Contrast and Choice

Life leads to death, but from death comes life.

Contrast is how we evaluate things. Usually this is on a relative basis. We compare one thing to another and it is easy to tell the difference. If we try to compare too many things we are easily confused. The bigger the contrast between things the easier it is to choose one thing over another — but not always.

Everyday we make choices. By comparison deciding between one thing or another and by contrast we are able to make our clearest choices. Sometimes the contrast between two things is so stark that it seems impossible to miss the importance of the distinction.

Comparison and contrast is usually easier if we consider things in pairs. Sort of like having our eyes examined. Discerning something clearly from a large group can be very difficult, but when we can get two things side by side it is much easier to select our preferences, even between things with subtle variation. By comparison, starker contrast make our choices even more certain, harder to miss.

Having recently been away from home for a couple of weeks, living in a big city for most of that time, I was amazed at the sharp contrast as I drove back to Bloomington from O’Hare Airport. imageWe had been living in a rooftop apartment in Paris, undoubtably one of the most magnificent cities in the world. Still, it was good to be heading home. Past the Chicago Metro fringe, at that perfect time in the early evening when the stark contrast of the green fields under the big blue sky seemed unreal.image

We had been living in grey’s and brown’s of limestone and marble. Now I was bathed in the beams of new light that opened my tired eyes. As we drove southbound Interstate-55, I looked toward the expanse of the heavens, to clouds painted by the fluttering of the wings of angels. Majestic thunderheads building before patterns of scattered cirrus, shaded with the pastels of the setting sun and twilight shadows. I’m not sure I have ever seen more beauty in that prarie I’ve called home for the last twenty one years.    image

In today’s reading, what stood out for me was Sampson’s riddle.“Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.” Eating honey from a lion’s rotting carcass certainly represents an extreme contrast. It made me think of how Jesus was born from a rebellious nation, one that rejected God’s prophets and incredible blessings, often turning towards their own understanding. The savior of the world reflected the contrast of God among us, in the midst of people so confused and broken that they rejected and crucified the very source of love and creation. But this didn’t stop Jesus from transforming the lives of believers and He is still doing it today.

The contrast of a changed life is extraordinary. A life filled with love, patience and peace, once filled with strife, anxiety and self seeking is hard to ignore. The contrast of sin and its destructive emptiness when considered against the healing power of God’s grace shows us who we are, with and without God. It shows us who God is. It opens our hearts making us long for perfection.

For me it wasn’t until the latter stages of my life that the light of truth began to shine and despite my imperfection and brokenness it continues to get brighter.

I thank God for His truth everyday. In His grace I am bathed in forgiveness and the power to continue to change. Jesus I praise your holy name. You are the way, the truth and the life.

Judges 14; Acts 18; Jeremiah 27; Mark 13

Do you have the fortitude to follow?

Bible Stories: Illustration of Samson and Delilah

Today’s reading:  Judges 13; Acts 17; Jeremiah 26; Mark 12

fortitude:  noun.  Courage in pain or adversity.  Synonyms include courage, bravery, endurance, resilience

Following along in the book of Judges, we continue to read about various groups or clans:  the Ammonites, the Ephraimites, the Gildeadites, the Israelites, the Zebulunites, the Baals, the Ashtoreths and more.  At times, all these names are confusing (we almost need a family tree or an org structure to keep track!)  Some of these clans follow God’s plan demonstrating their fortitude and some “do evil”.   Some are patient for a very long time, but then fall away from his word as we read about on Wednesday this week in Judges 10:

11 The Lord replied, “When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, 12 the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites[c] oppressed you and you cried to me for help, did I not save you from their hands? 13 But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. 14 Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!”

In this passage, God clearly says I saved you but yet again you have gone astray.   Then, on Thursday, we read about God helping Israel in overtaking the Ammonites.  God supported those who believed.  Can you imagine back in that time how hard it might have been to fight for your land?  Can put yourself in their shoes?  How about Paul and his time in jail?  How about the story yesterday of seventy years of captivity?  Yet these people listened and followed God’s direction. They demonstrated great fortitude. 

