Not for the Fear of Stomach

We all have our fears. Our heart-stopping, breathtaking, bone-chilling phobias we would rather do anything than face. Some of us fear needles, heights, or dangerous, predatory animals. Some of us quake in fright at only the thought of spiders, snakes, or speaking in public. A few of us fear the absence of cell phone coverage.

For me, it’s the stomach bug.

When two kids from my toddler class lost their lunches within 24 hours of each other, it was a summons to battle. Armed with Clorox wipes, Lysol spray, and disposable gloves, my fellow teachers and I attacked any surface we thought might have at one time possibly been somewhat contaminated. And everything else.

We threw all the stuffed animals and baby doll blankets in the wash, and when somebody else got sick we washed them again. Three more kids came down with the virus. I washed my hands, washed kids’ hands, and washed my hands again. Then Clorox-wiped the door handles, because who knows who touched those since this morning.

But whatever works, right? Tease me all you want, but our class hasn’t had another case of the upsets in three days.

Until this afternoon.

We thought we were past it. Thought the rest of us had missed it. Then—nope.

When I got home I went on a walk, listing my frustrations with every step.

I have my whole weekend planned out—time with family and some friends from out of town. And what else could I have done, anyway? I did everything I could, and the germs still claimed another one.

What if my dreaded nemesis infects me, too, and all those plans bottom out?

Even as I fumed, I realized the whininess of my attitude. Good grief, Lauren, there are refugees living in tents right now and you’re worried about weekend plans. Some people have hardships you can’t even hold a candle to and you’re worried about something you can’t control.

But soon I realized…I can’t control it.

I can’t control who in my class gets the stomach bug or doesn’t. All my Lysol-spraying and Clorox-cleaning didn’t stop the germs from infecting yet another child in my class. They can’t guarantee anything.

Only the God who created our germ-fighting bodies has any say in—any control over—who stands and who succumbs to the stomach virus.

Why worry?

Will it add an hour to my life? Or a day to our healthy streak?

In Mark 4, the storm raging around Jesus and His disciples’ boat was so strong the fishermen feared for their lives (maybe thanatophobia—fear of dying, aquaphobia—fear of water, or even thalassophobia—fear of the sea). These men were staring their deepest horror in the face. Or so they thought. Jesus woke from his nap but didn’t grab a bucket to bail more water out, instead simply asking, “‘Why are you so afraid?’” (Mark 4:40).

“Why are you so afraid?”

Do you think they forgot Who was in the boat? Or maybe they just forgot what He could do?

With a word from Him, the storm stopped. Just like that. It had been under His control all along.

Why are you so afraid?

You know, some trust in Clorox wipes and some trust in Lysol. We know that we can’t control anything even with those weapons.

But we also know Who is in the boat.

No matter what fear we face.

 

You Are More Than That One Thing!

She was talking about someone we barely knew, the mother of a little girl in our class. Two-year-old Molly was adorable, hilarious, sweet—and highly opinionated and emotional. We admired her parents for calmly working with her through every meltdown without giving in to her fits. But after babysitting Molly and her brother, my fellow toddler teacher was telling us that Molly’s mother had confided in her that she felt like she wasn’t patient enough with her own children, that she wasn’t being as good of a mom as she should be.

“Are you kidding me?” another teacher asked. “She is so patient. Have her spend some time with me and I’ll show her ‘not patient.’”

“I know,” my friend agreed. “She’s a great mom.”

“It’s like no matter how good of a job she’s doing, there’s this one thing they aren’t as good at and they focus on it,” our third teacher friend continued about another mom who also doubted her own parenting skills. Her eyes widened as if she was talking to one of the moms right then. “You are more than that one thing!”

Hidden but Real

If there was anyone who could who could build their reputation from their own accomplishments, it was Paul—the apostle, the author of many New Testament books, the pioneer church planter, the eventual martyr.

“Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death” (2 Corinthians 11:22-23).

But there was more going on inside him. Paul had his problems. He had his failures and shortcomings that weren’t as obvious as his achievements, but they were just as real.

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing… 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (from Romans 7:15-24).

Paul—the evangelist, the writer, the preacher, the sufferer—had his own inner struggles. His own failures. His own defeats. Every day. How did this giant of the faith reconcile his daily reality with what he knew to be true? How did he live with the knowledge that he wasn’t good enough?

Free in Every Way

The following paragraph opens Romans 8 with these life-giving words: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1).

No condemnation. No condemnation.

None.

If we are in Christ, no one can condemn us. Not even us. Not for any failure, shortcoming, or mishap that has happened in our lives—or this morning.

Don’t miss this: Paul grounded his worth in accomplishment, yes, and he definitely based his identity on complete perfection. Just not his own.

“For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:2-4).

We have been set free in every way. In the deepest ways. That freedom bought by Jesus’ perfect sacrifice fills every nook and cranny of our lives, overflowing in a steadfast hope that, no matter how we fail or how often we fall, we will come out victorious. We already are.

“If God is for us, who can be against us?…Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us… [W]e are more than conquerors through him who loved us­” (from Romans 8:31-39).

