Fertile Ground

The Old Testament is always a little harder for me to comprehend.  I am not sure if it is the words used or the harsher tone that seems to fill its pages.  But it certainly appears there is more fear and wrath in the Old Testament and love and forgiveness in the New.  As a result, I prefer the New, but strive to understand the Old.  Today the Bible opened up in Isaiah:

Give ear and hear my voice, pay attention and hear my word:

Is the plowman forever plowing in order to sow, always loosening and harrowing the field?  When he has leveled the surface, does he not scatter caraway and sow cumin,  Put in wheat and barley, with spelt as its border?  His God has taught him this rule, he has instructed him.  For caraway is not threshed with a sledge, nor does a cartwheel roll over cumin.  But caraway is beaten out with a staff, and cumin with a rod.  Grain is crushed for bread, but not forever; though he thresh it thoroughly, and drive his cartwheel and horses over it, he does not pulverize it.  This too comes from the LORD of hosts; wonderful is his counsel and great his wisdom.

Isaiah 28:23-29

I am not a farmer.  And not a scholar of the Old Testament.  I am not positive what this is supposed to mean, but here is what it is saying to me tonight.  I assume God is the plowman.  He has first leveled the surface — we are all on equal footing in His eyes.  We all have an equal opportunity to grow.  But we are all different.  We all have different needs and different paths (hopefully paths to God).  And the path is not easy.  We may be threshed, or beaten or rolled over with a cart, but we are not destroyed.  We are being cultivated, and nurtured.  It is only through these hardships that we grow to our full potential.  Like the plowman, God wants us to grow.

God,

Your plan does not always make sense to me.  Sometimes I feel like I have been beaten down or even rolled over by a cart.  Looking back, I know this is necessary for me to grow.  But I still balk at the process.  Help me to recognize the bumps in the road as the opportunities that they are.  Help me to help others see this too.  Help us to trust that you will not allow us to be pulverized and to recognize how good your plan is. Thank you for taking care of each of us and providing us with a path designed just for us.  You have provided us with fertile ground, help us to continue to grow.

Fireworks from the Holy Spirit

It’s time to get ready to go back to work after a 4 day weekend celebrating the birth of our country.   It seems like there have been fireworks for the last 4 nights, and I am sure, plenty of oohs and ahhs.  The Bible tonight opened to John the Baptist providing rebirth through baptism and foretelling of Jesus:

“I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Matthew 3:11-12

Matthew tells us that Jesus has His own fireworks for us — baptism through the Holy Spirit!  Imagine those fireworks, the oohs and the ahhs created by the fire from the Holy Spirit.  Close your eyes from the world before you, the computer or phone screen, the man made fireworks or electronic flashes of light and feel the Holy Spirit surrounding you.    Better than any lightshow on earth.

Now I know in this passage John talks about Jesus separating the good from the bad.  He will gather his wheat in  his barn and the chaff he will burn.  I quickly googled “chaff” and one of its definitions is “worthless things; trash”.  But as I read this passage tonight, I don’t know that Jesus separates out the trash to dispose of it, as I used to think when I read this passage.   Thank goodness — because I know I feel like chaff more often than I feel like wheat!  Are any of us really the wheat ready to be gathered?  So what becomes of us?  John says He will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.  But John has just told us that Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire.  So is it bad to be burned with fire?  Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to baptize us.  Even if we are just the chaff, if we go to Jesus, if we repent, if we ask for the Holy Spirit, then the fire that will burn is the fire of the Holy Spirit.  And for those of us who may be chaff, don’t we need the Holy Spirit more than those who are already the good wheat gathered in heaven (Jesus’ barn)?  Jesus sends us the right fire — even when we feel worthless, even when we feel like trash, even when our actions may have been trash — He offers us rebirth.  He offers us help through the Holy Spirit — we just need to accept it.

Dear Lord,

I am sorry for my sins.  I am sorry for the times I have not placed you first.  Help me to grow into the hearty wheat.  I am ready to be baptized by the Holy Spirit!   Send me your fireworks!

 

 

The cure for anxiety

I have noticed the Bible opens here quite frequently.  Whether it is because the crease here is beginning to wear or God is directing me to these words, the words are always welcome:

The Lord is near.  Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:5-7

Our days seem wrought with anxiety, stress and worry.  Am I on the right path, did I make the right decision, could I have done that better, should I exercise more, should I worry about GMO,  is my future secure, is my family healthy…  Am I living a life that is pleasing to God?

