Want What You’ve Got! (bandage)

I am seriously digging liquid band-aid!

Red Cross

Red Cross (Photo credit: afagen)

Call me a human billboard, but this stuff works wonders on dry, cracked fingers. I have a terrible time getting band-aids to stay put around my nails where the dry, winter air (and a touch of hand-washing OCD) takes its toll, but a few drops of liquid bandage does the trick every time!

When applied, this new twist on wound care bathes the affected area with antiseptic and then dries to seal the injury so that it can heal. It doesn’t sting. It doesn’t crack. It simply coats, covers and protects. For my moisture-challenged digits, liquid bandage is a beautiful thing.

Living with athletes pretty much guarantees that injuries happen. From the vicious strawberry earned while sliding into second base (wearing shorts without sliders) to the attack of brutal blisters from a new pair of cleats, my household is no stranger to woundedness. We rarely Want What We’ve Got while feeling the pain from yesterday’s game or workout, but the old adage is absolutely tried and true: It goes with the territory.

Sure – most injury can be avoided! Just take a seat on the bench and stay out of harm’s way.

Lots of folks choose to live life like this, avoiding the risk of injury by sitting back and watching others get hurt. We create band-aids to protect ourselves from heartache, disappointment and discomfort, but these homemade seals leak and get wet and fall off far too easily when exposed to the storms of life.

When gauze and tape don’t cut it and we find ourselves exposed to painful words and circumstances, some of us lash out at others – seeking, in some insanely justified manner, to cause hurt to the ones who’ve injured us. The problem is, while in these seizures of misery, grief and retaliation, the innocent become our victims, too.

Jesus knew what it was like to be hurt by the angry words and bitter actions of others.

“People insulted him, but he did not insult them back. He suffered, but he did not threaten anyone. No, he let God take care of him. God is the one who judges rightly. Christ carried our sins in his body on the cross. He did this so that we would stop living for sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you were healed. You were like sheep that went the wrong way. But now you have come back to the Shepherd and Protector of your lives.” 1 Peter 2:23-25 (ERV)

Christ chose to stand up to the bullies of this world by standing down; opting for the eternal protection of His Father over the temporary safety offered by earthly allies. It was an ugly battle, and there were wounds, but the balm of restoration flows freely from the hand of God like so much sealing, healing liquid bandage.

You are in pain – He knows that.

Your wounds are deep – He sees them.

You may not want the cuts, scrapes and bruises that you’ve got, but you’re in good company. Jesus had them, too.

Daily Questions: In what ways are you wounded? What stings? Bleeds? Cracks? What kind of wound-care are you receiving, and how is that working for you? What does your life need to be coated with? Covered with? Protected by? Are you ready to receive your healing through the wounds suffered by Christ? Do you want to be well?

 

What TWO Can DO L4L.19

Eggistentialism 1.5 or Three of a Perfect Pair

Image by bitzcelt via Flickr

The WORD

‘The Pharisees replied, “You are making those claims about yourself! Such testimony is not valid.” Jesus told them, “These claims are valid even though I make them about myself. For I know where I came from and where I am going, but you don’t know this about me. You judge me by human standards, but I do not judge anyone. And if I did, my judgment would be correct in every respect because I am not alone. The Father who sent me is with me. Your own law says that if two people agree about something, their witness is accepted as fact. I am one witness, and my Father who sent me is the other.”’ John 8:13-18 (New Living Translation)

This challenge from the Pharisees comes on the heels of Jesus’ failure to pass judgment on the woman caught in adultery (“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”). Seems that these leaders of the faith were more apt to buy into a messiah figure who would wield his weapons of war on the battlefield of works and moral judgment  than one whose failure to condemn the clearly guilty left them feeling uncomfortably unjustified.

‘The Pharisees objected, “All we have is your word on this. We need more than this to go on.” Jesus replied, “You’re right that you only have my word. But you can depend on it being true. I know where I’ve come from and where I go next. You don’t know where I’m from or where I’m headed. You decide according to what you can see and touch. I don’t make judgments like that. But even if I did, my judgment would be true because I wouldn’t make it out of the narrowness of my experience but in the largeness of the One who sent me, the Father. That fulfills the conditions set down in God’s Law: that you can count on the testimony of two witnesses. And that is what you have. You have my word and you have the word of the Father who sent me.”’ (The Message)

As He often did, Jesus demonstrated His knowledge and understanding of Jewish Law by quoting from Deuteronomy (17:6 and 19:15), which had to make the Pharisees more than a little bit hot beneath the collar. In both of these Old Testament verses, the point made is that no man should be found guilty of a crime on the say-so of only one witness; the testimony of two or more is required.

Funny how Jesus managed to turn the Jewish leaders’ demand for proof of Jesus’ claims into His own method of defense. They demanded that Jesus bring a sound witness forward, to prove He was telling the truth. Jesus insinuates that what they’re really trying to do is find Him guilty of a crime, to which He offers the testimony of His Father; the Word of God Himself.

The APP

How many times have you found yourself in a situation where your words and witness fell short of being convincing? I was in this very place years ago, when I found myself working for a leader whose behind-the-scenes manipulation had become a grotesque art form. No matter what this person said or did to exercise control over me or to try to put me in my ‘place’, no one else was ever around when it happened. I was the only one who knew about the fiery darts that routinely pierced my sensitive skin and left me wounded and doubting my abilities, my intentions and my calling.

