Politics, history class, cruddy elections, Alpha and Omega

Thank you to those who serve and keep us safe! This photo courtesy of pexels.com. Thank you, pexels!

History is our friend Karl’s passion. You get him started and he could pretty much go on forever, recounting vengeful and valiant leaders, epic battles, and the contribution of those left unmentioned in the texts of history books. Karl’s version of history is my favorite. It’s passionate, but purposeful. Everything he shares is spirited and he makes you hungry to know more, hear more, learn more. Better than that, in almost every circumstance, he makes you hungry for God. Karl teaches at a state university, so I’m sure his classroom looks a little bit different, but in private conversation and in teaching at church, Karl is on fire with a message. He lays out history in a way that makes you stand in awe of a God who holds all of it in His hands, from the beginning to the messy middle to His faithfulness in each day we have yet to travel.

Isaiah shares a similar message with just as much zeal in Isaiah 44:6-8. Let’s open our Bibles and read that text –

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
    and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
“I am the first and I am the last;
    besides me there is no god.
Who is like me? Let him proclaim it.
    Let him declare and set it before me,
since I appointed an ancient people.
    Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.
Fear not, nor be afraid;
    have I not told you from of old and declared it?
    And you are my witnesses!
Is there a God besides me?
    There is no Rock; I know not any.”

The First…and the Last.

And everything in between.

God sat on His throne and created humankind. He created every flower and every tree. He set the planets in motion. Countries and constitutions sprang up, kingdoms and territories came to be, and God was God over all of it. Wars are fought, lives lost, and His faithfulness continues. New nations form, cultures live and grow, languages develop. Disasters come upon the Earth, dictators oppress, and God’s heart breaks. But He sees the bigger plan unfolding. To us, it’s like the slow unrolling of a tapestry. To Him, it’s the blink of an eye, in all eternity.

He is the First and the Last and everything in between.

Humankind makes gods out of idols and build temples made by human hands. We chase wealth and power and success. We destroy one another to be the best, be the biggest, be the greatest, when we were never intended for those purposes. And all through it, there are the faithful ones. God leads His people from ancient times (v. 7), appointed for His purposes, setting them apart for Kingdom work. The wheels of the clock turn, time marches on. The Word goes out, the message never changes.

“…besides me there is no god.” 

He is the First and the Last and everything in between.

God alone sits on the throne. We think we have all this power and authority. We think the next election will make or break mankind. It may break a nation, but it will not break us. It will not break His message, His Spirit, His Word. Through the sands of time the Word continues to go out, leading people to Him in the dark and in the light, in the triumph and in the defeat, in the famine and in the plenty.

We are simply witnesses.

We are called to declare His purposes in all of it. Like our friend Karl, may our message always be of the hidden things, the works done faithfully, rarely written in textbooks. When we witness from the vantage point of believers in a faithful God, nothing is lost in the drama, every bit of the tumult and the turmoil has a purpose. As cheesy as it sounds, it really is His story anyway.

Listen to the promise of the final words of Isaiah 44:8 again –

“There is no Rock; I know not any.”

Look up the following verses and rest in the promise of this God, our Rock.

Psalm 18:2 The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my     deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Psalm 31:3

Psalm 62:6-7

Luke 6:47-48

I don’t want to know any other gods, Lord. I want to follow You. I don’t want to trust in anything else, Lord. I want to follow You. I want to see you in every piece of history, every trial and every glory. Be my Rock. Be my Fortress. Be my Defender, and let me never look to another person, thing, idea, or place to provide that for me. Only You, Lord. Only You. 

He is the First and the Last and everything in between.


Exploration:

What parts of history come to mind when you think of God sustaining His people?

When thinking of history how is it helpful to be reminded that God is faithful and watching over His children? What parts give you the most angst?

The book of Revelation really has a lot to say on this subject. Check out the following three verses for further reflection that He really is the first and the last and all the stuff in the middle too.

Rev. 1:8

Rev. 1:17-18

Rev. 21:6-7

Rev. 22:13

Why do you think the book of Revelation returns to this concept again and again?

