20. Now That We’ve Seen the Worst: In All Things God Works for the Good

We’ve been working on this little cottage for nine years.

And in those nine years, we have learned a lot about old houses, our limitations, and God.

No longer under any illusions, we know that the wiring has been haphazard, the upkeep was minimal, and it was built in fits and starts without much planning. (This is not to cast aspersions on previous owners and builders—they were our grandfathers and great-uncles; they were our fathers and mothers, and we loved them.)

We thought we were prepared for what we were going to see when we took out the kitchen cabinets. We were wrong. Way wrong. We were not prepared. We were both so appalled that I took only one small picture, and that was after we cleaned the floor of grungy insulation, mouse nests, hickory nuts, dead bugs, a mummified mouse, an inch of mouse droppings, and mouse chewed electric wires. There was no photo taken because, quite frankly, I don’t want to remember it.

IMG_1366

But that wasn’t the worst. When we took out the second old cabinet along the outside wall of the kitchen, there was a hole. A giant hole where there was no floor; under the cabinet were three small pieces of plywood—each piece about eight inches wide by twelve inches long—just sitting on the joists. Not nailed down. Of course, when the cabinet was pulled out those boards dropped into the crawl space below. Just in case you missed this—there was not a nailed-down floor under the cabinet.

We spent five minutes staring aghast at the ground below; we spent three minutes wondering if Gus the groundhog would poke his nose into the kitchen; and we spent eighteen minutes scurrying around fixing it temporarily, so we could sleep that night. While I guarded the kitchen from Gus, raccoons, snakes, skunks, or any other critters that could possibly make their way up that hole, the contractor husband found enough boards to cover the floor temporarily, while we tried to figure out what was next. 

We are not wimps here; we’ve seen holes in walls and floors before…but what is astounding is that these cabinets were installed in the seventies by a Professional Cabinet Company. What kind of Professional Cabinet Company would leave holes in the floors and walls and shrug and say, “Oh just leave it, the cabinets will hide it anyway.”

At one point, early in the new kitchen planning, we tossed around the idea of leaving the kitchen cabinets and just painting them. The internet was filled with articles on how to paint your kitchen cabinets white and update your kitchen. Thankfully we rejected that idea, after examining the poor quality of those junk-board seventies cabinets. Just imagine if we had done that and not found the terrible holes in the walls and the floor. We would have had bugs and critters in the kitchen forever; in fact, Clara had always complained of mice in her bread drawer, and now we know why!

The new (redeemed) kitchen during canning season…


When we’ve seen the worst—maybe it is our own sin; maybe it is the sin of someone who is very close to us: a spouse, a child, a parent, a best friend, a pastor; or, maybe we’ve been sinned against—we all know that crushing anguish of Why God? 

The scenarios are horribly ugly—much worse than mouse droppings and bug detritus and holes in the floor—but those are apt analogies. When we are in the midst of them, it is bleak: we forget to pray, or when we try to pray, no words come. Our favorite Bible passages don’t bring pleasure. God, whom we know in our head loves us and will never forsake us, seems absent from our hearts, and we certainly feel forsaken. How long, Lord? is the cry at the core of our being; but that same core of our being is the place where God’s spirit uniquely resides, whether we feel it or not. God does not say However bad it gets you will always feel my presence. In our bad times we often feel abandoned and forgotten, as if God is far away. Yes, it’s true, he is far away, but he is also right next to us, whether we feel it or not. We know this is true, because it is one of his promises: “…I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  (Joshua 1:5) Yes, it bears repeating–our feelings are not always reliable.

No one is exempt from suffering, no matter what form it takes, great or small, weeks or years. Jesus told us, “In this world you will have trouble…” (John 16:33)  This eighty-year-old cottage has seen it all—betrayal, tragedy, death, abandonment, dishonesty, smashed dreams—and so has God. He is not surprised at anyone’s sins or messy lives or detritus. He went to the cross for the debris, the rubble, of our lives. And there is nothing that we can do that will surprise Him, because He knew us before we were born; (Read Psalm 139) he knew (or knows) our past, present, and future sins; and he knows how it will all turn out. He loves us still.

And not only does He love you and me, but “…in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) The words to the praise song come to mind:  How marvelous! How wonderful! Is my Savior’s love for me.⁠1 

In my NIV Study Bible, that verse—Romans 8:28—is the first verse in the section called More Than Conquerors, and it tells us that no trouble will ever separate us from Christ’s love. Not hardship. Not persecution. Not danger. Not even a sword. No, Paul tells us, all those sufferings are part of life and they have always been part of life, and those troubles actually bring us closer to Christ.

Sometimes we can be so overcome by our own suffering, our own terrible circumstances, that we forget who he made us to be—His light, His truth, His love to a dark and suffering world. ⁠2 

He takes our messes, our sufferings and turns them around to reflect His likeness. Later, in 2 Corinthians 4:17 Paul calls them “light and momentary troubles.” And what are they doing for us? “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

When we are in the middle of them they seem dark and endless; if only we can allow Him to nail our sufferings to the cross and not wallow in them; if only we could see and remember that they are light and momentary in consideration of eternity.  Please, God, take our if-onlys and make them so. You have promised to repay us for the years the locusts have eaten. (Joel 2:25)

This gives me so much hope, for I have a lot of years that were eaten by locusts. I have a lot of detritus hidden behind the walls. And perhaps I have not yet seen the worst…. But I will not fear, for those sins and sufferings and debris of my life have been nailed to the cross of Jesus through His grace and mercy. When Satan reminds you of the rubbish in your life, sing out in power “…my sin, not in part, but the whole, has been nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, oh my soul.⁠3


For further study, read 1 Timothy 1:12-17

Only one question this time:

  • What darkness in your life have you kept to yourself? Write about it now and allow it to be nailed to the cross.

1 Hutchinson, Gabriel Charles, My Savior’s Love, c1905.

2 John Dorean sermon

3 Spafford, Horatio G., It Is Well with My Soul, c1873

19. Perfectionism—Curse or Blessing? God Is the Only Perfect Creator

All our lives we’re told, “Do your best. If you do your best, that’s all anyone can ask.”

And what, exactly, is our best? How many times can we have a do over? When and how do we draw the line between “our best” and OCD? And who ultimately gives us the final grade? Friends? Lovers? Bosses? Ourselves? Society? Or God?

These are such hard questions I’d better stop now and have a cup of tea. I hope you’re having one with me…

Several events have precipitated these musings on perfectionism.

The Color of my Kitchen

I spent (or wasted) hours poring over paint samples. After purchasing a sample jar of Benjamin Moore Blooming Grove, I fell in love. There were even signs to let me know I’d chosen well: On the way to pick up our kitchen countertop in Eastern Pennsylvania we passed the exit to Blooming Grove. It was a big green sign on the interstate that couldn’t be missed.

Delighted that I’d finally made my decision, I bought a gallon at a store that shall remain nameless. I do have to say that when the mixologist opened the can to show me the paint, I said, “That’s too yellow.”

“No,” he assured me. “This is Blooming Grove. It will dry darker.”

It didn’t dry darker. I painted half of a cabinet door from the sample can, and the other half I painted from the newly purchased gallon. It was a striped cabinet door. One half was lovely spring green, the other half was a not-so-lovely yellowish-green. I struggled with this: I didn’t want to be the whiny-perfectionist-lady-customer who demands a new gallon of paint because it isn’t exactly right.

Nevertheless, it was clearly Not Exactly Right.

Does God want me obsessing over a paint color? Paint color just isn’t that important in the scheme of the universe. I know this. Where does the line fall here?

The Last Glitch in the Kitchen Window Process

Two weeks ago we were ready to put up the windows in the kitchen. The left side just had to be finish coated and we were ready to go. As I sat down to paint it (the paint was poured and the brush dipped) I could see that the primer was not sticking to the glazing. So instead of finish coating, I spent the next three hours peeling little strips of paint/primer from the window muntins. (For those of you who are not old-window-experts, the muntins are the vertical and horizontal strips of wood that hold the panes of glass in place.)

Instead of putting up windows, we were back to priming/drying/painting/drying. It was discouraging. And I wondered as I was sitting on the floor in the late afternoon sun peeling off little strips, “Is this normal?” Would other people say, “Oh for goodness sake, just paint the stupid windows and be done!”

I wanted to do that. But I knew it was peeling. Done poorly.  Where does the line fall here?

