Title or Towel?

In a wonderfully God- orchestrated series of events, I visited New Community Church. The short version is that on the way home from a wedding, Mike and I stopped to eat at a restaurant where I left my credit card. When I finally tracked down the lost card, I noticed the restaurant was less than a mile from New Community Church.

The reason New Community Church is special to me is because exactly a year ago, our 2 friends took a leap of faith and left our church to plant this church. As a result of the stressful event of losing the card, God allowed me to see His grace at work in this new community of believers. Adding to my blessing and excitement, I learned New Community is planting another church.

The sermon series was a call to be ALL IN as we follow Jesus, The message asserted that radical followers of Jesus radically serve. Whoever would be great among you must be your servant -Mark 10:43. In the eyes of God, greatness is not designated by a title but by a towel.

Jesus has some pretty amazing titles – Son of God, Messiah, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, yet he performed the lowliest of tasks – washing feet. The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many -Mark 10:45.

Unfortunately, even churches seem to focus on titles and talent. (Small group leader, coach, worship team, director, coordinator- to name only a few). It’s easy to find our identity in those things but doing that may deter us from the greatness the Lord has for us in learning to serve with the love of Jesus not only our friends but the ones who will flee or betray.  

Lord, how can I serve more like you?

Here I am

Hineni. This Hebrew word is usually translated, “Here I am.” Abraham responded to God in this way as did Moses, Samuel and Isaiah long before the Lord began to accomplish mighty works through their lives.  Interestingly, we also find the widow in 1 Kings 17:12 uttering this phrase to Elijah when she brings her last bit of flour to the prophet with very little hope having enough to sustain her even until the next day. Here I am.

Hineni (hee-nay-nee) differs from po ani. The later also means I am here, but the former implies not only I am present, but I am listening, and I am willing to do whatever you reveal next. I will engage with everything I am.

On Thursday, the Jewish people celebrate Yom Kippur- which we translate “Day of Atonement” – the most holy day of their year. I learned when the rabbi prays at beginning of both the feasts, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah (the feast of Trumpets celebrated earlier this month), he utters the word “Hineni.

Hineni can be a response to our Lord’s calling to action or Hineni can be an invitation for Him to reveal of transgressions. Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my thoughts; and see if there is any hurtful way in me and lead me in the everlasting way. Psalm 139:23-24

When I come before the Lord, is it with an attitude of po ani or with the posture of hineni?

Here I am Lord. With everything I am, I am yours.

Lost in Church

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

I was participating in a Zoom Bible study with people I had never met. One of the participants shockingly stated, “The church pews are one of the most fertile mission fields.”

A lot of people in church don’t actually know Jesus.

There are 2 ways to be lost. We can be lost in obvious rebellion from God, or we can be lost in our own self-righteousness thinking we are “good enough” and therefore not mindful of our desperate need of God’s mercy. Jesus made use of at least two parables which demonstrated this.

The first is of a Pharisee and a tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) which Jesus told to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous yet viewed others with contempt. When the Pharisee entered the temple to pray, he recounted his good deeds before God while the tax collector pleaded, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” Jesus tells his audience that the tax collector who humbled himself was right with God, not the one trusting that his position and good works made him acceptable to God.

Even more well known, is the parable of the prodigal son found in Luke 15:11-32. By requesting his inheritance and leaving home, the younger son clearly dishonored his father and wasted the blessings his father had bestowed upon him, but what about the older bother? He lived day after day in his father’s household, but he did not emulate the character of his father. Instead of feeling joy when his brother returned home, he was angry that the prodigal was being celebrated rather than chastised. He did not share his father’s generous heart. He too failed to treasure the blessings his father had generously bestowed on him believing he was worthy and deserving of his inheritance.

In the days of King Josiah, the priest, Hilkiah, found the Book of the Law hidden inside the house of God. This seems unimaginable that the words God had given Moses to record were somehow buried underneath other things and forgotten. Even so, I wonder if a similar circumstance has occurred today. The words of the Bible are buried underneath and crowded out by other sources of wisdom such as books written by spiritual men and women of our day, knowledge found in the theories of scientists, or the alarming circumstances broadcast by journalists.

Jesus gives us a stern warning in Matthew 7:21,24, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter…. everyone who hears my words and acts upon them may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

Our previous pastor often said, “You can miss heaven by 12 inches.” The distance between our head and our heart is about a foot. We may sit in church hearing truth and learning more, yet a true disciple daily puts the words of Jesus into practice and continually seeks to be molded into the character of our Heavenly Father.

