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Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

I grew up in “meat and potato” country.  For a proper meal you need both meat and potatoes.  It’s real substance.  It needs chewed, swallowed and it offers the body nutrients.  In recent years, I’ve also taken to making a quick smoothie for breakfast.  They’re fast, sweet, easy and (if you do it right) can also offer some nutrients.

But – despite what some diet plans may advertise – you simply can’t live off of smoothies only.  Or processed foods only.  Or fast foods only.  Or even instant foods only.  At least not to be your healthiest and not for an extended period of time.

But still we try.  We go out for cheap food that someone else has prepared for us.  (Or even expensive food that someone else has prepared for us.)  We buy processed or partially processed and instant foods because they’re fast and easy and there is always enough fat, sugar or salt in them to make them tasty for us.  We fill our lives with so much stuff and so much busyness that we seek food that requires the least preparation, the least work and, along with that, the least amount of digestion.

Take oats for example.  Did you know that steel cut oats are better for you than rolled because they require your body to work harder to digest them?  And rolled oats are better than the instant ones which are partially broken down already so that they simply just “slide” through your system?

We do the same in our spiritual lives as well.  There’s this cartoon in a book I have at work that shows a book sale with a sign that says something like “Everything you need to know about the Bible.”  Of course, there are lots of people at the sale table buying up this book.  Then there are two people walking past and one exclaims to the other, “What some people will do to avoid reading the actual Bible!”

When I taught a class called “Greek to Me: Understanding the Bible without going to Seminary,” I used food and digestion as an analogy for levels of Bible reading and study.  Simply reading the Bible is like consuming soft solids.  Whereas studying the Bible is like eating regular solids, meditating is like getting to steak and other things that need well-chewed and take longer to digest and memorization is sort of like your body applying the nutrients so that the food becomes part of your body.

And really, we should have a little of each on our plates.

But too often, we settle for smoothies and instant oatmeal.  We let someone else process God’s Word and feed us smooth and easy morsels that are often very palatable.  Sweet to the taste.  Go down easy.  Done in 5 or 10 or “15 minutes with God.”

Don’t get me wrong here.  I think that devotional books and other “Christian living” and “Bible-explaining” books can be good and have their place.  I’ve thought of writing a few myself.  Not to mention that this blog is often made up of my “processed” thoughts on what God is showing me in the Bible and in the world around me.  (Although, honestly, my goal is to not only encourage you by my sharing God’s truth, but also to incite you to begin to read, search and keep your eyes open for it around you as well!)

And God was the one who gave some to be prophets… pastors… teachers… so that we could be built up and helped along in our learning and growth as Christians! (See Ephesians 4:11-13)

But if you only ever listen to sermons.  If you only ever read those little devotional pamphlets that may or may not include actual scripture.  If you only ever read books about what the Bible says.  If you only ever listen or read what others have processed and never read the Bible for yourself, then you will not be as healthy nor strong nor grow as you should.  And certainly not for the long term!

So read your Bible.  Not just what others say about it.  Read it, study it, meditate on it and memorize it.  Fill your plate with a variety of healthy foods that require different amounts of preparation and digestion.  And let those smoothies and instant foods be only secondary.  Otherwise, how will you know if they even contain the truth?

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daily bread

I’m listening through the Bible again this year. A couple weeks ago we got to that momentous occasion of Israel’s exodus from slavery in Egypt.  But before you can even say “Promised Land,” there they are, complaining:

So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”

If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.

I could go on.  Really, I could.  There are numerous complaints over the next 40 years.  Bad water, no food, no water, tired of manna & wanting meat, enemies coming, people of the land to big & too numerous and so on and so forth.

But this time through listening to these first complaints, something struck me.  Food and water are real needs.  Especially when traveling through a wilderness.  A wilderness simply doesn’t have provisions to take care of hundreds of thousands of people.  That’s why it’s called a wilderness!

Thus started a conversation in my mind/spirit:

Their needs were legitimate.

Yet their complaining was wrong.

But what were they to do?  They needed food and water!

Well, they could have asked…

They did ask!  They went to Moses and asked!

But they were being a bit dramatic about it, weren’t they?  They didn’t simply ask, they groaned and complained and exaggerated.

Okay. Point taken.  So what should they have said?

How about something like, “Lord, you have shown us that you love and care for us and that you are big enough to do anything. We believe you and trust in you and you have said you have brought us here for a purpose and that you are leading us to a promised land. But we see no food here. Please provide us the food we need to follow where you lead.”

I can see how that’s not complaining.  But really, “fill the need for where you lead”? Isn’t that like that whole “Where God guides, He provides” cliche.

Every cliche began as a truth.

Okay, I think I can handle that.  So instead of whining and complaining and exaggerating the circumstances or the need, I simply need to ask.  Simply ask for God to provide what I need when I need it for where He is leading me?

Yes. Nothing more, nothing less.  What you need when you need it.

That seems vaguely familier.

It certainly should.

