"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about all the people knee deep in lousy stuff. I have gotten many emails and texts in the past few weeks from people who need prayer to navigate their way through life. There is sickness, distress, family and job difficulties and some of these requests are swirling really close to home. I’m so happy they ask for prayer, and I’ve been praying my little tail off and absolutely; I trust, I believe and my faith is strong as a bolder but every now and again I just wanna say, “Hey, wait a dog-gone minute God, this is all too much!” I’m sure that comment during prayer is followed by a heavenly face-palm!
The big question I’ve been hearing from those folks struggling is, “If God loves us, why does this lousy stuff happen?” I would have to say that’s a completely fair question and I wish like heck I could type an answer to make it all better but here is the truth, A) God doesn’t MAKE bad stuff happen and he loves us even harder when it does and B) Sometimes there isn’t a simple answer to complicated things. With my heart a little heavy, I’ve spent some time prayin, and thinkin and here are some of the things that made me feel better.
There is a big difference in being involved and being in control. God is completely involved in our lives and the more we pray and grow in our relationship with him, the more involved he will be. Because of our free will, God does not control our lives. Some of the distress I’ve been asked to pray for is the result of someone doing something lousy with their free will and leaving others to suffer in the wake of poor choices. God cannot be in control of that but he can absolutely be involved in our lives as we navigate through it if we invite him to meet us there and lead us through. He won’t wave a magic wand and make it all disappear but he will give us the grace and the strength to endure the difficulties if we ask.
Bad stuff isn’t part of God’s plan. He doesn’t give people cancer or trap children in a cave because his “master plan” indicated it’s time for it. That is not how a loving Father operates. If a dad decided to go for a walk with his son, and along the way the son stepped in a gopher hole and hurt his ankle that would be a lousy thing. Lousy as it is, the dad didn’t make it happen. He was absolutely there but he didn’t plan it or want it to happen; he wasn’t in control of it, but you can bet your bottom dollar that he instantly became involved. He felt the hurt, he poured out compassion and comfort and he did everything possible to aid in his sons healing.
If God controlled everything, we might think life would be easier and long gone would be fear, suffering and pain. I suppose in some ways that makes sense but because of our sinful nature (thank you Adam, Eve and Satan) we want what we want and we aren’t always so good at trusting and following the rules, let alone being completely controlled, so this idea has some holes. God doesn’t force his love or his perfect will on us, it’s up to us to choose to love, trust, surrender and follow him. When we’re tempted to think God makes bad things happen it’s good to remember a few truths from scripture. Jesus heals the sick; he doesn’t bring about their illness. Often the healing isn’t physical but it is spiritual and the result of that healing can lead to our salvation. Jesus liberates the oppressed; he doesn’t prolong their oppression. Jesus sets the prisoner free; he doesn’t imprison. Jesus restores a broken creation; he doesn’t further cripple it through disease, suffering, and pain.
When I find myself feeling overwhelmed about the sadness or madness of a lousy situation, I have to reach for the three biggest truth of all. They’re stiff ones and sometimes they go down like vinegar but they are enormous truth spoken in even bigger love. The first; every situation no matter how sad or tragic or difficult, is a situation where God can bring about a greater good. The part that makes that really tough to wrap our heads and hearts around is sometimes we hurt too much to see the good and often the greater good is for someone else. The second; Scripture says, there will be trouble and it is only through suffering we can fully come to Christ. When I realize that, and stop to contemplate the suffering of both the Father and the Son; done for me…it really puts things in perspective. Finally, heaven is the reward, not earth. As humans, we cling to the familiar and fear the unknown. If we could begin to unwrap even a tiny corner of the delight, glory and absolute magnificence of eternal life we would run from this world so fast we’d be nothing but a streak!
The lousy stuff is never what we wish for and it’s never handed out as a punishment but there is love, healing, and even salvation when we truly let the Father get involved and walk with us through the lousy. The lousy stuff is where God shows his power, his compassion and his amazing ability to unite, support and draw people closer to each other and to heaven.
A Seed To Plant: Spend some time asking God to be involved in your struggles or the struggles of someone you love. Trust him and then watch to see the way he works.
Blessings on your day!
