I said that to myself with both amusement and poignancy as I pressed my face into the towel. The shower water, just turned off, dripped next to me.
One day before, I’d paused over an ad for “Godwink Christmas.” Hallmark Channel is premiering a new film in that series, and my judgment at that moment was that we tend to try to familiarize and humanize God so much that His immeasurable majesty is underplayed, incorrectly so. “The man upstairs,” etc.
However, as the words “How beautiful the feet that bring the sound of good news” reached my ears from my phone over on the vanity, I just had to half laugh, to almost cry, and to be blessed. I’d just experienced one of those subtle, coincidental messages God does send to His children – what some refer to as “God’s sense of humor” and what best-selling author Squire Rushnell has termed a Godwink.
The slippers I wore to bed last night, knitted by myself, are fairly impressive as knitting goes – at least on my level. I recently posted to the Addicted to Knitting Facebook group this caption with their picture: “Let’s face it… some feet just aren’t pretty. So I’m glad I have various knitted slippers that are!”
Literally just hours and moments before my shower, my thoughts had been on a very recent speaking engagement where I debuted a pamphlet titled The Gospel Message (a. k.a. the “good news” about salvation through Jesus). And, immediately before turning the water off, I’d reminded myself to ask for special help with calluses while in the pedicurist’s chair that very morning.
You’re with me, right? Physically, my feet definitely are not beautiful. Nowhere near beautiful. Metaphorically, however… well, you get the Godwink. And I got it, too. Like the proverbial ton of bricks I got it!
If I am bold enough to claim the term some readers have applied to me, “wordsmith,” I have no option but to be a wordsmith for the Soulsmith. May my feet, no matter how they look or feel, bring good news.
Thank you, dear Redeemer, for the wink. I needed it. (But, You knew that.)
“Rent” may sound like real estate terminology, but that’s not the direction I’m going. For this post, we’re interested in the word as the past tense of “rend,” meaning “tear into two or more pieces.”
In Matthew 27:51 we are told that the curtain restricting access to the Holy of Holies in the Jewish temple “was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” when Jesus died on the cross. What powerful symbolism God provided to bolster people’s chances of understanding what Jesus, our great high priest, did by giving His life, by being the Lamb of God. This rending of the spiritual barrier required a perfect sacrifice, and Jesus was the only one qualified. Therefore, He said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6
Having come to Christ for forgiveness and salvation, a believer has stepped across the threshold formerly barred by what must have been – at least, in my imagination, whether historically factual or not – a curtain of heavy, heavy velvet or canvas, maybe dark maroon or black. I imagine it being as thick as possible, impossible to have been folded up at its edges for machine hemming (much worse than 9 layers of blue jeans denim in a double hem at the side seams, practically guaranteed to break your machine’s needle!!). The point is that the veil or curtain was, in its spiritual meaning, impassable and impenetrable. Possibly we should almost imagine, too, that it was soundproof: God might not hear the penitent’s confessions nor the supplicant’s help-cries through that barrier.
Now: picture a softly-billowing, bright white curtain like the one pictured above. It is not secured at every corner nor all along top, bottom, and sides with harshly-forbidding metal hardware. Rather, it is mounted merely at intervals, so that light may seep through at the gaps. This veil of insubstantial fabric is softer than the finest bedsheets of Egyptian cotton. Furthermore, it is not soundproof. In fact, the One who keeps this curtain in place wants folks to hear what’s happening on the other side of it! He hopes those dwelling outside this veil will walk right up to it and camp there, listening, touching, and watching for shapes that occasionally brush against it from the other side.
The opening of that curtain for admission is an event that we have been promised and that we anticipate, in hope, as we read Bible passages such as 1 Corinthians 15:54-55. That event is going to happen at an appointed time. The instant is as close as just one breath, and heaven-bound sojourners not yet able to cross the filmy barrier between mortality and immortality nevertheless experience much of what’s happening behind the veil. They discern in their spirits the voice of Who reigns in that place; they understand language; they raise their voices to join in the music. They are almost living there; just not quite yet.
I have now explained, the best way I can, how it often feels to me to be camping just outside the realm of heaven and of eternity while the confines of this brief, mortal assignment prevent me from stepping into the full presence of God. I suppose I must credit various New Testament passages (as well as Old Testament) for this sense I have of the merest degree of separation that holds us present in the body and absent from the Lord. See 2 Corinthians 5:8
So…what is behind that barrier?
Every good gift made perfect; every “the best I can manage” made the bestpossible by anyone; every mystery revealed; every question answered (or made irrelevant); every physical and mental shackle “poofed” away; every sorrow consoled; every tear dried; all inheritance granted that was formerly held in trust.
For the redeemed soul, the person grateful to be part of that unique vine-and-branches relationship with God incarnate, the activity just this side of the veil not yet “rent” is all about a desire to come home; to dwell permanently in a place that is known to be the most homelike though it has never been seen; to stop seeing “through a glass darkly” and to start life as life was meant to be. The veil grows thinner, weaker, and more see-through as intensifies our desire and our literal progress through time toward our appointed moment of seeing Christ face to face. And, when that time arrives for our entry into His presence, the veil simply evaporates away in the twinkling of an eye. Or, perhaps we simply walk right through it, as Jesus entered a locked room to be with the disciples on resurrection Sunday night! See John 20:19
As Heaven calls, the things of earth “grow strangely dim“! God, guide us, from this day until that great day, to be joyfully aware of how the veil not yet rentis dissolving a little bit more every day.
