The Sin Struggle

This week I finished listening to the audio version of the book The Man Called Cash, a biography of music legend Johnny Cash. I’ve never been a big Cash fan – country isn’t my thing and he was well before my time – but everyone knows of him and knows many of his beloved hit songs. I’ll spare you the full book review as it’s not what Food Shelf Friday is about, but I did notice something that got me thinking.

It is well established that Johnny Cash struggled with drugs throughout his life. According to this biography, amphetamines were Cash’s drug of choice. At one point in his life he was deeply involved in his habit, and it was ruling and ruining his life. But Cash got clean, and in the process he recommitted his life to Christ. For years, Cash was a drug-free outspoken Christian who was involved in numerous projects designed to share his faith and use his story of addiction and redemption to help others in a similar situation.

It felt like that was a done deal. He was clean for years. It felt like the past and the future were separated by a sturdy wall – the past was one way and it was completely broken apart from the way the future was shaping up. But then, years into his sobriety and veritable ministry, Cash slipped back into his old habits and began using amphetamines again.

I was dumbstruck. How could someone have such a complete victory and somehow end up back in the same trouble?! The author equated Cash’s struggles to what the apostle Paul said in Romans 7:19 – “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”

Oh. Me too. I just couldn’t see it because drugs are not my pitfall. To me, staying clean from drugs is a no-brainer, and it’s always been easy. But other things have not been easy for me. Take my health as an example. Over the years my activity level, eating habits, and consequently my weight have been all over the place. At one point I clawed my way down to a healthy weight through dieting with Weight Watchers and getting plenty of exercise. Yet, like Cash, a few years later I started falling back into my old ways. Eventually I was heavier than ever.

I’ll bet you have struggles like that too. It might not be drugs or your weight. Maybe it’s your spending habits, gossip, or anger. You want to do better – you know right from wrong. You may even succeed for a while, but eventually you slip back into those old habits.

I wish I could give you a magic formula to make your struggles go away. I wish I had one for myself. But struggle is part of life. John 16:33 says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Good news-bad news, right? In this world we WILL have trouble, no maybe about it. But take heart! Jesus has overcome the world.

Proverbs 28:13 – Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

1 John 1:9 – If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

You don’t have to overcome your sin to earn God’s forgiveness. He offers it freely to us just as we are. Don’t wait. Sin is like a fungus, it grows best in the dark. Don’t let shame keep you in the dark. Pray for forgiveness and confess your struggles to someone who can support you as you fight your battles.

1 Corinthians 10:13 – No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

James 1:12-15 – Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Keep up the fight, but don’t try to do it alone. Enlist God’s help – he has already offered! And talk to someone who can help and encourage you. It is worth the fight, I promise.

Book Review: Love Does by Bob Goff

I’ve been hearing about Bob Goff and his book, Love Does, for a while now. Some of my friends are crazy about it, and some of them have even met Bob and his wife, Maria. So a while back I bought the book and added it to my ginormous to-read pile. I finally decided to jump in and read it when Feed My Staring Children started a book club on Facebook. They asked interested parties to vote for a book from a list of suggestions. Since I had it on hand and had been meaning to read it, I voted for Love Does. Needless to say, it won the voting (because if it hadn’t, I would be talking about a different book this week!), and I’ve been picking at it for the last few weeks.

During his 1968 Presidential campaign, Robert Kennedy paraphrased George Bernard Shaw when he said, “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.” Bob Goff is that kind of guy. Goff doesn’t do the math, he doesn’t “count the cost,” he just jumps in and does. For a planner/organizer like me, his spontaneity and whimsy were both enviable and stress-inducing. Some of the stories, like the time his kids wrote to heads of state around the world and the family dropped everything and incurred incredible expenses to meet the many who invited them, felt so crazy I almost couldn’t believe they were real!

But as is usually true, I ended up reminded that it’s a good thing that the world is not made up entirely of people like me. Although I don’t share Goff’s whimsical nature or his “act first, figure it out later” mentality, I appreciate his message. He believes that when you love people, you act on it. And he’s not just talking about his friends and family – he’s talking about all humankind and loving like Jesus loved. And Goff’s active love for humanity has led him to do everything from hosting a spontaneous marriage proposal dinner for a stranger to freeing wrongfully imprisoned kids in Uganda.

Goff is a lawyer by trade, and while that seems like an oddly buttoned-down profession for a merry prankster, it works for their family. I’m sure it comes in handy on some of their adventures (like the aforementioned work in Uganda). It would be easy for someone in a comfortable and well-paying profession like law to sit back and feel satisfied that they are doing enough for humanity while sitting in a comfortable office. But throughout his book, Goff pushes the importance of having “skin in the game” – being personally, hands-on invested in others. He and his family live this out, and they want to take us along for the ride.

The book is light, fun, and has short chapters, yet is deceptively deep in its passion and theology. If you can get past the stress of his spontaneity, it’s really inspiring. Check out Love Does and say “why not.”

