Five Minute Friday: Turn

Us

Gentle Reader,

What is that? That glowing, bright thing in the sky?

The seasons don’t change so much as dramatically appear one day. Of course, tomorrow I could wake up to six inches of snow. North Idaho is certainly a “Well, do you feel lucky?” kind of place when it comes to selecting outfits during springtime. Sweaters in the morning, t-shirts in the afternoon, flannel pajamas at night.

Went for a walk with a friend this afternoon. Her almost 8-week old baby is not quite sure how to be a human being yet and definitely didn’t know what to make of the glowing sky-ball. Squinty side-eye in the extreme, yet covering her face resulted in squawks of protest. I think it must be difficult to be a baby and have all these new experiences and stimuli flung at you all the time.

Kate says: turn.

Go.

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

– Matthew 9:35-38 (NKJV)

Weary. Skýllō. “To skin, flay; to rend, mangle; to vex, trouble, annoy; to give one’s self trouble, trouble one’s self” (Thayer’s). The people were raw, like the juicy skin that’s exposed upon popping a blister. They were annoyed and troubled. Some had brought the pain upon themselves.

And Jesus had compassion on them.

Makes you think, doesn’t it? Compassion for someone with cancer, sure. For someone who lost a job, yes. Compassion for the drug addict? The chronically late? The one who is simply different?

Jesus is no doormat, nor does He enable anyone to continue on in bad habits (sometimes sin, sometimes just stupidity). He doesn’t ask anyone to ignore anything. What He does ask of us is far more difficult than our natural desire to distance ourselves from the smelly, the foul-mouthed, the troubled. He asks us to do as He does. And what does He do?

He gets up close. Personal. He never compromises truth but it never flows from His lips in tones of spite or pride. He heals. He listens. He loves.

Not just the people who love Him back.

Even Judas, the one who betrayed Him.

Really, they all betrayed Him.

Make you think, doesn’t it? A whole world of people outside our doors, aching for love and truth, even if they won’t admit it. People God is drawing to Himself.

People just like you and me.

Because our sins might be prettier, easier to hide, or socially acceptable – but they still required His blood.

How can we not have compassion on them, who are us?

So turn, we must, from building walls and toward them from whom, in our pride and fear, we would escape. We are the Jesus-people, the ones who claim to know something. The knowing is not enough. The knowing must move to the doing, to the embracing, to the preaching. We are the sheep who know the Shepherd. We must tell the weary, scattered ones – even the ones who have troubled themselves – where the safe pastures are. This is our duty.

No, it is our delight.

Stop.

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Five Minute Friday: Settle

Contemplate

Gentle Reader,

Our Fearless Leader was busy celebrating her book launch, so for the first time in the history of everything, there was no prompt shared around 6:45 (Pacific Daylight Time) last night. I guess we’ll forgive her. This time.

No, seriously: We are all so happy for you, Kate! Your book is awesome. You deserve all the accolades and sales. Truly.

So, this morning, she says: settle.

Go.

We don’t have to settle, you know
For castles made of sand
And kingdoms prone to burn
For frauds who prance as princes
And trends so fast to turn

We don’t have to settle, you know
For offices tucked in corners
And accounts that bulge with cash
For grandiose titles after names
And powers gone in flash

We don’t have to settle, you know
For the building of the platform
And the chasing of the “like”
For the hollowing out of voice
And the statistics, hope they spike

We don’t have to settle, you know
For the things this place can give
And what we’re supposed to want
For all that will fade one day
And the stuff that others flaunt

We don’t have to settle, you know
Because there is more than meets our eyes
Because there is deeper than this
Because there is One who loves us so
Because righteousness and peace, they kiss

Stop.

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How Can I Know That He Really Loves Me?

Look to the Cross

Gentle Reader,

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Lots of candy, glitter and general, commercialized cheesiness. That’s what I’m supposed to think about it, anyway. I’ve always liked the holiday. My parents used to leave my brother and I treats on the kitchen table, waiting for us to discover at breakfast, from the time we were little all the way through high school. As an adult, Chris and I have celebrated in a variety of ways, all of which usually end up with us at some thrift store or another, searching for buried treasures.

