Called to Boldness: A Sister, Wild Swans and Nettle

“Tender-handed stroke a nettle, And it stings you, for your pains:
Grasp it like a man of mettle, And it soft as silk remains.”
Aaron Hill’s Works, circa 1750.

This metaphorical phrase to grasp the nettle, to tackle a difficulty boldly, is one I only vaguely remember prior to several years ago when I had a painful encounter with nettle. Watering a plant in a hanging basket on my deck, I suddenly felt a pain as if stung by a bee. I looked at my hand and at the plant but could find no stinging insect. Upon a closer inspection I saw a small stem of a plant that was clearly not part of my flowering fuschia. I could only detect very small hair-like “brushes” growing along the stem. It didn’t look intimidating, but I didn’t want to test it.

The pain in my hand where I had been “stung” grew worse throughout the evening. It became red and somewhat swollen. An avid perenial gardener, I pulled out my plant books determined to learn what it was, soon declaring that it must be nettle!

Nettle. This rang a bell from long ago in my childhood, and memories slowly crept back.

nettle

There are stories we read as children which have such a profound impact on us that they linger deep within. One such story which I had not thought about in decades, was about a selfless sister who gathered nettle from a graveyard by night, and with her bare hands knit it into magical shirts for her eleven beloved brothers who had been cast by a spell into wild swans. Furthermore, this young girl had to take a vow of silence until her task was complete, because to speak of what she must do would bring immediate death to her brothers. People did not understand why she gathered nettle at night and knit in silence with blistered hands, so they called her a witch and sentenced her to death by burning. Risking their own lives, the swan brothers swooped in to rescue their sister who continued to knit even as she was taken to execution. At the last minute, she flung the woven shirts to her brothers, the wild swans. They were restored to men, all but the arm of one, and she was finally free to speak. The Wild Swans was written by Hans Christian Andersen and first published in 1838.

Self-sacrificial love at any cost. Boldness.

God does not call us to be timid. He gives power through His Spirit to stand boldly against sin and oppression, and to share the burdens of our brothers and sisters in their time of need.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7

Lifted

I sing praise to God for his faithfulness, compassion, gentle mercies and unending love! He carried me through the darkest valley, and renewed my strength and hope. I am grateful for my brothers and sisters who listened and prayed with me. For those who never stopped encouraging me: “Thank you” seems inadequate.

For any Believer who is still learning the charge we have been given within the Body, which I originally wrote about in a post entitled Humility (see below), this resource may be helpful. Brad Hambrick writes with far more eloquence and authority than I ever could.

Blessings.

What God is Teaching

“You act like you are the 1st person to go through a divorce”.

This was the chastisement I recently received from a fellow Believer. This friend has, by their own account, never experienced any major grief events in their life. This is a first for me.

I’ve discussed Encouragement from the Body of Christ in a previous post, and it is clear that God instructs us to carry the weak and be patient and longsuffering with one another. The “one another” are our brothers and sisters in Christ. As a Believer, my Hope rests in God’s faithfulness. I trust Him to provide for my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs. There is no doubt in my mind of my salvation through Christ Jesus, or of God’s ability and desire to supply all my needs. My Father wants the best for me, not just the best from me.

This hope…

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Grace and Discipline

Godly discipline always involves grace. However, when we focus too much on grace, neglecting discipline, sin can go unchecked. That’s a slippery slope; one which often leads to misery and self-loathing.

Discipline and Grace are intermingled, working together. God’s laws are a blessing, given to protect us because He loves us. 1 John 5:3 Recently, someone shared with me the truth that if we will not self-discipline or receive godly discipline from others, we will be disciplined by God.

God has brought this point to the forefront of my mind lately as I have seen His will worked out in many areas of my life. I have also learned that there is a point when I must let go of my effort to correct rather than continue on a path that may destroy a relationship. I can choose to extend grace and simply give it over to God.