Enough

Even though we all have areas to work on, they do not define us. We’ll never be “enough” and not one of us will ever have a perfect day. And that’s okay, because He is enough. Enough to fill in the gaps. Enough to bring strength from weakness. Enough to redeem our biggest failures—and even those thousand little ones that just won’t go away.

When our accomplishments are drowned out by the loud reminders of all we’ve left undone, we can tell our weary souls that it is finished. Not by us, but by Him who knows our steps, our thoughts, our failure—and loves us anyway. Nothing can change that. Not even that one thing.

 

When We’re a Little Stuck

It had rained the night before. We knew it as we left the outdoor craft fair and saw the mud—and another car farther down the field that was being towed out. As I put the minivan in gear and backed up, the grassy mud clumped in our tire and we sank into it, too. The van wouldn’t move.

I turned off the ignition. We weighed our options. Thought about it. Time can change a lot of things, so after about three minutes I tried again.

We tried pushing it. I tried forward and then reverse. And then forward again. I turned the steering wheel both ways.

The harder I pushed on the gas pedal, the more the wheels spun and the deeper we were.

Going Nowhere

We’ve read the verse: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). We know it. And we try to live it, too. We think of starting a Bible study or beginning a new church ministry or adopting an orphanage. The idea sits in our mind, where we return to it often. But the timing never seems to work or no one else is interested or we aren’t really sure we’re ready yet.

All of which could be true.

But we want to do something—anything, maybe—so we pick something and run with it. When that little project is over (or flops) we pick something else entirely different. We tally up the tasks on our to-do lists and make room for one more, hurrying from one thing to another and spinning our wheels faster and faster. But never getting back to that Bible study or church ministry or orphanage, and never having time to.

We’re stuck.

Time to Get Unstuck

The craft fair organizers must have figured on a muddy field frustrating some of their attendees. And that some of us would need help. Two men with a tractor, a tow rope, and a four-wheeler went car to car, pulling them out of the mire. My mom flagged one of them down to tell them of our situation, and then we waited.

I watched cars going by on the gravel road next to the field. Just driving by. Not a care in the world. Sitting in a minivan that I was powerless to move, I almost envied their ease. Maybe I did envy it. A little. Was it really that easy to get around just a couple hours ago? Now all our plans were dependent on that tractor—and it was busy.

When it was finally our turn, one of the guys hooked the strap onto the back of our car and told me what to do.

“Don’t turn the wheel,” he said. “Just go straight—and use the gas. Don’t stop.”

They pulled us out. Just like that. I tried to be helpful, holding the wheel straight and keeping an eye on the tractor while slowly accelerating backwards. “That’ll do it!” one yelled and unhooked the strap from our van. We thanked them profusely and I put the car in forward. Stepped on the gas.

And I was stuck again.

Not Just About a Yes or No

Following Ephesians 2:10, Paul doesn’t talk about how to discern the will of God. He doesn’t tell us what big decisions to make. He doesn’t give us a list of works to do.

No, Paul begins telling the Ephesians that, whether Jewish or Gentile, they are one in Christ. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, all believers are one body, united and reconciled to God. The Father.

“For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household” (Ephesians 2:18-19).

The God who saved us and planned works for us to do is our Father. Our Father!

Ephesians 2 isn’t just about guidance or knowing whether or not we should lead a Bible study. Our Father put us where we are in life to grow closer to Him and more aware of His work as we live out His plan for us. He already knows even our deepest secrets, and He invites us to live in such a way that we get to know Him more.

There’s a depth and complexity there that goes way beyond one or two life choices. He gives us things to do but He knows where we are. He knows our hearts. And He will lead us in every moment.

Sometimes that leading is as clear as a sunny day in Florida. Sometimes we have more than one option but can make a decision with a little thought. Sometimes we have to wait awhile. And sometimes we need help. Again.

We’ll Get There One Day

The tractor came back around and they hooked up the tow rope. Again. One of the guys traded places with me and told me to ride his four-wheeler while he drove our van out of the field to the road.

“But I might get stuck!” I warned him, afraid of my newfound propensity in going nowhere.

“You won’t,” he said.

The man with the tractor pulled us out again, and his partner smoothly guided the minivan to the road. The little four-wheeler lurched around behind them but never got stuck.

And we were on the road again. With a story to share for it.

Because We Never Have to Be Gloomy

Trump.

That’s all you have to say.

And now that I’ve said it, let me finish. This isn’t a political blog, because I’m really not very political, but there is no escaping the fiery division Trump has ignited in America.

No escaping his tweets, either. Just after Christmas he shared with his millions of followers:

Where to even start… First of all, for the record, the world has been “gloomy” ever since the first lie ever spoken led Adam and Eve to their first act of disobedience. And with shootings in airports, refugee children in freezing weather conditions, and teenagers brutalizing a disabled man, it’s not any less gloomy now.

But that’s another float for another parade.

There’s no question that the world of politics is frenetically charged with expectations, and, incidentally, “hope” does mean “a person or thing in which expectations are centered.” Supporters and protestors on all sides of the 2016 presidential race had expectations, just like every political event. We all still have expectations.

