Devoted to Devotionals?

I’m reading two devotion books currently, Savor by Shauna Niequist is one of them; at first glance I thought it was a little simple, but what I’ve discovered as I’ve read through it the last few years is that Shauna is relational, open and authentic. (And she includes some fantastic recipes in this book!) Day by day she covers great topics, and asks good, self-reflective questions. I appreciate her voice as a part of my morning, and the truth is that simple can lead us to deeper and more complex places. (I remember my pastor, Stan Buck, once saying, “People sometimes want deeper teaching, but if I only ever preached “Love your neighbor as yourself”, we’d have all the depth we need.” — Powerful.)

My other (and all time favorite) devotion book is My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. This guy doesn’t mess around, he shoots straight, and isn’t inclined to be concerned about our feelings. He teaches and explains scripture, as well as challenges and elevates me to desire to bring my own utmost to each day. I have been reading this devotional every year for over 15 years, and it’s still fresh and challenging on the daily. He’s on a first name basis with me after all our years together!

Devotionals can be so good, they can be enriching, inspiring, challenging, and helpful; they have a place in my quiet time, BUT, they cannot take the place of the Word itself. In September of 2020 Jen Wilkin wrote an article in Christianity Today titled Your Devotional is not a Bible. Just the title of the article alone was such a word of truth and so convicting and I left that article out in the open for almost a year.

How many times have I a grabbed a devotion book instead of the bible because I was short on time, or energy or, um, devotion to God? Devotion is defined as love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person, activity, or cause. Am I as devoted to God as I am to MYself, MY time, MY energy, MY to do list?

Here’s what I know, I cannot hear the voice of God if I don’t know the Word of God. I will only know his voice if I read His Word. While it’s good to receive words of comfort from a friend or book, it’s like salve when it comes from God. It’s easier for me to yield to correction from God than from any other source. It’s in the reading of the Word, praying and listening that my spirit is closest to God – he corrects, comforts, teaches, empowers, leads, strengthens, and encourages me.

Admittedly, it’s easy to get distracted and cut it short or not even enter into that time. A recent insight I’ve discovered about myself is that the days I haven’t met with God first because I’m “so busy”, it’s like I feel I have to accomplish even more to justify pushing God aside that day. But it’s like a chasing of the wind because at the end of those days there’s still something that’s not satisfied. But when I’ve sat quietly with God my days flow more as if everything that takes place and gets done is bonus – the most important minutes have been invested wisely and my soul is much more content throughout the day.

Here’s a bonus of devoted time to God on the regular, when I hit difficult places, I’m already disciplined to be near God, so in those times I find I naturally move a little closer to him and his word. In those times what I read and have planted in my heart is drawn up and out. So you’d think devotion to God’s writing would be a no brainer, and yet I submit that it can be a struggle to keep this a priority and discipline.

The reality is that there are many voices that want to speak into us, some are so good and needed, and I’m so thankful for that. Some are simply not true, or have a perspective that might be off, so the voice I want to have the most influence on me is the Lord’s. And that will be so when I have not neglected His word for someone else’s.

Losing color, looking limp, and barely hanging in there • • •

Have you been there friend?

This plant has looked tired and worn down most of the last year. I’ve almost given up on it too many times to count. When I finally gave it some dedicated attention I realized it literally had no roots; it was just sitting in soggy dirt. “No wonder it’s so pale and lifeless.” I thought and I finally threw it away.

But in a last ditch, heart inspired, rescue and recovery plan I snagged it back out of the trash and whispered, “Let’s try this again”.

Incredibly it did just that.
After a lifeless year, it’s coming back, I see new, fresh growth!

The old soil was wet and a little moldy. I dumped it out, washed the pot and put in fresh stuff. I tenderly placed it back in the pot labeled “grow”, and moved it to a new window.

And so lessons appear from the tired, fading plant ~

• let’s check our soil. What are we sitting in? Is it saturated with the wrong stuff?

• what am I rooted in? Do I even have any roots, or am I simply sitting on top of moldy soil in a pot I didn’t choose, falling over from time to time?

• do you need a fresh perspective? Do you need to change the window you’re looking through?

• and just in case you need someone to whisper this to you, here it is, “Hey there love, let’s try this again.”