Favorite Quotes from the Book:

He (Jesus) said the people who followed Him should think of themselves more like the ushers rather than the bouncers, and it would be God who decides who gets in. We’re the ones who simply ones who simply show people their seats that someone else paid for.

We’re God’s plan, and we always have been. We aren’t just supposed to be observers, listeners, or have a bunch of opinions. We’re not here to let everyone know what we agree and don’t agree with, because, frankly, who cares? Tell me about the God you love; tell me about what He has inspired uniquely in you; tell me about what you’re going to do about it, and a plan for you life will be pretty easy to figure out from there. I guess what I’m saying is that most of us don’t get an audible plan for our lives. It’s way better than that. We get to be God’s plan for the whole world by pointing people toward Him.

The Unflipped Pancake – A Challenge from Hosea 7

Happy Friday, friends!

This week, my husband and son are off at Scout camp, and I’ve been holding down the fort. It gets kind of lonely here by myself with our needy little dog, so I set some big goals for the week to keep myself busy. I finished the caulking work on our kitchen reno, cleaned out the shed and laundry room, participated in a service opportunity (with another coming up tonight), and set out to read five books (three done and two well under way). I still miss my family, but the busyness is keeping me out of trouble.

One of the books I’m working on is a Bible study on the book of Hosea, by Jennifer Rothschild. If you’re not familiar with Hosea, he was an Israelite prophet in the Old Testament. God had him marry an unfaithful woman named Gomer (I can’t imagine why that never took off as a baby name…) so that Hosea would know first-hand how God felt about the unfaithful Israelites, who were always straying off to this idol and that false god. The Lord was faithful to forgive, but inevitably the people would wander. Gomer was the same way. And God used Hosea’s experience to preach a message of correction, repentance, and restoration.

The other night in my reading, I came across a Bible verse that I had never noticed before. Hosea 7:8 says, “Ephraim (one of the tribes of Israel) mixes with the nations; Ephraim is a flat loaf not turned over.” Hold up! (insert record scratch sound effect) Did Hosea just call the Israelites, and the tribe of Ephraim in particular, an unflipped pancake!?! I kid you not, I sat and stared at that verse for a few minutes, trying to figure out the metaphor. Eventually I decided that something was lost in translation and moved on with my study.

But it nagged at me. Calling someone an unflipped pancake is definitely and insult – I know this because there’s nothing desirable about a pancake cooked on one side and nasty gooey on the other side – but what??? So the next day I decided to do a little digging. I found many of the good old Bible commentaries are free online now (yay for the public domain!), and they did not let me down.

God’s accusation of Israel had to do with their worship. They were followers of Yahweh, the one true God, on the surface, but behind the scenes they were dabbling in things like sorcery (4:12), idol worship (4:17), turning to pagan neighboring countries instead of turning to God (5:13), and deceitful behaviors (7:1-2). They were “mixing with the nations,” not in the sense that they were traveling or getting to know their neighbors, but in the sense that they were mixing their spiritual practices with the pagan practices of the nations around them. They failed to see that God was enough, and insulted Him by trying to supplement their faith with things flat-out opposed to God’s commands.

The verse goes on to say, “Ephraim is a flat loaf not turned over” – the unflipped pancake. Think about that one for a minute. If you were making pancakes and you decided that instead of flipping it over, you would just let the one side cook longer, in just a couple minutes you would have a pancake burned on one side, uncooked on the other, and completely and totally inedible. The meaning is similar to Revelation 3:15-16, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” I think it would be fair to say, “Ephraim, I know your worship, that you neither worship Me the way I commanded, nor do you whole-heartedly worship the gods of your neighbors. Because you are this unflipped pancake – both burned and raw – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Now the metaphor makes sense! And it stings!!!

This type of “faith” that needs Jesus plus something else is a pretty common problem in developed nations. We think we need Jesus plus good insurance, or Jesus plus a fat investment portfolio. If we lose our job, our health, our savings, or any number of security blankets, we lose our peace, joy, and strength. But our peace, joy, and strength should not come from our earthly accomplishments and inheritances. Our peace, joy, and strength should come only from our faith in God and the work of his son, Jesus. He’s good for a lot more than insurance against hell!

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” (Isaiah 40:29) He doesn’t give strength and power to those who save up for it, He gives it to the weak and weary.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) He doesn’t say that His power is available to those who can afford the deductible, it’s offered to the weak.

(James 1:5) “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” I see two criteria here – God is offering His wisdom to those who recognize that they lack it, and who are humble enough to ask.

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14) – Not if they put together a good committee or have a quality economic development strategy, but if they humble themselves, pray and seek God’s face, and turn from their wicked ways.

The answer is too simple to believe sometimes, and too much out of our control to be comfortable. But time and time again we see it in God’s word – God calls us to trust Him, to let go of ourselves and the abilities we think will save us, and just let Him be God. Ugh, this is such a tough one for me. I am all about figuring it out and doing it myself. But that doesn’t honor God.

