It’s a Throne of Grace, not Groveling

There is never a reason for a child of God to respond to him as if you are a worm who must grovel in his presence:

 

Instead, the Bible says:

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16.)

What is the time of need? The writer of Hebrews had just finished describing the ministry of Jesus as the one who helps people in their weakness and temptation. This passage then means you can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence even when you are in the depths of struggle with sin. Jesus knows what people are going through and can “empathize with our weaknesses, [because] we have one who has been tempted in every way.” (Hebrews 4:15.)

Worm Theology is Wormy Theology

Some will tell you that you are a worm who must grovel before God. Don’t listen to them. They are stuck in a mindset similar to the one the writer of Hebrews was trying to correct for his readers as well.

Hebrews was written to Jewish believers in Jesus, and the first few chapters are designed to show them they are much better off with Jesus than in returning to their old ways of exercising their faith. Jesus is superior to angels (Hebrews chapter 1), superior to Moses (chapter 3), and superior to any high priest (chapter 4). Jesus’ gospel of grace is a radical departure for them.

They had been taught their whole lives that their repeated sins required repeated sacrifices in order to maintain their right standing with God. While they knew God to be “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love” (Psalm 145:8), their heritage also taught them that a failure to follow the rules meant facing God’s wrath. That was a frightening prospect as their prophet Jeremiah learned.

Jeremiah on the Ruins of Jerusalem, Horace Vernet 1844 (Wikipedia)

The Lord is righteous,
yet I rebelled against his command.
Listen, all you peoples;
look on my suffering. …

I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;
indeed, he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long. (Lamentations 1:18, 3:1-3.)

To the Jewish readers of Hebrews, the idea that God’s throne is a throne of grace rather than a throne of wrath for those in sin must have sounded odd, even unthinkable perhaps. Yet throne of grace it is and one you too can approach confidently, knowing you are welcome there because of Jesus and all he’s done for you.

You are not to act like a groveling worm, forever in fear of God’s condemnation. That’s not who you are at all.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free … . (Romans 8:1-2.)

You are free forever and a beloved child of God who is instructed in Scripture itself to approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, not groveling. Jesus welcomes you there.

That’s what Scripture says. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

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Bold I approach the eternal throne …

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Mutual Submission and Mutual Humility – the way of women and men

[Christina Allen writes of her journey to understanding the mutual love, submission and humility called for by all who belong to God’s family, women and men alike.]

One obstacle that many observant Christians seem to encounter in accepting feminist or Egalitarian ideals, one that I certainly had to find my way over, was the cognitive dissonance inherent in seeking to empower women in a faith that calls for humility. Indeed, this very argument has been used to silence women: how dare you promote yourself when Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped?

It was in struggling with this that I realized that it was not about elevating anyone at all. I realized that the message of Scripture actually indicates that we are all called to humility and submission, and that the error is that hierarchical theology elevates men in the first place. It was then that my Christian feminism became a call to mutual submission and mutual humility.

Jesus’s ministry was announced by the words,

“Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.” (Luke 3:4-6.)

This was a revolutionary message. The great and powerful would be brought down low and the low of society would be raised up. The King was coming, and every exalted person would be humbled. Throughout Jesus’s ministry, we also see the low exalted. We see a God who rejected the Pharisee A-team and selected His disciples from amongst the poor, the socially disadvantaged, and the treasonous.

He even allowed women to learn at His feet.

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, Johannes Vermeer 1654-56 (Wikipedia)

Many see the condescension of Jesus to include the rejected. They don’t see His rejection of the exalted. I begin to wonder if the exalted are capable of receiving Jesus at all. (See the parable of the banquet.) They seem to think that they can, and yet believe they can also retain their position over others. I’m not sure that’s true.

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”(Matthew 20:16.)

Jesus delivers this message multiple times, multiple ways across the Gospels. And Gentile men who had heretofore been excluded from the inheritance of Israel rejoiced because they too could now inherit.

But their modern male heirs refuse to extend the inclusion to the fullest extent.

