Embracing God’s Ways: Habakkuk

Through his back and forth dialogue with the Lord, the prophet Habakkuk gives us so many lessons in just three chapters. As he tries to understand God’s ways, he learns to embrace them, which is the very definition of his name.

Here’s a breakdown of the three chapters:Chapter Dialogue Outline

I love that Habakkuk has boldness to ask the Lord what’s on his heart. He doesn’t shy away from the tough questions of why, when, how, (and then more ‘why’ questions).  He’s asking similar questions I find myself pondering today:

Why do you allow evil, God? Why do awful things happen to Christ-followers? The helpless? The unborn?

Why are you allowing the wicked to prosper?  When will they be judged? This world is a hot mess – hurry! 

As you read through this dialogue, do you notice how Habakkuk verbalizes to God his character in verse twelve? It seems as though he is reminding himself who God is, right as he is asking God his second round of ‘why’ questions.

He knows that God is holy, everlasting, eternal, a mighty rock, an establisher, and faithful. He even says We will not die. He knows that God will not let them die, and will continue to fulfill his promise to his people (Abrahamic covenant).

As Habakkuk continues with his questions – WHY use THEM? I have to admit I’ve had similar thoughts. And then I also can’t help but wonder WHY God uses ME. Or any of us. While the world wants to live in the comparison game, we know that only God’s judgement is righteous and fair. He isn’t looking at me compared to anyone else. On judgement day I will be standing solo. The Chaldeans may have made the people of Judah look less awful… but God saw wickedness across the board. And He uses it all as He sees fit. And judges it when and how He sees fit.

I can see where God has used sin committed against me, to sanctify me. Draw me closer to him. Cry out to him. And the sins I have committed against others, He also uses. It’s pretty humbling to think of how He can use even my biggest messes.

In the final chapter, we see Habakkuk embracing God’s plan. He praises God for who he is and what he has done and what we will do. Do you see the three Selah pauses in this chapter? I always think of those as a dramatic call to silence and meditation in that moment of the passage.

And then at the end of verse 16 we see him waiting. Waiting on the Lord’s timing. Waiting on the Lord’s plan. Quietly waiting, all the while he is trembling. What a beautiful picture of faith – it doesn’t mean that we are without worry or fear, but that with the trembling, we obey. We quietly wait for the Lord. Not only does he quietly wait – verse 18 shows us that he also rejoices! So he has gone from questioning, to embracing, to rejoicing!

Can you apply Habakkuk’s approach to any questions or problems you’re facing today?

I get lost in the confusion of our political climate and ask a lot of why, when and how questions about world issues. I’m going to try to process those in light of Habakkuk’s example. What do I know about God and how can I more fully trust in his eternal and perfect plan?

I have challenging relationships that need this wisdom, and the reminder to not get stuck in the comparison trap. God uses each of us in different ways, that are far beyond my understanding.

Can I rejoice and find true joy in the Lord, even when I  _______ his plan?

        • am worried about
        • don’t like
        • am confused by
        • am trembling about
        • don’t want to wait for

God, thanks for giving us this amazing true account of your relationship with your prophet, Habakkuk! It teaches us so much about who you are and to have faith in you. You are Holy, Eternal, Almighty, and Faithful!

With Wings Like Eagles

This weekend, over a hundred people are gathering from Central Illinois to run a charity half marathon to benefit families living in poverty in Central America. It’s been a really neat journey, from the spring when everyone signed up, learning about the communities we would be supporting… to then training through the warm and humid summer months, and now getting ready to toe the start line.  We will run the 13.1 mile victory lap of all the miles already run. The work is done. They hay is in the barn. The runners have done the hard training, and race day is the icing on the cake.

When I visualize running a successful race, it always comes with this image of leaping, and bounding, and flying – literally flying like an eagle. Isaiah 40:31 says we will mount up with wings like eagles, run and not grow weary!

When I thought about today’s journal entry post of Isaiah  – of course I was going to share the parallels of this run supporting Central Americans and our strength from God. As I was packing and prepping for the race weekend, there were several things that came to mind and I was looking forward to putting pen to paper.