As promised, I have saved for last the best part, the most useful part, of this trilogy. And here it is.
Daily Bible reading has been a “hit or miss” commitment in my Christian sojourn, I admit. That situation did take a positive turn about a month ago when the April 6 article in a Lenten Devotional Guide published by Dawson Family of Faith moved me to action.
Since that day, as I have read each morning (simultaneously listening to voice actor Max McLean read, on the Bible Gateway app), I have noted a lot of “prayable” phrases and statements.
You’re probably familiar with the term “praying the Scriptures.” Many books have been written with that title or with slight variations of it. Using exact phrases we find in the Bible, as we pray, is a powerful process. It doesn’t make the Word more true, but it makes a wider use of our wondrous Book! Praying Scripture truths is a tremendous witness, too. Now, remember: whether we quote Bible verses or not during the prayers we speak silently or aloud, we do not pray in order to appear eloquent or knowledgeable. Keeping that pitfall in mind, I nevertheless want very much to be opening this door and getting inside the room where the Scripture-quoting praying folks are.
Why? Because of the vast treasure of truth, assurance, and witness in God’s Word that we have the freedom and the opportunity to voice, to call to our own remembrance, and to share with any – especially within our own households – who may hear and be blessed and encouraged and educated.
Below, I have listed just a sampling of these “prayables” – items I find notable within a mere month’s mornings of assigned readings in Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Luke, John, Psalms, and Proverbs. Imagine what remains to be gleaned from Romans alone! I want to be found praying words like these. And there are eleven more months’ worth where these came from. Join me. Give some of these a shot.
..Not one sparrow is forgotten by you, Lord; you know the very number of the hairs on our heads! Luke 12:6–7
..We will not be afraid or terrified, for you, Lord, go with us; you will never leave us nor forsake us. Help us to remember this and not to be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:6
..Lord, may we listen to you and learn! Deuteronomy 31:12
..God, let your teaching fall like rain, let your words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants. Deuteronomy 32:2
..Lord, you are our Rock. Your works are perfect, and all your ways are just. You are faithful and upright. Deuteronomy 32:3–4
..Holy Spirit, teach us what to say. Luke 12:12
..Lord, you have told us that we cannot add a single hour to our lives by worrying. Help us not to worry and not to be afraid, but rather to trust you. Luke 12:25, 32
..Dawn on us, Lord; shine on us. Be our help. Bless all of our skills. Bless our land with dew and with water. Give us strength to equal our days. Deuteronomy 33:2-13, 25
..Thank you, God, for the opportunity to work and then to rest. Based on Joshua chapters 10-11
..Lord, you have given us all that we have, including the ability to produce and to earn. All that we have belongs to you. Based on Joshua 12:6–7
..Lord, we see in your Word that if we have regard for you, then we have the basis of understanding how we are to regard our fellow humans. Based on Psalm 86:14 and also on Exodus 20
..Bring joy to your servants, O Lord. Psalm 86:4
..A treasure trove of prayables from Psalms 90 and 91:
Make us glad
May your favor rest on us
Make us to dwell in the shelter of the Most High and in the shadow of the Almighty
You are our refuge and our fortress
We trust in you
Cover us with your feathers; under your wings we will find refuge
We will tread upon the lion and the cobra
We will call on you and you will answer us
Be with us in trouble
Deliver us and honor us and satisfy us with long life
..Lord, we look forward to the day when we will eat and drink with you in your kingdom, at your table. Luke 22:30
..From Psalms 92 and 93:
Give us understanding
Help us to remember that evil will perish
Help us to flourish and to grow, that we may honor you
Lord, you reign, robed in majesty and armed with strength
Lord, your statutes stand firm
..Lord, may our souls march on and be strong! Judges 5:21
..God, we pray that we will not fall into temptation. Luke 22:40
..Make us prudent; may we always give thought to our ways. Proverbs 14:8
..Lord, your Word tells us that evildoers will bow down in the presence of the good, and the wicked at the gates of the righteous. Proverbs 14:19
..Lord, bring us out [of this worry… calamity… grief] with rejoicing. Psalm 105:43
Our starting point
I expect that once you and I really latch onto the value of “praying the Word” in this manner, both our Bible reading and our praying will be renovated and refreshed as we glean powerful truths and speak them – to ourselves, and before our families, colleagues, Life Group brothers and sisters, etc., as we have opportunity – to the end that we internalize more of these expressions of God’s truth and encourage one another with them.
Deciding to be faithful in reading is the starting point. (And don’t forget about available audio Bible resources!) As I read, it helps me to write down what I know will benefit me when I review it later on. What practices help you to retain the Bible passages you are reading?
“A sojourning Levite” begins a paragraph written on May 3 in the spiral-bound journal you see at bottom right of the above photo montage. In part 1 of this three-part blog post, you got a bit of background both on the journal and on how I am currently using it as I read daily in a “one-year” Bible (also pictured above, in red).
Now: what is so fascinating about that sojourning Levite, whose story we find in the Old Testament book of Judges?
Israel had no king
Judges chapters 17 and 18 provide a strange-sounding narrative: a son steals 1,100 shekels of silver from his mother and admits it later, after she has been stressing vocally about the loss. She is happy, not angry, about the new information. At least, we are not told about any anger or any scolding – perhaps because even mothers were, first and foremost, women, and it was the men of the household who made all of the rules during this time, in Israelite culture.
