Greater Than Gold

Have you ever received a gift you didn’t like? Or maybe you hated it? Maybe you even returned it, exchanged it or re-gifted it. I know I have.

God is the Ultimate Gift Giver. Unfortunately, we don’t recognize the good gifts and a lot of times, we take them for granted. Some of them don’t feel like gifts at all.

Because some of God’s greatest gifts are disguised as trials.

James tells us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.     James 1:2-4 (NIV)

The Message Bible puts it this way: “consider it a sheer gift.”

And Peter had this to say:

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  I Peter 1:6-7 (NIV)

James and Peter agree that faith under pressure is for our good. The pain has a purpose. Trials make our faith deeper, purer, and stronger. Did you catch what Peter says of our faith? It’s worth more than gold, and like the fire refines the gold to make it pure, trials refine our faith. With a stronger and deeper faith we praise God and touch more people with His love. But we have to “let perseverance finish its work.”

When the trial seems never ending…

When the pain feels like it will swallow you…

When you can’t see how it will ever be better…

Don’t lose heart. Persevere. Stick with God and move forward. Some days that will be as basic as breathing and putting one foot in front of the other. Believe God’s promises even when you don’t feel full of faith. See it through my weary friend, see it through. God is faithful and He will never leave you.

This is a rewrite of a post I wrote five years ago. I wrote the original, The Gift, during one of the most painful seasons of my life. The pain was so cruel and deep I could hardly see beyond it.

But here I am……changed forever.

I’ve endured painful seasons since then and am living through trials now with a deeper faith. A stronger more pure faith. As He was then, God is holding me close and giving me the strength and courage to move forward. He’s revealing hidden places in my heart, healing me and always changing me. God is doing His work so that I will be mature and complete and I’m praising Him through it.

Thank you, Abba Father.
Thank you for the gifts that I would have never chosen.
Thank you for your relentless love.
Thank you.

 

The faith of good people is tried, that they themselves may have the comfort of it, God the glory of it, and others the benefit of it.        Matthew Henry

 

This is a Monday School post. For more info about Monday School, click here.

 

Photo by Nynne Schrøder on Unsplash

 

The Same Old Thing

Paul wrote his letters with lots of love and passion. His letter to the church in Galatia is no exception but it’s especially harsh. False teachers convinced the Galatians they had to be circumcised, which was an outward ceremony of the Mosaic law. Paul chastised the Galatians for their foolishness because they turned away from the Gospel of Christ.

“You people in Galatia were told very clearly about the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. But you were foolish; you let someone trick you.  Tell me this one thing: How did you receive the Holy Spirit? Did you receive the Spirit by following the law? No, you received the Spirit because you heard the Good News and believed it.  You began your life in Christ by the Spirit. Now are you trying to make it complete by your own power? That is foolish. Were all your experiences wasted? I hope not!  Does God give you the Spirit and work miracles among you because you follow the law?  No, he does these things because you heard the Good News and believed it.”   Galatians 3:1-5 NCV

Paul was astonished. I’m guessing he was heartbroken too.

The Galatians did what we tend to do. We add works to our faith to keep God’s favor. We may begin by trusting Jesus then we add rule-keeping to the mix and eventually we’re just like the white washed tombs Jesus called out in Matthew 23. Outwardly we appear righteous, but inwardly we’re full of hypocrisy and lawlessness and pride because we’re convinced we’re doing all the right things.

It’s called legalism. And it’s dangerous.

Legalism is the belief that we can earn or keep God’s favor by what we do. Legalism demotes Jesus, promotes performance, and keeps us focused on ourselves.

Before we assume our modern day and contemporary churches are immune to this, let’s think again. We may have eliminated the dos and don’ts we or our parents grew up with, but we’ve replaced them with others.

The long list of things we do or don’t do to gain God’s favor and unfortunately, man’s favor. The requirements of a man made system created to force and measure spiritual growth. The kind of work that has nothing to do with following Jesus and making disciples but is really a self-designed salvation.

