Thanks, but No Thanks

I had been picturing that day for years, but in recent months the picture was becoming more and more of a reality. In my mental daydream, I was sitting on a metal folding chair on a humid May day in a packed gymnasium. To the right of me, was my mom who held my hand almost tighter than I held her hand. She fought back tears knowing that her baby was about to officially spread her wings and leave the nest for real. To my left was my dad with a calm face holding in the emotions that swirled in his mind. I was nestled between them in a spring dress with a fast beating heart and a face of anticipation.

Call Day. The day I had been waiting for. The day that would change my life. The day that I would find out where I would begin my teaching ministry.

I was terrified.

Getting a call was an honor and I had been looking forward to it for years. I should have been so excited, but on most days I was a worried mess about it all. Don’t get me wrong, there were times when I was excited imaging meeting my students, exploring a new city, and becoming part of a new church family, but there were also times when the uncertainty clouded my mind like a grey shadow. Besides the unknowns of where I was going, and what I would be teaching, the negative thoughts of, “You’re not good enough. There’s no way you can do it. You really think that you can handle that honor that God is about to give you?” really pushed me over the edge. Thoughts of it would antagonize me on a daily basis. The uncertainty ate me alive like an unwanted parasite and there wasn’t much I could do about it, besides turn to God and say, “Thanks for the honor, but no thanks.”

And just like that I wanted to go and hide in a hole again.

Maybe you can relate. Your calling might look very different from mine, but no matter what your calling is, I am sure there are days that leave you wanting to scream into your pillow. Maybe for you, that God given honor looks like staying home with your babies, sitting at a desk in a cubicle, taking care of your aging parents, or just going to classes and doing homework. How often does the stage of life that God has put you in seem to antagonize you to the point of becoming a blanket burrito and hiding from the world?

Maybe you’re like me and you become fretful and worrisome about the honor God has given you or maybe you grumble about it or maybe you run away from it. How often can that honor feel like a burden to us? Timidly, we could all raise our hands admitting to having that feeling in any stage of life. If you’re starting to feel the guilt that makes you want to shrink to the size of an ant, don’t worry.

You aren’t alone.

Remember Moses. He got the honor of leading the Israelites out of Egypt! Was he excited for that special honor? No, not at all. Moses was busy living his quiet life as a shepherd, when he casually stumbled upon a bush that was on fire, yet it didn’t burn up. When God called him through the burning bush, he had every excuse under the earth to not follow his calling. Did God have an answer to every excuse? You bet he did. In the end, Moses left his quiet life of herding sheep to be the rebel leader and spokesperson for God.

Sarah laughed at God when he gave her the news of her calling. She didn’t believe that at her ripe old age of 90, God could give her the honor or title of mother. Thoughts of disbelief couldn’t stop God and nine months later she would hold that promised son. I’m sure she laughed a whole different sort of laugh as her son smiled at her for the first time.

Jonah literally ran away from the job that God had given him to do. He refused that honor and made it very clear that he wanted nothing to do with it. What happened to him? Well, he did what God wanted him to do anyway… after spending three days in the belly of large fish.  

Are you a Moses? Do excuses roll off your tongue with the slight hope that maybe God will pass the honor to someone else? When God places the job he wants you to do, does he hear excuses and complaints instead of praises?

Are you a Sarah? In disbelief, do you rely on logic and reason rather than lean on the promises of God? Do you fall apart when things are not going according to your plan or maybe you try taking things into your own hands instead of just waiting for God?

Are you a Jonah? Do you hear what God is sending you to do and then say, “Thanks… but no thanks”? Do you run from God and the duty that he gave you? Do you do your calling with a content heart or are you more often than not grumpy and unwilling?

I’ve got some news for you, we all have streaks of Moses, Sarah, and Jonah in us. That unwilling, worried, rebellious, part of our heart that looks at God and says, “Thanks, but no thanks.'' When we stare at the work that God has placed in front of us, our faces twist into looks of worry, discontent, and maybe in avoidance as our eyes dart for a way out.

There is hope, my friends. The stories of Moses, Sarah, and Jonah don’t end with them turning away from their honor. Moses still led the Isrealites out of Egypt. Sarah still bore a son that was part of the line of the Savior. Jonah still went to Ninivah to preach to the people who needed to hear law and gospel. God’s plans always prevail, no matter our attitudes.

Even as I write this, I don’t know where God is going to send me. In these days of waiting, I see a little Moses, Jonah, and Sarah in me. This time in my life I am learning that in the uncertainty of life, God is my only certainty. As hard as the waiting is right now, and as heavy as my worries are in my life, I find comfort that God’s plan prevails.