For the past three years I have pleaded and debated the reality of a loving God with someone who seemed to once love God but, after suffering heartache in life, grew angry, resentful and rebellious. I have prayed countless prayers.

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I believe that God will pursue us to the end. That He will bring us to our knees if we will not humble ourselves. I have prayed that this would happen sooner rather than later, and that there would be no missed opportunity for me to be used by God in this situation…that we will not run out of time whatever the cost. I continue to pray that the prideful spirit becomes broken and God is acknowledged, obeyed.

Submission to God’s will brings an abundance of blessing. God disciplines us out of love, just as a loving father disciplines his son, so that we may share in his holiness and live in peace. Hebrews 12:10 I am called Daughter of the King, blessed with Father’s relentless love.

Read more devotionals about God’s amazing love for us at #SheReadsTruth.

Living Beyond What We Deserve

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Corinthians 3:17

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. Jonah 1:3

How could he be so bold…and so incredibly ridiculous? Jonah fled in the direction opposite to God’s calling. He was clearly rebelling against God. And he knew it.

Have you ever done that? Flee from God? Ignore His voice? Rebellion in our own life may not look as glaringly obvious as it did in Jonah’s. (It never does.) It might not result in such an unusual situation either (the belly of a large fish is certainly unusual), but we rebel and there are consequences.

This has been true in my life, especially in my youth. I have made decisions without fully considering the consequences of ignoring God’s voice. But I cannot say I didn’t hear Him. And because God loves us, He will pursue. Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. Jonah 1:4

Accepting responsibility is the first step toward repentance and restoration. “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” vs. 12 The decisions we make affect not just ourselves, but those around us as well. Like rippling water after a pebble is tossed into a still pond, we have no idea how far-reaching the impact.
imageThe men on the boat with Jonah experienced this ripple effect. Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. vs. 14-16

Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there! Our disobedience and rebellion grieves the Father, but He is always ready to forgive and guide us onward. God desires a relationship with each of us, so He waits with outstretched arms, and takes us back unconditionally the moment we turn to Him. Father knows we will fail. He allows us to experience the natural result of our failures (consequences) so that we will learn and grow, but He will not abandon us. The wrath our sin deserves was poured out on Christ; we can neither add to nor detract from what He has accomplished.

Therefore, we need not fear. Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. vs. 17

God “provided”! God didn’t want Jonah to die in the raging sea. He wanted a restored relationship with Jonah, and He gave an opportunity for that. Father wanted time alone with him, as He does with each of us!

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry. Jonah 2:1-2

What do we desrve? No one deserves a wonderful life. We have all rebelled against God, but by the grace of God we can live beyond what we deserve!

“…To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit. When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord .’ ” And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. Jonah 2:6-10

God has richly blessed me. He has drawn me in and I have responded without fear. Although there has been heartache and loss in my life, I see God’s hand of protection, provision, and His Presence in my life throughout the years!  God is good for having brought me through the storm.

Read more devotionals on Jonah Chapters 1&2 at SheReadsTruth

North of the 45th

Life north of the 45th Parallel is not for the faint-hearted. Winter is intense and long. 45th Parallel

Early last fall I suddenly found myself facing winter on my own, and ill-prepared to do so. Since I rely largely on wood for heat, splitting and stacking was my top priority. Through God’s faithful provision this was accomplished just in time.

Anyone who heats with wood knows that moving it takes a great deal of time and energy. So moving enough for each week’s use from the outside stacks to our garage became the weekend ritual for me and my kids, and there wasn’t time for much else as the weather got colder and we began to use more. Non-essential chores were temporarily neglected.

There is a large deck spanning the length of my house on the South side which gets full sun. In a typical winter, we will get some snow on-and-off throughout November and early December, but it usually melts away, not accumulating on the deck until late December. This year was very different. The snow came and came and just kept coming. And it stayed. Sub-zero temperatures beginning in December and lasting into March, along with record snowfalls, meant the snow didn’t melt away.