Oh, yes! “Give us this day our daily bread!” That’s another prayer for what we need when we need it.  Daily.  Sustenance.  Wow! So Jesus basically taught us to pray how Israel should have responded in the first place!

Yes.  Pretty cool, huh?

Very.  Now, if I can just learn to pray that prayer earnestly and not complain…

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The two chapters I read yesterday in Rory Noland’s Heart of the Artist were not only great chapters, but in many ways they spoke to where I am, reiterated what I’ve been learning and brought back to mind various scriptures which God has been pointing out to me lately.  So I thought I’d ponder them a little more…

The artist who was given one talent was waiting by the baggage claim. “Master,” he sheepishly started, “I didn’t want you to get mad at me. I’m pretty sensitive, you know, and I don’t handle rejection very well, and it’s so hard being an artist in this cold, cruel world.  I wasn’t really good enough to make it big-time, because you only gave me one talent, so I didn’t do anything with my talent.  I hid it. Here, you can have it all back.” The artist opened his hand and looked straight down at his shoes. The talent was as new and undeveloped as the day he got it.

The old man was silent. Then he responded in a soft voice, “My dear friend, you have squandered a fortune. I gave you something that was meant to be used. The issue was not how much I gave but what you did with what you had.”

If you did not recognize it, this is a retelling of Jesus’ parable of the talents as found in Matthew 25.  Noland’s creative approach caught my attention.  I mean, I know the parable.  I know it well.  But sometimes when something is so familiar, we overlook it or take it for granted until deeper  truths are revealed by a fresh perspective.

Noland’s retelling was a fresh perspective for me.  I think the first thing that really hit home was the simple, sad statement of “The talent was as new and undeveloped as the day he got it.”  He had done nothing.  Out of fear.  Out of insignificance.  In either case, the gift was squandered.

The second thing that I took notice of was the reply of the “master.”

The issue was not how much I gave but what you did with what you had.

I have several talents.  None of them outstanding or superior or in any way fit to make me a super star.  And while a few of them could be developed much more than they are, mostly my design is such that I have a smattering of gifts which are broad but not deep.  Which has caused me (I sheepishly admit) to disparage of what I have been given and to look with jealousy or envy on others more than once.  I see others who are far more talented, far more dedicated, (far more healthy), far more successful… and though I generally rejoice in the success of my friends and others in my fields, sometimes… sometimes it’s hard.

But it’s not about me.

Or comparisons.

What matters is the stewardship – my faithfulness – with what I’ve been given.

Noland gives good advice on dealing with jealousy and envy: confess it as sin, appreciate your God-given talent and give credit where credit is due… bringing it all back to faithfulness and stewardship.  And in the process of describing all that as well as in the following chapter on handling emotions, he mentions Bible characters, stories and passages which I’ve previously connected with or from which God has recently revealed truths in my life.

Like Peter wanting to know “what about him?” referring to John who was behind them as Jesus was giving an assignment (“feed my sheep”) to Peter.  Jesus’ response? “What is that to you? You follow me.”

Hmm…

Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” seen in conjunction with James 4 “You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

Hmm…

He re-tells the parable of the workers from Matthew 20 using artists and arts ministry, bringing home the point with verse 15, “Or are you envious because I am generous?”  God in his sovereignty decides who gets which skills and talents and we in worship need to submit our attitudes to God’s sovereignty and be content (and faithful) with what we’ve been given rather than questioning the “fairness” of it all.

So he points to David who, though it was a “good thing to want” was told by God not to build a temple.  David’s son would do it.  He had a heart of worship and so desired to see a temple built and used for the worship and glory of God.  But he was told ‘no.’  He wouldn’t even get to see it.  But he didn’t sulk or complain.  Instead, he accepted God’s word and helped his son in preparations.

Hmm… wasn’t that a passage that God caught my attention with several weeks back?

Hmm…

Even Jonathan and David.  If anyone had a good “excuse” to be jealous or envious it was Jonathan, the king’s son, one who could have inherited his father’s throne… except it had been given to David.  But Jonathan accepted that and became a dear, dear friend to David.

Hmm…

Remember Cain and Abel?  Abel was faithful and obedient in his offering and Cain was not.  But “the Bible doesn’t say that God was made at Cain” Noland points out – in fact, he was given a second chance and God laid it out for him, “If you do well, surely you will be accepted. And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Hmm…

Proverbs 13:12 says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”  And often as artists we are not able to be doing exactly what we want in the way we want or as much as we want.  For a myriad of reasons.  Sometimes it’s that something stands in our way (lack of skill, lack of discipline, lack of opportunity, persons or groups who will not allow or don’t want our art, etc) and sometimes it’s God standing in the way telling us to wait.  The Bible tells about a lot of people who had to wait – Noah (to get off the ark), Israel (to get into the Promised Land), Abraham & Sarah (to have a baby), Job (to hear from God) and so on!  And often we don’t understand it.  What’s the point in waiting?

Perhaps obedience.

Faithfulness.

Stewardship.

Because it’s really not about me. It’s not about my great abilities, or lack thereof.  It’s not about what God gave someone else and didn’t give me.  It’s not about being unfulfilled or disappointed or being put on hold.

