I knelt between my parents on my 5-year-old, skinned-up knees and confessed my faith in God. Dodged that bullet, I thought.

After my scare into faith, I soaked in memory verses in Sunday school and pondered messages in youth group. Our evangelical church taught us to have our testimony at the ready … to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”. On graduation Sunday, I stood in front of the church along with my fellow graduates and was commissioned to “go and make disciples of all nations”. With a smile on my face and a Bible in my arms, I felt prepared. I had been given the tools – the words – to share my faith. Scripture was memorized. My testimony was written. A verbal explanation of the Gospel was mastered. 

However, I quickly learned that words are empty unless backed by deeds.

Some people have a way with verbal communication. They can engage strangers and somehow manage to segue from a light-hearted conversation about the day’s weather to a deep theological discussion on the Trinity. I have not found a way to do this, nor do I have any desire to do so. Another way suits me better.

His faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. – James 2:22

The book of James points to two people of the Old Testament whose faith and actions worked together. Abraham’s faith was made complete by what he did – being willing to sacrifice his own son. And Rahab was made right with God by her actions – hiding away two Jewish spies whose lives were in danger.  

Our very lives are our testimony. Hardly any words need to be spoken.

This was made apparent to me recently by a comment of a friend who saw a picture of me holding our medical foster child, Christ. She said, “I love how you carry around with you your beautiful testimony.” My eyes immediately began to well up with warm tears after I read her comment. I needed to hear those words on a day that wasn’t going all that great. Christ was not happy and not taking to his new prosthetic legs very kindly … the very reason he traveled to the States. I was hot and cranky. Yet, even in my failures, my faith was showing through my actions. And with that, God can work wonders. 

Though faith alone can make one perfect, faith is only perfected by action.

Maybe you too are carrying and gently caring for a child who needs to be fed and clothed and bathed and loved. God sees you in your house. Other parents see you at preschool, at doctor appointments, at the grocery store. Hear these words: Well done, good and faithful servant.

Maybe you are a reliable employee, showing integrity and perseverance in a difficult work environment. God notices. And so do your co-workers. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Maybe you donate your time to fight legal battles of the oppressed, weed the gardens of the disabled, ladle soup into the bowls of the hungry. Your work does not go unnoticed. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Maybe you are choosing light over dark, honesty over lies, justice over injustice, courage over fear. Your light shines bright. Well done, good and faithful servant. 

But now, my God, strengthen my hands. – Nehemiah 6:9

Faith is not stationary. As a body is dead without air, so is faith without action. Keep up the good work.

(Photo by Kyle Ellefson on Unsplash)

That’s Word, We Pray

My youngest daughter is away at camp this week, so I get lots of one-on-one time with my oldest daughter. I’m grateful. Yet, while my youngest daughter is more like me – introverted, liking quiet, slow moments – my oldest daughter is the opposite. She likes to go and do and talk every waking minute. And since her little sister isn’t home to field some of her words, I am the catcher of all of them.

And there are a lot.

I believe it was question 1,823 that she posed on Monday: Who were your good friends growing up? I started down a bit of a rabbit hole thinking about relationships of old and new. Elementary school playmates. Middle school frenemies. High school boyfriends. College roommates. Wedding attendants. And current friends. They have all changed over the years. It’s not that I don’t keep in contact with any of them (thank you, Facebook). And it’s not that I don’t still care deeply for them. It’s just that whole talking thing that gets me. Apparently, you need to talk to keep up relationships.

I went to a Christian college, so all things spiritual and Biblical were hot topics. One evening I passed by a group of girls on our dorm floor who were talking about prayer and its importance. I remember listening for a while then saying something like … Why should I pray? I mean, God already has in mind what He’s going to do. Any words that I say won’t change it.

A couple of horrified looks told me I had gone too far. You see, my level of spiritual maturity at the time was at a 1.0. While I still have a lifetime ahead of me of maturation, I have at least realized one should not equate prayer with a vending machine. Press B-13 for a job promotion. Press E-1 for cured cancer. Press A-3 for a husband … though I’m pretty sure some of the girls on my floor were pressing A-3 daily. I’ve learned that prayer is so much more than a request. It’s talking. Communicating. Building and maintaining a relationship.

Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays. – Soren Kierkegaard

Since “talking” is not my strong suit, I’ve struggled with prayer over the years. I believed that if I wasn’t on my knees, hands folded, using the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer – praise, commitment, petition, confession, deliverance – then it didn’t count as a prayer. And since the Bible says to pray continually, I felt I was failing continually, because who has time to be on their knees all day? It’s come to my attention it’s so much more than this. Yes, it’s a two-hour catching-up conversation over coffee, but it’s also a quick check-in text. It’s a long love letter or a sticky note blurb. It’s an awards ceremony or a quick fist bump. It can be many words or few. For me, my most intimate prayers come not from the words of my mouth but flow through the pen to the paper. He receives them all.

