Fighting for slow

Some mornings the day seems to begin without me. I’m not ready to keep up with the pace it demands. My body and spirit are a little sluggish and sleepy-eyed on those days. Like the time I tried a Zumba class with disastrous results- I fall behind in the steps and can’t keep rhythm. Some days feel like that leaving me frustrated, packing up 15 minutes into the class as I awkwardly dance toward the exit.

We weren’t meant to keep a fast paced life 24/7. Sometimes for the sake of our spirit it is necessary to take a breath and turn off the noise.  Step away and bench ourselves to the sidelines, just for a while.

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I recently took a break from Instagram this past winter to reset. I wanted to make sure my priorities were in order. Was social media serving me or was I serving social media? Saints will need to fight for fellowship with God even more as busyness and distractions invade our calendars.

These devices aren’t wrong when used in the right way. But they can easily become idols as they fill a desire in us to be worshipped or noticed. I’m afraid we will forget how to be still without something entertaining us. For believers this is a serious danger because God only carries us deeper with Him once the white noise is gone.

 

We risk a shallow existence with the Lord when the culture dictates our free time. My former pastor often said we need to “go hard after God”. I’ve mulled over that phrase, trying to see how that is practically done. I think part of what it means to “go hard after God” is to fight for time with Him. The world is already against God’s ways so our culture could care less whether you have quiet time with Him or not. It’s irrelevant to the unbeliever. But it is life for those who believe. To keep our souls fed, to direct our thoughts, and whisper prayers only for His ears, we need to get quiet and alone.

 

If you still have doubts just look to Jesus as your example. He was busy after His ministry became public with thousands of people wanting His time and attention. Yet He still made it a priority to slip away and pray to His Father. It was His lifeline. And it is ours too.

Cultivating a deep-seated relationship with the Lord isn’t an option but a necessity if we want to stand firm.  And maybe your unbelieving friend, neighbor or co-worker will notice how you set boundaries for your free time, how you don’t subscribe to the fast-moving life the rest of society does. FOMO is not something that bothers you.

Stop, look and listen right where you are. You might be surprised to discover things you never noticed before. God’s wonder and message of redemption is all around us when we take time to see. Spend time nestled in Scripture and wrestle with a passage. Seek God and ask Him questions. Let’s not waste the valuable time we have here.

To quote the teenage guru Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Those seem like good words to adopt.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

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Stormy Seas

As I sit on the balcony this morning at the beach a storm is about to come through. The winds have picked up and waves crash down hard as if to revolt against the inevitable weather conditions.

Last week at my church we had Vacation Bible School and I got to help lead a group around to their different stations. We learned about the miracles of Jesus and right now I can’t help but think of when Jesus calmed the storm.

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He and His disciples were in a boat when all of a sudden a violent squall overtook the sea. As the waters rose into the boat smacking against each wave, the disciples cried out “Lord! Save us! Don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

Jesus answered their fear with a question about faith. He tells the terrified men that their faith is small and then proceeds to do the unthinkable- to do only what God can. The Lord controls nature by rebuking the winds and waves until all is quiet like it never happened.

The disciples were stunned with amazement at the miracle they just witnessed still not fully understanding Who it was they were following. Only after Jesus’ resurrection would the pieces of the puzzle start to make sense. Jesus was much more than the political Messiah they had hoped for; He was God in the flesh!

Why did Jesus choose to display His power this way? Right before He raised Lazarus from the dead Jesus said, “Father, I thank you that You have heard me. I knew that You always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that You sent me.” (John 11:41-42).  All of Jesus’ miracles are for the Father’s glory, and for the people to see His power at work, even us thousands of years later. This is why we can still trust Him, even with the storms of our lives.

We may cry out like the disciples, “Lord, help me! Don’t you care that I’m drowning?!” And Jesus lovingly responds with the same answer. More than the surface external circumstances, the Lord points to my small faith amid big fears. He addresses the storms in my heart first exposing my lack of trust in Him.

