Fishers of Men

Earlier this week, my husband and I went fishing. As we were enjoying our time on the lake, and catching a few fish, I was reminded of the old song I learned in Sunday School:
“I will make you “fishers of men”…if you follow me.” Jesus said these words to His early followers, who were fishermen by trade (see Matthew 4:19). But what does it mean to be a “fisher of men?”

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The primary meaning is that we have a commission– found in Matthew 28:19: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations..” We are to go and “catch” men and women, taking them out of the sinful lifestyles we see around us, and bringing them into the Kingdom of God, much as fishermen take fish out of a lake or sea and bring them into the boat. But what practical implications can we take from the practice of fishing, that might help us as we carry out our spiritual commission?

  • First we much go where the “fish” are, and actively work to catch them. I can go to the lake, dip my toes in the water, even get into a boat and go sailing, and never catch a fish. The fish will not jump into my boat, or jump out of the water into a net. I must make an effort. I can follow Christ, and go to church every Sunday, participate in many spiritual activities, even pray every day, but if I never interact with lost and hurting people I am unlikely to become a “fisher of men.”
  • Next, we must recognize that we won’t “catch” all the fish! I know some Christians who become discouraged and depressed if they go out for one day of “evangelizing” and don’t make converts. They give up after one negative or unsuccessful encounter. “I’m not an evangelist.” “I can’t share the gospel– I just don’t have what it takes…” Imagine if fishermen responded that way– “I cast out three times, and never got a fish– I give up!” This is especially discouraging because our Great Commission is not to “convert” everyone; not just to go out and “catch” men and women with a hook or a net, but to make disciples. It is a process, but it comes with risks and no guaranteed “return” on our investment. Some “fish” are not ready to be caught. Some are meant for other fishermen. This should not lead us to be apathetic about lost neighbors or relatives, but it should remind us that we are God’s witnesses, not His SWAT team. Even Jesus didn’t “convert” everyone He met! But He did love them!
  • Third, and closely related, we must expect resistance. It is not natural for most people to respond immediately to the Good News of the Gospel. After all, it involves admitting our need for salvation, and submitting to the will of God. Fish that are taken from the water will die! And we must “die” to our selves and our selfish nature if we are to become Disciples of Christ.
  • Finally (and this is a bit of a stretch of the analogy, but bear with me…), we must have the right bait. This is not to say that the Gospel is inadequate or insufficient for the task. Rather, that we are not meant to hit people over the head with only our words– even when they come from Scripture! We do not create disciples by offering a bare hook. People are hungry– hungry for answers; hungry for hope; hungry for peace; and hungry for love. The Gospel lives in US– WE need to offer more than just the words of the Gospel–we need to LIVE the Gospel! To offer only condemnation or smug arrogance makes a mockery of the very Gospel we are supposed to share. Likewise, we do not create disciples by offering a shiny but “fake” gospel of easy answers and “cheap” grace without truth or repentance. It may hook a few desperate or gullible people for a moment, but once again, it is not our mission to merely “hook” people.
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David and I enjoy fishing– we enjoy spending time in God’s beautiful nature; we enjoy the quiet and peace; and we enjoy the challenge of finding where the fish are “biting” on a particular morning. And I’m so glad that Jesus gave us such wonderful analogies and word-pictures to help us understand His love for us and His plan for spreading the Good News. Finally, I’m glad that I’ve been taken from the “lake” of sin and given new life by the great “Fisher of Men!” I pray that I can help others find and follow Christ, as well.

The Lifter of My Head…

Listen to the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

I’ve been reading in the Psalms lately, and one that has really spoken to me this week has been Psalm 3

Psalm 3 English Standard Version (ESV)

Save Me, O My God

A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.

Lord, how many are my foes!
    Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
    “There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah[a]

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
    my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the Lord,
    and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah

I lay down and slept;
    I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
    who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, O Lord!
    Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
    you break the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to the Lord;
    your blessing be on your people! Selah

Footnotes:
  1. Psalm 3:2 The meaning of the Hebrew word Selah, used frequently in the Psalms, is uncertain. It may be a musical or liturgical direction

Everyone has foes– no matter how hard we try to get along with everyone or do right by everyone.  And if those foes are people who should be or used to be close to you, it hurts deeper and more profoundly.  King David’s own son tried to take the throne and have him murdered.  David, who had slain Goliath, feigned madness to escape from his own father-in-law’s murderous plots, and united a kingdom, still fled in terror from his arrogant and foolish son.  Even when God rescued him from this foe, David wept and mourned for his rebellious son– to the point of discouraging the very men who had come to his aid!

