Insights

40 Days of Decrease

 

As Lent draws to a close, I thought I would share some highlights from the guide I used this years that was recommended by a new friend, Jessica - “40 Days of Decrease - A different kind of hunger. A different kind of fast  by Alicia Britt Chole (pronounced show-lee). Each features a themed reflection about Jesus' journey "cross-ward," a fast and a reading from John's gospel.  Unusual, refreshing, intriguing, and sobering.  


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Days 34 & 35: Seven distinct groups surrounded Jesus at His crucifixion:

1) passersby who hurled insults;
2) unnamed disciples who observed from a distance;
3) watchers who occasionally taunted;
4) rulers - chief priests, teachers of the law and elders;
5) named disciples - his mother, mother's sister, and Mary Magdalene and the apostle John;
6) the two thieves crucified beside him and
7) the soldiers for whom Jesus was their job, not their God.

That five of the seven groups incessantly mocked and taunted Jesus prompted this caution by the author, "Though occasionally accomplished constructively, criticism is often a cowardly act. Criticism knows a little, assumes a lot and airs judgments with conviction."

Today, fast criticism. "Seek to know more, assume less, and air prayers" instead of judgments. (pages 177-180)

Day 33:  To fast willful sin is not a simplistic call to stop sinning. No, this is a sincere call for us to start loving Jesus to a degree that compels us to walk away from sin where we can and get help where we cannot....Savior, am I caressing anything you were crucified for? If so, I repent: forgive me, heal me, send help to me, and strengthen my love for You. When I am tempted, may I see Your cross, remember Your cost, and let love "bind my wandering heart" to You. (page 175)

Day 30: Earthquakes reveal faultlines that were previously unknown. We think we know our strengths and weaknesses but even though we don't, Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves - like how we predicted Judas' and Peter's betrayals. But to falter when you think or even pledge we won't is HUMAN. So when the ground shakes and 'we fall into our own disillusionment, we need to remember to get back up, receive forgiveness and call upon our newly acquired humility to strengthen others.' Today's fast: self confidence. (from pages 154-155)

Day 27: Recall the Last Supper scene described in Matthew’s gospel when Jesus mentioned that one the apostles would betray Him.  

“Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” Judas inquired.  To which Jesus replied, “You have said so.” (Matthew 26:21, 25)

Judas’ betrayal was a manifestation of satanic opposition. We expect satanic opposition from the world. But when it comes from around the table, it takes our breath away.” (page 136)

Having been on the business end of betrayal from around the table on a few occasions, the weight of her remark settled in my chest. I can testify that not only does it take your breath away but getting back to breathing normally again can take a long, long while.

That Jesus forgave, readily and unconditionally paved the way for me to do likewise.

Day 25: "Is there another way?" asked Jesus of his Father, God, praying, deeply distressed that fateful night in Gethsemane.  Along with, "If so, I want to take it."  Three times he asked. (See Matthew 26: 39, 42, 44)

Indeed, "Is there another way for mankind to be reconciled to God?" queried  Chole.

"Within our global culture, it sounds enlightened and egalitarian to believe in many ways to God, which makes wrestling with this text all the more critical."

We moderns who revisit this moment on the other side of it know how the question was answered.

"Clearly, by the events that follow, Father's answer was 'no' - another way did not exist.  Jesus was and is 'The Way' (John 14:6)."

Fortunately, the Father's "no" was Jesus' "yes.".

Day 21:  "Obedience is not a moment: it is a process connected by countless moments."

This remark regarded Jesus stating his heart was "troubled" as he shared deep thoughts about his "hour" that was soon to arrive. Although troubled, he was nevertheless obedient to see the redemptive plan to its earth-shaking conclusion.(See John 12:20-28) ...[from pages 104-105]

From Day 17 - Twice, Jesus cleared the temple of merchants and moneychangers. "Jesus no doubt witnessed many injustices during His life on earth, but He did not turn over many tables....Taking action because there is a need is a very different motivation than taking action because there is a God. In addition to being exhausting, the former is led by what our eyes see and what our hearts feel. The latter is led by loving listening and dependence-inspired discipline...Said Dr. Beth Grant, friend of the author, 'Choose carefully what you are willing to die for because you can only die once.'" [from pages 79-82]

From Day 13: I am challenged by today's fast: Stinginess. "...seek an opportunity to be irrationally lavish toward someone who cannot possibly return the favor."

Day 8: Today's fast, Fixing it is for life's many miscarried miracles, the "this could only be from God" openings that later close leaving us to wonder, "What gives, Lord?"

Lazarus, raised from the dead, later died again; a long-awaited pregnancy that ends in miscarriage; fired from a promising job....We panic, search for explanations and "scurry clumsily about to prop up God's sagging reputation." (page 34)

Day 9: Fast rationalism - the belief that reason is king.  Our lack of understanding cannot sabbotage the power or the purpose of His voice.  It is not possible to prove with the mind what is born in the Spirit. (pages 38-39)

Day 1: Fast Lent As Project.  Instead, consider Lent as less a project and more a sojourn. A sojourn is a 'temporary stay at a place,' And a 'stay' is about presence, not productivity. For the next forty days, fast measuring your "success" statistically... Instead, invest your energy in seeking to remain present to the sacred history of Jesus' walk to the cross....enter Lent as experience.  (page 3)

Prayer: Lord, you are truly amazing, unpredictable, striking, scary and so very attractive.  Thank you for coming to rescue me and opening life and eternity for me and all who truly seek you.


Notes:

Banner Photo by Mario Calvo on Unsplash

Betrayal ... Redeemed

Holy Week.  The annual Lenten journey descends to the darkest of all moments before culminating next Sunday in the most ascended moment ever.