Today in Judges 13, we read about Samson.  We know the story of Samson and Delilah and his famous hair.  I personally did not remember hearing about his parents.  It sounded a lot like Mary and Joseph before Jesus’s birth.  The angel appeared to Samson’s mother, a women from the Danites, and said:

…“You are barren and childless, but you are going to become pregnant and give birth to a son. Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean. You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb. He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”

Wow.  Whoa.  Unbelievable.  Whatever describes your vision of an angel appearing and telling her she will bare a child.  She believed!  Then, the angel appears again to Manoah to tell him the same thing (just in case he doesn’t believe her?).  They bow down, humbled by what the Lord has said.  They want to do everything right so that this miracle can be performed.  They even want to know how to raise Samson and start to ask for more help.  They are true believers and want an exact plan for this child’s future.  We too want an exact plan for our children, but God doesn’t always clearly lay out that plan, nor did he for how Samson would eventually change once he was confronted with the evil Delilah.  But, Manoah and his wife believed.  They did exactly what they were told. 

I thought to myself as I have been following along in Judges, if they could do it, so can we, right?  It’s not the easy.  We have many distractions.  We have many forces working against us.  We have evil we see in the world and question the path forward.  We don’t have “angels” appearing at our doorstep on a daily basis to tell us exactly what we are supposed to do in tough situation.  We “hope” that things will work out instead of trusting in God.  He does have our path forward and does try to guide us along the way.   

Fast forward to today and the troubling situations we read, hear about and even experience.  From Orlando to Munich, people are going astray.  They are making bad decisions; they are “do(ing) evil”.  Yet, God asks each of us to follow his path.  Isn’t it hard sometimes?  How do we stay the course each day?  How do we help others who might want to give up?

Throughout this past year, God has give us numerous examples in our bible journals and our daily readings to set examples for how he wants us to carry out his word.  He gives us the Ten Commandments, he demonstrates his word through parables such as our verses in Mark Chapter 12 today, and he performed many miracles from healing to feeding of the 4,000 and the 5,000 as we have read about through our bible journal.  He shows us compassion when we go astray.  All we need to do is follow and believe. 

Let us pray together:  Dear Lord, please grant us the fortitude to fight the good fight.  Let us not go astray from your word and your teachings.  Help us to see our path forward and stay strong, knowing you are with us along the journey.

Extra credit:  Samson and the “Hall of Faith”.   I refreshed myself on the story of Samson and Delilah by reading through these heroes in the “Hall of Faith”.  Take a peak and think about the fortitude these heroes demonstrated:  

http://christianity.about.com/od/biblefactsandlists/tp/Hebrews-11-Heroes-Of-Faith.01.htm

Bittersweet

Don’t you love the story about Jesus riding into town on the donkey, being praised and worshiped? See Mark 11:1-11 for the full story. I remember it from childhood and our kids have heard it many times in Sunday school.

Judges 12; Acts 16; Jeremiah 25; Mark 11

And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10)

There were people praising him for who he is, publicly acknowledging Jesus as he fulfills Old Testament prophecy from Zechariah 9:9.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
    righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)

Today I’m reading this story under a different light. Jesus, being God in the flesh knew that this earthly worship and party wasn’t going to last. He knew that in a very short time he would be crucified. Wasn’t this victory ride bittersweet to Jesus? Did he know some of the people who were praising him would betray him and call out for him to be crucified? Did he know they would choose to set free a known vicious criminal, a murderer (Matthew 27:15-23) instead of him? I believe he did. What was on his mind as he rode? It is easy to praise King Jesus, but what about when he doesn’t meet “our” expectations, when obedience isn’t on our terms, when following costs us friendships, social status, jobs, or even our own safety? Even though Jesus knew they as well as us, would betray him he continued on because of his love for us and his commitment to the Father’s plan.