Life in General; Rehabbing a Cottage in Particular

I don’t mind little imperfections in wood or paint or people; I myself have little imperfections. I am not a complete dorky perfectionist all the time. (The jury is still out on the contractor husband.)

I have buried uncleaned paintbrushes in the bottom of a garbage can because 

A. I didn’t want to clean them, or 

B. I did clean them, but not good enough and they dried out stiff and I didn’t want any other perfectionist who lives in the household to find them.

Did you know that one could spend hours cleaning a paintbrush? Or peeling paint from an imperfectly primed window…. Or redoing a board because it is a quarter inch off…. Or choosing the right color of paint…. I don’t have any answers here folks. The age old question—blessing or curse—is still a question. But I can tell you that just last week I read a quote from Thomas Merton (much wiser than I…) who said this:

We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything but beginners, all our life.”⁠1

–Thomas Merton

That gives me hope. So does the saying from my wise contractor husband who says to me all the time–there’s nothing perfect in this world.

And just yesterday I read a quote that said: You can never be perfect. You can always be better.

Now I have to go demand a new gallon of paint. (Nicely, of course.)

Post Script: The clerk at the paint store was truly gracious. She saw the difference in color and looked up the formula to make sure it was mixed correctly. It had been. She was puzzled for a bit, and then she realized that I had purchased a new Benjamin Moore brand of paint and even the uppity-up corporate mixologists hadn’t come out with the correct color formulas yet. She then hand mixed it, showing me the paint every couple of minutes asking me what I thought. She dried the sample with a hair dryer and, to make sure I was satisfied, told me to bring it back again if it wasn’t right. Yes. God is the only perfect creator.


Last night I was reclining in bed, surrounded by pillows, books, notebooks, and reading glasses, writing a blog post on my iPhone. The mobile app is very handy when one has a thought and doesn’t want to lose it in the quagmire of daily living (or nightly dreaming). I was about to save the post when my finger accidentally hit the publish button.

There’s something very ironic and humbling about accidentally posting a post on perfectionism… It wasn’t ready. I hadn’t said it all yet. Hmmm…well, maybe I had, but I certainly hadn’t gone over it twenty-three times to make sure it was as perfect as I could write it.

Hence, more thoughts about perfectionism. But this time I’m thinking about the blessings of it—because God asks of us our best and our best can be a blessing, not only to those around us, but also to ourselves.

Artists and writers and musicians and craftspeople particularly know the struggle here. How does one know if the piece is finished and finished well? Madeline L’Engle says that inspiration usually comes as you are working, not before.⁠2 So if one keeps working, one will continually be inspired. Perhaps when the inspiration stops, the piece is finished well?

That might work for pieces of music or writing or art, but it doesn’t hold up so well for paint or wood or refinishing windows. The wood of those windows that we have renewed isn’t perfect. It’s old. There are dents and nail holes. One could work on them forever, and the wood would never be perfect. Yes, that is a metaphor…

We all have our imperfection tolerance limits, and the more talent one has, the higher the limit. That’s as it should be. The contractor has higher expectations for his carpentry skills than I do for mine. Except…

God, the perfect one, should have absolutely no tolerance for our human imperfections. Yet he does. Rather, he loves us in spite of them. And no amount of our own striving can help us achieve that perfectionism that is God. He has given us that striving, made it part of us, so we would desire to be like Him. In that way it is a blessing–His gift to us. It only becomes a curse when the world, (or the evil one, if you prefer) keeps whispering in our ears that we aren’t good enough or didn’t do it well enough.

Lysa TerKeurst says in her book It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way  that because we once lived in the perfect Eden, we remember the perfection and long for it.

“This is why our instincts keep firing off the lie that perfection is possible. We have pictures of perfection etched into the very DNA of our souls.”⁠3

Perfection died when we were banished from the garden and we have been struggling with its loss ever since. This struggle between the blessing and curse of perfectionism is just one more tension of the Christian life. We can embrace our perfectionism as a God-given gift, but we must draw the line when we no longer feel the blessing or the inspiration  of it. Instead of yearning for our own perfection, we can (we must) lean on the only one who is perfect. He has offered us His perfect self as a substitute for our imperfectness.

When God looks at us, He sees the perfection of Jesus. If only we could see ourselves that way. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:20-21: We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 

God, the perfect creator, is calling us to perfection again, through His perfect son. Jesus paid it all. For me. For you. For us. Don’t let that perfection slip through your hands…


For further study, read Psalm 8.

Questions to think about:

  • Where is your striving harming your peace with God?
  • Psalm 8 asks: What is mankind that you are mindful of them; human beings that you care for them? Yet look at the next verses and just see what God has ordained for us to do. Is your perfectionism keeping you from doing what God might want you to do? 
  • I think that sometimes we all fall on both sides of the line, because my next question is: Or is your careless attitude keeping you from doing it well? It might depend on what it is we are doing and our talent/aptitude for the project. Thoughts?
  • Our need (or desire) for perfection is really about control, isn’t it? Where can you give up your desire for perfection and trust God?

1 Thomas Merton. AZQuotes.com, Wind and Fly LTD, 2021. https://www.azquotes.com/quote/371657, accessed May 27, 2021.

2 L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water, p. 176.

⁠3 TerKeurst, Lysa. It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way. Nelson Books, c2018, p. 6.

18. In the Midst of Noise, Trouble, and Hard Work: Finding the Calm in your Heart

Sept. 2017–Bathroom project, Take Two

We’re working on the bathroom.

A small five-word sentence. It doesn’t even have an exclamation point at the end. Although it should, so I’ll put one here instead!

In 2011, when we became official owners of this little cottage, the bathroom was the first room we intended to refinish. It’s small, we thought; yes, start small. But then we ran into a few problems, and the contractor husband decided it would be better to redo the kitchen first. So now, six years later we are finally starting on the bathroom. 

Can I just say that the cottage bathroom would definitely take first place in the Ugly Bathroom Contest. The walls have had the wallpaper peeled off (one of the first tasks I completed) and are generally three different colors of old plaster—sometimes melding into one odd shade of greenish-yellowish-pink. Vintage Italianate plaster it is not. The ceiling was painted back in the seventies with textured paint and is peeling; the sink vanity is covered with some sort of fake material that started to peel, so I ripped the plastic off and one door is brown while the rest of it is still shiny off-white vinyl. There is a seventies moulded shower stall that is moldy and simply won’t come clean, no matter how much it is scrubbed with Barkeeper’s Friend. The wood floor is partially sanded (I also own up to this–remember we were going to start with the bathroom?) and partially still covered with years of caked varnish and paint drips. It is truly the ugliest bathroom on record.

In all these years, however, we have collected most everything we need. The first pieces we bought for the house were the bathroom vanity and mirror. They’ve been against the wall in the garage bedroom covered in plastic All. This. Time. The truth is often not pretty, but there is a glass-half-full outlook. We already have: the sink, the sink faucet, the shower faucets and hardware, the vanity, the mirror, the lights, the toilet, a lovely cabinet with glass doors that was left over from the kitchen project, the tile for the shower floor, the faux marble tile for the vanity top, the boards for the ceiling, an electric wall heater, and (drum roll please…) the pull-down attic ladder–which was the initial problem that stopped this bathroom project those many years ago.

That long list above, makes the list of still-to-purchase items rather short: subway tile for the shower walls, a  shower pan, and some incidental plumbing materials. Oh, and paint. And maybe a window. We haven’t really decided about the window yet. That’s the least of our worries; we haven’t gotten to that wall yet…

But can I just be honest and say, this prolonged bathroom project has made for a lot of anxiety and needless tension? The last unnecessary comment I made was earlier this year: the contractor husband thought maybe we could invite some folks over for dinner.

We have a lovely kitchen for cooking.

We have a lovely dining room for eating.

We have a lovely porch for grilling.

We have a lovely living room for conversing.

Did I focus on any of those? No.

I said, “No one is getting invited here for dinner until the bathroom is finished.”

I mean, let’s face it: you can’t invite people for dinner and then shove them out the door right after dessert because you don’t want them to use your bathroom….

Yes, the truth is not pretty. It’s right up there with those ugly bathroom walls.

And no, I never have had peace about living in the midst of a really ugly bathroom. Oh, every morning when I take a shower, I’m grateful for the hot running water. I lived without running water for several years, so I know about praise for hot showers…. And I know that much of the world does not have clean running water and I am a spoiled, first world rich woman. Forgive me Lord.

