Election Day

A couple weeks back, with the presidential campaign season in full swing, I happened to be reading the book of Daniel. I’ve read it several times before, but I noticed Daniel’s praise of the Lord in chapter 2.

19 That night the secret was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven. 20 He said,

“Praise the name of God forever and ever,
    for he has all wisdom and power.
21 He controls the course of world events;
    he removes kings and sets up other kings.
He gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to the scholars.
22 He reveals deep and mysterious things
    and knows what lies hidden in darkness,
    though he is surrounded by light.
23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors,
    for you have given me wisdom and strength.
You have told me what we asked of you
    and revealed to us what the king demanded.”

Daniel 2:19-23

To put it in context, Daniel 2 recounts the story of King Nebuchadnezzar having a disturbing dream that was keeping him up nights. The king wanted to know what his dream meant; however, he also wanted someone to tell him what his dream was before he’d listen. That would prove the interpretation to be trustworthy. Even after threatening his magicians, sorcerers, enchanters, and astrologers, no one knew, let alone understood, the king’s dream. Enter Daniel, a Jewish exile living in Babylon. Daniel was known for being a man devoted to the Lord and he was given a vision of the dream and its interpretation.

Before we hear the interpretation, we hear Daniel’s praise. Ultimately, the dream’s interpretation didn’t matter as much as the character of the Lord. He’s wise and powerful and in control. That truth sets the stage for the dream’s interpretation just as it sets the stage for the election results which will be revealed in the coming days.

What stood out to me when I read Daniel 2 was verse 21, “He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.” No matter how crazy this election seems, no matter how unpalatable the candidates might be to you, it is not out of the Lord’s hands. God is worthy to be praised because the events unfolding before us don’t change the fact that he is wise and powerful and in control. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream illustrates that, as we go on to see.

The dream chronicled future events: kingdoms rising and falling, both strong and weak. Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom would fall and another, inferior one would rise up to take its place. The second kingdom would also be replaced by a third and the third by a fourth. Daniel’s interpretation ends with:

44 “During the reigns of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed or conquered. It will crush all these kingdoms into nothingness, and it will stand forever. 45 That is the meaning of the rock cut from the mountain, though not by human hands, that crushed to pieces the statue of iron, bronze, clay, silver, and gold. The great God was showing the king what will happen in the future. The dream is true, and its meaning is certain.” Daniel 2:44-45

God’s kingdom is bigger than any of the earthly kingdoms in the dream. His kingdom is bigger than any kingdom in history. Even as we speculate how the world would end if thus-and-such candidate wins (which it probably won’t), we must realize that there’s only one eternal kingdom–Jesus’s. The presidential candidates are fighting for power in a world as if this world is all there is. Let’s not get swept away in that; this country is not all we have to hope for and in. Instead, may we fix our eyes on Jesus’s eternal rule and point others to that hope. And in the times when election results and court rulings make us feel like we are exiles living far from home, may we have the faith to continue to praise the Lord and the courage to conduct our lives as he calls us. Lastly, whether we like/agree with/voted for them or not,may we pray heartily for all of our leaders, because their authority comes from the Lord and they need his wisdom and grace, even when they don’t know they do.

Flourishing Fridays: Lament

I love to organize stuff. I regularly take time to go through closets, bookshelves, drawers, and any other nook where stuff collects just to make sure everything is usable and accessible. I know it seems crazy to enjoy organization, but having kids has multiplied the amount of stuff we have, but not our space. It’s a necessity. What I’ve noticed in purging unused stuff is that organizing always starts out as a bigger mess than you had before. You have to pull out all the toys from the toy box or books from the shelf or junk from the drawer in order to sort them. Before you can be organized, everything gets messy.

If you’ve ever read through the Psalms, you’ve no doubt noticed how many of them seem to be a litany of complaints and worries. These songs are called laments. When I was in seminary studying the Psalms, my professor gave us an assignment to write our own lament following its general pattern. That exercise turned out to be especially meaningful. So, I’ve used that idea in training up leaders since then.

