A Father Who Runs to Us

By SARAH DAVIS

Shame has a way of spreading through the soul like mold spreads through a house. Shame is different than guilt. It isn’t just feeling remorse or regret about an event in your life, like when our internal moral compass tells us we are in the wrong and indicates a course correction should take place. Shame is the feeling that you are bad and that there is something inherently wrong with you.

My husband encountered a recent disaster on the job site of a large and beautiful home in which he was working. There was a knob that broke off of a sink, followed by substantial volumes of water sprayed at high pressure. Picture a fire hose opened at full throttle in your Pinterest version of a refinished laundry room. The water damage was extensive, leaking through to the ceiling of a finished basement and requiring the ceiling to be ripped out and dried for hours upon hours with industrial fans. Without going to the length of ripping out the ceiling, there was a strong likelihood that mold would spread quickly in the dark and concealed spaces beneath it.

I have come face to face with shame in my own life and have fought my way through the trenches of rediscovering my worth. I had to take a painful look at what was growing beneath the ceiling of my heart. It has been a long journey, and through that process, I have learned to identify shame in the lives of others because pain recognizes pain.

I want to be that reminding voice to others that even though you have made some mistakes in life, you are not a mistake.

In Luke chapter 15, we see the story of the prodigal son who has left home and disgraced his family. When he comes to his senses and returns home, his father sees him coming from a long way off and pulls up his robe and runs to him. The father knew that if someone else were to get to his son first, they might beat him, send him away, or publicly humiliate him. He ran to his son to spare him the shame.

We have a father who runs to us. We have a father who will stop at nothing to restore you to your position as the beloved. He tears down ceilings and runs to get to you first so He can absorb the shame.

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT  During that time of confronting shame in my own life, I had to learn that if God is capable of forgiving me of my sins and past mistakes, then I could learn to forgive myself, too. When your perception of God is one that believes the lie that He is still holding your past against you, it naturally causes you to distance yourself and to turn away from Him rather than to Him. This reminder in the story of the prodigal son has been deeply healing in my own life of how the Father demonstrates His love for us even when we’ve made a mess of things.  When you’re feeling unloved, unworthy or rejected, picture God running toward you, arms wide open, ready to love you through to a better place.

PRAYER  Father, thank you for running to us. Thank you for absorbing the shame so we don’t have to. Help us to be people who do the same to those we encounter in life. Help us to love so radically that it heals and transforms and silences the shame. May our lives tell this love story written with each of us in mind.

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When Discipline Doesn’t Feel Loving

By SARAH DAVIS

My heart absorbed the moment as I listened to my husband’s words to our son, “You are made for so much more. You are meant to be a voice on the earth.”

It had been a long and emotionally taxing day after receiving a phone call from my mother-in-law. Her voice on the other end was regretful and apologetic as she told me that my son had gotten in trouble. Though it was a little thing, it had potential to become a big thing that if not diverted now. Fear of a negative trajectory for his life seized my heart with fear.

I sat heavy in my seat on the car ride home where I knew he was waiting for me and dreading my arrival at the same time. When I walked into our home, I found him sitting in the kitchen with his elbows resting on his knees, and his head hung low. I sat across from him, and our eyes met for a moment before the tears pooled in the corners of his eyes. I had to fight the urge at that moment to be the rescuer.

Discipline is more painful for me as his parent than for him as the recipient. Not because he asked numerous times over the next week for his phone privileges back. Not because he fatigued my ears and my will by asking, “How long?” It’s painful for me to inflict punishment because I know that it doesn’t feel kind to him. I remind myself that love without discipline is not loving at all. If I save him and don’t allow him to experience the burn of touching the stove, he will likely continue on a path that will hurt him more in the future. He will not learn the crucial lesson at hand. My heart feels the soberness of this wrecking truth: If I in all of my best efforts at being a good parent feel this pain, how much more does God when we are suffering because of our own choices? Does He feel that ache in His heart when His children that He loves more than life experience the discomfort?