Never stop praying. – 1 Thessalonians 5:17

I hear some of you saying … But how do I speak to a Being that doesn’t “speak” back? You’re right, he doesn’t always speak back. Yet, often times he does. The Spirit guides your soul to peace upon sharing your worries. It guides you to wisdom upon asking questions. It always guides us to love in all matters. God will also speak to us by bringing to mind a passage of relevant scripture, through the words of a trusted friend, a good book, or the sermon of a pastor. He is faithful to interact with us when we move towards Him.

A study indicates that we replace half of our friends every 7 years. When I learned this, I texted a friend of mine telling her our time was up. We laughed and thought maybe we had a few more years in us. As I wandered around the rabbit hole on Monday talking to my daughter of friendships past and present, I realized how true this friendship-replacement assertion is. Certainly there can be fallouts, but other times a friend moves, or moves on. Differing life stages, interests, and activities can also pull friends apart. Isn’t it good to know in this ever-changing world that when we pray, there will always be a friend who listens?

For prayer is nothing else but being on terms of friendship with God. – St. Teresa of Avila

(Many thanks to the guy in the baggy pants for the title inspiration. “Pray” – MC Hammer. Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash)

Girl, Interrupted

I pride myself in efficiency and productivity. Multitasking is a game for me. Squats and calf-raises while putting on make-up. Listening to books while folding laundry. Catching up on emails at stop lights (don’t worry, not while in motion). My daily need-to-do list is long. My want-to-do list is even longer. Yet, most days I find a way to get it all done.

But at what expense?

Be wise in the way you act towards others; make the most of every opportunity. – Colossians 4:5

I’ve recently felt challenged to slow down. If I’m being honest, a large part of that challenge has come as a natural result of having a kid with no lower legs in the house. But however it was presented, I took it.

Upon checking out at the grocery store recently, I realized after about 5 minutes of waiting I had chosen the wrong lane. It was being run by a flustered new employee. But instead of jumping ship like I normally would have, I stayed and offered a smile and grace to her as I helped her find the produce numbers for my bananas and avocados.

While out weeding our yard last week, I pulled no more than about 7 weeds in an hour because I took time to chat with not 1, not 2, but 3 neighbors. Normally I’d have sunglasses on and headphones in, but not this time. As a result, I got to know a few people a little bit better.

When we recently had a subcontractor come to our house, rather than going about my own business while she did hers, I joined her and had a conversation. I learned that both her parents were currently in the hospital with stage 4 cancer. I was able to empathize and offer comfort.

God gives us all sorts of opportunities throughout a 24-hour period to be his hands and feet. But if we don’t slow down, we miss them. I’m learning to see that busyness can be a stumbling block rather than a badge of honor. Rather than equating productivity with my worth, I’m choosing to see others as worthy. Because seeing people is more important than seeing past them.

Prayer: Thank you for slowing me down. Help me to see others as you see them. Allow me to make the most of every opportunity. And if you wouldn’t mind, slow the growth of weeds in our yard.

The greatest gift you can give someone is your time, because when you give your time you are giving a portion of your life that you will never get back.

 

One. Two. Three.

You have until the count of three.

I said I’d never do it. I would train my kids to listen and obey the instant they were asked to put on their coats, or to leave the playground, or to stop throwing food across the table.

I was so naive.

My parents used this tactic. Yours probably did too. And if you are so blessed to be a parent yourself, you most likely have found yourself walking down that same path … even adding the fractions … 2 and a half … 2 and three-quarters. You know when you’ve gotten to 2 and 77/100, you’ve already lost, right?!?

One. Two. Three.

Three moments to choose whether or not to listen and trust your parent, your teacher, your coach, your guide. Three moments of uncertainty, not knowing whether it’s worth continuing on your own path, or believe in the guidance to another path. Three moments also to consider the consequences of your actions.

It’s not long. Three moments. Yet, I imagine to the disciples on this day nearly 2 thousand years ago, 3 moments seemed like an eternity.

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. – Matthew 12:40

Jesus warned them he would endure unimaginable pain and suffering. He told them about his impending torture and execution. He also made it clear that on the third day, he would rise again. Yet, the disciples struggled to understand how the prophecies would be fulfilled. They had heard what he said, but failed to fully grasp its significance. I can relate.

Every year on Good Friday, heaven starts to count to three. We are offered three moments to focus solely on Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Three moments to weigh the event’s significance on our lives. Three moments to decide whether to take God at his word … that his Son’s sacrifice paid the ultimate price for our lives.

Today, Heaven has started to count. God is patient. I’m sure he’ll even get into the fractions while counting. But it’s up to us to decide. Will you follow him when he gets to the count of three?

Prayer: Today, I solemnly remember your sacrifice and eagerly anticipate getting to the count of three.