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That day in the boat with His disciples, Jesus demonstrated how to fear less and pray for faith to grow in its place. Jesus knew the storm raged in the sea, tossing the helpless men among the merciless water. But He had complete trust in His Father and therefore was at rest spiritually and even physically sleeping.

We also can rest spiritually when our trials overwhelm us. It’s part of the human existence to experience pain, disappointment, and hardship. You can’t get away from it even when we attempt to numb our feelings temporarily. The only answer is found in God. His Presence never leaves His own. We possess a spirit not of fear but of power, love and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7) because of the Holy Spirit at work in us through Jesus Christ.

And even though we know God holds the stars in the sky,

sets rainbows in the heavens,

fills the ocean with salt water and living sea creatures,

grows trees and flowers and food,

raises the sun each morning to our side of the world and lowers the moon into night,

we still respond with awe and wonder like His first disciples did after witnessing the miracle of the stormy sea.

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I read this quote in my Devotional Psalter the other day, thinking it was very helpful and applicable:

“When life overwhelms us, when the bottom is falling out, this is where Scripture takes us: to God.

We do not achieve internal calm by securing external calm. We find internal calm by looking to God.”

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

Go Deeper: Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:36-41; Luke 8:22-25

Enough

I remember those awkward middle school days trying to get the right clothes and have the right hair to avoid ridicule by the other 13 year-old girl judges. Then fast forward a little over a decade and I was trying to figure how out to be a wife and then a mother, afraid I would mess it all up somehow. My thoughts revealed my deepest fears during those times: Am I enough?

Maybe you’ve been there too, wondering if what you do or who you are is enough. Satan often drops lies throughout our days to run us off course. The problem is when we start to believe them. Fears, doubts, insecurities, past sins start to plague us until we feel like complete hypocrites- who am I to share God’s message of grace and forgiveness?

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Can I share a secret with you? That is exactly where the king of lies would have you and me- as paralyzed Christians. The spiritual battles we face everyday are real, assaulting us when we least expect it. They occur when we’re getting ready for church as tensions run high and patience wears thin; during the church service thoughts zoom in and out becoming louder than the pastor’s own voice; in private prayer our minds drift toward the to-do list for the day and not on conversing with the God of the Universe.

So how do we fight back against an unseen enemy? There are two things every Christian needs to remember.

First, seeking the Lord in His Word is necessary for feeding our souls but also for equipping our minds. Satan’s battlefield starts with our thoughts. The truth we put in, letting Scripture fall fresh on us is the answer for healing wounds, rescue, and engaging the enemy. We recite Scripture out loud, not as some incantation or magical formula but to turn our thoughts heavenward, back to Christ (Philippians 4:8; Colossians 3:1-2). Use God’s own words and pray them back to Him. He hears us when we pray and His Presence is always with His Beloved. God can never leave or forsake those He has redeemed (Hebrews 13:5-6).

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We also fight against the lies of inadequacy through rest. We rest in God’s character, His past and present faithfulness, and His future promises. Jesus is the Good Shepherd carrying us through this life, held safely in His strong arms (Psalm 28).

Jesus is adequate. 

His work on the cross is more than enough. He covers all of my shortcomings and failures because He is sufficient. I can never measure up to my own distorted standard of perfection. His perfection and sinlessness stands in the place of my imperfection and sin.

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I never feel enough because I can never be enough- I wasn’t meant to. But the greatest news is that Jesus is enough and He is my confident hope. It isn’t a superficial, arrogant confidence stemmed from human pride but a peaceful assurance, knowing Jesus covers believers in His own righteousness so that we can stand before Him. We look to Christ because He is enough for us both now and forevermore.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Strangely Glorious

The more I press into God the more I realize how little I know of Him. You think it would be reverse. Yet He is so vast, so rich and inconceivable to the human mind and heart. The Lord reveals to us as much as we can stand, to behold His Glory.

Just like my sin, if I really understood the horror and magnitude of it all, it would crush me. So God graciously puts believers under the knife of life-long sanctification. Some incisions cut deeper than others, but all are necessary to shed the dragon layers that keep us from complete intimacy with Him.

