Considering the Cost- The Spiritual Heart Check Luke 14

Discipleship has been on my heart a lot the past year. What does it mean to be a disciple? What does it mean to make disciples as Jesus commanded us to in the “Great Commission” of the church? Exploration of this topic has brought me to a Bible study workbook called “Discipleship The Growing Christian’s Lifestyle” by James and Martha Reapsom. It’s a pretty straight forward type of study: Look up verses, think about them, answer questions. I enjoy taking time to think about and “chew” on portions of scripture. This study, however, has led me to some of the hardest verses in the Bible for me to wrap my mind around. Luke 14:25-35. They’re all about what it costs to follow Jesus. Modern Christianity, especially American Christianity, seems to focus on all the good stuff we get when we follow Jesus: He wants a relationship with us, He loves us unconditionally, He chases after us and woos us to yield to Him, He heals our hearts, He blesses our lives, etc. All these things are so very true of Jesus and His love for us, but He also says some very hard things in these verses. Things like, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters- yet even their own life- such a person cannot be my disciple.” or “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” Those are both bars set very high by Jesus, Himself, and they aren’t exactly what I would call “Feel Good” quotes.

I think looking at these verses in the light of the Apostle Peter’s life has helped me understand them better. Peter was there when Jesus said these words, and It is recorded that Peter had a mother in law, so this meant he was a married man. Jesus wasn’t speaking of Peter hating his wife. He was setting a comparison of our commitment to Him over the other relationships we have. The Greek for the word “hate” in verse 25 means “to esteem less”. Jesus is first. His direction for our lives and His will comes before any other endeavor. Another thing that strikes me about Peter being a disciple is that when the rubber hit the road and Jesus was crucified, he bailed. Jesus had told the crowds the day He taught on the cost for being a disciple that they would need to “Consider the Cost” of following Him. Peter considered and when the threat was there the first time around, he denied Jesus and ran away. But Jesus doesn’t leave Peter there in his mess. He meets him on a beach days after the resurrection, with a fish breakfast for Peter, who had given up the whole disciple thing and decided to go back to what he knew before, fishing. Jesus didn’t meet him with an “I told you you’ve got to hate your family and give up everything quote.” Instead He asks Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Jesus knew Peter’s heart was desiring to follow Him. It was just a case of the “spirit being willing, but the flesh being weak.” Then Jesus’s promise of the Holy Spirit empowered Peter in his human frailty to be the disciple that Jesus wanted him to be all along.

It seems to me that every time I come across the words of Luke 14 I do a little self examination. Do I love Jesus more? more than my own family, my things, my hobbies, my life… Do I have what it takes to “Consider the cost” and give up everything I have? For someone who struggles with feelings of insufficiency on the regular, these verses rattle something inside of me. I probably feel like Peter did on that beach when Jesus asked him three times, “Peter do you love Me?”. Peter replied, “Lord You know all things, You know that I love You.”

Peter was the fireball preacher on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. He was a major leader in the early church, and he died a martyr’s death. He fulfilled the call that Jesus gave to him despite his internal struggles of his younger years. He literally “took up his cross” to follow Jesus as he was crucified himself, upside down as he requested because he was, “not worthy to be crucified in the same manor of his Lord” But all these things weren’t because Peter was some spectacular guy who could do anything Jesus wanted him to on his own. It was the power of the Holy Spirit inside of him that gave him the power to be Jesus’s “witness/ martyr”.

So back to me and my spiritual heart check. God knows me. He sees inside. My spirit is willing, but my flesh is weak. I need the power of the Holy Spirit, just like Peter did so I can have the power to be a witness as well, and I too can follow Him wherever He leads because Jesus sees deep inside of my heart as well. I love Him and want to be whatever He wants me to be. The Spirit will help me in my weakness just as He helped Peter. So Be it! Amen

Life on this Potter’s Wheel (April 2011)

Sunshine today!! Finally! I can’t express how happy that made me feel. I went out to my place of contemplation, my driveway. My drive is 1/8 of a mile long. I can’t tell you how many trips up and down my drive I’ve made in the 12 years we’ve lived here. It’s been a place of solace when I’ve faced some of my toughest challenges. I’ve walked, thought, and prayed a lot on that stretch of gravel.

