February 14, 2020
LEGACY OF LOVE
2 Timothy 3:14-15
"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."
I was paging through my great-grandmother’s Bible when a treasure fell into my lap. On a small scrap of paper, in a young child’s handwriting, were the words:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." (Matthew 5:3–4)
Scribbled beside those verses in wobbly cursive was my mother’s signature.
My great-grandmother had a habit of teaching her grandchildren to write out Scripture verses so they would learn them and take them to heart. But the story behind this verse brought tears to my eyes.
My grandfather died when my mother was very young, and her little brother (my uncle) died just weeks later. It was in that tragic season that my great-grandmother pointed my mother to Jesus and the comfort only He can give.
Paul wrote to Timothy:
"I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well." (2 Timothy 1:5)
Faith isn’t inherited, but it is shared. Timothy’s mother and grandmother shared their faith with him, and he believed. When we encourage those close to us to have hope in Jesus, we offer them a legacy—a legacy of love.
Through a simple note, my mother left evidence of my great-grandmother’s love for her Savior and her family. Oh, to share Him with those who come after us!
February 12-13, 2020
"And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water [not "from under the water"], and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him;"
This picture is a copy of a drawing found on the walls of the catacombs in Rome. The catacombs were underground caves used by early Roman Christians for worship in the 1st and 2nd centuries. They met there in secret to avoid persecution. On the walls they drew scenes of Jesus’ life. One of the most common drawings was of Jesus’ baptism. Notice that He and John the Baptist are standing in shallow water and that John is pouring water on Jesus’ head - important factors in the practice of baptism that would emerge in the Christian church.
John’s baptisms were not the same as the Christian baptisms Jesus instructed His followers to perform:
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," (Matthew 28:19)
John’s baptisms were intended to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah. Since Jesus didn’t need to be cleansed from sin, His baptism consecrated Him at the beginning of His ministry.
The Hebrew word for baptism in the Old Testament and the Greek word for baptism in the New Testament mean a “ceremonial cleansing.” People and objects were “baptized” with a sprinkling of blood or water.
"I [God] will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you." (Ezekiel 36:25)
People and objects were never immersed in blood or water. Though there were were instances when the ancient Hebrews took ceremonial baths, they weren’t baptisms.
Shortly after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the disciple Peter preached a sermon in Jerusalem about Jesus being the Savior. Those who heard it were so moved they asked what they needed to do in response. Peter told them,
"... Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." (Acts 2:38-39)
3,000 men, women and children were baptized that day.
A number of household baptisms are described in the book of Acts. One involves the Philippian jailer and his family, who were baptized in his house:
"And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family." (Acts 16:33)
Baptism of the children of believing parents was the universal practice of the 1st-century Church and continues to be the practice of the vast majority of churches today. When baptized children profess faith in Christ, they don’t need to be re-baptized, because the Bible teaches there is one baptism:
"one Lord, one faith, one baptism," (Ephesians 4:5)
Believers who were not baptized as children are baptized when they profess faith in Christ.
Infant baptism is the ultimate expression of God’s grace, of His love for us long before we knew Him. It is like God writing a check made out in the infant’s name for salvation. Good Christian parents make sure the child knows the check can be cashed when the child trusts in Jesus Christ. When he or she professes faith, it’s like turning over the check and signing it.
In both infant baptism and believer baptism, the ceremonial washing with water symbolizes the grace of God coming down from heaven upon His chosen people. Have you and your household been baptized?
Dr. Tim Foster,
Highland Heights Presbyterian Church,
February 10, 2020
LOVED AND ADOPTED
Galatians 3:27, 4:5
"For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ....to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons."
I am glad when a philanthropist builds an orphanage for homeless children. I am thrilled when that person gives even more and adopts one of them. Most orphans would be delighted merely to have a patron. But then to learn the sponsor isn’t content merely to help me but also wants me—how must that feel?
If you are a child of God you already know, because it happened to you. We couldn’t complain if God had merely loved us enough to send His Son that we might have eternal life:
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
It would be enough for us. But not for God. He sent his Son to redeem us, not as an end in itself, but that we might receive adoption to sonship:
"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons." (Galatians 4:4–5)
The apostle Paul refers to us as “sons” because in his day it was common for sons to inherit their father’s wealth. His point is that now everyone who puts their faith in Jesus, whether man or woman, becomes a “son” of God with equal and full rights of inheritance:
"So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God." (Galatians 4:7)
God does not merely want to save you. He wants you. He has adopted you into His family, given you His name and proudly calls you His child. You could not possibly be loved more, or by anyone more important. You aren’t merely blessed by God. You are the child of God:
"The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name." (Revelation 3:12)
Your Father loves you.
February 7-9, 2020
PAIN MINGLED WITH JOY
"When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you."
I’ve had the incredible privilege of walking with my wife through the birth of each of our three children. And as someone who played what we’ll call a “supportive role” in the delivery process, I’m hesitant to speak in any significant way about the pains of childbirth. As such, I can only partially understand the brilliance of Jesus’ choice of illustration in John 16. Yet as clearly as though it were yesterday, I remember the pain and anguish on my wife’s face, the doubts and fears certainly running through her mind at a million miles an hour. At the same time, I remember even more vividly the miracle of birth, the first cry of a newborn child made in the image of God and destined for eternity. I will never forget how the tears of pain upon my wife’s cheek were instantaneously mingled with tears of joy.
As the one through whom all things were made Jesus had a perfect knowledge of the human condition.
"All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made." (John 1:3)
As the Word made flesh who dwelt among us Jesus first hand knew what it was to hope and to fear, to suffer loss and to grieve.
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son[a] from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)
Jesus first hand knew what it was to hope and to fear, to suffer loss and to grieve. And as the incarnate Lord, he never once dismissed or discounted the reality of pain, yet he also refused to let it have the last word.