As when Moses’ face shone with the glory of being in God’s Presence, God knows His Shekinah Glory is more than mortals can bear (Exodus 33:12-23; 34:29-35). Instead, He mercifully shines His reflection in the face of Jesus- and there we behold Him. It is through the loveliness of Christ we see who we really are.

I am covered by His blood and can say I am His daughter. Simple though I am, He is patient to teach me for eternity (Isaiah 54:13).

 

Grace upon grace,

April

The Outrageous Gospel

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” –1 Corinthians 1:18

 

Speaking with a neighbor recently about Jesus as the Son of God, the Gospel and eternal life, it sounded awkward as the words came out of my mouth.

These are truths I firmly believe in and stake my life on, but answering spiritual questions from a curious non-Christian, bubbled over as foolish. I was a little baffled and stunned and very convicted. The truth I’ve cut my teeth on since infancy- from Bible stories on felt boards to youth group summer camps, to Bible studies and beyond- sounded outrageous. Why?

Because God did indeed design it that way. The Gospel is offense, foolish, and outrageous; yet it is also lovely, crafted in God’s divine wisdom to the believer.

Here are other reasons that speaking God’s message of salvation doesn’t come naturally for us:

  1. Christians don’t practice evangelism enough.

This one stung as that realization came to mind in the middle of the conversation with my neighbor. My words aren’t natural because I don’t use my mouth enough to proclaim God’s amazing mercy. Christians cannot be silent and use the cop out: They will know us by our actions.

Yes, we will be known by our fruits of the Spirit (Matthew 7:20), but also by verbalizing the hope we have which all people need. (Isaiah 63:7; Psalm 71:15-18)

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2. The Gospel message doesn’t fit our Western culture mindset.

Our idea of fairness, democracy, and justice isn’t necessarily what God outlines in Scripture. Yet it didn’t make sense in Biblical times either. Our biggest mistake is assuming God thinks and acts like us. The Bible is clear that He doesn’t (Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 9:14-18).

He cannot be figured out like a code to be cracked. This is actually a good thing. God is so other than, so incomprehensible, that He transcends our limited understanding and us. It shouldn’t stifle our pursuit of Him, but enrich it. As Paul taught the Roman Christians about the nature of human depravity and God’s intervention through salvation he could only exclaim:

“Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33)

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3. The Gospel doesn’t make sense to our finite minds.

Why would an infinite, Sovereign, perfect God who lacks nothing decide to condescend as a human (fully man and fully God) and live among us? Why would He permit His own humiliation, suffering, dishonor, and death to rescue a rebellious, hateful people? Questions like this confound the “wise” of the world because God ordained it that way.

When Jesus came during His first advent He spent a lot of time re-teaching the disciples what they thought they knew about the Messiah. They anticipated a political earthly kingdom to begin immediately for the nation of Israel. But the Lord had a deeper purpose in mind- He first had to transform their hearts.

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 Jesus works from the inside out through the Holy Spirit. You and I can’t achieve righteousness apart from Christ.  His atoning work bought us freedom from sin, eternal life, and fellowship with God. It takes courage and a love for our fellow man to speak this out loud, but it’s the message our lost co-workers, neighbors, friends and family need to hear. It’s the truth we all need to hear everyday.

4.  Return to your first love.

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The difference between a Christian and an unbeliever is whether this “foolishness” is something you reject or follow no matter the cost. The truth is, as we live here on earth we still work out these truths in practice that we profess.

If I say the Lord is my first love, my most treasured possession, wouldn’t I talk about Him more? Not out of a sense of duty, but delight?

