Monthly Archives: December 2017

A flannel board and flannel Jesus

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel not with words of human wisdom, let the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 1 Corinthians 1:17

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  I Corinthians 1:18

God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; He chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong…the lowly things and the despised things and the things that are not to nullify the things that are so that no one may boast before Him.  It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus.  1 Corinthians 1:27-30

I got a flier in the mail this week from a Bible study company and flipped through it.  One page was an ad for a cruise with “your favorite Bible teacher.”  Another page, ads for an event in several cities with a dozen or so attractive thirty something women on a pretty topic.  No older women, less attractive, handicapped ones could speak?  “Stop it,” I thought.

flannel JesusThen in my reading through the Bible in a year chronologically I sat down to these verses in 1 Corinthians.  It took me back to the two ladies that I became a Christian through in the tiny country Vacation Bible School fifty some years ago.  They used a flannel board, a flannel Jesus and song lyrics written on tag board.  They persistently talked about Jesus with no other props.  They came to my community with no other Gospel witness for over 35 years, armed with the love of Jesus and a commitment to serve Him like no other I have seen.

They wrote to me every month from the time I was 13 until I was almost 30.  They discipled me in the faith and would call me “their Timothy.”  They probably wouldn’t have made it as headliners at a women’s weekend.  Nor would I.  That’s not how God made me and that’s not where God has planted me.  And somehow, that’s how He has made the message of the cross to be.  It’s not to be glitzy or glamorous, lest it be emptied of its power.

It is not to be bedazzled, though we want to pretty it up.  A friend of mine told how she had a mentor named Ethyl who had the gift of faith.  She would go fishing with Ethyl and Ethyl would know where to fish because God would tell her.   Ethyl would do more big things than just bring home big catches of fish, she would allow God to use that gift of faith all over the place to do big things through her.  Only thing was, she never drew attention to herself.

When she was old, she wrote a little book about all of the things that God did and she called it, “Ethyl Nobody.”  This was years before self publishing and marketing, so I haven’t been able to find that book.  I wish I could.  I’ve thought about that title, and have thought that one day I’d like to write a book like that before I die and title it, “Martha Nobody.”  God has done so many things in and through me, just like He did with the dear old ladies with the flannel board, a flannel Jesus, and cardboard song lyrics.

Better than that, they were armed with the message of the Gospel, the love of Jesus, and the conviction that if they kept telling it that God would change lives and eventually it would change the world.  It has changed my world.

*Image from Feltark

 


A Tangled Path, or a Straight One?

tangled path

straight path

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.  Proverbs 3:5-6                                                      

To trust God is to believe in His reliability, truth, ability or strength. It means that you rely, depend, bank, or count on, and be sure of all that God is and what He promises.  Many times when there is some big rescue or feat, the newscasters will talk about “the indomitable human spirit” that made the people overcome.  When we put our trust in ourselves and our strength individually or collectively, we are missing the real source of our strength.  If we name the name of Jesus, the source of our strength is to be God and God alone.

In Genesis 11 we find the account of the Tower of Babel.  Everyone gathered together with the same language and said, Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, found in verse 4.  When God saw what they were doing He said, This is only the beginning of what they will do.  And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. God stepped in and confused their language and scattered them to the faces of the earth.

That is what happens when we decide to build or do anything in rebellion of the King of the Universe.  Sometimes we don’t plan to do things without God in rebellion, it’s just because we’re used to figuring things out on our own, counting on our own wisdom and desires.  But God calls us to consult and trust Him, not others and not ourselves.  To trust Him with all of our hearts means that we don’t have a backup plan.  God is our only plan.  And He will take care of the details of our obedience.

There is a promise in these two verses: God will make our paths straight.  Have you ever tried to accomplish something or get somewhere in life, but you keep getting twisted around?  Your dream or your desired goal might always end up just beyond your grasp. You take one step forward and end up three steps back.  Sometimes you don’t go backwards, you just go sideways.  Or you stall out.  Your route isn’t a straight line, but a tangled path.  If this is you, ask yourself this question: Are you acknowledging God in all your ways?  Are you doing things His way or your way?  

When you do things God’s way, things have a way of working out.  And your path will be straight, not a mess.  Step by step in the right direction leads to a habit and a routine and then a lifestyle of obeying God, trusting Him, and  consulting with Him before you make choices.  You can’t beat it.