Right in the middle of all of this – I received some really awful news. One of our runners has a serious health condition that came on and definitely can’t join us. Our entire team is amazing…  but this runner is also SO INSPIRING. She is new to distance running, and this would be her first half. The runs didn’t always come easy to her. And yet she continued to focus on the bigger mission, fundraised to help others, and week after week, she logged her workouts, coming back for more even when she wasn’t loving it. When it got hard, she showed up. She has encouraged and led others this summer, and I had no doubts she would cross that finish line – and I couldn’t wait to witness it.

I wish I knew why this isn’t her weekend, why this has happened. And why now? I wanted her to wrap up her summer with a big bow – that finish line ribbon! Having made this hard decision myself two years ago for a race I had to pull out of, I know she’s feeling sad, hurt, and discouraged. And it’s kinda lonely when everyone you’ve been planning and prepping with is moving forward and you’re not.

When I go back to our scripture – it’s that first part of this passage that I struggle with… you know, the WAITING.

For they that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.They will mount up with wings like eagles, run and not grow weary, walk and not faint.

Have you had situations where you had the wisdom to make the hard decision to wait? Or, if you’re like me, sometimes you don’t wait, you keep pushing forward, and God has a way of forcing the waiting!! I can think of a few of those… and God knew that more time was needed.

Do you believe in the strengthening power of the Lord, that comes in the timing of waiting? Yielding? Listening? Being still?

Or do you view the waiting as a waste of time… unnecessary, or uncomfortable even?

Will you join me in praying for my friend that wisely made the hard decision to wait, that she will feel God’s comfort and strength in the process.

So why do you think God call us to wait? What has happened during your seasons of waiting?

From big things to little things, from waiting on medical test results, to a relationship to start, or for the promotion we’ve been working toward… there is a LOT of waiting.

On the other side of these waiting periods in my life, I can look back and see how waiting has grown my patience and perseverance. Waiting has taught me how to rely more on the Lord. Waiting has transformed me. Think of Moses – from the start of his journey with the Israelites, through the end. All the waiting, yes, but also all the growth he experienced!

If you have a moment today, reflect with me on the waiting seasons you’ve experiences and write down what happened. How you handled it, what you learned, how your perspective changed. The next time you are in a season of waiting, dust off these notes and get encouraged by your own personal testimony of waiting.

Here are additional scriptures on waiting on the Lord:

I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He puta new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Psalm 40:1 

The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. Lamentations 3:25

For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. Isaiah 30:18

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning. Psalm 130:5

If you’d like to learn more about the prophet Isaiah, check out chapter 6, which outlines his calling from God as a messenger to the people – and his quick and willing response! Isaiah 53 is the chapter of the prophesy of Jesus, including his rejection and suffering, for our salvation.

 

Lost Words

Five years ago, I received one of those phone calls. You know the type. The name pops up on the screen and your stomach drops. You know that the uncle you hardly ever talk to on the phone, is likely calling to deliver some news that a text or facebook message wouldn’t be appropriate for. In my heart – in my bones – I knew. I let it ring a few times while I settled myself quickly and then answered.

Hi Uncle Brad, what’s up?

It was my Dad. He died in the middle of the night – unexpectedly a few months before his 70thbirthday. We had just buried my grandma (his mom) two years before, and I think he died of a broken heart. The coroner said the official term was coronary disease.

I was in my mid thirties, and with a 3 year old and a seven month old in tow, we went and planned a funeral 2,000 miles away. It all seems like a blur now, and as I reflect I just have to smile at God’s timing.

I knew my Dad loved Jesus, and I knew my Dad loved me. But you know what was neat? After returning from California with much of my Dad’s belongings, I found notes he had written in the margins of books he was reading about God. I saw goals he had written down, ideas and thoughts he had about theology. What a gift to see that in your parent’s own handwriting.

My dad had lived a hard life – as a kid, he was despised by his stepfather, he had failed marriages and two children he was estranged from most of their lives. He struggled with substance abuse and it wasn’t until later in life when he was paying for the consequences of those choices that he came to faith in Jesus. I reconnected with my Dad in my teens, although he was in California and I was here, and it was mostly through the mail and phone calls. As I got older we had trips and visits – and he didn’t miss an opportunity to share his testimony of faith with me. It was powerful to then see that belief continue until the day he died.