The Kingdom Divided – Jeroboam & Rehoboam

Jeroboam’s background in a nutshell:
He was “a man of standing” and an official in King Solomon’s construction / building phase. Solomon put him in charge “of the whole labor force of the tribes of Joseph”. One day he was told by a prophet, who had heard from God, that the Lord was going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand and give him ten tribes…this would be done because the people had forsaken him and worshipped other Gods and not walked in obedience or done what was right in the of the eyes of the Lord. (King Solomon had allowed sin to remain, eventually corrupting him and his leadership.) Jeroboam was told he would be king over Israel and rule over everything his heart desires if he followed the commands of the Lord, walked in obedience, did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, then the Lord would be with him.

(To me, that sounds overwhelming, humbling, a great responsibility and a great promise.)

This word about Jeroboam being made king made its way back to Solomon who then tried to kill Jeroboam, so Jeroboam fled to Egypt until Solomon’s death.

Enter Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. After his dad’s death, at age 41 he was made king. Jeroboam, feeling safe now that Solomon was dead, returned from Egypt. 2 Chronicles 10 tells that he and all of Israel  (remember, he was a respected leader) went before king Rehoboam and asked him to lighten the load that Solomon had put on them, saying they would serve him if would do this.

(This makes me want to go back and focus more on this – the wisest man put a heavy burden on his people. But also the wisest king failed in many ways, especially at the end, assuring us that none of us are beyond making terrible decisions.)  

Anyway, Rehoboam asked for a few days to consider this. He consulted the elders, who told him if he would be kind to the people, and give them a favorable answer they people would always be his servants. But the king rejected that, and for advice turned to the younger friends he had grown up with (who were currently serving him). Those guys said something along the lines of, Tell the people if they thought the yoke was currently heavy, that he (Rehoboam) would make the yoke even heavier and more painful, that he was even stronger than his father. And so the new king rejected the advice of the elders, answered harshly, and the kingdom divided. U f f f f f…

The ten tribes went home to the northern part of the kingdom, but Judah and Benjamin remained under king Rehoboam. Rehobom then ordered the two tribes to go fight Israel to regain the kingdom, but the word of the Lord came to them to go home, to not fight against their brothers, the Israelites. (Still a good word for us today.) In my notes I wrote that there was continual warfare between Rehoboam and Jeroboam, so that was a significant consequence as well.

My nugget from this ~ I believe pride, fear and more can keep us from seeking wise counsel. I also believe pride is likely the main ingredient that can keep me from listening and acting on wise counsel. Rehoboam wasn’t a baby king, he was 41, but clearly not mature or wise. When I read this story I see how foolish and arrogant Rehoboam was, and I don’t really relate to him. But then I wonder if that might be foolish and arrogant of me to think. So I commit again to seeking wise counsel with a soft and humble heart, not just listen to contemporaries who might tell me how great and strong I am.

More on Jeroboam to come . . .

(for reference: 1 Kings 11:26 – 14 & 2 Chronicles 10-12)

Once Upon a Time there was a King . . .

well several, and their stories were captivating ~

Recently I’ve been spending mornings with the kings of the Old Testament, specifically the kings of Israel and Judah when after Solomon’s death Israel was split into a northern and southern kingdom. They are some interesting guys to be sure; they intrigue me with their level of love for, and obedience to, the Lord. But also astound me as they exhibit dramatic ways of turning away, violence, fear, pride and more. Then of course there’s the Lord, who reveals Himself in displays of encouragement, reward, protection, anger, also turning away, justice and even much compassion.

I’ve been taking notes on these guys for a long time. Each time I read through Kings and Chronicles I make a list of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah. I record how old each was when they began their reign, how long they reigned, if overall they were good or evil and then notes that stood out to me about them. There are lists and charts available to me, but each time I read through I create my own lists, making the same, and sometimes new, notes about them. As I do this over and over I’m understanding more and about their stories, timelines and how they fit together. (And now I’m getting more interested in the prophets and priests; how and when their lives intersected with the kings – I love how a v e r y old book can continue to be so new!)

Sometimes the kings remind me of me. They are the kings of old but they sometimes do things that I think, “I do that.” It’s a wakeup call to take a look around my own “kingdom” and see what notes I might put next to myself in a notebook.

I thought I’d write a few lines about each king here over the next few days and weeks. I’m not a bible scholar, historian or expert on the kings, so please feel free and invited to add, edit, correct, or comment on any or all of these guys. These are really just my simple observations gathered in notebooks.

stay tuned . . .

