Is Anything Worth More

Today’s reading is Mark 8 and Ps 132

 

This year we have spent quite a bit of time looking at the Gospels and the relationships between Jesus and His disciples. Mark 8 tells us two miracles that Jesus did and it shows us several conversations that Jesus had with His disciples. I’ve had the privilege of writing on both of those miracles and the discussion Jesus and Peter have in this chapter so today I want to concentrate on the last few verses of Mark 8.

Vs38” Calling the crowd to join His disciples, He said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your own soul?”

I think as Christians, we have heard this passage or portions of it, quoted so often we get a little callous to what Jesus was trying to convey to the crowd, His disciples and to us. When this was written, the people it was written to were under Roman rule and the phrase “take up your cross” was common knowledge to all. Everyone knew that death on a cross was the form of execution used by Roman soldiers for dangerous criminals and they knew that a prisoner had to carry his own cross to the place of execution to show submission to Rome’s power. So Jesus was saying to these people, take up your cross and follow Me, meaning, show submission to Me by choosing to follow Me instead of choosing to satisfying yourself. One of the commentaries I looked at said, “Jesus asks us for submission, not self-hatred; He asks us only to lose our self-centered determination to be in charge.” That makes the meaning hit home hard and fast for me. Lose my self-centered determination to be in charge. Isn’t this what we all want, control? Don’t we want to manage our own schedules, set our own priorities, value the people we choose to value, spend our money the way we want to and then fit Jesus into what is left of our life? “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross and follow me.”

Jesus knows we need more convincing…more to think through and consider. “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” We are so human. It’s all we know. Life on earth is all we have experienced. It’s hard to be human and live for eternity. It requires trust, belief and real relationship with God. We humans have the hardest time grasping that life on earth is temporary. Stuff, position and power are worthless compared to our souls, eternal life with Him. Is anything worth more than your soul? When I am able to get my perspective right on this and give over my desire for control, stuff, position and power to follow God’s plan, God is so gracious. He gifts eternal life plus an abundant and joy filled life here on earth. He loves us so well that eternal life isn’t enough of a gift for Him to give. We matter so much to Him that He wants to help us change and become more like Him while we are on this earth. He gives us part of Himself, to live inside us to guide, teach, convict and grow each of us in His Spirit. So as we close today, I ask you to spend some more time with Jesus question. “Is anything worth more than your own soul?”

Anchor For Our Souls

 

Today’s reading is John 16 and Ps 118

John 16 is mostly comprised of Jesus telling His disciples about plans for the future, what they should expect and what they will experience, and what will happen to Himself. None of this is easy news for the disciples to hear or grasp. I sort of feel like after a short three years of time with Jesus, they might just be getting the hang of how to do ministry with Him. They might just be beginning to understand God’s power in themselves and the call to bring the good news to the rest of the world. They are just now figuring out their role in traveling with Jesus and teaching with Him. …and then Jesus sits down with them for a discussion and everything changes.

Jesus tells His disciples that they will be kicked out of the synagogues, people will be trying to kill them, they will be scattered, each one going his own way and worst of all Jesus is leaving them. They are so taken back by this news that they don’t even think to ask Him where He is going. They are shellshocked and can only deal with how this is affecting their lives. Then Jesus continues by saying that it is actually best for them if He goes away. How can this be? He IS the ministry, how can they continue to teach and convert people to faith in Him if He is not with them?

We know the end of the story. We know that God’s plan is that Jesus gives His life to pay for our sin so we can be made clean and new. We know that His perfect blood draining from His body is what pays the price to purchase us and make it possible for us to be in God’s presents. We know that we live with the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit in us every day. These poor disciples have their entire world flopped upside-down in one conversation and they don’t seem real comfortable or confident in the new plans. They don’t understand. I can only guess that in their minds they are wondering why everything can’t just stay as is, and why they can’t continue Jesus ministry WITH Him. They can’t see God’s plan. We have a different vantage point to view this chapter, and boy are we grateful that God completed His plan and made a way for us to be with Him.