In Judges 16:10, it says this: “Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the LORD. And He could bear Israel’s misery no longer.” (NIV)

There was never a single moment in the aftermath of it all that I didn’t want to draw near to my son. Truth is, that car ride home was painfully long. I couldn’t get to him soon enough, and not because I wanted to scold him. I think about this as we walk through a crowded field a few days later at an independence day event. He lagged behind, much like me in my non-celebratory mood, my heart still felt heavy from the week we had faced and the concern I felt over him. Yet, even in the moment of receiving the phone call and even when I was listening to him make excuses to justify his actions and avoid punishment, I only wanted to be near him. In spite of it all, I only wanted his presence and his smile and his humor.

Perhaps our incorrect view of God causes our tendency to hide, to withdraw, to isolate, and attempt to cover ourselves when we feel like we’ve messed up. But we have a Father who only wants us to come closer. He is the One who pursued us first. He is the One who loved us even in spite of us, and who searches us out in our fleeing and our hiding.

That’s what the Father does when we draw closer. Never shaming or condemning. He never reminds us of all of the ways we have failed or fallen short. Does He allow us to experience the pain of our choices? Absolutely. As a good Father should. But He also reminds us of who we are and what we are made for. He tells us that we are made for so much more and that we are meant to be a voice on the earth.

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT  I know firsthand in my life that discipline is a painful thing to experience. What made it even more painful at the time was the shame that was attached to it. The feeling that I had disappointed God or that He didn’t want relationship or closeness with me because I had failed. Proverbs 3:12 says, “Because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” Just as I want the best for my children, the Lord also knows that discipline is good for me. He allows it because He loves me. He also knows the end from the beginning and promises, “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus ” Philippians 1:6 (NIV).  If you are in a season of discipline, never forget it comes from a place of love for you and a desire to allow your voice to be clear and true on this earth until we move on to the next one.

PRAYER  Father, help me to be a parent who reflects Your love and discipline because it is the loving thing to do, even when it doesn’t feel like it. I pray that the perfect love of the Father will be reflected through me. In my own moments of failure, help me to turn to You rather than distancing myself from You. Thank You for Your love and patience. Amen.

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An Invitation to the Table

By SARAH DAVIS

Sometimes in our everyday waking and breathing lives, we have been lulled to sleep. We are like sleepwalkers in the light of day. We punch the time clocks at our jobs. We stroll through aisles of the fluorescent lighting at Target. We go through the motions of living, lulled by our routines and monotony.

There is science behind it with 95% of our brain activity being beyond our conscious awareness. But there is a danger to it on the level of spiritual and emotional well-being. 

There is a low level of complacency we can easily slip into where we just accept whatever we are facing as our lot in life. It’s a tactic of the enemy. Carefully devised and methodical. Strategic in the fact that it is so subtle, it often goes unnoticed. It isn’t cryptic. In fact, the more I think about it, it’s rather apparent. The plan is this: lull them to sleep and convince them that there isn’t more to life.  

The enemy’s plan for our lives is threefold, to steal, kill, and destroy. To steal our joy, vitality, energy, peace, and trust. To kill our dreams and the hope that the change we long for will come to pass. To destroy our relationships and our future, because if he can get us to a place of complacency, we remain stuck. We are asleep and unaware of disguised ways he tries to destroy us. 

 If he can get you to accept whatever it is that you’re facing as just being “the way things are,” then that’s also the way you are going to view circumstances in other people’s lives. 

“This apathy I feel, is never going to lift. “

“I am too broken ever to be whole.” 

“This addiction will always have control over me.” 

“My family will always struggle financially.” 

“This relationship can never be mended.” 

Like I tell my thirteen-year-old when he is fighting to get up in the morning, and I’ve been to his room five times already, ” just sit up on the side of the bed. Rub the sleep from your eyes. Take a drink of cold water. WAKE UP.”

