Bible

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


 

Fall Ride

Fall riding along Huron River Drive in 2012

Fall riding along Huron River Drive in 2012

No matter how busy we are or how many deadlines loom or broken items needing fixing,  my wife and I always find time to take a fall ride each autumn.

We follow a pretty basic plan. We pick a Saturday or Sunday preferably when autumn color is at or near its peak and head out with a couple guest riders, often my wife’s sister and mom. We drive a hundred or so miles along tree-lined roads.  Every now and then, we pull over to gawk and snap a few pictures.

Fortunately we live in heavily wooded Michigan that is blanketed top to bottom with deciduous hardwoods that change color before dropping their leaves.  Contrasting hardward stands are prolific evergreens providing marvelous contrast while softening every landscape with their lush fullness.

Fall at home, 2010

Fall at home, 2010

As I write, trees right outside our home are bursting with autumn foliage.  Although outside temps are cool, I have a window cracked open to the let the crisp air in and to hear the breezes that are beginning to send leaves to cover the ground below.

Although I will never tire of this season, as much as I can wax eloquent about autumn’s magnificence, to think is but a dim reflection of our loving God whose creation autumn is part of sends shivers through me.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known,” wrote Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 13:12, NASB)

Likewise wrote the psalmist:

“One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him (meditate) in his temple.

(Psalm 27:4, NIV)

As I can never imagine tiring of autumn, what could gazing on the beauty of the Lord be like?  I am but a mortal, “living in darkness… in the land of the shadow of death.“ So wrote the prophet Isaiah regarding the people the Messiah would come to save, me and you - us. (See Isaiah 9:1-2 and Matthew 4:12-16).

The land of the shadow…. “Farewell to Shadowlands” is the title C.S. Lewis gave the final chapter of “The Last Battle,” the seventh and final book of his Chronicles of Narnia. Telling of the known end of Narnia, the characters are drawn by the “Glorious One” to dwell with him in eternity.

As they journey “further up and further in,” timelessly traversing centuries in seconds, one of those who arrived earlier and serves now to escort the newcomers tries to explain, “It is far bigger inside than it was outside….The further up and the further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.”

"Larger on the inside than the outside..."  A description of God’s kingdom or church that seems so insignificant in the day-to-day life of most Americans?

More and more, we Americans live in a world of our own making that seems so real and relevant. So enlightened, scientific and technological are we that an illusion of being impenetrably unshakable is not so far-fetched.

Then something happens that so unceremoniously flicks us from our fortress that we are shaken to the core - a wind or flood or fire or cancer, a power outage, break-in, downsizing,  health crisis or death….

Meanwhile all along on our carefully crafted way, creation quietly beckons beside roadways and bursting through the crevices of our pavement. Ever and always behind creation is creation’s Creator.

Autumn is one of nature’s calmer and friendlier expressions.  Take heed as autumn awaits to puts on its show just for us to enjoy...perhaps also to be drawn into its mystery.

Poor reception or something else?

 

 

I’ve had some conversations lately that were not received as I intended.  Ditto with some of my writing and social media posts.    

As I increasingly resolve to lean into and live for the Lord while also planting seeds of faith every chance I get, I encounter more instances of, shall I say, poor reception.  This despite the Lord’s assurance that the Holy Spirit will give us words to say when our faith is on the line. (Matthew 10:19-20).  

In fairness, the context for Jesus’ assurance regarded more of a “being handed over to the authorities” situation.  Still, some otherwise normal conversations intended to be winsome feel like that, sinking into argumentative debating.

Does the Lord’s word accomplish his purposes even when poorly delivered by the likes of me? While I enter a conversation intending to be loving and responsive, somewhere along the line, another spirit butts in.  Did that nasty retort actually come out of MY mouth?  

Why is it that struggling, sad, or traumatized people are generally more open and attentive to faith conversations?  The hardest to connect with are those who: (a) are doing well in life, at least inasmuch as can be observed or feigned; and, (b) who I am closest to.  In the case of family, multiply the likely disconnect quotient by ten.   

No matter how toughened I think I am, to have my intentions doubted or dismissed by those I am most known to is emotionally deflating.  It's also something I realize I need to get beyond.  

