Glory Be!

 

I am fascinated by the creative power of words. As a communicator I believe in being as precise and clear as possible about the words we choose.

Some words we use only to speak of heavenly things. And if you’re like me, these words can feel hollow, often-repeated and familiar on the tongue, yet lacking that earthly, tangible context to anchor their meaning.

Glorify is just such a word.

Glorify (doxázō)…to cause the dignity and worth of some person or thing to become manifest and acknowledged.

BlueLetterBible.com

Jesus Introduced Us to Glory

Glorify is found 64 times in the Bible, yet its first appearance coincides with the birth of Jesus:

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.

Luke 2:20

The shepherds heard God’s promise spoken to them by angels: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11). They acted on what they heard and went immediately to Bethlehem in search of the Christ child. When they found him, they witnessed to those gathered, including Mary, about what they had seen and heard.

Isn’t it interesting that this first experience of glory did not result from seeing an angel for what was surely the first time in the shepherds’ lives? It came from recognizing God at work in their lives.

Glory is our natural response to experiencing God.

 

The Son Lives to Glorify the Father

Jesus performed signs and wonders throughout His earthly ministry in order to glorify God: “It is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”(John 11:4)

  • The paralyzed man: When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God….The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel. (Matthew 15:31)
  • A woman with a disabling spirit: And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. (Luke 13:13)
  • One leper out of ten: One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, glorifying God in a loud voice. (Luke 17:15)
  • The blind beggar:  And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, glorifying God. (Luke 18:43)

The Father Glorifies the Son

Following the miracles, John is the only one of the gospel writers who continues to pursue glory. The next cycle occurs as God empowers Jesus’ words and actions to in turn glorify His Son; that is, to reveal His dignity and worth to people so that it becomes clear, undeniable and acknowledged.

“If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me.”

John 8:54

Jesus’ ultimate glory, of course, comes in His work on the cross.

“Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him.”

John 13:31

We Glorify Father and Son through the Holy Spirit

And here’s the cool part. Jesus invites us in on this glory gig. As we are reconciled to God by believing in Jesus and His sacrifice for our sins, we become an instrument of God’s Spirit, completing the cycle of glory, so to speak, that others might come to see and know the Father and the Son.

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

John 15:8

All of the remaining references to glory…in John, Acts, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and throughout the letters to the early church, are focused on being witnesses, heavenly windows, through which others can glimpse the light of God’s glory in a world filled with darkness.

The final citation, in 1 Peter: 4:11, puts a fine point on it:

If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

I hope you have a GLORIOUS day!

 

Seeing Is Believing

I’ve been camped out recently in the well-known story of Jesus healing a man who was born blind. One of the problems with such ubiquity is it can make the amazing look commonplace:

“Oh you know, that story when Jesus gave sight to the blind man”

…like that happens every day.

Blind Since Birth

The significance of the miracle was not lost on John; he goes to great lengths to record several eyewitness accounts in order to verify that the man was indeed born blind:

  1. Neighbors: “The neighbors and those who had previously seen that he was blind said, ‘Is this not he who sat and begged?’ Some said, ‘This is he.’ Others said, ‘He is like him.'” (John 9: 8-9)
  2. His Parents: “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind.” (John 9:20)
  3. Pharisees: The religious elite, who were intent on discounting the miracle, actually use the fact of his blindness to disparage his credibility: “They answered him, ‘You were completely born in sin.'” (John 9:34)

The most powerful witness comes from the man himself:

  • He responds to his neighbors in verse 9 with, “I am he.”
  • The neighbors take him to the Pharisees and “he said to them, ‘He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.’” (John 9:14-15)
  • Even faced with the Pharisees’ wrath the man remains steadfast saying, “I know one thing: I was blind, but now I see.” (John 9:25)

Modern Miracle

Since the world began it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of someone born blind.

John 9:32

Even some 2000 years later, giving sight to those born blind is still quite a miracle, meriting such headlines as, “Canadian man born blind sees for the first time at age 68.”

And we now know there is more involved than restoring physical function to the eyes. What we see must be connected to our other sensory experiences in order for a person to develop a reliable perception of the world around him.