When Jesus says a mother “forgets the anguish” of childbirth, he is not saying she is no longer aware of the pain she endured or the significance of the challenge. If you doubt me on this, just ask any mother if they remember the pain of childbirth! And yet, does that pain persist as the defining reality of childbirth? Absolutely not. Joy puts sorrow in its proper place.
Jesus gives the illustration of childbirth as the proper lens through which we are meant to view every sorrow in life. Let the significance of that sentence sink in. Can you choose to believe that every sorrow you face has the potential to be redefined in the light of an even greater joy? Do you believe that every pain you endure can lead to a birth, a way in which the Kingdom of God breaks in and shines light on even the darkest of situations?
For a mother, the joy of childbirth is a path defined by pain. There’s simply no way around it. And yet motherhood is a gift from God that leads to unspeakable joy. Similarly, for each of us, a mother or not, life is filled with pain and sorrow. Yet just like a mother, it is a pain that leads to a birth. As Jesus himself reminds us:
"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
How can you begin to see your grief and sorrow as birth pains leading to the joy of the Lord?
February 6, 2020
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”
Baptism itself did not originate with Christians or, for that matter, with John “the Baptist.” Jews practiced baptism as a traditional act of purification and the initiation of converts to Judaism long before the coming of the Messiah. The origins of baptism might be found in the book of Leviticus where the Levite priests were commanded to perform a symbolic cleansing in water before and after performing their priestly duties:
"He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on." (Leviticus 16:4)
Scripture also says:
"Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and shall take off the linen garments that he put on when he went into the Holy Place and shall leave them there. And he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people." (Leviticus 16:23-24)
The Jewish mikva, or ceremonial bath, is the origin of the Christian baptism. A mikva could not be done in a tub or pool of stagnant water. It had to be flowing through the mikva pool. Flowing water sustains life, and often gurgles and bubbles as it flows giving it a “voice”. Thus it was also said to be “living” water. Stagnant water stifles life.
To a Jew a mikva had to be performed over and over to restore a person’s ceremonial cleanliness each time before entering into the presence of God. For example it’s common for an observant Jew to take a mikva before each Sabbath. In contrast, we’re washed in the Blood of Jesus, once for all time, and have been cleansed forever.
Although the act described in these Old Testament passages was not specifically called “baptism,” it does highlight how important and holy ceremonial (and practical) cleansing is to God.
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
"And he [John] preached, saying, 'After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.'" (Mark 1:7-8)
When Jesus appeared he too was baptized:
"In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan." (Mark 1:9)
As Jesus was coming up out of the water:
"And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove." (Mark 1:10)
"And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.'" (Mark 1:11)
John’s “baptism of repentance” followed the paradigm of cleansing, although the final cleansing from sin is only available through Christ. John’s baptism was the foreshadowing of that.
"And he [John] went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." (Luke 3:3)
"And Paul said, 'John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.'" (Acts 19:4)
The significance of baptism as a New Testament ceremony is that, as believers in Jesus Christ, we are baptized into His death:
"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:3-4)
Baptism is an outward proclamation of an inward conversion. In other words, baptism is a ceremonial act undertaken after a person accepts Jesus Christ as his or her Lord and Savior. This is usually done in the presence of the church body as a public proclamation of one’s faith.
February 5, 2020
ALL GOD’S CHILDREN
"And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.'"
City health workers in San Francisco are taking medical care to the streets to supply the homeless who are suffering from opioid addiction with medicine to treat their addiction. The program began in response to the rising number of homeless who are injecting. Customarily, doctors wait for patients to come to a clinic. By taking medical care to the afflicted instead, patients do not need to overcome the challenges of transportation or remember the appointment.
The health workers’ willingness to go to those in need of care reminds me of the way Jesus has come to us in our need. In His ministry, Jesus sought out those whom the religious elite were quick to ignore: He ate with “sinners and tax collectors”:
"And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, 'Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?'" (Mark 2:16)
When asked why He would do that, Jesus replied:
"...'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.'" (Mark 2:17)
He went on to say that His intention was to call sinners, not the righteous, into relationship with Him. When we realize that we are all “sick” and in need of a doctor we can better appreciate Jesus’s willingness to eat with the “sinners and tax collectors”—us.
"And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him." (Mark 2:15)
In turn, like the health care workers in San Francisco, Jesus appointed us as His “street team” to take His saving message to others in need.
February 4, 2020
THE REST OF THE STORY
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
February 2-3, 2020
SEEK AND FIND
1 John 3:2-3
"Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears[a] we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure."
I am the parent of three young children. My wife and I seem to daily comment on how quickly they are growing up, rapidly approaching adolescence, with all the joys and challenges that season is sure to bring. And yet, we aren’t there yet. They are still young and innocent, and so we play simple, childlike games in our home.
For example, my kids love a good game of Hide and Seek. Given the fact that I am 6’5” and we have a very small home in the city, my participation in this game is always challenging! There are only two or three places I can go to hide, and my children know right where to look. I’m hidden, but they know what I look like, what I sound like, and where they can expect to find me. They are seeking but know what they are after.
On the other hand, we often play I Spy in the car, especially on long road trips when trying to help pass the time. If I’m being honest, I don’t love this game. Why? Because I am searching for something that I know nothing about! I know I’m meant to be looking for something, but it could literally be anything. It may have been a sign they saw out the window several miles back, never to be seen again.
Much of the Bible focuses on the human longing to find God. We search for him and long for him as this desire lies at the very core of what it means to be a human being. As St. Augustine famously said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”
If I’m honest, at times my search for God has felt more like a game of I Spy than a familiar game of Hide and Seek. Faith can feel disorienting and confusing. I long to find him yet find myself unsure of where this story is headed and how our experience of the world’s pain and brokenness can possibly be healed and restored. St. John has a word for this doubt, confusion, and fear: “darkness.”
