A Low Life

“Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before.”

“.faith through grace by saved are you For”

It’s such a familiar phrase, you probably read that backwards without the slightest difficulty. So why is it that no matter how many times we say it, and how much we believe it that we invariably act otherwise? Why is that we can’t get over the need to prove ourselves to God—or prove our love for God to others? Ephesians 2:10 can be a troublesome verse for those of us trying to get a grip on grace: “For we are…created in Christ Jesus for good works,”.
The phrase “for good works” is agathos ergon, which literally means: that by which any one is occupied or any product whatever, any thing accomplished by hand, art, industry, or mind [that is] of good constitution—useful, honorable, excellent, joyful, happy business or employment. The next phrase “that we should walk in them” means: to make due use of opportunities.
Maybe our impression of the work God intends is a bit off base. Maybe Jesus is glorified in the lowly—when fishermen fish, when artists draw, when farmers plant, when children play or when mothers cook. Maybe the good that we were created to do, the opportunities we must take advantage of, are right in front of us—in mopping, sweeping, eating, laughing, even dying well. God’s desires of us are neither grand or contrived but to do the lowly and mundane for His glory, even to live a quiet life.

 

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Never Unnoticed

“After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.” Luke 8:1-3

I always think it’s fun to wonder about the people Jesus spoke with, ate with, walked with and laughed with. And of course, the first people who come to mind are His twelve disciples. After that, you might think of Lazarus, Mary and Martha-maybe even Mary Magdalene. I think Nicodemus, the pharisee who believed, spent extra time with Jesus. But have you ever heard of Joanna?

The Bible doesn’t say much about this woman who loved and followed Jesus. We do know she was the wife of a man named Chuza, Herod the Tetrarch’s (a ruler) steward. Joanna was one of the many people Jesus healed. We also know that she traveled with Jesus, along with many other women, caring for Him and the disciples and providing for them.

If we dig a little deeper and “put ourselves in her shoes” there’s a lot we can learn from this female follower of Jesus.

Joanna’s name meant “God has been gracious”. When she was born, I’m sure her parents had no idea that one day Jesus would work a miracle in her life. But, after Jesus healed her, she must have taken great pride in her name. Indeed, God had been very gracious to her.

When the Bible says, “These women were helping to support [Jesus and the disciples] out of their own means”, most Bible scholars believe that means the women traveled ahead of the company. In each place where Jesus and his disciples stayed, the women made sure they had lodging, food and other provisions. They did these things out of their own provisions. Joanna and the other women sacrificed their time, money and energy to serve Jesus.

As the wife of Herod’s steward, Joanna had a special opportunity to witness to those of Herod’s household. After Jesus healed her, everyone must have asked questions! Knowing her love for the Lord, it’s easy to imagine that Joanna was excited to tell everyone about Him. This took great courage because the ruler, Herod, felt threatened by Jesus as His fame spread among the people. In fact, Herod had already beheaded John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin. We can learn courage from Joanna as she chose to follow and worship Jesus despite the danger.

The Bible says that the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee watched carefully to see where He was buried. Three days later, they returned to care for the body of the Lord. Joanna was one of those women. She heard the angels say, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!”

Even though her name is only mentioned in the book of Luke and even then only twice, there is much we can learn from Joanna. She reminds us that no matter how small, insignificant or unnoticed we feel, God always has a plan for us.

 

Walking in Season

hdr-autumn-1252757-mIt used to be, when I was “well”.

Then it was, “When I’m am confident.”

Next came, “When I discover what God wants me to do.”

Then, “When I’m finally brave enough to  do what God wants me to do.”

Next came, “When God blesses what I am doing.”

And then He did.

Now, I’m feeling topsy-turvy in the chaos of all His goodness. Oh not that He wasn’t good before, but only in this season am I finally appreciating the cultivation of the earlier ones. Only when I am caught in the fear that this season provokes do I recognize the beauty of seasons past.

Not so many months ago, I spewed random words on a page, of interest to no one. I collected sheets of private musings, pedantic stories, journal entries and heart murmurs. I posted them in obscure places, submitted them to a few magazines, folded them up in Christmas cards, tucked them into “love you” letters and sent them out to everyone brave enough to be in my address book.

At that time I was between the seasons of, “When I discover what God wants me to do,” and, “When I’m brave enough to do what God wants me to do.” But that’s just the thing, I kept looking for, chasing after some nebulous goal that I believed God had hung in my foggy future. I imagined God standing just behind me, a fatherly hand on my shoulder wondering if I’d ever try hard enough, peer deep enough, have enough faith to strike out in that darkness and unveil my life’s purpose.