This Lent, I’ve followed along a book by Alicia Britt Chole, “40 Days of Decrease.” Each day, Chole (pronounced show-lee) offers a reflection, reading, and fast.  Although adaptable for times other than Lent, she dedicates about a half-page at the end of each chapter/day to the history of Lenten practice.

The word “different” in the book subtitle, “A different kind of hunger. A different kind of fast” understates how different a journey Chole offers.  Consider the fasts:

Day one: Lent as a project
Day two: Regrets
Day three: Collecting praise
Day four: Artificial light…

I found her reflections unusual, refreshing, intriguing, and for Day 27, sobering.  The focus was betrayal by Judas, the apostle who made a deal with the Jewish leaders leading to Jesus’ arrest and execution. Recall the Last Supper scene described in Matthew’s gospel when Jesus mentioned that one among them would betray Him.  

“Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” Judas inquired.  To which Jesus replied, “You have said so.” (Matthew 26:21, 25)

Judas’s “betrayal was a manifestation of satanic opposition,” Chole remarked.  “We expect satanic opposition from the world. But when it comes from around the table, it takes our breath away.” (page 136)

Chole then pressed into this betrayal by depicting Jesus and Judas’s final interaction during the arrest sequence that ended, she wrote, “with some name-calling.”

“The last name Judas called Jesus was Rabbi.  The last thing Jesus called Judas was friend.”

That word rendered as “friend” is the Greek hetairos, “used culturally to refer to a colleague, comrade, fellow worker, or friend. It appears only three times in the New Testament, exclusively in the gospel of Matthew.* In biblical context, ‘the implication [is] of a distinct relationship in which there is generosity on the one part and abuse on the other.’ To the point: a co-worker’s betrayal.” (page 137)

So this particular betrayal “from around the table” is betrayal by someone close, someone we trust, who we let our guard down with, who we never even slightly suspect would betray us.  

Having been on the business end of betrayal “from around the table” on a few occasions, the weight of her remark settled in my chest. I can testify that not only does it take your breath away but getting back to breathing normally again can take a long, long while.

That I still feel so raw about my own experiences of having been betrayed took me by surprise. Then came a dawning of how others in my life must feel and still feel raw about due to betrayal by a spouse, a niece, a grandchild, a brother, a buddy, a colleague, a neighbor….

Here is yet another iteration of the depth and detail of Jesus’ humanity.  While this particular betrayal factors hugely in Jesus’ story, what is most said about Him is that and how He redeemed betrayal and all the dismissal, rejection and injustice heaped onto His huge shoulders.

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,

And by His stripes we are healed.
— Isaiah 53:5, NKJV

Sobering. Indeed. We must really matter to Him.

---------------------------------------------

Referenced pages from “40 Days of Decrease - A different kind of hunger. A different kind of fast” by Alicia Britt Chole


 

Meanwhile, Lent

 Photo by  Ihor Malytskyi  on  Unsplash

Seems I disappeared awhile. Did you miss me?

Truth is, I’m sorting some things out and rethinking about when best to write and about what.  I am still sorting.  Meanwhile, Lent has arrived and I am following the practice of a book recommended to me by a new acquaintance, Jessica.

“40 Days of Decrease” by Alicia Britt Chole is the book name.  Subtitle: “A different kind of hunger: a different kind of fast."

40 chapters, one for each day of Lent.  Sundays excluded, of course. To follow along, I made a table to sync the chapters with the actual dates of Lent 2018 and a little space to write a reflection each day.  

The fasts are unusual:

  • Day one: Lent as a project
  • Day two: Regrets
  • Day three: collecting praise
  • Day four: artificial light
  • Day seven: a meal

Here, from Day two:

At least since the Council of Nicea in AD 325, Lent has been a forty day, communal focus upon the most disillusioning season of the first disciples’ lives.  Jesus, having confessed to be the Messiah, prophecies His soon-coming death.  Jesus, who commands winds and waves, allows Himself arrested.  Jesus, who bests the brightest Pharisees and Sadducees, refuses to defend Himself when falsely accused.  Jesus, who raised others from the dead, chooses not to save Himself.

In Jesus’ journey cross-ward, the disciples’ illusions of what Jesus could and should do with His power were shattered by the reality of what Jesus actually did with His power, and their personal illusions of commitment-unto-death were shattered by the reality of fear-inspired self protection.  Meditating on Jesus’ suffering and the disciples’ disillusionment creates a framework within which we can spiritually process our own loss of illusions and gaining of realities.  This is critical, because… reality is where we meet God.

In Jesus’ journey cross-ward, the disciples’ illusions of what Jesus could and should do ... were shattered by the reality of what Jesus actually did
— Alicia Britt Chole, 40 Days of Decrease

 

This is always the case with God.  We typically attempt to pull Him into our lives only to find that nothing about Him syncs with anything that we are or desire to be in our own intellect. The only way to overcome the constant crisis of that misfit is to yield, to submit to His incessant but loving tension to be drawn, pulled into His life, manner and ways.  

Painfully we learn and as/if we choose in faith to continue, we yield to how God works transformation in us - through crisis, friction, discomfort, stretching, chopping out, suffering and, yes, death.  

These are the only ways to the new life God offers in grace through Christ.

So here I continue, sorting and being shaped. You?

 

The Husband Store

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As tomorrow, my wife and I mark our 39th year of wedded bliss, I offer this bit of humor that was shared with me by a friend and brother who married before us and is still going strong. 

A store that sells husbands has just opened in New York City, where a woman may go to choose a husband. Among the instructions at the entrance is a description of how the store operates. You may visit the store ONLY ONCE !