How often are we scared, sad or frustrated with our circumstances because they don’t make sense to us? We don’t understand why we are going through this pain or hardship. It doesn’t make sense that God would allow us to land where we have landed. Surely He hasn’t seen how this affects us? This seems harsh, but sometimes the stuff we face isn’t about us. Jesus was accomplishing He and His Father’s plan to save all of mankind. Even though He loves His friends dearly, and knows how hard these circumstances will be for them to live through, He still needs to finish the plan. So knowing the disciples’ fear, frustration and questions, Jesus says three things to them in this chapter to help them through this really hard time.

1, vs 12 “I want to tell you so much more, but you can’t bear it now.”  He knows how they feel. He sees their fear, and feels their frustration. He wants to help them through this with more information but He knows that more information is too much for them to take right now so He protects them from more than they can handle.

2, vs 22 “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy.” Again, He knows how they feel after this news, but He gives them hope. He tells them that it will get hard, but He will see them again and their joy will be great.

Finally 3, vs 33 “I have told you all of this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” Who can comfort us this way, with these powerful words? No one but God! Knowing that we will face hard things, He wants us to have His peace. He assures us that no matter how hard our lives are, eternity is with Him because He has overcome the world. Does this truth make our lives easier? Does it remove the sting of pain when life is hard? Does it take away our frustration when we feel we have been wronged? We still have to live through the pain, frustration and fear on earth but we have hope. Heb 6:18-19 tells us, “ We who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.”

Believe

Today’s reading is John 2 and Ps 104

Shortly after Jesus gathers His disciples and starts spending time with them, He attends a wedding with His mom and His new disciples. I’m guessing that it was either a family wedding or a close family friend getting married because when the party runs into a snag, somebody let’s “Aunt Mary” know that there is a problem that needs solving quickly. The party has run out of wine and the festivities are far from over. This issue requires a remedy to keep the host from being completely ashamed and embarrassed in front of his entire guest list, and the happy couple celebrating their special day with all their friends and family. Mary knows who her Son is and knows He can change this situation so she tells Him that they are out of wine. Jesus seems reluctant to step in and do a miracle because He hasn’t publically or maybe officially started His ministry. He is not ready for the entire town to hear about Him yet, maybe because He hasn’t had enough time to teach and train His disciples for the ministry they are about to embark on. The time isn’t right for a big public display, the kind of story that will spread like wildfire through families, friends and towns. So Jesus discreetly goes in the back room with the servants, gives them some simple instructions and returns to His seat. The party continues. The host is praised for saving his best wine for last, the happy couple continues their celebration and the guests are having a lovely evening enjoying a great party. But something else happens. Look at verse 11. “His disciples believed in Him.” Why would John make mention of this? What makes him document the disciples belief? Isn’t it obvious that they believe because they left their families, homes and jobs to follow Him?

 

Today, let’s consider the depth and expanse of the meaning of “believe”. I started my relationship with Jesus at a young age. 45+ years later I am sure that my commitment and declaration of belief in Jesus was very real and sincere when I prayed with my mom asking Jesus into my heart. I would say that the next 8-12 years after my declaration were a time of learning about Jesus and His expectations for my life. After that training period, my belief was tested in very real ways by other people in my life asking questions about the reasons I chose to live the way I lived. They were questioning my motives, and for me to make my belief my very own and not just information passed down by my parents, my belief grew deeper and more resilient to keep up with my need to answer others. Then I got married and we had kids. My belief had to grow again to accommodate the discipline I needed to teach our kids truth. Then I got sick. My illness was serious enough that we spent several months, maybe years not sure if I would survive. This required a new type of belief and trust than I had ever even considered possible. Did I believe that God loved my husband and kids more than I did? Did I trust Him to care for them if I couldn’t be here? This kind of “believe” looks different than the 4 year old kind. I would say that initial belief is very real and genuine even if it is simple belief, but the more we experience of God and His work in our lives, the deeper and more broad our belief grows. The disciple’s belief and commitment was real and genuine when they left their lives to follow Jesus, and their belief and trust grew from each experience they lived through with Jesus. This miracle at the wedding was one of, if not the first miracle that they saw and experienced. Before this experience at the wedding, Jesus was talk and ideas. When they experienced what He could do, this was noteworthy. Vs 11, “His disciples believed in him”.   

