Keep Calm and…

IMG_8116Just days after I read Tish Warren’s chapter on lost keys and began composing last week’s blog offering, I lost, not my keys, but my driver’s license, credit card and insurance card. They were all wrapped up in a $20 bill and tucked into the back pocket of my jeans so that I could stroll purse-free through the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the peak of the season.

Steve and I waited in a long entrance line, then chose a quiet trail. It was nothing short of idyllic. We stopped at benches and swings along the way and even nestled into a particularly vibrant patch of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes to take a few selfies. My husband/photographer had us up and down a couple of times, making sure we caught the perfect pose.

Once we returned home and headed back to our responsibilities, I started moving in my typically too-fast manner to catch up from our indulgent morning. Ten minutes later I reached into my pocket to retrieve those very important bits of plastic and my $20 bill. Nothing. Certain I had simply returned them to my wallet on auto-pilot, I took a look. Nothing. Car? Nothing. Wildflower Center? (Oh, my, so many spots where my pocket could have spilled!) 

As the tension so fully banished by a walk in the park slowly threatened my peace, I remembered Tish Warren’s warnings and exhortations. Thanks to that timely read, I turned to prayer and refused the panic. After all, my time and money belong to the Lord. Do I really believe that? If so, any loss of either belongs to him as well. And so, after more searching and a call to the kind folks at the Wildflower Center (who found nothing), I interrupted Steve’s work. He prayed with me, and we began to look together. Then, there they were, IN THE TRASH. In my haste, I had taken the bundle out of my pocket before we ever made it from the car to the house. Then I’d picked up—in the same hand—the map and flier provided by the park and no longer needed. I tossed out the whole collection together.

Whatever made me look in the trash, I do not know. Well, actually, I do know. And the hallelujahs of the finding were almost—not quite—worth the discomfort of the search. But this I also know: trust, secured at least in part because Tish had reminded me of God’s sovereignty and the reality of NO NEED TO PANIC EVER, brought the calm that brought me to prayer that caused me to take a look in that recycle bin while my valuables were still on the top of the pile.

Keep Calm and… is a popular poster and tee shirt phrase these days. I’m not sure we have good reasons to keep calm without the Lord who loves us. But, with him, we have every possible reason. And that’s enough to think about for today.

 

 

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The Daily Grind

 

keys-525732_960_720 unsplash stevepbHave you ever experienced inexplicable peace in the midst of a crisis? Probably. Indeed, I hope you can say “yes.”

Next question: Have you ever experienced inordinate strife in the midst of a minor inconvenience? Even more probable. Like you, I have to answer, “Yes, many times.”

Tish Harrison Warren says this in her book Liturgy of the Ordinary.*

“The call to contentment is a call amidst the concrete circumstances I find myself in today.” A few lines later she writes, “I’d developed the habit of ignoring God in the midst of the daily grind.”

Those somewhat heady thoughts are offered within the tale of a typical morning in which the author awakened with joy, headed out with happy anticipation and then crumbled into frustrated despair when she couldn’t find her car keys. (Don’t judge. You know you’ve been there!)

She goes on to say that she maintained a more consistent peace when living for a short while in the tension and danger of a war-torn part of the world than she often does during a typical week in Average America. I can relate. Can you? Have you learned to abandon yourself to Almighty God when the stakes are clearly too high for you to manage, yet somehow forgotten who is in charge when life’s little irritants and inconveniences assail you? (Too often, perhaps, we still hold on to the silly notion that, in some smaller things, we are actually in control.)

I suspect our Enemy knows where to find our weak spots, sometimes better than we do. Fortunately for us, we are created by the same God who is also known as the Comforter. We can run to him even when we are brought down by something as petty as a lost set of keys. So run! Right away! Whenever anything brings us down, may it bring us all the way down to our knees, to a reminder that we serve the Mighty One. And then, may we rest content in the middle of the daily grind. (“Tune in” next week for a rubber-meets-the-road follow up, a tale of when I had to take my own advice!)

*Warren, Tish Harrison, and Andy Crouch. Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life. IVP Books, an Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2016, p. 55. And thanks, Madeline, for recommending this excellent book!

Photo by stevepb via Unsplash.com

 

I Forgot!

remember I forgot k-images via unsplash

I had a tough day. Not tough by global standards, mind you. I still had clean water and plenty to eat. Not even tough by normal standards. I wasn’t sick. My husband still loved me. My kids were doing well…But it was one of those days when the world overwhelmed me. A busy week had worn me out. I had a few hard issues to face, and business conflicts, and, by golly, my printer wouldn’t even work! By mid-afternoon, I was in bed weeping, then slept for a good long while. I had forgotten—

  • That, while it really is okay to cry, and to be sad on occasion, there’s an infinite Source of joy and support standing right beside me, available if I’ll just stop to notice.
  • That our troubles really belong to Him, and he’s able to handle them all the time.
  • That prayer truly does change things, within and without.
  • That sometimes all we need is rest, and quiet, and a moment to remember…

They say, whoever “they” are, that the best way to learn something is to teach it. In a way, I teach when I write. I have learned these lessons before, but on that difficult day, for a few painful hours, I forgot them. Perhaps you forget them now and then as well. So, here are a few reminders, for both of us, blogs I wrote long ago based on the words of writers I respect:

‘Hope you’ll take these reminders to heart, both today and on the next day that life threatens to overwhelm you. We serve a mighty God, and he can handle whatever comes our way. We may have pain or hardship or even just plain old irritation, but even then we can take a breath and let our spirits rest in him.

