Friday’s a comin’

April 16, 2014 — 2 Comments

There’s a well-known riff on Holy Week by the preacher S.M.Lockridge with a refrain that crescendoes, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s a comin.”

But today, mid-week between the enthusiasm of Palm Sunday and the joy of Easter, I thought, “It’s Wednesday, but Friday’s a comin’.”

The sun may be shining now, but a cross will be raised up on Friday, casting a long shadow on the world. And though Easter will come on Sunday, the shadow of the cross will remain.

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Yes, it will be Easter Sunday and we will celebrate the resurrection and the cancelled debt of sin. But Friday will be coming again for there are many more crucifixions that are needed in my life.

There are a thousand little deaths to come as I follow after Jesus, a million little denials of my self. To be His disciple means that I am a cross-carrier. Every day I pick it up. Some mornings, it feels like a ton of bricks, and other times, I find it surprisingly light. Either way, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” [II Corinthians 4:10]

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So here are some Friday, cross-carrying thoughts:

“On the other side of death is freedom, and no one is more free than a dead man. Jesus had much to say about death to self, and on the journey to the ‘me you want to be’, you will have some dying to do.”

John Ortberg

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“The cross is laid on every Christian. It begins with the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with His death… we give over our lives to death… When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.

It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow Him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time… death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at His call. That is why the rich young man was so loath to follow Jesus, for the cost of his following was the death of his will. In fact, every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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“The church is not made up of spiritual giants;
only broken men and women can lead others to the cross.”
David J. Bosch

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“Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with Your spirit and love.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that all my life may only be a radiance of You.
Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus.
Stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as You shine, so to shine as to be a light to others.”
Mother Teresa of Calcutta

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What it means to love

April 9, 2014 — 4 Comments

The longer I follow Jesus and let Him have His way in me, the more I see that at the heart of His life is the call to surrender. Or in the words of a popular song, to “let it go”.

Andy Holt helped me see what this means by replacing the word ‘love’ in I John 4: 7-21, with words of sacrifice and laying down. Here is his paraphrase:

“Dear friends, let us lay down our lives for one another, for self-sacrifice comes from God. Everyone who doesn’t demand his rights has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not lay down his life but clings to his rights does not know God, because God is the very definition of self-sacrifice.

This is how God showed his willingness to lay down his life among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is self-sacrifice: not that we died for God, but that he died for us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so laid down his life for us, we also ought to lay down our lives for one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we surrender our rights for the sake of one another, God lives in us and his sacrifice is made complete in us.

We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the sacrifice God has made for us.

God is self-sacrifice. Whoever lives in self-sacrifice by surrendering his rights and even his very life lives in God, and God in him. In this way, the lifestyle of laying down our lives for one another is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.

There is no fear in dying to yourself. But perfect sacrifice drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in self-sacrifice.

We lay down our lives and surrender our rights for others because he first laid down his life and surrendered his rights for us. If anyone says, “I would die for God,” yet wouldn’t give up anything for his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not lay down his life for his brother, whom he has seen, cannot lay down his life for God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever sacrifices everything for God must also sacrifice everything for his brother.”

Amen.

Many old hymns talk about God as King:

“Praise, my soul, the King of heaven,
to the throne thy tribute bring;
ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
evermore God’s praises sing.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Praise the everlasting King.”

***

O worship the King, all glorious above,
O gratefully sing God’s power and God’s love;
our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,
pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise.

***

And some new songs talk about the King too:

“You’re arriving with the sound of thunder and rain
You’re arriving in the calm of the wind and the waves
You’re arriving in the glow of a burning flame
A burning flame

Praise awaits You at the dawn when the world come alive
Praise awaits You in the darkness and shines in the light
Praise awaits You with a song of love and desire, love and desire

Here comes the King
All bow down
Lift up your voices
Unto the Lamb
He is the King
All bow down
All bow down… “
[All bow down, by Chris Tomlin]

***

“Lift up your hands
Be lifted up
Let the redeemed
Declare the love
We bow down
At heaven’s gate
To kiss the feet
Of hope and grace…”

[King of Glory, by Chris Tomlin]

***
Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy.
For the LORD Most High is awesome,
the great King over all the earth.

