Mary

Today’s reading is Luke 1:26-56 and Luke 2:1-7 with a focus on Mary.

As I read these verses and reflected, the two words that come to mind are trust and obedience. After the angel Gabriel told her what would happen, she says in Luke 1:28, “….Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” We then see in Luke 1:46-55 she sings song of praise to the Lord. It’s one thing to say in the moment when she was in the presence of the angel Gabriel that she would be a servant of the Lord, but the fact she followed through and continued to praise Him and follow His will is amazing. She could have questioned whether she was dreaming and whether the encounter with Gabriel was truly real. It’s easy to breeze over the fact she was likely ridiculed for being pregnant before marriage, yet she didn’t say “why me” or shed the responsibility God had given her. She says in Luke 1:47 that all generations would call her “blessed.” She embraced and trusted His will for her life.

Many of us have likely walked through an open door or taken a path we thought was God’s will for our life where we told God in prayer that we were his servant, and we would trust and follow Him. Yet, when trials and tribulations come later, we may begin to question whether the path we are now on was really His will, and we may even fall into sin. Again, despite Mary likely receiving much ridicule and embarrassment, she knew the promises in His Word (Luke 1:55) and trusted Him and remained obedient to His plan. We don’t know much about Jesus’ childhood and if He performed miracles or other acts Mary observed which no one else did. But, let’s assume for a moment that Mary did not observe any miracles since the Bible does not tell us she did, Mary still trusted in who the angel Gabriel told her He was years and years later when at the wedding in Cana she spurred Him on to his first miracle we know of by saying in John 2:3, “…They have no wine.” Then, she showed further trust in who He was still when she told the wedding officials in John 2:5, “..Do whatever He tells you.”

As we finish this week, let us reflect on the trust and obedience Mary showed and pray to do the same in our life today despite what might be trying to pull us away.

The Fear of Letting Go

Jesus shared approximately forty parables with his followers, and it’s no wonder that almost half of them included a message on wealth. He knows our hearts, what we hold on to, and what trips us up.  Money is definitely one of those things.

I know how money makes me feel – more powerful and more in control. Which is exactly when I start to get in trouble and rely less on the Lord and more on myself. While the world is focused on wealth accumulation, God calls us to wealth distribution through reduction. Can you think of anything that is asked of us, that isn’t ultimately for our own good? I love the scripture that says “lay aside every weight” – and our wealth can become a heavy, burdensome weight that slows us down.

More money, more problems… it’s so true! The more stuff we buy, the more it requires. We need space and time for all of the upkeep, repairs, updates, and maintenance, for the THINGS we accumulate through our wealth.

When you read in Mark 10:17-31 about the Rich Young Man, you find that he is seeking eternity. He has followed the letter of the law, and now he is seeking surety of eternity. How cool that Jesus’ love for this man is called out. Right before he gives him this very direct admonition, he “looks at him and loves him”. God’s grace for us is so amazing, leading us with love.

Because Jesus knew his heart, he drew his attention to the one thing that was getting in the way of his relationship with God. His stuff. He was told by Jesus to give away all he had, and come and follow him. Instead of heeding the instructions, the man left, sad at the thought of losing his stuff. I wonder what specifically was most hard for him. Did he cling to the security he believed his money  represented? Were there family heirlooms that he didn’t want to give away? Maybe he was accustomed to the conveniences that he saw his wealth provide.

Another thing that strikes me is that time and time again in scripture we have examples of people being called to sell or give their stuff. It’s not just “give your extra money”, but it’s a call to simplification through reduction. Idolatry has been a challenge for thousands of years, and while we may not be making golden calves, I think we all could think of things that get in the way of our relationship with the Lord.

I don’t want to be captive to my possessions. I can think of a few areas I need to “clean house” and let go. Along with an abundance of stuff, I also have a bunch of justifications for it all. Seriously! One big category for me is in all things ‘serving and hosting’. At some point in time, I started accumulating things for celebrations. Decorations, dinnerware, linens, and on and on. You know, for the next dinner party, birthday gathering, etc. I’ve collected and then kept all these things, justifying it with some scripture about the gift of hospitality. Serve well. Oh, and I will use it all again someday, so I should really be a good steward and save it. WHAT?!! Okay, who is going to check in with me in a couple of months to see if I’ve cleaned out my storage area?

