TGIF: Just Scream

This would normally be a Foodie post because it’s Foodie Friday. But my mind is elsewhere.

Yesterday a friend shared with me a text from her daughter-in-law. The poor woman was recounting every challenge which happened in just the past week alone, including a scare with her husband being hospitalized for chest pains. I told my friend, “Well, life is like a roller coaster, and it’s okay to scream.”

If you’re one of those people who is saying to yourself, “Thank God it’s Friday,” hang on to that bar in front of you. God will be your source of strength and comfort to get through any challenge. And, even though screaming may help in the moment, remember that the ride eventually evens out.

The more we get used to the roller coaster ride of life, the more we realize that the steep climbs, crashing plummets, and speedy curves are all part of it. Our approach to God in facing the roller coaster’s intensity–even while screaming–makes sense as we approach each challenge on the ride of our life.

Be a blessing to someone today.

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Top Ten Reasons It’s Cool to Be Christ-like

If you’re serious about being like Jesus, here you go with some great ways to follow his lead.

  1. Jesus lived a sinless life. 2 Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 1:19
  1. Jesus prayed for His friends–and some people He’d never met. John 17:6-26
  1. Jesus submitted to authority. John 12:49-50; Luke 22:42
  1. Jesus forgives everyone. Everyone, no matter what they did or do. Luke 23:34; 1 John 1:9
  1. Jesus never compromised the truth. Mark 8:34-35; John 8:10-11
  1. Jesus guided people into truth without hitting them over the head with it. Matthew 5-7; Luke 24:25-27
  1. Jesus is full of joy and peace–and shares it. John 14:27; John 15:11
  1. Jesus kept his priorities straight and was good at time management. Mark 1:35-39
  1. Jesus attended parties, enjoying fellowship with all types of people. Luke 7:36-38; Matthew 9:10; John 2:1,2

And the Number One Reason it’s cool to be Christ-like:

Jesus loves everyone, even those who don’t like Him and those who disagree with Him. Matthew 23:37

Still Working on the Bucket List

In the space within my home I call the “Bedroom/Office,” are both a two-drawer and a four-drawer file cabinet. They share that space with two small desks, two small dressers, and my twin bed. There’s very little floor space left, but I make do.

Recently I began the process of eliminating one more item on my Bucket List: “Reduce my files down to one four-drawer file cabinet.”

Presently, I’m plowing through the records in my four-drawer file cabinet and all the three-ring binders looking for stuff. I’m looking for stuff I don’t need, stuff I still need, and stuff that’s “iffy.” Some of it I wonder why I thought I needed it in the first place.

The process, after I discover those things I don’t need, is to toss that stuff into the recyclable office paper box. Those things I decide I want to keep are put in a folder, taken to the library and scanned in pdf format onto a flash drive. Then they go in the recycling box with the rest.

I’m big on recycling and this project is big on my Bucket List because the less I have in my home when I kick the bucket, the easier it will be on my children to clean up what’s left.

As I do the work of de-cluttering my physical world, I always think of how the Holy Spirit is transforming me into the likeness of Christ the same way. Some things are kept. For instance, God doesn’t take away the personality he gave me; now he’s refining it. He gave me talents that I’ve had since I was a child; now he prompts me to use them for his kingdom.

Working through the process of de-cluttering also makes me think of some of the things that have cluttered up my spiritual life.They need to go. While God transforms me, he helps me get rid of

  • Specific rules of men that have no bearing on my salvation
  • Shame or unearned guilt over past sins
  • Resentment or bitterness over the hurts others did to me
  • Worry

The key is wanting to let go of them. I know that, just like with de-cluttering my bedroom/office, I’ll always need to take inventory of my spiritual life to see what needs to go. I tend to look at some of my stuff and believe “That just might come in handy sometime.” I suppose the parallel to that is recycling the constant stream of junk mail. Rarely do I need to hang onto junk mail.

Unless it’s a coupon for coffee.

A 40-Day Bible Reading Plan

I remember the first time I read the Bible through in a year. I don’t remember which method I used, but I remember which Bible I used. That old battered thing with a broken binding is tucked away in the box it came in. I’ve carried on the practice nearly every year since then using different methods and different translations.

It’s a rich experience to read God’s Word every day for 365 days. But an even richer experience is to study the Bible as we read.  I can get lazy and complete my reading for the day, call it “good,” get up from my comfy chair, and get on with the day.