Psalm 47:1-2

Last week the king came to our neighborhood. The first sign we had of it was when we noticed that the curbs had gotten a fresh coat of red and white stripes. Tall poles with large flags had been planted along the road too. Across the street, two men were painting a long white wall. When the king comes, things get spiffed up.

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The next morning, several policemen took up posts along the road. Their job was to make sure no cars parked there. Later they kept pedestrians off the street too. When the king came, there would be no traffic problems, no disturbances.

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People came out to watch.

August 5 2011 Tetaoun Rabat king 101

Then they waited and waited and waited. For a long time, no cars came by. Then some vehicles drove past. A few motorcycles. One black mercedes, then another. Everyone wondered, is it him? Is it the king? Which black mercedes is his?

Suddenly, there he was on a side street with the window down, waving to the crowd lining the route. People began to cheer.

August 5 2011 Tetaoun Rabat king 103

Then his car turned on to the main road and sped away. A day’s worth of preparation was over in a thirty-second flash.

Life quickly returned to normal. The policemen left. Within a few hours the flags were taken down. Soon the paint on the curbs got scuffed.

Once again, living in this country has helped me understand what it was like back in the day of Jesus. A king was a big deal, bigger than a president or a prime minister. Think of it. The king’s word was law. What he said, happened. There was no debate or discussion. Disloyalty was punished by death. Subjects owed the king a tribute. Loyalty, money, honor, reverence–this is what a king was owed .

In this modern kingdom, government officials publicly bow before the king and renew their loyalty every year. A person could be imprisoned for publishing disrespectful cartoons about the king, or for speculating about his health. He is not to be trifled with.

It’s easy in our democratic age to minimize the royal aspect of God’s character. We prefer to emphasize Jesus as our friend rather than our king. But the visit of the king to our neighborhood caused me to reconsider what it means for the King of kings to be in charge of my life.
What deference do I want to show Him?
What tribute can I bring to Him?
How will I prepare the way for Him?
How can I honor Him?

I think praise is a good place to start.

Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the King of all the earth;
sing to Him a psalm of praise.
God reigns over the nations;
God is seated on His holy throne.
The nobles of the nations assemble
as the people of the God of Abraham,
for the kings of the earth belong to God;
He is greatly exalted.

Psalm 47:6-9

“I am a Christian because I have seen the love of God lived out in the lives of people who know Him… I am a Christian, not because someone explained the nuts and bolts of Christianity to me, but because there were people who were willing to be nuts and bolts. Through their obedience to the truth and not necessarily through their explanation of it, they held it together so that I could experience it and be compelled to obey.”

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“When I was in Thailand, I met this missionary. And I was talking to her and I said, ‘You know, I just want the Lord to use me.’ And she said, ‘Well, forget it. God doesn’t need you for anything. God doesn’t want to use you, He wants you to love him.’”
 

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“I’ve been in and out of all kinds of things—like self-deprecation, self-interest, ego trips, alcohol, and other addictions. I’ve failed many times to avoid those kinds of temptations. But that’s not what the devil was really interested in. What he was trying to do is make me feel apart from God. Now I know that what Satan would like most to take from us is our true knowledge of who we are—which is children of God.

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“I would rather live on the verge of falling and let my security be in the all-sufficiency of the grace of God than to live in some kind of pietistic illusion of moral excellence—not that I don’t want to be morally excellent, but my faith isn’t in the idea that I’m more moral than anybody else. My faith is in the idea that God and His love are greater than whatever sins any of us commit.”

Rich Mullins

I don’t think I knew much about Rich Mullins before his untimely death in 1997, except that he had a written some great songs including the contemporary praise chorus, “Our God is an Awesome God.” I was also familiar with his two-volume CD, “The World as Best as I Remember it.”

These are deeply spiritual songs that shy away from a neat, packaged faith. Mullins will ask a question without feeling the need to make up an answer for God. Things don’t always work out well, people suffer heartache and bitter disappointment. They are tempted. Sometimes they fall. Sometimes they wonder where God is.

