Friday, October 23, 2020

FMF: Disappoint

In You our fathers trusted;
They trusted and You delivered them.
To You they cried out and were delivered;
In You they trusted and were not disappointed....
Be not far from me, for trouble is near;
For there is none to help.
(Psalm 22:4-5,11, NASB)


God does not disappoint, but sometimes He delivers in unexpected ways.

Let me tell you about my friend Sam.  He is in the process of becoming a pastor, but he also works at a cemetery.  He marries and buries, as all pastors do, in the most literal of ways.

One day he found himself working graveside for the funeral of a man who had killed his wife and child before killing himself.  The man's parents sat graveside and waited.  No one showed up, not even the pastor who was supposed to officiate the ceremony.

Where were this man's friends?  Where were the parent's neighbors?  Where was the "man of God" who was supposed to be ministering to them?  They had all disappointed.

Enter Sam.

I picture the scene like this.  In his maintenance uniform, he approaches the mourning couple.  He tells them that he works for the cemetery, but that he is also a pastor.  He then proceeds to read Scripture with them and pray for them.

Sam would probably squirm if he knew I was writing about him today.  He'd probably squirm just knowing his good deed had been told to me.  But in writing this story, I am not really bragging about Sam.  I am bragging about Sam allowing God to work through him.

That day he was God's representative, and God did not disappoint.  Even when everyone else did.



This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Happy Birthday to My Son, and His Hair

Mini Golf at the Mall of America.
You can't see his hair, but I promise it's there.
There are some things a person never forgets.

One of them, for me, was that Monday morning 18 years ago when I woke up with a terrible feeling I had never experienced before: I was in labor.

That eight mile drive to the hospital felt like a million, but we made it. By the end of the day I was holding a beautiful baby boy with a dark brown comb-over. Months later we'd finally get brave enough to cut his hair and find underneath those dark brown locks was blonde hair. And, eventually, that hair would gradually change back to a medium brown. Of course, one day he will grey or bald, depending on whose genes dominate.

The story of my son's life reaches far beyond his hair, though his hair hides a lot of stories.

There was the time a barber tried to calm him down by giving him a lollipop before the haircut was over.  Pro tip: don't do that.  Kids don't like hair on their lollipops.

There was the time I tried to cut his hair the night before school starts, but I forgot to put the attachment on the razor.  I'm glad mohawks were in style that year.

In the big picture, hair is nothing.  Yet God pays attention to even the number of hairs on our heads:
Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6-7, NASB)
Today, as that beautiful baby boy legally becomes a man, I can't help but thank God for all the years He let me wash, comb, (pay others to) cut his hair, and love him the best I could.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Who Stole my KitKats and Faith in Humanity?

“You must not steal." (Exodus 20:15, NCV)

I sometimes hear people refer to the Ten Commandments as a basic law of morality.  To this I wonder: have you ever met a person before?  I mean, seriously, people are terrible.  No, not always, of course.  Sometimes we do these really awesome things, but then other times... yikes!

Yet, we retain this idea that people are basically good. For example, most people would say it is wrong to steal. Most would even say that they don't steal because it is wrong. Unfortunately, as I learned again this week, one's ideals do not always match their actions. People steal.

I've had things stolen from me plenty of times. When I was a young girl, someone stole my Glo Worm. I forgot it somewhere and went back for it that evening, but it was already gone. In 2002 someone stole my car. My husband and I were out of town for a work conference, and one evening my husband somehow forgot the keys in our car with the windows down. This is quite uncharacteristic for him, and in the middle of the night he realized his error.  He went out to to get his keys, but the car was already gone. A few years ago I watched an elderly gentleman reach into an open drawer, remove a pair of scissors, and walk away with them. Most recently? Last week someone stole my KitKats.

To be clear, I'm not talking about a KitKat bar. I'm not talking about two KitKat bars. I'm talking about two cases of KitKats, 72 bars, which I had just purchased for $50.

Are they easily replaced? Sure.

Was it a valuable lesson? I guess so.

Do I feel personally violated? Definitely.

I guess my first mistake was assuming that because my church has been closed for six months that people do not enter the building. The doors get left open as we move from building to building in the course of a day's work, and, of course, people have keys. I suppose I got too comfortable, and I made a bad decision.

I want to give people the benefit of the doubt. My husband rolls his eyes when I rationalize: maybe they thought it belonged to them, maybe they thought it was abandoned, maybe they thought it was going to waste. In this situation, there is no way to rationalize someone taking these candy bars.  That's what makes it so frustrating. This wasn't Jean Valjean stealing bread to feed his family. These were KitKat bars. Gimme a break! (See what I did there?) To me, experiences like this prove the Ten Commandments are such a lofty code of conduct.

Writing to believers who were already familiar with the Ten Commandments, the New Testament author James expounds:
A person who follows all of God’s law but fails to obey even one command is guilty of breaking all the commands in that law. The same God who said, “You must not be guilty of adultery,” also said, “You must not murder anyone.” So if you do not take part in adultery but you murder someone, you are guilty of breaking all of God’s law. (James 2:10-12, NCV)
So, in the midst of my feelings of hurt, anger, and frustration, I must remember that I too have broken God's law.  I am no better than the person sitting somewhere 72 KitKats richer.

Friday, October 16, 2020

FMF: Hold

So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some men and go and fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill, holding the walking stick of God in my hands.” Joshua obeyed Moses and went to fight the Amalekites, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held his hands up, the Israelites would win the fight, but when Moses put his hands down, the Amalekites would win. Later, when Moses’ arms became tired, the men put a large rock under him, and he sat on it. Then Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ hands—Aaron on one side and Hur on the other. They kept his hands steady until the sun went down. So Joshua defeated the Amalekites in this battle.
(Exodus 17:9-13, NCV)



In the battles of life, we all have different positions.  Some of us fight in the trenches, and some of us coach from the sidelines.  It's likely that at different times in our lives we will hold a variety of positions.

Moses' job in fighting the Amalekites was definitely unique.  He was the team stick-holder.  Baton twirler?  Nope, he held up a stick.  Stick up, team wins.  Stick down, team loses.

As time passed, Moses grew tired, as anyone would.  This is not unexpected, but when it happens at a bad time - say when you are fighting a war - it can certainly be discouraging. Fortunately, Moses came prepared.  He brought with him two partners, Aaron and Hur.

Aaron and Hur saw Moses' needs and tended to them.  They placed a rock under him so he could sit down.  Then, they literally carried his burden.  They each stood on either side of him and helped him lift his hands to God.  Together the battle would be won.

In my life, the Aarons and Hurs are the friends who choose to stay near me, to go to the mountain top with me.  They say: your burden is my burden; we will get through this together.

Leave me a comment telling me who the Aarons and Hurs are in your life.  I'd love for you to call them out by name.  And then, if you are feeling brave, let them know how they hold you up.



This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The Ever Changing Church

When I stopped working in youth ministry over a decade ago we had just entered into a technological age that would change our future. The question of how to handle teens and their cell phones was a significant, albeit not life shattering, issue being faced. These teens had not grown up with a cell phone in their hands, though they were receiving them early in life, and so techniques like setting a basket at the door where everyone left their phones worked. It was a mostly effective solution to a new problem. As long as there has been a church, there have been problems needing to be worked out.  This is clearly evidenced in Acts 6:
The number of followers was growing. But during this same time, the Greek-speaking followers had an argument with the other followers. The Greek-speaking widows were not getting their share of the food that was given out every day. The twelve apostles called the whole group of followers together and said, “It is not right for us to stop our work of teaching God’s word in order to serve tables. So, brothers and sisters, choose seven of your own men who are good, full of the Spirit and full of wisdom. We will put them in charge of this work. Then we can continue to pray and to teach the word of God.”

