Friday, August 17, 2018

What about Bob? Parable of the Talents

I hope you will indulge me a little today.  I want to do a little speculation.  I've been thinking about the parable of the talents from Matthew 25:14-30.  I've been thinking and pondering about this particular parable a lot this year.  Why?  Well, I'm trying to figure out what it means for me.  So today we're going to ask ourselves, What about Bob?

Matthew 25:14-30 English Standard Version (ESV)The Parable of the Talents14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants[a]and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents,[b] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money.19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.[c] You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

What if there was a fourth servant...Bob lets say, who went and took his talent to the casino and blew it all.  What if he didn't just hold on to the talent he was given but tried to invest it to great and utter failure?  What would the master have said then?  We look at the master’s response to this third nameless servant and wonder, why in the world is he so hard on the poor guy?  At least he didn't lose it, squander it or steal it.  Right?  Can we squander the gifts God has given us?  Can we squander them so thoroughly that we lose them forever?  

Speculation has the danger of taking us to unhelpful places and so I want to be careful about the questions I give permission to bounce around my head.  For me, the key is to ask the question, ponder it, see if God answers and then let it go.  I have gotten in the habit of writing my questions down as a physical act of getting them out of my brain and acknowledging that God will answer in His time (even if that answer is, “it’s not for you to know”). 

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I love asking questions.  It’s part of who God created me to be!  For me, asking the questions helps draw me deeper into figuring out who God is and who I am in Him. It is how God sheds light on areas He is working on and it helps me acknowledge holes in my spiritual defenses that the enemy can exploit.  The trick to being a question asker is to have a firm foundation in the truth.  There is no question or speculation that your brain or the enemy can whisper that will shake you if you are rooted deeply in Christ.  I ask questions so I won’t be surprised when questions are asked of me, so my faith won’t be shaken by some clever twist of words thrown at me by someone more intelligent.

Eph 4:14So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

So here are the questions I’m asking today.  Can we abuse the "talents" God has given us?  Can we misuse His gifting?  Are we guaranteed success (ie, a return) if we invest the talents God has given us?

The parable of the talents is mostly used to apply to money, and rightly so because that's what a "talent" is in this context of scripture.  But God has been focusing my eyes on this story because it means more than money.  It is about investment.  Investment is defined as an act of devoting time, effort or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result
.  Learning, watching, practicing and probing.  If we are going to invest well it requires we gain experience and knowledge and then step out in faith.  Modern experience tells us that it is indeed possible to invest poorly but with enough attention, research, practice and knowledge you are more likely to see an increase over time.  In light of that, I look back on my questions and speculations and can feel the smile of God as I begin to piece together a deeper picture of what this parable means. 

I've been using this knowledge to inspire me to write.  If you're reading this blog right now you will see the evidence of that prompting ;)  I believe God has given me a glimpse into what He is calling me to in the future.  I have been working to stay still and be all present with where God has me right now, because I haven't been given the green light to proceed yet, but that doesn't mean I can't start flexing the muscles I think God is going to call me to use.  This is the heart of investment.

How about you?  Do you have questions when you read scripture?  Are there areas of your life God is calling you to invest towards the future He has planned?

Friday, August 10, 2018

Conversations with God

A few weeks ago I shared my experience trying to meet God in an extraordinary environment in Voice of Thunder - Sneffels Traverse.  I thought it only fitting that I should share the experience I've had this week in my normal, mundane environment.  

The purpose of this blog is to find God in my everyday but my family has been encouraging me to ask myself if I have become a spiritual thrill seeker.  Has my longing for adventure superseded my need to search for God in my moments like a treasure of great price?  This year has certainly been a year of adventure.  Travel, new experiences, learning about new things and having new challenges to deal with have all been a part of that.  God has gifted me so much adventure I might have lost site of the ordinary a little bit. 

I have been praying specifically since the mountain and trying to listen.  This past week I got a clear nudge from the Lord as I was praying.  How could I hear from Him if I wasn't in His Word.  It has been a while since I specifically prayed with the Word of God open before me.  Don’t get me wrong, I pray.  I just don’t often pray with or over scripture.  It’s just not a habit I ever got into unless I’m in a Bible Study and I would still forget unless the study prompted me to do so.  Typing that brings shame rising up in me.  It seems so obvious that should be a part of my relationship with God.  How can that not be a natural step for me?

