Category Archives: inspiration

(re)defining need

“But mom, I need new shoes!”

“I can’t afford to buy fair trade. Sometimes you just need some new earrings, and I can’t afford to drop that kind of money every time.”

“The miles are really adding up on my car; I need to get a new one soon.”

Need. Four little letters. A simple concept, but one that is so misunderstood.

The simple and straightforward dictionary definition of the verb “need” is “to require.” Synonyms include “necessitate,” and “emergency.” Neither the definition nor the synonyms include “latest fashion,” “entertainment,” or even “comfort.”

One of God’s great promises, shared all throughout the Bible, is that he will provide for all our needs. Consider Philippians 4:19, “for God will supply all your needs, according to His riches in glory.”

Another example is found in the Old Testament. When the children of Israel were wandering in the dessert for 40 years, they couldn’t grow crops (although the way they wandered you kind of wonder if they could have planted fields and harvested them on the next loop, because they undoubtedly crossed the same territory over and over in their wanderings. But, you know, dessert isn’t really self-sustaining anyway. I digress…). A whole nation of people on the move for 40 years go through a lot of food, and I don’t think they wandered past a Wal-Mart. Their only hope was God’s miraculous provision.

Exodus 16:16-29
This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer (one day’s supply) for each person you have in your tent.’ ” The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed. Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.

Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much—two omers for each person—and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. He said to them, “This is what the LORD commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’ ” 

So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. “Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a sabbath to the LORD. You will not find any of it on the ground today. Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.” 

Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. Then the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? Bear in mind that the LORD has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out.”

Sitting here in 21st Century America, with a kitchen full of food, clean water on tap, and even a bit of savings for retirement, it’s easy to shake our heads and even facepalm at the Israelites. What part of ONE OMER don’t you understand!?! You wake up every single morning to a miracle you can see with your own eyes. How can you have so little faith!?!

I know how. Every morning I wake up to the miracle of another sunrise, the blessing of a job, good health, and a loving family. Yet I, like most of you, try to control the future. I hoard and save, I withhold when I should give. I buy until I get used to so much stuff that I think I can’t make do with less. I pay so little for all my crap that I don’t bother maintaining or repairing things when I can more easily toss things out and buy new stuff.

In her book, Made to Crave, Lysa TerKeurst argues that we were created to rely on God, made to live in a constant state of reliance. But the easier life has gotten, the further we have pulled away from faith in the God who promises to never leave us nor forsake us.

As a Midwestern ENTJ of German and Scandinavian descent, I am so all about responsibility and control. The idea that I was made to live in a constant state of reliance on God stresses me out. I wanna drive, here! It’s not that I think I know better than God. It’s not that I think He can’t provide for me. I think my fear, my scarcity mentality, comes from the belief that I am capable of so much that I just want to save God the bother, let Him spend his time on things we humans can’t control while I handle my own credit card debt, heating bills, and retirement planning. I just don’t want to be a burden.

You see? I’m just like the Israelites. God says “live within your means” (Proverbs 22:7), and I say “put it on my Visa!” God says “don’t be a glutton” (Proverbs 23:21), I say “let’s get a pizza!” God says “give and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38), and I say, “I can’t because then I couldn’t do this other thing that makes me happy.”

Around and around the Israelites and I go, hearing the commands, observing the miracles, and then trying to do things our own way. It makes me wonder how much time we spend wandering in the wilderness instead of enjoying the Promised Land that God has for us!

 

Indecision Kills…

Happy Sunday! Why am I coming to you two days late this week? Did I not have anything to say? Oh no, I had too much to say. Then I stalled out trying to decide what to share with you.

It’s an important week. Lent started this last Wednesday, and #EndIt Day 2018 is coming up this Thursday. Both are topics I have covered before (the hyperlinks will take you to those past articles), and both are things I want to talk about again. But since I’ve already covered them, do I have new things to say? So back and forth I went all week, and I ended up writing nothing.

But I don’t want to miss my chance to share these important things with you, so I’m going to hit on both of them briefly and let you all get back to watching the Olympics…

OK, so Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the official first day of the 2018 Lenten season. As of Wednesday, I didn’t have a clear plan for how I would participate in Lent this year (More indecision! What is with me this week??). One of my friends shared on social media that one of the things she’s doing for Lent this year is giving up her snooze button. That one hit me hard! I’m a hardcore night owl. Given the freedom to set my own schedule, I would probably get my eight hours between 2:00 am and 10:00 am. For as long as I can remember, I have fought to fall asleep every night and fought to get out of bed every morning. I have two alarms set every morning (I occasionally sleep right through the first one), and it’s not unusual for me to hit snooze once or twice, and then to sit in bed and goof around on my phone when I should be getting up and starting my day. I can feel some of you rolling your eyes. I’m pitiful, I know. But it’s cold here, and it’s hard to leave my cozy nest! Clearly this is an area of my life where I can work on self-discipline!

