30 November 2014

What makes that place we live home? (AND a giveaway!)

I always loved going to my Nana and Pop-pop's house - as a little girl but even more so as I've gotten older.

Always cluttered and crowded and with the thermostat set high enough that I felt like I was back home in Niger, it definitely did not demonstrate the latest in decorating styles and fashions...


Their house literally oozed welcome and warmth and love ~ 

  • from the daybed in the dining room covered in pillows to give it a couch-like feel to the puppy statues on the steps in the entry way...
  • from the elasticized permanent tablecloth always covering the kitchen table that had to be scootched to get to the stairs to the downstairs to the walls covered with framed photos of kids, grandkids and great-grandkids... 
  • from the porch swing that creaked with every sway to the below-grade toilet in the basement bathroom (that also had a shower where even I had to stoop to step in) that I was terrified to flush because I could never do it the right way and always ended up with a mess...
Nana and Pop-pop's house might never have qualified for a how-to inspiration in Better Homes and Gardens, but they loved their home, clearly cared for their space, and warmly welcomed those visiting in their home. Cookies and fruit accessibly scattered throughout the kitchen, smells of yummy food wafting, candy in candy jars in every room, a porch swing with coffee first thing in the morning, and several TVs in different rooms for everyone's viewing pleasure.

Stenciling deer and acorns in the master bedroom of Tim's parents' house was our very first attempt at decorating/remodeling - as expecting newlyweds!

Nana's and Pop-pop's house was the first place I thought of as I read Myquillyn Smith's The NESTING Place ~ It doesn't have to perfect to be beautiful.

If you follow the Nester's blog, you'll already be familiar with Myquillyn's ideas for home decorating. As the book jacket says, "Myquillyn Smith has spent years helping readers accept and find beauty in the imprefections in their homes and in their lives.... Join [her] on her quest to love the incomplete and unfinished and mismatched areas of life and home." While I don't follow her blog every day, I have participated in her 31 days blog challenges and I do like to check in to her blog from time to time. Some of her ideas, I find totally over the top or impractical, especially for my family of ten, and especially especially as for the bulk of my married life with kids, I've lived on the backside of the Sahara Desert with not so much easily available when it comes to decorating schemes. 

One example? This mural. I was SO. PROUD. of it when we did it (even though I look back at the photos now and cringe)! Our Wrightlings loved i!. They had three "pieces" of furniture in their bedroom: a bunk bed that was shaped to kinda look like the cartoon versions of Noah's ark, a large and quilted mat to cover a portion of the ugly-tile-covered and unforgiving-to-toddler heads concrete floor, and a woven basket filled with the few toys they were able to bring when we moved. The large painting on the wall, the stencils halfway up - it helped make their room look like the busy place a children-under-six's should be,  a place they loved to be... loved to play... and which provided hours if imagination and fun as we made up stories for the animals painted on that wall.

Myquillyn, in The Nesting Place, points out that the key to decorating a house so that it feels more like a home to live in... and not a museum with exhibits to admire... is intentionality. And it was something Tim and I accidentally accomplished in both of the instances pictured above. We haven't always done that because we've forgotten points outlined in Myquillyn's book.

To create an intentional space, one that reflects your own individuality, sense of beauty and creativity, you need to, well... be intentional! Conside the following as you "build" spaces... and then decorate and furnish those spaces:
  1. places to connect ~ "...prioritize good conversation and be sure [to] have adequate, comfortable seating so people will stick around."
  2. safe places to make mistakes ~ "lower my standards for myself first, be forgiving of my own mistakes, and allow others to see me laughing at myself... display and use the imperfect in my home..."
  3. places of inspiration ~ "...collect inspiring mementos and show them off unashamed, regardless of the trends."
  4. places of authenticity ~ "...learn to embrace the imperfect, find the beauty in the undone, the haphazard and the unkempt, the everydayness, and the mess... find the beauty in what is... accept that the messes unique to my home are a sign of a full and beautiful season of life."
  5. places of comfort ~ "...stop apologizing and focus on others instead of on myself... [serving] people, not [expecting people to] serve and protect our fancy stuff."
  6. places of rest ~ "...practice resting in the midst of the undone, even if that means letting the dirty dishes sit so I can laugh with a friend who stopped by."
  7. places of joy ~ "...surround myself with people and places and memories... that bring me joy."
  8. places of contentment ~ "...practice gratitude... [saying] out loud things... that I'm thankful for instead of dwelling on what I think is missing."
~ from the chapter entitled
 "Embracing the True Purpose of  Your Home,"
 p. 69 in The Nesting Place

