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.)
Have you ever noticed how some stories get translated into virtually all available languages and circulate decade after decade, century after century? For example: //The Bible //The “Jesus” film from 1979, translated into some 1,400 languages //Classic philosophy, theology, fiction, and other genres by “master” thinkers and writers
Just now I’m suggesting that in second place behind the story of Jesus we put A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. [You’re welcome, Chuck. May someone someday rank my novelsA Stranger’s PromiseandNo Doubt It’s Lovesimilarly high!]
From cruel to kind: an enduring theme
What could be more universal, timeless, and attractive than “a really bad guy reforms overnight into a really good guy”?
Dickens’ work is so popular it has been made into films either true to the novella’s 19th-century setting or updated with modern characters and life situations. One 1995 film I like features a female Scrooge character “Ebbie,” portrayed by Susan Lucci.
In the Dickens classic, Ebenezer Scrooge’s inexplicable travel/vision experience brings him to a reversal of heart, attitude, action, and personality that astounds his family and his community. To borrow from a different classic film of the season, “What a Christmas!”
“I am concerned for you”
In the days leading up to Advent 2020, my daily readings in the NIV One-Year Bible were in Ezekiel. I don’t know how familiar you are with the content of that Old Testament book, but, after quite a few previous days’ immersion in chapter after chapter of dire – and uncomfortably explicit – “doom and gloom” prophecies, I was very glad chapter 36 brought some relief from all of that. Finally, something that sounded hopeful!
God told His people – His errant people, and “errant” here is a gross understatement – “I am concerned for you and will look on you with favor.” (Ezekiel 36:9) This proves the compassion that describes God in quite a few places in the Bible. That God could say “I will look on you with favor” after all of the other, scathing things He said to Israel, previously in this very book, Ezekiel, is phenomenal.
And, isn’t it interesting that Jacob Marley’s “I am concerned for you” initiative started the beloved tale Dickens concocted? Often, a fictional or real person is so far down the wrong path that it takes a “whopping” intervention by a courageous family member or friend, or by God Himself, to effect change. That’s what happened with Scrooge, and it is what happened in the town of Bethlehem when a Savior was born to rescue sinners so far down the wrong path they could not prevent their own destruction.
Concerned for His people and for His own reputation as their Holy God – indeed, as the one and only God (see Ezekiel 36:21), the Lord told them a number of specifics they would experience: //I will multiply your people //Your towns will be inhabited and rebuilt //The number of your animals (your food source; your livelihood) will increase //No longer will be you subject to the taunts of the nations
Very soon after the above promises, in this passage, Ezekiel’s message from God carefully qualified things lest any hearing this good word take it lightly, undervaluing God’s change of face from judgment to blessing. You see, when weeks and months turn into years and decades, it’s very easy to lose track of the overall pattern of a people’s history. Suppose you weren’t alive when your great-great-grandfather had a vision or knew somebody who had one. Suppose your busy life doesn’t really leave you a lot of thought space for what your ancestors knew and felt so deeply. In that case, you might take God’s present favor as something that will always be there for you, perhaps something you earned by your good standing with Him. Not so!
Conveying the very voice of God Almighty, Ezekiel reviewed the sin of Israel, a long list of despicable acts that caused God to be incensed. By their heinous idolatry the people hadn’t merely disobeyed their God (defiance); they had dragged His great and lavish love through the mud. So wrong, unwise, and hurtful to Israel’s God those things were. At this point, though, there was a new angle to the situation. Now, God was concerned for His holy name. (Ezekiel 36:21) If His name meant continually less to the nations around the Israelites and observing their progress, their blessing, their compromised and changing values, and their downfall, there would be absolutely no hope for His plan that they would be a beacon to draw other nations to His light. (See Isaiah 49:6 and 52:10)
“I will show myself holy through you, before their eyes.” That is a great sentence! On this earth our people-peers will never be the holy example that we need and that we seek whether consciously or not. We need to see God shown holy. We need to see and hear His name glorified; not profaned, muddied, misrepresented.