As God loves us, he sanctifies us. I don’t know what God has for you today… maybe it’s a release of your money, stuff, time, or something else. Ask him, and I know he will lovingly reveal it to you, just as he did the Rich Young Man. He perfectly knows what we need, and what we don’t need.

This passage wraps up with the disciples questioning the difficulty of a wealthy man entering heaven. And Jesus reminds them of God’s power: With man it is not possible, but with God, all things are possible. Be encouraged – God will equip you to do whatever he calls you to.  And when he helps us to unclench our fists, and truly let go of the things we so tightly hold on to, it is then that our hands are open. Open to receive more of his love, grace, and blessing. He promises that we will receive so much more in eternity than we can imagine.

Baruch

Today’s reading is Jeremiah 36, 43, and 45 with a focus on Baruch.

Who was Baruch? Most know of the prophet Jeremiah, but may not know of Baruch, his scribe. Not only was Baruch given the task of writing down the prophecies God gave to Jeremiah, but he was also given the task to tell the Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and his officials what the prophecies said about the fall of Jerusalem to King Nebuchadnezzar when they would be taken into exile as a result of their idolatry and turning away from the Lord. I have to imagine Baruch’s thoughts when he was writing this down for Jeremiah. He was likely thinking this not good and probably wondering who the pour soul would be that had to risk his life to deliver this message….only to find out that pour soul was him!

What else was Baruch thinking? Was he scared for his life? Was he wondering why it had to be him? Was he bitter that although these were Jeremiah’s words, he was the one who had to risk his life and deliver the news? Was he thinking…why me? Whatever fears, anxieties, and maybe even bitterness Baruch had about delivering this message, he must have faced them and let God use him as His servant because he did in fact deliver the message. While we don’t know his thoughts, we are potentially given some insight that he may have been wondering some of these things and really thinking, “What’s in it for me?” In Jeremiah 45:5, God speaks directly to Baruch through Jeremiah and says, “And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing great disaster upon all flesh, declared the Lord. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places which you may go.”

Is your life in a spot right now where you are wishing you had accomplished more worldly success and you are not where you thought you would be at this point? Have you been a “behind the scenes” guy or gal like Baruch without much notoriety? Let us remember what the world, and what we being in the world, view as success is not what God views as success. Jesus tells us in Matthew 19:30 and Matthew 20:16 that the last will be first. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have big goals and aspire to be all God’s called us to be and use the talents and gifts He’s given us. If that means we are to be CEO, then that’s great. These verses also tell us the school cafeteria worker, the garbage person, the ditch digger, and the retail worker are viewed just the same in God’s eyes and potentially must greater if they are living for God’s purpose and His Kingdom instead of the world. Jesus says in Matthew 21:28 that even the Son of Man (Him) came to serve and not be served.

If we have not achieved the worldly success we desire or have faced financial or health hardships in our lives despite the fact that we believe we are doing most things right and living for Him and wondering why and “what’s in it for me?”, let us remember that God has given us “life” like Baruch and everything we truly need which is forgiveness from our sins through Jesus so we can live with Him for eternity. This is the greatest gift we could ever be given….for eternity is much longer than the life we are given on this Earth, whatever suffering or challenges we face or lack of worldly success and accolades while here. Do you also believe you have not been living for Him to this point? Well, He gave His life for you and forgives you, and now you have the option to give your life to Him from this day forward. Let us all pray for clarity on where we are today in our relationship with Him and for wisdom on where He wants us to go from here.

Hannah

Today’s reading is 1 Samuel 1:1-2:21 with a focus on Hannah and what we can learn from her.

