Category Archives: Peace

The Beauty of Sitting Down

One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “Here is a boy with five barley loaves and two small fish. But what difference will these make among so many?”

“Have the people sit down,” Jesus said. Now there was plenty of grass in that place, so the men sat down, about five thousand of them.

Then Jesus took the loaves and the fish, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. (John 6:8-11)

Did you ever wonder why Jesus had the 5,000 men sit down? Surely it made it easier for the disciples to hand out the bread and fish.  But I love thinking about what it would have felt like to be one of those people following Jesus that day. They were foot-weary, and so famished that it was hard to ignore the gnawing in their bellies.  Yet they were totally excited about Jesus.  They’d seen him do miracles.  His words fed their spiritual hunger.  He made them feel hope, something they hadn’t experienced in a long time.

They probably would have been glad to do something to help produce the bread.  If there were resources, and Jesus had said, “Some of you go pick the wheat, and some of you grind the grain, and some make it into loaves, and some can make a fire and cook it,” they would have gotten right to work.  Or, in their current situation, they would have been happy to help hand out the bread. 

But Jesus told them to sit down.  He was like, “Be still.  Let me do the miracle.  Let me take care of you.”  He didn’t even tell them what he was going to do.  He just got them in a quiet position.

This is a good thing for me to think about, because I would have been looking around for ways to help fix the situation.  Even just a few moments ago, I caught myself trying to micromanage, seeing what might be needed here, making a suggestion there. “But I want to help God move his plan along,” I tell myself.

And, of course, God needs me to be active for him.  But sometimes, he wants me to be still.

So, when Jesus said, “Have them sit down,”  I think he was saying, “You’ve been walking everywhere, following me to this remote place.  You’ve been listening all day to my teaching.  Now it’s time to stop.”

You know, if the men had been standing up, they would have been pressing close to the disciples, trying to be first in line, worrying that the bread might run out.  In sitting down, they had to wait and trust. 

Stop. Wait. Trust. Doesn’t that speak to all of us?

The account of the feeding of the 5,000 is one of the few stories that’s in all four gospels.  It’s widely known.  One thing that makes it so compelling is the way the seekers are described.  We see men with a deep hunger in their souls, making a reckless decision to run after someone into the wilderness.  There’s a sense of desperation, like all their lives they’ve chased after one thing or another, and they’ve finally found what they’re looking for. 

And Jesus has compassion on them and says, “You don’t have to run anymore.  Stop.  Sit down.  I’ll feed you.”  The scope of what Jesus provides is so huge.  The contrast is so dramatic. They go from desperation, to more than enough.   

And we can relate to what those people must have been thinking as they sat on the ground, resting their aching feet, and watched the bread and fish being passed.  They took a portion, ate it and felt some better.  But then more was circulated, and they had another helping.  Now they were feeling good.  But the food kept coming.  So they allowed themselves the luxury of having as much as they wanted.  Ah, their bellies were tight.  They were stuffed.  What loveliness.   It was like being at a king’s table, a feast!

This past Thanksgiving was a first for me.  Usually I cook and entertain.  This year, my son and daughter in law had us over to their house, and they did all of the cooking.  I kept asking my son, “What can I bring?”  And he’d say, “You don’t have to bring anything, Mom.”  He finally let me bring a pie.

It felt like my son was communicating that I’d served him and the family all their lives, and now he wanted to serve me.  It felt like an expression of his love. 

I think that was part of what was going on when Jesus was feeding the 5,000.  It wasn’t just an effort to meet their needs.  It was an expression of love.  If heaven will be like a banquet (Rev. 19:9), then this was a foretaste.  Surely Jesus’s heart swelled when he looked around and saw all of those who were following him.  I think he said to himself, just as he said in Luke 8:21, “These are my brothers, this is my family.”

No wonder he wanted them to sit down and enjoy a feast. That’s what you do with those you love.   

How can today’s red letter verse inspire us?  Let’s be like the 5,000 men, and expend ourselves greatly to follow Jesus.  But then, let’s sit down, and let him take care of us, and do what we can’t.

Here’s one final thought.  It’s in the sitting down that we are able to be present with God.  When I stop for a minute, and connect to God, I picture him like the father in the story of the prodigal son, wrapping his arms around me, so delighted to meet me. 

Now I have an image to add to this — Jesus being ready to feed me.  I’ve been listening to BEMA podcasts on the Old Testament, and one thing I’ve learned is how the Old Testament characters displayed an extravagant generosity, reflecting middle eastern standards of hospitality.   When the angels come to Abraham’s tent, he ran to prepare a huge meal for them, slaughtering a young calf and having Sarah make an estimated 30+ loaves of bread. (Gen. 18)  When Rebekkah offered to draw water for Abraham’s servant’s camels, she ran back to the well as many as 100 times.  (Camels are thirsty!) (Gen. 24)

This is the heritage of extravagant generosity that Jesus lived out with the loaves and the fishes.  He was so eager to give abundantly then.  He still is.  