Even Jesus’ experienced this when we visited his hometown during the height of his popularity everywhere else. There Jesus commented, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.” … And he was amazed at their unbelief. (Mark 6: 4,6, NLT)

I italicized amazed.  Imagine Jesus amazed by unbelief.  Whose unbelief amazed him?

Unbelief has lots of help, like success in life already noted.  Then there’s that other “presence” I mentioned that is virtually invisible to enlightened moderns but who likes to horn into every opportunity to plant Gospel seeds.  

Warned Paul, “...our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12, NIV)

Here God’s message in Scripture is consistent and often.  The basis of all our hope is not results or even receptive people but the Lord.  Period. You’ll never hear the Lord ask, “How is that working for you?”  Only, “Are you abiding in me?”

No matter how well or badly our attempt to share faith seems, the Holy Spirit is the only one able to bring new believers across the start line.  All the feathers are in God’s cap while none are in ours.  

Help me tell myself to take a deep breath, relax and have some fun with this, to not take myself so seriously.

No matter how much pressure I put on myself, the sobering realization also cited often in Scripture is that most people are not open to the Lord.  Most shut him down or off and prefer to live according to their own intelligence.  Jesus’ “narrow road” analogy is alarmingly in that it easily accommodates everyone who is tuned into God through Christ. (Matthew 7:14)

Check out how God coached Isaiah to approach his prophetic ministry.

He said, “Go and tell these people:

‘Listen continually, but don’t understand!
Look continually, but don’t perceive!’
Make the hearts of these people calloused;
make their ears deaf and their eyes blind!
Otherwise, they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
their hearts might understand and they might repent and be healed.”
(Isaiah 6:9-13, NET)

Ever hear that from a professor on the first day of class? “The road to an A is to listen and understand but every one of you is going to ignore my advice and fail.”   

Distressed, Isaiah replied, “How long, sovereign master?” The Lord’s answer doesn’t paint a pretty picture. (See Isaiah 6: 11-13, NET)

Every Gospel writer picks up Jesus citing this passage, as does Acts and Paul’s letters to the Romans and Corinthians.*

Stand on God’s words and assurances vs. my own assessment about the situations and people I encounter.
— (Note to self)

When I feel cast aside, I need to order myself to fall back and regroup with the Lord!  Instead of rehearsing answers to anticipated objections or questions, more and more I pray that my hope and trust in the Lord is dialed up so I am strong in his assurance that I am covered no matter how things go.

When Jesus engages us, he also assures us that he’s got our backs.

...do not worry about how to respond or what to say. In that hour you will be given what to say. For it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
— Jesus, Matthew 10:19-20

Notes:

1) Isaiah passage cited in New Testament: Matthew 13:14–15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:39–40; Acts 28:26–27 and in the background of some of Paul’s letters (Rom 11:7; 2 Cor 3:14)  from "The Use of Isaiah in the New Testament" by Donald W. Mills

Memoir

dusty-bible-read-me.jpg

One of many benefits of serving as an elder for our church is discussions lead by our pastor at the beginning of our meetings.  Last week’s discussion regarded Hebrews 4:12.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
— Hebrews 4:12, NIV

In this case, the “the word of God” is Scripture, God’s written word.

We customarily think about Scripture as the basis for God’s commands, standards, positions, and expectations, often quoting verses to support a lesson, point or premise.  I draw upon Scripture in every Road Report post.

I wonder how often recipients and readers skate past or around verses, not really taking them in. Alongside a premise being supported, perhaps Scripture poses certain challenges.  Spoken or written, chiseled in stone or displayed on a poster or screen, Scripture activates that “sharper than any double-edged sword” effect noted by the writer of Hebrews - penetrating, dividing, judging….

Scripture is irrefutably from and about God.  Even if used incorrectly or out of context, Scripture is God speaking.

Through the prophet Isaiah, God emphatically said this about his word.

“...so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
(Isaiah 55:11)

My word does NOT return to me empty, insists God.  It ALWAYS accomplishes the purpose for which I sent it.  Here, Scripture stands alone with an ironclad guarantee from the author himself.

