Saturday, January 30, 2016

Lessons from a Coffee Bean

Last spring I was excited to see a coffee tree at a local cafĂ© with ripe coffee "cherries" on it.  I nabbed one and took it home to plant.  There was little hope of my little coffee bean growing after being left without water for weeks at a time, and getting dumped into my sink and almost being washed down the drain.  But after three long months it finally sprouted!  I babied and loved on that thing and watched it grow with anticipation.  Eventually, the coffee bean shell began to dry up and I could see bright green leaves forming underneath. 
And then it stopped growing. 
I waited and waited and kept hoping that one morning I'd wake up and find that the leaves had burst out of their shell.  But nothing happened.  For months.  I resisted the urge to peel away the dried skin to help it grow - I don't remember a lot from my elementary school days, but I do remember this: you never ever under any circumstance try and help a struggling butterfly out of its cocoon.  I assumed the same would apply to plants, so I waited a little longer until I finally couldn't take it anymore.  Five months had passed since the sprout had stopped growing and looked so helpless all cramped inside it's drying "cocoon", and I decided there must be something wrong.  So I carefully peeled off the pieces of dried shell and - with much joy and satisfaction - saw two beautiful green leaves begin to uncurl.  I could almost sense them thanking me.
I was bursting with pride and new hope for my little plant....until I woke up the next morning to find it completely shriveled up and dead.  I could have cried!!  I still can't bear to throw it away as I spent so many months caring for that silly thing and encouraging it along. 
But this dead little plant has also served as a good reminder to me about the value of patience in my own life.
How many times do I struggle with waiting as God teaches, molds and grows me?  How many times do I want to burst out of my uncomfortable circumstances, not realizing that God is nourishing and growing me, and preparing me for what's next?  A.B. Simpson says that just like a doctor fixing a broken bone, "God too has His spiritual splints He wants to put on His children to keep them quiet and still."
"The Bible has a great deal to say about waiting for God, and the teaching cannot be too strongly emphasized. We so easily become impatient with God's delays. Yet much of our trouble in life is the result of our restless, and sometimes reckless, haste. We cannot wait for the fruit to ripen, but insist on picking it while it is still green.  We cannot wait for the answers to our prayers, although it may take many years for the things we pray for to be prepared for us."
(Streams in the Desert)
Ephesians 4:15 says that we are to "grow up in all things into [Christ]."  I'm unbelievably impatient when it comes to my walk with the Lord.  I want to be wise and mature now!  I tear off those binding 'splints' in my impatience, thinking that I'm doing myself a favor.  But if I want to grow well, if I want to be "rooted and built up in [Christ] and established in the faith" (Colossians 2:7) then I need to leave my 'cocoons' be.  God is using those difficult circumstances (or trying times, or long periods of waiting), and if we are patient, then "the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast." (1 Peter 5:10)

Friday, April 10, 2015

Great Expectations

I had started writing a post about expectations shortly before the New Year, but somehow could never seem to complete my thoughts enough to finish it.  I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I somehow felt that a new leaf had been turned coming into 2015 and it got me thinking about expectations: in life, and of the Lord. 

I was given the amazing opportunity last November to fly to Chicago for a weekend of shopping with good friends.  Money was tight, but that was okay because I knew God would provide for what I needed (and by “what I needed” I meant enough money to take advantage of all the Black Friday sales going on).  I made a long list of things I wanted to buy on this special shopping trip and began to pray in expectation that God would make that happen.  After all, God knew what an opportunity this was and I knew that He could work wonders.  My flight was very generously paid for by the friend who invited me on the trip, and I patiently waited for God to provide for the rest.

It’s unnecessary to share more details of the trip, but the gist of the story is that sudden riches were not bestowed upon me, and I spent three prayerful days in Chicago asking the Lord to guard my heart and not allow discontent to seep in.  I wanted to enjoy the real blessing of the weekend – being with a fantastic group of ladies on a big city weekend get-a-way.  Despite the many obvious pluses of the trip (and gratefulness to a special lady who gave a gift which covered my meals), I admit I was frustrated with the Lord.  I had placed my expectation in Him (like He asks us to, right?) and He didn’t come through.       

