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.

Be On Guard

Last weekend, my husband and I discovered a beautiful trail outside of Nashville, at Percy Warner Park. The trail is called Mossy Ridge Trail, and it lives up to its name, with elevation changes, streams and mini waterfalls, and lots of moss covered limestone.

We followed the map of the 4.5 mile loop, the first day running it counter clockwise and having more of the steep climbs during the ascension. Temperatures were climbing up in the 80s and we were thankful for the forested shade during most of the trail. So much to see as we were running up and down, over and back, across the rocks, logs, and tree roots. It’s easy to get lost in your thoughts and prayers when you’re out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by such natural beauty. We had about 3/4 of a mile left when Tim warns “SNAKE”.

I freeze and see where he is pointing and back up a bit. Wow, he’s a big one! We guessed between 4-5 ft long, but it was hard to tell because he was so curled up. He looked mostly black and of course I asked Tim to dig his phone out and snap some pics of him (her?) so we could later identify him. There were some markings, but not as much as a bull snake usually has… so maybe he is a rat snake. He wasn’t in a hurry to move from the middle of the trail… so with a stick I was able to get him to slither off into the woods so I could pass.

The rest of the run, my eyes were much more wide open, my senses were more alert, and I was definitely looking for the next creature we may encounter. While I don’t have a huge snake phobia, I also don’t love their slithering sneaky creepy ways. Yuck! We live in the country and they are good for mice – I just prefer them to be out of sight in the woods 🙂

The next day we went back for another trail run, and it’s really cool how the opposite direction of the exact same trail can feel different. The climbs are from the opposite direction, the slick downhills are now easier to get up, and while it’s familiar from the day before, it has a newness to it when you experience it from a new vantage point. We are a mile in and I happen to be leading this section (we alternate) and it’s my turn to warn “SNAKE”. Same coloring, but not as big. Again, this guy came out of nowhere and was hard to see at first. He was half in the grassy edge and half on the trail – looking SO SIMILAR to the tree roots around him that were also sprawled across the trail. As soon as he heard me he darted off, and we went on our way.

The next couple of miles I thought about snakes. What makes them creepy, how camouflaged they can be to their surroundings, what they’re good for, why they freak us out, etc. I kept my eyes peeled the rest of the run looking out for more snakes. I was much more alert after seeing this second snake on the second day, than after the first snake on the first day. Every tree root sprawling across the path was the next snake 🙂

If snakes give you the heebie jeebies and freak you out, I am sorry!! I will get us to the scripture (stay with me).  In Mark 13, we find Jesus explaining to his disciples about end times and his return. One thing that really stands out to me is there are five different times that Jesus warns them to stay alert and be on guard (verses 5, 9, 26):

See that no one leads you astray, many will come in my name…And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, But be on guard.

After studying this chapter, I couldn’t help but think about our snake encounter, and how we almost ran right into him the first time, not expecting it. We ARE in the woods. We ARE in this snake’s home. Why was it a surprise? And Day Two? Don’t you think I would have been extra aware? But once again I’m running along, taking in the sights, and this snake looked so much like a dark tree root that I almost missed him. These snakes are no dummies… they know how to get a meal, and it’s not with a big flashing sign saying “SNAKE RIGHT HERE”… they’re trying to creep up on their lunch with the art of surprise. And while I know this about snakes, both times I was caught off guard.

The disciples were asking Jesus for a big sign of when these end days of tribulation will come. But Jesus tells them that no one knows the hour of when, but to stay alert and be on guard. He tells them how they will be persecuted and how to handle it. He tells them how there will be false prophets claiming to be coming in Jesus’ name and to not be fooled.

Who me? Fooled by a false prophet? After Jesus specifically warns me? Surely not!

Hello self, you just ran right into a snake, the day after encountering a snake in the same location. Ummm…

Leading up to this journal entry I’ve been praying for the Holy Spirit to show me false prophets in my life. Specifically, I’ve asked for a spirit of discernment of people, books, pastors, groups, studies, etc, all claiming to be in the name of Christ, but are deceiving and not aligned with the Lord. I need to be more aware, alert, on guard and ready! False prophets aren’t going to be easy to spot, they will be one tiny detail away from truth… or one shade off of white. False prophets will normalize sin, justify the unjust, and try to rationalize the irrational. If they were obvious to see and recognize, Jesus wouldn’t give such a strong warning.

