Insights from Seminary

As many of you know, I started seminary at Liberty University this past semester.  I’ve shared bits and pieces of major takeaways on the blog’s social media platforms, but the bulk of the learning has really been shared in the local church ministry setting.  Today, though, I’m sharing an assignment with you. Actually, as I type this, I’m doing the assignment. 

The assignment?  To write a blog!

The class?  Research, Writing, and Ministry Preparation (or, as my schedule shows, RTCH-500). 

Every student in the same degree path is required to take this class within their first two semesters…and here we are!

Part of the class focuses on Hermeneutics (fancy word for studying the Bible).  Another part of the class focuses on presenting information in the Turabian Style (like APA or MLA but on steroids….and yes, it’s as invigorating as it sounds). Then, a final part of the class brings me to this assignment: spiritual formation. Yes, spiritual formation can still happen even though I attend remotely!

I know, there are naysayers who don’t believe that true spiritual formation can happen in virtual settings, but then again, that’s probably not you since you’re the one reading a Christian blog right now 😊 The book we used, Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age, puts a lot of those objections to rest, or at least gives them a run for their money.  It is well worth the read if that’s something you’re into.

Who doesn’t love killing two birds with one stone?! (Apologies to my animal rights activist friends, it’s the best phrase I have at the moment, but I’m happy to be more inclusive…or exclusive as it were…if you have a suggestion you know how to find me).  #worksmarternotharder

OK, so back to this book and the assignment. 

We were asked to reflect on what we read (students are still being asked to do that, apparently) and share two main takeaways that we want to bring along with us on our walk into ministry.  I actually think that my selections can have broader implications than just to the seminarian or pastor so I’m hoping that you can glean something worthwhile as well.  I’ve always said here that I won’t ever share guidance that I wouldn’t or didn’t actually follow myself so you can be rest assured that any takeaways will be incredibly practical. 

A Perspective Shift

The first takeaway is more of a perspective shift than something which ought to be carried out.  That said, I think this shift can greatly inform future actions.  Also, I’ll note that the general sentiment is not new to us, but the authors present it is such a way that I have a new appreciation for how we fit into God’s plan. Here’s what they have to say:

As far as Scripture is concerned, growth is growth…God did not establish two separate laws of growth—one governing flowers and trees and another governing the Kingdom and the church. Growth in nature and growth in the Kingdom, the church, and the Christian partake of essentially/virtually identical patterns that require ecological connections and reciprocal interactions expressed as nutrient exchanges. In nature, the connections and exchanges are organic, while in the Kingdom and church, they are spiritual. In nature, the exchanges involve physical nutrients (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, etc.) In the church and Kingdom they involve spiritual nutrients (milk and meat of the Word) exchange through interactions with one another.[1]

Lowe & Lowe, Foundations of Faith in a Digital Age

If we keep this general framework in mind, we can apply what we know about growth to any of the organic metaphors in Scripture (i.e., I am the True Vine John 15:1, Body of Christ 1 Corinthians 12:27, etc.), which I think is probably what most of us have tried to do for an extent.  After all, we understand the idea that a metaphor is meant to refer to something else so we glean what we can from the imagery provided. Here, the authors explain how the growth metaphors work.

Taking it one step further, I think it’s not only important to understand individual spiritual growth and corporate spiritual growth, but also how the two should be necessarily reciprocal to one another.  There should mutual benefit whereby one strengths the other, so that neither is one always sucking the life out of the other nor is one always a consumer. 

No. This won’t do. 

Think of your best friend.  Not the one that always only texts when there’s drama.  Not the one you have to mentally prepare yourself to have a latte with.  The friend that you are happy to be around.  The one who is equally excited to see you.  The one who you exchange gifts with just because.  That’s what our relationship to the church should be like and vice versa.  Here’s how the author describes it with, you guessed it, another metaphor:

Psalm 1:1-3 draws a comparison between the ecology of trees and the righteous person–who like the tree is “planted by streams of water” and “yields its fruit in its season”. Trees do not grow alone; they grow as they connect to and interact with a greater ecology that provides part of the nourishment and nutrients needed to sustain life and produce growth. The tree also contributes to the ecology in which it lives by adding nutrients to the soil and atmosphere and by hosting birds who will build their nests in its limbs.

All of this the psalmist understands, not only about the ecology of trees but the ecology of the righteous person who does not flourish alone but as he or she is planted within a defined ecology. Righteous people avoid the detrimental social ecology described in Psalm 1:1— “council of the wicked,” “path of sinners,” “the seat of scoffers” — and places themselves within the beneficial ecology of the law of God and of God’s people who follow that law…

The flourishing trees and the righteous give evidence of health and vitality through observable indicators that confirm growth while also confirming the viability of the natural or spiritual ecosystem that produced them.[2]

Lowe & Lowe, Foundations of Faith in a Digital Age

Isn’t that incredible?! I don’t know why I never thought of our life in the church in such a way before, have you?  In some sense, my analogy to your best friend was flawed; it still focused on individual-to-individual relationships.  Here, we see how we are part of something bigger, something more lifegiving while we also serve to give life to it. Kinda like how Penn State alum are all part of a massive group of people who bleed blue and wear white to a football game once a year…but not.

So that’s the perspective I’m taking away from this class.  It’s much more wholistic than what I had going on in my brain prior to seminary. 

Now, and much more briefly, here’s an action step as my second takeaway:

I am intentionally going to work toward keeping human interactions human. 

Sounds easy, enough, right?

But…

How many  hand-written letters did you write last month? Year?

When was the last time you didn’t text your sister when you wanted to tell them something? 