Today I was reflecting on just that. As I prayed, I thought about all the things that I’ve prayed about as I’ve walked up and down that drive: sanity to survive head lice on my tween daughter’s heads, grief overwhelming in the days following my father in law and nephew’s deaths 14 days apart, struggles of my adult kids in recent years, my family, my mind…

I remembered a poem I wrote in 2011 during the height of my father in laws struggle with cancer. It was a reflection on how our world spins round and round day after day, and here I sit on it. I am like a lump of clay on a spinning wheel. The pressures of life, unpleasant as they are at times, are shaping me and making me to the very thing I am supposed to be.

This whole Covid-19 thing wears on me at times. I’m probably watching the news a little too much. I’m not a fan of the changes to my life and schedule. Honestly the changes I feel are mild compared to the others in our world and nation that are suffering much worse than my mere inconveniences. My prayers ended on this note: “I’m not sure what you’re doing, and I’m not sure I like it. What exactly are you doing to me?” And like I always seem to conclude I came up with, “I don’t understand You or Your ways, but I know You are good. I will trust You.”

Life on this Potter’s Wheel – originally written April 2011

Life on the Potter’s Wheel

Is sometimes not fun at all

The tools You use to shape me

Dig deep as unholy falls.

You mold me and shape me

As I am sitting very still

My world seems unsettled

As I am turning on this Potter’s Wheel

Trusting and accepting

What You are making me to be

Is the crux of the battle

As I sit here while You’re molding me.

In the Hands of the Potter

Is the safest place I can be

He knows what He’s doing

Even when I can barely see.

Your strength and Your wisdom

Is making me what I should be.

I am thankful and comforted

As Your hands are molding me.

High Maintenance Me

Looking back at my younger life I believe I lived in survival mode. In my early 30’s, I found myself a stay at home mom with four kids and homeschooling them on top of that. I remember looking at the cluttered mess of my house, toys, dirty clothes, clean clothes, books, etc. Thinking to myself, “I am going to have to conquer them or they will conquer me.” So the battle began. I am not naturally an organizer, but I knew I would have to become one. I knew it would take long hours, less sleep, and hard work to wage the war. But I was an accomplice in making these children so I would have to be a warrior to survive them. The problem is when all your energy is spent on survival you barely have time to refuel. After the birth of my fourth kid, I found myself around 220 lbs with knee problems, back problems, emotional stress, etc. And I then figured out that I was going to have to take care of me too.

Taking care of me is not an easy business. First of all “me” is not the first person I think to take care of. I’ve awaken to this reality more than once in my life. Whether it was “you need to walk daily for 30 minutes.” Or “ you need to eat right”. Or “you’re going to have to take some time to pray and read your Bible to recharge your spirit.” I can get in the habit. Start feeling better then lay off of it. Next quit. Then I wake up feeling like I did before I started.

A couple of years ago as I was running through my morning routine: Bible time, walk, bath, lotion on my drying out body (thank you hormones), brushing, flossing, and mouthwash (I’m tired of having cavities), speaking my daily who I am in Christ confessions, etc. I looked in the mirror and thought, “You know what… you’re high maintenance.” There’s a lot that goes into just maintaining me.

I don’t want to do maintenance. I would rather wake up and instantly have a great body, perfect hair, teeth, clean house, awesome kids, etc. It would be so much easier that way. But alas, “High Maintenance” is my destiny until I see Jesus face to face.

