Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

An Unexpected Word

Are you ever surprised by a word in Scripture? You’re reading along in a familiar passage, and suddenly you realize it doesn’t say what you thought it said. This happens to me a lot. Usually, it is because I’m reading the familiar passage in a less familiar translation, and the shift in wording makes me pause and rethink the passage.* Recently, though, something stood out to me that I only thought was different in that day’s translation.

The verse was Luke 12:12:

Whenever they bring you before synagogues and rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how you should defend yourselves or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what must be said. (Luke 12:11-12, HCSB, emphasis mine – read all of chapter 12 for better context.)

The word that jumped out at me was “teach.” For some reason, I had always perceived that word as “give.” I grabbed my NASB to see what it said, since that’s the translation I read most frequently. It also said “teach.” Next, I went back to translations I would have read as a child: KJV and NIV. Guess what? They both said “teach” as well. So did ESV.

For some reason, my brain had always processed a word that wasn’t there at all in any translation I’d read. So where did it come from?

I started skimming through the rest of the Gospels, and I finally found it in Mark:

When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit. (Mark 13:11, NASB, emphasis mine)

Both “teach” and “give” are correct. Both are biblical. But, I’d completely missed “teach” because my brain automatically inserted “give” into both verses.

So, what’s my point? Well, I’ve mentioned it before, but this incident just reinforced the truth: I can never exhaust a passage. No matter how familiar, there is always something I have missed or was not yet ready to learn. The Word of God is so rich and full that I can never ever exhaust its depth. Never. That’s the general application here.

But, there is a specific one as well. It’s easy to look at these particular verses and think, “Oh, I don’t have to worry about that. The Spirit will dump it into my brain when I need it.” But that’s not what is being said in either verse, whether we are talking about the Holy Spirit teaching us or giving us the right words.

The key here is that we do not worry in advance about a specific incident because we are to be constantly sitting at the feet of the Holy Spirit. Day in and day out, in every experience, with every prayer, and through every reading of God’s Word, we are to be both learning and receiving from the Holy Spirit. This is an on-going reality. We don’t worry about the moment in which we have to make a defense because it is to be no different from any other moment. In all situations, we are to receive the teaching and gift of the Word of God through the Holy Spirit.

An unexpected word drove home that truth.

I love being startled by God’s Word. Jolted into an understanding by something I’d never paid attention to or noticed before. When is the last time that happened to you? I pray that your understanding of God and His Word may be deepened today because of an unexpected word.

*It’s a good idea for your primary study translation to be one that is considered a literal translation, such as NASB or ESV. But, reading in multiple translations is very beneficial to study as well, as little variances between translations can help reinforce the scope of what the original language was communicating.

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

I Love You

Sometimes I struggle with saying, “I love You,” to my Savior.

That’s hard to even admit in writing. I have written the confession in my journal many times, and that fills me with enough shame. But, to share it publicly…

It’s not that I don’t love Him. Oh how I do! But, my heart aches because, all too frequently, my thoughts and actions do not show it. How can I tell Him I love Him when I blatantly behave differently day in and day out?

If you are a parent, you know what I mean from the other end of the spectrum. In one moment, we hear our children say, “I love you, Mommy!” Then in the next, they are doing something that blatantly negates the statement. A bad attitude. An arrogance of behavior. A flagrant act of disobedience.

And, if you are anything like me, sometimes you look at your child and want to say (or maybe go ahead and say!), “You say with your mouth that you love me, but your actions show otherwise.”

Because I, in my frail humanity, have difficulty receiving words of love from my children when they blatantly disobey me, I often attribute that same response to God. He knows my heart. He knows the selfishness that reigns. He knows the times when I avoid talking to Him in prayer because I would rather be busy with other things. He knows. Oh, how He knows, so much more even than I know the heart of my children! So, how can I tell Him I love Him when He can see directly into the self-centeredness of my heart?

Recently I was reading John 21 and came to the conversation between Jesus and Peter that we often refer to as Peter’s reinstatement. I have read this passage many, many, many times, but on this particular day, it struck me in a different way. Peter had denied Jesus. Flat out denied, with curses, that he even knew his Savior. Yet Jesus did not once say, “Peter, how can you say that you love me after the way you acted?”

Instead, He simply asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”

And after the third time, Peter gives my favorite answer, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You. (John 21:17)”

Wow. Remorse filled Peter over his denial of his Savior. Yet, he could still say, “You know that I love You.” And Jesus knew that love would carry Peter through his coming life of church leadership, persecution, and martyrdom.