There are six floors and the attributes of the men increase as the shopper ascends the flights. There is,  however, a catch .. you may choose any man from a particular floor, or you may choose to go up a floor, but you cannot go back down except to exit the building!

So, a woman goes to the Husband Store to find a husband.

On the first floor the sign on the door reads:
Floor 1 - These men have jobs and love the Lord.

The second floor sign reads:
Floor 2 - These men have jobs, love the Lord, and love kids.

The third floor sign reads:
Floor 3 - These men have jobs, love the Lord, love kids, and are extremely good looking.

"Wow," she thinks, but feels compelled to keep going.

She goes to the fourth floor and sign reads:
Floor 4 - These men have jobs, love the Lord, love kids, are drop-dead good looking and help with the housework.

"Oh, mercy me!" she exclaims, "I can hardly stand it!"

Still, she goes to the fifth floor and sign reads:
Floor 5 - These men have jobs, love the Lord, love kids, are drop-dead gorgeous, help with the housework, and have a strong romantic streak.

She is so tempted to stay, but she goes to the sixth floor and the sign reads:

Floor 6 - You are visitor 4,363,012 to this floor. There are no men on this floor. This floor exists solely as proof that women are impossible to please. Thank you for shopping at the Husband Store. Watch your step as you exit the building, and have a nice day!

(I think my wife found me on floor 2 although I admit to have fallen to the basement now and then over the years.)

 

 

Whatever...!

Ran across this great post by Robert J. Morgan when I was researching the use of the word "whatever" in Philippians 4:8.  Thought I'd share this with you.  Enjoy!


Oh, whatever...

In our culture, that little generalized word “whatever” has come to indicate indifference or apathy, an attitude of “who cares.” It’s our response to anything we don’t like but can’t avoid, or to anyone whose opinions become tiresome. It’s the verbal shrug of the shoulders. But try looking up this word in Scripture. I’ve been studying the Bible practically every day for forty years, and I’ve often found refreshment in chasing word studies and exploring obscure topics. Jesus said we’re not to live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God — and that includes the word “whatever.”

Recently I spend a wonderful morning looking up all the occurrences of this term in my New International Version. In Scripture, “whatever” is a term indicating the totality of our commitment to God. It occurs 173 times, and many of the references speak of wholehearted obedience and blessing. As I studied these references, I divided them into seven headings.

First, we’re to do whatever God tells us. Mary, the mother of Jesus, told the workers at the wedding of Cana of Galilee in John 2:5: “Do whatever he tells you.” That’s good advice for all of us. In the Old Testament, the Children of Israel told Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go” (Joshua 1:16). My own personal commitment to God is expressed in those two words: “Whatever... wherever...!” When the Lord called the prophet Jeremiah into the ministry, he told him, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.... Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them” (Jeremiah 1:7-8 & 17).

Second, whatever we do we should do it having spent time in the Scriptures. According to Psalm 1, those who meditate day and night in God’s Word will be like trees planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. “Whatever they do prospers.” The apostle Paul said, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8). Since by its very nature the mind of God is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable, and since His mind is revealed in His Word, those who meditate on Scripture day and night will increasingly have minds tinged with the same qualities. That kind of thinking leads to prosperity and peace.

Third, whatever we do, we should do it prayerfully. Jesus said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.... If you abide in me and my words abide in you, you may ask for whatever you wish and it will be done for you” (Matthew 21:22; John 15:7). The apostle John gives us the all-important qualification: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us —whatever we ask — we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15). Prayer isn’t a matter of demanding God do what we want. It’s a way of adjusting our souls to whatever He wants — and acquiring it by grace.

Fourth, whatever we do, we should do it earnestly. There’s an Old Testament and a New Testament verse about this. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” And Colossians 3:23 adds, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart.” As a Christian, I want to be wholehearted in my efforts, whatever they are, for I’m doing them for the Lord.

Fifth, whatever we do, we should do it with integrity. Philippians 1:27 says, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of God.” Recently I reached an agreement with a man who wanted to “sign” the bargain with a handshake. In shaking his hand I felt like I was signing my name to the contract. In earlier days, multimillion deals were reached with a handshake, for a person’s word was his bond. That’s seldom true now, but it should always be true among Christians. We do whatever we do with integrity and in a way worthy of the Gospel.

Sixth, whatever we do, we should do it with others in mind. Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” The apostle Peter added, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others (1 Peter 4:10). This simple principle accounts for the incredible history of Christian benevolent and humanitarian actions.

Finally, whatever we do, we must do it for God’s glory, for the Bible says, “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). This is the Reformation cry of Soli Deo Gloria — “To God Alone be the Glory.” It’s one of the five “solas” of the reformation and one of Christianity’s greatest abbreviations: SDG. Johann Sebastian Bach penned those initials to the bottom of each of his musical scores to remind himself and his listeners that all the glory belonged to the Lord. In the same way, it’s a joy to put those initials at the bottom of every passing day of life.

Whatever happens today, do as the German hymnist Paul Gerhardt suggested: “Commit whatever grieves thee into the gracious hands of Him who never leaves thee, whom heaven and heart commands.” He is the God of whatevers, and He can handle whatever comes your way this week.


1. Original post: The Word 'Whatever" in the Bible
2. Image source: Metro News

 

 

In His Own Words

In writing my accompanying post, “Memoir,” I reviewed a number of Scripture verses depicting various attributes of God.  Following are a selection.  Feel free to comment with some favorites or your own.