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1:5)
Our ability to see in the darkness is directly linked to God’s intervening light. Though we may find ourselves stumbling about in the darkness, the Lord longs to shine his light and drive the darkness away. In Jesus God reminds us again and again that he wants to be found. Will you seek after him today?
Do you believe that God wants to be found? How does your answer to that question affect the way you seek him out today?
February 1, 2020
ALL GOD’S CHILDREN #3
"Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children—"
It is human nature to avoid talking about unpleasant topics. The more serious the topic, the more uncomfortable we feel in discussing it. When it comes to something as horrific as the Holocaust, we often are at a loss as to how to treat such an overwhelming and sensitive topic.
Indeed, there are those who invoke the Holocaust too frequently and those who do not talk of it enough; those who speak of it appropriately, and those who do so insensitively; those who wish to forget about the past and those who seek to learn from it; those who use the Holocaust to their own advantage, and those who are humbled by its magnitude.
When it comes to the Holocaust, it is essential that we never forget. All Jews today consider themselves as Holocaust survivors since Hitler’s plan was genocidal—to eradicate the entire Jewish nation. All Jews bear an awesome responsibility of telling the story of that painful and dark time in our history. We cannot allow history to repeat itself simply because we failed to convey the horrors to future generations. That is why the stories of eyewitnesses are so important.
When one American doctor arrived at a concentration camp in Buchenwald, he walked through the barracks for the first time. He heard a voice and turning around, saw a “living skeleton” talking to him. A Jewish woman who was at Auschwitz said that whenever Allied planes flew overhead, she and the other Jewish prisoners prayed that they would bomb the gas chambers, “even if it meant we might be killed.” They were willing to give their lives to save others
We cannot afford to forget these stories and experiences—not for ourselves and not for our future generations. General Dwight D. Eisenhower made it a point to visit the Nazi death camps in Poland in April 1945 as the camps were liberated. He said, “I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at firsthand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda.”
Eisenhower’s statement is featured prominently on the exterior wall of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., today: “The things I saw beggar description . . . the visual evident and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering . . .”
It is important to convey both history and moral value to future generations. That is why God’s word reminds us and warns us to pass it on:
"Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children—" (Deuteronomy 4:9)
Consider what you can do today to remember the Holocaust and to pass on these stories to the next generation so that we will never forget.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
January 31, 2020
ALL GOD’S CHILDREN #2
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
In the Star Wars trilogy there is a scene that reminds me of some church people I know. At an establishment somewhere in a remote corner of the galaxy, grotesque-looking creatures socialize over food and music. When Luke Skywalker enters with his two droids, C3PO and R2D2 (who are more “normal” than anyone else there), he is surprisingly turned away with a curt rebuff: “We don’t serve their kind here!”
That strange scene captures the malady that we all struggle with in our relationships here on planet Earth. We are always more comfortable with people who are just like us. But think of where you would be if Jesus had felt that way. He was divine, perfect in every way, which makes Him far different from us. Yet He came to dwell among us and to die for us.
Those of us who follow Christ shouldn’t have “they’re not my kind” in our vocabulary. As Paul reminds us:
“there is neither Jew nor Greek, . . . slave nor free, . . . male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28)
So, whether others are different in race, attitude, perspective, class, political slant, or social standing, it should make no difference to those of us who call ourselves by Jesus’ name.
Find someone who is not your kind and share Jesus’ love with them today!
January 28-30, 2020
ALL GOD’S CHILDREN
"My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory."
Most people hate to be accused of racism. But racial bias is all too prevalent. Even Christians have had a long history of ethnic prejudice. In the first century, Jewish Christians were reluctant to accept their Gentile brothers. In recent years, racial discrimination has been a dominant issue.
Prejudice can run so deep that it sometimes takes a tragedy to make a person see how wrong it is to discriminate on the basis of physical differences.
Several years ago I read about a bigoted truck driver who had no use for African-Americans. But one early morning, his tanker truck flipped over and burst into flames. A week later, he was lying in a hospital bed and looking into the face of a black man who had saved his life. He learned that the man had used his own coat and bare hands to smother the flames that had turned the trucker into a human torch. He wept as he thanked the man for his act of unselfish heroism.
We shouldn’t need a tragedy to open our eyes. We need only look to Calvary. There our Lord gave His life for people of every language, race, and nation. The universal scope of His sacrifice shows His love for every human being.
In Christ there is no East or West,
In Him no South or North;
But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide earth.
In Him shall true hearts everywhere
Their high communion find;
His service is the golden cord,
Close binding humankind.
Join hands, then, members of the faith,
Whatever your race may be!
Who serves my Father as His child
Is surely kin to me.
In Christ now meet both East and West,
In Him meet North and South;
All Christly souls are one in Him
Throughout the whole wide earth.
William A. Dunkerley
January 27, 2020
ONE YEAR AT A TIME
"Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son."
When I was a young man I was more short-sighted, but as time passes, I think and plan more in terms of years. Instead of, “How can we plan for a family mission trip this spring”--with a high risk of frustration, because of the short notice. A more helpful approach, after experiencing years of managing relationships, expectations and resources, is how can we plan for a family mission trip Q1 of 2021? A longer period of preparation provides margin to anticipate changes and to clearly communicate. Planning big ideas a year out increases the likelihood of successful initiatives.
As a more mature woman, Sarah could not fathom getting pregnant, much less raising a child. But that was exactly the Lord's plan. Fortunately, He gave her a twelve month time frame to prepare herself for the emotional and physical pressures to come. God was not finished with Sarah and Abraham in their old age, and in some ways, they were just getting started. Talk about staying young! God would confirm His covenant to Abraham and his family through the birth of Isaac.