This next verse seems really simple on the surface but I ask that you join me on a journey through the eyes of Jesus. He was just celebrated, it is getting late, and he goes into the temple. At this time of day temple attendance was likely sparse. Picture Jesus looking around at everything, saddened over the forthcoming betrayal, and saddened as the temple had become a “den of robbers” (Mark 11:17). Perhaps a last look since he knew what was to come? I’m envisioning this to be something like when a person is saying goodbye to a place or people they love and adore, picking up photo albums and looking at them fondly but yet with concern for their loved ones.

And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. (Mark 11:11)

Father God, you are above all things. We praise you for who you are; for loving us, for your perfect plan, for being patient, merciful, and forgiving. Like Jesus looked around at everything in the temple, we ask you to look around at everything in our hearts. Please forgive us for the times when we have praised you with our lips but yet our actions are that of betrayal of your son Jesus. Everything your son did, he did for us so that we may have life with you. He lived a perfect life all while knowing he would suffer on the cross as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. Show us where on the outside we seem pure and just, but on the inside we attempt to harbor secret sin; we have no secrets from you God. You know all, you see all. Please help us, please save us. Amen.

Malformed

sweet vanilla heaven

Judges 11:12–40; Acts 15; Jeremiah 24; Mark 10

I was reminded this week of a statement made by A.W. Tozer. He says “what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” The truth is that I rarely take the time to consider what I believe about God. It’s likely that many my beliefs were formed in childhood. The startling reality is these, often wrong, views of Him affect the way that I read and interpret Scripture, which affects all of my life! Most days, I breeze through our daily reading assignments quickly, so that I can gain the information it contains and get on with my day. As I do, the information that I glean and the nuggets of wisdom that stand out to me are subject to my biases and opinions of who God is, how he acts and what he thinks about me. Thankfully, not every day ends this way. Today is one of those days.

I cannot tell you how many times I have read the parable of the rich young man, found in Mark 10:21-27. If you are like me, your thoughts were shaped the first time you read it and remain unchanged to this day. Gratefully, God revealed something new to me today. It is discovered by changing the emphasis. My focus has always been on what Jesus said and not what Jesus did. Let me show you the difference. Verse 21 tells us what Jesus said. It’s highlighted in red, so it is hard to miss. “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Without closer examination, I can easily mistake God as a taker, preventing me from enjoying all the fun things this world has to offer so that he can have all the glory.   NONE of those are true! In fact, the opposite is true, in every case. God is a God of giving, abundance and the creator of all good things. Not only that, he created us, individual and special. When we enjoy the work of his hands and remember that he is responsible for it all, he receives glory. He would never force it!

Today, in my umpteenth time of reading this scripture, I saw the more important part. It’s what Jesus did. Read the first part of verse 21, hidden in front of all the red letters.  It says, “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Understand that when I focus on what Jesus said, I am left with what God wants to take away from me.  I, consequently, develop the wrong thoughts about who he is and how he works. However, if I first look at what Jesus did  and think about how Jesus loves me, my interpretation changes drastically. Look at these word descriptions for “love.”

  • wish well
  • to take pleasure in
  • long for
  • denotes the love of reason, esteem.

Now, use love to interpret what Jesus was doing.  Jesus first looked at the man and with all of his heart took pleasure in him, longed to be in a close relationship with him, held him in high esteem and wished him well.  I now have a whole new picture of who God is, how God works and what God thinks of me.   Clearly, Jesus words were not born of condemnation; they were born of his deep desire to see the young man become exactly who he was created to be. Whole and vibrant, living an abundant life. Do you see it? This is what he wants for us too!

My conclusion is that if I think of God as a bully or a taker, I can never experience what he so desperately wants to give me. And that is just it, Jesus does not take, he gives. He gives love, to be exact.  Unfortunately, the young man was not willing to recognize the love in Jesus’ comments. How about you? When you think about God, do you see love?  Do you gain hope and abundance or do you, like the young man, see absence and scantiness that leads to despair? Whichever the case, I pray that God will graciously bring us to a right understanding of who he is, how he works and what he thinks about us so that we can live the full lives he created us to live and receive all glory and honor that are due him.