God engages: Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: (Isaiah 1:18, ESV)

God is compassionate: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)  

God’s deference for the downtroddenAlthough He is greatest of all, He is attentive to the needy and keeps His distance from the proud and pompous.  (Psalm 138:6, VOICE)

God is exalted in stillness: He says, "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." (Psalm 46:10)

God’s longing for us is not diminished by our rejection of him: Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. (Luke 13:34)

Our intelligence is sourced from God: I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me? (Jeremiah 32:27)

God relentlessly pursues us: For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. (Ezekiel 34: 11-12, ESV)

God is all powerful: Yes, and from ancient days I am he.  No one can deliver out of my hand.  When I act, who can reverse it? (Isaiah 43:13, NIV)

God is both creator and controller: I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things. (Isaiah 45:7, ESV)

God made humans in his image and manner: So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27, NIV)

Thinking about when the Bible was written, consider how God recognizes no boundaries such as regarding….

Foreigners: The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:34, NIV)

Women: What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and give their father’s inheritance to them. (Numbers 27:7, NIV)

Children: But Jesus called the children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.(Luke 18:16, ESV)

God is very much engaged even when his name is never even mentioned once, such as in the books of Esther and Song of Solomon.

I have barely scratched the surface.  In my companion post, “Memoir,” I explore the Bible as God’s memoir - about and from and by him. Addressed to us. 

His memoir, but directed to us - because we really matter to him.

Jesus is retraining me to be like Kevin

I'm pleased to share this touching post and story via Dave McCarty whose blog, DumpSheepDave is a favorite of mine.


 "Shepherd" Dave McCarty (when he's not trusting Jesus)

"Shepherd" Dave McCarty (when he's not trusting Jesus)

When I first read this true story about Kevin, years ago, I missed the significance.  I didn’t wannabe like Kevin — childlike, dependent, clueless, pitiable.  Kevin is lovable, but not enviable.  I wanted desperately to be envied, though I didn’t see it at the time.

I didn’t understand the benefit of being Kevin, because I lived in denial of how miserable, stressed, unpeaceful, I was.  If you had suggested I was miserable as a Christian, I woulda laughed at you.  Today, I envy Kevin.  Kevin is my hero.  In my saner moments I understand better, the genius of being a Kevin-kinda Christian, and the genius plan of Jesus to grow me more like Kevin.

I’m convinced that being adultlike is of the devil, and that being childlike, is Jesus-like.  Jesus did NOTHing on His own.  He modeled dependency for us, and yet today, we all wannabe INdependents — both nonChristians AND Christians.

–Dave McCarty, GospelFriendships


Kevin’s Different World.

–Kelly Adkins

I envy Kevin. My brother, Kevin, thinks God lives under his bed. At least that’s what I heard him say one night. He was praying out loud in his dark bedroom, and I stopped to listen, ‘Are you there, God?’ he said. ‘Where are you? Oh, I see. Under the bed….’ I giggled softly and tiptoed off to my own room.

Kevin’s unique perspectives are often a source of amusement. But that night something else lingered long after the humor. I realized for the first time the very different world Kevin lives in. He was born 30 years ago, mentally disabled as a result of difficulties during labor. Apart from his size (he’s 6-foot-2 ), there are few ways in which he is an adult.

He reasons and communicates with the capabilities of a 7-year-old, and he always will. He will probably always believe that God lives under his bed, that Santa Claus is the one who fills the space under our tree every Christmas and that airplanes stay up in the sky because angels carry them.

I remember wondering if Kevin realizes he is different. Is he ever dissatisfied with his monotonous life? Up before dawn each day, off to work at a workshop for the disabled, home to walk our cocker spaniel, return to eat his favorite macaroni-and-cheese for dinner, and later to bed. The only variation in the entire scheme is laundry, when he hovers excitedly over the washing machine like a mother with her newborn child.

He does not seem dissatisfied.

He lopes out to the bus every morning at 7:05, eager for a day of simple work. He wrings his hands excitedly while the water boils on the stove before dinner, and he stays up late twice a week to gather our dirty laundry for his next day’s laundry chores.

And Saturdays – oh, the bliss of Saturdays! That’s the day my Dad takes Kevin to the airport to have a soft drink, watch the planes land, and speculate loudly on the destination of each passenger inside. ‘That one’s goin’ to Chi-car-go! ‘ Kevin shouts as he claps his hands.

His anticipation is so great he can hardly sleep on Friday nights.

And so goes his world of daily rituals and weekend field trips. He doesn’t know what it means to be discontent. His life is simple. He will never know the entanglements of wealth or power, and he does not care what brand of clothing he wears or what kind of food he eats. He recognizes no differences in people, treating each person as an equal and a friend. His needs have always been met, and he never worries that one day they may not be.

His hands are diligent. Kevin is never so happy as when he is working. When he unloads the dishwasher or vacuums the carpet, his heart is completely in it. He does not shrink from a job when it is begun, and he does not leave a job until it is finished. But when his tasks are done, Kevin knows how to relax. He is not obsessed with his work or the work of others.

His heart is pure. He still believes everyone tells the truth, promises must be kept, and when you are wrong, you apologize instead of argue. Free from pride and unconcerned with appearances, Kevin is not afraid to cry when he is hurt, angry or sorry. He is always transparent, always sincere. And he trusts God.

Not confined by intellectual reasoning, when he comes to Christ, he comes as a child. Kevin seems to know God – to really be friends with Him in a way that is difficult for an ‘educated’ person to grasp. God seems like his closest companion.

In my moments of doubt and frustrations with my Christianity, I envy the security Kevin has in his simple faith. It is then that I am most willing to admit that he has some divine knowledge that rises above my mortal questions. It is then I realize that perhaps he is not the one with the handicap. I am. My obligations, my fear, my pride, my circumstances – they all become disabilities when I do not trust them to God’s care.

