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Not Exceptional Things, Exceptional In Ordinary Things.

Cold Shower

Sometimes I just shake my head and laugh. At myself. I think yesterday the good Lord may have had a little chuckle at me too.

Because I have this uncanny knack for acting as if doing big, grand things are no big deal. As if– my latest grandiose conception- adopting siblings is no big deal. As if we could pull off a 50% increase in our family size like we pull off hosting a birthday party.

As if.

(For the record, that’s what this is for now- just a conception. No paperwork has been filed. But your prayer for he siblings to find a loving home, and for us, is welcome.)

Big And Small Things, Upside-Down

That I could embrace something as life-changing as the thought of taking two children into our family for life and in the same 24 hours balk at taking one needy young man into our van for two hours may be comical. It is, for sure, inconsistent and upside-down.

And balk I did Saturday morning when the doorbell ring at 8:15. I was looking forward to a mother-son date with Gabe after his game. I resented this surprise arrival.

That’s upside-down: embracing the big and grand and tripping over the little and mundane.

But we know it’s the small things- thoughts and acts- that form habits and character. And if you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength. But we are those who rejoice in the day of small things.

Still, some of us would polar plunge into Lake Michigan for any number of reasons, but can keep we our tongues from grumbling when the shower suddenly goes cold?

Now that’s hard.

Choosing What We Did Not Choose

It might have something to do with choice. Chafing at the little stuff while embracing the big things might have something to do with our struggle to choose what we did not choose.

When we decide on a life-changing course of action and we decide to take the plunge, well- that’s different from when God decides a thing for us. Like, say, when he says be kind and take the kid who needs a ride and do all things– including taking a cold shower- without grumbling or complaining

Maybe little things are so hard because they weren’t in our master plan. Because who chooses a cold shower in February in Wisconsin?

Or maybe we just prefer the drama.

He Would Have Done Any Great Thing

While I was laughing at my own inconsistency, Naaman popped to mind. His story is recorded in 2 Kings 5. Naaman was commander of the Syrian army. When he contracted leprosy, he sought help from Elisha, the famed healer and prophet of God.

Elisha’s prescription was not grand. So it’s no wonder proud Naaman didn’t like it: Go wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored, Elisha’s messenger said.

The muddy, little Jordan River, Naaman thought then ran off in a rage.

Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not the Abana and Pharpar the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?

Naaman expected the exceptional and desired a grand cure– like the mighty prophet working his wonders and waving his hands. Washing in the dinky, little muddy river was demeaning. So Naaman wanted nothing to do with Elisha.

He would have done any great thing to be cured. Naaman had already traveled miles and miles and offered a vast treasure.

But a commonplace, mundane cure? Never. 

Supernatural Grace (for the Mundane)

Maybe Oswald Chambers felt this strange inversion in himself, too. Maybe he know what it was to embrace a great cause and balk at the everyday.

Maybe he shared the impulsive boldness that I share with Naaman and with Peter, I’ll-die-with-you-after-I-deny-you Peter, too. Big-talking, water-walking Peter, who had grand ideas but stumbled on the mundane.

In “Impulsiveness Or Discipleship?” Chambers explains,

Discipleship is built entirely on the supernatural grace of God. Walking on water is easy to someone with impulsive boldness, but walking on dry land as a disciple of Jesus Christ is something altogether different. Peter walked on the water to go to Jesus, but he “followed Him at a distance” on dry land (Mark 14:54). We do not need the grace of God to withstand crises- human nature and pride are sufficient for us to face the stress and strain magnificently. But it does require the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four hours of every day as a saint, going through drudgery, and living an ordinary, unnoticed, and ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus. It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God- but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people- and this is not learned in five minutes.

Disciples of Christ aim to be exceptional in the ordinary and love the ones they’re with.

Loving Our Neighbor Is Harder

Our duty is to love our neighbor not the mass of nameless humanity. GK Chesterton nails that: We have to love our neighbour because he is here… He is the sample of humanity which is actually given to us. 

My heart has grand adoption plans. I’d love to expand our family. If God makes it clear us that we’re to adopt the siblings, I’d do that big thing in a heartbeat. If they come here.