It’s just that I really appreciate beauty, and there is such a lack of beauty in this bathroom… The only charm is in my mind’s eye because I know what we have planned. Yet we are still in the midst of noise, trouble, and hard work, and the beauty is still not there. For months I had this saying on my kitchen chalk board:

This quote seems to me to be a direct explanation of the verse in the Bible that reads: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)


The world expects that peace is the absence of anxiety, noise, strife; but Jesus tells His disciples plainly that even though peace is one of His gifts, it is not the way the world expects. His peace may be found in the midst of strife–through prayer. His peace may be found in the midst of anxiety—through prayer. His peace may be found in the midst of trouble—through prayer. No, it isn’t easy. But Jesus never told us it would be easy. He said, yes, in this world we would have trouble, but He is our peace, and He has overcome the world. (John 16:33)

One of the most difficult trials of the Christian journey is the worry about noise, trouble, or hard work that seems to surround us like a dark cloud (or an ugly bathroom). Stripped down, it is simply a lack of trust in God’s promises. He has promised to be our peace; He has promised to be with us always; He has promised to never leave or forsake us; He has promised us eternal life with Him. Think on those promises when worry, trouble, or anxiety creeps in, and pray that calmness will prevail in your heart.

The story of Jesus sleeping during the storm while the disciples were in the boat fearing for their lives has been brought up to me three times in the past two weeks. (When the Lord grabs our awareness in this way, we’d best pay attention.) There is the obvious connection of Jesus giving the disciples peace when they have only worldly fear of the storm, but there is something else, deeper and more sublime: He chides them for their lack of faith, but really, why are they afraid? They do not yet know that they are with the Lord of all creation, the creator of the wind and the waves who only has to say hush, and all of nature obeys. In fact, when He does just that, they are awestruck. They even say, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41) We do not have that excuse. We know who He is, and what He is, and where He is: He is Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Universe, God with us. He is our peace, and we have no reason to ever fear noise, trouble, or hard work.

Think on His promises and pray for that calm to prevail in your heart.


For further study, read Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; and Luke 8:22-25

Questions for further thought:

  1. What is the storm in your life right now that needs to be calmed? Put another way, where in your life is there anxiety or noise that should be replaced by the peace of Jesus?
  2. Our fears over noise, trouble, or hard work can also be from fears of our own lack of preparedness, or lack of control over details, or the unknown, or…. (add yours here). Sometimes I find myself giving my fears to Jesus every five minutes! In the words of a friend: Why do I lay my fears at the feet of Jesus, and then pick them right back up again? Do you? What makes us prefer worry to the promises of Jesus?
  3. Picture Jesus sleeping in the back of your boat. At what point do you wake Him up? What do you say to Him? What does He say to you?
  4. I remember the first time I read this story of Jesus asleep in the boat, my thought was “How can He fall asleep when the waves are crashing over Him and the boat is about to capsize?” Now when I read it I understand that faith and trust and lack of anxiety all go together like a beautiful three-stranded cord, and I long for that peace to fill me. I haven’t made it yet, but I’m further along on the journey. Where are you?

    And here is a post-script: The bathroom is still not finished in 2021, although it certainly looks a lot better. We only have the shower left to do, and here are some photos of the three walls we’ve finished.

17. The Black and White Floor: a study in contrasts

 For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.–Hebrews 3:4

I’ve had black and white on the brain lately.

Everywhere I look, I see black and white together. Dark and light. Absorbing and reflecting. Hot and cold. Opposites. Contrasts.

Black and white together–it is bold. Courageous. Balanced. Stunning. It takes a stand.

And it’s our new kitchen floor..

I generally believe in hardwood floors or muted rugs because I don’t think it’s a floor’s job to be noticeable.

But this is bold.

The contrast of black and white tiles laid next to each other makes this floor shout out Look. At. Me.  One of my friends shook her head when I told her what we’d be doing with the floor. “If one color doesn’t look dirty,” she said, “the other will.”

Yes, it’s a worry–I’d better be able to keep it clean…


Contrasts, paradoxes, opposites–these have been on my mind lately too. Paradoxes of faith fill the Bible, and sometimes it’s hard for me to get my head around them. I just read today in Joshua 1:7–There are many other verses that tell us to keep straight on, not veering to the right or the left. (Deuteronomy 5:32; Deuteronomy 28:14; Joshua 23:6; 2 Kings 22:2; Proverbs 4:27; Isaiah 30:21 are just a few…)

Our Christian faith is filled with the enigmas of contrasts, opposites, and tension:

How do we, as people of faith, deal with all these contrasts? We can get stuck on one side or the other, veering off to the right or to the left and lose focus on what is straight ahead. In truth, the world (dare I say Satan?) wants us to veer off to the right or to the left. Even those words right and left are loaded with the world’s values, aren’t they?

And some of these “right and left” issues are fracturing the church and Christian testimony right now. Look at some of those contrasts in the list above, and think about which ones trouble you the most.

Think of it as walking on the top of a mountain (on a narrow path with no guard rails) and trying not to lose your footing. We don’t want to fall over too far on the side of social justice, yet over and over God calls us to care for the widow, the poor, the immigrant, the orphan. We need to love people and show them Christ’s love, yet at the same time we can’t ignore flagrant sins. But what about our own sins? Just because we are believers and forgiven, it doesn’t mean we are sinless. How do we show non-believers Christ’s love and forgiveness without seeming judgmental or holier-than-thou? Is that mountain path turning into a slippery slope yet?

One point to remember is that Christ’s Church will never go along with the world. God calls us to be different, to be a peculiar people. He called the Hebrews in the Old Testament to be His people and they failed spectacularly. Jesus came and called anyone who repents and believes to be part of His Church, and now we are failing spectacularly. After all, the church is made up of sinners, and even though we have the Spirit, even though we are forgiven, and even though Jesus is our cornerstone, God’s blessed Kingdom has not yet come. We are still tempted and tried by the world and its curse of sin. And so often, we fail.

BUT, if we believe the promises of God, our spectacular failures might be just the opposite. The world’s wisdom is foolishness to Him, so why should we call it failing? It might be just what God has ordained to happen. But if we trust His promises, we must also trust that He will take care of things in whatever way He chooses, whenever He chooses. When we spend too much time tilting to one side or the other, we are paying too much attention to the world and not enough to God/Jesus/the Holy Spirit.

There is one verse that covers the Lord’s general requirements of us: Micah 6:8

Jesus’ life is the perfect picture of that balance: between be and do; between stillness and action; between justice and mercy. He is the one we are to emulate for He was and is the perfect man, sent from God to redeem us. Sent from God so we would know what perfection and holiness and balance really look like. Jesus is not an American conservative. Jesus is not an American liberal. To follow Jesus is to take on a radical agenda–loving your neighbor, serving others, praying for all, and gently urging everyone (including yourself) to live the holiest life we can through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

If we believe the Bible, we know that God is over all, above all, and all in all. He knows we are prone to leaning dangerously to one side or the other, rather than keeping our focus straight ahead. So we are to make peace with that tightrope, knowing that those paradoxes of our faith could well help us keep our eyes on the end rather than looking down. And if you need reassurance, then remember that even falling off that tightrope or the narrow mountain path is not fatal. The only fatal sin is thinking you can walk through that tightrope of life yourself without needing God.

No, the issues that are fracturing us are not black and white. But what we must all take to heart is His love; His redemption; His power. Written over both the black and the white, the contrasts of faith, is His love–written in His blood–written forever, no matter who we are, what we do, or how many times we fall from the narrow path. His love covers us all. He is the Lord over all the puzzling paradoxes–from the wise to the foolish, from the rich to the poor, from the believers to the non-believers–He is the Lord. He is the Door. But He knocks gently, and we are the ones who must open the door and let Him in… 


For further study, read Matthew 5:1-20

Questions to think about:

  1. Paradoxes/Opposites abound in the Bible. Can you think of others? Which one(s) do you struggle with the most? Which one brings you the most peace?
  2. At least one other opposite is Jesus fulfilling the Law, yet abolishing it. Check out this article: https://carm.org/bible-difficulties/did-jesus-abolish-the-law-or-not/
  3. I think the Sermon on the Mount is one of the most difficult passages to take to heart. I think that sometimes it’s just easier to have cut-and-dried rules to follow instead of trying to keep your balance on a narrow path with steep cliffs on either side…. The Pharisees thought that too, and Jesus saves His harshest rebukes for them. Has American Christianity devolved into rule-keeping one one side because it is easier, and too much friendship with the world on the other side, because that’s easier too?
  4. I felt like a heretic writing the words that the church is failing spectacularly. Sometimes I think it is; but other times I think it is amazing that the church has endured through worse times than ours. Yet We are the church; it is not some nebulous administrative bubble somewhere in the heart of a city, so what does this say about us?
  5. How can we make peace with the sword of division that Jesus says He brings?

