Outdoor Lessons


“The red cardinal bird holds special spiritual meaning for Christians as they symbolize everlasting vitality (the faith in the blood of Christ as the birds are red in color), Christmas (the birth of christ) and are also considered a creative force (the red color equals vitality and creativity).” This quote was found at reference.com.

Psalm 19:1 says, “The Heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

How often do you take time to be amazed at the creation around us? My youngest daughter gets annoyed with me as I point out every detail of nature when we are in the car together. I think as I age I realize the power in a sunset, an amazing cloud, glistening snow, changing trees, and budding flowers. The response I get is, “I know Mom, I see it!” But, do we take the time to REALLY see it???

If you look out a window right now and up into the sky, do you SEE what God spoke into existence? God created such an awesome universe that surrounds us. Nature captures the glory of God.

As I have reflected on this verse the past few days, I have taken some extra time and been more aware of what is around me. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit in my car and just stare out the window at the Illinois River and its surroundings. It was a grey, dreary day, nothing spectacular. As I stared down into the river I saw a few birds flitting from tree to tree and in the grasses. Before I realized it, I looked just beyond my car and a vibrant red cardinal was perched at the top of a long willowy grass. I was breath-taken at the color and stillness of that bird. I became more intent at watching for birds and my eyes were opened. There were cardinals, blue jays, robins, and a few other unidentified birds flying all around. At one point, three cardinals were pecking the ground 5 feet from my car. It is amazing what we see when we are still and really looking.

God created such an awesome universe that surrounds us. May we be inspired to live a life that shines with God’s glory and grace. Take the time today to notice His creation and worship Him for the incredible inspiration that surrounds us.

Never Forget


Deuteronomy 4:9-14
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it bled with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. Then the Lord spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets. And the Lord directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.

Moses was very intentional in making sure the people of Israel did not forget all of the amazing things they had seen God do. That is why he urged parents to teach their children about God’s great miracles.

This principle is still so important today! We have to share with our children our “God” stories. What have you seen God do in your life? We must never forget what God has done in our lives. Sharing these stories builds faith and keeps our eyes on God. Do not forget all of the amazing things that you have seen God do in your life!

God has given each of us a unique story. His plan for our lives is individualized. Do others know what you believe and why? Do your children and others around you know the story of how you came to faith and how God has worked in your life to strengthen your faith? Do they know how God has shown Himself faithful and has helped you through doubts and disappointment? The faithfulness of God is a story that we have the privilege to pass on. Never forget what God has done for you and share it!

Jacob’s Ladder


So, how did you sleep last night? Did you sleep in a bed? Do you have a favorite pillow? And, did you have any dreams? If you did, do you even remember what you dreamt?

Yesterday in our Bible reading, Ross did an amazing job of describing how Jacob schemed his own plan to steal the birthright from his brother Esau. Of course, Esau was furious with Jacob, so Jacob fled from his home and family. Jacob had to be exhausted from all that he had just experienced. His mind had to be swirling with many thoughts of what his future held. He was traveling to a place he had never been. Would he ever be able to return home?

Today, we will look at Genesis 28 and the story of Jacob’s dream.

“Meanwhile, Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran. At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone to rest his head against and lay down to sleep. As he slept, he dreamed…” Genesis 28:10-12

As Jacob slept, the Lord revealed Himself to Jacob in a dream. This vision opened up heaven for Jacob to see angels ascending and descending on a ladder from the throne of God. The Lord promised that Jacob’s descendants would return to the land, would multiply in population, and would bless all people on the earth. In addition, the Lord promised to be with Jacob for the rest of his life.

After all of the fear and anxiety that Jacob had felt, God gives Jacob this dream to say, “I will be with you.” There is no more guilt, fear or anxiety. Jacob is shown that there is no place he can go where God is not already there. “I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” Genesis 28:15

In Jacob’s dream, God was at the top of the ladder and Jacob was at the bottom. The angels were going up and down the ladder to the throne of God. We still have the ladder from Heaven, but now Jesus is our ladder to Heaven. In John 1 Jesus the Son of God is at the bottom of the ladder. Jesus Christ has come down the ladder to join us here on earth.