The truth of my heart is that, despite my stupid and selfish actions, I really do love my Savior. And He knows it. Oh what a treasure! Oh what a joy to know that I can say, “I love You, Lord!” even as I am on my face before Him in tears of repentance! And that very truth is what drives me again and again to repentance and growth. My Jesus knows I love Him. Now, may my actions increasingly reject my own selfishness and instead reflect the love He knows to be true!

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

Missed Beauty

The country of Jordan has a desert climate. For anywhere from seven to ten months out of every year, no rain falls, and the country is covered in a dull, dusty brown.

But twice a year, a miracle happens. Right after the first rains arrive in October or November, the mountains of north Jordan turn a beautiful, lush green. Clover and grass sprout everywhere and remain for a couple of short weeks until the winter chill set in. Then, it all dies again and turns a wintry gray until spring rolls around. Spring, like fall, is short-lived, those few weeks bring the most beautiful time of the year. Sometime in early March, as the warmth returns and the rains begin to recede, the whole countryside erupts into a tapestry of red, yellow, and lavender as the wildflowers bloom. Intermingled throughout it all is the deep purple of the national flower of Jordan, the wild Gilead iris, commonly grouped with black irises.

I grew up in those hills of north Jordan, and each spring we would take a day and head out to pick wildflowers – especially poppies and irises. We would come back with a trunkload of flowers to brighten the next few weeks. I loved the poppies, but there was nothing like the deep, royal purple of those irises.

When I moved back to Arkansas, I still saw irises in the spring. Blue and lavender and white and yellow and all sorts of beautiful colors sprouted in gardens and yards everywhere I looked. But, I almost never saw anything dark like those Gilead irises.

Then, several years ago, my mother-in-law surprised me with the gift of several black iris bulbs. I was so excited! Doug and I went and bought a pot and some good soil, and we planted those irises according to the best directions we could find.

Then, we waited. The green leaves sprouted, but no flowers appeared. The next year we moved the pot to a more sunny location. Still no luck.

The year after that we were in a new home, so I transplanted the bulbs into a spot already populated with flourishing irises. I watched and waited. The established irises bloomed beautifully, but my transplanted bulbs still produced nothing more than tall, strong leaves.

I felt so disappointed. And in my disappointment, I almost missed the beauty that did exist before me.

There is something regal about a cluster of irises. They stand tall, and their petals flow with amazing grace and perfect shading. And in my yard – for the first time ever – I had a whole patch of beautiful light purple and blue flowers. But, because they were not the dark purple I’d hoped for, I almost disregarded them.

I am ashamed to admit that the dismissal of those not-quite-dark-enough purple irises reflects the way I dismiss God’s gifts so very often. I am a planner. A plotter. The type of person who takes possible scenarios and plays them out to logical conclusions. In the process, I establish what I think should happen.

Ironically enough, God rarely, if ever, works the way my daydreams try to dictate!

When His reality – His amazing gifts – fall into place, I far too often get pouty because they are not what I wanted to see. I miss the beauty of His provision because I’m staring at the flowerless leaves of my expectations. My demands, if I am honest.

This spring, I’m watching all of my irises. We have had a sunny spring, but cold is expected. It is possible none of my flowers will bloom this year because of the freeze. Or, because they have been slower to sprout than the established irises, it might be that my black bulbs are the only ones that flower. Who knows? What I do know is that I intend to soak in whatever God sends. I will choose to not miss the beauty He sets before me, whatever the color.

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

Worth It!

My son has loved Legos since before he could walk or talk. He had a funny way of showing his passion at that age. We would build something for him, and he would take great delight in tearing it down and begging us to build something else for him to destroy. I honestly believe that his excitement for destruction lay in the realization that he could watch us build again and again, because he anxiously awaited the day he could build for himself.

At age seven, after discovering several fun Lego sets and kits, my son learned that there was such a thing as Lego robotics. Honestly, he had no clue what that entailed. He only knew that “Lego” and “robot” were combined in the same concept. He was hooked.

My husband knew much more about it, having learned that the Lego Education line encouraged kids to learn programming and electronics skills ranging from the most basic to highly involved. He also knew that our son was nowhere near ready for that kind of challenge. But, he encouraged Steven to start saving, confident that by the time he reached his financial goal, he would also be ready for the challenges involved.

For the next three years, Steven saved diligently. Every now and then he would dip into those savings for a major purchase. A bicycle to replace the one he’d outgrown. A mechanical Lego cargo plane to help him learn a little bit about the difference between his familiar Lego creations and the Mindstorms kit he was saving up for. Other little things here and there. But finally, shortly after Christmas this year, he had enough money saved up. The mailman delivered Steven’s order just a few weeks ago, and he has already learned incredible things! Pacing himself, he is discovering what he needs to learn bit by bit to achieve ultimate programming goals.

