Posted in Devotion

Stuff

As I sit in my comfy chair and look around my house, I am amazed at just how much stuff I have accumulated in the short 26 years of my life. Then I think about all of the stuff I’ve had over the years and discarded. I think about the trash I’ve created, and the material possessions I’ve wasted. I’m hit with two thoughts:

  1. I am extremely blessed.
  2. What is the purpose of having all of this stuff?

That second question is what has plagued me this summer as I’ve spent the time doing the “spring cleaning” that I didn’t have time to do in the spring. I have more clothes than I can wear in a month, more books than I could read in a year, and more plates than I use regularly. Some of the stuff surrounding me is needed for physical necessity, some for emotional necessity, and some for creature comforts. But is there a point when stuff starts diminishing my life rather than improving it?

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. Matthew 6:19-20

This advice from Jesus follows directly after teaching the disciples to pray and directly before telling them not to be anxious. The line between just enough stuff and too much stuff seems to lie in the heart. When the stuff in our lives starts to distract us from God or cause us to be anxious then it becomes a problem. We must decide if we are surrounding ourselves with stuff because it helps us to live a more productive life or if we are masking our anxieties about the future. Are we holding on to things because they bring us joy or because we’re afraid of forgetting who we are without them?

One of the hardest things for me to let go of is books. (No big surprise there right?) I’ll read a book, enjoy it, and want to keep it not because I’ll ever read it again but because looking at it helps me remember the euphoria I felt while reading it. There’s a fear of forgetting the pleasant times spent reading. There’s also a bit of pride in owning certain books that make me feel cool or intelligent. Both of those reasons reveal a small heart problem.

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There’s nothing wrong with owning stuff, and in my humble opinion, I could be collecting worse things than books. The problem with collecting stuff is that the stuff starts to take precedence in my heart instead of looking forward to God’s plans. It’s easy to become obsessed with getting the next big thing to impress your friends (or for me, owning the book that everyone is impressed with). As a believer, I must remember that the stuff I accumulate on earth does not define me nor will it make me happy (the loads of unbought books and other junk in thrift stores attest to that fact).

My identity and joy rest in God. The stuff may bring me little bouts of happiness, but that happiness is short-lived compared to the eternal joy I will experience in God.

Posted in Music

My Own Pocketful Of Sunshine

I don’t think Natasha Bedingfield meant her song “Pocketful of Sunshine” to be a song of praise to God, but I’m going to take it that way anyway.

The song begins by saying “I’ve got a pocket, a pocketful of sunshine”, and the overall message of the song is that one can escape her sorrows and stress by going to a hidden place. Well, I’ve got a pocketful of sunshine in my soul as well because I have a relationship with God. That hiding place she talks about? Well several Psalms talk about God being our hiding place.

You are my hiding place; you preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance. Psalm 32:7

She says “I’ve got a love and I know that it’s all mine”. Oh yes! I do have a love from God and I know that nothing can take that love away from me. It’s a love that I still haven’t fully comprehended, but just to give you glimpse, it involved a completely innocent man dying because God knew I wouldn’t be able to have a relationship with him otherwise. This love surpasses anything I can do wrong or right, and it is completely free to me. It causes me to sing, dance, and smile. It urges me to love others just a bit more because I am so so thankful for the love God has given me.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 35-39)

Bedingfield’s claim is that “you’re never gonna break me, sticks and stones are never gonna shake me”. As a Christian, I know that to be true because God has armed with a full armor of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the sword of the spirit (Ephesians 6). With that kind of armor, mere sticks and stones don’t stand a chance. With God, I am stronger than any army.

I can do all things through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

To her enemies, she proclaims “wish that you could but you ain’t gonna own me, do anything you can to control me”. That’s what I yell at the Devil. When the devil tempts me and tries to control my mind or actions, I can rebuke him with scripture just like Jesus did in the garden. Because of God’s reign in my life, the Devil has no place in my life. God is bigger than the Devil.

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 1 John 4:4

The bridge to the song says “There’s a place that I go that nobody knows, Where the rivers flow and I call it home, and there’s no more lies and the darkness is light and nobody cries; There’s only butterflies”. My place that I go? Into the arms of God. I can hide in his words and his comfort. In that place there are rivers of life (John 7:38), no lies (Numbers 23:19), and the darkness is made into light (John 8:12). There may not be butterflies, but the fact that Jesus is there is greater than anything. The presence of God is truly somewhere I can call home.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

As I walked home this afternoon listening to this song, the line “the sun is on my side, I smile up to the sky, I know I’ll be alright” caught my ear (and led to this post). I’ll take a little liberty here and replace the word “sun” with “Son” referring to Jesus. That Son is on my side, so on rough days or good days I can look up toward heaven and know it will be alright because God has a great plan that ultimately ends in my eternity with him in heaven. Praise God!

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

So if you see me walking with my earbuds in bobbing along with a smile on my face, I just might be thinking about how I have a pocketful of sunshine. For me, this will be a song of worship.

Posted in Devotion

Faith in Storms

Life has been super busy lately, so I can totally relate with the disciples in the boat during the storm. Matthew records that the “boat was being swamped by the waves”. Yeah, my boat feels a bit swamped too.

The disciples cried out for Jesus to wake up and save them. I’ll admit I’ve had those thoughts as well during busy seasons or highly emotional seasons. I say “God can you just take some of this away? I can’t handle it.”

In this scenario, Jesus woke up and calmed the storm but not before rebuking them for having so little faith. Sometimes God calms my crazy (and sometimes he doesn’t), but I wonder if I listen closely enough I’d also hear that rebuke.

