Don’t Quench the Spirit

Someone recently paid me a wonderful compliment about my writing. Since words of affirmation are my love language, I was deeply encouraged. I also realized something:

I can’t not write. Words are the rhythm of my heart. Images form into words, and those words form into sentences–almost of their own accord. This is the way God has woven me together, and to not write, would be to quench his Spirit within me.

“Rejoice always;

pray without ceasing;

in everything give thanks;

for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Do not quench the Spirit.”

(1 Thessalonians 5:16-19)

There are many ways to rejoice. Many ways to pray. Many ways to give thanks. But only one way to be in God’s will. That Way? Jesus Christ. The rejoicing, the praying, the giving thanks, it has in its end this Way. Jesus, in my sights. Rejoicing, praying, giving thanks, somehow these happen when I write, as if my spirit operates on a level of reality I can’t fully understand.

What’s burning within you? What can you not do? Don’t quench the Spirit, but let him direct you in your rejoicing, praying, and thanking–to the end of Jesus Christ.

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What’s Covering You?

photo courtesy freedigitalphotos.net
photo courtesy freedigitalphotos.net

Radiance. You can’t miss it. It’s like driving west during the evening hour and having the sun blind you with its horizon hurrah. Radiance exacts a response from us. In the case of the sun, I squint and put the sunshade down. In the case of the Son, I bow in worship.

“I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” (Psalm 35:4-5)

As I read David’s words this morning, I’m convicted. What’s covering me? I’ve sought the Lord, looked to Him, so that means radiance, right? Then why don’t I always feel that glow?

For many years, shame has been my shadowed friend—for no apparent reason. I’ve not done anything dastardly, or had anything dastardly done to me. But sin finds the chink in our armor and nestles deep. My chink? Perfectionism. How I fail, day after day, to be who I want to be, who I think God and others want me to be.

Today is my anniversary, a day for radiance. How beautiful I felt that night of my wedding (read about that here). Nine years ago my face couldn’t help but blossom wide into smile—a smile that started in the core of my being and erupted through my countenance.

So it hits me: Looking to Him doesn’t mean I’m radiant, it means I reflect His radiance. It’s the Son shining in my eyes, blinding my view of myself. Decimating the shadow of shame. I’m covered . . .

. . . by His cloud, “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” (Exodus 40:34)

. . . with his garment, “Who are you?’ he asked. ‘I am your servant Ruth,’ she said. ‘Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.’  ‘The LORD bless you, my daughter,’ he replied. ‘This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor.  And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character.’” (Ruth 3:9-11)

. . . with His protection, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” (Psalm 91:4)

. . . in righteousness, “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10)

Celebrating today, not only nine years of life with my best friend, but years of His covering, His radiance, His life glowing within and upon me.

Worship with me? Sing to Jesus, Fernando Ortega.

Ode to Autumn

Fall. My favorite season.

I close the open windows of summer and bask in the new quietness of the inside. The spicy aroma of cinnamon, apples, and cloves overcomes the sweet fragrances of snapdragons, lilies, and roses. Nature walks lead to pockets full of pinecones, acorn hats, and fallen seed pods. Tree limbs bow, yielding to wind’s power. Leaves dry, crinkle, and . . .

. . . fall. They come down, and I receive their beauty like blessings. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). And we do see the shifting shadows around us. The shortening of days, the brisk movement of clouds across the sky, blocking the sun, casting shapes across hilly landscapes.

The thought that nature is hunkering down, preparing for dormancy, ushers me to stillness. Brings me to that place where I can utter, “Speak, Lord.” I feel the clutter drop from my life like the chestnuts from my neighbor’s tree, knowing that if I reach to pick up the busyness again I’ll be pricked by it.

Fall.

Ten years ago, he fell into my heart and sent down thick roots. And nine years ago, October 15, our I do’s not only fell on the ears of friends and family, but rooted deep into God’s heart. A holy covenant formed. That man of mine, he still falls a bit deeper every year. And when I fall, he catches.

I slip my feet into socks, the first time in months, and the threads hug my toes—a feeling that by January I won’t even notice, but now seems foreign. I light a candle. The soft glow from the string of white lights twining around my bookshelf seeps through my skin and brightens my heart. Tea on the stove, book in hand, afghan across my lap, and Strauss waltzes on the iPod. Thanksgiving floats through my soul as subtle and prominent as the pollen stirring up my sneezes.