Hannah was the wife of Elkanah. Hannah could not have children, and this deeply saddened her. However, in her distress, she prayed for God to give her a son and vowed to give him to the Lord (1 Samuel 1:10-11). The Lord answered her prayer by giving her Samuel who she presented back to Lord, leaving him in the temple to learn under Israel’s ruler and priest Eli. Later, God also gave her three more sons and two daughters. Even though Samuel was not in the bloodline of Eli, he became Eli’s unlikely successor and leader of Israel because Eli’s sons were “worthless men” (1 Samuel 2:12). She gave her problems and pain to God, and He did even more than she could ask or imagine.

The first part of 1 Samuel makes it very clear that Hannah was a sad woman for years because of her inability to have a child. This brought the question to my mind…is it a sin to be distressed or sad because of something you want but are not receiving? I believe that initially it is not a sin to be sad or distressed because of something you want because the Bible is clear that Jesus was without sin and yet in Luke 22:43-45, Jesus, knowing of the pain he would suffer on the cross, was in “agony.” In fact, He was so distressed that he perspired drops of blood as he asked God to “remove this cup” from him in Luke 22:42. God gave us the ability to feel sadness so I don’t think it in and of itself is a sin. The question is…where do your thoughts go from there, and to whom do you go? What do you do when you feel sadness or stress or anxious? Maybe God allows us to feel sadness at times so we go to Him.

Jesus went to His Heavenly Father in prayer, and “prayed more earnestly” (Luke 22:44). At the same time, He also said, “not my will, but yours, be done (Luke 22:42).” Hannah, not having yet the example we now have from Jesus, did the same…she went to the Lord in prayer.

“She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.” 1 Samuel 1:10

She tells Eli….

“I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord.” 1 Samuel 1:15

It is then that Eli tells her the Lord will grant her a child.

Although it says Hannah had “great anxiety and vexation” in 1 Samuel 1:16, I think we gain more insight in how she may have prayed that prayer asking for a child when we see how she prayed another prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 where she gave great praise and adoration to God. It is clear that she knows there is no one like Him. He is in control, and He is the one who she worships. Christian musical artist Toby Mac recently posted on his Facebook account, “Worry is worshipping the problem.” That is powerful. It is clear that Hannah still worshipped God and knew He was in control during her sadness. Feeling sad and having anxiety in and of themselves must not be sins since Jesus had these feelings, but worrying that consumes you constantly and thus worshipping those problems, and not going to God, is. Ask yourself, as I am definitely asking myself today, am I worshipping my problem in my worrying? Or, am I giving my problems to Him, worshipping Him in adoration of His greatness and sovereignity, like Hannah did in 1 Samuel 2:1-10?

We must also ask ourselves, is what I want for His glory or mine? Also, am I willing to give that blessing to Him when I receive it? And, do I FULLY believe that he can and will answer this prayer? Finally, can I find peace in whatever His will is and trust His will is what is truly best? I could do multiple other journal entries to each one of these questions, but I’ll sum it up briefly. I believe God answers Hannah’s prayer because as we can see through her prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-1-, she knew she served a mighty God, full of wisdom, who could do anything.  And despite her sadness, she says she will give her son that God gives her back to God for His glory in 1 Samuel 1:11! Can you imagine wanting something that bad for that long and then just giving it right back to God when you receive it? Then, she follows through. And God blessed her and Samuel for that by making Samuel an unlikely leader of Israel and by giving her five more children.

Let us follow the example Hannah set here and the words of Paul…

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:4-

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

Let It Go

Today’s reading is Exodus 1:1-2:10 with the focus being on Moses’ parents.

We don’t know much about Moses father other than that he was from the tribe of Levi from the 12 tribes of Israel (Jacob), so we will focus on his Israelite mother which we will call his birth mother and his Egyptian mother which we will call his adopted mother.