When I planned the Flourishing Friday study for MOPS, I didn’t initially include this section. However, as we discussed and studied, I realized that this exercise was important to really flourish. Too many of us have miscellaneous emotional, relational, and/or spiritual junk that we hold on to for way too long. In order to move forward, we have to let go. This exercise doesn’t take the place of a good counselor or other more in-depth help we might need for bigger stuff; I highly recommend processing with someone professionally trained for that when you’re struggling with deeper issues. This is more for starting or continuing a dialogue with God about tender areas in your life.

Even if you don’t fancy yourself a poet, laments follow a regular pattern and they don’t rhyme, so anyone can write one. Using Psalm 142 as a model, here are the steps to writing your own lament:

First, choose what to write about. What is troubling you most right now? What do you tend to worry about? Where do you feel like your prayers are unheard and unanswered? I get that you might think, “Yeah, but I’m not actually like David. People aren’t trying to kill me. This isn’t really life and death.” Nevertheless, your troubles are your troubles. Jesus wants to hear about them. The point isn’t to only pray when it is life and death, but to seek God in big and little things. Take a few minutes to think about the answers to the above questions before you start.

A well-written song by David, when he was in the cave; a prayer.

1 To the Lord I cry out;
to the Lord I plead for mercy.
2 I pour out my lament before him;
I tell him about my troubles.

A Cry for Help: Laments start with a cry for help. No flowery language necessary, just something to the effect of “God, I need help! I can’t handle this!” We start our lament by writing out a couple lines about how you need God’s help.

3 Even when my strength leaves me,
you watch my footsteps.
In the path where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.
4 Look to the right and see!
No one cares about me.
I have nowhere to run;
no one is concerned about my life.

A Description of the Crisis: Laments go on to describe more in-depth the challenge or pain. As David describes in this lament, people are out to get him and he feels like no one cares. After you write out a general cry for help, now you get more specific. Write a few lines that describe the situation you were/are facing. Use vivid images that take others into your troubles (e.g. bulls surrounding you, being in a miry pit). What does it feel like to be in this situation? Again, if poetry isn’t your thing, you can be more concrete, but try and paint as clear a picture as you can about your troubles. This is the messy part of writing a lament.

5 I cry out to you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my shelter,
my security in the land of the living.”

An Affirmation of Trust: Now that we’ve started looking at the mess, we’re going to work on cleaning things up. Laments take a turn and begin to be more constructive here. In spite of the troubles you listed above, what do you know about God? Who is he? What have you seen him do in other situations? Write 1-2 lines that affirm who God is in the midst of this crisis.

6 Listen to my cry for help,
for I am in serious trouble!
Rescue me from those who chase me,
for they are stronger than I am.

Petitions for Rescue: After affirming who God is, laments ask for help in light of those qualities. Sometimes, we feel selfish asking for help. It feels wrong, but the Bible is full of examples of people asking for God’s intervention on their own behalf. God cares for you. Write a few lines asking God to intervene in the situation whether for help or healing or something else you need to flourish in this season.

7 Free me from prison,
that I may give thanks to your name.
Because of me the godly will assemble,
for you will vindicate me.

A Vow of Praise: The last part of a lament is focused on the future. It says, “Look, I know that you’re going to work in this area and when you do, I’m going to have yet another story to tell of your goodness.” Lastly, write the testimony you will have because of God’s intervention. What is the comfort you will bring to others because of God? You don’t necessarily know the specifics (unless this is a past event), but even focusing on the fact that you’ll have a story to praise God for is part of a vow of praise. If you are reflecting on a past event, think through what you’ve learned through it about God. Write those lessons out here.

An Introduction: You probably skipped over the first line of the Psalm, since it’s not even a verse in English translations, but it totally was in the Hebrew bible! The introduction tells you about the circumstances surrounding the song and can be enlightening. The last step of this lament is to write 1-2 lines describing what this psalm is about. It makes it easier to find it later, when you may be looking to share or remember what you’ve seen the Lord do (you do end with a vow of praise, after all).

May you find that the Lord is bigger than your troubles and stronger than your fears as you pour out your heart to him in lament.