So if you are staring at the end of semester homework mountain that is piling up, changing a blowout diaper for the third time today, driving the kids to soccer practice, staring at the walls of a cubicle, emptying the dishwasher, watching your children graduate, or anything else that God has given you the honor of doing, don’t forget that this stage in life serves of heavenly purpose. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, every moment, no matter how unappealing, is an honor and blessing given by God. Soak up those moments and watch for those mundane, stressful, and unappealing tasks to turn into kingdom work.

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1700 Frowny Faces

A few decades ago, I sat there looking at my beautiful children, deep in thought.

I didn’t want to go. I asked myself, “Do I really have the heart to do this?” I had all the excuses. “Anyone would say they were valid, right?”

I am a busy mom.

I have babies who will miss me.

I have teenagers who need me.

I don’t know what difference I will make there.

Can’t someone else do this?

Look at all the people who don’t carry near the load I do!

Why, oh why, did I say ‘Yes’ to volunteer today?

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Thoughts put aside, I arose from tying my shoes. I kissed my husband, saying ‘thank you’ for taking care of the kids. Off I went to an unknown, to do a task I was woefully unprepared to do.

Later that day “She” sat there. I was on the other side of the desk facing her. Her face had a determined look.

Diving in, I thankfully remembered my training for this situation. I took a deep breath and out came the life-giving words.

“I know you want to do this, but do you realize this decision will change the course of your life forever?” Now I had her attention. She looked at me intently. I took another breath and continued.

“Does this seem too hard for you?” She nodded. The words settled in as I noticed her sea of emotion against my voice of godly reason.

“Here’s something for you to think about. Your way seems EASY because you are at the beginning, but I promise you, your way will be hard in the end.

“I’m here to show you a different way – God’s way. But I have to tell you His way seems HARD in the beginning, but it is much easier in the end. You DO have a choice. And God will be with you when you choose for him.

“Here’s a scripture from the Word of God that you can hang on to for help. We call it an anchor passage.”

I gave her the hand-written passage:

“Now choose life, so that you and your children may live…”

Deuteronomy 30:19

Her face softened. I’d like to think she made a good decision after that day. She was just one of many women who have faced the same life and death issue of “unplanned” pregnancy.

Looking back, I am so glad I didn’t say ‘no’ to counseling women in desperate need. My own resolve to honor God was deepened. I was blessed while trying to serve them.

One day, ten years later, I arrived at work to find one of my employees having an emotional day. She had been unsettled since morning. At the end of the day I found out that she had attended a rally for life over the weekend.

She hadn’t been able to process some of the statistics she learned. She couldn’t put away the horror of knowing the sheer number of babies who were disposed each day. The little faces were haunting her mind.

Then and there, we decided to make a poster for our workspace to honor these lives cut short. It took three and a half pages of size 12-font! The sea of frowny faces represented the little souls who would never see the light of day.

Every morning all 1700 of them – the number of babies aborted each day back then – greeted us as we arrived at work. Over time, her tears subsided as our resolve grew. We both got into the habit of lifting up 1700 women a day in prayer. Our silent cries asked God if He would lead them to see another alternative during their crucial decision today.

It was the least we could do. We rose to the occasion as we thought best during that time. While the stats seem to be going down as of today, even one is still too many.

All over America, women are choosing the opposite of what Joshua proposed to the Israelites in Deuteronomy – to choose life. But there is so much more. What women do not realize is that the frowny faces they have chosen to hide in abortion will never, ever, leave them alone without the healing rain of forgiveness and new life Jesus won for us on the cross.

Like my employee, my heart is broken as I think of what these women are choosing and what could be in Christ.

Lest you think I am standing in judgement, please consider the many decisions we make each day. Were it not for God’s amazing grace, we would not be able to honor him with even one decision. We cannot change many minds, but He can. And there IS something important we can do.

We need to join with Jesus in his cry to the Father:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Luke 23:34

And then arise to stop the madness. I believe our culture has so blinded women by pro-choice logic, that indeed, many women do not know they are choosing death until it’s too late.

That’s where we come in.

Just today a friend invited me to attend the movie Unplanned. As I decided whether to go or not, my old self resurfaced.

I didn’t want to go. I asked myself, “Do I really have the heart to do this?” I had all the excuses. “Anyone would say they were valid, right?”

I am a busy woman.

I know what this movie is about.

I am pro-life. Isn’t that enough?

I already worked at a pregnancy counseling center years ago.