I have told you before I struggle with discipline.  I’ve been praying for it since I was a very young lady.  Without my schedule and to-do list, without my formal Bible study groups, I’m even more lost.  All this summer I've been praying and seeking and totally forgetting a huge part of hearing from the Lord.  I had been participating in 3-5 Bible Studies before summer began, which was a lot.  It took up huge swaths of my day to complete all the “homework”.  The gatherings took hours out of my week.  When I hadn’t gotten further word from the Lord I assumed it was because I wasn’t obeying His command to rest.  So I slowly released most of the Bible Studies when they ended and waited to hear from Him.  We tend to go to extremes don’t we?  I know I do.  Clearing my schedule to rest didn’t mean God didn’t want me to spend any time in His Word.    

So this week I've been very intentional.  I started studying Isaiah again.  I have made goals for my day, but the top of the list has been time in God's Word for study.  I prayed before, I prayed during and I prayed after.  I’m sure you won’t be surprise to know what happened next.   I heard from the Lord.  He showed up, He met me, He answered my questions, He delighted me and I delighted in Him.  I saw Him in my moments more clearly than I have in months.  He worked through me and in me. 

It’s amazing what small adjustments can do.  It’s amazing how vital time in God’s Word is to my relationship with Him.  As the flurry of “Back To School” starts for you who have children, I want to encourage you.  With the institution of new schedules, sleep adjustment attitude fun and new obligations and expectations, don’t forget time with the source of your strength. 

Matthew 6:33

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Psalm 119:9

How can a young person stay on the path of purity?  By living according to your word.

Psalm 1:2

But whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

2 Timothy 2:15

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

Romans 10:17

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Psalm 119:105

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

This isn't a Christian obligation that we should do to be Christian.  This is a vital need.  It's a conversation, it's bread and water and we absolutely need it to live.  It can't get more extraordinary and beautifully mundane than that.



Friday, August 3, 2018

The Search for Real Friendship

Pam sat there with her book open and wouldn't meet anyone's eyes.  Her hurting heart radiated off of her like a palpable wave until finally the dam broke and she began to speak, her voice raw with suppressed emotion.  Pam's story is hard but what came pouring forth wasn't her story, it was her current need.  She wanted a friend.  No one would get deep into the places she needed a companion to share with.  No one would even commit to spending time with her.  I sat in that Bible Study with a group of wildly different women in various stages of life and overwhelmingly the conversation that followed revealed a great need.  Friendship.  I thought it was just me, this loneliness, this ache to pour my heart out.  I had trained myself over the years to resist the urge.  No one had demonstrated the desire to know me.  I can barely get people to commit to hanging out.  In Christian circles we are told that's only right because we only need God.  Only He knows our hearts.  Only He can be a proper receptacle for our struggles.  But as I sat there and listened to woman after woman agree that they couldn't gather good friends no matter how much they pursued it, I was shocked.  It wasn't just me?

Is it a product of our age?  A teaching of the church?  Are we too busy to get out from under our own struggles so we can't spend ourselves on others in times of sorrow or joy?  Is it a generational thing, that we've forgotten how to hold onto people no matter what life brings?  Are there such things as deep friendships anymore?  While God will always be our best friend, the only one who will truly and completely know us and is the only perfect receptacle for our struggles, God absolutely designed us for community.  We are meant to sharpen each other, encourage each other and love each other.  

Proverbs 18:24 English Standard Version (ESV)

24 A man of many companions may come to ruin,
    but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Proverbs 18:24 is often used to remind us that God is always a better friend to us than any other but an examination of the verse reveals a more subtle truth.  There is a difference between an acquaintance and a friend.  The Proverbs are pull of exhortations to surround yourself with wise people.  We are called to avoid isolation; instead, we are called to fellowship.  To hold each other accountable and encourage one another.  To love one another.