Lately, among all the physical and spiritual things I do to promote my maintenance, I’ve had to develop some “mental maintenance” practices. Thankfully some of the physical i.e walking, and spiritual i.e. daily Biblical meditation and confession of scripture can cross over. But other things like setting an hourly Thankfulness reminder, planning out hobbies, and keeping a watch out for what I’m thinking have become a necessity on my “High Maintenance Me” list. Unfortunately I get lazy at times and stop doing them. It’s probably the equivalent of stopping taking a daily medicine or brushing my teeth. If you need to do it and quit you’re going to feel bad in a matter of a few days or the people around you will wish you had (bad breath).

This morning I was talking on the phone to my bestie. We were discussing the survival of my younger years as a young mom. I was telling her about my desperate attempts to take a not so organized personality and organize. Daily lists of cleaning areas, menus, schedules, and a calendar. It really was what helped me survive. I told her that although I hated it I have had to fight. That means get up, show up, do what I need to do, and keep doing it. It occurred to me as I was saying it that nothing has really changed. I may not be folding baby clothes and washing bottles and sippy cups, but I am still doing maintenance/ fighting. There are things I have to do both spiritually and mentally on the daily if not the hourly to keep up with life. I told her I would rather not have to make all the effort, but she quickly pointed out the Bible verse about how we are to “renew our minds” Romans 12:1-2. Just like I can’t expect my house to clean itself, my car to run without being refilled by gas and oil changes, my body to do fine without regular sleep, food, and exercise, I can’t expect my thought life to be perfect without working on it.

High maintenance has its perks. If I’m in the business of taking care of myself, all those around me benefit from a well groomed, spiritually attuned, more joyful version of me. Not a bad exchange for the energy and effort. Keeping that in the forefront of my mind when I want to slack off should be a priority. There is a promise for the person with a “renewed mind”. I can test and approve God’s “good, perfect, and pleasing will.”

Maintenance of the mind and spirit insures that I will walk closer to my creator and in doing that I will find exactly what He had in mind for me, His High Maintenance Girl that He dearly loves and wants the best for.

The Monkey On My Back Vrs. Free

When my youngest son was a toddler, he was a runner. Let him out of his car seat and he had no intention of staying with you. He would take off, or he may try the opposite of dragging his feet and lingering behind. It was quite unnerving to this mother of four. As they say, “desperate times call for desperate measures” I resorted to those “desperate measures” … I got a leash. At first, I struggled with the idea. I had judged other moms with their toddlers in leashes before the realization came that I needed to become “one of those moms”. So, with no shame, I went to Walmart and found the cutest little leash. It looked like a monkey back pack that you would strap on the toddler. Then the tail that came off the monkey was the leash. The cuteness of the leash took away the sting of guilt I felt when I put it on him and grabbed the tail. At least I had the runner contained.

Everything was great until the day I took him downtown to trick or treat the business of our small town. I attempted to put the cute little leash on him. At that point my son had figured out how restricted he felt his life was with it.  He decided to throw a toddler revolt like none other.  He started screaming as loud as he could, “I DON’T WANT THE MONKEY ON MY BACK!!” over and over as he threw himself face down on the sidewalk. We ended up in an agreement that day.  I told him if he would hold my hand and stay very close to me, I would leave the monkey off, but if he tried anything at all, the monkey would be on his back again.  This became a regular threat that seemed to work with him.  As I unbuckled him from his seat, I would tell him he could walk on his own and hold my hand.  But just one time of him leaving my side and I would get out the monkey.  He would say with the most sincerity, “Ok momma, I don’t want the monkey on my back. Please don’t put him on my back.”  Win for mom.  Win for son.  

There are a lot of parallels between my toddler son with his monkey leash and me with life.  There are so many “monkeys” that can be strapped to my back. Some of them I put on willingly, some I have put on me, some I’m not sure what happened exactly but I’ve found it strapped on and confining me. I, like my son, do not like having “the monkey on my back”.  So, I go to God and ask Him to set me free.  God most assuredly does set me free, but the degree to which I experience the freedom from the “monkey” is also related to the degree to which I walk closely to God. I am sure I am not alone in my disdain for the “monkeys”.  “Monkeys” such as addiction, anxiety, depression, etc. just to name a few, plague us all. It’s the whole reason Jesus came.  He knows we all experienced the bondage of the “Monkeys”, but He also knows how to remove and dispose of the “Monkeys”.  