16. On Mowing and Marriage and Trying to Be Like Jesus

There’s very little in this life that I like less than mowing grass. Reasons? Oh yeah, I got plenty:

    What a waste of time–I could be gardening, reading, writing, baking bread, washing dishes, mopping the kitchen floor…
    What a waste of gasoline and added pollution, when we could be growing food, or flowers, or sheep instead of grass…
    Lawn grass has no value whatsoever, unless one is playing golf on a golf course…
    Why would I want to push around a horribly noisy, smelly machine that could easily cut off my fingers, or my toes, or throw flying sticks or rocks at my head?
    Imagine sitting down on Friday evening to a glass of your favorite beverage and some appetizers and having your neighbor fire up their stinky, noise-polluting lawn mower. Right. Just imagine…

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Usually mowing the grass is the contractor husband’s job, and I don’t have to think about it. But he’s busy doing the roof while the sun shines. (July in Pennsylvania makes watching the Weather Channel unnecessary; we know what the forecast will be: 90 percent humidity and scattered thunderstorms.) And the grass has to be mowed when the sun is shining too. Plus, the tractor is broken. So I’m being the selfless servant and mowing the grass with the push mower.

Right. Not quite so selfless as one might think…

Today as I started mowing, silently congratulating myself on serving my busy husband, he came down off the roof and waved at me to stop. When I stopped, he bent down and raised the mower deck on me. “You’re cutting it too short,” he said. Then he disappeared back up onto the roof.

Excuse me? If I am cutting the grass, I will blimey well cut it at the height I want. The shorter the grass, the less it has to be mowed. I’d just as soon kill the wretched grass anyway. That’s the trouble with it; grass doesn’t die. Its roots live forever and come back to haunt you next year after you’ve planted a lovely flower bed there. But I digress.

I confess that I was sweaty, hot, and bothered. Muttering the whole time, two passes later, I stopped the mower and lowered the deck back to where it was. But that still didn’t make me feel any better. Here I was, unselfishly mowing the grass so he wouldn’t have to, and he comes to tell me I’m doing it wrong? What kind of ungrateful man is this anyway?

Oh wretch that I am…


I’ve heard enough sermons in my life to know that this is not what Jesus would do. And I’ve also heard enough John Dorean sermons to know that the goal of every Jesus lover is to grow and be more like him every day. Of course, we fail all the time, but that IS the goal…

So when I stopped to take a break and get a cool drink of water, I sat down on  the couch and picked up the book I’ve been reading. Sacred Marriage. (If you know this book, you may laugh here.)

I had a copy of this book once, but we were newly married and I ended up giving it away to someone before I read it, and I never got it back. Since then I’ve read sections of it and heard sermons from it, and I know the subtitle by heart: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More than to Make Us Happy?; but I’ve never read it cover to cover.

Turns out, maybe I should have.

I always thought, yeah, yeah, I know what Gary Thomas is going to say. Die to your self. Respect your spouse. Love unconditionally.

And yes, that’s what he says. And yes, it’s hard. And, as Thomas says, none of that comes naturally to us.

But as I sat there reading Chapter Six,  “The Cleansing of Marriage: How Marriage Exposes Our Sin,” I knew. I knew that those words needed to penetrate my soul. Just as I need to die to my self a hundred, no, a thousand times a day, I also need to desire humility a hundred, no, a thousand times a day.

Of course, we always see our spouse’s sin — it’s so much easier to see other’s sins, isn’t it? Yes, this specifically refers to taking the log out of our own eye before we take the speck out of someone else’s eye (Matthew  7:3-5). Listen to this:

View marriage as an entryway into sanctification–as a relationship that will reveal your sinful behaviors and attitudes and give you the opportunity to address them before the Lord. But here’s the challenge: Don’t give in to the temptation to resent your partner as your own weaknesses are revealed. Correspondingly, give them the freedom and acceptance they need in order to face their own weaknesses as well. In this way, we can use marriage as a leg up, a piercing spiritual mirror, designed for our sanctification and growth in holiness.

I needed to re-read that sentence Don’t give in to the temptation to resent your partner as your own weaknesses are revealed. There it is–the basic sin of all sins: Pride. Lack of humility. Thinking that I know best, yet knowing in my heart and soul that I do not. It’s ugly, pride is. Later Gary Thomas quotes François  Fenélon who wrote: “…all the saints are convinced that sincere humility is the foundation of all virtues.”

To grow in holiness marriage must be understood as a spiritual discipline, Thomas says. “To do this,” he writes, “we must not enter marriage predominantly to be fulfilled, emotionally satisfied, or romantically charged, but rather to become more like Jesus Christ.”

There it is again…to become more like Jesus; to do that we must put on our robe of humility and not throw it off each time we get hot and bothered. And not only do I agree with Fenélon that humility is the foundation of all virtues, but can I suggest that pride just might be the foundation of all sin?

Today as I was reading an article about the need for us to feel awe before our holy God, I came across the term self-forgetfulness. How I long for it. The author, Jen Wilkin, cited research that suggests when humans feel awe they are better able to forget themselves and reach out to other people. And I started wondering: What else makes me put on self-forgetfulness?
Blue sky behind gray cloudsDoing something for someone else with no expectations. (Remember mowing the lawn? It went wrong because of my own expectation–that my husband would be pleased and thank me profusely for doing something I hated to do.)

Praying–talking to the Holy God of the Universe. Yes, that’s one that definitely gets the mind off oneself.

Thinking about Jesus–whether it is reading the Bible, listening to worship music, or just meditating on how weak and incompetent I am, and how strong and competent Jesus is for me.

Immerse yourself in something beautiful that reminds you to thank God for creating such beauty. It may be poetry, it may be nature, it may be a conversation with a loving friend…

So here we have: Go watch a sunset or the clouds or stand on a beach or a mountain or a hilltop; Make dinner for your neighbor; Read your favorite passage in God’s word and thank Him for it; Meditate on the strength of Jesus and your own shortcomings and feel awe that you are so loved; Be grateful.

As I read further in Sacred Marriage, this paragraph jumped out at me:

Don’t run from the struggles of marriage. Embrace them. Grow in them. Draw near to God because of them. Through them you will reflect more of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And thank God that he has placed you in a situation where your spirit can be perfected.

And today, in the sermon I heard this: He loves us where we are at any given moment. Certainly He invites, encourages, challenges us to become more like Christ, but that becoming is not a prerequisite of His love. Can I get an Amen?

white clover

It’s time to mow the grass again…

The tractor is fixed. As the contractor husband took it for a spin to see how it was running, he said, “I’m not going to mow the grass short because there are lots of bees on the clover, and I don’t want to mow the flowers away.” Yes, he knows how much I like bees and clover…

I smiled to myself. Thank you God that you have placed me in a situation where my spirit can be perfected.

And thank you, God, that the tractor is fixed.


For further study, read Matthew 7:3-5

Questions to think about:

  • Think of the traits in your spouse that bug you to death; you know the ones that make you mutter to yourself Every. Time. (Surely I’m not the only one????) Ask God to help you see the good in them. Ask God for new eyes to see that they probably don’t do those things just to bug you….Ask God for forgiveness for your critical spirit. Ask God to bring to mind the things that you do that undoubtedly bug your spouse.
  • Look at Matthew 7:3-5. Last week we talked about Matthew 6:22-23 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.” How can we correlate and compare these two verses on eyes?
  • I read somewhere that it is not only seeing well, but perceiving and understanding well that makes the difference between being holy and being worldly. My trouble is I know what I’m supposed to do and how Jesus wants me to think, I just don’t have the self-discipline to do it. As Paul says, “Oh wretched man that I am…” (Romans 7:24-25) I particulary like this passage in the The Living Bible translation, here.
  • It seems the more I grow in my faith, the more I struggle with how unholy I really am. Can you think of any other verses that can comfort us on this?