My first thought was that the mother’s predominant reaction was gladness…why? Because the mystery was solved. The money’s whereabouts were no longer unknown. Me? My relief in knowing what had happened to the money would be tempered by great annoyance about the theft! This story in Judges and the questions to which it gives rise help us to see that Bible study – like the Bible itself – remains “living and active.” And we are only just getting started! Read on:
The mother now takes charge of some of the money. To be specific, 200 of the 1,100 shekels, or about 18% of the total. What purpose has the mother for this money? To melt it down and make it into “a carved image and a cast idol.” Are you getting as hot under the collar as I am? Like me, you are getting your Ten Commandments on, aren’t you? Making “images” and “idols” sounds like a clear violation of the commandment we find recorded in Exodus 20:4, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.”
However, no lightning, plague, or similar disaster strikes this household. Instead, the son, Micah, who already had “a shrine,” makes an ephod (a priestly robe), makes “some household gods,” and installs one of his sons as priest. All of these actions seem pretty renegade in view of what we know about the laws governing Israel’s story dating back to Abraham, but the following explanation sheds light: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” (Judges 17:6)
Everyone’s doing what seemed “fit” doesn’t exactly mean that lawlessness was rampant. The people we are talking about had the Mosaic law and tradition. They had, in a very practical sense, dominion and order within families or clans or tribes. Within each little realm, there was wealth and there was rule by someone patriarchal or by “elders.” Furthermore, there were collective armies to be assembled and sent when armies were needed.
Sheep without a Shepherd
Nevertheless, a poignant New Testament expression seems applicable: “sheep without a shepherd.”Israel’s later insistence on being ruled by kings was symptomatic of their need for the King of kings. And, in our day of partisan politics, we surely see that same need within the hearts of all our citizens. No matter what is going on politically, Jesus is the Master – the good Shepherd – we all need as our able Savior and wise Authority. A people doing “whatever seems fit,” submitting whenever possible to no higher authority than personal preference or common sense – that sounds an awful lot like a modern-day account, doesn’t it?
Follow your heart.
Go boldly in the direction of your dreams.
Be your own person.
Make your own rules.
Do what is right for you.
The list of similar mottos goes on, but each is just a slight variation on one theme: “Be your own god. Revere self above all.”
In this story in Judges, a certain Levite comes traveling near and ends up at Micah’s house. The information that this Levite left Bethlehem in Judah “in search of some other place to stay” is what prompted my word choice in a journal note, “sojourning.” In Part 1 of this trilogy post, I have explained a little of what sojourning looks like in my life in 2020 and thereabouts.
What does the sojourning Levite do at Micah’s house?
This unnamed Levite in search of a new situation happens upon Micah’s house and becomes the new, better, official priest. (Remember: the tribe of Levi were the priests of Israel.) And Micah is confident the Lord will be good to him as a result of this change. Will that expectation of Micah’s come to pass?! I sense foreshadowing. Or, should I say “foreboding”?
Oh, just in case you are wondering whether this fellow in Judges is the same person as Micah the prophet, I wondered the same thing and turned to the 33rd book of the Old Testament in search of an answer. The answer is no. The prophet Micah, of Moresheth, lived during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Since in our story in Judges “Israel had no king,” these two Micahs could not be the same person.
My journal ramblings of early May say no more about this account of Micah, Micah’s mother, stolen money, graven images, and the sojourning Levite who became Micah’s household’s priest. There is more to that story in the Bible, though, thanks to a bunch of Danites who – inexplicably – apparently got totally left out when all of the conquered lands were divvied up amongst the tribes of Israel. These Danites lured Micah’s personal priest away. (Apparently, that Levite wasn’t done sojourning.) They said to him, “Come with us, and be our father and priest. Isn’t it better that you serve a tribe and clan in Israel as priest rather than just one man’s household?”
Summary time! Let’s close by fixing on what ought to be the central message of Part 2 in this three-part blog series. (And, by the way, I have saved the best material for Part 3.)
I’ll make this review a multiple-choice exercise:
A. Two hundred out of eleven hundred is about 18%.
B. A son should not steal his mother’s money.
C. Bible reading can be downright interesting, which is a good thing, since we are supposed to read our Bibles.
D. When you get right down to it, everybody serves a king. Make yours King Jesus. Definitely, you don’t want to go down the road of putting yourself on that throne. #ToBeToppled
I’ll go with D.
Scroll back up to that bullet list. Heart; dreams; individuality – there is a place for all of these considerations in a life bowed before King Jesus. It’s just that the person choosing Jesus as Lord finds passions, sees dreams fulfilled, and expresses individuality within good and safe boundaries, under God’s blessing.
Part 1, “Unsuspecting” Part 2, “Everybody serves somebody” Coming up next: Part 3, “The prayables”
At lower right in the image above, you see a spiral-bound journal I bought because it was too cute to resist. The cover has a drawing of a cup of coffee and some writing in that “Courier” type of font that makes your words appear to have been rendered by an actual typewriter – reminiscent of a glorified era now gone. If you become sentimental for reminders of vintage office machinery and technology, just watch a few episodes of classic Columbo or especially Hawaii Five-0. Those dictaphones, telephones, adding machines, and punchcard-spitting computer monstrosities are simply fascinating!