There’s the haunting honesty of “Jacob and Two Women”:

“Jacob, he loved Rachel and Rachel, she loved him
And Leah was just there for dramatic effect
Well it’s right there in the Bible, so it must not be a sin
But it sure does seem like an awful dirty trick
And her sky is just a petal pressed in a book of a memory
Of the time he thought he loved her and they kissed
And her friends say, “Ah, he’s a devil”
But she says, “No, he is a dream”
This is the world as best as I can remember it.”

Then there’s the challenge of “Screen Door”:

“Well there’s a difference you know
Between having faith
And playing make believe
One will make you grow
The other one just make you sleep
Talk about it (yeah)
And I really think you oughta
Take a leap off of the ship
Before you claim to walk on water

Faith without works
Is like a song you can’t sing (sing)
It’s about as useless as
A screen door on a submarine

Faith comes from God and
Every word that He breathes
He lets you take it to your heart
So you can give it hands and feet
It’s gotta be active if it’s gonna be alive
You gotta put it into practice”

And there’s the confession of “Hold Me, Jesus”:

“So hold me Jesus,
Cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

Surrender don’t come natural to me
I’d rather fight you for something
I don’t really want
Than to take what you give that I need
And I’ve beat my head against so many walls
Now I’m falling down, I’m falling on my knees”

It was songs like these, as well as joyful and playful songs, that drew me to read “Rich Mullins: A Devotional Biography: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven” by James Bryan Smith.
(the Kindle version is currently $1.99 I also have a copy to lend.)

mullins arrow

As one would expect from a devotional biography, Smith doesn’t give a comprehensive account of the facts. We do learn though what Mullins was like as a child, how his first album bombed, and how he went back to school in his 30s to get a degree in music education. But mostly, Smith looks into Mullins’ heart and tells the inside story of what fueled Mullins’ outer life.

It’s an uncomplicated but rich picture. Mullins loved the Bible, Jesus, and the church with passion. To live a simple life, he let someone else manage his finances so he wouldn’t be tempted by how much money he was making. He received a modest salary from his earnings, and gave the rest away.

Mullins also wasn’t afraid to challenge Christians but he was able to critique without being cynical or harsh. When he spoke the truth, it was with love. He focused on being centered on Jesus instead of making sure everyone else was living right.

He didn’t care about public opinion, but he did care deeply about how God viewed him. Jesus was his starting point and his ending point. But he didn’t focus on devotion to the exclusion of action–or vice versa. He managed to keep the balance between loving God and loving people.

I think what people found refreshing about Mullins was that he lived the gospel–not a Sunday School version but the real-life gospel. He was aware of his sinfulness–and his capacity to sin. At the same time he was grounded in the redeeming love of God through Jesus for those sins.

I came away from the book encouraged by Mullins’ story. My life may look very different from his, but I desire the same simple faith, childlike heart, and graceful love for people. Reading his life story helps point me in the right direction.

“God bring us back to life.
Fill us with Your presence.
Turn the light of Your face upon us.
Restore Your image within us.
Make us one with You.”
—–Christine Sine

♦◊♦

In Him was life,
and that life was the light of all mankind.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:4-5

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“The birth of Christ in our souls is for a purpose beyond ourselves:
it is because His manifestation in the world must be through us.
Every Christian is, as it were, part of the dust-laden air
which shall radiate the glowing epiphany of God,
catch and reflect His golden Light.

You are the light of the world -
but only because you are enkindled,
made radiant by the one Light of the world.”
——–Evelyn Underhill

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For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:6

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“We ourselves are ‘saved to save’–we are made to give–to let everything go if only we have more to give. The pebble takes in the rays of light that fall on it, but the diamond flashes them out again: every little facet is means, not simply of drinking more in, but of giving more out.”
———–Lilias Trotter

How to light a dark corner

February 26, 2014 — 2 Comments

I’m a natural morning person and one thing I love about getting up early is seeing the long rays of sunlight as they wake the world to another day.