Jesus Christ is himself the stairway that leads back to heaven. If you want to go to heaven, Jesus is the way. He is the ladder that will take you from here to there. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6) “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51)

We all can see ourselves in the life of Jacob. Trying to scheme our own plans, running, anxious and fearful. We are not promised an easy life here on earth without struggles and pain. But God promises us that He is with us and will protect us wherever we go. God is waiting for us just as He was waiting for Jacob.

Share the Good News


Twelve years ago our family began to travel to a beach town in Northern Mexico on the Sea of Cortez. At the time we lived in Southern Arizona so the town of Puerto Penasco was an easy drive. It was on these vacations that we began the search for Sand Dollars and it was always a race to be the first to find one. Now we have a large collection at home. Three years ago I learned that there is actually a legend about the sand dollar. Now that I know what the sand dollar actually represents I have an even deeper appreciation for them. And, and even bigger desire to find more. We are on vacation right now and the beach is abundant with sand dollars. Our first morning out, we found 12 of them!

The sand dollar is a visible way to see God through His creation. The sand dollar is a flat looking burrowing sea urchin. It lives on the floor of shallow sandy waters along the coasts of the ocean. The urchin is washed up on the beach and bleached by the sun.

On the top part of the shell you can see the center is a star. This star represents the Star of Bethlehem that led the Wise Men to the manger when Jesus was born. Around the star is the outline of the Easter lily, which is a sign of Our Lord’s Resurrection.

At the edges of the star are four holes and in the center another hole. These holes remind us of the wounds the Lord suffered on His hands and feet while on the Cross.

On the back side of the sand dollar you will find an outline of the Poinsettia, the Christmas flower.

Finally, when you break open the sand dollar, five “doves” appear. These doves represent the Peace and Joy of Christmas. There are always five doves inside the sand dollar.

Here is a poem by an unknown author about the legend of the Sand Dollar:

The legend of the Sand dollar
That I would like to tell
Of the birth and death of Jesus Christ
Found in this lowly shell.

If you will examine closely,
You’ll see that you find here
Four nail holes and a fifth one
Made by a Roman’s spear.

On one side the Easter Lily,
It’s center is the star
That appeared unto the shepherds
And led them from afar.

The Christmas Poinsettia
Etched on the other side
Reminds us of His Birthday,
Our joyous Christmas tide.

Now break the center open
And here you will release
The five white doves awaiting
To spread good will and peace.

This simple little symbol,
Christ left for you and me.
To help to spread His Message
Through all eternity.

I love the act of finding Sand Dollars even more now that I can attach a meaning of the Love of God to them. I love that God gives us physical reminders of His presence and practical ways we can share Him and His story with others.

Acts 20:24
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

Remembrance

The picture above is what I see as I lie in bed at night waiting for my eyes to close.  It is a blue hue of the lights reflecting from our outside bushes in the top of our bedroom window.  What peace these lights give me.  They remind me of a day when Jesus held me close and took all of my daily challenges and worries and brought me through to the other side.  

Psalm 105:5 – Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced…

Do you remember what God has done for you?  Do you have any physical reminders?  When Joshua led God’s people towards their new home, they had to cross the Jordan River.  God parted the waters, and His people walked through on dry land.  To create a memorial of this miracle, they took twelve stones from the middle of the riverbed and stacked them on the other side.  When others asked what the stones meant, God’s people would tell the story of what God had done that day.

Joshua 4:5-7  

“And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you.  When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tel them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord.  When it passes over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.  So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”

Do you have a story to tell?  Especially during this Christmas season when we think of baby Jesus being born for us?  Physical reminders of God’s faithfulness in the past can remind us to trust Him in the present and with our future.

Our family has had a  Christmas tradition for the past 16 years.  Every Christmas we decorate the outside of our house with blue Christmas lights.  This tradition began just after Thanksgiving in 2001.  I had just been diagnosed with a brain tumor and then found out I was pregnant.  After being at the hospital all evening for some diagnostic testing, my husband and I came home to our tree in the backyard being covered with blue lights.  My parents had been at our house all day with our 2 and 4 year old and decided to put the lights on the tree.  That tree brought me joy.  It was such an unknown time in my life. I had to have total dependence on Jesus and His plan for my life and the baby I now carried.  Each night I remember the light that would glow into our kitchen and family room.  If you want to go back and read a bit about our brain tumor adventure you can go back and read about it in the Bible Journal post I wrote on December 10, 2017: Tested to Tears

The blue lights that hang on our bushes today are a remembrance for me and my family.  They remind us of the season of life we faced 16 years ago and what God did for our family!  He healed me of the tumor and brought a precious life into this world.  Every year somebody comments on our blue lights and it allows me the opportunity to tell of what Jesus has done for me!  To share the Hope that He gives. 

