By Heather Allen-
When I was six I was overcome. I knelt down and confessed that I sinned, regularly, I needed someone who would intervene. I became a teenager. I wrestled with staying home from the parties that would spiral into intoxication and sensuality. Not because I wanted to go, but because I didn’t want to be left out. But then five drunken lives are permanently altered as their car runs off the road and headlong into a tree. Three are dead, two shattered, and my public school turned into a funeral home. The consequences of compromise are far worse than being alone. Weeks after death and regret, the parties kick up again. The pattern repeats. God stands near to the broken, will we turn, will we bid He intervene?
I become an adult. I look for a new pattern. Surely the church is transformed. Surely believers extend their arms. Surely, we the beloved of God flood love on all that is broken. But it is not so, and the mildew starts here in my own hearth. Growing from an insecure doubt that I am not who God says.
The foundation has been laid. Years and years ago. But human insecurity never quits whispering “You are not enough, you will never be enough.” I hold hands with the enemy inclining my head in agreement. “So here is the plan, look around you…you’re better than that guy over there, but you’re a loser compared to her. She would never be your friend, so just ignore her.” And it turns out that he has substance to spare, and she is hurting for a true friend.
My daughter and I take a drive. She abruptly turns to me “When we seek God’s glory we find our empty, lonely emotions overcome by the jolting purposefulness of living in God’s plan.” Is serving God, by loving others, worth trading for the emptiness found in seeking what’s best for self?
We sojourn together you and I, traversing the dusty Earth roads. Will we trip one another, or will we grab hold and run together? Will we live the beautiful blessing of discipleship and fellowship? Will we be the Pharisee or the Good Samaritan? Will we stop to help the ones left to die alone? Will we follow the Pharisee who uttered all the right words and never put them into practice, or will we be the Samaritan who cared more for a broken man than his own reputation, wallet, or time?
A few weeks ago, I walked by a woman who needs my friendship in order to chat with the friend I want. I felt a pinch in my spirit. I appealed for God’s strength to love others better than myself. He reminded me that small deeds of kindness are weightier than I fathom. Intervention in one life affects eternity. Christ made himself of no reputation in order to save us. So when He says “follow me” He is asking us to live from the knowledge that we are loved, valuable, and worth redeeming. This is home. A grounding point from which we find the stability and support to love our fellow traveler.
By Heather Allen —
He summons his advisors; he’s had a dream, and someone better tell him what it means. Magicians, sorcerers, astrologers, and enchanters are scratching their heads. How could they possibly know what Nebuchadnezzar dreamt? But it is their job to know. So they have two options: interpret the dream or be cut into pieces.
A guard comes for Daniel. The dream has not been interpreted, so Daniel’s life is required. Daniel pleads for time, and is granted it. He summons Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and together they seek the Lord. Miracles occur when we gather and pray. God gives Daniel an understanding of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its meaning.
God has used a proud king’s dream to foretell future events. The dream involves a giant statue and accurately predicts the kingdoms that would rule from Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon until the end of days when Christ’s kingdom is established on the Earth. Nebuchadnezzar’s empire was represented by the golden head atop the statue. His empire would be the first of the last. Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar that the kingdoms of men would ultimately be destroyed by the kingdom of God.
Nebuchadnezzar builds an enormous statue. I guess he was inspired by his dream. Perhaps he wanted others to see his greatness, his place as head of the empire. He decrees that the wise men and leadership of Babylon be rounded up so they can bow down and worship his statue. This time they can look forward to being thrown in a fiery furnace if they decline.
Someday this scenario will repeat. Revelation 13:15 says an image honoring the Anti-Christ will be constructed, and all humans will bow or forfeit their lives.
Somehow Nebuchadnezzar missed the import of his dream. His kingdom was temporary and would be crushed.