While marriage and family seem to be understood as areas of our life that are full of struggle, and therefore require effort to maintain, we have forgotten how to put effort into our friendships.  How to love through disagreement.  How to spend our time lavishly on a friend in need.  How to be more interested in being real with and for someone.  The frightening truth is that the lack of practice giving and receiving real friendship has handicapped us as we practice a friendship with a God who wants to be closer than a brother.  For Pam, she has no idea how to resolve a relationship with a God who hasn't been the friend she wants.  She can't even find an example of the body of Christ being a friends heart to her.  Like many, a disappointing attempt at friendship means walking away.  They weren't real friends to begin with, our hurting heart says.  Can you see why that proclivity might not be serving us in our friendship with God?  

It is clear that this truth has been noticed.  Blogs and sermons are trumpeting the call to hospitality.  They are encouraging us to open our doors and invite people in.  I want to add my voice to that call in a slightly different timbre.  Don't just open your doors out of Christian duty.  Open your hearts along with your doors and share yourself.  Take the time to get to know someone, don't just wave at them in the hall at church and consider them a friend.  Know their struggles and be a safe person they can talk to.  The church has taken the call to be the hands and feet of Jesus literally.  We fulfill our obligations to greet or serve communion or teach Sunday school and forget that the call to be like Jesus includes other "body parts".  Our ears, hearts and minds are also tools God uses to minister.

Be a real friend.  Reach out.  DON'T STOP!!!  

If so many of us have experienced the disappointment of failing to find real connection, that hurt is going to take some effort to overcome.  Be persistent, find your tribe.  Invite someone to join your adventure!



Friday, July 27, 2018

Voice of Thunder - Sneffels Traverse

Last week I shared how God was calling me away to be with Him in Strangely Dim.  This week I want to share with you what happened.

I am an indoor girl.  I've never enjoyed going outside.  I like reading...inside.  In our pursuit of better health, my husband and I have been working out and eating in whatever version of healthy we have to pursue in the moment (add on low cholesterol diet to the low nickel diet and we have new dramas to share)  When my friend Minx asked if I would be interesting in stepping in for her friend who couldn't go on a hiking trip they had planned for a year, I laughed it off at first.  I'm not a hiker.  I have never been backpacking.  But I couldn't get it out of my head.  I set a budget, ways to confirm with the Lord that this was His prompting and started reading about the Sneffels Traverse.

The Sneffels Traverse is a 5 day hut to hut backpacking trip across 30 miles of diverse terrain.  Needless to say, God continued to confirm this was the right course and I met my budget goals.  I knew this was going to be a difficult and painful experience but I was so excited by the call to come away with God that I couldn't contain my excitement.

I couldn't sleep the night before we left no matter how hard I tried.  I prayed and waited for God to work or speak.  

The drive up to the trail head was lovely.  A herd of Elk crossed in front of us and the start of the trail was pregnant with beauty.

We were advised that a hiker had gone missing in the area and were asked to keep a look out.

My goal was to accomplish this trip without complaint.

Psalm 19:14 English Standard Version (ESV)

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
     Lord , my  rock and my  redeemer.

I started praying as we walked and then waited in silence to hear the Lord speak.

Not. Even. Crickets.

No big deal.  Sometimes patience is required.  Sometimes you need to settle in.  God doesn't show up in my time but His.  

There was plenty of beauty and I was very grateful my pack was comfortable.  I was feeling pretty good...capable.  

We stopped for an early lunch at a beautiful spot just after crossing a little stream.  It was the first real rest for the day and I was still struggling to hear the Lord.  I was straining to hear Him in the gentle breezes, in the near blinding beauty and the peaceful calm but a sense of His presence eluded me.  We moved on quicker than I would have liked but the grey sky which was a blessing at the beginning of the day to keep away the heat was now foreboding rain.  

It wasn't long before we were pulling out rain gear. The torrent that assailed us was all part of the adventure to me.  As I walked, I continued to pray but I was getting frustrated.  Why had God called me away to meet with Him if He wasn't going to show up?  So as the rain pattered against my rain jacket hood I said, "It's just you and me here God.  No one is around.  So where are you?  When are you going to speak to me?"

It wasn't even a second before the blinding flash of light and thunder of a near lightening strike had me cowering in fear.  

My response ...

"Is your majesty and power how you are going to speak to me?  I know that you."

