Category Archives: Refined by the Word

Bruised toes and thankful for them <3

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I was going to write a little post on five things I love about winter and I probably will still do that another day, but considering the bulk of Illinois is under a winter advisory that will include freezing rain, I just can’t take a chance of having some of you navigate awful driving conditions and then read about my favorite parts of the season when you finally get to your desk. 

I took the trek up north last evening to beat the storm and be here for the 7 AM bell so Rachel and Zach can get to work on time. 

We are unsure if there will be school or a delayed start…living on the edge of our seats, we are. 

On the way up here I listened to a sermon and it was a good one. 

Painful but good.

He talked about pride and how tricky it is to pin down in others and nearly impossible to notice in ourselves. 

That’s the nature of it. 

As he went through the character traits, I had to admit I could nod my head to so many.

Including indecisiveness. 

He pointed out that often our lack of commitment to making a decision is because by doing so, we risk being considered wrong by one or more people and this sense of being not liked at best or unloved at worst is actually just a sly form of pride. 

Well, ouch.

Another one that got me was how pride can be the showy kind – where we think we are better than others….or the subtle kind where we are constantly seeing how we don’t measure up…and yet both are pride because both are total focus on self. 

Some other things he pointed out are that pride can make us antagonistic toward others when they correct us…or we can crumble under criticism to the point that we dissolve. 

Both of these approaches leave no room for the correction God might be trying to make in paths that have veered off track. 

He talked about how tempting our culture is as we have easy access to ways we can promote ourselves…or compare ourselves unfavorably to others who seem to be setting the world ablaze with all their wonderfulness…but in reality…the problem is inside our hearts. 

Because all of the self-promotion and self-condemnation is fruit of self-centered living. 

And that is a beast that will never be satisfied even after it has consumed every ounce of your soul. 

This last one really got me…how sneaky our buried pride can be.

He was talking about how we can start out with righteous anger over something. But as we hold on to it and get more indignant the underlying source of our passion can actually be a pride that has led us to believe we would never ever do what that one has done.

It makes me think about some of my tirades that seemed fueled by my desire for justice and I can definitely relate to the pride all my posturing tried to cover up.

As the podcast ended and I turned off all noise and distractions in the car for the last few miles of the drive, I heard a God whisper…that verse that has consistently shown up throughout the first few weeks of 2019…so much that I am starting to get it memorized down deep…

And do not be conformed any longer to this world…but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

We are set apart…called to be different…in the world but not of the world.

It is a daily battle. 

A daily laying down “me” and taking up the Cross that saved me from myself. 

From one work in progress to another, let’s keep our hearts open and invite Him to continue shaping us more and more into the image of His Son.

Safe travels if you are out and about and I will see you tomorrow <3

The weighty things <3

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It is my experience in my journey of faith that God always gives back way more than I think I am giving Him.

Sign up to go help people halfway around the world who have so little and find out how poor your land of plenty really is…and how much you can learn from people who have nothing and give everything.

Volunteer and give up a week of your summer to serve in Vacation Bible School so the neighborhood kids can learn about Jesus and as you sit and listen to the teachings, you find truth nuggets for your child-size brain.

Load up your car with stuff you had trouble parting with and find  yourself knocked to your knees by the sweet lady with scars on her face who helps you unload it all and thanks you so much and do you want a receipt for taxes…no thank you…this one is going unrecorded.

So last night we drug ourselves off the couch and out from under blankets to answer the call for prayer from our pastors and leaders. 

We drove on slick roads and navigated the parking lot, cautioning each other to be careful because we have heard the horror stories of people who weren’t and we don’t want to add that to our deductible this winter.

And as we approached the doors of the prayer meeting, we were told to select a rock from a basket.

I did what I always cringe doing…I made a quip about it…perhaps involving a reference to stoning people…and found out that I was one of many who had said the same thing. 

Dang I hate being a cliche sometimes.

Anywho…back to the prayer meeting…

We found some seats and gathered with others who just can’t resist when they open the doors of our church for any kind of service…and the prayers and praise commenced.

And God showed up.

Just like He always does when two or more gather.

It was old school church with a guitar and one person leading songs and I kind of loved it. 

We were led through various prayers, and for whatever reason I never put my rock down. 

I held it all the way through the whole event. 

To be honest, it felt comfortable in my hand and I often found myself just holding it to my heart. 

I guess since our sermon that morning had referenced 1 Samuel 7: 10-12, I was still associating the “Ebenezer…thus far” reference. 

But then one of our leaders took her turn in the service. Turns out the rocks were meant to remind us not of how far God has brought us, but how much we weigh our own selves down at times.

She talked about sin. 

Our sin and the sins of others against us. 

The weight of them.