There’s beauty in sitting down.  It allows us to be still, look to Christ, experience his love and heart for us, and learn to trust. 

It allows us to be filled, inside and out.

Give us today our daily bread.  (Matt 6:11)

He makes me lie down in green pastures.  (Ps 23:2a)

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Filed under Beauty of God, Compassion, John, Love, Peace, Prayer, Red Letter

On Testimonies, Conflict and Quietness

“If I testify about Myself, My testimony is not valid.  There is another who testifies about Me, and I know that His testimony about Me is valid. You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth.  . .  But I have testimony more substantial than that of John. For the works that the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works I am doing—testify about Me that the Father has sent Me.  And the Father who sent Me has Himself testified about Me.” (John 5:31-37a)

My goal this week is for my mind and my mouth to be quiet.  That means I’m reminding myself over and over, “I don’t know better.”  I’m doing this because I can be like an editor with a red pen, always looking to correct, tweak, or  improve. It sounds useful, but it can hinder my relationship with others.  They need to be respected and encouraged.  Instead, I unconsciously feed my motivation to come out on top. 

Being at peace with God and others, is a real battle. Quibbling and conflict seem to be everywhere these days.  We see it on social media.  We see it between political parties, between countries.  I was watching the Rose Parade and looking at the live feed of comments.  Some people kept chiming in and complaining, “This is why I left California.”  The other viewers were like, “Cut it out! Quit raining on our parade!”

Today’s red letter passage comes from Jesus’s answer to those who were being contentious.  The Jews criticized him for making himself equal to God.  So he listed the testimonies that made a case for his equality with God.  But his answer ultimately had more to do with their hearts, than giving a justification, as we will see.

But first, let’s look at the three testimonies to which Jesus referred.

First, he mentioned John the Baptist.  John said about Jesus, “And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ ” (John 1:33)

Second, he brought up his deeds as evidence.  These certainly convinced some to have faith in him.  Look at what happened earlier in the Book of John,   “Now while [Jesus] was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name.” (John 2:23)

Finally, he played his trump card. The Lord God Almighty bore witness in his favor.  One instance of the Almighty’s testimony was seen at Jesus’s baptism.  “And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”  (Matt 3:17)

The Jews should have recognized these testimonies, and responded with faith.  That they didn’t was an indication of the state of their hearts.  Jesus indicted them with this zinger, “You have never heard his voice or seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.” (John 5:37b-38) 

In other words, he said, “Your unbelief in me shows that you have never been able to hear or see God.” 

Never.  That’s a strong word.  It’s scary to think that religious people have listened to scriptures their whole life, and still never heard God.

Yet that’s what I think is at the root of contention.  People aren’t listening.  It’s true for me.  When I focus on feeling good about myself and being “right,” I don’t hear what’s going on with others, and that causes disturbances in my relationships.  A version of the same thing has happened over and over again, all over the world, all throughout history.

I’m enjoying Douglas Jacoby’s new series on the Sermon on the Mount.  In his lesson on the beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Doug says this verse means that it’s important to have an openness to the Word.  Our attitude should be, “Not insisting on our own viewpoint, but flexible and receptive to divine truth.”

The Jews who were against Jesus were not open, flexible or receptive.  I saw a perfect illustration of this when I recently watched an episode of the TV series about Jesus, “The Chosen.”  In it, the character of Nicodemus struggled with his student, Shmuel, who was opposed to Jesus because he believed Jesus was breaking the law.  Nicodemus tried to get Shmuel to understand that there is more to the law, and to God, than he was seeing.  Shmuel stubbornly insisted, “God is the law.” 

Nicodemus retorted, “You learned nothing from me.” 

Nicodemus in “The Chosen:

As I watched this, I could see so clearly how a sincere person can also be a closed person.  

Our goal must always be to be open, not closed.  This doesn’t mean that we don’t have convictions about the truth.  We certainly do.  But we must also be able to say, “I don’t know everything about God yet.  I want to learn more.”

When we have this attitude, the testimonies will impact us, as they should have impacted the Jews.  Because when the reality of who Jesus is hits us, it shakes us to our core.  It transforms us.

We can do the things we never thought we’d be able to do, because we know Who is with us.

Our strength and humility give us confidence and assurance.  We have less of a need to prop ourselves up. We no longer feel compelled to complain, accuse or fault-find.

And for me, my mouth and mind can finally be quiet.

Maybe I can even throw away my red pen. 

“Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, . . . ‘But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.'” (Luke 11:17, 20)

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The Peace of Staying on Track

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Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing. . . ” John 5:19a

I love this passage!  I tend to run around, full of my own plans, trying to achieve all kinds of things.  At some point I feel like I’m spinning my wheels.  It takes a while, but I finally get it through my head that it’s only going to work if I’m in sync with God, doing his will.