So I borrowed my friend’s genius plan, and I’m giving up my snooze button for Lent. When the alarm goes off, I have to leave my bed. I’m using this “extra” time to spend more time reading the Bible. When my alarm goes off and I feel like growling about it, I stop instead and thank Jesus for his incredible sacrifice, and I offer him my small sacrifice. I’m hoping that this will help me have better sleep habits, sure, but I think the real reward will be the extra time in the word and the increased awareness of what Jesus has done for me.

As usual, I’m participating in the practice of not eating meat on Fridays as well. This isn’t terribly difficult to do, but I enjoy the feeling of being part of this global exercise. I take time on Fridays to pray for the Church around the world – for Christians who are persecuted, for ministers and missionaries, and for aid workers who have given their lives to helping others in the name of Jesus.

Are you participating in Lent? Pop over to the Food Shelf Friday Facebook page and share your Lenten plan. My friend’s idea sparked my plan for this year; your plan could do the same for someone!

 

The second thing I want to mention this week is the approach of #EndIt Day 2018. The idea behind this day is to raise awareness of the crisis of modern day slavery. As an historian I know all about pre-1860s slavery, and I know we tend to talk about slavery in the past tense. But there are more people living in slavery around the world today than at any time in history. And there are people living in slavery right here in the United States.

The “how” of #EndIt day is to put a big, red X on your hand on Thursday, February 22. When someone asks you about your X, you have the opportunity to let them know about modern slavery, and about the non-profit organizations working to fight this travesty. There are also social media images and banners that you can share to start the conversation with your online friends. Visit the End It Movement website for all the information, links to participating organizations, and social media images to help you spread awareness in your circle. The first step in ending this crisis is to stop the denial with awareness, education, and resources. I’ll be sporting my red X on Thursday, and I hope you do, too!

There you go! I got over the indecision hurdle and gave you information on two important things going on right now! I hope you learned something that will empower you this season!

When the Pieces Don’t Fit

We have been watching the news out of Puerto Rico with heavy hearts this week. It’s hard to believe that the same beautiful, sunny places Jacob visited in June are now devastated. I haven’t heard anything about the camp where they worked or the people they met on their trip. I understand communication is pretty limited. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of the island.

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In the closet of my home office, I have a stash of jigsaw puzzles. Most of them are Americana-style artwork by Charles Wysocki, but I also have a Vikings stadium cartoon picture, album covers from the 1970s, and (my favorite) propaganda posters from WWII. One of my favorite ways to spend a Sunday is to turn on a football game and pick away at a jigsaw puzzle.

A while back, I was working on my favorite puzzle, again, and there was one little hole in an otherwise completed section. I was nearing the end, so I perused the remaining pieces and saw exactly what I was looking for. The colors and shape looked just right, but no matter how I turned the piece, it just didn’t fit. In my eyes it was so obvious that it was the right piece, but it just wasn’t. I had to set it aside and keep looking, trusting that the right piece was out there, and that this piece had a different space to fill. 

It dawned on me that this is just like God’s will for our lives. We see what we think is right and we try to jam it in, even though it doesn’t really fit. But that thing, be it a relationship, job, house, or whatever we’re looking for, has its own place to fit, and there may be a different piece, a right piece, for your life. You just have to trust that the God who gave you all the pieces knows which one really fits. 

I once applied for a job that I thought was absolutely perfect for me. It was close to home, great hours, with an organization I care for deeply. I sent in my resume, and quickly received an email asking me to do a phone interview. That went well, and I was invited to do an in-person interview as well. I was so confidant that my skills and their needs were a fit that I wasn’t even nervous going into the interview. A week later, I got an email thanking me for my time and letting me know that they hired someone else. I was shocked. I thought the job and I were a perfect fit for one another – the colors and shapes were all right, but it just didn’t fall into place.

God has never let me down. I didn’t get that job, but I have a job that I enjoy – one that utilizes my education. And I’m sure He hasn’t let that organization down either. I have no doubt that He provided for them just the right person to fill that role and advance their mission. I believe that because I trust the puzzle maker. He puts the pieces into place even when it doesn’t look like we expect!

Isaiah 55:8-9 says “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'”
Psalm 139:16 says, “…all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

What stories do you have of God putting things together in His perfect timing? Share in the comments! “It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.” (Daniel 4:2)

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!