Fleshing Out a Flannelgraph

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

When I was a child going to Sunday school in the basement of my church they used “flannelgraphs” to tell Bible stories. A flannelgraph consisted of a flannel-covered board on an easel and cloth Bible characters. The characters stuck to the board as you placed them. Then you’d peel them off and place more characters while telling the story. There was Joseph and his brothers; Noah, the ark and the animals; and of course, Jesus. Noah's Ark | ABCJesusLovesMe

The stories I heard about Jesus in Sunday school always made him sound larger than life. He worked miracles healing people and made a little bit of food go around to feed a multitude. He was a pretty awesome Jesus.

Then I’d go upstairs to ‘big church’ and the pastor’s message about Jesus was that he died on a cross for me. That kept Jesus in the larger than life realm. Not knowing exactly what a crucifixion entailed, I assumed it was pretty bad and that I was lucky Jesus would do such a thing for me. The pastor talked about how angry God was about sin and how much I needed his forgiveness. He was a pretty awesome God too, but for different reasons. I made a decision to ask God to forgive me and said a prayer, asking Jesus to come into my heart.

God and Jesus fell into the larger-than-life category for a long time. And there’s nothing wrong with that; they are larger than life. But something was missing and it kept me from really knowing how much I could benefit from the decision I’d made about Jesus. I didn’t know it then, but what I was missing was Jesus with flesh on.

Skip ahead several years. I had become confused and disillusioned by church, leaving it to try my own way of living. I still believed in God, but he wasn’t part of my worldview. Then something happened to create in me a hunger for him and I returned to the church. Because I was hungry for God, I began to read my Bible. In fact, I devoured it. Guess what I found?

I found a Jesus with flesh on.

I don’t remember the folks in the church where I grew up talking about Jesus as a man. They must have, but I was young and mostly hearing the anger part. I never really got a glimpse of Jesus with flesh on until I read about him for myself. As I traveled through Galilee and the Judean countryside with him and his followers I watched him interact with people like a real person would. I saw him express emotions like anger, joy, and grief. Viewpoint: Follow the Savior's “Perfect Example of Leadership” - Church News and Events

He got tired and slept. He got hungry and ate. He interacted with friends and with some Pharisees (who weren’t always counted among the friendly). He worshiped on the Sabbath. He engaged in normal human activities found easily if you look in scripture.

Maybe it’s the storyteller in me that looks for what’s hidden. I look at more than just the words, and I read between the lines. For starters, he was a carpenter. Imagine Jesus banging his finger with a hammer and getting one of those black fingernails. We know he had sisters and brothers and, though we aren’t told much about his childhood, it must have been a fairly normal one with playtime, chores, and “school”.

Then his ministry began. Look at the loaves and fishes story. After Jesus multiplied the food for the crowds, he sent his disciples on to Bethsaida “while he dismissed the crowd.” (Mark 6:45) Call me goofy, but I see Jesus talking to people as they leave as if he knows them personally. It’s not a “Hey, all of you, clear out of here now” type of dismissal. It’s the type of thing a host would do, saying goodbye to as many as possible and seeing that their needs are met. Anyway, that’s the Jesus I was getting to know.

I got to know this Jesus who was a single man all his life while many his age would have been betrothed or already married. Jesus lost a relative, John the Baptist, to a cruel death and took time to grieve alone before he was called again to minister to the crowds. Jesus’ closest relatives misunderstood him to the point that they tried to manipulate his actions, thinking they knew better what he should do. At a crucial moment, his best friends deserted him. One of his friends took his own life.

After becoming familiar with this Jesus, I realized that I need the God who’s larger than life and truly awesome. But I also need this Jesus who has been human and can understand what it’s like to be me. Many of us have no mate, have grieved the loss of a close relative, are genuinely misunderstood, and have been deserted by a friend.

“Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name, lead and guide me.” Psalm 31:3

Jesus with flesh on makes him able to relate to us in every problem and in every success. God wants to get up close and personal. He wants us to know he’s not just a flat personality we peel and stick to our circumstances when we need him. He’s a fleshed-out God who relates to every situation in which we find ourselves. And his desire is that we’ll get to know him as that pretty awesome Jesus.

When You’re Called To Worship

The shepherds had enough light from that encounter to march back into their dark night rejoicing and praising God.