Not only was the book a delightful read, with lots of great pictures, good ideas and amusing personal stories, Myquillyn challenges women (and other readers) to consider the true purposes of the spaces in which we dwell and asks her readers to consider if in creating those spaces, we are 
  • self-focused... or others focused
  • people-oriented... or things oriented
  • authentic... or concerned with a desired veneer
  • content... or covetous
  • thankful... or ungrateful for God's present provision
My grandparents may have had a cluttered, cramped and crazy-mismatched bunch of stuff at their house, but in creating a place that they loved, that was filled with memories, that encouraged visiting and conversation, that welcomed - the decorating faux-pas didn't even matter.

It was a place I couldn't wait to be.

I hope, someday, that I truly absorb these lessons and that my home becomes the same - a haven of welcome and love.

Now... the part about the giveaway...

I'd LOVE to send someone my copy of this book, particularly if you think its message might encourage and challenge you - in a good way.

If you'd like to be entered in drawing, leave a comment here or on Facebook... I'll have Mary Michelle pick a name out of a hat... and we'll send it along. We'll draw names one week from today!

first photo credit: 

29 November 2014

Longevity in Ministry ~ "Hope is the only thing stronger than fear" ~

A few months back I began a series that has certainly been challenging and thought- provoking for me. I hope God is also using it in your life. The information discussed comes from a sermon by the senior pastor at my sending church. My notes start with these words: "Like longevity in life, some basic things are needed - right genes, right diet, right exercise, and right environment." Can you see the spiritual parallels? Examining how these principles apply to longevity in ministry on the mission field is forcing me to evaluate whether or not I've been building into my daily life the right sorts of habits and practices to facilitate such longevity. Key is an understanding that God is sovereign and that He is also sufficient.

But what does the practical outworking of those beliefs look like?

I've identified seven essential priorities that help protect from burnout and the temptation to sin... ones that direct and give hope for the future... ones that remind that all is grace and a gift from God.

Those priorities are:
  1. Growing an increasingly intimate relationship with the Lord by consistently, daily and throughout the day, seeking Him
  2. Praying without ceasing (steadfastly, continuously, patiently, powerfully); 
  3. Striving to maintain a good balance between personal growth and service or ministry
  4. Welcoming accountability
  5. Committing to marriage and family; 
  6. Choosing to be teachable even in difficult circumstances; and 
  7. Determining to be a genuine team player.
Last time I wrote, I made the statement that, perhaps, accountability is the most difficult one of all. Those who have conversed with me regarding that statement definitely agree that it is a challenge. 

I've been considering two questions:
  1. Is accountability to our faith brothers and sisters a biblical idea - or is it a tradition of men (the type of behavior for which the Pharisees were so consistently rebuked by Jesus) and the only one to whom we need to answer is Jesus? I believe the Bible speaks for itself on this matter, and I identified several places in the Bible where I believe the principle of mutual accountability is clearly taught and/or encouraged. One of the most powerful passages, in my opinion, is in Genesis, where, right after murdering his brother, God asks Cain, "Where is your brother?"  and Cain essentially replies, "I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper?" I believe a clear implication in that passage is that yes, we are to watch out for... watch over... each other.
  2.  What is it about such accountability that creates an environment where longevity and finishing well can flourish? 
I'd considered discussing accountability strategies, but I think that is less important than establishing a case for the importance of accountability (i.e. the most recent post in this series) and the rationale for why... maybe how... accountability helps.

During the Thanksgiving holiday, my girls and I watched The Hunger Games together... 

To read the rest, please head on over to Missionary Mom's Companion, where I'm posting today. I'd love to hear your thoughts and responses to the questions I bring up.

28 November 2014

Five Minute Friday ~ When the only reasonable and right response is to give Him all glory ~

Early in the morning, Thanksgiving day... 

...and I was spending a few minutes of time with the Lord (the littles were awake, but still sleepy and playing quietly together)...

I had lots to do, but if I didn't read then, it wouldn't happen. I just knew...

I read through Psalm 29.

I know I've read it before, but it has never been one of those psalms that has stood out in my mind. It didn't, again, as I read it that Thanksgiving morning.