These circumstances ended up being an eye-opening experience, illustrating the need for the testimony of two; if there had been another witness, I don’t think I would have been the one to leave that workplace. But as it was, it would have been my word against his; not an ideal situation no matter how you frame it.

Jesus’ words acknowledge God’s Law in this confrontation with the Pharisees because Jesus knew that they wouldn’t listen to Him alone. Many times our squabbles in the faith arise from a “he said, she said” exchange, where you tell me what you think and I counter with my own words, to which you add your arguments and consequently pour fuel on my fire…

Jesus didn’t take this approach.

Jesus provided the testimony of two when He chose to let God speak on the subject, by letting God’s Word speak for Himself.

Now, you might argue that Christians do this all the time. Who hasn’t been the victim of scripture quoted for the purpose of proving that someone else is wrong so that I can be right? We can subtly (or blatantly) insert scripture into our conversations in order to throw more weight around than we actually have, and we can do this for our own selfish gain while furthering our own self-serving agendas.

This is not what Jesus did, nor is it what He is teaching us to do. Instead, He was aligning Himself with the powerful witness of One whose Word could validate Jesus’ own words and actions.

Jesus chose the testimony of two – He and His Father’s Word – so that He might be successful in the mission He was on.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 speaks about our very real need for the testimony of two:  

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”

Quite literally, Jesus knew what two could do, and He chose to stand unified with the Father when confronted by those who would attack Him with their words, with their anger, and finally with their weapon of death on a cross.

You and I could choose today to walk the narrow road alone, but why would we when we know what two can do?

Two can help one another succeed.

Two can pick each other up when they fall.

Two can huddle together for warmth in this cold world.

Two can stand back-to-back and conquer any enemy that comes their way.

Jesus knew what two can do, and He chose to stand back-to-back with His Father, conquering death and sin so that you and I might be brought into unbroken fellowship with the powerful witness of One whose Word can validate our own words and actions.

You know that Christ comes with His Father’s testimony. Align yourself with Christ!

You know that there are people in your life who are witnesses of God’s work in you. Align yourself with them!

Where two or more are gathered together in the Name of Jesus, THERE HE IS among you!

It’s time to be Literal 4 Lent, my friend.

It’s time to see just what two can do!

Click here to return to the Literal 4 Lent menu.

 

Workaholic L4L.09

Confession Of A Workaholic - They Say That Eve...

Image by echam+dikya+dzara via Flickr

The WORD

When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went across to Capernaum to look for him. They found him on the other side of the lake and asked, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’

Jesus replied, ‘I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.’

They replied, ‘We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?’

Jesus told them, ‘This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.’” John 6:24-29 (New Living Translation)

This text follows Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000. Those who had been fed realized that Jesus had moved on, so they followed him across the lake. Let’s read these words again, this time from the TNIV:

The crowd realized that Jesus and his disciples were not there. So they got into boats and went to Capernaum to look for Jesus. They found him on the other side of the lake. They asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Jesus answered, “What I’m about to tell you is true. You are not looking for me because you saw miraculous signs. You are looking for me because you ate the loaves until you were full.  Do not work for food that spoils. Work for food that lasts forever. That is the food the Son of Man will give you. God the Father has put his seal of approval on him.”

Then they asked him, “What does God want from us? What works does he want us to do?”  

Jesus answered, “God’s work is to believe in the One he has sent.”

Everyone knows a workaholic.

Some of us ARE workaholics.

The dictionary definition of workaholic is: somebody who has a compulsive need to work hard and for very long hours. Somebody addicted to work.

The people seeking Jesus had a compulsive need, in response to experiencing the miraculous signs and wonders of Jesus’ ministry, to do what Jesus did. Maybe they genuinely wanted to heal and feed the masses. Maybe they were caught up in the swell of excitement around Jesus and simply wanted to re-create that environment around themselves. Either way, these people had the potential to become addicted to work, and Jesus knew it.

The APP

Jesus recognized that this eager crowd had all of the markers of becoming workaholics; people who could very easily get lost in their work, losing track of the reason they were doing it in the first place.

Isn’t that just what happens to US? We find a job that will pay the bills, put our education to good use and allow us to contribute our unique giftedness to a purpose or cause that we can (hopefully) get excited about… and it sucks us in. Before we realize what has happened, our priorities shift, our time management goes haywire and we find ourselves dreaming workplace scenarios in the night.

Becoming a workaholic robs us of our sleep and our relationships and our health. What started with clarity as a beautiful thing can easily end up a disastrous mess when we lose track of why we’re doing it at all.

It’s no different in the church.

We get recruited to serve as a Sunday School teacher or sound technician. We like feeling useful. We like the idea that what we’re doing is God’s work. We figure that if we do even MORE for God, it can only be a good thing (right?), so we take on more hours or additional ministries.

Somehow we move from serving out of a response to God to serving in order to get a response from God.

Jesus knew we would be tempted to make our work the focus, which is why His response to this crowd of enthusiastic do-ers is worth our literal consideration today…

God doesn’t want our busyness.

God doesn’t require long hours.

God isn’t impressed with our spiritual resumes.

The only work God wants from us is our BELIEF in the Savior. Period.

Do yourself a favor today and make a list of what you do. List everything you do on a normal day, in a normal week. Then ask yourself these questions:

What are you doing that feels like busyness?

What are you doing that takes long hours, especially hours away from those whose lives are connected to yours?

What are you doing that serves mainly to build up a resume of spiritual service?