Lessons in the Layoff

I remember the day well, October 7, 2019 — I was at my sister’s for a ten day stay with my nephew while she and her husband went on a mission trip to Macedonia. Kevin texted with the news that he had been laid off. We were fourteen hours apart, my sister was about to leave for the airport and I just wanted to go home. Teary and in disbelief I grabbed a notebook and wrote down everything he said; my mind was scattered and I knew when we hung up I would forget all the things he said. Severance, amazing. Benefits continued, blessing. Call our financial advisor, good idea. Hiring coach provided, wonderful. But even in hearing this I still had many tears, a few sobs and a little panic.

Lesson One — Lean in and listen
Feeling a little unsettled, Kevin had been praying about his job for awhile, and he reminded me that the last word he had heard from God was to ‘Stay put. Stay on this path.’ Okay we did that, but now what? Kevin said he planned the next day to be a time of fasting; he would go into a state park with his bible and a notebook, walk and sit in the quiet and seek to hear from God. Of course — lean in and listen for God. I knew at that moment we would be okay because Kevin wasn’t going to go forward in his own strength or wisdom, though he has much of both, he was going to be still and lean not on his own understanding.

Lesson Two — Go visit your Father
I waited the next day for the fast to end and Kevin to call. I tried to not rush him through what he was saying but I was anxious to hear what God had said. What’s next? I was wondering. Where do we put our feet? What do we do now? I couldn’t wait to hear what God said.

And here’s what God spoke to Kevin’s heart, I’m glad you’re here spending the day with me.

Of course. The Lord was happy his son had come to spend time with him, to be near his Father; that Kevin knew who to go to before any decisions or directions were taken.

Though I hoped for a billboard with a map in the woods that day, what we got was far better; the reminder that sometimes God wants us to just come and visit. He wants to know we love him for him, not for what he delivers. Can you imagine if your kids never just snuggled up with you, climbed in your lap, or if they only called when they needed something from you? Once again, I felt a peace wash over me, God is with us, we’ll be okay. The what, when, where, why and how could wait. God had led us to this job six years ago, and now it was gone, but we didn’t feel abandoned. Confused maybe, but trusting still.

Lesson Three — Its okay to not understand
When we moved to Michigan from Indiana for this job, I didn’t really understand it. We had just launched our last one to college, alongside a few close friends. I had planned to enter the empty nest season with walks and wine on the porch with one of my best friends who lived around the corner. But alas it was not to be. Instead I would move 80 miles away to a very small, but adorable and historic, town. And as it turns out our time here has turned into one of the sweetest blessings of our lives.

Six years ago I said I don’t understand this move, it’s not what I imagined at this point of my life, but I trust it. I was sometimes lonely that first year, but I also had peace. And so it goes again — this is not what I expected at this point of our lives either, it’s not what I would choose, but I trust it.

I’m leaning in, listening, visiting my Father, trusting and peaceful as we enter this next unforeseen season. It’s not what I expected, but I do have peace and I still trust what’s next.

Three Lessons in Such a Time as This

“What remains after a storm is what we learn in the middle of the storm”,
this was from a teaching in mid-March from Lee Cummings of Radiant Church and has stuck with me in this COVID-19, quarantine, lock-down time. Back in March we didn’t really have any idea how long, or to what extent this “storm” would affect us. Or what it would reveal about us…about me. But I’m learning a few things…

Worship & prayer fatigue?
In March, beginning each day with a live stream prayer & worship time was exactly what I needed, it was centering and filling; calming to my soul. But on Monday of week 7, I watched my husband slowly climb out of bed and suggested that maybe we just sleep in. To which he responded by starting the coffee and getting the service pulled up. (So much for sleeping in!) That morning’s prayer addressed a fear that had crept in and by having it revealed, I had the opportunity to replace it with faith and trust; I would have missed all that if I had given into the fatigue of the morning rhythm we have established. Is it possible I had become tired of praying and worshiping daily?

I am a jealous God
In another message Pastor Lee said God is “exposing and dismantling the idols of our culture”. Well…and also my own. As our retirement account plunged day after day, after day, I found myself panicking a little. As investments were going down, anxiety went up. So where do you put your hope and trust, Sheri? Where does your peace come from? Ahhhh….an exposed idol. On some level, my peace and hope for our future was reliant on our retirement fund. Now, it’s good to be wise and plan for sure, but if that’s where my peace comes from then I have put my faith in something that can be snatched away quickly. I’m grateful this was revealed within me. As things are stripped away, can I still give thanks for that which remains? The answer is now yes.