This was a problem articulated by William Molyneux back in the 1600s, whose wife was blind. Molyneux’s problem, as it is became known, asks if a person born blind who gains sight would be able to distinguish a similar sized sphere from a cube by sight alone. The short answer is no.

The most widely documented case is that of Michael May, an interesting character in his own right because he competed as a downhill skier and worked for the CIA, among other notable accomplishments, all before gaining his sight in 2000. Yet even when his eyes — which were damaged in a chemical explosion at age three — were repaired, he faced ongoing challenges with visual processing:

May still has no intuitive grasp of depth perception. As people walk away from him he perceives them as literally shrinking in size. He has problems distinguishing male from female faces and recognizing emotional expressions on unfamiliar faces.

His brain lacked the full picture of the world to be able to describe its beauty. This made it difficult for him to lead a normal daily life. Michael’s early blindness benefited him so far; he developed very precise senses of hearing and touch. (Wikipedia)

In Mark 8:24, we read of a blind man  in Bethsaida whom Jesus healed; his initial report echoes this gap, “I see men as trees, walking.”

Yet here the man appears to have been given full physical and perceptual acuity immediately.

Hear No Evil

As the Pharisees reject first the timing of this man’s healing (on the Sabbath), then the spiritual qualification of the healer (We know that this Man is a sinner), and ultimately the spiritual fitness of the recipient (You were completely born in sin), the man adroitly and accurately shifts the focus from his vision problem to their hearing problem:

As the Pharisees continued to press him he answered them, “I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?”

Then they insulted him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God has spoken to Moses. As for this fellow, we do not know where He is from.”

The man answered, “Well, here is an amazing thing! You do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. But if anyone is a worshipper of God and does His will He hears him.

Since the world began it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of someone born blind. If this Man were not from God he could do nothing.”

They answered him, “You were completely born in sin. Are you teaching us?” And they threw him out.

This exchange is fascinating and worth parsing:

The Pharisees claim they’re in the right because they listen only to the one true God whom they know through what He spoke to Moses.

But the man sees right through them, countering that if Jesus were not from God He would not be able to give him sight because God wouldn’t have listened to Him. Moses heard God, but God hears Jesus, the man points out; this implies a deeper, far more intimate relationship.

To put a finer point on it he adds that this type of healing has never even been heard of before. This is a unique and powerful act, achievable only by one who has God’s ear.

Now I See

At the beginning of the story we see a man considered to be blind because of his sin challenged by Pharisees who are considered to have great vision because of their holiness. By the end of the encounter Jesus has turned everything upside down, as the one thought to be blind is revealed to have great vision, while those thought to be sighted are in fact willfully, persistently, spiritually blind:

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when He found him He said, “Do you believe in the Son of God?”

He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?”

Jesus said to him, “You have seen Him, and it is He who speaks with you.”

Then he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshipped Him.

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, that those who do not see may see and that those who see may become blind.”

Some Pharisees who were with Him heard these words and said to Him, “Are we also blind?”

Jesus said:

If you were blind you would have no sin. But now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.

John 9:41

Seeing Things Differently

More than 40 Greek words mean to see; four are used in this story. And, John deploys them progressively to move the story itself from darkness toward light:

In verse 1 Jesus passes by and sees a man blind from birth. The word here is eídō, which means mechanical, passive or casual vision. Basically Jesus was aware of the man’s presence.

Throughout the heart of the story the word blepō refers to the man’s sight; this connotes the seeing and perceiving we do every day.

In verse 8 the neighbors “had previously seen that he was blind.” Here the word used is theōreō, which means “been a spectator to;” it signifies earnest, continued inspection.

As the story concludes Jesus reveals his glory to the man whose spiritual vision is now clear:

Jesus said to him, “You have seen Him, and it is He who speaks with you.” (John 9:37)

Here the word is horáō, which means to gaze with wide-open eyes as at something remarkable.

What a beautiful literary parallel John offers to our own faith walks.

Seeing the Light

As we see and respond to the truths God reveals in our own lives, we are given more truth. When we reject truth we move toward spiritual darkness; standing still is not an option. (See the parable of the talents, Psalm 43:3, Ephesians 4:17-22, among others)

How do we apply this story to our own lives as we seek to enhance our spiritual vision?