But when the doorbell rang at 8 AM it wasn’t an “if”. It was God’s clear call for me to forgo my plan and love this little 5th-grade “neighbor.” He was here. 

We don’t have to do exceptional things for God, we have to be exceptional- and I take that for faithful and obedient- in life’s cold showers and among ordinary 10-year-old boys.

That’s hard. Learning to live in that supernatural grace is not learned in five minutes.

“If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.

1 John 4:20

Do ordinary things with extraordinary love.

Mother Teresa

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Random Roll of the Dice? (And How the Lot is Cast.)

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

Proverbs  16:33

Lots are the old-time equivalent for dice, I gather. And Scripture says God decides how the dice land.

In other words, Romans 8:28.

God works all things- good things and bad things, painful and sinful things, even seemingly random things like rolls of the dice- out for good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

By God our lot is cast.

In a sermon on Psalm 16, John Piper explains that when

[T]he dice are rolled, and the straws are drawn, and the wheel is turned — whatever happens to us comes from the hand of God. God holds my lot. God decides it. The Lord rules over it. God is my sovereign, and I am glad to have it so. I don’t just affirm it stoically; I exult in it.

That’s what I heard in the morning. That nothing that happens is random. So, I affirmed it in the afternoon- dare I say, exulted in it even – when on a 95° day in May, our AC conked out with friends soon on the way.

God shook those dice.

The friends still came. And on the eve of Memorial Day we sat around the table after rhubarb pie with box fans blowing and sang God Of Our Fathers. (Yes- with trumpet fanfare, care of son in 7th grade band.)

Then, right there- out of the blue, smack in the middle of verse two – was another line about how our lot is cast.

Thy love divine hath led us in the past,

In this free land by Thee our lot is cast;

Be Thou our Ruler, Guardian, Guide and Stay,

Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.

I’m dense and miss things, but even I couldn’t miss that: God holds our lot. How the dice land is from Him.

If God be for us, our lot is with God. The dice always land for our good.

All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

Psalm 25:10

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10 Things I DON’T Do (& 1 Thing I DO)

I write on the side. For love

Three days a week, I am gainfully employed outside of the home. Another day and more is joyfully invested in ministry and treasured scheduled times with my girlfriends. And feeding and clothing and making this house in the woods a home for Jim and the two sons we’re training up to be men takes time too.  

Because I wear so many hats, now and then friends will ask, How can you do everything you do?

But what these friends might not know are all the things I DON’T do.

So if you ever feel rotten because you can’t do all the things that a friend of yours can do, this post is for you. On the gateway of the year, pause and remember: there’s a lot of things that person you’re comparing yourself to DOES NOT do.

Like these 10 things, for example, that I DON’T do🙂:

  1. Care for pets. But Dinah and Zippy were delightful parts of past seasons.
  2. Clip coupons, buy Groupon and find all the best deals. (I sometimes use Kohl’s cash, though.)
  3. Sew, knit, quilt and crochet. But I am super blessed by a mother-in-law, nephew, nieces and friends who do.
  4. Decorate my home.  Our walls are (mostly) monastery white, our sofa is 21 years old and that’s all right.
  5. Workout at the gym. In the time it would take me drive there and back, I can squeeze a jog or bike ride in.
  6. Watch TV and rarely a movie. I have never, not ever, rented from Netflix or Redbox or Vudu. Really. Truly.
  7. Make lasagna or salsa or pizza from scratch. Although, as in #3, I’m blessed by family and friends* who do.
  8. Scroll my way through Facebook. I post and run a lot, and Instagram and Pinterest are off limits for me.
  9. Pamper at the salon. A combination of Great Clips, Clairol and my friend Holly manage me swimmingly.
  10. Garden. And by extension: can, freeze and make herbal soap with lavender and thyme.  Caveat #7 applies.

That’s my list of 10 things I DON’T do.

They’re not good or bad, right or wrong. The point is not that I can’t or shouldn’t do these 10 things. It’s that, at least for now, I don’t.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. It does mean we’ll all find it easier to rest content with what we don’t do when we acknowledge God made us- intentionally-  fearfully and wonderfully different. We have different and unequal sets of skills, goals, interests, abilities, and resources.