But, as David did so well and so often, in the midst of his trouble, he turned first to the Lord who ruled his heart.  I love the names he gives God in this Psalm—You (Thou), O Lord are a Shield about me, My Glory, and the Lifter of My Head (v. 3– emphasis mine).

David’s God is powerful, majestic, awesome– but He is not distant or unfeeling.  Thou (used in the King James and other older English translations) is a term unfamiliar to many modern speakers of English, but it is the familiar form of the second person singular.  Many other languages still use this form.  It connotes an intimate relationship, such as a family member or beloved friend.  David knew his God better than he knew his own son.  He loved God whole-heartedly, devotedly, and without reservation.

Lord recognizes God’s position of authority and omnipotence.  As close as David was to God, he never lost the awe and wonder of God’s holiness, His majesty, His power, and His wisdom.  God raised David from shepherd boy to king.  David wasn’t perfect in his obedience, but he was quick repent of his failures, and quick to give God the credit for his successes.

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A Shield— God fights alongside David, protecting him, not patronizing him or removing him from the struggle.  God doesn’t remove us from our battles; but neither does He leave us alone and unprotected, waiting on the sidelines for us to be slaughtered.*  Yesterday, I felt clobbered by circumstances.  I felt crushed and battered emotionally, and I wanted a couch, far from the noise of battle.  But God knows that no one wins a battle from the couch; no one grows stronger, learns to persevere, builds character, or gains compassion from a couch.  God didn’t take me out of the battle, but He was (and continues to be) a shield, protecting me from the real arrows of the enemy– despair, rage, isolation, arrogance, self-destruction–I still feel the force of the blows, and sometimes, I get wounded, but I’m still in the fight, and He’s there with me.  *(One caveat– God is a shield to those who trust in Him.  He does not promise that we won’t be hurt, won’t fail sometimes, or won’t face death because of our faith.  However, He promises a comforter and counselor–the Holy Spirit.  There are many who lead so-called “charmed” lives– lives untouched by trials or spiritual battles…Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is the same thing as being “shielded”– shields are meant for battle– charms are meant to bring luck)

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My Glory— I get chills trying to wrap myself around that thought.  That God, the almighty, the all-glorious light of a million galaxies worth of stars, would notice me– let alone that He would number the hairs on my head, provide for my needs, heed my call for help, and fight alongside me–would create me in His image, so that I am an exact reflection of even the teeniest part of His Glory…that He invites me to know Him in all His Glory after all my failures, and broken promises, and shortcomings, and bad moods, and thoughtless words and actions, my bad hair days and dandruff days and runny nose days, and other inglorious ugliness that I cannot hide… But the best of all, I think is the last…

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The Lifter of My Head–What a picture of God’s compassion!  Think of picking up a newborn baby; how carefully we lift up and support that tiny head– how longingly we cup and shield that fragile face.  That’s our God!  Imagine on the battlefield, a soldier, wounded, parched, having his head lifted gently by a comrade who comes to tend to his wounds and share a drink of water.  Or the prodigal son, who cannot meet his father’s eyes, but finds his chin gently tilted to meet undeserved but merciful smile of his loving Dad.  God lifts our head so that we can see beyond the battle; beyond the pain; beyond the grief, and gaze at the Glory only He can share.

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If you don’t know this God–He is only a prayer away.  If you feel distant from God– call out and ask Him to lift up your head.  If you are struggling (as I have been lately), let this be a reminder to seek God by all His glorious names— He will reveal Himself to you for who He is as you call out to Him.

Prayer and Weight Loss

Recently, I found out that I have developed diabetes. One of the ways to lower my glucose count and mitigate the effects of diabetes is to lose weight– something I’ve been trying to do over many years with little success!