Technology is AMAZING and a timesaver in soooo many ways, but if we rely just on technology then we are missing something.  Perhaps facetime works best instead of coffee dates because of busy mom lives.  That works for a season, but don’t allow that to be diluted even more to only emoji-filled texts. 

Believe me, this message is for me more than anyone.  I would rather do almost anything at all then pick up the phone, but human interactions are necessary. As the authors mentioned, “technology alone cannot maintain human relationships and should not attempt to replace them.”[3]  So what does this mean for me, personally? 

If I’m shepherding a group of leaders at church then I need to be intentional about connecting with each of them individually outside of a group chat. If I’m hosting an online study, I need to create opportunities for interaction: interaction with me, with the content and between the participants themselves. I need to connect with the participants outside of the zoom, even if its just another zoom.

But, maybe your connections look differently.  Maybe they look more like mine when my ministry hat is swapped for my mom hat. 

Maybe you’re consistently opting for grocery delivery orders (guilty!) as opposed to getting out and have an opportunity to interact with, extend grace to, or bless someone.

Or, maybe you stick to streaming home workouts, but never interact with other health-minded adults irl. I’d say I’m guilty of that one, too, but tbh, I don’t work out at all and, at the moment, I don’t seem to have a shortage of health-minded friends…but you get the idea. 

Technology is great, but in moderation. 

Now, to wrap up today’s blog I’m going to leave some advice for a future seminary student. Yes, this is also part of the assignment, just bear with me and don’t despair! This tidbit will serve all of us well, whether we are pursuing higher education in ministry or not. My advice is borrowed from another book we used in class: Surviving and Thriving in Seminary. It’s straightforward, life-altering, life-giving, and usually easier said than done.  Ready for it?

Spend time with God.[4]

I just wrapped up the entire Simply Still Series so I won’t revisit everything we reviewed over the last few weeks, but think about it: how much time do we really spend with God.  Not for God. Not learning about.  Just with.

John 15:1-5 teaches us how Jesus is the true vine, and we are to abide in Him.  We can actually apply the brief growth teaching from before to this metaphor as well.  How does one abide?  One is consistently with. Vine branches don’t just pick and choose when they get to be on the vine.  They are in a constant state of mutual benefit with the vine itself. 

How can we remain in Him if we don’t spend time with Him?

In His Presence?

In His Glory?

Praising Him for His work on the cross? For the mercy He shows us, not because we are worthy but because He is? 

While we can certainly present petitions, sorrows, and thanks to our King (and we should!), there is also something to be said about just being with Him. Not asking for a single thing; just being an open vessel to receive whatever the Holy Spirit wants to reveal to us, as opposed to coming forth with a pre-populated agenda. 

Friends, if the idea of meeting God with a blank slate is scary to you, try just starting with 5-minute intervals.  Also, check out an earlier series on Meditating Biblically.  There’s a lot of suggestions there for those who desire to plunge into more intimate times with God.  If you’re not there yet, that’s OK.  Take what you can and leave the rest.

Well, friends, if you’ve stuck with me this long I appreciate you coming along for the ride of this assignment! As some of you know, I went to Asbury this week so I’m praying through what to share from that experience. It’s a lot to digest, but I’m sure you’ll be hearing about bits and pieces of it in my next few posts!

All my love,

Helen


[1] Stephen D. Lowe and Mary E. Lowe, Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018), 42.

[2] Ibid., 29-30.

[3] Ibid., 91.

[4] H. Daniel Zacharias and Benjamin K. Forrest, Surviving and Thriving in Seminary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017), 42.

Simply Still Series: Resting Better

When last I shared here, as far as the Be Still Series goes, I suggested that some of us struggle with resting well. Although there could be many reasons for this, today we are going to focus on one reason in particular: perhaps, just maybe, our ability to truly rest is lacking because we lack a deep enough trust in God to provide for us while we attempt to press pause in any real meaningful way.  Do you think this could be true for you?  It can be for me.

What if I miss that deadline?  What if I don’t have time to give all the kids baths later? What if someone has to cover for me?  What if….? 

Here’s the thing:  although I am guilty of not always putting the Lord first, I have never put the Lord first and been short on time because of it. As we learned elsewhere in this series, if we rest the way the Lord has designed us to rest, we are following a part of His will for our lives.  Therefore, we can have a blessed assurance that by resting in such a way we will still be able to accomplish everything we need to accomplish on any given day.  We may not get to everything we want to complete on our self-fabricated to-do lists.  But, in such cases, rest assured those tasks bypassed for another day or season wouldn’t be essential to that day in question anyway. He always provides what we need.    

One of my first blog posts was on the lesser known names of God.  One of those names is Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides, and it applies to the 16th chapter in Exodus, which is where we are going to spend some time today.

Exodus 16 tells of a time when the Israelites were instructed by God to go out into the dessert and gather food (manna) for one day; none was to be saved for the next day. Think: you get an allowance each day, but then also have to spend down to zero each day, trusting you will have another allowance out of nowhere in the morning. I can feel my anxiety rising just thinking about it!

The Israelites continued in this way for just about a week. On the 6th day, however, they were to gather twice as much so as to last for the next day as well. Why? Because God instructed them to rest on the next day…the 7th day. Sound familiar?

And just like that, we can clearly see the nexus between trusting God while also honoring His command to rest a Sabbath’s rest.

The Israelites needed to trust in Him, that He would provide, and that they would not go hungry. They needed to practice a daily dependence on their God…our God. Then, they needed to do all this while they were “left” of the sidelines, allowed to rest, but not to gather any sustenance for an entire day.

Do you know what happened to those Israelites who took it upon themselves to harvest on day 7? They couldn’t harvest. There was nothing there for them. They could not get any additional nourishment that the Lord did not already provide. Verse 29 says:

Bear in mind that the Lord has GIVEN you the Sabbath; that is why of the sixth day he GIVES you bread for two days.