What are you doing that fits poorly, feels heavy or conflicts with something in your life that you value more?

God is giving us  permission to spend all of our energy on believing in Him!

Take Jesus at His Word.

He’ll take care of the rest.

Click here to return to the Literal 4 Lent menu.

Christmas in July! Celebrations… NOT Lamentations

MERRY CHRISTMAS - BERLINER MAUER 1980

MERRY CHRISTMAS – BERLINER MAUER 1980 (Photo credit: m.joedicke)

For as long as I can remember, I have found myself among circles of friends during the Christmas season, lamenting over how far we have strayed from a faithful celebration of the birth of Christ.

Materialism.

Entitlement.

The embarrassing-to-admit but altogether too familiar art of one-upmanship.

Obligation.

Panic-induced shopping.

And a steady stream of post-holiday thank you’s in the form of credit card bills.

This past Christmas, after partaking in many such conversations, I decided to be proactive in creating a Christmas of celebration for my family and friends rather than once again defaulting to the culture’s best effort at mass-producing joy that can only, really, come from meeting the Christ child Himself.

What struck me about this past year’s laments is how easily we have played into the hand of the mainstream, and how loudly we protest after the fact. Some of us need to be reminded – I need to be reminded! – that becoming a victim of the business of Christmas is a choice.

So this year, I choose a different route to the manger!

One that honors tradition without bowing the knee to retail-bullying.

One that embraces fun and giving without breaking the bank.

One that engages more of me than just my schedule and my pocketbook.

One that celebrates Jesus at every turn – telling the story of redemption and God-With-Us instead of another tedious narrative about how hard it is to find a gift for so-and-so and how another stressful holiday gathering might just be what pushes us over the edge.

You can expect Christmas in July posts to be short and practical. Ideas and snippets intended to plant the seeds of intentional celebration in your head and on your to-do list now… while there is still time left to see it through.

I hope you will engage and share your ideas with us as well! Use the comment option to add your own inspiration and encouragement for the rest of us. Together we can make Christmas 2013 a faith-filled celebration of God’s creative Presence here with us!

Overwhelmed by NEED: Help Well

What’s a conscientious Christian to do in the midst of OVERWHELMING NEED? When the people whose lives intersect with ours have needs that threaten to consume the time/energy/generosity of everyone around them, how can we remain true to the call of Christ (and help them) without burning out or wanting to run away?

I suspect that no one is immune to the needs of others. We all live, work and interact with needy, hurting people who are looking for help, comfort and healing in a painfully broken world. Whether the need we bump into is rooted in economic factors, health and aging issues or situational agony, we as Christians sense a call to action that can leave us feeling confused, guilty and overwhelmed.

I have watched as groups work to respond to such overwhelming needs as families whose income has been affected due to job loss, aging adults whose independence is threatened by disease and mental decline, individuals whose personal trauma gets in the way of healthy interaction with others, and people who are ashamed of and feel stuck in their past history or uncomfortable present reality. Sometimes the needs presented by just one person in a group or family are so intense that the rest of us, caring and loving as we try to be, find our desire and ability to help that person dwindling to the point of inaction.

When it hurts us to help them, there has to be another way.

No matter if today finds you IN NEED or NEEDING TO HELP others, Paul speaks to your situation in 2 Corinthians chapter 8. Paul encourages us to remember that we are “shoulder to shoulder with [each other] all the way, [our] surplus matching their deficit, their surplus matching [our] deficit.” In the end, says Paul, we come out even.

For today, we may be on the surplus side of life, so that our plenty can supply for our brothers and sisters in need. But the reality is that tomorrow may bring a shift of the scales, leaving us in need of what our brothers and sisters now have to give. We’re all in this together – some days we are able to GIVE, while other days are marked only by our desperate forms of NEED. Either way, God’s plan provides for balance, which means that we have to LEARN both how to HELP WELL (today’s topic) and NEED WELL (next week).

HELPING WELL

Do What You CAN! Paul encouraged the church at Corinth to commit to caring for the needy among them, but he added this critical point (a point the church today often misses):

“Once the commitment is clear, you do what you can, not what you can’t.” (2 Cor. 8:11 The Message)

YOUR effectiveness in the lives of others can only be maximized by doing what you CAN in a given situation. The problem most of us end up facing is that we dive head-first into helping others, making commitments to them that we are not equipped to fulfill. Whether those commitments are of our TIME, MONEY, EXPERTISE or ENERGY, if we commit out of a passion to help no matter what, we are likely to drown in our own good intentions.

For believers to truly be effective in the lives of others, we must begin by knowing ourselves! It is our responsibility as members of the body of Christ to recognize our own spiritual gifts, talents and abilities. We MUST know what it is that we CAN GIVE before we stick out our neck to offer help that others so desperately need. There are many useful tools to help us find our ‘fit’ in the Kingdom work of God, including Spiritual Gifts Inventories (click below for more on this topic):

https://pinkshoesministries.wordpress.com/category/spiritual-gifts/

Pastor Rick Warren talks about the importance of knowing your SHAPE in order to actively participate with God in this world:

  • S piritual Gifts
  • H eart
  • A bilities
  • P ersonality
  • E xperiences

Check out Pastor Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, to find out more about your SHAPE for service to others! (If your small group is interested, Zondervan publishes a curriculum called “Doing Life Together” that digs into this and other topics from Warren’s book.)