My dog gets scolded when he searches for food that has been dropped under the table during meals by my two-year-old. It’s not that he’s hungry and it’s not that I don’t expect him to search for food. It’s the noises he makes during his search party that get him scolded. It’s a snorting and slurping sound that you just have to hear it for yourself to understand. My husband looked at his four-month-old white and furry cuteness and named him “Pig,” a self-fulfilling prophesy for his bulldog self. Here’s the point: Don’t be like Pig. Don’t search for scraps beneath the table. You are invited to an abundant feast at the table of abundant life. 

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows ” Psalm 23:5 (NIV)

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:

There have times in my life that I have found myself going through the motions of life and struggling to believe that God has more in store for me. There have been times I have settled for existing, rather than seeking the abundant, joy-filled life Jesus died for me to have. Can you relate to this today? Whatever you do, don’t settle for this. Whatever your “this” is. Don’t allow yourself to be lulled to sleep. There is so much more for your one and only life than this low-level lot that you may have accepted. Let’s abort this mission. Let’s accept the invitation we have been given to the table of abundant life. 

PRAYER: 

Father, thank you for dying so that I can live fully in this life. I pray that you will open my eyes to areas of my life where I have settled for less than your abundance and good plan for my future. Give me the courage to believe and expect more and to live from a place of joy and believing in your goodness. Amen. 

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Consistently Consistent

By KRISTAN DOOLEY

,Weather in Ohio is weird. One minute it’s the beginning of summer, the windows are open and you know heat is just around the corner, and then the next it’s fifty-five degrees and your digging your sweats back out of your closet. Last week it was in the sixties; yesterday it was eighty-nine. The temperature is all over the place, and my body doesn’t adjust as quickly as it used to.  Never knowing what to expect makes it extremely hard to be prepared.

The same is true for our internal temperature. To be one thing one moment and another thing the next is no way to live. It’s taken me a few years to figure out the internal temperature I like best. The posture I can set my heart where it doesn’t overreact to the circumstances around me wasn’t easily found. I fought to figure out what grace, hope, peace, love, and acceptance felt like on the inside. I paid close attention to the internal temperature I see throughout the New Testament in Jesus. To do all of this I had to slow my pace down and pay careful attention.

What kind of things rattled my insides? What was going on around me when I felt my internal temperature rise? When did I feel out of control? When did I feel at my best and adequately responding as Jesus would?

These are all questions I asked myself as I reestablished a consistently consistent temperature. My heart was not created to fluctuate like the weather in Ohio. When the people around me struggled to know the me they would get, they would also struggle to connect, trust and live in unity. That wasn’t what I wanted for my family, friends, or even my community. I wanted to be who I was and respond with a steady consistency, and during my search, I learned the only way to do that was to spend time with the one who set my thermostat. The more time I spend in the quiet with the Father, the more I reflect Him in the open.

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT  The chaos around you doesn’t have to dictate the temperature within you, either. You can be consistent in your response to others regardless of your circumstances from others. Scripture says, “Jesus was full of grace and truth.” Regardless of where He was or what He was doing, His response was consistent. That’s because His internal temperature was also consistent. We respond from what’s happening within. The more our within links to the Father, the more our internal temperature gauges and reflects the Father.

What does your internal temperature look like? Where do you see too much fluctuation? Is there a desire for more consistency? What is your time like with Him? Do you have space or can you create space where you could sit with Him longer? Long enough to regulate your temperature?  Consider making space for that within your day-to-day routine.

PRAYER  Thank you, Jesus, for walking as an example of grace and truth for me. I so needed to see what consistency looked like. You rescued me from chaos and you set my feet upon a steady ground. I am so thankful that you regulate my temperature. Help me today to stay connected intimately to you and to walk according to you. I need you. Amen.

