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

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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?

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Posted in Meditations, Thoughts from Life

Welcome, 2018

Looking back and looking ahead are expected activities for the turn of a year. What progress was made in the last year? What goals need to be set in the new?

According to my Goodreads log, I read 69 books last year. I originally set a goal of 42, then upped that to 52 late in the summer. I’m honestly shocked by the progress. But I’m even more shocked by the realization that I didn’t change much to hit that number. I was just intentional about it.

The part that surprises me most, though, is that 26 of those books were non-fiction. Over a third. That’s huge for me. I frequently only read a handful a year – half a dozen in a good year. But this year I made it through a good portion of my to-read stack and allowed quite a few others to trickle in along the way. And I enjoyed them and gleaned from them far more than I expected. Many of them have become new favorites, including Made for More and just about anything by Mark Buchanan. His book Hidden in Plain Sight is on my list for this year.

Also, late in the summer Doug and I finally were able to nail down some good routines for exercise and were able to really get a handle on how to impact our eating without “dieting.” My progress seemed excruciatingly slow at best, and often completely stalled. But, I’m now just a few pounds shy of the halfway mark to my goal and am feeling much more comfortable in my clothes – many of them a size or two down from where I was over the summer. Best of all, these new habits – the slow but steady progress – have made it much easier to enjoy holiday eating without packing the pounds back on. Yay!

But, the reality is that those two things, as well as other progress points this year, are simply external evidence of the fact that God has been working on me internally. A lot. Some of it has been exhilarating and energizing while other portions of it have been very hard. But, for the most part, it has been like the weight loss: slow and steady. I didn’t always see the progress day to day, but I can look back and see where He worked and shaped me a little at a time day in and day out. And I’m sensing that there’s more coming. Probably some serious pushing on my comfort zone that will make some of the growth more immediately noticeable. But, it’s coming.

So, what do I see in the coming year?

Who knows? I definitely don’t! I have no great illumination regarding what progress I’ll see in the coming year or exactly where God will be working on me. I have some inclinations, just like I did several years ago when Sabbath and rest started popping up everywhere I turned. (We learned a lot of hard lessons about that this year, and still have a long way to go!) But, everything I see will take a lot of time and a lot of smoothing away my hard edges.

I’ll make a new Goodreads reading goal. I’ll be more focused on the writing, because something tells me that it might finally be time to work that back in. I’ve been learning (or trying to learn!) guitar with my son. I’ll never get it like he does, but there’s something relaxing about picking out a song or a scale. I’ll be more intentional about planning outings with my family, enjoying some sewing on our rest days, and being committed to helping my oldest finish high school well.

But most of all, I hope that I’ll be open to those edges being smoothed. I hope I’ll be more sensitive to relationships and being a servant. And I hope I’ll be more fully surrendered to the Lord being in full control of every part of every day – not just the few minutes I spend in His Word every morning.

So here goes! I’m diving in and taking action on this first day of 2018. It will be fun to look back next year and see what amazing things God does – and just how much He’s able to do even through a hard-around-the-edges child like me.

Posted in Faith Nuggets

A Little Punctuation

Several years ago, Doug and I started making our own copies of Scripture. He had found Journibles, books designed for copying on one side of each two-page spread and taking notes on the other side. We have done the Gospel of John as well as James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Jude. As they grew older, we pulled the kids into the copying, and all five of us have our own handwritten copies of Psalms and Proverbs. Doug and I are now onto Ephesians in a book that also includes Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 & 2 Thessalonians.

Copying changes the way we read Scripture. Not only does it slow us down, but it also makes us contemplate specific words and phrases that we sometimes completely gloss over. Of course, memorization has the same effect, heightening our attention and increasing our sensitivity to phrases and thoughts that we might otherwise miss.

Copying adds one more factor, however: punctuation.

Now, keep something in mind. Our entire concept of the written language and the way words, sentences, and paragraphs are distinguished differs greatly from that of the original writers. Our English culture and language rely heavily on punctuation, so it is required to adequately translate Scripture. Hebrew and Greek? Well, that’s a whole different story. Consequently, I try to be very careful basing interpretive thought on punctuation. But, as I copied Galatians 2 not too long ago, I couldn’t help but notice a punctuation choice the NASB translators had made. They put quotation marks around everything from the second half of verse 14 through the end of chapter 2.

In this passage, Paul is sharing with the Galatians about a time when he opposed Peter publicly. The whys and whats of this argument are the discussion of another blog post, but the question of how much he might have said to Peter is what caught my attention. Some translators say that the second half of verse 14 was all Paul recorded of his challenge to Peter: “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” But, for some reason, the NASB translators extended Paul’s speech through verse 21 where he ends by declaring to Peter, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”

Honestly, the context of the passage remains the same with or without the quotation marks. But, the inclusion of this particular punctuation in the NASB forced me to stop and think about how the Galatians would have received the statement of Christ dying needlessly as opposed to how Peter would have received it.