Above, we had the rundown of what God would do externally for Israel: more people, more animals, towns restored, respected again by other nations. Now, we have a second bullet list telling what was going to happen internally: //You will be clean. //I will give you a new heart and will put a new spirit in you. Out with the stone heart, just as with old Eb Scrooge; in with a heart “of flesh” – a heart that is living, feeling, and vulnerable, able to embrace remorse, humility, and grief! A stone heart feels nothing sorrowful…but it also feels no joy.
The ghost of Christmas past
God had to go to great lengths to tell Israel in no uncertain terms, “I will disgrace you and will make you ashamed for your wrong conduct.” (See Ezekiel 36:32) He reminded them again and again of the specific actions of defiance and idolatry of which they were guilty. This step – this phase of true contrition – is necessary for reform, revival, regeneration. Scrooge got that after an unforgettable, frightening, painful night journey. May we get it, too. Deep impressions were required before true, lasting change could happen in Ebenezer Scrooge. It takes hard blows from a heavy instrument to break stone. (36:26)
Don’t all of us crave a world where a new heart and a new spirit drive everything? Should we expect that reform to happen without intervention that may be painful to us before we recognize its benefit? And should we expect that reform to begin anywhere but in ourselves?
The “ghosts” of Christmases past (or of any past time in our lives) are not supposed to haunt and to trouble us forever. God desires that every person be freed of those chains – those feelings of guilt, regret, self-doubt, and fear: “The Lord is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) This Advent and into 2021 and beyond, let us remember Him and follow Him, putting our past mistakes behind us.
Christmas past, present, and future
Jesus in the manger at Bethlehem had all of the angels rejoicing, Messiah having come to earth at last. That’s Christmas past.
Today, the angels – and the saints in heaven, with them – rejoice again, every time a human heart experiences the miraculous changeover only a divine intervention can cause. That changeover is why God sent Jesus. This is a win-win: God’s holy name is properly honored when our hearts are right toward Him, and our souls are saved. (See Psalm 119:132) That’s Christmas present.
Welcome, Jesus! Hail, Messiah! Be adored forever. That’s Christmas future.
It is November 2, 2020, the day before a presidential election voting day that seems to have produced more talk, more demonstration, more speculation, and more trepidation than any presidential election in our lifetime.
Today’s assigned reading in the NIV one-year Bible is Ezekiel 3:16 – 6:14. What I have read, and how I have responded to that reading in my companion journal in the habit I have kept since Lent of this year, every morning, could be described – on the face of it – as a mini sermon on God’s wrath. Adieu, therefore, to those who are closing out of this article right now. 😉
God told Ezekiel to be a watchman – to see ahead and to warn, else he would be held responsible for what happened, that those warned could have avoided if they had heeded. “Don’t fail to carry out my instructions here, else others’ downfall will be counted against you.” (Ezekiel 3:17-19)
If a righteous person turns and does evil, any good that he or she did prior to that will not be remembered. Ezekiel 3:20 😦 That surely is one of the saddest statements in all of the Bible. We all can think of prominent, public examples. “What do you remember about so-and-so?” “His downfall.” “Her public disgrace.”
However, look at the “70×7 times” rule of forgiveness Jesus taught; look at King David’s enduring status as “a man after God’s own heart”; look at the parable of the prodigal son as a period of waywardness, anguishingly repudiated by the son, was put in the past by the forgiving father. So, we must weigh that statement in Ezekiel 3:20 against the entirety of the Bible’s message.
