This morning, my daughter was using her coloring pencils to make an artistic creation. After completing her work, she gave me an explanation of her drawing as she typically does. This time though, instead of the conversation simply being about what she drew, she also told of how at a certain point she felt lost in her direction. Sounds deep for a 5 yr old, but I was reading between the lines. I think what she said was something like, “And all of the sudden I was like, ‘what am I doing?’, so I stood back, looked at my paper and decided to turn it around and then it was like, ‘Ohhh, so that’s a rock, and this could be like a turtle or a hedgehog’… and then I saw that I could create a beautiful field of flowers right here!” Now imagine this being said with an eccentric head bob and tonal inflection, and it was really quite comical. But also, sooooo telling. How often in our own lives do we look around and feel the same loss of direction? What amI doing?
Brian often reminds us that repentance requires a Uturn. We must change and go in the opposite direction, away from our fleshly desires and toward the Kingdom of God. (see well, the bible.)
Matthew 4:17 tells us of when Jesus began preaching, and his message was this: “Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand.” He then goes on to preach his Sermon on the Mount and give a very specific account of what all this looks like. Side note, I recently participated in a bible study by Jen Wilkin titled “Sermon on the Mount”, where the focus is the sermon as a whole and gave great depth and insight to some areas I didn’t even know I was struggling to understand. I super recommend it!
Back to the point, and with a fresh metaphor, imaging driving. Where are you headed? Destination is key – duh. But, have you ever thought you were going toward something and found out you were going entirely in the wrong direction? Many moons ago, my husband-to-be and his sister headed out on a road trip to spend Thanksgiving with their mom in Florida. Their plan was to drive through the night (youth, lol) and get there bright and early to make the family meal. I was at my friend’s family’s house when I got the call. It was a large group, so I had to step out and make him repeat everything. Nope, they weren’t in Florida, they were in South Carolina. Apparently, someone, ehem, had taken a wrong turn while Jason was getting a little shut-eye. When he woke up, they were practically back where they started. Seriously.
SO my question is this: at what point, or better yet, how often do we need to take stock of our surroundings and adjust our course? The truth of the matter is, you can tell that you are heading to the beach when you are on the way. 74 and 211 have looked the same for decades and are recognizable in their monotony. But seriously, you can look around and know where you are heading. Same is true in life. Look at your surroundings… places, people, description of the area…. Are you heading toward the Kingdom of God? Not talking about salvation here, just goal and getting to where God has promised. Jesus’ ministry did not begin with, “now go out and be nice to others..”, it literally started with “Repent”. And I do not think this can be boxed up as a one-time decision. Just as when you head to the beach you don’t simply decide where you are heading and sit back inactively (maybe in the Cars of the Future, lol), you are constantly making turns, changing lanes, and readjusting for detours and traffic. We must be doing the same on our “Christian walk”, lest we end up expecting to get to Florida, but waking up to find you having to call your mom to say you won’t make it for the meal. We can’t miss the meal… Jesus said he was setting a place for us. For you, for me… he promised he was going ahead of us with the expectation we will follow. That’s a promise worth making a Uturn for.
No, this is not our home. Our hope is not in this world, but in the unchanging grace of our Lord God and savior Jesus Christ. He is good (Is 44:6, Jam 1:17). He never fails us (2 Tim 2:13). He remains the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). We are adopted into His family, and he is our father. But interestingly enough, the book of Romans speaks not only about how we belong but also that we should not get feeling too special in our own right about it. See Romans 11.
Ever heard someone say “going to hell in a handbasket”? Nope- they are not referring to a Meat Loaf album. The phrase user is typically categorizing some sort of offending group or individual as sentenced to judgement that they find to be pleasing considering that they feel they stand on the other side of things. Funny enough, this phrase is just not funny. I grew up hearing it (I am from the South, you know…) and mostly it was said after some sort of horrendous occurrence that should show our extreme need for the grace of a Savior. But, once we have the grace of our Savior, why do we feel the need to mock and judge those on the other side?
If we are to emulate Christ by speaking in truth and love…. Should one weigh heavier than the other? They called Jesus a friend of sinners… was it because they genuinely found him likeable? Or perhaps the raw truth and unfathomable love that was our Lord on this earth was so undeniable that it was life-changing. Has following Christ changed your life? Should we not want that same life-altering faith for others?
Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!
We belong, and just as we find ourselves at the center of His love, we should also find ourselves inviting others to join in. Centripetal vs Centrifugal force? Not trying to get too science crazy, but the same reason why we are held in (God) should cause us to reach out (the world). Who remembers Mr. Wizard? Holla!
