Posted in Faith Nuggets, Meditations & Meanderings, Thoughts from Scripture

A Real Passion

Several months ago, I was looking for an image to add to a blog post when I came upon this precious image of a child reading an old, battered Bible. Although the image did not fit the post I was preparing to publish, I couldn’t help but save the picture anyway. It was beautiful, and I wanted to use it someday.

There are so many reasons this image struck me. The child with his scrunched up little forehead trying to read the words in front of him (probably still in Isaiah, based on the way the pages are slightly visible). The wear and tear on the paper cover. The way the pages are crisp despite their yellowing, indicating that this Bible is more old than worn. So many little details releasing so many thoughts in my heart and mind.

Above all of these thoughts, though, rose a passion. I never fail to feel deep excitement when I see someone connecting with the Word of God, whether it’s a small child trying to decipher the words of that big book lying around the house or an adult seeing an old truth with new eyes. Excitement abounds when my children share something new they have discovered in Scripture. Delight overflows when the girls in my Sunday school class ask questions about what they’ve read in the Bible. Joy fills my heart when I get to be a part of a Bible study where others truly want to engage and dig and explore and learn and grow.

That simple picture reminded me of that excitement and that joy.

But here’s the thing: our natural inclination is not to seek out those opportunities for engagement. We may say we have a passion for Scripture and that we want others to engage as well. But, it’s too easy to fall into phases of life when our passion looks a little too much like the Bible in the picture. Worn, yes, but not from loving use. Instead, simply worn from being around for a while. Familiar because of its presence, not because we’ve plumbed its depths. We engage when the opportunity presents itself, much like this Bible is read when a child just happens to pick it up, open it to the middle, and try to decipher the good old King James translation of what the prophets had to say.

That’s not how I want my passion to look.

If I say I love the Word of God, I have to act on it. I have to read it. And, I do. I started the habit as a child. I’ve been more diligent about it in some seasons than in others, and there are times I still struggle with the discipline of being truly attentive to what I’m reading each morning. But, I know it’s worth it to work on that discipline. To be diligent. To make an effort to wear my Bibles out.

My passion to see others connect with God’s Word has to be just as intentional. It has to be active. I can’t just plan to happen upon it now and then. Instead, I have to actively engage my children in discussion about what they read. I have to structure Sunday school in a way that will encourage my students to ask questions. I have to seek out opportunities to study Scripture with fellow believers.

A passion with worn edges but no real internal use is a false passion. It’s a sweet picture that is completely posed. But God knows the truth. He sees the little clues that reveal my lack of intentionality. And, because He is Truth, He will work to reveal those clues until I recognize that it’s time to get real.

Guess what. It’s time to get real.

Posted in Thoughts from Scripture

Psalm 2

Last week, I mentioned how persistence opened up beauty and wisdom in Psalm 2 that I’d never seen before. I hinted at the light that switched on in my mind, but I didn’t go into details. This week, I want to share just a glimpse – just a taste of what I saw in those verses and what has spurred me on as I’ve continue to work methodically through Psalms.

Throughout the week, I acknowledged the angst found in Ps 2:1-3. This is a hymn of frustration about the state of the world – one that rings with familiar tones as we compare it to those our hearts tend to sing today, over three thousand years later. Nations still rage and kings and rulers still plot in vain. The world is a mess, and we have to deal with it. Even so, we can chuckle when we get to verse four and see the Almighty King of kings laughing at them. He mocks their supposed wisdom and planning and scheming. He reminds them that they’re not really in charge like they think they are. And He promises to send His Son to rule over them.

These observations were nothing new to me – I’ve noticed them every time I’ve read this psalm over the years. But as I wrapped up this particular week of reading and rereading, it was as if blinders fell off, revealing a new layer of beauty. I suddenly saw God’s response in verses 4-6 as a comfort instead of simply a statement of His mockery. How can such things be comforting? Well, when looking at this passage in light of the whole of Scripture – in light of the fulfillment of the promise to grant the nations as an inheritance to the Son – I remember that I belong to this Lord who sits in the heavens. I may be under the temporary authority of worldly rulers, but the King of kings, Lord of lords, and Ruler of rulers truly knows me. I am not relevant to His power. I am not critical to the accomplishment of His will. He works through me simply because He chooses to, not because He needs to. I may not be relevant to His success, but I’m relevant to Him and included in His plan.

I’m in awe. Not at all because any of this is about me, but because I am so very often distracted by those insignificant, temporary rulers of this world. Those who will ultimately be “shatter[ed] like earthenware.”

The greatest beauty is revealed in the final verses.

Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
Take warning, O judges of the earth.
Worship the Lord with reverence
And rejoice with trembling.
Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled.
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him! (Ps 2: 10-12)

Is that not a perfect prayer for those in authority? Is it not a powerful way to lift up our rulers, asking that the Ruler over them all open their hearts to help them show discernment, take warning, worship Him, rejoice, and do homage? Should it not be my heart’s cry that they be saved rather than perish? That they be blessed rather than falling to His wrath?

Yet in my distraction, I rarely have prayed in such a way for the temporary rulers of this world. I’ve been frustrated by them, filled with angst because of them, and discouraged by them. My prayers have been more imprecatory than a cry for their salvation.

After progressing from a point of limited understanding to a sense of great comfort, my final awareness was one of deep conviction regarding my own sin of neglect and need for change.

This is what God’s Word accomplishes in us. It shows us the truth about the world in which we live. It shows us the truth about ourselves – both in comfort and in conviction. But, above all, it continually teaches us more about who God is: the one who is never thwarted by the temporary rulers of this world. It draws us to respond, not because of what we learn about this world or ourselves, but because of what we learn about Him.

Posted in Meditations & Meanderings, Thoughts from Scripture

Unity and Harmony

Over the years, I’ve grown to love the way the Holy Spirit helps me see portions of Scripture more clearly. Sometimes, I see connections within a multi-verse passage or between two different passages. Other times, a single word jumps out at me, and I realize the preconceptions I have applied to that word. Then I get to explore and determine whether those preconceptions have helped or hurt my understanding.

“Unity” is one of those words. Recently, while studying 1 Peter, I got a bit hung up on a word in 1 Peter 3:8. I was using NASB (my favorite study translation) to read through the passage each morning: “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit” (emphasis mine).

I’d read and studied the whole focal passage (1 Peter 3:8-12) over and over again for several days already, and I’d been processing through the passage as a whole. But, “harmonious” kept standing out to me. I looked it up in other translations, and I realized that other translations seemed to favor “unity” and “of one mind.” Only NASB chose “harmonious.”

And that’s where I realized my preconceptions. You see, in my mind I often equate unity and uniformity. They are not the same. But, that’s what I frequently come to the table thinking: if you want me to be unified with you, you want me to think like you. To process like you. To engage like you. But that’s not really unity. That’s uniformity.

And uniformity is not what is meant by Paul, Peter, and other New Testament writers as they presented a concept that we usually translate as “unity.” The concept they present is one that, in my mind, is more easily expressed as “harmony.” Why? Because I’m a musical person. I grasp the idea of multiple voices or instruments playing a variety of notes in a variety of ways, together producing something amazingly beautiful. They are together. They are accomplishing a united goal. But, they are each doing so in a way that reflects their own personality. Harmony.

That is the truth of unity as expressed in Scripture. Both words are correct. But one resonates more clearly with me simply because of the way my brain works.

Peter would not have thought differently of the two. I’d have to do more research to validate this thought, but I don’t believe musical harmony was much of a concept in Peter’s day. He did, however, understand that a good fishing team needed to have multiple strengths to work together and accomplish a common goal, just as Paul described the different parts of the body functioning together. That’s harmony. Unity, but not uniformity.

I’ve always known that. But, my subconscious preconception that equated unity and uniformity has still negatively colored my reading of “unity” passages in Scripture. One little translation choice to use “harmonious” instead of “unity of mind” or “like-minded” made me stop and deal with my preconception.

That, my friends, is how the Spirit works. How He grows us and teaches us and helps us dig more deeply into the Word of God. How He conforms our thoughts and our minds to more clearly reflect the mind of Christ. May we never take that teaching lightly! And may we never cling to our preconceptions more strongly than to the teaching of the Holy Spirit.

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Meditations & Meanderings, Thoughts from Kids, Thoughts from Scripture

More

I recently had a conversation with my girls about books they are reading during their quiet times.

First, let me back up and say that Scripture reading is the number one most critical portion of our morning devotional times. We have daily Bible readings (many years all five of us go through the same plan) and we all copy a portion of Scripture every day, just to help us slow down and truly meditate. But, we all also enjoy adding other thought-provoking books into the mix. We usually pick a devotional to read, then often have another book or two going as well.

My oldest decided to move slowly through James with me this year, and we are using two books to help us work through them: James: A Devotional Commentary and The Book of James: A New Perspective: A Linguistic Commentary Applying Discourse Analysis, both by Dr. William Varner. The second of these two books is highly academic. And here we are, a high school junior (a smart high school junior, but still just a junior) and homeschool mom a long way from her academic pursuits trying to push our way through a very academic look at the book of James.

Needless to say, we frequently feel like we’re in a bit over our heads.