Dot-To -Dot

When I was a young child, I remember being given a sheet of paper with numbered dots. I would draw a line from the smallest number to the next larger number continuing until I ended up with an outline of a picture. Sometimes, I feel like one of those disconnected dots. I rarely see how anything in my daily life connects to God’s greater purposes. Although I often cannot comprehend it, that does not mean there is not a bigger picture.

Our lives are similar to pieces of tile in the mosaic. God places us together to tell His story.  The red tile above is from the center of the flower which by itself is merely a broken, red tile but placed alongside the other tiles, an image becomes clear. As an introvert, I thrive in my time alone, yet too much solitary time prevents me from experiencing how my little piece, while small, interconnects to others. When I spend time with God’s children- hearing their stories and observing their spiritual gifts, I appreciate how each individual piece, including my own,  is a significant part of God’s intricate design.

God knows the picture He is creating, and that is what matters. Even when I am unable to recognize my purpose, Our Almighty and Sovereign Lord continues to fulfill His. We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. All of this is for your benefit. As God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. 2 Corinthians 4:14-15

“It is with the smallest brushes that the artist paints the most exquisitely beautiful pictures.”– St. André Bessette

3:16

For God so loved the world that He gave his only son that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.

You have probably memorized the 16th verse of the 3rd chapter of John. Interestingly, there are many other significant 3:16 passages. Enjoy 😊

Luke 3:16 – John answered, “I baptize you with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of who sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

1 Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you?

Ephesians 3:16-17 May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith – that you being rooted and grounded in love may have strength to comprehend with all the saints the depth and breadth and height of the love of Christ

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell in you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

2 Timothy 3:16 -17 All scripture is breathed by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Thessalonians 3:16 Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all!

1 John 3:16 We know love by this, that He laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our life for our brethren.

Our Adversary

Your adversary lurks like a prowling lion waiting for someone he can destroy – 1 Peter 5

Last week we were on vacation. It was beautiful time away at the beach with one exception. We agreed to listen to a time share presentation in order to receive a $100 gift card. We have participated in similar spiels over the years, but each time I come away thinking how similar the tactics of the selling agent and the strategies of Satan.

The agent finds out what you want and tailors the package to what you desire. He is well-trained to sell by creating a false need for something that is not necessary or even good for me, making me believe I should prioritize this goal. He points out all the benefits and hardly, if at all, mentions the steep costs. He glosses over any objections, keeps at continually repeating the need to act quickly, wearing me down, maiming me by confusion and doubts.  At this point, I want out and become susceptible to saying yes just to escape. Before I realize it, I am suckered into something that in the long run will be very costly to my well-being, finances or relationships.

He may speak half-truths in such a convincing manner that I accept everything he is saying hook, line and sinker. His lies are clever, entwined with logical, sensible statements. If I am not on guard, I am duped. (As an aside – I realize if I cloak my language in half-truths by only disclosing what is in my best interest, I am like the enemy. Yikes!)

While the end game of a time share agent is to sell me a vacation package to further his own financial gain, the enemy of our souls has a much more destructive agenda. He wants to extinguish the light of God in us.

Knowing this, I still fall prey to my adversary’s deceit.  But more and more often, I am able to detect and resist his traps. I am an overcomer because I stand strong in the Lord and in strength of His might.

Favorite Quotes – Part 2

Over the years I have kept many journals (I am currently on #28 😊) and I include quotes that are meaningful during the season I am experiencing. Here are some more of my favorites and why I like them…..

A cup brimful of sweetness cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, no matter how suddenly jarred.  -Amy Carmichael

This is one of the earliest ideas I began to ponder. It is not about events or the circumstances but Christ in me. When I am not living for myself but allowing Jesus to live through me, He turns the bitter water into fresh springs.  The fragrance of my life becomes the sweetness of Jesus.

In prayer, it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.  -John Bunyan

I used to worry when I was in a position where I needed to pray in front of others because I can’t form my words quickly, and sometimes I lack the ability to even complete a sentence. This reminds me who the most important listener is and that He is not bothered by my lack of eloquence.

To love to teach is one thing. To love those you teach is quite another. – Hudson Taylor

At times I can get really passionate about what I am teaching, but I can never lose sight of the reason I am teaching – so others will know the love of Jesus and grow closer to him.

God doesn’t hand out medals for performance; He hands out crowns for perseverance. – Holly Gerth

Unlike the accomplishments the world applauds, God treasures faithfulness. Lord, let me be found faithful in your eyes.

People will remember that things you accomplish, but the way you handle life’s challenges can affect them just as strongly.  – Lori Deshane

The believers with the most visible and large-scale ministries may not have the greatest influence.