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Weight loss can be a tricky thing– the harder I try, the less I seem to lose. In fact, sometimes, I gain weight instead! Part of the process is not to think of it as weight loss, but as a change of attitude and lifestyle. It is easy to get fixated on numbers– calories, carbs, ounces, serving sizes, etc.. But numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. It’s not just what I eat, or the amount, but when, and how, and why. Am I skipping meals? Do I fry my vegetables in butter, or drown them in cream sauces? Do I eat because I am bored, or stressed? Do I exercise? Do I drink enough water?

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Prayer can be a tricky thing, as well. It shouldn’t be complicated or stressful, but I can add all kinds of expectations and structures to my prayer life that actually get in the way. I can stress about whether I am praying enough, or too little; whether I am forgetting to pray for someone, or if I’m praying selfishly for a certain situation; whether I am too distracted or tired; the list seems endless.

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One of the biggest barriers to prayer comes when we carry the extra “weight” of subtle sins like guilt, fear, doubt, or pride. And just like physical weight loss, the harder we try to deal with it using our own willpower and our own wisdom, the less likely we are to “lose” it. The only way to lose this kind of weight is to confess it– asking God to take it and replace it with a new way of thinking and a new attitude. Instead of focusing on what I need to lose, I need to start focusing on what I will GAIN as I change my eating habits.

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My current weight-loss goal is to lose between 15-20 lbs. over the next three months (in time for summer). But my REAL goal is to change my way of cooking and eating, such that I am living a healthier lifestyle going forward. My current prayer goal is to spend more time in prayer (an hour each day). But my REAL goal is to develop prayer habits that further my relationship with God– to continue to draw closer to Him. It’s worth losing old habits and attitudes to gain so much more!

In My Heart There Rings a Melody

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As I write this, the sun is shining and glinting off new-fallen snow. It’s been a mostly pleasant day, and I’m writing this in anticipation of a pleasant weekend. This will post on Monday morning– a brand new week, hopefully filled with new opportunities and adventures. Of course, not every day is like this. Some days are dreary, full of stress and anxiety, and filled with challenges and even tragedies. But I have been thinking about a song I learned in childhood, one that has blessed me over the years and helped me on many a dreary day, as well as on days like today.

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“I have a song that Jesus gave me,
It was sent from heav’n above;
There never was a sweeter melody,
‘Tis a melody of love.

I love the Christ who died on Calv’ry,
For He washed my sins away;
He put within my heart a melody,
And I know it’s there to stay.

In my heart there rings a melody,
There rings a melody with heaven’s harmony;
In my heart there rings a melody,
There rings a melody of love.

‘Twill be my endless theme in glory,
With the angels I will sing;
‘Twill be a song with glorious harmony,
When the courts of heaven ring.

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On days like today, it is easy to sing a happy tune– sunlight, shimmering snow and icicles, viewed from my nice cozy perch by the window–but the joyful song that Jesus brings rings through good days and bad; sorrow and stress; triumphs and failures. It is eternal and filled with the limitless Love of God. It is a song of peace that passes all understanding, and a confidence that sees beyond circumstances.

Sometimes, when life seems devoid of light and peace, it has less to do with our actual circumstances, and more to do with our unwillingness to look up from them. Throughout the Old Testament (and even in the New Testament) people would create songs as part of their worship–some songs celebrated God’s provision and protection; others spoke of His character and His faithfulness. But these songs weren’t just for celebration and services of worship– they were used to remind us in good times and bad, that God’s love never changes. The same God who brings victory and miracles will be with us in times of despair. The same God who sees us in our most desperate hour of need is there with us when we are enjoying a beautiful sunset.

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Today, I pray that we would take a few moments, find a song or a Psalm, and just sing a prayer to our maker. It doesn’t have to be a peppy song of praise– it may even be a song of yearning or anguish– but let it be a song that rises above our day and finds the ear of the One who loves us better than anyone else. It doesn’t matter if you can’t carry a tune; God listens to the heart! Sing the song that Jesus gives to you today. Your heart will be blessed. And it will bless the very heart of your Maker, as well.

The Measure of Success

My senior year of high school, I was voted “Most Likely to Succeed.” I’m not sure what that meant to most of my classmates, but it was both an honor and a burden to carry. While I was honored by my classmates’ faith in my ability to become some sort of “success,” I was also daunted by the mantle I felt I had to bear. Would I become famous? Wealthy? Important in public affairs or business? My immediate and modest goal was to become a teacher. But I had visions of becoming a well-known author. I also dreamed of becoming a wife and mother; of having a loving, happy family, and a nice home.