In the very first book of the Bible, in the very first chapter, God intentionally created seasons. Isn’t that staggering? It’s not as if He’s pacing upstairs waiting for me to reach the climax of my life. He’s not wondering when I’ll discover my purpose and get about the business of pleasing Him. That was, THIS IS my season.

I told you about not so many months ago, but if I’m honest, not so many hours ago, I was fretting my hands about this season. I’m feeling snowballed with all of the tiny things to do in the process of publishing and publicizing a book.

I prayed for this, right? I determined that God wants me to be an author and declared that I’d honed in on my calling, facetiously deprecated myself for taking more than 30 years to find out what God made me to do. And now?

I’m worried about not having enough creative juices or time to write for all the opportunities. I’m concerned about not having enough hours in the day to speak life to, and receive encouragement from, the relationships that God is giving me.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about nature’s seasons? Is it the crunch of lifeless leaves when you walk down the park trail? Is it the beckoning, long shadows of summer when you walk to the mailbox late in the evening? Is it the deep impressions lingering in the snow when you walk your dog in the winter time? Is it the cacophony of indiscernible, sweet fragrances when you walk through the garden in springtime?

I always see myself walking when I think of seasons. Slowly meandering through their measured window of time, experiencing each one in all its splendor, beholding it from every angle, walking.

Soon after God designated seasons, He placed man in the Garden of Eden. And do you know what He did? Every single evening, He invited Adam and Eve to come walk with Him.

There’s no rushing seasons. Sure, sometimes the lines seem blurred and winter keeps a firm grasp on the thermometer a little longer than we prefer, but it gives way. And then, when we’re tired of resting in the folds of spring, like buds held closed by an invisible hand, there’s still nothing to hasten summer. It’s a steady walk through these seasons.

And there’s bounty in every season, bounty and cultivation. When my options seemed few and my creativity abounded, God was cultivating excitement in me—ideas for the words He would share through my fingers. The bounty then was rest and time and freedom. Now, the bounty is opportunity to bless others, wide doors to use the gift and treasure of writing that He has given me. Now, I am cultivating trust, recalling rest and realizing confidence as I see the beauty behind each door He opens.

Simply, I worry when I need to be walking—steadily, following Christ. He’s the one who opened once invisible doors and He will show me which ones to enter and which ones to pass by.

Sinful or Sick?

waiting-1428907-mThere has always been tension between two questions: Do I suffer because I sin–or do, and why do, good people suffer? If it’s not punishment, why do some get cancer and innocent children get raped or kidnapped?

As I wrestled with my eating disorder, these questions tore at me. Was I sinning or was I suffering? Was anorexia some clinical disease that even good people “contract”? Or was this a penalty for my rebellious will, pridefulness or an idolatrous heart—or even some more blatant, ignored sin in my life, like lying or slander, some time-eclipsed behavior?

Jesus answered this for us is one critical encounter with a sufferer. The blind man of John 9 becomes a proof case for us. From a snapshot of his life, we understand Christ’s position, the ultimate answer, to sin and suffering.

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. ‘Go,’ he told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam,’ (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.” John 9:1-7

We are not told this blind beggar was penitent of any sin. He was not pleading at the roadside for healing. Rather it was Jesus’ disciples who longed to find fault or cause somewhere. The surrounding crowd clamored for an explanation for this man’s blindness.

Jesus wasn’t indulging; He offered up no satisfactory culprit. Instead, Jesus spit, made clay and anointed the man’s eyes…then, even once the healing began, it wasn’t instantaneous. The Healer instructed the man to go wash.

Meanwhile, an argument continued to rage about the situation, but now, it was not only, “Whose sin made this man blind?” but, “Who made him well?”

The first answer is found in verse three, “‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’”

If the New Testament had been written then, our indignant question would have been stolen by the disciples, “But, you said that death and pain came into the world because of man’s sin!”

Romans 5:12 does tell us that sin entered the world through man and sin bears consequences. Our pain does have a purpose, though not always a unique cause. It is not always due to personal sin. Suffering and death entered the world through corporate sin. But the redemptive reason for pain is that Christ’s power shows through us.

There is no one to blame.

Perhaps it was just plain suffering, but even that evokes questions. First Corinthians 13:10 says, “God will not allow more than we can handle,” right? I’m sure blindness felt like an excessive burden. Anorexia did.

No, the Bible promises not too much temptation, we are still wide and vulnerable to be swamped by suffering.

