Not by the Sweat of our Brow

August 9, 2020 by  
Filed under Faith, Faith Articles

By Jennifer Slattery –

We’re a “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” type of people. We take great pride in a job well done, an obstacle conquered, and a goal reached. Self-help books frequent the best-seller’s lists with titles like, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Act like a Woman, Think Like a Man, and The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, and yet, society as whole, has not changed.

Not to say that there hasn’t been progress. Better health practices, iPhones, and wireless Internet has made life easier. But morally, for the most part, we’re the same. At least from where I’m sitting. Some say we’re worse. I’m not sure if that’s the case, but I don’t see the euphoria that all those self-help books and documentaries should have created if they worked.

As a writer, I spend a great deal of time studying others, and once I make it past the outward smile or the teeth-gritting stick-to-it-ness, I begin to see some very dark and lonely hearts. And although I am limited to the study of those with whom I am in contact with, from where I sit, it seems like those who frequent the self-help section the most are often some of the most miserable.

They’ll make progress for a while. They’ll read books, post notes to their mirrors, doorframes and cupboards, but over time, their best efforts fizzle, sometimes even leaving them worse than they were before. Where is the progress the five steps promise? Ah, but we’ve found the solution. We’ll just try another book, and then another, and then another. And if we try harder, and commit, next time will be different. We’ll find the perfect relationship, lose those pesky twenty pounds, eradicate our insecurities, and suddenly gain the confidence to feel comfortable in our skin. And so the never-ending cycle continues. Our drive for perfection, fueled by our momentary successes, until our lives are enslaved by goal sheets, to do lists, and frequently chanted affirmations.

Others seem to float through life on a perpetual cloud of peace. While some marriages fail, theirs deepens. While bitterness consumes others, they are filled with joy, peace, and increasing love. Not a love of convenient reciprocation, but a genuine love that bubbles from within, coloring all they see and do. And so, we raise them up onto our “self-help” pedestal and make an analysis of what they do, focusing on their outward behaviors instead of what drives them. We run for another rag and spruce up the outside of our cup, leaving the inside, our inner selves, untouched. Because stick-to-it-ness can only take us so far, and its effects will last but a moment. Life changes, real life changes, the kind only the Father can provide, last forever.

In Matthew 11:28 Jesus calls us to surrender our burdens so we can relax in His arms. “Come to Me all 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 yours souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus calls us to stop striving, grasping, reaching, and performing. He bids us to come to Him so that we may rest. And as we grow in Him, He takes care of all the rest.

Endurance Training

July 27, 2020 by  
Filed under Faith, Faith Articles

By Jennifer Slattery –

A few years ago, I underwent intense training in order to compete in a triathlon. Having a defined goal to shoot for encouraged me to push past laziness, run through drizzle, and fight against my self-justifying tendencies. I had a two part-goal: To develop endurance and to train muscle memory. Muscle memory is when your body responds as if by instinct, allowing your body to work more effectively.

Endurance comes through repetition and consistently pushing your body one step, one hill, one mile farther. They call this “brick-workouts” and like the cement blocks that hold a house aright, these long training sessions carry the athlete through the bulk of their race. They in turn have a two-part function: to develop an “I can” mind-set and reduce the amount of fatigue an athlete experiences during a race.

In our spiritual lives, trials and disappointments often serve the same purpose. They take the sting out of many of life’s events, enabling us to press through without giving up. The first trial might leave us sore and trembling, like a first work-out does, but over time, it gets easier. In fact, we develop “spiritual memory.” Our actions, like responding in love when we’ve been wronged or biting our tongue in a tense situation, become more natural, and soon turn into habit.

And like with running, the mental component here is equally important. Everything is more manageable when we face it with the right mindset. If we have other “brick-workouts” to look back on, suddenly our current training session doesn’t appear so daunting. In fact, we know we can make it through because we’ve done it before.

But like with any training, the minute we take our eyes off the goal—the minute we quit moving forward, we start slipping backward. This leads to unsightly flab. It’s easy to spot the physical flab. It encircles our mid-section, widens our backsides, and creates less than appealing jiggles in diverse areas. Spiritual flab is often equally apparent—quick tempers, apathy, selfishness. To truly battle the “bulge,” we need to take our training seriously. Otherwise we give in to comfort more often than not, and choose the path of least resistance.