Take Up Thy Swords (of the Spirit)

BT-swordThis is taken from a Desiring God post on June 13, 2017 by Greg Morse, “A Challenge to Memorize Chapters.”  It goes along with my previous post from Psalm 119:11, “Thy Word have I stored up in my heart, that I might not sin against You.”

It has resonated in my heart, perhaps finding a kindred memorizing spirit, someone who has put words to why I think memorizing is an important discipline in the Christian life:

It began in seminary.

That week, multiple professors mentioned that each student in the class ought to memorize Romans 8. I looked up Romans 8 — it was long. I had never memorized a whole chapter of the Bible before. As far as I was concerned, that wasn’t for average saints. It was for the extraordinary Christians — the kind who read Calvin in their free time and had Greek and Hebrew words tattooed on their ankles. Memorization, like Mark Twain said of the classics, is something everyone wants to have done but nobody wants to do. Maybe I could get through Psalm 23, I thought. Maybe.

But God kept after me, telling me to go to the Ninevah of memorization — I couldn’t hide.

I hobbled through the semester. After several months, I completed Romans 8 — I was astonished. I, the chief of forgetters could recite one of the greatest chapters in the Bible. And a question came to mind, if God could help me limp through memorizing Romans 8, what else could he help me memorize? My quest began there.

Daggers and Swords

I’ve learned that length of the text matters in memorizing. And, because I would have been a warmonger in another life, I think of different lengths of texts as different weapons.

Individual verses and smaller sections are daggers. Although the shortest in the soldier’s arsenal, these are for hand-to-hand combat. As in medieval times, the dagger was a last resort, a defense against ambush. Direct and to-the-point, daggers are golden promises found in Scripture to support when Satan assaults us unexpectedly. For example, in a moment of sexual temptation, “Flee!” can save your life (1 Corinthians 6:18). Every Christian soldier needs daggers.

Chapters, or larger sections of Scripture, are swords. Although longer and requiring more effort to master, swords were the medieval soldier’s most useful weapon. Swords were offensive, and carried by those expecting war. Broad swords (texts), are not only made up of daggers, but sharpen each dagger with context. The chapter draws you into the author’s thoughts, and makes greater, deeper sense of the individual verses. A dagger will save your life in a vulnerable moment, but you wouldn’t head into war without a sword. Memorizing chapters prepares us to go on the offensive against the enemy’s ranks.

Take Up Your Swords

My challenge concerns swords. Though daggers have vital uses, I challenge readers to memorize chapters of the Bible for at least four reasons:

1. Swords are not easily forgotten. The silver of memorization comes from the initial steps in memorization; the gold comes from sustaining it. When I only have daggers, I often forget I have them, and don’t revisit them consistently. I remember that I have memorized 39 verses in Romans 8, but I would forget that I memorized 39 individual daggers from all over the Bible. Memorizing chapters helps me remember what I’ve memorized so that I can review.

2. Swords help create discipline. Swords are the baby-bear of Christian memorization: not too short (dagger), but not too long (a whole book which we might call a spear). As we memorize longer sections of Scripture, we are forced to move last week’s verses from short-term to long-term memory. Long sections of Scripture cannot be memorized without discipline.

3. Swords arm us to love each other better. Although often neglected, God calls us to study those in our lives that we might stir them up to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). After studying them, larger sections of Scripture can become a trustworthy playbook for love.

4. Swords make God’s word mobile. Mornings can get hectic. The best intentions can be interrupted by a screaming child, a distressing phone call, or a snoozed alarm. On such days, I can’t pull out my Bible and study the text on my way to work. But I can meditate on chapters I’ve memorized. Swords are the ideal length for ten to fifteen minutes of extended meditation.

How to Pick Your Swords

So how do you pick what to memorize? I suggest the following:

Pick chapters that aim at specific sin struggles. If busyness tempts you, memorize John 15. If adultery tempts you, memorize Proverbs 5. If apathy to the word tempts you, memorize Psalm 1. Pick specific swords to decapitate your sin.

Pick chapters that will minister to particular people in your life (see number three above).

Pick chapters that more explicitly display God’s majesty. One way to consistently pop the helium balloon of your own ego is to memorize texts that behold your God. Texts like Isaiah 40 or Revelation 5 humble the creature before his Creator.

Pick chapters that remind you of the life to come. Select swords that remind you that you are not home. Linger with founding pilgrims in Hebrews 11 or catch a glimpse of that coming day in Revelation 21.

Pick chapters that have gripped you. The Spirit grips individuals in specific ways. People have life-verses. I believe in having life-chapters. If the story of the prodigal son grips you, do not let it linger outside your heart as the elder brother, memorize it and bring it into your home.