OVERFLOW Another first-step for us in helping others is to seriously consider what our OVERFLOW is. In other words, what do you have an EXCESS of? Is it TIME, MONEY, SPACE in your home, ROOM in your heart? You can’t give what you don’t have! Knowing your overflow directly affects the ways you reach out to others by creating boundaries for you to work within (keeping you healthy and increasing the chances that you’ll have something left to give the NEXT person who reaches out to you for help).

TRIGGERS Some of us aren’t likely to reach out and help because we feel that what we have to give is too little. When presented with an enormous need, we shrink back because there is no way our resources could seemingly make a dent in that person’s situation. Or, so we think. God knew this would be an issue for us, so He addressed it early on, in the book of Deuteronomy:

“When you happen on someone who’s in trouble or needs help among your people with whom you live in this land that GOD, your God, is giving you, don’t look the other way pretending you don’t see him. Don’t keep a tight grip on your purse. No. Look at him, open your purse, lend whatever and as much as he needs… Give freely and spontaneously. Don’t have a stingy heart. The way you handle matters like this triggers GOD, your God’s, blessing in everything you do, all your work and ventures. There are always going to be poor and needy people among you. So I command you: Always be generous, open purse and hands, give to your neighbors in trouble, your poor and hurting neighbors.” (Deut. 15:7-8, 10-11 The Message)

What God is saying to us is that our actions toward helping those in need, however small, trigger something in HIM! A BLESSING! On everything you do! God chooses to multiply our every heart-felt effort to help, no matter how small it may seem on the surface. What a tragedy for all of us when believers withhold assistance because we’re afraid it won’t be enough. Let’s face it – it probably isn’t going to be enough! But God can bridge the gap between what we have and what they need, providing the difference in ways we can’t even imagine. Yet if we allow our stingy hearts their way, God’s blessing isn’t triggered. At least not by us.

Faithfully (& Firmly) DRAW BOUNDARIES It’s no secret that our health and well-being, both physically and spiritually, relies on boundaries. No one person, no matter how motivated or gifted, can be all things to all people! God knew this, and He explains it to us by providing the human body as an illustration to help us understand that we are each just a PART of what He can do in this world, or in the life of a struggling brother or sister. (Check out Paul’s description of the Body of Christ in I Corinthians chapter 12.) It’s almost impossible for us to draw healthy boundaries, however, until we understand our SHAPE for service – how we ‘fit’ into His Body on earth.

PAY ATTENTION Once we’re armed with the knowledge of our gifts and abilities, God will lead us into acting (or NOT acting) in specific ways on behalf of others. In order to follow His lead, believers must cultivate an ear for the guiding voice of the Holy Spirit. To effectively serve in the Kingdom of God, you and I must pay attention to the Spirit’s prompts – those which compel us to MOVE, and those which compel us to WAIT. Faithfully leaning into Scripture helps us to hear His voice, which in turn helps to shape the scope and sequence of our ministry toward others.

BEWARE of GUILT! Many of us wrestle with feelings of guilt when it comes to deciding who to help and how much help to give. How many times have you not done something that you thought you ‘should’ do, only to feel badly about it later? I’m here to tell you that GOD does not produce GUILT! There is nothing that I have found in God’s Word that says He will guilt you into doing what you cannot do, or that He will punish you with guilt in any circumstance.

Guilt is real don’t get me wrong but it doesn’t come from God. Don’t let your misunderstanding of guilt keep you from following God’s leading in your life. Trust Him to do the right thing by and in you and leave the rest in His hands.

SHARE the JOY! Helping to meet the needs of others is a REAL JOY for the people of God! Maybe you haven’t thought of it quite like this before, but when we try to do more than we’re equipped to follow through with, we rob others of the opportunity to join in God’s work, too. You might have a friend, for instance, who cannot drive and whose medical needs and physical limitations are intense and many. You have a car, and you have Tuesdays free. Do what you CAN for your friend on Tuesdays, and let others know what your friend needs the rest of the week. Together there’s a really good chance that your group can meet most of her needs, but in case there’s still a gap, be willing to suggest alternatives.

KNOW your community and its resources (or know someone else who does)! CONNECT your friend with services and organizations whose focus IS MEETING that very need! Spread the joy around, so that no one is burdened with work that was never theirs to do.

Next week on PINK Tuesday we’ll consider what it looks like to NEED WELL. I’ll see you back here on my absolutely, positively FAVORITE DAY of the week!

The (lesser-known) Spiritual Discipline of Defragmentation

Defragmentation

Defragmentation (Photo credit: jmehre)

Along with a dozen beautiful believers-under-construction, I am re-reading the classic ‘Celebration of Discipline‘ by Richard Foster. Clearly an oxymoron to the spiritually faint of heart, Foster makes a strong case for placing the words ‘Celebration’ and ‘Discipline’ into the same sentence. Week after week my small group of women comes together to wrestle with the possibility that the result of a disciplined life might really be something worth celebrating.

According to Foster, “God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving His grace. The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that He can transform us.”

He goes on to say that “By themselves the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done. They are God’s means of grace.” It is in the act of laying bare our wounded hearts that God’s best work begins and we find ourselves on the path to reconstruction and restoration. “We must always remember,” says Foster, “that the path does not produce the change; it only puts us in the place where change can occur. This is the way of disciplined grace.”

This is also the way, by the way, of the lesser-known Spiritual Discipline of Defragmentation.