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God’s plans are not our plans. God has placed many opportunities in my path– opportunities to serve myself and “get ahead,” and opportunities to serve others. I can say from experience that serving others brings more satisfaction in the long run, but it doesn’t feel like “success” as defined by most of our society. I’ve never achieved what most would consider “success.”

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Some days, I feel wistful and even a bit resentful about some of life’s circumstances– children I was never able to have, or jobs I might have pursued with more ambition. But then, I think of all I might have missed– friendships, victories over certain struggles, lessons learned. My life isn’t finished– God may yet give me the opportunity to do “great things.” But already, He has given me the privilege of doing small things for Him over the course of many years. And it is more than enough.

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One of the greatest measures of true success is to look at the life of Christ. After all, His life, death, and resurrection changed the entire course of history! Time is measured by His arrival on this planet– everything happened either before or after His birth. Billions of people have called themselves “Christians” after Him, and lived their lives in His service. But what did He actually accomplish in human terms? He was not a ruler or political powerhouse. He never owned a house, let alone villas and mansions. He never wrote a book (even though thousands of books have been written about Him). He didn’t invent anything, or found a corporation, or make a monumental scientific discovery. He never led an army. He healed several people, but He didn’t cure cancer or wipe out leprosy, or put an end to blindness. He didn’t rid the world of poverty, hatred, greed, or injustice. At the time of His death, He owned only the clothes on His back– and they were taken from Him! His friends deserted Him as hundreds shouted for Him to be crucified. He was nailed to a cross between two nameless malefactors, and died. He was placed in a borrowed grave. People who had expected great things of this Messiah ended up turning on Him and thinking Him a failure and a blasphemer.

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Jesus did not pursue worldly success. He told parables. He dined with sinners and saints alike. He laughed. He cried. He prayed. Jesus served others, and yet He challenged authorities. He drew crowds, and performed miracles, but He died alone. Jesus did not come to show us how to “get ahead.” He came to show us how to live more abundantly, not more successfully. (See John 10:10)

 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

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God can use our worldly success, if we achieve any. But He delights in our humble prayers, our small acts of service, and our obedience. Jesus lived a humble life. He could have done anything He wanted, fulfilled the loftiest of ambitions, and crowned Himself King of the universe. But His success came from the unlikeliest of lives, and the most humiliating death. He lived the perfect and abundant life He offers us.

I don’t live a perfectly humble life. I chafe at my own weakness, sometimes. Yet it is when I stop chasing “success” and perfection that I find it –in Christ.

My prayer today is that someone reading this will be encouraged. If life feels like a series of missed opportunities to find success and fulfillment; if you feel like your life has let you down, and that God cannot use you for some great purpose– take heart! He loves to pour His love and holiness into broken vessels and exalt those who are humble and weary and “not enough.”

On the Occasion of a Whimper

Have you ever noticed in reading through the Bible how often God shows up, not on the occasion of fanfare and praise, but on the occasion of a whimper? When all hope seems lost, and a heart is so broken it can no longer call out– when words are useless and all that is left is a dull, exhausted moaning?

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God “inhabits the praise of His people” (Psalm 22:3), but He is also “close to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18). We work so hard to get close to the heart of God, but sometimes, we need to be broken to actually get there. We need to experience the God who finds us in our failures and rescues us from disasters– even those of our own making. God loves us enough to come to us in our brokenness– and He loves us too much to leave us there. God is not a “fairy godfather” who will magically make our circumstances comfortable and painless. But He is a true Father, who will provide comfort and strength to get back up and face the future with hope and courage.

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Long ago, a woman named Hagar was despondent. She was a slave who was told by her mistress to sleep with the master so he could have a son. Hagar got pregnant when her mistress couldn’t, and she became proud and disdainful toward her mistress. When she was punished for her arrogance, she ran away into the desert–a foolish and impulsive act, as she had nowhere to go and no one to support her or her unborn son. An angel found her by a spring of water and told her to return and submit to her mistress. Several years later, she and her son, Ishmael, were sent into the desert because of Ishmael’s contempt for his brother. Ishmael was near death, and his mother in despair. Not being able to watch her son die, she moved a short distance away and began to sob. But another angel came and showed Hagar a well of water. He reminded her that God had seen her the first time she ran to the desert, and He had heard her crying this time, too. Hagar was not a queen; she was not a warrior princess or the daughter of a noble. She was not righteous or innocent. She was a rebellious slave; the victim of a sinful scheme, but headstrong and rash. God did not stop her from running away; He did not give her victory over her mistress. But God rescued Hagar and Ishmael. And He blessed them both– on the occasion of a whimper. (See Genesis 16 and Genesis 21)