Cast off every weight and hindrance
…they began to throw the cargo overboard…On the third day, they threw the ships’s tackle overboard with their own hands. Acts 27:18-19
When the cargo and tackle was loaded on the ship, it was needed and necessary. But there came a point where they had to rethink the load. So the challenge in this teaching was to think about any weight or hindrance, not so much sin, just unnecessary perspectives, mentalities, comforts and such that we don’t need right now. This was valuable for me; we have some big things coming up and I discovered I was clinging to thoughts, ways, and comforts that could make the journey more difficult. In identifying these, I’m able to work on offloading that which has potential to weigh me down unnecessarily.

Still learning and growing over here. Sometimes I take my eyes off the one who commands the waves and calms the storm and put them on too much media. Sometimes I feel the weight of the collateral damage of this time for so many and I feel weary and unsteady. But I am learning in the middle of all this, and when this storm is over I’ll be grateful for the lessons that will remain.

I would LOVE to hear what you’re learning in this time. Consider leaving a comment, maybe we can all learn from each other.

Be wise, see you soon.

Day 37 Quarantine Observations

Keeping a morning schedule and rhythm has helped
Each morning we’ve been streaming a prayer and worship service that has been grounding and good. The pastor likened it to back when the first thing to happen each morning was a fire being lit in the kitchen to warm the house for the day. This practice sets the posture of my heart for the day. And then I need to set that posture again the next day, and the next and the next. Manna for today.

Leggings have become a staple
I’m not saying its a great idea, but its what we’ve got over here. I’m not as interested in maintaining myfitnesspal calorie counts or logging weigh watchers points; I should, but I’m not. It may take a minute to work my way back into jeans, but I’m not beating myself up about it.

Exercise matters
Whilst wearing my leggings, getting on the treadmill, doing a workout, or walking outside is a game changer every time I do it. Obviously good for me physically, but exercise is doing its job in the emotional and mental departments as well. Gold star for this little gem called exercise.

Empathy for all
We’re under similar restrictions yet in different situations. Though time is constant, we seemingly have much of it on our hands, while others surely feel they have less. More obligations exist as working from home, managing the education and supervision of kids, now out of school and/or daycare, is a daily reality. Some are working more shifts, longer hours, are more at risk. Some are suddenly & unexpectedly out of work, some families are looking at low or empty checkbook balances, alongside some who are still getting paid and for moment, experiencing financial peace. Its all of this and more. Some are feeling squeezed by all the togetherness under their roof, some are doing this thing solo and might be feeling isolated. Awareness of others’ positions is good. Empathy for all is important; I believe everyone is just doing the best they can.

Grace upon grace upon grace
There are varying thoughts, manners of precautions, levels of anxieties, frustrations and volumes on voices regarding COVID-19. There are disagreements, varying expectations, disparaging remarks (from every which angle of this), hopes, fears and more. I need to let grace abound, covering my own heart and flowing out. Every. Day.

Connecting in creative ways
We miss our people. One of my besties lives up the street, I walk past her house a lot (in an exercise way, not a creepy way), and not sitting across from her is hard. Family trips have been cancelled, gatherings now happening over the computer instead of homes, parks, churches and restaurants. Like you all, we’re making the best of it — we’ve played games, cleaned out closets, had dinners and happy hours together with our family and friends. Next up – download Catan so I can join my kids and my friend Barb who are playing virtually.

Showers, hair, cooking and more…
Happening in varying degrees and it’s fine.

Few Things are Needed

Bam – we’re suddenly real close to the busy holiday season! We’re on the edge of running here and there, creating  l o n g  to do lists, decorating, gathering, traveling, baking beckoning, cards to send, carols to sing and bathrooms to be cleaned…..

About this time last year, in a gathering of young moms I meet with, there was a challenge to insert our own name into this verse, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed, indeed only one.” (Luke 10:41-42) I’ve found this challenge to be very clarifying over and over, and now might be good time to take a preemptive strike so I don’t end up worried and upset about many things in the next several weeks.

Here’s how this played out for me last year at this time…

As someone who cares a lot about the details, I can get stuck – like the day Erin was coming home from college, actually simply stopping home for a short visit on her way to a weekend with friends; she had two friends from school traveling with her. Though she wouldn’t even be spending the night, I wanted to dust her room and get many other things done before their arrival. As she & her friends edged closer and closer to home, I suddenly  thought, “Oh my gosh, they will be here right at lunch! I should make them a homemade meal, college kids don’t get many home cooked meals! BUT also I have these other things on my list….how can I do it all?”