And can I mention that great game? Football—the grinding of padded warriors working together, fighting, winning, falling. The delight of my loved ones, cheering, smiling, laughing, yelling at a television screen.

Yes, as an introvert, I love the intimacy of fall. The winding down, drawing in of nature. The time for gathering close what really matters—food for the soul—and storing it up for the barren seasons of life. Harvest time, a season of celebration for His provision. The garden finishes its offerings, and the dirty potato I pull up paints a silly smile on my face. I made this. I grew it. For this non-green-thumb, that sense of accomplishment is a grace gift.

Fall.

As a church musician, I pull out the Christmas music, begin to anticipate the bursting in of the baby Savior. The joy of the incarnation washes over me, like the pelting rain against the window. I let Christmas linger in the distance, the light at the end of the tunnel, and I keep my eye on it throughout the pumpkins, the football, the pilgrims, and the turkeys. Always, Christ coming . . . as flesh, as divine, into my life, wrapping around the sin and yanking it out by the roots.

Soup simmers on the stove next to the fresh applesauce, and so much simmers in my heart. Hopes for my children, quiet moments with my husband, prayers for the peace of the world, love for friends and family.

Fall. What do you love about it?

First and Second Things on the Third of May

First things first:

Congratulations to Joi Converse

April winner of Valley of Vision

Second things second:

April showers bring May flowers

…And a new word:

Church

What is the church? How is the church part of God’s kingdom? What did John Calvin mean by the visible and invisible church? How should we think about the church? What is the church to be about? What is it not to be about?

Hmmm.

Robbers and Champions

Picture by Julie Axell
Picture by Julie Axell

Here’s a quick list – in no way comprehensive – of things that rob us of contentment or encourage us toward contentment. Some things are external, others are internal. Some things might be occasional robbers, but not universal. Other things (like insecurity) are universal robbers of contentment.

Robbers

Insecurity – It’s hard to be content while thinking and worrying about yourself

Magazines – Pressure to look a certain way, have certain things, be this or that, listen to this music, decorate your house a certain way. It’s hard to be content when someone’s pointing out to you all you don’t have or aren’t.

Social Media – Under the guise of keeping others up to date, it’s easy to unintentionally promote yourself, to make others feel they don’t measure up, or to feel discouraged at your own lack of…..you name it. (On the other hand, social media connects us in some wonderful ways)

Grumbling and Complaining – Just read a few chapters from the Exodus account of the Israelites wandering in the desert and you’ll understand the depth that complaining and grumbling can ravage a contented heart. How can a people go from being miraculously saved one moment to whining about their food the next? If we look at our own lives, we know the answer: easily.

Picture by Julie Axell
Picture by Julie Axell

Impatience – Until recently, I considered my frustration with my children to be an anger issue. And then the light came on inside my heart. It’s not anger. It’s impatience. I am too quickly irritated. Living one breath away from frustration is not conducive for contentment. It’s hard to feel at peace with life when our hearts teeter on the edge of being aggravated.

Fear – It’s almost impossible to identify all the various ways fear rages in our hearts and lives. Just last evening, I was anxious to the degree that I was distracted from the present moment and what could have been a fun time with my family. I was robbed of contentment.

Champions

Trust – The opposite of fear. When we surrender ourselves to the goodness and care of the Shepherd, we lie down and rest in safety.

God’s Glory – Consider the theophanies of Scripture (those moments when God’s presence is manifest among his people). Moses on the mountain or in the tent of meeting, Elijah at Horeb, Isaiah in the temple, Jesus on the mount of transfiguration. When God’s glory shows up, the trivialities of life are consumed by His fire. Read through Psalm 96. If we were to live with God’s glory constant in our sight, the passion of our lives, I think we would be quite content.

Picture by Julie Axell
Picture by Julie Axell

Simplicity – Richard Foster has an excellent chapter in Celebration of Discipline on practicing simplicity (he’s got a whole book on it, too). Simplicity doesn’t mean we deny ourselves good things to be more holy, but rather that live with a proper estimation of what is absolutely necessary. When it all boils down, we could do with out a lot of our stuff. And when we are at peace with that, we find contentment. 