How is your walk with the LORD?

Today’s reading: Judges 10–11:11; Acts 14; Jeremiah 23; Mark 9

July 27th, 2016

I hear people asking each other, “How is your walk with the LORD?” I love when this is how we inquire of each other’s well being! Our pastor Mike Baker at Eastview likens our journey to a marathon as does another Pastor you probably know (1Corinthians 9:24). The key thing here in my estimation is the ‘with’ part. We do not try walk and run to win on our own. As we go we have a Companion, a Comforter, a Helper, who strengthens us (Ephesians 3:16). Today’s reading in Mark 9 had me thinking a lot about walking with Christ.In yesterday’s reading Mr. LaFrance asked several great questions. One that stood out to me, “Do I act in a way that I would in the presence of the Lord?” This led me to think on several other questions. What would walking with the LORD be like? How would I respond (Mark 9:5)? Would I know what to do (Mark 9:6)?  Would I walk with the LORD or would do my own thing and turn away? God says he is with us (John 14:16, John 14:26) so this is all still relevant today, but what does this all mean to me today? Immediately I began to recall several things.  

Grieving the Spirit. I once heard of a phrase called “grieving the Spirit.” Basically, my understanding is that it is when our thoughts, words and deeds choose and amplify self, we can push the Helper away and we enter into a state of helplessness.

The Fruit of the Spirit. We had a guest preacher at Eastview who helped me understand the proper response to the realization that I had grieved the Spirit. When I had realized that my thoughts, word or deeds had not been in love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, or temperance, what should I do? I took away a powerful truth from his sermon, I AM the Vine:

“It is the fruit of the Spirit, It is not the fruit of anything you.”

The idea here is simple. If you realize that your thoughts were not longsuffering it is not a matter of getting better at longsuffering. “Mike you need to get better and be more longsuffering” is not the proper response. Instead, in truth, it is a matter of abiding in Christ. Getting closer to Him. He produces the longsuffering. It is the fruit of the Spirit, not of me. Praise God for helping us with this burden (Matthew 11:30)! I can not imagine if it were up to me to get better at all these things.

Running to the cross. I once heard a sermon about what the deceiver wants when we realize our sin. The preacher said the deceiver wants us to feel shame that keeps us separate from God. Like in the garden of Eden he wants us to hide and distance ourselves from God. Actually, the answer and the truth is the opposite. Run to the cross! Run to God! Do everything and anything to get closer to God! Praise God that He bore our iniquities (Isaiah 53:4-5)! Praise God that He invites us to Him. Praise God that He loves us even though we are sinners (Romans 5:8)! Praise God His love is unconditional!

Abiding in Christ. I was in a small group setting once where a friend had a whiteboard and in the middle he wrote the word “God” and drew a circle around it. Then he started asking the group “How can we get closer to God?” The group responded one after another as we started to brainstorm. One person replied, “Reading the Bible.” “Good!” he replied and wrote down, ‘Reading the Bible’ circled it and drew a line to God. Another, responded “Listening to Christian radio”, another “Praying”, each time he wrote down the response circled them and drew a line to God. One after another the group responded and eventually there was a web of thoughts, words, and deeds that helped us abide in Christ:

  • Reading the Bible
  • Listening to Christian radio
  • Listening to the Bible
  • Listening to a sermon
  • Praying with others
  • Praying for others
  • Thinking positive thoughts
  • Encouraging people
  • Being thankful
  • Going last
  • Loving people

Extra Credit

  1. Bring a blank piece of paper to the dinner table and write out God in the middle and circle it.
  2. Ask your family, “How can we get closer to God?” If it helps ask specific questions like “What can we (think/say/do) to get closer to God?” 
  3. Write down everyone’s responses, circling them and drawing a line back to God.
  4. Put it on your fridge.