As the snow began to pile up, it crossed my mind that it should be removed, but other things demanded my immediate attention. Hauling wood in order to heat my home continued to be my priority. Isn’t it interesting how focused we can be, even with good intentions, that we fail to see a growing problem? Ignoring, procrastinating, or hoping it will resolve itself often leads to a bigger mess later.

The conditions were perfect for snow, and it continued to accumulate on the deck until it was impossible to ignore any longer. I vividly remember the morning I awoke to see snow piled over three feet high against my door wall, after another 15 inches fell overnight. I finally realized – This is going to be a problem when it starts to melt. Now what do I do? My son tried to shovel it away from the house, but under the top 2 feet or so, there was solid ice about a foot thick. It was overwhelming and unmanageable.

For my iniquities have gone over my head; Like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me. My wounds are foul and festering because of my foolishness. I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long. For my loins are full of inflammation, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and severely broken; I groan because of the turmoil of my heart. Lord, all my desire is before You; and my sighing is not hidden from You. My heart pants, my strength fails me; as for the light of my eyes, it also has gone from me. Psalm 38:4-10

Like an open wound, sin left unattended will fester and eventually consume pieces of you. Who hasn’t let some small sin in their life slide? Careless words, selfishness, envy, a stubborn or unforgiving spirit. Maybe it seems trivial, especially in comparison to the sin of a neighbor, friend or relative. Perhaps it’s easier to spot their bigger sin – anger, jealousy, pride, self-righteousness. But who are we to draw a line? Does my sin require less sacrifice than yours? Does yours require less than your neighbor’s? In God’s eyes, is it not all sin? Jesus died on the cross once for all, so that, in accepting His blood as a covering for our sin, fellowship with God is restored. The same Salvation is freely offered to All.

For in You, O Lord, I hope; You will hear, O Lord my God. Psalm 38:15

No matter how cold a winter, it eventually will begin to warm up, and ice will thaw. On a sunny 40 degree day, I came home to soggy carpet spanning three feet from the door wall and water creeping onto the kitchen tile. The melting ice had no place to go except into the house. We tried a shovel and then a fishing spear, but made little progress on the ice. I told my kids that it would still be there the next day and we were not missing a family group Bible study that I had connected with by phone through our church. We were new to this church and didn’t know many people yet, and I hungered for fellowship with other believers and time together in the Word.

What a blessing it was to meet the families who welcomed us in. In closing, each person including kids were asked to offer a prayer request or praise. I mentioned that my family was going through a difficult time, then tried to cover the pain by laughing about our wet mess. On the drive home, one of the ladies called me to say that the men insisted on coming out the next day after work to try to help clear the ice.

They came with pick axes and shovels, and cleared my entire deck. I was never more humbled or grateful. The next night brought an incredibly heavy rain. Thank God my deck was clear of the foot of ice which would have directed the rain straight toward the house.

Friends, let us be attentive to the little sins that sneak into our lives. Left unchecked, a little sin has the power to destroy. Examine your heart in earnest, spending time in prayer, in Scripture, and in silence as you listen for God’s speaking into your life. God wants a contrite spirit, giving way to confession and repentance, which leads to spiritual growth.

For I will declare my iniquity; I will be in anguish over my sin. Psalm 38:18

…because I follow what is good. Do not forsake me, O Lord; O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation! Psalm 38:20b-22

We may stumble, but He will not let us fall. God knows our heart and He understands the struggles we face on this broken earth. He offers comfort and hope from the pain and hurt wrought by sin. Our obedience to Him brings restoration, peace and blessings.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

SheReadsTruth

A Fork in the Road

Several years ago I traveled with a friend to the Keweenaw Peninsula – one of the most beautiful areas in the country. At that time, I had never been to Copper Harbor, but my traveling companion had. North of Hancock, there is only one main route, US-41, that will take you there. However, if you are so inclined, when you reach Eagle River you can turn off the main road onto State Route 26 which eases slowly up the shoreline offering breathtaking views of one of the most spectacular bodies of freshwater on Earth – Lake Superior.Keweenaw Peninsula

My friend, having been to the Keweenaw previously, was quite adamant about staying on the main route because it was faster, more direct, and that was the way they always went. But I remembered hearing something interesting about Eagle Harbor, which is along the lesser route, and really felt we should go that way.