The whole group liked the idea, so they chose these seven men: Stephen (a man with great faith and full of the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas (a man from Antioch who had become a follower of the Jewish religion). Then they put these men before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

The word of God was continuing to spread. The group of followers in Jerusalem increased, and a great number of the Jewish priests believed and obeyed.
(Acts 6:1-7, NCV)
For the church in Acts 6, the problem was more than logistical.  The church was struggling to understand how people of many traditions (here, Greek and Hebrew) could (or if they even could) come together to truly be one body of believers.  So the leaders of the church came up with a simple plan: have some other men oversee the solution to the problem.  They delegated.

If you have ever worked with a person who used "delegation" as a means to pass off anything they don't want to do, please don't think that's what the church leaders were doing.  They were plenty busy with their work - a very effective work by the ways their numbers were growing - and so they thought it would be best to let another group of leaders oversee food distribution.

It's easy to think that leaders might have considered this work beneath them.  Reading that they didn't want to "serve tables" sounds almost dismissive.  However, by looking at who they chose to do this new work, we can see that it was something they considered essential and important.  Of the seven men, two have significant descriptions. First, Stephen is described as "a man with great faith and full of the Holy Spirit."  Why would you chose this kind of man to be a DoorDash driver food server unless it was a faith-related activity?  You wouldn't.  Clearly, the work being done was to feed their spirits as much as their stomachs. Second, Nicolas was Greek.  He would be a familiar face to the widows they served and would be able to resolve any miscommunication that arose.  He was greasing the wheels, in the best possible way. All seven of these men are described as good, faith filled, and wise.

In this case, church leaders didn't let tradition blind them to need.  They responded with How can we fix this? instead of But it's never been a problem before.   As the church grows and as times change, new problems arise that have serious implications; I think most of us have learned that this year.  However, when we've moved past the problems we faced in 2020, there will be new problems we couldn't have anticipated.  In some ways that is encouraging because it allows us to have hope.  We can look back and see that we've overcome many things before, so we can overcome whatever comes before us next.

Friday, October 9, 2020

FMF: Help

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."
(Matthew 7:7-8, NIV)

"You do not have because you do not ask God."
(James 4:23b, NIV)


I'm not good at asking for help.  I never have been.

About fifteen years ago my husband and I went camping with another couple.  We chose a location that was only a few hours from our home and near a moderate size river.  One afternoon we were playing in the river.  My husband, who cannot swim, stayed close to the shore along with our friends.  In my confidence I wandered out a little farther.

There was this strange moment that I still remember and, very likely, always will. I was suddenly uncertain if I retained control of my body.  The river was stronger than I had given it credit.

From his safety near the shore, my husband must have recognized a look in my eyes that even I did not.  "Are you ok?" he asked.

"Yes," I told him, trying to convince myself as much as him.

I was embarrassed by my need for help.  Embarrassed.

Somehow, and maybe only through the grace of God, I got back to safety.  I was shaken, but not swept away. I thought about what could have happened if I had been swept down stream. I immediately knew my response had been foolish. Though my husband was no swimmer, there were three adults who could have prevented what literally could have killed me.  They could have helped me if I had asked.

From time to time we find ourselves in the middle of the rivers of life.  We get caught up in situations we didn't expect, and we are unwilling to ask for help. May we all be a little less foolish next time.



This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Psalm 22

I woke to the first cool moment I had had in 36 hours. At 5 AM it was already 73°. For this lifelong Southern Californian, warm summers are no surprise. But yesterday? It had been one of those nearly unbearable days for this too practical girl who long before had decided having an air-conditioning unit put in her home was too expensive because we only use it a few weeks each year. I stand by my decision even though I hate myself each time we have a heat wave. So there I was, in my bed after a miserable night, trying to capture the last few minutes of sleep-like activity. I finally gave up pretending and headed to my kitchen to begin the early morning process of opening all the windows and turning on the fans to try to capture as much cool air as possible. As I pulled back the curtains I noticed the sun's red glow. I thought of a conversation had just days before in Bible study about how God‘s fingerprints can be seen in the beauty of nature. As I continued to open windows I couldn’t help but notice, again and again, the sunlight's deep red hue on such an overcast day. By 8 o’clock I was ready to leave the house to run an errand. It was at that time that I noticed the unmistakable sign that I had missed that morning: White ash covering my dark car. The overcast skies and red sun were not just a fluke of nature; they were a result of wildfire season.  I had missed the signs.

It's not hard to miss signs in the Bible.  If we read the Bible, we may read verse by verse instead of chapter by chapter, and even then sometimes a chapter is not enough to study at one time.  We tend to spend long periods of time considering small details instead of investigating how those details relate to the larger text. Before I began my journey through the Psalms, I often skipped them because of their poetic nature.  It's not that I thought they were unimportant; they were less preferred text.

As a result, I missed a key detail of the Psalms.  I was already familiar with the idea that Jesus talked about the Psalms, but never realized how much the Psalms talked about Jesus.  For those of you needing a brief history: The Psalms were written between 500 and 1,000 years before Jesus was born. They were essentially a songbook for the Jewish people. They would read and sing Psalms when they were together. The Psalms helped them to celebrate happy times and to feel better when they were hurting. 

Most believers know that when Jesus was on the cross He said some things. Depending on your denominational heritage, these sayings may be a part of your Good Friday experience.  One of the things He said was “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That wasn’t just Jesus calling out to God. He was quoting the first words of Psalm 22. The Psalm begins like this:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why do you seem so far away when I need you to save me?
Why do you seem so far away that you can’t hear my groans?
My God, I cry out in the daytime. But you don’t answer.
I cry out at night. But you don’t let me sleep.
But you rule from your throne as the Holy One.
You are the God Israel praises.
Our people of long ago put their trust in you.
They trusted in you, and you saved them.
They cried out to you and were saved.
They trusted in you, and you didn’t let them down.
(Psalm 22:1-5, NIRV)
Jesus was going through the hardest time of His life, but even as He called out to God, He put His trust in Him. He knew God would not let Him down. Even in the details of His death, Christ modeled perfect faith.  It's no coincidence that Jesus recited this Psalm.  I believe He wanted those those who heard Him to draw their attention to Psalm 22 which would help confirm His claims of being Messiah.  If the Psalms were written hundreds of years before Jesus was born, how could they talk about Jesus?

Sometimes God gave His believers special information they couldn’t know on their own – we call this a prophecy. There are hundreds of prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament. They talk about His family, His birth, and as we read in Psalm 22, His death:
A group of sinful people has closed in on me.
They are all around me like a pack of dogs.
They have pierced my hands and my feet.
Everyone can see all my bones right through my skin.
People stare at me. They laugh when I suffer.
They divide up my clothes among them.
They cast lots for what I am wearing.
Lord, don’t be so far away from me.
You give me strength. Come quickly to help me.
(Psalm 22:16-19, NIRV)
That sounds a lot like what happened to Jesus: His hands and feet were pierced, people watched him and laughed at him, His clothing was divided, and the guards cast lots for His robe.  Read the gospel accounts of Christ's crucifixion and let me know what you think.  What other signs do you see (that maybe others miss) that point to who Jesus is?