I don’t think it was so much that the disciples felt overwhelmed and scared; it seems that Jesus was more bothered that they felt the need to wake him as if he wasn’t aware of the situation and in complete control. How often during our crazy moments do we indignantly cry out to God as if he doesn’t know what we’re going through and doesn’t have his hand on the situation?

In crazy situations, I don’t think it’s wrong to share my feelings with God. Based on other scripture, I believe He wants to know. The trick is though that I can’t lose my faith that he has it under control.

Not to say I always act on this lesson. God is still molding me.

(Matthew 8:23-27)

Posted in Devotion

God of Second Chances

The passage chosen for our message during chapel today inspired, challenged, and blessed me.

And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”
Luke 13:6‭-‬9 ESV

The Fruits

Firstly, to understand this passage, we must understand the symbols in this parable. Luckily my students and I have been working on symbolism this week. The fruits, or lack thereof, on this fig tree represent the good qualities God expects us to manifest in our lives. God knows we can be dumb sheep sometimes, so he spells out those qualities very clearly in Galatians 5:22-23. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Uh-oh, no fruit

How perfect is it that this is the third year that the owner has come back looking for fruit in his vineyard? I don’t know a whole lot about vineyards, so I did a quick Google search. Depending on the conditions, it seems people agree it may take a few years to see fruit in a vineyard. It’s perfectly believable that he’d have been patient this long. Likewise, God is patient with us when it takes us some time to start acting like his followers. He knows we have to grow into it as new Christians.

There will come a time, though, when God comes back to inspect and expects to see some fruit. That’s when we get to the part of the parable where the owner wants to chop down the tree because there still isn’t fruit.

Second, Third, and Fourth Chances

Can’t you just imagine the gardener saying, “no, wait! Let me try just a little longer”? I picture this role as Jesus saying to the Father, “give me just a little longer with this one”. Notice the gardener references the work he’s going to do with this plant: dig around it and put on manure. That’s what Jesus does for us when he works through the Holy Spirit to nudge us in the right direction. He nurtures us in hopes that we’ll start producing fruit.

An Unfinished Story

The parable ends without letting us know the outcome of the fig tree. The owner agrees to one more year of waiting, and then Luke moves on to another event. It’s left up to the reader to imagine if the tree produces or not. That’s on purpose. Jesus wants us to then examine our own lives. Are we producing fruit or do we need to be nurtured?

Posted in Monologues from the Manger

Monologues from the Manger: Shepherds

Woah. That was one crazy, awesome night. I mean the night the sheep ran away and we had to chase them for miles was exciting, but this particular night was exhilarating. What night are we discussing? Let us tell you!

We were out with the sheep just like any other night. Some of us are dozing while others chatted about our lives and dreams. Then BOOM! Bright light. It was as if six Suns lit up the sky. Dude, we were terrified. 

When our eyes adjusted somewhat, there were these majestic creatures with swords and wings. Dude, these were not there little cherubim with the arrows that you see on Valentine’s Day cards. These guys had a presence. We covered our eyes and shook in our sandals.

They told us to not be afraid. Okay sure. Big guys in a bright light appear in the dark of night and say don’t be afraid. Yeah, we still shivered even though the night was warm. 

The angels went on to tell us that there was a very special baby being born in Bethlehem, and we should go visit. Uh sure! We immediately said, “let’s go” because it’s pretty rare we get invited to see anyone, much less a very special baby.

Boy was that baby special. He was born in a barn, but he turned out to be the son of God. We sure hope you know him personally because he’s a dude to know. 

Posted in Bible Study

God always provides

“and behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the such month with her who was called barren…. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:36, 41-42).

I can imagine that when Mary found out about her pregnancy she was scared, not only of being pregnant outside of marriage but simply of having her first child. I wonder if God provided Elizabeth a child not only for the fact that this child would proclaim about Jesus but also because God knew Mary would need a confidant. Mary would need someone who believed her claim about this baby being God and someone to share the pains and joys of having a child. 

This passage reminds me that God always provides exactly what we need when we need it. He’s given me friends when I’m lonely, rest when I’m weary, and reassurance when I’m feeling insecure. Notice though God provides what we need not what we want. Mary may have wanted everyone to believe her, but God only gave her one because that’s how his perfect plan worked. 

Posted in Book Review

Seven-Mile Miracle

Have you ever felt distanced from God and you’re not sure how to find him again? According to Steven Furtick, you only need to go seven miles.

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In his book, Seven-Mile Miracle, Furtick describes the last seven phrases that Jesus spoke before dying as a metaphor for the steps we will take from salvation until eternity in heaven.

Mile One: God’s forgiveness

Mile Two: Salvation

Mile Three: Relationship

Mile Four: The times when we feel abandoned

Mile Five: The times when we feel distressed

Mile Six: The triumph God gives

Mile Seven: A reunion with God

This short book packs a lot of punches as it describes how we all just want more of God. No matter where we are on that journey toward the presence of God, we need more of God to take the next step.

I appreciated that the book was loaded with scripture. Many paragraphs have a scriptural reference. Furtick stays focused on what truly matters rather than delving into long anecdotes.

In the back of the book, a 40 day reading guide is also included. The guide provides the parallel gospel readings of the 40 major events leading to Jesus’s ascension into heaven. I haven’t made it through the 40 days yet, but I look forward to the journey. It would be perfect to do the 40 days before Easter, but I think I’ve already missed that.

 

 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.