If you need a refresher or just want some extra assurance that your God is worth believing in today, read through ps 104 and see how He cares for earth and the creatures He created. Vs 31, “May the glory of the Lord continue forever! The Lord takes pleasure in all he has made!” Let all that I am praise the Lord!

Life is Hard

Today’s reading is Matt 17 and Ps 90

 

As we read through Matt 17 today, my heart goes out to Peter. I know that the main focus of the Gospels is Jesus, but when I look at this (maybe) month of time in Peter’s life I feel like I can relate to the spiritual and emotional roller coaster he seems to be riding. Yesterday, Deb wrote about the disciples being questioned by Jesus, “Do you not remember what I have done? Remember just a few days ago I fed the crowd with a few loaves of bread? They had to feel frustrated by the fact that Jesus had to remind them who He was. Then Jesus asks them who they think He is. Definite high point for Peter as he answers correctly to Jesus, but I can’t help feeling for him again by the end of the paragraph as Jesus places the weight of the future of the church on his shoulders. Then Peter gets in a conversation with Jesus where Jesus predicts His death. Peter loves Him so much that he pulls Jesus aside and says, “Heaven forbid, this will never happen to You”. Jesus response seems harsh, “Get away from me, Satan! You are seeing things merely from a human standpoint, not from God’s”. I think I feel sorry for Peter here because I can hear myself saying the exact same thing if I were in his shoes. Because of Peter’s relationship with Jesus, he knows just enough about Jesus to be dangerous. He wants so much to love and protect Jesus and continue the good work that they have been doing as a group. He has walked away from his entire life to follow Jesus and has thrown himself at the work whole heartedly. He can’t possibly fathom that God’s plan is for Jesus to actually lose His life. It just can’t be!

Six days later, Peter goes with James, John and Jesus to get away to pray. While they are up on the mountain Peter witnesses Jesus transfiguration. I would say this is a spiritual “high” that none of us has ever come close to experiencing. Again Peter is eager to jump into action and commemorate this glorious thing they have witnessed by building altars as memorials. This time not Jesus but God Himself speaks to Peter and poor Peter is scared out of his mind. He falls face down on the ground. As the four men travel back down the mountain, a large crowd is waiting for them. They are instantly thrown right back into ministry with very little time to digest what happened earlier. A man comes to Jesus and asks for help for his son. He tells Jesus that he had earlier brought his son to the disciples to be healed but that they weren’t able to do it. Again what feels like a harsh statement from Jesus, “You faithless and corrupt people, how long must I be with you?, and Jesus heals the boy. Peter is there watching and listening to all, I’m sure feeling very small.

The next thing we know from Matthew is that the disciples and Jesus gather in Galilee, and Jesus again tells them that He will be killed, but on the third day He will be raised from the dead. “And the disciples were filled with grief”. Are you feeling for Peter by now too? I feel like his heart had to have felt twisted and pulled in so many different directions…His earthly mind was being taught and challenged to heavenly living. The plan was bigger than he could see or understand. He couldn’t make sense of his circumstances and he couldn’t possibly see how what he was going through was going to end up being good and a part of God’s plan. Have you ever lived in this space? Have you wondered what God’s plan is and how all that is happening to you can possibly be known by God because it is such a big mess?

The last four verses of this chapter are one more conversation between Jesus and Peter on a yet another issue needing to be dealt with. The tax collector is waiting for them when they get back to town. He is looking for what is due for Peter and Jesus’ temple tax. Jesus teaches Peter another lesson about who He is and how to live on this earth, heavenly speaking. To keep from causing a ruckus with the government at this time in His ministry, Jesus asks Peter to go ahead and pay the tax even though the temple is Jesus’ “home/kingdom”. Apparently neither of them had the cash on hand for the tax so Jesus has the goodness of heart to send Peter to the lake as he knows Peter loves to fish. Jesus has him throw out a line and open the mouth of the first fish he catches to find a large silver coin which will pay for their taxes.  I’m so glad that Jesus shows His love for Peter in this miracle. I’m thinking after all Peter has gone through in these last few chapters, he has to be about worn slick, at the bottom of his emotional barrel. Don’t you think that being cared for by Jesus in this personal and practical way, was meaningful to Peter?