We take a risk when we use Scripture to undergird teaching or prayer or to support a point or anchor a vow.  Why?  Because, regardless of how we see it or how pure our intentions, we can’t really know God’s desire or purpose for any word he offers.  Here again, God explains through Isaiah.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
   neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
   so are my ways higher than your ways
   and my thoughts than your thoughts."
(Isaiah 55: 8-9, NIV)

“These are the very Scriptures that testify about me,” said Jesus.  (see John 5:39, NIV). Scripture is about God, not us.

“It is God’s self-revelation, literally a book authored by God that unveils his heart, mind, and Spirit," noted author Samuel Williamson. "Someone once said, ‘We come to Scripture not to learn a subject but to steep ourselves in a person.’”

Consider approaching Scripture not as a what but a who.  Meditate on God’s memoir to become familiar with his manner, tone, inflection, longings, inclinations, tendencies, passions and principles.

Given the risks, we venture into Scripture primarily because God intended this word for us, relentlessly inviting us to engage with him.  

Come now, and let us reason together, Says the Lord, (Isaiah 1:18, NASB)

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; says the Lord to his prophet Jeremiah and to us (Jeremiah 1:5, NIV)

If we sincerely seek him, he assures we are safe with him because he alone knows our heart, our true intent even if we miserably fail to say what we intend or use Scripture “incorrectly.” *

We may not be safe with people but we are always safe with God.  Even though he is not predictable or controllable or tame, he is good.  By regularly encountering him in his word, his voice can become intimately recognizable and familiar without any reverence due him being lost.

(For a brief listing of some verses featuring many attributes, see my companion post, “In His Own Words.” )

“God speaks mostly in whispers,” said Williamson.  “The secret to a lifetime of hearing him lies in learning to distinguish his voice from the clamor of other voices in our lives.”  He then concludes:

“The best way to become familiar with God’s voice is to meditate on His Word, just as the best way to spot a counterfeit is to spend lots of time with the real thing.”

Williamson’s counterfeit analogy struck me.  Scripture meditation tweaks my spirit to be at ease when Scripture’s use resonates with how God revealed himself in his word. Conversely, my spirit cringes when Scripture is used to a manner that seems unlike God’s revelation of himself in his word.  

Far from reliable on this, I am grateful to trusted advisers for catching and correcting my own foibles and abuses.  This is a perfect role for the Church - the fellowship of believers with whom we work out our faith together.

In the end, our saving grace is God himself, who knows our hearts, and his word that stands alone in speaking for itself and him. Only by him are we righteous.  Despite our best or worst intentions, we are unable to thwart or even improve God’s intentions and purposes.

Rather, God invites us to participate in his redemptive purposes.  The privilege is all ours.

Meditate on God’s Word to become familiar with him and to hear his voice in your life and regarding the matters you encounter along the way.  Through Scripture, our love for God grows along with our realization of how much we matter to him.

 


Notes:

1. Image source: http://primacyofreason.blogspot.com/2014/11/meditating-on-bible_22.html

2. How can Jesus and the Bible both be the Word of God?

3. Scriptures about God's various attributes: See related Road Report Journal post: “In His Own Words.”

4. God knows our hearts: See 1 Kings 8:9; 1 Chronicles 28:9; 1 Samuel 16:7; Psalm 44:21; Psalm 139: 2-23; Ezekiel 11:5; Matthew 9:4 and many others

5. Samuel Williamson's books is "Hearing God in Conversation."

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.

UP SIDE DOWN — 2013 Ornament

2013 "UP SIDE DOWN" Ornament

2013 "UP SIDE DOWN" Ornament

Life has not unfolded as I envisioned it as a young dreamer many years ago. Similarly Christmas 2013 bears little resemblance to its “year zero” original. However, in the words of author Dallas Willard, we live in a “God-breathed world*.” There is nothing humanity can make or unmake, do or undo with Christmas or anything else that God did not create, permit or control.

God breathed new life into me 30 years ago and as I’ve walked on in faith since then, I seek God’s context in every moment and to “lean not on my own understanding.” Through God’s eyes, UPs emerge in the mundane and amazingly from the deepest of DOWNs.