Eph. 4:15 No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be focused on the Kingdom of God – Spoiler alert, that was Jesus’ entire message – “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Matt 4:17). My point today is, that if God the Creator of heaven and earth “So loved the world” then maybe, just maybe we should take that same approach. After all, it was worth it enough that He sent His ONLY Son to die… buying back all who put their faith in Him. Good News. Go share it!
Tonight, for my son’s bedtime book, he chose one with a glow-in-the-dark pumpkin. It was cutesy, found as an impulse buy last Halloween at the checkout of a Lifeway Christian bookstore. I figured it had something redeeming about it, but to my recollection I had not read it before. I was quite surprised when we began to read that there were bible verses on each page, corresponding to an adorable rhyme explaining how we are like the pumpkins and God cleans us out and makes us new. In shock that this little book held such a valuable lesson about sin and salvation, I continued to think about it after I turned out the kid’s lights and sent them off to dreamland. The final verse was from Ephesians 5:8-14, a shortened version of the following… with a delightful picture of the giant smiling pumpkin, now cleaned out, receiving its candle to light up the darkness:
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light— for the fruit of the light results in all goodness, righteousness, and truth— discerning what is pleasing to the Lord. Don’t participate in the fruitless works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what is done by them in secret. Everything exposed by the light is made clear, for what makes everything clear is light. Therefore, it is said:
Get up, sleeper, and rise up from the dead,
and the Messiah will shine on you.
I found several things interesting about these verses, and armed with a fresh pumpkin-y visual, I pondered them.
1. So once the pumpkin is opened up (ouch is what comes to mind if I am the pumpkin), then it is cleaned out and the “sin” is removed. God’s “cleaning us up” is seldom painless.
2. It doesn’t get the face carved into it until it goes through the clean-up. Our Creator’s image cannot be reflected on us if we are holding on to the slimy sin-guts. Or grosser, if we are spilling out those guts through our mouth…
3. It never stays hollow. The whole point when carving a pumpkin is to eventually get that thing lit.
4. The reason for the clean-up, the carving, the light… it’s not for the pumpkin’s sake. It is all to display the handywork of the Creator.
5. The pumpkin is silent (would get a bit creepy if it wasn’t, lol). The pumpkin now cleaned and lit, does not call out other pumpkins on their mess. If it is doing its job, remaining lit, it can silently impact the darkness. Things are exposed, and they become clear.
So now the questions. Where am I? Am I allowing the painful removal of my sin-guts that once filled my core? Or am I terrified to undergo such pain, and I stop the process there?
Do I believe God’s promises that I will be made new, or am I holding out on total clean-up because I fear that being hollowed out will leave me feeling, well, hollow?
Am I stuck at the cleaned-out stage? Am I allowing the Holy Spirit to carve and make an image suitable to bring glory to our Lord? Or am I trying to make an image myself – freaky if pumpkins could self-carve! Am I comparing my carved image to the other displays, instead of trusting in the one who sees purpose in making the image best suited to my pumpkin-y shape?
Is my pumpkin-head self, going around pointing at other pumpkins and yelling at them? Is my silent light shining in the darkness? Or am I forgetting whose light is filling me, and I am trying to explain the darkness away and instead start piling other gunk into my hollowed self, surely dimming if not extinguishing my light and sole purpose for being carved?
Psalm 46:10 says, “He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
The stillest light shines the brightest. Now stop wobbling andgo shine forth His glory!
The Heavy Lifting
““The Gershonites by family and clan will serve by carrying heavy loads: the curtains of the Sanctuary and the Tent of Meeting; the covering of the Tent and the outer covering of dolphin skins; the screens for the entrance to the Tent; the cords; and all the equipment used in its ministries. The Gershonites have the job of doing the work connected with these things. All their work of lifting and carrying and moving is to be done under the supervision of Aaron and his sons. Assign them specifically what they are to carry. This is the work of the Gershonite clans at the Tent of Meeting. Ithamar son of Aaron the priest is to supervise their work.”
Numbers 4:24-28 MSG
The Gershon family gets the heavy lifting. They carry the important stuff around. They don’t get the glamorous or prestigious bit. But they do get recorded for all history to see right here in God’s Word! Others may think they have it tough - God Himself acknowledges the Gershonites are doing the heavy lifting. So what’s the point for you today?
God knows what you are dealing with - right now! He knows when you are going through the tough stuff and he acknowledges it is hard! Maybe there’s something too here - something about how some of us DO have the tougher “ask”. Some people DO get the heavier lifting. There’s no answer why, just the acknowledge meant that it is real, and God does know.