What reminders do you physically have around you that remind you of what God has done and brought you through?  This Christmas Season start with one thing to remind you of a promise that has come true in your life.  In the stress and weariness of the days leading up to Christmas, the reminders of what God has done bring us back to reality.  The reality that Christ was born for you and me.  That He is real and His promises are true.  We need these reminders daily, sometimes hourly!!

Joshua 4:24      “so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your GOD forever.”

Share the Good News!

In the past 6 months we have shown our house to 3 prospective families who are relocating to our town.  Our house is not officially on the market, but a few realtors know that we have a desire to downsize now that 2 of our 3 kids are off to college, so they reach out to us.  Each time after the showing we have gotten a phone call from the showing agent saying, “Your house showed great!  They really liked it!  It is one of their top 2 choices.  We will get back to you soon!”  With this news our minds start reeling with thoughts!  Where will we move?  How much time will we have to find a new house?  The excitement grows quickly.  But, low and behold, 3 times now, we have gotten the same phone call, “They really loved your house, but they chose the other one.”  So many questions go through our minds at this point!  What is wrong with our house?  God, don’t you want us to downsize and save money?  Will we ever get out of this house?  God what is your plan???

Today we read the first chapter of the Book of Acts.  Jesus has spent the past 40 days with His disciples.  They saw and touched his nail pierced hands.  They ate together.  They talked about the Kingdom of God.  They enjoyed being together.  The disciples were asking Jesus exactly this question.  God what is your plan?  If you are leaving us, what are we to do?  

Acts 1:6-8 (ESV) So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

The Father alone sets the dates and times of our future’s events.  And as much as we want to know what’s next, the answers are not for us to know.  

Jesus had to leave so that we could be armed with the presence of and power of the Holy Spirit.  We are given one mission as Jesus states in the verse above, to be His witness to ALL people.  Everywhere we go, we need to tell people about Jesus.

As we face our day and the unknown days ahead of us, we are not without purpose.  Even though we may not know our next steps.  Or, we may receive answers that we don’t think are right, we are not without direction.  The Holy Spirit is with us and longs to be part of all our interactions each and every moment.  

May we not miss a moment today when: 

talking with our neighbor, the grocery store check out person, the Starbuck’s drive through person, our child’s teacher, our child’s coach, our co-worker, our boss, our parents, and even our own children…

to know that THEY are our purpose! We need to share the love of Jesus with each and every person we encounter!

The Holy Spirit is with us and He will empower us as we tell them about Jesus and who Jesus is to us.  

Share the good news!

Love God, Love People!

We Are His Sheep

I am a visual learner.  Give me pictures, videos, or word pictures and you have my attention.  In todays reading of John 10 we get a picture of sheep.  The first 21 verses in this chapter are titled, The Good Shepherd and His Sheep.  For some reason I have always had a fascination with sheep.  I remember as a young child watching sheep being sheered either on Sesame Street or Mr Rodgers.  It was amazing how all of that wool comes off of them and they are completely transformed!  

Why does Jesus refer to us as sheep?  There are hundreds of references to sheep in the Bible.  God chose to use the word sheep to identify His followers. 

According to answers.com, here are some characteristics of sheep:

1. timid, fearful, easily packed 2. dumb, stupid, gullible 3. very vulnerable to fear, frustration, pests, hunger 4. easily influenced by a leader, by the shepherd 5. stampede easily, vulnerable to mob psychology 6. little or no means of self-defense 7. easily killed by enemies 8. the shepherd is most effective, calming influence 9. jealous, competitive for dominance 10. constantly need fresh water, fresh pasture 11. have very little discernment in choosing food or water 12. best water source is early morning dew 13. perverse, stubborn – will insist on their own way 14. easily “cast” or flipped over on their back, unable to right themselves will die of starvation if not turned over by the shepherd; helpless 15. frequently look for easy places to rest 16. don’t like to be sheered, cleaned 17. too much wool can cause sheep to be easily “cast” 18. creatures of habit; get into “ruts” 19. need the most care of all livestock 20. need to be “on the move”;need a pre-determined plan, pattern of grazing 21. totally dependent of shepherd for every need 22. need “rod and staff” guidance.