Oh, I get it about my sin.

I carry it like a chain at times. 

And not like a martyr.

 No.

Like a woman who has underestimated the power of her God and overestimated the stain of her sin.

But as she led us through the prayer exercise, and she talked about the weight of the sins we have had against us…the hurt and the pain…and the way it has distorted us…hardened us…wounded us…that rock in my hand started getting pretty heavy. 

I thought back over the previous portions of the service and how at times I had held it to my heart as I participated in worship.

I remembered how I had to hold on to it with one hand which only allowed me the freedom to raise the empty one in a kind of affirmation. It had limited me from full on, both hands and arms raised in surrender praise. 

As she reminded us to forgive as Christ has forgiven us, I had to recognize that while I have forgiven the ones who this tangible weight in my hand represented…I still carry the pain of it because, in truth, I don’t know what to do with it. 

It has changed and colored both our past, our present and our future. 

I don’t know what to do with the memories that now look different because of other’s choices. 

It has stolen my joy many times and it has clouded and crowded out my joy for others who are experiencing what I would love to have.

It permeates so much more than I could have imagined and even as life goes on, I am left at times grappling to just stay afloat amidst the changes brought on by a fallen world and my own fallen nature that continues to rise up unbidden, even as I know and believe and declare that in Christ I am a new creation.

As we finished the exercise, we were given instruction to ask God to forgive us the weight of our sin and to ask Him for His help and assistance to forgive…let go…release…the pain and hurt of the sins against us. 

The service had come to an end and we were invited to share in one more song of worship and praise. 

We were invited to sit or stand.

Whatever posture seemed to express our heart to God for what He had done and our hope for what He will yet do.

In the fellowship of believers, sitting there with people I have known and shared so much of this faith journey with for so many years, I stood…still hanging on to that rock that fit so comfortably in my fist. 

And as we sang, I realized that somewhere along the way the pain has become such a part of me that I just assumed I had to hold on to it. 

I set the rock down on the pew and raised both my arms. 

I will have a choice to make in the days ahead when a photograph or a comment from someone triggers the feel of the weight of it once again, for most assuredly that temptation will always be there. 

I will have to choose if I will draw it close to my chest and hold on to it or lay it down. 

I pray I will remember His faithfulness.

The stone I laid down will be a reminder of the Rock I lean on. 

That all stones…all sins…those against me and those I have made against others… are laid down at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ…

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shem, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”   1 Samuel 7:12  <3

It’s always the re-entry that gets me <3

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Well, it has been a while and I have so many thoughts bouncing around that I am restrained to develop a Five Randoms so that I can get a post up and move on with the laundry, backed up paperwork and final migration of Christmas to their respective green tubs in the basement. 

So let us begin with the first five thoughts that spill off this blonde brain…

#1  I love Christmas and family filling up the rooms of our house.

I love the presence and yes, as we know…I love the presents…the giving and the getting and watching what others gave to siblings and parents…the food and the games…but it drains me. 

I need copious amounts of rest and quiet and nothingness to balance all of the above. 

And God provided for this in the most unusual of ways. 

A thiry-six hour bout with an odd virus that really brought no discomfort beyond some minor tummy issues and a mild headache. 

I was couch bound in a silent house while Russ and John enjoyed great seats at an Illini game courtesy of John and then dinner with some dear friends. 

And I rested. 

It was a game changer. 

So respect your need for rest – whatever that looks life for you.

Rest and refreshing comes in different ways depending on how we are wired but to rest is a command from God. 

Obey it.

#2   What happened to all the nice jolly people that were bustling about getting ready for Christmas? 

Too much sugar and overspending, I would presume. 

If you are finding yourself kind of irritable and crabby, please scroll back to #1.

And then rest.

Please.

We need you at your best out there…it’s kind of rough in January.

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#3    We saw a couple of movies over Christmas and based on the previews, we have run out of ideas. 

The entertainment industry is recycling old plots and live animating all the cartoon movies. 

I have pondered from time to time that since there is a limited number of notes, there must be some sort of finite number of combinations and if the earth lasts long enough, we will surely have used them all up and all the songs that can ever be made will have been made.

We will run out of new ones.

It would seem the same holds true for ideas regarding story lines. 

We are there. 

#4     What do you love about winter? 

For me it is that cocooning we do in the evening, reading or watching a game on TV.

Soups and stews in the crock pot. 

Ice blue winter sky spread wide over the frosted stubble of the corn and bean fields. 

Soft blankets and comfy clothing…and no humidity. 

The way crystals form in a featherlike pattern on the corners of our windows some mornings and snow days…because even when you no longer have children in school…snow days are magical. 