Don’t be the unflipped pancake; trust Him, His timing is perfect and you won’t get burned or left unusable in His hands.

The Value of a Volunteer

Happy Friday! It’s extra happy for me, because tonight Jacob comes home from Puerto Rico. Never mind the fact that tomorrow morning he leaves for Scout camp; I don’t want to think about that right now. Thanks to modern technology, his absence hasn’t been too hard for me. We’ve texted back and forth each day, and the adults on the trip have been posting pictures to the team Facebook page. It looks like the trip has been a nice combination of work, relationship building, and fun. I can’t wait to hear all the details tonight!

As you may know, I work at a history museum. Although different from hunger-relief orgs, our small educational non-profit faces some of the same challenges – things like fundraising, fulfilling our mission on a tight budget, and doing it all with a tiny (and mostly part-time) staff. I know for a fact that the key to meeting our objectives in a quality way is our other staff – the volunteers.

If you assume that a small non-profit would pay about $10 per hour for help (that number is low, I know. Many of our volunteers are worth far more than that. But it’s a nice round number for this math-phobe, and it makes the point without any chance of exaggerating), then even our most occasional event volunteer is saving us hundreds of dollars per year. Our top volunteer at the museum worked over 400 hours last year – that’s more than $4000 in free labor. But you and I both know that without these volunteers we wouldn’t be spending that much more money – we would be getting a lot less done.

A couple weeks ago, my family and I participated in Feed My Starving Children’s Love Somalia mobile pack event in St Paul. During the four days of packing, volunteers assembled 4.5 million meals. Volunteers. If FMSC had to replace the volunteers with packing machines, they would also have to add staff to maintain and supervise the machines. They would have to work harder to raise awareness and funds. They couldn’t hold special events where 4.5 million EXTRA meals are packed in a weekend.

I found some statistics from the Bureau of Labor that show you just how powerful volunteers are in America. From September 2015-September 2016, 62.6 million Americans volunteered at least once with a non-profit organization. The median number of volunteer hours each person gave was 54 hours per year. The biggest recipient of volunteer labor was religious non-profits. This makes sense, right? If you’re a member of a church, you’re probably doing some kind of volunteer service there – teaching Sunday school, greeting visitors, serving in the kitchen during weddings and funerals, etc. Educational and youth-services non-profits came in second. If you have kids or grandkids in school, it’s hard to avoid the pleas for PTO members, fundraiser parents, and classroom volunteers.

One statistic I found stated that in 2013, Americans volunteered more than 7.7 billion hours. BILLION! If we multiply that by our paltry sum of $10/hour, that’s over $77 billion dollars in free labor given to help others learn, grow in faith, or meet their physical needs!

If you volunteer, and you’re feeling discouraged and wondering if your service is doing any good, think about that number. You are part of something HUGE – something that runs our schools, museums, art institutions, churches, food shelves, homeless shelters, job programs, and many more vital places! If you believe in their mission, make a difference with your time!

What is your favorite place to volunteer? Join the discussion by posting in the comments!

This weekend, my son, Jacob, and a group of 15 students and chaperones from our church are leaving for a week-long missions trip to Puerto Rico. I asked Jacob to help with this week’s post so we can tell you all about his trip.

I chose to go on this trip with my youth group because I think that everyone should experience a missions trip at least once. It lets you see how people live in other parts of the world, and it gives you a chance to get away from the distractions of your life and focus on sharing Jesus with others.

This week in Puerto Rico we will be working with kids at a camp. I have enjoyed helping with VBS at my church for three years, and have attended Bible camp ever since I have been old enough, so this is a good fit for me. We have been practicing songs and skits, some in Spanish (which I do not speak!) to perform for the kids. I’ll be playing the part of Jesus in one of the skits. Some of the students will be sharing their testimonies, as well. We have been preparing some crafts for the kids to do – cutting out tons of little pieces of paper to take along. The airline better not lose that luggage or we’ll have to cut them all out again! There will also be days when we are doing maintenance work at the camp, and a day for sightseeing and going to the beach.

The cost of the trip was $1250, which includes our airfare, housing, food, and supplies for the week. I made the $100 initial down payment from money earned at my part-time job at McDonalds, and some of the cost was offset by fundraisers through the youth group. The rest was raised through support letters which I sent to family. Through their generous support, I made my goal and I’m ready to go! Puerto Rico is an easy location for a missions trip. You get the experience of missions in a foreign culture, but since Puerto Rico is part of the United States, they use U.S. currency and you don’t need a passport or have to deal with customs at the airport.

I am excited to see what God is going to do through the youth of Riverdale Church this week! We appreciate your prayers for safe travels, health and unity for the team, and that many kids’ lives would be changed for Jesus. You can follow our adventure on our trip blog, http://puertorico.myadventures.org/