So today - you there - whatever you are going through, whether you feel like it’s not far that you get the hard stuff, or if you feel like nobody knows what you have to face - either way, take peace in knowing He sees, He knows, and He has a reason for where you are and what you are having to carry today.
Fully Rely on God
Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
What does it mean to rely on God completely? Well, I know what it doesn’t mean – relying on anything else. In math terms, anything other than 100% is defined as not complete. In other words, it puts the question of our coping mechanisms out to pasture. Meaning? No eating our feelings, going on a shopping spree of distraction, drinking until it feels better, giving that person a peace of your mind, watching a little porn to get in the mood, having longer than necessary talks with that coworker because they make you feel wanted, watching that guilty pleasure tv show to escape, actually escaping/running away to another location, exercising manically to make the hurt stop, playing the blame game, smoking down to get calm, being controlling of your kids because you can’t deal with your spouse, pushing your fingers into your eyes – or self-harm of choice, shouting and screaming to get your authority back, putting others down so you can feel good again, drowning out your problems with super loud music, withdrawing and not speaking to anyone, and the list could continue. Yes, I know that there are varying degrees of “coping”, and don’t get on the condemnation train- just because it’s not your particular branddoesn’t change the point. Any time we replace our reliance on God with anything, we are choosing to put road blocks on our own path to Christ. It is our pride shouting, “I know how I can handle this, I’ll just ______ to make it through”. And we all know the pride and fall thing… but a new found visual is that it’s not our pride that we trip over, it is what our pride told us to stick in the road.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
Back to those percentages… the point is not that we will evolve to a place that we never see less than 100%, but instead to submit it to God when we don’t.
It is unrealistic to suggest that our lives won’t have difficulties outside of our control. Make the decision today to acknowledge when you feel weighed down, doubled-over, or hunched to one side. Don’t pretend you don’t need to lean, but just be clear about on whom you should be leaning! Cry out to God – Abba Father! And in return, Jesus Christ himself will stand guard of your heart and mind with the unexplainable peace of our Lord.
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.”
My dad went through a spell where he was very serious about woodworking. At one point, his hobby had overtaken our garage completely, and resulted in several pieces of furniture that filled our home. One of the few things I saved from my childhood was a wooden barn that he had created for my Breyer horses (or Barbies, depending on the day). The cool thing about the barn, was that as a child, I helped with the design. The idea that since it would be for my purposes and use, it should be created to function and contain in all the ways I wanted. I could imagine that if he wanted to build something awesome, he could have forgone some of my suggestions and tried some design plans of his own. The problem though, would exist that even though it may look cooler, it would not perform authentically as I intended. And so, he stuck to the plan I originated, and he created the play barn that I have passed down to my children.
Can you imagine if we were trying to have a discussion with our Lord about building ourselves up for his purpose? Sounds audacious, right? But yet, sometimes that is exactly what we do. “Well God, I know that if X, Y, or Z, happened, it would be a great way to use things to your glory…” – We will “use” God to justify our wants, plans, and attitudes. It happens quite subtly really, any not with any ill-intention. Just the simple thought that since he is making us new, he must be making us new in a way that makes sense. But that’s just it, he is, but in a way that makes sense to him, not us (Is. 55:8-9).
In him you are also being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.
Hear what that is saying… not only are you being built for his purpose, but you communally are being built for his Spirit. Meaning that you and all the believers are a “building”, with Christ as the Cornerstone (yes, just like the song 😊). The overarching plans for the individuals make it possible for them to link up and create the whole of the “building”; the unity established in us through Christ.
Sometimes those things that don’t seem like they would fit in with what you would choose for yourself are for the greater purpose of building unity for the Holy Spirit’s dwelling. Eph. 2:21, “In him the whole building, being put together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” I love that it says, “grows”. It establishes the visual of more and more being incorporated into the building, and it is getting higher and more functional. I would LOVE to be more functional for our Lord. But these verses seem to indicate that it is best if I don’t put my two-sense in about how to get there. The blocks don’t build themselves into a building, just as we don’t build ourselves up for our God.
So, my thought today? Let God be the stonecutter, and builder of his Holy Temple. As for me? I am a member of God’s household, saved by grace and being created anew according to his purpose… and if I get a wonky corner-cut, then Praise God, it is for his glory and the continued building of his Holy Spirit’s dwelling place.
Have you ever seen a camel run? It’s pretty funny; they look a hot mess.