I’ve been contemplating a couple of verses in Psalms the past few days, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.  Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.” Psalms 32:7-8 

God wants to keep us close.  He’s extended the invitation to us to “Come near to God and He will come near to us…”  James 4:8 His desire to keep us close is for our own good.  We may not always understand the paths He wants us to walk down, but He wants us to hold his hand and walk with Him.  We, on the other hand, get our own ideas of where we want to go and what we want to do.  We may run ahead trying to figure out where exactly we’re going so we can try to control what happens, or we may do our best to lag behind, drag our feet, and avoid the path God brings us to due to fear of what may come.  God wants us to not be like that.  His reasons are for our good. He wants to “instruct us and teach us in the way we should go.”  and all this with “His loving eye on us.”  He loves us. That’s the motivation, love.  God instructs us to not be like a horse that needs a bit and bridle to come close to Him.  He looks at us much like I looked at my toddler son.  I preferred to not have “the Monkey on his back”.  But I did what I had to insure He understood how important it was for him to stay nearby. Ultimately it was for his safety and well-being.  Ultimately, me staying close to God, listening to His still small voice, and responding to His leading is for my spiritual safety and well-being as well.  God doesn’t want to see me with a proverbial “monkey on my back” as well, He wants me free.  But that freedom and safety only comes as I am close to Him and experience His love. The things that entice and entrap me only have their power to do so when I find myself doing my own thing resisting the closeness of being by His side, or hiding from Him because I don’t see Him as He is, a loving Father. 

Jesus said in John 8:32 “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” John 14:6. He is in the business of getting rid of our “monkeys”. The question is, “Will I walk close enough and be open enough to Him to let Him do it?”

(Side note: while preparing this Blog my son, now 16 saw the above picture of the Monkey Leash. He said, “What on earth is that for?!?!” I told Him my Blog. He then replied, “Oh… I hate that thing!” Lol)

Seasons of Change

It’s a very distinct memory of mine. Around 15 years ago, standing on the right-hand side of the church we were going to talking to someone. At the time I had a 1 year old, 4-year-old, 6-year-old, and a 9-year-old. Then someone approached me and said, “I’ve been praying for you and I just feel like the Lord wants me to tell you, you are just in a season.” I’m sure they said more, but that is all I got out of that conversation. As I went home, I remember thinking to myself, “This is going to be the longest season I’ve ever been through. I just started and I have another 17 years before it’s over.” I didn’t think there would ever be the end of meal planning, dirty diapers, nursing, house cleaning, disciplining, etc. Everyday felt like another day in the movie “Groundhog’s Day”. Same thing over and over and over. What’s weird is how gradually it all changed. One significant milestone reached by one kid, then another, and another,… you get the point (some people just don’t know when to stop having kids, ha ha) It’s like this long spiral ladder of progress that feels like you’re going nowhere and then all of a sudden you look down and see how far you’ve really gone. Although internally I wanted to smack the sweet sister who told me “It’s just a season”, the truth is, it was. What seemed like forever was really a flash, and here I sit on the other side, pondering just how much things change, how quickly it does, and how I don’t even notice until I wake up on a whole new life time plane to figure out and maneuver within.

Today my husband and I went to church.  That’s been our mode of operation for the past 27 years. The difference was I didn’t have four little ones to try to wrangle through the worship service, and hope that they would stay in children’s church for an hour so I could get a break.  It was just me and him.  The oldest 3 are off doing their own thing in their own lives, and the youngest would prefer to sit by friends than us, not that I mind or anything.  I’ve hit another season… this one doesn’t seem like it holds as many challenges as the previous. But I’m fairly certain it does.  That’s kind of what seasons do.  In summer, the challenge is to keep cool, in winter, the challenge is to keep warm. In Spring, the challenge is to get everything planted in the garden.  In fall, the challenge is to get everything processed that you planted in the garden.  Life is kind of like that as well. I’ve awakened to a world where my husband and I are sitting in the same room alone quite a bit, the house is quiet, and the only ones I need to feed on the regular are me and him.  It’s quite a bit different than the world I just left where the only place I could get alone was in the master bathroom after I locked myself into my room and hid back in that corner of the house, or all I heard on the hourly if not more is “mom I’m hungry”, “mom what do you have to eat?” “Mom tell him to stop…” (you get the picture)