So, this UP SIDE DOWN ornament is available this year by request AND your pledge to think about and comment how its message strikes you.

Enjoy!


Christmas celebrates the birth of a child said to fulfill ancient Jewish prophecies about a Messiah King like their great King David (1050 BC) who would vanquish their enemies and establish an everlasting reign of peace. (Isaiah 9:6).

While Jewish scholars today discount prophecies Christians claim are messianic, the fanfare of Christmas 2013 would have suited their UP expectations for Messiah more than Christmas “year zero” did. In looking for an UP king like David they were caught looking in the wrong direction. Here are a few points of confusion.

DOWN #1 – How Jesus arrived – born to a mom who insisted she conceived while still an unmarried virgin. Really?

DOWN #2 – Birthplace. Although Bethlehem was the birthplace of King David, in “year zero” it was little more than a backwoods town located literally in the shadow of the local king’s fortress at Herodium that towered 2,487 feet in elevation over Bethlehem (elevation 775) just 3.1 miles down the road. God could pick anywhere. Why Bethlehem?

DOWN # 3 – Convoluted birth story. He wasn’t born at home surrounded by a royal family but in an animal stall in a distant city. His only visitors were shepherds who say they were summoned by an angelic host and the mysterious magi from who knows where who followed a star.

A stall? Shepherds and Magi?  Angels and a star? Could the Messiah King’s entrance be any less credible or more confusing?

After the shepherds departed, it was noted that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

What things did she ponder? . . . (Was anything about Jesus’ birth NOT ponderable?)

DOWN # 4 – Jesus’ compelling manner but counterintuitive message first wowed the crowds but ultimately confounded them.

Scripture offers clues for understanding:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
— Isaiah 55: 8-9

AND

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.
— Proverbs 3: 5-7

Hint! Hint! Relationship with God requires both heart and brain. Jesus would affirm and reinforce that idea. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21; Luke 12:34)

The verses quoted on the ornament’s pages are just a small sampling of Jesus’ UP SIDE DOWN-ness . Others include: bless your enemies (Rom 12:14), value godliness over wealth (1 Tim 6: 6-9), take joy in hardship (James 1:2), God sets himself against worldly wisdom and strength (1 Cor 1:27), and “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. “ (Matt 16: 25).

Christianity today presents the birth of Christ as a holy and magical event – God touching down on planet earth. But as a stand-alone event in history, it wasn’t that at all.  It is only so in context to the greater story of God’s efforts to connect with humanity and that story didn’t begin in Bethlehem but in Eden.  Christmas is really part of that greater story and Jesus has a significant role in it.

Which is why Christians believe that Christ is the answer to why we are. Arriving as he did, odd as it seems, went EXACTLY as planned. But to truly hear and see and know him “breathing life” into us and the chaos around us, we need to completely INVERT our perspective – UP SIDE DOWN!


  1. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
    • To SeaLemonDIY on You Tube (http://www.youtube.com/user/SeaLemonDIY) for the lesson on how to make my little book with real pages.  She has many other DIY “How Tos” there as well. Check it out.
    • To my friend and Pastor, Doug Walker for yet another lesson to build a Christmas ornament around. If you read back through prior ornament messages, you’ll note that I attribute many of my ornament lessons to Doug’s teaching. Doug is pastor of the church we attend, Grace Chapel in Farmington Hills, MI (www.graceepc.org). The “counterintuitive, upside down gospel” is a predominant theme in his messages.
    • To my new colleague, Sister Joyce Van de Vyver who encouraged me not to abandon my ornament project this year when I was thinking of doing so.  Thanks!
       