Today I want to encourage you to take some time to look back through your life and see if you can see some personal touches from God at specific times in your life. Has He changed circumstances that you were powerless over? Has He comforted you or shown His presents in a personal way when you felt alone or abandoned? Has He provided money when you couldn’t pay for something you needed or really wanted to pay for? Has He gifted you with a relationship or another person when your heart longed for companionship? How about a miraculous intercession in a dangerous situation or accident where you know He stepped in to change circumstances to safe your life or a loved one’s life? I can’t possibly list all the ways God reaches out to show His love to us. I do think it is worth taking the time to look for and even list the ways that you know God has intervened in your life to show you personally how much He loves you and cares for you. Like Deb said yesterday, we need to remember because it helps us understand Him and His work.

God Has a Plan

Today’s reading is Matt 2 and Psalm 76

 

As I read through Matt 2 this morning I am struck by two things. One, the number of prophecies quoted and fulfilled in these few verses and two, the level of protection that God  had to lay over this young couple and their new baby to keep Him alive.

Let’s start with the prophecies. In vs 3-4, King Herod who is jealous of this baby and concerned for his job because of what he has heard about the baby’s future, calls all his best priests and teachers together to ask them some questions. He wants to know where this baby is to be born, and they reply with what a prophet of God wrote over 400 years earlier. Then in vs 17-18, Herod kills all of the baby boys in Bethlehem to try to wipe out the baby and his actions fulfill what God said through Jeremiah 500-600 years earlier. Then at the end of the chapter Joseph is told by an angel to take Mary and the baby back to Israel, which fulfilled a third prophecy which said that Jesus would be called a Nazarene. From this list of prophecies I learn:

1-God Has a plan. I am so easily swayed and discouraged by my circumstances. When I think about and remember that God has a plan and He will complete His plan, it changes the way my circumstances affect me.

2-Nothing is a surprise to God, nothing makes Him think, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming”. Living each day knowing that He knows what is coming my way brings a sense of security and the beautiful reminder that my God knows everything!

3-God is trustworthy and faithful to keep His word every time. If he says it, it will happen!

Next let’s look at and think through the early years of Jesus life and watch how God’s plan unfolds with God’s protection accomplishing every step in the plan. We saw yesterday how God prepared Mary and Joseph (kids) to be Jesus earthly parents. Then we know from Luke that these kids, had to make a trip to be counted for a census. Pregnant and almost due for delivery, these two take off from Nazareth to walk to Bethlehem, around 80 miles. Look, I’ve got to be honest here and say that the fact that Mary actually made this trip pregnant and on foot or better yet, a donkey is almost as big a miracle as her conception! (I am sorry, but I have to mentally put myself in the shoes of Mary and Joseph to actually grasp the meaning of the story.) Then, Jesus is born in a barn. This, in my mind requires a level of protection from God that spans more ground than I have time to cover here. Sometime within the first year of Jesus life, God sends His angel to Joseph in a dream and warns him to take the baby and get out of the country and to stay until God says to return, because the king is trying to kill their baby. What must have been going through their minds at this point? Is it not enough to go through the embarrassment and shame of a pregnancy before marriage, a scary and physically daunting trip and childbirth in a barn? Now they run for their lives because the king/President wants to kill their child. But they trusted that God would be faithful and keep His word and accomplish His plan so they obeyed. Really, when I put myself in their shoes it is amazing to me that they were able to trust and obey. Then when Herod dies, God tells them in a dream that it’s safe to return. God has a plan. Nothing that happens is a surprise to God. God is trustworthy and faithful to keep His word every time. If you need more evidence that this is truth, read through Ps 76 and watch for Asaph’s description of God accomplishing His plan fourteen generations before Jesus birth occurred.