The last two years of my Dad’s life, I had grown closer to him. He had lost his mom, his best friend, and he was lonely. We talked and texted more. I checked in on him and spent time listening to what was happening in his life. Just getting to know more of who he was. He was a man that carried a lot of burdens and regret from his past, trying to look forward and follow Jesus.

Three months after my dad died, my grandma on my mom’s side sent me some mail. She was going through boxes and found letters that my dad had written her from his time in prison (postmarked 1996). Letter after letter, he poured his heart out about Jesus, his love for my half sister and me, and more. While I don’t have a lot of memories of my Dad from age 4-16, I can be thankful for God’s provision in this other way. In one letter to my grandma, he wrote that he didn’t have money to send me a gift so he wrote me this poem and sent it to me. Thankfully (miraculously?) my grandma kept this letter and her copy of the poem, because I didn’t have it.

If you’re still with me – and wondering what any of this has to do with our reading for today – let’s dive in.

2 Chronicles 34:14-33 (and 2 Kings 22 is another good cross reference for this chapter)

Josiah is king, and he’s following the ways of the Lord – going away from his predecessors and ancestors’ idolatry and sin. He is having the temple restored and during this restoration process, one of the high priests, Hilkiah, finds the lost scroll, what we call the book of Deuteronomy. What a discovery!

So. Many. Questions.

How long has it been lost? DECADES!

How did it get lost? (Those funny memes of You Had ONE Job are entering my mind) But truly, it was in the very place that it should be – in the temple that the high priests had access to.

Is Deuteronomy THAT critical? YES! Such a rich book, tying together God’s law and God’s love for his people. Deuteronomy also shows us that keeping the law is in response to God’s grace, not a means to earn God’s favor. Jesus references scripture in Deuteronomy more than any other OT book, even combating the temptations of Satan with these powerful words (Luke 4).

Now what? The book is rediscovered (thanks, Hilkiah) and King Josiah uses these words to turn the hearts of the people back to the Lord. It’s a revival of sorts, with repentance, reconciliation, and restoration. God’s word is powerful, living, and brings people to action! If you missed Stephanie’s post last week on King Josiah, check out the details here.

So back to Hilkiah, the high priest that found the lost book. What a cool legacy and blessing that had to be in his own life! When I first read this passage I had to ask myself – have I ever lost anything and then found it? Or discovered something that maybe I didn’t even know was missing? The letters my grandma found from my Dad quickly came to mind, and I’m so blessed by them. And they’re nothing in comparison to the words we have from our Heavenly Father!

What a gift He gave us in revealing Himself to us through scripture. Do we long to read the words? Treasure them for the love and grace they pour into us? Keep them in our hearts and ready to use? When was the last time I craved the Word, just so I could know God more? If we want to grow in our love for God and his people, wouldn’t getting to know Him more deeply, be a great start?

 

Decisions, Decisions

Talk about a pressure cooker… Rehoboam is following quite a legacy. He’s King David’s grandson, the man after God’s own heart that God promised to establish his kingdom through. And he’s the son of King Solomon, known for the unmatched amount of wisdom that God blessed him with. As Rehoboam becomes King himself, his very first order of business presents itself. The pressure is on.

1 Kings 12:1-20 outlines this start as King.

This feels a little bit like ‘one step forward, two steps back’. King Rehoboam takes his step forward by first seeking counsel in making the decision of lightening the workload and burden of the Israelites (requested of him by Jeroboam). Great idea to get advice, and especially to seek it from those with experience and history in the situation. And then he takes his first step back – not liking that advice and instead seeking out people that will validate his own desires. And then, he hastily makes the decision and announces it within three days, without praying and seeking direction from God.

King Rehoboam wanted to show his power and strength, mightier than his father or grandfather. He wanted to make his own name for himself, and so instead of building trust with the people by easing the already heavy burden, he increased it. It seems like a mixture of pride, immaturity, and haste all led to this decision.

This created the divide across the tribes that is still present today. The ten northern tribes separated and lived under the rule of Jeroboam, while King Rehoboam maintained Judah in the south. During his 17 years of reign, Judah lived in conflict and great sin (1 Kings 14:21-31).