  2. TEXT of UP SIDE DOWN  Ornament

    FRONT COVER: UP SIDE DOWN (upside down)
    INSIDE FRONT COVER: THE GOOD NEWS?
    1st page: lean not on your own understanding… (Proverbs 3: 5-7)
    2nd page: The virgin will conceive and give birth (Isaiah 7:14)
    3rd page: I came (not) to bring peace… but division (even within families) (Luke 12: 51-53, paraphrase)
    4th page: He was despised and rejected…Like one from whom people hide their faces (Isaiah 53:3)
    INSIDE BACK COVER: By Glenn Trevisan, Christmas 2013
     
  3. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO RECEIVE a 2013 “UP SIDE DOWN,” simply request one by emailing me at FarmingtonGlenn@gmail.com.  If you receive one,  I respectfully ask that you offer a comment about the message by email, Facebook (if we’re already “friends”) or here on at RoadReportJournal.com. I’m not fishing for “likes” but how the message struck you.
     
  4. Dallas Willard quote from his book, “The Divine Conspiracy”
     
  5. BIBLE READING: If you are serious about answering why you are, grab a bible, start with prayer to ask God to reveal himself to you and give you understanding. For a great Bible reading program, check out the Bible Reading System on my blog. I’d be happy to walk you through it.
  6. About Glenn’s Ornaments: See the pictures and stories of all the ornaments under category Creations.

Distress Anecdote — Try This

Malaise, distress, despair – ever have periods like that?

That is where life finds me right now.  I have food, a home, health.  But after 40 years of employment, 3 ½ years of joblessness has me out of sorts, disconnected. Although I am grateful for the generosity of friends and family and temporary jobs here and there, having a regular livelihood is having a stake in community life. Somehow, I lost my stake…

My distress anecdote is Bible reading.  While written thousands of years ago, the Bible reveals life and the world as it is today.  In its pages is the human condition as well as a bit of nature, science and history.  Mostly, it’s God writing to people who believe it him – you and me.  Read to seek Him and you will get what you need for life and what you face.

It’s easy to see why there is so much depression and violence and escapism and preoccupation with death and interest in spirituality (including God).  Life is hard.  If you are not in a little groove of niceness that works for you, it’s pretty difficult to get life going in the right direction, even if what works isn’t very healthy.

But if God is real and if what He promises can be reasonably counted on, well that would be something worth living for even through the godly life is not an easy path.  But it’s a solid and true path in the midst of a very mushy world.

Here are two tips:

  1. Pick a plan and get to it. There are plenty of them around.  Look on the internet. (I use the Bible Reading System.)
  2. Set reading goals but don’t fret if you miss them, because you will. When you do, just pick back up where you left off.

I’ve been following a daily reading plan for nearly three years. I’ve read the Bible straight through a couple other times but this program holds my interest more. It’s a plan but sequenced in such a way that the chapters read on any given day have no apparent connection to each other.  Read in this manner, I get a strong sense of the continuity of God’s voice and message.  And I am continually amazed at how I see my very life situation reflected in ancient words.

Although my goal is to read 9 chapters a day, some days I only read 2 or 3 or 7 chapters, or none.  I usually take Sundays off from the plan because I devote Sunday to church and what’s going on there. The point is, make it your own.  Read each day then pick up where you left off next time.

The road of life is often bumpy and many sections are shrouded in darkness. Keep your Bible nearby and read it often – daily.  It will light your path.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
— Psalm 119: 105, KJV

Abide in Me — 2011 Ornament

WAIT, REST, TRUST, ABIDE:

Three years after I was separated from my position of 30 years, my life remained in “stuck” mode still. So I plowed ahead, one step at a time, clinging to my faith in God. He was faithful. He provided. He spoke.

But His messages were confusing: Be Still – Wait – Rest – Trust. This is not what the career-search gurus are advising. (Apparently, God and them are tuned into different channels.)

I turned to trusted advisers including the pastor of our church, Doug Walker. But Doug and God were in cahoots. (Apparently, he and God are tuned to the same channel!)

So, in honor of God and Doug, the message of my 2011 “Abide in Me” ornament is this: Listen for God and cling to Him. No matter what life brings, don’t let go – Ever.

2011 "Abide in Me" Ornament

Doug’s message on April 10, 2011 regarded Jesus’ teaching found in John’s gospel.  “I am the true Vine,” said Jesus. “Abide in me, and I in you.”  (John 15:1,4)  This term rested at the center of Jesus’ description of the kind of relationship He and his Father (God) have with each other and that each believer is invited to share.