You’ve probably heard of the classic Disciplines – things like prayer, study, service and worship. Words that have in many circles become so churchified that they have essentially lost their meaning and, consequently, their practice has ebbed as well. Perhaps it’s time for a more culturally relevant illustration in making a case for the benefit of focusing our attention more purposefully on God.

According to Beth Bartlett at eHow.com:

Defragmentation, also known as defragging, is a process that takes all the file fragments scattered across a computer’s hard drive and rejoins the multiple pieces of each file into one area. This can speed up your computer, save you time and extend the life of your hard drive. Defragging can be a lengthy process, but it is an essential part of regular computer maintenance.

The definition begs the question: does this sound like you? Does your inner-life contain fragments of thoughts, memories, ideas, plans, lists, activities and schedules? Are your relationships and priorities scattered across your mind and heart in the form of pieces – a little bit here, a little bit there?

One predictable side effect of life is fragmentation, and women know as well as anyone what years of multi-tasking can do to the most well-intentioned follower of Christ.

We know we need to change. We feel the need to change. We really WANT to change! But until we let go of our desire to CONTROL the change we need the most, we haven’t got a chance.

Enter… the Spiritual Discipline of Defragmentation.

You may have taken your computer through the process of defragging, so let’s start there – with what we know. To defrag your system, you access your computer’s control panel and select the ‘defragment your computer‘ option. There’s a great visual provided by most computers when you opt to ‘analyze’ your computer before defragging. After a few minutes, your computer will show you what your hard drive looks like – in full color – with bits and pieces here and there throughout the drive.

Disorganized. Inefficient. Hard to navigate. Time consuming. So you take the next step and you click ‘defragment‘ and the magical process begins. You sit there. Watching. Waiting. Knowing that good work is being done. Knowing that this is out of your control now. The computer is doing its work and soon a new picture will display, with bits and pieces that have been rearranged and put back together in a way that makes much more sense and much better use of your system.

Wow! What an amazing tool!

In the spiritual life, your head and your heart are your operating system – your ‘hard drive’ in techie terms. The Spiritual Discipline of Defragmentation requires that you open up your control panel and give that control to the Operator – the One who knows how you run best. The One who created you! Let Him show you how the bits and pieces of your life are scattered and disorganized. Allow Him to analyze your true state and to make His case for the defragmentation of YOU!

The next step is actually your FINAL step, and that is to make the click. Choose to begin the process. Put yourself on the path where real change can occur. Opt for the system tool that will result in a healthier you. It’s true that Spiritual Defragmentation can be a lengthy process, but it is an essential part of regular spiritual maintenance.

YOU choose to undergo Defragmentation by giving God access to every last bit of you through focused, quiet time – but the work isn’t actually yours. You sit there. Watching. Waiting. Knowing that good work is being done. Knowing that this is out of your control now. God Himself is doing His work and soon a new image will be displayed in you, with bits and pieces that have been rearranged and put back together in such a way that YOU look more like JESUS.

Wow! What an amazing God!

the SO WHAT? NOW WHAT? Bible Study

The study translation Bible 2009

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been around the block.

When it comes to studying the Bible, I’ve made my way through this method and that format, using these tools and those materials. I’ve studied with the help of this translation and that paraphrase. I’ve considered his detailed commentary and her in-depth workbook

After all, if you’re like me and you take God’s Word seriously, you’ll go around the block again and again for even a GLIMPSE of His truth in those sacred pages.

I’m beginning to wonder, though, if all of our methods for studying and approaching the scriptures can’t be summed up in two painfully simple (but potentially loaded) questions:

SO WHAT?

NOW WHAT?

SO WHAT? I’ve just read this story in the Bible – SO WHAT? What’s the big deal? What difference does it make? Why does it matter that Jesus said this (or that David did that)? Seriously – what’s the big whoop?

How many times have you read a biblical text and failed to think about the reason those words were written? How often do you open and close your Bible without pausing to consider why that passage on this day?

‘SO WHAT?’ is an invitation to dig down to the crux of the matter, to the root of the text, deep into the heart of a God whose words are important enough to have endured thousands of years in order to be spoken into your life today. It may not be the most scholarly approach to the study of God’s words, but ‘SO WHAT?’ cuts through the Christian-ese and pretense to usher you into an honest assessment of the impact of scripture on a very real YOU in a very real world. If we cannot figure out the ‘SO WHAT?’ there is simply no point in moving forward to the ‘NOW WHAT?’

Yet it is the ‘NOW WHAT?’ that separates the spiritual tweens from the wise and devoted gray-hairs in the Kingdom of God! It’s the discipline of asking God to move you from the classroom of Bible study into the internship of “doing the Word” (James 1:22) that determines whether your efforts at learning will ultimately bear fruit or die fruitless – its growth tragically stunted inside of your head.

NOW WHAT? Asks the question that the faint of heart will avoid at all costs.

NOW WHAT? Forces the hand to be played and the play to be made.

NOW WHAT? Puts skin on the bones of a passive faith, bringing Jesus to life again and again in our love-starved, faith-starved world.

NOW WHAT?’ is the question that burns Spirit-fire within the believer whose curiosity cannot be quenched. For if we faithfully ask the question, we have no choice but to join the Author in His work as it is being written on the pages of the lives all around us.

To ask ‘NOW WHAT?’ is to drink deeply of the living water offered by the Savior, and then to take buckets of that very same Water to dehydrated souls, wherever they live.