So, to avoid complacency, now I give myself options and when I find new ways to get into the Word daily, I’ve found I don’t necessarily need to read the whole Bible. Especially since I’ve read it through several times. I’m not making excuses; I still believe reading it through is a great idea. Below is a list of 40 days worth of reading to get a good taste of God’s Word.

For people who are new to reading scripture, this is a good plan because it starts at the beginning and goes to the end, offering most of the well-known story passages. (Watch for more than a story; there’s much to be learned in “story.”) This plan also covers the ministry of Jesus and basic Christian theology.

For someone already familiar with the Bible, well, it’s never a bad idea to review. For anyone, I’d suggest taking notes and studying each daily passage. Keep your notebook handy for writing down questions and insights into scripture.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16,17).

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

May the Holy Spirit guide you and God bless you as you dig into his Word.

Day 1: Genesis chapters 1-2 (The Creation Account)
Day 2: Genesis chapter 3 (the Beginning of Sin)
Day 3: Genesis chapters 15, 17:15-27 (God’s covenant with Abraham)
Day 4: Genesis chapter 21:1-7; chapter 22 (God’s faithfulness/Abraham’s faith)
Day 5: Exodus chapters 3-4 (God Calls Moses to deliver His people)
Day 6: Exodus 6 (the Ten Commandments)
Day 7: Joshua 1 (conquering the Promised Land)
Day 8: 1 Samuel 16-17 (David and Goliath)
Day 9: 1 Kings chapters 3; 8:1-9;  9  (King Solomon’s wisdom and the Temple)
Day 10: 1 Kings 18 (The prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal)
Day 11:  2 Kings 25the Siege of Jerusalem and the Exile of Judah)
Day 12: Daniel 2-3 (Daniel in Babylon: The fiery furnace)
Day 13: Ezra 3 (Rebuilding the temple)
Day 14: Isaiah chapters 9, 53, 61 (Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah)
Day 15: Luke chapters 1-2 (The birth of Jesus)
Day 16: John 1:1-18 (who Jesus Is)
Day 17: Luke 4:14-44 (Jesus begins his ministry)
Day 18: Matthew 5-6 (the core of Jesus’ teaching)
Day 19: John 3 (God’s Love for the world)
Day 20: John 5  (Jesus’ Miracles and Authority)
Day 21: John 11 (Jesus’ Power Over Death)
Day 22:  John 15 (the Christian Life Defined)
Day 23:  John 17 (Jesus’ High Priestly prayer)
Day 24: Matthew 26-27 (the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus)
Day 25: John 20 (The resurrection of Jesus)
Day 26: Luke 24 (the ascension of Jesus )
Day 27: Acts 2 (the coming of The Holy Spirit)
Day 28: Acts 9 (the conversion of Saul)
Day 29: Acts 16  (The Gospel spreads to Europe)
Day 30: Acts 26  Paul’s defense of the Christian Faith)
Day 31:  Romans 3 (Justification by faith alone)
Day 32: Romans 7-8  (the battle with sin; Life in the Spirit)
Day 33: 1 Corinthians 13  (The way of Love)
Day 34: 1 Corinthians 15 (the power of the resurrection)
Day 35:  Galatians 5 (Freedom in Christ)
Day 36: Ephesians 6 (The whole armor of God)
Day 37: Philippians 1:18-2:18  (Christ’s example for us)
Day 38: Colossians 3:1-17 (Putting on the new self)
Day 39: James 1  (Pure religion)
Day 40: Revelation 21-22  (The New Heaven and the New Earth)

 

A Dangerous Place to Be

A friend of mine shared in a small group that she thought she probably would be safe from idols in an atmosphere alone with no distractions: no TV, no radio, all alone. She said people wouldn’t distract her from her spiritual life and worldly music or television programs wouldn’t do it either.

Listening to her, the concept sounded good. But at that time, my situation was pretty much what she described and I was still in danger of idolatry on a regular basis.

I have an active imagination. I have a good mind. And sometimes I believe they are sincerely out to get me.

Other people I know who are seriously trying to change from lifestyles of addiction to being “clean,” tell me it’s important to change playmates, playthings and playgrounds. To live the life of obedience to Christ, I pretty much need to do the same thing. That doesn’t mean I sequester myself away from the world. It doesn’t mean I don’t engage with people who don’t believe what I believe about God and Jesus. Doing that is hiding my lamp under a bowl. And Jesus says I’m to let my light shine before men.

