Category Archives: Devotional

God’s Patience and Bird Box

woman wearing black blindfold facing sidewaysThe popular Netflix movie Bird Box explores what happens when people are exposed to the absolutely worst thing they can imagine. In each scenario, the characters’ response is suicide (unless they were mentally ill).  To protect themselves, the surviving characters walk around with blindfolds on.

The movie made me consider what would be horrible for me. Maybe it would be seeing a true reflection of my heart or witnessing the pure evil in the world. Even now, I am easily overwhelmed by the horrors that happen in our world–a few minutes of the news, and I am ready to blindfold myself. What if we couldn’t walk away though? What if we were subjected to not just a segment of the worlds’ sin, but all of it, all the time?

We Can Walk Away

I am blessed that, for the most part, I can walk away from the ugly reflection of our sin. God, however, cannot. He endures every act of violence, every injury to a child, every misalignment of his character for all time. God could end it too. He could stop the sin and suffering by bringing His mighty judgment.  However, it would have to be one that wipes out the earth though since none of us is innocent. 

Ironically, this seems to be a theme in Bird Box. Those who are insane deliberately try to get others to open their eyes and call it a cleansing.  But this is a cleansing without mercy and without hope. 

God’s response is neither to blindfold himself or to destroy us. Instead, He makes a way out that both respects the grievous effects of sin and the suffering it causes.  

Read the rest here.

Marie Kondo and Loving Our Lives

white surfboard beside white wall white wooden cube bookshelf inside the room Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

“I just got KonMari-ed!” sings the husband from the Holderness Family’s hilarious parody “Tidying Up: The Musical.” In this video, he jokingly complains about all the changes his wife has made based on an organizational strategy spearheaded by Marie Kondo.

This strategy was launched into the limelight when Netflix released a series called Tidying Up featuring Japanese consultant, Marie Kondo. Her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up which has been out for a few years has been a bestselling hit. Her teaching, much of which is satirized in various memes, focuses on keeping items that “spark joy.” She also explains that organizing should be done by category instead of by room, with sentimental items being organized last.

She has other techniques such as using small boxes to organize drawers and folding clothes in a unique way so that you can see what item of clothing it is. Storage bins, she suggests, should be clear to enable you to see the contents as well.  These strategies are all very helpful in having a clearer and accessible vision of the contents of your house.

She also teaches a sense of appreciation for the house. In her show, she makes a point of kneeling on the floor and greeting the house. In one episode, the couple was brought to tears from this moment, explaining that they hadn’t really considered how grateful they were for their home and the memories it held. In addition, before getting rid of an item, Marie Kondo requests that you thank the item.

A Popular Trend

While many have mocked her approach, it has taken the country by storm. A quick look at Google Trends documents the rising popularity, particularly after the Netflix release. Social media, especially Instagram, shows images of organized closets and drawers of people who have “kondo-ed” their houses.

I myself have been inspired by the simple approach she takes to organization.  I love that the goal is not to remove everything but instead to enjoy the space you live in. While some of her antics seem hokey, her emphasis on appreciating and enjoying what you have is appealing to me. Many of us live in our homes with a sense of shame–too tired or overwhelmed to make it work.  We see our cluttered closets, bursting garages, and jumbled drawers and just feel like failures. We live in our homes, but we are also quietly exasperated with them also.

The physical houses we live in aren’t the only ones we have such mixed feelings about. Many of us have the same sense of shame and discontent with the bodies we live in. We see the many areas that need improvement and are locked in shame–without enjoyment of our bodies and without motivation to improve it.

What can we learn from the Marie Kondo method that can apply to our lives as well?

First, we need to appreciate our home, the body.

Before we come to it with any idea of change, we must come with an idea of acceptance, and yes, gratitude. Just as our homes serves its purpose of providing protection from the elements, our bodies serve its purpose of movement and interaction. We should be grateful for limbs that move and organs that work. We are alive because our bodies are working, however inefficiently we think that might be. Just stop and remember all the millions of processes going on in your body right at that moment just so you can be alive. This makes me immensely grateful for this life and all that has to work together so I might be here.

Second, the goal isn’t to look the same.

What I loved about watching the Netflix series was that people, for the most part, did not change the way their homes looked.  They didn’t update their style or decorating ideas or even replace furniture. They maintained their own sense of self–what had changed was their ability to move within the space more easily. Their home became more accessible, not more trendy. They were able to be more in sync with the home they had already created.

We don’t need to achieve some ideal body image in order to love our bodies.  We did not get to choose our bodies like we got to choose our houses, but we can learn to appreciate what it has to offer. What is special about your body? What does it do well?