So this verse means a lot to me, because it says that Jesus stayed in sync with God.  To use an analogy, instead of taking his own train, Jesus looked for God’s train, got on board and remained there.  Even if life changed tracks, or took him to another “station,” he kept his eye out for God’s car.

To be like Jesus, we need to keep our eye out for God.   For the last few months, I’ve been keeping a journal of what I see God doing.  I note when someone comes across my path, or visits church, or starts studying the Bible.  I note people who are going through significant transitions.  I write down the names of those who are experiencing challenges or illnesses.  It’s not that I think that God wants them to suffer.  But these can be opportunities for him to work, and shape character.

It really helps me to write these things down, because when I see what God is doing, I see how I can plan my time around that.  I reach out to those who are seeking him.  I visit the sick.  I schedule times with those who need support.  I pray for those in challenging circumstances.

If I don’t keep my eye out for God, I feel off.  I know there are needs around me, but I can’t get away from my agenda.

“He can only do what he sees his Father doing.”  It’s a great challenge for us to be more like Jesus in this.  And it helps us feel “on,” instead of off, when we do so.

But this verse has deeper applications.  How could Jesus stick to doing what he saw the Father doing?  What kept him from doing his own thing?

I really think Jesus only did what he saw the Father doing because he completely trusted who God was and what God did.

Jesus was the answer to the failings of man in the Garden of Eden.  In the story, God had just made the whole universe and it was good, reflecting the innate goodness of the Creator.  But man didn’t trust God’s goodness.  He felt like God was holding out on him.  And so, sin was born.

Jesus was the opposite of this.  He never sinned.  He never stepped outside of what God prescribed, even when he was being put to death, because he trusted in God’s goodness.

Can we do the same?  It’s hard for me to trust when things are going “wrong,” according to my perception.  I’m just so sure I know how it’s supposed to go. I get discouraged.

Reading “Healing of the Wounded Idealist” by Justin and Irene Renton shakes me loose of my faithless funks.  This book helps me to see that I need to be less of an idealist, who, “sets hope on a specific outcome,” and more of a faithful realist, who, “trusts that God knows better than you and that your plans, as visionary as they may be, might not be best.”  The faithful realist realizes, “There may be a better way.”

God always works towards the better way — his “good, pleasing and perfect will.”  (Romans 12:2)  He works towards a better way even when, maybe especially when, life takes us to the bleak places.

Jesus knew this, and that knowledge kept him on track.  I was given a wonderful example today of someone who lived this out, as I read Jeannie Shaw’s just published blog on the recent death of her husband, Wyndham, due to Multiple System Atrophy.

“As much as I hate this disease, God has walked with us through it all, and He has been enough,” she wrote.  “For this I am grateful.  It does me no good to ask why, though truthfully I often have. If I could understand all of God’s ways and how He sees beyond and works for good despite the evil in our fallen world he would not be God, for God is beyond the dimension of human understanding. There is nothing I can do about that except to surrender and trust. He is God and I am not. He remains a good, good God, with a perspective that is beyond my reach.”

Amen.  How could I say more?

Let’s trust more completely in the goodness of God.  Let’s take a deep breath, stop running around like crazy, and, instead, watch for God.  And when we see what he’s doing, let’s hop on board!

Sure, it’s scary.  Sure, it’s not what we thought.

But we can have a peaceful confidence, knowing that we’re on the right track.

(Photo credit Vladislav Vasnetsov )

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Filed under Having the Right Heart, John, Peace, Red Letter, Uncategorized

On Cleaning, and Staying Centered

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Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. Isa 4:3

A week ago my company left.  It’s taken me days to get my house back in order.  I mopped the sun porch where the cat stayed, washed the sheets, cleaned the bathroom, and vacuumed up a ton of debris.  When I was done, it was like my head was clean, too.  Looking around at the spotless floor and furniture gave me a sense of clarity and peace.

There’s something about getting things in order that strikes a chord with me, and I think it dovetails nicely with today’s devotional.

Isiaiah 4:3 says that God’s people left in Jerusaelm would be called holy.  It was always the Lord’s intention for his people to be holy.  He said in Exodus 19:5-6, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

Of course, through history, Gods’s people were often anything but holy.  So God instituted a plan to shake his people up and refine them. That’s what Isaiah 4:3 is about.  Earlier, in Isaiah 3 we read about the destruction that would overtake the Hebrews.  “They parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves.” Isa 3:9

But then in Isaiah 4, God promised a restoration.  A remnant would remain, and this remnant would be purified.  The cool thing is this action was only a part of God’s amazing master plan to enable everyone to be his holy people.  Look at these later verses of Isaiah:

  • And there will be a highway called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not travel it, only those who walk in that Way–and fools will not stray onto it. Isa 35:8
  • Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the ends of the earth, “Say to Daughter Zion: See, your Savior comes! Look, His reward is with Him, and His recompense goes before Him.” And they will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of The LORD; and you will be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken. Isa 62:12

God intended to make his people holy through a divine removal of their unholiness. Isaiah 4 goes on to read, “The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem.”