Like I’ve said in many of my posts – I CAN’T WAIT for heaven!! Wonder if there will be snakes there?

Awestruck

Can you see the wonder across her face? The complete joy and splendor… about pancakes with sprinkles and candles? The flame flickering and twinkling in her eyes. Mesmerized by the beauty. Anticipating the deliciousness. Can you hear the squealing with delight? Absolutely awestruck.

Do you receive the kingdom of God like a child? Luke 18 commands this – and it’s left me pondering what exactly that would look like. What would it feel like if we approached our Creator and eternity, like a child?

Curiosity

        • Hey Mommy, how do birds fly?
        • Who teaches them to flap their wings?
        • Where do their parents take them?
        • Why do they fly south for the winter?
        • How do they know it’s warmer in the south?
        • What’s instinct mean?
        • But how do you just know?
        • Do you have any instincts, Mommy?

If you’ve spent any time with young children, you’ve probably found yourself in one of these never-ending question cycles of why, what, how, when, where, or who. A hunger for knowledge and understanding is part of childhood and maturing. It’s not just the hunger, but also the confidence to seek the answers. When I hear the term “child-like faith”, I don’t take it to mean blindly believing what you’ve been told, without asking questions.. I think it’s more of a willing and humble heart to explore who God is.

What questions do we have about God or salvation that we need to get to the bottom of? Are we ashamed to admit we don’t understand something? Are we so busy with our to-do lists that we haven’t allowed time for curiosity?

Reliance

From sun up to sun down children rely on their parents for so much. This chapter actually uses the word infants – and wow, babies require even more than children, to keep them alive. Feeding, bathing, clothing, diapers, transportation, safety, medical attention, etc. They cry to communicate and eventually we figure out what they are asking for. They learn that we will comfort them, feed them, help them, when they’re in distress.

God has never let me down, has never left me to figure it out alone. He has always comforted me, directed me, and loved me, through every distress. Yet each time I can see a storm coming, I begin to worry. And isn’t worrying a sign that I’m not trusting and willing to rely solely on the Lord? Complete surrender to God is so beautiful, and this level of trust comes from experiencing patterns of His faithfulness.

This weekend, let’s ask God to show us which qualities of children we need to embrace and emulate as we grow in our faith. I know I can approach the throne of God with an awestruck heart, more curiosity, or greater reliance and trust. What child-like qualities do you need more of in your life?

Jesus’s Ministry

Jesus’s life between age twelve and age thirty is a bit of a mystery. Nothing was recorded and it leaves me wondering, what was he like as a young man? He was fully God, yet fully man… sin free but still had the full range of human emotions. I remember back to specific points in my life in this span of time and I wonder – did he ever have the same experiences I did? Did his parents continue to worry about him? Did he surprise them again and again, like he did when they found him in the temple? Did he get scraped knees and what about math? Did math come easy to him? Did he have a good friend group that he confided in? Did he tell his parents about the future? It’s pretty amazing that Jesus walked this same earth and lived and breathed just like us.

As we open up to Mark 1, Jesus is 30 years old and this chapter is full of Jesus’s ministry kicking off. His cousin, John the Baptist, has been preaching repentance and baptism to the Jews and prepping the people for Jesus to come. Jesus is baptized and tempted in the wilderness by Satan. Jesus then calls his first disciples, Simon, Andrew, James and John. They were fisherman by trade, and Jesus instructs them to follow him and become fishers of men, and they immediately obey. I wonder what they thought they’d be doing?!

During this first period of time in Jesus’s ministry, he is teaching and instructing his disciples, performing miracles of healing and driving out evil spirits. He also takes time to step away from the crowds and pray.

One thing that is evident in this chapter is that God had the details planned out. He used John to prepare the people for Jesus the Messiah to come. He prepared the fisherman to become disciples. Jesus waited for the right time to announce “the time has come, the kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the Good News”! John the Baptist and the disciples believed this to be their calling and went forward in faith. Without knowing how Jesus’s ministry would unfold, or how their lives would be impacted, they believed and acted. God had a plan for their lives and used each of them to accomplish his will.