Yeah, that’s kind of a weird message. However, because I enjoy coffee every morning, during the pure solitude to be found only by being up and about earlier than anybody else in the household, I’m fine with having a weird coffee message on the cover of the journal I am currently using to record my responses to the Bible. In fact, I recently admitted to someone that “making coffee a positive association” of this morning routine is helping me to sustain a renewed commitment to daily Bible reading. While that admission makes me wonder if I should apologize or be embarrassed that the Bible without coffee apparently isn’t sufficient enticement, I am not apologizing. Not today, anyhow. After all, on the third day when God created grass, herb, and tree, that included coffee, didn’t it?
Since early April of this year, when another writer’s devotional message deeply convicted me that regular Bible reading is an absolute must, I have poured the coffee first, then pored over the assigned pages in a One-Year Bible. Every day. Haven’t missed a single day yet. I desire not to give up this daily time reading the Word “for any consideration” – to borrow what Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice says about the delight he finds in the absurd letters written him by Mr. Collins, a cousin who is silly, pompous, hypocritical, and socially awkward.
“Sojourning and journaling”
“Sojourning and Journaling” is the title of this three-part blog post. You are reading Part 1. The other two installments are set to publish immediately on the heels of this one. In Part 2 you’ll learn when and why the word “sojourning” became such a focus. When that happened, I took my pen to the facing blank page of that weird “coffee” journal and wrote: Sojourning and Journaling A title that may well describe the process of navigating life and spirituality in my pre-senior-adult years, and the record thereof
Isn’t “sojourning” quite nice in adjective form?
“A sojourning Levite happens upon Micah’s house”
I also like the word as a gerund noun. The title “Sojourning and Journaling” definitely feels descriptive of my ongoing learning and meditative process, an introspective and contemplative journey not just about what I am reading daily in the Bible in the year 2020, but also about semi-retirement and upcoming mother-of-the-bride duties and COVID-19 adjustments and constantly feeling as if my prayer life – nay, my total discipleship – is woefully stunted, and so much more.
Lately, this sojourn has been chronicled not only in the “coffee understands” journal dedicated to Bible reading sessions, but also in a series of “regular” journals – mostly, the classic, stitch-bound composition “theme” books I have been using ever since the happy acquisition of a beautiful cover made locally by Leldon’s Wooden Art:
These theme books and their predecessors have content that runs the gamut from highly-mundane goings-on to serious reflections, from travelogues to baking, knitting, and yardwork endeavors.
“From everlasting to everlasting”: one gem OF MANY in the Psalms
Before we get to the subtitle topic of this post, “Unsuspecting,” look with me at one poetic phrase in the assigned readings from May 2, within verse 17 of Psalm 103: “from everlasting to everlasting.” It employs as a noun what more naturally sounds like an adjective in English (as in “everlasting life”). Naturally, I ran straight to any website that might tell me what the Hebrew word translated “everlasting” looks like:
Not being a scholar or even a student of Hebrew, I don’t find those notations very meaningful. But they look impressive, don’t they?
And this is really cool: the Hebrew rendered “everlasting” is explained by a list of words that includes both nouns and adjectives: 😄 #WordJoy
Long duration (noun)
Always (adverb… just to keep this still more interesting)
Wouldn’t you like to be the writer who first employed the phrase “from everlasting to everlasting”? I sure would.
Is “unsuspecting” a good way to be? No. And yes.
As we now arrive at the primary topic of this installment, “Unsuspecting,” I need to point something out about the NIV (New International Version). There is a current NIV translation you get in the “audio” tab on Bible Gateway, and there is an earlier NIV in my One-Year Bible published in 1986. As a result, frequent differences in wording occur. For example, “unsuspecting” is interchanged with “at peace” in Judges 18:7 and 18:10.
Note also that the format of this Bible resource is a pretty big chunk from the Old Testament, every day, in sequence from Genesis starting on January 1 to Revelation concluding on December 31; plus, each day, a shorter passage from the New Testament; some verses from one or more Psalms chapters; and, almost as a postscript (but not), a mere one or two verses from Proverbs. You could almost do the math here if you were so inclined (and I am so inclined; oh, yes, I am!): 365 days times some 28 words on average per day should equal about 10,220 words in the book of Proverbs. Guess what: I was less than 3% off. That’s pretty close! One website reports that Proverbs has 9,921 words. #BibleTrivia Math… English… Argghhh! Which discipline do I enjoy more?
Synonyms and Antonyms
How interesting it is to examine words and the apparent nuances of difference in their meanings! Let’s look at the use of “unsuspecting” versus “at peace.” In context, the term so translated seems to mean “politically at peace, unworried about possible attack by other peoples.” See Judges 18:7-10.
Would you agree that “unsuspecting“ often hints that the person so described is misled into feeling at peace? In fiction, the word nearly always applies to someone about to become a victim: an unsuspecting pedestrian suddenly hears screeching tires and a roaring car engine. Will that pedestrian react in time? In nonfiction, the unsuspecting (and slower) gazelle may not be very happy to glance up and discover a cheetah charging. YIKES!