Monday, October 5, 2020

Psalm 20

Some trust in chariots. Some trust in horses.
But we trust in the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall down.
But we get up and stand firm.
(Psalm 20:7-8, NIRV)

The Psalms are filled with imagery that helps readers to better understand God. In Psalm 20, David, the warrior king, talks about one of the things he knew best: horses.

When I was about ten years old, I went horseback riding in Arizona with my Girl Scout troop. There were several horses, and one much smaller pony. All the girls wanted to ride the small horse because it looked like a pony, and I got the chance. I've never been a slim girl, and I was extra thick in that just before puberty time when my body was storing resources for the the growth that was about to occur. As the horse trotted along, I was sure it was struggling under my weight. My body-conscious self underestimated the strength of that creature.

Horses are beautiful animals, and they have worked together with people for thousands of years. Horses help people do lots of things; they can be trained to work with farmers, police officers, and even with actors in movies. These animals are smart, strong, and can run as fast as a car. David appreciated the horse, but they were nothing compared to God.

A horse can pull the weight of more than 10 people, but God is stronger. Jeremiah 32:17 (NLT) says that God “made the heavens and earth by [His] strong hand and powerful arm…”

Horses can be friendly, but God loves us more. John 3:16 (NIV) says that God loved the world so much “that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Let's not forget that God created everything. That includes all the animals even horses. That makes God more powerful than any earthly force, including a horse.

Is it any wonder that David put his trust in God instead of horses or chariots? It's easy to put our trust in things other than God. Yes, we should trust seatbelts and airbags to keep us safe in our cars, but we should trust that God's will for our lives "is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:3, NASB).

Friday, October 2, 2020

FMF: Breathe

Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life.”’”

So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
(Ezekiel 37:9-10, NASB)


The Valley of Dry Bones.  It's a great section of Scripture to be studying this time of year.  It screams Halloween.  

Ezekiel is shown a vision of a valley of bones - just bones - that have been left unburied and have become dry. God instructs Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones.  Now, I don't know about you, but I've always wondered if the prophets were at all uncomfortable with their jobs.  We know that Jonah was.  He so detested the people God told him to prophesy to, that he went as far as he could the other direction.  For him, "as far as he could" turned out to be not very far because he ended up in the belly of fish that spit him up on the shores, having received time to repent and allowing him to go where he was supposed to go in the first place.  But I digress.

Ezekiel's vision didn't even have him speaking to people. He was told to prophesy to bones. Ezekiel was faithful.  In his vision he called out to the bones and they began to rattle.  They came together with layers of life until finally they appeared to be bodies.  Yet, something remained missing.

So God told Ezekiel to call the breath back into these bones, and God breathed on them.

God explained to Ezekiel what he had just seen. The bones represent God's people, and they are without hope.  Their divided nation would come back together, and God would live among them again.

Indeed, God can do miracles where there appears to be no hope, a word I need to hear today.

For anyone who feels like they are in a valley of dry bones today, pray with me:
Breathe on me, Lord. Amen.



This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.

Friday, September 25, 2020

FMF: Your

The Lord said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'I am the Lord your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord.' "
(Leviticus 18:1-5, NIV)


I am the Lord your God.

It is a recurring statement made by God while instructing the Israelites in how to live. He says it over and over.  Laws on everything from clothes to hair to farming.  In Leviticus 18, God is beginning a discussion on the laws of sex. (#Awkward.)  More than an introduction to sexual parameters, God is clarifying why any of His laws exist.  Because, I am the Lord your God.

His people should not follow the example they had been given.  They saw the wrong way to do things in Egypt.  They were often tempted to go back, but this was not what God wanted for them. Even when things are wrong, it is easy to fall into old habits because they are comfortable.

His people should not follow the example they would be taught.  They were about to enter a land that would present new ways of doing things.  They were likely to be enticed by ideas they had never considered before. When things are new, the novelty blinds us from seeing the risks.

God tells His people not to follow these examples. Instead they should follow God's way.  He was God.  He was their God. If God is my God, I too must decide to step out of my history. Neither can I be distracted by my future.  I must live God's way because He has said me, "I am the Lord your God."



This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Shake

The voice of the Lord shakes the desert.
The Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
(Psalm 29:8, NIRV)

I had just drifted to sleep last night when I awoke to a familiar feeling. We were having an earthquake.

Earthquakes are nothing new to me. I've felt so many in my life that I can't remember a time when they were ever new.  I was born and raised in Southern California.  As children we learned in school what to do when "the big one" hits. I watched movies like Earthquake starring Charlton Heston without shock or horror. I happened to be at camp when the Northridge Earthquake hit January 17, 1994 at 4:30am. I had been asleep that night, too, until a girl in our cabin yelled, "We're all going to die." My friend expressed my sentiments on the experience when she yelled back at her to shut up.  She then rolled over and returned to sleep. The next morning the camp showed the news coverage in the common room and we learned how serious the situation was.  Even so, it was a part of the Southern California experience.

For over two decades the Northridge quake was what we compared all quakes to.  In July 2019 I was watching a Dodger game and noticed the cameras begin to sway.  Then a second later I felt it.  It was not very strong at our home, but the news soon began to report the quake was centered in Ridgecrest. This is quite far from us, and so we knew it must have been strong to travel so far. Since we have friends who live there, we were concerned for their safety.  We texted but got no response.  For a moment, this seemed bad. Terrible, actually.  We eventually learned our friends had been out of town.  They were camping (and totally safe) without cell service.

All the chatter was immediately that it had been "bigger than Northridge." And it was!  We would learn a few weeks later while passing through Las Vegas that they had also felt it.  Imagine an earthquake that could be felt from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. The Ridgecrest earthquake is estimated to have caused $1 Billion in damage.  That sounds like a lot until you compare it to the Northridge earthquake, which caused up to $44 Billion in damage (and, keep in mind, those are 1994 dollars).  Why so much less damage from a larger earthquake?

Ridgecrest is the desert. There is less to destroy because there is less around.

I'm not going to say that yesterday's earthquake was God's doing. I don't think he's punishing a city for turning away from Him or sending down His wrath on Los Angeles.

I do believe that any time we are shaken (literally or figuratively), it is an opportunity to take stock of our lives. Where are we? Are we where we want to be? Are we where God wants us to be? Whether we are in the desert or the city, God's voice is there. He is prepared to meet us if call out to Him.

Friday, September 18, 2020

FMF: Church

I am by far the least important of all the Lord’s holy people. But he gave me the grace to preach to the Gentiles about the unlimited riches that Christ gives. God told me to make clear to everyone how the mystery came about. In times past it was kept hidden in the mind of God, who created all things. He wanted the rulers and authorities in the heavenly world to come to know his great wisdom. The church would make it known to them. That was God’s plan from the beginning. He has fulfilled his plan through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 3:8-11, NIRV)

I remember once telling someone that I wouldn't want to serve a God I could fully understand. What kind of God would that be? Today, as in the current era of my life, and today, meaning the last 24 hours of my life, that idea has been tested. I stand firm in my statement, but I am amazed by what I cannot fully understand: the church.

In Ephesians 3, Paul writes that the church is an integral part of revealing the wisdom of God, the mystery of God. Specifically, the church would be the vessel that shows how all are welcome into God's family - both Jew and Gentile. Though God's plan was fulfilled through Christ's death (think of the symbolism of the tearing of the veil into the Holy of Holies in Matthew 27:51), it would be made known through the church.