Healthy Relationships – Sweet communion with those we love. That champions contentment. When we hang out with others who have an eternal focus, it garners the same in us. When we hang out with those steeped in fear and grumbling, it turns our hearts likewise. We must be careful who we bind ourselves to emotionally.

Your turn. What are the things that either rob you of contentment or encourage you toward contentment?

The Place of Contentment is at the Intersection of Touch and Word

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.” Luke 5:12-13.

Jesus offers the leper not just a command, but a touch. The significance of this touch is monumental. No one touched lepers; no one walked within fifty feet of them. No one looked at them, if it could be avoided. Jesus touched and spoke to a broken, cast away soul.

We need both his touch and his word. The place of contentment is where we feel his presence and hear his words, I am willing. His touch invites our communion, and his words invite our trust.

A word alone fails to renew a discontented heart. An admonition to “be joyful always” falls short of what a depressed heart needs. Without the touch, the word is lifeless.

The Holy Spirit is the touch of Jesus, his presence ministering to us. The Spirit is the supernatural connection between his hand reaching down and our hearts reaching up. The Spirit brings, I am willing, to life in our fearful, weak hearts.

May he meet you today with his touch and his word.

The Start of a Definition

freedigitalphotos.net
freedigitalphotos.net

Defining contentment can be like trying to sneak up on a squirrel. We can get close, but it darts away the second we’re about to pounce. Opening a dictionary can be a good start, but defining a concept goes beyond Webster. We can’t look to our own lives for a definition or we will get confused. Like anything with faith, looking inward obstructs our understanding, not enhances it. (I was content yesterday with my husband, children, house, and job, but today with the same husband, children, house, and job, I’m discontent).

Truth comes to us externally, from Christ’s Word and story.

Paul’s words, “I have learned to be content,” lead us to the beginning of our definition. Contentment is not something we attain for ourselves. It’s something we learn. Learning implies a tug-of-war process, not a linear progression from inability to perfection. It’s two steps forward one step back. It’s peeling back layers of an onion. It’s a gradual, multi-layered experience during which we’ll have times of clarity and success, and other times of confusion and failure. Thus, one day I’m content, the next day I’m not. It’s all part of the learning process.

The times of greatest learning are not those times when we feel content, but rather those moments when discontentment rages. In those unsatisfied moments, we have opportunity to focus on the true heavenly realities that are ours, and the peace God gives us through those promises.

Which leads us to another part of our contentment definition. Contentment is not based on worldly objects or situations. Paul’s admission that he’s learned the secret of contentment comes from inside a prison cell. Many of David’s Psalms are written from his time fleeing in the desert. Jeremiah tells displaced Israel to plant gardens and thrive in exile. Paul instructs us to give thanks in all circumstances.

Second Corinthians chapters 4-5 offer a beautiful picture of the realities that exist beyond our circumstances.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

And we’re off on our month-long quest to define contentment. Here’s a sneak peek at what’s to come: how groaning is part of contentment, gratitude sows seeds of contentment, Paul’s story of contentment, how spiritual disciplines foster contentment, and how dreams interact with contentment.

The Rest of Tubing Down God’s River

When you’ve had a long day and you want to rest, what do you do? Put your feet up? Read a book? Watch TV? Chat on the phone? Rest, to us, often means changing our activity from more strenuous to less or non-strenuous. If we were cooking, laundering, or doing chores around the house, rest means a sit down activity, perhaps napping. We send our children off to rest time and intend for them to either sleep or play quietly in one place. Rest is the cessation of motion, the pullback from duties, and the shutdown of sweaty work.

Sometimes we transfer this understanding of rest into the spiritual realm, thinking that spiritual rest is merely quietness before the Lord, or the pause of our holiness efforts. We might think of spiritual rest as the listening moment in prayer. We stop our asking and give God five seconds to answer.