  1. Reflect God’s Light — God hears Jesus and He hears us. As the formerly blind man said, “If anyone is a worshipper of God and does His will He hears him.” (John 9:31) We do God’s will as we lean on His word and serve others.
  2. Shine before All — Make no judgment about who is blind and who sees, rather let your light shine before all (Matthew 5:16). This humbly acknowledges that spiritual vision is not easily discerned by our human senses.
  3. Seek the Light of Truth — Be alert to God’s truth when it is revealed in your life and be faithful to act on it to continually move toward light and away from darkness.
  4. Worship the Light Giver — When Jesus told the man who He was, the man responded instinctively with worship. We who call ourselves Christians are blessed to know the source of our light. Let us greet each new day with thanksgiving for this great gift of sight!

Learn More

What People Cured of Blindness See,” The New Yorker, August 28, 2014.

Man with restored sight provides new insight into how vision develops,” UW Today, University of Washington, April 15, 2015.

Recovery from Blindness,” Wikipedia.

 

Lessons from HIStory

I love words and word plays. And I like to think that God — with divine tongue planted firmly in divine cheek — enjoys them too, and uses them to playfully hide truths in plain sight for us to discover and enjoy.

On Easter I explored the double entendre of Son Rise. Today I want to take a step back in historyor HIStory.

Don’t Know Much about HIStory

Growing up I knew the Old Testament as a collection of fairy tales intended to teach me something about God. Adam and Eve were the first prince and princess, who faced a Gepettodiabolical snake, rather than the typical, fire-breathing dragon. Noah and his ark were gas station giveaways that my grandfather collected for me. And Jonah’s story bore an eery resemblance to Gepetto’s in my mind.

It wasn’t until I became a mom that I began to learn other stories of the Bible, true confessions here: from “Veggie Tales.”

For me, Bob the Tomato ranksBob the Tomato_zpsf4taxwt1 right up there with Billy Graham among the great, modern-day evangelists. Even now when I read the book of Esther I picture her as a wispy asparagus; and Daniel will always be a cucumber in my mind, which makes it less shocking that the lions didn’t devour him.

When I joined Bible Study Fellowship my second study was of the Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). It unpacked both the historical context and the consistent character of God throughout Scripture. Still I struggled to reconcile the God of the Israelites with the one Jesus taught us to call Father.

ONE Story

More recently I’ve gained a perspective of the 66 books of the Bible as One story, written on human hearts by One author, who is consistent in His character, His glory and His love for us. It is a story told in a four-part narrative arc:

  1. Creation
  2. The Fall
  3. Redemption
  4. Restoration

Check out Ed Stetzer’s, “The Big Story of Creation” for a scholarly interpretation, but here is my perspective; consider it “The Bible for Dummies,” with a credit to my buddy, Bob  Bob the Tomato_zpsf4taxwt1 , of course:

  • Creation — Adam was our first attempt to live in relationship with God; Jesus is the “new Adam” who taught us that the one true God is much better at being God than we are. The wages of Adam’s sin were death, in the form of animals sacrificed to atone for and cover his sin (Genesis 3:21), as well as his own death. Jesus is the perfect sacrifice who gave Himself so that we all might stand clean and blameless before a holy God and enjoy eternal life.
  • The Fall — The first one happened in the garden, but most of the Old Testament chronicles an endless cycle of failure and redemption between God and the people He created to know and love Him. In Kings and Chronicles God answers the Israelites’ request for a human king whom they can see and touch. The kings’ names change, but the stories all end the same; while some were more corrupt than others, they all fall short, because “the human heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” (Jeremiah 17:9)
  • Redemption — The prophets foretell the coming of a righteous king. But through the lens of the injustice, oppression and political corruption that people are suffering at the time, they expect a different kind of king, and many continue looking for love in all the wrong places.

“A curse will come upon the sinful man who promises to give a male from his flock, but gives an animal that is not perfect to the Lord. For I am a great King,” says the Lord of All. “And My name is feared among the nations.”