The setting was significant as Jesus was sharing Passover supper with his closest friends, the last supper they would enjoy together before Jesus execution the next day.  Perhaps while lifting a cup of wine, Jesus used a grapevine metaphor to illustrate this “abiding” concept. He is the “true” vine, whereas God the Father is the vinedresser.  Believers are branches who “bear fruit.”

“Abide in me,” said Jesus, and you will “bear fruit.”  What fruit? The kind that flows from a branch, a person who clings to the Vine, to Jesus.  The fruits of the Spirit are listed in Galatians 5: 22-23: “love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control.”

I appreciated Doug’s message, but it wasn’t making me feel very fruity. I was struggling.  Life wasn’t working for me.  Then Doug offered Jesus’ explanation about how fruit production occurs – by simply staying connected to the vine, to Jesus.  Through thick and thin, we cling, hold on, never let go and fruit will flow, “much fruit.”

And then he talked about “the catch.” About how “abiders” who bear fruit get PRUNED.  Why?  So that more and better fruit will grow.

Pruning.  Jesus friends would know about pruning. They were Jews, people of the land and sea – shepherds, fishermen, and vintners. The language of the land was in their marrow.

They would know how pruning worked, and why.  In the metaphor of likening a vine branch to a person, they would know that a person being pruned would not take to the treatment very kindly.  Pruning hurts.  It’s not fun.  Think about recovering from an incision.  The dang area hurts.

In my Twitter profile, I describe my journey as, “Negotiating the perils of earth life using a Bible as a flashlight.”  Life is full of peril. Cindy and I are living in that peril right now.  When God is the flashlight, the way he shows is often not the same way as what we hear in the culture around us.  The Christian life is not easy or for the feeble of heart.  Believers live in that tension.

But this is the life God has given us to live and Cindy and I are committed to walking with our God through every moment of it.

Christmas is, first and foremost, about the birth of Jesus Christ who we Christians believe to be God’s own son. Messages like these that are scripted in the lore and language of every day people reflect a very personal God.  But Jesus’ arrival on the scene was God’s most dramatic demonstration that people matter.

Of all the “matter” conceived by God, the so-called “Intelligent” creator, people are the matter that matter the most.  The God of Jesus is a personal God to each and every person who ever lived and ever will live.  For God, everything is personal!

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser…Abide in me, and I in you.
— Jesus (John 15: 1, 4a; Context: John 15: 1-8)

He Humbled Himself — 2007 Ornament

207 "He Humbled Himself" Ornament

DID YOU MEET THE NEW NEIGHBOR?

My 2007 ornament, “He humbled himself” depicts and honors the “star” of the Christmas story who set aside being God to move into the neighborhood.  The star depicts the height of glory from which Jesus descended to arrive in the most unlikely form possible – as a helpless human infant, to an unwed couple, whose pre-teen mom claimed to still be a virgin.  His crib was an animal’s trough, his mattress mere straw, his kingdom just a backwoods town.

His birth could have gone unnoticed except for the wonder that surrounded it – heralded by a star and a heavenly host and rumors of prophesies recorded hundreds of years earlier providing minute details about a savior to be born, with ties to times of old, to creation itself and to a messiah who would one day be installed as the glorified king of all eternity! 

Given all the build up, the birth circumstances didn’t exactly give the messiah a running start.  It’s almost like the author of his story stacked all the odds against him by design so that anyone he tried to “save” could not claim to being swayed by any appearance of privilege, status, prosperity or slate of hand.

So when the cards of life seemed stacked against me this year, I was able to turn to a God who knows what that is like, a God who said, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest.” (Mt. 11:28) – because hedescended to us, to meet us where we live, to demonstrate empathy by personal experience.  When we choose to align ourselves with him, his spirit takes up residence in us and, as we permit and yield, we become more like him,transformed into his likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18, Romans 12:2).

As we follow where he bids us to go, we ascend with him and discover heaven and its rule right here in the very midst of our lives. Occasionally, we experience a slice of heaven and see life as Jesus did.