Of course, we know this was untimately fulfilled with Jesus, and the incredible salvation we have through him!   “But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  I Cor 6:11

Wow.  Do we remember that we are holy? That’s how the early Christians saw themselves.  They were even called “saints,” which is the Greek word, “hagios,” that can also be translated, “holy.”

  • To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” (I Cor 1:2)  (You can find other instances of Christians being called saints in Acts 9:32, 9:41, 26:10, Romans 1:7, 8:27, 12:13, 15:25, and the list goes on.)

So back to my analogy about cleaning.  I’m not like a German house frau.  My home isn’t always spotless.  But when my house goes on the market, that’s a different story.  Then I am wiping things down and vacumming every day!  My goal is not as much to clean, but to maintain the cleanliness.

So the way this all ties in is that we repent, and God makes us clean and holy, like when we do a deep cleaning on our house.  But just like I maintain the domestic tidiness when my house is for sale, it’s also up to us to maintain the holiness of our heart.  (Okay, it’s not a perfect metaphor, but work with me.)

And the verse that is powerful for me and I’ve been using lately is, “Remain in me, and I also will remain in you.” (John 15:4)  If I stay centered in God, it keeps me from cluttering up my heart with all kinds of other things.  It keeps me dealing with my sin.  It reminds me of what is important.

Here is a video I got from my life coaching studies that actually helps me with this.  It’s an exercise in staying focused.  When I do it, I think of being focused on God, not this guy’s face!  I think of myself choosing to think of God instead of the million other things that distract me. I picture myself settling into Jesus and staying in him.

Oh, how troubled and distracted we can be!  Our insides can feel like our house after a toddler play date!

God has made us holy, and when we center in him, we can maintain this holiness and feel clarity and peace.

Ahhh.  Do some belly breaths, and inhale God’s goodness.  It’s going to be okay.

 

 

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Filed under Holiness, Isaiah, Peace, Surrender, Uncategorized

When it Feels Wrong

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He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.  He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him  But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  Mark 8:31-34

I think I would be like Peter, “Say, what?  The Messiah is going to have to suffer?  He’s going to die?  Oh, no, no, no Jesus, you’ve got it all wrong.  I’m investing my life in you.  You’re my shining hope.   You’re going to throw down the establishment.  You’re going to make everything better.”

I just have this mindset that suffering means something is wrong.  I’ve been on this life long quest to live the right life, a safe life.  And to me, that means a life where I don’t make mistakes and I avoid suffering.  Because, again, suffering would mean that something is going wrong. It would mean that Satan is winning, that worse is sure to happen.

It would mean being out of control.  After all, how could being sucked into a vortex of chaos be part of God’s plan?

But when Peter tried to tell Jesus something like this, he got rebuked.  Jesus called him out in front of his bros, said he was “Satan.”  Ouch.

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God just sees things in a whole different way than we do.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how one of the attributes of God is peace.  Peace is one of the fruits of the Spirit. (Gal 5:22)  The famous blessing of Numbers 6 says, “May the LORD show you his favor and give you his peace.” (Num 6:26 NLT)

And I’ve thought, “How can God be peaceful?  There’s so much bad going on all the time.”

But then I realized that God isn’t afraid of the bad things.  They grieve him deeply, but he doesn’t fear them.  Because he is stronger than evil.  Because he can stop it at any time.  Because he knows his plan, which is good and unfolding as he intends.  Because he knows he will win.

God really is peace.

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And I saw that this peace extends to me.  I am never outside of God’s control, never out of the reach of his hand.  Chaos cannot sweep me away.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  Ps 139:9

Okay, confession here.  I love to read romances. There’s a frequent theme — a female character who is beautiful but bratty gets pursued by a male character who has such a force of love for her that no matter what she does, he’s not deterred.

Of course this is fiction.  I could do a lot of damage to my marriage by being bratty.

But it’s not fiction when it comes to God.  My little fits and snits aren’t going to scare him away. He doesn’t think, “Sheesh, this girl has issues!   Let me go hang with someone else instead.”

No!  His heart’s desire to hang with me — and with you!  He will never turn away.

And that is why Jesus had to suffer and die.  It was part of his plan for you.  He pursued you, and nothing is going to deter him from sticking to you like glue.

It just doesn’t feel like love, sometimes.  It doesn’t feel like things are going right.

Here’s what we think it should feel like– the song from the Lego Movie.

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And it’s so hard to not be like prideful Peter when it doesn’t go that way.

We just had an outdoor service on one of the coldest days of the year. It was preceded by a men’s campout the night before, where the guys had to endure rain and temperatures in the thirties!

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We planned to have piping hot chili for our fellowship lunch.  I fussed and slaved over cooking my chili.  I heated it in the crock pot, and then once I got to the location, I got out our special extension cord with multiple outlets and plugged it in so it wouldn’t get cold.