However, scripture does tell me it’s dangerous for me to wander the playground of my mind without Jesus. I must “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”

Not every thought I have is sinful, but some of them can lead to sin. My addictions are waiting in the sidelines if I fall prey to just one ugly thought. Or a twisted, selfish emotion. As a matter of fact, being alone can be a hindrance in my relationship with God if I let myself get lonely. I need my friends to help me, so I reach out.

A mind, they say, is a terrible thing to waste. Sometimes, it can be a dangerous place to be.

“Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin” (James 1:14,15).

How Sweet It Is

twain-forgive-violet-quoteSometimes, for me at least, the idea of forgiving someone leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

Over the years, with help from God, forgiving others isn’t the drawn-out, dreaded process it used to be. Matter of fact, I forgive fairly quickly now. Wait. Perhaps I should insert “sometimes” in that sentence as well.

One thing I do know is when I’m in a situation where I need to forgive, I find a good starting point is remembering “I’m that person too. If I haven’t done that thing they did or said, I’m guilty of doing or saying things as bad or worse.”

That reminder is the jumping-off point for extending mercy to others. Just as God extended mercy to me. And how sweet that is.

Strength Over the Long Haul

“Just like a tree that’s standing by the water, I shall not be moved.” ~ traditional Christian hymn

How we respond when trouble comes into our lives does two things, in my estimation. Our responses can reveal our character. They can also develop our character. How we respond also reveals what we believe about God. In other words, how we see his character; his personhood, if you will.

At my age, I’ve been through numerous troubles. Some of them never happened–they were all imaginary and caused by nagging worries and fretting. Some of them were hardly worth mentioning. I was acting spoiled and being petty to think I had it so bad (Insert ‘pet peeves’ here). But in truth, I’ve also seen troubles hard enough to put my faith in God to the test.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The way I see it, whether I’m 21 or 61 (as I am now), those troubles come not to test my maturity at a chronological age, but to test my spiritual maturity. I believe our growth in spiritual maturity begins the moment we respond to the initial promptings of the Holy Spirit. We may not know who that is when we first respond, but later, we realize that it was him speaking to us and drawing us to God. Twilight tree Jeremiah 17

I’ve been slow to move at times, needing to repeat an experience to finally understand what God wants me to know about him. Over the years, however, I’ve kept in mind something I read early on from A.W. Tozer’s, “The Knowledge of the Holy.”

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

Even after reading that book almost 20 years ago, that truth stays with me. Look in the table of contents of Tozer’s book and you’ll see he included each thing that makes God who he is. We can’t separate holiness, goodness or majesty from wisdom, love or justice. God is. Period.

May I go out on a limb and say his immutability–the unchanging nature he owns–explains why we can’t leave out any of his attributes? Nor can we forget that God will always be who he says he is. This unchanging nature is one reason I’ve discovered that God gets me through those troubles better than I can do it myself. (Insert “I change my mind” and “I can be moody” here.)

He guides me, comforts me, has each situation under control. And he gives me strength. I’ve seen it over the long haul, and that strength is only equal to the faith I have in him. Whether it makes sense at the time or not, I have to believe he’ll do what he says he’ll do. Formerly, when my faith was less strong, the realization that he was involved so intimately in my trouble often came later. Now, that knowledge is instinctive.

Trusting him has helped me get through some trouble recently. I wish I could tell you how safe I feel because of it. But it’s beyond words, and that’s probably what God intends. He doesn’t need to be understood as I sometimes think I should be.

Agree with me that Jeremiah the prophet is right when he says a person who trusts in the Lord and has confidence in him is blessed. Does that necessarily mean God gives us gifts so we can make our lives better? I think not.

I believe it means the blessing is the gift of God himself. The God who–because he is who he is–gets us through our troubles and gives us strength for the long haul.

Know and Grow

For the past year, Dallas Theological Seminary has been kind enough to offer me some of their classes. I get the notifications in my email and I get to decide if I want to take the course by watching a series of videos.

The first course I took, a study of the gospel of John, was with Dr. Mark Bailey. Dr. Bailey is president of the seminary but likes to stay involved in classroom instruction. He’s a fine professor.

This past week I began another study with Dr. Howard Hendricks, “How to Read the Bible Like a Seminary Professor.” Dr. Hendricks passed away in 2013, but his teaching (so far as I’ve seen) is relevant and direly needed.

Dr. Bailey was quotable. His sense of humor and authenticity shined. He’s been around a long time and obviously lives what he teaches. Dr. Hendricks is no different. Here’s something he said, which I need to remember at all times:

“God’s Word was not written to make you a smarter sinner.”