Exodus 16:29, emphasis mine

Do you see? The sustenance and the sustaining rest are BOTH gifts to us from God. Who are we to manipulate such a divine plan for humanity?…especially one which commands rest?!

Can you think of a time when you were stretched beyond thin and yet you got through it all in tact?  That was God.  Can you think of a time when you didn’t know where the next paycheck was coming from but your bills still got paid?  That was God.  What about a time when you were so sick that you couldn’t bring yourself to sign into that zoom or drive for your turn in the carpool?  Did everything work out? I thought so!

Friends, don’t wait until you are forced to stop from pure exhaustion, sickness or anxiety attacks.  Even if you don’t get that far, I’ll bet none of us are all that pleasant to be around when we don’t press pause as we ought to.  By obediently adhering to His commands and trusting in his provisions, you are proactively protecting your relationship with Him and others. 

Pray:

Father God, Jehovah Jireh, you are so reliable!!  You conjured manna out of nowhere…in the middle of nowhere!  Of course, you will provide for me and your church as I take a day to rejuvenate and focus on you alone.  Remind me of that as often as I need to be reminded of it! Forgive me for being so stubborn and still wanting to get in all the things, especially in the time that really isn’t mine to begin with.  Let me rest so you can provide and be glorified.

In Jesus’ Holy & Precious Name,

Amen.

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Simply Still Series: What can we Learn from Children about Rest?

As we wrap up this series, I want to accomplish 3 things: briefly summarize previous posts in the series; leave you with a gentle word of caution; and, finally, impart final words of encouragement.

Now, here’s the simplest part.  Lets review the topics covered in each of the 6 parts published so far (all are hyperlinked for easy reference):

Part 1

An Introduction to Being Still explored how being still is an imperative from God. In this way, being still isn’t a form of weakness; there is boldness in the obedience and stillness.

Part 2

Emptying Our Plates provided some advice on how to go about emptying already full plates. How can we be still if we are too busy to be still? Remember, we will be able to accomplish infinitely more for those entrusted to our care and for the kingdom if we surrender to God’s will for our lives. Sometimes less is more!

Part 3

Living it Out attempted to put my own advice and the Word of God into practice. Instead of spending more time on writing than I reasonably had to give during the busy holiday season and while my family quarantined; I opted to share some of the best content ever created: Scripture. Verses focusing on the need to rest were highlighted as I took a step back for a few days.

Part 4

Saying No offered additional examples of life application as related to being still, specifically on how to say, “No.” The latter skill is key if we want to keep our schedules balanced once we get them to where God would like them to be.

Part 5

Is Keeping the Sabbath Still for Real? established the Sabbath rest as part of God’s design for creation. God set the standard and the example for us, his creation, when he, the Creator, rested on the 7th day. Creation was incomplete until it encompassed the act of resting.

Part 6

Finally, Resting Better suggested an antidote to our restlessness: trusting in the Lord more during the times when we are asked to slow down. A biblical example from Exodus set the backdrop for this important and sometimes sensitive discussion.


Now, speaking of sensitive discussions, here is that promised word of caution I mentioned earlier: be wary of keeping “sabbath” rest for purely legalistic reasons.  While I understand we all have seasons where we need to “fake it until we make it,” Sabbath rest should be more of a mindset than something we feel obligated to squeeze into our schedules.  Once rest becomes something else to check off we are missing the point. Yes, we are to be obedient and be still, but its a heart change as much as it is either a scheduling or cerebral change.

The essence of the Sabbath (and being still) is to cease, stop striving and trust in Him.  As long as you are doing this intentionally out of a pure heart, you are doing just fine! Do not get hung up on the exact day you are keeping your Sabbath.  Doing so can push up against some dangerously legalistic territory!

Now that we have recapped the series as a whole and have received our loving dose of caution, let me share some final words of encouragement.

But first…

Do me a favor, and scroll up for a quick second.  See that picture?  That’s my 8-year old daughter, Kaleigh, laying on my lap during church two weeks ago.  Do you know what else she is resting on?  There’s something between her head and my lap…My Bible! The Word! She is literally and figuratively at rest on and in the Word during a worship service! 

Next time I need to be grounded and be still, I’m going to think of the simultaneously simple yet profound truths portrayed in that picture. The Word is around her; she’s soaking it in as she peacefully listens to the message. The Word is in Her. She loves Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is alive in her! The Word is touching her. She is literally touching it, but it is also moving her heart! This 8-year old had not a care in the world that Sunday: she just needed to be still while existing and absorbing His Word.

After looking at the picture some more I started to wonder what light a childlike faith could shed on the idea of resting on God. It is that simplicity and pureness of heart I’d like to leave you with today, which is why I asked each of my three children what resting on God meant to them. Here’s what they said:

Following what He says.

Kaleigh, age 8

Believing in God and putting faith in God.

Keira, age 10

Relying on His Word. Relying that He is there when you need Him the most. Relying that he is just there.

William, age 14

Right out of the mouths of babes, am I right?! Do you have a child in your life you could ask the same question to? See what they say! Perhaps their answers, lacking any pretense whatsoever, will provide you with a refreshing perspective: a perspective that can’t easily come from many well-read or even well-intentioned adults.

Friends, although I’ve now spent several weeks recounting scriptural truths and practical how-to-style advice, please know that resting on the Word of God doesn’t have to be difficult; but it does take our willingness.

As our pastor pointed out this morning during service, “we need to step back and step toward God.” Go to Him…be still…and find rest. It will change you.