But I'm part of an accountability group and that was our scheduled reading. I like to share what God says to me through His word in that forum. Therefore I determined to wrestle with the passage a bit... maybe even wrestle with the Lord, and ask Him to help me understand something, anything from words read early on a Thanksgiving morn that I could apply to my life immediately.

So as I read... and reread... and rereread... I noticed: the psalmist points the readers'/listeners' attention towards that one thing which is always most important - God's voice. 

In the entire psalm, a short passage of only 11 verses, the serious reader cannot help but take note of God's terrifying voice and all that His voice accomplishes:
  • gloriously thundering over waters
  • full of power
  • majestic and mighty
  • snapping huge trees into pieces
  • causing the earth to buck and move like a frolicking calf
  • striking like lightning
  • making deserts tremble and shake
  • twisting and contorting mighty trees
  • leveling forests and stripping foliage from trees 

Yes, God does speak in a still, small voice. But He is not limited to that voice alone. This psalm paints a stunning, stupefying picture of:

a God whose voice speaks with power,
power more terrifying than 
a thunderstorm... 
a tornado... 
an earthquake... 
a flood... 
a volcano... 
a tsunami...

I read this one commentator, a guy named M. Stith who wrote: 
"This is a voice able to rip creation apart, just as it brought creation into being.... The voice does not break just any little, scrubby tree but rather the cedars of Lebanon -- the largest, strongest, and most famous trees in Israel's experience. The voice does not cause just any old piece of land to shudder and shake but rather Sirion, also known as Mt. Hermon, the largest, tallest mountain in all the Levant, and the wilderness of Kadesh, the anvil on which Israel was forged. The Psalm, with its repetition of 'The voice of the Lord...the voice of the Lord...the voice of the Lord,' is relentless in driving home the awesome power and terrible majesty of that voice and of its owner. There is nothing else that compares.... The voice that strips the cedars and the forests also strips away all human pretensions of power, control, and agency. The voice that flashes fire and lightning erases any notion of our own insight and understanding. The voice that shakes Lebanon, Sirion, and Kadesh shakes all human sureties, assumptions, and plans. Before this revelation of even a tiny fraction of the full reality of the Lord, we are undone. We see the only sort of response to this sort of power - cry "Glory!" 
Ummmm... Yes! All that!

May we, not just on days of remembrance like Thanksgiving, but always, every day, fall before Him in prayer as we recognize that 
  • we are utterly, totally and completely dependent upon Him;
  • that our only reasonable and right response is to give Him all glory.

Joining up with Kate for another Five Minute Friday!

24 November 2014

Five Minute Friday (on a Monday... yeah...) ~ When your littlest says to you, "Mama, I noticed that I can read..."

If you follow this blog at all, you know that I normally post a five minute write as part of one of those blog communities every Friday. I didn't last week. 

It was a busy week.

Actually, it was an insanely busy week! 
1. Brendan was still on meds after having his wisdom teeth extracted + the roads got snowy and potentially icky and he has ZERO experience driving on them yet... which meant either Mama or Dad got to drive/ride with him as he drove to school last week;
2. Tim (aka Dad) spent a chunk of time out in the woods trying to shoot Bambi - no success yet, in case you were wondering, but he has seen the same buck several times now and is still hoping to get a shot at him, which meant Mama was the one driving with Bren... and was also the one keeping things going at the house the bulk of the week;
3. Orthodontist appointments... two in one morning!;
4. We visited with one of our partnering churches on Wednesday evening - great fun - the AWANA crew there was awesome! - but... it added to the craziness of the schedule; 
5. I'm busy doing some writing as a part of the application process for the ESL certification class I'm hoping to take the first half of next year; and
5. Rebekah was traveling... 3rd... 4th... or something crazy like that... week in a row, so Mama was picking up her household chores/duties.

By the time Friday rolled around, any oomph to write had gone on strike.

But, when I saw last Friday's prompt, "notice," I KNEW I had to write on it... 

So, here we go... a 5MF... on Monday!

"Mama, I noticed that I can read..." she said.

"What, honey?" I chirp distractedly and not really even hearing what she'd just said. "Um, actually, you'll have to wait a second while I pull Elsie Mae's snowflake sugar cookies out of the oven," I continue.

"Can I help ice them, Mama?" Elsie Mae asks? "I want the snowflakes..."

"Mama? Did you hear what I'm saying to you? I noticed that I can read!" M&M tries again.

"Ummhmmmm, that's nice..." as I continue with my cookie making. 