Perhaps we can learn to look at ourselves and others, not in comparison to some impossible ideal, but in appreciation of its unique contribution. Our goals for self-improvement could be for ease in movement, instead of to conform to a shape that might be popular for the moment. Being healthy and feeling good should trump being a specific size or feeling attractive.

Finally, be empowered to improve your life even when you cannot change it.

I think it’s important to have a healthy idea of what we can accomplish in our lives. We love the messages of nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it, but we all know this really isn’t true. We can always, always improve, but we cannot always change. I cannot change the fact that math is difficult for me. I can improve my math skills though.

What makes Marie Kondo’s method so effective is the sense that we can all do these small things to improve our lives. Even those of us who are organization-challenged can look at her goals and find them doable. No one is perfect, and she even admits that she herself has areas in her house that get cluttered.  

We must offer ourselves some grace with who we are. This is the body that God has chosen for you. The body’s purpose is not to bring us everlasting joy or security or a sense of value. The fact that there are limitations on our bodies is a reminder that we are ultimately not in control.

I can and should try to enjoy my body, my home, and my life, but I also know that this is not all there is.  My hope is not in my ability to pull it all together since there are many things that are impossible for me. My hope, instead,  is in the fact that nothing is impossible for God. While I have limited control over my life, there is nothing He cannot do. God, and God alone, is the worker of true transformation of both body and soul.

I will continue improving my small part of the world while expressing gratitude for the many resources that are available to me. However, I know that my goal is not to make this life perfect. Instead, I put my faith in the One who is perfect and learn to walk in this life that has been gifted to me. In this way, we can all live lives that “spark joy” for us and others.

Faith in A Plan

One of my favorite type of books is the one where the main character has a plan and the audience is left out of it.  We observe, like the other characters, the preparation, and execution of a plan that looks ridiculous. Some even look doomed to failure. Then, at the last moment, a final piece falls together and everything is resolved. The great plan is revealed and the audience is stunned.  There are many examples of this in films like Now You See Me and The Illusionist.  My favorite literary example though is Sherlock Holmes.

Over several stories, we come to trust in Sherlock’s amazing analytical skills. Instead of watching things unravel with fear or concern, we are excited to see how he will pull all the details together, knowing that it is basically impossible for him to fail.

I wonder if this is how it was for the disciples as they watched Jesus do his work. I’m sure his actions seemed bizarre at times. He seemed to wander around with an agenda no one else could recognize. He didn’t even heal people the same way every time–sometimes a word, sometimes they would have to do something, sometimes he made mud and covered their eyes, and so on. Any time they felt they had him pegged, he would do something surprising.

The worst surprise of all was his arrest and crucifixion.  Though Jesus warned them, this did not seem to make sense at all. They were broken and lost–Jesus (or their idea of him) had completely failed them.

Perhaps you feel the same way. Maybe you thought you understood how God worked, but then he did something surprising or allowed something painful to happen or continue. Suddenly, when you thought you were in the know, you realize you don’t actually know what is going on. You feel betrayed by the One you were following so diligently.

I know I have. Surprisingly I thought that if I played my part well, then God would play His. I prided myself on being one of those who “understood” God–who knew how to please him. I did not see that, in reality, my obedience was my way of trying to control God. And God will not be controlled.

When my father died without making a choice for God, my world was shattered. I had prayed, I had shared the gospel, I had done my part and it seemed God did not do his. My father had a heart attack–his final reaction was fear and swearing. He died in the ambulance next to strangers. I don’t have words to explain how much this tears my heart apart. Since the moment I became a Christian as a teenager, I had envisioned what it would be like when my Dad became a believer. But it did not go as planned. I spent months wrestling with God about the possible culmination of one of my worst fears.

At the end of it, I decided to trust that no matter what God is good. I decided to believe that even though it seems God did not care, that He loves my father more than I do. I am choosing to believe that there are things going on that I can’t see.

This speaks to me in the various random things that occur that seem nonsensical. Philosophers argue that chance rules the universe–there is no meaning in the chaos. This is where we can speak our anthem of faith. We trust that somehow all these random events (like the unraveling of even negative events in the movies and books we love) somehow will work together in the end for an ending we couldn’t imagine.

This means we must release our normal, God-given need for resolution for every situation. There will be times when we cannot make sense of things. As Christians, a  large part of our message is about how God can turn things around. Our Christian movies like Facing the Giants and God’s Not Dead have decidedly happy endings for Christians.  However, we know this is not always how things work.  Movies and books like Shusaku Endo’s Silence accurately depict the challenges believers face when there seems to be no point to the suffering, and God seems silent.

Scripture beautifully shows us both–the rejoicing in seeing things amazingly resolved and the lament when we do not. Hebrews 11 reminds us that faith is celebrated when people choose to believe, no matter what the results are.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  Women received back their dead by resurrection.