What God told Ezekiel, about a prior record of good being forgotten, was specific to the warnings being issued at that time: “If you leave me [God] and choose a sinful path and do not forsake that sinful path in time, your prior good record will not be taken into account when I judge you.” (This happened in Old Testament times, remember. Pre-Messiah. Pre-cross. Pre-resurrection. Pre “by grace you are saved, through faith [in Jesus], not having anything to do with your record of good or bad deeds.” See Ephesians 2:8-9)
Ezekiel was instructed to endure dire physical duress for a time, symbolically, as a message to the wicked, unrepentant people to whom God was having him speak. Old Testament prophets like Ezekiel often were required to do shockingly unusual things just to get people’s attention. That reminds me a bit of present day. Around us we see very unusual hair colors and modes of dress; body art; outlandish motor vehicles (often with offensively loud sounds). Efforts to stand out, in some cases. Efforts to express some feelings or passions that maybe the person so dressing or sounding off hasn’t even fully defined or understood. But, back to the Old Testament:
In such a setting (which, in Israel’s day, may have been characterized by strange, pagan dress and customs of the false gods and cultures surrounding them), it indeed would be difficult to show up in public and to somehow stand apart as being THE person with THE message from THE God! But that’s what those rare individuals selected to be God’s prophets were given to do. Dare we not admire their obedience? Read on, then answer that question!
Chapter 4 begins with the prophet’s obtaining a clay tablet and drawing a representation of Jerusalem on it. The tablet was subsequently besieged and battered by Ezekiel based on God’s specific instructions, as “a sign to the house of Israel.” (4:3)
The signs Ezekiel was to do after the clay tablet are appalling; physically “impossible” unless the Spirit enabled him not to go mad and not to atrophy, get bedsores, etc. (We talk about how sobering it is to fall under God’s wrath…but this Old Testament book, along with others, including Jeremiah, as well as the life of Paul the apostle given in the New Testament, remind us that it is also a very sobering thing to be singled out by God as His spokesperson!)
Ezekiel actually bargained with God on one point, and God said, “Very well; I hear you on that. So, here’s a workaround you should be okay with.” 😮 As for me, I should rather have tried to bargain my way out of 4:4-5 rather than 4:9-13!!! (Even though what bothered Ezekiel was pretty awful, too! Hint: “poop” emoticon)
It gets worse. Chapter 4 ends with a dire foretelling of food and water scarcity. 😦
Chapter 5 reports additional strange actions as signs: weighing shaven head and facial hair on scales, then doing various symbolic things with equal thirds of it. 🤔✂️ ⚖️ #weird
Verse 5:7 is a strong indictment, indeed, against Israel! “You have behaved worse than the godless nations around you!”
The consequences of the disobedience were HORRIBLE (5:9-12). The nation handpicked by God for astonishing favor and prosperity would be a ruin and a reproach. Famine. Wild beasts. Sword. Desperation cannibalism… 😦😩
Then, the outpouring of God‘s wrath would be complete. “My anger will cease.” Ezekiel 5:13
Shifting from Old Testament to New for a moment Chapter 6 lets up considerably on the grotesque detail of the coming calamity, but that detail in prior chapters gave me thoughts of Jesus’ anguish on the cross as He bore God’s wrath for all human sins past, present, and future. (The book of Hebrews, which I am reading concurrently with Ezekiel, gives us a clear understanding of Jesus’ role as the final and successful “high priest” – which lets us “zoom out” from the account of God’s wrath for sin that we are reading in Ezekiel. I point that out for any who may ask, “Why did Jesus bear God’s wrath later, when God had poured out such awful wrath already?”) When we focus on the crucifixion typically, we mostly talk about the horrible pain of the physical torture of that inhumanly cruel method of execution. However, in the statement of Jesus recorded in Scripture, about being forsaken by God (Matthew 27:46), there is clue that even greater suffering was happening to our Savior inwardly during those awful hours on the cross.