On the contrary, spiritual rest goes much deeper than ten minutes of sitting down with Bible in lap. Spiritual rest is the dynamic movement of grace in our lives. This rest happens in the river of grace, and rivers have currents. Right now, the river by my house has a swift current, thanks to several days of steady rain. If I “rested” in that river on an innertube, I would be moving, not still. Likewise, spiritual rest is a ride on God’s innertube. We are carried along by grace and live the spiritual life on his terms. We stop trying to move ourselves along. We take our hands off the equation of holiness. You know, the equation that goes:

Hard Work + Following the Bible + Jesus = Righteousness

(We aren’t so stupid as to completely take Jesus out of the equation)

Great amounts of activity happen as we float along. We laugh with others who are also tubing down God’s river. We pull others off shore and into the grace current. We grow in the fruit of the Spirit.

Enough metaphor. Spiritual rest, like the physical, takes time. We have to spend time reading the Bible, praying and listening, talking with others about spiritual things, and worshipping regularly with other believers. God does not give us the equivalent of a five-hour energy shot. There are no shortcuts with spiritual rest.

Perhaps this is why I am so tired. I cut the corners on spiritual rest like I do on physical rest. My life is an irractic, routine march. Trying to bring consistency to my spiritual rest is about as successful as my current potty-training efforts with my three-year-old. And thus the tension. I need rest. I need grace. But I’m busy doing, doing, doing. Doing and rest are juxtaposed in my life, and seemingly contradictions. But rest happens where all the doing meets all His grace, when I realize that the movement that seems chaotic, when done in relationship with the Father, is actually a place of rest.

Let There Be Light

freedigitalphotos.net
freedigitalphotos.net

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

Isaiah 9:2

In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it.

John 1:4, 5.

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.

John 8:12

My God turns my darkness into light.

Psalm 18:28

The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?

Psalm 27:1

This Advent season, I’ll be writing daily. Join me in celebrating the Light of the World.

I’m linking up today with Deidra and The Sunday Community

Happy Thanksgiving

George Washington’s October 3, 1789 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation. It’s unreadable, but I like seeing one of the documents that organized our national holiday. John Adams proclaimed Thanksgivings in 1798 and 1799, and James Madison in 1814 and 1815. Individual states celebrated Thanksgivings, but the holiday was not an annual national event until Abraham Lincoln’s October 3, 1863 proclamation that designated the fourth Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day.

From the Boston Public Library, entitled “Thanksgiving Day – The Dance”.
From the Boston Public Library, entitled “Thanksgiving Day – Hanging Up the Musket.” I love that woman’s face. She’s thinking, “I wanted to decorate with those little corns, but he had to hang his gun.”
An invitation to a dinner at the JarvisUSA Hospital in Baltimore. This is from 1864, during the civil war. I bet that hospital was full. And check out that food listed. This is obviously in the north. That kind of abundance was not found in the south by this year of the war.
A Currier and Ives lithograph from 1867 entitled Home to Thanksgiving. I bet “home to Thanksgiving” was extra special those years right after the civil war.
An editorial cartoon entitled “Turkeymobile” reflecting the economic panic of 1907 and hoping for future prosperity.

Isn’t it fun to look at pictures from our country’s past? These were found on Wikimedia commons.

Today, although I won’t be with extended family, I am thankful that all my basic needs are met. A beautiful blue sky is laid out above us and that special Thanksgiving feeling of rest and praise has settled in our house. We are wearing beaded necklaces made by our five-year-old daughter, and we will soon head to church to celebrate God’s goodness.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Person of History: George Washington

In George Washington, character intersects action and morality motivates reform. A man of honor and adventure, Washington’s place in American history is prime and divine.

Things you learn about George Washington in grade school and still remember years later:

1. He was the first president of the United States

2. He was tall (6’2″)

3. He had a powerful drive to succeed, and did, despite having a minimum education

4. He was a natural soldier and became a General in the War of Independence (during which he crossed the Delaware, standing up, in the front of a boat at night in the cold, right?). He said of his first battle experience, “I heard bullets whistle and, believe me, there is something charming in the sound.”

5. His wife’s name was Martha and they lived together at Mount Vernon.

Things you may have learned in grade school and don’t remember, or perhaps, things you never learned at all:

1. He grew up in the gentry class, not having more than an elementary education (which later would be criticized by his Vice President, John Adams). His father died when he was 11, and although we have close to 17,000 preserved letters from Washington, only two mention his father. On the other hand, he adored his strong mother and mentioned her frequently in his writings.