When I think of the church, I think of the old hymn, "'Tis a glorious church without spot or wrinkle." Eek. It sure feels a little wrinkled, like maybe God needs to toss us back in the dryer on high heat or pull out the iron to straighten us out. But, if I'm going to sing that song, I can't stop with that one line because I'd miss the important part, "'Tis a glorious church without spot or wrinkle... washed by the blood of the Lamb." Just like Paul wrote to the Ephesians, this hymn reminds us that we become the church only through Christ.

God, help me to be the church.



This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.

Friday, September 11, 2020

FMF: Could

The wise men answered the king, saying, “No one on earth can do what the king asks! No great and powerful king has ever asked the fortune-tellers, magicians, or wise men to do this; the king is asking something that is too hard. Only the gods could tell the king this, but the gods do not live among people.” (Daniel 2:10-11, NCV)


Imagine the most powerful man in the world is your boss, he has the power to kill you, and he has just come to you asking you to do the impossible.  The task: interpret his dream.  Oh, did I mention you also have to tell him what he dreamt?

The wise men of Daniel 2 did not believe in God. It appears they make a compelling argument: The king is asking them to do something that is impossible.  Only a god could do what he is asking, but the gods they know are not accessible.  Therefore, they believe the king's request to be impossible.

They are right in saying no man could do what the king asks. This simply isn't something humans can do. But Daniel did. Daniel takes no credit for what he was about to do.  He knew, like the wise men, that he himself could not accomplish the task the king had assigned.  The pivotal difference is that Daniel knew that God could do it. As Jesus said, with man this is impossible, but with god all things are possible (Matthew 19:16).

I feel a little dreamy today, thinking of that thing before me that seems impossible....

It is impossible...

But God could do it.


This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Questioner

Each Thursday night as my Bible study group leaves our Zoom meeting, I sneak a peak at Twitter to find the early release of the Five Minute Friday word prompt. In case you aren't familiar with it, FMF is a writing community I have participated in, off and on, for the last five years. In all fairness, I was mostly off until last year when I began participating more regularly.  Each Friday our host gives us one word, and we allow ourselves about five minutes to write. If you'd like to participate, you can read more here: FMF. Over the last few months, the FMF community has been a source of encouragement to me.  Let's be honest - most of us have needed an extra dose of encouragement over the last few months.

Sometimes encouragement falls in your lap when it's least expected. A note from a friend comes in the mail or your husband brings you something to say he's been thinking about you. You thought you were doing well, but then you feel fantastic.

Sometimes encouragement can be hard to find. Today was one of those days for me. My boss was finishing a project at home, and so I sat in my office alone most of the day. I spent my time finding ways to do everything except the one task I had set out to do.  I'd work on something else, and then try to focus on the project I wanted to finish only to be distracted again. It was two steps forward, one step back as I questioned myself all day long. I was haunted by the discouraging criticisms that had been spoken to me yesterday. So, when I read there would be no FMF meet up tomorrow, I was doubly dejected.

I promised myself - this time will not be lost, too.  I will write tonight.  And I know what!

For my birthday, my boss gave me Ravi Zacharias' The Logic of God. Little did he know that I had been wanting to begin reading Zacharias' work, but had not yet gotten around to it. This was a great gift! But then, like most books, it went into the closet. The closet is where I keep my unread books.  I have a small top shelf where I pile them high until I read them. The books I have read and want to keep get moved out to a shelf in the garage.  The others get moved to a box in the garage (and I think you know where that box eventually goes). One night this week, after a few months on that shelf in the closet, I pulled out The Logic of God, ready to plow through it. I had only made it to the second page when I had to stop for his words, “Behind every question is a questioner.” I invite you to think about this with me. As far as I can recall, there was only one recorded incident of a person coming up to Jesus to ask Him a question. It goes like this:
A man came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to have life forever?”

Jesus answered, “Why do you ask me about what is good? Only God is good. But if you want to have life forever, obey the commands.”

The man asked, “Which commands?”

Jesus answered, “‘You must not murder anyone; you must not be guilty of adultery; you must not steal; you must not tell lies about your neighbor; honor your father and mother; and love your neighbor as you love yourself.’”

The young man said, “I have obeyed all these things. What else do I need to do?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, then go and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor. If you do this, you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.”

But when the young man heard this, he left sorrowfully, because he was rich.
(Matthew 19:16-22, NCV)
Don't read this wrong: there were a lot of questions asked of Jesus.  His disciples often asked Him what He meant and how something was possible. He engaged people, like the woman at the well, who in turn asked Him questions.  Both the Pharisees and the Sadducees were regularly trying to trip Him up with questions. That's not an exaggeration; read Mark 12:13. My point isn't that people didn't ask Jesus questions, but this encounter in Matthew 19 seems to be unique because the man approaches Jesus with a question.  He had a question for Jesus. What was behind his question?  The man, a questioner.

We don't know why the man had this question, but from the question we can do know that (1) he had respect for Jesus as a religious teacher, (2) he believed in eternal life, and (3) he believed one inherited eternal life from doing good. If I can be so bold, I believe we also know that (4) the man recognized that all the good he had done up until that point didn't give him certainty of salvation. There was something in his life that didn't feel complete. The man asked Jesus this question because he wanted something more. Jesus told the man what he wanted to hear, something more. In this case, more meant everything.  Sell everything. Leave everyone. Change everything.

The questioner went away sad, having gotten an answer he could not accept.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Psalm 15

Tell me a building you associate with God.

Did you say church? That's not the answer I was looking for, but you won't lose any points if you did. These days, when Christians talk about God and buildings, we get a little mixed up in the lingo. Most of us call the building where Jesus' followers meet to worship Him a church. More accurately, it should be called the church's building because the church is actually the body of believers.

Two thousand years ago, if I had asked you to tell me a building you associate with God, you very likely would have said temple. The temple was uniquely different than a modern church building. When I teach kids, I sometimes say that the temple was kind of like the modern day church building because that is where believers gathered together, but the temple and church buildings have some significant differences. Before Christ died, God resided in the temple, in a portion called the Holy of Holies. (If you'd like more information, a quick internet search will show you facts, descriptions, and renderings of the Temple, including the Holy of Holies.)  Today, God doesn't live in church buildings because He lives in His believers - the church.  You see what the lingo gets so mixed up.

But even before the Temple, there was a tent, known as the tabernacle. The tabernacle didn’t look like the tents we go camping in, but it could be packed up and moved.  We don't have a better modern word in our fixed-structure society, and so we call it a tent. 

David was interested in where God lived. David wanted to build the temple for God, but God had other plans.  (You can read a recent post on the topic: Solomon's Rise and Fall).  More than just curiosity, a person's home says something about them.  In thinking about God's home and who God is, David wrote:
Lord, who can live in your sacred tent? 
Who can stay on your holy mountain?
Anyone who lives without blame
and does what is right.
They speak the truth from their heart.
They don’t tell lies about other people.
They don’t do wrong to their neighbors.
They don’t say anything bad about them.
They hate evil people.
But they honor those who have respect for the Lord.
They keep their promises even when it hurts.
They do not change their mind.
They lend their money to poor people without charging interest.
They don’t accept money to harm those who aren’t guilty.
Anyone who lives like that
will always be secure.
(Psalm 15, NIRV)
When David asked God who could live in His tent, he wasn’t asking if he could go camping with God. David was making a point that God is holy. There's a reason why God's spirit dwelled in the Holy of Holies.  He is perfect, and so only people who are right with God can be near God.