Wow!  That is quite a list.  Read through it again and see if any of those characteristics can apply to you.  I have to admit, I see myself in quite a few of those descriptions.  These are ALL the reasons why WE NEED A SHEPHERD!!

Sheep are simpleminded and totally dependent upon the shepherd who tends to them with care and compassion.  Shepherds are the providers, guides, protectors and constant companions of sheep.  

Sheep respond immediately to the care of their shepherd – and only their shepherd.  Jesus said, “The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  After he has gathered his own flock, he was ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:3-4 NLT).

The sheep have a security and direction because they know their shepherd and respond to his commands.

We have so many similarities to sheep.  There are so many things in this world that can trip us up.  But we have a shepherd who we can turn to and will guide us.  Do you know Your shepherd?  Do you seek His voice daily?  Thank you God for directing our lives!

*If you are fascinated with sheep like I am, check out Ray Carmen on Facebook.  He has a page called Enjoy the Shepherd and he has short daily devotions pertaining to his sheep.  I enjoy them!

Our shepherd is Jesus and He is leading the way.

A Pitcher of Water

“Where do you want us to go?” they asked him.  He replied.  “As soon as you enter Jerusalem, a man carrying a pitcher of water will meet you. Follow him.  At the house he enters, say to the owner, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is the guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’  He will take you upstairs to a large room that is already set up.  That is the place.  Go ahead and prepare our supper there.  They went off to the city and found everything just as Jesus had said, and they prepared the Passover supper there.           Luke 22:9-13

Luke 22 tells us of one of the most significant days in the life of Jesus.  He is preparing for a special dinner with His disciples.  It would be the last time they would all be together on this earth.  At this dinner, Jesus will demonstrate a significant way to remember Him and the sacrifice He is about to make. 

Jesus instructed the disciples to prepare for the Passover dinner, where He would institute The Lord’s Supper.  In preparation, He gave His disciples specific instructions on where to go and how to get ready for the dinner.

It all started in Bethany, that morning, Jesus sent Peter and John ahead to Jerusalem with the instructions to prepare a place where they would eat the Passover meal.  He told them that when they entered the city they would see a man carrying a “pitcher of water” 

First of all, does it seem odd that Peter and John did what Jesus told them to do and not even question?  That they would just happen upon a man in the city that was carrying a pitcher of water and he would magically lead them to a room that was already set up for their dinner?  Are we that willing to do something like this and follow Jesus?  I think I might have stalled a bit and asked a few questions before leaving.  But these two men followed the instructions given to them and set out to find the man carrying a pitcher of water without question.

The important point to note in this passage is that it was highly unusual for a man to be carrying a water pitcher – at any time.  A man carrying a pitcher of water would be very easy for the disciples to pick out in a crowded public area.

We don’t know the details of this man’s life.  Why was he doing the job of carrying water when usually a woman did this?  Did his wife die?  Was she sick?  Had he made a mistake that left him alone?  No matter the reason he was carrying the pitcher that day, we know that the Lord used him as a sign. The man was just completing a daily chore of fetching water, but he would be leading men to one of the most significant events in the Bible.  

Peter and John found the man and asked him where the guest room is.  This man, who is nameless, led Peter and John to one of thee most historical events ever.  He did an incredible service for the Lord and was used mightily for eternal purposes.  He led the disciples to were they would eat Passover with Jesus.  

God saw and knew the life circumstances of this man.  God chose to use him through a mundane chore of life, carrying a water pitcher.  This man is forever documented in the Bible for leading the disciples to their last dinner with Jesus.  

God uses us no matter what life circumstances we are in.  God uses us in our everyday circumstances.  Are you willing to carry the water pitcher today and willing to let God use you?

The nameless man was carrying a pitcher of water, but Jesus was about to prepare the disciples for the living water that was about to come.  

PRAY

 

This morning as I wake up and prepare for the day, I am easily overwhelmed at my list of to-do’s!  Today contains:  a workout at the gym, mowing the yard along with fall yard clean-up, making a meal for my husbands’ grandpa, writing this Bible Journal Post, picking up the house for the weekend, attending the high school football game to watch my daughter cheer, and anything else that may pop up.  I am totally focused on what I have to do and accomplish.  But this is NOT the work that Jesus calls me to do!  All the things on my list today are good and may serve others, but the focus is not on God.