Where’s Our Focus? By Beth Smith

 

where's our focus magnify GraphicMama-team via pixabay

What occupies our thoughts? How much time do we spend looking back on the unpleasant things that have happened to us? We have a choice!

Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62 NIV). If a person who’s plowing a field keeps looking back instead of looking ahead, he’s sure to plow some awfully crooked rows. If we’ve accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior, but are forever looking backward into the past, we’re plowing crooked rows too.

When we focus on our pasts, our trials, our troubles and our pain, we often make them bigger and more important than they really are. We magnify them. How do we stop exaggerating our troubles? They’re real, but they don’t need to define us. Here’s how we change. We focus on Christ and his Word. This isn’t easily done, because neither the Devil nor our sinful selves tend to want us to live that way. We have a fight on our hands. But that battle has already been won for us through the sacrifice made by Christ on the cross, and he will help us.

Focusing requires us to concentrate our thoughts and efforts. When we focus on God and his Word, we’re seeking a clear, distinct picture of what God has done for us. We want—we need—to magnify all of the great things God has provided for us. For starters:

  • He loves us.
  • He died that we might live.
  • He has taken our sin and given us his righteousness.

Take a look at Psalm 34:1-3 (AMP). The questions in parenthesis are mine. Keep in mind that when David wrote this passage, King Saul was trying to catch and kill him.

I will bless the Lord (When?) at all times;

His praise will (How often?) continually be in my mouth.

My life makes its boast (In whom?) in the Lord;

Let the humble and the afflicted (Do what?) hear and be glad.

Oh magnify (Who?) the Lord with me and let us exalt His name together.”

We can’t let our thanksgiving be based on our feelings (which can change more quickly than the weather) or on our circumstances (which are never dependable). Once we learn to focus on God, there’s always a reason to give thanks. We can begin to look away from the things that bother us or bring us pain and turn instead to eternal things, the truths that will matter forever. So, where should we focus? What shall we magnify? Let me leave you with this verse.

“May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for your saving help always say, ‘The Lord is great!’” (Psalm 70:4 NIV).

Photo by GraphicMama-team via pixabay

Awkward Peace

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My pastor’s sermons nearly always leave me mulling over at least one sound bite, a short phrase that requires thought and provokes action. Here’s a recent quote of his:

“At some point, friends, we’ve got to be a little awkward,”

Doing the right thing can look a little goofy—and feel a little goofy—particularly when it comes to making peace and building relationships.

The deepest and best friendships can require an uncomfortable degree of transparency. On occasion, after I open up about my thoughts and prayers, or even just try to be funny, I spend hours wondering if the friend to whom I bared my soul thinks I’m, well, goofy. All that second-guessing is a waste of time! Worse yet, it tends to make me want to re-construct those little personal walls that can keep me from the true fellowship and friendship I need (and that the Bible tells us we’re never to forsake.) Furthermore, a little awkwardness on my part may make new friends and old feel more comfortable about opening their true and imperfect selves to me.

Then there’s that whole sticky area of peacekeeping. The Bible doesn’t seem to make allowances for awkwardness in that department at all.

  • We’re told to honor others above ourselves, so humble pie is okay with God.
  • We’re warned about grumbling against one another, so a healthy dose of tongue biting may be part of a godly lifestyle.
  • The gospel of peace is even part of the spiritual armor described in Ephesians 6, essential equipment as we stand against the devil’s wily ways.

The phrase “blessed are the peacemakers” conjures up an image of a smiling faces graciously parting two warring factions, like hall monitors at a schoolyard. That’s certainly one element of peacemaking, but there’s another, far less heroic, element to peacemaking. It’s a nitty gritty, personal challenge:

We are supposed to make as much peace as possible with everyone around us. And do we? Do I? Do you?

I hope you’ll stop right now and ask God to show you any peacelessness (not a word, but it ought to be) in your life. And then, by his grace and in his strength, go and make peace, even if you must eat humble pie or bite your tongue or endure awkwardness. Our Savior asks this of us, and that’s all we need to know.

Been there? Done that? I hope you’ll tell me your story here.

 

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Even If…

forest-1529055__480 fear pixa 7 9 18I used to struggle with fear. A month or so ago my sister challenged me to put into words the change God has wrought in me. It’s taken awhile for me to find a way to do that, but now I realize the heart of the matter comes from switching just one word for another.

What if?” has become “Even if!”

Recognition of all the hard things life can bring is now enveloped in the realization that I’ll never face any of those things without the surrounding love of our Lord. My fear of what might happen has been overcome by my assurance that, while most of the things my imagination drums up will never occur, even those that do will be managed by my King.

And I am not alone in this understanding.

  • Daniel 3:16-18 tells us, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’”
  • Esther 4:15-16 says, “Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: ‘Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.’”
  • And in Matthew 26: 39-42, you can read this about Jesus: “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will’…He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.’”

We’ve all been plagued by imaginary horrors, by the “What if?” that marches across the brain, pushing out peace. I hope you’ll take up the weapon of “Even if!” to join Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Esther, and our Lord in defeating the enemy in his fearful ploys, finding the peace that passes understanding once again!