I was disappointed.  I was arrogant.  

The hike got harder at this point.  More fallen logs to climb over, the trail turning into a stream and creeks turning into brown water rushing torrents.  We hunkered down several times because the lightening strikes were so near and frequent but eventually we had to choose between trying to move out of the area or waiting it out.  

We finally got to the hut and started hanging things up to dry.  I couldn't fall asleep.  My prayers became tearful plea's.  I begged God to help me.  To meet me.  To speak.  To heal.  

I heard nothing.

The next day promised to be just as long but also hosted gorgeous views.  Our party, afraid of getting rained out again, pushed even harder.  We didn't stop to eat or look at many of the stunning views.  By the time I completed my first major decline my knee was hurting and I was despondent.  

I came upon this aspen and it caught my eye.  How did it get so twisted up?  How did it keep growing?  How did it figure out which direction was up?  

I wondered the same for myself.  I still hadn't heard from the Lord but I was working to keep Psalms 19:14 at the forefront of my mind.  I repeated it over and over.  I didn't want to miss my encounter with the Lord because I had given up too early.  

He never spoke to me.  I never experienced the time of intimacy I had expected.  What do you do when you do everything you can to meet with the Lord and you get attacked instead?  Some day God will reveal what He was doing during this time.  In the mean time, I will trust He was moving on my behalf.  I will trust that He heard every word, saw every tear and walked every mile with me.  

The week before I left, the chapters I was reading in "Unseen" reminded me that the times in the desert, when we are desperately thirsty for God, reveal our deep need for Him.  It expands our awareness and forces our roots to seek deeper in our desperate thirst for God.  Have you sought God and been unable to see Him in your circumstances?  Have you been thirsty for His living water and cried out "Why won't you give me a drink?  I'm desperate for you!" 

John 19:28 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Death of Jesus

28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”
He knows...He knows really well.  

Sometimes adventure is choosing to believe that God is more interested in our good than in our comfort.  For me, that meant I got pretty thirsty.  If my roots of faith stretched a little bit deeper because of it, I have nothing to complain about.  I may not see the benefits "above ground" yet, but the fruit will show soon enough.



Friday, July 20, 2018

Strangely Dim

I opened up my journal for the fist time in a while this morning and was dismayed by what I found. As I was flipping through the pages I noticed that there were whole sections that were starting to disappear. I was distraught and then I noticed which pages had started to fade. My Gratitude Journal, What I learned from God Today and What I heard from the Lord were all suffering a slow shift into invisibility.

It made me think about that old hymn...and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace. As that song went through my head it occurred to me that the opposite can be true. When my gaze is on the world, or even myself, the things of God grow strangely dim. They begin to fade from my notice. I've been reading Bible Studies, going to church and pursuing the path I am convinced God has me on. I had been enduring some spiritual attacks and was fighting off my doubts with truth. What I hadn't been doing was remembering my first love.

Revelation 2:2-4 New King James Version (NKJV)

“I know your works, your labor, your [a]patience, and that you cannot[b]bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.

It had been a while since I had cracked open those front sections. The back half of my journal, populated by the prayer requests, questions and brainstorming section, were perfectly fine. This disparity made me examine the kind of relationship and conversation I was having with a God who wants to be closer than a brother. I love asking questions and I have no problem recognizing my lack of knowledge. I love brainstorming. I love thinking about the paths of stories, ideas for connections and inspiration. I even love writing down prayer requests as an act of love and care to those people who share their hearts with me. All good things but all very empty without conversation with God and a deep and growing relationship that gives context and focus to everything else.

For me, life has gotten a little overwhelming and my tendency is to hunker down and hold on. I know the truth that God is sovereign and in control but I forget that He knows my heart. I don't have to grit my teeth and bear up under. He wants to hear from me. My strength won't sustain me, His will. This moment of watching a physical manifestation of my intimate relationship with God fading from inattention was a wake up call. As my attention focused on the reason and source of my faith, instead of the working out of it in my life, I heard a sweet and clear call to come away with Him. To worship and converse together, just the two of us.