Feeling the urgency to get many things done (for college students who would be here for a short time and  likely wouldn’t notice), I quietly heard in my head, “Sheri, Sheri, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed.” That caused me to pause and I quickly grasped the clarity needed, “Right, a meal. That’s what is needed.” All the other things became insignificant and I focused on getting a meal ready for Erin & her friends. When they arrived we had a really peaceful and focused time during their visit– in which they enjoyed the soup and likely didn’t notice if I had vacuumed or not!

As we journey through these upcoming holidays, if we find ourselves worried, upset, overwhelmed, maybe cranky and tired, may Luke 10:41-42 run through our minds and clarify our moments. May we find peace in the few things that are needed, and indeed find the only one that really does.

See (and be) a Helper

While driving on a stretch of interstate recently I saw several cars pulled over onto the median on the other side of the highway. As I drove by I saw a car smashed against a bridge support and people running to the vehicle. Running so fast, to someone they didn’t know, to help.

In a time where divisiveness, being rude and mean is easily recorded and splashed before us, it’s easy to believe we’ve lost our good nature. It might seem that a thin veil covers a deep well of a negativity; that an angry outburst, from even the most mild-mannered among us, could happen given the right topic, time or forum.

As we marked 9/11 a few weeks ago I was reminded of Mr. Rogers. Do your remember his mother’s wise and calming words to him when he was a boy? On that sunny September 11th, in the midst of unspeakable evil that unraveled before our eyes, we were encouraged to tell our kids (and maybe even ourselves) to “Look for the helpers.” There were so many helpers in the rubble, in the air, on the ground, in the stairwells, on the street, on the phone…they were everywhere.

I heard those very words in my head as I watched several men running toward the highway accident; there they were, the helpers. My heart lifted and my spirit was reminded that it is our very natural nature to be a helper. We instinctively run to our fellow man in need.

There are many helpers all around, we need to look for them…and we need to be one. When have you last seen a helper? Or have you been a helper? Would you share it in a comment? Your story might just lift someone else’s heart and renew a tired spirit.

A place to land

AirBirdnBird

An odd sight for sure, this bird house hanging off my house. But it makes me smile everyday because it’s evidence of a sweet act of kindness.

Here’s how it got there…

Several weeks ago two birds were hanging out on the corner of that roof for two days singing, singing & singing. On day three I noticed they were tearing into a small spot of rotting wood. By day five they had opened an impressive, though frustrating, gaping hole. I watched as they carried in this and that to build their nest, and I sent a picture to Kevin.

After Kevin got home from work he retrieved the ladder to inspect these squatters, discovering a nest in process but no eggs. With no building permit posted, he cleaned out their construction, temporarily boarded up and sealed the entry to clearly communicate “No Vacancy”.

The next morning the racket over their eviction was on the edge of panic. Though I knew Kevin didn’t remove eggs, you would’ve thought their babies were inside; I sent videos and pictures to him of the ruckus. At some point he texted back, “Do you think there’s a place to mount a bird house for them?” (I thought he meant in the backyard.)

That evening the ladder came back out and this simple “AirBirdnBird” was offered ~ not in the backyard but right where these birds thought they needed a place. The pair moved in within two days and began coming and going, singing and looking in my kitchen window, “You’re welcome” I said to them. The babies soon arrived and for weeks there was much activity and many songs, all becoming a sweet spot in my days.

This saga caused me think about extending kindness and refuge to others. The world is big, and there are so many issues that feel overwhelming, loud, messy and beyond my capacity. But what about the things and people who are within my reach? Am I kind to all? Even the uninvited squawkers? Do I offer a safe spot to land for the person who has a tender heart; who maybe needs to rest on a corner for a minute, an hour or more? Do I listen and care for the person, even if I’m not aligned with something? Do I make concessions for the things that cross my path that weren’t a part of my plan for the day? Am I generous in what I extend? Am I aware of the panicked songs around me? Can I serve in a way that settles the panic of another into a song?

All good questions for me to truthfully ponder.

These pushy, loud, little birds became a sweet part of my days, I miss them now that their babies have flown the nest. My husband is in the process of mending this corner of the roof and will move the bird house to the back yard where we hope they make a return visit next year. But also, he’s decided to add a winter roost to the side of our garage for the ones who might be looking for a spot when it gets cold.

It’s what we can offer, so we will.