Paul had no difficulty in Galatians 3 citing women as equal co-heirs with Christ in the Holy Spirit of God who inherit the role of Spirit indwelt holy priesthood. Modern men are completely comfortable with the idea that Jesus would make the Jews last, but they fail to recognize that the hills to be leveled off in this day and age are more related to male ecclesiastical and social privilege. They themselves are the hills.

Modern patriarchy and specifically Complementarianism, preach a “created order” of men over women in the church and home. I find it hard to believe that the God who inspired Paul to write the first chapter of First Corinthians would support that thinking.

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world 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, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-31.)

Deborah [the Judge of Israel] Beneath the Palm Tree, James Tissot 1896-1902 (Wikipedia)

God has never been a God to reinforce any kind of perceived merit or entitlement. Throughout the Bible, God chooses second sons, youngest sons, women judges, women warriors, slaves, and the weakest of nations. Deuteronomy 7:7 says

The LORD did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.

He seems to choose whom He chooses in order to spite convention and entitlement.

It is my belief that as long as you still harbor entitlement, indulge privilege, and practice prideful religious hierarchy, you will put increasing distance between yourself and God. Our God was not daily sitting in the palaces and high places entertaining royalty and religious elite. He was in the lowest places wooing those powerless, rejected, downtrodden souls who had already assumed the posture of deep humility. It is not for nothing that long after the Resurrection, the Way continued to attract slaves and women, as the Romans remarked, and held little attraction for the exalted.

Complementarians will readily acknowledge that the Bible is full of calls for humility, but they have a workaround. They call it servant leadership and act as if being in charge of everything and having all power and authority is a huge and terrible burden that men gallantly bear on behalf of women. They may be more right than they know.  So much power and veneration, paired with a lack of accountability, set exalted men up for the fall that comes after pride.

Patriarchal and Complementarian theology have set men up as a privileged and preferred class and has theologically subordinated women. And the stink of that rotten fruit reaches the Heavens themselves. We see it with #metoo and especially with #churchtoo.  Our hierarchies are broken and they are dashing our men on the treacherous rocks of sin, and they are trampling our women underfoot. This was never the way the Body of Christ was meant to be.

Our churches have become often too vertical. One simply can’t have humble hierarchy. And the Complementarian theology’s “separate but equal” gender polity is no equality at all.

We see the rotten fruits of that self-delusion in every woman who has been used and silenced by a system that all too readily lends itself to abuse. We have lost the Spirit filled churches of the New Testament where everyone had a song or testimony, where order was almost lost because men and women both were full of prophecy and fire. We have replaced it with a hierarchy that all too often picks spiritual winners and losers and stunts the growth of a majority of its adherents in order to maintain a clear division between “leadership” and “not leadership”. Little wonder our churches are blighted and dying, most relying on cannibalizing other churches for continued growth. Little wonder that church women often face abuse at home and at the hands of the church. There is not enough humility and not enough purifying light.

I believe in churches and marriages where we heed the scriptural call for mutual submission and mutual humility. Power should not rest with one man or even three. Insofar as we are able while still maintaining order, we should diffuse power. One man should not be the face of our church (unless that man is Christ!). The faces of our churches should be all of our faces.

We must topple the idols that so many of us erect in our hearts that make our church leader something somewhat superhuman…because these abuses happen with all of our consent. It is not usually one man who silences church abuse, but often a plurality of church members. We have lost the sense of “we are the church” and have decided “he (little h) is the church”. Too many of us have abdicated our spiritual calling and traded off our inheritance for comfort. No more.

We should all be listening to what the Holy Spirit is saying to us through others. All of us who are in the Spirit have a word or song or something spiritual to contribute. Many have never been told that, never trusted that or tried it. That needs to end. We need to equip by cultivating the spiritual inheritance in each of us. (And I guarantee that not every woman or even most women are stamped “hospitality” alone, and leadership is not an exclusively male gifting).

There are many men who need to experience repentance and humility, and not just the ones who have done something bad. Any man who has ever secretly thought that his masculinity made him better, more called, closer to God, more spiritually privileged or noble, more qualified to any position or spiritual work than his sisters needs to repent. This is spiritual arrogance and it breeds sin in the heart.  Jesus said:

 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. (John 6:63.)