No study of the Bible is complete without the ‘NOW WHAT?’

Because the Word of God is not passive, but ALIVE with the power of the resurrected Christ! ACTIVE with the movement of the living Spirit of God!

The SO WHAT? NOW WHAT? Bible Study will cramp your style, make you look like a fool, get underneath your skin and make you squirm.

Doesn’t that sound GREAT?! I’m in!

Now what?

THIS Is Really About THAT (a PINK Tuesday post)

Hands

Can I just start by saying that Thomas gets a BAD RAP?! Forever known as Doubting Thomas… Of COURSE the others believed that Jesus was alive – THEY had SEEN HIM! Good Grief!

But this STORY of Thomas and his honest expression of doubt is REALLY a story about GOD and HIS extravagant GRACE; His scandalous LOVE for His people… for ALL people.

Jesus responded to Thomas’ need for proof, not because He somehow needed Thomas’ corroboration or stamp of approval, but because He LOVED Thomas and wanted him to KNOW that He was alive!

Jesus WANTED Thomas to believe! THIS is the heart of God!

Our Need for “Proof” of God / God’s Desire to be KNOWN

It’s no coincidence, then, that scripture is FULL of evidence pointing to a God who DESIRES that we come to Him, even if that means we come dragging a duffel filled with questions, doubts, fears & uncertainties.

Because THIS (our need for proof of God) is really about THAT (God’s desire to be known)! What we see as our need for hard evidence is actually the work of a God who WANTS us to believe.

Take Hebrews 4:16, for example:

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

And how about this story in Isaiah chapter 7, where God speaks to King Ahaz through His prophet Isaiah, saying:

“Ask for a sign from your God. Ask anything. Be extravagant. Ask for the moon!” But Ahaz said, “I’d never do that: I’d never make demands like that on God!” So Isaiah told him, “Then listen to this, government of David! It’s bad enough that you make people tired with your pious, timid hypocrisies, but now you’re making God tired. So the Master is going to give you a sign anyway.”

ASK for a sign, he says. Ask God for proof. Be bold and approach Him in confidence.

ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED.

Then there was Gideon – do you remember his story?

An angel of God appears to Gideon, a man from the weakest clan in Manasseh and the self-proclaimed “runt of the litter”, and hails him: “God is with you, O mighty warrior!” To which Gideon naturally responds, Who, ME?”

The angel continues to insist that Gideon is the one who will lead Israel to defeat their oppressors, the Midianites. And this is how Gideon replies:

“If you’re serious about this, do me a favor: Give me a sign to back up what you’re telling me…”

So, the angel does. He creates fire for the offering Gideon had prepared. Then he disappears. And you would think that was the end of it, but it isn’t long before THIS conversation happens:

Gideon said to God, “If this is right, if you are using me to save Israel as you’ve said, then look: I’m placing a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If dew is on the fleece only, but the floor is dry, then I know that you will use me to save Israel, as you said.”

And that’s what happened – wet fleece, dry floor. And you would think that was the end of it, BUT…

Gideon said to God, “Don’t be impatient with me, but let me say one more thing: I want to try another time with the fleece. But this time, let the fleece stay dry while the dew drenches the ground.”

And that’s what happened – dry fleece, soaking wet ground. And FINALLY Gideon believed.

(Blind) FAITH / FACTS

Many perceive the faith of Christians to be contrary to clear thinking. An article in Discipleship Journal says that, “faith is often portrayed as an almost irrational jump into something for which there is little or no evidence, much like believing in the tooth fairy.”

I saw a bumper sticker the other day that makes this point to perfection – it said:

“Jesus is an imaginary friend for adults.”

Maybe you know someone who would subscribe to this bumper-sticker philosophy? The article in Discipleship Journal goes on to say that, “Our beliefs are rooted in facts, though we do not presently see Christ or have video evidence of His life, death and resurrection.”

The gentleman who wrote this article also edited the 4 volume Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary for Zondervan Publishing and says that he was “amazed at the abundant historical evidence illustrating the accuracy of the New Testament… The story of Jesus was no fairy tale… The events of His life – even His resurrection – are well attested historically.”

But of course, we already know that…

Or DO WE?

ANSWERS / QUESTIONS & what happens TO US as we ask them

This fact-focused thinking tends to lead us to a fixation on ANSWERS – finding them, knowing them, and being able to give them to others. But I propose that THIS (our search for answers) is really about THAT (questions, and what happens to US when we ask them)!

There’s a wonderful song by Michael Card that expresses this idea better than I can:

“Could it be You make Your presence known more often by Your absence?

Could it be that questions tell us more than answers ever do?

Could it be that You would really rather die than live without us?

Could it be the only answer that means anything is You?”

If we are to be authentic, relevant witnesses in this world, we MUST deal as honestly and transparently with our DOUBTS as we do our CERTAINTIES.

Because the citizens of this world aren’t “buying” what today’s church is “selling”, and here’s why:

FEEL GOOD theology doesn’t work when you are broken, abused, mistreated and marginalized.

PROSPERITY theology doesn’t work when you can’t afford to pay your mortgage because your family has to EAT.

A ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL band aid of faith just doesn’t FIT when your life is an infectious mess of gaping wounds.

Our churchy answers to the gut-wrenching questions of this hurting world ARE NOT WORKING – they’re not even scratching the surface. People don’t just need to hear from us, “disciples”, that WE have seen the Lord…

THEY – like Thomas – need to see Him for THEMSELVES.