15. The Messy Beauty of Everyday Life: Jesus Loves Us Despite our Messes

For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.–Hebrews 3:4

I bought a new photo app for my phone the other day for 99 cents. While playing around with it (just pushing buttons, in other words) this photo was the fourth one I took.

Random messy beauty

I was shocked. It is really just a shot from the back porch here at Apple Hill. None of the others looked like this at all, and I have no idea what I did or how it came out like this. It is totally random, and I’ll probably never be able to recreate the effect; it’s messy; it’s artistic; and it reminds me of a favorite quote from Madeleine L’Engle:

“Inspiration far more often comes during the work than before it.” ⁠1

That means, don’t wait—just plunge right in; that means, keep working—it will come; that means, while you’re working, don’t forget to say thank you to the Creator who created you to create.

I’ve been thinking about beauty lately because in the middle of a house remodeling project there is very little beauty: walls being ripped out; ugly boards; years worth of dust and dead bugs (and maybe a mouse or two, as well). 

Yet there is a beauty in messes that only the person close to it, the creator, can see. We know what the mess is going to turn into (or at least what we hope it will be!) Think of making a cake: flour, eggshells, sugar spilled on the counter, dirty cups and measuring spoons all over? Yet the end result is a delicious dessert.

We are moving everything out of the kitchen to get ready to lay the floor. All the stuff that was in the kitchen is now in the living room along with what actually belongs in the living room. I don’t even see this mess because I know it’s just a temporary inconvenience; but if anyone came to visit, they might think we’re applying to be on the television show Hoarders. And, really, the entire cottage looks like this right now; there are no Beautiful Photos because there are no beautiful spaces. 

Yesterday there was a package of BX Cable coiled around like a hose on the floor of the mudroom; it is shiny silver and wrapped in heavy duty plastic. Electricians use this cable to run wiring—it is waterproof, mouse proof, fireproof. This coil of wire is not the essence of beauty to most people. Most of the time it just sits on shelves of the local home improvement stores and looks plain. But I look at that gorgeous roll of BX cable, and I see new wiring in a wonderfully rehabilitated, once dilapidated, old cottage. I see the cost of it, the hands that labored over it, and what it is replacing—old jumbled up, mouse-chewed, taped-together wires. Now see again with new eyes—Isn’t that a fantastic coil of shiny cable? 


What a metaphor for everyday life, for God. Our creator knows and loves us regardless of the mess we used to be (or still are) because he knows what we will be later: a perfectly created work of art; a delicious dessert; a remodeled house, perfectly wired.

For those of us who are still in the messy state of wondering how this is all going to turn out–God loving us regardless of how ugly and taped together we are–is the epitome of hope. And realizing that we are all jumbled up, mouse-chewed, taped-together wires is the beginning. Those wires can’t change themselves into brand new cable; no, not only was there a cost involved in buying the new cable, there were hands that labored over it ripping out the old and replacing it with new…

Just as there was a cost involved for Jesus—and it was very great. It cost Him His life to buy ours. Our lives, bought by Him, are no longer sin-scarred, taped-together wires. Those have been replaced and made new. They are silver-shiny and rehabilitated. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!(2 Corinthians 5:17)

That’s the version of us that He sees, because He is our creator. 

Thanks be to God for this wonderful hope.


For further study, read 2 Corinthians 5

  1. What helps you see beauty in things that aren’t necessarily beautiful? Read Matthew 6:22-23 in The Message.
  2. Madeleine L’Engle’s quote about inspiration happening as you’re working is so hopeful, isn’t it? Especially to a procrastinator who often uses the excuse that I’m waiting for inspiration… Is there anything that you are putting off doing because you’re waiting for inspiration?
  3. Look at your biggest mess (according to you) and think how Jesus will see it when it has been redeemed and made new.
  4. Do you have a mess going on right now? Broken egg shells and spilled flour all over the counter? Pray for a new vision for it; pray to see it through Jesus’ eyes. Ephesians 1 may help with this: Verses 3-14 tell of God’s amazing plan of adopting us and seeing us as “blameless before Him”, and verses 16-18 remind us to see through the “eyes of our hearts” so we can know this hope.
  5. We are created in His image, so we also are creators. What are you creating right now? Think of this question as holistic and apply it to all areas of your life–physical, emotional, spiritual…

1 L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water, p. 176

14. Up on the Roof: We’re All in this Together

For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.–Hebrews 3:4

Winter, 2014-15

One of the final projects we worked on before we moved in was the mudroom. The entry into the cottage, it is a narrow room that was originally the front porch and enclosed in the seventies by Joe and Clara to keep the wind from whipping into the kitchen every time the door was opened.

There was a lot going on in that small room: Two sliding glass doors eight feet apart, a step up into the kitchen, a cracked concrete floor, a chimney on the far side, an electric panel that had to be hidden, and lots of old wires that came from the outside across the room to the electric panel. And a leaky ceiling. We had big plans for this small room, but those plans were essentially frozen by sudden snow melt that made us realize we could go no further on the mudroom until the leaky ceiling was fixed, which meant a new roof. Over the whole house.

In addition to expense, the problem was also the timing—it was February and we were moving in in March. A new roof in time for us to move in was impossible. So we did what we could on the mudroom — three walls and a new tile floor and new stovepipe down the chimney for a wood stove. The ceiling was just covered in insulation and the one wall that faced the entrance was left ugly and exposed. It was what everyone saw when they walked in the front door, but it couldn’t be finished until the ceiling was put up and the ceiling couldn’t be put up until the new roof was on. Anyone who has ever worked on a big project knows that each part has to be coordinated with the whole.

Summer, 2016

It was two summers later that the roof finally was started. Anyone who has ever worked on a big project knows that many people working together makes the project more manageable. Even the contractor husband, who likes working by himself, admitted he couldn’t do the roof by himself, even with my puny, inexperienced help. Especially with my puny, inexperienced help. 

We organized a work day and several faithful friends from our church showed up and worked hard, putting down roofing paper, measuring, cutting, and nailing shingles. That July was one of the rainiest months on record, but we only had to scurry off the roof once, and mostly the cloudy days were a blessing. Anyone who has ever worked on a roofing project knows that temperature is ten times magnified up on the roof.

We had rented the dumpster for two weeks, and that was the timetable. The project was costing enough without having to add any extra fees. And with help from our friends we finished it in plenty of time. I am reminded of the Amish who band together and build houses and barns for their neighbors in need, knowing that one day they will be in need and those same neighbors will be there for them.

In his novel Hannah Coulter, Wendell Berry calls those friends and neighbors your membership. He writes,

 “…The work was freely given in exchange for work freely given. There was no bookkeeping, no accounting, no settling up. What you owed was considered paid when you had done what needed doing. Every account was paid in full by the understanding that when we were needed we would go, and when we had the need the others, or enough of them, would come…”

This is what true membership in a community is about. Oh, we try to legitimize it in groups with dues, membership cards, meetings, but true membership has none of those formal rituals. There is no settling or keeping track of what is owed, at least, not out loud. You go because you are needed, sometimes without being asked, because you know that those same people will do the same for you in your time. It is what we all long for, isn’t it?

To know and be known; to accept and be accepted; to love and be loved. It is the human condition, the human need, and I worry that in our modern technological lives it has gone missing. The devices we hold in our hands or on our laps substitute as our membership in community, and how will that affect the generations to come?


The church has been provided by God to help us be a community and extend community to others. In Galatians 6:2 Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” And in 1 Corinthians 12:25-27 as he writes to them about the church as the body of Christ, he says, “…its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

If I were honest, I don’t like the idea of official church membership. It seems too much like a club that one can join and leave on a whim. And we all know members who don’t pull their weight, don’t come to meetings, barely pay their dues… God asks more of us than just membership; He asks for the true, pure membership that Berry writes about. In truth, I would say that God has put that longing in our hearts—the longing for pure and real love among our neighbors, of which the church is to be the archetype, the standard.

We fall so short. But when we manage, it is a beautiful thing to watch church members serve each other—by teaching, by listening, by encouraging, by offering food, by giving rides, and yes, by helping to put a roof on someone’s house. It is loving your neighbor, which Jesus tells us in Matthew 22 is the second greatest commandment. By doing the second greatest commandment, we are also doing the first—loving God with all our strength, and all our mind, and all our heart. That is why our hearts sing when we get together with our brothers and sisters in Christ to serve. 

That day on the roof there was work, there was talk, there was laughter, there was food shared. Hammers rang out, voices rang out, love between friends rang out, and God was pleased.