Which means our lists could stretch to 10,000 things we DON’T DO. And that’s okay. Because our limits are built-in by God. They’re good.

Here’s how Andrea Dekkar closed her “10 Things I DON’T DO”  post that prompted this post:

I think the important thing is for each of us to realize what our skills and goals and interests are, and then focus on putting our time, energy, resources towards activities that align with our skills, goals, and interests.

If we can do that on a regular basis, our lives will feel simpler, more organized, less chaotic, and less stressed!

I like that and agree. Building on strengths and using gifts- rather than wishing we could do what we don’t- tends toward growth and joy.

But I can’t leave it there. Because, while my list of 10 will no doubt change with each season of life I’m in, there’s this 1 thing I do that I pray never ends.

Seek Him.

One of the first Psalms I set (back) into song 20 years ago was Psalm 105: 1-4. We four still sing it now, ending with verse 4:

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.

Look to the Lord and his strength and seek His face. Those might sound like three, but it boils down to  one.

  1.  Seek Him.

Bing, bang, boom- some things are that simple. God’s children seek his face. They press on, they exert effort to get to God himself.

John Piper describes this sort of seeking as,

[T]o constantly set our minds toward God in all our experiences, to direct our minds and hearts toward him through the means of his revelation…

And there are endless obstacles that we must get around in order to see him clearly, and so that we can be in the light of his presence. We must flee spiritually dulling activities. We must run from them and get around them. They are blocking our way.

These things we must move away from and go around if we would see God. That is what seeking God involves.

That’s my 1 thing. I want move away and go around- some of my DON’Ts- to seek His face because I want to know Him more.

He still speaks.

Because how can you possibly love someone you don’t know? And how can you possibly know someone if you never listen? If you don’t seek?

To know God, we must listen to his voice. His sheep listen to his voice and follow Him (John 10:27).

We must hear God speak.

The spectacular truth is we don’t have to climb a mountain or sail the sea or even rise at 5 am in the quiet, dark to hear Him speak. Because He has spoken. His words are within arm’s reach right now. “The Bible,” AW Tozer wrote, “is not only a book which was once spoken, but a book which is now speaking.”

God wants to speak to us today through his Word. So let’s don’t say God is silent.

He wants us to seek Him and press on to know HIm.

Don’t say God is silent if your Bible is closed.

Tozer also wrote,

Everything is made to center upon the initial act of ‘accepting’ Christ . . . and we are not expected thereafter to crave any further revelation of God to our souls. We have been snared in the coils of a spurious logic which insists that if we have found Him, we need no more seek Him.

Spurious means false. It’s false to think that once we’ve come to faith and received Christ as Lord we’re done. As if once you’ve found a great friend you can stop seeking to know him.

No! John Piper says it like this, Go hard after the holy God. Isaiah, like this, Seek the Lord while He may be found. He may be found now in His Word.

But we silence the sound of God’s voice in our lives when we leave our Bible on the shelf (or ignore our Bible apps). As has aptly been said, Complaining about God being silent when your Bible is closed is like complaining about not getting texts when your phone is turned off.

Tim Challies puts a bow on it:

Apart from this, speaking by his Son, through his Spirit, in the Bible, God does not promise that He will speak in any other way

In other words, we can all believe that God will speak to us through the Bible. And all this JoyPrO stuff, I hope, is about how God does speak. About how we find Him when we seek.  

What’s on your lists? Do you have 10 things plus 1?

My list of 10 things I DON’T do will change. There might even come a time when I make soap with thyme and crochet.

But seeking Him by grace will – I pray- be my 1 thing. To begin and end this year and all others.

How about you?  What are 10 things you don’t do?

And 1 thing, so help you God, you do?

But one thing I do: 
Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:13b-14
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Before a Word is on my Tongue

Before they call I will answer;
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
Isaiah 65:24

A text interrupted Carrie mid-sentence.

You won’t believe this-that was from Tina. Her dad’s insurance just approved their request. The IV drip will be allowed at home.  

Seconds before the text, Cathy had shared a request from Tina. Tina’s father was medically fragile. He’d been diagnosed with pneumonia. Again. Him so weak, it likely meant another dreaded hospital stay.