There was actually an episode of a tv show years ago that it reminded me of – two of the main characters found that they both love to run in Central Park, so they decided to run together. It was a nice idea until they discovered that they both ran very, very differently. One ran with steady breath, and rigid arms timed with her leg movement, and she made a whoosh-whoosh (obnoxiously so) noise every time her feet hit the pavement. The other ran with arms flailing, free-spirit, and jagged steps (quite frightening to the other park-goers who probably thought she was about to attack!). The point in their story, was that they were both embarrassed of the other, but yet didn’t see how off their own styles were. Similar to our own Christian walk (or run)- how often are we concerned with how others are performing their run?
Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed - that exhilarating finish in and with God…
It is so incredibly important that we keep our eyes on our Lord. He knows where he’s going- where we want to go too! We don’t have any place in our faith for distractions- yet the world around us is full of them. Now, back to that camel…
Matthew 19:16-24 tells of a rich young ruler who was asking Jesus about eternal life. After Jesus responds to him about selling all his possessions and returning to follow him, starting in verse 22 we read this:
That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crestfallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn't bear to let go. As he watched him go, Jesus told his disciples, "Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God's kingdom? Let me tell you, it's easier to gallop a camel through a needle's eye than for the rich to enter God's kingdom."
Now that you’ve seen that camel galloping, do you understandthe picture he is trying to paint? We, in our own humanity trying to earn our way with God, are even on our best day, simply all over the place. And, did you hear what the girl said to the camel at the end of the video? “That was too scary, I didn’t want to get anywhere near you” … hmm. Something to think about if we are trying to reach others for Christ. The rescue for us, comes in the next verse after the disciples asked, “what chance do any of us have?”:
Jesus looked hard at them and said, "No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it." (Matt. 19:26)
Consider for a second, if rich doesn’t mean moneyed, but plentiful. “He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn't bear to let go” … what are you holding on to, that breaks your heart to let it go?
The phrase “give up the ghost” comes to mind, a bit un-context, but if all the things of this world are going to pass away, then free up your hands, grab tightly to God! He will never disappoint. And besides, who wants to run like a camel anyways?
I absolutely love Super Nintendo. I love my Mario All-Stars, (the original) Mario Kart, Super Mario World, Inspector Gadget(tiny Gadgets come out of his hat!), and Top Gear. Heck, I even loved Mario Paint, although I never owned that one. My friend,however, did own it, along with several other games that I thought were just too cool. Her dad worked for IBM and then Sprint, and let me tell you, she was ahead of the game on everything – it was the early Nineties, after all. She and I remained friend for several years, even after both of us moved to different states. We would take turns in the summer spending one week at my house, then one week at hers. Some of my best memories (of the gaming variety) were watching her and her brother play Metroid and Mario for hours on end in their basement. I recall when Mario Kart came out, and I got a cartridge (yup, cartridge) of my own. I was so excited, but it was Just. So. Hard. I could not get past any of the circuit races, even the slow ones. What was I doing wrong? This was supposed to be awesome! But it wasn’t.
That year, as summertime came around, I was not as enthusiastic for my visit to Atlanta. My friend knew that I had received the game, and we had been exchanging phone calls about how great it would be to play it together. Now I would have to admit, or worse, demonstrate, that I …well, sucked. I just wasn’t any good at it.
Sometimes we feel like this in our Christian walk. Once we begin to walk in the Grace of our Lord, we are excited. This is gonna be awesome! But then, it isn’t. We fall to old behavior patterns, have outbursts of anger, jealous fits toward strangers (or friends), say bad words in traffic, don’t forgive family, and harbor bad feelings for others (hello politics). It doesn’t mean that we aren’t trying, wanting to get it right… but it is Just. So. Hard. Thank God for our God! He already knows us, inside and out, and Jesus addressed this exact issue in Matthew.
Matt. 11:28-30 (MSG)
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
What a promise! My favorite is the wording, “unforcedrhythms of grace”. I don’t know about you, but so often I find the grace that I extend others to be very forced. Definitely not something that sounds and feels rhythmic. Hmm. BUT, the promise he gives is this: the more we walk with him, work with him, and watch how he does it, the more unforced and rhythmic it becomes. This is not to be confused with easy… after all the metaphor still includes us “yoked” and “working”, but alongsideChrist, and certainly not towing the line of our Faith.
Once I got to my friend’s house, we decided that the first night we would stay up all hours playing SNES. But instead of being disappointed that I wasn’t up to snuff, she just offered to let me watch what she was doing. She talked about what choices she made and why, and let me see the controller as she played. By the end of that week, I had beat her brother at the Flower Cup (which is like silver). It became what I imagined it to be; I was playing more fluid and purposefully. I did not lose control at every turn. And then, the joy of it all returned.