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And one of the luxuries of keeping the Sabbath is being able to stop and enjoy the morning light. In the winter when it’s too cold to go outside, I’ll find the sunniest place in the house and sit there, praying, reading, reflecting.

I'm like a spring flower turning to the sun

I’m like a spring flower turning to the sun

Last month I discovered a new morning spot in our house. Like most Moroccan homes, our dining room is not conveniently placed next to the kitchen. Instead, it’s on the other side of the house to separate the cooks from the guests. And it is also sized for a large extended family.

Half of our dining room filled with our local extended family

Half of our dining room filled with our local extended family

Of course it’s too big for two people, so weeks can go by without me having any need or desire to use the room. Then one Sabbath I happened to be in the back of the house and noticed the morning light streaming into the dining room.

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I pulled up a chair and positioned it to face the bright sun. Then I settled in to enjoy its warm illumination.

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But after a while I sensed there was something not quite right. Then I realized I was facing in the wrong direction. To catch the morning sun I should be pointing east and not west.

the sun rising in the east

the sun rising in the east

Yet there I was facing west. How had the sun turned itself around?

I looked up and saw the answer. A few years ago our neighbors closed their upper terrace with reflective glass. What I was seeing was not the sun (still thankfully rising in the east) but the sun reflecting off a western window, like a mirror.
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A once-dark corner of our house where the sun never shone was now flooded with light.

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As I basked in the sunlight reflecting off the glass, I marveled at the power of the sun and the capacity of the glass to reflect it. I remembered what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image. — 2 Corinthians 3:17-18

The glass doesn’t create the light. It doesn’t even have to make any effort to reflect the sun’s brightness. The sun is the source.
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The only way the glass can prevent the light’s reflection is if it becomes coated with dirt and dust. No wonder Jesus told us not to worry about the plank in our brother’s eye and only to worry about the speck in our own. Tiny specks of dust and dirt crowded together can block the power of the all-powerful light.

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To reflect the light of Jesus into the dark corners of the world around me, I need to let the Holy Spirit into my dark corners first and wash my heart clean.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
… Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
–Psalm 51: 7, 10

Then God’s light will shine boldly through me although I may not always be aware of how far His rays of grace extend.

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Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and His glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Isaiah 60:1-3

What about you? What dark unreached corners in your world does God’s light reflect into? And when was the last time you washed your spiritual windows?

Speaking of ‘yet’

February 19, 2014 — 2 Comments

The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”
So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.
His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”
He replied, “You are talking like a foolish a woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” …Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.

Job 2:6-10 and Job 13:15

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When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;I was a brute beast before You.
Yet I am always with You; You hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel,and afterward You will take me into glory.
 Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:21-26

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 “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from me;
yet not my will, but Yours be done.”
Luke 22:42

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“Let me remember when it hurts that love will have the final word.”
Jason Gray

Though I was raised in New England and lived most of my adult life in the northeast of the United States, I don’t really consider myself an expert on winter anymore. It’s been 14 years since I’ve slogged through snow and slush and mud from November to March.

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lucy three 206

But I have friends and family who are experiencing an icy, frigid winter. The days are short, the skies are sullen. When the sun does break through, the snow melts, exposing brown, soggy ground.

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Other friends are going through painful emotional winters, battered by harsh relational storms. Or they are numbed by dark, barren times in their personal lives.

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It seems like spring will never arrive. Of course we know that the physical season of winter will not last forever. Come June, the snow and cold is guaranteed to be done [unless you live in the southern hemisphere!]

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We’re less confident of leaving our emotional winters behind. Sometimes it feels like things will never change and we’ll be trapped in the blinding blizzard forever. We doubt whether God really cares.

“As soon as the snake saw his chance, he slithered silently up to Eve. ‘Does God really love you?’ the serpent whispered. ‘If he does, why won’t he let you eat the nice, juicy, delicious fruit? Poor you, perhaps God doesn’t want you to be happy.”