The ornament’s theme scripture is Philippians 2:5-11 (from the New Living Translation):

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father
— Philippians 2:5-11 (NLT)

Jesus experienced life at the bottom and so he comes into our darkest, most despairing experiences in search of us, to pull us out and show us the life he has in mind for us, “life to the full” (see John 10:10).

Merry Christmas.  Wishing you “life to the full” – only available in Christ.

Bride of Christ — 2006 Ornament

MARRIAGE A MYSTERY:

I was honored this year to be invited by my niece Sarah to offer the mealtime prayer at her wedding banquet.  As I thought about that prayer and about the life that she and Patrick were entering into together, thoughts about marriage came to me that eventually inspired this year’s ornament design.

 Traditionally, a just-wedded couple’s first night together centers on consummating the spiritual and familial union sealed earlier at their wedding ceremony with their first physical/sexual union. This ornament draws its lesson from this most basic of all natures innately human – sexuality.

The terms “Christmas” and “Bride of Christ” encompass elements of our struggles with both sexuality and relating to God although neither term can be found in the Bible.  Rather, each regards aspects of God’s limitless desire to engage us at our level so that He might show us the abundant life that He offers to all people.

2006 "Bride of Christ" Ornament

God gifted humans with sexuality to (1) cause and sustain “oneness” (Matthew 19: 4-6)between a man and woman who have covenanted before Him to lifelong commitment and faithfulness with each other and (2) as a fun way to make babies and proliferate humankind (Genesis 1: 28).

Sadly in today’s world, our first exposure to sex is often in the form of an abuse of His design – advertisers’ use of sex to sell everything under the sun, … casual depictions of sex in our entertainment media … porn – the number one use of the internet, … premarital sex – more common today than premarital virginity, etc., etc., etc.…

In a society obsessed with sex, avoiding temptation is hard. Men in particular but many women as well struggle with maintaining a wholesome sexual perspective. Sharing in this struggle, I’ve devoted a lot of prayer and study to this topic.  Fortunately, God meets us where we are at, uses our struggles to build character (Romans 5: 3-4) and to demonstrate that nothing can separate us from Him (Romans 8: 38-39).  In Christ alone is forgiveness and mercy (Ephesians 1:7).  So, here’s where I’ve landed so far…

While God grieves the misuse of His plan for sex (Jeremiah 13: 26-27), our powerful craving for sex is by His design and He draws on that power not only to enable successful marital relationships but to try to drive home in us His intense desire to be “known” by us at the most intimate level. Throughout Scripture, God uses the language of sex to speak to us because, quite frankly, it is a language we understand – and so does He.   (On the bottom of the ornament, I listed some of these Scriptures.  Note in each how a sexual theme is stated or implied to convey a bigger idea.)

Forgiving my bluntness, a way to depict the “act” of marriage is as a “trinity” of physical, emotional and spiritual ecstasy experienced by a man and woman exclusively committed to each other for life. Furthermore, marital sex is ordained and encouraged by God down through the ages, so much so that He admonishes husbands and wives to not “deprive” each other “except by mutual consent” (I Corinthians 7:5).

I believe that the “oneness” that Scripture declares occurs in sex is when the spirits of two people “merge” via the physical act, which is why sex is set apart in Scripture from all other human acts, why its abuse is listed high on most lists of sins, and why purity and virginity is so highly regarded by God (see Genesis 2:24 &  I Corinthians 6: 15-20).  Think about this “trinity” next time you share this joyful, timeless ritual with your spouse. Marital union is a wonderful, prayerful, God-given example, although incomplete, of what oneness with God is like.

Isn’t it just like God to use our own carnal nature to draw us to Him? (That he GAVE us by the way!) – Another illustration of how He is not a distant God but as close as, … well, I hope you get the idea.

So, you ask, how does the innocence of the Christmas story relate to this theme? Well, one way to look at Christmas is God sending His Savior Son to the world via a sexual scandal of His own making. To a nation that stoned to death women caught in the act of adultery, a girl who claims to have never “known” a man is found to be pregnant. Moreover, the explanation she gives is about an angel visiting, of God “overshadowing” her to cause conception and that the child she bears is God’s own Son!  Imagine that story leaking in today’s press!