If you read the chapters of Ezekiel that I have read today (3,4,5) and if you have followed Israel’s pattern of unfaithfulness to God all through Exodus to Judges to Chronicles and Kings and beyond, you cannot miss HOW SIN OFFENDS loving, holy God! The outpouring of God’s wrath as judgment on sin is not to be taken lightly. And for Jesus to have endured a measure of that wrath sufficient to ▪️avenge God (see Ezekiel 5:13) ▪️conquer evil and the POWERFUL evil one is absolutely incomprehensible to us. But He did it.
Praise the name of Jesus!
“Hallelujah! What a Savior!”
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Revelation 5:12
But why such wrath against Israel? Why?? Do not miss the repeated PURPOSE STATEMENT in all of this. It’s found in Ezekiel 5:13 and 6:14.
“Then they will know that I am the Lord.”
This was the starting point of God’s revelation to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3 and to Moses in Exodus 3:1-6: Who I Am.The nation of Israel once knew deeply and appreciatively and vividly who God is. But, by the time of Ezekiel, they had forgotten God over and over again.
When God has had enough and He declares, “Enough”… watch out.
Shall we take anything away from this but an ancient history lesson? As to whether any of this post applies to any nation other than historic Israel, well…I leave it to the reader to ponder.
The companion readings for today in the same NIV one-year Bible are Hebrews 4:1-16, Psalm 104:24-35, and Proverbs 26:27. If you want a glimpse into the greater process that has been feeding my soul day by day (and prompting some four full journals and counting, since spring of this year) , read those passages on the heels of Ezekiel 3,4,5.
P.S., I am not asking anyone reading this article to adopt my opinions. By far, that is not the intent here as I share something from a Bible reading and offer a look at what thoughts that reading has given to me. In publishing this article, implicitly I merely request the same grace anybody wishes for themselves when they post passionately about hot topics and then feel they must respond to unfriendly comments they hadn’t counted on! I do suggest to others that reading the Bible very often, with reverence and with a humble, seeking heart, is an extremely wise and valuable practice. God’s word provides the answers we need. “The word of God is living and active.” Hebrews 4:12
Most of us know the story of Esther, right? She was the favorite of King Xerxes in the province of Susa, and her cousin Mordecai influenced her to use her position as Queen – to risk her life – by begging for the Jews’ safety from a despicable plot perpetrated by Haman. Esther shrewdly set the stage for her request over the course of more than one day, and the scheme of evil Haman was thwarted! Haman was executed in the same manner he had planned for Moredecai. Good won over evil, and everybody was happy. End of story.
Well, no. Not quite.
In fact, I was even confusing the number of chapters in the book of Esther, at that point in my daily Bible reading, with there being just four chapters in the book of Ruth. To my surprise, I discovered I had several more chapters than four to read in Esther. “What more is there to this story?” I was wondering. As I try to communicate the high points of my meditations on the book of Esther, I hope you will discover, as I did, that there is very important material for us to notice even after Esther saved the Jewish nation from the genocide Haman had managed (dishonestly) to get the king to decree.
1. Such a time as this
First, Mordecai told Esther that if she did not do the courageous thing he was instructing her to do, relief and deliverance would come to the Jewish people from another place (through a vessel other than her), but she and her family would perish as the result of Haman’s plot (Esther 4:1). A warning worded thus seems to me either a prediction or an effort to move Esther to obedience. Possibly, both. Mordecai’s plea concludes with the oft-quoted verse 4:14, “Who knows but that you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
2. “Okay, it’s time for this week’s fasting requests.”
Second, Esther agreed to her cousin’s request and said immediately, “Gather the people and fast for me.” (Esther 4:16) Go look at verses 15 through 17. There is actually no mention at all of praying in that passage – just of fasting!