Steven recently asked me how he got started saving in the first place. “You heard the words ‘Lego’ and ‘robot’ and were hooked!” I explained to him that he had no idea how big of a deal this kit was. Doug and I did, but he did not. All he knew was that it was worth the time and effort it would take to save up for it. He knew it was worth the sacrifice of not being able to spend money whenever he wanted. Even as a young child, he grasped that this was important to him – without even knowing just how far it would take him.

Even now, the big picture is too great for him. He can only focus on one thing at a time, learning what is right in front of him. But, he is investing in the little tasks now because he knows that opportunities he can’t even imagine are still ahead of him if he is diligent.

Is that not the perfect picture of salvation and faith? How many of us truly knew what we were grabbing hold of when we first declared that Jesus had become Lord of our lives? How many of us knew the challenges and promises bound up in that moment? My guess is that none of us truly grasped the depths of our new life. We just knew it was worth it. It was something we desperately hungered for, and we were willing to go wherever it took us.

Oh how amazing to know that I do not have to grasp the fullness of what I have received from Christ in order to live in His will. He understands for me! He knows my present, my capabilities, my future, and the promise of all that lies ahead. He knows the challenges and the joys, and He is ready and able to walk through each one of them with me when I am ready. He is guiding me through each step so I will not reach a goal too soon, nor will I have to wait too long. Every moment of His plan for my life is laid out in His wisdom and perfection. When I’m ready for the next challenge, He will lay it before me. In the meantime, I can trust Him with the one in my path at this moment. I don’t have to have it all figured out to progress through His will. I just have to do the task set before me right now and watch as the little goals along the way change, grow, and evolve while I conquer each hurdle.

Even as a young child, Steven knew the kit was worth his time and energy. Now he knows each step of learning is worthwhile. And, in faith, both of us know the same thing is true in our spiritual walk.

It’s worth it!

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

When It’s Bad

One afternoon recently, I sat down to write. I wrote and wrote and wrote. And none of it was usable.

You might be thinking right about now that I am probably being overly harsh and self-critical. But, it really did all need to be rewritten or reworked. I had some decent ideas, but when I tried to flesh them out, they just would not come together. The thoughts were scattered and incomplete. None of it was even in the “oh, this was mediocre, but at least I can still publish it” category.

But it was still writing. It was still trying. It was still practicing my writing muscles. And, finally, after several hours of thought, prayer, and effort, the work led to some solid ideas that could be more easily developed in later writing sessions.

Sometimes when I try to push the writing, things just get worse and worse. I lose whatever momentum I had, and I just become frustrated. But more frequently, if I keep trying – even if hours of my efforts end up in the “trash” – I come around to something useful and productive.

It’s against my nature to believe that something “bad” is actually productive. If it’s going to end up in the trash can, is it not a waste of time? Should I not be just giving up and pouring my effort into something more constantly productive?

That’s my inclination. And it’s a dangerous one, because I have never been able to start off with only good results. I was a toddler once who had to fall quite a few times before I walked successfully and consistently. I had to say things the wrong way before I could learn to speak properly. And, if you could only see some of my high school papers! Mom “bled” them, marking them up with a red pen until there was more red than black on the page. Ouch! But, by my senior year, the red had become much less prominent.

The failures – the bad work – morphed into successes.

I can’t help but connect this to the idea of spiritual growth. In every stage of this life, we start on the immature, failing end of faith. Yet, where else would we start? Many of the things I struggled with twenty years ago are no longer an issue. But I wouldn’t be hashing through today’s issues if it had not been for the Holy Spirit’s work in me then. There were many failures. Many attempts that ended up with me in a heap on the floor crying out to God for help. For His hand. For His mercy. For His peace. For His strength. If not for those times, would I know Him like I do today?

Sometimes, life is just bad. Circumstances hammer us. Our failures pile up. The choices of others break us.

But if we do not experience those seasons of life, how will we see the Holy Spirit produce faith in us? How will we grow closer to our Lord and Savior? The bad paves the way for Him to work for good in and through us.

Does if feel as if everything you put your hand to meets with resistance or failure? Keep working, my friend. Keep praying. Keep seeking His perfect will and wisdom. He will use this to make something good in you. What a glorious promise!

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets, Thoughts from Scripture

Stepping Out

In Matthew 14, we find the familiar story of Jesus and Peter walking on the water. Typically when we read this passage, we focus on Peter’s faltering. He does fine until he notices the waves, then he begins to sink. Jesus gently rebukes him for doubting, and then they return to the boat.

But recently I stopped long before Peter ever started to sink. I got stuck on the first part of the story.

Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. Matthew 14:28-29.