The Bible tells us there is an easy solution:  “in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.”

God, I ask you to relieve my stress, anxiety and worry.  I long for your peace.  Help me to remember that our earthly worries are only temporary.  Help me to keep my focus with you.

 

Hope = Power!

For the last few months, I have been”randomly” opening the bible and reading wherever the pages fall.  And each time, God directs me to something I need to hear and the words have made sense to me (for the most part), in a different way than if I just tried to read a particular chapter.  Today’s verse is a little different.   I didn’t open the bible to it, the verse was thrown in my face.  I spent the week “cop a squatting” in someone else’s office.  I don’t know the person whose office I have been using, but on a post it note under her computer it said:  ” when there is no hope in the future, there is no power in the present.” And cited to Ezekial 37:1-14.  This quote immediately struck me as powerful.  Our hope in God is what gives us strength and power.  I know this is true.  When we lose that hope we lose our power.  We are weak.  I could not wait to open the bible and read this passage.   Instead, this is what the bible said:

The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he led me out in the spirit of the LORD and set me in the center of the broad valley. It was filled with bones.  He made me walk among them in every direction. So many lay on the surface of the valley! How dry they were!  He asked me: Son of man, can these bones come back to life? “Lord GOD,” I answered, “you alone know that.”  Then he said to me: Prophesy over these bones, and say to them: Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!  Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Listen! I will make breath enter you so you may come to life.  I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow over you, cover you with skin, and put breath into you so you may come to life. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.  I prophesied as I had been commanded. A sound started up, as I was prophesying, rattling like thunder. The bones came together, bone joining to bone.  As I watched, sinews appeared on them, flesh grew over them, skin covered them on top, but there was no breath in them.  Then he said to me: Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man! Say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: From the four winds come, O breath, and breathe into these slain that they may come to life.  I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath entered them; they came to life and stood on their feet, a vast army.  He said to me: Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel! They are saying, “Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, and we are cut off.”  Therefore, prophesy and say to them: Thus says the Lord GOD: Look! I am going to open your graves; I will make you come up out of your graves, my people, and bring you back to the land of Israel.  You shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and make you come up out of them, my people!  I will put my spirit in you that you may come to life, and I will settle you in your land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD. I have spoken; I will do it—oracle of the LORD.

Ezekiel 37:1-14

I will admit I was initially disappointed that the quote was not directly written in the bible.  (I did a quick google search and it appears to be from something else all together and is often quoted in business and secular settings.)

And I had to read through this a couple of times because I was looking for the easy quote instead of listening to what was behind the words.  And even though the exact quote is not there, the meaning is. When we have hope and faith in God nothing is impossible. God can create an army out of dry bones.  We may be as far gone as we think possible but when we put hope in God, hope in our future with Him, we have power.  We can do anything.  God brings us out to the brink, He may show us the dry bones, he may show us the depths of despair.  But He will also show us that hope is never lost when we set our eyes on Him and listen to His word.

Lord, I hear you.  I am listening.  I have hope in your love and mercy! I know that you have the power to do anything.  My strength is in you!  No matter what my day has in store for me, I am ready with you at my side.

 

 

 

I found my map!

I have been gone for a week on a trip across country.  Packing space was tight.  And I left my Bible at home.  The week dragged on and I realized that I was lost.  I had forgotten my map!

Tonight, after a long day catching up at work and an exhausting week of travel, it felt good to open the Bible once more and read these words:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access [by faith] to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God.  Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.  For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly.  Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.  How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath.  Indeed, if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life.  Not only that, but we also boast of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Romans 6: 1-11

Let me boast in my afflictions!  Work is hard and tiring.  There is never enough time for what I want to do.  The chore list at home keeps piling up.  There are so many regrets and things I wish I would have done.  I am constantly reminded of parenting mistakes I have made or things I wish I could change. Good friends have moved away, others are moving on in directions that will take them away from close counsel and guidance. Too many people are in pain or sick and ailing.  A niece and nephew just lost their caregiver to cancer.  Life sometimes just sucks.  Sometimes everything seems to be a struggle and every task seems meaningless.  The end seems too far out of reach.  And it is easy to put God to the side. My sins and regrets can feel overwhelming.