What a great lesson in decision making and leading people. We all have to make hard decisions at times – whether it’s in the workplace, in our personal relationship, health situations, etc. I can look back at decisions made too quickly, without the right input, and without seeking God’s direction.  King Rehoboam had access to the same things we do: God’s guidance, wisdom from God followers, and history/scriptures. Think about all of the generations before him and lessons he would have learned.

Exodus 18:21 Choose trustworthy, God-fearing men from the people and appoint them over the people to help you

Leviticus 19:18 Love your neighbor as yourself

Psalm 27:14 Wait on the Lord, take heart and wait

It’s not always easy to wait to make a decision – sometimes we want to just move forward in a direction. Not all decisions need to be made today. Can more time in prayer or seeking more advice lead to a better decision and outcome? Or at least a decision made with more peace and confidence?

And then there are other decisions we have to make with little time to even think. We pray for direction, doors to open, and gather input and advice from the best sources in the moment. White knuckling our way through and praying it was the right choice.

I’m thinking back on decisions I’ve made recently, and where I gathered input and advice.

        • Do the people in my circle challenge my thinking?
        • Am I mostly surrounded by those that will validate and agree with me?
        • Who can I rely on for their experience and wisdom, that doesn’t have anything to gain or lose by the decision being made?
        • What pride or blind spots do I have that keeps me from asking for advice?

God knew the decisions Rehoboam was going to make, just like he knows each decision we have made and will make. He is faithful to give us wisdom if we seek it and ask. He is here to lead and guide us, and help us when we mess up and make the wrong decisions.

Gideon

Judges 6-8

Do you know a lot about Gideon? I have to admit, I couldn’t put my finger on the right biography for this man of God. Different scenarios and stories were coming to my mind but I wasn’t quite sure which one went with Gideon. What did cross my mind were the bibles found in hotels, “placed by the Gideons”.

Curious, I did some digging on why they are called Gideon bibles and where they come from.

Two traveling salesman, one paper and one aluminum, happen to stop at the same hotel for overnight accommodations in Boscobel, Wisconsin in 1898. It was a crowded night and the hotel manager bunked them up in the same room, commenting that they were the only two sober minded men around.

As the story goes, John Nicholson asked Samuel Hill if he minded if he kept the light on so he could read his devotion. A simple question that went on to have a profound impact. Samuel Hill asked him to read aloud for both of them. And they had a discussion about salesman needing a Christian network and support while traveling. The two cross paths again the following spring in a different town in a different hotel. It was at this second encounter that they felt God‘s leading for them to start some sort of Christian organization to support traveling salesman in their faith. They didn’t know how, when, where, or even what, but they knew they were supposed to join together and start something. The original group was called the Gideon’s Commercial Travelers Association of America, in recognition of the faith of Gideon. One hundred and twenty years later, this group has evolved into Gideon’s International, with the mission of supporting both believers and non-believers by making the gospel available. The first bible was placed in a hotel in 1908, and since then, they have distributed over two billion bibles worldwide! It’s crazy to think about and wonder how many lives have been impacted by the scriptures made readily available to people across the globe.

So what was it about Gideon’s faith that was so inspiring to them? He’s even called out in Hebrews 11 in the Faith Hall of Fame.

Review these three chapters and what stands out to you? Here are some things that stuck in my mind:

  • The Israelites turned away (again) from God and had been under oppression for seven years from the Midianites. Then they pray and cry out to God for deliverance. Wonder what their strategy was the first seven years? Maybe one from my own play book… “I got this”…anyone else use that play too often and for too long?
  • God answers their prayer through the youngest son of an idol worshipper, appearing to Gideon and instructing him and encouraging him each step of the way. God sought him when he was at his lowest, beating wheat while in hiding from the Midianites. He didn’t feel equipped or worthy for the work God planned for him. We may not always know (or believe) how God wants to use us!
  • God gave Gideon multiple signs to show him he was the true God, he could be trusted to conquer the Midianites. Even in the midst of these miracles and signs, Gideon had doubts and asked for more signs. God didn’t respond to Gideon in anger, but met him where he was at and provided the comfort Gideon needed. Step by step he continued to trust and obey the Lord, even when Gideon didn’t know the plan or how the Israelites could ever defeat the Midianites. We can take our doubts, fears, and questions to God!
  • God wanted the victory to be very clear – it’s wasn’t a victory due to the army size – so he stacked the deck in favor of the Midianites. Instead of Israelites 32,000 vs. Midianites 135,000, he reduced Gideon’s Israelite army to 300. God wanted his people to return to him, and he wanted this landslide victory to humble their hearts toward him.  How do I get in the way of God’s power, victory, or glory shining to draw people back to him?
  • Gideon and his men return to a hero’s hometown welcome and have to ward off all the royal treatment, glory, fame, and requests for Gideon to lead them as king. The gold collected from the slain Midianites he used to make a golden ephod (a garment worn under the high priest’s breast plate) which he put on display. We don’t know Gideon’s motives for the ephod, but I’d like to think he did that as a symbol of God’s victory and for the people to remember that they are a nation of priests led directly by God (as opposed to placing Gideon as king). Like many traditions and symbols that start with good intentions, this one falters over time. The Israelites eventually go back to idol worship, beginning with this ephod, and eventually turn back to worshipped Baal (40 years later after Gideon dies). What God-focused traditions are getting elevated above God today?

I love this real hero of faith that we can learn from and be inspired by. Just like God mapped out Gideon’s path, he also planned Nicholson and Price to be roommates. Can you look back at steps you felt led to take, when they didn’t make sense at the time, and now you can see how God was using it for a future plan? What a neat testimony that we can take with us into the next step of faith we need to take.

Six years ago, our small group wanted to spend a few months as a group going through a specific biblical financial study (hint: white envelopes). I was dragging my feet… coming up with every reason why we should do something else. There’s more important topics right now. We’re already pretty frugal. The couples in our group are all in really different financial places. And many other great “points” (excuses?). I lost the vote and so the small group went forward. During the study, my husband and I came away with a renewed passion for giving, oh, and one other little nugget that later proved to be miraculous for us. The majority of our emergency type savings was tied up in retirement accounts and places that weren’t easily available (penalties, time constraints, etc). We took the program’s advice and made a lot of changes to where & how much we keep separate for emergencies (never truly believing we would have that big of an emergency, but hey, follow the program). No big surprise, six months later, we hit a very unexpected season and had it not been for these changes, we would have been under a much larger amount of financial strain and stress. God went before us and led us to these changes, knowing exactly what was coming.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9

Esau

The generations to follow Abraham have more drama than the stories from the 80s. It’s hard to keep up and sometimes I need a good visual to help me keep the key people straight.

You can see where Jacob & Esau fall on this family tree, and you can read more about them in Genesis 25:27-34. Esau was the outdoorsman favored by his father. Jacob was the opposite and favored by his mother. If you aren’t familiar with this situation in their teenage years, basically Esau makes an impulse decision that costs him dearly.

Can you imagine being so hungry and exhausted that you’re willing to trade your birthright (leadership position in the family and double portion of the inheritance) for some food? And not some huge amazing feast, but a bowl of lentil soup? It sounds pretty crazy – and I actually LOVE lentils.

So yeah, we really can’t fathom making that trade. Was Esau really that hungry? How could he think he was actually going to die, from missing one meal? Why would he do it? Was he that impulsive or desperate? Clearly, he didn’t value or respect what his birthright stood for, in God’s eyes or his family’s.

If you’re scratching your head at Esau, you may also find yourself making that judgement in other people’s lives. Thoughts of… “WHY would they be willing to risk everything they have, just for THAT?”  Meanwhile, while we can see it in Esau and other people’s lives… I wonder what God sees in our life? What we are willing to give up, rationalizing that something else is better for us, or at least better in the moment. Where are our blindspots?

This look into Esau has really challenged me to investigate where I’m putting lentil soup on such a highly coveted pedestal, and willing to overlook the blessings God’s already given me.

Here’s the thing about Esau – it started with the lentil soup and went downhill from there. He continued to turn away from God and live a sinful life. Hebrews 12:16-17 tells us that he never had a repentant heart. He had the tears over the consequences, but never a truly repentant heart.

Esau doesn’t stand out because of his sin – we all sin and God uses sinners in His kingdom. What sets us apart from Esau is that our sin is covered by the blood of Jesus through a true repentance and belief.