Let’s put aside the sinking part for a moment and think about the significance of these verses. How often do we really stop to look at what Peter is asking for here? The disciples see what they think is a ghost. Turns out, it’s Jesus. Jesus reassures them and let’s them know it’s Him. Then Peter asks Jesus to call him out onto the water with Him.

Does that not seem insane to anyone else?

I have some friends who are risk takers. They love dares and challenges and will jump at any of them. Perhaps they would be more like Peter. But, not me. I wouldn’t even think to ask Jesus to call me to join Him. I’d be waiting in the boat, overawed at the miracle happening before my eyes. I would never even think to join Jesus on the stormy seas. But Peter did. He was so excited to see Jesus that he wanted to be right out there with Him.

Oh, the love Peter had for Jesus! His reckless personality often got him into trouble, but he always wanted to be right their with his Lord. Even on this wild and windy night. And, as long as he had his eyes on Jesus, being right there with Jesus was all he could think about.

I doubt I will ever be the risk taker Peter was. But, I can’t help but wonder what strange and crazy things might pop into my head if I focused on Jesus like Peter in those first moments on the stormy sea. We point out his faltering and sinking, but could trying and sinking possibly be better than never trying at all?

Obviously, it would be best if I saw Jesus and Jesus alone and completely blocked out the wind and waves. Every time. Instead, even though I see Him, I never lose sight of the circumstances and challenges all around me. I never do get out of the boat and walk to Him. I just wait for Him to come to me.

Maybe, instead of pointing out Peter’s failure on the sea, I need to realize my own failure to get even that far. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for me to follow his example and step out on the waves, eyes fixed on Jesus.

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets, Thoughts from Life

Fulfilling True Religion

What comes to mind when you think of your “Christian duty”?

We can all probably come up with a long list of ways we are pressured to do our duty by the world around us, whether our society or the church as a whole. Love everyone and do not judge are two common, general ones. But, there are also several ways to serve that are encouraged and emphasized within the body of believers.

– Be a foster parent and/or adopt. There are thousands of children who have nowhere to go, and it is our Christian duty to care for orphans in their distress.
– Give to a long list of ministries. All of them are good, and they are worthy of your money.
– Serve in a homeless shelter or food kitchen, or find some other way to volunteer in a way that ministers to the less fortunate.
– Engage in prison ministry.
– Go on a short-term mission trip.
– Move to the mission field, whether it be among a specific social group in your own country or overseas.

I’ll stop there, but the list could go on and on and on. You are probably already thinking of several to add to the list, whether they are services you engage in or some you have been “encouraged” to be a part of.

Now, before I go any further, let me just emphasize that we are all called to serve. In some way, shape, form, or fashion, we are meant to surrender our all to the leadership of the Lord Jesus Christ, becoming His bondservants and serving for His glory. That means sacrifice. That means a measure of discomfort. That means being stretched and grown.

But the truth is that none of us was meant to serve in every single capacity. We have to prayerfully select what ministry to support with the finances God has entrusted to us because we do not have limitless cash flow. There are times when we cannot open our homes to foster care or adoption simply because God is using our homes or our families for other purposes. And just because we are serving in a ministry that is not widely visible does not mean we have to also step into a food kitchen or a prison just because that is the currently socially acceptable means of service within the culture or our Christian communities.

Yet, we are often made to feel guilty because we do not share the passion of others around us. We may quietly give financially to numerous ministries, but we’re not going on mission trips. Or, we may serve weekly in a crisis pregnancy center, but we’ve never adopted a child. Or our ministry might look completely different, not matching the norm in any way. Yet we feel torn in a gazillion different directions and fear we are not doing enough simply because we do not respond to every passion.

I will go ahead and dare to say that sometimes “Christian duty” is trumped by the way God is currently using our energies.

Please hear me when I say that I am not giving any of us license to make excuses. If we find ourselves constantly making excuses for why we are not actively participating in an area of service, then we are being disobedient. Plain and simple. But, sometimes we don’t have to offer the excuses because we know in our hearts we are right where God has told us to be. We are serving Him in obedience, even when it does not fit into the picture of service that society or our community has created. They might not understand, but that’s okay. We can just say no, knowing – because we have an active relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ – that we are living and acting in full submission to His lordship.

My friend, the biblical commands to give, serve, care for orphans and widows in their distress, and take the Gospel to the ends of the earth will not always fit into a societal mold. Sometimes it will look strange. Sometimes it will be odd. Sometimes it will be misunderstood. And, it might be that no one else shares our passion; that we have to settle for being supported in faith by the community rather than actively working alongside others in our community. Our job is not to fit a mold. Our job is to serve in obedience. Our job is to make sure that we are actively responding to God’s instruction, not society’s expectations.

What does your obedience look like today?