My current exercise schedule is a perfect example. Now that I’m not training, I find it increasingly difficult to stay on task. My rest days grow more frequent and I don’t approach my work-outs with the same intensity. Break a sweat? I’d rather not. Feel the burn? Maybe tomorrow. Or Friday. Better yet, next week. The result? A little more cushion around my middle and less endurance to carry me through the day.

I think our spirituality is a lot like that. Without goals and intentionality, we’ll muddle through, never quite breaking a sweat, and thus, lingering near immaturity. But God has called us to more. He’s called us to excellence—to run after Him with everything we’ve got. Why?

Searching for a Sign

May 13, 2020 by  
Filed under Faith, Faith Articles

By Jennifer Slattery –

I’m a planner, a plotter, a long-term thinker. Give me a to-do list and a game plan and I’m content to trudge forward indefinitely. Send me on a detour and I’m likely to hit panic mode—especially if the end of the road is shrouded from view. So, when God first called me into writing—asking me to venture off my well-thought out, meticulously outlined, twenty-year plan—I spent a fair amount of time arguing.

Only I never openly admitted to this. Oh, no. I cloaked my arguments in “prayers for guidance and discernment.”

And God’s response? “I’ve already told you how to please Me.”

Bam!

In John chapter six, the crowds listening to Jesus raised the same smoke screen. They asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’” (John 6:30-31).

A harmless question, right? On first glance, it appears no different than the one Thomas asked after Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:25).

And yet, Jesus offered night and day responses to the two demands. With Thomas, He provided exactly what Thomas needed—proof(John 6:26-28).

Why the difference? Did Jesus love Thomas more than the crowd?

In order to fully understand the event, we need to read the whole story. You see, the crowds weren’t looking for a sign, but instead, an excuse. They wanted a loophole, a reason to justify lack of faith.

John chapter six tells us this crowd followed Jesus wherever He went because “they saw His miraculous signs as He healed the sick.” A few verses down, Jesus offered them yet another sign and fed 5,000 hungry people by multiplying five barley loaves and two fish.

The next day, after a rather stormy night, the crowd returned, probably looking for more food—more answers to their physical problems in the here and now. At this point, Jesus directed them toward a bigger picture—an eternal picture, and initially, the people responded with enthusiasm.

“Then they asked him, ‘We want to perform God’s work, too.’” {Translation: How can we multiply loaves and fish?} ‘What should we do?’” (John 6:28).

Ah, how we like to work for things, to feel important, to see progress, and know we’re taking steps toward a logical end. But then God flips things; reminding us it’s not about us at all, but about trusting in Him.

“Jesus told them, ‘This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the One He has sent’” (John 6:29 NLT).

Uh-oh. This is no longer about bread and fish. Now Jesus told them to put action to their claims. To take a leap of faith.

And it was here that they demanded a sign: “So they asked him, ‘What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’” (John 6:30-31 NIV).

And up went the smoke screen. “Give me one more sign, one more confirmation, a bit more clarity. Show me this is a foolproof plan, a well-marked trail. Give me a guarantee.”

To which God replied, “I’ve given you all the signs, all the evidence, all the clarity you need. Now it’s time to follow Me.”

Has God Forgotten?

April 4, 2020 by  
Filed under Faith, Faith Articles

By Jennifer Slattery –

About six years ago, our family went through a period of unemployment. Trying to stay out of debt, we sold our house, loaded our belongings into storage, and moved into a five-hundred-square-foot, rent-by-the-month apartment. In that moment, it would have been easy to allow our circumstances to swallow us in despair, to show the watching world our faith centered on life-events and not on an unchanging, ever-loving, sovereign God. And yet, praise God, His all-powerful Spirit penetrated past our fears, doubts, and sadness to our core, drawing us to His side. Reminding us of His bigger plan—a plan He promises to work out despite, perhaps even in the midst of, our dark hours. In fact, it can be those very events that nearly break us that ultimately prepare us for or lead us to God’s plan for our lives.

Think of Joseph and imagine what must have gone though his mind after his brothers sold him into slavery. How could they? Why him? It wasn’t fair!

Then there’s David, anointed by Samuel to be the king of Israel, later hiding out in caves in fear for his life.