"Mama, stop!" and she reaches up to try and grab my hand just as I'm scrambling to find a trivet or oven mitt to sit my very hot, very cookie-laden - with very delicate cookies that I very much don't want to have break - baking sheet on.

"Step back before you burn yourself!" I almost-sorta-bark at her. 

"Mama, I don't think you are listening to me!" and a tear slides down her cheek.

Which stops me in my tracks. 

So, I sit down and pull her up in my lap - she's now covered in flour, too. "I'm sorry. You are right. Mama was busy and she wasn't listening to you. What are you wanting to tell me?"

With excitement, she repeats for a third time, "Mama, I just noticed that I can read!"

"And how did you notice that?" I prod, just a little.

"Well, you know the Coke bottle in the other room?" And she hops off my lap to run in and get said Coke bottle. "It says, 'Share a Coke with Tom!' See? Tah... mmmm... Tom. Those aren't just letters. They say, 'Tom!' Am I right?"

"Yes... you are..." I grin.

"You know what I think, Mama?"

"Are you getting ready to tell me?" as my grin grows even bigger.

"Yep," she giggles and then continues while giggling, "Sometimes I think you just need to notice when I notice!"

I laugh out loud and say, "You know what? I think you are absolutely right!"

And you know what I noticed through this whole exchange? She may be my littlest, but with all those biggers out there paving the way, she's growing up fast and I'm so blessed to get to notice not just that, but all of those other unimportant, important details of growing kids!

Linking up with Kate for a (late) 5MF!

17 November 2014

Encountering Jesus ~ He IS Messiah

The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
“We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (John 10.26-33)

Jesus had taught a parable - the good shepherd versus the thief.

Then, the Jews make a request:
"Tell us plainly... Have you come to take away our souls?"

They just DID. NOT. get it, did they?

Before diving into this text, read this brief summary from InterVarsity New Testament Commentaries: 
Jesus has withdrawn from the temple (8:59) and begun to gather around him a community distinct from official Judaism (chap. 9). He has interpreted his activity as the divine shepherd's gathering the flock of God (10:1-21) and has concluded with a reference to the authority God has given him to lay down his life and take it back again (10:18), echoing what he had said in his first public teaching to these Jewish leaders concerning his body, the temple (2:19-22). Now he returns to the vicinity of the temple, though not to the temple proper. Solomon's Colonnade (10:23) was an open, roofed 45-foot walkway with double columns that were 38 feet tall. It was situated along the east side of the Court of Gentiles (Westerholm 1988:772). Although it was part of the temple complex, it was not considered to be part of the actual temple (Brown 1966:402), as evidenced by the fact that Gentiles were not allowed into the temple but they could be present in Solomon's Colonnade. Thus, Jesus' departure from the temple at the end of chapter 8 was final. But now, right next to the temple, at a feast commemorating the rededication of the temple, Jesus gives his clearest teaching about his own identity. It is this identity that is the grounds for his replacement of the temple as the place where forgiveness of sins is available and God is to be met. "Christ in fact perfectly accomplished what the Maccabees wrought in a figure, and dedicated a new and abiding temple" (Westcott 1908:2:64). Jesus also clearly spells out the separation between himself and the Jewish leaders.
photo credit: freestone via photopin cc

Jesus has told them, and even if He has not told them in uncertain terms, as bluntly - perhaps - as they would have preferred, His message should have been unmistakable. The Jews, with their knowledge of prophecy, the hearing of Jesus speak (for example John 7:37 John 7:38 , John 8:12 John 8:35 John 8:36 John 8:58and the clear testimony of His actions verifying both prophecy and His Words, should have clearly recognized Him for what He was... the long awaited Messiah. 

The problem is not a lack of clarity on the part of Jesus. Rather, it is that these Jews are not of His fold... they've understood exactly what He is saying, but they cannot believe and accept because they are not His sheep.