There was just one thing.  There were at least 7 other crock pots of chili and soups.  Some of them were cold when they got there, and had to be heated up.  But there weren’t enough outlets on the serving table.  So we had to unplug the warm ones and plug in the colds ones.

Then we started church.  I tried to focus on worship.  But I kept getting nervous.  What if the crock pots that were unplugged were getting cold? It was 38 degrees, and windy!  Would there be anything worse than eating cold chili on a cold day?  So I brought a couple of the crock pots, including mine, into the kitchen to plug them in there.  I had to set them on a narrow ledge by the sink.  In the process of arranging them, my crock pot fell in the sink with a loud clatter, dumping out a sizable part of my wonderful chili.  Ack!!

It reminds me of my life.  I try so hard to make everything perfect, and my efforts can actually make things worse!

It would be easy to complain about the things that were challenging about our outdoor service.  I do need to apologize to the moms who brought their little children.  I thought that would work, but it was too cold for the babies.

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Ken feeding a cold Elena.

But as I kept rehashing the things I wished had gone more smoothly, it occurred to me that maybe there was a reason God made the coldest time to be the days of our men’s campout and outdoor service.

Maybe God’s thinking wasn’t our thinking.  Maybe he wanted us to see that happiness isn’t based on living our comfortable routines, but on something deeper.

Maybe we needed for our chili to spill and our fingertips to get numb to learn that we could find joy anyway.

I saw so many things that inspired me.  Brian having his quiet time in the chilly early morning.

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Bill going above and beyond to cook a hearty breakfast.

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Graham preaching when he was frozen to the bone and had to wear a blanket.  Here he is leading a prayer.

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Nate manning the little camping stove and heating a pan of water so everyone could have hot drinks.  (Wish I had a picture of that.)  I could go on and on.

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Cairo was a trooper too!

You know, even though it was challenging, everyone was cheerful and looking for ways to serve.

It was like the Grinch who stole Christmas.  No matter what, we still had a joyful time being together.

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Sometimes God doesn’t have things go like we think they should.  Sometimes it feels wrong.

But we can let Jesus’s rebuke to Peter be one to us as well.  Get behind us, Satan!  No complaining!  No faithlessness!  No just thinking of the concerns of men!

Let’s seek to have God’s mindset.  Let’s seek to have his peace, as we trust that he is in control, and know that he is committed to us.

When we do, just like what happened with the outdoor service, we will be stronger.  We will find deeper joy.

 

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Filed under Mark, Peace

Rest for the Soul

Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.  Mark 6:45-46

Sometimes you have to get away to recharge. Ken and I just returned from vacation in New Mexico.  Some of the vacation was busy and filled with relatives, so it wasn’t necessarily quiet.  But it was nourishing to be loved by so many, and it was peaceful to be on the vast prairie of my family’s ranch.

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When Ken asked what I wanted to do on the last weekend, I said that I would like to be somewhere beautiful where I could be quiet and reflect.  So Saturday afternoon Ken and I went to the top of the Sandia Mountains outside of Albuquerque.  There, we hiked to a place with an amazing view, and prayed out loud as we took in the majesty of God’s creation.   It was just what I needed to process the many things I’ve gone through in the past couple of weeks.

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The next morning I arose early, moved a chair to sit outside of our second story hotel room and had a long time with God while I watched the sun rise over the mountains.  I wrote down everything I was thankful for.  I connected with scriptures.  I could feel the tight places in my heart begin to relax.

It’s good to go on vacation and get away.  But we need more than that.  We need time in quiet places where we can be restored.    Jesus made this a priority.  I don’t know how he managed to stay up at night and pray when he must have been dog tired after teaching people and taking care of their needs all day.  But I guess he knew what he needed rest for his soul more than he needed physical rest.  Surely we are the same.

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Psalm 57 — Finding Refuge

Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me . . .

This is how Psalm 57 starts, which is the next psalm in the  series I’m writing on the Psalms in chronological order.  Psalm 57 was written by David when he was holed up a cave, hiding from Saul’s soldiers.

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I imagine it was real downer to be there, stuck in the dark, cut off from the world.

So as David started praying to God there, what did he pray first? Did he catalog all the ways that God should work?  No, he begged, “Have mercy on me.” He wanted this so much, he said it twice.

This challenges me!  I’ve been going nonstop since before Thanksgiving.  I have a backlog of unprocessed emotional baggage; feelings screaming for attention.  I want to whine and fill God’s ear with requests.

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But instead, what I need to do is get on my knees, put my face to the ground and remember who I am before the Lord.  The only real thing I can ask for is mercy.

Let this illustration burn into me, the one Jesus gave about a Pharisee and a tax collector who went to pray:

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  Luke 18:13-14

I am such a Pharisee!!  It’s so much about me.  I am so preoccupied with trying to  do the right thing so I can feel good about myself.  More than that, I am so focused on praying for what I think should happen.  I exude pride, not humility.