But I boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Indeed I thank God for the struggles. Thank you God!  Thank you God for reminding me that today’s struggles are temporary.  For reminding me that every affliction, pain and difficulty breeds endurance, and endurance leads to proven character, and character to hope.  And hope allows me to be filled with the knowledge of you and your love and your Holy Spirit.

You loved us even when we did not love you.  I love you Lord!  Thank you for providing me with the map I need.  I am blown away by these words:

“Indeed, if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life.”  I have hope in the glory of God!

Wolves among us

Another crazy week, with awful news in the headlines:  Gun violence at a baseball park, a shooter targeting people whose views are different than his, a child sent home in a coma after being sentenced to hard labor for expressing through his actions a view contrary to that of a foreign government, another shooting in a workplace by an employee who feels overworked.  When will it stop?

Tonight the Bible opened to one of Paul’s speeches in Acts:

“But now I know that none of you to whom I preached the kingdom during my travels will ever see my face again.  And so I solemnly declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God.  Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock of which the holy Spirit has appointed you overseers in which you tend the church of God that he acquired with his own blood.  I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock.  And from your own group, men will come forward perverting the truth to draw the disciples away after them.  So be vigilant and remember that for three years, night and day, I unceasingly admonished each of you with tears.  And now I commend you to God and to that gracious word of his that can build you up and give you the inheritance among all who are consecrated.  I have never wanted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing.  You know well that these very hands have served my needs and my companions.  In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Acts 20:25-38

Paul warns us that there are wolves among us.  For more than 2000 years, there have been wolves among us who try to pervert the truth and pull us away from God.  I think we often feel like we are living in an era worse than the past, but maybe that is just because for the first time in history we see 24/7 all of the bad things that happen anywhere in the world.  Imagine if we instead focused on all of the good stories.

I believe we are becoming more faithful — or maybe I am just noticing it more because I am being more faithful.  I am thinking about God more.  I wear part of His prayer on a noticeable bracelet which reminds me and, hopefully, others of His plan and His will.   I notice others who are sharing their faith either by words or actions.  I notice God’s goodness.  It changes my perspective about the bad in the world.  I know it is still there, but I know there is a force more powerful.  There are so many good people in the world who are doing their part to spread God’s message, to help the weak and to live by his gracious word.  There is good — much more good than evil.  Let’s celebrate that!

Lord,

I know you have plans for us.  Thank you for giving us free choice.  I choose you.  I wish everyone would choose you.  Help me to serve others, to help the weak and to keep in mind your word.  Help me to share my faith so others can see the good in the world.

 

 

A Revelation

I will admit the Book of Revelation scares me. So I thought about turning to another page when the Bible opened to Revelation tonight.  But, I decided to give it a chance:

Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”  I said to him, “My lord, you are the one who knows.” He said to me, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

“For this reason they stand before God’s throne and worship him day and night in his temple.  The one who sits on the throne will shelter them.  They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them.  For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Revelation 7:13-17

Surprisingly,  this passage makes sense to me.  I want to be one of the ones wearing a white robe.  I want to be washed in the blood of the Lamb.  What do I have to do?  I have to survive the time of great distress.  It doesn’t say they did something great — they just survived — and then they washed in the blood of the Lamb.  I feel pretty certain that we all face times of great distress.  We have to survive and turn to Jesus to wash away our sins.  To fully wash we have to expose ourselves completely, we have to trust and release everything to God.  And we have to believe.  I believe Jesus died for me.  And I believe He died for you.

And then we will stand before God’s throne.  We will be able to worship Him day and night.  And we will not hunger or thirst anymore.  We will finally be satisfied and we will finally feel safe.  Jesus is the way — He leads us to springs of life-giving water — in it we can be cleansed, we can have ever lasting life — and we will have no more tears and no more times of great distress.

Lord,

You are great indeed! So loving and caring.  You lead me to all things that are good.  I know with you at my side, I can survive.  And with you leading me, I can accomplish all things.   I worship you!  I adore you!  You alone are my savior!  You alone are my Lord!

Get back on the bike

Philippians is one of my favorite books of the Bible.  Like many of Paul’s writings, it provides the human perspective to Jesus’ teachings and describes what it is we are supposed to be doing.  Today the Bible opened here again:

It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity,* but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ [Jesus].  Brothers, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead,  I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.  Let us, then, who are “perfectly mature” adopt this attitude. And if you have a different attitude, this too God will reveal to you.  Only, with regard to what we have attained, continue on the same course.