But oh... the benefits for His sheep:
  • His sheep listen to His voice - in other words, His sheep get to hear God's voice which prompts God to birth faith within; 
  • Jesus knows His followers - the kind of first-hand personal experience that comes through prolonged acquaintance;
  • They get to follow Him or to go to be in the same way with Jesus, accompanying Him specifically as a disciple;
  • Jesus gives His sheep eternal life - an amazing gift because in Him, they experience the unique reality of God's life at work within. The Lord manifests His self-existent life as it is in His sinless abode of heaven and His sheep will partake of that. Eternal life operates simultaneously outside of time, inside of time, and beyond time and while time is what gives everlasting meaning for the believer through faith, eternal also means time-independent. (Try wrapping your head around all of that!);
  • His sheep shall never perish - they will never be fully, permanently and utterly destroyed;
  • no one will snatch them out of His hand - no thief can access them as they are kept in His hand
  • these sheep are a gift to Jesus, from His Almighty Father, Who also holds them in His hand;

Then Jesus makes a statement that gives so much peace and confidence to the hearts of His sheep... but inflames the Jews. He states, "I and the Father are one.”

I found this paragraph (from the InterVarsity New Testament Commentaries) to be particularly helpful as I've sought to understand this passage: "His sheep are safe in his hand (v. 28) and his Father's hand (v. 29). The implication of such a juxtaposition comes with Jesus' climactic claim, I and the Father are one (v. 30). What is this oneness? In the context Jesus is speaking of God's love, care and power and his own claim to share in these. Such a claim to oneness with God is not a claim to deity, since the same unity with God is true of Christians, who share in God's very life and are participants in his will, love, activity and power. Thus Jesus is one with the Father in the same way believers are. But even when this language is used of Christians it is made clear that their oneness with God is mediated to them by Christ (17:22-23). Jesus' own oneness with the Father includes these aspects, but it also is of a completely different order (cf. 8:58). The Father not only gave Jesus life, as he has done for believers, but has made him the giver of life (5:21), a divine attribute illustrated in what Jesus says about the bread (chap. 6) and the water (chap. 7) and which will be climactically demonstrated in the raising of Lazarus (chap. 11). So this figure of the hand is not just about sharing in God's power or exercising God's power; it is part of his claim to equality with God. It implies a oneness in essence since "infinite power is an essential attribute of God; and it is impossible to suppose that two beings distinct in essence could be equal in power" (Westcott 1908:2:68; cf. Chrysostom In John 61.2; Augustine In John 48.7). Here, then, is a powerful claim to deity. The opponents take it as such (v. 33), and Jesus does not deny that interpretation.

The reaction of the Jews is to prepare to stone Him. They asked Him to tell them plainly if He was or was not the promised Messiah. He says He is - but even at that, they never expected their Messiah to claim equality and oneness with God. Stop and think about the craziness of what actually occurs here. A crowd of angry, deeply offended people are gathering stones to start throwing them at Him with intent to kill. Instead of fleeing for His life, or "disappearing" as He does at another time, He gently tries to explain - always seeking to bring them to faith and into the fold. Talk about amazing grace!

But it has me thinking about how often we seek to kill... or silence... the One Who offers... or has already given us... life.

He appeals to them, based their experience of what He has done:  good works, meaning things both great and admirable, things that demonstrate great power but also moral excellence, the things that would be expected of a good shepherd. The proper response to the works of Jesus should have been admiration, humility, thankfulness, praise, awe... instead He received anger, hatefulness, and evil intentions. 

I wonder if it hurt Jesus when they accused Him of blasphemy...???
this week's gratitude list

(#'s 4931 - 4954)

a successful wisdom teeth extraction - and relatively minimal pain resulting (now for the swelling to go down!)

convicting sermon at church on Sunday night

Christmas shopping with Gammie

a really cool arts and craft fair with the kiddos over the weekend

basketball practice

cheerleading practice

a college fair at the Creation Science Museum

college apps, essays, test scores and transcripts... all over again

being able to make a late night run to the grocery store

snow ploughs

that moment when I overheard the girls discussing that they felt like they were living inside a snow globe and God had shaken it up so the snow was fluttering every direction

the gift of two cases of Coke

weekends in a deer blind with Daddy and her Chromebook

birds of prey up close and personal

friends traveling safely

looking forward to homemade waffles this week - to go with my homemade syrup

starting to enjoy my study through Psalms, since the psalms have always been harder than average scriptures for me to enjoy

heaters on cold winter mornings

actual checking a few things off that never-ending, ever-growing checklist

an upcoming Shakespeare competition for my big girl

snow shovels

finding my electric blanket (now to get it plugged in)

homemade biscuits that turned out just right and fluffy and perfect (since it doesn't happen very often!)

Ten most recent posts in this series: 
Click here for all of the titles and their corresponding links in the Encountering Jesus series.

14 November 2014

Five Minute Friday ~ ...and the bearers stood still

Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country. (from Luke 7)
I've always thought of her as the Widow of Nain.