Reference: Luke 2:1-20

When we get the chance late at night, Matthias and I lie on our backs and watch the sky. Marvelous things happen there. High clouds float on a wind we can’t see but feel tugging at our hair. They disappear in wisps trailed by more clouds and we name them by shapes.

We play our favorite game on clear nights when the sky is dotted with stars. Matthias, a pensive fellow, says the sky is poked full of holes for the light of God to shine through. Matthias really loves God; he teaches me a lot. I’m glad I was assigned watch with him in these fields. Living out here can be lonely. Besides, he says things like that about holes in the sky.

We name the stars knowing God has already named them and sometimes we find shapes in those too. That particular night a shape we never expected appeared in the sky.

It was an angel.05_Shepherds_Angels_JPEG_1024

I’m young but I’m not a madman. And there are more witnesses than Matthias and me. We all saw and heard. The stars paled in comparison to the light that shone around that angel. I believe the light of God really was shining then, not just through the star-holes. We were terrified. The sheep began to stir.

But the angel spoke to us and told us to not be afraid. I stepped closer to Matthias anyway; I couldn’t stop trembling.

“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people,” the angel said. Its voice had a strange tremble as well, but it was clear as a bell on that clear night. Have you ever heard an angel? No, of course you probably haven’t. Oh, it was…fearsome.

But wonderful.

Then the angel spoke a message describing the birth of a baby in the nearby town of Bethlehem. Born to us, the angel said. “Christ, the Lord.”

“The Messiah,” I thought, “the Messiah has come!” Matthias fell to his knees. I did likewise just because I didn’t want to let go of him.

The angel then told us where to find the baby. The fact that the Messiah was a baby born that very night was incredible enough, but he was lying in a manger. That was the end of the message. I was stunned. I had heard it all. There was no doubt I had heard it right. God had surely put it in my heart.

found-watching-sheepThen, even as the angel finished speaking, suddenly the sky filled with them and they began to praise God saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” The sound was just like that of the other angel, a trembling but clear voice and so loud I thought the sheep would bolt and run. Miraculously, they were now still.

We were mute in the angels’ presence and as they finished their chorus of praise they fled into heaven. Matthias and I slowly stood. He recited the Shema; I think out of habit. I believe he was as nervous as I was. We all slowly began to walk toward one another and then ran. We met in a circle and stopped. Josias began to speak but his voice broke.

He started laughing.

Oh yes, laughing. And so did we. How happy were our hearts! No one else can understand the beauty of it. But the lovely irony was not lost on Josias and we knew too. God had chosen we lowly shepherds to be the first to see his Messiah.

“We must go quickly. All of us, even the sheep,” Josias said. “When the Lord calls, we obey.” Everyone was solemn now but still full of joy. Of course we would obey.

The City of David was full of people since a census was in process, but we found our way to the stable. It was small and dark. I cannot imagine why such a place would be the birthplace for this child, but I wanted so much to see him I laid my questions aside.

The mother was young like me. They–Mary and Joseph–were kind and welcomed us. We told them our story and they somehow didn’t seem surprised at the angel’s appearing. They acted as if angels to them were commonplace. Mary nodded knowingly, pondering it.

She unwrapped the baby a little so we could see him. I don’t know what I was expecting; he was just a baby. Nevertheless, he–Jesus was his name–was the Christ. We all kneeled and worshiped him. I have to admit I felt like weeping. I didn’t. I’m the youngest and the men would have laughed at me.

We stayed there a little while and Mary and Joseph inquired about where we were from. I noticed Matthias kept looking at Jesus and at one point wiped a tear. I promised myself not to say anything.

Finally, we left to return to the fields. As we walked out of the city the only sounds were our feet shuffling along the streets and the occasional bleating of sheep. How can you begin to talk about the experiences? Angels lighting up the sky, news of the Messiah and then seeing him like that–so pure? You have to stretch your mind to make it all fit.

When we reached the edge of Bethlehem, Matthias stopped us, sheep and all, and said, “We cannot keep this to ourselves.”

We looked at him, begging with our eyes so he’d continue. “No,” he explained, “The angel said it was ‘good news of great joy for all people.’ In obedience to God, we will spread the news.”

