Is the Sabbath for God, or for us?

Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must be put to death! The whole community must stone him outside the camp.”

Numbers 15:35

Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.
Mark 2:27

These two verses seem in conflict with each other. In Numbers, God orders the stoning of a man for gathering wood on the Sabbath. In Mark, Jesus tells us that God created a day of rest for US, and not the other way around (creating us to fulfill the laws of the Sabbath). If God created a day of rest for us – a gift to help us recharge and be our best on our productive days – then why would he stone a man for working on the Sabbath? Was this just part of keeping the Israelites holy, ensuring they stayed in line?

In my version, God would have explained his reasons for the Sabbath, guiding through gentle love rather than wrathful vengeance. But in all the stories we’ve read about the Israelites, they were a hardheaded bunch who complained and rebelled even as they were being rescued and provided for. A gentle explanation may have fallen on deaf ears, and could have also created perceived leniency – leading to a slippery slope of backsliding on any of God’s laws.

My takeaways from these passages: I don’t have to understand everything God does. There are some things I just don’t agree with, but I also can’t see the big picture. God has reasons for everything because he can see all, knows all, and is working toward the greater good. This life is fleeting, but God’s kingdom is forever. The life taken from the man who was stoned was just a blip on the forever life we will all receive when God welcomes all of us back home.

Finally, thank the Lord for Jesus, who took on our sins and imperfections, and tore the veil that separated us from God. No longer are we subject to strict rituals and terrible wrath for our sins. Instead we are offered grace and forgiveness, and allowed to experience the fullness of God’s love.

What is Lent?

We are now in the Lenten season, a period of six weeks that lasts between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. According to many Christian faiths, including the Catholic faith in which I grew up, Lent is a time of fasting for the purpose of penance, repentance, atonement and self-denial. In plain speak, it’s about giving up something I love as a sacrifice to God, and to repay Him for all the sinning I’ve done throughout the year.

Basically, if I promise God I’ll stop eating sugar, watching TV, saying swear words, or some other chosen fast for 40 days, he’ll absolve me from my sins.

Does that not seem ridiculous to you?

I am no longer Catholic in my Christian walk, but I am still a believer in Lent. I believe it’s the most holy time of the year, but that’s only because my definition of Lent has changed dramatically from my Catholic roots.

Lent is not about atoning for my sins. There is nothing I can do to earn God’s favor. It has been given to me by grace. My debt has been repaid through Jesus’ sacrifice. I am only asked to have faith (which is a deeper conversation, as faith is not just about saying “I believe,” but about continuously developing my relationship with Jesus, and letting my life reflect that relationship).

So if Lent isn’t about atonement, what is it for? You could say it’s about honoring Jesus’ sacrifice through a sacrifice of my own—but even that seems silly. How can I compare giving up sugar (my actual Lent fast this year) to Jesus sacrificing His life so that I could be forgiven? And if I fail in my fast, what does that say about my love for Jesus? Do I not love and honor Jesus enough if I taste sugar before my 40 days are up? By placing a value on my fast, I am opening the door to unnecessary guilt—and I have enough to feel guilty over!

A better explanation of Lent is that I’m fasting for 40 days as a way of drawing closer to God. Every time I crave sugar, I must shift my focus to God and lean on Him for strength. If it feels too hard, I must pray harder. If I succumb to my sugar addiction, I am to seek forgiveness—not for eating sugar, but for not trusting God to heal me from my addiction. And then I am to experience the fullness of his grace and move forward in trusting Him as my strength.

Further, this 40-day fast is not about giving up something for 40 days and then living as usual for the rest of the year. Rather, it’s about developing a deeper relationship with God—learning to lean on Him in my struggle, and to crave Him instead of earthly things. Giving up sugar is symbolic of denying the temptations of this world and proclaiming God as my only need.

“A person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” Galatians 2:16

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

“Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” Romans 6:13-14

Have I been perfect in my fast? 4 days in, and I have not had sugar. However, I’ve been leaning on my own willpower instead of on God. I have filled the void with other foods instead of filling it with prayer. In this, I have not been perfect.

But Lent is not about perfection, it’s about aiming for devotion. I have years and years of experience in relying on my own strength. When it comes to food addictions, I keep forgetting how badly that’s worked out for me. Now is my opportunity to develop my muscle of faith—to believe that God can cure my appetite for sugar, and can fill the void it leaves behind. It’s not my perfection in abstinence that counts, but my willingness to lean on God. Lent is not about my sacrifice (it’s not about ME!), but about admitting that I can’t do this alone and letting God give me the strength I need.