David goes on to write, “for in you I take refuge,” And then says, “I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.”

Oh, this is what my heart craves, a refuge.  But even though I know that it can be found in God, it doesn’t click.  So I’m trying to understand how David could so completely and confidently find a safe place in God.

And as I meditate on it,  I’m realizing that David wasn’t just seeing God as a haven.  He was putting his trust in the God who had a solid history of always protecting and caring for his people. Look at this passage in Deuteronomy 32 and how it describes God’s actions towards the Israelite nation:

He (God) found him (Israel) out in the wilderness,
        in an empty, windswept wasteland.
    He threw his arms around him, lavished attention on him,
        guarding him as the apple of his eye.
    He was like an eagle hovering over its nest,
        overshadowing its young,
    Then spreading its wings, lifting them into the air,
        teaching them to fly.
    God alone led him;
        there was not a foreign god in sight.
    God lifted him onto the hilltops,
        so he could feast on the crops in the fields.
    He fed him honey from the rock,
        oil from granite crags . .

God is like a bird that shelters its young. That bird would also be committed to feeding its young and fiercely protecting them.

wings-shelter

wings-shelter2

eagle-feeding-young

So David knew that God felt a loving responsibility and obligation toward him.  He knew God would be there for him.  THAT is how he took refuge in God.

And that is how I can take refuge in God as well.  By learning to believe that God is faithful to me.

As the psalm goes on, it helps me to realize this.  Here is what David says next.  I’m listing several translations of this verse:

I call upon the God Most High; to the God who completes what he began in me. ISV

I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. NLT

I cry out to God Most High, to God, who vindicates me. NIV

I will cry to God Most High, To God who accomplishes all things for me.  ASV

No matter which translation is correct, they all say that God would act on David’s behalf.  I love this thought.  God’s not going to just sit in heaven.  He’s going to get up and do something for his people.

What really helps my heart is knowing that it is God who is doing the work, not me.  When I work, I make a mess of things. How wonderful it is that I can come to God and know that he WILL work his good purpose in spite of my mucking about!

It reminds me of this verse:  “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  Phil. 1:6

But the thing is, for God to work, I have to first humble myself, as David did.  I have to stop thinking I know how things should be done.

I have to vacate my own refuge, my own way of trying to control and make the world safe, and make God my refuge in every way.

It’s sort of like the story of the three pigs.  I need to leave my house of sticks and go to the house of bricks!

three-little-pigs

I tend to be overwhelmed.  I think about all that’s going wrong, all that needs to change, all that needs to be done.  On one hand, I come up with plans to fix it, and on the other, I despair because my efforts seem to have bungled things.

How much I need peace!  The irony is that I need a refuge because I haven’t made God my refuge.

When will I learn that true peace comes from humility, not performance?  It comes from surrender, emptying myself before God, and having faith that he will work.

“And that is what we should seek for — to go on our faces before God until our hearts learn to believe that the everlasting God Himself will come in to turn out what is wrong, to conquer what is evil, and to work what is well-pleasing in His blessed sight.”  (Andrew Murray, Absolute Surrender)

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God is Enough

You have wearied the Lord with your words.

“How have we wearied him?” you ask.

By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?”  Mal 2:17

Basically, the Jews were complaining to God about the prosperity of the wicked.  They whined about the injustice of it all:  Why would God lavish his blessings those who weren’t following him, and scrimp on his blessings for them?

It’s so easy to feel like we’re being shortchanged.

And it’s so easy to point our fingers at the sins of others.

I was in Walmart yesterday.  A mother was pushing one of her children around in the cart, while her other child wandered the aisle, looking at merchandise that interested him. When it was time to move on, she told the child in the aisle, “Let’s go.”  But the young boy kept on looking at the things on the shelf.  “He’s not coming,” the kid in the cart informed his mom in an annoying tone.  That child wanted to be sure his mom knew that his sibling wasn’t obeying.

Isn’t that the way we are?  We want to be sure that God knows how wrong others are.  We can see the injustice so clearly.  “It’s not right” we rail.  “They need to be fixed!”

And yet, like the Jews, we can be blind to the things we need to fix in our own characters.   “In their own eye they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their own sin.”  Ps 36:2

The only person we can really change is ourselves.

A few weeks ago, someone called my attention to some ways I had wronged them, and some shortcomings in my character.  I got very upset.   I wanted so badly to stew, and dwell on the unfairness, the shortcomings in THEIR character.  But I knew I had to use this instead as an opportunity to do some deep self searching.  It took a Herculean effort to pull my attention back to myself, and pray, day after day, to be able to see and change the things I needed to change.  Slowly, over time, with a lot of grace and help from God, my eyes were opened and I grew.

So I know how tempting it is to give into bitterness, to look at others and not myself.

For me, just like in Malachi, the bitterness also takes the form of envy.  I catch myself longing to have what others have.  Or, I should say, what they appear to have — no trials in their marriage, no problems with their kids.  They seem happy and successful at their jobs.  They look vigorous and attractive.  Their life seems smooth, without challenge.