I have made you, I will carry you, I will sustain you and I will rescue you. Isaiah 46:4
Have you ever made a promise you didn’t keep? When a promise is broken it’s a lousy feeling no matter which end of the promise you’re on. I can remember being in 5th grade and a friend of mine had just received a new cartoon/joke book and I wanted to read it so bad. I promised to give him a dime if he would let me borrow it before everyone else that wanted to look at it got a chance. He let me borrow it and I remember thinking how much more I would have enjoyed the book if I could have actually made good on my promise. I knew good and well that I didn’t have any money to give him and I knew mom and dad wouldn’t have given me the money for such a silly thing. A dime had great value and money was to be used for necessary things only. I couldn’t even finish reading the book that night because I knew I’d have to explain to my friend the next day that I’d broken my promise and I felt too lousy to enjoy the book. I don’t know why that story sticks with me to this day but every now and again it bubbles up in my mind. When I saw this verse the memory of the broken promise sprung up and I realized how my weakness is one of his most amazing strengths.
We are a pretty stubborn and independent people sometimes aren’t we! I forget the truth of this verse from the Prophet Isaiah…often! I’m pretty good at trusting God when things are hard or crazy. I’m pretty good at knowing he will rescue me but while reading this verse and considering what it promises something new occurred to me… probably something he’s been trying to tell me for years! Here’s the revelation…HE MEANS ALL THE TIME! I tend to think I can coast along and tend to the easy stuff saving his service for the tough stuff or for when I’m in over my head. I think I honestly convince myself that when things are smooth I can handle it so he can assist someone who has a bigger need or a heavier cross to carry. It’s almost as if I think I’m doing him a favor by not bugging him so much. The problem with that is when I’m not depending on the truth of his promise I get the false sense that I’m in charge and that never ends well.
Everywhere I go I seem to hear the phrase, “work smarter not harder”. Well duh…I think that’s exactly what this verse is saying. Working smarter means completely living the truth of this verse…everyday…when things are great and when they’re not! If we really believe in these promises from our Loving Father, life just gets better and better. He will never break a promise…ever. If I look at the disappointments in my life I might be tempted to think God wasn’t there for me but the truth is those disappointments that felt like broken promises came at exactly those times when I was trying to take care of things myself and give him a break. So…I think I get it now! This one little verse spoken a few thousand years ago still has enormous truth and promise even today. I think I’ll tape them somewhere important so I can read them again and again. I promise God, I’ll pay more attention to them!
A Seed To Plant: Join me in putting this powerful verse somewhere visible and pray with these words this week.
Blessings on your day!
But it came to pass…Nehemiah 4:1
Lots of things aren’t meant to last forever. We keep the goods and toss out the package. We put in a new light bulb, trash bag or battery, fully expecting them to run their course and have their usefulness pass away. Those things aren’t surprises, but when we really think about the way this tiny bit of scripture applies to our human experience the words take on a surprising meaning.
There are seasons in our lives when things feel like a blanket of heavy wet snow settled in on our hearts. Things can be hard to navigate and our faith can be tested. When we’re smack dab in the middle of one of those seasons, things can just seem to pile up and make us feel sad, confused and overwhelmed. Those are the times this verse, that appears over and over in scripture, takes on a profound meaning. This little nugget of hope reminds us that our struggles, grief and suffering aren’t here to stay, they came to pass. One December nigh when my heart was in one of those heavy seasons, a beautiful stranger shared the story of loss and grief that overwhelmed her school one year early in her teaching career. At the last mass of their school year, the parish priest gave a homily and shared a very simple message. He said, this won't stay, we find comfort in God's word and his word says, "It came to pass", not "It came to stay. That lovely lady had no idea how much I needed to hear those words!
As we celebrate the birth of the Newborn Infant King, it’s the perfect time to take stock of the things that have come to pass. Our troubles, worries, anxieties and difficulties will pass, but the gift of God’s own Son, Jesus will remain. His peace, his mercy, his inexhaustible compassion and comfort remain with us forever. There is absolutely nothing so hard or sad or confusing that it would make the Father turn away. We can’t scare him, trick him or run him off. He is there patiently waiting for us to ask him into our mess.
The fact that we gaze on the precious gift of God’s Son as an infant in the manger every December is a reminder that we can begin again. Each Christmas as I approach the Manger Scene on the altar, I breath a little sigh of relief and feel grateful that we celebrate his humble beginning on this earth. I look at that tiny baby in the manger and remember that the greatest thing ever known to mankind started small. Just like little Jesus, we are allowed to take baby steps. As I gaze at him this last weekend of Christmas, I’ll pause a little longer to thank him for the reminder that his love stays but the troubles and sinfulness we all struggle with have come to pass. I’ll take an extra minute to marvel at how smart God was to send Jesus as a cute, chubby, adorable baby boy because babies always capture my attention and make me smile. I’ll remember to thank him for being so generous with his grace and I’ll ask him to help us recognize and surrender those things that have come to pass.