What kind of things does God want us to do to be right with Him? David lists a few of them: We should always tell the truth, and we should never lie. We should treat our neighbors and friends well. We should always keep our promises, even when it is hard. Actually, all those things can be hard!  When the right thing is hard to do, God will help us do it. In my recent post, PSALM 13, I wrote briefly that Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come to be with us forever. In John 14:26 Jesus called the Holy Spirit “the Helper.” Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would teach them what they needed to know. The Holy Spirit would help them remember what Jesus said. So, too, the Holy Spirit helps us to do what’s right.  But to limit closeness to God to only those who do what's right would oversimplify the situation. It's what the Pharisees were often chastised by Jesus for. (My recent post MERCY explores this idea further.) Because of the Holy Spirit we don’t have to go to a tent, a temple, a church, or any other building to be close to God. God doesn’t live in a building. God lives in us!

___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ 

This series on the Psalms is actually modified from lessons I've been writing as children's curriculum. As I began writing for kids, I realized there was too much good stuff to not write a grown up version as well.  If you have kids, or if you are a kid at heart, you may want to watch my friend deliver this message. And now I must go build a blanket fort...


Monday, August 31, 2020

Impossible

My daily devotional reminded me today that, "We have a God who specializes in impossibilities. His power is greater than our problems, our difficulties, our crises, our emergencies, our reverses" (Mendell Taylor's Every Day with the Psalms).

Today feels like a day of impossibility, and so I must proclaim that I need God.

Today may be a day of impossibility for you, so I must write about it.

When I was a child, I loved riddles.  We'd ask question like this paradox: Can God make a rock so big that He can't move it? It turns out plenty of people are still discussing this question and others like it. The question doesn't really have anything to do with God; He just happens to be the subject.  Instead, we seem to love thinking about what is possible and what is impossible.  As if we know.

A friend once explained knowledge to me this way: Imagine a small circle.  The area (the interior of the circle) represents everything you know. Everything you don't know is outside the circle.  The circumference (the line making the "outside" of the circle) represents the meeting of what you know and what you don't know. It is what you know you don't know, the tip of the iceberg so to speak.  If you were to next draw a large circle, the area (your knowledge) would increase significantly but so would the circumference (what you know you don't know).  Therefore, the more you know, the more you know you don't know. There are a lot of things I don't know.  I hope that means that I am growing in knowledge.

Today is the second week of my second year of college.  It's the second time in my life that I've been able to say that. Almost two decades ago I attended two years of university.  My life experiences have taught me a few things since then, but there is really only one fundamental difference this time: when I don't know something, I want to know. It's why my Goodreads' Read list includes books I wouldn't have picked up before. I actually read books on the subject I am studying that aren't assigned by my teacher.  My eighteen year old self would wonder who I've become.

I learned to read unassigned books during the years I wasn't in college.  It's how I compensated for what I felt was a failure. I thought it was impossible to correct the mistakes I had made.  I just didn't get it.

So, what's impossible today? I'd rather not talk about it, if you'll give me that grace.  But, I think of the words that I have struggled to believe for years:
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13, NASB)
I hear this verse thrown around like it's a lotto ticket. Well, that's a terrible simile because I would never throw around a lotto ticket, at least not a winning one. I would hold it close and guard it until I could cash it in. No, this verse is the battle cry of those who preach the prosperity gospel. Do you think a Ferrari would further your ministry? Believe in Him to give you a Ferrari. The truth is, I don't want a Ferrari. I told my husband he could never buy me a car with more than 6 cylinders, or else he'd have to get a second job to pay for all the speeding tickets.

This verse is not a name-it-and-claim-it verse.  It's a testament to the power of Christ.  The verse literally says: For each thing, I have the strength of the one strengthening me.  However, we read translations, not transliterations, and so we end up with the words we are more familiar with.  The difference here is slight, but I believe the transliteration makes the verse harder to pluck out in singularity.  Alone, it begs the reader to ask: what things?  The answer is in verse 12.  Poverty. Wealth. Hunger. Contentment. Abundance. Lack.  In that context, it's hard to think of this verse as access to anything you want.  The verse is not about the ability to have anything as much as it's about the ability to have faith. So, today, on a day that seems impossible, I can have faith because Christ is strengthening me.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Love is...

See that picture frame?
It's actually a fish tank mounted in the master closet.
Are you asking why? So are we.


Growing up, my parents hung a felt banner in our living room that said “Love Is A Decision.” As I recall, they (and by “they” I mean, probably, my mom with my dad sitting nearby) made it at a marriage retreat they attended long before I was born. As the third child, there were many things that occurred long before I was born, but I digress.

When I hear “Love is...” I think of Kim Casali’s comic strip by the same name. The simplicity of her drawings and her ability to capture every day moments has allowed her work to remain popular over the years. According to her website, these started "back in the late 1960s when she drew the little pictures as love notes for her husband-to-be."  If you are unfamiliar, you can see a collection of her drawings on the website, loveiscomix.com.

Indeed, love is a decision.

That seems to be the heart of this verse, in one of the most famous passages on love ever written. When we think of 1 Corinthians 13, most think of the author's description of what love is, but consider these often glossed over verses:
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
(1 Corinthians 13:2-3, NIV)
In many ways, we can't help what gifts and talents we have.  The pianist cannot create what the sculptor can, but both can love. The prince and the pauper have the same ability to love, though they may not have the same access to any other thing in life. I love the way The Message paraphrases the above verse, "So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love." Love may be the only thing that we can always control.  We can always choose to act lovingly. A genuine act of love is never wrong.

So how about you? If you were going to draw a "Love Is..." style comic strip, what would it show? In mine, you would see a couple eating burritos in bed because:
Thanks to my husband for showing me this act of love this week. No shame here; I love breakfast burritos!

Read my other posts on LOVE.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Seeking Peach Cobbler

It turns out that there is no sexy way to take a picture of peach cobbler.

I bet those aren't words you expected to read today, but it's the truth, at least for this novice photographer. I love peach cobbler, but I almost never eat it.  The reasons abound, the least of which are the dessert's talents as a model.

My husband doesn't like peaches, and I don't really care for them.  Except in cobbler. It's hard to make a cobbler for one, so I don't make it at home.  I don't know of any restaurants that sell it near my home. Last month a local restaurant put up signs advertising "Peach Season." I thought for sure that this would be it; if only seasonally, I'd be able to get peach cobbler lovingly made by a trained professional.  They only offered peach pie.  How unfortunate.  Cobbler beats pie any day.

About two years ago my friend and I volunteered at an event hosted by a semi-local mega church.  We did some work for them, and they allowed us to attend their conference for free. It was a great trade off.  Since this church was about an hour from our homes, we decided to have dinner together on the last night before we left. We had a fine meal, but the whole time I couldn't stop thinking about two words that I had seen written on their menu: Peach Cobbler.  I decided to buy one to go.  That night, I sent my friend one of the most disappointing texts I have ever sent: This isn't cobbler. It a crisp.

There's nothing wrong with a crisp, or even a crumble, but it wasn't what I was looking for. I was seeking something very specific, and nothing else would satisfy me.  Similarly, the Bible is filled with instruction to seek God, to look for Him with the same passionate effort I seek peach cobbler:
  • But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 4:29)
  • If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
  • Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:12-13)
  • But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)
  • God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. (Acts 17:27)
I have tasted peach cobbler in the past, so I desire it when I am away from it too long.  It is the same with God.  But what about those who have never tasted?  Romans 10:14 asks the same question this way, "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" We, who have tasted, are called to share with those who have not. That's what I'm doing here. I hope you find your own way.