Aren’t other people getting the word out?

What, oh what, can just one person do?

I am so glad I didn’t say ‘no’ to going to this movie. Yes, it was hard to see. And yes, my heart was once again broken.  BUT, my resolve to do what I can has been resurrected.

I have recommitted to praying for women who are facing the biggest decision of their lives. I pray the Lord awakens their hearts to recognize the lie of abortion. I pray for God to send them to places where godly people can share his Word with them.

I pray God gives women courage, after the fact, to confess to any believer, who then can offer God’s forgiveness and love. I pray for healing through the Word.

All women desperately need to hear God’s messages of truth and love. Then, like Abby Johnson in the movie’s true story, we can face the reality and arise to serve God in unimaginable ways, His ways.

1700 frowny faces deserve more. Don’t you agree? Why not start praying this very moment?

If we don’t arise, and pray for God’s mercy, “for such a time as this”, who will?

Dearest Father, you have created us for life. Each and every child is a gift from you. Our country is guilty of horrific actions that snuff out this gift. Lead us to repentance, Lord. Draw us to confess our lethargy toward those who are suffering the repercussions of abortion. Strengthen our resolve to do whatever we can to shine brightly as the world around us grows ever dim. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Jesus Delivers Us From the Abyss

In James Cameron’s 1989 film “The Abyss,” a group of petroleum engineers is enlisted to help search for a lost nuclear submarine that was ambushed in some of the deepest waters on Earth. This team of civilians is already far underwater, cozily inhabiting their submerged oil drilling platform, the DeepCore. To recover the nuclear warheads from the sunken submarine, however, they’d have to go deeper.

I’ll try to avoid spoilers—though, come on, it’s been thirty years—but at the end of the film, after a whole lot of action and danger and at a point when the engineers themselves thought they would perish underwater, the DeepCore suddenly rises to the surface within a matter of a few minutes.

 I’m no scuba expert, but I know this feat to be quite impossible. Unlike raising the pressure, which can be done as quickly as your ears can adjust, decompression must be done very slowly. After a prolonged stay at 1,750 feet, the crew’s decompression time should have taken weeks.

 And yet, against all odds and after being stuck in the cold, dismal darkness of the deep sea, where it seemed no light or hope could ever shine, the DeepCore and its crew are raised to safety. Upon opening the rig door to the warm light of the sun, one survivor makes a baffled observation:

 “We should be dead. We didn't decompress.”

 This was a group of people who had lost all hope. They were stuck at the bottom of the ocean, surrounded by thick and unwavering darkness – feeling alone, afraid and forgotten by the world. Their mission had all but failed, their rig had been damaged, and they were literally running out of air. Here was a team of brilliant minds, yet even they couldn’t engineer a way out of this whale of a situation.

 The engulfing waters threatened me, 
    the deep surrounded me;
    seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
    the earth beneath barred me in forever. (Jonah 2:5-6)

 We should be dead. But they weren’t. Only something greater than they could save them; something which commanded not only the DeepCore’s fate, but all reaches of the ocean itself. It was only by this otherworldly force that the crew was brought to surface and given new breath of life – and it was only by this miracle that they were able to survive the journey to the surface in the first place.

 Now, “The Abyss” is one of my all-time favorite movies. The drama, the high stakes, young Ed Harris, the mystery and excitement of unfamiliar, underwater territory – I have long since been fascinated by this film. It was only after watching it again recently, though, that I began to see the plot and its struggling characters in a new light.

 Truth is… I began to relate to them.

 No, I’ve never been stuck at the bottom of the ocean on a stranded oil rig (and I don’t plan to be, that sounds terrifying). But I have walked through valleys in my life. I’ve had moments in the darkness of the bottom of the ocean – one filled with doubt so thick, I had all but convinced myself that no light could possibly reach me. And even on the days when I did manage to see a faint glimmer of the sun through squinted eyes, I would think: the surface is so far and I am so weak. How can I ever reach it on my own?

 Here’s the thing: I can’t. But Jesus? He already did.

 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:15)

 Jesus Christ faced the ultimate sorrow as he carried his own cross up the hill and allowed himself to be crucified amid hurls of insults and abuse. He felt the greatest abandonment as he cried out in a loud voice from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:33). And finally, after hours of excruciating pain and sadness, our Savior experienced the deepest darkness as he took his last breath, gave up his spirit, and died. For us.

 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:22-23)

 But you and I know this death wouldn’t last. God raised Jesus from the dead, “freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24). By rising from the dead and emerging from his tomb, Jesus fulfilled the sign of Jonah, providing a testimony to all future generations that he – and only he – is the Messiah.