Who knows if Kevin comprehends things I can never learn? After all, he has spent his whole life in that kind of innocence, praying after dark and soaking up the goodness and love of God. And one day, when the mysteries of heaven are opened, and we are all amazed at how close God really is to our hearts, I’ll realize that God heard the simple prayers of a boy who believed that God lived under his bed.

Kevin won’t be surprised at all.


Anywhere we are

Following up on my "Livin' on Love" post a couple days ago, here is Nichole Nordeman's beautiful "Anywhere we are" from her new CD, "Every Mile Mattered." This is a song for lovers that I dedicate this to my beloved.  Do also share with yours.  Lovers who have weathered a few trials together or find themselves in the middle of one or more right now should really sync with this.  Follow the lyrics as you listen and grab your tissues.

Into every life
A little rain must fall, or so they say
We have seen our share
Of storms, you might agree

We learned early
Don't hold tightly to
the things that might not stay
Love what matters
And you matter most to me

So when the wind blows in
And carries us away
This is what we say
To every hurricane

Love don't need a roof
Love don't need four walls
You can say my name
I'll come anytime you call


So let the storms roll in
Let the shingles fly
Love is not the fence we built
around our lives
And anywhere we are, I'm alright


We dig cellars, we lay sandbags
Board the glass and pack the old van
We heed warnings 'til we're headed out of town

But we do not always make it
We are sometimes overtaken
We are not as fast as every funnel cloud

So when the siren sounds
and when we close our eyes
This is what we say to swirling skies

Love don't need a roof
Love don't need four walls
You can say my name
I'll come anytime you call


So let the storms roll in
Let the shingles fly
Love is not the fence we built
around our lives
And anywhere we are, I'm alright


One day out in the meadow
I will stop where the old oak grows
I will lay some yellow flowers down for you
Or maybe you will lay them down for me
And this is what we'll say to that old tree

Love don't need a roof
Love don't need four walls
You can say my name
I'll come anytime you call


So let the branches bend
Dance into the wind
Whisper every memory to the night
'Cause anywhere we are, I'm alright

So let the storms roll in
Let the shingles fly
Love is not the fence we built
around our lives
— From "Anywhere we are" by Nichole Nordeman

Management Response

In response to your inquiry about our problems…

We have not succeeded in solving all our problems. Indeed we feel we have not entirely succeeded in solving any of our problems. The answers we have found have in many ways served to raise a whole new set of questions. In many ways we remain as confused as ever. However, we now feel that we are confused on a higher level and about more important things.
— Thank you. The Management
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Banner image source: dreamstime.com

Don't Hide but Seek

Guest post by my friend, Nancy Newell from her Wordpress blog, msmcword.  Thanks, Nancy for permission to share here at RoadReportJOURNAL. 


 See notes for image source

See notes for image source

Recently, I misplaced one of my rings. I had no idea what happened to the ring-it was as if it just disappeared from my finger.

When I was searching for it I looked in my jewelry box, my car, the pockets of my clothes, and just about any place else that I could think of. But I had no luck in finding it so I finally gave up and figured that it was lost forever.

But one day I was lifting up one of the cushions on my sofa. And guess what I saw under the cushion? My ring! I do not remember how the ring got there, but I am just glad that I found it.

I think this is also what happens with my faith sometimes. It is not that I quit believing in God; it is more like I do not seek Him.

For example, I had been having pain and discomfort from a medical procedure that I had in April of this year, and at times it was hard for me to see God through the pain. And this was not because He was not here with me-He was just as much here as He is all the other times. Rather, my being blind to Him was because I focused on the pain instead, and I let it become a spiritual fog (and this also happens with anything negative going in in my life).

So, when I find myself in this “fog” I feel a sense of comfort knowing that-unlike with my ring-I do not need to search all over the place for God. I can just sit quietly in prayer, or read God’s words, and then once again my connection with God returns.

And a reminder for me that God never leaves can be found in the following verse from 2 Corinthians 15:2: “The Lord is with you when you are with him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.”

Yes, there is nothing better for me to find than my precious Lord.

*   *   *


Notes:

1) Nancy's original post: Don't Hide but Seek published June 21, 2017
2) Image Source: Where is God?

Calling Heaven

(A special post in honor of people vacationing over the Independence Day holiday weekend.)

A man in Topeka, Kansas decided to write a book about churches around the country.  He started by flying to San Francisco and started working east from there. He went to a very large church and began taking photographs, etc.  He spotted a golden telephone on a wall and was intrigued with a sign on it, which read, "$10,000 a minute."

Seeking out the pastor, he asked about the phone and the sign.  The pastor answered that this golden phone is, in fact, a direct line to Heaven and if he paid the price he could talk directly to God.  He thanked the pastor and continued on his way. 

As he continued to visit churches in Seattle, Austin, Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit and he found more phones with the same sign and the same answer from each pastor.

Finally, he arrived in northern Michigan.  Upon entering a church in Central Lake, Michigan, behold, he saw the usual golden telephone.  But THIS time, the sign read, "Calls: 25 cents".  Fascinated, he requested to talk to the pastor.

 Metal art gift from our daughter - "Thankful for our MICHIGAN roots"

Metal art gift from our daughter - "Thankful for our MICHIGAN roots"

"Reverend, I have been in cities all across the country and in each church I found this golden telephone and have been told it is a direct line to Heaven and that I could talk to God.  But, in the other churches the cost was $10,000 a minute.  Your sign reads 25 cents a call.  Why?"

The pastor, smiling benignly, replied, "Son, you're in northern Michigan now and it's a local call."


Notes:

Image source: Michigan Metal Artwork

Gravesite bagpiper - It's a man thing

 See notes for image source

See notes for image source

You cannot touch the water twice, because the flow that has passed will never pass again. Enjoy every moment of life.