*If you, like most, are confused by the difference between a cobbler, a crisp, and a crumble, HERE is a great explanation.

Friday, August 28, 2020

FMF: Loud

When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.
(Joshua 6:5, NIV)

It very well may be the strangest battle strategy of all time: Walk around the city for seven days. On the seventh day, walk around the city seven times, then shout. LOUD.

I find that when God asks me to do things that don't make sense there is usually one reason: it shows that I trust Him.  The faith of these believers was not in their weapons or their leaders' skills as warriors.  It was in God. It's not only about others; it stops me from thinking that I am more than I am.  Sure there would be a celebration that night.  For years when someone pulled out the trumpets they'd remember that time that God did what He did.  They were not boasting in themselves, they were trusting in God.

I feel like I'm walking around a city right now.  I don't know what's inside, but I know this is what God has told me to do.  With nervous excitement, I look forward to the day that God asks me to do something unlike what I've ever done before. On that day, I will walk around the city seven times and give a loud shout.  It won't be a scream of terror, but a proclamation like Philippians 1:6, that God is finishing the work He has begun in me.



This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Psalm 13

We love to road trip, but it's a test of patience.
There's comfort in knowing that even a king like David had some of the same issues us common folk have. Yep, David hated to wait, and in this psalm he asks God no less than five times how long?  If you've ever traveled with children (or impatient adults), you probably know too well the struggle some have with patience.  On a recent road trip to visit our friends in Ridgecrest, we experienced it...

Are we there yet?

How about now?

Are we close?

How many more freeways?
(Maybe that's only the kids in California)

David said it more poetically:

Lord, how long must I wait? Will you forget me forever? 
How long will you turn your face away from me? 
How long must I struggle with my thoughts? 
How long must my heart be sad day after day? 
How long will my enemies keep winning the battle over me? 
(Psalm 13:1-2, NIRV)

David was filled with sorrow because he felt like he had been waiting a long time, like he had been waiting so long that God might have forgotten him.  Have you ever felt that way?  David wasn't alone in these feelings.  In fact, his ancestors struggled with the same feelings:
  • Noah waited his fair share of time to experience and be rescued from the flood. Some believe that it took Noah 120 years to prepare because of verse 6:3, though other disagree.  However long it was, we know you don't build a boat that size overnight. (Read the full account here: Genesis 6.)
  • Abraham had been waiting ten years for God's promised son when he took matters in his own hands and slept with his wife's maid.  That did not turn out well. (Read the full account here: Genesis 16.)
  • Jacob waited seven years to marry Rachel, but because his father was a sneaky businessman he ended up working fourteen years. (Read the full account here: Genesis 29.)
I know that it only felt like God had forgotten David, but I also understand his doubts. In my head I know that God won’t forget me because He promises to be with us. In both Deuteronomy and Joshua, God promised that He will never leave us. God was with us on earth as a person when Jesus was born. Jesus promised that, after Him, the Holy Spirit would come and be with us forever. God can’t forget us if He is always with us. Sometimes it takes my heart longer to catch up.

The Bible says there is one thing that God does forget: our sins. Isaiah 43:25 says that when we ask God to forgive us, God will forget our sins and take them away. David knew that only God could change his life this way. We too can trust God to change our lives through His love and forgiveness. This kind of love gave David joy:
But I trust in your faithful love.
My heart is filled with joy because you will save me.
I will sing praise to the Lord.
He has been so good to me.
(Psalm 13:5-6, NIRV)
Even though David was sad about the problems he was facing, he knew that God loved him. He knew that God had taken care of him in the past, and he trusted God to save him in the future. It's amazing that David had the faith to thank God even before his problems were gone. I pray God helps me to have this kind of faith also.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Love More

I was recently watching an old reality show. I've never watched it regularly, though I have seen a few episodes.  It featured a cast of women, a few of whom openly professed their faith in Christ. By the second episode, I was cringing every time they showed these believers. I'm sure they thought they were sharing Christ with their cast mates, but all I could do was pray that somehow God had used them. I could not see how.

We read about the apostle Paul facing an equally awkward scene:
Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
(Acts 16:16-18, NIV)
Let's get this straight, there is a wrong way to proclaim Jesus. It's part of the reason the body of believers is facing some of the challenges we have today. A friend recently told me about an encounter he had with an unbeliever. The unbeliever told him the biggest problem he had with church is the hypocrisy. I can't blame the guy for thinking this way. I, too, have been hurt by believers whose actions didn't match their statements of faith, and I know I have been the one to hurt others this same way. We've missed the proverbial forest for the trees.

What is the answer?  As it so often is, it's Jesus. When we draw close to Jesus we learn the compassion He had for those who were "like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36).   We learn the forgiveness He had for people like the woman caught in adultery, and we will say that we don't condemn people as we encourage them to "go now and leave your life of sin" (John 8:11).  The answer is not to judge more.  It is to love more.  More love for those who don't know Christ.  More love for those who've been proclaiming Christ wrong.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love,
I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
(1 Corinthians 13:1, NIV)
May we love more and clang less.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Solomon's Rise and Fall

It's strange to think that it's been almost five years since I stopped working full time.  I had never known anything other than being a working wife and mother, and my career had been a blessing from God that generously provided for my family.  When I chose to walk away from it, I knew it was at God's prompting.  Oh, sure, I was intrigued by the idea that I'd have free time to pick up a hobby or have dates with my husband on his days off, but I was scared of as many things. I still hold a special place in my heart for those fourteen years that I worked in real estate.  I learned so many things and met great people, but those good things were always clouded with a darkness that is hard to articulate. When the time came, I knew that if I didn't leave then, what had helped develop me as a person would soon destroy me.

I think of Solomon, who worked in Biblical real estate.  He was born to a father who longed to build God a temple.  David was convicted that he lived in a home while God lived a tent.  (Read the account here: 2 Samuel.)  God's plans were not for David to build His temple, but rather for his son Solomon. David did as much as he could.  He collected the supplies, but it was Solomon who would build.

Solomon was blessed by God. Being born a prince, he had a good start in life. He had all the earthly blessings one could dream of: wealth, wisdom, and love. In fact, he found love over and over again. And again. And again after that:
King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done. On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods. (1 Kings 11:1-8, NIV)
It's hard to know when to stop building. If Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines, he may have built hundreds or thousands of altars to false gods. All God wanted was for him to build one.  

God has given me a temple to build, just like He has given you one. It is a monument to God that will bring Him honor and glory.  We must be careful to hold fast only to God.  Otherwise what brings us up will evengtually bring us down.

Friday, August 21, 2020

FMF: Mercy

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
(Matthew 9:12-13, NIV)

"I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
(Matthew 12:6-8, NIV)

I love the bond that comes from teaching my children to love what I love.  My older son shares my affinity for 80s and 90s television and has seen a shocking quantity of cheesy sitcoms.  I recently quizzed him on which Full House catchphrase was his favorite: Have Mercy.  He literally said, "Because, John Stamos.  Do I need to say more?"

God also loves when His children care about the things He cares about.  Not once, but twice, Jesus quoted the same scripture to the pharisees. If Jesus told me something more than once, I hope I'd get the point.  (I'm feeling a little convicted even as I type those words because I'm sure there are things He tells me over and over that I still don't get.) The pharisees, however, did not seem to understand this passage:
For I desire mercy and not sacrifice,
And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.
(Hosea 6:6, NKJV)
The sacrifice and offering system of the Old Testament worked well for the Jewish people, or so the pharisees thought.  In actuality, they were missing the point.  God didn't want bulls or doves or grain.  He wanted them.  Just them.