Clay fades or Letting God be God

Some days I feel like I’m fading fast. I just sent a text to my friend that said, “I know I need to give something up. Something has to give, but what?

Ever feel like that? Some of you nod and whisper, “Every day.”

The reality is that we are fading. We can’t do everything. We can only charge ahead at 100% for so long. We will absolutely burn out. Even with the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us, we were created for rest, just as we were created for work.

Part of my problem, and I’m guessing this resonates with many of you, is that I’m trying to keep it all together for so many people. I think I’m the glue that holds our life together and if I fall apart, or even if I take a nap, who in the world will keep everyone standing? (And seriously, if I do take a nap living room armageddon does appear to take place.)

No? No? Just me. 😉 We’ll here’s a devotion for myself then…

There is a difference between being all things to all people, and believing people need me to be all things to them.

The first, is living in hope, being willing to share hope, to share the way God has worked in my life in the opportunities He gives me. The second, is believing that if I don’t do it, He can’t. He can’t use someone else. He needs me. Oh girls, He uses me. But He surely doesn’t need me.

Why am I so busy trying to be God?

It’s important for me to understand that clay fades. I am dispensable. I would be missed, but I’m not the only one He can use.

Let’s read Isaiah 40:18-24 to get a better handle on this.

To whom then will you liken God,
    or what likeness compare with him?
19 An idol! A craftsman casts it,
    and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
    and casts for it silver chains.
20 He who is too impoverished for an offering
    chooses wood that will not rot;
he seeks out a skillful craftsman
    to set up an idol that will not move.

21 Do you not know? Do you not hear?
    Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
    and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
    and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
23 who brings princes to nothing,
    and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
    scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
    and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

Building idols…we make an idol of ourselves when we think we are so very necessary to everyone’s existence. We puff ourselves up, in a way. “What would they do without me? Aren’t I so busy and important? This place would fall apart without me.”

Deep down we are afraid to fade.

We are afraid that we won’t have a legacy, we won’t be remembered, we won’t matter.

Without intending to, we build idols of wood and peeling gold by trying to be everything for our homes, our families, our employers, our churches, our friends.

God would never have us forsake a relationship, a commitment, but the question becomes –

What is at the center?

How do we put our children at the center instead of God?

How do we put our marriages and our spouses at the center instead of God?

How do we put our homes and our household chores at the center instead of God?

How do we put our vocations, our successes at the center instead of God?

How do we put our sports teams and our hobbies and our interests at the center instead of God?

These are all things we literally “build” our life around. Isaiah 40:24 tells us –

Scarcely are they planted…

Scarcely are they sown…

Scarcely has their stem taken root…

when they wither,

they are carried off.

The world gives pressure. It says, “hold it together, hold everything standing tall, upright, firmly rooted.” We know it’s not sustainable. We can feel it slipping from our grasp.

Because clay fades.

That is what it does. We only last so long here on this earth and we were never meant to hold everything together, only God was.

So, when you need a moment. Take a moment. Turn it to Him.

Worship Him. Tell Him, “You know I can’t do this, Lord. Only you can hold it all together. Only You. I am Clay.”

I am Clay. I can’t do it all. Only you can, Lord.

Take this burden, Lord. Take it.

And Jesus promises that He does. Remind yourself of His comfort in Matthew 11:28-30.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

He holds all of it. He holds our life and our children, our homes and our jobs, our health, all of it in His hands. He hands us an easier yoke, a Salvation-shaped yoke of peace and joy and forgiveness and love unending.

I am clay. I can’t do it all. Only you can, Lord.

So, if you find yourself, sitting like me…spent, tired, wondering what’s going to give…print this off. Put it somewhere prominent. Share it with a friend who could use it. Share the struggle of the journey together. When you see it, remind yourself of the truth found in Isaiah 40:28 –

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.

I am clay. Only you, Lord. Only you.
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*photo made with the fontcandy app

Exploration:

What kinds of things lead you to the end of your rope? Your job, cleaning, cooking, family drama, etc?

What is your favorite way to turn things over to God? Do you have a favorite prayer or song, verse, or refrain that helps you place the burdens of life back on Your Savior?

