Keeping the Faith

Sometimes it is hard to trust.

God has been convicting me about that lately. I have always said that I trust him for the big things. I know I will not be tossed out on the street or go hungry, but is that faith in God or my family? I was blessed with parents, siblings and extended family that I know, beyond doubt, will be there when crisis hits.

But trusting God with the little things- that seems to be another story. I haven’t tithed in years, but have been feeling convicted to start again. I end most months scraping the double rainbowbottom of the barrel money-wise often waiting to purchase groceries and gas, nursing that last jug of milk, that last gallon of gas, until payday. The thought of giving the first 10% of our income to God makes me feel a little sick to my stomach.

Don’t you trust me?

I can hear Him ask it. In my head, I know that I can.

But taking out that pen and writing a check?

Whoa, lets take a step back there, pardner. I have things I need to get with that money, food, clothes for the kids, gas for my husband to go to work, a new book here and there, my guilty pleasure- soda. There’s also the kids dance lessons, Marching Band cost, that writer’s conference I am dying to go to.  I can trim those last few extras out, those last luxuries that have survived the last few budget cuts. The rest are all good things, right? If I give God control of my money, we can’t do those things.

Why not? Am I sure He won’t allow these things to happen? God wants good things for us and our kids. He knows how my children benefit from those extracurricular activities. Doesn’t He love them as much as I do, and more? And the conference, do I truly believe He has called me to write? Can I trust Him to do what is best?

That’s where the rubber meets the road, where the pen touches the paper. I know I can trust Him. He told me and I believe.

In my head I believe.

My white knuckled hand clutches the pen, the check remains blank.

Help me Lord, in my unbelief.

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Surviving Trouble

Sometimes life seems just so overwhelming. Finances, strained relationships, stress on the job and so much more all take a toll on us. Some days I want to stand in the center of a crowded mall and scream until they cart me away to a nice, safe rubber room. Other days I want to stay safe in my bed, pull up the covers and dream it all away.

149 (2)But we can’t do that, life insists on grinding on and if we are not careful, it will grind the life and joy right out of us. How can we do that, you may ask? Life is hard and those financial, relational and work stress-makers aren’t just going to go away because they are bad for us. Of course not! We can choose, however, whether or not we will let those things turn us into zombies, going through the motions but without life.

“Yet man is born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward.” Job 5:7

Ever been to a campfire and a jab with a stick sets off an eruption of sparks? Do any of those sparks fly downward? Nope, they all leap toward heaven, set free from the tongues of flame that seek to devour them. They escape for a time, but all too soon those bright spots of life die into grey ash and fall back to earth. Coals are different. They don’t seek to escape, but use the heat of the flame to feed their own glow. In fact, the coals will live long after the flames are gone.

“For in the day of trouble, He will keep me safe in his dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle.” Ps 27:5

When coals are buried in ash, they can continue to smolder for days. How do I know this? One of the first warm nights this spring, my family had a bonfire. It was lovely with sparks flying up, logs flaming  brightly and coals glowing contentedly. 3 days later, my husband was mowing the lawn and needed the chairs out of the grass. Without thinking, I piled the chairs in the fire pit so I wouldn’t have to cart them very far. The ashes were grey, there was no smoke or sign of heat, but guess what, when he came to that part of the lawn, the chairs had become a towering pillar of flame. I guess those coals were still alive under there somewhere. (Moral of the story, don’t assume that where there is no smoke there is no fire . . . or coals anyway)

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

Ah, here is the secret, trust in the Lord and allow his peace to fill you. Sounds good, but how do we do such a thing? It is not easy, I still struggle on a daily, even hourly basis. It takes practice, practice and more practice. I think one of the verses that helps me the most is one Paul wrote to the Philippian church.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is praise worthy-think on these dewy peony1 dry brushthings.” Phil 4:8

What you focus your mind on has a direct impact on your attitude. Sure life is tough, it doesn’t really matter what our circumstance is, rich or poor, fed or hungry, alone or surrounded by the best of friends, we all have trouble of some kind. If you focus on the hard things, they will fill your mind and spirit with bitterness, anger and discontent. If you focus, instead, on the good things around you, no matter how small, the peace that Jesus promised us will have the chance to grow and spread. Our lives will be better for it.

Embracing the Chains

singing treeI went for a walk in the woods last fall and came upon an old maple tree that I fell in love with. It looked like it was singing praise to its creator. I took a picture of it and keep it on my wall near my computer. This spring I returned to those woods and found my friend the singing tree, it still looked happy and green with the promise of new life. But this time, I  approached the tree from a different angle, and noticed something new. At the base of this happy tree was a tangle of barbed wire. The rusted wire had likely used the tree as a convenient support as it kept some farmer’s cows safely contained. The fence had disappeared with no other sign of posts or wire in sight. Why had this mess of barbed wire stayed? Because the tree had grown around it. It had embraced the chains that had once bound it.

We all have chains that try to tie us down, to fence us in, to strangle us. For some of us it is poverty, for some it is sorrow, fear or resentment. Many of us have survived sickness, addiction, abuse and injustice. We all have chains, but what will we choose to do with them?

Christ came to earth to break those chains. He came to set us free and give us life in abundance if we accept his gift.

A few months ago, I believe God sent me a picture during worship at church. We were singing ‘Break these chains’ and I saw myself in a dark dungeon with my wrists shackled and chained to the wall above my head. I had given up and hung my head in despair. Christ stood before me. He had broken my chains. The thing that bound me was nothing but shadowy illusion. It was my own fear and doubt that kept me chained in that dungeon. Jesus was imploring me to step away, to follow him into a life of hope and joy. I would like to say that I have shaken the chains and left that dark place, but I am still battling those fears. I just know now that He is with me and will not give up. embracing the chains4

It was after that moment with God that I found the tree that rejoices despite its chains. Jesus has set us free of the chains, the wire embracing the chains2surrounding the tree had been cut away from other posts long since gone, but the scars remain. The scars of our past, of our present don’t go away. They help to make us who we are. It is up to us to embrace the chains, the scars they leave behind and the God who is bigger than all that would hold us back.

I choose to acknowledge my weakness and fear. I choose to let God work through them. I choose to not let the fear and doubt hold me back, but will grow around them and beyond them. It will not be easy, the barbs in the wire hurts, but I choose to leave the dungeon and find the hope that Jesus promised.

 

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