Malachi 1:14

These are the final words God speaks in the Old Testament through the prophet Malachi. The problem of reconciling man’s sin with God’s holiness has found no remedy throughout 39 books of covenants, commandments, sacrifices and warnings, an effort that can be summed up as “the law and the prophets.”

Like the prophet, Hosea, and his harlot wife, Gomer, humans’ response to God’s perfect love is deceit, betrayal, abandonment and heartbreak, and so far, nothing has succeeded in creating a lasting unity.

HIStory in the Making

The New Testament begins by catching us up (in the event we snuck out for popcorn during the 400-year intermission). Matthew connects the dots from Abraham down through a line of liars (Jacob), murderers (David), prostitutes (Tamar) and a sundry collection of other sinners who comprise the genealogy of the promised Christ, the Messiah Jesus.

Following his birth Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, returns to Egypt, where Joseph, the Prince of Egypt, foreshadowed the messiah king. The similarities between Jesus and Joseph are striking; both were loved by their fathers, rejected by their “brethern,” sold for silver, and both suffered to save the lives of many.  (Explore the comparisons further.)

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done,

the saving of many lives.

Genesis 50:20

Discovering parallels like this between the Old and New Testaments is exciting and infinite. In fact, back in the 1950s a statistician applied the model of probability to demonstrate the likelihood of one man, Jesus, fulfilling Old Testament prophecy. When applied to just eight of the hundreds of Old Testament prophecies, the likelihood was:

1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

Read “The Odds of Eight Messianic Prophecies Coming True” for more on this.

On the road to Emmaus following his resurrection Jesus walked with two disciples, and in two hours unpacked the one HIStory told throughout Scripture:

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in ALL the Scriptures concerning himself.

Luke 24: 27

Narrators to “The End”

I used to think that if I had been an apostle it would have been easier to have faith. I wished I was like Peter, who had the opportunity to be with Jesus in the flesh, and who had the knowledge to proclaim:

You are the Messiah,

the son of the Living God.

Matthew 16:16

What I have learned is that we actually enjoy a greater unfolding of truth than the apostles were privy to; they had the Old Testament, but they were part of the New Testament in the making.

Our lives today are fulfillment of the promise of redemption, enriched by the wisdom, knowledge and comfort of God’s spirit. Humans haven’t changed one bit; we’re still a sinful, selfish lot, fueled by pride, bent on self-destruction, prone to wander from the truth we’ve been given. But now we carry the good news that:

This is not the end.

God is making all things new; He has made a way for all of us to be part of His restoration of creation, a much better story than what history suggests we are capable of creating for ourselves:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 10:9

We began as the damsel in distress, the future bride of the hero, desperately in need of rescue despite our virulent resistance to it. Now following His triumph, we have a new role too, that of narrator. God asks us to share HIStory so that all may hear it, and to retell it with loving urgency to those who may have heard it, but haven’t yet accepted it as their own:

The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9

The end of HIStory is a glorious, magnificent, unimaginably happy one. No spoiler alert needed; this is how the Bible concludes in Revelation 22:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.

On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

No longer will there be any curse.

The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.

They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.

There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.

And they will reign for ever and ever.

 

 

Speaking Grace and Truth

Search me God

 

 

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

John 1: 14, 17

One of my spiritual gifts also has been my greatest flaw and source of sin for most of my life: Speaking truth.

Growing up I was told often enough to believe it that I had an ability to speak truth with clarity. I also was told, but failed to hear, that I sometimes missed God’s call to balance truth with grace. Even though I was called “blunt” and “harsh,” it took years and many mistakes for me to realize I was not using my gift as God intended…for His glory.

Jesus provides a perfect example of how to use our spiritual gifts. As soon as I considered how He spoke truth to others myriad examples popped to mind, but one stood out:  The time he used truth to convert the town home wrecker into a powerful evangelist.

Parched

As she heaved the empty, yet still heavy jar to begin her trek to the well she glanced back with resentment at the man sprawled sleeping in her bed. How she longed for someone to take care of her, or at least to love her.

Her routine was to wait until noontime to replenish her water supply. It was the hottest time of day, but also the most deserted. None of the other women would be there to help fill her jar, not that they ever helped her anyway. At least this way she would be spared the glares, the whispers and the judgment. They didn’t know her story, but that never stopped them.