Unfortunately I discovered that as I continued to suggest this, my friend went from mildly annoyed at my naivety to increasingly frustrated at me for questioning their wisdom in the matter. In no uncertain terms I was told that the main road was THE road leading directly to Copper Harbor and to take the turn-off would not only slow us down, but offered nothing that would make the time worthwhile.

For them, the issue boiled down to this: their experience trumped my opinion. They were right – I was wrong. I learned something about my friend that day. I also learned something personally beneficial, but it didn’t click until much later.

As I think back on this and similar situations, I remember feeling defeated. It’s disheartening when you try to convey your thoughts or opinion about something, and are met with hostility by people who have to be in control. Maybe I will discover that I am wrong, but at least be willing to listen to what I have to say. Discuss it with me and help me to understand your view as you try to understand mine. Healthy communication requires at least two people be engaged in an exchange of ideas and thoughts.

It can be even more disheartening when this happens among Believers. Respect grows when Godly authority and leadership is willing to listen and ready to pray about an issue together. But there is another lesson to be learned here; one that is becoming more glaringly obvious to me lately: Just let go.

God is the final Authority. Just as God handled the situation on the Keweenaw, He will handle the important issues in life. In fact, He already has. He has plans for our life that are for our good, and no matter who comes along to tell us “It’s my way or no way”, God will work things out for our good when we seek His will.

“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

I have certainly been wrong before. I’ve made bad decisions. I will not hesitate to admit that I have been heading down the wrong path, stubbornly running into road block after road block before God can get my attention. As I learn to let go of the issues I cannot control anyway, it frees my spirit to say: Your will, Lord, not mine.

And if the other person needs to learn some things then God will take care of that, too…

Giving up, I closed my mouth. We took US-41. Then we came to a dead stop 8 miles in. Cars were not getting through and we were forced to turn around. We went back to the turn-off at Eagle River and meandered up the shore.

As you pass through Eagle Harbor you will come to Jacob’s Falls and a turn-off where there is a small bakery called The Jampot. This bakery is operated by monks of The Society of St. John Monastery. They mix it, make it, and bake it…and it is amazing! Trust me when I say you have not experienced anything like this.

I am still learning what God is teaching, and what I have learned lately is to let go and let God take care of me. 

Anger: Healthy or Hurtful?

I have lived under the devastating effects of the sinful expression of anger for most of my life. It crushes the spirit. It breaks trust. It destroys relationships. It creates a “calloused heart“. I, too, have sinned in this area, measuring the severity of my transgression against that of another and deciding – I’m not that bad.

Recently, in response to grief and pain in my life, I have felt anger – and in this situation a righteous anger is okay. Still, on occasion, I have hurt those closest to me with angry words which I tried to justify… I’m just venting. You don’t understand. If you were in my place… I can’t help it. It’s right that I’m angry.

And – yes – it is right that I’m angry. The question isn’t whether or not anger itself is wrong, but, rather, how am I expressing it? Scripture tells us Be ye angry, and sin not…Ephesians 4:26.

Anger at sin is okay when it is expressed in a healthy way. A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger. Proverbs 15:1 We see over and over in Scripture that God gets angry at sin and rebellion: And the Lord’s anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation, that had done evil in the sight of the Lord, was consumed. Numbers 32:13 But we need to be careful. Why are we angry? How are we expressing it? He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city. Proverbs 16:32

Talk to God; tell Him about your hurt, confusion, despair. Pray that God will show you how to express your anger in a right way. “God is good for having brought me to the point of admitting my sin.”Brad Hambrick offers some excellent resources on overcoming anger.

Is your anger hurting you or those around you?