If we are in Christ, we have his favor, forever! There’s nothing we can ever do to add to what Jesus did on the cross. Nothing.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,     Ephesians 2:8

Our checklists don’t require faith, but salvation does. Transformation does. Learning to love God wholeheartedly and love others the way He wants us to does. The kind of work James wrote about in chapter two of his letter does. Those works are fueled by faith in Jesus and a hope anchored to God’s promises.

And so we pursue Jesus and seek to know him better and better. Not to earn God’s favor, but because we live in His favor. Because we know He’s our All in All. We believe Him and we’re overwhelmed by the grace He shows us every day. We know apart from Jesus we can do nothing. He gives us our very breath and sees into the deepest part of our hearts.

Paul ended the letter to the Galatians in a dramatic way. He took the pen into his own hand and wrote with large letters to make his point.

I’ll do the same but not with a pen:  IF YOU’RE IN CHRIST, YOU ARE FAVORED FOREVER.

Now get to know him. You can start with the Gospels. For more about what I wrote in this post read Galatians, Colossians, and James.

If you have questions or comments, I’d be happy to hear from you.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

 

Beauty Break

I’m using our Monday School time to introduce a new feature on my blog called Beauty Break. It was inspired by one of my favorite authors, Karen Swallow Prior.

Beauty is to the spirit what food is to the flesh.     Frederick Buechner

Mostly we live in a routine, which is good and necessary. But routines can turn into a mindless going through the motions. If we aren’t careful, we forget to notice the beauty around us.

A Beauty Break is a spontaneous reminder to pay attention, a chance to stop and observe when something catches our eye. To look and see and wonder, then praise the Maker of beauty and the Giver of gifts.

Even a fleeting glimpse of beauty offers joy. Like when a delighted 4 year old points to a tree in the park and squeals “Look!” as a squirrel scampers to the top.

For a moment we can enjoy the intricate design of a seed, a burst of color in a sunset, a towering granite formation, or the creative expression of an artist. Maybe Beauty Breaks will help us learn to be still and pay attention.


I noticed this sweetgum ball in the middle of the trail where I walked last week because it was green and extra spiky. I picked it up and walked around the park several times as I rolled it around in my hand, switched it to the other hand, rolled it around, and switched again. I liked the way it felt in my hands, but I’ve stepped on plenty of sweetgum balls in my time and I’ve never once liked the way they felt to my bare feet. This one would have caused an extra bit of discomfort.

There are hundreds of tiny seeds inside a sweetgum ball. Scientists discovered not too long ago that the aborted seeds contain shikimic acid, which is used to make Tamiflu. No need for them to gather the pointy ornaments though. They found a way to make it in a lab.

Thousands of them will fall in the coming months wreaking havoc on small feet and annoying the meticulous yard owner.

We’ll just have to watch our steps.

 

Really Lord?

I’m glad this exchange is recorded in Genesis for us.

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.

“There, in the tent,” he said.

10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

           Genesis 18:9-14

The “they” who asked Abraham the whereabouts of his wife are the Lord and two angels. Abraham stood near his heavenly guests as they ate while Sarah listened to the conversation from the tent.

One of them reminded Abraham of the promise God made. The promise of a child….born to Abraham and Sarah. When Sarah overheard this, without knowing anyone could hear, she responded with a laugh and a bite of sarcasm.

I mean, Sarah had a point. She was 89 or so years old, way beyond the age to have babies. It was impossible.

Abraham laughed, too, when he first heard the promise (Genesis 17:17). But God didn’t respond to Abraham’s laughter the way He did to Sarah’s. I wonder why?

I think Sarah was scared to hope in the promise. Her barrenness made her bitter and she was resentful about the mess she made with Hagar (Genesis 16). I imagine when she overheard the promise of a child her heart fluttered. She remembered her longing and the uncountable prayers. Then she remembered the disappointment and pain. So she laughed it off.