Extra, Extra Credit

  1. Snap a picture of the drawing, post it on facebook and tag BibleJournal
  2. Consider also the principle of replacement. What are daily habits we have that we can replace to get closer to God? i.e. replacing watching TV with reading the Bible or replacing talk radio with listening to a sermon, etc. Pull it off the fridge and consider this with your family. Check in a few weeks back and ask each other how it is going.

Truth in Love

Today’s Reading: 7/26/2016 Judges 9; Acts 13; Jeremiah 22; Mark 8

Acts 13:38-39 “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses

Good Morning,

Acts 13 helped me reflect on the wonderful love from our Lord. What a timely and wonderful reminder that no matter our selfish driven mistakes, the true forgiveness comes from our Lord.  Now,  I understand you still may have those who may hold a grudge against you, or you can struggle with anger, but continue to show God’s truth in grace and love. I know, it’s hard at times to always show this love because of a past or present situation. But persevere with this love so these tribulations if not addressed with God can result in hurtful actions or negative words. I know easier said then done, I get it but allow yourself to have a growth mindset knowing with God He can do all things. With Jesus and prayer we have the strength to not give into these temptations. While in the midst of our own walk with the Lord,  we have to remember that God wants us to make a difference in others.  Those who know you are a Christ follower will see your relationship with the Lord. This includes in our words and actions.  Do I act in a way that I would in the presence of the Lord? Or can I fall into the hypocrite category by what I say and how I act. To others who I’ve just met I may be the only example of a Christian they know? Am I saying, doing, believing what God has asked? At small group the this last week we said what if Jesus was a guest at your house? – Literally sitting on the coach with you. We challenged each other to go into the next week thinking this. Would you be watching the same shows? Would you be saying the same words? Would you be thinking the same thoughts?  Would you be doing the same things? All along, the truth is that He is. Maybe not in the physical sense like we discussed, but in our hearts and soul. Applying this to your day will change all aspects of your life.

Acts 13:47 I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.

This earth is huge and we encounter many people daily.  Am I bringing salvation in my Acts? Am I providing light to others?

Acts 13:26 Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.

What we share is the wonderful message that God loves us, cares for us, and wants us to be with him all the days of our lives and eternally.

Acts 13:32 We tell you the good news: what God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus.

So no matter where you are at, who you are with, and how your day is going….Jesus is with you. He will listen, comfort, and heal if you ask Him. I encourage you today and everyday to share this wonderful command and Love given by our Father.

Acts 13:29 O land, land, land, hear the word of the Lord!

Dear God,

Thank you for who you are. I pray for us to share Your light with others and in our own week moments of flickering in the midst of darkness, share Your love to remind us to turn to you for the guidance we need.  Give us the reminder that our words and actions are representation of you. You love us more than we can ever imagine, please continue to be with us as we live out your Word.  Lord we need you. Amen

We have met the enemy…and it is us.

Today’s reading:  Judges 8; Acts 12; Jeremiah 21; Mark 7

Close up of old English dictionary page with word wicked.

It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon and I’m on a long road trip home from a beautiful ten days in the northern most region of Minnesota. Our family joined my parents in an annual trip to the Boundary Waters for a week of quiet existence without any cell service, not a single computer screen and a whole lot of God’s creation.  We only had to make one trip to the hospital this time around and surprisingly it was for my husband.  Some sharpened kitchen knives found their way out of a grocery bag and into his leg!  Anyway, all is well now that the stitches are in place.  I mention this mostly to highlight the generosity and kindness of my Bible Journal author friends who are going to great lengths to get this post online as I am still in digital darkness!

I had the blessing of some uninterrupted reading and reflection time on the water this week! There’s a lot for us to learn today from all four scriptures.  Although I love Jeremiah, I read some really interesting and I think convicting work on Mark 7.  In the very beginning of the chapter Mark details an exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees (and some scribes).  The Pharisees gather around Jesus and begin asking him about some of his disciples and their practices regarding cleanliness.  Essentially, they are questioning why his followers do not follow the strict Mosiac Law regarding hand washing and washing of vessels before eating and drinking.  The Pharisees are implicitly criticizing the disciples.  Jesus responds with razor-edged clarity:

“And he said to them, Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” (Mark 7:6)

Man, I am really starting to like this Jesus guy!  Do you ever wish you could be more like Jesus?  He’s confident, strong, slow to anger but quick to get people on the right path! He’s not denying the validity of the law or its individual commandments.  Instead he is rejects how various interpretations can deviate too far from the intent of the law.  Jesus is citing Isaiah 29:13 in his teaching.