"But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year." (Genesis 17:21)
What is the Lord's plan for you over the next 12 months? Is He leading you to accomplish something big, that requires significant prayer and preparation? Start now with step one and do not be overwhelmed by step fourteen.
Remodeling your home? Start by requesting several quotes on the estimated cost. Itching to reenroll in school? Start the application process. Ready for a career change? Start networking. Hope to exercise and eat right? Show up at the gym and consider hiring a trainer. Hunger for consistent Bible reading? Buy a One Year Bible and read each day with another person or two. Prayerfully plan ahead and the Lord will reward your wise preparations.
As you plan, submit to the Holy Spirit to draw out of your heart---His best plan. Humility to change courses or even cancel a project because the timing is not right, positions you for the Lord's best. Like Sarah, don't be surprised if God asks you to do something this upcoming year that will be impossible without divine intervention. Obey willingly and trust Christ to carry out His will for your life. Do your part: pray, plan, persevere. God will faithfully do His part: answer prayer, give wisdom and energize. A dull pencil from planning, is better than a sharp mind that procrastinates..
"The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps." (Proverbs 16:9)
January 26, 2020
“even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”
It was the outbreak of war in 1939 which firmly established the Royal Christmas Broadcast. With large parts of the world now facing an uncertain future, the King of England, George VI, spoke live to offer a message of reassurance to his people:
"I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, 'Give me light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'
And he replied, 'Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way.'"
George VI (quoting the poem "The Gate of the Year" by Minnie Louise Haskins, was a lecturer at the London School of Economics). These words, although a quote, were associated ever afterwards with King George VI.
January 25, 2020
KNOW GOD TO KNOW GOD’S WILL
"Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!"
One of my friends called me recently, excited to share something the Lord had revealed to her. He had been laying it on her heart that it was time for her to slow down and take time to listen to Him. “Did you know,” she said, “that the words ‘listen’ and ‘silent’ are the exact same letters?” She was passionate about taking intentional time to listen to Jesus and was admonishing me to do the same.
As she spoke about the importance of being still, I felt God lay on my heart to take extra time to listen to Him, to stop rushing about and sit and really hear Him. As I did, He reminded me of something important: When we listen, we tune into God’s unique plan for our lives.
It’s easy to believe we need to follow someone else to be significant or to accomplish something meaningful. There is nothing wrong with celebrating another person’s success or admiring the work God has given them to do.
But it’s wrong if we begin to think that we have to do what they are doing because we believe the path that God would have us take isn’t as important, that it won’t be as effective, or that we have to find our significance by doing something other than what God has called us to.
God has given each of His kids a unique path to take, based on their unique gifts, and each is important. Each person alive has been uniquely created to accomplish particular good works, so to copy someone else’s path simply out of insecurity or a feeling of insignificance, is unwise. As I once heard, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”
God didn’t call Moses to march around the walls of Jericho, Paul to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, or Joseph to become a king. Moses, Paul, and Joseph, like all people, were each uniquely created to fulfill particular purposes at particular times, for particular people.
What if Paul had refused to listen to God and write Scripture because he wanted to fulfill another role or to be like his next-door neighbor? What if Moses hadn’t listened to God to lead the people of Israel? What if Joseph hadn’t listened to God to become Jesus’ father?
Just as we have all been given unique fingerprints, we have all been given unique assignments to reach others. Therefore, we must take time to listen to the Lord to tune in to those assignments.
"And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways." (Proverbs 8:32)
Stop today and do a check-in with the Lord. Listen to Him. Are you on the path He has for you?
January 24, 2020
YOU KNOW HOW IT FEELS
2 Corinthians 1:3-4
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
During Napoleon's invasion of Russia, his troops were battling in the middle of yet another small town in that endless wintry land, when he was accidentally separated from his men. A group of Russian Cossacks spotted him and began chasing him through the twisting streets. Napoleon ran for his life and ducked into a little furrier's shop on a side alley. As Napoleon entered the shop, gasping for breath, he saw the furrier and cried piteously, "Save me, save me! Where can I hide?" The furrier said, "Quick, under this big pile of furs in the corner," and he covered Napoleon up with many furs.
No sooner had he finished than the Russian Cossacks burst in the door shouting, "Where is he? We saw him come in." Despite the furrier's protests, they tore his shop apart trying to find Napoleon. They poked into the pile of furs with their swords but didn't find him. Soon, they gave up and left.
After some time, Napoleon crept out from under the furs, unharmed, just as Napoleon's personal guards came in the door. The furrier turned to Napoleon and said timidly, "Excuse me for asking this question of such a great man, but what was it like to be under those furs, knowing that the next moment would surely be your last?"
Napoleon drew himself up to his full height and said to the furrier indignantly, "How could you ask me, the Emperor Napoleon, such a question? Guards, take this impudent man out, blindfold him and execute him. I, myself, will personally give the command to fire!"
The guards grabbed the furrier, dragged him outside, stood him against a wall and blindfolded him. The furrier could see nothing, but he could hear the guards shuffle into line and prepare their rifles. Then he heard Napoleon clear his throat and call out, "Ready! Aim!" In that moment, a feeling he could not describe welled up within him; tears poured down his cheeks.
Suddenly the blindfold was stripped from his eyes. Although partially blinded by the sunlight he could see Napoleon's eyes looking intently into his own -- eyes that seemed to see every dusty corner of his soul.
Then Napoleon said, "Now you know."