In the course of my slow recovery from anorexia, I fought to choose one of these persuasions: Sin or sickness. Well intending people supported both theories. It seemed that each belief warranted a new approach to healing. But finally, supernatural healing seemed to overtake me and a blending of these philosophies emerged. Today, I still say, “I suffered from anorexia”, but equally I struggled with it as an addiction or false god.

What do I mean by ”supernatural” healing or recovery? I mean that I never consciously broke. I cannot point to a moment, a turning point when I began to do all things differently—as in turning from an old sinful behavior or leaving a hospital cured. There were breakthrough moments when  Christ’s presence became more real, His support more affirming, His patience more felt but none when I immediately threw away the crutches of restriction, calorie counting and exercise. Those behaviors slowly sloughed off; the healthy, life-giving pounds came on gradually while I became mysteriously preoccupied with Jesus and surprisingly lost interest in the scale.

Aren’t we always that way? We want to know if the suffering, the eating disorder or other addiction was caused by past trauma, abuse, the culture or bullying. Especially those of us watching want to scream, “God we need a reason!”

I, like the blind man, was in many ways past believing that healing would come, past seriously doing any moral inventory of my failures and past consulting expensive doctors. Was I sick or sinful? It didn’t seem to matter.

But here’s the beauty of Jesus: When I quit asking, He healed me. When the blind man wasn’t asking, Jesus healed him.

Jesus stood quietly for a moment, while the disciples searched for somewhere to cast blame. The blind man couldn’t see Him. Maybe Jesus snuck up behind him and said over his shoulder, “Hang on, in a short time, this will all be over.”

I have often felt like this blind man when people ask me, “What happened? How did you get well?” And I ached with the painfully plain response, “I don’t know.”

But again, here’s the beauty of Jesus.

Even as we suffer, drowning in our too-much, pressed down and weighted under the curse of a fallen world, Jesus steps in to prove God’s rich mercy and the great love with which He loves us and His awesome power. In His perfect time, He makes all people and circumstances beautiful and works things for the good of those who love Him. In the blind man’s case and my own, He chose give sight and to restore my body.

There is also an answer to the “more than we can bear” and it is the power of a Savior who sneaks up, touches our shoulder and says, “It will all be over soon.”

 

 

An Interview With God’s Word

This devotional was first published in the ezine ‘Tween Girls and God

Have you ever heard of the “5 W’s and an H”?

I studied journalism in college. I loved reporting, interviewing, writing and even editing articles. My favorite part was talking to people I’d never met, asking them questions and then piecing the story together. Being concise is one of the most important elements of writing a news story. I remember Dr. Senat saying over and over, “Cut out the extras! Get to the point! Answer all the reader’s questions and then stop writing!”

The best tool Dr. Senat gave his students as we were learning to write “tightly” were the “5 W’s and an H”. So, I figured, it might also be a good tool to pull together the most vital information about the Bible. Let’s ask God’s Word these questions!

Who is the Word of God? John 1:1-3 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”
The Word of God is much more than just the thick book you carry to church. It’s more than a collection of stories or even a “road map to heaven”. The Word of God is a person.
John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” This means that Jesus Christ is the Word of God.

What is the Word of God? Even though the Word of God is a person, we are also told that it is a “lamp to our feet and a light to our path”. (Ps. 119:105) The Word of God guides us to make right decisions, teaches how to obey God and shows us how to follow Him.

Where is the Word of God? Isaiah 55:11 says that the Word of God comes directly from His mouth. “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” And it is also hidden in our hearts. When we believe in Jesus, He sends His Spirit to live within us and since Jesus is the Word of God, then God’s very Word can live inside us. From within us, it helps us to keep from sinning against God.
“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Ps. 119:11)

When is the Word of God? This one’s easy even though it’s hard to understand. God’s Word is forever. It never ends, it never fails, it’s never wrong and it’s never silent. 1 Peter 1:25a says, “‘…but the word of the Lord endures forever.’” And Ps. 119:89 says, “Your word, LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” (There’s a freebie, too! That’s another answer to the “where” question!)

Why do we have the Word of God? Oh my goodness, can you imagine if we didn’t have God’s Word? How would we know Him? How could we believe in Jesus and be saved?
2 Timothy 3:16-17 gives us many other reasons we have God’s Word. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

How do we use the Word of God? 2 Timothy 3:16-17 answers this question to. We use God’s Word to teach ourselves and others about Jesus. God’s Word is useful to correct us when we’re wrong and to train us to be righteous; to teach us that through Christ we “have right-standing with God”.

That was some good investigative reporting! We asked all the essential questions and essentially “interviewed the Bible” about God’s Word. Do you learn something new?

Why don’t you try writing a good news story about God’s Word. Write a short article telling someone about God’s Word—how important it is to you, how you use it every day and why everyone in all the world should hear it?