And that has me thinking. We as believers are given the same reminders. We are told to set our hearts on things above and to travel lightly, like strangers in this world. This world will pass in a flash. The next will last forever. Anything that is built for our glory will fall.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood when everyone else bowed. They knew the dream’s end. They knew that kingdoms built by men do not last. They were willing to stand alone. They laid down their positions and pride, willing to look foolish in order to walk right before God. They reverenced the true King. They would bow to Him alone.
These three men willingly walked death row. They were delivered and then promoted. The pattern repeats through the entirety of the book of Daniel.
I believe promotion comes from God, that a man who walks humbly with His maker is able to handle grander tasks because he has no illusion that he is able to accomplish them on his own. I also believe that God will lovingly keep us where we are positionally if promotion would fuel our pride rather than our dependence. Dependence enables us to stand when others bow. It enables us to walk a harder course, but in the end, we are choosing dependence over pride and life over death.
By Heather Allen –
It is late. A yawn slips past my lips. As I reach for a grocery cart, another mom pushes hers beside me. I smile at her gaggle of children. One of her toddlers stands at her side whimpering. She attempts to carry him with one arm and push her cart with the other. We trail each other from aisle to aisle. As we leave the cereal aisle and head towards paper products, my admiration grows. She herds her sleepy, slightly cranky crew with gentle correction. Her face is etched with exhaustion. Our carts pause simultaneously in front of the toilet paper. We smile at each other and attempt small talk. She tells me she just finished work and the cupboards were bare, so her long day is a bit longer. I silently wonder if she holds it all together by herself.
One of her toddlers reaches for me. I hold his chubby hands in mine. He slips them up around my neck, pulling me close. The yogurt on his face sticks to my cheek as he presses his face close. It does not matter, he needs a hug. Maybe I do too. The mom and I share a look of mutual surprise and joy.
My heart tugs. I remember what she needs, and I begin praying for her. For a few moments, my life is anything but ordinary.
Peter is in jail. James, his friend, is dead. King Herod finds favor with the Jewish leaders for harassing and killing the apostles. But the church is praying. While they gather together to intercede for Peter, an angel visits the jail and sets Peter free. At first he thinks it is a vision or dream, but moments later he greets those who have spent the evening praying on his behalf.
I have to confess, I do not understand how this divine conversation moves heaven to move on our behalf, I only know it does. I know Philipians 4:6 tells us to be anxious for nothing but to spend that energy praying instead. God’s word also tells us that confession brings healing and a persistent prayer life avails much. But then something upsetting happens in my life, and I pause over my contact list wondering who I should call first.
Ah I can be a silly girl. I have the King of heaven and earth asking that I call on Him. Why would I call a human first? His name should be the first on my lips.
I meditate on this. Convinced that the days I have lived extraordinarily are the days when I have responded to His presence, when my life has revolved around someone infinitely greater than I. This means talking to strangers when He prompts me and being willing to look foolish. It means choosing humility over self-image. It is hard. It is everything that my flesh would have me avoid. And yet, at the end of the day and at the end of my life, I do not want ordinary. I want to walk with Jesus, wherever He leads. Prayer is my response to His presence. It is allowing His thoughts to trump mine and His will to steer mine. It is servant-hood. It is finding my true calling.
Heather Allen –
Last week my son Noah and I had a conflict of interests. I was interested in him obeying. He was interested in playing and ignored what I asked him to do. After ten minutes of discussion and internal prayer, I sat him down. I looked into his bright teary eyes and told him the consequences of his continued disobedience: a week without any video games.
The week before this fairly normal event, I read a few parenting tips. On occasion I have given a consequence for Noah’s action and then released my child in order to model mercy . But one of the tips I read took that idea a step further, encouraging parents to take their children’s consequences from time to time. As much as I like Tetris, it is a rarity for me to play video games. But my, oh my, how I love a hot bath after a long day.
I looked at my son’s sad face and felt compassion. I said I would take his discipline. I would forego a pleasure bath for one week. Honestly, I am not sure what response I was hoping for, but he smiled and said, “You mean I can play video games?” I reminded him about redemption, and why we need it. I thought about pulling out a dry erase board for some illustrations. He looked so happy. Surely, he does not understand how much I like baths!