To Live is Christ – Sidewalk Prophets

All or Nothing Faith

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Day 4 – All or nothing faith

Our youth Sunday School class decided to do something different this year. We wanted to open our Bibles, and to some extent our hearts, a little wider than might feel comfortable. It started out all fun. We laid our Bibles on our laps and I had the youth holler out words that stuck out to them in Scripture, as they flipped through the pages. I asked them to look for big words, exciting words, sad words, confusing words, hard words, and encouraging words. Sometimes I think we take for granted the words of the Bible because they have become commonplace to us. As a believer of many years and an avid reader of Scripture, I’m constantly looking for Law and Gospel, guilt and grace, sin and salvation. When I was young, I had no idea what to look for. Goodness, half the time now, that’s still true. I might read a passage about ransom, but have no idea what the word itself means.

Likewise, our study here is designed so that we glean something new from something we otherwise would have skipped over. Sometimes those things are desperately encouraging. Other times, I feel overwhelmed and perplexed by God’s language and thoughts. And that’s ok.

The Word was meant to be opened, whether comfortable or uncomfortable, understood or perplexing. God will always show us something. He is the Light.

Would we rather remain in darkness?

And still…Pandora’s Box. Sometimes that’s what we get when we open the Bible. Questions, questions, and more questions come pouring out.

Today’s study deals again with a difficult topic, from the Levitical law of the Old Testament. But we would be remiss to skip over it. I believe that God has something to reveal to us, even if only in part and confusing at face value. That said, let’s dive in. Please read Leviticus 27:28-29:

“But no devoted thing that a man devotes to the Lord, of anything that he has, whether man or beast, or of his inherited field, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy to the Lord. No one devoted, who is to be devoted for destruction from mankind, shall be ransomed; he shall surely be put to death.

This passage tells us that there are things that are not to be ransomed, not to be saved from destruction, because why? Because they are God’s.

In the Old Testament God devoted some things to destruction. Some things were absolutely not meant to be redeemed. This conversation is related to concerns we probably have all had about Old Testament warfare, namely, that there is so much of it! Goodness, but they fought a lot back in the day. It is a culture we are so removed from, it’s hard to wrap our heads around. To begin to understand it all we need to understand the Hebrew concept brought up in Leviticus- charam or cherem – “that which is to be given over to the Lord by destruction.”*

Let it sink in and flash forward to your own life to grasp the concept.

Sometimes we need a little cherem in our own lives. Sometimes there are jobs or material possessions or even relationships with others that should be utterly destroyed, that is to say removed from us, sent away, put on the trash heap- in order to honor the Lord. The scene from the movie Fireproof comes to mind. The main character struggled to overcome his pornography addiction. He dealt with it in a pretty cavalier manner until his eyes were opened and he recognized that it was destroying everything he held dear. On that day, in the film, he carries his computer out into the driveway and smashes it to bits with a baseball bat. A perfectly good computer, but better off as cherem devoted to destruction for the Lord.

In the Old Testament, things that were “devoted to destruction” were absolutely not to be ransomed. This was God’s command. Cut and dry. But that computer just seems so darn useful, you see…

The Israelites also felt the same. Instead of heeding God’s command, they often saved treasures, and sometimes people, that God did not intend to survive. You can see how it would be complicated. Just as in yesterday’s study we talked about the sacrifice of the Egyptian army, likewise, the Israelites would go to battle with real people, people with families and homes.

However, the cherem was created in the Old Testament to keep the Israelites set apart. The people that came against them in war, or those God sent them against, were slowly destroying them. They introduced them to idols, led them to all manners of adultery, utterly destroying children and families in one swoop or over time. At the very least these nations created complacency in their faith, and at worst turned them from the Triune God.

Here’s the deal: God values us enough to demand better.

The book of Isaiah can gives us some answers and some peace. Turn to Isaiah 43:11-13:

I, I am the Lord,
    and besides me there is no savior.
12 I declared and saved and proclaimed,
    when there was no strange god among you;
    and you are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and I am God.
13 Also henceforth I am he;
    there is none who can deliver from my hand;
    I work, and who can turn it back?”