As a Bagpiper, I play many gigs. Recently I was asked by a funeral director to play at a graveside service for a homeless man. He had no family or friends, so the service was to be at a pauper's cemetery in the Nova Scotia back country.

As I was not familiar with the backwoods, I got lost and, being a typical man, I didn't stop for directions.

I finally arrived an hour late and saw the funeral guy had evidently gone and the hearse was nowhere in sight. There were only the diggers and crew left and they were eating lunch. I felt badly and apologized to the men for being late. I went to the side of the grave and looked down and the vault lid was already in place. I didn't know what else to do, so I started to play.

The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around. I played out my heart and soul for this man with no family and friends. I played like I've never played before for this homeless man.

As I played "Amazing Grace," the workers began to weep. They wept, I wept, we all wept together. When I finished, I packed up my bagpipes and started for my car. Though my head was hung low, my heart was full.

As I opened the door to my car, I heard one of the workers say, "I never seen nothing like that before and I've been putting in septic tanks for twenty years."

Apparently I'm still lost....it's a (fill in your age) man thing.


Thanks to Craig Rasche for sharing this "insight" with me long, long ago.  Over many years, Craig has been a dear friend and brother to me. 

Image by Steve Houghton via Unsplash

Book Review: When God Writes Your Love Story (by Eric and Leslie Ludy)

ludy book.jpg

For teens and young adults today, it just may seem that maintaining godly purity while dating is truly a God-sized task. If you are a young person who wants to honor God in your life, this book could open your mind and heart to the sweeter song of God's plan for your love life.

Co-authors Eric and Leslie Ludy, trading off chapters throughout the book, recount their frustrations with dating while striving to maintain basic standards of purity such as maintaining their virginity and dating only fellow believers. But following rules failed to protect them from emotional turmoil of various relationships despite that they invested heavily in the other person, sometimes even compromising some of their purity to hold onto the guy or girl they were seeing. Independently and long before they knew each other God lead both Eric and Leslie to relinquishing the pen of their personal love stories to Him.

Leslie recounts her struggle with this decision. She asked herself why a sensible, enlightened, "with it" young adult like herself would entrust someone as old (and most likely outdated) as God with this precious area of life. Similarly, Eric shares his own misgivings. If there is one thing in all of life that we feel sure God has no clue about, it's romance!

The revelation that came to Eric was, "My lack of trust came directly back to the fact that I didn't truly know Him. Likewise, Leslie admits, "While the Christian world indicated that I was following God's way by keeping the rules as best as possible, deep down I knew I was really the one in control of this area of my life. I had been the one calling the shots, not God!"

When they allowed themselves to truly get to know the Lord, they discovered that God's ideas about romance and sex were not only not old fashioned but He, quite literally, wrote the book of love! God's desire is to write a "sweeter song" for each of us if we just relinquish our love life to Him. God's sweeter song is like nothing this world can touch.

Recounting their own experiences as Christian singles, as a courting couple and finally, as young marrieds, Eric and Leslie offer relevant Scriptures and quotes from renowned Christian thinkers to make their points. While the book primarily addresses single Christians, it may speak to long-married folks as it did to me. I was challenged in a number of areas that I found I could adapt easily to my own situation (as 62-years old and 38 years married).

Some great topics addressed in the book: On faithfulness - I was totally blessed by Leslie's explanation about how God showed her, through Proverbs 31:12, that His idea of being faithful to her spouse was not something that began after they met but before. This powerful idea touches on why we should be guarded about our relationships with the opposite sex until we're ready for a lifelong commitment and sure we found Mr. or Miss Right.

On the apparent scarcity of honorable guys or girls who are worth waiting for - Most men today treat girls like sex objects while many girls will willingly forfeit their virtue to the first guy who cozies up to them. Take heart, claims the book. God is raising up "real" men and "virtuous" women who are devoted to Him and well worth the wait.

About having "ideal" standards for a mate - Ever had someone tell you your standards were unrealistic? Prompted by a friend to list her standards for a spouse, Leslie responded, "Someone who treats me like a princess, is sensitive, tender, gentle, brave, full of integrity, servant-hearted and honorable to name a few." Her friend challenged her to consider that "It was God who put them (the standards) in your heart" because He wants you to look for a man with the character of Jesus Christ. A warning follows. Often we get anxious and compromise and settle for less than what God has for us.

Partnering with Godly advisors to counsel you about opposite gender relationships - You'll be amazed and blessed when you read the role Leslie's dad played when Eric was courting her.
On when the sweeter song is solo (singleness). A relationship is not meant to make us into a whole person. Only Jesus Christ can do that. An entire chapter is devoted to being single, offering many views about the blessings of this time, even if it lasts a lifetime. It's also a time to learn some life skills that will be needed if and when God leads you into a marital relationship.

Near the end of the book is a chapter subtitled, "A glimmer of hope in a world of lost virginity." Although frank about the severity of sexual sin and its devastating effects on people, it offers the hope and healing that is only possible with Jesus.

Overall, this book is a real find with lots of wonderful and tender lessons that will sit with you a long while after you finish reading. An easy read paperback, just 219 pages, that comes with acomplimentary CD of songs by the Ludy's entitled "Faithfully - songs about a love worth waiting for."

I recommend it not only for teens and young adults who are in the middle of the dating scene but also youth leaders and parents of teens and young adults. 

Book Review: This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence (by John Piper)

In "This Momentary Marriage," John Piper presents a strong, Biblically-grounded stand that, "Most foundationally, marriage is the doing of God (and) ultimately, marriage is the display of God."