“And the Lord said: Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men…” (Isaiah 29:13)

See what Jesus does there? He uses Isaiah to show the contrast between the lips/mouth and the heart.  In other words; impurity is a matter of the heart, not the mouth.  He shows us that the issue of defilement is not so much insignificant but raises the point that the basic tenant of the Mosaic Law is about restraining from evil.  He says:

“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” (Mark 7:15)

He goes on to remind his followers (that’s us) that it’s wicked thoughts, wicked words and wicked actions that defile us. He is telling us clearly that the source of defilement is far more internal than external.  He warns against using words and rituals while setting aside God’s true commandments.  Jesus may have disagreed with the Pharasees and Scribes about the interpretation of the law but the message was clear.  It’s the quality, character and intention of the human heart that matters.  Joel Marcus, a professor at Duke University Divinity School wrote on this passage extensively.  He notes the concentration of the word Anthropos which translates to “human being” or “person”.  It is used eleven times in the span of Mark 7:7-23.

“The basic problem Christians should be concerned about, Mark seems to be saying through this striking pileup of the word Anthropos, is not how or what one should eat but the internal corruption of the Anthropos. It is this malignancy that chokes the life out of tradition, turns it into an enemy of God, contorts it into a way of excusing injustice, and blinds those afflicted by it to their own culpability for the evils that trouble the world.”

Therefore, my friends we have indeed met the enemy and it is ourselves. I loved the opportunity to dive deep into this short segment of Mark’s gospel this week.  I hope I can work to purify my heart and truly learn from the lesson Jesus has for us today.  We are so blessed to have these sacred words that are astoundingly so applicable to our everyday life!

The Thin Places

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town…-Mark 6: 8-11

In 2007, as my wife Heather and I walked along the pilgrims trail between Florence and Rome, I was reminded of this passage from the Bible when Jesus sends out the twelve. Like the disciples, if we follow him, we need little more than our faith. Traveling light was the idea, not burdened by the things of the world. What was it about this place that tugged on my heart so strong? There was just something undeniable about the high places. They were called the thin places by the Celts, where that which separates us from God is less, where the sacred meets the secular. In these places we come closer to God.

Later we stood near the place Saint Francis of Assisi (circa 1205) had cast off his clothing, rejecting a life of wealth and power, choosing to follow Jesus and serve the sick and the weary, through hospitality and service.

Writing to you this morning from a rooftop in Paris, I can’t stop thinking about last Sunday when we traveled by train from Bern Switzerland to Mulenen, then by funicular, almost straight up the side of Niesan Mountain (I know, lazy Americans), also known as the Swiss Pyramid. imageHeather, my youngest son Cooper, my niece Chloe and I unloaded from the red mountain cable train, immediately stunned as we walked out onto this special mountain. Our breath was taken by three hundred and sixty degree unobstructed views of the Bernese Alps and the valley bellow that surrounded lake Thun.

Everywhere we turned the view was incredible. It felt as if you could reach out and touch the jagged glaciated peaks. We were suspended above the earth under a cobalt blue dome and we prayed. Each of our prayers were different and more than just words in our heads. And each heard the voice of God, overpowering and silent, in the splendor of our moment, above the earth and beneath the heavens.image

I watched my twelve year old son eagerly strike out on the switchback trail down the mountain. He had to go! There was no stopping him. imageOf course a four hour trek in tennis shoes wasn’t going to happen, but he was born again on the side of a mountain that day. Something about this place called out changing each of us forever. The magnificence of God’s creation was certain, God’s power undeniable, His calling tailored to each of us perfectly in this moment. For me it was sharing the message of hope found in Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. image

In the holy name of Jesus, I pray: please God, release us from the burdens of this world, those that separate us from you. Lead us to the thin places to see your brilliance, to hear your voice and feel your power. May our lives never be the same as we learn to walk with you, more sublime each day. Amen.