Please be sure to check out the blog’s fb page for this 40-day posting eggtravaganza!

Also this week we reached 400 followers on fb! I’m doing a giveaway to celebrate! Leave a comment on the giveaway post on fb by 7pm to enter!

Simply Still Series: Top 6 Stillness Verses

Well, with my first full week of seminary behind me and almost a full semester left to go, I am definitely feeling the need to rest! How hypocritical would it be if I wrote about being still but did not also live it out?! So…although I am leaving you with very little content today, in all the ways that matter it’s all that you need: God’s own Words. Here are some verses to pray over which reinforce the biblical imperative to be still:

Be still, and know that I am God.

Psalm 46:10

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.

Exodus 14:14

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Psalm 37:7

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.

Psalm 23:1-2

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.

Hebrews 4:9-10

Now then, stand still and see this great thing the LORD is about to do before your eyes!

1 Samuel 12:16

The Lord continues to do remarkable things, just as He did in the time of Samuel. Awe-inspiring works in those around us and in you. Follow me this week in being simply still and let’s see what divine works we can notice! What may He change or soften in us?! How much more will we be restored this time next week?!

As as a closing devotional, here today’s Jesus Calling which seems to be especially fitting:

Let my love enfold you in the radiance of My Glory. Sit still in the light of my presence, and receive My Peace. These quiet moments with Me transcend time, accomplishing far more than you can imagine. Bring Me the sacrifice of your time, and watch to see how abundantly I bless you and your loved ones.

Through the intimacy of our relationship, you are being transformed from the inside out. As you keep your focus on Me, I form you into the one I desire you to be. Your part is to yield to My creative work in you, neither resisting it nor trying to speed it up. Enjoy the tempo of a God-breathed life by letting Me set the pace. Hold My hand in childlike trust, and the way before you will open up step by step.

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, January 25

Missed other posts in the series? I got you… ❤

Simply Still Series: How to Forego What is Good for What is Best

In a short video for my first post, I mentioned how I didn’t want to start this blog unless I knew that God willed me to write it.  Over the years I learned that one of the most significant contributors to burnout is piling responsibilities on top of responsibilities, without ever considering if those commitments were actually willed by God to be a part of my life at that time.  Of course, we will experience burnout if we fill up our time with things that were never meant to be there to begin with!

Today’s post in the Simply Still Series will focus on shifting away from being overcommitted. If you didn’t check out the first post in the series from last week, please be sure to do that!

Here’s a gentle warning: even commitments which are “for God” or which are “good” and “healthy” are generally not worth the trouble if they are not aligned with God’s will for our lives at that point.  That means praying through some hard choices.  It also means possibly foregoing what is good for what is best. 

If you struggle with being overcommitted and a general lack of stillness, there could be a number of contributing factors.  Maybe there is a value system which does not prioritize time and resources the way God would prefer? Maybe there is apprehension around saying, “No.”. The possibilities are endless, none are mutually exclusive, and I have been guilty of most!  Regardless of why you are overextended, today, I’m going to offer two pieces of advice on how to reduce your current commitments:

1st Piece of Advice

Make a list of everything on your plate right now.  What can you outsource (i.e., shoppers at the grocery store or pick up options)?  What can a spouse or significant other do or be taught to do?  An older child?  What can you do away with all together? What needs to be put on hold for a period of time? Sometimes seeing things on paper can help make sense of what stays and what goes.  Of course, pray on it!

2nd Piece of Advice

If you are really struggling (or even if you are not), consider clearing as much as possible from your schedule. This may sound like a silly or extreme idea, but I LOVE doing this each winter.  We live in the Poconos and although I love looking at the snow, I don’t necessarily love being in it.  It also gets dark very early in the winter…very, very early. 

Needless to say, winter in the Poconos really lends itself very well to a homebody seeking to lessen their load.  Also, with all the hustle and bustle of beginning a new school year finally far enough behind us, it really is an opportune time to deliberately press pause on activities. 

Maybe those expensive gymnastic lessons lose some appeal after taking a break from them?  Maybe that ministry you are serving in will be able to open the door for someone else to come in and serve in your absence? Only move toward reintroducing or introducing a commitment once you are certain it is meant to be there. More on this in a future post!


Now, as I’ve mentioned in other posts, I will never offer advice that I don’t follow myself or that is not a product of my own experience.  Here is one example of how God worked through my commitments, or lack thereof, about a year ago. 

I found myself in school (yet again!), only this time for my Doctorate. At the time, I really sensed God wanted me back in school to open up new doors with a higher level of education. I was right about the school part, but wrong about the focus area. You see, I was pursuing a Doctor of Public Administration to supplement my Masters in the same subject area. I was about a semester or two in when I sensed God gently pressing me to stop. I had no idea why; nor did I know what else He might want me to pursue.

Nonetheless, I obeyed and withdrew.

Within a few weeks, God was igniting a long-dormant call to pursue ministry. Within a few more months I started down a path which could culminate in ordination, and just this week I begin a new higher education journey in seminary. What a whirlwind! Do you think I could have been able to identify what God wanted my next steps to be if I didn’t create margin by first relinquishing some responsibilities on my plate? Maybe. Probably not.

You see, I LOVED going for my doctorate! I thrive when I’m surrounded by minds brighter than my own, pushing me to think beyond what I’m currently capable of. Is pursuing a higher education bad? Nope! But here’s the thing: those were my plans, not His. Once I sensed that God had different plans for me, I adjusted my course. I didn’t know why or to what end. I simply obeyed.

God took care of the rest of the details and revealed some of the missing pieces once I was open to seeing them. I still don’t have all the pieces in front of me, but I trust Him and now I know through Spirit-led affirmations that I am indeed on the right path this time…at least until God gives me new directions.