It’s about stewardship, faithfulness and obedience to God… with what he’s given… in what he’s commanded…

Because ultimately, God is sovereign.  And generous.  And gracious.  And good.  And created us and knows us and redeems us and calls us.  And we can be content in that.

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I’m currently reading through 1 John.  Just a couple verses a day for lectio divina and meditation.  John speaks of one thing more prominently than anything else – in his gospel and in his epistles.  Love.  (Followed closely with belief in Jesus.)

Take one of today’s verses for example:

And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

I think I read the word “love” at least once a day – even when I am only doing a verse or two!  And it’s easy, particularly easy in our current culture, to sort of pass over the word.  I mean, really, John?  Love, love, love?  Haven’t you got anything else to say?  Anything more substantial?  Love is so… well, so warm and fuzzy.  Even if we get past the feeling to the action, it still seems so… well, it seems weak.  Like a pushover.  Flimsy.  Why must you keep harping on this love thing?

Or is it that you know something we don’t?  Maybe I’m asking the wrong question here… maybe I should be asking what kind of love you are talking about… if love is so important, well, then, what does that love look like?  What did you see that changed you so much that love has become one of your defining words?

The love that John saw wasn’t a passing feeling.  It wasn’t weak or flimsy or insubstantial.

The love John saw was a God who left His heavenly throne to take on our frail human flesh.

The love John saw had concern for little things, even running out of wine at a wedding.

The love John saw had a righteous anger for the things of God.

The love John saw taught the truth, even when it was hard to understand.

The love John saw spoke hope and life to an outcast among outcasts.

The love John saw made the lame to walk.

The love John saw didn’t make the same assumptions others did, but offered healing.

The love John saw gave people food to satisfy their physical hunger.

The love John saw desired to give the people a food that would satisfy their souls.

The love John saw did not shy away from teaching hard truths, even if it made him unpopular.

The love John saw offered mercy and grace to sinful people on their knees.

The love John saw wept at his friend’s tomb.

The love John saw brought life from death.

The love John saw did a slave’s work, even serving one who would betray him.

The love John saw prayed earnestly for others.

The love John saw sacrificed himself for us.

The love John saw conquered sin, hell, death and the grave!

Yes, this was the love that John saw.

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So I am finally trying to get around to this list of a half dozen or so “blog ideas” that I’ve been collecting for over a year!  Figured this one should be short and sweet.

Late last spring I heard a Sunday School teacher teaching on 1 Corinthians 13.  And I can’t remember where or when she said this thought struck her, but she mentioned an analogy or word picture for the whole love “keeps no record of wrongs” part.

A cache.  Like in a computer.  Like in your web browser history.  Forgiving someone (and keeping no record of wrongs) is like clearing your cache – clearing out your web browser history and cookies.

The picture struck a chord with me.  And not only that, but my mind continued on further…. including remembering how a pastor in California once included in a sermon how we can’t move on and forgive when we keep rehashing (rethinking and retelling) the incident.

In many browsers, though I am now most keenly aware of it in Google’s Chrome, if you start to type an address, it will fill it in for you from places you’ve been before (your browser history).  In fact, with Chrome, you can type the website name and even as you start with a few letters it knows which sites you visit the most and will fill in the rest for you…

These browsers have an amazing memory.  Unfortunately, we as humans also tend to have an amazing memory when it comes to ways in which we were hurt or wronged.  It doesn’t take many keystrokes for our memories to pull up the places we’ve been hurt.  Just a few keystrokes and there it is again, that place we were wronged.  And, like Google’s Chrome browser, the more often you visit the site, the quicker it comes back.

This is great for web browsers, but bad for us as Christians.

1 Corinthians 13:5 tells us that love “keeps no record of wrongs.”  We are called to love and we are called to forgive.  Now, forgiveness doesn’t mean that we excuse the wrong done, or sweep it under the rug, or immediately trust and have an intimate relationship again – but forgiveness does mean that we choose (by the power and grace of God) not to hold the wrong against the person who wronged us, not to hold onto a grudge or take revenge.  In other words, to keep no record of wrongs.

The old song relays God saying to us:

What sins are you talking about
I don’t remember them anymore.
From the Book of Life they’ve all been torn out
I don’t remember them anymore.

 

God forgives and chooses not to remember.  To keep no record of wrongs.  To clear the cache.

And we as His followers are called to do the same.  So allow God into the “preferences panel” of your life.  Allow Him to adjust your settings.  Delete the browser history, get rid of the cookies.

Keep no record of wrongs.

Clear your cache.

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Was reading Philippians 1:19-26

Christ … be exalted in my body

whether by life or death

to live is Christ…

this will mean fruitful labor for me.

Christ exalted in my body

to live is Christ

and fruitful labor

fruitful labor

not that I produce the fruit…

… but that I remain in Christ

remain

abide

in the life-giving, fruit-producing Vine

abide in Christ

to live is Christ

and this means fruitful labor…

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