Lord, it’s natural for me to depend on my own willpower and resolve to fulfill what I want to accomplish. This is why I keep failing. I keep forgetting that I wasn’t meant to do this alone. I am falling on old habits in my resolve to abstain during my fast. If I keep going this route, I will fail. There is only so long that this resolve will be a strong enough reason to avoid sugar, or anything I choose to fast from. But if I lean on You in moments of weakness, You will carry me through. My faith matters more than my sacrifice, and my strength comes from You. Thank you for always being with me, and for giving me the boost I need when I’m tempted to give in. I want to trust you in every struggle. Thank you for your patience. Amen.

Note to readers: If you want to understand the full effect of God’s grace, I encourage you to read the entire book of Romans.

Love keeps no records of wrongs…

My husband couldn’t sleep, and his frustration about it woke me up at 3:45 this morning. I snapped at him as he stomped around the room, and then I stewed about it next to him for another 45 minutes. I finally got up at 4:30. I usually wake up at 5, so being awake since 3:45 is not really that much of a difference. Still, I kept thinking of all the ways he was terrible this morning, how I could retaliate, and how intent I was on giving him attitude should he get up with me….

❤️ Love is patient. Love is kind. It is not self-seeking.
It’s not easily angered. It keeps no records of wrongs. ❤️

Sigh. Yes Lord.

Marriage can be a tough road. Not 3:45 in the morning tough…that’s the easy kind of tough. The tough part is when the two of you don’t see eye to eye, when one person feels like the scales are unbalanced, or when hurt or distrust resides next to the promise to love for better or for worse. Your spouse is the closest person to you. They get to see all your best parts, as well as all your worst. If the marriage is a true partnership, this reality can only draw you closer. But if trust isn’t there, these are the things that can be your undoing.

I’ve been in both kinds of marriages. I’ve been in the one where any imperfection on my part was scrutinized, while my trust of him was broken over and over again. Threats ruled that marriage: threat of hurt, threat of leaving, threat of retaliation… And then there’s the marriage I’m in now, where I can get mad at him over waking me at 3:45, but also know that we love each other immensely, even when we’re in a fight. It’s because trust is there, and there’s safety in our marriage.

If you’re reading this, I pray you get to live in that second kind of love, the one where you feel safe, where honor rules, and where you can back down in times when you feel the scales are tipped because you know that weight shifts from your spouse’s favor to your favor just as often. It’s no mistake that this verse is often used as the marriage verse (it was ours!). It’s the kind of love God has for us and wants from us. When your marriage follows the principle of this verse, your marriage honors God. ❤️

Be still

This morning as I read through Exodus, which I do through my YouVersion app on my phone, I accidentally highlighted this verse. I saw it as a sign that this was the verse God had for me today.

The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still. ~ Exodus 14:14

In Exodus 14, the Israelites have fled Egypt and are now camped near the sea. When they see that Pharaoh and his army are pursuing them, they became terrified and cried out to God. Moses reassures them by saying “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still (13-14).”

Then Moses raised his staff and the Lord parted the sea so that the Israelites could cross to the other side. When the Egyptians tried to follow, Moses stretched his hand over the sea, and it went back into place, covering the entire army of Pharaoh so that the Israelites were safe.

Reading the verse that God pointed me toward this morning, I can’t help recalling all the times when I have been afraid or overwhelmed while facing my own sea of anguish and turmoil. Back when I started this blog in 2005, I was going through a nasty divorce and custody battle, and recovering from a marriage that had included physical and mental abuse, poverty, and depression. Back then, I had a hard time seeing what God had in store for me. At times, my anguish was unbearable as I allowed fear to rule my faith. God was still in the midst of leading me out of “slavery,” but I had a hard time seeing the whole picture. Just like the Israelites, I kept forgetting all of the miracles God had performed to get me to where I was, and I could only see how uncomfortable I was in the moment I was in.

I didn’t realize that God had a plan.

I’m writing a book right now that includes themes of abuse and a custody battle. It’s a thinly veiled method of coming to terms with my past, and remembering things I have worked at forgetting over the years. As I came upon a scene when the main character was facing her abuser after leaving him, I returned to my earlier entries in this blog so that I could recall how it felt to face my own abuser in court. As I read, I could feel my whole body tense up and my stomach twist in knots as I recalled the fear I felt just by being in my abuser’s vicinity. It didn’t matter that we were surrounded by people or that I had support. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t touch me. I was terrified. I was afraid of what he was thinking about me, what he would say in court, and who he would turn against me. In that moment, I saw him as bigger than God, and I placed all my trust in him. I couldn’t see anything else.