God, Your ways are far beyond our ways and your love is unending. Thank you for continuing to sanctify me, forgive me, and show me your grace. Amen. 

Exclusive Way to an Inclusive Kingdom

Jesus broke down barriers between male and female, rich and poor, Jews and Gentiles, young and old. And while he was a living example of inclusion, he also instructed us to follow him, exclusively:

I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, but by me. John 14:6

Christianity: All are invited to follow an exclusive God.

And while this “exclusivity” feels really counter to modern politics and modern religion, 2 John and 3 John show us it was also contrary even in the early church.

Today’s focus on tolerance, acceptance, understanding, and inclusion are some of the same focuses of the early church. How do we love everyone, include all people groups, and also maintain the truth of who Jesus is, what he did, and that he is the only way to the Father?

1 John 2:21-22 No one who denies the Son has the Father.

As a Christ-follower, have you ever been asked that question of “so you’re telling me that you believe that the millions of Hindus, Muslims, etc, aren’t going to heaven”?

How do we handle that, without sounding unloving, self-righteous, or intolerant? The same way we can handle all questions of Christianity:

      1. On the majors, have conviction.
      2. On the minors, have tolerance
      3. In all things, have love. (John 13:35)

A pastor shared this in a sermon years ago and it stuck with me. I’ve tried to apply this approach to tough questions, debating conversations, or discipling new believers. And wouldn’t you agree, that belief in the saving blood of Jesus is a major? So we can (should!) approach those questions with conviction, with passion, and most of all, with love.

Jesus is my only rescue and he brought me beautiful salvation! I want to shout it from the rooftops that HE is the way to God – the best way, and THE ONLY way!

My earliest memories of my Grandpa Jerry include him wearing this belt buckle – and still the one he wears today. It doesn’t proclaim Jesus to be a smart prophet, kind human, or a good person. HE SAVES! Jesus alone SAVES! Like my Grandpa, I pray my life can be one that demonstrates the saving power of Jesus!

I love to share some of these additional scriptures with those questioning the exclusivity of Christ:

Acts 4:12 There is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, and whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

Matthew 7:13 Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.

Romans 3:22-26 The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe, for there is no distinction:for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Romans 10:9 Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 1:18-21 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

We don’t have all the answers, but we do know that we must believe in Jesus as our only hope for salvation. God’s ways are far beyond ours, and He will reveal all things in his time. Until then, lets heed John’s warnings in 2 & 3 John –  letters to specific congregations and people, warning them to hold tight to the teaching of Christ.  Don’t be deceived. Support the missionaries that are preaching the name of Christ. Continue walking in the truth. John was addressing this in the early church, just like it needs to be addressed today. Yes, still today, the exclusivity of Jesus’s saving blood is under attack.

2 John 1:9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.

Holy Spirit, help us to be bold in proclaiming the name of Jesus! Give us opportunities to share your plan of salvation for all. Fill our hearts with an outpouring of love to cover our words. Thank you God, for including me and inviting me into an exclusive relationship with your Son. Amen.  

Superhero!

Last week, our church hosted kids 9-11 years old at a Superhero themed camp in the great outdoors. Truth be told, superheroes in modern culture aren’t my forte. While they’re all the rage right now, I could maybe identify two superheroes by name in a 3-man lineup. EEEEK – stick with me, all you Marvel fans out there – yes, I googled that.

 

So what’s a dork mom to do when she’s trying to hang with the cool kids all excited about superheroes? I don’t know, put on a mask and cape, and give yourself a cool super hero name! Double EEEEK! I couldn’t even think of a cool superpower!

But here was the cool thing about this camp – you know where this is going, right? JESUS is the ultimate, matchless, most powerful superhero EVER!!! And HE is a superhero I do know something about and has come to my rescue. I could write the never ending sequels to all the times He has saved the day and saved me.