There are some things that simply cannot be described to you. If you haven't experienced them for yourself, you can't begin to know the feeling. If you've never sat by the bed of your father while cancer eats away at his body, you can't begin to know what it feels like. If you've never had a spouse walk out the door knowing they will never return, you can't begin to know what it feels like. If you've never had to bury a daughter before she was old enough to ride a bicycle, you can't begin to know what it feels like.
The list could go on and on. Eventually, I would get to what weighs on your soul. You have friends who try to comfort you by saying, "I understand," but deep down you know they don't. They can't. Not without experiencing it for themselves, and you wouldn't wish that on them.
What that means, though, is that you are in a position to minister in a special way to people who are suffering the same thing that you have suffered in the past. God is able to use your past painful experiences to help others in a way that no one else can. If you have had to deal with an alcoholic family member, you are in a position to minister to others in that situation. If you have suffered the death of a young child, you are in a position to minister to others in that situation. If you have raised a child as a single parent, you are able to minister to others in that situation.
The list could go on and on. Eventually, I would get to what you have suffered in the past. It was painful. It was tough to get through. But having done so, be aware of the opportunities you now have to be of service to others. You know exactly how they feel. Let them know that.
The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
January 23, 2020
WHO ARE YOU?
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.“
Who are you? You are a beloved child of God saved by the grace of God, to do the works of God He planned for you a long time ago. When you look in the mirror and voices of condemnation and shame try to tear you down—-see instead how Christ has lifted you up. When you reflect on the good things you have, bow your heart in gratitude for God’s gifts He has given you to carry out His plan to help others. Who are you? You are God’s masterpiece—loved to love others. Salvation is the start of a lifelong process of growing more like Jesus. You are His.
Paul writes from first hand experience. When he was a new convert, skeptics questioned the validity of his salvation experience, but over time wisdom was proven right by the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s fruit in his heart. God took the messy canvas of a life that had been anti-Christ and transformed him to become more and more like Christ. The Lord knew long ago that the profile of Paul would the type of person who would eventually rock the world for Jesus. Like Rembrandt’s masterpiece of the Prodigal Son, the Spirit sketches His masterpiece of your life.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13)
Do you feel unsure and alone? If so, solitude is the solution to your loneliness. A noisy world only compounds your feelings of fear and living of the fringes of faith. In stillness, quiet your soul, feel the warm embrace and love of the Father, and you will have the courage to carry on. Those loved well in the secret place of the sweet Holy Spirit’s strength have the confidence to publicly confess Christ and be vulnerable with His community of followers. Just as the unsure disciples offered the meager fish and loaves—take what you have, break it and give it to God.
Christ has commissioned your portrait of His love. But you are required to sit still in front of the eternal artist. Observe Him, gently brush the multicolors of His grace across the canvas of your faith. Yes, there is a time to sit in quiet trust and a time to get up and serve in the Spirit’s strength. Do both and you will experience God in deeper intimacy and deeds done in His name. Who are you? You are a masterpiece on display, reflecting the genius of your Creator’s love lived out!
“Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2)
Where can you find a secret place each day to receive the Father’s love? Who needs your love today to help them get through the day?
January 22, 2020
BUT WHO WON THE GAME?
1 Thessalonians 5:11
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
There is a juvenile correctional facility in Gainesville, Texas, for youthful felony offenders. All states have such facilities and Texas has more than one. Most of us ask ourselves how people so young can get into such serious trouble. The logical next question is this: What can we do to prevent it from happening?
I am not smart enough to figure out a full and definitive answer to so complex a problem. But a CBS news story by Steve Hartman may contain an important insight worth considering.
One of the few times the young male offenders at Gainesville get to leave their prison is for a handful of basketball games played against nearby private schools who will permit them on their campuses. The boys earn the right by being on their best behavior. Break a rule and the experience is denied.
In 2015, Gainesville was scheduled to play Vanguard College Prep School in Waco. Two Vanguard players — Hudson Bradley and Ben Martinson — talked with their coach and other school officials about an idea they had. How much fun could it be for the Gainesville team to compete without fans to cheer for them? With no cheerleaders? In a gym packed with folks rooting against you?
So they made this proposal: Let's ask some of our own fans to form a cheering section for Gainesville. Once the idea was approved, it caught on quickly. Some girls formed a cheerleading squad for Gainesville. Other students made signs for Gainesville. Half the gym seating was designated for people who would cheer for Gainesville.
The young prison team had no idea what was going on until they arrived for the game. They were cheered as they came on the court and warmed up. A good defensive play or points scored got screaming fans on their feet — screaming for the Gainesville kids, not at them. It only picked up momentum as the game continued, until every person in the gymnasium was cheering for Gainesville.
“I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts,” (Colossians 4:8)
"I mean every time they scored, the gym was just lit up with cheering and clapping. And everyone was on their feet," said Hudson Bradley. "I think in a way this is kind of how sports should be. It just kind of showed me the real impact that encouragement and support for anybody can make."
He dared to speculate that we all need people to believe in us. We all need for somebody who knows our history, our mistakes, and our failures to still care about us. To love us anyway.
"When I'm an old man," said one player on the Gainesville team, "I'll still be thinking about this." Maybe that's the insight from the story. Doesn't everybody need a cheerleader? A mentor? Somebody who won't quit on him?
By the way, wondering who won?
Everybody who was there that day.
The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
January 20-21, 2020
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,”
This is Jim Thorpe. If you look closely at the photo, you can see that he's wearing different socks and shoes. This wasn't a fashion statement. It was the 1912 Olympics, and Jim, a reticent Sac and Fox Indian from the Oklahoma frontier, orphaned as a teenager and raised as a ward of government schools and was uncomfortable in the public eye. He represented the U.S. in track and field.