As the well came into view she was surprised to see a shadow leaning against it. As she drew closer she could see it was a man, and she wondered if she should turn around. It was immoral for a man to be alone with a woman, and she had enough rumors floating around about her already. But she was parched.

So she kept walking, hoping he would leave. A few yards away she could see that he was a Jewish man. She was conditioned to be wary of any man’s motives, let alone Jews, who notoriously hated Samaritans. And yet, she needed water; she was weary of men interfering with her life, her plans, her survival.

Will you give me a drink?” he asked as she approached.

His question startled her. She expected something lewd or crude, not a simple request. She made eye contact with him for the first time and replied bluntly, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”

Grace

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water,” he said.

Who did he think he was?  A string of comebacks came to mind, but something in his eyes told her that he was different, so instead she said, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

“Go, call your husband and come back.”

His words struck hard. What could she say without revealing her disgrace?

Truth

“I have no husband” she said, doing her best to keep a neutral tone.

You are right when you say you have no husband.  The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

What? How could he possibly know? He was not from here; she was certain she had not seen him around before. He had just spoken what others only whispered, and yet somehow it sounded different from his mouth; it was truth without judgment. And he even affirmed her honesty in the midst of it.

Life

She didn’t understand it all, but she knew enough. She felt a sudden urgency, borne of compassion, to bring others to this man and his invitation of “living water.” She left her water jar there beside the well and ran the dry, hot stretch back to town. She sought out others, the ones who had shunned and judged and despised her, but this time they saw her, they heard her and they followed her.

This woman whose beauty and charm had been used to destroy families and lives in her community now used her powerful charisma to direct them to her life-giving discovery.

“Come,” she said. “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”

“They came out of the town and made their way toward him. Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” (John 4: 39)

When the Samaritans came to Him, they urged him to stay with them, and He stayed two days. And because of His words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” (John 4: 40-41)

Today

Like my Samaritan sister God was faithful not only to call out my sin, but to redirect me. I heard my BSF teaching leader when she said, “The words you use show the condition of your heart.”

When I began my ministry in earnest a poll of my friends led me to the value proposition that anchors my writing today: “Journeying to the heart of what is true.” Search me God

  • What are your spiritual gifts? Are you using them as God intended?
  • What truths is Jesus speaking into your life to help you more effectively lead others to Him?
  • Are you mindful that your call is to invite others to meet Jesus, and leave conviction, conversion and redemption to Him?

Learn more about how to do a little Soul Cleaning.

I encourage you to give a listen to Craig Groeschel’s three-part sermon series on Dangerous Prayers, an excellent resource for exploring these questions further for yourself. They include: Search Me, Break Me and Send Me.

 

 

The Real Homeless Crisis

This post is dedicated to my friend, Stephanie Vasso, the best role model I know for serving Pillars of Hopehumbly and loving abundantly the physically homeless in her East Texas community. Her work reveals  hidden beauty both inside and out, and makes the world a better place.

Whenever the weather turns harsh and I am nestled in my home I can’t help thinking about those who do not have the safety, protection or comfort of home. What does it take to reach that point of desperation, let alone to endure it?

Homelessness is about more than lack of shelter, and overcoming it takes more than providing for a person’s physical needs.

So it is with spiritual homelessness, only in this case the homeless are dangerously unaware of their plight.  Those who call this world home will sooner or later discover that it offers weak protection against the elements of evil and is a cold abode, devoid of love, hope or meaning.

Jack Higgens, author of the best-selling novel, The Eagle has Landed, was once asked, “What would you like to have known as a boy?” His response, “That when you get to the top there’s nothing there.”