So Tina asked us to pray. For her dad’s healing, yes, but more that insurance would approve IV antibiotics at home. Tina feared what long hospitalization might mean for his physical and spiritual health.

There it was. Just like that. 

Still. We were just at the pre-prayer share stage. Carrie was mid-stream in her request. We hadn’t even made it all the way around the circle yet.

Would insurance have approved the IV anywayDoes prayer work? Does God grant our requests because we ask?  And isn’t God’s will already determined? 

That little incident drew me back to C.S. Lewis’ essay, “The Efficacy Of Prayer.” You can read the full essay online here. All ten pages are pithy.

Lewis begins with this little illustration:

Some years ago I got up in the morning intending to have my hair cut in preparation for a visit to London, and the first letter I opened made it clear I need not go to London.  So I decided to put the haircut off too.  But then there began the most unaccountable little nagging in my mind, almost like a voice saying, “Get it cut all the same. Go and get it cut.” In the end I could stand it no longer. I went. Now my barber at that time was a fellow Christian and a man of many troubles whom my brother and I had sometimes been able to help.  The moment I opened his shop door he said, “Oh, I was praying you might come today.” And in fact if I had come a day or so later I should have been of no use to him.  

It awed me; it awes me still. (p. 3) 

Lewis quickly concludes that there is no scientific way to tabulate the success rate of prayer.

But of course one cannot rigorously prove a causal connection between the barber’s prayer and my visit…

Then he backtracks. The very question, “Does prayer work?” is framed all wrong, he says. As if prayer were magic or machine.

Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. In it God shows Himself to us. 

Petitionary prayer is, nonetheless, both allowed and commanded to us: “Give us our daily bread.” And no doubt it raises a theoretical problem. Can we believe that God ever really modifies His action in response to the suggestions of men?  For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it. But neither does God need any of those things that are done by finite agents…

He could, if He chose, repair our bodies miraculously without food; or give us food without the aid of farmers, bakers, and butchers; or knowledge without the aid of learned men; or convert the heathen without missionaries. Instead, He allows soils and weather and animals and the muscles, minds, and wills of men to co-operate in the execution of His will. They have not advised or changed God’s mind–that is his over-all purpose. But that purpose will be realized in different ways according to the actions, including the prayers, of His creatures. (p. 9)

How unfathomable his ways; his purposes beyond searching out! A God who at once knows what you need before you ask, and at the same time tells us to ask. But, don’t tie the bow yet.

On Thursday morning we prayed another prayer. 

In one form or another, it’s a prayer we’ve been praying for years. We pray for pregnancies. For God to be pleased to open long-barren wombs. For Addy it’s been six years, Breanna; four. For Hope; two.

Lewis ends the essay with precious words for us whose requests are refused. While Tina’s request was granted-almost before it was off her tongue- ours is rejected. Are Tina, her dad, some of God’s favorites? Do they court more favor, have more influence at the Throne?

To that, Lewis answers,

The refused prayer of Christ in Gethsemane is answer enough to that. And I dare not leave out the hard saying which I once heard from an experienced Christian: “I have seen many striking answers to prayer and more than one that I thought miraculous. But…as the Christian life proceeds, they tend to be rarer. The refusals, too, are not only more frequent; they become more unmistakable, more emphatic.” 

Does God then forsake just those who serve Him best? Well, He who served Him best of all said, near His tortured death, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God, at His greatest need…Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated.  (p. 10-11)

God grants our requests. Sometimes, while we are yet speaking. Sometimes He refuses. Breanna, Ally and Hope- each given one fruit of the womb, no more. That, after repeated prayers.

But the question triggered by Tina’s text- about the efficacy of prayer- what about that? Can we prove a thing would- or wouldn’t- have happened apart from our prayers?

We can’t. And it’s just as well.

For prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted. And if an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course he will sometimes grant and sometimes refuse them.  (p. 3)

Rest assured-in granting and refusing our prayers-He’ll withhold no good thing

Infinite goodness and infinite wisdom need no urging.

Still, He listens. 

But surely God has listened; 

He has attended to the voice of my prayer. 

Psalm 66:19