Tomorrow is also Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

Ash Wednesday is not specifically mentioned in the Bible; however, from Biblical times, sprinkling oneself with ashes has been a mark of sorrow for sin. Several times the Bible mentions people repenting in dust and ashes; for example: Mordecai (Esther 4:1), Job (Job 42:6), the inhabitants of Nineveh (Jonah 3:5-6), and Daniel (Daniel 9:3-4). Repentance in dust and ashes often was accompanied with fasting during Bible times. …

Jesus is calling His followers to avoid making a show when fasting, but rather to help those in need. He is calling Christians to think externally in avenues of service, instead of only thinking internally toward themselves. The point of that matter is this: Jesus is interested in the condition of the heart and not merely external appearances or show. As you think about your life…where is your heart? Are you others-focused or self-focused? Do you desire to have true repentance and fasting as mentioned in Psalms 51 (especially verses 10-13, 17), or are your actions merely based on outward tradition?

What is Ash Wednesday? (emphasis mine)

I didn’t grow up observing Lent and the season isn’t heavily emphasized in my denomination, though sermons in the weeks leading up to Easter usually focus on reflection and repentance. In past years I have experimented with different forms of fasting; sometimes I’ve given up social media, other times I’ve abstained from food completely on Good Friday. There are not hard and fast rules regarding the season; I believe that fasting, whatever it looks like, is deeply personal and must be guided by the Holy Spirit. One thing I have learned, though: When I give something up in order to focus on God, I have to actually, you know, focus on God.

Basically, fill in the gap left by setting aside the smartphone with Scripture reading. Or prayer. Or silence. Or worship music. Anything that trains me to put my eyes on Him.

This year I am thinking about the point bolded in the quote above: Jesus is interested in the condition of the heart and not merely external appearances or show.

All the fasting, contemplation and ritual in the world mean nothing if not done with sincerity. If the focus is just on the thing, rather than the Lord, it’s a waste.

Lent is about love. The great love of God that necessitated Incarnation, suffering and the Cross. Whatever we do (or don’t do) in the coming weeks should be out of a desire to thank Him for that love. To see ourselves as the weak creatures we are, the people totally incapable of saving ourselves. To gaze up into the sky, knowing that the Throne is just beyond our sight. To bow in humility, accepting that we can never do anything to earn His favor. It simply is, the greatest of gifts.

Long have I struggled with the concept of God’s love. I can explain it. I can define the terms for you. I can talk about the differences between agape, philos and eros. Intellectually speaking, I “get” it.

Feeling that love, sensing it in my soul, is another story.

We cannot allow our emotions to rule our lives. We have to operate out of what we know to be true. I know this. I preach this. Feelings aren’t bad, though. They are God-given. Jesus cares about what’s going in our hearts. A relationship with Him is about more than mental assent.

Honestly, that freaks me out.

I don’t like vulnerability. This may come as a surprise to you, given the things that I share on this blog, but I hit “publish” on the intimate posts only because I know that there are others out there who battle the same things I do and I can’t be the Barnabas that I want to be if I’m not doing the thing along with everyone else. If I had it my way, if I operated entirely out of my natural inclinations, only the sarcastic, intense, intellectual side of my personality would bleed through onto the screen.

So for me to know that Jesus has the desire to get in there and sort out all the feels in my heart so I can really, freely live out the things I know to be true…yikes.

He’s God, though. You can only fight Him for so long.

This Lenten season, I invite you to ask God one scary question (I’m asking, too): How can I know that You really love me? Then sit back and read. Open your Bible and watch Him in the Garden, agonizing, terrified of the pain and separation to come. Sit in front of the Cross, taking in the full horror of the Savior’s naked body, drowning in blood. Stand next to the women who could not bear to leave Him behind. Weep with Peter. Bow your head in the silence of locked rooms, hope snuffed out like the last bit of candle. Allow the weight of mourning and disappointment to press upon your shoulders.

Contemplate the great sacrifice this Perfect Man, the only Perfect Man, made – because of you. Because of me. Because He doesn’t want to let us go.

Lord God, You know how we struggle to feel loved. You know how easily we believe that You are just like we are, fickle and reckless in Your affection. You know how terrified we are that one day we will wake up and find that You don’t love us at all. Help us, Jesus, to come to the Cross in a fresh way this season. Help us to see with new eyes. Pierce our souls with the grace, the mercy, the true and lasting love that is ours by right of submission to You. Enable us to both feel and to know Your love that we may live confidently in this world, secure in the assurance that we are Yours. Thank you, dear Lord, for the Incarnation and the Cross. Thank You for the Resurrection. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Today is the Day

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JesusHe will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.”

Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

…Mary was betrothed to Joseph. Before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man,and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son.[d] And he called His name Jesus.

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.

– John 1:1-5; Luke 1:26-38; Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-20; John 1:14; Isaiah 9:2 (NKJV)

Merry Christmas, dear ones! May you day be filled with great love and laughter.

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Photo Credit: Josh Boot