Today’s reading link: Judges 7; Acts 11; Jeremiah 20; Mark 6

Ordinary People

Grandma A

Today’s reading:  Judges 6; Acts 10; Jeremiah 19; Mark 5

This coming week we will celebrate the life of Flora E. Armstrong, my husband’s grandmother, who passed from this earth this past Thursday. She was a woman from an ordinary, humble beginning.  Growing up on a small dairy farm in Colfax Illinois, she learned the value of hard work when her mother became disabled.  At around 13 years old, Flo stepped in and took over the things her mother could no longer do – household chores, milking cows, delivering milk to customers and more.  With two younger siblings to watch, and no indoor plumbing, this was a pretty tough life for a 13 year old.

Perhaps it was this ordinary, humble beginning that propelled Flo Armstrong to become a courageous leader. She was a tireless volunteer for MANY organizations.  From serving as the President of the Fairbury Hospital Auxiliary, to a State of Illinois’ delegate to the 1976 Republican National Convention, to stepping out as the inaugural President of the very first chapter of the American Business Women’s Club, and serving as an Illinois Wesleyan University trustee, just to name a few, countless organizations are better because of Flo Armstrong’s leadership.

Flo Armstrong also had a distinct impact on people. It has been fun over the last couple of days to hear the stories from people whose lives she touched.  From inspiring an up and coming civic leader to reach her potential to reaching out and caring for a fellow IWU ambassador’s children in a time of vulnerability, Flo Armstrong cared for others.  She will be missed by many.

In Judges 6 we find the account of Gideon, an ordinary person doing something extraordinary. The backdrop of the story is God’s people living under the oppressive rule of the Midianites.  For seven years, God had been permitting the oppression because of his people’s disobedience.  As expected, God’s people were wasting away to nothing and begging for deliverance.  In verse 11 we pick up the story of God calling Gideon to deliver his people.  Although an angel of the Lord appeared directly to him, Gideon was still convinced he wasn’t qualified to save the Israelites from their oppression – his clan, Manasseh, was the weakest clan and he was the least capable person in his family.  God proved himself to Gideon through 3 tests / miracles and Gideon, with God’s supernatural oversight, went on to be a courageous leader.

Does this story sound familiar? Do you remember when God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage in Exodus 3 and 4?  Moses was a shepherd, he wasn’t well spoken, nor did he have any credibility with his potential followers.  Despite God appearing to Moses in the burning bush, Moses was still convinced he wasn’t qualified to save the Israelites from their oppression.  God pressed on, he proved himself to Moses through 3 tests / miracles and Moses, with God’s supernatural oversight, went on to be a courageous leader.

I could go on and on with examples of ordinary people God used to do extraordinary things for the Kingdom of God. What qualified Old Testament figures like Abraham, Moses and Gideon, and New Testament figures like Mary and Jesus’ disciples to be God’s courageous leaders was the condition of their hearts.  Willingness to submit their own will and earthly desires to God’s divine purpose allowed God to use each one of them in extraordinary ways.

I believe God has placed in each of us a desire for significance, a desire to do something extraordinary and leave a lasting legacy. Unfortunately if you’re like me, I don’t have exceptional talents that are ever going to lead me to something extraordinary on my own.  Fortunately, God has a plan for every one of us.  Will you put your trust in him?  Will you yield to his divine purpose for your life?