God tells us in our reading today, Luke 10, that our focus should be PRAYER.

And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Luke 10:2 (ESV)

We have to shift our focus from our daily work or list of to-do’s and focus on PRAYER.  It is hard to do, because prayer is not busy work, it does not seem to help us accomplish much in the immediate.  But, this is the issue, we focus on our immediate presence and what is before us.  We focus on what we have to accomplish today, right now.  And all this time, God is asking us to pray for workers – not be the worker.

There is so much work to be done.  When we step out of our homes we are faced with the tragedy and crisis all around us.  It is easy to think, “How can I help fix this, or what can I do to help show love to a neighbor in need?”.  We can easily stay busy meeting the needs of all those around us, and this is good work.   We are called to love and serve our neighbors.  But Luke 10:2 first calls us to PRAY!

In this chapter, Jesus is preparing 72 disciples to go out and reach the people.  These 72 are not to do the job of reaching others all by themselves, but they are to PRAY for more workers.  They are to begin by gathering more people to PRAY.  To PRAY that other people will join them in reaching out.

I know that I spend so much more time on my to-do’s then I do in prayer.  What is your focus today?  God calls us to pray for more workers to bring the good news to our neighbors.  Will you pray for this today??

Garden of Gethsemane

As I have been reading Mark 14 this week, I am overwhelmed at the number of events that are contained in this chapter!  There is so much to glean from these 72 verses.  But, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, the most important lesson is that it points us to Jesus, who He is and what He did for us as a human.

I encourage you to read this chapter and see what God has to show you concerning all the events in Mark 14:

  1.  The woman that anoints Jesus with oil
  2. How Judas agrees to betray Jesus
  3. Jesus and the Disciples share the Last Supper
  4. How Jesus agonizes in the Garden
  5. Jesus is betrayed and arrested
  6. Jesus is questioned by Caiaphus
  7. Peter denies knowing Jesus

I want to focus on Jesus and what He faced in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Mark 14:32-36                                                                                     32They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”  33He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.  34“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,:  he said to them.  “Stay here and keep watch.”  35Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.  36“Abba, Father, he said, everything is possible for you.  Take this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Jesus faced his suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The meaning of this garden is actually “oil press”.  In this garden, Jesus can actually feel what it is going to be like when the weight of the sins of his people literally crush or press him and take his life.  

He asks God to “take this cup from me” in verse 36.  What is the
“cup”?  It is helpful to look back at the Old Testament to see what the “cup” stands for.  In Psalm 23:4 and 116:13 we see that a cup can be filled with blessing and salvation.  Or as in Isaiah 51:17 and Ezekiel 23:33, the cup can be filled with wrath and horror.  Many Old Testament passages use the metaphor of the cup as a reference to God’s fierce judgment.  

So, when Jesus prays, “take this cup from me”, he is referring to the references above.  He knew that when He went to the cross he would drink the cup of god’s wrath.  He would have to bear all divine judgment.  In the process of drinking the cup, he would suffer horribly, both in the physical realm and especially in the spiritual realm as he is separated from His Father.

In Jesus’ prayer in the Garden, we see that he is a genuine human being, one who is fully human as well fully divine.  I can take away from this passage that Jesus is more like me that I realize.  He is not some superhuman figure that goes to the cross without a second thought or tiny hesitation.  Jesus shows us his gut-wrenching honesty of what he is about to face.

Jesus modeled true openness with his Father as he prayed in the Garden.  He was beyond troubled.  Let this be a model for us, as we know we will face trouble in this world.

John 16:33 states, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

We may speak openly to Jesus just as He did with the Father.  With every trouble we face, be it big or little, we need to make sure we take it to Jesus.  Jesus knew what was coming up for him.  He was overwhelmed with what was set before him.  He shows us 3 things that he did in these verses, we need to do the same when we face troubles:

1-Pray to God (14:35)

2-Seek support of friends and loved ones (14:33,37,40,41)

3-Focus on the purpose god has given us (14:36)

Jesus faced the ultimate suffering for us so that we could live eternally with Him.  Let us take each and every trouble to Him and lay it at His feet.  I am sure relieved that there are two more chapters in the book of Mark and it ends in VICTORY!!!