 

While we swapped stories, sang songs, swam, hiked; we also learned about our Superhero Jesus! These kids just melted me and brought my heart to a much needed child-like place of faith. During one evening of devotions we shared in our small groups who some of the superheroes are in our life. I had one camper share that her parents were her superheroes because she was adopted from St. Jude Children’s Hospital, and born with medical problems. Her mom couldn’t take care of her, so her parents stepped in and adopted her and gave her a better life. Another one of my campers shared that her mom was a veteran and served in the military protecting people, and she was her superhero. These girls get it – they recognized at an early age how they had superheroes in their life. People that protected them, defended them, cared for them, even at their own risk or loss. These are people that are following Jesus and showing His sacrificial love. We learned an awesome song at camp with this verse: Jesus, You’re my Superhero, You swooped down and You rescued me”.

 

Jesus is our first and best Superhero, perfectly demonstrating how to love the unlovely, grace the sinner, and protect the weak. And while we can never perfectly mirror Jesus, we sure can strive for excellence! 1 Peter 1:16 encourages us to “Be Holy, for I am Holy”.

 

And as we open up to our reading for today – the entire book of Philemon (one chapter), we see Paul following in Jesus’ footsteps. He serves as a superhero to Onesimus, standing in the gap between Onesimus & Philemon, the recipient of this letter. Onesimus (I’ve heard it pronounced oh-NESS-i-muss) was a slave that ran away from Philemon, and while on the run he became a Christ follower, taught by Paul and loved by Paul. Paul sends him back to Philemon with this letter, vouching for Onesimus, building up his character, taking on his debt, and asking for him to be received how Philemon would receive Paul himself. He asks all these things in love, rather than requiring it from Philemon, as his superior in the early church.

 

This is a really cool letter to study with so many little glimpses of Jesus shining through. Paul humbles himself when he doesn’t have to. He has a heart for reconciliation between people he cares deeply for. Paul is willing to assume the debt or restitution of Onesimus – interceding for the people he is leading.

 

While we never know exactly how this situation ends, we do know that Paul was very confident that Philemon would respond favorable to Paul’s request of reconciliation (vs. 21). And at the very end of this letter we get one more little clue of reconciliation in Paul’s world. He sends greetings from Mark – who he was separated from in the ministry for a period of time due to a disagreement (Acts 13 & 15) and yet here we see that they have reconciled and Paul is sending greetings on Mark’s behalf. I love this picture of how the Holy Spirit leads people to reconciliation, and sometimes uses one another in the process.

 

Have you had someone stand in the gap for you, vouch for you, take on your debt when they weren’t responsible? Maybe someone backed you in the workplace, or stuck up for you in school. We are surrounded by superheroes that are following Jesus’ footsteps – from organ donors to foster parents, teachers and firemen. Take a moment and reflect on and thank God for the superheroes He has sent your way. These people are the gospel message in action – standing in the gap and interceding for us just like Jesus did at Calvary. Our perfect Superhero took on our sin debt, vouched for us, pleaded for our forgiveness, all while we were still sinners. Jesus is our Superhero!

Do Not Lose Heart

Good morning!

If you need some encouragement today, open right up to 2 Corinthians Chapter 4.
Paul opens and closes his letter with the message “Do not lose heart”, and I love the three message points he gives to support this message.
A third grade writing teacher would be proud of his intro, three supporting points, and a conclusion that restates his main message!
Paul gives us examples of how we may lose heart, specifically in ministry. Have you ever felt called to something and then when you are smack dab in the middle of it you start questioning the entire thing? How could this have been from God, it’s going terribly off track?  There are so many examples of this all around us.
  • Families fighting through government red tape to adopt a child.
  • Missionaries overseas who lose their funding unexpectedly.
  • A new college grad, eager and ready to serve but cannot find a job.
  • Parents everywhere who question their decisions and if they’re messing up their children!

Whatever ministry God has called you to, know that you are not alone in doubts, setbacks, feeling crushed from every side. (verse 9).  I love the encouragement Don’t Dig Up in Doubt What You Planted in Faith. 

The next point we are given is where our power comes from to overcome – the Holy Spirit! We are like jars of clay filled with an amazing power from God. The power is from Him, not from ourselves! If He calls you, He will equip you, even if in the moment you find yourself scratching your head and wondering how it will work out. You can’t do it alone – but He will do it through you!
Finally, Paul refocuses us on why we should not lose heart – because our glory is in eternity! All of the worries and afflictions of this life are nothing in comparison to eternity with Jesus! As our earthly bodies waste away, our hearts are being renewed and we are closer to eternity. If you’ve never seen this 4 minute video on eternity, click and watch Francis Chan as he shares this powerful visual.    https://youtu.be/86dsfBbZfWs
It’s so easy to focus on the small part of our lives that’s on earth, instead of the forever that will be with Jesus in heaven.