Darkness fell, his friends scattered, hope seemed lost; but heaven just started counting to three. – Bob Goff

He’ll Leave the 99

 

Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? -Luke 15:4

He won’t stop searching for you. If that isn’t good news today, then I don’t know what is.

A couple of years ago in the middle of an assignment that I knew was from God, I grew weary with the difficulty and the length of the task. I was impatient, often times angry, and was dripping with self-pity at the inconvenience of it all. Of course, to add insult to injury, I was simultaneously ashamed at my negative thoughts and actions. I was in such a bad spot that I heaved some insults at God, turned my back, and ran as fast as I could in the opposite direction. I found a pretty good hiding spot for a bit, but it turns out … God is the best seeker when playing hide-and-seek.

There’s no shadow you won’t light up

Mountain you won’t climb up

Coming after me

There’s no wall you won’t kick down

Lie you won’t tear down

Coming after me*

And when he found me, there was no scolding, no punishment, no harsh words. Only love and acceptance. I didn’t deserve it. But none of us do. And that’s the beauty of his gift.

He is the God of second chances. And third chances. And 18,934 chances. Which is good news for me because I need a do-over on a daily basis. His merciful love never dries up. It’s created new every morning.

Prayer: Thank for rescuing me. Thank you that your love knows no bounds.

Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep! – Luke 15:6

*Lyrics from “Reckless Love“, written by Cory Asbury, Caleb Culver, and Ran Jackson

Keep It Simple

 

Don’t load yourself up with equipment. Keep it simple; you are the equipment. – Luke 9:3

I used to be a major packrat. A partially chewed pencil, a sparkly pebble, a tattered piece of ribbon – all treasures to be protected. My childhood room was constantly cluttered, and my mother’s irritation at my mess was ever-present.

The wish of my mom for me to have a child just like me has come true. My youngest daughter has followed in my footsteps. I recently cleaned out her backpack to find (among other things) a paper heart, 3 pennies, a broken hair band, a stick, a bouncy ball, a foam diamond, and someone else’s chapstick.

Compared to a good chunk of the world, we here in the United States have so freaking much … money, food, education, possessions, opportunities, choices, advantages, healthcare. And I for one am guilty of hoarding them as well as taking them all for granted.

God shone some light on my tendencies towards excess about 9 years ago when our family moved back from living overseas. We had stored approximately 1/3 of our possessions while we were away thinking that we’d certainly need them upon our return. When the moving truck with what we thought were our treasures arrived at our new house in the States, we had no idea what the truck contained. And if we could have, we would have told the driver to take its contents straight to the dump.

Instead, the movers unloaded all that stuff into our basement. I literally felt sick to my stomach. We had paid to store excess stuff we never used, needed, or even thought about for over 2 years. From that day forward, I have been more careful and mindful about stocking our closets and shelves … asking myself if the item to be purchased is a need or a want. And on the flip side, I have been more liberal in getting rid of excess.

When Jesus sent the disciples off on their mission to spread the good news and to heal every disease and illness, he told them to take very little with them.

Keep it simple, he said.

Good advice. I’m not quite a minimalist now, but I’ve been heading that direction after realizing the wisdom of these words.

If you’re feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or even guilty by the clutter in your house, join me this season of Lent for the 40 bags in 40 days decluttering challenge. Click on over to my Simplify page for the rules (or lack of them) and for some ideas.

Starting tomorrow, may your trash bins be fuller and your closets lighter.

Prayer: Thank you for your wisdom. Bring to light the areas in my life and closets in my house where excess rules.

Live simply, so that others may simply live. – Mother Teresa

Double, Double Toil and Trouble

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. – John 16:33

There you have it. Plain as day. You. Will. Have. Trouble. Why then are we so surprised by it? We think, that will never happen to me, right? I’m immune to the world’s troubles, aren’t I?

Wrong.

We are told to expect trouble. We are also told to take heart. To not lose hope. Our heart might be aching, our bones might be breaking, but our souls need not suffer. The Spirit who lives in us is greater than the spirit who lives in the world, for he has overcome it. Our external lives may be facing great difficulties, but our internal lives need not be for we have the Spirit of the living God dwelling within us.

For some optimistic people, this comes naturally. For those of us who aren’t optimistic, the task to remain hopeful in times of trouble can be challenging. One way I’ve learned to overcome is to fake it until you make it. I don’t always see the the end of the tunnel. I don’t always feel that God is near. Nonetheless, I force my eyes heavenward and vow to place one foot in front of the other until I can see Him and feel hopeful again.

Will you walk beside me in times of trouble? I promise to walk beside you.

Prayer: When I face snags, snafus, and set-backs, renew my spirit and give me strength to keep walking until I find a way out.

Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. – Nelson Mandela

(Title pilfered from William Shakespeare’s poem “Songs of the Witches” from Macbeth, Act IV, Scene I)