Notes:

Label, Front of Heart: Bride of Christ; Ephesians 5: 24-27

Label, Back of Heart:

Throughout Scripture, God uses the imagery of marital intimacy to convey His desire to be cherished by us. Israel, His chosen people, is His lover in the Old Testament and the Church is His Bride in the New Testament.  Not only is God NOT embarrassed by the emotional, spiritual and physical bonds that a husband and wife enjoy together, He defers to the most intimate of all human connections to illustrate the relationship He yearns to have with us. Being “known” in the “biblical” sense was God’s idea in the first place!

Label, Bottom of Ornament (Underneath):

Then the Lord God made a woman…and he brought her to the man (Genesis 2:22).

Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. (Judges 2:17a)

Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood (Jeremiah 3:9)

How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride! (Song of Songs 4:10a)

… when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, … you became mine. (Ezekiel 16:8)

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25a)

“Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” (Revelations 21:9b)

Later thoughts associated with the lesson but not the ornament: (2/15/2013)

  1. Jesus reaffirming the original design of marriage: established by God, two become one, man has not authority to separate. Divorce allowed by God as an act of mercy only because of man’s sinful “hardness of heart.” (Matthew 19: 3-8)
  2. Marriage as a mystery: Part of a teaching by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (Ch 5: 22-33).  The “mystery” reference is in verses 31-32 is: “As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.  This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one.” (NLT)

    As noted on the ornament text, marriage is a reflection of Christ’s relationship with the church.  God’s relationship with his chosen people, Israel also mirrors this mystery. So both the old and new testaments are spanned by this idea: God/Christ as husband/groom and Israel/Church as wife/bridge.

    So, revisiting key markers of the conversation:
    • Established by God in the Garden of Eden: Then the Lord God made a woman…and he brought her to the man (Genesis 2:22)
    • Affirmed by Jesus: let no one split apart what God has joined together. (Matthew 19: 6b, NLT)
    • Explained by Paul: This is a great mystery… (Ephesians 5: 32a, NLT)
  3. For other biblical nuances of this idea, look at : As alluded in my ornament explanation, the Bible is filled with this idea. Any violation or watering down of it is entirely due to God making allowance due to man’s sinfulness and rebellion.

    Whole book examples:  Song of Solomon (expresses the romantic, passionate aspects), Hosea (expresses the faithfulness of the husband for an uncommitted and unfaithful wife).

Worldly Wisdom — 2003 Ornament

2003 "Worldly Wisdom" Ornament

WHAT SEEMS RIGHT ISN’T

In  2003, our family vacationed out west and along the way attended church in Jackson Hole, Wyoming where we heard a sermon by Pastor Don Landis entitled “God’s Wisdom”.  I was so taken by that talk that I ordered the entire 9-tape series after we returned home. 

The ornament is an X’d out diploma that bears each recipient’s name to show that man’s highest wisdom can’t hold a candle to God’s. 

God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
— 1st Corinthians 1:27

Faith in God and God’s word (in the Bible) is what we each must embrace to benefit from the promise that Christmas offers.  This is why I made a personalized ornament for each person.

Sin is choosing to be self-ruled instead of God ruled.
— Rebecca Manley Pippert, “Out of the Saltshaker & into the World” http://tinyurl.com/76sm2ab (Amazon.com link)

Sadly, self-rule is the heart of human wisdom, the wisdom that is held in high esteem in our world, especially in western culture.  But human wisdom can’t get us to God, only Jesus can.  This is the audacious claim of Christmas.

Think about how the first Christmas sets this idea of God-rule up – staged to stand in stark contrast to how rule on earth occurs.  What a God we have to orchestrate this huge concept as He did!

 I pray that this truth takes root and flourishes in your heart and mind this year.

Spike of Love — 2002 Ornament

2002 "Spike of Love" Ornament

THE ULTIMATE PRICE

My inspiration for 2002was a Lenten sermon by our pastor during which he read an account of what the torture of crucifixion involved and the pain a crucified person endured.  As a reminder of what Jesus endured for our sake, he invited us to take a spike, a miniature version of the large ones that were driven through Jesus’ hands and feet. 

This is how I know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for me.
— 1st John 3:16