My Refuge

Psalm 62

 

Vs 1-2 “ I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken.” vs 5-8 “Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. My victory and honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me. O my people, trust in Him at all times. Pour out your heart to Him, for God is our refuge.”  

So much power, truth and beauty in these words. “I wait quietly before God”. How often do I sit quietly and wait before God?  What does that look like? Can you grasp how much self-control it takes to sit quietly and wait before God… without asking for forgiveness, help, or intervention from Him? Shoot, just without talking! How often am I willing to sit quietly and wait? First, waiting takes time. Time that we don’t feel like we have to give. Time, may arguably be our most precious commodity in this country, society, and age. Honestly, “waiting” is probably considered one of the biggest wastes of our time and causes us more frustration than most other things. Second, I have thought for years that waiting for answers to the unknown is one of the hardest things in life. I was reading earlier this week the story of Abraham and Sarah waiting for a child. The commentator wrote, “There probably isn’t anything harder to do than wait.”. Finally someone said it! Waiting is hard. Waiting shows us that we are not in control. A lot of times when we wait, we are powerless to do anything to change the situation or make the process move any faster. Hmmm… I wonder why God asks us to wait before Him?  

When we are willing to use one of our most precious commodities, time, and put our hearts in the proper place of knowing we can’t control our own circumstances we are in the prime place to hear what God wants to tell us. I want to challenge you today to try this. Take 2-5 minutes this morning to sit quietly before God. (If you are anything like me, you will probably have to start over several times as your mind will wander to anything but waiting on God…and you may need to look at a clock. I can easily lie to myself about how long two minutes actually is.) Just try it today to see if it is a valuable practice that needs to be implemented on your calendar on a regular basis.

“ My hope is in Him, He is my rock, my salvation, my fortress and my refuge. Trust in Him at all times and pour out your heart to Him, He is our refuge.” What can I not face with these truths? I need these words in front of me all of the time! It is so easy to get sidetracked with responsibilities, activities, and schedules. A lot of life, because we need to concentrate and think on other things to complete tasks, pulls us away from thinking on these truths. I want to live my days mindful that my hope is in Him. I want to remember to pour out my heart to Him instead of worrying, telling a friend or complaining about my circumstances. I want to trust Him at all times instead of spending hours trying to figure out how to solve a situation. I want to remember His love for me and every person He created as I interact with others. I want to run to Him first when I think I’ve been wronged, scared or misunderstood.  

Praise Him

Intro to Luke and Ps 48

Yesterday we finished our trip through the New Testament. For those of you who have been reading with us for almost two years, I wonder if this time through was a different experience for you? Did the slower pace this year allow you to dig in a bit deeper to God’s story? I’m hoping you felt less rushed as I did this time and that slowing down has helped all of us to absorb more of what God is trying to help us learn. Tomorrow we will start back in the book of Luke and take this last few months of the year to look at the gospels another time. Why you ask, would we start with Luke? The answer I was given was “to keep us all on our toes”.

So let’s refresh quickly on our author for this book and then we will spend most of our time in Psalms today. Luke was a doctor by trade and writes a sensitive and careful account of Jesus life on earth. He makes a point of showing us Jesus compassion toward women, the sick, the poor, and those who would be considered the outcasts of society. Luke also writes down more parables than any other gospel writer records. As we enter Fall and then the Christmas season, I love the thought of spending so much of these next few months looking again at Jesus birth, life and ministry. I’m praying that studying the gospels keeps our hearts focussed on why we celebrate Christmas as we walk through the season this year.

 

Ps 48

“Oh God, we meditate on your unfailing love as we worship in your Temple. As your name deserves, O God, you will be praised to the ends of the earth.Your strong right hand is filled with victory.”