It’s not only synonyms that deserve scrutiny; opposite concepts do, too. Therefore, look with me at Assurance/Peacefulness/Unsuspecting versus Warning/Unease/Alertness:
“Always be on the alert,” we are warned in the New Testament. “Unsuspecting” suggests a parallel to the saying “ignorance is bliss” (bliss meaning peace). To feel safe and secure, like a cared-for infant or a cuddled household pet, is blissful, because sure-to-return discomforts and worries are temporarily forgotten.
In the Bible we find profound assurances such as “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” always in tension withwarnings like the one mentioned at the start of the above paragraph. The New Testament must have scores of verses in each category. Here is just one more of each: Assurance
Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Romans 8:38-39 Warning
“The world will hate you as it has hated me.” John 15:18
And, so, that tension between assurance and warning, between peace and unease, between unsuspecting and alertness, will be a part of our Christ-follower journey until THE DAY of God’s appointing, when there shall be no more tears. I do not know whether my sojourn between now and that day will always find me journaling as avidly as at present. I do know it will take “from everlasting to everlasting” for me to exhaust the store of ideas, reflections, and word combinations that occur to me in response to such a wise and infinite Creator, in whose image I am wonderfully made.
And isn’t it exciting to realize that God’s children one day will actually understand what “from everlasting to everlasting” looks like and feels like? Then, the unfathomable depths of your mind and of mine, will find full expression. Complexity is a facet of God’s nature, and we are made in His image. In His eternal home, all of our complexities, presently too great for us to understand no matter how hard we try, will be employed perfectly and to their ultimate extent. Mental complexities, yes, but physical, too! At least, this is what I imagine.
In other words, we each may find ourselves able to be gymnasts, soloists, scientists, philosophers, orators, quarterbacks, weavers, composers, goldsmiths, pianists, horticulturists, teachers, masons, swimmers, and so forth, and so forth, and so forth! I won’t have to ponder ever again whether I like math more than English, or vice versa. #NoLimits #Perfection
And, forevermore, we will know the sweet privilege of staying unsuspecting.
Part 1, “Unsuspecting” Coming up next: Part 2, “Everybody serves somebody”
Part 3, “The prayables”
Incidentally, it’s good that whatever inspiration legacy I may be creating is in typewritten form, here on this blog and elsewhere, because nobody could be prevailed upon to decipher my handwritten chicken scratch. Nevertheless, I believe that one’s “gut” and hasty jottings made during a wave of conviction and awareness create a record with some intrinsic value. So, I’m sharing this example:
On again, off again
In at least one previous post this season, I have referenced the Lenten Devotional Guide provided by Dawson Family of Faith and still available here. The April 6 message, “Following at a Distance,” convicted me big time. Like mine, have your daily Bible reading efforts left an on again, off again footprint?
Decades ago a notebook was in circulation, called 2959. The idea was to provide a format for a consistent, daily, 30-minute (minus one second) devotional time divided between Bible reading and prayer. I had a copy of that notebook. It has long since gone by the wayside with perhaps a dozen similar devices, efforts, resources, and good intentions. One of these neglected resources is still around, though. It’s called The ONE YEAR Bible. Published by Tyndall House in 1986, it has a red cover.
Let me run down some of the statements in Mr. Ty Arendall’s Lenten reflection that got me underlining in my copy of this 2020 Lenten resource and then reaching for that red Bible:
A. “We rely on ourselves too much until times get tough.”
B. “We often fail to do many of the things that would protect us in times of trial” – those actions being prayer, Scripture reading, and worship – disciplines that will guard and protect us with spiritual armor, but we don’t make those actions a high-enough priority in our “busy” lives.
C. Peter (the disciple who “followed at a distance” after Jesus’ arrest) “spent every day with Jesus, yet still fell victim to pride and over-confidence.”
D. “If we don’t anchor our hearts and minds…we, like Peter, can be easily swept away and overcome.”
A. Self-reliance. I could write a whole lot on this topic as I have done on other occasions, but I’ll attempt to keep it short. I know a great deal about falling into this particular trap. Who doesn’t? Maybe self-reliance is the true “thorn” in most believers’ sides. If you have time for a side trip, please read about the self-reliance trap in both fact and fiction here.
B. Priority: investing in what will protect us. This is the real entry point of my personal response on today’s topic. I have a responsibility in this, and I have a choice whether and how to fulfill that Christian responsibility. Go again to the first verses of Psalm 119 to review the attitude and actions of one truly committed to God! I think the aspect most of us miss here is the benefit we’re robbing ourselves of in our laziness. “I don’t need that armor; I’ve got this,” is basically what we’re saying by our failure to set aside even 30 minutes a day to obtain spiritual sustenance. We simply don’t understand how essential it is. Because Facebook is more fun. Because retro TV shows are just so good! And on and on. My lastest thought on this is simply, “Do it first, or count on not doing it at all.” P.R.I.O.R.I.T.Y. Period.
C. Pride and over-confidence. From Jane Austen to “the seven deadly sins” to Proverbs 16:18, it’s clear that pride is a real, daily pitfall. Pride can sometimes lead “thinking” folk to decide there is no God. It’s what blinds both unredeemed and “faithing” folk to the sin in their imbedded attitudes about superiority and about probable admittance into heaven. As for over-confidence in general, isn’t it an interesting paradox that many of us develop what air of confidence we portray to others as a compensation for a debilitating lack of personal security and confidence that likely started in our early years? Whose path hasn’t been strewn with experiences of self-consciousness, embarrassment, timidity, and a sense of inferiority over against others’ looks and abilities? From self-reliance to comparison, I have been very intentional as my fictional characters in No Doubt It’s Love exemplify some needed enlightenment!