But God was with me. I didn’t know it then, but He was still working the miracle. He led me through stormy seas that included a lot of hurt, discomfort, betrayal, confusion, and hopelessness. Just as the Israelites did, I continued to cry out to Him, in anguish over the pain I was going through while my ex appeared to be prospering. I couldn’t see why I had to suffer, and at times I felt like God had left me.

Thing is, God never left. 

While reading Exodus, it’s easy to look at the Israelites and believe they’re spoiled brats and are blind to all that God’s doing for them. I mean, God saves them from the Egyptians, gives them manna from Heaven, and performs numerous miracles in front of them. And yet, they continue to grumble and complain. They even go so far as to create a golden calf and call that their god, spitting in the face of the Lord as they forget everything God has done.

How many times have we done the same thing? I know I have.

It’s interesting to look back at the words I wrote 12 years ago, knowing all that’s happened since then. While in the midst of my divorce and custody battle, I could see little else than the struggle I was in. I was in my own journey through the desert (which, thankfully did not take 40 years!). I didn’t realize the miracle God was working though that journey. He delivered me through fear, blasphemy, mental imprisonment, and depression. He held my hand when I eventually needed a restraining order, and he offered encouragement through whispers, and through the support of a community of family and friends.

He’s there every time I kneel in prayer. He’s there every time I forget his generosity and I turn my back on Him. He’s there every time I realize I can’t do this without Him. He’s there, because He loves me with an unfailing love, and He promises to never leave me. 

The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.

2005 seems so long ago. I survived the custody battle and divorce. I healed from my wounds. I got a job and learned how to support myself and the kids. I married a man who honors me with his love and respect, and who I love in the same way. I have a voice now. I am stronger in my faith. I see the bigger picture now. On the other side, I can see why God had me go through so much turmoil and pain. He was only preparing me for the life I have now.

I’m only human, though. I still have moments of discomfort when I cry out to God. In the back of my mind, I now know that He is working a plan. However, I still experience faithlessness and impatience as I yearn for peace and comfort.

But how would I grow stronger if I never had to struggle?

As long as we rely on ourselves and place our faith in anything but God, we will continue on an aimless journey through the desert of our discomfort. But when we submit to God’s will, resting our lives in His hands so that He can fulfill his plan for us, He will deliver us to the promised land — the place He’s been leading us all along.

Lord, thank you for all the times you have saved me from myself in this journey. I have been nowhere near a perfect daughter, and yet you embrace me every time I come back to you. When will I learn that you are always with me? When will I let go of my fears and trust that you know what you’re doing? You know what you’re doing. I am blessed beyond measure because of your grace, and I know that you are not finished with me yet. All I am, all I have, all I’ll ever be is because of you. Thank you, Lord. Amen.

A Hebrews 11 kind of faith

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” – Hebrews 11:1

“And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” – Hebrews 11:39-40

I was taught once to thank God for everything I’m praying to Him about as if I’ve already received it. Faith meant to believe God would provide this thing I so desperately wanted. And I agree that it’s good to have faith in God’s generosity and grace. However, there’s a second part to that. Sometimes the things we want are not actually God’s plan for us. There are times when we’ll want something so bad, and we’ll pray to God for it, and God’s answer is NO. Here’s the thing. God doesn’t just say no, He says, “I have something better planned.” He can see the outcome of everything. He knows the best path we should take. He knows what will bring us closer to Him, and what is in our best interest.

Years ago, I started working at the newspaper. It had always been my dream to work there, and I finally got my foot in the door when I landed a job doing grunt work in the advertising department. Save for the usual work stresses, all was well with this job…until it wasn’t. The newspaper was going through some tough times, and my job was next on the chopping block. I needed to find something else, or I was going to lose my job. As a single mother with no other source of income, this was not an option.

I discovered that one of our family’s friends was hiring for a real estate secretary. I immediately applied. Then I told my parents about this job. My dad urged my mom to apply for this job, as well. As soon as I learned of this, I knew my chances of getting this job were none. My mom had a lot more experience than I did, and this family friend would hire her over me any day. I was furious with my parents, and I went into that interview with my sails deflated.