The Answer to Your Heart’s Cry

When thankfulness heaves dry,
And prayer is stillborn,
Listless lips, somber heart
Percussion of praise halts,
And the Army halts,
The prayer warrior falters…

Daughter, glory in My verdancy,
Marvel at Me.
How is it that you could be lonely
in My presence?
Hear Me speak in the rush of rain,
The charge of damp angel feet through the balsam trees.

I have come, in response to your prayer.
I have heard and answered.
I have come for your joy and My glory.
Both complete the other and find permanence there.

I have never needed you,
But I chose you,
And love you as sister, daughter, bride, friend.
Find your hope, inhale My faith for you.
Sit back, rest and watch My glory.
And let all your longings be fulfilled and overflowed.

The banks of your loneliness will
Erode in the power of My Life-giving flood.
Watch Me. Behold Me. Taste Me.

Be still and know that I am God.
Taste and see–
I, The Lord, am good.

Verses for further study and encouragement: 1 Chronicles 14:13-15, Psalm 34:8, Psalm 116:1, Matthew 23:9, Hebrews 2:11-13, Isaiah 54:5

Who Is Your Calling?

Last week, I told you to Abandon Your Calling. We often think of calling as a set of skills or a defined direction our life is supposed to take. Ironic though that in pursuit of the “calling” we often forget to listen to the One who is calling…

James is the just the guy to pick an argument. He’s the New Testament author who seems to take issue with our free grace. He’s the one that seems to poke the smoldering flames of lingering guilt over failures, expectations and performance.

From the very first chapter of the book by his name, he tells us that without works, faith is dead. So we better get busy proving our faith. Right? But, the second half of James chapter one has always stumped me. What does any of this have to do with a guy looking in the mirror?

Check out verses 23-25:

“Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”

I took a few minutes to look up the words in the original Greek. Let me share my personal paraphrase:

For is anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, is like a man who is attentive to his course of life and knows his circumstances and understands his inward thoughts and feelings. Then, he follows after his “calling” oblivious to the quality or purpose of his life.

Let’s give James a break, not worry for a minute that he’s calling us back to works, and find out what is this course of life, this calling, that we are in danger of discarding to oblivion.

Isaiah 43:7 says, “‘Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them.’”

We were created for God’s glory. We are in danger of living oblivious to this, the ultimate course of our lives.

Second Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

We are in danger of living oblivious to the calling of His glory and goodness.

Bear with me.

What if we are not made for specific careers, individual ministries or one unique calling? What if we are wasting our time praying, “Oh God, what do you want me to do with my life?”

The work we are called to is obedience to God’s commands. Jesus couldn’t have made these commands more clear in John 13:34, “A new command I give you, love one another as I have loved you,”.

Obedience is not performance. If we look hard into the Word of God and truly know who we are and what we are to do—to love others as Christ loved us—but turn around and merely perform, our grace is worthless, our knowledge vain.

In Matthew 7, Jesus said that the man who hears and does not do the Word of God is like one who built his house on sand. Though he might work hard and build the finest house, worthy of admiration, when the storms of life come all of his work will collapse—useless.

Our work is the obedience of love. This comes out of our very nature which matures in Christ when we look intently into His word. This word informs not performance but our personhood, not good work but the obedience of love. It doesn’t inform our own special calling, but informs the world of the God who saves us.

 

When Life Feels Like a Gamble

dices-1385675-mPsalm 16:5-6 “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”

“I shall never believe that God plays dice with the world.” Albert Einstein

Though believers in Christ know the truth that God is in control; we cannot help but often feel as if our lives are as unpredictable as a game of dice. I am married to a military officer. Our life could hardly get less predictable. The location of assignments, the length of deployments—sometimes the Army plays its cards close to the vest. Or, take my dear friend’s life. Everyday is a waiting game, a baited breath, a prayer that her husband keeps his job in the midst of ruthless layoffs. Then there is the little boy I met at the hospital yesterday. I could see in his mother’s eyes that the slow and painful chemo feels like a die, violently tossed and refusing to settle. What will the outcome be?

Psalm 16:5-6 brings an extra measure of comfort to those days when I’m so confused, tired or bewildered that I don’t know what to pray. God knows that our lives often feel like a gamble. But He promises in His Word that He holds our lot. The lines (otherwise translated as “lot” from the Hebrew) fall in pleasant places for those who love God and are called to His purpose. We can trust and be thankful because God has qualified us to share in a beautiful, heavenly inheritance with the saints in light (Colossians 1:12).

This article was first posted on FaithWriters as a devotional