Posted in Faith Nuggets, Meditations & Meanderings

Forgiven

I love different perspectives on the same story. Consider the story of Jesus, early in His ministry, healing a paralytic during a stay in Capernaum. Most of us head to Mark 2 for this story because we get the fun of watching four friends cut a hole in the roof of the house to get their buddy to Jesus.

But then there’s Matthew’s version. Matthew glosses right over the fun details about the hole in the roof and heads right to the words of Jesus:

And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2, emphasis mine)

Hearing a living, breathing human being declare forgiveness of sins through His own authority was a novelty at the time, leaving the scribes to mentally fume over such blasphemy and the people to widen their eyes in awe. Such a thing had never been heard of before, not even among the great prophets of old!

We, on the other hand, read this with incredible and precious familiarity. We’ve seen the rest of the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We know that our forgiveness was the focus (which, incidentally, is why I think Matthew started off with that part of the story). We have the big picture.

The newness left the Jews befuddled, preventing them from accepting that God could possibly have granted authority to this Man. Meanwhile, in our familiarity, we love to criticize them. And yet, what has our familiarity done to us? Does it cause us to miss the power of this just as much?

The morning this question hit me, I felt buried under a cloud of yuck. Sleepiness had reigned over me for days as allergies, a full schedule, and multiple stresses took their toll. My journaling up to that point had been pure wonderments of how in the world God could use me as I lay buried so deeply. How could His Spirit flow through me when I felt so paralyzed by life? But, after pondering Matthew’s introduction to the story, I read Jesus’ response to His critics.

And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’?” (Matthew 9:4-5)

Suddenly, it clicked. I realized the depth of significance behind Jesus’ words. Your sins are forgiven. You see, the paralytic was more than just paralyzed. He was cut off, not only from work, but also from the temple. From community. From worship.

His friends thought he needed physical healing. Jesus knew he needed restoration.

Physical healing might allow a little more freedom in life, but it wouldn’t provide true restoration. Only forgiven sins could possibly fill that need. And it is the same with us. When we are buried in our yuck – our ailments, our bad circumstances, our utter discouragement – we think a physical change is what’s needed. But the reality is that we already have everything we need because our sins are forgiven! Our fellowship with the Father has already been restored. We are complete. Whole. Unified with Him.

The physical healing did come as well, just as I have seen the Lord reveal His power through the physical circumstances of my own life. But, it usually only happens when I finally realize that the important thing is fellowship with Him. That His forgiveness raises me above the yuck and makes me His. Makes me usable. Everything else is just a bonus.

I am forgiven.

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Posted in Faith Nuggets, Meditations & Meanderings

From Separation to Rain

Every time I read or teach about Adam and Eve and the fall, my heart breaks over their sudden separation from God. And, each time I stop and consider the fact that our Bible “heroes” were part of building what we now have fully compiled in Scripture, I realize just how different their interaction with God was. But recently the reality of this hit home more powerfully than ever before.
The starting point is in John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. (John 1:1-4)

The Word of God has always been there. Always. And, this Word was fully present with Adam and Eve in the garden. But, when they sinned, they were cut off from that Word. Cut off. No daily walks in the garden. No Holy Spirit. No written word. No nothing. Can you even imagine?

We are so immersed in the Word of God that we don’t even realize what we have. The fullness of Scripture is right at our fingertips in so many forms – bound books, audio presentations, digital searches. Within seconds, we can fills our minds with any portion of Scripture we desire.

And then there is the Spirit to illuminate that Word, helping us to understand not only the written text, but the mysteries of Jesus Christ Himself and the truth of our adoption a children of God the Father.

Adam and Eve were left with none of that. Completely cut off.

And yet…

Oh how I love that! The story wasn’t over. Instead, it was just beginning. Scripture is full of “therefore” and “for this reason” and “because of this” and all sorts of other conjunctions that make us realize just how deep the Word of God is. It flows and intersects and connects in ways we only begin to fathom this side of heaven. In His wisdom, Almighty God did not ever leave humanity completely void of Himself and His Word. From the first moments after the fall of man, He was working to restore His Word to us, first through His mighty acts toward and through the the early descendants of Adam and Even, then, centuries later, through “the Word [who] became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Isaiah explains this incredible gift so eloquently:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth
And making it bear and sprout,
And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

I love the way Kathleen Nielson explores this amazing passage in Word-Filled Women’s Ministry:

Seeing verses 8 and 9 [of Isaiah 55], we grasp even more the wonder of verses 10 and 11, that God’s words, from which we’re cut off, should come down to us like the rain and snow from heaven to give us life as opposed to death. How amazing. How merciful.

God has not left us cut off. Neither has He given us mere breadcrumbs or sprinkles of water to keep us tagging along like puppy dogs until we finally reach the restored fullness of His presence. Instead, He has rained down His Word upon us through the provision of Scripture, the sending of His Son, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Oh that we would grasp the magnificent gift that we hold. Oh that we would see that, where we once were cut off, we are now immersed. And oh that the ground of our hearts would be soft and receptive to this amazing rain.

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Meditations & Meanderings

Enjoying

When we read that God rested, it certainly can’t mean that he removed his hand from the work of sustaining the creation that he had just made. It means that he enjoyed it. – Aimee Byrd, Theological Fitness

For years, I’ve had these little naggings about Sabbath. It’s a big deal in Scripture, but we never quite seem to know what to do with it as Christians, other than declare it an Old Testament principle. After all, Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, and salvation is our Sabbath rest, so we’re good, right?

But about three and a half years ago, those little naggings began to form into conviction. A realization that the Holy Spirit was trying to point out an area of disobedience in my life. An exploration to discover what obedience was supposed to look like – because I didn’t have a clue!

Since then, the Holy Spirit has been slowly teaching me – us, really, as it’s a family thing – what it means to rest. We’ve made tangible changes and have grown a lot, but we also know we still have a long way to go. Last year, we read several books that helped us process through what God’s Word has to say about rest for believers, and those were amazing. But, the interesting thing is the number of places I’m still seeing rest mentioned. The necessity of it. The importance of it. The obedience of it. It seems that many people are being reminded that God did not make us for 24/7 busyness.

One lesson I’ve learned along the way is that rest is not just about stopping. Because stopping can be counterproductive. Stopping can increase anxiety instead of easing it. It can fill us with restlessness instead of rest. It can be harmful instead of helpful.

No, rest is not about stopping. So, what is it?

Last year as I was reading Theological Fitness by Aimee Byrd, I came across the quote I shared above. The day I read it, the quote jumped off the page at me, and it has stuck with me ever since. As have the thoughts I wrote in my journal the morning I read those words:

Do I enjoy what God is doing around me? Do I stop long enough to notice? Perhaps this is a key to Sabbath. Not simply taking a break, but ceasing from labor to enjoy. Enjoy what God is doing around me. Enjoy what He has done through me.

In our go, go, go lives, I’ve noticed that we often seem to have very little time to enjoy what we’ve accomplished. In fact, it seems that we never finish. Oh, we might close up a specific task or project, but we’ve already started a new one before that one is anywhere near complete. It’s a constant cycle. A constant running. We can never celebrate the completion because we’re buried in the middle of the next thing.

God created. Then God declared it good. He enjoyed His creation.

What if we were to stop and do the same? What if, every day, we were to stop and find something good from the day? What if every week we were to stop, take a breath, and just spend a day enjoying? What would change about us? About our attitudes? Our stress levels? Our health? Our outlook?

I’m going to make a choice to enjoy. Enjoy what God is doing around me. What He is doing through me. What He is showing me. Him.

Will you join me?

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

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.