My Study Bible notation states, “As in the past, so also in the future, God’s plans will be unstoppable.”

God gets to be God and we don’t get to steal that from Him.

In the fullness of time, our God sent his own cherem. A redeemer, a ransom – Christ Jesus, our Lord.

And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.  (Hebrews 10:10)

Jesus came and offered Himself for total destruction. It was confusing and hard for the disciples and the people who had to watch it. It invigorates and warms our hearts with grace, this sacrifice. But complacency, it does not create. God has set us apart with His ransom. Jesus has given His life, for our salvation, and now we live in a New Covenant. We can offer grace and forgiveness at times when we could not see it without Him. There are definitely still times we need to send some stuff, that which leaves us complacent, to the trash heap – things and relationships that lead us away from Him – but we see it with a new mind. The mind of Christ.

And so we keep studying, we keep opening the Word to understand, when it feels dark and confusing. This new covenant calls us to go and Live. Read John 17:15-17:

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself,that they also may be sanctified in truth.

We are different than the Israelites. We are called to go fully and unabashedly into the world and to do it with Bibles open. We give Jesus our all, because He gave us every single bit of Himself.

All in, girls. Lift high the Ransom for all people. Share the message that destruction may last for a night, but resurrection comes in a sweet, sweet Savior.

 

Exploration:

Let’s converse freely. This is a difficult topic. Please share any questions or thoughts you have about today’s study.

 

*The Lutheran Study Bible, Concordia Publishing House

 

A time to break down

Day Three – A time to break down –

It is so intriguing to me that there does not appear to be a negative-positive, or positive-negative rhythm to the words in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. Check it out below or open your Bibles. It is not as though the negative in each line is presented before the positive (kill, heal) nor the positive always before the negative (embrace, refrain from embracing)*.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.

Sit with Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 a moment. Take a pen or colored pencil if you have your Bible and mark out a few of the phrases that stick out to you. Which ones sound positive to you? Which ones sound negative?

Words have emotion attached to them for most of us. When we read the Bible we can be aware of our own pre-formulated ideas around words, and ask God to open our hearts to hear His Truth through the mire of our life experiences. I think we’ll find together, through this study, that God’s ways and words aren’t always clear cut with positive and negative. There are a whole lot of hues of grey wonderfulness if we can sit back and let God reveal the struggle and the beauty in each little thing.

Break down seems at first glance to me like a negative phrase. Things that come to mind include a nervous breakdown, breaking down of relationships or trust, and breaking down a building that is aged or decrepit.

The Hebrew transliteration of the root word parats can be translated to tear down, break down, break through, a breach, to break away, an act of violence, an outburst, or to press or to urge, or even to scatter, or spread out.

Interesting to me is the use of the same word in Genesis 28:10-15:
“Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder[ set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above itand said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.  Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”


This is the same root word in verse 14 that is translated to spread abroad. Breaking things down sometimes looks like spreading things out. Many of you have moved, many of you have moved more than once. Maybe one of those moves felt like God breaking your heart, maybe it felt like new adventure. Maybe you feel differently with time and space. Spreading out can be hard, looking out a rearview mirror at family and friends, missing birthday parties and dinners together, trying to make new friends. But how often does spreading out turn into something beautiful?

In Acts 8:1-4, there is another scattering. We get the benefit of years and the whole story in history is see the value, but I wonder if any of those early disciples were groping for the positive in the negative.

“And Saul approved of his (Stephen’s) execution.
And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.
Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.”

Not to language overwhelm you, but the Greek here for scattered is diasparentes. This sounds similar enough to me to our Hebrew root to take note. God spreads, God breaks down, God takes bricks of His living stones and builds churches and community and spaces where His Word can be heard and hearts can be filled.

The positive is so often wrapped in paper that doesn’t always look pretty.

One sunny morning in 2001, Dave and I hiked a mountain in India. We were on a trip for cross-cultural experience for Seminary and were matched up with a guide that was a professor from the Lutheran Seminary in Nagercoil, India, Joshua. We had driven to visit a Hindu temple, eaten lunch and were on our way back, when the SUV stopped, Joshua got out, and stated as plain as day, “Now we will climb a mountain.”