This is hardly an example of a life altering circumstance, but it is an example of where our expectations can get us into trouble.  I had confused God’s desire for me to place my expectation in HIM with my expectation of a desired outcome.  As believers struggling through difficult circumstances we encourage each other that God is still good and to expect great things from Him. From the get go we’re taught that God is the God of the impossible and to have faith in His ability to do wonderful things in our lives.  Those are all incredible truths that we have the privilege of living out as His children.  Where we often err, however, is in assuming He will do specific things for us outside of what He promises us in His Word.  When we hope for a certain outcome in any given situation and it doesn’t pan out like we’d hoped and prayed, we suddenly wonder if God is really as good and loving as He says He is, and why His promises (ex. Ps. 37:4 “Delight in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart” – a verse that’s still a mystery to me in many ways) didn’t ‘work’ for me.  This attitude, if not checked, can easily turn into a habit of not expecting good things at all and facing life with discouragement and defeat.  Someone once said, “a discouraged army enters battle with the certainty of defeat.”  That certainly, and sadly, can be the case in the life of the believer.   

So how do we live a life of joyful anticipation in the Lord? 

It begins with putting our hope in the right things.  Our faith can too easily be placed in what we are personally hoping for, rather than in what God tells us to hope in.  There are many wonderful things in this world that, simply put, God just doesn’t have planned for every one of us.   Faith set in the right direction allows us to take our eyes off of what the world says we should have and place it in what God has told us is already ours.  These are the real treasures (found in His Word) that result in the quietness and assurance that Isaiah talks about in chapter 30:15.

Charles Price, Pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto, says, “The word hope contains, for many of us, uncertainty, ambiguity; it is tentative, it is vague.  The word “hope” in the English language has become most useful for things we’re not sure of…”I hope that will happen,” “I hope the store will still be open.”  But Biblical hope says, “if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” (Rom. 8:25). 

The Bible never says that we are filled with hope as we acquire things or as events pan out as we’d planned.  Romans 15:13 says we are filled with hope as we trust God…so much so that we will abound in it. 

“[God’s purposes] may be concealed for a very long time, but our faith may rest in the assurance that God is still seated on His throne.  Because of this assurance we can calmly await the time when, in heavenly delight, we will say, “All things [have worked] together for good.””  (from the devotional Streams in the Desert)   

So even in the absence of all we’ve dreamed for our lives, and of every apparent unmet need, let’s walk in confident expectation in our God who is “still seated on His throne” and has given us all we need for an abundant life.

“For our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name.  Let Your mercy, O LORD, be upon us, just as we hope in You.”  
Psalm 33:21,22

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Best Valentine

As we approach Valentine’s Day, Facebook in particular becomes a deluge of posts and blog links about love.  Certain phrases, spoken about significant others, abound, such as “God has blessed me so much!” and “God is so good to have provided such a wonderful person in my life.”  Rightfully so!  And while I am genuinely thrilled to see my friends posting in this way, as a person with no spouse or significant other I find myself immediately dwelling on what those phrases mean for my own life.  And before you assume this is a post about being single, read on!  This is written for anyone who has ever fought the battle of comparison.
Whatever your marital status, the misuse of the sayings, “I’m so blessed” and “God is so good” can be dangerous.  It makes sense that we would use those phrases when something good has happened – we get a new job, God provides for a particular need, we meet that special someone, etc.  Those are great things which we should be thankful for!  But what happens when those aren’t realities in our own life?  When we don’t get that house we were praying for, when that deal falls through, and when God has still not “blessed” us with the child we’ve been aching for?  Then someone else’s joy becomes our immediate excuse to question God’s intentions in our own lives.  And during this time of year, that is magnified when it comes to love. 
But may I send out a gentle reminder to each of us this Valentine’s week to guard our hearts against the lie that we, as redeemed by Christ, are lacking in any way – single or married.  We desperately need to “bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) and line our feelings up against the truth of who we are in Christ.  Love, finances, material possessions, and status aside, we are COMPLETE in Him (Col. 2:10).  We have been blessed with EVERY spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3).  We have EVERYTHING we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:2-4).  And while I hope we will never stop boasting about God’s goodness and blessings in our lives, let’s boast in Him whether that’s proven materially/physically or not.  His goodness is the same regardless and we can trust what He's doing with our lives because “those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing.” (Ps. 34:10)