The Path

I’ve started training for a 5k that I’m running in early next year, which means spending more time outside. Last week, I walked around a lovely, but not particularly pedestrian-friendly, town. I only noticed the lack of paths because I was pushing a stroller containing a drowsy baby looking up at me. The block would start off with a sidewalk, even a wheelchair ramp on the corner, but said sidewalk would quickly devolve into a snarl of exposed roots and rocky soil. Though watching JJ bounce along in her stroller is comedy gold, it was much easier on both of us to travel on the side of the street. P.S. Streets seem much safer when you’re also traveling in a car.

When we finally rounded the corner onto a main street, I was positive there’d be a sidewalk–and there was: a wide, continuous sidewalk. It was glorious! My arms were thankful. My feet were thankful. My baby was thankful. We were just a caravan of gratitude, until…

When I looked ahead, I noticed a section of sidewalk heavily shaded by massive, old trees. I saw that the sidewalk disappeared once again. I looked at the street, chagrined to realized that cars were parked next to this section of not-sidewalk. Hugging the curb to avoid cars wasn’t going to be an option. I sighed and forged ahead, thinking my Frogger training would come in handy for dodging the speeding vehicles.

When I arrived at the shady place, I laughed as I realized that the sidewalk did continue after all. It only appeared to be a dead end from a distance. Not only was it a continuous path, but it was also a beautiful path, a shady respite from the sun.

I realized how often such is the case in my life. I look ahead, sure I’m seeing closed doors and dead ends only to find that Jesus has made a way where there was none. I could feel the Holy Spirit urging me to keep putting one foot in front of the other in my life, trusting that he would lead me on the path I need to take.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take.
Proverbs 3:5-6

May you put one foot in front of the other today, leaning not on your understanding of what lies ahead, but on your understanding of Jesus’s faithful love in guiding your life.

Flourishing Fridays: Creation

From time to time, my husband arrives home and I’ll ask him, “So, is it really hot out there today?” and he’ll respond, “I don’t know. I was in an air conditioned office all day.” This happens surprisingly often. It’s kind of sad that between the two of us we don’t spend enough time outside to know the weather!

I know this isn’t that uncommon, especially where we live, home of the sixty hour workweek (if you’re lucky). Now that the days are getting shorter, many people leave for work while it’s still dark, stay in an office all day, and get home after the sun has set. We are literally insulated from the world around us.

I’d venture to say everyone understands how incredible nature is. That’s why places like the Grand Canyon are packed with tourists year round, all snapping their own inadequate pictures to try and take home that sense of majesty. We know we’re missing out by staying in. The sad part of this, other than being vitamin D deficient, is that the Bible says we’re missing out on something even greater.

1The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
    The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
    night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
    their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
    and their words to all the world.

God has made a home in the heavens for the sun.
It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding.
    It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race.
The sun rises at one end of the heavens
    and follows its course to the other end.
    Nothing can hide from its heat.

Psalm 19:1-6

By remaining insulated from the natural world, we miss out on the chance to see God’s fingerprints all around us. Creation points us to its (our) creator and teaches us about who he is (see Romans 1:20). With that in mind, this week’s flourishing Friday is going to take us outside.

1) Start by setting aside time, a good hour or so, where you can be outdoors. It doesn’t have to be Yosemite [though you should totally go sometime, if you’ve never been]; going for a walk or sitting in a park will work. You can also grab your kids to come along with you. Sometimes seeing the world through their eyes shows us something we would have missed.

2) At the beginning of your time, read Psalm 19:1-6. Take a moment to pray that you would see the glory of the Lord in his creation before you set out.

3) As you walk (or sit), pay attention to the world around you. What do you see? Feel? Smell? Hear? Really take note of creation with your senses [though it goes without saying you should be cautious about putting stuff you find in your mouth 😉 ]. Also, look around. There’s stuff above you, under your feet, on both sides. Take it in!

4) When something in particular stands out to you, stop and pay special attention to it. Why is it standing out to you? If you can, try to experience it with more than one sense. For instance, if you were struck by what you saw, try touching it or smelling it. If you were struck by a scent, find its source and lean in to study it.

5) As you look closely, pray and ask the Holy Spirit why you were drawn to that particular thing. Ask what it reveals about the Lord, our Creator. How does that characteristic of God matter in your life in this season? Take your time with this step and prayerfully listen.