2. An adventurer at heart, he spent his early years surveying the Virginian frontier. His neat penmanship and ability to draw maps made him a natural at surveying land, which he described as the next best thing to owning land.

3. He inadvertently detonated a world war, the French-Indian war (referred to as the Seven Years War in Europe), when Irowuois Indians under his command killed ten Frenchmen near Fort Duquesne. The French retaliation led to skirmishes in British territories around the world.

4. He was elected leader of the American army unanimously, and was so touched by this that he was unable to write his letter of acceptance, and had it dictated instead. He was the natural choice because of his fighting experience and abilities and his strong leadership traits. Three days after his appointment, Congress issued the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity for Taking Up Arms. At this point, formal independence had not been declared, and the hope was to avoid war through negotiations with Britain.

5. Washington would have claimed Christianity as his belief system, although his writings hardly mention”God”, instead referring to “Providence” or “the Great Ruler of Events”. He did not regularly attend church. He believed religion was a useful tool for civilized society, but not necessary. Paul Johnson, conservative historian, labels Washington as a deist. Washington was involved in the Masons.

6. Although he owned slaves, he understood that to build our country on slave-labor would be detrimental. He was the only founding father to free his slaves upon his death.

7. His passion was farming. Just visit Mount Vernon, outside Washington D.C., and you’ll see the evidence. At the time of his death, he was farming 8000 acres. His farming adventures included crop rotation and livestock breeding.

8. Martha Washington spent the winter months of the war years with her husband, tending the sick and doing needlework.

9. He never wore a wig, although he cared about his appearance and powdered his hair and tied it with a ribbon. He replaced some broken teeth with ones made from hippopotamus ivory. When he was a young explorer and mapper his traveling ensemble included nine shirts, six linen waistcoats, seven caps, six collars, and four .

For a good, quick but thorough read (pictured right): George Washington, by Paul Johnson.

Where’s the Mercy?

“But the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the LORD’s anger burned against Israel. ..Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his fierce anger.” Joshua 7:1, 25-26

When you read Joshua 7, what’s your heart’s reaction? Are you appalled with Achan’s sin? Or are you upset with God for his apparent lack of mercy?

The problem is that sin is deceitful. It passes itself off as little. We see it as a little gnat in the soup, easily removed, when really the whole soup is poisoned. We see sin as the spot of spaghetti sauce on our white t-shirt, easily soaked with cleaner, when really, the whole white t-shirt has been dyed an irreversible tomato-orange. When consequences seem slim, what’s the matter with a little sin?

Achan saw and coveted items left behind in Jericho. But Achan didn’t steal from Jericho. He stole from the Lord Almighty who had already claimed the spoils of Jericho for Himself. Achan’s heat-of-the-battle theft blossomed into secrecy (hiding possessions under his tent), which affected his fellow Israelites who attempted to fight a battle but were defeated. And finally, Achan hardened his heart until nothing but unrepentance ruled.

Here’s the mercy: Achan had his chances to come clean. When the men from Israel went up to Ai and were routed because of his sin, Achan could have torn his robe and repented in ashes. When Joshua fell before the Lord and received the instructions to consecrate the people and bring them forward tribe by tribe, Achan could have repented. When the tribes, clans, and families started to parade in front of Joshua and the elders, Achan still could have repented. He had ample time, but he lacked conviction. His heart was hardened.

To a just God, there is no small sin. Sin is always ugly and deserving of death. And so God acted as He had to act. Achan reaped what he sowed.

Are we revolted by our sin? Do we realize the entire nature of our sinfulness? By that I mean, we not only do and think sinful things, we are inherently sinful from our minds to our hearts. And we are all one day going to be marched in front of a holy God, who by nature being holy, cannot exist with unholiness.

Here’s our mercy: The blood of Christ. His death instead of ours. But it takes repentance. He will not save those who do not recognize their sin and need. It’s not enough to confess (admit) to our sin problem. We must repent. It’s a step beyond confession. It’s a turning away from sin and to Jesus as the only solution.

Are you living in the Christ’s extended mercy? Do you hate sin? Let us learn some good lessons from Achan.