I went through and refilled in every fading letter that morning while I studied God's Word. I had a closer time with the Lord than I have had in a while. I did still have some big questions come up as I learned about who God is a little bit deeper but I was able to ask and learn because God was revealing Himself to a friend.

How God is calling me away with Him is totally out of my comfort zone. It is an adventure I have never experienced and while I keep trying to remind myself that it will be physically painful it doesn't seem to overwhelm the sense of excitement I feel about going away to be alone with God and worship.

It's appropriate that the song that came to mind is called "Turn your Eyes upon Jesus" because that is exactly what I'm going to do.  Will you join me in falling in love with our Savior today. To run, giggling, into His arms.  To go on a date and gaze lovingly into His face.  It's worth every moment away from "real" life because God doesn't want what you can do for Him, He wants you!

Further listening "Strangely Dim" by Francesca Battiselli



Friday, July 13, 2018

Low Nickel Diet

Concluding our discussion on Comparison last week leaves me the perfect transition into this weeks blog post on health.  In my own life I don't think there is any subject where I compare myself negatively with others more frequently than health.  Our newest bump on the road of my families health is causing a great deal of stress for me because it involves such a steep learning curve.  Or at least, it feels steep.  My spouse has been dealing with a skin rash/eczema for the last couple of years that doctors and dermatologists have been unable to diagnose or treat. It was itchy, bubbly, red and caused hair to fall out (most notably on his eyebrows).  Spots would randomly flare up or spread and so I finally decided to make an appointment with an allergy clinic.  They concluded right away it was a nickel allergy and ordered my spouse to adopt a low nickel diet.

Can you guess what foods have nickel?  If you thought none, you would be incorrect.  If you thought all of them, ding ding ding, you are pretty close.  Nickel is in the ground, therefore, things that grow from the ground or eat things grown from the ground are going to have some nickel.  The trick seems to be choosing those foods that are lowest in nickel to avoid having an allergic response.  Here's the part that has been stressing me out.  All the lists I have found so far either contradict each other or only feel comfortable sharing the foods you can't eat.  Few will tell you what foods you can eat without doing some research.  

I want to emphasize the fact that I am not a medical professional.  I'm just trying to figure things out and thought it might help some people.  For me, I needed to figure out what I could feed my family in a practical sense.  I will also say that this is only the first step in figuring out how to live with a nickel allergy this severe.  I have personally found a great deal of information and encouragement from Christy Cushing.  Allergies are always a complex issue and my spouse apparently has quite a few.  Figuring out what will cause a reaction will require a lot of trial and error.  So to organize the information into a format that would be useful to me, I made a spreadsheet.

The problem with the above list is three fold.  

  • One
    •  it's not exhaustive.  I have no idea if quinoa is allowed yet. I don't know what other vegetables, like jicama or other root vegetables, we can eat.
  • Two
    • the nickel quantity in any given food is dependent on the soil it's grown in.  Manufacturing can introduce nickel into foods as well as pots and pans in some cases.  Identifying which items have nickel apart from the food equation is a whole other kettle of fish (which we really can't eat now) and so I won't go into it at this time.  
  • Three
    • We have to set aside the "healthy" diet/lifestyle we were pursuing and start completely from scratch.  I can't follow Whole 30 or Paleo because a good portion of what we eat under those plans are now not allowed.  Are we going to get enough nutrients on a low nickel diet?  What is healthy now?

It's been easy to get overwhelmed with all the effort that is going into learning right now.  Learning about a low nickel diet, learning what has nickel in it, learning about all the other things I'm pursuing right now.  More than any of those, I'm learning to humble myself.  I hate feeling dumb.  I hate feeling like I don't know what I'm doing.  I absolutely hate feeling like I'm doing something wrong.  And right now I feel all those things.  It requires humility to set aside my need to "have it all together" and be a student.  It requires humility to give our silent struggle to God instead of holding onto it so we can compare how much harder we have it than anyone else.  

What things are you struggling to set aside to be a student?  What does being a student mean to you?  Does it immediately conjure up images of youth, ignorance or weakness?   Whether you're struggling with comparing yourself to the seemingly healthy masses and wondering why you, or whether you are struggling to humble yourself as you learn to do better, you can do this.  One step at a time, in the chunks you can handle with God's help.