Our stories will look different, but there will be a common dominator between you and I:  we can accomplish infinitely more for those entrusted to our care and for the Kingdom if we surrender to God’s will for our lives.  Sometimes less is more!

Don’t get me wrong, I can still overcommit, but I am getting better about consulting with God while I decide what to take on. 

Now that we have reviewed some ways to think about and actually create more time in our busy schedules, we will spend the next posts delving into some ideas around how to keep our schedules manageable.  Without that, we will be back to square one in no time at all. Think of it as the maintenance phase in weight loss. That juice cleanse won’t help much if we drive to Starbucks for some creamy, caffeinated goodness as soon as the cleanse is up!

Pray:

Father God, in your infinite wisdom, help me to discern which responsibilities are really mine and mine alone.  I feel comfortable when I am in control so I don’t delegate as often as I should, but I know this is not your desire for me.  It can’t be!  Trusting you is more than enough. When I feel led to transition out of participating in an activity in some capacity, I will trust that you know what is best for me and the others around me.  I will humbly follow where you lead.

In Jesus’ Holy & Precious Name,

Amen

Simply Still Series: Tired of Being Tired?

Why do we let ourselves run so ragged? I mean think about it…why do we let ourselves become so depleted? No one is forcing us to chair that fundraiser. If we have kids, no one is asking us sign them up for yet another extra curricular…except perhaps the kids themselves. So why do we do it? Surely we have the capacity to take on or not take on the vast majority of activities which vie for our time and money. Yet, here we are.

Running on empty is clearly not God’s intention for us.  He could never want this lifestyle of perpetual exhaustion and restlessness for us, His children whom He delights so much in.

So again I ask, “Why do we let this happen?” Do we think we know better than God does when it comes to what’s best? 

Over recent weeks I have had different versions of the same conversation with various friends.  These conversations are what prompted me to address the topics we are covering over the next few weeks together. “I just don’t know how to say, ‘No’,” said one.  “I don’t even know myself anymore,” said another. 

In fact, we know from David that our Almighty Father desires the complete opposite of this for us:

Be Still and Know I am God. 

Psalm 46:10a

Be Still. This is not just a mere suggestion. It’s an imperative straight from the Lord, calling upon us to take up stillness as a part of our very being. This is more than acting still or desiring to be still, or thinking about being still.  It’s actually a state of being.  A state of being still. But how do we get there?

I don’t pretend to know all the answers, or even a fraction of the answers.  However, I do know what it is like to experience burnout and have nothing left for the people I should have the most for. I know what it’s like just going through the motions, too worn and defeated to even know I was worn and defeated.  I know what its like giving God my leftover time and energy, if anything at all, and not my very best.

I know what it’s like to try and remedy this imbalance on my own.

Once I got clued in that my body was keeping the score, I knew some changes were in order.  I read the books.  I did the things (think yoga, breathwork, and other practices).  None of these are bad things! In many ways, they are quite helpful, especially when they promote self-healing. However, they won’t sustain us, and they shouldn’t be done apart from a larger framework defined and ordained by God.

I also do not pretend to live the most balanced life at all times. Nonetheless, by the grace of God, I also know what it’s like to surrender a worn-out body and mind to Him. This allowed Him, not I, to re-prioritize how I spend my time and who I spend it with. 

The Lord had a great deal of heart work to do within me (and he still does). That is not something anyone but God can do for you, and will only come from abiding in Him. That said, I also learned a lot along the path toward balanced living where the Lord is prioritized above all else. When doing so, believe it or not, I still had more than enough time and energy for anything which followed Him.

In 2021 I published a similar series, Be Still. I have taken that content and reimagined it, additionally applying what I’ve learned between then and now. Snippets of content may be the same, but I don’t know about you but I forget A LOT and need gentle reminders even more than I forget. So what about it, will you join me?

Over the next few weeks, let us seek out simplicity.  We will explore priorities, commitments and boundaries so that we may be obedient in Being Still. We will see what God has to say about all this since our actions and thoughts must be grounded in Truth…His Truth…if they are to be sustained and done for His glory.  In doing so we will be set free from what we were never intended to take on to begin with. Is there a bolder way to enter the new year than declaring that our time and priorities are His?  Don’t be fooled!  There’s boldness in the obedience and stillness. 

Pray:

Father God, Help me to slow down.  I am tired of doing things my own way.  Literally tired. Mentally tired.  Spiritually tired. At times, I have nothing left for my family, myself or you.  I know there must be another way. I know you desire me to be still.  Can you help me with that, please?  You are far wiser than I, and I seek to do your will! 

In Jesus’ Holy and Precious Name,

Amen.

              

Beating the Enemy at His Own Game

A few weeks ago, I had a foreboding feeling that the enemy would attack either my friends or myself.  Some girlfriends from church and I planned on going to a weekend women’s retreat (that’s actually where I wrote a bulk of today’s content). 

If I’ve learned anything from my walk with God over the last few years, it’s that the enemy is just as determined as my God to capture my attention.  We can be certain that if our intent is to spend time in fellowship with God, the enemy would assuredly want to keep us from that sacred time.

I thought about emailing my girlfriends a few days before the getaway: “Beware!  The enemy will get in your head and try to be present in your circumstances.  Do not fall for it! He wants to keep you from going on the retreat as much as the Lord yearns to have you there. Pay close attention to how the enemy tries to get to you through your family.  He loves using what’s most dear to us to accomplish his wicked schemes.”

I never got around to sharing the proactive reminder, but the message still got told as, one by one, friends experienced obstacles, potentially preventing their attendance.  Each time I shared the advice I wished I had shared just days before.