Today, 26 percent of adults say Jesus  was only a religious or spiritual leader, like Mohammed or the Buddha, while another 18 percent say they aren’t sure if Jesus was divine. The situation is more concerning among the next generation: Millennials are the first generation in which fewer than half believe Jesus was God (48 percent). (Source: The Barna Group)

How can we begin to serve these spiritually homeless if, like Higgens, they are not yet aware their poverty? Part of the answer can be found in this passage:The LORD’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous. Proverbs 3-33

According to Blue Letter Bible the first word “house” refers to a physical structure, but the second reference, home of the righteous, comes from the Greek word for the “abode of shepherds or flocks, pasture.” The Greek also backs up what we know to be true of the wicked vs. righteous in this world:

  • “The wicked are those who are guilty of sin, hostile to God” (There is no one righteous, not even one. Romans 3:10)
  • The righteous are “justified and vindicated by God.”

God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

This is about more than a future promise of heaven, it’s about the kingdom available right here, right now. As James explains so eloquently:

If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to him, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give what is necessary for his body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead.

James 2: 14-16

Perhaps the spiritually homeless you know simply missed the invitation or they haven’t been quite ready to accept it, or most unfortunately, they were turned away by religious institutions that told them they were no longer welcome.

Communities usually rally to meet the emergency needs of the physically homeless when weather conditions threaten to become severe.

Similarly, the spiritually homeless are in greatest peril when life’s storms arise. At such times their circumstances become dangerous and often unbearable. Without a path to safety they can be overcome by despair.

Whether physical or spiritual solving the homeless crisis requires something more from  those who desire to serve. It requires them to risk something in order to approach the situation with humility and the awareness that “there but for the grace of God” this situation could be theirs. It means meeting those in need not as rescuers, but as peers and really listening to the shared experiences in their stories. And it requires unconditional love, absent of judgment.

Then, and only then, do you earn the trust to share your own story, and the opportunity to invite, or better yet entice, the homeless in out of the cold.

I’ve been captivated recently by David Crowder’s song, “Come and Listen,” which echoes this idea beautifully:

Come and listen, come to the water’s edge, all you who know and fear the Lord.
Come and listen, come to the water’s edge all you who are thirsty, come.

Let me tell you what He has done for me.
Let me tell you what He has done for me,
He has done for you,
He has done for us.

  • Who are the spiritually homeless among your family, friends, coworkers and neighbors?
  • Have you listened to what happened to lead them away from home?
  • What holds you back from inviting them to share in the fruits of the kingdom that you enjoy today as a believer, and in the eternal promise of home (Revelation 21:4)? 
  • Who is in greater poverty, the spiritually homeless or those of us who fail to serve them?

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Matthew 29:19

 

Son Rise

He has risen!

Luke 24: 6, Matthew 28:6 and Mark 16:6

Two things to know before committing to this post: I love words and I love Jesus. So there’s almost nothing I love more than words that point people toward Jesus.

If I were God, and let’s thank Him that I’m not, I definitely would place a big bright beacon in the sky to draw my children home, reminding them with each new day of my free offer of grace. (Lamentations 3: 22-23)

What better and more fitting analogy could there be for the “Son” than to call the source of life and light here on earth the “sun”? Perhaps God’s intent was that as we speak of the sun we might pause and see the light (pun intended).

Consider this handful of quotes about the sun, and find encouragement in God’s divine word play by substituting the Son:

“When pain brings you down, don’t be silly, don’t close your eyes and cry, you just might be in the best position to see the sun shine.”
― Alanis Morissette

“Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t going away.”
― Elvis Presley

“I will be the gladdest thing under the sun! I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one.”
― Edna St. Vincent Millay

“If I had to choose a religion, the sun as the universal giver of life would be my god.”
― Napoléon Bonaparte

“To love and be loved is to feel the sun from both sides.”
― David Viscott

“By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp.”
― Cormac McCarthy

“The sun always shines above the clouds.”
― Paul F. Davis

“Laughter is a sunbeam of the soul.”
― Thomas Mann

“The Sun will rise and set regardless. What we choose to do with the light while it’s here is up to us. Journey wisely.”
― Alexandra Elle

“It is hard to be angry when one has seen the sun rise,’ she said.
It seems to be true,’ he admitted. ‘I wonder why.’
Because it makes one feel so small and insignificant. It has been rising forever and will rise forever no matter what we do or do not do. All our problems are as nothing to the sun.”
― David Gemmell

As you celebrate the Son Rise this Easter enjoy the perpetual presence of the sun and the beautiful, life-sustaining reminder it offers for the hope found in Jesus, the true Son:

I am the light of the world.

Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness,

but will have the light of life.

John 8:12

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What Say You?

child of god

Today’s story begins at the very beginning…in the moment that God shifted from being into doing, specifically creating.God said

Unlike Gary Larson’s classic depiction in The Far Side, the God of the Bible created with His words not His hands. Ten times we read “God said” (Genesis 1: 3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24, 26, 28 and 29) and five times He names what he has made, “God called” (Genesis 1: 5, 8 and 10). And in a magnificent “tri-alogue” God even imagines and speaks us into existence:

Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness….

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1: 26-27

What does it mean to be made “in His own image”? Do we resemble the Maker of the universe in ways that resemble having our Father’s eyes? As a writer and a lover of words I have learned one important answer to this question:

We share in the mystical, creative power of words.

Word Power

Let me say it again: Our words, the ones we speak and write daily, often with little consideration, have the power to bring ideas to life. Words form an invisible bubble that floats unformed, unshaped elements of thought across the frontiers of our mind across and into the temporal world.

One example of this that always comes to my mind is when President Reagan stood before the Brandenburg Gates and said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Until that moment the idea itself was inconceivable. And, people in the know considered even saying it a significant risk to the fragile relationship with the Soviet leadership.

Yet against those odds Reagan spoke the words, words that birthed an idea, and the idea took root in the hearts and minds of some of its listeners. Then, just two years later, the wall that had stood for 20 years — dividing the free from the captive, mothers from children and the very heart of a country — came tumbling down.

I know what you’re thinking, “Those words were uttered by the leader of the free world. Of course they had the power to create change.” Yet I tell you:

The power of words to create monumental change emanates not from the speaker, but from the life-giving truth the words contain.

Learning to Respect the Power We Possess 

Men speak an average of 7,000 words a day; women nearly triple that at 20,000, that is two-and-a-half hours a day of straight talk, ladies. Another startling fact is that every two days we generate more information than was created from the beginning of recorded time through 2013.

What would the world look like if we began today to live our lives with acute awareness of the power we possess in our words? For starters it quickly would be a much quieter place.

Several years ago at Bible Study Fellowship the teaching leader paraphrased Matthew 12:34 saying,

The words you use show the condition of your heart.

I took her at her word and checked the condition of my  heart. Over the next few days I began listening to myself and was alarmed to discover that I suffered from some heart damage: I was astounded by how many of my words were filled with gossip, anger, frustration, selfishness or envy.

I decided to see if  the converse of that statement also was true: Could changing my words produce a positive change in the condition of my heart? I embarked what has become a seven-year journey toward the answer. Here are the steps I follow:

  1. Begin in the Word. The more consistently I read and study God’s word the more often it comes to mind first in the course of my day so that more of my thoughts and words emanate from His heart for others.
  2. #Speak Life. I love that Toby Mac song for its stickiness. I ask myself regularly, “How can I speak life into this situation”?Speak Life
  3. Get Regular Checkups. I periodically “check my heart” by auditing my word for a few days; I consistently find room for improvement.

Here are two quick examples of how this looks for me in real life.

Last weekend I received a solicitation call from a student at my son’s college asking for support of the parents’ organization. My response was that we were paying a premium in out-of-state tuition and were not interested at this time. Following his script, the young man dutifully suggested a smaller gift and then a delayed timeline. In the middle of my weekend chores I felt that old surge of irritation percolating, along with an impulse to fire back a smart-aleck comment and hang up.

But I didn’t.

Instead I told the caller that I respected his tenacity and shared that I had done cold calling  in college too. I encouraged him that he would learn a lot of good things from the experience. He laughed and thanked me for being patient with him…and then he asked me one more time for a donation. This time we both laughed; I still declined, but I hung up feeling blessed by the interaction.

The next day I called a company about a water softener and the woman on the other end was immediately salty and it had nothing to do with her products. I responded saying, “I am trying to buy your product, so I’m having a hard time understanding why you are being rude,” to which she yelled,“You are the one not understanding me!” Our call ended without any attempt on my part to be a light….I’m still a work in progress.