A Seed To Plant: Before the Christmas Season ends, pause and pray these words; Infant Jesus, as we gaze on you this Christmas, remind us to welcome you and keep you with us always!
Blessings on your day!
God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
I love living in the country; it has so many perks! I love the fact that we have fresh beef that we raise ourselves (I can’t lie…Dave does the raising) we have fresh pork, vegetables and flowers from my gardens that sit on the kitchen island most of the summer and fall and my niece and her family raise chickens so there are plenty of eggs to share. When school started this fall, I instituted a tiny holiday (at least it’s kind of a holiday for me) called “Egg Day With Aunt Sheri!” When I’m out of eggs, my three great nieces come to my classroom after school and I take them home so I can get eggs from my niece. The girls like it because they don’t have to ride the school bus home and because we absolutely have to make a stop and get a treat! These three little girls are such sweeties and they always remember to pick out a treat to take home to their brother. The other day as we were driving home with their treats, I had to laugh because they were busy making trades. I’ll give you 3 Combos for a gummy worm or I think a gummy worm is worth 4 mini Oreos were the sounds that entertained me all the way home. As I picked up my eggs and dropped off the girls I couldn’t help but think of this verse from Paul’s letter to the Romans.
The girls were all about negotiating a trade that was fair for everyone, but God made the most epic, lopsided trade of all time. I’m not sure I fully comprehend the power of this verse so I’ve been puddling it around in my heart for a few days. We toss around the words fair, just and equal quite a bit, but I for one don’t spend much time thinking about how the Father must process those words. Our relationship with him is anything but fair, just or equal. He can’t be outdone or undone or even partially matched in love and mercy and I’m not very good at thanking him for that.
I think the power in this verse lies in the five words “while we were still sinners”. It wasn’t a negotiation. It doesn’t say, after you got your act together Christ died for you. It doesn’t say, when you stopped sinning Chris died for you. It doesn’t say if you do x, y and z then I’ll consider sending my Son to save you. He did it before we got it all together. It wasn’t about scoring enough points to get the reward. It was a matter of; I love you so much, I’ll take you right in the middle of your messy, goofy, sin riddled life and send my Son to show you once and for all how extravagantly I love you. I need to get that through my thick noggin because I go through most days thinking I can trade my measly little gummy worms or Oreos for a life in heaven. He isn’t there to bargain or negotiate with. He takes my puny little attempts at holiness and gives me the grace I need to do better. I think he whispers to me, I did this so you would be able to come home to my loving embrace; I want your love, your trust and I want you to put me in first place. It’s a gift my child; not a trade!
A Seed To Plant: Take a few minutes to thank God for his love and ask him to help you see a couple of things he’s inviting you to do so you can grow in holiness.
Blessings on your day!
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence rely not.
At St. Mary’s school, the first of each month means a project. All twelve big hallway bulletin boards are prepared with a focus on one central faith based theme which changes each time we flip the calendar. You might find it funny to know that when I was a freshman at Emporia State University, I specifically remember choosing to teach High School because I didn’t want to mess with all those bulletin boards you find in an elementary classroom! Now I teach 1st grade and have 8 bulletin boards inside my room and the giant one in the hall…God is hilarious isn’t He! Last February our theme was God’s Love…not too tough right…well I had this great idea that I thought the kids would get in a snap! I was feeling pretty smart about the whole thing until I explained it to the kids and I got nothin’ but that “deer in the headlights” look from every single one of them! I’ve been teaching long enough to know when the ship is sinking and I need to bail before I drown...I was there! In a flash I said, “Ok God, I wasn’t so smart here…send me something quick that will honor You and teach all who see this project about Your love, show me what to do, send Your Holy Spirit quickly with a good idea!” Bing…just like that the idea came. I looked at the kids and said, “You know what kids, the Holy Spirit just sent me a great idea, let’s try it again.” I explained the new idea and the little boy in the back corner smiled and said,”Mrs. Wohlfert, next time why don’t you just ask God first instead of wasting time trying to think things up on your own.” Brilliant boy!
My mission with these bulletin boards is always to reveal something new and amazing about God to my students, they are truly a teaching tool and I take these projects seriously because they are a priceless opportunity.