Thankfully, God sees past all our pretense. He knows when we’re acting stronger than we are. He sees beneath the fake smiles and forced laughter, and He hears what’s beneath the sarcastic remarks.

God knew exactly what Sarah needed. The Lord asked Abraham why Sarah laughed then asked another question He knew Sarah would hear.

Is anything too hard for the Lord?

There have been lots of things I thought impossible. My marriage. This house. Our work. My heart.

I face impossible situations now. So impossible that I can’t see the possibilities any more.

But then I remember….

Marie, is anything too hard for the Lord?

 

Photo by Lionello DelPiccolo on Unsplash

Waiting is the Hardest Part

I was in the Great Smoky Mountains over the weekend on a new trail with a different landscape and its own kind of challenges. The promise of a spectacular view and an abundance of wild blueberries filled me with anticipation as we made our way to the top. The narrow, rocky parts of the climb almost wore me out sooner than I needed to be worn out. I felt like a kid on a long car ride to the beach. Are we there yet?

When we reached a trail intersection that informed us we were six-tenths of a mile away from the view and the blueberries, I was encouraged. img_6870

No big deal, I thought. This is fine. We’ll be there in no time.

Six-tenths of a mile never seemed as long.

We are always waiting for something. Waiting in line. Waiting to speak to customer service. Waiting to finish a project.

Sometimes the waiting is exciting. Other times it’s painful.

Waiting for the right one to marry or for the marriage to be what we thought it would be. Waiting to lose the weight. Waiting for a relationship to be restored. Waiting for the perfect job or the dream to come true or a promise to be kept. Waiting for the cravings for the alcohol or the pills or the entire box of doughnuts to stop.

Waiting for a child. Waiting to forget the regrets of the past and the day you can look in the mirror and like the person you see. Waiting for the sadness to go away. Waiting for God to come through.

That kind of waiting can be so hard that one more day of it seems unbearable. It feels impossible to keep going.

img_6871It’s that kind of waiting that God will use to change us. When it all feels like too much and it’s taking too long and it’s just too hard.

He’ll open our eyes. Or reveal Himself to us in a new way. God works while we wait. He may not change our circumstances.

He’ll do something even greater. He’ll change our hearts and minds. He’ll make us more compassionate and less judgmental. Give us greater faith and softer hearts.

In the waiting, we learn to fix our eyes on Jesus. We learn that He is with us and takes care of us. We aren’t diminished in the waiting. We grow in it because we work through it. We are made stronger and more patient in the waiting. And we see more clearly because of it. Best of all, we learn to love better because of the waiting.

God is greater than the pain of waiting. Great things will happen.

Just wait and see.

I truly believe I will live to see the Lord’s goodness. Wait for the Lord’s help. Be strong and brave, and wait for the Lord’s help.    Psalm 27:13-14

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Choosing Surrender Instead of Success

This is the guest post I promised by author Carrye Burr. Her new book is How to Be a Moon: Embrace Your Worth. Reflect God. Light Up Your Generation. You can read my book review here and purchase the book on Amazon here.


What can the moon teach us about success?

The world refers to success as one’s arrival at status, wealth, power, or prestige.  It measures success by accolades, accomplishments, ability and authority.

When we feel like shrugging off the larger culture’s definition, we declare that success should be defined by the individual: “What does success mean to you?”  We decide for ourselves what would make us feel satisfied, significant, or sufficient.

The world might say that I’ve truly become successful as a writer if I end up on the New York Times Bestseller List, but a personal goal might be selling 1,000 books.  As a mother, the world may suggest I’m successful if I produce honor roll kids that don’t throw tantrums in public, but a personal success marker might be to find a healthy meal that all of my kids will eat.

Ultimately, success is a vague bar to measure the value of my life and endeavors.  The bar is always changing, and I find myself striving and never quite arriving at ultimate worth.  Maybe you’ve experienced your own emptiness in trying to seek success in the roles and to-do lists of your own life.

Whether we’re using the tape measure of the world or our own personal ruler, God has an entirely different way to gauge our lives, outside of productivity and performance.