In other words, reading and studying the Bible aren’t meant just for information, but for transformation, according to Dr. Hendricks. “You can’t grow without knowing,” he says, “but it’s possible to know and not grow.” (Read that sentence again if you need to; I did.)

After my decision to follow Christ, I ate the Word like a little kid devouring an ice cream cone. I enjoyed having Bible knowledge. Other people enjoyed it too; they often asked for information because I did know the Word. They weren’t always so quick to ask me about how to live the Word. That’s disturbing to me because it means I wasn’t allowing God to make that transformation a reality.

If you’re interested in getting started with this particular study, lesson 1 is posted on YouTube here. Once you bring that video up, you’ll see subsequent lessons on the right-hand side of the screen. They’re numbered and titled so you know where you are.

You can also find the course on the DTS site (as long as it’s listed there) to sign up and receive the first lesson immediately.

I hope you’ll enjoy studying with Dr. Hendricks. It’s a blessing to know DTS is willing to share the wisdom, experience and caring of its people.

Thinking About Spring and “Fruit”

apple-tree-blossoms-john-brink

I’m thinking “Spring” and remembering the beautiful flowers on the apple trees in the yard of my childhood home.

The pink and white blossoms smelled so sweet when you stood close to the tree. Then it seemed all at once, the driveway was covered in petals. First, they showed off their potential for the fall harvest. Then, we waited for those apples to emerge and ripen.

I’ve come to understand that we must all undergo challenges in life so that we may grow and bear fruit like those trees. Struggle. Obey God in the struggle. Then move forward in spiritual maturity.

For the fruit to grow, we must first lose the bloom.

This is a Test

When I was a kid, it was common to receive messages from the Emergency Broadcast System through television broadcasting. Our show would be interrupted by a voice announcing the message and then a grating, buzzing sound would come on for a few moments.

That warning sound was so disturbing, I remember times we covered our ears so we wouldn’t hear it.

When the buzzing stopped, that voice would come on and let us know that the pause in our regularly televised program was “only a test” of the system. Had it been a real emergency, the voice said, we would have been given instructions on how to proceed further.

Sometimes I wish God would let me know ahead of time when he’s testing me. It seems that I often don’t know a situation occurring in my life has been a test of my faith until the whole thing has passed.

It’s true what they said about hindsight.

But I wonder. If God gave me fair warning of an upcoming trial and the manner in which I’d be tested, would I listen to it? Would I consider it a grating sound in my ears and cover them so I could ignore that warning?

Frankly, I don’t remember one time when I received advance warning of a trial coming in my life. A test, so to speak. But I remember times when, further into the difficult situation, I realized it was probably a test.

God wants to know how I’ll respond when things get a little “testy.” He wants to see if I’ll trust him through it to do the amazing things he can do in that situation. Will I respond to people and events as Jesus would?

Will I pray, seek his direction and stay out of his way?ex cu woman praying

A little over a year ago, a friend gave me the opportunity to leave a situation in which we both felt frustrated and somewhat angry. Another individual had entered our happy circumstance and jarred it with an annoying presence. He was only doing what he’d been asked to do and the permission he was given to do it was given by someone who had authority.

Still, the situation was “testy.”

When my friend said, “You can leave if you want,” I told her I’d stay. In this situation, which actually wasn’t a big deal compared to some, I realized immediately that God might have something for me to learn. And that’s what I told her.

While that situation was one in which I knew right off that God could be testing me and watching to see how I responded, that’s not always the case.

Often times, as I said, it takes me a while to recognize that God has a hand in the situation and that his hand is large and in charge. He wants me to do some footwork in most cases, but ultimately, he’s in control.

In the letter Jesus’s brother, James, wrote to Jewish Christians, he said

“You know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete” (James 1:3, 4)

When I read scripture, I’ve learned to pay attention to the places where it says, “so that.” Those two words tell me there’s a good reason for the direction I’m being given by the writer. Because I know the writer’s words were inspired by God himself, I trust them.

Trusting those words, however, doesn’t mean it will always be easy to follow through on the directions. God’s ideas are usually simple ones, but he doesn’t make things necessarily easy for us.

That means if we’re to grow in our faith in God and what he can–and will–accomplish in our lives, we can’t cover our ears when he tells us “This is a test.” Listening–and follow-through–will keep us humbled. It will help us to grow. Listening and follow-through will keep us safe. Just in case of a real emergency.