Peter, who was passionate about everything.
Peter, who walked with Jesus through His entire earthly ministry.
Peter, who was devastated after denying Christ during His trial.
Peter, who experienced the incredible joy of being reinstated after Jesus’ resurrection.
Peter, who preached the first public sermon and had to quickly figure out how to organize a rapidly growing body of new believers.

To look at Peter, who had been through all of this yet had recently lapsed into behaving as if obeying the Law was critical to salvation, and state that “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” That makes it personal. Very personal.

If anyone could be struck in the heart with the truth of Christ’s death trumping the Law, it would be Peter. Peter lived it. Peter grieved it. Peter saw the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ.

Saying this to the Galatians would remind them of the importance of putting obedience to Christ above all else. Saying this to Peter would have brought back every experience, every emotion of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

Maybe the quotation marks belong there and maybe they don’t. But the morning I copied those words, I received them with Peter in mind. I imagined what Peter would have felt as Paul closed out his rebuke with that statement. And it was as if I read the statement for the first time.

I’ve never been a Jew, ethnically or religiously. I have never adhered to Old Testament dietary and interactive laws. But I have clung to other things. To Baptist tradition. To habit. To human teaching. And sometimes, I need to hear this statement through the ears of Peter. I need to remember that nothing, nothing, nullifies the death of Christ. His death took care of everything. His grace does not require my traditions or habits or deep-seated learning.

I will have habits and build traditions and receive teaching that help me live out that grace. But, it will never require those things.

Sometimes, even something as little as a quotation mark can go a long way toward reorienting our minds.

Posted in Faith Nuggets

These Things

1 & 2 Peter tug my heart in a special way. I can’t quite put my finger on why this is true, but they just might be my favorite epistles. Although I’m not currently reading in Peter’s epistles, I was recently flipping through my journal and was reminded of a thought from last year’s reading of 2 Peter 1.

Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.
Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind.
2 Peter 1:5-15

My journaled thought came from the end of this passage – the constant reminding. I am a teacher. I teach my own children. I teach youth. When I have opportunity, I lead or co-lead Bible studies. And I don’t mind repeating things. Ask my kids. Ask my Sunday school class! Half the time when any of the girls ask a question, I look back at them with a look that asks, “What do you think I’m going to say?” They know I’m going to remind them of the importance of a daily interaction with the Word of God. I have told them time and again that it’s up to them whether or not they actually heed my advice and make Scripture a prominent aspect of their lives. I cannot force them to do what they should. But, I can make sure they don’t forget the teaching.

At first glance, the last verses of this passage endorse my tendency to remind. But, as I ponder what verse 15 is really saying, I realize that the reference to “these things” is very specific, hearkening back to the qualities listed in verse five through seven: faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. And suddenly, I’m convicted instead of applauded.

If I possess these qualities, I am “neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” and I “will never stumble.” But if I lack these qualities, I am “blind or short-sighted, having forgotten [my] purification from [my] former sin.” If I remember these things, I will be effective as a teacher, not because my listeners will all heed every word, but because every act of obedience brings glory to my Savior, and He uses it to produce fruit in His time and His way. But if I forget them…

My heart breaks with the realization of how often I forget or actively ignore the command to walk in these things. No wonder there are so many times when I cannot find wisdom, when I feel like I can’t get anything right.

Every now and then I put a sticky note on my monitor with a verse I want to regularly see and remember. The one currently staring at me is Ps 110:169, which reads, “Let my cry reach You, Lord; give me understanding according to Your Word.” I think He’s answered that prayer with the reminder of 2 Peter 1:5-15. And now, I think I have a few new verses that need to be stuck to my monitor and seared into my brain that I may live a life in which I am not useless or fruitless and do not stumble.

 

Posted in Faith Nuggets

Be Still

Stillness. Solitude. Silence.

I was recently reminded (in a study through the book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney) just how necessary these disciplines are. And, when I am practicing them diligently, I definitely reap their benefits. But, oh how easy it is to fall out of that discipline! It does not take long to forget how to be still. How to soak up the solitude. How to embrace silence.

Any time there is a call to practice these disciplinary triplets, Ps 46:10 is bound to come up. It is regularly quoted and continually promoted as we attempt to step away from the chaos and truly embrace the presence of our God and Savior. But how often do we truly stop and contemplate the fullness of this particular psalm? What do we regularly recall of its context?

The opening verses speak of God’s presence in our trouble, even if the trouble is profound natural disaster. The awesome power of God’s voice and presence pound through the chaos in great might and victory. And that victory does not come in mildness. It is violent. Aggressive. He makes wars cease, but He does so through a show of power – a demonstration of the fact that He is, indeed, greater than all other kings put together and therefore has the authority to cause wars to cease.

In the midst of this, we get the well known instruction to “be still.”

Even though there is more to the verse, we put the emphasis on those two words – the “be still” part. We seek stillness. The ideal getaway. Sabbatical. The perfect season to stop and reconnect. And as we seek, we completely lose the context of what is being said here.