A Glorious Army

Dream with me: What if every saint had two or three chapters written on their heart? What if everyone in your church or small group had two or three different swords ready for battle — to war against Satan and to strengthen the brothers and sisters fighting next to them? A member who lived by the still waters of Psalm 23 and beckoned others to come and sit. One who constantly abided in Jesus the Vine of John 15, and bid others to daily receive the same nourishment. One who taught the group how to bid sinners to come and drink freely from the wells of living waters as they remained submerged in Isaiah 55. What might that be like?

The Challenge

I’ve been encouraged by such saints and challenge you to be one.

One of my favorite spiritual questions to ask over the past two years has been: If you could memorize five chapters of the Bible, which five would you choose and why? You can learn a lot about someone and spur great conversations through this question. After the excitement rises with the prospect of memorizing five, I simply ask, why don’t you do it? Some roll their eyes, but some have embarked on the quest.

Now I extend the challenge to you. If you have never memorized a chapter, the challenge is to start with one. If you have a habit of memorizing, pick three and write them on your heart. The challenge: over a lifetime, write and sustain five different chapters (or longer sections of Scripture) on your heart.

There are my thoughts again: I went to a funeral in Greg’s church.  It was for a young couple’s baby who only lived several days.  I was expecting a mourning, defeated and grieving time.  Instead, I was met with a group of triumphant, expectant, Scripture quoting believers who held on by faith that God had something in store for this young couple.  One by one, twenty something friends stood up and quoted verses of hope in their prayers during the service.  It was an amazing service!  Those  believers had their swords ready for battle and they pulled them out, ready for use on that day.  It was a glorious army.


Guarding and Storing

storing up God's Word

How can a young man keep his way pure?  By guarding it according to your word.  With my whole heart I seek You; let me not wander from Your commandments!  I have stored up Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.  Psalm 119:9-11

How can we keep our way pure?  By guarding it, as prescribed in the Bible.  Let’s think about that word “guard” first.  In the New International Version, Proverbs 4:23 reads, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”  And in Proverbs 4:13, “Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.”  We guard and protect the things we value.  There are some things that are really important that we don’t realize until later that we should have guarded it, but we didn’t.  We didn’t realize how important they were until much later, perhaps after we already suffered loss.

We need to guard our ways, our steps, our minds, our hearts and our lives.  We have an enemy of our soul, Satan, who is a roaring lion, as 1 Peter 5:8 instructs us: “Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  NIV  How true.  We don’t even need him, we’re pretty good at destroying ourselves through an unrestrained feeding of our flesh.  Without self control empowered by the Holy Spirit  and a careful attention to our desires, they can drive us in destructive directions.   

The Bible is filled with commandments about how to guard our way.  There are the character sketches that God has given us that show us what happens when we don’t pay attention.  We have people like Lot, Jacob, Samson, Saul and many other real people who God inspired the writers of the Bible to record so that we might not make the same mistakes that they did.  As we read about those people, we are really reading about ourselves.  Their tendency to sin and grab for the wrong things are our same tendencies, because we share the same sin nature.

How do we emerge victorious?  We seek God with our whole hearts.  Not with a half hearted attempted, a short burst, or a sea of good intentions.  Our whole hearts.  No turning back.  And we hide God’s Word in our hearts that we may stand undaunted against the desires that “wage war against our soul,” as 1 Peter 2:11 warns.  We store up God’s truth,  His promises and His cautions and we pull them out when we need to use them.

arrow.gifMy challenge to you is to actually commit Scripture to memory, to store up God’s word into your heart.  It has been my habit since childhood.  I have gone from memorizing verses, to chapters and now several books of the Bible.  Has it kept me from sinning?  I know that hiding chunks of God’s Word in my heart has kept it there to pull out when needed, and for the Holy Spirit to bring it to mind to convict, guide, redirect and to counsel me on the spot in a variety of ways.

What is your habit of memorizing Scripture, and how has it benefited you?


Grumbling: Rebelling with our attitudes and our words

Therefore, when the Lord heard (their grumbling) He was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob; His anger rose against Israel, because they did not believe in God and did not trust His saving power.  Psalm 78:21-22

The verses just before this explain, “God made streams come out of the rock and caused waters to flow down like rivers.  Yet they sinned still more against Him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert.  They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.  They spoke against God, saying, ‘Can God spread a table in the wilderness?’”