D. Anchor. The anchor is a frequently-used metaphor for very good reason. It holds in place. It centers. It prevents detachment and resulting loss (loss that’s potentially death). So, why do we refuse to anchor spiritually though so frequently admonished – commanded – to do so? Or, why do we anchor our very souls to the wrong things, building our houses upon sand rather than upon rock? (to mix in another metaphor, one that ought to resonate clearly here in the tornado belt as we’re being warned of severe weather potential even on Easter Sunday, two days from now)
Joshua 1:2 in The ONE YEAR Bible
“Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them.” On April 6 after I read the Lenten reflection “Following at a Distance,” I went to our “one year” Bible on the coffee table and began with a new surge of good intention, admitting for the manyeth time that I had no excuse for neglecting the practice of daily Bible reading. On the same day I began a handwritten record of “Bible Bits & Bites” to capture the words I found to pack particular punch each day. I posted one of those jottings on Facebook on April 7 because it was so relevant to the pandemic in which we’re all currently immersed:
One technology tool I’ve found useful in my renewed Bible reading practice is Bible Gateway’s Audio Bible function. To read the words on the page with my eyes, while also listening to a reader read them in the same version (NIV in this case), makes a double impression, and I admit with sheer human frailty that the audio helps me to push through passages I might otherwise easily get distracted from or find – dare I say it? – boring. #Numbers #Deuteronomy [face emoticon with gritted teeth]
Ready to cross
In summary, shall we neglect what’s so clearly given and available to help us to be ready?
Ready not to overreact next time the spouse seems to be asking for a snooty retort (that happened to me in the grocery store yesterday and I failed the test).
Ready to speak with comfort to an e-mail contact who knows someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.
Ready to advise and to console a child who had an upsetting experience at school or at work.
Ready, because we could be the one Jesus was speaking to: “tonight your soul will be required of you” (Luke 12:20); “you know not when the master will return” (Mark 13:35).
Ready to cross over whatever “River Jordan” God has led us to, in order that we may arrive at our next place or season of service.
Ready to crossover. I will leave it here, succumbing to the trendy jargonizing I don’t naturally prefer. We’ve made verbs of journal (to keep a journal) and of faith (to live as one relying on the Lord).
We already know cross as a transitive verb: cross the street; cross the river. Now, I’m offering it as an intransitive verb. On this Good Friday, am I ready to cross (to embrace His cross; to take up mine)? As the Church, are we “crossing” well in these critical days?
A teacher of English would grimace at this post’s title because it ends with a preposition. So, I offer the following alternative titles: In what or in whom are you placing your faith? Where is your faith?
That last option, “Where is your faith?”, is the title of a meditation based on Luke 8:22-39 that I contributed to my church’s Lenten Devotional Guide for 2020, and it can be interpreted different ways:
1) “I don’t see evidence of your faith. Where is your faith? It’s missing.”
2) “In what are you placing your faith? Where is your faith placed?”
My goals for this article are two.
Goal one: To share with you the timely resource pictured and referenced above
I encourage you to click the link and view this Lenten Devotional Guide online. Even though we are a number of days into Lent, there is great opportunity for you to draw from each of the readings between now and Easter, and well beyond! As I “caught up” from Ash Wednesday to the following Sunday in one sitting, I found myself needing to underline certain gems within the first several readings:
“Jesus is going to reversethe prevailing social norms of who is successful and valuable.” – Dr. David Eldridge, Feb. 26 selection
“God [is]in control of the vast expanse of history” – Dr. Rogers Redding, Feb. 27 selection
“When we are unsure of the truth, keep us boundto Your word” – Rev. Blake Jenkins, Feb. 29 selection
“The approval and worth we work so hard to get from others God graciously bestows on us.” – Rev. Brad Gowing, Mar. 1 selection
“generosity, honesty and contentment aremarks of our repentance” – Jeff Glaze, Mar. 3 selection
Goal two: To look at some of the places where our faith may be directed
My second goal for this post is to showcase several things in which we often are found placing our faith (if we would be honest with ourselves) – the faith we would place solely in Christ if on a good, maturing path as we live the redeemed life.
Currently I am voice-recording No Doubt It’s Love scene by scene as I review the characters’ various journeys. This process helps me to create social media information and to prepare for speaking engagements. My novel’s theme is that self-reliance creates a huge hurdle for those who would claim Jesus as Lord. As stated in the front pages of the book: “The self-reliant person is not greatly malleable as clay in the Potter’s hands.”
In the first few chapters of No Doubt It’s Love, cases of self-reliance are fairly jumping off the page at me, providing clues to some folks’ presuppositions and foreshadowing circumstances that may result in changed hearts and minds!
Groom-to-be Sam Ryan is known by coworkers as “the man with the plan.” No surprise there, once you’ve read about his educational background and his current job. Sam’s sister April, raised by the same parents, is on a very similar path. She says to Sam on page 23 while giving him unsolicited advice about his wedding, “Haven’t the parents always told us that it’s in planning that one forgets at least some of one’s fears?”