There are a lot of nameless widows in the Bible - at least that is my general impression. To tell the truth though, I've never taken the time to work my way through the Bible and actually make a thorough count.

This Bible miracle story (there are a lot of those as well... a lot more than I can count) that stands out to me. I'm not particularly sure why except that I immediately feel for a poor woman who has lost her husband and now her only son. In the past, I've always focused on the widow... the woman... as I've read this story. And Jesus.

But today, as my eyes skips across familiar words, one particular phrase literally leaps off the page:  "...and the bearers stood still." That's happened a few times before. One time, in particular, was as I was studying Jesus' miracle at the wedding in Cana. There was something about one phrase, "but the servants knew," that captured my mind, my heart, my soul - and didn't let go until God communicated a message I needed to hear, take to heart and then apply in my life.

Slowly, ever so slowly, I'm learning to still myself ...and listen ...and hear. When a phrase pops off the very pages God has inspired and preserved, it is always worth it to take the time to prayerfully consider, study, meditate... to literally breathe those words He breathed into others... at least for a time.

Resurrection of the Widow's son from Nain, altar panel by Lucas Cranach the Younger, c. 1569, in the Stadtkirche Wittenberg.

Jesus is heading into the city at the same time a funeral procession is leaving. What would that procession have looked like? Sounded like? Smelled like? Felt like? According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, the women walked before the bier, or funeral bed. Traditionally, it's said that that was because Eve invited death into this world. In reality, it probably had more to do with the women weeping and/or chanting a mournful dirge as they led the procession. Next in line would be the "kattafim," or shoulderers, who carried the bier. Friends and relatives would then follow the body-laden litter held high - and any stranger who saw the procession typically joined in, and this joining in was expected, for it showed respect and honor to the deceased and to those bereft by the death.

Just who were those bearers? 

Well, they were the ones carrying the bier, and there were likely several sets of them, all typically walking barefoot, all taking turns. They would change places frequently, thus allowing many the opportunity to honor the one who had died as well as to share the burden among many. Those bearers might be family members. But they might also be others who wanted to encourage the family... or others who desired to tangibly demonstrate the value they placed on the dead person, his family, his life, his contribution to their own life - anyone who wanted to announce his appreciation for one whose earthly life was now ended.

Here's how I picture these events, in my mind.

Jesus' group approaches the city, a large number of people celebrating miracles Jesus has done, recent teaching and truth He has shared. Maybe they are asking questions of the Lord. Most of them are, quite possibly, so involved in their own conversations and ruminations of earlier things ...their own albeit good, worlds... they do not take note of the very large funeral procession crossing the perimeter of the city and heading their way. 

Jesus, however, takes note.

He walks into the first group in this procession: the women. There, He sees the widowed, grieving mother? He speaks to her. Did He walk right up to her and say something softly? Did He speak with a commanding voice that pierced right through the weeping and wailing of the women? Did He breathe audible words of assurance deep into her heart? Any of those could be possible, but I tend to believe it was the first, and in that case, I would guess that the bearers did not hear Him address her. The other women continuing their sorrowful song and weeping would have droned much louder than His gentle command. We aren't told the widow's first moment response to Jesus' directive. We are only given what Jesus does next.

Jesus continues deeper into the procession moving right up to the bier, the dead (and profaned) body and the bearers. Jesus touches the bier. Most commentators I've read do not believe this touch was a touch of healing. Rather, it was a touch of communication, telling the bearers to stop. The bearers stopped because He touched that which they were bearing. I'm guessing that their stopping... their stilling... their standing without removing the bier from their shoulders where it rested... prompted a similar reaction from the rest of the funeral procession. Others would have looked to see what had happened, to determine why. As all eyes turned toward the bearers bearing the body on a bier from their downward glances of sorrow, pity and pain - they would have seen that Jesus said something to the dead young man... who promptly sat up and began to talk.

As I've read these words describing this miraculous event several times over the past two days, I keep thinking about those burdens I'm bearing, some of which I'd love to be carrying out of town to entomb or to bury in a deep place. They may be  burdens that are deeply personal to me... or ones that I'm willingly trying to help carry for someone I love. But still, that's my trajectory, and when I'm on a "mission," I can easily miss the quiet touch of Jesus telling me to stop, to still. 