If we want joyful, purposeful lives, I believe the moon gives us two lessons about God’s version of success.

First, success isn’t measured by what we do, but Who we reflect.  The moon is only as bright as the sun it reflects; likewise, there is no greater mission in our lives than to intimately know our Light Source, Jesus.

Our goal isn’t to accomplish and influence more, but to rest in the presence of the Maker who gives us our worth and gifts for His purposes.

The second thing the moon teaches is that our goal is really not to be successful but surrendered.  The moon shines brightly not by striving, but by resting as a reflector.  To live like a moon, then, is to die to ourselves and allow the far greater light of God (our Sun) to shine off of us.

In Luke 9:23-25, Jesus puts it this way:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?”

I’m not confident that God would even use the word “success.” If He did, His version wouldn’t include climbing up, accumulating more, or achieving greater goals.  Over and over we find Jesus using counter-cultural language to describe a full life:  Lose your life.  Be last. Deny yourself.  Be a servant.

Jesus never sought to gain authority in a physical kingdom, win a popularity contest, or leverage His speaking opportunities to get wealthy.  His greatest promotion was straight to the cross.  And He asks us to die to ourselves too.

Only in Christ do we find that we have more joy, purpose, and hope by seeking less.  Our surrender is actually accomplishing more than our strengths and gifts could on their own.  There is no greater goal than becoming like Jesus and allowing Him to reflect His light and love to a broken world around us.

How are you tempted to define success or worth in your own life?  Are you so caught up in your to-do list or goals that you’ve neglected to make time to rest in the presence of Jesus?  This is a daily struggle for me, but I know it’s worth the battle.  Join the conversation and share how you keep your eyes focused on Jesus and His definition of what matters!

by Carrye Burr

You can read more from Carrye on her website Less to Be More.

 

 

Got Questions?

This installment of Monday School is inspired by a man named Nicodemus. I think I love Nicodemus.

The only information we have on him is in the Gospel of John. He was a Pharisee, which means he was a scholar who studied the Law and was intentional in the keeping of it. He was also a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews. He was highly regarded by the people and, obviously, an influential man.

One night he went to Jesus. John doesn’t give us any insight into why Nicodemus went to Jesus at night. Maybe he doesn’t want the other Pharisees to know. Maybe this was the only time he could speak to Jesus alone. We’re just not sure. But we do know Nicodemus respected Jesus because he called him Rabbi. Nicodemus acknowledged the fact that Jesus was a teacher from God. Then Jesus confronted him with a truth he didn’t understand.

Nicodemus knew a lot, but he didn’t know it all. He did what anyone who wants to know and understand would do. He asked Jesus a question. Then he asked more questions.

Someone I love is doubting what she thought she knew. She’s asking hard questions and I don’t always know the answers.

Her struggle would be unnerving except I know that God knows what is needed to make her faith real and strong. Coming to truly see, treasure, and trust Jesus Christ almost always begins in a crisis, one filled with questions.

I tell her to ask all the questions she needs to. Ask God. Ask me. Ask those she trusts to tell her the truth. Go to the Word with a desire to learn. Tell Jesus what she’s thinking and what she’s doubting.

Because she wants and needs it to be real. And don’t we all?

The last thing we learn of Nicodemus is that he, with Joseph of Arimathea, prepared Jesus’ body for burial. “Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.         John 19:39-40

Nicodemus was brave and humble enough to ask the questions that night in the dark. Then he was brave and humble enough to prepare his friend’s body for the grave.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Matthew 7:7-8

My prayer for those I love is the same one I pray for myself:

God, may we seek you wholedeartedly. Give us a wholehearted devotion to You and cause us to love you with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds and all our strength.  

 

Looked After

I lingered too long with my coffee yesterday morning. I planned an Independence Day run in my favorite park but didn’t start as early as intended. Orange cones already lined the street into the park to guide the throngs of firework watchers showing up to stake their claim to the best spots. I maneuvered my car through some of the cones to park in my usual space.