Sam’s fiancée suggests to him on page 36 that if anybody questions what time of year they have decided to have their wedding, they can quote from an old Irish proverb that the month they have chosen indicates “always loving, kind, and true.” Grace adds, “That can be our motto. You know, ‘Love conquers all.'” The calendar photo above shows us another happy-sounding, positive-thinking motto: “Today is the perfect day to be happy.”
Self-control…or just plain self
Joan Ryan, mom of Sam and April and wife of Lee, is the first of the self-reliant Ryans we meet in this fiction series that begins with A Stranger’s Promise. In the early pages of the sequel, Joan is owning up to some details about her Tennessee adventure that she has heretofore concealed because she fears that one particular report is going to bother her husband – a lot. Their ensuing discussion has Joan saying on page 40, “We work so hard on self-control that it’s difficult any more to let ourselves blow up.”
Thinking on his sister’s recent antagonism, Sam tells Grace on page 34, “This wedding is about us most of all. That’s the key thing we’ve both got to anchor to.”
My fictional Ryans are the classic list makers. Joan goes to a Chinese restaurant in chapter 5 and immediately ponders whether to put any of their menu items on her “try soon” cooking list. Before that, Joan hears some details about her husband’s recent business trip and tells him, “It sounds as though I’m not the only one who came home with something to feel good about besides the usual sense of Ryan accomplishment.” Songwriting team Alec and Zach get a productive work session in on pages 124-132, understandably proud of what they have accomplished.
In summary: debunking these four faith moves in light of Scripture
Planning I’ve told you that April and Sam have been taught by their parents to plan in order to squelch some degree of fear. I remarked to my husband while working on this post that I believed the Bible had various antidotes for fear, but planning wasn’t one of them! In fact, rather the opposite. Proverbs 16:9 reminds us, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” NLT
An Old Testament passage says it’s the Lord’s promise never to leave or forsake us that ought to counteract fear and discouragement (Deuteronomy 31:8). And Philippians 4:6-7 is a call to pray – the result being that God’s peace replaces our worry and our anxiety.
Planning, ordering, thinking, measuring out required building supplies (Luke 14:28) – all of these are good, wise actions so long as they don’t outrank or substitute for putting faith in God.
Mottos like “Love conquers all” or the one pictured beside it, above, “Today is the perfect day to be happy,” can be useful reminders or “centering” devices, reflective of good values and even of scripturally-sound concepts, such as the golden rule and “this is the day the Lord has made.” However, cute mottos will never have the Kingdom power or the Spirit impact of Scripture for instructing, guiding, awakening and rescuing! Only with submission to the truth of God’s Word are we going to find ourselves serving Jesus as Lord and understanding the need of allowing the Spirit to remake our minds and our hearts.
Self-control & self-first values
Self-control is a tremendously valuable virtue most people acknowledge as crucial to societal and individual well-being. We all must follow some rules and exercise restraint in certain situations. But the biblical type of self-control is really letting ourselves be controlled by the Holy Spirit. Self-control is a fruit of having the Spirit (Galatians 5:23), and that stems, as we’ve been looking at, from owning Jesus as Lord, submitting one’s entire being to that Lordship.
Putting self first is perhaps the most automatic, natural, and destructive of faith moves. Believe in yourself, we’re told over and over again by leaders, authors, personal coaches, and celebrities. However, the Bible tells us – and shows us – that isn’t God’s way. Selfishness doesn’t drive one to obey the Ten Commandments, nor to follow the golden rule Jesus gave us. It doesn’t build the Church, and it didn’t keep Jesus on the cross to pay the penalty for your sins and for mine.
Our faith belongs in the eternal, holy, perfect, all-wise God, not in mortal, fallen, imperfect self with flawed judgment and wisdom. Absolutely, Sam Ryan is misguided if the “key thing” he believes his fiancée and he should “anchor to” is that their wedding is, above all, about them.
Steady, even frenzied, activity – with boxes checked and resume listings added – characterizes and fuels many lives, including the Ryans’ and including mine. It’s really easy in our fast-paced society, where making a living demands quality output, to place faith in the accomplishments we would list on a resume or in an obituary. However, “Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.” Psalm 127:1 NLT
“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Mark 8:36 NIV
I speak with the voice of experience here. I am self-aware enough to know I am almost maniacally driven by the need to feel I am producing tangible output and checking boxes off – daily, hourly, and over a lifetime. I get ideas and I want to find out whether they will actually work. I see a new knitting stitch design and I want to master it. If I get out of bed thinking of three major tasks that need to be done that day, I make the list on paper or in a “notes” or “reminders” app, usually growing it from three tasks to six or seven or eight. If you are like that, too, you know it can be a real roller coaster ride to measure the accomplishment of tangible things or resume items against “Is it really God’s will for me to spend my time and my energies in these ways?”
We are created with seemingly endless potential and we are gifted with so many aptitudes and abilities! To accomplish good things by exercising our gifts is a way of reflecting the image of our Creator, for sure. But our faith belongs in what the Creator is thereby establishing, not in what we believe we are accomplishing.
If our faith is placed in Whom it ought to be, we are no longer attempting to rely on planning, mottos, self-control, or accomplishment to direct us, nor to calm our storms.
From the Hampton Inn in Belmont, North Carolina, my daughter and I made our way some 20 minutes by car that Monday morning, likely – and eager – to be among the very first parties admitted to the popular tourist site upon its doors opening at 9:30.