Applications

  • When have you seen your words bring life to others?
  • When have you had to face the destructive power of your words?
  • Do you model the power of words to your children in the way you speak behind the wheel, to service staff or to your spouse?
  • Can you recall a time when someone else’s words inspired or sparked change in you?

Put your words to work: Share your answers and perspectives in the comments section!

May I Have a Word, Please?

brokenhearted

Brokenhearted. It wasn’t the word I expected. But I’ve learned that element of surprise can be a good indicator that God is the one doing the talking.

The question that led me to this word was a lot less clear cut than the response. In fact, it wasn’t even my question; it was prompted by Whitney Capps, the closing keynote speaker at Proverbs 31’s She Speaks conference. My prayer sounded something like this: “Lord, I’m not sure what she said to pray for right now. I don’t know what I’m asking or hoping to hear. But I think it’s about my ministry call; I think I’m praying for a word, one word, for where you would have me serve.”

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. Romans 8:26

The idea of one word had been popping up a lot. First a friend told me about the book One Word and how it had changed her life. Then a woman I met spoke extensively about this concept, although it turned out she was unaware of the book. And now the keynote speaker had just directed 800 women to pray for one word from God to guide their ministries. She instructed us to write that word with a Sharpie on one of the rocks on our table.

The still small voice rang quickly and clearly: brokenhearted. As I wrote it on my rock I found immediate confirmation right in the palm of my hand: Had I held onto the small rock I originally selected instead of accepting the bigger rock my friend insisted on swapping because it is my company namesake (Big Rock Marketing), I would not have had space for my long word. Then several recent scenarios sprang to mind supporting this word:

  • I was in the midst of a Bible study with a friend who has suffered much loss in her life. The study we chose? “The Mended Heart.”
  • I recently reconnected with an old friend who, among other struggles has had a child diagnosed with a heart condition.
  • And one of the book ideas on my own heart has been “God’s pursuit of the orphan’s heart.”

Personally I’ve never felt much affinity for the word brokenhearted; okay it’s worse than that, I don’t even like the word. Along with adolescent angst the word conjures unwanted images of 80s romance movies like “Ice Castles.” But the truth is I often wish for a more empathetic heart. I used to marvel at my coworker who cried regularly while reading the daily newspaper. My response to such stories is a sense of urgency to do something; I want to drive awareness, speak truth or create change. But empathy is a critical first step that I too often miss.

Brokenhearted comes from the Greek words syntribo (break, to break to pieces) and kardia (heart, denotes the center of all physical and spiritual life). These words appear in together only twice in Scripture, first in Isaiah 61:1, foretelling the coming of Messiah, and then in Luke 4:18 when Jesus claims Isaiah’s prophesy for himself:

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up,and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. 

A sentence later it says, “He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’

Synonyms to brokenhearted appear in several Psalms, but this specific combination only: in reference to the coming of Jesus and in the proclamation of his arrival. Perhaps that is to make it clear that only Jesus can restore the brokenhearted. Paul instructs those serving in ministry: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

My return home after She Speaks illustrated the importance of being the hands and feet of Jesus as clearly as, well, glass. The joy I felt from the conference and the anticipation of returning to my family quickly drained as I walked into a kitchen strewn with empty glasses, a laundry room brimming with clothes and plants drooping from neglect. It was a relief to see the dog still alive. I had been gone for just three days. My hope, my desire, was that my teenage children would “be my hands and feet” and serve my will by caring for our home, showing their love for me through service. I did not “expect it” as a test or proof of their love, but I hoped for it as an expression of gratitude and acknowledgment of the many ways I strive to serve and bless them. But alas, my kids are messy sinners just like me. With a few exceptions they could not see beyond the end of their own fingertips to see the need.

How often God must feel this way when I am so consumed with my own wants and desires that I fail to see the many ways, large and small, to be His hands and feet, even in my small corner of the world. My hope is that a commitment to be attuned to the “brokenhearted” will lead to a deeper understanding of what it means to live wholeheartedly. I am committed to write about the journey over the coming year.

More on the call to serve:

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake2 Corinthians 4:5

And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9:35