My run started better than expected and I felt good despite the heat. There were more people out and about at the park. Biking, walking, running, or preparing for their picnics. I ran through neighborhoods, around the school, then back to the park.

My run still felt okay but I was hot. I ran on the edge of a parking lot when I nodded to an older gentlemen driving a golf cart. He stopped the cart and motioned to me. I noticed he wore a cap with the park name on it. I wondered if he was an employee.

I walked to the cart and the man asked how long I’d been running. I answered him, then he asked how far I had to go. I told him, “three more miles to reach my goal.”

I must have looked overheated and thirsty. He handed me an ice cold water bottle from his cooler and told me to take it with me. Then he told me to take it slow. I opened the water bottle and drank fast. He looked concerned. I thanked him and turned to walk away. He said, “wait I’m not finished yet.”

He spread a small towel in his lap, filled the middle of it with handfuls of ice, and pulled the corners of the towel up around the ice. He put the “ice bag” behind his neck, on top of his head, under his chin, on his wrists and told me to do the same to cool off. I stood there with the bag behind my neck as he told me to be careful. He warned me of the heat again and I had a fleeting sense of familiarity.

He mentioned how he planned to celebrate later with his family and beamed when he talked about his grand children.

I thanked him again, reached to shake his hand, and asked his name. His eyes brightened, he shook my hand, told me his name, then asked mine.

Before he drove away, he said, “Marie, glad to know you.”

It wasn’t until this morning I discerned the familiarity.

The man on the golf cart reminded me of my father. Not his appearance, but the things he said and how he said them. His makeshift ice bag and demonstration of its most effective use. His going above and beyond in his care about such a small thing as me being too hot.

It was Dad who saw to our wounds when we were stung by yellow jackets or scraped our knees. He did the mean stuff. He dabbed our cuts with iodine or squeezed our splinters to the surface to pull them out with tweezers, and told us to stop whining about it.

As he aged, his care became more tender. More advice and prayers than tending wounds. Moving things or fixing broken ones. Letting us borrow what was his and always helping when he saw a need. Sometimes he helped before I knew I needed help.

Dad looked after us.

I finished my run. I took the man’s advice and slowed down, and it may be the reason I finished. I think it was another one of those times I needed help and didn’t know it.

 

Photo by Arleen wiese on Unsplash

 

It’s Back

I paused Monday School for a short time but I’m bringing it back.

What is Monday School?

From the time I could read, I’ve talked about what I’m reading to anyone who will listen. When I was a girl this happened when my sister and I played school. Most of the time, I was the teacher and she the student, though I never minded being the student. A good teacher is always a good student first.

Not only do we learn as we read, we continue to learn as we meditate on, share, and discuss what we’ve read. The Bible is no exception.

The Bible, especially, is meant to be read and thought about. A lot of times I’ll read a passage and one verse or phrase will stick in my head until I’ve considered it, asked questions about it and shared it with others. My intention is not only to share what I think about it, but to cause others to ponder and ask questions about it as we discuss it. Yes, I will teach and explain sometimes but only with a desire for the hearers to read and think about it for themselves. Mostly I want to have a conversation about it. I’m a fellow journeyer – learning to love God with all my heart, soul, strength and mind and learning to love others well. I have a long way to go and the journey is better with others.

On Mondays I will share a passage, verse or phrase that’s stuck in my head. I’ll call it Monday School. It’s a little like Sunday School but not really because there isn’t an attendance chart or gold stars for memorizing verses.

Maybe sharing what’s stuck in my head will get it stuck in your head too and we can talk about it until it isn’t stuck anymore. Or maybe it’s one of those that should stay stuck in our heads until it pierces our hearts which is the whole point of God’s Word anyway.

Here’s a good one to think about.

Psalm 119:105 from the Message Bible says this:

“By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path.”

I don’t think any of us like walking around in the dark and according to this verse we don’t have to.

For previous Monday school posts, go to my home page and click the Monday School tab.

 

Photo by nappy from Pexels