My journal account written 24 hours later – again in the car, headed back home to Birmingham – goes like this:
“Monday morning, [my sister] Jane joined us for lobby breakfast at our hotel in Belmont before going to call on her elderly in-laws in the same town. Dawn and I toured the Billy Graham library/museum/replica home place near the Charlotte airport! I’ve been wanting to go there ever since Heather Watters said she’d taken the tour and had really liked it.
“In a word, it was great! So glad we went! Points of interest/inspiration/pleasure include:
Lush and bright green grass surrounding the buildings – even in winter!
The Old Rugged Cross playing softly at entrance/exit.
Being first through the doorway to the home place at 9:30 a.m.
A pretty Haviland china set on display – but, glued down so the pattern name could not be learned. I am on a quest to identify the name from the photos I took.
‘Seafoam green’ wall colors in the home – so pretty! [That’s the color name told to us; I definitely think the actual color leaned more aqua than some search results are showing.]
Inspiring and intriguing exhibits, videos, history throughout the Journey of Faith tour! Both Dawn and I got teary-eyed multiple times as we ‘relived’ excerpts of Dr. Graham’s preaching from the crusade pulpit and heard testimonies of those who were reached with the gospel during his ministry. My personal connections there include:
\\Having been to a crusade once in Norfolk, Virginia (November 1974, according to online accounts How handy to find that!)
\\I heard him speak in chapel at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1982 (December 8, 1982, according to a YouTube video I am now finding. It shows Dr. Roy Honeycutt, seminary President (looking young!) at the podium with Dr. Graham seated behind. So cool! I just told Dawn that if the camera had panned the attendees I might be visible. [It did pan, over a packed house. I later scanned those frames but did not find me. However, I did see a young woman whose 1980s big, permed hair and huge glasses frames could have been mine…] Dawn and I listened to that chapel sermon as we drove – a happy circumstance for reasons including that we’d missed church and our own pastor’s sermon on Sunday while traveling.
\\Years of listening to record albums by “Cliff Barrows and the Gang” with songs like The Restless Ones movie title theme, His Sheep Am I, The Numbers Song, He Owns the Cattle on a Thousand Hills, and more! [journal drawings of emojis representing heart, music note, & guitar]
Book store/gift shop: Dawn purchased a softcover volume of Billy Graham quotes on hope and on other topics. I bought a hardcover book about his New York City 2005 crusade including texts of three sermons delivered then.
Graham Brothers Dairy restaurant on premises – roomy dining area; tasty North Carolina style BBQ sandwich and sliced apples for me; chicken salad sandwich and vanilla milkshake for Dawn.
No admission fee.
Prayer Room next to the gift shop. Attending employee asked a female staffer named Gloria to pray with us. We requested prayer for my aunt then in the hospital, for her family, and for our safe return to Alabama.
We completed guest feedback surveys in return for a cloth carry bag apiece that contains The Message Lives On DVD and other literature.
I took some 40+ photos to remember the tour by and/or to post on social media.
“I took down the following two Graham quotes during the tour and e-mailed them to myself on the spot: From a crusade sermon
‘Our faith in Jesus Christ is based on fact, not on feeling. When you feel nothing, He may be closer to you than at any other time.’ (That may not be verbatim, but it is very close.) From a television interview In answer to a direct question from Greta von Susteren, December 20, 2010:
‘If I had it to do over again, I would accept fewer speaking engagements and I would meditate and pray more.’ He clarified he did not mean he would preach at fewer crusades, but would agree to fewer engagements for lecturing and such.
“His statement on this wish of redo coincides with his words of counsel on at Southern Seminary in 1982 to us theologians, preachers, and Christian educators in training, emphasizing the brevity of time and the resulting importance of using time well. I told Dawn as we listened to that chapel address in the car this morning that this advice gives me validation in that introspective and private spiritual activity continues to attract, motivate, encourage, and inspire me at least as much as study time in large-group weekly gatherings at church or in small-group Bible study does. In my solitary times of hymn reading, Bible reading, reflection, journaling, and prayer, I often record insights, observations, and opinions that may make their way into a social media or blog post. However, I doubt that any such message ever resonates with any reader as much as it does with me.
“At any rate, Dr.* Graham seems to have been recommending perhaps a 75/25 ratio of ‘input’ to ‘output’ in terms of preparation before delivery in a preaching or teaching or writing situation. From his 1982 chapel address, within a segment about the persecuted Church in other nations: ‘Where the pressure is the greatest, that is the deepest walk with God. We need men and women who walk with God. And, if you do that, you, too, can finish the work that God gave you to do.’
“And this preparation before delivery surely applies to one-on-one encounters during which a Christian may share or be asked questions about faith matters! To study and adore and learn and absorb and abide is the type of faith activity to prioritize (remember Mary and Martha in Luke chapter 10)… because, without that, it’s much more likely our efforts to reach others will be frustrated, will fall short, will not happen, or…worst of all…will prove us hypocritical.”
Thus ends my journal entry about the Billy Graham Library written Tuesday, February 18, 2020
*Doctor was a title the renowned evangelist was very humble about having in front of his name. One of the funny jokes he told us seminarians that day in chapel was about a hunting dog named Preacher that had been a great animal in his designed role for a long time. However, a change occurred and it was explained this way by one of the dog’s owners: “Yes, Preacher used to be a good dog, but one day somebody came along and called him Doctor, and he hasn’t been of any use since!”