As I read these verses this morning, my thoughts carry me to last week when I had the opportunity to attend a banquet for some men, in a program, designed to reclaim their lives from the grip of addiction. Listening to some of their stories impressed upon me that these guys only hope was in God. Some had lived a good portion of their lives controlled by substances. They tried everything in their power to stop and get themselves out of their addictions, but no matter what they did, it wasn’t enough to make lasting change. Until these men could get in an environment where everything was stripped away and they had to get real with who they were and the value that each of them held in God’s eyes, things couldn’t change. But the beauty of a man’s softened heart and the light in his eyes after God has been invited in and allowed to “clean house” is a sight I won’t soon forget. When the daily choice is to “meditate on God’s unfailing love” and “praise God to the ends of the earth” people change. I think the beauty of this group of men is the visible 180 degree turn that each has made to put God above all in their lives. These men started this program at the darkest time in their lives and within a year they have seen and known “God’s right hand filled with victory”! It shows up more distinctly after an intense program, but what does putting God in His rightful place, above all, look like over my lifetime? Can others see the light in my eyes, do they sense a soft heart when they interact with me?

I think the bigger question is, am I inviting God into my life on a daily basis and allowing Him to work on changing me? No matter what our lives have looked like up to this point, we have all missed the mark. There is not one of us who deserves a relationship with God because none of us can even be in His presents without Christ paying the price for our sin and washing us clean before God. The truth is that without God we are ALL in the same boat! Because of this gift, this purchase and this new life in Christ, am I “meditating on God’s unfailing love”? Am I “praising God’s name to the ends of the earth”? Does my life exhibit “God’s strong right hand filled with victory”?  After experiencing the fresh and intense beauty in these newly changed men, I am challenged! I have been washed clean just as they have, but I let time and complacency settle over me and I forget that I been gifted the same change as they have. How can I ever let my heart be unimpressed with the gift I’ve been given? Honestly I can hardly type that question. I’m so humbled and embarrassed before God to admit that there is ever a second of any day that I am not fall-on-my-face grateful for what He has done for me, but the truth is that I get distracted, busy, and think on my own agenda all the time, and before I even realize it, I’ve forgotten. Can we do better? Can we be conscious of His gift while we work? Is it possible to remember Who has purchased us as we interact with others?

I want to close today with the last verse in Ps 48. “He is our God forever and ever, and He will guide us until we die.”  One more gift to be grateful for. He will NEVER leave us! He will guide us until we are done on this earth and in His presents. If I will allow Him to have His rightful place in my heart day after day, He will guide me until I can be with Him in “person”! Praise Him to the ends of the earth!

The Lord Rescues

Intro to 2 Pet and Psalm 34

Welcome this morning to 2 Peter. It looks like Bible scholars best guess is that 2 Peter was written two-ish years after 1 Peter and maybe about a year before Peter died. He sends this second letter because he can foresee some of the problems that the people of Asia Minor will continue to face after he is gone and he wants to shore up their faith and the truth in their hearts. In this letter he warns believers about false teachers who might cause them to question their faith and he wants to seal in their minds that the reports about Jesus are completely true and not fiction. He wants to challenge them to continue to grow in their faith and to live Godly lives in anticipation of Jesus return. It all sounds so very practical for today…isn’t God amazing! He knew what the people of Asia Minor were facing 2000 years ago and He knows that His same help and truth is meaningful to us this morning.

Ps 34 A few days ago my husband and I made the trip to another state to move one of our 18 year old daughters into a dorm to begin her first year away from home at college. She and her dad are planners extraordinaire so for the past 6-8 months they have been making lists, planning schedules, planning weekend visits home, purchasing supplies, and readying her for this move. I knew it would be important for her to have her new surroundings feel like home so I did my part to try to replicate everything (on a much smaller scale) that makes her feel secure and comfortable…down to the same home fragrance we use here.  We even had her favorite meal, tacos, before she left. All three of us felt pretty confident in our preparation, training and readiness for her to move.