Was God still in that, or had He lifted His Sovereign hand?

And what about Paul as Roman officers bound him in Acts 27? Was his ministry done? Thwarted? Delayed?

If you read these Scripture accounts carefully, you’ll realize God was in control all along, working out His divine plan, placing His children where He needed them to be, when they were ready to be there.

Let’s look at Joseph:

He was sold into slavery, falsely accused of attempted rape, and thrown into prison. Place yourself in his position. You’ve been stripped of your family, your possessions, your very dignity and quite frankly, the situation appears hopeless. There’s no constitutional right to a trial by jury, or a trial at all, for that matter. In fact, quite likely the one who threw you into prison has forgotten about you completely. Human logic tells you it’s all over. Hope is gone. You will spend the rest of your life, forgotten, in a damp prison cell.

But truth tells you a different story. God, the author of all truth says He will never leave you nor forsake you. He says even now, cowering in a damp cell with each day merging with the next, He sees you, and thinks of you. Not only does He think of you, but His thoughts toward you outnumber the very sands on the shore—which means He thinks of you constantly. He’s not leaving you to rot. Quite the opposite. He’s lovingly, carefully, attentively molding you into His masterpiece, making you into the person He already sees you to be.

What about David? Had the sinful behavior of others—those who sought his life—hindered God’s plan? Or does God’s sovereignty and very good plan continue, despite the failings of sinful man? Could each step, each hardship, each hurdle, actually be part of His very good plan—a plan that will one day place us in positions of authority (Joseph) and honor (David), speaking to powerful rulers (Paul)?

Meditate on the following verse today and hold tight to it the next time trials and temptations come your way. This is God’s promise to you.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Father, Unveil Our Hearts

February 26, 2020 by  
Filed under Faith, Faith Articles

By Jennifer Slattery –

“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split” (Matthew 25:41 NIV).

Most of us have heard that verse countless times. It occupies the chorus of songs and the the thrust of countless prose. Most likely we could quote it without much thought. In fact, I wonder if we’ve heard it so many times, the reality of what happened on the cross loses impact. We’ve grown so accustomed to the idea of “communing” with God, we forget what a privilege—no, miracle, it is.

To the first century Jew, the tearing of the temple curtain would have  been a knee-knocking, mind-blowing, heart-stirring, worship-inducing event.

For centuries, they’d known God as the Holy One, Almighty, El Sheddai, the Creator of the heavens and the earth who, upon occasion, met with a few select men. Like Adam before the fall, or Noah, or Abraham and Moses. They remembered the Ark of the Covenant, which signified God’s presence, and the great care the priests had to take in transporting it. God wasn’t Someone they took lightly, nor someone they expected to commune with. Perhaps they dreamt of one day hearing God’s voice like the young boy Samuel did as he lay upon his mat, but that’s where their hopes remained—in their dreams.

Until one day a plain looking man claiming to be God hung upon a cross, and cried out to heaven with his dying breath. Those who gathered around Him—some mocking, some gawking, some crying—felt the earth beneath them tremble. Darkness fell over the land and then, with a mighty rip, the curtain barring sinful man from the Holy of Holies—the place where God Himself dwelled—ripped apart from top to bottom. The barrier erected centuries past severed before their very eyes.

Can you imagine what that would have felt like? The joy, fear, confusion that must have welled up inside them as they looked upon the curtain, now flayed open before them? After centuries of waiting, of praying, of dreaming, the God of their fathers said, “Come. I have removed the barrier. I want to commune with you like I did with Adam. I want to share my heart with you like I did with Abraham.”

God says the same thing to us today. He invites us to catch a glimmer of His glory, experiencing the awe those ancient Jews must have felt on that victorious day.

Let us not become so accustomed to the Christian phrases and hymnals that we lose sight of the miracle. The Creator of the Universe, the Holy One, asks us to come and sit at His feet. He’s taken away everything that would keep us from Him. If you’re a redeemed child of God, the only thing standing in the way of unhindered fellowship with your Creator are those things you allow. Today think upon the veil when it first tore and worship Christ afresh. Don’t let apathy or business rob you of the divine romance. Pause and ask God to unveil your heart, drawing you into His.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (Psalm 51:10-12 NIV).

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