I wasn’t immune to attacks, either.  My youngest called a few minutes after I left: she had a splinter and wanted me to come home to take care of it.  I didn’t, nor did I go home after each of the ten or so times she called throughout the weekend.  She was ok!

The enemy will do anything in his power to keep us from being with the one who created us.  He actually takes delight in it.  So, knowing this, we can be on the offensive and recognize when he is more prone to attack. 

Got a mission trip planned? Gear up. 

Going to a bible study on Wednesday?  Hold your hats. 

Driving to church on Sunday?  Young families, ever notice how getting out the door on Sunday is hardly ever the highlight of your week?  Even if you successfully make it to worship, how present are you, really? If you are stressed from the fighting, distracted from the nagging, and unsettled from the rushing…you’re probably not very present at all.  I wasn’t in that season.

The enemy is unrelenting, but so is our Lord, and He is so much greater than anything the enemy can try to throw our way.  

That said, I do get it.  Real life happens.  For better or for worse, valid reasons come up and our plans have to adapt accordingly.  This is not about those circumstances.

Before I wrap up today, I want to leave you with a quick story of when God provided in the midst of the enemy’s schemes.  

A few years ago, I was away on a mission trip.  I lived in PA, but my mom was back at her home on Long Island with my kids.  While I was away, one of my daughters came down with pneumonia.  No one would have blamed me in the slightest if I packed up and went home. In fact, some may have even judged me for staying…but here’s the thing: the Lord already knew about her sickness when He placed it on my heart to go on the trip.  

My mom masterfully cared for me when I was a sick child, and no one else could have given my own daughter better care than the woman who raised me. Not only that, but there was another woman who also felt led to go on the mission trip: my daughter’s pediatrician was away with me! 

She walked my mom through all the things and even instructed urgent care on how to treat her. When my mom was back home with my daughter, our pediatrician walked her through how to do the nebulizer treatments.

Can you imagine?!  My daughter responded to the treatment by the time I arrived home, and I was grateful for the time away with God.  I was in awe over how He provided! I was also keenly aware of how if I had left early, I would have missed the opportunity for God to show his faithfulness.  Not only that, but I would have handed the enemy what he wanted right on a silver platter. 

Pray:

Father God, Fill me with your Spirit so I may more easily discern when the enemy is attacking.  Help me to remember that battles between myself and my loved ones are actually battles with the enemy itself. Although I know Satan would like nothing more than for me to believe otherwise.  I must not forget that you supply my every provision, and I will have everything I need in every circumstance.  Do not allow well-laid out schemes prevent me from spending time with you or in the fellowship of other believers. 

In Jesus’ Holy & Precious Name,

Amen.

Does Praying Matter?

Did you ever wonder if praying actually makes a difference?  What about when it “doesn’t work”?  Or what about if God already knows what will happen?  Should we still bother? Our reactions to these questions will really depend on what and how we think about prayer.  

If we think that prayer is a mechanism by which we negotiate some sort of favorable outcome with our God, we would be sorely mistaken and misguided. Such a transactional mentality is what will keep us from really embracing prayer for what it is: an opportunity to communicate and be in a personal relationship with the one true God.  

Kings on this side of eternity are hard to pin down.  Someone interested in doing so typically has to seek an audience.  By contrast, our heavenly King is always accessible and lovingly welcomes us into His presence.  Like being still, not only is praying something we should do, but it is also a biblical imperative:

Pray without ceasing. 

1 Thessalonians 5:17

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

Romans 12:12

Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 

1 Peter 5:7 

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.   

Luke 18:1

Just google “pray without ceasing” and see how many other references come up in scripture! 

But doesn’t God already know everything about me?  Of course…but He wants you to go to Him and tell Him what’s on your mind.  Your struggles. Your triumphs.  All of it! 

But doesn’t God already know what will happen?  Yup.  He also wants His children to take a posture of humility and come to Him when they need help with something.  Sometimes it’s more about the submission than it is about the prayer itself.  

But does He hear me even when it doesn’t feel like it or when He is so busy with everyone else’s prayers?  You betchya!  Our omniscient God hears every prayer we lay before His throne.  Sometimes it’s more about cultivating patience in us than it is about answering the prayer itself.  

Friends, time spent in the presence of the Lord is NEVER wasted.  He gives us exactly what we need. He undoubtedly provides what we would also ask for if we already knew what he knows.  He loves us far too much to bend to our every inclination.  Do you give your children everything they ask for at the time they ask for it? 

Communicating with God is NEVER a waste of time, and we can communicate with Him for so many other reasons than when we need something from Him.  When we pray…

  • If we experience a perspective shift, that is time well spent.
  • If we discern a bit more of what God would have us do with our lives, that is time well spent. 
  • If we surrender more today than we did yesterday, that is time well spent. 
  • If we ask for or receive forgiveness, that is time well spent. 
  • If we give thanks for anything, no matter how trivial, that is time well spent.
  • If we cast our fears upon the Lord, that is time well spent.  
  • If we humble ourselves in response to God’s almighty power, that is time well spent.  
  • If we recognize something within us that needs refining, that is time well spent. 
  • If we shout out to the Lord in frustration and anger, that is time well spent. 
  • If we get to know Him, even slightly more intimately, that is time well spent.  
  • If a temptation was kept at bay for just one more day, that is time well spent.
  • If someone’s life is changed, that is time well spent.
  • If someone’s eternity is redirected, that is time well spent. 
  • If we simply rest in the presence of our God, that is time well spent, indeed.

Praying always matters and is never a waste of time!

