If you saw the movie “The Sound of Music,” you might remember the sweet, romantic song Maria sang in the gazebo after the captain declared his love. She couldn’t believe something so wonderful could happen in her life, which is probably why she sang that at some point, she must have done something good to deserve it. If this is true of how God works in the world, the reverse must also be true: when bad things happen, it’s because we’ve done something equally bad.
Sadly, this is how many people perceive life and they think God metes out blessings and curses based on our behavior. Some even believe Jesus was crucified because God wanted to punish someone for the sins of humanity and Jesus was “it.” But God didn’t send Jesus to the cross to be punished and he doesn’t bless or curse us because of what we do or don’t do. If he did, we’d all be in bad shape.
In Matthew 5, Jesus told people to love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them because when they did this, they’d be true children of their Father in heaven. Then he told them in verse 46: “For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” He also blesses obedience but he’s certainly not capricious or arbitrary. When bad things happen, it’s either chance or bad choices. When we’re blessed, let’s just be grateful.
Trust is something we all learn about as we grow up. Playing cards provides a lesson that for many, is hard learned. I remember hearing the advice to trust everyone but cut the cards, meaning you can’t really trust anyone. When my dad worked as a carpenter for several years, he taught me the adage “measure twice, cut once.” I’ve never built anything, but I learned to sew and that’s when I learned I can’t even trust myself. Measuring twice didn’t ensure I could get it right.
Many people have trust issues with God too. We pray and he doesn’t deliver, so we decide he can’t be trusted. Bad things happen so we decide we can’t trust him to always be on our side. Not knowing God very well leads to mistrust; the more we know God, the more we trust him.
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I talk about Dallas Willard from time to time, citing his books and quoting his material. I’d like to share a resource with you that is based on his book, Life Without Lack. It’s a five day, online retreat called Trusting God, presented by Jan Johnson and Matt Rhodes – and it’s free. You don’t have to attend the live sessions; you can access them anytime. It starts next week and you can register here: https://trustinggodretreat.com/signup
Learning to trust God – and learning that we can trust God – is much more important than measuring twice and cutting once. It will make all the difference in how we live as Christians.
On my walk in the woods behind my house, I had to stop several times to admire the wildflowers on the path. I took a few photos too. I saw several varieties, some so small I had to bend down to even see them. I remembered what Dallas Willard said about flowers being tiny reminders of grace. His grace was scattered all over the woods!
The trees, ferns and flowers were also in abundance. I couldn’t help but thank and praise God for his generosity. After all, he didn’t have to create flowers, although they are part of the ecosystem. The beauty, colors and variety just seem like a big bonus.
Isn’t that like him? He’s a God of abundance and generosity. Let’s keep this in mind as we struggle with shortages, financial setbacks and inconveniences, whether minor or major. Paul reminds us in Philippians that he had learned to be content in all situations: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12-13, NIV).
I’m making an effort to notice every instance of God’s abundance every day, noting them in my journal and expressing my gratitude to our God of lavish generosity.
Like it or not, we’ve all been forced to slow down during the COVID crisis. Those who have been used to a fast pace of life might be having trouble with staying home instead of keeping a frantic, overloaded schedule. For me, since my chicks left the nest and my husband retired, a slower pace of life is the norm. I enjoy being home and living a quiet life.
One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 30:15 in the NLT: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength.” Resting and quietness come more easily to us introverts, but perhaps this time of forced rest will be an opportunity for everyone else to practice the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude as well.
Dallas Willard’s book, The Spirit of the Disciplines, is an excellent book explaining not just the disciplines, but the why of them. Jan Johnson, a student and mentee who actively carries on his work and ideas, has published Spiritual Disciplines Companion, Bible Studies and Practices to Transform Your Soul. I only recently acquired the book and naturally chose the section on Silence and Solitude as my starting point.
Our lives will probably go back to at least a semblance of what used to be normal, but for now, let’s take advantage of this time to return to God, rest in him, be quiet and trust, for that is indeed where we find our salvation.
Difficult times can bring out the worst or the best in people. We’ve seen both during the past few weeks. Neighbors are helping each other; businesses are changing gears to make needed medical items and people are pulling together in ways we haven’t seen much except in the aftermath of natural disasters.
One thing that is desperately needed is blood donations. Before the COVID-19 crisis, blood supplies were dangerously low and now they are even lower. At the time this post is published, I will be at a donor center, preparing to donate.
In August, I gave my 64th donation, which is eight gallons. I can, so I do. If you can, I urge you to do. All mobile drives have been canceled for now, but the donor centers are open and safe. If you’re healthy and meet the other requirements, make an appointment today and do some good for your community.