This act of intercessory fasting would be a true, sincere, and sacrificial joining in an appeal to God for His intervention – much more serious than a five-second sentence uttered: “Lord, please give Esther success, for all our sakes.” (“Check that one off; what’s the next request?”) If we are learning from the book of Esther, we ought to be paying attention to the words “Fast for me.” The intercessors fast, and the person in need of healing or protection or success or deliverance fasts, too. I fear that we toss around too flippantly the expression “prayer requests” and assurances to others that we are praying, or have prayed. What if the word “prayer” in all of that were replaced with the word “fasting”? Sunday school e-mail subject lines would read, Fasting requests from Sunday, August 23. “I skipped a meal for you last night while on my face before the Lord” would replace “I prayed for you last night” in our text messages. (However, I suspect that such a revolution in our prayer habits would actually result in proclaiming fewer details, not more, to other people.)
Many in our country and around the world are in a heightened state of concern because of pandemic and of social and political unrest – the epitome of the varieties of collective and personal onslaught that bring people to their knees before God, crying for relief and for change – the degree of oppression frequently described in the Psalms. Never will we solve societal problems or have a satisfactory governmentuntil people’s hearts change.Leaders are elected from among the populace, after all. This is where my greatest internal outcry happens in regard to current politics: desiring to know that God’s people are earnestly and consistently fasting and praying, devoting themselves to that more than to any other interest – as they also “put feet to their prayers.” Is praying with such a degree of consistent fervor going on much in the Church gathered or dispersed? I don’t know for sure, of course, but I suspect not. At least, not enough. What I do know is that I am very convicted about this absence of frequent prayer fervor in my own life.
The very admission that I have little to no experience to tell me how fasting will strengthen my praying convicts me. Going on record in this blog post about being thus convicted is a help-cry for accountability. One night while this post was in the process of development, I dreamed that I was fasting through the supper hour. I am always really happy about it when I have a “spiritual” dream because it is thoughts that prompt dreams. Furthermore, I acted out my dream the next evening. In the Bible record, dreams frequently prompted action! I definitely wanted to behave accordingly.
3. Pride “goeth” before a fall – and how!
Third, Haman’s boasting (5:11) about having been selected for a private banquet with Xerxes and Esther was very proud…and unforeseeing! He was totally being set up, and he missed that fact entirely. His pride eventually was “rewarded” with shame; his treachery to annihilate the Jews, with his death (6:12; 7:10). What a villain. What a fall.
4. Not all bedtime stories are fairy tales.
Fourth, in the first part of chapter 6, the king was unable to sleep one night, so he called for the “chronicles” of his own reign to be brought in and read to him. How interesting! I’d sure love to call for people to read me back to sleep, although in this case it’s more that King Xerxes was using the awake time to good purpose rather than just trying to fall back asleep. Kind of like my occasional insomnia sewing, knitting, or writing in the wee hours. Anyhow, this is when the king realized (remembered) Mordecai’s service to him in exposing an earlier assassination plot. (Esther 2:21-23)
King Xerxes ordered for someone – Haman, LOL – to honor Mordecai for that good deed which had gone unrewarded. Why “LOL”? Because Haman could not stand Mordecai! Perhaps never in the biblical record do we find a better example of “let the punishment fit the crime.” Haman the villain found himself having to provide elegant clothing for Mordecai and to place him on a horse decked out in royal regalia for a private parade through the city streets showing everyone how much honor the king had bestowed for valuable service rendered. This for the very man Haman most wished dead. What humiliation!
5. “You do realize this is the Jewish nation you’re dealing with, right?”
Fifth, note that the Jews had a reputation for having one powerful God on their side! Haman’s advisers and his wife Jeresh warned him, “Since Mordecai is of Jewish origin, you cannot stand against him – you will surely come to ruin!” (7:13) Perhaps, if Haman had then confessed and renounced his plot against the Jews and had begged for mercy, might he have been spared?
6. Justice mollifies fury.
Sixth, after Haman was not spared, the king’s fury subsided. Justifiable fury about a wrong committed stands a better chance of subsiding after justice is done. Let us not overlook that that is why Jesus suffered such an unthinkably cruel death on a Roman cross – to satisfy our holy God’s justifiable fury over the wicked deeds of the race of humanity. As a result of Christ’s unfathomable (to us) sacrifice – his “unspeakable gift,” as Paul eloquently described it in 2 Corinthians 9:15 – we under grace have the privilege of knowing that God’s fury against us individually need not come upon us, after all! Even though we deserve that fury.