Here we find Jesus, perhaps speaking a little more tersely than He sometimes did, telling them they just don't get it.

Lord, help me when I don't get it.  Have mercy.



This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.

You can read some other posts that deal with the topic of mercy HERE.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Devoted to Fellowship

As I sit down to write these words, I'm struggling with the thoughts in my head.  It has been five months since we began to address the concerns of COVID-19.  Whether you call it a quarantine, safe-at-home order, or self-isolation, these five months have been filled with challenge and change.  Many have had troubles like they've never had before.  In the early days, unprecedented food scarcity plagued my local markets. I waited in line and hoped to find what I most needed.  I told my sons things I've never heard myself say before: This is what you'll eat because this is what we have.  Almost overnight, it seemed a well had dried up.

Despite the struggles, I'll admit that there have been some welcome changes.  There are some norms I'm glad to be rid of. We don't seem to be in the same hurry that we once were, especially here in California where it seems people are always on the go.  The last five months have allowed us to collectively slow our pace, even halting our pace from time to time.  We've read books, made home improvements, and played games with our families.

There are also things I'm sad to have lost.  My older son was counted in the 1% of our national population who graduated high school this year without the traditions we've held for decades.  I recall my senior year with fondness, and I'm sorry that his ended so anticlimactically.

And then there are those practices that fall in to the grey area.  I find the majority of my life does not fall neatly into black or white, but lingers in the continuum of grey.  Please hear my heart as much as my words.  I miss church.  I do.  But, I've had this feeling for months now that we've desperately needed to let go of some of the things we do, or at very minimum, how we do them. Without the routine of Sunday morning, Wednesday night, monthly specials, I've asked myself why do we do what we do as the church?  Why do I do what I do as a part of the church?  Do our actions entice the common man or applaud the Christian elite? How would God design the church if He were starting it today?  I cannot answer that because He is not starting the church today.  However, I can look at how the early church behaved:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47, NIV)
I've been stuck on the first line of this passage for years: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship.  I understand being devoted to teaching, but I could not wrap my head around being devoted to fellowship.  I'm starting to wonder if fellowship is one of the things we've been getting terribly wrong in the church.  If other believers are anything like me (and I'm actually praying that I'm the only one), we've made shallow a very deep word.  Too often I've reduced fellowship to gathering.  We are tempted to call every church event that isn't a "worship service" or "Bible study" or "ministry opportunity" fellowship. The Greek word for fellowship is one that I've heard so often it's almost trite: KOINONIA. Lord, forgive me.

This thing we call fellowship is part of our sacred experience.  It is so much more than potlucks or picnics.  Fellowship has to do with sharing, participating, contributing, and unity.  As I think about this idea, I'm realizing my local church recently shared fellowship by passing out these communion baskets to the families of our church.  More than just the teamwork of purchasing supplies, assembling baskets, and distributing to 40+ homes, I can't help but think about the fellowship of communion.  These glass cups are decades old and, before being shelved away in favor of their disposable plastic versions, offered the chance to unite with God to countless believers. When we take communion we remember Christ and celebrate His sacrifice.

Like these communion cups, have we traded the long lasting means of sharing Christ for a cheap, disposable version?  Have we hidden away something of value for something easier?  I've asked a lot of questions today. In my heart I feel that these questions aren't for me to answer, at least not at this time.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Because You Are Strong

I write to you, dear children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.
(1 John 2:14, NIV)

Here, where I live, we are one week away from the first day of school.  This time of year usually comes with a unique mix of emotions.  For many it is both dread and excitement as the carefree days of summer disappear for the structure of daily studies and reunion with friends.  Undoubtedly, this year carries with it an additional set of fears, frustration, and disappointment all before school has even begun.  Students are beginning the year knowing that this year will likely be all the work (plus some more) without the relationships that encourage them.  No funny faces will be made across the classroom when the teacher turns her back.  No notes will be passed in hallways between classes.  And parents will always be close by even though students are "in class."  The patterns that have been developed and mastered over the last five, ten, or twelve years are meaningless.

We have a simple rule for school success in our home: Every class. Every page. Every assignment.

It is hard.  There are many distractions, many things that bring more immediate joy, and many things that are easier. It doesn't always feel like it, and actions may not always reflect this truth, but YOU ARE STRONG. Despite the uncertainty faced by students, teachers, and parents, God is here.  He will remain here.  And unlike those in our classes, He is not with us remotely; THE WORD OF GOD LIVES IN YOU. May you face each day with this knowledge and live accordingly, so that when it is done we will see and know that YOU HAVE OVERCOME THE EVIL ONE.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

God and the Golden Girls

While backing up the photos on my phone, I came across a screen shot I had taken in June 2019.  My good friend Melinda and I had decided to follow a plan that would have us read the New Testament over the course of the summer.  It reminded me of something interesting that happened last year.

My 2019 focus was to “Start with Worship." For those of you who need definitive labels, consider my focus a New Year's Resolution.  With that in mind I had started doing a few different things to focus on scripture. I already mentioned my daily Bible readings. That's also about the time that I started to attend a monthly (now weekly) women’s Bible study with my church. On one particular day, I found myself doing both of these activities: I read several chapters from the book of Mark for my daily readings, and I focused on a chapter from the book of John for my study group. But surprisingly, and this is what I love most about God, He he spoke loudest to me that day through an episode of Golden Girls.

Now, I don’t know why this surprises me because God seems to speak to me through the strangest and most unexpected things. So unexpected that they shouldn’t be unexpected anymore. This particular episode was a Christmas special where the Girls serve Christmas dinner at a local church.  The pastor makes a comment that it’s hard for him to satisfy the spiritual needs of those coming for dinner when they have so many physical needs as well.

I can’t argue with his statement since he was essentially quoting scripture. In James 2 we read a debate between the importance of faith versus deeds:
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
(James 2:15-17, NIV)
James does not tell his readers to go and have more faith. He does not tell them to commit to long prayer sessions every evening. Nor does he tell his readers to spend more time focusing on the scripture. While we should be doing all of these things, we are told that our faith should be expressed through our actions. Not should, must.

Since I've been struggling with what it means to use my passions to serve God (read more HERE), it seems right that I not ignore these words.  I trust that God will help me figure this all out long before I am a golden girl.  If you are still reading this, thank you for being a friend.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Psalm 9

A few day ago I spent some time thinking about what I like to do.  You can read that post HERE if you'd like.  High on this list is writing.  I have always loved to write, and I even have a copy of one of the first (if not the very first) poem I wrote.  It was terrible, and I'll save sharing that with you for another day.

This love for writing was a gift through school and continues to be a blessing in adulthood.  A well worded letter or email can make all the difference between communicating what you mean and make a problem worse.  However, when I was younger I'd be presented with assignments that people bemoaned.  I believe it was my freshman year of high school in which we studied poetry.  We wrote haikus, couplets, and acrostics.

If by chance you're aren't familiar with acrostics, they are poems in which the first letter of each verse (or the first letter of each stanza) spells out a word. Instead of spelling out a particular word, these letter can be in order of the letters of the alphabet… A – B – C and so on.  Acrostics are not uncommon in the Psalms, and it is believed that chapters 9 and 10 together are the first acrostic in the book.  I say "it is believed" because I don't speak Hebrew, so I will trust the experts on this.