Jesus died so that outrageous grace erases outrageous depravity. That is the best news there is and worth bearing the mark of a Christian even when it seems like foolishness to a dying world.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Learning to study the Bible in a non-intimidating, helpful way

Last year I went to a seminar on Homiletics. I had little understanding of this approach to studying the Bible so I wanted to learn more. For anyone who desires to go deeper in mining God’s Word but feels stuck, this might be a good template to follow. I’ve relaxed mine to help me because one of the main goals from studying the Scriptures is that I want to understand what I’m reading. What’s the point if you don’t understand? You couldn’t apply the principles if the verses read like gibberish or nice but lofty poetry, right?

Since attending the seminar I have really enjoyed working through Acts, Ephesians, and Romans using a structured style to personal study. I don’t say that to show off at all but to hopefully encourage you that this is doable and the Bible doesn’t have to be intimidating or confusing.

When I’m going through a text I first try to read through it and find a good breaking point. Sometimes it will be after a few verses or a little over a chapter. It depends on the text. Currently I am in Isaiah 40:1-14. My goal is to cover the entire chapter eventually, but start small so I don’t feel overwhelmed.

Before you begin you will need:

-a Bible (translations recommended: ESV or NIV)

-pen and a journal

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With these verses, first I read through it. Then I try to write down observations/facts about the section. I noted that there are 5 transitions in this passage:

  1. 1-2: Jerusalem as a woman and a people, declared forgiven for their sins twice over
  2. 3-5 :Prophecy of John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus’ coming
  3. 6-8 :Life is fleeting like grass and flowers but God’s Word is forever firm and secure
  4. 9-11 :Zion, Jerusalem, towns of Judah proclaim the Sovereign Lord and Messiah; imagery of Jesus as a Shepherd for His people
  5. 12-14 :Describes God’s limitless power and knowledge using images of water, hands, heavens, dust, basket, earth, mountains, hills, etc.

-Comprehensively declaring the glory of God, His awesome power and deity as Lord and Creator of all

 

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The next portion I write down questions I have while reading the text, my own thoughts/discoveries as the Holy Spirit teaches, and also simplify what the verses are saying as best as possible. This is called the “Takeaway”. Here are a few examples:

>>What kind of comfort does God provide?

*freedom from bondage to sin

– “speak tenderly” –> like a loving Father to His daughter

-Prophecy fulfilled: He ordains John the Baptist to proclaim His message, breaking 400 years of silence without a prophet and prepares the hearts of the people

*keyword: will –> God can and does

  • World changing event in history of mankind with the coming of Christ; since then, the name of Jesus has spread all over the world like never before

-the glory we seek for ourselves is futile and is not remembered after a few generations, if that; even great laborers for the Lord are forgotten here on earth by the majority -> but God sees and knows all

Recompense (definition)- Reward or compensation given for loss or harm suffered

  • Jesus is our Reward; He is the Recompense, the payment for my sin

-The Lord’s Name should strike us with reverential fear & awe, as well as gladden our hearts like nothing else this passing world has to offer.

-You can take nothing with you in death except your faith in the Lord God.

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http://egoodography.wix.com/home

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This part is where I ask: How is Jesus in this passage?

 If the entire Bible points to Him, and every story whispers His Name, then I need to know what that means, especially in the Old Testament. So when I read the text again, I’m looking for ways this is true. How does it reference Christ?

Jesus is the comfort the Lord refers to; He is the One Who paid for our sins, giving us life and freedom.

  • Jesus is the oasis in the spiritual desert
  • Jesus is eternal and the Word of life; He endures through all time
  • Jesus submits to the Father’s will, confident in His rich wisdom
  • Jesus learns to trust and obey the Father because He knows God’s character: nothing the Lord does is arbitrary or without purpose

 

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lightstock_353593_download_medium_april_box_Finally, we have application to the text. I read the section again, this time with a mindset of how I can apply this wisdom to daily life. Here are a few examples of what I learned:

-Be a voice in this desert. The world is sinking on the shifting sand they stand on.

– Walk with humility, knowing there is a beginning and an end to my life. What I do in between matters; It should keep my mortality in check.

>>How do I use my time? Do I waste a lot of it or use it well?

>> How can I invest in others?

– Do not fear what man thinks of me, but be concerned with how God sees me

>>Are there times I am more concerned with my reputation and disregard God?

