Friday, September 28, 2012

Too Much On Your Plate?

 Fall is here and if you’re anything like me, you’re already on overload. School has started, sports are in full swing, church activities are resuming, and the holidays are galloping toward us. Do you wonder how you can possibly do everything you’ve committed to? Do you feel squeezed by others’ expectations, or more likely, what you demand of yourself?

The answer is clear: something has to go, but the question is what?

*I love to garden, but I don’t like thinning because it requires pulling out perfectly healthy plants. However, I know if I don’t make room for the plants while they’re young, they will die later for lack of breathing space. Either that or they’ll mature into warped, intertwined shapes that look more like science fiction characters than vegetables. That must be why Ecclesiastes three, says there is a time to kill.

When we don’t have enough space to thrive and grow, something must be thinned out to give us room as well. Either that or we will see some warped character traits emerging because of our cramped spirit and physical exhaustion.

Over scheduling may not me the only issue. There may be attitudes, bad habits, or even unhealthy friendships that need to be rooted out. It might be time to decline a few invitations in order to plant ourselves fully in the soil of quietness and contentment.

Before you start yanking at random, here’s a gardening tip from my dad: some weeds look like garden vegetables. I remember the day Dad showed me the difference between carrot sprouts and grass before putting me to work weeding the carrot row. I conscientiously pulled every last carrot in the row, leaving in its place a neatly growing line of grass. I couldn’t tell them apart!

A Bible Study or church activity, for instance, may look like a healthy vegetable-sort-of-thing. But it might be the wrong plant for your garden right now. It may sap time and energy God wants you to use reaching a neighbor, caring for a family member, or even, spending time in prayer and personal devotions. The same is true for sports, music, and work opportunities. What looks like a carrot could be a weed; only our Father can tell the difference.

As we move into fall, God has challenged me to hold each day’s schedule up to Him for inspection. He gently pointed out that some of the “carrots” thriving in my garden were actually weeds. So I stepped back from a few activities that were sapping my energy and emotions. I’m devoting each day to His priorities and slowing my pace to a more reasonable level.

It was at first painful to pull things deeply rooted, which I thought belonged in my garden. Now I feel free to flourish in the space God has so graciously provided. It’s good to be in the garden with Him.

*Some material from “Thinning Out” in my book Moments for Homeschool Moms, available at,, and your local bookstore.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Balancing Grace and Truth

            At Zumba class we gyrate to music with a variety of moves and have a marvelous time. The hardest exercise for me is when we’re supposed to hold one foot and keep our balance. I find this true in the spiritual realm too.

            All through the Bible God calls us to balance. He knows we have a tendency to lean too far to one direction or the other. That’s when we fall. Grace and Truth are two facets of His character that God wants to see in us. When I depend on my own wisdom, strength, or feelings, I topple and end up on the floor. But when I depend on Him, He gives me balance.

            Grace is the part of God that loves us unconditionally, offers forgiveness, and treats us tenderly when we don’t deserve it. Truth is the unchanging rightness of God – His perfection and divine will. This is the part that demands obedience. God exhibits both in perfect balance, but us, not so much.

            Jesus came to show us this in person: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

            Jesus showed compassion for the sick and grieving, the repentant, the ignorant, needy, and abused. He exuded grace from the Father. He didn’t cut hypocrites any slack though. He called people to repent and didn’t sugar coat the fact that God hates sin in any form. Everything He did was a perfect balance of grace and truth.

            The church has gone back and forth on this, swinging from one extreme to the other. One moment we’re all about love. “God loves sinners,” we say, “We’re all sinners in need of forgiveness.” This is true. The next moment we’re lamblasting people with hell fire and damnation. “Repent or you’re going to hell,” we say, “You must give up your sinful ways and obey God’s commands.” Which is also true. The problem is we need to look more closely at Jesus’ delivery.

            Some people hate the sin and the sinner. Others love the sinner but accept the sin. God calls us to love the sinner, but hate the sin and how it separates them from His presence – including ourselves. I keep searching for that balance, lifting first one foot then the other. I wobble, hop, and put one foot down to stabilize.

            Maybe it should be more like Zumba. Our instructor said, “If you’re struggling to keep your balance, go to the wall for support.” That’s it! Balance is possible when we reach for God to steady us. Then Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love” (2 John 1:3).