Not marital advice but a delving into the mystery that Paul alludes to in his lesson about marriage in Ephesians, "This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church." (Ephesians 5: 32, ESV)

I appreciated this book immensely but as I write this review about it, I must offer my belief that it will be appreciated most by a certain audience whereas others may not enjoy it as much. So before, you recommend it to someone, think about how it may resonate with them.

Here's the criteria I would use for potential readers: 1) Committed Christian; AND, 2) Holding the (Christian) Bible as an authoritative source of truth; AND, 3) Earnestly exploring God-inspired insight about marriage. Those holding doubts about their, or the, Christian faith but who are earnest truth seekers and open to accepting the Bible as a source of truth may also benefit from this book. Regarding others, I'm not so sure.

I offer these audience guidelines because some may see this book as presenting a dogmatic, "hard line" view about marriage, an institution commonly attributed as arising from societal tradition but which Piper presents as originally ordained by God. He starts with a bang in the first chapter to set up what he has to say about marriage:

"There never has been a generation whose general view of marriage is high enough," wrote Piper in the first chapter. "I pray that this book might be used by God to help set you free from the small, worldly, culturally contaminated, self-centered, Christ-ignoring, God-neglecting, romance-intoxicated, unbiblical views of marriage."

While these are strong words, I believe they represent how Piper unflinchingly draws a line in the sand that challenges readers to elevate their view of marriage above the common discourse underway in the world and even in the church today. Wading deeply into Scripture, texts from 32 of the Bible's 66 books are referenced with each chapter launching from a key Biblical passage.

A central theme is that, "The shadow of covenant-keeping between husband and wife (in their marriage) gives way (after death) to the reality of covenant-keeping between Christ and his glorified Church." While marriage is confined to the span of life, God uses it as a pointer to realities found in the next life which is to say that marriage is more than simply a license a couple secures to live out their love in a manner that is societally acceptable. Hence, the book is not so much about marriage as it's about God and Christ and how marriage factors into the plan of redemption for all people, whether or not they marry (and whether or not they are believers!).

In just 178 pages, Piper covers a lot of marital territory including all the "hot" topics - romance, sex, headship, submission, childbearing and divorce. His position on divorce will test the mettle of many readers, especially those who have experienced divorce. While he presents sound biblical reasoning for this position, he leave lots of room for mercy and even admits that his view is not commonly held among church or biblical scholars.

So to those who may say the book's tone is lacking in grace, I would disagree but also understand that charge. While I was challenged at many turns, I thought Piper offered sound biblical reasoning against which I could compare my own conclusions versus his, pro or con. That's all I can ask of any book. Overall, he succeeded in elevating my view of marriage in a manner I found quite inspiring.

Book Review: Apostle Paul: A Novel (by James Cannon)

Due to my love for the Bible, I am drawn to dramatized accounts of biblical people.  One such search lead me to this fictionalized biography by author James Cannon about the Apostle Paul, published in 2005.

Tracing Paul's life from birth to death, Cannon presents Paul's upbringing and early formation, his rigorous training in Judaism and then his conversion on the road to Damascus and entire ministry to bring Christianity to the non-Jewish world. Cannon skillfully and artfully interweaves most if not all Paul's history and letters found in the Bible.

Although I am an ardent Bible reader, I admit I am not a student of biblical history. Nevertheless, I thought Cannon captured the character, personality and demeanor of this most intriguing man, Paul. I thought the story unfolded accurately along the timelines of Paul's ministry - his journeys, travails, persecutions, churches founded, people encountered, imprisonments, etc. The fiction that author Cannon wrote to "connect the dots" seemed very plausible. Finally, the story moved along well.

Of course, since this is a work of fiction, Cannon needed to offer stories for the many parts of Paul's life where no history exists. As I reader, I found all these story parts intriguing while also syncing well with what is known about Paul in the Bible. These stories were, in my view, what made the book and that filled out the man, such as his upbringing, how he became a Pharisee, his relationship with Peter, and the tension between Jewish and Gentile believers. Overall, Cannon presents Paul as a man of complexity, intelligence, intensity and zealous calling that pulls against inner desires.

For me, Cannon brought the aura of Paul down to earth, to a level an "average believer" could relate to without compromising his character or integrity in any way.

A masterfully written story. Thoroughly enjoyable.
 

We Had No Idea

[I am pleased this Maundy Thursday to have permission from by my dear friend, Robin Schmidt to share this beautiful narrative she wrote that Pastor Doug Walker included in his own message at Grace Chapel on Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016.]

Palm Sunday…a narrative from the perspective of one of Jesus’ closer followers…as I imagine he might have told the story based on narratives from the four gospels…

Often, we think we know what’s happening…we lean on our own understanding, our own perspective…only to find out…

We had no idea…


We knew what every good Hebrew boy knew…we knew God’s law, we knew the questions to ask on the night of Passover…we knew Messiah would come and establish David’s throne forever.

And like every Hebrew had been asking for hundreds of years we wondered…when would Messiah come?

We had no idea.

When the baptizer was in full swing preaching repentance, turn to God, get ready for the kingdom of God, Andrew was among those following him.  But one day John, who seemed like a prophet (and we hadn’t seen one of those for a long time) John pointed out another man and sai,  He is the one!  The one I said was greater than me because he was before me!

o Andrew followed this new teacher/rabbi, wondering Who is this man who John says was here before him?  We had never heard of him.  Who was he?

We had no idea.

When this new rabbi told Peter to go fishing in the morning, the Morning!  Peter got a little sarcastic and was lik, O, Teacher, hatever you say.  And then the nets pulled in so many fish it almost sank the boat!  It might have if James and John hadn’t pulled alongside.  Peter freaked and fell before Jesus the teacher and said, et away from me I am a sinful man.