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#5   I was reading in Lamentations 3 this morning and it struck me how Jeremiah openly acknowledges that God sometimes/often parent’s us with “tough love.”

It made me think of our current study in Sunday School and our discussion yesterday about how we have a tendency to skip over passages that don’t make us feel good about ourselves. 

So contrary to our culture. 

It’s all about feeling good about ourselves, isn’t it?

But as I read through verse by verse, I recognize that me feeling good again is not the point. 

If I am feeling bad about something and I feel like God is not paying attention to me, instead of looking for Him in places where He will affirm me…I need to be quiet and still and just sit before Him. 

Maybe He is silent because I have only been listening to what I want to hear Him say. 

As I sit and allow Him to discipline me, He gently or forcibly brings me to a place of repentance and it is there that I discover who HE IS…and that, my friends, is what it’s all about. 

I do so love the promise that His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23-24), but am I also loving the reminder that I should, at times, sit and be quiet and offer myself to Him to learn where correction is needed in my thoughts and actions? 

Hmmmm……

I pray we walk in the fullness of His loving correction and redirection for each of us in 2019. 

Blessings dear ones.

It is good to be back <3

Wrapping up the Countdown <3

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We have come to the final verse of John 17 and our Countdown is ended. 

My heart feels much like our home looks…bits and scraps of wrapping paper lie here and there…boxes with tissue and gift receipts are stacked near every chair and on either side of the couch. Remnants of various bags of treats are scattered amongst clean dishes waiting to be put away. 

The departure of one child to head back to her own home and life is ticking away in my heart far too quickly as she will load up her car in a matter of hours. 

And yes, this was Christmas. 

We have laughed and eaten and celebrated and now we will hug our goodbyes and separate and live out where God has placed each of us. 

Our time together is tucked away in a crowded treasure box in our hearts and we will call on those memories when we cannot tangibly reach over and take hold of a hand or give a tight squeeze as we take turns filling another coffee mug or sharing a puzzle to work on. 

And in a similar way, we say goodbye to our time shared this Advent season looking at Jesus’ tender prayer in the Garden.

I have loved so much sharing the thoughts He prayed for His disciples…His loving words for the eleven who had remained with Him and the many who believed then and have believed in the centuries since…including you and I and all who will believe until He returns.

Our final verse is John 17:26

And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.

NKJV

I told them what you are like, and I will them even more. Then the love that you have for me will become part of them, and I will be one with them. 

CEV

Eugene Peterson has a lovely way of tying this together in his commentary notes following this prayer:

And as he prayed, he gathered up the life they had lived together and fused it into the life the disciples would continue to live, praying his life work and their life work into an identity. It was going to be the same life whether people saw and heard Jesus living it or would see and hear the disciples living it.  

The Message, Eugene Peterson; NavPress, 2007, 2012. p 1672

Jesus did not rely on memories or human recollection to equip His disciples and followers. He gave us Himself.

Through His death and Resurrection, He has sent us the Holy Spirit to live in us who believe. 

The living and active Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus the Son…the Triune God…lives in each of us when we receive the gift of salvation through grace and faith. 

He guides us and leads us and teaches each one of us, so that we are equipped to be the living example of Jesus Christ in this world.

Peterson concludes his commentary with these words. 

The pattern holds: Whatever we do in Jesus’ name, we begin on our knees before our friends and neighbors and conclude ‘looking up to heaven’ praying to our Father. Washing dirty feet and praying to the Holy Father bookend our lives.   

THE MESSAGE, EUGENE PETERSON; NAVPRESS, 2007, 2012. P 1672

As you wash sheets and empty the dishwasher, vacuum the crumbs from under the table and haul the tree out to the curb…as you return to your desk or wave a loved one off to their own journey…I pray you will know the Christ of Christmas has never left you. 

So I close out our Countdown with this beautiful prayer of blessing over us from the author of the book of Hebrews:

Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen <3

Hebrews 13:20 NKJV

Christmas Countdown 2018 Day 25

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Merry Christmas!

I wanted to stop and share our verse before I start the coffee and the day gets away from me.

We gathered in a crowded sanctuary yesterday afternoon and took up a good portion of a pew near the front and I liked it. 

A lot.

When it came time for us to hold our lighted candles and sing Silent Night, Emmett took his and held it up as high as he could. Like a sword in the hand of a warrior, he stood straight armed and beaming through the whole song. 

He must have remembered from previous Christmas services that at the end, we all raise our candles and he was ready, willing and eager to shine forth his light. 

I hope he always is. 

Good Father, the people of this world don’t know you. But I know you, and my followers know that you sent me. 

During this time of year, it has been easier to hold up the Light of the world.

Will we continue to remember as we move into 2019?

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Merry Christmas from our home to yours <3