Our contentment becomes an act of worship – Linda Dillow

This is my most recent entry. It helps me redefine worship to include some much more than words or songs to include my everyday attitude about the things (or lack of other things) that God permits in my life.

After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  -Peter the Apostle

I never want to forget God’s redemption in the midst of this difficult and confusing life. His grace is enough and our eternal glory with Him is beyond comprehension.

Self-Talk

Do you not know your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not you own? You have been bought with a price: therefore, glorify God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

I wonder if this has happened to you too – you read God’s word and come away with an understanding until you are sharing thoughts with another believer and she has a completely different way of viewing it. Since the verses preceding the verse above warn against immorality, I recognized the warning that we are to guard ourselves (God’s temple) against immorality and impurity.

However, today the focus was from James – what does it mean to have a living faith? We discussed how our actions should be an overflow of what we believe. The conversation then evolved into how we use our tongues – James asks can salt water and fresh water come from the same source? Can blessing and cursing come from the same mouth?   This led to the topic of how do we mentally converse with ourselves? One of the participants shared the above verse explaining she believes when she judges herself /speaks to herself more critically than she would another person that she is not honoring God’s temple.

Previously I have written about the power of other’s words on me, yet I am guilty of using critical words on myself. If having a living faith means that sweet words and bitter words do not both flow from the same mouth, that means to live consistently with my faith I must change my words about myself.

Is it really such a big deal if I am harder on myself than anyone else? Am I glorifying God with my body if I rehash most every conversation wondering if this phrase could have unintentionally hurt someone or been misinterpreted?  Am I honoring my body as a temple of the Spirit if I allow my own thoughts to dissect everything I do or don’t do wondering how I could have done more or better? I try to attribute the best motives to others and give them the benefit of the doubt, but not so with myself.

No one knows what goes on in my thoughts except the Lord. But it is for Him I live, my audience of One. He challenged me to live by faith in every area of my life and since this is the place He cast the light of his truth, I ask him to transform my thinking so his living water becomes the source of my thoughts not the cesspool of fleshly thinking.

My Favorite Quotes

I decided to share some of my favorite quotes and explain why I like them, so here they are…

Living radical isn’t about where you live; it’s about how you love –Ann Voscamp

When I feel like I am failing because I haven’t gone to the ends of the earth to tell others about Jesus, God reminds me it is not about going somewhere but about loving the ones right in front of me with His love.

God gets glory when grace gets served –Brandon Baldwin

When I am tempted to believe the bigger influence, the more God is glorified, I can reflect that God’s glory is manifest in not only the earthquake and thunder, but also the quiet whisper.

Grace is not a tiny target; it is an endless poolHolly Gerth

I don’t have to have the right answer or make the right decision because living the life He called me to is not like balancing on a tightrope. His grace is so much larger than my mistakes or lack of understanding.

Rest is never found in the quest to understand it all Paul David Tripp

Sometimes I get so distracted by trying to figure out what God wants me to do or learn through this circumstance that I lose sight of him. If I am close to Jesus, I don’t need to know where we are going because He is leading me step by step.

Feelings are like goldfish. Their growth depends on the size of the pond and how much they are fed -John Thomas

This reminds me that my feelings are not my identity nor do not control my destiny. Even when I am feeling depressed or anxious, I can soak in God’s truth instead of how crummy I feel. 

Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit –Zechariah 4:6

My weakness cannot prevent God’s Spirit from accomplishing all He intends to do. I’m so grateful, the final outcome never depends on me. 

The Power of Words

Admittedly, I have a sensitive spirit. With that in mind, I want to try to explain something that is very hurtful to me yet may affect others differently – raised voices and harsh words. When voices elevate or sharp tones are used (even if the words are not directly addressed to me), I feel like I am pierced. I think the psalmist understands as he laments about those “who have sharpened their tongue like a sword. They aimed bitter speech as their arrow.” Psalm 64:3

While some may be inclined to fight back with words, I withdraw. It feels like a piece of my heart is being ripped away. Since my spirit is wounded, I want to protect myself because I no longer feel safe to be myself.  My trust is chipped away.

So I am writing to anyone who stumbles upon this blog urging you reflect on the power of words, how just a few careless words spoken harshly in anger may affect some people. It could be a thoughtless label such as “control freak” or “lazy.” It could be an angry tirade after a difficult day. Perhaps it is even a heated debate where you vehemently argue your point. It may even be a sarcastic joke.

Our culture says it’s perfectly fine to vent and argue and label. But we are each created in the image of God and should consider the impact our words have upon each one whom God treasures. Our tongues hold an amazing power of life and death. Choose to wield yours to bring life.