7. That’s not all, folks!
The book of Esther continues. We learn that it wasn’t enough relief or vindication just to dispose of Haman and to reverse his already-gone-out edict that the Jews be killed. Haman’s sons were executed. (In those days, it sometimes did not pay to be related to a thief, murderer, or treacheror!) Additionally, orders were given allowing Jews to assemble and to fight to protect themselves. So, they aggressively killed significant numbers of people known to be their enemies, in Susa and in outlying areas.
Furthermore, they were given the royal go-ahead to plunder the belongings of those they killed, but in two places it is noted that they “did not lay their hands on the plunder.”
How to do Purim and non-Jewish holidays. The resulting annual feast/celebration on days 14 and 15 of the month of Adar (now known as Purim) is described in Esther 9:22 as “days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.” This seems a very wise and God-honoring way to observe holidays! Turkey dinners given through Jimmie Hale Mission or other food ministries. Toys for Tots. It would be good for families of faith to circle the wagons on this verse, Esther 9:22, examining our traditions to be sure we are living biblically.
Esther casts new light on “old wineskins.” In chapter 8, verse 17, we are told that “many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them.” Many who saw the select, privileged, God-is-with-them nature of the Jewish nation hopped onto that bus! And why not? This does also paint a pretty clear picture to me why Jesus had such a monumental task, arriving on the scene, when He did, as a spiritual Messiah, not a military/political deliverer. The “old wineskins” He spoke about in Matthew 9:14-17 were old and established, indeed! With such a national history as the book of Esther, and all of the Old Testament, describes, how could the people and the Pharisees not be predisposed to expect that their deliver would be a king to reclaim power on earth? But, thanks be to God, Jesus reached many who were able to believe. Their eyes, minds, and hearts were opened to the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Definition of “good leader.” The very last sentence of Esther chapter 10 should not be overlooked. It says the upgrade of Mordecai’s rank (promiment in the palace; honored; renowned; powerful) happened “because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews.” And that brings us back to the political discussions of our day: Work for the good of the people, and speak up. We need people and leaders working for good and speaking up – with honorable motivations, honest dealings, humility, and integrity. We need leaders whose words of true wisdom reach us as showers, that we would drink them in as the spring rain!* Then, we could begin to see our nation get somewhere better.
As I continue daily in the NIV One-Year Bible, the early days of June have launched the first book of Kings with an account of the transition from David’s reign to Solomon’s. New Testament readings are in the first chapters of the book of Acts.
Acts is one of my favorite Bible books. Why so?
Peter and John preaching about Jesus in the faces of Annas and Caiaphas, the very officials who wanted Jesus crucified
Those officials asking “By what power or what name did you do this [healing]?” (I wrote in the margin of the Bible, “Easy answer: the name of Jesus!”)
The dramatic, initial dispensation of the Holy Spirit
The growth of the Church
The transformation of anti-Christian Saul of Tarsus into Paul, the preeminent early Church evangelist
So much to love in Acts! In fact, Buryl Red’s 1979 musical drama “Acts”, though it may rarely see production within church music programs ever again, is one of my absolute favorites. I recently viewed a church’s production on YouTube; I’m really disappointed not to find it now. However, here is a link to one song from that cantata. Another, just so “seventies” and so catchy, and so encouraging, goes: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking in the sky? Why, oh why, oh why…? This same Jesus, who was taken from you, will return some day, in just the same way!” 🎵
What’s going on in 1 Kings?
“Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the statutes of his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.” Back up one verse to 1 Kings 3:2– all of the people were “sacrificing at the high places, because a temple had not yet been built for the Name of the Lord.” Everybody was doing this. Some may not even have known it was wrong in God’s sight. King Solomon participated in this activity, and the Bible makes it clear that he should not have done so.