For further study, read Acts 2:42-47.

Questions for thought:

  • Have you had more than one community “membership”?
  • Who is your membership now?
  • Describe one of the most meaningful times of fellowship and service you have experienced with them? What made it so?
  • Do you think life in modern America hinders true community membership or is that just an excuse? Is it something we need to work on to change?
  • Truthfully, I’ve always wondered why western Christians don’t heed these verses in Acts. Are we so invested in our individualistic capitalistic private enterprise economy that we can’t see that this early church is Socialism? Aargh! Perish the thought! I’m being a little facetious here, but what are your thoughts about this?
  • An effect of the lockdown (on me, anyway) is not being able to enjoy my church community in the ways that we used to. Technology has been wonderful–here we are on Zoom! and I’m grateful for the new far-away pastors we’ve discovered–but I think that has played a part in my feeling far away from my church family. What are your favorite verses about Fellowship/Community?

13. Apples, Walnuts, and Pears: Bounty and Scarcity

For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.–Hebrews 3:4

My grandfather built the cottage in the nineteen thirties; my great aunt and uncle later lived here and sold apples from the front yard. When the contractor husband’s parents, Joe and Clara, bought the orchard from my grandfather, Joe took classes in orcharding, pruning, and spraying from Penn State. They ran it for several years, but eventually they divided the property into three parcels and sold the orchard acreage. It’s been sold twice since then, and the fruit trees that remain are broken down and unproductive. We wanted to make sure Apple Hill Road lived up to its name, so that first spring after we acquired Apple Hill Cottage, we planted a few fruit trees.  

Joe named the road and made the sign, and now it is even listed on Google Maps…

For a time the old orchard property (which still has a greenhouse and a barn) was being rented by a local couple who were trying to make a go of a small nursery. So we drove the tractor over one sunny May morning and purchased two apple trees — a Honey Crisp and an Ida Red — and two pear trees — a Bartlett and a Luscious. Each year we’ve tried to plant at least two more fruit trees or berry bushes: we now have sixteen fruit trees, a dozen berry bushes, two grape vines, and an English walnut tree–all in varying degrees of fruitfulness.

The walnut tree was a total surprise. One bright October afternoon the contractor husband came into the house holding six or seven brown English walnuts — the kind you buy in the stores at Christmas time. “Look what I found in the yard,” he said. “There’s a lot of them.”

I followed him back out to the edge of the yard and we gazed up into the leaves to see hundreds of green husks just beginning to open. When the husks open, the brown shelled walnuts fall onto the ground, the road, the neighbor’s driveway…Within two weeks we had racks and racks of walnuts drying all over the house. The walnut tree is either feast or famine: we had two years of bumper crops; then two years of none. Two years ago we counted as we harvested: 993 walnuts, give or take 20. (It’s hard to remember your count when you are bending and stretching and picking up nuts from the ground…) Maple glazed walnuts in a Mason jar make lovely Christmas gifts. But last year there were none. (That was easy to count.) Bounty and scarcity, plenty and want.

The apple trees we planted five years ago are just now getting to the age where they will produce apples regularly. So far the only good producing trees are the two bent, aged trees that were here long ago, leftovers from the old orchard. We’ve pruned them back hard, but they won’t last much longer. The young trees have had a few apples here and there, but they are mostly what my grandfather used to call “little bits a nothin’.” The trees were set back several summers ago by a devastating plague of seventeen year locusts.

Periodical cicadas to be specific; and they decimated the young fruit trees we had nurtured. At the time it seemed to us a plague of biblical proportions, but all the trees survived, though not without damages. Then there was their recovery summer, and we were hoping last summer would be the year of the apples, but instead we had a week of 20 degree temperatures in May–and two days of snow–after all the trees had blossomed. The only fruit we had were a couple of quarts of blueberries. There are so many factors that can intervene to ruin apple crops: early blossoming, pollination failure, late frosts, too much rain, not enough rain, insects, deer… Even when there are apples on the tree, they can be lost or ruined by June drop, scab, insects, and various blights. Bounty and scarcity, plenty and want.

The two pear trees were much taller than the two apple trees we planted at the same time, so it’s likely they were a year or so older. Four summers ago we had our first real crop of pears. The Luscious tree yielded a bushel of large picture-perfect pears that we saved for eating fresh and giving away. The Bartlett tree yielded a bushel of many small pears that I canned and made into pear butter. In September, we were overrun with pears; by December the fresh ones were gone and we were left with canned ginger pears in the cupboard. Oh, they are good, but there is nothing like a juicy fresh pear. But since then? We had a summer of locusts, a summer in which only one tree produced, and the summer of frosts. Bounty and scarcity, plenty and want.


Bounty and scarcity. Plenty and want. The seasons of our lives are marked by these contradictions. At any time the loss of a job, a spouse, or health, can change our financial realities from prosperity to poverty. Here in 2020, this time of Covid-19, it’s become very obvious how prosperity can turn into poverty in just several short months. How do we live successfully through lean times? If and when good times return, can we live in compassion and generosity by remembering our own past troubles?

Paul writes of this in Philippians 4:11-12 when he says, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

I want that. I want his secret of being content in any and every situation. I don’t want to want fresh pears in February. I have delicious canned pears in my cupboard; why isn’t that good enough for me? During a lean month (a contractor’s life consists of always trying to maintain the right balance between lean months and months of plenty) I don’t want to worry about bills. Don’t we all want that peace of being content in every situation? What is Paul’s secret? — he tells us in verse 13 — “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” 

Put your needs, your wants, your discontents, in God’s hands, not the world’s hands. Don’t look at those fresh pears from Australia or South America in the grocery store. Prayerfully think instead, “I don’t need those; I have a cupboard full of pears; I am blessed. Thank you God for those canned pears.”

It isn’t easy, here in the land of plenty, where companies and advertisers make their living on making us want their stuff so much that we think we need it. Can’t live without it — or maybe we know we could live without it, but we can’t live well without it.

How do we balance the world’s idea of living well with God’s truth of how to live well? Because the world’s truth and God’s truth are polar opposites, just as plenty and want are polar opposites, and we need to learn how to do this balancing act if we are to live out our faith.

I am no mathematician, but here is my vision of that balancing act. Draw a circle and a point on the boundary of the circle. An antipodal point on a circle is directly opposite another point on that circle. Label one point Plenty; label the other point Want. Between those two points can be drawn the true diameter. Truth. God. Draw a little triangle below that line in the middle of that circle that represents the balancing that God requires of us. It also represents the center of our lives, where God needs to be. (The triangle is a nice metaphor for the Trinity—God, Spirit, Son—don’t you think?

The worry about unpaid bills, or your job, or your relationship, or (fill in the blank here) is not to be in the center of the circle. Banish it to the outside point on the circle of your life and make God the center. The treasure. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) And Matthew gives us another verse later on that lets us know what will happen when our heart is in the center with God: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 12:28-30) Jesus tells us that when He is the center, we can rest in Him. Rest from the world’s worries. Rest from your anxieties. Rest from the fear of scarcity.

The story from Luke, Chapter 21 about the widow’s offering helps to remind me of a good way to actually live out banishing the fear of scarcity to the outer point of the circle, and how to keep Jesus in the center. After watching a poor widow put two copper coins in the offering plate, Jesus says, “‘I tell you the truth,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” (Luke 21:3-4) Remembering this story encourages me to give extra when I am feeling poor, because I have never given all I had to live on. Even when we are feeling that there isn’t money to put in the offering plate on Sunday, remember this story and do it anyway. Can I just tell you?  So far, the bills have always gotten paid.

There’s one more practical way to help combat those worries when times are lean: remembering your blessings. It’s hard to worry about an empty cup, when you are recounting remembrances of that same cup running over. Counting your blessings, as the song says, is the way to see what the Lord has done. 


For further study, read Philippians 4.