A bit stunned, we climbed out of the vehicle in our flip flops (standard India footwear), and began hiking. Our fellow travelers eventually dropped like flies over the daunting task of climbing over boulders, and through little crevices, and up and up and up. My adventurous spirit warred with my screaming calf muscles, “Give up!” “Where in the world are we going?!” “Is this really worth all this?” “Keep going! You never know!”

Adventurous spirit won and Dave and I blindly followed our seminary guide up the hard and rocky pathway. At 10am on this bright and beautiful Indian morning, we reached the top of this small mountain and our guide announced,

“You see, all around you, these are the roads the Early Christians traveled to escape persecution. These are some of the first areas reach beyond Judea with the Gospel of Christ.”

A grueling hike, cramped muscles, heaving breathes. Only beautiful. I could literally feel the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before and stood around me.

Sweet sister, what seemingly negative walk have you taken in this life, that has God shown you His beauty in? Where has He shown Himself that you may have missed the first time around?

Scattered, broken down, pressed hard, a breached. He is working in it all.
May you be blessed today with the knowledge that not only His mercies are new every morning, but His grace is sufficient for each day- positive or negative.
Please ignore my freakishly large hair. Tropical climates and I always make for excessively large hair.
Discussion questions:
What seemingly negative walk have you taken in this life, that God has shown you His beauty in? Where has He shown Himself that you may have missed the first time around?
What adventurous thing have you done that at first you found yourself grumbling over?
*There may in fact be a rhythm of sorts in the Hebrew, but we need a scholar for that, so we’ll leave that work up to them.
*Sources include: Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, biblehub.com/interlinear, Matthew Henry Commentary, and Luther’s Works (vol. 15)

Autism, emotions, and overload

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;

                                                                         James 1:19


I took my kids to the park the other day. It was a bright and sunny, beautiful day. (Finally!)

Our littlest, Ezekiel, had to use the bathroom, so he and I tromped across the park. One thing you need to know is that Zeke waits until the absolute last minute for a bathroom break, so by the time he announces the need, he is pretty zealous for the bathroom. But halfway across the park, Zeke stops, bends halfway down and covers his ears. It was like the fetal position, only standing. I’m still half-running to the bathroom, hollering “Come on, Zeke, buddy. The bathroom is right over here.”

I take a moment. I look at my child and I hear the problem. 

Near us there is a swing squeaking loudly. Maybe squeaking isn’t the right word. It’s more screeching throughout the entire ascent and descent on each pass. No one else notices it, but when I hear with Zeke’s eyes (it’s true), I can spot the little things. 

     “Zeke, is that swing loud, buddy.”
     
“Yes. It makes me feel loud inside, Mama.”

In that moment, I have never been more proud of my son. 

What if I could identify what makes me feel loud inside? 

All kinds of things make me feel loud inside every day, half the time turning me into a wild woman, searching for order and demanding perfection.

It’s time for me to pay attention and be a little more like Zeke. We all have stuff that irritates us, that gets under our skin a little bit, or a lot. Those things pile up and stack on top of one another and become internal. We feel anxiety in different places, welling up like foam overflowing a mug or maybe sitting like a weight on our chest. Either way it builds, one thing, than another. Sooner or later it comes out. Angry, tears, ugly words, little fits of frustration.

But, if I can identify and lift it up to God – 
           “I’m feeling loud inside, Lord.” 

Then, we’ve got this together. 
We may not even “solve” it, but it becomes a “Be still and know” moment. God and I. You wouldn’t believe the difference that makes. Anxiety softens, grace becomes tangible, things become slowly manageable as I sit in His Word.

Zeke straightened up and headed to the bathroom. On the way back by the swing he gave it his angry face and moved on with life. He, a little bit calmer, and me, wondering at the wisdom of my son.

Our little Zeke.
The expression on his face says, “Why would I want to hunt eggs
with 50 kids excited and running all around me? Do you know me at all?” 🙂