-Fear the Lord in reverence because He is perfectly wise, sovereign, merciful and good.

 

 I know this is a little long but I hope it helps. And I’m still learning how to best approach studying the Bible so you might alter this a bit to fit your way of learning and how much time you have each day. It generally takes a couple of days to do all of this. I might do Observations one morning, then the Takeaway section the next day. Breaking it up like this makes studying easier.

However you decide to study God’s Word, let me encourage you to:

  • simplify it into your own sentences so you understand
  • break the verses down as much as you need to so you aren’t overwhelmed (chapter by chapter; passage by passage; a few verses at a time)
  • ask God for wisdom to help you understand
  • be teachable; don’t come to any text assuming you know all there is to know about it. Pray for the Holy Spirit to guide your thoughts and be your Teacher.

 

We need Christians to dig for themselves in our culture. Be a lifelong student of the Bible. See the truth with your own eyes and you will be blessed. You can do this!

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

Christmas Year Round

Christmas is less than 10 weeks away. Can you believe it? Me neither. This year seems to have flown by. I’ve noticed the older I get the faster time moves, and the holidays sneak up on the calendar every year. Christmas melodies usually fill my car by summertime (I know, I know), but this year I didn’t gravitate toward Bing Crosby crooning ‘White Christmas’ or other commercialized seasonal music. Maybe it’s because the world feels heavy lately, increasing with each day. Like a needlepoint on a compass pulling north, my heart is best at rest singing back to the Bright and Morning True Star through Christmas hymns. Songs about Jesus usually reserved for Christmastime come bubbling up.

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Have you ever stopped to listen to the words in a song you like? Maybe like me, you’ve gotten some of the lyrics wrong before. I found a little clarity with that by looking up “error pining” from ‘O Holy Night’. For the longest time I wasn’t sure what that line was… “ere repining”? What’s that? When I learned the real words, the song became more meaningful after I comprehended the full significance.

My mouth springs open as I recall the words, listening carefully to the truths in each line. Christy Nockels caroling ‘O Holy Night’ evokes awe and gratitude each time I hear it. Tears stream down my face at the most inopportune moments (like in the car) but I lift my hands and heart up to worship anyway.

Music is an asset to the Christian life. When we understand first of all what we’re singing and Who we’re singing to, our voices honor Him in praise. Singing also provides an opportunity for spiritual transformation to take root deeper in our hearts.

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The Bible tells us of God singing His love over us (Zephaniah 3:17). I also believe we’re meant to sing back to Him. Christmas hymns in particular have comforted me because they speak of such hope and joy of what has happened and what is to come. It causes an eagerness and excitement to rise up in believers quite unlike anything else.

Christmas is easily bombarded with overall excess, distracting from the real reason we celebrate. Songs of praise refocus the posture of my heart – it helps me remember again. All of the to-do lists my mind is cluttered with slowly fall away long enough to see clearly the things that are really important – things of eternal value.

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It doesn’t mean my daily responsibilities are to be neglected, but I do them now with a different mindset. This, more than anything, combats an anxious spirit in me. The world won’t come crashing down if everything on my list isn’t checked off, but how I have treated people in the course of my day and the attitude of my heart does matter.

I hope you can worship Jesus as Savior with a full heart at rest in the bustle of the upcoming season. Even when outside circumstances evolve into chaos, the inner man is still at peace. Practicing this attitude of Christmas worship now and throughout the year helps slow our spirits to God’s rhythm. The Son of Man came to earth in the unseen, quiet whispers. I think it’s a lesson for us to look for Him not so much in the grand and loud, but through less fanfare.

Tune our hearts to sing His praise now, as we will into eternity. And as we sing, the truth is able to calm us and we remember what is so easy to forget. Jesus is with us now, living inside each believer, and He is worthy of our worship. So we sing for joy as we wait in confident hope with clear eyes and an expectant heart for the rest of the Story to unfold.

 

Grace upon grace,

April