Join with others in being imitators of me, brothers, and observe those who thus conduct themselves according to the model you have in us.  For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their “shame.” Their minds are occupied with earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.

Philippians 3:12-21

My eyes are drawn to this line:  “Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead,  I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.”  I have read this passage many times before, but I don’t think I ever paid attention to it.  What a great reminder of how we must live.  Every day we have to wake up and forget about what lies behind — the mistakes we have made, our sins and transgressions.  We have to put them behind us, because God does.  God forgives us.  Instead we must strain forward, lean in — all in — to what lies in front of us — God’s upward calling.  Just like we are all taught as children, we have to get back on the bike when we fall off (and we fall off daily).  Get back on and keep pedaling toward Christ.  We can do that.  Forget about the past and lean, strain, toward God.  Each day we can choose to wake up and do this — this is the attitude we need.  And each day, even though we fail, we will get a step closer to God.

Dear God,

I know you have great things planned for us.  Thank you for your grace and mercy when we fail.    Help us to let go of our transgressions and mistakes.  Help us to keep straining in the right direction.

 

Be strong in Jesus

It has been one of those days. And now that I finally have time to sit down, God has this for me:

So you, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.  And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well.  Bear your share of hardship along with me like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  To satisfy the one who recruited him, a soldier does not become entangled in the business affairs of life.  Similarly, an athlete cannot receive the winner’s crown except by competing according to the rules.  The hardworking farmer ought to have the first share of the crop.  Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David: such is my gospel, for which I am suffering, even to the point of chains, like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.  Therefore, I bear with everything for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, together with eternal glory.  This saying is trustworthy:

If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him he will deny us.  If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.

2 Timothy 2:1-13

The first sentence is so renewing! “So, you my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”  Not so thrilled about the idea of “Bear your share of hardship…”, but it is a good reminder that we all have hardship.  And our hardship is nothing compared to that suffered by Jesus for us.  And nothing compared to that suffered by God, who sent his only son to endure that suffering so that we could be free, so that we could come to know Him and overcome our sin.  No matter how hard life gets, how many disappointments we face, how many changes, uncertainties and challenges we endure, we always have hope in front of us.  The hope of joining Jesus Christ.  “If we have died with him we shall also live with him: if we persevere we shall also reign with him.”  I pray that we can all persevere, that no matter how dark the night seems, we can remember the sun that God provides each morning and the Son that God provides for our ultimate awakening on our final morning.  “So, you my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

God,

You are amazing!  Thank you for the grace that you provide!  Help me to bear my share of hardship so that I can be a proper witness to you.  I am sorry for the times that I have denied you by my words or actions.  Thank you for sending your son for us.  Thank you for taking the pain from our rejection, but continuing to love us.  I love you!

 

Put the buts behind!

Today’s passage makes me sad.

When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, and he sent messengers ahead of him.  On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem.  When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?”  Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village.

As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”  And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “[Lord,] let me go first and bury my father.”  But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead.  But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”  And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.”  [To him] Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:51-62

“The Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”  There was no room in the inn at the time of his birth, the Samaritans did not welcome Him, and how many times are we not welcoming, do we turn Him away?  How many times do we put other things in front of following Him?  How many times do we say through our actions: “I want to follow you, but now is just not a good time, can you come back tomorrow, or the next day? or maybe after summer is over?”  Unfortunately, it is easy to read this passage and feel like I am looking in a mirror.  I know I am not always welcoming.  And I know I put other things ahead of following God.

Urgh! I wish I could break that mirror and follow Jesus more fully, faithfully without looking back.  I want to follow Him without any buts!

So, as I read the passage and think about how it reflects on my own life, I am saddened and ashamed.  Then I read the part where Jesus rebukes the apostles who want to bring retribution to the Samaritans who won’t welcome Jesus.  Even when we turn our backs on Him, Jesus does not respond in kind.  Jesus does not punish those who turn away.   Jesus just keeps walking, He doesn’t rest.    He does not  force us to follow Him.  (Sometimes I think it might be easier if He did.)  We have to choose to follow Him.  We have to choose to put Him first.

God,

I want to follow you!  Help me put the buts behind me and keep you and only you in front of me.