So, what’s a girl to do with this whole new gig? Especially since the past 8 months I’ve found myself with less and less outside commitments.   It’s pretty uncomfortable to not be “doing” when all you’ve known for quite awhile is “do”. 

I think every once and awhile God likes to get us here: At a place where “doing” isn’t what defines us, but “being” is. I know that I have a tendency to use a title to define myself, and like most, a title with a little umph behind it feels even better. But “who I am” is what means the most not so much what all I do, and maybe for a “season”, God wants me to rest in that.

It’s kind of like this sleepy Sunday afternoon with me and the husband in a quiet, practically empty two-story house. We finally have some time to just enjoy each other, sit next to each other and talk. Spiritually, God’s brought me here as well. I can enjoy God more, not the ministry, the busyness, one activity/ meeting to the next. Instead, spending time being His girl, listening to His heart, and letting Him prepare me for the next season whatever it may be like. Because where He leads is good especially since where He leads, He is.

What’s Left After the Fire?

My grandparent’s house burnt when I was in fifth grade.  It was a total loss. It literally burnt to the ground.  They lived out in the country before the rural fire district covered their area.  No fire trucks came.  They stood out in the ice-cold December weather watching all they had worked for go up in flames. There was no home insurance on the property so they literally had to start from scratch and rebuild their lives. The generosity of neighbors and friends helped them to start the process, and within a few years they had regained much of what they lost.  

I can remember, as a kid being amazed at how everything was gone.  Grandpa and Grandma did manage to escape their house with a few belongings: a tv, a few of my Grandma’s paintings she had made, and a sewing machine. But all the things that made their house, their house was only ashes.  I would walk around, dig in the ashes, and think that maybe I would find something of significance in the rubble, but I only found melted metal and glass.  It impacted me deeply to think about how quickly ever thing can be gone. Every thing with the exception of a stone wall that was part of the front of the house. It stood.

That old farm house had wiring issues that started the blaze in the attic.  It’s really no surprise that it smoldered and then burnt so quickly.  When it was built no fire-retardant materials were a consideration.  Sprinkler systems weren’t even an option.  In fact, the stories I recall of my grandparents standing outside the house thinking of their brand-new smoke detector (the first they had ever owned) still in the box, and how they made it out alive by “chance” that Grandpa happened to look up in a certain area of the house and see flames leaping, was kind of amazing in my child like mind.  After all, it was the early 80’s technology, as we know it, was just in it’s beginning stages and home fire protection was a new thing so smoke detectors weren’t as common. 

This morning I have been reflecting on 1 Corinthians 3:11-15. TPT and how it applies to my life.  “For no one is empowered to lay an alternative foundation other than the good foundation that exists, which is Jesus Christ! The quality of materials used by anyone building on this foundation will soon be made apparent, whether it has been built with gold, silver, and costly stones, or wood, hay, and straw. Their work will soon become evident, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by blazing fire! And the fire will test and prove the workmanship of each builder. If his work stands the test of fire, he will be rewarded.  If his work is consumed by the fire, he will suffer great loss. Yet he himself will barely escape destruction, like one being rescued out of a burning house.” My grandparents made it out, but had they not seen the coming danger that night as they went to bed, they very easily could have not. So many of us live our lives this way.  We carelessly allow the things that are not profitable to build our lives. Things that won’t stand the test of the fire of time.  We go along with our warning signals to impending danger, disconnected and laying away in a box.  We are content with the possibility of “barely escaping destruction” because we would rather build our houses our way than to spend our time consulting “The Master Builder” and asking Him for the eternal material to build our lives with. 