Image source

But if Trump is anything like the last forty-four presidents we’ve had, many of our expectations will never be met. Political leaders will disagree, there will be complicated situations with hard decisions, and people in office will change their minds sometimes. Dare I say it? America won’t be as great as we’ve been promised.

But followers of Jesus will always, always, always have hope. No matter who lives on Madison Avenue. No matter what happens in the Middle East. No matter how high the security risk level.

Because hope is only as strong as Who you place it in.

If our hope rises and falls based on slips of paper with candidates’ names or the choices of those candidates, we have a lousy hope. Hope has nothing to do with people. And it doesn’t have any more or less footing depending on the situation we’re in, because no matter what that situation is, His promises still stand.

He is still in control. He is still holding us in His hands, with all our problems and worries and concerns.

And nothing will ever change that. Ever.

Just listen to how strongly He assures us that we can trust Him with our hope:

So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf…” (Hebrews 6:17-20).

Nothing gloomy about that. 

My 7 Most Memorable Books of 2016

It’s that time of year. Resolutions, goals, recounting memories of joys and sorrows. It is a time for measuring and appraising the year that has passed and looking into the still-opening year that has come. For me, 2016 was a year of more reading and now seems like a good time to memorialize my favorite books from last year.

The books I share here may or may not have been written in 2016 – in fact, I think most of them were written earlier. I read them during 2016, however, so here is where I thought I’d share my 5 favorite books from the past year.

But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t narrow it down to 5.

So, should you care to know, here are my SEVEN favorite books of 2016. With a couple of runners-up at the end, because even seven was hard. Oh, and in alphabetical order, because order of significance would be really hard.

They were all significant. All engaging. And they all shared stories now impressed on my heart.

Bruchko: The Astonishing True Story of a 19-Year-Old American, His Capture by the Motilone Indians and His Adventures in Christianizing the Stone Age Tribe

Bruce Olson

How’s that for a title?

Most people who strike out on their own at 19 are a little reckless. If they do so in a foreign country with no job, connections, money, or language skills, they’re really crazy.

Bruce was really crazy. But the story that came from his total obedience in 1961 is unlike any other. Through the decades that followed, God guided his ministry and many people came to Christ through his work.

The Drop Box: How 500 Abandoned Babies, an Act of Compassion, and a Movie Changed My Life Forever

Brian Ivie

I wish everyone I know could read this book! A few years ago, I watched Brian Ivie’s documentary (also called The Drop Box) about a Korean pastor raising abandoned orphans with special needs as his own children. Now Brian tells the rest of the story—and there is so much more to it! In these pages that draw you in chapter after chapter, Brian tells more of Pastor Lee’s life, and how it impacted his own more than he ever expected.

See my review here.

Eight Twenty Eight: When Love Didn’t Give Up

Ian and Larissa Murphy

So…if I had to pick just one…this might be it. Maybe. So hard to choose…

Ian and Larissa’s story of love and commitment (and weakness and doubt) in the face of debilitating and permanent disability is not one to miss. Larissa’s revealing honesty and powerful writing style made an already fascinating story impossible for me to put down.

See my review here.

Hiding in the Light: Why I Risked Everything to Leave Islam and Follow Jesus

Rifqa Bary

I remember seeing the drama unfold on TV, as a Christian teenager fought in court for asylum from her Muslim parents. Her story of persecution while in her American home was shocking, and the jaw-dropping story of her escape shows God’s guidance more clearly than most of us ever see.

See my review here.

In My Father’s House: The Years Before “The Hiding Place”

Corrie ten Boom

It just wouldn’t be a list of my favorite books without a Corrie ten Boom title! Corrie wrote IMFH as a series of seemingly isolated stories from the years before World War II and The Hiding Place. But as she tells her stories, we find—at her guidance—that there is no stand-alone chapter in our lives. Everything we ever experience prepares us for the next twist in our stories.

See my review here.

Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction

Caleb Kaltenbach

Homosexuality has quickly become a hot button issue. We can’t ignore it. How do we respond? Caleb gives a loving and deeply personal account of honoring his gay parents while also remaining steadfast to biblical truth. It is possible. Caleb tells us how.

The Undoing of Saint Silvanus

Beth Moore

This one barely counted for this list, as I finished it just a few hours before the clock and the calendar heralded the arrival of 2017.  Beth Moore has written countless Bible studies and nonfiction books, but jumped into a fiction project for the first time with Silvanus. While the first several chapters seemed to move slowly to me, I am so glad I didn’t close the book. The rich characters and complicated, action-packed plot wouldn’t let me do anything else until I read the last page. Enjoying a story that gripping was fun. Knowing that it had deeper meaning and spiritual significance made it even better.

Runners-up: Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Michael Horton); The Accidental Feminist: Restoring Our Delight in God’s Good Design (Courtney Reissig; A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918 (Joseph Loconte); and The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth (Mike Cosper).

 

There you have it! My favorites from the last twelve months. What books made you glad you cracked their covers this past year? Please do share!