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Today, don’t be afraid to whimper. Don’t pretend that everything is under your control– it isn’t. But be willing to look and listen for the ways that God will show himself. It may be in the words of a stranger; it may be in the beauty of a sunset; it may even be that song on the radio, or a cool drink of water in the middle of a desert. God doesn’t always rescue us from sorrow and pain. Sometimes He rescues us through it.

Praying For the Past

I was thinking earlier this week about a past friendship– one that involved pain, abuse, and struggle. While we have moved on, and I hope we have both found peace and closure, there are still memories, both good and bad. The past has a way of popping up at odd moments, and sometimes, it pops up in pain.

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Prayer isn’t really about the past. What’s past is gone– but it can be redeemed. That is the Good News of the Bible. God is about redeeming our past, and transforming our present and future. When Jesus prayed, and when He taught His disciples to pray, He never mentioned the past. So what do we do with the past when it comes to prayer?

While I don’t have any complete or definitive answer to that, I do have a few thoughts:

  • Don’t wallow in the past. If Jesus has redeemed you, He has redeemed your past as well. Rejoice and be thankful for this incredible gift! We can’t erase the past, but we don’t have to keep living there.
  • Focus on the present, and give both your past and your future into His hands. It’s easy to say, and to write, but it takes time and effort and the work of the Holy Spirit to continue to do this. It’s a daily task!
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If you are still bothered by aspects of your past, ask for wisdom to do the following:

  • Pray for wisdom to learn from the past–both your mistakes, and situations you have had to face.
  • Pray for courage to face the past– to apologize, to make atonement, or to rebuild relationships where possible, and the courage to let go of situations you cannot “fix.”
  • Pray for those people and situations that were part of your past–acknowledge them, and lift them up before God’s Throne of Grace.
  • Pray for release from lingering feelings of guilt, and lingering temptations to return to past behaviors and/or toxic relationships.
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The past can be powerful in shaping our present and future. God knows this, but He wants to remind us that He is MORE powerful! That doesn’t mean that we will sail through the present, or that we won’t carry scars from our past. But those scars are not the whole of our story, any more than the grave is the end of it.

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:5 (NIV)

Of Broken Femurs, Hearts, and Toilets

The past two weeks have been just a bit chaotic for our families. My mother fell and broke her femur, near her hip–not the hip she broke over a year ago, but the other one! Less than twenty-four hours later, my mother-in-law fell–and broke her femur. Each mom ended up in a different hospital for surgery, and in a different rehabilitation facility, located nearly fifty miles apart. Last week, two members of our extended family died on the same day in the same city; their funerals were a day apart in two different parts of the city, but handled by the same funeral home. On the day of the first funeral, we found out that another member of the family died. That same night, our toilet broke. Water poured into our upstairs bathroom, soaking the floor, running into the next room, and dripping down to the floor below. In the middle of all this, I slipped on the ice, fell hard, and bruised my ribs.

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Where was God in all this? He was right there in every situation. God doesn’t disappear when the going gets tough– He is steady, sure, and faithful.

  • Neither of our moms suffered a concussion or any other major damage from their falls. They were able to get treatment and surgery, and they are receiving care and therapy. And, while this is something we might have taken for granted at one time, it is something for which we praise God, because it could have been much more tragic in both cases.
  • We live close enough to both moms that we have been able to help and visit (where we can because of continuing COVID restrictions). Though the facilities are fifty miles from each other, neither is fifty miles from our home. Also, both moms are able to receive phone calls, and we are able to receive updates from the staff at each place.
  • We have close families, and wonderful neighbors and friends– we are not alone in caring for our moms or grieving our loved ones, and there is a network of prayer, support and concern that staggers my imagination! I cannot imagine trying to navigate this without help– again, this is something we might take for granted, but God has been in the details long before any of this happened. Our families, friends, and neighbors represent dozens of church bodies from around the country and the world, as well as a significant group close to home– how marvelous that God allows us to work together as a body in every situation.
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  • Though we have lost three family members in rapid succession, all three were believers! All three left a legacy of faith, love, and hope. We mourn their loss, but we also celebrate their lives with joy and not regret.
  • David HATES plumbing, but he knew what to do to fix the toilet. The damage from the flooding was minimal, all of our towels are freshly laundered, and the toilet works again!
  • My fall could have resulted in ANOTHER broken femur– or a broken arm, concussion, etc.. While it hurts to sneeze or yawn or blow my nose, at least it doesn’t hurt to breathe, and I can move and go about my day, cautiously, but normally.