The snake’s words hissed into her ears and sunk down deep into her heart, like poison. Does God love me? Eve wondered. Suddenly she didn’t know anymore…

Eve picked the fruit and ate some. And Adam ate some, too.

And a terrible lie came into the world. It would never leave. It would live on in every human heart, whispering to every one of God’s children: ‘God doesn’t love me.’”
[Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible]

Does God really love me? The question echoes through our winter.

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The writer of Lamentations understands this question. In chapter 3, he gives a litany of what God has done in his life. For 20 verses there’s not a ray of faith-fueled sunshine. Instead, he gives a detailed list of how God has treated him badly: weighed him down, barred his way, pierced his heart, trampled him, surrounded him with bitterness and hardship.

The snake’s question must have sounded very loud in his ear. “Does God really love you?”

Who would blame the writer for turning away from God?

But incredibly, in verse 21, he says, “Yet.”

Yet. Everything hinges on that one small word.

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Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for Him.”
3:21-24

How can the writer answer the snake’s hissing question like that?

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I don’t think it’s humanly possible. It takes the work of the Holy Spirit, our rememberer, to call to mind God’s goodness and love. And this reminder is joined with God’s supernatural grace that anchors us when we are so numb that we don’t know how we can hold on. Not only that, we have the sympathy of Jesus, our high priest, who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.* Yet.

Because of Jesus, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.*

...for no one is cast off by the Lord forever.
Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love.
For He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.

Lamentations 3:31-33

As I wait through the long winter, will I doubt God’s love or will I continue to hope for His help and healing and rescue?

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Will I hold on to His Yes?

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For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “yes” in Christ.
II Corinthians 1:20

What about you?
Where are you waiting for the Lord?
Where do you need to say, “Yet this I call to mind?”
And who can you encourage to hold to the hope God gives?

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*Hebrews 4:15-16

Although Walk with Me follows the journey of a married couple, just about everything the Bible has to say about love and relationships applies to every person, whether single or married.

Here are questions to consider from the personal reflection track of the Study Guide for Walk with Me

In the Burr Patch of Unkind Words: The power of what we say [Ephesians 4:31-32]
What are the most affirming things someone has said to you recently?
How did it make you feel?

What burrs or barbs have you thrown recently?
What kind words can you say to help remove them?

Up to Pigeon Hole Pass: Studying but not living God’s Word {Matthew 23:25-28]
When in your life have you been more concerned about your external righteousness than your internal holiness?

What effect did it have on your relationship with God?
Your relationships with others?

Lost in the Quagmires: Looking for firmer ground [II Timothy 3:2-5, Galatians 3:16-19]
The Swamp of Selfishness was filled with quagmires: envy, pride, greed, self-indulgence, ingratitude, slander, jealousy, fits of rage. Which is the deepest quagmire in your life right now?

What can you do to get out of it?

At the Camp with Faithfulness: Taking stock
Read Ephesians 4:22–24, which talks about giving up the old self and putting on a new self. After Peter and Celeste gave up their postcards, the journey did not get easier for them. How would you counsel each of them to deal with the loss of their postcard dreams?

Across the Bridge of Forgiveness: Deciding to erase the debt [Matthew 18:32-34]
Peter and Celeste both found difficulty in crossing the bridge of forgiveness. What would you say to someone who is hesitating at the bridge?

Into the darkness: Surrendering all [Matthew 16:25-26]
What negative “snake” voices are hissing in your ear right now trying to get you to turn away from God’s path?

What are they saying to you?

At the Quiet Pool: Being refreshed
Peter and Celeste found much-needed rest at the Quiet Pool. When could you spend time with God this week to be refreshed? Pick one of the following passages and then reflect on how God has been good to you over the last two months:

• Psalm 23

• Psalm 139

• Ephesians 3:3–14

• Romans 8

Would you like to reflect on more questions from the Study Guide for Walk with Me? You can download it for free here.