Pray:

Father God,  THANK YOU for the gift of prayer and for giving me a way to communicate with you at any time.  I’m ashamed to admit that I often take unfettered access to you for granted.  Please allow your spirit to work within me so that YOU are the first turn I take when I’m elated or anxious, sorrowed or blessed.  I want to start and end my days in communication with you and incorporate prayer into all aspects of my life.  Allow prayer to become a part of my day’s rhythm.  

In Jesus’ Holy and Precious Name,

Amen. 

Simplifying Common Scriptural References

Here’s a different type of blog entry, but I think you’ll enjoy it! Our pastor gave me a brief assignment this Easter: study the lyrics in the song Lion by Elevation Worship and, on Easter Sunday, share a 4-minute teaching explaining the biblical references found in the song.  The idea was to give everyone a better understanding of what they were about to sing.  

I adored the assignment, and the song did not disappoint when it came to providing references to teach about. In today’s blog, I’m going to share an expanded version of what I taught on Easter Sunday. 

If you haven’t heard the song yet, you can find the lyrics here and watch/listen to it on YouTube below.  

Clearly, the song is steeped in rich scriptural references and imagery.  I’m going unpack some of those references to offer some additional context.  Hopefully, in doing so we will not only understand the lyrics more, but really begin to internalize how they point up and back to God.  

Regardless of which image I attempt to explain, just know that they all have one thing in common: they relate to a larger story of God’s redeeming faithfulness throughout history, which really is the very thing which allows us to gather and celebrate on Easter. 


At least two names for God are used in the song: the God of Jacob and the Great I AM.

God of Jacob

When we sing about the God of Jacob, we are referring to a term from Genesis 31.  We often hear the term, “God of Jacob” as part of a trio: God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Whenever we hear associations to generations or lineages in the Bible, that usually points us to God’s faithfulness throughout those generations.  

What God says in earlier generations either comes to pass in later ones or stands as proof of His faithfulness to those who follow.  For example, when God made the Abrahamic covenant with Abraham, His plan included descendants as numerous as the stars, which included Jacob, David, Jesus, and us as believers. 

Also, something else to keep in mind about Jacob, like us, Jacob didn’t have a pristine history or character. This is important, because in many ways, he is us.  Yet, God was still able to accomplish His purposes through Him as being the fulfillment and perpetuator of a promise.  

God doesn’t seem to mind being known as the God of Jacob (or God of…insert sinners name here…) for all of eternity.  God came for all of us.

The Great I AM

Another name we will come across is The Great I AM, which is a term from the story of Moses and the burning bush in Exodus 3.  When God appeared before Moses in the flames, he said, “I am the God of your father: The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob” (like we just read about) and then went on to say, “Moses, I-AM-WHO-I-AM,”  also known as The Great I Am. 

Now, just a few verses before this, God explained His plan for His people when He said, “I’ve taken a good long look at the affliction of my people in Egypt.  I’ve heard their cries of deliverance from your their masters.  I know all about their pain.  Now, I’ve come down to help them.”

As God came down in the bush that day, He also came down to dwell among us in Jesus. In the same way I AM set out to free His people in Exodus 3, Jesus also came to free His people from what holds them captive & usher them into a new life.

When we sing “I AM,” we should recognize that God just is. He is present.  He was present then in the past and still is today.

Also, God’s conversation with Moses nods back to God as the God of Jacob, further reinforcing His faithfulness throughout the ages. 


So far, we have looked at two names for God the Father, but let’s take a look at some of the references to Christ the son. 

Lion of Judah

Another really specific reference we will sing about is the Lion of Judah.  Judah is the 4th son of Jacob, the person we just heard about in Genesis.  In Genesis 49:9 we learn that Jacob gives the lion symbol to Judah and his tribe.  The Lion of Judah also pops up right at the very end, in Revelation.  There we learn that the Lion of Judah is Jesus…and when we sing let the lion roar in the song, remember there’s an authority in a roar.  A Lion’s presence is known.  Our Lord’s presence should be known and should leave an impression.  

Also, let’s not miss that the same term for Jesus in mentioned in Genesis and Revelation, the first and last books of the Bible.  He truly always was and is there, harking back to the idea of God as the Great I Am. 

When we sing “Hail, Hail, Lion of Judah” keep in mind that no earthly king or conqueror can offer what our one true God can: eternal life.  When we “Hail” we show respect, obedience, and allegiance. 

Pride of Zion

We hear about the Pride of Zion in 1 & 2 Samuel, but the term Zion is referred to over 150 times in Scripture.  It carries different and broadening meanings as Scripture progresses, starting with a specific reference to the City of David (i.e., Jerusalem) and morphing into God’s spiritual kingdom as a whole. In the New Testament, Peter quotes the Old Testament prophet Isaiah and calls Jesus the cornerstone of Zion…meaning the whole of God’s kingdom rests on Him.  

Of course, there’s also significance when we think about Zion being Jerusalem, the City of David, considering that Jesus is a descendant of David, who by the way, is a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Isn’t that amazing?!  All of these terms reinforce one another in multiple ways. Are you beginning to grasp how God’s divine plan and faithfulness has played out perfectly throughout human history? 

He who Opens the Scroll

Keep all this in mind with the lyrics, “You alone are worthy to open up the scroll.”  This is a prophecy mentioned in Revelation when John was told, “Do not weep for the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the root of David, has conquered so that he may open the scroll and its seven seals.” This sounds a little abstract but that’s ok…because it is.  It’s an apocalyptic prophecy, which is generally more abstract in nature, and it begins to make more sense when we understand the references it makes throughout Scriptures. 

You can read more about this vision in Revelation, but basically Jesus alone was found worthy to open a scroll because, as the lamb of God, He had shed His blood for all mankind.  He became worthy of universal praise. 