God allows difficult things to come into our lives– and I don’t have any definitive answer for WHY we have been experiencing so many trials all at once. But I can say this:

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  • Trials make us stop and look and question– and that can be a good thing. God is big enough, wise enough, and sovereign “enough” to handle our tears, our fears, our weakness, and our momentary doubts. In fact, it is in recognizing our limitations that we can focus more on God’s limitless grace and boundless love!
  • Trials bring us closer to each other. Our chaotic couple of weeks are just a drop in the bucket among all the other problems of the world, but so many wonderful people have called or sent messages of hope and encouragement over the past two weeks, my heart is bursting– not with the pain, but with joy and gratitude.
  • Trials teach us patience (see my post on “Be Careful What You Pray For.”) The toilet breaking was my low point this past week– even though it did not directly touch on our health or a loved one. But God sent friends and angels to remind me that this was a very minor problem– even among all the others– and that God was “flushing” away some unnecessary angst if I would just let it go!

There is nothing that takes God by surprise– nothing that causes Him to pause and wonder, “what happens next.” I can praise God in the hospital as I watch my mom cry in pain. I can praise God when my husband finds his mother “alive” (when he couldn’t be sure). I can praise God when I’m flat on my face on the ice, winded and sore. I can praise God when toilet water is soaking my socks. I can praise God when I hug cousins who have lost their parents to cancer or dementia, or age, knowing that God is with us every moment, in every tear, every hug, every shared memory, and every hope that our loved ones now experience what we will also know someday.

I’m ready for 2022 to calm down a little bit. But if it doesn’t, I’m also ready to be broken again– whether through broken legs, broken toilets, or broken hearts. God is in the business of repairing and restoring broken things and broken people. And no one does it better!

The Privilege of Prayer

Pursing prayer sometimes leads to taking prayer for granted. Prayer becomes a habit; a daily activity; even a task to check off the list. But prayer is so much more. Prayer is a lifeline; a divine mystery. I can’t explain how prayer “works.” But I know from experience that it transcends the words I speak and the emotions I feel as I pray. I’m not praying to “a higher power” or an abstract “spiritual being.” I pray to the One who created me, and the One who loves me more than I can even comprehend.

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More than that, I am praying to the One who oversees the universe, and all the inhabitants thereof. There is something powerful and mysterious about prayer. I was reminded of that just recently, when I asked for prayer for my mother, who fell and injured herself. She is 88 years old, and very frail. She is also beloved by many in her family and community. Within minutes of posting a very general request for prayer, several dozen people had responded– some with a simple message of “praying” or “sending prayers.” The next day, I was more specific, and again, dozens of people responded within minutes– “praying for your mother,” “prayers for healing,” etc.. Suddenly my prayers became more confident and hopeful. And I was reminded of all the prayers I lift up each day–those “daily prayers” that sometimes seem like little tasks. They are unique, personal, and important– not just to me, but to many others.

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I shared recently about praying for others’ requests. This is also a privilege. In a mysterious and divine way, when we pray for others we join in God’s work of bringing hope, healing, and love to others. I can pray for others (and they can pray for me) regardless of where I am, or what my situation may be. I cannot always DO something, or BE somewhere. I can always pray. And where I can act, prayer often sharpens and directs my actions to be more effective.

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If you’ve ever tried to help in the aftermath of a disaster (as a member of the general public and not an emergency worker or someone deployed to help), you know it can be frustrating. If you’ve ever been caught in a disaster zone, you know it can be frightening AND frustrating. People do their best to help and offer hope, but in times of chaos and lack of communication, people can be left behind and resources can be misdirected or spoiled before they can get to those who need them most. Prayer never gets misdirected. It never goes unanswered or forgotten; it is never a wasted effort. God is faithful. His ways may be difficult for us to understand, but they are not warped, doomed, or limited in any way.