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Endurance for the Journey

 

By JENNY SEYLAR

I never fully realized how lucky I was until an African family showed up on the doorstep of the church with luggage in hand, and seeking asylum in the United States. The arduous three month journey from the African continent, through South and Central America, and then into the US through Texas, took determination, faith, and endurance. In a matter of days, I learned that my part in their journey was also one that would take endurance as I became one of their spokespersons and advocates. The gifts that we, as Americans, take for granted, do not come easily to people seeking asylum: housing, food, employment, communication, and more. These are readily available to those of us who already reside here, but acquiring them as a refugee, well, that’s another story, because it takes 1-2 years to be granted asylum in this country.

On the day the family arrived, I had proclaimed this statement to myself and to my friends on Facebook: “I am broken and mending; despairing and hopeful; fearful and courageous; stepping out of complicity and into liberation; I move forward with a new sense of purpose to do life and ministry amid the hurting on the margins. God, please guide me, and send to me companions for this journey.” In the course of one afternoon, the arrival of this family had collided with my call. Through prayer and dozens of phone calls, I found people that kept providing the necessary help to get the family the immediate things they needed. God had provided companions for the journey. It felt as if God were saying, “Finally you are listening to where I am calling you to serve.”

Parallel to the ministry I do with the African family and with many others is my own journey. Day-to-day life continues to be an endurance race. Grief creeps in when I least expect it. Loneliness occasionally blankets my leisure time. The challenges of being in a single person household seek to halt me in my path. Still, I refuse to let the weight of life thwart my journey towards wholeness. I know that there will be ups and downs, that the path will sometimes be blocked, and so I cling to the promises of Christ: “So then, with endurance, let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter. He endured the cross, ignoring the shame, for the sake of the joy that was laid out in front of him, and sat down at the right side of God’s throne. Think about the one who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you won’t be discouraged and you won’t give up.” (Hebrews 12: 1-3, CEB)

In my darkest moments, Christ shows up and seems to say: “Look to me. I know what hardship is. I have endured greater things than this. I died for you, even though I could have taken another path. You can do this, dear daughter. I have given you what you need to endure if you will just trust me every day. I have provided faithful ones to encourage you along the way, and to pick you up when you fall. Trust me in this.” And so I trust, and in doing so, I have learned that life is more like a marathon than a sprint. Yet in my life, the distance is yet unknown. There is no measurement or countdown to which I have been made aware. I could die tomorrow or live another fifty years; it’s not for me to know or to spend energy worrying about. And so I look to Christ as I have most of my life. I look to Christ as I did some 21 months ago when my husband died unexpectedly. I look to Christ and run the race of life, knowing full well that the path is still hidden, yet trusting Him anyway. At times Christ sends companions for the journey, and other times it’s just me. Either way, I will endure.

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT  Dear one, what things in life are you enduring right now? Who has Christ sent to journey with you? Do you recognize the gifts that they offer for the season in which you are together? Who are you running alongside to guide them on their journey, and what gifts do you have to offer? We were not created to do life alone. There is a place in each of us that desires God AND desires human interaction. Life takes endurance so invite Christ along. Invite others along, too, because we are blessed when we do so.

PRAYER  God of Life and Hope, thank You for Your presence in my life. I am grateful for the people who have journeyed with me my whole life, and for those who have come alongside just for a season. They have blessed me. Help me to be a blessing to others, willing to run this endurance race of life with them. Awaken in me the call that You have for my life, and guide me as I live out that call. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

ABOUT JENNY SEYLAR
Jenny Seylar is a woman with a deep faith in Jesus Christ who serves in ministry at a United Methodist Church in Iowa. As a pastor and youth director, she is passionate about walking with youth, young adults, and adults of all ages as they journey in their faith. She believes in creating authentic relationships in order to walk alongside folks wherever they are in their faith journey.

In 2017, Jenny’s husband of 28 years unexpectedly died while on a training bicycle ride. In the aftermath, Jenny and her 3 grown kids, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter, have sought ways to find joy in the everyday miracles that make up this life. You can read more about Jenny Seylar and her ministry at www.lovelylane.org or her blog “Journey From Despair to Hope” at https://journeyandstrength.wordpress.com/2018/09/12/through-the-lens-of-grief/