The night before my husband and I were to begin our trip back home without our daughter, she came over to our hotel room after dinner to visit. Tear drops started rolling down her cheeks from her big blue eyes and my husband and I felt shredded. She began to tell us that she was fine with being away from home, she was ready to make new friends, and she didn’t feel nervous about how she would do in her classes…everything was fine except that she wasn’t prepared for losing her entire adult support system in one weekend. She has built relationships with parents of kids she babysat for, she was blessed enough to have relationships with several of her good friends parents, we have some family close enough to us that they have been able to be in her life, and we have dear friends who have loved our kids like their own for years. She was losing a big system that would not be quickly replicated in a new city and in a college setting. These people are a big part of her safety net and her everyday life and now they would be miles away. We talked through the fact that none of these people would stop loving and supporting her because of this move but we all knew it would look a lot different. In my heart, I was crying out to God, “How do I help her through this?” I knew I was pretty much powerless.

The next morning my husband and I gave her our final hugs and headed off for 7 ½ hours in the car to home. Our hearts were so heavy we could hardly talk to each other. It was hard. About 4 hours into the trip my husband called our daughter to see how her morning had gone. (We just flat needed some encouragement!) When our daughter answered the phone, she sounded like a different kid than the one we had left a few hours back. She was her usual happy, chipper little self and my husband and I were looking at each other with eyes as big as saucers wondering what had happened. She began to tell us that she had gone to church with a girl she had met at orientation back in June. They went in and found a seat and the lady next to her in the pew introduced herself to the girls. When the lady (who is close to my age) found out they were students, she visited with them and told them they were welcome at her home any time they wanted to get away from the dorm, do some baking or cooking or just study in peace for a few hours. She also made a date for several days later to have them over for dinner. Let me remind you that we are talking about God here… one sweet lady at church just isn’t enough of a gift from Him. He also let our daughter’s roommate run into an adult cousin of hers at church. The cousin and family took the girls out for lunch after church and filled a few more hours of that first long day of nothing to do before classes start. What? Really God? In just a few hours He completely turned things around for our daughter and comforted my husband and I beyond what we can express! Are all her troubles solved with these gifts from God? We all know they are not. She will still feel loss and probably struggle with many different fears about the unknown in the days and weeks to come but she does walk away knowing that God cares deeply about her and what she is dealing with today. She got to see His interest in her life and His love specifically for her, in several people reaching out to meet her exact need, hours after we had cried out to God! I think I could have penned David’s Psalm 34 myself on the rest of our drive home. Read it again, it’s only 22 verses, to see the hope and unabandoned joy that David gets from God, and the praise and gratefulness he tries to give back to God. It’s beautiful and my heart seeks to give God the honor He deserves for His precious personal love for each one of us!

 

Also..the lady who had her over for dinner on Wednesday fixed tacos for dinner!!

Discipline is Love?

 

Today’s reading is Heb 12/Ps 20

Discipline is Loving?

Heb 12 is so full of powerful and meaningful messages, I am having a hard time deciding what to focus on today. The first few verses seem to be taught often and memorized by many that have grown up in a church.  I would guess because the writer is so clear in giving instructions to help us continue to grow in our faith. Strip off the weight that slows us down, especially sin, so we can run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Him. Then in verses 3 and 4, we get a bit of more specific help that is not talked about or quoted quite as much as vs1-2. vs3-”Think of all the hostility He endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. vs4-After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.”  So if you are feeling tired in your “race” right now, think of how Jesus was treated and then killed and maybe your struggles don’t seem quite so severe. It is a very sad and difficult way to be encouraged, but it actually does help. When we take our focus off of our own struggles and think on far harder and more unfair circumstances than our own, our difficulties seem smaller than they felt before we considered Jesus. It changes our mindset enough to help us have the grit to continue striving for what we are aiming at.

Next we move into a section of verses dealing with God’s discipline. I’m pretty sure that it’s not news to any of us that discipline is painful and unpleasant. Why does something have to be painful or unpleasant for us to learn from it? Discipline doesn’t sound very loving so why does God choose to use it? Below are several reasons God brought to mind to help me see His love and protection in discipline.

*We are stubborn and strong willed people who don’t very often learn well from others mistakes. Most of the time we need to live through a situation to actually own the lesson.

*God uses discipline to set us on the proper path. We very rarely wander on our own to the best things for us. We prefer the easier path with less friction. God is trying to train us in His right way of living because He cares for us.