To set the context for our discussion we want to quickly review that Joseph has passed and the current Egyptian Pharaoh was fearful of the Israelites due to the number of them and thought they may side with another enemy of Egypt in the future, so out of fear he enslaved them. He also ordered that any male babies be killed at birth. Moses’ mom hid him for three months until she could hide him no more, then she let him go on the Nile in a basket. Although we don’t know Moses’ mom’s name, we know how highly God thought of the bravery of her actions and her trust in God to protect him because her actions are referenced in what some call the chapter of faith all-stars in Hebrews 11 which mentions some of the Bible’s biggest heroes who exhibited great trust in God through their actions.

“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.”  

Hebrews 11:23

Moses’ sister followed her baby brother Moses down the Nile and saw that he was found by Pharaoh’s daughter. She took a very brave step as well to follow him and then approach Pharoah’s daughter and ask her if she wanted her to find an Israelite mother to nurse the baby to which she agreed. Unbeknownst to the Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses’ sister directed her to Moses’ birthmother who nursed him and stayed with him for a period of time. Although she could have maybe tried to escape with him wanting to keep him, and who could blame her being his true mother, she likely realized his opportunity to have the best life possible was to give him back to Pharaoh’s daughter to become his adopted mom. She put her son’s needs in front of her own, and most importantly, trusted that if she gave him away God would take care of and provide for him. She was willing to let go of that which she loved so greatly, her son, and give Him to God, not so different than the way Abraham was willing to let go of and sacrifice Isaac.

How often do we hold too tight to the people, circumstances, and things in our life, instead of giving them to God with faith, fully trusting Him?

Hebrews 11, which we referenced earlier, starts with the following….

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Hebrews 11:1

We must ask and trust in God without doubting…

“But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

James 1:6-8

This also defines faith has having no doubt whatsoever.

By the outcome of Moses’ life being protected, and with God doing amazing things with him similar to God doing big things with Isaac after Abraham let go, I would have to be lead to believe that his mom asked God with big faith and full trust to protect him and to do big things with him for God’s glory. That is exactly what God did.

Take some time to reflect today, what do you need to let loose of and fully give to God with faith and without doubting? My guess is that when you do let go, your desires will come true. But even if not, one thing is certain…you will have a peace that passes understanding by trusting in Him and His perfect plan for your life and circumstances….whatever the outcome is.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for the good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

Romans 8:28

Rome at last

Today’s Reading: Acts 28:16-31

During the summer months many people attempt and make successful family trips to various places. Some may be right in your backyard while others take you to far off exotic places.  Now, I’m not even going to try to connect these trip to that of Paul’s journey to Rome in Acts 28, but want to just dig a little deeper into Paul’s legal trip to Rome and highlight the influence he had in a specific place God divinely brought him to, in order to influence others.

Mindset’s, or lets say faith-sets make a difference. Paul’s trip to Rome was a “legal matter“, he was a ward of the military system and placed on house arrest and guarded in Rome for two years. What did he do? Paul thanked God, he took courage. verse 15 This wasn’t the way Paul planned to reach Rome but knew God had blessed him by allowing him to get there.

What is my response?  So…maybe the trip you take for work, or the family vacation to “not your ideal location“, or a stay at the your in-laws or your own extended family is like house arrest or a trip that you don’t have any control over.  Maybe its sitting at the practice or game with other parents? Talking outside with neighbors?  Either way, let’s make these summer trips or even just our daily routines like we have the mindset of Paul.  Our journey today may not include chains, being shipwrecked, and the many other trials in a physical sense or maybe it has? We all have a story and trials we face daily. So if it has felt that way like it did for Paul, trust that God is working all things out for good (Romans 8:28) for you as well.  God may not always allow us to feel comfortable and secure, but He provides us the opportunity to do His work.  Look at the work Paul was doing. When our journey is feeling difficult, we need to lean in a little closer to God and trust in His plan for our varied journey’s or storms like Lynden mentioned yesterday.

God called Paul to see and speak with both Jews and Gentiles in Romes.  Paul knew that the hearts of the people were calloused, ears were dull for hearing, and their eyes were closed (Acts 28:26-27) still, Paul would speak of God and speak of the glorious message that can convert a heart,can heal deafness, or any loss of sight. This is the same message that have changed our hearts, opened our eyes, and opened our ears to hear His Living Word.   These verses are originally quoted in Isaiah 6:9-10 where God was using Isaiah in Jerusalem to convert hearts.