Speaking of questions

February 4, 2014 — Leave a comment

“Questioning God honors Him. It turns our hearts away from ungodly despair toward a passionate desire to comprehend Him.”
Dan Allender

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“We act and live in confidence that someday we will see face to face, that we will live into the answers. For God’s grace embraces our questions as well as our answers and our blindness as well as our vision.”
Jean Blomquist

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“You can find answers to the hard intellectual questions, but God gives us something better than answers. He gives us a rich sense of His presence. He gives us Himself. Answers satisfy the intellect, the presence of the great El-shaddai satisfies the soul.”
Selwen Hughes

♦◊♦

God asks:
Why, when I called, was there no one to answer?
Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem?
Or have I no power to deliver?

Isaiah 50:2

Recommending: Gospel

January 31, 2014 — 1 Comment

Gospel by J.D. Greear has been on sale for $.99 in the Kindle version, and still is [at least for today]. Last summer, I shared about Greear’s message in a post on grace.  It’s a book I’ll be rereading because I forget so easily that what Jesus offers is neither religion nor moralism nor legalism but the gospel, aka good news.

Gospel is a great book to read slowly, a little bit at a time, letting the wisdom soak into your soul.  In fact, that may be the best way to digest its rich nuggets of encouraging truth.

 

Ask me a question

January 30, 2014 — 3 Comments

Over the past few months I’ve been working on a study guide for Walk with Me: Pilgrim’s Progress for Married Couples. The guide has just been released and you can download it here for free [don't you love that word?].

Each of the nine sections focuses on a chapter from the book, with three sets of questions to choose from. There’s a set for general small group discussion, another set for small groups who want to take a deeper look at the material, and a third set for individuals or couples. [Take a peek at the introduction here.]

As I worked on the questions, I was reminded of all the questions Jesus is asked in the gospels.

Questions, questions

  • “How do you know me?” Nathaniel asked.
  • “Where do you get that living water?” the woman at the well asked.
  • “Who are you?” the Pharisees asked.
  • “How can we know the way?” Thomas asked.
  • “What is truth?” Pilate wanted to know.

Sometimes, a question is used to accuse: “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” the Jews asked Jesus.

Or a question can be a way to find an easy out, like Peter’s question to Jesus: “How many times must I forgive my brother?”

They can carry a complaint like Martha’s, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone?”

I think the best questions are those designed not to find an answer, but to start a dialogue. It’s an asking that doesn’t try to push the other person away. With God, good questions help us come closer to Him, whether they are questions of doubt or mystery or confusion or despair.

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God’s questions for me
And when I ask an honest question, I open myself up to being asked one in return. When the lawyer asked Jesus “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered by asking, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” He didn’t give the dead-end answer. He invited the lawyer into a give and take.

When the chief priests asked Jesus to tell them by what authority He was teaching and healing, He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me, John’s baptism–was it from heaven, or from men?”

Back and forth, back and forth, the dialogue goes. A question is asked. A question answered, sometimes with a question that enlightens us far more than the easy answer we were looking for.

However God chooses to answer our questions–even when He keeps silent–He want us to stay with Him. Our honest questions never drive Him away because He is always waiting for us to take another step closer, even if that means drawing near to Him in our confusion.

Probably every journey of faith starts with a question, a mystery. And sometimes they end with a question too. “Why have You forsaken me?” God was silent and withdrawn from His son, and still Jesus had a question for Him.


What about you?
What question do you want to discuss with God? When will you start the dialogue?
And what question do you think He will ask you in return?

[Edited from the archives]

“We are so easily led to look at life as a great whole, and to neglect the little today, to forget that the single days do indeed make up the whole, and that the value of each single day depends on its influence on the whole.
One day lost is a link broken in the chain, which it often takes more than another day to mend. One day lost influences the next, and makes its keeping more difficult.”
Andrew Murray

♦◊♦

“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all a patter and a pitter.”
The Hobbit,J.R.R. Tolkien

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“We are built for the valley, for the ordinary stuff we are in, and that is where we have to prove our mettle.
Spiritual selfishness always wants repeated moments on the mount. We feel
we could talk like angels and live like angels, if only we could stay on
the mount. The times of exaltation are exceptional, they have their
meaning in our life with God, but we must beware lest our spiritual
selfishness wants to make them the only time.”
Oswald Chambers

♦◊♦

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 10:23-25

Need helping thinking about what the Sabbath means? Here’s a book on the importance of keeping the Sabbath, by Matthew Sleeth, an ER doctor, currently $2.99 for the Kindle version:
24/6: A prescription for a healthier, happier life

I’ve started reading it, and it’s excellent.