This took place in the wilderness, when the children of Israel were in between Egypt and the Promised Land.  They grumbled and rebelled against God.  They tested God in their heart by demanding things of Him that they thought they were entitled to.  They sinned by speaking words of unbelief and complaining.  no grumbling 10 complaining.jpg

Have you ever complained about your circumstances?  We think we’re just venting, but really, we’re saying “God, You’re not good.”  And we can pray demanding prayers that are really complaints to God, saying what He is giving us isn’t enough.  And we tell ourselves and others that we really can’t trust God.  It is rebellion and it angers God.  Really–have you listened to yourself when you grumble?  Stop it.  

In response to Israel’s attitude, God was not only full of wrath, but a fire was kindled against Jacob.  That means that it was the start of God working against the Israelites, not for them.  That is never good.  But verse 23 has a merciful tone, in spite of God’s wrath being kindled: Yet He command the skies above and opened the doors of Heaven, and He rained down on them manna to eat and gave them the grain of Heaven.

In other words, in spite of their lack of trust, reflected by their venting–God was still good to them!  Even when they didn’t deserve it, God gave them bread from Heaven to eat.  That is grace, giving us good gifts that we don’t deserve and didn’t earn.  It was also mercy, not giving them what they did deserve.  In Psalm 103:9-10 there are beautiful words of God’s character, “He will not always chide (accuse), nor will He keep His anger forever.  He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.”

We can anger God with our testing Him, saying that the weather stinks, our job is rotten, and we wish we had more of just about everything–money, vacation, or friends.  It’s not just run of the mill complaining, it is a lack of trust in the goodness of God.  But in the middle of it, God is still good to us, giving us our daily bread and not giving us what we deserve.  

Praise God for this!  We’re just like the Israelites, rebelling and grumbling.  God does something big and then we forget and whine for something bigger.  When we deserve to get wiped out, He opens the skies and rains down goodness upon us.  He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love.

*Image from Howard Carter, Google Images


Not Good if Detached

 “I am the vine: you are the branches.  Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5 

Corrie Ten Boom, one of my favorite warriors of the faith, wrote about keeping in that abiding relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit:

If the connection between the branch and the vine remains, the fruit comes from the vine.  The vine does everything and the branch much keep connected with it.  That electric lamp does not help the generator; the generator does not help the lamp.  The generator gives all the power.  The lamp must only be connected.

You do not help the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit does not help you.  The Holy Spirit does everything–the only condition is that you must keep in contact…(hence we are not good if we are detached from this abiding relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit).

This is what I have been processing the most this last week, this Holy Spirit connection.  As I’ve been reading JD Greear’s book, Jesus Continued…Greear repeats what Corrie Ten Boom said decades ago.  Greear has written about not just going out and doing things for God out of guilt, striving to please God, some kind of performance issue, or whatever thing that would drive us to go out and try to do something for God–but to actually wait for the Holy Spirit like they did at Pentecost and let Him tell us what to do.

Then instead of doing things for God, He sends us out and He does things through us.  And then we bear fruit, as John 15:5 talks about.  If we sit at Jesus’ feet first, like Mary did (Luke 10:38-41) He’ll tell us what to do and where to go.  He leads; we follow.  He commands; we obey.  He supplies; we steward.  He delivers; we worship.

It seems to me that the sitting at Jesus’ feet thing is the hardest part of the whole Christian life.  The waiting and listening and then going.  The being in the Bible, listening to the voice of the Spirit and then obeying.  That’s like the trifecta.

The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.  First off, everything else calls for our attention to keep us from getting into the Bible.  We oversleep, we hit the snooze, or we have to get to work early.  Then when we do get in the Word, our mind jumps to our to-do list, or to how someone else who needs to read this, or we run out of time so quickly.  And then the Holy Spirit puts an application on our heart.  An act of obedience, a prompting of some sort.  An apology that we need to make, a phone call that we should make to someone that will need to talk for a long time, someone who needs a visit that doesn’t have long to live and needs to hear about Jesus…

But when we walk in the Spirit and set our minds on things of the Spirit as a pattern of our lives, the result is life and peace, as Romans 8:6 promises.  It is a life filled with fruit, as John 15:5 states, and John 15:7 goes on to say, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  Answered prayer.  Who doesn’t want answered prayer?not good if detached

Stay attached to Jesus through being in the Bible daily, listening and waiting on the voice of the Holy Spirit, and then obeying His leading.  If you do, you’ll bear much fruit.  Otherwise, we are not good if detached…