*God wants us to be more like Him so he uses discipline to shape us and change us. We will usually choose the simplest and most pleasant path possible which leaves us very much the same as when we started…selfish. God’s discipline is always intended to direct us to greater holiness. Holiness is about making God bigger, not ourselves.

*Sometimes God uses discipline to turn us away from harm. We are so narrow minded and self centered that sometimes God has to use discipline to get us to look outside of ourselves and see a bigger picture. We forget that His view is so much broader than ours and that He knows more than we do. I think we often miss seeing things He is protecting us from because we can’t see past the end of our own noses.

Last, I couldn’t help but wonder what benefit or up-side there is for God in disciplining me. The answer, I think is none. There is no benefit for Him. The only motivation for Him investing in me is His love for me. It takes more of His time and energy to teach me a needed character trait or a new attitude, but because His love is so much bigger than I can understand, He actually WANTS to invest in you and me. Today, I am overwhelmed by His love and desire not only to save my life, but to go beyond rescue, and actually take the time to help me change. Vs 8-If God doesn’t discipline me as He does all of His other children, it means that I am illegitimate and not really one of His at all. My heart is melted today that God wants me to be one of His children. The truth is that I am worth filthy rags to Him without Christ purchasing me, washing me clean and working in my heart to make me more like Him. The Creator of the universe, the One who stops the waves on the shore, the One who calls the sun up every morning, the One who fills my lungs with air,  sees value in my filthy rags, and wants to rescue and change me. “Thank you” is too small. I can not express my gratefulness this morning.

Introduction to Philemon

 

It seems like Philemon is the last letter that we see Paul write in the new testament, but it was actually written several years before Timothy and Titus. Paul writes this letter to a Christian and slave owner who lives in Colosse. I don’t want to steal Caitlin’s thunder tomorrow as she digs into this writing, but I think it is safe to say that Paul uses a very real life circumstance to show all of us a beautiful picture of what Jesus actually did for us on the cross. Paul sees the broken relationship between a slave and his master and the need for forgiveness to show us our need for reconciliation to God, through Christ. I hope you take the time today to read Philemon and watch for Jesus’ payment on the cross for our sin as you read the story.

This is a bit of a side bar but it popped into my mind as I was thinking about the order of the books in the New Testament. In 2016 a friend and I committed to read through the Bible together within the year. We wanted to do it in a way that would seem different than what we had both tried and failed at in years past, so we decided to read through a Living version of a Chronological Bible. Now I know that there is controversy among scholars around what the actual order is chronologically, but for my and my friend’s purposes the version that we chose was fine. We just wanted to read more chronologically than we had before. It was a very meaningful year. It was so helpful to see God’s fulfilment of the prophecies right after they were spoken. I found more meaning and saw God’s faithfulness in new ways. I loved reading through David’s life and seeing the Psalms that he wrote right in the circumstances that he wrote them. Again, more meaningful. I saw God pursuing us more outright than I had before because of the timeline of the stories. I’m glad that I did it last year and I plan to do it again soon because it helped me so much. I wanted to include this idea here to encourage you consider this method at some point in your life.  

We also get to look together at Psalm 6 today. David is literally freaking out in this Psalm. People are chasing him and trying to kill him. If I take a few seconds and try to put myself in his space mentally before reading this Psalm, it helps me grasp his desperation and fear. He is crying out to God for his life. His words are very honest and he doesn’t seem to mind telling God that he is full of fear, that he is weak and that he needs help. For eight verses he pours out his heart to God and then he says, “the Lord has heard my plea; the Lord will answer my prayer.” These words can only come from a relationship. David knows God. David has seen God be faithful before in his life and so now he can rest, trusting that God will care for him again. I am so grateful that God put this song in the Bible for us to read. I’m so glad to see David’s human fear, weakness and need for help. I wish that when I face something hard, my first reaction would be, “the Lord has heard my plea, the Lord will answer my prayer.” But like David, it takes a little crying out for help and some fear being spoken aloud before I can get to the place where I remember that God is trustworthy and He will be faithful in these circumstances as He has in the past to me.