Longing for God / God’s Presence IN US

Some of us, well, we’re still looking. And some of us look at the Christians we know and think that somehow THEY have it “all together” – they never have doubts – they must be SUPER-Christians. They must be the blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” people that Jesus talked about.

To which I say – MOTHER TERESA. (Does that seem random?)

Listen to these words – her own words, written in her own hand – as she lived out one of the most visible and fruitful Christian lives… EVER!

“So many unanswered questions live within me – I am afraid to uncover them – because of the blasphemy. If there be God, please forgive me… They say people in hell suffer eternal pain because of the loss of God – they would go through all that suffering if they had just a little hope of possessing God. In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss – of God not wanting me – of God not being God – of God not really existing… What do I labour for? If there be no God – there can be no soul. If there is no soul then Jesus – You also are not true. Heaven, what emptiness – not a single thought of Heaven enters my mind – for there is no hope.” (Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light; edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC; Doubleday 2007)

From all outward appearances, you would have thought that SHE was one of THEM – the “supers” – but the writings found after her death in 1997 reflect an inner life that was marked with a crushing darkness while her outer life SHONE for Jesus.

We may be sitting here today, longing for some sign, some proof, something REAL to tell us that Jesus is alive, thinking that because we haven’t SEEN God at work, either HE isn’t REAL or something is WRONG with US.

BUT… THIS (longing for God) is really about THAT (God’s presence IN US)!

This “Saint of Darkness” – as Mother Teresa referred to herself – also said that: “The sure sign of God’s hidden presence in this darkness IS the THIRST for GOD, the craving for at least a ray of His light. No one can long for God unless God is present in his/her heart.”

This longing in us isn’t about our lack – our faithlessness. It’s about God’s abundanceHis presence that is already IN OUR HEARTS, creating the longing for Him in the first place!

We wouldn’t be seeking Him if He wasn’t already HERE.

THIS is the God who says to you today, “I love you too much to let your doubts keep you from me, so:

  • I am going to SHOW UP
  • I am going to BE THERE
  • I am going to HOLD YOU
  • I am going to SPEAK TO YOU
  • I am going to STAND UP FOR YOU
  • I am going to RESCUE YOU
  • I am going to SEND A SIGN
  • I am going to ANSWER YOUR PRAYER
  • I am going to REACH YOU THROUGH MY WORD
  • I am going to do whatever it takes to draw you to Myself

BECAUSE NOTHING, not even your doubting heart, can separate you from my love.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Resurrection of Jesus: “Gospel” / Jesus’ Resurrection in US!

Let me ask you a question…

If people had only your life to look at, as the only example to consider, and they were asked the question, “Has Jesus risen from the dead?” How would they answer?

HAS HE?

Jesus stood before Thomas and said, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe.”

This resurrected Jesus is ALIVE IN YOU today.

YOU ARE THE GOOD NEWS!

YOU ARE THE GOSPEL!

All of this is really about that.

The Rescue (a PINK Tuesday post)

Save Me

Image by JamesReaFotos via Flickr

 

“The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith.”   –John Stott

It’s been this way since time began.

 

The fact that you are still reading tells me that nothing has changed… SUFFERING a LOSS raises questions and doubts and fears and anger as it CHALLENGES our ability to cope and adapt and recover.

But the good news today is that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

You are not alone in your suffering.

You are not alone in your loss.

We don’t need to look beyond our own circle of friends & family to find others who are suffering losses, too. Our stories and their stories inevitably are marked by people, places, experiences and situations where what we once held dear is no longer ours to hold.

Consider the scriptures.

Story after story about people who not only experience the mountaintops, but the depths of grief as well:

Adam & Eve

Because of a choice that they made, they lost their fellowship with God AND their home in the Garden. Later in their story, they lose a son – or, perhaps they lost TWO sons – as the one killed the other in a fit of jealousy.

Joseph

The one with the coat. Lost his family at the hand of brothers who hated him. They sold him into slavery. Told his father he was dead. This same Joseph, trying to live a godly life as a slave, is falsely accused of sexual harassment by his boss’s wife and thrown into prison for years. NONE of these losses, by the way, were a result of Joseph’s choices. He had no say. They just happened TO him.

Job

Lost his children in one horrific accident. Lost his livelihood. Lost his health. All because of things going on around him that he had no control over. It wasn’t his fault.

David

KING David. The one we know as “a man after God’s own heart”. Lost his fellowship with the Lord, for a time, because of a series of bad choices that included sleeping with someone else’s wife and then having her husband murdered. David’s loss didn’t end there. Even though he married the woman he had gotten pregnant, she lost the baby. Lost a child. Another loss.

Elijah

The prophet. The one used by God to call down fire on a soaking wet altar, putting the competition in its place. Even Elijah suffered loss. Loss of hope. Loss of perspective. He suffered from depression. Depression that was undoubtedly linked to the death threats he had received from a very powerful woman. His choice? A chemical imbalance? Does it matter?! A loss nonetheless.

Finally, the Apostle Paul.

Wrote much of the New Testament. Spoke the message of Christ far and wide with boldness and passion. This hero of the faith found himself at the end of life, sitting in a cold prison cell, alone. Lonely. And he suffered from the loss of fellowship he had known – we know this because he wrote it in a letter to his friend, Timothy. We can read it in God’s Word.

What we ALSO read in God’s Word are words like these:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians 12:9

(He must be really STRONG in ME – weakling that I am.)