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hitting Bottom; Getting Out

I had to say goodbye to someone I love the other day. My heart is broken. She decided to toss everything aside and go back to the lifestyle she worked so hard to escape. So many have poured themselves out for her – with prayer, money, time, a listening ear – and are shocked by her decision.

The first time she went to rehab she remarked, “I don’t really feel like I’ve hit bottom yet. I’m still having fun.”

A wise friend who had been there before replied, “You’re bottom is wherever you choose to stop digging. The longer you dig, the deeper you’ll get and the longer it will take to get out.”

It made sense at the moment, but soon she was back out, delving deeper into sin. This time when she came back, it really looked like she was going to make it. She faced consequences, paid off debt, worked to re-establish relationships, held down a job. But when she hit a bump, she went back to digging.

All who love her stand at the edge of the pit, begging her to stop; we try to help. For every shovelful of dirt she tosses out, we grab a handful and throw it back in. But until she’s willing to stop digging, we cannot stop her descent.

If that was the end of the story, it would be tragic indeed. But Jesus calls to her as well. And He has a backhoe. As soon as she’s ready to get out, He will fill in that pit with giant scoops of love and grace. As much as she will allow.

The same is true for each of us. It’s only when we hit bottom in our pursuit of self and recognize what a mess we’ve made that God can help us out. Even though I made that choice years ago, I still find myself with a shovel in my hand from time to time.

When I stand in the way, trying to fix things by my own efforts, God can only dribble small portions around the edges of my heart. But when I lay my shovel down, He has the freedom to fill me up again.

If someone you love is digging deeper into the pit, I feel your pain. You’ve been frantically throwing in handfuls of dirt, begging them to let you help. It seems like insanity to leave them there. But if we stand in God’s way, He cannot help them as He would like. They need to see His face and reach out for Him. Once they do, we can cheer them on.

If you are the one in the pit today, I want to encourage you to stop digging and look up. No matter how deep you are Jesus can get you out of that dark and lonely place. All you have to do is trust Him. Just look up.

Monday, September 3, 2012

I Have to Believe Something Extraordinary is Possible

            One of my favorite movies is A Beautiful Mind, starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly. It’s based on the life of brilliant mathematician John Nash, a schizophrenic who chose to fight his emotional instability through the power of love.

For years, John lived in a world of wild delusions, exhibiting increasingly erratic behavior. He eventually underwent radical treatments to bring him back to reality. But the cure was almost worse than the sickness. In the climactic scene of the movie, his wife Alicia commits herself to helping John fight his way through the difficulties ahead. She says, “I have to believe something extraordinary is possible.” That was the beginning of his comeback.

            John had tried to conquer the demons in his mind through the sheer force of his will; the disease was too strong for him. He couldn’t battle by using his intellect, because his problems originated in his mind. The medicine that eliminated the symptoms also took away his ability to participate in his marriage or function as a father. It was only when he accessed the power of love that he was able to live a productive life.

            The first step was to resist the hallucinations he had believed to be real people. They tried to lure him back into their make believe world. He refused to succumb. They showed up every day, and every day, he passed by, resisting the urge to let them in to his life. Like our own temptation to sin, John had to continually choose not to participate with them or give them power over his behavior.

            Like John, we can’t conquer sin through our own efforts – through will power, or intellect, or “medicating” to escape the realities of life. The only way to win against it is to accept God’s all-powerful love. That’s when extraordinary things begin to happen. That’s where we find the power to resist temptation. Only then can we pass up opportunities to interact with our own delusions that promise us satisfaction, but instead, suck us into the insanity of sin.

            Extraordinary things also happen through prayer. Personally, I have no power over the addictive behavior of others, or the lies they believe about themselves, the character of God, and the church. I cannot make anyone choose the way to eternal life, or release others from financial woe. I can’t protect them from the hurts others have inflicted on them. But something extraordinary happens when we pray.

            God’s love can rescue the desperate and give hope to the hurting. He has resources to provide for the needy and comfort for the grieving. Only He can reach into the dark recesses of a hardened heart and bring people to wholeness. God is doing extraordinary things all the time. I not only believe it; I know it.