I noted that Jesus didn't say anything to the bearers - not a word to still them, no command telling them to lower the bier off their shoulders. So let's say I do catch on to Jesus' quiet indication to cease moving. Sometimes, I'll want to jump right ahead of him and toss some proverbial burdensome monkey off my back and hope He'll catch it. If I was one of those bearers, that bier would have immediately dropped low to the ground. But if I toss off my burden, then all people see is me tossing that burden. If I allow Jesus to speak, then others can see Jesus taking that burden... taking something which seemed dead weight and bringing it back to life. 

And He's the One getting the glory.

I ask myself today, "Is Jesus stilling me with a quiet touch to the litter of some burden I'm carrying?

How about you?

A much longer than 5 minute write that just sort of exploded out of 
today's Five Minute Friday prompt.

Head on over to Kate's, if you want to join us.

12 November 2014

When on those highways and byways...

I used to find it some combination between mildly amusing and slightly annoying when I'd hear people pray for "traveling mercies," even though at the time we were crisscrossing the state of Michigan (as well as a few adjacent states) almost every weekend seeking the financial support to head to West Africa as missionaries.

Then one wintry Sunday, we literally crept on four wheels, all night through a genuine winter blizzard only to arrive home, in the wee hours of the morning, and find a man we’d never met before sleeping in our bed (a story for another day). We ended up on the rickety pull-out sofa in the basement, struggling to drag ourselves out of bed and get up and around in time for the beginning of our home church’s missions conference just a few hours later. After that fiasco, I’d occasionally catch myself silently asking God for "traveling mercies," particularly during those unexpectedly long trips.


There was also that time late one August. We drove nonstop from Lansing, Michigan to Miami, Florida. Well... nonstop except for a few hours in a Georgia Walmart escaping massive summer heat. Our car at that time was minus air conditioning and plus three little ones in car seats! Several hours later, I actually prayed spontaneously, aloud, thanking the Lord for "traveling mercies…" and then woke my husband up. He’d fallen asleep at the final stoplight, just prior to reaching our destination.

We still hadn’t begun the adventure of international travel. Once that started, we experienced...

where I'm posting today and find out about a few more 
of our driving adventures!

photo credit: oneVillage Initiative via photopin cc

10 November 2014

Encountering Jesus ~ "Tell us plainly... Have you come to take away our souls?"

Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe.
Can you identify with "the Jews" in this passage?

Have you ever prayed to the Lord and asked Him to show you, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that He is the Messiah?

I have... I still do... some times, some days...

My husband and I have often discussed this. He rarely doubts God, rarely questions if He is true, if He is good, if Jesus is Who He says He is and really did come and do what He said He would. I, on the other hand, struggle with doubt more often than I care to admit. I easily identify with the Jews in this passage. I start thinking about God, trying to figure Him out, trying to make Him make sense-according-to-me. My mind gets overwhelmed by the enormity and awesomeness and power of the God I want to believe in, I seek to understand in a way that makes sense to me and then I start coming up with my own ideas to try and make all the puzzle pieces fit and to answer questions like this:
  • What if man really has made all of this up... after all, there are many men and women who are so much smarter than I am?
  • What if there really isn't a God? I think I've seen evidence of Him, but what if I'm just putting the puzzle pieces together all wrong and only seeing what I want to see?
  • What if Jesus wasn't anything more than a good man, albeit deluded teacher?
  • What if the Bible isn't inspired and is nothing more than a creative, enticing fabrication created by those who wanted for themselves and others a real purpose in life?
  • What if this life is all there is and then there is nothing?
Big problem!

Because I can't answer those questions. 

There really aren't any answers other than to confess, once again, my sin of unbelief - to cry out in desperation, "Lord, I believe! Help Thou my unbelief!"

That's what faith is all about. It is a believing that is some sort of synergism between God's empowering grace to believe and man's choice to believe, regardless of how things look or how well it all makes sense... 

At some moment, I have to leap and trust that God will be there to catch me, even on the days I can't see Him. And? To be okay with, on those doubting days, knowing that the moment I'll know for sure will be that moment when I take my final breath on this earth.

But back to the Jews in this passage.

As I said, I really do identify with them and I don't "fault" them for asking this question, especially not if it is a sincere one and I have to think that in a group (i.e. Jews is plural), there must have been at least one sincere, searching, wondering and wandering heart.