Can you imagine our joyful laughter at that? We began clapping each other on the back and we started right there in Bethlehem. People were amazed at what we told them.

Eventually we returned to our field, but we couldn’t stop talking about it. We praised God for the child and the good news the angels delivered. As we settled into our humble grassy dwelling, we agreed that because of that child’s coming, worship would never be the same.

Excerpt from “Approachable Jesus” by Paula Geister, copyright 2008

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Goodness

Goodness may be defined as “the deliberate preference of right to wrong, the firm and persistent resistance of all moral evil, and the choosing and following of all moral good.” (Easton’s Bible Dictionary) However, goodness is also difficult to define it without using the word ‘good.’

As I continue to learn about how the Holy Spirit works in me to produce fruit, I’m glad that Easton’s dictionary uses verbs like choosing and following because the words imply I need to be aware of what’s going on around me.

When a rich young ruler approached Jesus hoping for a place in the kingdom, Jesus asked him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19)

The Greek word translated “goodness” is agathosune and means “uprightness of heart and life.” While God sees me as righteous because of my right standing with him, I might want to let others make the judgement call about how upright I am in life. After all, Jesus, who is God, gave all goodness to God alone. He could have claimed it, but in his humility, he glorified his Father.

So can I refer to myself that way, or is it up to others to call me good? Jesus told the man that inheriting the kingdom was more than obeying commandments; he was expected to show his heart, then follow.

I also appreciate that, to be considered good, I must be deliberate, firm, and persistent. Indeed, according to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, being good is not a passive quality. The Spirit leads, I listen, I obey.

Ultimately, the fruit of the Spirit called “goodness,” is defined by, as are the others, the Holy Spirit himself as he works in us to make us good. With the Spirit working in us, we’re able to live a fruitful life. We love, we exhibit joy and peace. We act with kindness, and we have the potential to be good.

So far, so good.

Gracious Father who is all that’s good, continue to lead me in the way. Help me to see the life of Jesus as my model, growing in goodness and giving you all the glory. Amen.

“Whatever”

A friend of mine told me that she didn’t believe her testimony would mean much to anyone. She explained that she didn’t think her story would have much impact because she’d been raised in the church and gave her life to Christ when she was quite young. So she didn’t think there was any exciting stuff to tell.

I’ve also heard numerous stories of people who’ve come to faith in Christ when they’re older, having lived a pretty wild lifestyle.

One might say that, in a simplistic way to differentiate between the two stories, my friend was saved ‘from’ a pattern of sin and the second person was saved ‘out of’ a pattern of sin.

Whatever.

Please don’t think I take my brothers’ and sisters’ salvation lightly. By saying “whatever” I mean that, although God is pleased that we are now his children, no salvation story is better than another. I say that for two reasons.

The first reason is that both people–the one saved ‘from’ and the one saved ‘out of’–were saved by the same grace and power of the very same God. His love and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the basis for both salvation stories.

This is God’s Love and Grace

The other reason I say this is because both salvation stories can have impact and both can glorify God.

I have friends who’ve seen family members come out of a wild lifestyle to become Christ followers and it convinced them of the truth of the Gospel. But I’m also familiar with a story of a man who wasn’t convinced even after hearing those testimonies. What convinced him was the power of God to enable a person to have no desire to ever enter into a wild lifestyle.

We all have a story to tell. Each one is unique and with value. We need to tell it.

When it comes right down to it, God says we have all sinned and fallen short of his glory. It really doesn’t matter what age we were or what we’d done or failed to do before we came to faith in Christ. We needed the grace he extended. So every testimony matters. Because when it comes to God’s love and grace, one size fits all.

Are you sharing your story? You might want to do that. You could be a blessing to someone today.

Acting on Affirmations

next-life-chapter-cropRead this quote all day until you have it memorized. Repeat it to your friends any chance you get. Type “amen” in the comments because you believe it’s true. Print it out and post it on your fridge. Do all those things if you want. But…

I’ve discovered we have to deal with whatever is in the former chapters of our lives and get over what’s hurting us. Those hurts can include resentment, regrets, and open wounds because we won’t forgive. Real and meaningful progress doesn’t occur if we don’t deal with those things.

Affirmations are okay. But an affirmation is only something positive we tell ourselves which doesn’t become real for us until we’ve acted on it. Take for example one I found on a list for Christians:

“I see others as God’s gift to me.”