God uses Paul, He used Isaiah, He is using us to share His message.  That even today in the spaces and places where it may seem hard or not favorable to share because of hardened hearts, closed ears, and blind eyes. Jesus will use His words spoken through us to convert, change, and heal those who are hurting. Those who feel like they have nowhere to go. Those who have lost all trust and faith in others… you can point them t to God.  Maybe this was your story? I know it was mine.

This summer we have some mini trips planned, many days will be spent around our home and neighborhood. some days will be spent at work, at the pool, practices or games.  Although, we may not be on house arrest, the fact is that without others knowing about God and His love for us, many will be in a lot worse place then jail for eternity. I’m humbled and amazed to think that Paul wrote letters like Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians, (the Prison Epistles) during this time. Paul wrote these letters for the millions that have read them through the centuries, he wrote them for you and me. Paul wrote while changing the hearts of many who were in his presence in these years at Rome.  Rome, a place that had many gods, similar to the many gods that we can focus on today.  Let’s not let these worldly things get in our way.  Let’s take today, and every day in our short lives here on Earth to preach about the Kingdom of God, and those things which concern the Lord Jesus, with all boldness and without hindrance.

Welcome to Rome biblejournal family, don’t worry about the words to say, God is with you, go with boldness.

 

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?

In the Boat

Today’s reading is Mark 4.

Mark 4 is jammed full of great messages and contains four parables, as well as Jesus calming a storm. We will specifically focus on the parable of a seed growing in Mark 4:26-29 and the storm in Mark 4:35-41.

Let’s begin with Mark 4:26-29.

26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

The Easter time of year has caused me to not only have a heightened focus on the forgiveness of my sins through the cross and the promise of eternal life through His resurrection, but also the spread of the Gospel not through kings and queens or dignitaries…but 12 ordinary men. Most were fisherman and Matthew was a tax collector, known to be the worst of sinners. God, through these men, spread the Good News not by force or the sword, but through their faith and the boldness to share it.

This past weekend I went to visit my 99-year-old great Uncle Roy in the hospital. He is the last in our family from the Greatest Generation. He grew up during the Great Depression and fought in Europe in World War II. He faced more challenges and saw more bad things before age 30 than I hope I have to see in my entire lifetime. As I drove a little over an hour to Springfield, I didn’t know if I might find him sleeping and even unaware of my presence. To my surprise, I found him up in his chair wide awake. Although he may be in his final months on this Earth, his mind and memory is as sharp as ever. He shared some really special family stories I had never heard before and will treasure forever. Uncle Roy is related through marriage, so it was very cool when he told me my great grandfather Frank “Tubby” Wilson, his father-in-law, who was deceased before my father was even born, was “the finest man” he ever knew. He said he greatly was respected by many in his hometown, although he was a railroader during the Great Depression and not a prominent leader or businessman, because he cared for and raised his younger siblings when his father passed away young. Most importantly, he told me that Frank and my great grandmother Mayme Wilson were Christians and raised my grandmother and great aunt (Uncle Roy’s wife Almeda) in the church. This relationship with Christ in our family trickled all the way down to my brother and me with our children today.

Just think about this for a second, God used 12 ordinary men who were fearful for their lives when they thought hope was lost because the man they dedicated their life to follow who they thought he would become king died, to just a few days later become fearless to share the Gospel. This ultimately lead to my family knowing Jesus nearly 2,000 years later on a continent which wouldn’t be discovered until nearly 1,500 years later in a country which wouldn’t be founded until nearly 1,800 years later in a city 6,300 miles away (in case you are wondering…yes…I did do a map search from Israel to Beardstown, IL!).

Romans 8:26-27 says..