I re-evaluated this psalm lately by reading it in five commonly used translations, and here is what I found:

“Be still and know that I am God.” (KJV, ESV, NIV)
“Stop your fighting and know that I am God.” (CSB)
“Cease striving and know that I am God.” (NASB)

In the middle of an aggressive and blatant show of power, God practically bellows into the chaos, telling every power, every aggressor, every warrior, every nation to stop! Cease! Be still! And know that He is the only One in charge. Period. This is not a calm, reconnective moment. This is a show of true authority. It is seen in the middle of chaos. Utter and complete chaos that is shattered by the truth of God.

STOP! Be still! Stop your fighting! Cease striving!

Stillness is not a natural response to chaos. We keep pushing, keep working, keep trying to get on top. But God says stop and recognize who He is.

Can I? It bucks against everything my soul screams to do! It feels like giving up! It feels like surrendering in the most horrible of ways!

Will I? It is the epitome of obedience. It is surrender, but surrender to the One who controls the chaos in every way.

It is excruciatingly hard and incredibly vital.

So, I will be still, stop fighting, cease striving…
…and know that He is God.

 

Posted in Faith Nuggets

A Blown Mind

I enjoy a good, fictional story. Whether it’s a movie or a book, I like the experience of working through the tale from start to finish and enjoying the nice, neatly wrapped package of an introduction, a crisis, a climax, and a resolution.

Yes, I know life is not like that. Life never presents us a concluded story. From birth to death, life is one long, complex, interwoven series of stories that never truly find solid conclusion. They are ever evolving, ever changing, and ever intermingling with one another. When we watch movies, read novels, or even dive into biographies, we are essentially pulling a single thread – maybe even two or three – from a much more complex piece of fabric. We focus on this relationship or that experience, but the remaining realities such as work or extended family or history that, in real life, strongly impact those threads are only side thoughts and setting for our compact story.

And you know what? That’s okay! It is not wrong to enjoy the narrative of a few threads, even learning powerful truths from that narrative if we choose our entertainment well.

The problem comes, though, when we apply the same reading style to Scripture.

Too often, I read God’s Word with a desire for a nicely wrapped package. I enjoy meditating on a passage for days on end, but if I have my preference, each day will bring a thought that I can wrap my head around. Even if the learning grows each day, I want something tangible and solid every time I meditate.

But, it doesn’t always work that way. Some days, what I end up with is the birth of a realization. The first tricklings of learning that completely evade understanding. In a nutshell, my mind is just blown, and it feels like the millions of scattered pieces will never come back together.

Sometimes, the light bulb begins to come on within a day or two, and increased depth of learning follows understanding. But other times it’s a slower development. I’ve hashed through certain mind blowing concepts for years on end, pulling in a piece here and an edge there, assembling the most challenging puzzle I have ever encountered in an attempt to get even the smallest glimpse of what the final picture looks like.

As overwhelmed as I feel when my mind is blown by Scripture – as much as I prefer the nice, neat, storybook package of study, learning, and growth – I am learning to crave this type of open-ended learning more and more. I’m learning to hunger for questions that take weeks, months, or even years of study and exploration to answer.

The written Word that we hold in our hands, creation all around us, and even God’s active work in our daily lives and throughout history are all just a tiny glimpse of the essence of the Almighty King of all existence. He is so much greater. So much more profound than anything we can imagine. His gifts of revelation represent a depth that our hearts and minds will never fully reach, no matter how many years we are given on this earth. But that should never prevent us from diving!

If our minds are not blown at least every now and then, it is not evidence of the vastness of what we know. Instead, it is an indictment against us, showing our failure to even try to plumb the depths of the revelation our amazing, loving Father has so graciously given us.

Oh, may I hunger more and more for a glimpse of just how much I have left to learn.

May I never fear a blown mind.

Posted in Faith Nuggets

There’s More

All my life, I have heard verses and passages quoted about not being afraid. One such passage is found in Psalm 56.

When I am afraid,I will put my trust in You.In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid.What can mere man do to me? Ps 56:3-4

Like many of our favorite passages, however, we stop there. What can mere man do to me? We like to stop there, because it gives the insinuation that man can’t really do anything to us. It almost has a super hero feel to it, doesn’t it? I’m on God’s side – you can’t touch me!

The problem is that David didn’t stop there. In fact, he went right on to lay out just exactly what “mere man” was doing to him! They were distorting his words and lying in wait to kill him.

When David stated that he would choose to not be afraid, he wasn’t saying that there was no reason to fear. On the contrary, he outlined several reasons to fear. But then he came right back to what God could do in the face of man’s capabilities.

There are many things man can do to us. There are many things we can and will endure in the spiritual battle against the principalities of this world. The key is not that we’re invincible. The key is that we serve a God who can answer any and every threat. No action by man or spiritual forces stands outside His strength, wisdom, power, and will. For every threat, God has a name. Protector. Sovereign. Judge. Provider. King. Comforter. Master. Ruler.

God With Us.

The passages that we pull out and memorize, knowing they offer comfort and guidance, are fantastic tools in the hands of the Holy Spirit. But, let us never forget that before and after every familiar passage, there is more. More richness. More promise. More conviction. More power.

God is more.

So, what can man do to us? Plenty. But we must never forget that God is more.