Needless to say, I did not get that job and my mom did. However, weeks later I learned of a new position at the company I worked for in page layout, the department that structured the newspaper every day. I applied, and the job was mine. I not only got a pay increase, I also was bumped from PT to FT. I got benefits, holiday pay, and vacation time. It was a huge step up! Later, this job would give me the legs I needed to move into the newsroom with a writing gig, and to see an even bigger boost in my pay and benefits.

Here’s the kicker. A few months into the page layout position, I began seeing one of my coworkers. Things progressed between us, and we’ve now been married for 4 years. He is the love of my life. I never knew I could be loved so well by anyone.

Had I gained that job I wanted way back when, I never would have realized my dream of working in the newsroom, and I would not be married to my husband. This is unfathomable to me! I was asking God for something, and he said NO because he had something better planned.

Currently, I still work in the newsroom (and my mom is still very happy at the job she applied for…and we still love each other, lol). And times are still tough at the newspaper. My job requirements have increased and I often feel like collapsing at the end of my week because of the insane amount of stress I’m under. On the side, I’m also a novelist, and I pray daily that God will bless my novels and help them reach more readers, allowing me to sell enough books so that I can quit my day job. So far, God’s answer has been NO. Or maybe God is saying NOT YET. Perhaps he is saying I HAVE A BETTER PLAN. This is my test to have patience and faith in God. He’s always taken care of me, and he’ll take care of me now. He knows what’s best, and he has a plan. My job is to have faith and know that God has only the best plan in place.

God has a plan for you. He knows your heart’s desire. He knows what you so desperately seek. Have faith that God will provide, but be open to receiving what God knows is best for you. Often, this will look like nothing you asked for. And often, it opens the door for something way better. So when you pray, don’t be afraid to ask God for that thing you want with all your heart, but when you thank God, thank Him for taking care of you by giving you what you really need.

Grace and peace to you all.

Store your treasure in Heaven

Sometimes I am tempted to seek my own glory. And when I do, my ego gets bruised when things don’t work out. Life feels bad. When I place my hopes and dreams on earthly matters and things, I always come away disappointed.

But Lord, when I focus on you, everything makes sense. Everything works out. Everything is so simple, so complete.

I ask you now to help me stay strong in you. Help me to not place so much weight on the things I want in this world. Help me to remember what’s really important – YOU. Help me to keep my eyes trained on you, and all my actions pure. And help me to let go of my pride.

It’s not for my glory, but yours. ❤️

All things good

It’s easy to focus on the bad news out there, or the angry emotions you’re feeling, on the unjust treatment you’ve experienced, on the sins of those around you, and in your own shortcomings. It’s easy to see only the negative. But in doing so, you are missing the miracle. 
Focus, instead, on the good in this life. The smile from a stranger. The unexpected good deed. The sunrise. Each and every blessing. 

If you keep looking for the good, the good will keep finding you. But if you stay focused on the bad, you’ll become overwhelmed and weighed down by the negative. ❤️ 

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
Philippians 4:8

Seek first the kingdom of God

Here, Jesus is telling others to stop worrying about the things of this world, and concern themselves more with eternity. Rather than using all of one’s energy to stockpile provisions for a comfortable life, Jesus says to put that energy toward a life with Him.

In this verse, He promises you will have everything you need if you seek the kingdom of God first. Notice He doesn’t say you will have everything you WANT. But he does promise that all of our needs will be met if we live a God driven life. And the life in eternity will be magnificent.

This life we are living now is only temporary. The pains of this world are only temporary. The sucky job, the never-ending bills, the judgment from the world…all temporary. But the glory of God’s kingdom is forever.

___

This verse is reaching me today. Currently, I am facing a lot of big bills. My daughter is a senior in high school, and gearing up for college. There is no college fund, only because I spent most of her life as a single mom. The expense of college is falling on her shoulders, and I will help as I can. But there’s only so much money.

Beyond that are a couple of present stresses that are weighing on my shoulders:
– my daughter’s car is at its end and she needs a new one so she can get to work.
– my daughter has reached that tender age of testing independence. She wants to be considered an adult with no boundaries, but still have her life funded by me and her stepdad. The power struggle is real.
– I’m having dental surgery in a few weeks, and they want to do some work I can’t afford – like pulling a tooth and giving me a $5,000 implant.
– I’m working at a job I hate that is eating me alive, but the pay is better than I can get elsewhere. Every day I fight the urge to quit.
– I want to write books for a living, but I can’t wrap my mind around how to sell the ones I’ve written. I’ve spent thousands of dollars and raked in low hundreds. I’m starting to wonder if this is just a far-fetched dream that’s keeping me from being happy about anything else.