Casting Lots

It’s been really neat to follow along with Jon’s recent posts about hiring people. Took me back to my days in a corporate environment and some of the hiring adventures I experienced. I can remember walking away from interviews and being surprised (even shocked, at times) at what some people shared. And then wondering what I said or did in interviews that left people chuckling or puzzled? I mean, sometimes things just come out when you’re nervous or in a pressure cooker!

At one point in my career, I was building a new team of people that needed a skill set and knowledge base that we didn’t have a lot of in house. Hiring from the outside is a really cool opportunity to bring in fresh perspectives and unique talents, but it also comes with more risk. When you leverage existing talent within the organization, they usually have a reputation of work product, and you have a longer chance to observe them…but hiring externally, you’re relying on a resume, short interviews, and their former bosses’ opinions – people you don’t have a relationship with and have little motivation to help a different organization.

Sam, a young man in Michigan, had an interview that still leaves me smiling. His personality was as big as he was tall, and what he lacked in experience, he made up in knowledge. He worked hard and knew his stuff in the financial arena, coming up with great ideas and solutions to the different interview questions.

In that first interview, Sam spoke really fast and seemed to be sweating quite a bit. Halfway through he stopped me and confessed that he was nervous/ecstatic/distracted because the night before he asked his future father in law for his girlfriend’s hand in marriage! He received his blessing and so that morning Sam picked up the ring and planned to propose that evening! He was just so excited and thrilled for this next phase of life. I will never forget his zeal in that first interview.

There was a risk in hiring Sam – he didn’t have as many years of experience, but he had heart + determination. He knew his stuff and I believed his contagious personality was just what the other salespeople in Michigan needed to get them excited. Some leaders say they just have an instinct, or trust their gut… but when I boil it down, it’s actually the Holy Spirit. Like Jon, prayer was a critical part in making hiring decisions. Asking the Lord to show me what I’m missing, give me a peace in my heart about a certain candidate, protect me from bringing in the wrong person to our company. How amazing that we have a living God that goes before us and walks beside us!

In Acts 1, we see the last account in the Bible of casting lots, and specifically it was for a personnel change within the disciple group. Talk about a high pressure “hiring decision”!  If you aren’t familiar with casting lots, it was a tradition used by men of God to make decisions. We don’t know of all the methods specifically (sticks, stones, etc), but we do know the first example is back with Aaron and which animal to sacrifice (Lev. 16:8), and continued for hundreds of years with a range of circumstances. Dividing land, determining fault, settling disputes. This continued until this last time it’s recorded in Acts. Jesus had just ascended to heaven and they were to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came. While they’re waiting, Peter addresses the group of disciples and their need to replace Judas. They brought forward two candidates, Joseph of Barsabbas and Matthias. They prayed over the decision and asked God to show them who to select, and then they cast the lots. Maybe they had marked sticks or stones, we don’t know… but whatever they used, it came up that it was Mathias to replace Judas.

Casting lots is never mentioned again, and maybe I’m making a leap here, but it seems to me that once the Holy Spirit arrives, living in us, guiding us, then we no longer need to cast lots. Romans 12:2 tells us:

Being transformed in the renewal of your mind that you may be able to prove what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable and perfect.

Discerning the will of God isn’t easy, but we have the power of the Holy Spirit and the Living Word to rely on. What an opportunity, strike that, OBLIGATION we have to transform + renew our minds! If we aren’t talking with Him or studying His words regularly, how will we know His will? Do you believe that God can and will press upon your heart, the path He has for you? We don’t have to flip a coin to make a tough decision – we have the Holy Spirit inside of us! I can’t wait for Acts 2 and what BJ has to share with us next week about the Holy Spirit, it’s going to be great!

Oh, and Sam? She said yes. And fifteen years later he is still doing great things with that organization, and he and his wife have three sweet kiddos.