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

Blind but now I see

Have you ever been metaphorically blind to something in your life, then later ask “what was I thinking?”. Oftentimes the truth, the right path, or even something incredible awaits us but yet it is almost as though we are blind to it. Brainstorming thoughts on the potential causes of this blindness:

  • Selfishness. We can be so focused on ourselves; whether it be our own pleasures or even needs, that we miss the bigger picture.
  • Fear. What we don’t know scares us so we avoid it.
  • Pre-conceived notions (invalid assumptions). For example, taking one bad experience or hearing about someone else’s bad experience we assume something will “always” be like that. Google some reviews on your favorite and most reliable restaurant or hotel and you’ll soon learn that someone has deemed the restaurant “low grade dog food”, and the hotel has bed bugs. My favorite here is beach vacation resorts when people say the mosquitoes were as big as birds, there was sand on the floor in the room (can you imagine?), or the walk to the beach was horrible – a whopping three minutes. Spoiled!
  • Arrogance. My way is probably better so why change?
  • Distractions. Follow your favorite baseball team through the playoffs and the World Series and you’re in for a minimum of 11 games (that’s if they sweep all three rounds). Assuming the team loses four or five games and each game lasts around three hours that is somewhere in the 45 hour range over the course of a few weeks. Not judging here; you’ll find me watching some baseball this post-season. The point is that we need to be cognizant of our distractions.
  • Carelessness. Just plain old “not paying attention” or not caring enough to pay attention.
  • Deception. Believing lies.

Today’s scripture readings include the conversion of Saul (Acts 9:1-19) and while this was true physical blindness, it is also a great example of one who was metaphorically blind to the truth of Jesus Christ but through a miracle, he came to see and believe.

Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; (Acts 9:8-9, 17-18)

One of the things I love about journaling is that it has challenged me to do a lot of self-reflection, and document some of the things of my past. This week I took some time to consider my prior “blind spots” and their causes. The list below is about a third of what I came up with in a short period of time. Writing this list gave me a greater appreciation for God’s mercy and grace in my life as there are so many areas where I’ve been blind to the truth and missed out on the joy that our lord and savior Jesus Christ has for me.

  1. beetsBeets. Okay, so it starts out light but it was the first thing that popped into my head. Quite a few years ago I claimed this was the only food I despised and wouldn’t eat. I was so blind… beets are colorful, nutritious, and delicious!!! They can’t be beat! If you’ve ever seen (or heard) me eat really good food, you know that I do find joy in some of the little things.
  2. Career. Opportunities were right there in front of me. My priorities were not in place. I was selfish, arrogant, careless, distracted.
  3. Tobacco. I “dipped” tobacco as a teen and through college. Literally throwing up upon trying it, I still went on to become addicted to nicotine. The habit of placing a known cancer causing substance between my lip and gums went on for years. Blindness.
  4. Frequently getting home from school and playing video games for countless hours, or procrastinating (or simply not following) other worthy pursuits. These distractions were detrimental to my education, and personal/professional growth.
  5. Recognizing friendships that were good and healthy vs. those that were toxic. Do your friends lift you up? Do they encourage you to follow the straight and narrow path or the path of destruction?
  6. This next one has been on my heart for a while, in part because of some of the marriages that I’ve seen fall apart. Too often I have been blind to my own wife; the person I voluntarily chose and promised to spend the rest of my life with, for better or for worse. It is blindness to not recognize her beauty inside and out, all the time. We (talking about humans in general) invest so much time into education, career, kids, and retirement but how much do we invest in our relationships with our spouses? Simply living in the same house and trying to get along is so not enough, it isn’t even funny. Sometimes I realize Amy is waiting for me to notice her, and I’m just blind. However, when I get it right and pay attention, I receive the most beautiful smile imaginable. She’s the most amazing person I’ve ever met and I’m so thankful for her. She is a true gift from God. Husbands: love your wives. Pay attention.
  7. What greater blindness is there than missing the significance of the cross? Upon Saul’s conversion he proved his belief by immediately taking action. If we are not actively sharing the gospel with those who are lost, what does it say about what we believe Jesus has done for us?

And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” (Acts 9:20)

What am I blind to now? Lord, please remove the scales from my eyes. Let me see my sin as you see my sin. Let me see others as you see them; lead me to love others more and myself less. Amen.

Judges 5; Acts 9; Jeremiah 18; Mark 4