I’ve been reading a (pretty good) devotional about learning to get away from loving the law and moving toward loving God. But as usual with most devotionals, the author really blew it in the prayer at the end of one reading when he said he knew he could count on God to assist him in the above-mentioned transformation. Everything I know and have learned leads me to believe the transformation of my heart and soul is not something I can do, even with divine “assistance.”
Assistance? God is not a cosmic vending machine, a butler or valet, a lady’s maid or a personal assistant. Becoming a Christian, living like one and becoming like Christ – none of these are things we initiate or accomplish. Jesus does it all, from start to finish. He includes us in his life and gives us the opportunity to participate in everything he is and does.
Notice I didn’t say we can’t accomplish this on our own. That’s because there is no “on our own” when it comes to being a Christian. Everything we do is in Christ; everything we do is because of him, by him, in him, for him. He wills it, starts it, he works it out and finishes it. “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13, NLT).
I can assist him in my transformation by surrendering my will and desires to him, practicing his presence and the spiritual disciplines and keeping my eyes focused on him – all as he enables me, in his strength.
This is sure a difficult time to stay unfazed and judging by the lack of toilet paper in the stores, many people are quite fazed. I am holding on to my word and staying calm.
The author of Hebrews had some good advice about tough times: “Don’t be obsessed with getting more material things. Be relaxed with what you have. Since God assured us, ‘I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you,’ we can boldly quote, God is there, ready to help; I’m fearless no matter what. Who or what can get to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6, MSG).
We can remain unfazed because of the way Jesus our Savior has embraced us with his love. We can be fearless. We can be calm and hold on to Jesus, letting his faith, peace and joy carry us through, no matter what happens.
To paraphrase Romans 8:38-39, For I am convinced that neither falling stock markets nor novel viruses, neither lack of toilet paper on the shelves nor canceled church services, neither social distancing nor canceled events, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Resolutions made on New Year’s Eve or Day usually last for a few days to a few weeks, but when you have one word, it’s a year-long commitment. I have a notebook dedicated to my words. I add notes throughout the year, Bible verses that support it and prayers to help me keep on track. I stamp the words on the front in different colors with the year noted below.
I shared a couple of thoughts with you earlier this year about my word unfazed. The first was where I found it, in Romans 8. The second was a phrase from a Calvin sermon I use to remind me to shake off difficult circumstances: what of it? Jesus loves me. I discovered another verse to help me keep from being fazed: Psalm 91:4 in the NIV: “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”
Sometimes hiding under his wings and keeping warm under cover of his feathers is the only way to deal with painful things in life. Some might think that’s escapism, and maybe it is, but escaping to the loving arms of my Father is the only kind of escape that leads to life. It’s a path I intend to take often, until the ruts are a mile deep.
While making a transaction with a teller at a bank, I noticed the woman next to me dropped her cane. She didn’t seem to notice, so I picked it up and mentioned that it had fallen to the floor. She thanked me and we both continued with our business. As she turned to leave, she handed me a little note and thanked me again.
As I drove away, I thought about how she had prepared to show her appreciation to people who helped her. She took it a step further than anyone I’ve come across. I always say the words when someone helps me or does anything worthy of thanks, but I’ve never thought about having notes ready.
We all know gratitude is important – being thankful can benefit us in many ways and is also part of a healthy spiritual life. But showing gratitude to others, as this woman did, can brighten not only the receiver’s day, but ours as well. It’s a way of paying gratitude forward, especially if we include a blessing. I haven’t started carrying notes, but I plan to keep them handy and turn saying thank you into a little more than words.
When I arrived at college, I became aware of a concept called yellow pencils, meaning we were expected to conform to certain standards, even to look, act and talk alike. But one of the interesting things about humanity is each of us is different. That’s saying a lot as there are almost eight billion of us on this planet. Our fingerprints, voices, DNA – every one of us is unique. We students obviously weren’t the same and some even seemed to take delight in their non-conformity. God must appreciate our individuality as he designed us that way. His expectation has never been for us to be yellow pencils.
It stands to reason then, that he wouldn’t expect all Christians to be the same either. Perhaps, as a friend once said, Jesus shows a different aspect of himself in each of us. He is so complex and multi-faceted, he could let each of us reflect a unique part of him so when we are together and unified as a body, we collectively reflect Jesus.
We talk about celebrating our differences but sometimes we still hang onto the yellow pencil effect, I guess because it can feel safer. But we really do need to appreciate not just our uniqueness, but the unique reflections of Jesus in each other.