And,

“In this world you WILL have trouble, but take heart – I have overcome the world.”   John 16:33

Our God makes it clear over and over again in scripture that He is close to the brokenhearted (Ps. 34:18).

He tends to our wounds.

He is our RESCUE.

But just in case words like these sound trite and churchy to you, know that God “keeps track of every toss & turn through the sleepless nights.” Each tear and ache is entered into His book (Ps. 56:8).

There’s a Hebrew custom – the jar of tears – have you heard of it? At funerals, a tiny jar is passed around and each mourner puts a teardrop into it. The jar of tears represents the hearts that are suffering the loss of the person who has died.

I believe that God not only keeps track of the tears we shed, but that His big heart breaks for us in our suffering. And there is nothing that we are feeling or have felt that He, through Jesus, hasn’t felt before.

God is ready to do something big for you today! He’s coming alongside you in your suffering, your grief, your loss…

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

God uses our experiences to prepare and uniquely position us to come alongside others who are suffering, too. The heading over this section in the Message Bible is “THE RESCUE”.

He rescues us, and then He gives us the opportunity to extend that rescue to others.

I see a rescue in your future, my friend.

Maybe it’s yours to be HAD.

Maybe it’s in your power to GIVE.

Either way, we had better get busy. There is SAVING to be done (praise the Lord)!

 

No Vacancy L4L.21

Full House (Painted Ladies)

The WORD

“When an evil spirit comes out of a person, it travels through dry places, looking for a place to rest. But when it finds no place, it says, ‘I will go back to the house I left.’ And when it comes back, it finds that house swept clean and made neat. Then the evil spirit goes out and brings seven other spirits more evil than it is, and they go in and live there. So the person has even more trouble than before.” Luke 11:24-26 (New Century Version)

Are you noticing, as I am, that Jesus really didn’t stick to fluffy, benign topics when He taught? Hear these words again, from The Message paraphrase of the Scriptures:

“When a corrupting spirit is expelled from someone, it drifts along through the desert looking for an oasis, some unsuspecting soul it can be-devil. When it doesn’t find anyone, it says, ‘I’ll go back to my old haunt.’ On return, it finds the person swept and dusted, but vacant. It then runs out and rounds up seven other spirits dirtier than itself and they all move in, whooping it up. That person ends up far worse than if he’d never gotten cleaned up in the first place.”

Jesus did a lot of exorcisms in His day, sending the demons packing who were camped out inside the lives of tortured people. It happened everywhere He went. He was known for it! People would seek Him out for the express purpose of having a demon cast out of a loved one.

There must have been great rejoicing every time one of these spirits of evil left the life of a God-created individual!

The APP

With some notable exceptions, we don’t really talk much in terms of ‘demons’ and ‘possession’ in our day, do we? We just don’t go there very often. In our world of scientific and medical explanations for just about everything, our need for a supernatural perspective is regularly quenched by a preference for ‘Just the FACTS, Ma’am.Only the facts.

Yet, if we look long and hard at our personal issues and struggles, we might find some demons residing within. Demons with names like ‘addiction,’ ‘anger,’ and ‘greed.’ Demons with friends known as ‘materialism,’ ‘lust,’ and ‘pride.’ Demons who are likely to become quite comfortable in their human homes unless we take the work of Jesus seriously and seek His participation in our emancipation from the claims they’ve staked in our territory.

And once we’ve been set free – as many of us have – from the tendrils of sin and death, what’s next?

Our celebrations of healing and recovery last only so long before those same addictions and temptations find their way back to us. And, if what they find when they return home is a neat and tidy EMPTY nest, well, Jesus told us what would happen.

When we do the hard work of cleaning house and making room in our lives for MORE, we must remember that it is absolutely necessary for that space inside to be filled with God-given housewarming gifts. Otherwise, it will be returned to its original squatter (and he won’t be coming back alone).

Some of us are nodding our heads, having seen or experienced this very thing in lives that are close to our own.

We master that addiction.

We get our anger under control.

We overcome our greedy ways.

We shed the harmful habits and behaviors, but we fail to adopt the ongoing healing and restorative process offered by God through faith in Christ.

We gut out the old and decaying interior, but fail to give the Contractor access for the remodel.

Maybe the urgency just isn’t there to do things differently.

Maybe the anticipated cost of renovation is much higher than we originally thought.

Maybe the starkness of a life without the negative influences is enough for now. Why rush out and buy the farm when we can just rent for awhile, right?

Letting down our guard in the aftermath of healing is exactly what the enemy would love to have us do. He knows that we’re tired of fighting. He knows that we’re finally breathing easily and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. But what he also knows is that, unless that LIGHT is ushered INTO our lives, the darkness has a foothold and can always slip back in. Possibly undetected. Probably in the company of like-minded companions. Either way, as Jesus tells us, we’re worse off than we ever were before.

The solution? Let Jesus move in!

Let’s pray that the real presence of the Spirit of God would inhabit our lives from this day forward.

Let’s choose to hang a hefty ‘No Vacancy’ sign on the door to our hearts, notifying all prior inhabitants that LOVE HAS COME to reside within us!

Or, as in the immortal words of TobyMac:

“Love is in the house and the house is packed, so much soul I left the back door cracked. Mama always said it’s a matter of fact, when love is in the house, the house is packed.”

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

Listen to Love Is In The House here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMOj2sqnzDs

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