Well sure Peter, you and everyone else, but why did you say that to the teacher?  And how did you get so many fish, in the morning?

We had no idea.

When we were out on the lake and that crazy storm hit.  We were sure it was over for us.  Yet the rabbi was asleep- in all that weather!  Can you imagine?  Someone woke him up and he spoke to the storm, the water and the waves, and they calmed.  The storm stopped.

Who does that?  Could this be Messiah?

We had no idea.

James and John thought it was, in fact they were so convinced they wanted to secure their place in his new kingdom.  Their mom asked Jesus to put one of her sons on each side of Jesus.  Nice move dudes.  Jesus said those weren’t his places to give, but could they drink the cup of suffering?

Suffering?  Sure let me suffer on the right or left hand of the king!

What suffering would Messiah experience?

We had no idea.

When Jesus started talking about all kinds of suffering he would have to endure, Peter tried to set him straight.  Messiah suffer?  May it never be!  But he was harshly answered, rebuked as a stumbling block to God’s ways.

Poor Peter. He put his foot in it that time.  So maybe Jesus would suffer, but then maybe he wasn’t the Messia?

We had no idea.

And then Passover came and we headed to Jerusalem. To observe the festival and remember when God set his people free from slavery.  Wouldn’t now be a good time for Messiah to set us free?  But when would he come?

We had no idea.

And then Jesus, he does this crazy thing.  He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey!  Like a king.  People lining the street yelling,

Hosanna, Save us!  And he didn’t agree to ride into the city on the back of a donkey, he arranged it!  He sent a couple of guys to go get the donkey!

What?!  Is this it?  Is David’s throne to be established now once and for all? Freedom from our oppressors!  Is Jesus the Messiah? Could it be?

We had no idea.

Then the Passover meal itself.  It got a little weird at the end.  Jesus was talking about his body and blood.  And he offered us a cup, like a man offers a cup to the woman he wants to marry.  What did he mean?

We had no idea.

Then it got even weirder…he said someone was going to betray him.  What? ! Who?

We had no idea.

So there we are, with our teacher, who just rode into Jerusalem like a king, on Passover no less, perfect time to free God’s people.  We were on pins and needles, also exhausted.  Was this God’s time?  Was freedom near?

We had no idea.

Then Judas shows up with Roman soldiers and high priests and it looks like a battle is about to erupt.  And Peter, ever the first to react, draws his sword and cuts off a kid’s ear.  But Jesus tells him to put his sword away and heals the ear.

And Jesus goes with the soldiers.  He just goes.  No fight.  No battle.  No freedom from slavery on Passover.  He just goes with them.

Wha…? What happens now?

We had no idea.


Notes:

Also posted on Robin’s blog: Choosing Comedy.We.Had.No.Idea

Hear Doug’s Palm Sunday Message of 3/20/2016 at http://graceepc.org/archives/category/messages

Bible Reading System

A modified version of Professor Grant Horner’s System

Here’s a link to Professor Grant Horner’s original “10 Chapter” system: http://www.challies.com/sites/all/files/attachments/professor-grant-horners-bible-reading-system.pdf

I modified all his lists except 1, 2 and 6 to avoid reading Proverbs and Acts over and over again.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
89 187 85 86 93 150 112 216 171
Matt-28 Gen-50 Acts-28 Philip-4 Job-42 Psalm Ezra-10 Josh-24 Isaiah-66
Mark-16 Ex-40 Rom-16 Col-4 Eccl-12   Neh-13 Judg-21 Jere-52
Luke-24 Lev-27 1Cor-16 1 Thess-5 Songs-8   Esther-10 Ruth-4 Lament-5
John-21 Numb-36 2Cor-13 2 Thess-3 Prov-31   Daniel-12 1 Sam-31 Ezek-48
  Duet-34 Gal-6 1 Tim-6     Hosea-14 2 Sam-24  
    Eph-6 2 Tim-4     Joel-3 1 Kgs-25  
      Titus-3     Amos-9 2 Kgs-25  
      Philem-1     Obad-1 1 Chr-29  
      Heb-13     Jonah-4 2 Chr-36  
      James-5     Micah-7    
      1 Peter-5     Nahum-3    
      2 Peter-3     Habb-3    
      1 John-5     Zeph-3    
      2 John-1     Hag-2    
      3 John-1     Zech-14    
      Jude-1     Mal-4    
      Reve-22          

How to use this guide:

  1. Cut out bookmarks above
  2. Put each bookmark in your Bible @ verse 1 of the first chapter on the bookmark.  So, Bookmark 1 is at Matthew 1:1, bookmark 2 is at Genesis 1:1, etc.
  3. Starting reading the first chapter of each section in the order of the bookmarks. So your first series is: #1-Matthew 1:1; #2-Genesis 1:1; #3-Acts 1:1; #4-Philippians 1:1; #5-Job 1:1; #6-Psalms 1:1; #7-Ezra 1:1; #8-Joshua 1:1 and #9-Isaiah 1:1.
  4. When you finish each bookmark series once, go back to the beginning of that bookmark series and start over. Done this way, when you finish the longest series (#8-216 chapters) once, you’ll have read the shortest series (#3-85 chapters) more than twice and all the other series more than once.

Good review of different Bible translations and paraphrases: from http://www.swapmeetdave.com/Bible/BibleType.htm (pdf)

The Bibles I most often refer to:

  1. NIV – New International Version
  2. The Message – Paraphrase by Eugene Peterson

Other Bibles I reference:

  1. NLT – New Living Translation
  2. NKJ – New King James
  3. ESV – English Standard Version
  4. NASB – New American Standard Bible