And to make myself feel better, I point out their flaws, “They drink too much.  All they care about is things.  They’re arrogant.  They’re shallow and worldly.”

The thing is, God says this pervasive attitude makes him bone weary and dog tired.

Wait! God can’t get exhausted with us, he’s long suffering.  It’s true. God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.  (Ex 34:6)

But one of the few things that gets old with God is a lack of faith.  It was the same with Jesus when he was on earth.  “You of little faith,” he would say.

That’s the root of it.  We don’t trust.  We don’t believe that God will take care of us.  We don’t believe that God is enough for us.  And then we start wishing for greener grass.

We say, “Where is the God of justice?  We need more blessings!”  And then we rant, “Why don’t you do something about all of these people who are messing up the world?”

But God doesn’t need us to be his magnifying glass of what is wrong in others.  He needs us to study ourselves, identify the veins of discontent, root out the pockets of mistrust.

I just got a new pair of prescription glasses for the first time in ten years.  When I put them on in the store for the first time and looked in the mirror, I almost wished I hadn’t.  I could see all kinds of things I didn’t notice before — grey hairs springing from my crown, fine wrinkles and large pores.

It’s the same way when we look closely at ourselves.  We’ll find things that don’t look as good as we thought.

But we love God, so we WILL look.  We don’t want to weary him.  We want to refresh him with our faith, make him smile!

And the next time we’re tempted to say, “I wish,”  or “Why” or “If only,” we’ll strive to remember that God is enough.

Things will go wrong.  It will seem like evil prevails.  It will seem like we fail.   But in God is our complete sufficiency.  Let us totally rest in him.

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Peace in the Striving to Give Our Best

“A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the Lord Almighty.

“It is you priests who show contempt for my name.

“But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’

“By offering defiled food on my altar.

“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’

“By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty.

“Now plead with God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?”—says the Lord Almighty.  Mal 1:6-9

What does it mean to give our best to God?  This passage paints a very emphatic picture of the importance of giving our first fruits, and how it is seriously wrong it is to offer less than our best to God.

My problem is that passages like these can be a guilt trap for me, a snare of legalism. I can start thinking that I need to be giving more to God. And it is true. We really do need to make every effort to enter through the narrow door.  We need to work as if working for the Lord.

But we can’t get on the performance roller coaster, and feel up or down, or that we’re doing well or poorly, because of how we are giving to the Lord at that particular time.

So how can we be motivated to be excellent, and still find peace? How do we find contentment if we are constantly striving to do better?

Maybe one way is to simply accept our lot as servants.

So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’  Luke 17:10

There’s something beautiful and fulfilling about pouring ourselves out for the one we love. As the hymn says, “His service is our sweetest delight.”

Another way is to just focus on loving God. If I direct my thoughts and heart to loving Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, a wonderful feeling washes over me, and I cease my unrest.

But what I want to talk about most here is the peace that God supplies.  To address this subject, I want to remind everyone that God’s heart for  his people is one of “hesed:” which means “covenant loyalties.” In the Old Testament, we can see how the Lord stuck with His people over and over again, acting on their account, having patience with them, meting out consequences for their stubborn waywardness, but then bringing them back to Him once again.

So Malachi reflects one of God’s last prophetic expression of hesed.  He is basically saying, “I’ve been committed to you, but have you been committed to me?”  After a history of rescuing them, God has now  brought his people out of Babylonian captivity, back to Jerusalem. They should be overflowing with thanks, ready to serve Him wholeheartedly.  But instead, they bring Him diseased offerings.

Doesn’t this sound like all of us? God has done so very much for us.  But we can’t seem to reciprocate in kind.

This quote by Douglas Coupland really resonates with me: “Now—here is my secret: I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God – that I am sick and no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.”

I relate to this quote because I also reach the point where I can’t do the things I want to do.

It’s such an irony. We must give our best to God, our first fruits. Yet we are like the Israelites, who continually sink back into blind selfishness and only give a pittance.

And then we need God to help us give.

I want to share a story from this past weekend. Ken and I went down to visit an old high school friend who was having a hard time and needed some encouragement.  Many years ago, Ken baptized this friend, but after a short time, the friend left the Lord. We hoped to be able to rekindle some spark of this friend’s faith.

I wanted so much to be a light for this friend, to show Christ by my life.  But instead I felt like a rusty sputtering machine, like all my gears weren’t working, and my spirituality just wasn’t flowing.

We had this awesome church in mind where we wanted to take our friend Sunday morning.  But it didn’t work out for us to go there, and we had to settle for taking him some place else.  And on Sunday morning, as I was feeling uneasy about the way things were going, I felt in the Spirit that it would be great for our friend to hear the story of the Prodigal Son, and I prayed  that the sermon message would be on the Prodigal Son.