On the morning of his competitions, his shoes were stolen. Luckily, Jim ended up finding two shoes in a garbage can. That's the pair that he's wearing in the photo. But one of the shoes was too big, so he had to wear an extra sock. Wearing these shoes, Jim won two gold medals that day.
It’s hard to imagine now that pro athletes get paid millions of dollars just to wear a particular brand of shoes. For Jim Thorpe, it didn’t matter what kind he wore.
This is a perfect reminder that you don't have to resign to the excuses that have held you back. So what if life hasn't been fair? What if life has dealt you not a very nice hand? What are you going to do about it today? It’s not the hand that’s dealt to you but how you play that hand.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
It’s a new day, new month, new year. Don't let it stop you from running your race. Besides, you have no chance of winning if you’re not in the race.
You can experience more in life if you'll get over the excuses and get on with living. If you’ll just count your blessings rather than focus on your lacks. So, put your shoes on and get on with it.
January 19, 2020
LOVE IS THE HIGHEST GOAL
1 Corinthians 14:1
“Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.”
Some time ago, I spoke with a retired woman who said she couldn’t identify her purpose. “I don’t know why I am here,” she shared.
My heart went out to her. Like many people—and like I have at times—she wondered what she was called to do. This woman often uses her time to serve others. She drives elderly friends to the doctor or to church. She makes quilts for the needy, and she bakes for church gatherings.
But because she isn’t doing something “big,” or because she has never had a professional career, she thinks she doesn’t have purpose. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Matthew shows God’s greatest two commandments for our lives are to love. Love is our highest purpose.
”Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.’” (Matthew 22:35-40)
So, if you are a teacher, and you love as a teacher, you have fulfilled your God-given purpose. If you are a construction worker, and you use your work to love, you have fulfilled your God-given purpose. If you are a writer, and you use your work as one who puts words on a page to love others, you have fulfilled your God-given purpose. And, if you make quilts for the poor, and it’s done in love, you have fulfilled God’s greatest purpose for your life.
Every gift, all talents, and all types of work are simply channels through which we can fulfill our highest purpose to love. What a relief for those times when we wonder, “Why am I here?”
When we focus on what we do as our purpose, we miss the point. It’s not about what we do as much as it is about how we do what we do. Do we do it in love? All things must be rooted in love to be rooted in God.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
All things must be rooted in love to be rooted in God. And, you have purpose because you can love. Let that sink in! What a marvelous thought!
“Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:14)
Take time to think about what gifts or talents God has given you. What is your work? How can you use it as a channel to love, even in what may seem small insignificant ways? All acts of love matter to God, big and small.
January 15-18, 2020
A LONGING TO BE WITH JESUS
“Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and you will see.’ So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.”
A true encounter with the Lord Jesus births in us a deep longing to be with him. This is one of the simplest yet purest tests of any spiritual encounter or system of belief. Christians have spent centuries debating the finer points of theology, arguing for this or that interpretation of a given passage of Scripture, and writing extensively on what constitutes true and right worship. And while all of these have their merits and place in the life of the church, if they do not lead us into a deeper encounter with the living Lord Jesus, they have lost their true purpose.
Ironically, it’s so easy for Jesus to get lost in the middle of this holiday season. We are now a few short days away from the Christmas feast, and yet the holiday parties, last minute shopping, and countless family obligations threaten to push him to the periphery. And while we feel this in a profound way this time of year, the same temptation is always before us.
It is entirely possible to surround yourself with Christian people, music, things, and events, and yet in the midst of it all miss Jesus in the process. Now, hear me on this. It does not mean to do away with the Christian people and things in the name of a “pure spirituality.” God made us human beings for a reason! He loves creation, so much so that he took it upon himself so it could be healed and restored.
The only way we know how to encounter God is through our physicality, through our “creatureliness.” Yet never forget: you are not a mere animal but a heavenly being made to know and be known by God himself. As such, we must never settle for anything less than the very presence of God. And every true and real encounter with Jesus will birth in us a deeper and deeper desire to be in his presence. As he makes his home with us, with great longing and desire in our hearts, we turn to him daily to make our home with him, saying again and again, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”
How can you re-center your life on Jesus this week?
January 12-14, 2020
THE POWER OF THE TONGUE
Proverbs 18: 20-21
“From the fruit of a man's mouth his stomach is satisfied; he is satisfied by the yield of his lips. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”
A group of frogs were traveling through the woods, and two of them fell into a deep pit. All the other frogs gathered around the pit. When they saw how deep the pit was, they told the two frogs that they were as good as dead.
The two frogs ignored the comments and tried to jump out of the pit with all of their might. The group of frogs kept telling them to stop because they were as good as dead.
Finally, one of the frogs took heed to what the other frogs were saying and gave up. He fell down and died. The second frog continued to jump as hard as he could. Once again, the crowd of frogs yelled at him to stop the pain and just die. He jumped even harder and finally made it out.
You see this frog was deaf, unable to hear what the others were saying. He thought they were encouraging him the entire time.
This story teaches a lesson:
"You will have to live with the consequences of everything you say. What you say can preserve life or destroy it; so you must accept the consequences of your words" (Proverbs 18: 20, 21)
There is the power of life and death in the tongue. An encouraging word to someone who is down can lift him up and help him make it through the day. A destructive word to someone who is down can be what it takes to kill his joy. Be careful of what you say. Speak life to those who cross your path.
The power of words... an encouraging word can go such a long way. May your words be a blessing to someone today.
The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
January 10-11, 2020
RELATIONAL BRIDGE BUILDER
2 Samuel 14:14
“We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast.”
Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.
Sometimes, people do dumb, stupid, and even shameful things. Their unwise choices may have inflicted great harm and even compounded into calamity and crisis. They are foolish because they chose to inflict pain when they knew better. Sin has caused them to suspend their good sense and Biblical worldview for a season. It is a season of misery and messiness. They are confused, alone, and humiliated.
