Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Treasure Hunt Tuesday: The Center of God's Kindness

Last week I was listening to a podcast episode when one line stopped me in my tracks. Annie F. Downs was in the middle of a conversation with Jefferson and Alyssa Bethke, and they had begun to talk about contentment in different seasons of life. When I heard Annie say these words, I had to pause, listen again, and write them down:

“Just remember you’re in the center of God’s kindness for you.”

She’d had a friend give her that encouragement one evening, and she wrote the words on her mirror to keep reminding herself as well. But they gave me pause. I want to believe that. I need to remember it. But is it really true? In my everyday life, in every circumstance, am I in the center of God’s kindness for me?

What about you? What does that phrase stir up inside you? Does it seem too good to be true? Does it negate or water down His justice and righteousness?

As I’ve processed those words with the Lord over the last several days, it’s remarkable how many references He has brought to my mind on how He’s spoken the truths of His love and kindness to me time and again over so many years, yet I somehow still need to hear them once more. I know in my head God always loves me, but I often forget the tenderness, compassion, and kindness wrapped up in His covenant love. Yet He is gracious to remind me…

I think back to Beth Moore’s Breaking Free study, how in the lessons from week 5, we focused on the portion of Isaiah 61:1 that declares, “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted” (NIV84).

After expanding on the meaning of the Scripture by digging into the original Hebrew definitions and cross-referencing other passages, Beth encourages us to think of a particular moment in our lives where we felt our heart had been completely broken. Once we have one in mind, she poses this question:

“Did you have any idea at the time that God cared so much He aimed His Son straight toward your heart?”

Take that in with me for a bit. At the moment a loved one dies, when a friendship shatters, or when a dream crashes down at your feet, God sets His target like a bullseye as these tender words prove true:

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
       and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

            ~ Psalm 34:18 (NIV84) 

Beth points out, “God only had one arrow in His quiver,” His one and only Son, and He gave Him up for us all. He sent Him “to preach good news to the poor… to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives,” (Isaiah 61:1, NIV84) and so much more. I am eternally grateful.

But as touching as it is to be reminded how we are at the center of God’s kindness when we are brokenhearted, what about in times of discipline? 

Hebrews 12:6 responds with the truth that “the Lord disciplines the one He loves” (ESV, emphasis mine).

In his study When Life Is Hard: Turning Your Trials to Gold, James MacDonald continues this answer by saying, “God disciplines you because He loves you. Far from folding His arms, God rolls up His sleeves to get ready to do something good in your life. Far from abandoning you when you go through difficult trials, God moves toward you… In fact, trials are proofs of love.”

It seems crazy to think trials and discipline can be proof of love and kindness, but MacDonald reminds us God always has the goal of “restoration to a deeper sense of His love” and that “He is going for change in you at the deepest and most lasting level.” It may be painful in the moment, but it is kindness indeed.

It is even God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (see Romans 2:4). We were dead in our sins and enslaved by the passions and pleasures of this world. “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy.” (Titus 3:4-5a, NIV84)

Oh, how grateful I am for God's mercy, love, and kindness! All we have to do is come to Jesus to accept these free gifts. If you haven't already, I pray you will come to know His kindness and love for you personally as well.

So today I will rejoice afresh in being in the center of God’s kindness to me. (I might have a classic Chris Tomlin song running through my head, too!) And I will ask the Lord to keep reminding me of truth in moments when it feels too good to be true. My prayer echoes that of David,

“Keep me as the apple of Your eye;
     hide me in the shadow of Your wings.”  

        ~ Psalm 17:8 (NIV84)

P.S. Be sure to check out the entire episode of Annie’s That Sounds Fun Podcast with Jefferson and Alyssa Bethke. While the quote I shared was from right in the middle of the conversation, there was so much other great stuff as well. I loved hearing their thoughts on Sabbath practices toward the end of the episode, too.

And Annie shares a lot more about her wrestling with the truth of God’s kindness in her latest book, Remember God. (It’s the one that inspired my Christmas cards!)

I’d love to hear from you as well! How has God been showing His kindness to you lately? Or do you struggle to believe He is truly kind?

Are there any treasures you’ve been finding that you’d like to share? Always feel free to leave a comment or send me a message!

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Treasure Hunt Tuesday: Counting Days and Making Them Count

If you know me very well, you might be able to guess that one of my favorite treasures from this past week was the gorgeous weather we had on Sunday. Just a few days removed from the bitterly cold temperatures and dangerous wind chills that led schools in the area to close, the warm weekend was quite a welcome respite. I definitely had to make the most of it! After worship services that morning, I headed to the lake to go for a walk without even needing a jacket. Then I chose a picnic table overlooking the water to read, journal, and pray, trying to soak up as much of the beauty as possible. Somehow views like this always bring a little extra peace to my soul.

I knew the glimpse of spring wouldn’t last long, so even though the teaser made me want to count down to the real change of seasons, I mostly wanted to be sure to take advantage of the short time of sunshine and warmth I had in the moment.

The urgency to make the most of a beautiful day is good for my spirit, but it’s reminding me of a much more essential and needed awareness. Our church is in the middle of a sermon series right now called “One Month to Live,” inspired by a book of the same title by Kerry and Chris Shook. It is challenging me in so many ways, and I keep coming back to our theme verse of Psalm 90:12. The New Revised Standard Version articulates it this way:

“So teach us to count our days 
that we may gain a wise heart.”

Life is short. We are wise to remember this fact, yet we so often lose sight of its truth in the midst of our busy lives. What if we lived every day with full awareness of the brevity of our time on earth? How would it change our priorities, our actions, and our relationships? How would I go about my life today if I knew I had only one month left to live? What do I need to do differently in appreciating that my life is “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes”? (See James 4:14, NIV84.)

As I’m longing to make each day count, I’m reminded of a song by Chris Rice on this theme as well. (And I have to admit, the nostalgia of looking up his entire “Short Term Memories” album that I hadn’t listened to in years was a bit of a treasure, too, even if it dates me!)

"Teach us to count the days
Teach us to make the days count
Lead us in better ways
Somehow our souls forgot
Life means so much..."

I don’t want my soul to forget. Life is short, so let’s make it count. And as Galatians 5:6 reminds us,

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (NIV84)

How are you making the days count? What is one thing you would do differently if you had just one month to live? Is there someone you would you reach out to in love? What action can you take in that direction today?

I pray the treasures of giving and receiving love will overflow your heart this week!

Bonus Treasure: The following blog post definitely resonated with me in my current stage of life, but I think it’s worth reading no matter what your age. We can all use the extra reminders to live life to the full wherever we are, making the most of the time we’ve been given.

As always, feel free to leave a comment or send me a message. I’d love to hear about any treasures you are discovering from day to day as well!