How to make it to December

January 15, 2014 — 4 Comments

This week an acquaintance of mine was bemoaning the struggle to keep a 30-day resolution she had made for January. It has seemed like a good idea from the mountain peak of the new year, but things had quickly turned dull and mundane. Having just begun, she found herself already slogging through the valley and she was wondering if she should bail out now.

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I know the feeling. I came back from the holidays wanting to set a new course, desperate to make some changes in my life. But as I blue-skyed possibilities and dreamed up plans, I dreaded coming down from the mountain and actually starting the journey.

not a care in the world:
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coming down to earth:
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the nitty-gritty on the ground:
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I know it’s not always going to be pretty or pleasant. I’ll get bored. The enthusiasm for change will turn gray. My new habits may get stuck in mud. Old habits will creep back in. The view from the mountaintop will be replaced by tunnel vision.

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So how can I make it to December? How can I keep on the path and not give up? What is the secret to perseverance?

1] Mark your steps
Making progress isn’t hard. It’s simply being faithful day in and day out. Right foot, left foot. But I’m not a robot. I need encouragement along the way. Nothing fancy, just checking off a daily task, or making a week’s tally can give me a sense of accomplishment and keep me going. I’ve done three days of my new ‘read a chapter of the New Testament each day’.

I have a long way to go but I’m getting addicted to the little burst of satisfaction when I check the box. Visual markers–stones in a jar, stars on a calendar–are a great way to spur us on when our interest or desire weakens. Ask anyone in kindergarten.

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2] Make sacred stops
Keeping a habit takes energy, especially when I’m going against my natural tendency or selfish default. I think that’s why often I start to slack off. I stop pushing. Soon, the new habit quietly slinks away. Instead, I need to replace slacking off with coming to a full stop, which is exactly what happens when I keep the Sabbath. It’s a time to pause along the way and get refreshed.
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I take a break from the routine of my life and spend time enjoying God and His creation. It’s a chance for me to remind myself of the big picture too. And when the Sabbath is over, I’m rested and ready to pick up my habit again.

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The year has just begun and there’s a long way to go. But slow and steady like the turtle, I’m getting somewhere.

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What about you? What helps you stay on track and persevere through the year?

The year as a house

January 1, 2014 — 1 Comment

from a poem by Jan Richardson:

“The Year as a House: A Blessing

Think of the year
as a house:
door flung wide
in welcome,
threshold swept
and waiting,
a graced spaciousness
opening and offering itself
to you.

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“Let it be blessed
in every room.

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“Let it be hallowed
in every corner.

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Let every nook
be a refuge
and every object
set to holy use…

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“…And may it be
in this house of a year
that the seasons will spin in beauty,

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“and may it be
in these turning days
that time will spiral with joy.

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“And may it be
that its rooms will fill
with ordinary grace

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“and light spill from every window
to welcome the stranger home.”

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A Christmas benediction

December 25, 2013 — Leave a comment

“Bethlehem has opened Eden:
Come, let us see!
We have found joy hidden!
Come, let us take possession of the paradise within the cave.”
Ikos of the Nativity

 

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“May you be filled with the wonder of Mary,

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the obedience of Joseph,

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the joy of the angels,

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the eagerness of the shepherds,

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the determination of the magi,

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and the peace of the Christ child.

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Almighty God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
bless you now and forever.
Amen!”

Come Lord Jesus

December 21, 2013 — Leave a comment

“Lord Jesus, master of both the light and the darkness,
send Your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear Your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things look forward to Your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of Your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of Your presence.
We are Your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To You we say, “Come Lord Jesus!” Amen.”

Anonymous

never, ever, ever give up