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I believe this so-called affirmation is true. But if, in my daily walk-about, I don’t treat everyone as the gift I believe they are, my words are hollow.

God’s promises are the same. He offers so much to us that we don’t have to work for. However, even though many of those promises are a faith matter, even the most recognizable work in our lives can be accompanied by his “Now, go.” There’s usually something he wants his disciples to do so they will receive the full benefit of the gift.

Read about a man who was born blind in John 9:1-34. He wasn’t healed simply because Jesus put mud on his eyes. Jesus put the mud there. That was God’s part. Then Jesus told the man to go wash his eyes in a pool and he’d be healed. When the man acted on Jesus’s instructions, he went home with the gift of eyesight.

A friend of mine says, “God feeds the birds, but He doesn’t throw the worms into their nests.” Quite often,  God doesn’t just come through with our need and that’s it. On the contrary, we’ll discover that there’s work for us to do which coincides with the work he’s already doing for us.

Go ahead and read your “last chapter.” Then ask God how he’d like you to deal with it. I’m guessing that for you, as it was for me, he’s expecting you to do something. Listen with humility to what he’s saying to you.

Then, “Go.”

And be a blessing to someone today.

Christmas Carols Meeting Scripture

My favorite Christmas music will always be traditional carols. I grew up with them and appreciate them even more now because I see how most are scripturally sound. For instance, Bible verses apply to 𝗮𝗹𝗹 of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

Here’s how:
The first verse is all from Luke 2:8-14
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King!
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’ angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King!

And then,
Christ, by highest heaven adored, (Hebrews 1:6)
Christ, the everlasting Lord; (Isaiah 9:6)
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the favoured one. (Luke 1:28)
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail, th’incarnate Deity: (Colossians 1:15)
Pleased, as man, with men to dwell, (Philippians 2:6-7)
Jesus, our Emmanuel! (Isaiah 7:14)
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King!

Hail! the heaven-born
Prince of peace!
Hail! the Son of Righteousness! (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings. (Malachi 4:2)
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die: (John 3:16)
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth. (1 Corinthians 15:22)
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King !”

Whenever I read the words of a song, in addition to singing along to the tune, I see that song differently. Not in a 𝘣𝘦𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳 way really, but with even more meaning.

And yes, I’ve started to listen to Christmas music since a month or so ago.

Question: What is one of your favorite traditional Christmas carols? Do you have a favorite so-called ‘secular’ Christmas song? One of my favorite traditional ones is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” When it comes to secular music, I like to sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Bonus Like: “We need a Little Christmas” from the musical “Mame.”

 

Staying With a Hard Teaching

God speaks into our condition with the aid of scripture, teaching, circumstances, and other people. If we’re tuned into the Spirit who lives in us, we understand what God is saying to us. The Holy Spirit is who Christ said “will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”


The passage about a group of disciples leaving Jesus in John, chapter 6 came to mind and gave me necessary insight as I was having a conversation with friends in recovery.

Someone described how his life had been before recovery and this is the passage his story made me think of.

“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ … From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.'”

The epiphany for me was discovering that I had seen Jesus the same way Peter did. Unlike the disciples who left because they didn’t think they could follow such a “hard teaching,” I was willing to stay with Jesus and let him teach me how to obey and live by that hard teaching.

Then to paraphrase Peter, using my personal experience, I asked “To whom and to what would I go? Why would I want to leave you and go back? That lifestyle almost killed me and without the benefit of eternal life through you.”
I thank God for the Holy Spirit living inside me. I don’t deserve it, but because I decided to trust Him, God entrusts me with His presence in me.

Wow.

Salvation Was *Always* God’s Plan

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to (them), and proclaim to (them) that (their) hard service has been completed, that (their) sin has been paid for, that (they) have received from the Lord’s hand double for all (their) sins.” ~ Isaiah 40:1-2

If you’re a person who says such things as, “The Old Testament was meant for then and doesn’t apply to today,” I submit that no one has helped you to more completely understand God’s heart.

The words quoted above, which God spoke through Isaiah regarding salvation were targeted to the Hebrew tribes. We can, however, change the people groups and names in this section of scripture using pronouns (indicated by the parentheses) and put on display the future that God has in mind for anyone, anywhere, at any time.