Our Master Builder, Jesus, wants us to prosper and to be built magnificently containing all the best of His life building materials he has available to us. The materials that withstands the hurricane force winds of life that will try to reduce us to a pile of rubble, or the flame retardant strong materials that deflects the leaping flames of trials and temptations that if allowed to catch fire to anything in our lives would quickly leave us with ashes, emptiness and smoldering smoke or a life in ruin. 

The choice is ours of whom we will have as the chief contractor of our lives: Jesus, the eternal builder, or ourselves, short sighted and ill equipped. 

The reality of the situation is that we will face the fire in some fashion or form.  The question is will what I have built be able to stand? Will I, at the end of my life, be able to look upon a building of fine materials that God placed within my walls? Or will I watch the hay and stubble of carelessness go up in flames and hope to escape with my shirt on my back?  The only way to be assured of these answers is to stay close to our Master Builder and watch diligently what I allow to build my life.  Because what He gives me to build with is very good, and because of His great love, His design for my life is perfect. 

 

Grandpa’s Radio and Lessons in Listening


My Grandpa was a welder and a machinist. He worked out of a shop on his farm in a small rural community. He loved to be in his shop. When I was little I always found it intriguing to go out to his shop and watch him weld. He would give me a mask and the sparks would fly. There was a distinct hum of busyness in his shop when he was in it. It would drown out the one constant noise that was always present whether Grandpa was there or not, a radio. Grandpa had the same old radio on day and night 24/7 in the room, on a shelf, next to his lathe. I guess it kept him company as he worked long hours. He loved to listen to the local news, the swap shop, and the local personalities as they broadcasted daily.

I’ve been reflecting this week on listening to God and hearing His voice. As I contemplated how much I need to listen for God to speak to me, I thought about Grandpa’s radio. So many times I would go to his shop and it was always playing. For decades it played, with exception of the occasional power outage. Sometimes I would hear it distinctly. But other times I would not hear it over the humming of Grandpa’s lathe or the banging of a hammer. However it was always there. I would hear it if I chose to listen.

God’s voice is similar to Grandpa’s radio. The humming of life drowns out His still small whisper. Not because the humming is more powerful, but because I choose to focus on it. Sometimes the banging and clatter of life’s messy circumstances try to drown out His voice as well. They try to distract me from turning my ear towards God. It’s easy to get distracted.

The point of all this is God definitely speaks. He promises me in no uncertain terms that it is possible to hear Him. In John 10:27, Jesus promises that “My sheep hear my voice…”. It’s the way He has designed this relationship. He is the good Shepherd who calls to me and I am the sheep who hears. In fact, He encourages “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.” He wants us to listen to Him because what He speaks are words of life. I am the one who must pause and listen to hear what He has to say.

One of the voices that tends to shut out His words of life and peace is the voice of anxiety that tends to bang and clamor louder than Grandpa’s hammer on a busy work day. It not only shouts, but it consistently nags from inside distracting from the joy and peace that Jesus died and rose again to give. The thing about it is it can take willful practice to learn how to tune it out and switch the channel in your mind and heart to listen to the good voice of the Prince of Peace. For me, it takes a daily time sitting in the still of my house before everyone wakes up and my day hums at a volume louder than the constant quiet sounds of the gentle ticking of my wall clock or the air quietly blowing through our heat ducts. I sit in that quiet place and read a scripture and listen. Pretty soon I can focus in on His voice that has always been there. That same beautiful voice has the power to silence the storms inside and outside of me. The Gentle voice of Peace, Love, Joy, and Goodness has never stopped speaking to me. It was that He was only waiting for me to focus in and listen. Like I did many times as I stood in the open door of Grandpa’s shop wondering if what turned into a legend among us grandkids was true. “Does Grandpa’s radio always play?” Yes it does. It is a constant. His radio never was shut off. “Does God have something to say?” Yes He does. He never left me alone. I just need to listen.