Questions for reflection:

  • Recount a time (or times) when you felt poverty or want. Did you feel worldly anxiety or God’s peace?  Now remember a time when you were poor and God provided. Thank God for His provision and blessings for your life. Be specific.
  • How can you live more generously? Be specific here, too.
  • There’s a quote from Matthew Henry that goes something like this: “It is not poverty that makes one unhappy, it is discontent.” And contentment can be found anywhere, any time through Jesus. It strikes me that sometimes discontent can be monetary, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Discontent can come from a scarcity of ___________. Fill in the blank. How do you center yourself on Jesus in times of discontent?
  • Paul gives us plenty of concrete ideas on how to rejoice always in Philippians 4:4-9. List some of them.
  • Just a week or so ago, when I was getting this post together, Psalm 37 was part of my reading. I was blessed (again) by two prayers in Tim Keller’s book The Songs of Jesus. I have combined them for us here:

“Lord, how easy it is to put faith in power and money. If I know the right people and have plenty in the bank, I’m secure–an illusion! Through the cross my great debt has been paid, and through the Resurrection my future wealth is assured. Let me rest in that daily. Lord, it is difficult for me to trust in your provision for me enough to be radically generous with my money. But if Jesus had been as grudging with his life and blood as I am with my money, then where would I be? Make me a joyful giver. Amen.” (pages 74-75)

12. The Table’s Tale: Refinishing and Renewal

For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.–Hebrews 3:4

February, 2014

I think I might have been the first furniture piece they purchased for the cottage. I was reduced to being sold for $35 at the Habitat for Humanity Thrift Store. It was absolutely humiliating, but they were very delighted. She wrote about it on her blog and called it a great deal. I shudder to think of it.

I admit I was no beauty anymore; I was a bit down and out, but I had solid black iron underneath, and at one time I was imposing. (Imported from Europe, but I don’t like to brag.) Plus, I lived large. Many people could squeeze around me, say grace, shout about the mashed potatoes, spill gravy, slosh coffee, and just, well, eat, drink and be merry. I was a table that said Home.

I heard her say that she was just going to paint me and let me be a shabby chic table;  I don’t know what that means, but I am no Shabby Chick. I put all my hopes on the man; I could see he was a carpenter — all those tools! He could appreciate nice looking wood, even if I was just a fancy veneer over plain pine.  Everyone has a veneer, right? And my heart and covering were both good solid woods. (And I do have great, curvy legs, if I do say so myself…) When the man got out his sander I was a bit nervous, but he was easy on me and I came out looking smooth and polished — a bit pale maybe, but definitely not shabby. Suddenly I was feeling rather Pottery Barn-ish.

I tell you I was thinking, Yes! Now I’m home and there will be real meals again! And then I was covered up in layers of plastic tablecloths, sheets, and tarps, and it was back to being a grunt work table for two more years. Even though They Said they were going to fix me up, I was beginning to lose hope.

Then one fine day, she uncovered me, moved me around, and started with the sandpaper on my legs… I wasn’t sure what to think about that pot of green paint she had with her. I thought that whole paint issue had been settled. I made her bump her head a few times before I decided I rather liked that silky green paint on my legs…

But still they hadn’t done anything to keep those gravy stains from permanently damaging my new complexion. When they finally moved me in place, I tried my best to look like I needed a vacation to the islands or somewhere sunny. Alas, all they did was give me a fake tan. But that oil they rubbed on my skin did warm me up, and three coats belonging to Polly somebody have just brought out my inner glow.

At least they have fixed up the walls I’m sitting beside. Talk about shabby? Oh, my! And those little lights above me are very sweet — they can be dim or bright depending on their mood, but we all have our little quirks, don’t you think? I think we’ll get along fabulously.

Am I not beautiful?

What concerns me now is the chairs she might surround me with… I don’t want to tangle legs with mismatched Duncan Phyfes or lazy benches or painted-up shabby chicks. And no bistro chairs, please. What is a redeemed table to do but worry about the company she keeps? I think several upright parson’s chairs would do quite nicely, thank you.

“Eh,” she says, “you’re getting a bit uppity don’t you think? I don’t need La Table telling me what to do!”

But may I quote Better Homes and Gardens here? The dining table is “a substantial piece of furniture that sets the tone for the entire room…”⁠1

“Ahem!” she says. “I saw another table just like you today at Construction Junction for $45, so don’t go upscale on me!”

Forty-five dollars? Bring on those shabby chick chairs…


Down and Out, Longing for Renewal

Let’s leave the table in the dining room for a few minutes and think about our own renewal. God promised us—many many times in scripture—a refinishing, a renovation, a restoration of our souls when we trust in Him. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.”  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Remember when you longed to become new? When you finally admitted to yourself that you were a bit down and out, faded maybe, even though you had once been imposing. Or perhaps you actually fell apart? God does that to us—makes us realize that we can’t do it on our own. Sometimes He really humiliates us before we figure that out; or sometimes instead of humiliation, He allows suffering. But whatever it was— however God brought you to Him—don’t allow yourself to forget it. Because more than anything, God wants us to use that same weakness to bring others to Him. He never makes us go through pain, depression, illness, divorce, addiction… for no reason.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  (James 1:2-4)

A Thin Veneer or Solid Wood?

Think of the others who might benefit from the wisdom that you learned back then, while you were going through your own fiery trial, and don’t waste it. God doesn’t want followers who have a veneer of Christianity; He wants rock solid followers who aren’t afraid to get dirty, aren’t afraid to scratch that veneer of superficiality, aren’t afraid to admit their own past failings and fears, sins and shortcomings. 

Just look at the disciples as examples. Jesus named Peter the rock, when he was anything but a rock. Peter had moments of brilliance, yes, but then plummeted to the depths of desertion and renunciation before Jesus forgave him and made him the leader and feeder of His sheep.

Thomas spoke amazing words of faithfulness when he said to the other disciples, “Let us go with Him, that we might die with Him,” (John 11:16) yet he also professed confusion and doubt on other occasions, when he said out loud that they didn’t know where Jesus was going, so how could they follow Him  (John 14:5); and of course, the phrase which gave him the nickname Doubting Thomas — “…unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)

And Paul? He tormented Christians until Christ blinded him on the road to Damascus and then allowed him to see with new eyes. It was a regeneration of gargantuan proportions: the former persecutor becomes the greatest evangelist of all time. But none of that rock solid faithfulness of the apostles happened overnight. It took years. Why should we be different?

Losing Hope in the Wait 

No matter where we are in the stages of refinishing a piece of furniture, a table, for instance, there will always be times of inactivity or waiting. Perhaps we are waiting for the finish to dry, or perhaps we get sidetracked by the little details of another project— that table sat unfinished for almost two years before we were ready—and she herself said she was beginning to lose hope. But to be rebuilt, reconstructed, or renovated, takes time and patience. It is not for the faint of heart:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4: 16-17)

Read that last verse again and consider what that renewal is bringing us—a home grander than any worldly mansion, a hope beyond all earthly hopes, an eternal glory that far outweighs anything we can comprehend. Can we wait for that?

Protection from those Gravy Stains

In the midst of the restoration work on the table, there came a time, when she was laid bare: sanded down to raw wood—exposed and vulnerable to all sorts of stains and spots from those who surrounded her. Yes, that table needed three coats of spar varnish for protection.

We’ve all felt that need for special care—to have our hearts wrapped “…in a blue cloud-cloth away from the too-rough fingers of the world.”⁠2  When we are defenseless we need only take up God’s Book, which will arm us with power. When we need protection, we must repeat over and over to ourselves the verses that affirm God’s care and protection over us. He himself tells us to “put on the full armor of God.” (Ephesians 6:10-18) There is the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, but perhaps most important of all, is “…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”  (Ephesians 6:18)

Just today in the sermon, the pastor reminded us that it is difficult to avail ourselves of God’s protection if we do not immerse ourselves in His word. He wrote, “I am at times brought into situations where folks are facing great difficulties and I want to encourage them to pray, but that is most difficult because they have not had the years of training in God’s Word.”⁠3

Find your favorite verses about trusting in God’s protection. Memorize them. Some of those verses  are amazingly easy to remember: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

I have two favorites:

 

Just imagine the Holy God of the world redeeming you, knowing you by name, protecting you from flood and fire, and watching over your coming and going now and forever. Three coats of spar varnish, indeed.

The Company We Keep

Yet despite her own sins and her vulnerabilities, despite her renovation and redemption, what does the table worry about? The morality of the chairs with whom she will associate. My dining room table has become a Pharisee!

And yet, it is a battle fought by all the redeemed of God. We must forever forget the sins we have been forgiven from; scripture says they are wiped clean, (“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…” — Galatians 2:20) but at the same time we must never forget them or the magnitude of them, or we run the risk of forgetting the amazing grace and mercy of Christ who died to save us from those very sins. We are no better than anyone else; we have no right to moralize or condemn, but only to love with Christ’s love that now lives inside us. 