[Notice the switch here]

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.  Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
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. (vs 32-40)

This second grouping of stories tells of people who “did not receive what is promised.” They did not give up faith though and the author of Hebrews lets us know that God has a plan. Our job is to trust His plan.  We are allowed to lament (the psalms demonstrate this without a doubt), but, we must continue to believe. One day, we will get to see the end of the story and what a surprise ending it will be! I have a feeling, it will be one that we will be glad we did not miss!

The Redemptive Power of Marriage: A Christmas Story

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Over two thousand years ago, you could not find a position much lower than a poor, Jewish girl. Under Roman occupation, a girl like Mary had little political, economic, or social power. Even within her own country, she came from an area that elicited the response from Nathanael (a disciple): “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).  And that is exactly how God wanted it to be.

Time and time again, we see God work His redemptive purposes not through the powerful, attractive, or talented, but through humble and weak people. We even see Him working through a challenging marriage–the marriage of Joseph and Mary.

God Uses the Weak

We know that Mary was young and culturally defenseless, but we also know that Joseph was a respected and pious man. He, or his parents, would have initiated the official engagement that would lead to Mary becoming his wife. At this time, engagements were legally binding. Gifts were exchanged, and all that was left was the consummation of the marriage that would occur after the wedding ceremony. In every other way, they were considered legally wed.

It is during this time that Mary has an angelic visitor. She is told the great news that she will conceive the Messiah. She is confused and questions the angel–she is a virgin and has never been with a man. The angel explains that, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God” (Luke 1:35 ESV). Her confusion is understandable.  This has never happened before in the history of God’s interaction with man. Even still, knowing how difficult this will make her life, and future marriage, she trusts God enough to say yes.

We are not sure how Joseph finds out about this pregnancy. Does she tell him? Do whispers of her growing belly clue him in? We can only imagine his hurt and anger at her supposed infidelity. Even still, he moves to treat her with care, trying to protect her from the worst of the persecution. When an angelic messenger comes to him, though, and reveals the truth of Mary’s claim, he too believes and decides to go forth with the marriage.

A Challenging Marriage

Can you imagine a more awkward start to a marriage? They had both already gone through intense experiences of emotion–he believing his bride had been unfaithful and she believing she would be cast aside and ostracized without a protector. In their fear and hurt, God cemented them together to create a family who would raise His son and change the world.

This marriage is put to the test immediately. Joseph’s decision to marry Mary appears as admission to his own sin. His reputation as a pious man is questioned and the community at large would have viewed them both with derision. The irony is that not only were their beliefs about him incorrect—he goes above and beyond the call of sexual purity. Scripture tells us he is not even intimate with Mary until after Jesus is born.

Read the rest here.

Waiting for God During Your Silent Night

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When we think of Christmas, it is easy to imagine the scene of Jesus’s arrival as a joyous time for all involved. Instead, history shows us that Israel was a powder keg and Jesus was in many ways a match to light it.

Silent, But Not Calm

Over two thousand years ago, the Roman Empire firmly in control of most of the known world, Israel sat quietly–at least on the surface.  Underneath the veneer of subservience, Israel seethed with regret, with holy aspirations, and with a tiny glimmer of hope. Their hope was for the renewed glory of Israel. They had had a taste when they miraculously threw off the yoke of Syrian captivity under the Seleucids.  Their own internal conflicts, however, led them once again under the power of another. Unable to settle their own claims to leadership, they actually invited the Romans in to restore order. They did, by taking control of Jerusalem in 63 B.C. about fifty-seven years before Jesus’s birth.

Added to this politically tumultuous time was the fact that there had been no prophetic voice since the prophet Malachi almost four hundred years prior. Realizing that they had no hope of freedom on their own, they began to hope for the Messiah to rescue them. A lay group of men who wanted to purify themselves by following the Law of God perfectly emerged to help hasten the day.  These men were the Pharisees.

The Silence Broken

It is in this climate of tension that John’s voice first emerged.  He urged repentance and spoke of one to come of whom John was not worthy to untie the straps of his sandals (John 1:27 NLT). Although he looked strange and was not a part of the organized religion of the day, people flocked to hear him speak. They were moved by the power of his words and the power behind his words.

Though Jesus and John were cousins, we can assume they had no meeting until the day Jesus came to be baptized, as John had been raised in the desert by the Essenes. So when John sees Jesus for the first time, he prophecies, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 NLT).  The hoped-for Messiah had arrived, but He was not what they thought. He didn’t come to liberate them from their current external bondage but to liberate them from their internal bondage.

Read the rest here.