In my early twenties, I worked in Chicago as a project manager. My boss was an executive of a large corporation, with a lot of influence and a lot of responsibilities. it was evident (in no time) that he was a Christ follower and his most important work was to be the hands and feet of Jesus. It wasn’t the Bible on his desk that gave it away – it was how he cared for each person he interacted with, from the doorman to his own boss. He would ask about their family and how he could pray for them. He had real conversations about real stuff, not just pleasantries. He didn’t worry about oversharing or overstepping his boundaries with religion in the workplace – ‘God would take care of that’. Our offices were separated by a thin wall, and for three years I was able to witness his “work”. I learned so much from observation alone – not to mention all the ways he directly mentored and encouraged me. I could fill a book with the scriptures and wisdom he shared – one thing that reminds me of our passage today is a belief he has:

My desk is my alter, my work is an extension of his ministry.   

He believed this and he lived it. He saw his position as one given to him so he could have more opportunities to talk to people about Christ. To help people. To share with people. Yes, he had important business to do, but he had even more important kingdom work to focus on. He reminds me of the fisherman turned disciples… yes, they knew how to fish – but Jesus was teaching them how to REALLY FISH!

I love how God positions each of us to be a part of his kingdom. From John the Baptist, to the disciples, to you and me. It’s pretty humbling that each of us are not just called, but also equipped, to be an extension of his ministry.

 

Revival!

Nehemiah 8 

What an amazing revival! The Jewish people had been living in exile and returned to Jerusalem. They’ve not been following the ways of the Lord, let alone reading the scriptures. Isn’t this a beautiful picture? Ezra, a scribe, reads the scriptures (scrolls) and they are reminded of God’s ways, some maybe even hearing for the first time. Verse 7 tells us that Ezra had assistants or helpers that helped him teach and explain it to the large crowds of people.

I wonder what that looked like. Ezra was standing on the makeshift podium and were his helpers next to him…and after each section they would take turns expounding? Or did Ezra break the people into groups and they would have mini-small group discussions?

We know this is a revival because the people actively responded and turned their hearts toward the Lord. “And all the people answered Amen, Amen, and lifted up their hands” (verse 6), what a sight! They recognized how far they have fallen away from God and are weeping with remorse and sorrow for their sin.

What a picture of God’s grace… instead of them wallowing in their self destructive sin, God uses Ezra and calls them out of it. Go, be merry, celebrate your heart change, help others. Keep reading, keep celebrating! Nehemiah had just rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem, the people were reading the Word – what a time to celebrate! God doesn’t want us to be stuck in a pit of shame, self loathing, and guilt. He wants us to learn and use the joy of Him as our strength to move forward.

The very next morning they assembled again… and again, and again. Implementing and taking action on the things they heard and learned. They even began celebrating the Feast of Booths again – a practice that had been ignored for years and years – since the time of Joshua. They read and studied for hours, 8 consecutive days with joyful hearts – what a kickstart to renewing their spirits!

Don’t we need a revival like this?  What would a revival look like:

            • In our world?
            • In the United States?
            • In our community?
            • In our schools?
            • In our church?
            • In our family?
            • In our own heart?

Will you join me in praying for a revival? In Psalm 51, after David falls into sin, he repents and asks the Lord to create in him a clean heart and renew a steadfast spirit in him. Whether you’re a new Christian, or have been following Jesus for quite some time, I’m guessing you have seasons that need renewing and reviving, I know I do! I’m going to pray for a desire to study God’s Word like Ezra’s group did…and for people to help me understand where I’m lacking. God is ready to revive our hearts and celebrate with us!

I love the fourth verse of this old hymn from William Mackay:

Revive Us Again

1 We praise thee, O God, for the Son of thy love,
For Jesus who died and is now gone above.

2 We praise thee, O God, for thy Spirit of light,
Who has shown us our Savior and scattered our night. [Refrain]

3 All glory and praise to the Lamb that was slain,
Who has borne all our sins and has cleansed ev’ry stain. [Refrain]

4 Revive us again – fill each heart with thy love;
May each soul be rekindled with fire from above.

Refrain:
Hallelujah, thine the glory!
Hallelujah, Amen!
Hallelujah, thine the glory!
Revive us again.