We can do that because God is immutable—unchanging. So when He says something, the meaning doesn’t change simply because we only turn to the pages of the New Testament to read about Jesus and a New Covenant.

God’s plan has always been to redeem people from sin. Isn’t that a comfort to you? It is to me.

What we may have formerly chosen to see when we read the Bible or hear when we listened to a sermon might be changed when we realize God always meant to send Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) That’s what an angel said to Joseph, telling him about the Son that was coming: “that (their) sin has been paid for.”

The Old Testament speaks to New Testament people—you and I, here and now—because, simply put, if the words come from God, those words will always translate to the context of His eternal plan for us.

We’ll better understand that when we have “eyes to see and ears to hear.”

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid  for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1-2)

 

 

Acting on Affirmations

next-life-chapter-cropRead this quote all day until you have it memorized. Repeat it to your friends any chance you get. Type “amen” in the comments because you believe it’s true. Print it out and post it on your fridge. Do all those things if you want. But…

I’ve discovered if we don’t first deal with whatever is in the former chapters of our lives and get over what’s hurting us (resentment, regrets, open wounds, and unforgiveness, for example), real and meaningful progress in our lives doesn’t occur.

Affirmations are okay. But an affirmation is only something positive we tell ourselves which doesn’t become real in our lives until we’ve acted on it. Take for example one I found on a list for Christians:

“I see others as God’s gift to me.”

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I believe this so-called affirmation is true. But if, in my daily walk-about, I don’t treat everyone as the gift I believe they are, my words are hollow.

God’s promises are the same. He offers so much to us that we don’t have to work for. However, even though many of those promises are a faith matter, even the most recognizable work in our lives may be accompanied by His “Now, go.”

Read about a man blind from birth in John 9:1-34. He wasn’t healed simply because Jesus put mud on his eyes. Jesus put the mud there; God did His part. Then Jesus told the man to go wash his eyes in a pool and he’d be healed. When the man acted on Jesus’s instructions, he went home with the gift of eyesight.

A friend of mine says, “God feeds the birds, but He doesn’t throw the worms into their nests.” Quite often, we mustn’t be content to sit and wait for God to simply come through with our need. On the contrary, we’ll discover that there’s work for us to do which coincides with the work He’s already doing for us.

Go ahead and read your “last chapter.” Then ask God how He’d like you to deal with it. I’m guessing that for you, as it was for me, He’s expecting you to do something. Listen with humility to what He’s saying to you.

Then, “Go.”

And be a blessing to someone today.

Because He Lives: A Book Review

Because He Lives by Jennifer Flanders; 205 pp; Prescott Publishing; copyright 2018

While the subtitle of the book is “a devotional journal for Easter,” this uniquely formatted book serves a Christian for any occasion, any time of year.

Flanders compiled each chapter to reflect various aspects of God’s nature, his miracles, and his love. The author says Because He Lives is a “celebration of His life, death, burial, and resurrection.” The meditations are meant to get the reader thinking about the life and work of Jesus, especially his Passion week.

Different from any devotional I’ve seen, this one presents a coloring book style. I believe that Flanders creates her journals this way to make the act of meditating on scripture more engaging. As with her other works, the daily readings are mostly dependent on scripture, basing the message on Christian creeds.

While engaging in the scriptures offered for reflection, readers may want to write prayers, poetry, experiences related to the reading, prompts from the Holy Spirit, or anything God brings to the mind and heart. There seems to be a completely gentle way of helping Christians speak on paper the influences of God’s grace in their lives. I found it refreshing in its simplicity.

I enjoyed Flanders’ inclusion of prophesies fulfilled, the various episodes of God’s goodness in Jesus’ ministry, scriptures related to living a life dedicated to Christ, and remembering the eternal perspective that we should always keep in mind.

The journal is certainly slanted toward the Easter season, but even though the title suggests that, I’d recommend it for any time of year. The artwork is borrowed from paintings and graphics we’re familiar with and, as I said, are suitable for the person who enjoys using markers and colored pencils as personal expressions. The book would make a nice gift for any occasion, reminding us that we are who we are ‘because he lives.’

BookCrash provided a complimentary copy of Because He Lives in exchange for this review.