Lo and behold, the message WAS on the Prodigal Son!  It gave Ken and I a great springboard to share with our friend, and talk to him about his faith.

You see, the point of all this is that when our offering to the Lord seems paltry, God steps in and makes up the rest.  He makes it clear to us that He is bigger than our efforts, and we can trust His working.

The Malachi passage above would be feel hopeless to me, except for one little verse, “Now plead with the Lord to be gracious to us.”  In our insufficiency, we can always petition for the sufficiency of His grace.

So in conclusion, we really DO need to strive to give God our best.  The prophet Malachi makes it very clear.  Every day we must renew the determination in our heart to be excellent. We must remind ourselves that He has been lovingly committed to us, and reciprocate.

But we must also remember that every day we will fall short.

And because God loves us dearly and fiercely, He’s not letting go of us when fall short. Instead, He expands His goodness to cover our lack.

We find peace in the realization that God fills in the gaps between our inadequacies.

For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.  II Cor 8:12

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Being Centered

vine and branches

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him.  To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.  Mark 12:28-34.

What’s the most important thing to do?  We ask ourselves that every day.   Is it the housework, the job, bringing in more money, preparing for retirement, doing community service, taking care of our family, getting our children to do well?  Our competing priorities whirl in our heads, and we just go forward, putting out the next fire.

Jesus says here that what is most important is to love God with all our heart, and to love our neighbor.

But what does that look like, practically?  Being regular in church attendance?  Trying to live a good life? Reading our Bible? Remembering to touch base with a friend? Having a neighbor over for dinner?  Volunteering at the food bank?

And how do we fit that into our lives when we have a demanding job, a family to raise, classwork to complete, a house to take care of, errands to run . . . not to mention a body to keep in shape!

I think the answer is in learning to be centered in God.

I’ve been reading John 15.  It basically states the same concept, that the most important things are to love God and our neighbor.  But Jesus words it here like this:

Remain in me, as I also remain in you” and “Love each other as I have loved you.” (v. 4, 12)

Remaining is being centered.  See how Jesus describes it:

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. . .

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. . . . .

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. . .

This is my command: Love each other.” 

When we are centered in Christ,  it’s our lifeblood to be connected to Him.  And then we are LOVED, and we LOVE.  It’s all bound up together.

Being centered is  like breathing.  We inhale Him as our sustenance. We exhale into meaningful action.

And when we are not centered, all our efforts, all the things we accomplish, are for nothing.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5

Being centered is fruitful.  It is life giving.

I read a great article on the Sabbath by John Mark Comer on how the Sabbath was created to center and revive us:

“The Sabbath has a life-giving ability to procreate — to fill the world up with life. No matter how much you love your job or fine-tune your work/ life balance, by the end of the week, you’re tired. Your fuel cells are on empty. But rest refills us — with energy, creativity, vision, strength, optimism, buoyancy, clarity, and hope.”

This is a great concept.  But I would take it one step further.  Having a relationship with God, having unity with Christ, having fellowship with the Spirit, brings rest, and can refill us continuously throughout the day.

We remember God.  We make space for Him in our heart.  And in that place, the Spirit bubbles up in us.  We are refreshed.  We are inspired.

Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  John 7:37

So here are a few practical ways I’ve found to be centered:

  • Take a deep breath and remember Christ is in your heart.  Hold him close and dear.  Do this many times a day.
  • Pray for strength and guidance often.  It’s amazing how often I try to gut it out, instead of doing this.
  • Spend time on your knees.  Be quiet before Him.  After awhile, everything will fall into perspective.
  • Read through Bible verses, or recall verses you’ve memorized.  It feels like the scales are falling off of your eyes.  You remember what is good and true.
  • Go out into nature, smell the flowers.  You will see God’s face.
  • Listen to music that moves you spiritually.  It communicates deep truths.
  • Express your thanks to God in specific ways.  It’s amazing to me how helpful it is to keep a gratitude list and add to it daily.
  • Slow down and focus on each person as if they are the most important thing in the world.

This past weekend I wasn’t feeling well.   When I awoke Sunday morning in lowness of spirit, I went outside to lift my heart to God.   It was so comforting to stand in the back yard, listening to the hushed rush of the wind among the trees, feeling the damp cool air of fall, and thank God for what He has given me.  I didn’t want to petition Him for anything.  I just wanted to think of each person I love, each blessing I’ve received, and thank God for them.

I went back inside and read John 15.

And then I went to church.  This time, instead of  darting from person to person and thing to thing, I  immersed myself in the importance of each person.  And I felt the solid truth of it.  This was more vital than any “burnt offering,” than any of the busy tasks I could set myself to do to serve God.

I felt energy well up within me.

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  John 15:11

Being centered brings joy and life on the inside.  It replenishes us in the places we’ve been depleted.

It is something we can do all through the day, no matter how busy we are.

It is how we live out what is most important.

It is the way we were designed, to be connected to God, and fruitful through Him.

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