Obeyed…except In my Bible’s margin:
“Obeyed…except!!! Always a sin; always falling short, we do… until the day of the Lord!”
In my accompanying journal:
“Obeyed…except” is a HUGE oxymoron! “If He is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all,” we say about following Jesus. Partial obedience is not obedience, and we frequently make that observation about children and parents.
However, let’s not pretend that Solomon was alone in this. God reminds us in His Word repeatedly that we are incapable of being completely righteous 100% of our days. If we were thus capable, Jesus need not have died to provide substitutionary atonement.
Mary comes to mind as one major Bible personality about whom nothing amiss was ever reported. It is plain from the Bible that Mary would be exalted as a paragon of obedience. However, even though no particular sin of hers has been reported in our scriptural record (jump in here and correct me if I’m wrong), we know from other statements inspired by God that even Mary, like the rest of us, was incapable of perfection. (Psalm 53:1; Romans 3:23)
And there is John the apostle. Almost nothing negative about John stated in scripture comes to my mind – unless he is the same John (son of Zebedee) who came to Jesus along with his brother James, asking naively and boldly to sit at the Son’s right hand in the kingdom. Biblical Johns and Jameses can get confusing – John the baptizer/John the apostle; James: epistler/apostle/brother of Jesus. If John the beloved disciple is the “son of thunder” aforementioned, then he seems to have been radically changed because of his association with Jesus. …ahem, stating the obvious result of association with Jesus! :0-)
Enoch walked with God. Even so, not Enoch nor anybody else has been perfectly sinless, except Jesus. See Hebrews 4:15.
A few examples of “obedience, except” Peter: He followed, learned, believed, healed, preached; he also denied, became violent, and feared.
Abraham: He went, obeyed, was named in — nay, led off in — the great roll call of faith in Hebrews chapter 11; Abraham also lied.
David: He loved God, sang, followed, served, persevered while pursued, led Israel for 40 years; he also took a census he wasn’t supposed to take, sinned while idle and feeling entitled, and killed as an attempted cover-up.
And back to Solomon: After succeeding to the throne of Israel, he started out well, walking in his father David’s legacy. EXCEPT for that “high places” business.
There is ALWAYS an “except,” isn’t there? Always a sin, always a falling short. And that is how human lives will be lived – until “the great and glorious day of the Lord”!!! (Acts 2:20, Peter quoting the prophet Joel)
Redeemed sinners can take heart that their failings do not erase what the sinless Son of God has done. What He has established (the place in heaven Jesus has gone to prepare – John 14:2), the enemy cannot undo. “No one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:28
Out of holy love and duty, then, let us pray for the understanding to recognize our “excepts” and to repent of them as we obey our Lord more completely.“Search me, O God, and know my heart…know my thoughts. See if there be some wicked way in me; cleanse me from every sin, and set me free.” – James E. Orr
The Psalms chime in
Very often in the One-Year Bible’s being “divvied up” 365 ways, the content assigned for the same day’s reading in Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs aligns uncannily! On June 7 when I read in 1 Kings that Solomon obeyed “except,” Psalm 125:4 implored God to “do good to those who are good, to those who are upright in heart.” This is exactly on the same topic! Yes, there are those deeply devoted to God in heart and in action. I named several of them above, including King David and the apostle Peter. But, as we have shown, even those rare individuals are incapable of sinlessness. No one is completely good or perfectly upright in heart. And that’s not a loophole for us to use as an excuse for meager effort. On the contrary! Or, as Paul would have written, “God forbid!”
Scripture teaches from start to finish that we can be moving toward perfection and ought to be diligently praying and training ourselves to do so, admitting it when we fail, seeking forgiveness, accepting grace, and getting up another day – in God’s strength – to battle the enemy and gain higher ground.
“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.