Psalm 9 is filled with things David is thankful to God for. It begins like this: 
Lord, I will give thanks to you with all my heart. 
I will tell about all the wonderful things you have done.
I will be glad and full of joy because of you.
Most High God, I will sing the praises of your name.
(Psalm 9:1-2, NIRV)
Some of the ways that David praised and thanked God are strange to us today. For example, in verse 6 David thanked God that his enemy’s city was torn down. I’ve never thanked God for that, and I’ll bet you haven’t either. Let's not forget that that David was king of his country and, as a military leader, this doesn't seem quite so unusual.
Click to download PDF version.


On the other hand, some of the ways that David thanked God are much more familiar:
  • In verse 12 David thanked God that He “doesn’t forget the cries of those who are hurting.”
  • In verse 14 David said that “[he] will be full of joy because [God] has saved [him].”
  • And in verse 18 David thanked God that “God will never forget needy people.”
We are all different people, so we all have different things for which we thank God. What are you thankful for? 
 
I've made a simple worksheet to help guide you through a prayer of thankfulness.  Just like this psalm, I've made an acrostic using the word THANKS to spell out six areas in which we can thank God.  Double points if you can start your sentence with the same letter.  Just kidding - I don't think God gives out points like that.

Don’t stop here!  I encourage you to keep talking to God and thanking Him for everything He does. Some people find it very easy to be thankful and for others it can be hard. It does not always come easily to me, but like everything else, we can improve most behaviors with practice.  The more we thank Him, the easier it becomes. 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Psalm 8

Here I am camping on Lake Cachuma in 2017.
Though I don't do it as often as I'd prefer, I love to camp. I've camped in a tent less than ten times in my life, and I've camped in cabins about the same amount. Whether in a tent or cabin, there is a different rhythm to life when you leave your home and spend time in nature.

When we camp, we don't go to far outside of the city. This can make it hard to see the stars in the sky. We certainly see more than at home, but not nearly as many as we'd see if we camped farther away. A few years ago when I went camping with my church, my pastor showed me an app he had on his phone. He pointed his phone at the sky and the app recognized which constellations we were looking it. It showed me what my eyes couldn't see.

When I look at a star, I sometimes wonder who else is looking at it too. There's a strong likelihood I was influenced by An American Tail. My heart recalls the hope and sorrow with which Fieval sang, "And even though I know how very far apart we are / It helps to think we might be wishin' on the same bright star." David, however, looked up to the sky and thought about God:
I think about the heavens.
I think about what your fingers have created.
I think about the moon and stars
that you have set in place.
(Psalm 8:3, NIRV)
David looked up to the sky and saw it for what it was: God's creation. A few years ago I made a sculpture as part of an art program I was teaching at my son's school. We started with a piece of wood, a metal hanger, pantyhose, and some paint. That sculpture (and I use the word sculpture loosely) will never be on display at the Louvre. It doesn't look like much to most, but it is very special to me because it is my creation. It is something I made. David was amazed that the same God who made the universe also made Him. Just like the moon and stars, we are also God’s creation. In Genesis 1, after each day of creation, we read that what God made was good. But when we read about God creating people, we read that He said it was very good. My sculpture sits in my living room next to a sculpture my son made in that class. My son is also my creation, but when I compare the two, there is no question about which one I love more. My sons are my most special creation.

David was impressed by the kind of love that God had for him. David knew that God thought about him. It's easy to think that God cared about David because he was someone important. After all, we know that David was a king and he did some really cool things.  But he didn't esteem himself above others. David didn’t ask, “Why am I so important to you, God?” No, David knew that God thinks about all people. That includes you and me. He wrote:
What are human beings that you think about them?
What is a son of man that you take care of him?
(Psalm 8:4, NIRV)
It's amazing that any time we need a reminder of God's love for us, we can look up to the sky and see the stars - or at least one really close star during the day.  The signs of God's love are everywhere if stop to look for them.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

The People in My Neighborhood

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.  (Galatians 6:10, NIV)

This week in my group Bible study, we discussed the idea of using the gifts God has given each one of us. I've been enjoying The Weekly Faith Project, but this week's study challenged me deeply. The author approaches the idea from the standpoint that we should be serving where the things that bring us joy meet the needs of those around us. That intersection should be our passion.

Things that Bring Me Joy
I was hesitant to literally make a list of the things that bring me joy because I couldn't understand how the things I like to do are related to serving God. (If you can already see where I'm going, please stop rolling your eyes at how widely I missed the point.)  I have a very narrow view of what it means to serve God, at least in practical application.  When I think of the women at that Bible study, I think of women who have served God by loving me: by leaving me special voicemail messages, giving gifts to my children because they were thinking about them, by allowing my family to repeatedly use their home, and by simply sharing one of a kind friendships over the years.  None of these are traditional means of ministry, and yet each woman (and their spouses, too) has uniquely served God by showing my family these kindnesses. As the Spirit spoke and my heart was convicted, I jotted down a quick list.  I like writing, cooking, traveling, gathering, organizing, and meeting people.  Obscure as they are, these are things I love.

The Needs Around Me
Again, I was hesitant to make a list of needs because I didn't want to write down generic, universal needs.  It turned out that most of the other woman also thought of these things that we all need: love, forgiveness, acceptance, and so on.  For me, writing down these types of things made me painfully aware of the fact that I was not immediately tuned in to the needs of those around me.  If resources were fully available and I had to chose a way to serve someone right now (and I mean literally right now), I'm not sure I'd know what to do.  Perhaps that is because this is hypothetical, but it seems more likely to me that I wouldn't know what to do because I am not in touch with the needs of those around me.  It makes me sick to my stomach to think about this. So I took a step back.  Who are the people around me?

I began to think, really think, about who I encounter in my daily life.  I broke it down into a few categories:
  • The people closest to me are the people I care most about and love deeply.  They may be friends or family, and some of them are people I don't see regularly.  These are the people I would feel comfortable asking for anything if I needed it.
  • The next closest group of people are casual friends, those who most of us would call acquaintances.  Some I have not known very long, and so the relationship is not very deep.  Some I have known a long time but because of the nature of our relationship we are not deeply bonded.  For most of my life, colleagues would have fallen into this category, but to varying degrees.
  • Beyond them are the most distant person who can still be called a friend.  They are people I know of, know in part, and have met sometimes repeatedly with no significant relationship being formed as a result.  I'm calling them friends of friends, although sometimes these people are relatives who I have an undeniable connection to despite essentially being strangers.
  • The last group of people I know are the random people I meet - maybe once at a party, as a client, or sitting next to them in a waiting room.  The other group of people I include here are the regular strangers we see - the guy in the grocery store who restocks produce, my dry cleaner, or the couple who walks their dog past my house.
As this image of who I know began to form, I heard the theme song from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood in the background.  There were no strangers to Mr. Rogers, only friends he hadn't yet made.  While that idea of a neighborhood might be oversimplified, it doesn't have to be as complicated as we sometimes make it.

I return to the original question: what are the needs of those around me and how do I use what I enjoy to meet those needs?  I'm not sure I'm much closer to the specific needs of those around me.  I'm not sure I want to list them here even as they come to mind.  For now I am content with knowing that my eyes have been opened to another way of serving God. I pray my eyes see the needs of those around me and that I act every time I can.

Click HERE for other posts inspired by this devotional.