Love Bears All Things

On this day of flowers, chocolates, and pink and red cards, perhaps the best gift for your loved one can be plucked off this list:

“Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

According to Scripture, Christ’s sacrfice is the ultimate example of love, and any human love must stem from the same selfless attitude. While romantic love is wonderful and God-given (Song of Solomon celebrates this), the essence of love is sacrifice. We are to give over our preferances and rights for the sake of others.

There are two similar phrases in this list: bears all things and endures all things. The Greek verbs come from the same category in the Louw-Nida dictionary: patience, endurance, perseverance. So what are the subtle differences?

The first phrase of verse seven, bears all things implies putting up with annoyances or difficulties. This is the slurping of milk from the cereal bowl, the pile of dirty socks on the bedroom floor, or the constant list making and checking. This is the petty stuff that, if allowed to get under your skin, leads to frustration and for many in this culture, “I don’t love you anymore.”

The last phrase of verse seven, endures all things implies endurance during difficulty and suffering. This is walking through sickness, financial difficulty, or persecution with your loved one. Or, this is (dare I say?) enduring the disrespect, dishonesty, or unfaithfulness of your spouse. This is hardship where choosing commitment over emotion is not easy.

In a culture where marriages are easily dismissed for the smallest and in my opinion, stupidest, reasons, the bearing and enduring of 1 Corinthians might be our best witness. We can choose to love with a high tolerance for those little irritations and with a perseverance through the hard trials. We can make a statement that the only love worth giving is a love that is poured through us from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Closing the Gap

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25)

If there’s a time of year when discipline rears up in a heart, January is usually it. We are peppered with talk of habits, resolutions, try-hard mentality, and you-can-do-it. If only creating a new habit was as easy as writing it down on fancy paper and saying with determination, “I resolve…”

The problem with habits is that the ones you want to form elude your best disciplined efforts, but those you desire to depart from have a way of edging in deeper. I have had disciplined periods of my life where “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13) was my theme verse. Prayer, Scripture memorization, exercise, diet – all happily situated under command of my fierce will. Those periods didn’t last long. Usually, my habit-forming attempts champion the verse, “what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15).

A disconnect separates my desires from my practices. The Lord’s Spirit calls within me to deeper fellowship. The River of Life within me points to glory and freedom and joyful living, but I can’t always muster the will to put aside the frustrations of the day, the defeat I so constantly feel as a parent and a wife. When my attitude is positive, the will has power. When it’s been a “No! To your room!” day with children, the attitude plummets and accusations weigh down the will.

If I am to build habits, it’s only by grace and Spirit, not determination. Grace and His Spirit close the gap between desire and flesh. So here are my habit tips, my own little pep talk for accomplishing my hopefuls of 2012:

1. Graceful Expectations: “Don’t bite off more than you can chew,” goes the cliché. Habits form like snowballs. They start small and get bigger. I will only except something of myself that is realistic given my other commitments and my family situation. In other words, I will not resolve to write a novel this year, while potty training my two-year-old, growing a garden, and sending my five-year-old off to kindergarten (and did I mention teaching piano lessons and accompanying at church?). But maybe I can resolve to write more on my blog, to have several weekly times of study and devotion, to drink more water, to review my Greek flashcards.

2. Graceful Structures: I need help. Last year that help was a Bible reading plan. This year, a different Bible reading plan, and a six-week women’s Bible study that is giving me new tools for personal devotions. I’ll also be joining with a few other women writers for encouragement and fellowship. What structures do you need? Sometimes we need formal structures, like small groups or classes. Other times, less formal structures  will suffice like a new planner for organization, or a hiking book for new trails. Prayer books are a must! Reading prayers is a great tool for a tired brain and heart. You’ve read, “Just add water,” on pre-packaged food. Prayer books are a “Just add your heart” pre-packaged deal. By the way, if you don’t want to buy a new book, use the Psalms, the prayer book of the Bible. (Ann Voskamp has a great post on prayer and prayer resources.)

3. Graceful Recoveries: I am expecting set back. The old “two steps forward, one step back.” I will not judge success or failure on the belief that I will immediately fall into a habit without work or struggle. Forgiving ourselves is perhaps more difficult than forgiving others. Extending grace when we fail to live up to our expectations moves against the condemning cultural voices we hear. So I resolve to be graceful with myself. If I need to reevaluate and change things up, I will do it.