With that in mind, we got started. I explained how I would draw a giant heart for the center of the board which would contain the words “I see God’s love…” Each child would get their picture taken holding that giant heart and then in a small heart, they would have to write the words that completed the idea. After I had carefully explained the instructions, I asked if anyone knew how they were going to finish the sentence. I was prepared to help them stretch their ideas and invite them to dig deeper. I was quite sure I’d have to assist them in their thinking. Once again God must have been just laughing at me because the first child I called on blew me out of the water with his answer! I should have seen it coming because he was an amazing little boy whose faith was so enormous that sometimes it would swallow me up! He raised his hand and said, “Mrs. Wohlfert, this is the easiest question you’ve asked us all year, I see God’s love…(pause and grin from him)…when I see Jesus on the cross. I couldn’t stop the tears that rolled down my cheeks! But wait…it gets better…the little girl next to him put her arm around his shoulder and said, “That’s the best answer ever in the world!”
As I sat and listened to my class one by one announce their thoughts I was astounded! Each answer revealed another great nugget of God’s grace and love. As I dismissed them to their seats to begin, I sat in my chair a minute and wondered….ok…so who’s the teacher here…who is the smart one? It all became clear, that two second prayer of trust, even if it was offered as a plea out of desperation, gave me the truth spoken in this verse from Proverbs. I look back on that day and realize that if God can be trusted to help with little bitty things like a first grade bulletin board, He is certainly equipped to tackle the big things like finances, relationships and whatever else we think we're smart enough to handle on our own!
A seed to plant: At some point before this long holiday weekend is over, find one situation you struggle with and stop in your tracks and say the words “Father I trust you, Father I love you, please send your Holy Spirit and take charge of this.” Put Proverbs 3:5 in action!
Blessings on your day!
For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Galatians 3:27
Earlier this week I made a quick trip to Kansas to present a teacher in-service. As I was sitting in the airport in Chicago, I was enjoying some people watching. One guy walked past in a T-shirt that read, A blood donor saved my life. After he passed by, my mind began to wonder if he had been in an accident or if maybe he had been afflicted with an illness. Lost in thought, the T-shirt made me grateful for the generosity of people, especially those who donate blood so others like this man might be alive and healthy.
A few minutes later, I saw the same guy walking in the opposite direction and I caught a glimpse of the back of his T-shirt and it displayed the words from Matthew 26:28, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins. I thought that was an amazing T-shirt!
Once again, my thoughts drifted to gratefulness…but this time for the ultimate blood donor, Jesus. I was thinking how cool it was that he wore that T-shirt in the most public place I could imagine. I suddenly got the urge to tell him how cool I thought his T- shirt was and I heard my mom’s voice in my ear saying “If you’ve got something nice to say to someone, you’d better spit it out cause folks need to hear good stuff.” I decided to find him and tell him…but then I realized that by the time I packed up my laptop, grabbed my suitcase and headed out of the boarding area, I would literally have to run through the terminal to find him and the vision of a chubby woman with a cup of coffee trotting through the airport tugging along a floral print suitcase behind her might be more than the good folks gathered at O’Hare airport were ready for on a Sunday morning! So, I stayed put, said a quick prayer for the guy in the cool T-shirt and went about my business.
A few minutes later I was reminded that God has an excellent sense of humor because the empty seat beside me was soon occupied by none other than the guy with the great T-shirt! It was all I could do not to laugh out loud! I told him I loved his shirt and that led to an amazing conversation that inspired and uplifted me! The gentleman told me that he knew he’d be spending the whole day in airports so he chose an outfit with a message. As he tugged on the T-shirt that morning he thought if one person noticed the message then he’d made a good choice for Jesus. (I’m not sure that has ever been the criteria on which I based my outfit choice…but it just might be someday.) As we sat in conversation, I was impressed by this man’s faith, his trust and his optimism. Both he and his wife had recently lost their jobs thanks to our current economy and in addition to raising their 15 yr. old son; they had recently and unexpectedly become guardians of their 11 month old grandson. He spoke about the way he felt God working in his life and about his expectant hope in God’s good plan for him and his family. He had every right to be frustrated, angry, anxious and cranky but he chose to put on a great T-shirt and God’s peace instead. He truly lived these words from Galatians and “put on the clothing of Christ”. He dressed himself in Christ both spiritually and physically! The situation started with a comment about a T-shirt, and ended up being a lesson in God’s love and grace. Who knew???
A seed to plant: This one is a double challenge! First, one day this week, purposefully wear or display something that will specifically draw attention to Jesus. Maybe it’s a T-shirt with a great message, religious jewelry or a sign in the rear window of your car. Second, take my mom’s advice and each time you think of something good to say…be sure you spit it out…let someone hear you say something good!
Blessings on your day!
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