They may not be at a point where they’re ready to admit their mistakes, but deep down in their soul there is a wondering of how much they have disappointed God and those who love them the most. They feel confused, for sin does complicate matters. And now they are caught in a web of deceit that will not let them go. They have lost perspective and seem to be swirling down into a spiritual and relational vortex. Not only are they estranged from their loved ones; they are estranged from their heavenly Father.
Separation from God is a lonely place. You can know for certain that your estranged loved one is conflicted, confused, and bitter. It is the love of God and your love that will bring them back to their senses. Sin has confused them and they have lost their bearings, but you know the way. It may take a third party to counsel you and coach you through this process of reaching out, but do not underestimate the effectiveness of your ability to build a relational bridge.
Relational bridge-building is not easy, and it takes time. But it can become necessary to woo the wandering one back home. Yes, they have made their bed, and now they are sleeping between its twin sheets of fear and insecurity. However, the bridge you are building leads to a bed of acceptance and peace. This current war of words is in need of a cease-fire. No one wins in a vicious and venomous volley of blame. Instead, a bridge-builder prays; he prays to first be changed. They accept blame and replace perceived rejection with action-oriented acceptance. A bridge-builder calls, writes, and sends gifts of encouragement and even takes the initiative to over-communicate. A bridge-builder seeks to understand and then love the estranged one at their point of need.
Maybe your child is living with an undesirable roommate. Reach out and get to know this person who is negatively influencing your son or daughter. By God’s grace, become the influencer of the influencer. Invite them into your home and love them to God. Let your home become a magnet of grace that draws them into a reminder of what’s good and right. The bridge you build may not be crossed immediately. But just its presence speaks volumes to your availability, care, and compassion. One day, circumstances will unravel for your estranged loved one. When they do, you want your bridge of love and acceptance staring them right in the face. Stay faithful as a relational bridge-builder, just as the cross of Christ is God’s bridge to you. The cross you bear is your bridge to broken people. So, continue to pray and pursue this Christ-honoring outcome.
The Bible teaches:
"All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation." (2 Corinthians 5:18)
What hard relationship requires your regular investment of time and love to earn the right to influence them?
January 9, 2020
BENEFITS OF HUMILITY
“For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.”
Humility is the doorway to God’s salvation. It is an entrance into an exciting life with the Lord. God saves the humble, but brings low the haughty. He lifts up the humble in heart, and brings down the haughty. A haughty look may be masked for a while but eventually comes out. The face is a direct reflection of the heart. Our countenance can be hard and uninviting or it can be soft and accepting.
The haughty find it hard to take responsibility for their ill will and anger. They blame others while becoming victims of their own pride. Haughty eyes have blurred the vision of God and shy away from serving people. It is all about “What’s in it for me?” It stiff-arms our Savior. The eyes of the haughty are cold, calloused, and distant. The haughty are consumed with themselves and have but a faint remembrance of Christ. They don’t remember what they wish to forget. Haughtiness forgets humility. However, this comes back to haunt the haughty.
Humility, on the other hand, woos the blessings of God. It has bountiful benefits. God’s presence permeates an environment of humility. It is an atmosphere of humility that engages the Almighty. The Lord looks out for the family members or work associates who value humility. He saves them from unwise decision-making and irresponsible living. He saves them from themselves.
Humility also encourages honesty. It encourages honesty about our dreams and disappointments. It recognizes the tremendous need for God to consummate the vision, and as we depend on God, we see Him work. Humility also learns how to process disappointments. There is an acknowledgement of anger and the need for healing. God saves the humble from bitterness and replaces it with brokenness.
Humility benefits relationships. It is a lubricant for love and the fuel of forgiveness. A humble heart helps husbands and wives learn how to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It cultivates appreciation of each other’s differences and spurns irritation. It checks our conversations before we position ourselves for a win/lose dialogue. Humility first understands and then seeks to be understood. Humility is a prerequisite for relational success. It deflates pride and inflates patience. Humility is quick to honor and slow to blame. It keeps us in the good graces of God and people.
Run from false humility formed out of fear, deception, and pride. Instead, cultivate authentic humility through prayer, honesty, and community. Surrender daily to your Savior with a sense of overwhelming dependence on Him. We are to submit on our knees so He doesn’t have to bring us to our knees. Humility is conceived in an honest heart—one that understands its limitations. It is comfortable with its strengths and its weaknesses, and not afraid to speak up and show its emotions.
Humility is best harnessed among a Christ-centered community. Let people you respect into your life:
“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” (Proverbs 13:20)
Haughtiness is hurtful. Humility is beneficial, so sign up for its benefits. The Bible says:
“You save a humble people, but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down.” (2 Samuel 22:28)
Who do you need to humble yourself before, and ask for forgiveness?
January 8, 2020
SELF CONTROL TO FINISH WELL
1 Corinthians 9:25-26
“Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.”
My wife Rita and I, recently celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary touring the ruins of Olympia, Greece, home of the first Olympic games, over 700 years before Jesus. We were pleasantly surprised to learn from our Greek guide Studi, the character expectation for the behavior of Olympic athletes. Interestingly, every four years those invited to participate in the games, were required to arrive 30 days before the first event, so their interaction with fellow athletes could be observed by the judges. Humility, honesty and deference to others were some traits the judges looked for in these rising role models. Did they use self-control to finish well?
The apostle Paul practically illustrates the Christian's self-control as a servant of Christ; the man who quietly and selflessly worked a day job so he wouldn't be a financial burden on his brothers and sisters in Christ. Willingly, he submitted his interests to Jesus first, an intentional effort to finish well. This devoted disciple kept his eyes on the finish line of faith, anticipating the reward of being with God. Paul practiced self-controlled to lovingly finish well.