Spirit of Truth

“I ate all my apple,” she says to me, walking out of the kitchen. I am surprised our twenty-minute battle has suddenly come to an end. I am  not surprised by what happens next. My mother-in-law points into the sink and shakes her head “no”. Frustration.

“So if I come into the kitchen I won’t see any apple?” I ask my daughter as I stand up from the couch.

Suddenly, backtracking, Faith says, “Hurry, Grandma, wash it down.”

When I do see the apple in the sink, the liar turns to me, “It’s not my apple. It’s Silas’s.”

“No, Faith, Silas ate all of his apple in the high chair. You lied to me.” It was her first big deception.

Consider these opening two paragraphs from an article, We’re All Lying Liars: Why People Tell Lies, and Why White Lies Are Okay.

Admit it: You’ve lied. You told a friend that his shirt looked stylish when you actually thought it was tacky and garish. Or maybe you said to your boss that her presentations were fascinating when in fact they were insipidly mindless. Or perhaps you told your landlord that the rent check was in the mail.

Don’t feel bad. You’re in good, dishonest company. A growing body of research shows that people lie constantly, that deception is pervasive in everyday life. One study found that people tell two to three lies every 10 minutes, and even conservative estimates indicate that we lie at least once a day. Such incessant prevarication might be a necessary social evil, and researchers have recently discovered that some fibbing might actually be good for you. “We use lies to grease the wheels of social discourse,” says University of Massachusetts psychologist Robert Feldman. “It’s socially useful to tell lies.”

Most of us probably consider ourselves to be truthful people. We don’t speak falsehood, and it is not our practice to intentionally deceive others. But according to the latest research, we are subtly putting forth false impressions all day long, to ourselves just as much as to others. We may exaggerate about how much we work out. Even an “Okay” to “How are you?” could be stretching the truth. Most certainly, we lie to ourselves about who we really are.

As it turns out, truth versus falsehood is deeper than our childhood conception that lying is telling your mother you didn’t take that last cookie from the cookie jar (while wiping the crumbs from your mouth). When we broaden our understanding of what it means to be truthful, we find ourselves lacking the integrity which saturates the character of God.

God’s character is utterly truthful. He cannot lie (Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 6:18). No falsehood exists in him. So then, doesn’t it follow that our oneness with the Spirit of Truth should affect our character? We should be purified from all deceit. Every word we say should be genuine. Every deed we do should be free of pretense. Every aspect of how we present ourselves should be laden with integrity.

Our culture does not value truth, which is ironic because our culture does value the pursuit of  spiritual truth. This search for meaning and ultimate reality is in vogue, but so is the idea that the end of that pursuit is not objective, but can be individualized, whatever is “right” for you. Perhaps that is the reason that so many keep searching with unquenchable thirst. The road of subjective reality leads to nowhere.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture on truth comes from a hurting, deceitful man. After David commits adultery with Bathsheba he writes a beautiful confessional Psalm, “Have mercy on me, O, God; according to your great compassion blot out my transgression…Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.” In a sense, our sin proves God’s character is what He says it is. We prove him truthful by our wrongdoings. Our failure to live truly according to His word highlights His rightness in pronouncing judgment and His promised compassion that pronounces forgiveness for the humble.

Later in that Psalm, David prays, “Surely, you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” I have inner parts of which I know nothing. I have a need for wisdom of which I am only vaguely conscious. Only the Spirit of Truth can minister to those hidden places of me that operate in stealthy deception. The beautiful thing about redemption is that when we yield our spirit to His Spirit, He works in spite of our inability to track with him. When we get to heaven, I bet we will be surprised at the depth of redemptive work in each of us in areas of which we were clueless.

Wind, Spirit, Breath

Wind talks, often just in the whisper of leaves or the tingling of chimes. At other times the wind moans, whether out of loneliness or petulance it is not clear. Sometimes the wind is like a mother gently wiping wispy hair from her child’s face. Several nights ago the wind was in his element, mischievous and unpredictable. Moments of quiet were followed by wild dirges. The wind came around the corner of my house like that neighborhood band of boys, rough-rousing and always playing some sort of conquer-the-world game.