This morning my daughter was working on one of her activity books, and from across the room she announces, “now we just need to tape it to the door”. My response was one of confusion, followed by declaration of how we can’t go taping things to our doors, we are in a rental, might remove paint, etc. I sensed some minor (understatement) disappointment, so I said, “well, let me see”. She appeared beside me with a bunny face that she had colored and cut out of the pages, and sure enough, right between his little ears was a square that said, “tape here”. Then I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why they wanted the front taped to the door, and how you would still get to see the bunny that was colored in if it was flipped over and taped. My next statement was this: “Let me see the book, I need a little context.”
It struck me later that this is very similar to our behavior sometimes when we hear a prompting from the Holy Spirit. Often it doesn’t make sense, we don’t understand why, and it seems like an inconvenient request.
But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.
This is Jesus talking, explaining about his departure and the Holy Spirit the disciples will receive. This verse comes just before he says, "Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Don't let your heart be troubled or fearful.” (Jn 14:27) Why? Because the disciples were in the habit of getting their context and explanation from Jesus. If he’s gone, who will explain it all to them? They didn’t want to mess it up, and they were unsettled about the weight of figuring it out all on their own, not to mention trying to lead others in explanation. What a comfort he left them with… and us! They will not be alone, and they have someone who will call to mind all that he said and taught. Not just that but will also give context so as to bring the full glory to God.
They walked with Jesus, so those are the conversations and experiences that the Spirit called to mind. We walk with Jesus too, yet it is important that we read our bible to know what he said and is still saying to us today. Sometimes the context doesn’t come until later, but in perfect timing completing something we were told (or read) at an earlier time.
After He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this. Then they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
At first His disciples did not understand these things, but after Jesus was glorified they remembered what had been done to Him, and they realized that these very things had also been written about Him.
It is a cycle, bringing us back to God’s word, bringing him glory, and encouraging our faith. So today, read his Word, trust his Spirit, and look and pray for context for your actions. It will bring encouragement to believers and Glory to our Lord!
And about that bunny? Turns out it was a doorknocker to be taped to the front of the door on a page following the one she cut it out of… glad I didn’t just tape it to my front door.
When we read the Bible, we have the benefit of seeing the big picture: we see the story from beginning to end. Take the account John gives us about Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding – we know there wasn’t wine, then there was. But as we receive encouragement from seeing over and over again how God comes through, it is important that we take note that in our own lives we are limited to only our current perspective. Now take a minute to think about the wedding story again, but from the angle of the servants carrying the water. Jesus’s mother said to the servants “do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5), and they did. They had no idea he was going to perform a miracle- he did not discuss or plot out his end game. They knew the wine was gone, and here this man is telling them to go with giant jugs to collect water. And they did. I wonder what they were thinking on their walk to go get the water? Were they chatting to each other on the way back? Reality is that they couldn’t just run into the kitchen and get some from the tap, so they undoubtedly had some time to “walk” in their obedience. When they had gathered the water jars (which by the way were thought to be used for washing the dishes or the guest’s hands… think about that!), about 20-30 gallons each, the bible is pretty clear about the fact that it was still just water in there. In other words, Jesus didn’t do a big whammy-kazzamy style performance to assure the servants that a change was taking place, he told them to draw some out and take it to the headwaiter. And they did. The mention of the water becoming wine is made at this point, when the headwaiter tasted it. The servants never taste-tested the water, they never saw it change, they were never told that it would change, they just obeyed. Is this the type of obedience that you walk with, following instruction with out full understanding, but knowledge and belief in the end result? I’m sure that the solution did not look like what the servants thought, or would prefer. Do you “suggest” solutions to God, or do you bring your concern to him and walk in obedience? The interesting (and very encouraging) point to mention is what typeof concern this was. The first miracle recorded that Jesus performs was to save a family’s reputation. Let that sink in. How often are we stingy with our problems, unwilling or embarrassed to bring them to our Lord? Peter tells us to literally throw them to our savior… he cares!
1 Peter 5:6-7
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you in due time,
casting all your care upon Him, because He cares about you.
Trust that God will take care of it, and let him! Whether you see something happening or not. Whether there’s lots of walkinginvolved or not. Whether it looks like a solution or not. Remember that our perspective is that of the servant’s, but make no mistake, he is working it out.
Key point, HE’S working it out, not YOU. Your job is obedience.
what is "spark"?
Its a small thing - like the flash on a spark plug that hopefully ignites something bigger to propel you forward.