Monday, December 29, 2014


“Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10
I’m not sure what ever happened to it, but for months I used to have a sign I’d made that hung in my kitchen and said, “STOP TALKING!”  I had more than a few questioning glances at it from visitors, but it wasn’t meant for them, it was solely for me: a daily reminder to “be still.”  I am far from a quiet, confident and assured person, and I often battle the endless ramblings in my head that can end up, if unchecked, stealing my confidence in the Lord.  It was at a time earlier this year when I was particularly struggling with a mind that couldn’t seem to rest that a dear friend gave me her definition of to “be still” as in Psalm 46:10: Hold your peace, stop your talking, stand still.  For years I had confused the “voices” in my head as God trying to get something through to me that I just wasn’t smart enough to understand.  This only brought confusion, discouragement, and reinforced a horrible habit of thinking that I was missing what God was trying to say to me.  The times are too many to count that I spent worrying about all the ways I must have been disappointing God by not figuring out what He was wanting.
It was a lightbulb moment for me when I first began to learn that, although God does often speak in a still, small voice, it is not a voice of guilt or condemnation (as I so often feel when left to my own thoughts), nor one spoken so quietly that we have to strain to hear it.  I used to try so hard to block out all the noise in my head so I could hear what God was saying through it, and then (only recently) I began to realize that I can’t turn off the rambling (doubts about who I am, who God is; the endless reasoning about things), but I can ignore it.  A quote I’ve always loved says, “You can’t stop a bird from alighting on your head, but you can stop it from building a nest.” 
Isaiah 36 and 37 have some powerful examples of this.  Israel is under threat of attack by the King of Assyria, and repeatedly over these two chapters we see a leader of Assyria trying to undermine Israel’s trust in God and cast doubt on His ability to deliver them.  “What confidence is this in which you trust?” he says.  And while God tells them later on in chapter 37, “Do not be afraid of the words which You have heard,” the verse that really stuck out to me was 36:21: “But they held their peace and answered [the chief of staff of Assyria] not a word, for the King’s commandment was, Do not answer him.””
It’s important for us to remember that there is an adversary, Satan, who is desperate to steal from us all joy, peace and assurance in God.  He often does so by sowing tiny seeds of doubt or a slight variation of truth into our lives.  This is why it’s so important to “take captive every thought...casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) I like one version of that verse that says we need to “demolish arguments.”  When we start battling our own feelings and doubts about who God is, we need to demolish them.  Ignoring them, as I mentioned earlier, is only half of the picture…lies are only taken down by truth. “We need to have appropriating faith when it comes to God’s promises and should make His Word our own personal possession…Put your finger on a promise and say, “It is mine.”” (Streams in the Desert, Dec. 29)
We’ve been given an incredible body of armor to wear each day in this “battle”: a helmet of salvation, the belt of truth, the sword of the Spirit, the shield of faith and the breastplate of righteousness. 
“The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.” (Isaiah 32:17)
The next time you’re in a battle, tell yourself to STOP TALKING, measure up what you’re feeling against who God says He is and then believe it.  Then we will be amazed to find the quietness and assurance we’ve longed for to walk confidently with the Lord.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Baffled & Broken