At 2:30 in the morning, I began to worry that perhaps the wind had something up his sleeve, like blowing my chairs off the porch, or worse, sending my rotted carport crashing down on my two cars like a judge pounding his gavel and demanding justice. Admittedly, that carport does deserve a harsh sentence. My husband and I have been too soft, lured by its protection from frost in the winter and its cool shade in the summer.

What is it about wind that seems to have such personality? Is it power that’s visible only by its effect? Is it our inability to control it that makes the wind seem like a two-faced friend? The answer for me lies in the Hebrew word ruach which means breath, spirit, wind.

NIV Genesis 7:22 Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died.

NIV Genesis 1:2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

NRS Genesis 3:8 They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening wind, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

NRS Exodus 14:21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided.

NKJ Judges 6:34 But the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon;

In Scripture, wind represents the presence of the spiritual, whether Yahweh, or an evil spirit. Wind in connection with storms is viewed as supernatural. Breath, also, is connected with a person’s spirit and comes from the Spirit of God. When Hannah was barren she was greatly in sorrow and discouraged in her spirit. The spirit (breath) within her was lifeless. Have you heard those stories of a husband or wife who follows their spouse quickly in death, for no other apparent reason than a broken heart? When the spirit of a person is downcast, the breath soon becomes lifeless.

In Western culture, the air currents of weather seem unrelated to the breath that flows in and out of our bodies without conscious thought. Even within Evangelicalism, the Holy Spirit seems unconnected from the air that moves the clouds across the sky. Not so in the Hebrew worldview. That air that fills the body and brings life is closely related to the Spirit of God, for it is God who breathes life into all living creatures. We are disjointed in Western culture; the Hebrews saw much more fluidity between the spiritual and the physical, as do many cultures today.

Creation imperfectly mirrors the unseen, uncreated realm of Father, Son, and Spirit. The wind mimics the Holy Spirit’s energy and power. The wind moves one weather system out of the area and brings a new system into the area. The Spirit of God blows the old out of the believer and breathes the new life within. The wind cleanses the air of allergens and toxins; the Spirit cleanses the soul of the sinful nature and brings the character of Christ. The wind tears down; the Spirit breaks bondages. The wind spreads fire; the Spirit increases passion for Christ. The wind refreshes; the Spirit rejuvenates. The wind is quiet and loud; the Spirit works with subtlety and strength.

May His breath move within us and accomplish every work of new life that we need.

Looking for Proof

Richard Dawkins doesn’t believe God exists. He is, perhaps, the most big-mouthed atheist in our culture, meaning he’s written several books and been forthright about his scorn for those who believe in the nonsense of religion.

Once, when I was supposed to be busy doing something else, I imagined what I would say if I met Dawkins and was drawn into conversation about the existence of God. As I was mentally in conversation with Dawkins, I picked up my cup to take a drink, thinking it contained tea. When my taste buds collided with my coffee, I was disillusioned. I had expected tea, but tasted coffee. As my mind took a moment to catch up with reality I experienced one of those split seconds that seems to suspend time for a minute.

How ironic, I thought. Dawkins has long ago decided there is no God (and when asked what he would do if he met God after life, Dawkins quoted another atheist, saying, “I’d ask him why he hid himself.”). Dawkins has placed expectations upon the existence of God. When expectation that is misled meets reality, disillusionment results. Right now Dawkin’s hasn’t “sipped from the cup”. But in that first moment after he drinks death he will experience great disillusionment, for instead of “tea”, he’ll taste “coffee.”

 I might have some great arguments to present to Dawkins, but ultimately, I couldn’t prove God exists. God has made Himself unable to be proved. He is not a math equation with an answer at which only smart people arrive. His absolute sovereignty and very nature place himself outside of our reasoning abilities. He is greater than our intellect and beyond our understanding because He is our Creator.

If we could prove there was a God then we wouldn’t have free choice. Our proof of Him would be grounds for power over Him. Any evidence would demand our allegiance and negate freedom of choice. Free choice is one of the foundational principles of who we are as people made in God’s image. We either choose by faith to put our trust in Him as He has revealed Himself, or we choose to disregard Him. His revelation to us does not come in the form of a riddle with a tricky answer, but rather comes to us as an invitation to faith. Next time you are looking for proof, turn instead to His revealed Word and respond in faith.