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

These are powerful verses when it says, “the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” The fact that He cared about helping my family know Him that far away nearly 2,000 years later blows my mind. Think of all the things that had to occur between then and now for that to happen! As hard is it is for me to do daily, how can I then not believe He has a plan for and cares about every little detail and perceived “bad thing” that happens in my life? Like these verses from Mark 4, we ”know not how.” But, He connects all the pieces and makes amazing things come from bad things years and years later. His will is always perfect. And..”the will of God” cannot be stopped.

In Mark 4:35:41, the disciples woke Him from sleep in fear for their lives when the boat they were traveling in began to take on water during a terrible a storm. Specifically, Mark 4:40 it states…

40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

What He’s really saying is…don’t you remember…”I’m in the boat. I am God.” Or as Psalm 46:10 states… 10 “Be still, and know that I am God…”

As our boats begin to take on water or we fear it might due to the storm which hasn’t even occurred yet from to the weather forecast in our minds (which is usually wrong often like the weather forecast on the news), we must remember to “Be still” and know that He is God. Let our hearts and minds be aware that He always has been..and always will be…in the boat.

Samson

From the book of Joshua we go to Judges, and it’s a fascinating period of time with a lot happening. Joshua dies, the tribes are still trying to conquer/divide/settle into land, and going through cycles of sin and depravity. Between Joshua’s death and until Saul is named the Israelites’ first king, we have “judges”. These judges are different than modern day judges and I love how they’re described in chapter 2 verses 16-18:

16 Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. 17 Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so. 18 Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. 

In our reading today, we focus specifically on Judges 16, which outlines Samson as a judge for the Hebrew people being oppressed by the Philistines (there are 11 other judges recorded in the book of Judges). If you’ve heard this one before, your high points might be similar to what stood out in my mind over the years:

  • God gave Samson supernatural physical strength, and if he cut his hair he would lose his strength – but no one knew that but him. 
  • Delilah tries to get the truth from him multiple times – in order to sell his secret to the Philistines. The first couple of times he tells her lies, but she tries to take away his strength with these lies… why does he keep trusting her and telling her?
  • Eventually (third time is a charm) he tells her the truth about his hair and she sells him out and Samson is captured. 

After spending more time in Judges and the life of Samson, a few new things came to light for me:

  • Samson was born to Manoah and his previously barren wife, after an angel appeared telling her she would bear a son that would be a deliverer for the Israelites. – Ch. 13
  • Samson was raised as a Nazarite and as he grew, the Lord blessed him. – Ch. 13
  • Samson desired/tried to marry women outside of his tribe (against God’s laws at that time) – Ch. 14 the woman from Timnah, Ch. 16 Delilah. 
  • Samson was betrayed by both women, both telling information he trusted them with. 
  • The situation with the woman from Timnah (his soon-to-be wife) is Lifetime Movie ready. He kills a lion on his way to ask for his bride.. then during the wedding feast creates a riddle for the Philistines to solve. His bride tells the secret answer, and it all ultimately ends in death. Samson was a great warrior and killed 1000 men without an army. Ch. 14-15
  • Samson has his “Hey there, Delilah” moments and we do not know how long she nagged him to reveal his secret, but in verse 16 it says she pressed and urged him daily until his soul was vexed to death. 
  • The Philistines gouged out Samson’s eyes upon capturing him. Samson, whose role was to help people keep their eyes on God, lost his way, and his own sight in the process. – Ch. 16
  • God gives Samson one last super strength moment during his captivity and he kills 3,000 Philistines before his own death. 
  • Samson is listed among the men and women of great faith in Hebrews 11! 

This deeper study of Samson has replaced my thoughts of “why did he spill the beans” with some areas of encouragement: 

After Samson is captured and realized he wrongly told the secret of his strength, he still had the courage to call upon the Lord for help. Wow!! When we mess up, we need God’s help to deal with the fall out. But sometimes we let our shame, pride, or doubt keep us from calling on God. What an awesome example Samson gave us to cry out with faith! 

Be wise about who you allow into the inner circle of your heart. Are they Christ Followers, encouraging you in your walk with the Lord? Is there anyone influencing you in ways that come between you and God? 

What strength did God entrust you with and how are you using it for His kingdom?