I did not expect my older children, lingering nearby, to offer to take the consequences by giving up what was important to them. One thought ran through my head as I asked them to join me at the table—I should have thought this through more. I felt we were standing on the brink of great spiritual understanding and I was not sure which direction to go.
If I were having this conversation with God, what would he emphasize? I spent moments throughout the day thinking about this.
I talked to my husband about it as I climbed into bed and kept talking as he snored. Do I remind Noah that his sin costs more than a bath and an apology? Does God remind me of my sin to reveal his salvation?
Romans 7:7 says we know what sin is because of the law. The Ten Commandments are the law. If we break one of these, we have broken them all. Saying sorry does not cover it.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:23-25, NIV).
Sometimes I will be able to carry my children’s consequences, but I cannot atone for their sin. Correction done well teaches children about their inherent value and their need for a Savior.
In our case, it meant reminding Noah that God’s word says children are to obey their parents. When he chooses not to, he not only disobeys us, he disobeys God.
When he understands he has sinned against God, he can also understand there is a consequence. The consequence of sin is death. The one who covered this debt is Christ.
God exposes sin, to reveal his love. Salvation is miraculous and beautiful for those who know how badly they need it.
“Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him” (Romans 4:7-8, NIV).
By Heather Allen –
You do not like your job. He does not like his car. She does not like her yard. I really dislike my kitchen. Add the small things. Scuffed shoes, gray hair peeking out at the root, a belly where there once was toned muscle. Look in the mirror. Wrinkles, receding gums, loose skin. The discontentment builds. Pause to take inventory of what goals have been met, and the tally falls short. But the years are clipping along, sailing faster than it takes to get your life preserver on.
Maybe it is turning forty. Maybe it is having teenagers and remembering when my parents were forty. Mid-life crisis jokes are something we grow up with. We might smirk at the fifty-year-old who has decided to grow a ponytail, get an earring, and buy the Mustang he always wanted.
The only sense I can make of this bittersweet pilgrimage is in scripture. I turn to Psalm 84. “For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” (KJV, Psalm 84:11).
I keep reading.
“O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee” (KJV, Psalm 84:12).
“Define good,” I say to myself.
I meditate on the passage longer. Mentally I have re-worked it to read “no comfortable thing” rather than “no good thing.”
Costs are up. I weave a plan to compensate. I ask God to bless it. The plan unravels. I go back to the drawing board and ask God to look over the plan with me. I do not get a definitive answer. It comes out like this “it is good to wait for the Lord.” And for some reason this makes me cranky, from my gray roots to my chipping pink polished toes.
I start to analyze the situation. I narrow the problem down to my righteousness. Maybe I do not qualify for good things. Perhaps I have not walked uprightly enough. I start thinking about volunteer opportunities and supporting an orphan. And then in the quiet of my plotting a new more righteous course, I am softly reminded that my works will never qualify me for anything good. Verses packed with the truth flow from my lips as I remind myself that Christ is my righteousness. He came to save the lost because we could not save ourselves.
I ask my husband to walk with me. His quiet strength modeling meekness. God provides. Whether it is provisions or righteousness, He always provides.
And almost to punctuate this learning experience, the vise tightens. Expenses grow, the river floods, fishing trips cancel. My fisherman by trade glances at the rivers view from our back deck gauging the flows. I stand next to him, placing my shaky hand in his. He kisses me “trust God.” The river is swollen and muddy, and like all creation, in God’s hand.
I go back to Psalm 84 and think on verse twelve. “Blessed is the man that trusteth in thee.”
And while I am still uncomfortable, I know the truth. Trusting God means waiting on Him to use what looks bad, or scary, or hazy for my good. It means finding my safe spot in Him not in what I have stored up or can manufacture. It is choosing to believe God is love, when Satan tempts me, as he did Eve, to question His goodness toward me.
I choose to believe He does not withhold any good thing from His own.