6) As you end your time, pray in response to what you’ve experienced. Read Psalm 148 and join in worshiping the Lord with all of creation.

Note: sometimes we set aside time and nothing happens. No great epiphany. No life-changing revelation. Don’t force it. Just enjoy the time you set aside and continue praying as you go on with your day for eyes to see the glory of the Lord. Check out this post for my experience with this.

May you have eyes to see our Creator and a heart that responds in worship for our Lord and King Jesus.

Flourishing Fridays: Creating

I was in the grocery store recently and noticed that among the gossip rags dishing about celebrity affairs and women’s magazines promising an easy way to lose ten pounds was an adult coloring book simply titled Cats with Hats. It was exactly what one would expect, black-and-white drawings of cats wearing different hats: sailor hats, derbies, sun hats, etc. I bring this up for two reasons. 1) It’s completely awesome. 2) It reveals just how popular the current fad of adult coloring books has become.

Looking through my social media feeds, I often see coloring pages that my friends proudly display. Other friends show off paintings they’ve done at wine and painting classes. I see beautiful homemade meals, fun costumes, seasonal decorations all over social media. People love to create so much that Pinterest was born so we (well, someone more ambitious than me) could organize all of the neat ideas we (they) come across.

Even when we don’t fancy ourselves particularly creative, the act of making things engages us in a different way than simply talking about it. I read recently that coloring activates the same part of your brain as praying or meditation (yes, even if it’s cats with hats).  It’s with this in mind, that I planned the second flourishing Friday exercise: creating.

So much of scripture is incredibly image-rich. God spoke to us through metaphors and parables, so that we could see and touch and taste what he meant vividly. We can lose something by not soaking in those images and allowing our minds to wander through them. Those pictures help us understand what God is trying to say. As with the previous exercise, creating helps us to slow down and engage scripture so that we might have ears to hear what God is saying through his word in a fresh way.

Here are the steps:

  • Grab art supplies & blank paper. With my Bible study, I put out as many art supplies as I could scrounge up: crayons, markers, scissors, glue, magazines, rubber stamps, stickers, construction paper, scrapbook supplies, and blank sheets of paper. The variety allowed us to choose whatever seemed to work with the passage and even play with different media. For you to personally try it, just grab what you have on hand. It doesn’t even have to make sense, just use what you have.
  • Read Jeremiah 17:5-8 out loud [yes, out loud]:

This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
who rely on human strength
and turn their hearts away from the Lord.
They are like stunted shrubs in the desert,
with no hope for the future.
They will live in the barren wilderness,
in an uninhabited salty land.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit.

  • Write out verses 5 & 6 on one page [like reading out loud, writing something in long hand forces you to process it differently]. Use your chosen art supplies to illustrate these verses/key words.
  • Write out verses 7 & 8 on a second page. Use your chosen art supplies to illustrate these verses/key words.
  • Once you’ve completed your art, prayerfully compare the two. What images dominate each picture? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you see what God is trying to communicate through the images Jeremiah used.
  • As you slowed down to process this passage, what did the Holy Spirit highlight for you?
  • What did you learn about the state of your own soul as you reflected on this passage?

I know, I know. Maybe this totally isn’t your cup of tea; however, sometimes doing things outside of our routine causes us to see things as we never have before. Plus, this is the kind of activity that you could do with kids, since it is so hard to find a quiet moment with little ones around. Challenge yourself this week to try it. Maybe it’ll be a waste of 25 cents worth of art supplies and paper. It could also help you see what God has to show you through his word in a way you haven’t seen him before. That alone is worth the risk.

May you flourish today, like a tree planted by flowing water, bearing fruit in every season.

A Day.

It was quite a day yesterday.

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Photo by Nathan Haniger

One of my neighbors posted this picture of the fire marching steadily over the mountains where we live last night. Thankfully, the glow and smoke from the fire was visible from where we are, but it’s not too close and seems to be moving away from us right now.