Meanwhile, my nerdy middle child is always searching the bookshelves for something new to stretch and challenge her. Her current attempt is Knowing the Character of God by George MacDonald.

As we discussed the books, both girls admitted to sometimes staring at the page with no real understanding of what they are reading. And, if I’m honest, there are days I do the same. I have to go back and read and reread to try to process and let the concepts sink in. All three of us confess that, sometimes, it doesn’t feel worth the effort when we could focus our full attention on books more on our level.

But, about the time we had this discussion, my youngest unwittingly contributed to the contemplation. His Sunday school lesson that week had been about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. You can read the whole story in Acts 8, but there are two verses that really rang in my memory as I listened to my son.

Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Acts 8:30-31

The key was this: if the man had not been reading something he didn’t understand, there would not have been an avenue through which he could learn about Christ.

Don’t get me wrong. We can – and do – very often grow through books (and tasks as well) that are closer to our level of understanding. They stretch us in different ways. But, there are also many ways in which we need to push ourselves beyond our apparent capabilities. If we never reach – if we always just stay right where we are doing what we’ve always done – will there ever be an avenue of growth in our lives? Will we ever learn more, experience more, grow more, or be capable of more?

I can’t help but picture a baby taking those first tentative steps, a child choosing to give no training wheels a try, or a teenager first sitting behind the wheel of a car. From birth, we learn and grow because we stretch ourselves. Why should we not do the same as adults?

What more do you need to do this year? Where do you need to step up and challenge yourself to dig into something you don’t understand or don’t really feel capable of in this moment?

Posted in 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 Faith Nuggets, Thoughts from Scripture

My Refuge

Do you ever feel like David, Asaph, and the other psalmists?

Everything is falling apart. Everyone is out to get me. There is no hope. The wicked seem to be winning. The worst seems to be happening. There’s no way out.

Psalm 73 is one of those songs. The wicked have no suffering. They always win and succeed while the godly suffer. I’m sure Asaph is not the only God-fearing person to utter words like those found in Psalm 73:13-14:

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence; for I have been stricken all day long and chastened every morning. (NASB)

It’s not so much that we feel that our salvation is in vain. We just see blatant sinners succeed time and time again. Criminals go unpunished while innocents suffer. Corrupt businesses triumph over those that try to remain pure in their practices. Those who blatantly disregard God find success after success while those who seek to serve Him with all their hearts struggle day in and day out just to make ends meet.

From an earth-bound perspective, submission to Christ seems to be a very negative thing sometimes. And it’s not going to get any better. Our culture is pushing against the Lord with increasing rapidity.

But, Psalm 73 doesn’t end with verse 14. Instead, it goes on. Verses 16 and 17 stand out most profoundly to me:

When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end. (emphasis mine)

Until I came into the sanctuary of God…

How often am I beat down because I refuse to enter the Lord’s presence? I neglect to bring my discouragements, frustrations, and fears before Him. But as soon as I do, my perspective cannot help but change. I cannot help but see every aspect of this world in light of eternity.

Once again, I can’t help but be hammered with this truth: this life is just a blip in eternity. It’s a single point on a line which, by definition, stretches infinitely in both directions. All of history and all that remains of this earth’s time fits into that single point. Barely a dot. But, that dot is all I see sometimes. Living in the middle of that dot, it looms all around me, overwhelming my sight. I forget eternity. I forget what’s beyond. And I lose sight of what’s true.

So, what is true? That I will move beyond this dot into an eternity in the glorious presence of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But they – those who seem to be succeeding now – will suffer instead. Their successes will mean nothing. In truth, they mean nothing now because they are empty. There is no real satisfaction in them. They only lead to more hunger. More striving. More missing something they can’t identify.

No matter what, though, I can always say…

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works. (Ps 73:28)

Posted in Around the Web, Thoughts from Scripture

The Lord’s Prayer

A couple of years ago, contrary to the anti-liturgy tradition of Baptists, my preacher husband began a Sunday morning practice of reciting the Lord’s Prayer to close out a corporate prayer time. Like most of our congregation, I had known the Lord’s Prayer for as long as I could remember. But, reciting it together as a church body each Sunday has breathed life into a familiar old passage in ways I never could have anticipated.

A PRAYER THAT BINDS

When a congregation chooses to truly pay attention and seek the Lord together using the points of this prayer, a level of intimacy spreads throughout the church family. Don’t get me wrong – not everyone in our church prays in a heartfelt manner. In fact, it is very much a learning process, and many in our congregation simply repeat the words without much thought. But, in the voices of others, I can hear the same passion that I feel in my own heart. That passion both binds us together and drives us to learn powerful truths about prayer.

Click here to read the rest of the article on wellplannedgal.com.