Lamb of God

The term Lamb of God is one which may sound more familiar to us, but this concept of Jesus as lamb is too important to just breeze over.  Here’s what we are referencing when we talk about the lamb of God:  in the times of the Old Testament, lambs were sin offerings.  These sacrifices were time-limited, and they needed to be made again and again…that is…until Jesus came.

He was perfect, an extension of God: the God of Jacob, the Great I Am, the Lion of Judah, the Pride of Zion, and the cornerstone of the City of David.  He was the perfect sacrifice.  Our sins could be wiped clean once and for all.  We need not have to sacrifice sin offerings anymore.  The work on Calvary finished that sacrificial cycle. Jesus as the lamb was not just led to the slaughter- he was slaughtered.  We will sing “Like the lamb, You suffered,” and like the Passover lamb, Jesus also died because of sins he did not commit…OUR sins.

Make no mistake, however: with the dying of the lamb, we also have the rising of a lion!


He is our lamb and our lion, our Lord AND our Savior.  He is worthy of praise.

And that’s what we are called to do.  Praise him for His faithfulness throughout human history to restore us back to himself…for being a human sacrifice in our place…for giving us a way to be with and worship God forever. He is the source of our eternal life and destination, our center and circumference. Let’s worship Him as such!

Our worship team at Wallenpaupack Church did such an incredible job with this song on Easter. Please check it out by clicking here! Enjoy the all that the talent and lyrics have to offer!

Also, for anyone who wants to watch the original, abbreviated version of this teaching, check out this clip, beginning at 5:10.

Using History to Ease the Worries of Today

There was a moment a few days ago when I felt totally overwhelmed.  I had just slept off the effects of a migraine.  News of Russia’s attack on Ukraine by air, sea, and land infiltrated my newsfeed in the few hours I had unplugged. Although my headache had dissipated, the incessant throbbing was replaced by another feeling all together.

I anxiously thought, “What is happening?” “What’s next?” “Will our country get involved?”  “Will my friends’ children be sent off to fight?”

With cost of everyday items on the rise at alarming rates, employers struggling to maintain adequate staffing levels, and the makings of a world war all contributing toward a landscape set against a still-looming pandemic backdrop, it is far too easy to think all is out of control.  The fears and insecurities we are facing right now are real and justified. 

Can you relate to these thought patterns?

If so, I have a reassuring word to share with you today, friend: we can find comfort in knowing that when all seems amiss, our God still has a plan.  Events are surprises to us, but they are not surprises to Him. 

Don’t forget…although we learn of passing circumstances in real time; we have a God who exists and operates beyond humanity’s conventional temporal restrictions and understandings. 

In fact, the Old Testament is chockfull of prophesied New Testament events.  What God indicated would happen during one point in history actually came to pass in another point of history.  This is especially true we look at the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah foretold.

I don’t know about you, but I find consolation in that truth.  Singular occurrences transpired in such a precisely orchestrated way over hundreds and thousands of years so that when the appointed time came, they all collectively effectuated Jesus’s life, death and resurrection as previously indicated. 

That literally boggles my mind! It also speaks to God’s protective and sovereign hand covering all of history.

Around Christmastime, it’s common to hear references to Isaiah’s prophesies as related to Jesus’ birth.  Here’s one you may be familiar with:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14

There’s many more examples of the Messiah’s birth prophesied throughout Scripture, but it wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that circumstances around his death and resurrection were also prophesied.

Below is a simple table I generated which shows a handful of such Old Testament crucifixion/resurrection Prophesies with the New Testament fulfillment of that prophesy.

ProphecyOT Prophetic ReferenceNT Fulfillment Reference
The Messiah will have His hands and His feet “pierced” through.Psalm 22:16John 20:25
The Messiah’s bones will not be broken (a person’s legs were usually broken after being crucified to speed up their death).Psalm 22:17John 19:33
Men will cast lots for the Messiah’s clothing.Psalm 22:18Matthew 27:35
The Messiah will be rejected.Isaiah 53:3 Luke 13:34
The Messiah will be killed as a vicarious sacrifice for the sins of His people.Isaiah 53:5–92 Corinthians 5:21
The Messiah will be silent in front of His accusers.Isaiah 53:71 Peter 2:23
The Messiah will be buried with the rich.Isaiah 53:9Matthew 27:57–60
The Messiah will be with criminals in His death.Isaiah 53:12Mark 15:27
The Messiah will be resurrected.Psalm 16:10Acts 2:24-32, Acts 13:33–35

Isn’t that incredible!?  Isaiah preceded Jesus by about 700 years, and David did so by thousands of years!  That’s almost too many generations filled with marriages, affairs, wars and murders-most-fowl to count! In fact, much of the Old Testament is dedicated to the rise and fall of kings and nations.  Yet, through all the meandering mayhem, the Lord’s sovereign plan didn’t skip a beat.  All played out in such a particular way so that His son entered and exited this side of eternity exactly as God revealed He would.

The result of that faithfulness throughout history culminates in the ascension, whereby Jesus not only exists as our personal and corporate savior, but as our Lord as well.  We are the sons and daughters of a King…a King far more powerful than any earthly ruler or dictator!

Friends, the battle is won.  The murder at Calvary need not happen twice.  Until Jesus comes again, we can still be rest assured that all occurs according to His divine plan and for such a divine purpose as it did leading up to the death, crucifixion and ascension of Jesus over 2,000 years ago. 

We can’t begin to fathom the way our God pieces history together, but we can find a blessed assurance in that He does. It’s my prayer that these assurances assist in subsiding any anxious thoughts within us…but in times that they do not, we must go to Him and talk to Him about our worries.  He is there to listen each and every time we approach Him.