Amazingly enough, when I look at the above picture, I don’t notice the flames so much. All I see are stars, hundreds of stars (an exceedingly rare sight in the Bay Area), stars so bright that the violence of the flames couldn’t overpower them. It’s breathtaking.

It reminded me of our MOPS theme this year, We Are Starry Eyed. The picture the theme evokes is being rooted firmly on the ground, in the messiness of life, but with our eyes looking up, focused on the stars. I love the idea of being full of hope and seeing the light in the darkness. To quote my toddler, “I want that.”

But this picture made me realize that I don’t want to just see light in the darkness, I want to be a light in the darkness. We are called to see the Light, but then Jesus asks us to be the light. I want to be so full of Jesus’ love that I am a beacon of hope, a city on a hill, giving glory to our Father in my every day life.

That’s my prayer at the end of this very strange and difficult day: to shine, even in the valley of the shadow of death. I pray for you, too, on your strange and difficult days, that you’d overflow with Jesus’s light into the darkness.

Flourishing Fridays: Lectio Divina

The moms group I’m a part of has “Freestyle Fridays” every other week, which means we have childcare but no formal meeting. Moms can drop their kids off and run errands, have breakfast with friends, exercise, or anything else a couple of uninterrupted hours affords. (FREEDOM!)

The past semester, I began leading a Bible study on those weeks focused on this years’ MOPS theme: A Fierce Flourishing.  As I prayed through what flourishing looked like, I kept coming back to the idea that it requires deep, healthy roots. As I’ve repeatedly mentioned here, I see basic practices (prayer, Bible study, community) as the most helpful for cultivating those roots. The problem for many of us is that we can get stuck in a rut and those practices become rote and stale. Each of these Flourishing Friday studies was designed to help give us another way to read scripture or pray so that the power of God’s word might hit us in a fresh way.

Every meeting, we’d look at scripture and engage with it through different spiritual practices. None of the practices were new to me, but I was continually surprised by how refreshing they were in my personal spiritual walk. With that in mind, I wanted to share those exercises here so that you might also be encouraged, refreshed, challenged, and/or otherwise engaged in what God wants to say to you through his word so that you, too, might flourish.

The first week, we did a practice called Lectio Divina, or Divine Reading. The purpose of Lectio Divina is to slow down and prayerfully chew on a passage so that the Holy Spirit might illuminate things you need to see in the Bible. It forces us to really ask God what he has to say through a perticular passage. In slowing down, I have often found that things I didn’t expect to that jump out at me. I find that God’s word has something to say to me that I didn’t see on the first go round. I also find that it allows the Bible to read me, to search my heart condition, so that I might avail myself to the deeper work Jesus longs to do in certain areas of my life.

The practice is fairly simple:

  1. Set aside time & a quiet place. This is the hardest part for most of us, since time is such a limited commodity. Lectio Divina requires us to be unhurried and undistracted. When I’ve done this in groups, we generally have 30-45 minutes to complete the practice. So really, just skip one TV show and you’ll have enough time. The “quiet” place just means a place where you can be undistracted.
  2. Read through your chosen passage of scripture out loud. [Note: The out loud part matters because it engages you in a different way and helps focus on the passage. Plus, scripture was meant to be read out loud when most people neither had a copy of God’s word nor knew how to read.]
  3. When you’ve finished reading, pause. Seriously, give yourself a few minutes to be quiet before the text and simply let what you’ve just read sink in. Ask God to speak to you through the passage. Make notes of any particular words or phrases that come to mind during this pause.
  4. Repeat steps 2 & 3 at least 3 more times, continuing to make notes of what comes to mind.
  5. When you’ve completed at least 4 cycles, take a moment to look back over the things you highlighted and noted. Prayerfully ask God why those things came to mind. Linger on those things.
  6. Finally, write a prayer of response to what God has revealed. Depending on what God was revealing to you through his word, it could be a confession, a request, a prayer of gratitude or praise. You don’t have to write it, but I find it helpful to put pen on paper. Plus, it comes in handy when you look back (but I’ll get to that in a few entries).

Now, you try it. Carve out the time this week. In my group, we read through Psalm 1, which I highly recommend for this practice. May you allow God’s word to speak to you so that it might work in you to grow your roots ever deeper.