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There is great comfort in that reality. Sometimes, we just need to be reminded of how powerful and necessary our prayers are. God loves to hear them. He loves to answer them. He loves to use them for His glory and our wholeness. What a privilege to carry EVERYTHING to God in prayer!

Peace on Earth?

I’ve been exploring some of the themes related to the Advent. But what happened afterwards? There is a curious and violent story related to the visit of the Wise Men– before they found Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus, they visited the palace of the ruling King of the Jews, Herod. Herod was intensely curious about the baby– when and where the prophets said Messiah should be born. But unlike the worshipful wise men, Herod wanted to destroy this heaven-sent King; one who could pose a threat to his own power and rule.

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Jesus escaped Herod’s plot. Joseph had been warned in a dream, and had taken Mary and Jesus to Egypt for safety. The Wise Men, also warned in a dream, had failed to report back to Herod the information he wanted. In his anger and fear, Herod ordered the slaughter of all the baby boys in the region, up to two years old. This “Slaughter of the Innocents,” as the event is known, seems to come in direct repudiation of the message of the angels at Christ’s birth. There was no peace in Bethlehem as soldiers dragged innocent babies from their mothers’ arms and killed them. There was wailing and anguish, instead.

How could a loving and wise God allow this to happen? It was no unforeseen accident, either. This event had been predicted by the prophets hundreds of years before it happened, just the same as the prophecies about Jesus’ birth. God could have sent angels to protect Jesus from this slaughter; He could have confounded Herod’s plans and stopped the soldiers from reaching Bethlehem; He could have struck Herod dead before the plot could be carried out…so why did He let it all happen?

I don’t have any definitive answers. But I can share some opinions, based on what I’ve learned of God’s character. I don’t think God was in any way indifferent to the suffering and injustice of this tragedy. But I think there are a few lessons we can take from this strange and disturbing incident:

  • First, Jesus came to share a very human fate. Jesus was not spared the indignity of being born in a cattle shed and laid in a manger. His life was not supernaturally easy or safe or comfortable. It was God’s perfect will that Jesus was vulnerable to attack, and in need of protection– even when it meant fleeing His home.
  • At the same time, He WAS fully God, and as such, posed a danger to men like Herod. Jesus, even from birth, had an authority greater than any king or emperor who ever lived. But He did not come to earth to exercise that power over other people. Instead, He came to serve and to pour out His life for others. It was not His mission to overthrow the existing government, or to challenge rulers like Herod. It was His mission to fulfill the Law, set an example of obedience, preach the Gospel, and offer Himself as atonement for Sin.
  • Herod had the earthly power to do good or evil as a ruler. He had the unique opportunity to join the Wise Men in worshiping the arrival of God’s chosen one– an event that had been anticipated for hundreds of years. Yes, God could have forced Herod to bow before the Newborn King, but Herod could also have chosen wisdom over fear. We have the same opportunity to welcome Jesus as our Savior– or to wage war against Him. Jesus invites us to follow Him, but He doesn’t stop us from making the same destructive choices that Herod made.
  • Jesus did not come to bring a worldly peace, but an eternal “Peace that passes understanding.” Even now, after His death and resurrection, there is still war and slaughter, crime and injustice in our world. But, because of all Jesus did, and is doing in and through those who follow Him, we see that tragedies can be redeemed; hope can survive where there seems to be no hope; and death is not the final victor. I don’t understand why these particular families had to face the tragic consequences of Herod’s rage and fear and ambition. But I understand that God is bigger than Herod; and more powerful than all the chaos and pain that he caused.
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The world is not at peace today. Innocent people– even babies–are hurt and killed in our world. God knows. He aches for our grief and pain. But He also knows His plans. He knows how the story ends– He knows all that has happened, and all that is happening, and all that will happen. Even in the glory of Christmas, He wants us to know that reality. Someday, Jesus will return in all of His authority and power. He won’t just end the reign of evil rulers like Herod– He will render their legacies useless. He will redeem injustices– even genocide and slaughter–and wipe out even the memory of their grief and terror.

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