 “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.” (Matthew 12:39-41)

 We should be dead. The DeepCore crew should have been corpses, and Jonah should have perished in the belly of the water beast. But they didn’t, he didn’t – because now something greater than Jonah is here.

 By his death, Jesus brings us into the light and out of the darkness. He raises us to new hope and new life from the depths of earthly sin and blackened hearts, encouraging us through his word and sacraments. And, though the journey is arduous, our Lord is with us every step of the way as we tread through these earthly waters and follow his light to the surface of his heavenly kingdom.

 But you, Lord my God,
    brought my life up from the pit.

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 2:6,2)

 The way I see it, without the hope of the Lord’s resurrection and the promise of his second coming, we are doomed to darkness akin to the bottom of the ocean – afraid, alone, blindly reaching for anything or anyone to help us as our air supply dwindles. There’s no physical, human way for us to fix our sinful souls ourselves, and we can’t possibly swim to the surface without the One who has already descended into the depths of hell and triumphantly arisen into his Father’s kingdom on our behalf. We’re too weak. Our inadequate hearts and muscles could not withstand the waves of Satan’s attacks. We just can’t do it on our own.

 But we are not alone. We have certain salvation through the grace, mercy, love and power of one greater than Jonah, and greater than us.

 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. (Hebrews 6:19-20)

 After realizing they should be dead, another survivor emerges from the rig alongside the first and mumbles, “they must’ve done something to us.” (Ok, you made it this far: it’s aliens. The force that saved the DeepCore crew is a race of underwater aliens who have been watching over humans from the dawn of time. I mean, it’s James Cameron, what did you expect?)

 Just as the aliens did “something” to the DeepCore team, enabling them to survive the only journey that could save their lives, so too does our heavenly Father do something to us. He loves us, and he equips us with the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. No matter where you are at in your journey to the surface, may this truth give you spiritual buoyancy as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord!

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

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Increase Your Spiritual Quotient

That’s the goal I set for myself this year. I heard the phrase in a sermon near the end of the year and it struck a chord. I decided to focus on it in 2019 and see where things went.

 I downloaded the YouVersion Bible App, started a few “plans” including a whole Bible in 3 years plan. (I’ve failed the whole Bible in a year so many times I decided to give myself a little grace). If you’ve never read the whole Bible (and I still, obviously, haven’t finished), stop reading this post, download the free app if you need to and sign up for the reading plan. If the one year plan sounds like too much, join me in the 3 year plan.

 When you are truly and consistently in the Word and prioritizing your faith, I have to tell you, God speaks. More accurately, God always speaks, but when you’re in the Word consistently, it’s a lot easier to hear Him.

 In Genesis alone, all together, start to finish, you see struggles and blessings, anger and resolution, despair and overcoming again and again in a way that speaks to our lives now.

 There’s this amazing line in a Diver’s song that says “redundancy sedates you” and I’m a little bit obsessed with it. It’s so right! How often do we fall into our routines, get tired and lazy,  and look at our life in the narrow scope of time on earth? There is a great big God, and a great big plan, and great big purpose and a great big eternal salvation in heaven won by Jesus Christ crucified that we grow comfortable leaving to simmer on the back burner while we succumb to the fog of the more pressing and immediate day to day stuff.

 When we’re able to break free from the chains of our obsession with this earthly life, we’re able to feel that spark He intends for us.

 So where are you stuck? Where are you sedated? Where would the spark and passion of that shift to eternal focus cause you to get up and change something in your life? Who would you forgive? Where would you volunteer? What would you change? I shouldn’t have to tell you that we don’t have all that much time here.

Psalm 90:12

Teach us to number our days,

that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Prioritizing our faith, growing it, and focusing on it allows God to present us with some incredible opportunities that we miss when we’re focused on ourselves and our earthly lives. Is there something in your life that has you feeling stuck, disappointed, damaged, defeated? Are you still making decisions based on that amount of financial security they provide? Do you feel like you’ve already tried and failed? Maybe you have, but God never tries and fails.

Matthew 17:20

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

He can make your impossible possible or help you understand the failure better, trusting that it’s within His plan for you.

Maybe you’ve read the bible already, maybe a hundred times. Whatever your spiritual quotient, it can always be increased. Don’t be sedated by the same earthly busyness that lulls us away from that desire to grow in our relationship with our Savior, actively seek him, and focus on His plan for our lives instead of our own.

The closer we draw to Him, the better we see His will and the incredible possibilities he has waiting for us.

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