And if it is within God’s power and mercy to redeem you and me, then He can cause your neighbor, your loved one, your church, your town, the world to explode in reawakening, renewal, restoration, revival. To paraphrase Matthew 19:26, all things are possible with God.


For further study, read Colossians 3

Questions for thought:

  • One of my primary struggles is putting to death what is earthly in me. There are several ways–awareness, prayer, self-discipline–but we can also think of putting on the protections of God–His armor, perhaps? Thoughts?
  • The first part of Colossians 3 tells us what are the earthly sins, and there is quite a long list. A couple of weeks ago we talked about the (ancient) seven deadly sins, but more recently Jerry Bridges wrote the book called Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate. These are the sins like pride, jealousy, unthankfulness, judgmentalism, discontent, selfishness, envy, gossip… that we tolerate in ourselves (while criticizing others for their big sins!). How can we strike a balance on desiring personal holiness and being convicted of our sins, yet not dwelling on them?
  • The beat-up old table struggled with several things; they are printed in bold in the essay above. Is there one that resonates with you and where you are in your Christian journey right now?
  • That’s why I love the second half of Colossians 3–in answer to the negative sins in the first part, Paul tells us how to live as a new creation in Christ. Which one of these positives resonates with you?
  • As an exercise, look up all the verses you can find about being cleansed from sin — wipe clean, slate wiped clean, cleanse me from sin — and thank Him for the renewal that is yours, through Jesus. 

1 “Ultimate Guide to Dining Room Tables,” in Better Homes & Gardens online. http://www.bhg.com/rooms/dining-room/furniture/ultimate-guide-to-dining-tables/

2 “The Dreamkeeper” by Langston Hughes in The Dreamkeeper and Other Poems, New York, Knopf, 1984.

⁠3sermon by John Dorean.

11. Sundays at the Cottage: Rest Is Ordained by God

for every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. — Hebrews 3:4

May, 2014

There’s been much chaos in my life lately….

Dashing between two houses, fixing up one to live in, fixing up one to sell, both of us working jobs, and trying to balance everything? I feel as though I am failing at it all.

We knew that redoing this little cottage would be hard; we were committed to having no downtime, but we forgot to factor in that we would also have another house to fix up too—the one we would be selling. After two years? I’m tired. Contractor husband is tired. We have iron-poor blood. Burnout with a capital B; Exhaustion with a capital E; Drained with a capital D. Bed—I just want to sleep for three weeks straight.

In about three weeks the job that I have loved for nine years will be ended, our city house will be almost on the market and we will be gently moving all summer (or until the house sells) to this unfinished cottage. (Please understand: I am not whining or complaining. I still love the cottage. I can’t wait to get here–I just want to wimp out about the rest of the work we have to do.)

Just looking at this To Do List makes me tired. (You might notice that “write” is not on the To Do List.) And this is only my list; it doesn’t begin to cover the contractor husband’s list.

Lately, because we are focusing on getting the city house ready to sell, we’ve only been at the cottage on Sundays. There’s no time to do projects, so it has been a day of rest for me. (Not for husband—he has to get the tractor out and mow because the grass is growing like it’s spring or something…)

At first I fought it and called it forced rest. But today I am sitting on the porch with my glass of cider, heeding the rules of the Sabbath. We need this weekly rest. God knew it and named it–Sabbath rest. I sit here and look at the sky and the trees and listen to the bird song and the trill of a woodpecker and the sack of burdens on my shoulder lightens with each breath. Today it’s a little chilly, so I have a blanket and a kitty for warmth. Yes, there is a breeze.

There’s a ton of stuff I have to do. I see my To Do List when I close my eyes. I hear the world’s voice in my worries: If you don’t get that house on the market by June, it will never sell. And then what will you do? You need to be more efficient with your time. Etc. Etc. And then sometimes, when I’m listening, I hear the still, small voice: Peace my child. I am in control. Give me your worries and submit to my time. That’s what a Sabbath rest is for, and it is why God ordained it. He knew we would never stop working, shopping, tending, doing, (add your verb here) long enough to just sit and listen for His voice.

Today the sun is golden in the blue sky and I am resting in the white fluffy clouds of God’s magnificent creation. Savoring nature is the easiest way to still the never-ending, jumping-around, neuron-colliding ruminations in my head.

But there are other ways to hear and feel God’s voice. He speaks through scripture and, often as not, when I am sitting on the back porch swing I have a Bible open on my lap. Sometimes it is my study Bible and with it, a notebook to write down difficult passages or Aha! moments. Just last week I purchased a journaling Bible that has no notes, no historical references, no maps. In that same vein, several reading Bibles have just been recently published; while divided into books, they have no chapter or verse markings to distract. I’m thinking I would like to read the Bible that way, too. 

I can sit on that back porch swing and sing my favorite Godsongs. Although my voice is not as sweet as the wood thrush who lives in the nearby woods, it is a little better than the squawking crow who is calling to his mate from the barn roof.

I can also read worthwhile books. Some on my to-read list: Life Together by Bonhoeffer; The Brothers Karamazov, which it pains me to say I’ve never read; A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken; Just As I Am by Eugenia Price; A Place on Earth by Wendell Berry; The Place of the Lion by Charles Williams.

I have consciously put away technology for this afternoon. I don’t want to look at that To Do List; but, I do have books on my Kindle, and a study bible on my iPad. The problem is that it’s much too tempting to maybe just check my email for a second, or the stats on my blog for the day. I don’t do Facebook, for that very reason, but we all know how enticing technology is when the phone, the iPad, the game controller, or the remote is in your hand. Fasting from technology on a Sunday is a good thing to do.

There is no law for believers to rest on the Sabbath. We don’t want to be like Pharisees about this. On occasion we go to grocery stores after church, and in the summer I work in my garden on Sundays. (To me, that isn’t work). But we are not now bound by laws—Jesus is our rest, our peace. If you have to work on Sundays, that’s the way it is; just be encouraged to take some other time during the week to rest, to listen to God, to pray. He made us to need Him; don’t think you can do it on your own. Take a rest from doing, and Be.

The Hebrew word for Sabbath, or rest, is Shabbat and was also “one of the terms employed by the Jews for ‘salvation’” (according to John W. Bowman who wrote The Layman’s Bible Commentary to Hebrews). In Hebrews 3 and 4 the author discusses the concept of Jesus as our Sabbath rest. Jesus, through his sacrifice on the cross, frees us from the works of the law and allows us to rest in the work of Jesus. That same sacrifice paid the price for our salvation. Jesus calls himself the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8), the Lord of rest. He says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…” in Matthew 11:28. If we rest in the work of Jesus, we will know that salvation—it is waiting for us eternally, and now in this world too. We no longer have to worry about our works gaining us good standing with God; we no longer have to worry about all those laws that God ordained for His people to keep (just read Leviticus if you don’t know what I mean!); and, as a result, we can have peace if “we draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

And so for today, I am efficiently using my time—resting and listening and being thankful for that grace and mercy provided to me by my savior—and he is allowing me to banish any visions of the To Do List that might flutter across my eyes.


For further study, read Hebrews 3 and 4.

Questions to think about:

  • Write your to-do list, tear it out, and either crumple it up or burn it or shred it. (Burning or shredding is better—then you won’t be tempted to dig it out of the trash and smooth it out.)
  • How amazing is it that Sabbath rest and salvation were used interchangeably in the Old Testament. How does that make you feel about resting on Sunday? Do you struggle under the burden of resting? What can we rest from?
  • Hebrews 4 also makes clear the connection of Sabbath rest and salvation. One verse reads, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” That is a scary verse! Yet just a few verses later the writer encourages us with the thought that we have a great High Priest in Jesus who understands our temptations and our humanity because He was human. How do you view the ending of Chapter 4?
  • Perhaps God has given us a “Sabbath Year” in this pandemic? The Jews were to have a Sabbath Year every 7 years (ours is way overdue) and then a year of Jubilee every 50th year (the end of seven seven-year cycles). That year was to be a year of debts forgiven, slaves and prisoners set free, and the mercies of God would be manifest. (It’s not clear if the chosen people ever celebrated this year of jubilee) Michael Card writes and sings, Jesus is our Jubilee. What take-aways have you learned from this Sabbath year of forced rest?
  • I just want to remind you that not too long ago we talked about busyness being self-importance. It’s so easy to forget, isn’t it?