It’s 6:00pm and I’m sitting on the couch thinking that the leftover chocolate pudding in the fridge would make a pretty good substitution for supper tonight.  After I finish this blog, of course. 
I love the Lord.  I have no doubt that He is working for my best.  I am confident that He is weaving a story in this world and in my life that is so far above my comprehension that it makes total sense that I should often be baffled by what He’s doing.  And am I baffled at times. 
I’ve learned that there is no part of my life that God is not jealous over, and I’ve discovered too many areas that I had thought God wouldn’t touch.  He wouldn’t go there, would He? He loves me too much to mess with that place in my heart, doesn’t He?  I felt broken.  Just when I thought I was getting a handle on one situation the rug would be pulled out from another and it felt like the wind was being knocked out of me each time.  Really, God??  And yet I felt Him, as I’ve often felt Him, pursuing me with His truth and drawing me to passages like Isaiah 10:
"And it shall come to pass in that day that the remnant of Israel, and such as have escaped of the house of Jacob, will never again depend on him who defeated them, but will depend on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth."
Our God never cease to care for us and He is teaching and moulding us to depend on HIM.  In our most baffled moments He is orchestrating His purpose in our lives.  Are you broken?  Good.  God uses broken things. 
“It was not until Moses struck the rock at Horeb, breaking its surface, that cool “water [came] out of it for the people to drink.” (Ex. 17:6)  It was not until Gideon’s three hundred specially chosen soldiers “broke the jars that were in their hands” (Judg. 7:19), which symbolized brokenness in their lives, that the hidden light of the torches shone forth, bringing terror to their enemies.  It was once the poor widow broke the seal on her only remaining jar of oil and began to pour it that God miraculously multiplied it to pay her debts and thereby supplied her means of support. (See 2 Kings 4:1-7.) …It was once Jesus took “the five loaves…and broke them” (Luke 9:16) that the bread was multiplied to feed the five thousand.  Through the very process of the loaves being broken, the miracle occurred. It was when Mary broke her beautiful “alabaster jar of very expensive perfume” (Matt. 26:7), destroying its future usefulness and value, that the wonderful fragrance filled the house.  And it was when Jesus allowed His precious body to be broken by thorns, nails, and a spear that His inner life was poured out like an ocean of crystal-clear water, for thirsty sinners to drink and then live.”  ~ Streams in the Desert
Paraphrased from the same devotional:
God uses most for His glory those people and things which are most perfectly broken...Those who are broken in wealth, and broken in self-will, and broken in their ambitions, and broken in their lofty ideals, and broken in worldly reputation, and broken in their desires, and broken ofttimes in health...the Holy Ghost is seizing upon, and using for God's glory."
Are you broken?  Are you baffled?  Read what Jeremiah (9:23,24) has to say:
""Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let he who glories glory ("rejoice proudly") in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth, for in these I delight," says the LORD."

God is exercising His lovingkindness on you and He is delighted about it.  Let's rejoice proudly about that! 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Riding in the Dark

I was riding my bike home tonight in the dark, and the thought crossed my mind that how I ride should be a reflection of how I "maneuver" through difficult circumstances in my life. It was dark and I couldn't see street signs, yet I'd been down those roads so many times before that I knew exactly where to go. I knew that house, that car, that patch of grass, and hundreds of other details that allowed me to ride home and arrive safely at my own doorstep without even having to think much about it.  

Do I know the Word that well? Do I know God so intimately that when difficult times come I know exactly what to do? When I first moved to this town I didn't know one street from another. But as I drove the streets, making mistakes and backtracking until I found something familiar, I eventually became comfortable with my surroundings and could even give directions to others who were lost. I lose track of my surroundings sometimes as I walk with the Lord (more often than I'd like to admit), but His Word remains a "lamp to my feet and a light to my path." (Psalm 119:105)

"Unless Your law had been my delight, I would then have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for by them You have given me life.Psalm 119:92,93