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10)
Is your life all over the map, or with the Holy Spirit's guidance do you map out your life? Self control seeks to have a plan, so there is margin to make a difference in another person's life. When our spirit is nudged by the Spirit, we seek opportunities to make a way for a seeking soul to find Jesus. By God's grace dial back prayer-less busyness, so you can be intentional with your time. Do you prayerfully define your agenda or default to what others say? Self-control seeks to serve others.
Would the content of your character qualify for God's spiritual Olympics? When people see you coming are they energized by your willingness to love on them, or are they depleted by your self absorption? Practice self control, so you can make meaningful contributions to your community and friends. Perhaps you start by limiting the amount of days you travel a month or the days of the week you are out at night. Maybe at meal times use a smaller plate, eat modestly and skip dessert. Most of all, surrender control to the Spirit and allow His influence to instruct your life:
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,” (Ephesians 5:15-18)
What activity do you need to give up, so you are available to serve someone else?
January 6-7, 2020
NO YEAR’S RESOLUTION
“For thus said the LORD GOD, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’ But you were unwilling,”
An enthusiastic admirer once rushed up to the Renaissance artist Michelangelo. What was his secret? How did he sculpt The David, the epic 17-foot statue of the biblical king and hero that now stands in the Accademia Gallery in Florence?
Michelangelo’s answer was simple and profound: He looked at the unformed block of marble and “chipped away all that wasn’t David.” His indeed was the work of negation—the art of No. And through this, Michelangelo found the deeper beauty, the more profound Yes. That is why I am pondering my “No” Year’s Resolution.
This New Year, I am looking to Scripture and science to tell me where my life is a block of unformed marble that needs some chipping away.
It all begins for us with the power of no in God’s gift of Sabbath—whether that is for a day or something much shorter. In these times, Scripture tells us that God gives us a new vision and energy:
“For thus said the LORD GOD, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’ But you were unwilling,” (Isaiah 30:15)
Honestly, the brain science behind this is easy to grasp. When we take breaks and reduce stress, we think better. Herbert Benson at Harvard Medical School suggests that this comes from the release of nitric oxide that fires up feel-good neurotransmitters and slows down stress hormones. “It’s a matter of learning to shift our internal biology at will so that we increase production of nitric oxide and the neurotransmitters associated with well-being and increased creativity” (Bronwyn Fryer, Harvard Business Review).
The chemical formula for nitric oxide, by the way, is “NO”. When we are stressed, let go and say NO.
Let me be clear: this article isn’t about becoming such a specialist in taking breaks that we become a “Dr. No.” But I will say that, before we breathe in new insights, the place to start is in breathing out and making space.
Neuroscience tells us that in addition to rest, prayer—and especially meditative prayer—can bring about reduction of bad stress. Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg led a study of Tibetan Buddhists and Franciscan nuns, and found that meditation and prayer increased levels of dopamine, which, among other things, enhanced concentration and focus.
Be still and be quiet.
The Oxford literary professor and Christian spiritual writer, C.S. Lewis, wrote that every morning “all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. The first job each morning should consist in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.”
Still, even in these breaks, there is something that speaks of God’s unmerited favor of the grace that surrounds us . . . and frankly that favor is all too often drowned out by our living in the modern marketplace and even in our faith communities. As Jesus said:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
“The unforced rhythms of grace.” The No before the Yes. That’s my hope for a successful 2020. Resolving to find strategic No is a good way to start a new decade.
Happy New Year!
January 5, 2020
A STOP DOING LIST
“But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’”
One of my weaknesses is having more ideas than I have the capacity to implement. In fact, to protect myself from myself, my colleagues at work and my family at home have permission to ask me a specific question at anytime. Especially when they see me setting more goals than we can execute with excellence. Here is the question, “Boyd, are you sure?" Are you sure you have time? Are you sure we need to add another project, before we complete the current project? Are you sure we have the adequate resources to see this through to the end? Along with this helpful question is a process I started a few years ago at the beginning of the year. With discipline and honesty, take inventory of my schedule by asking, "What should I stop doing?" And then stop.
American culture is plagued by hyperactivity without productivity. We think being busy equals importance or a frantic pace is a path to success. Like a pack mule loaded down with an overabundance of supplies, we pack our calendar to the breaking point. We play mind games with ourselves that busyness is what’s best for our family, when in fact the real outcomes are: relational emptiness, health challenges and irritable emotions. We even justify being over active for Jesus.
Perhaps a wiser start to the year is a stop doing list. As Jesus instructed Martha, we need to take an inventory of our activities and ask what is really needed. What has served its purpose for a season, but is now unnecessary, even an obstacle to what’s best? Let go of emotional attachments and embrace some margin for meaningful relationships. Is it time to stop a sports program, a long commute or a tired volunteer role? Become better with contemplation and strategic availability.
“When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake.” (Matthew 8:18)
It takes courage to take the route trafficked infrequently, but the ride is less stressful and more enjoyable. Avoid going where everyone else is going; nowhere fast. A fast track is too fast when it starves our faith. We find ourselves with very little left over time for prayer, Bible study, worship and community. Give what’s important first priority on the calendar. Worry works itself out of a job when we work out our bodies, feed our minds, heal our emotions and rest our souls.
By faith stop doing something each week or month that has passed its prime time. Be patient not to rush and fill a gap in your calendar already crowded with appointments. Blocks of discretionary time give you availability for spontaneous service. Take a step back from the myopic view of trees bunched together, so you can see the imaginative forest of faith. Anyone can be busy, some can be productive, but few walk by faith and watch God do more. Stop doing good to do better.
“One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4)
What are one or two activities you can stop doing this year to focus on quality relationships?