Reading this verse this morning gave me a little nudge on the truth about this life. It’s only temporary. And God will provide what I NEED. My concern should only be on my forever life.

If I don’t make it as an author in this life, so be it. I still get to pour my soul into my writing.

If I don’t have enough money to be rich and relax, so be it. I’m blessed that I’ve learned how to manage what I have so that my bills are paid and our needs are met.

My job might not be my ideal career, but I have opportunities there to do God’s work. And I’d be happier if I focused on working for God rather than working for “the man.”

My daughter might be difficult right now, but she’s only preparing for that time when she’s truly independent. My job is to help her prepare for that by standing firm with necessary boundaries, and to parent her with the future in mind. My job is to stay level-headed in my parenting, and not parent out of emotion or ego.

And it’s just teeth. 😁

Seek the kingdom of God above money, job, pride, ego, relaxation, a comfortable retirement, the desire to be right, and the desire to be accepted. Seek the kingdom of God above being amazingly fit, recognized, apologized to, admired, and rewarded. Seek the kingdom of God above your dreams, your worldly desires, and your comfort level.

Seek the kingdom of God above all else and He will take care of you. He will protect you. He will ensure you will never be without. He will provide a way. Follow God, focus your energy on Him, and you will find happiness. Do for others instead of concerning yourself with only your needs, and God will provide so that you never need for anything.

If I live as a resident of Heaven, God will ensure my every need is met.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you

One of my favorite verses. And one of the hardest to remember.

We are going through a hard time with our youngest teenager right now. It’s normal, as in he’s going through the regular bursts of anger, seeing where he fits in as a freshman in high school, and testing to see how far he can be disrespectful in our household. And it’s unique because he’s dealing with missing his father who lives far away and resentful that his stepdad is the one who is filling his father’s role.

The past few days have been terrible. But God takes times like these and makes things new. My son went to new levels in his disrespect, leaving my husband and me raw in our frustration. What do you do when your child is old enough and big enough that you can’t rein him in?

You trust on God. You gather wisdom from God. And you trust that the lessons you gave your son as he grew will stay with him.

My husband and I did not act for a full day. We weren’t sure what to do. I could think of a million ways I could get revenge on my son, that was how angry I was. But I could think of no way to encourage him to not turn against us, and to see we were actually on his side.

God worked through him, and probably faster because we weren’t yelling at him. My son texted me yesterday from the nurse’s office. He was overwhelmed. He was on the verge of a panic attack.

He needed help.

I left work immediately, taking the rest of the day off. And we went for a drive. During that drive, I let him talk about everything that has been plaguing him. And he admitted he was sorry. He was still angry. But he was sorry to react the way he’s been. He said he hadn’t been himself.

Last night, my husband and I sat down and talked with my son as a family, and we came to peaceful agreements on how we are all to treat one another.

And on a side note, my husband and I are planning to fly my son out to see his dad for a week. It’s been a year and a half since he’s seen him. I’m hoping this will help.

In times of worry, or in times when I feel like the world (or just my teenagers!) are against me, this verse tells me that God is still with me. He’s always there to lean on, to offer wisdom, to give comfort, and to help me through the difficulty. I never have to go through it alone.

Thank you, Lord, for your faithfulness. Thank you for never leaving me to handle the hard things on my own. Thank you for working through us, because without you, we’d make a royal mess of everything. I love you. Amen.

Can I pray for you?

In reading Isaiah 38 this morning, I read about King Hezekiah, who was told by God that his life was ending. Hezekiah prayed to God, and God granted him another 15 years. 
There was a time in my life when I questioned the point of prayer. After all, God has an almighty plan, and everything is laid out as it should be. So why pray if everything happens for a reason? 
Thing is, God does hear our prayers. And our prayers can help to change ourselves, our world, our circumstances, and anything else that needs intervention from God to make things right. There is power in our prayer. Sometimes God will offer clarity to a situation. And sometimes God will change a specific course because of our petition. God is mighty enough to rule the Universe. But he is small enough to hear our prayers. 
So, can I pray for you, and you pray for me? My fervent prayer is for the marriage of my sister and her husband. They are pregnant with their first child, and their marriage is very rocky right now. Could you pray that God will intervene, and help them to strengthen their marriage as their family grows? And then, will you leave a comment how I can pray for you? 
Let’s all work together to petition God for change. 💕