This Jesus encounter takes place at a specific time in a specific locale. It happens during the Feast of Dedication. We call it Hanukkah today. Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is celebrated as

A few hundred years before Christ, Alexander the Great conquered Israel, but left the Jews to practice their theocracy uninhibited, with Syrian overseers and rulers. However, after a period of time, the pressure to assimilate increased and eventually the Jewish people were prohibited from practicing their faith. Additionally, the temple was profaned and dishonored. During the 160s BC, Judah of Maccabee and his father instigated a revolt, retaking Jerusalem, purifying the temple and establishing a dynasty from their family that then prospered and ruled for nearly a century. Hanukkah is a celebration commemorating that rededication of the temple and is celebrated each year in close proximity to Christmas. At the time of the rededication, only an insufficient amount of undefiled oil remained to burn during the rites of purification. Oil fueled the Temple candles that needed to burn all night every night. While the amount appeared insufficient, miraculously the candle burned for the entire prescribed time. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle of provision (not the Maccabean military victory).

Thus, the Jews were in Jerusalem, celebrating the remembrance of miraculous provision.

Solomon's Colonnade, according to Matthew Henry, "...was associated with the grandest events in [Jewish] national history; for it was reared on the substructions of Solomon's temple, which even to the present day are intact.... The Lord walked there because it was winter, and wintry weather." Also, "He walked in Solomon's portico - that part of the temple of Herod which the apostles afterwards adopted as the scene of some of their most explicit assertions of the gospel (Acts 3:11; Acts 5:12)."

Thus, the Jews were not only celebrating miraculous provision, but also in a place where God had traditionally accomplished great things. 

Most commentators indicate that the Jews gathered about with the goal of waylaying Jesus. In general, at least the leaders had not come with a sincere question. The question they asked, Gill explains in the following manner: "'and said unto him, how long dost thou make us doubt?' or as the Vulgate Latin, Syriac, Persic, and Ethiopic versions literally render it, 'how long dost thou take away our soul?' that is, deprive us of the knowledge of thee; Nonnus renders it, 'wherefore dost thou steal away our minds with words?' so Jacob when he went away privately, without the knowledge of Laban, is said to steal away the heart of Laban, as it is in the Hebrew text, in Genesis 31:20. In like manner the Jews charge Christ with taking away their soul, or stealing away their heart, or hiding himself from them; not telling them plainly, who he was: therefore say they, 'if thou be the Christ, tell us plainly; freely, boldly, openly, in express words;' this they said, not as desirous of knowing who he was, or for the sake of information, but in order to ensnare him; that should he say he was not the Christ, as they might hope he would, for fear of them, now they had got him by himself, hemmed him in, it would then lessen his credit among the people; and should he say he was the Messiah, they would have whereof to accuse him to the Roman governor, as an enemy to Caesar, as one that set up for king of the Jews."

"Tell us plainly... Have you come to take away our souls?"

The answer to that question is that Jesus came to deliver life back to our souls...

Just as those today who fear making that leap of faith and trusting Jesus... just as those who fear that a life spent following Jesus is only a life wasted because this life is all they have... these Jews accused Jesus of stealing from them the very gift He offered and longed for them to take.

Jesus' response to this question was that He'd already plainly told them. 

He was not the thief, coming to seek and destroy - go back and read the first part of this chapter, in case you've forgotten what He'd just taught.

Were there some in that crowd of Jews that day who then believed?

How about you, today? What do you believe about Jesus?

photo credit: exoimperator via photopin cc

this week's gratitude list
(#'s 4907 - 4930)

pumpkin cake for a Gampy birthday party

lots of leaves raked

a great choir/drama tour for my big girlies

fun Euchre party with friends

decisions made for Jesus

safety after a scary driving moment

Rebekah finally earning some of those needed driving hours to get to stage 2

a brand new 19 year old

the encouragement of singing with our church choir

the end of the first marking period

hearing that m&m is right where she belongs, school wise

mostly decent grades, even for our brand new secondary student who's finding the adjustment a bit challenging

volleyball champions

cheerleading and basketball about to begin

Christmas shopping with Gammie on a Sunday afternoon

finding those gifts that you know will make the kiddos smile

college decisions happening

big girls finally caught up in their French class

back to a normal week's schedule

praying with a friend

finishing the 31 days posting project and all the insights God gave as I worked my way through Proverbs

a few days of a blogging break afterwards

diving back into this study of John

the challenge God gave me as I've looked at this passage over the past few weeks... only a few words, but I'm pretty sure I've heard God speak


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