We need to embrace that. Our flesh gives us no spiritual advantage whatsoever. And for many, the flesh can be a snare of arrogance that leads to the exploitation of others for the gratification of lusts both fleshly and soul-deep.

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Christina Allen is a native of rural Southeast Texas. She attended UT-Dallas and University of Houston–Clear Lake to earn a bachelors degree in Chemistry, and now teaches high school science. She’s passionate about knowing Christ and encouraging others to learn more of Him. You can find her on Facebook and enjoy her insights and conversation.

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The Error In “There Are No Stupid Questions”

A friend of mine teaches High School physics. He’s known for telling his students:

“There are no stupid questions, just stupid people asking them.”

That sounds harsh, but he’s also one of the most popular teachers at the school. I was thinking about him because of this tweet from Karen Swallow Prior:

King Solomon, early 18th C. Russian icon (Wikipedia)

The advent of the stupid question did not arise with social media, though. Solomon wrote almost 3000 years ago:

Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?”
    For it is not wise to ask such questions. (Ecclesiastes 7:10.)

Why would Solomon say this? Because living in the past can lead a person to avoid dealing with the present. That would certainly not be wise.

Unexplained Questions and Courtroom Discoveries

One of the truisms of questioning a witness in the courtroom is “Never ask a question you don’t know the answer to.” That’s a good guide for forming questions, but it’s a horrible rule to follow slavishly. The real issue is whether you care what the answer is or not.

Let’s say an issue in the case is how familiar a driver is with a particular stretch of country road. If you are the attorney defending that driver in a negligence case you might know your client had never been on the road before and the sudden curve which led immediately to a narrow bridge came as a surprise. So you ask “Had you ever driven that road before that night?” knowing the answer will help your case.

Another case might be a dispute where a business owner sues an accountant for mishandling the business’s books. The attorney representing the owner can ask the defendant “When was the last time you reviewed the bank statements?” without caring what the answer is. If the witness says she went over the statements every day, the attorney can argue that she must have seen the discrepancies but tried to cover them up; if she answers that she hadn’t reviewed them for a long time, the attorney can argue the accountant failed to carry out her fiduciary duty to the business. The answer doesn’t matter because it fits either theory of malfeasance.

Then there are the times I hear a question and have absolutely no idea why it’s being asked. Let’s say I am assigned a car vandalism case for a preliminary hearing. This is the point in the process where the prosecutor must put on sufficient evidence to show me (the judge) that there is a reason to order the defendant to stand trial. The level of proof isn’t anywhere near the standard for conviction by a jury: proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It merely needs to be enough to show there is some reason to think a crime was committed and that the accused person is a reasonable suspect. It’s a very low threshold – what the law calls a “strong suspicion” and nothing more.

The prosecutor might ask the car owner where he lives. Fair enough, I think, because that might be the location the vandalism occurred. If the next question is how long the owner lived there, I can tend to wonder what that has to do with the crime. I have learned to be patient and not ask the prosecutor why she’s asking a stupid (or in legal terminology, irrelevant) question. In fact, I’ve learned that doing so might mean that I am the one who risks asking a stupid question.

Here’s how the owner’s length of residency might turn out not only to be relevant, but crucial to connecting the crime to the person accused of committing it. The questioning might reveal that the owner had lived in that apartment complex for three years and knew the defendant as a former neighbor. The defendant is a former neighbor because he had caused so many problems in the apartments that the car’s owner complained repeatedly to the management. Eventually the defendant was evicted, and as he loaded up his truck he swore to take revenge on the car’s owner. And in describing the vandalism, the owner saw the word “revenge” scratched into the  hood of the car.

That question about length of residence doesn’t look so irrelevant any more, does it? The attorney knew all along where the questions would lead, even if the judge didn’t.

Exercising Wisdom about the End of All Things

Which brings me back to the idea of stupid questions, or rather the ability to discern whether a question is stupid or not. I’ve found that this discernment is best found in patience rather than wisdom. Waiting to see where someone is going with their questions usually reveals the relevance.

As Solomon said in the lead-up to his point on the wisdom of asking about the supposed merit of former days:

The end of a matter is better than its beginning,
    and patience is better than pride. (Ecclesiastes 7:8.)

Pride leads me to think I know all the answers, or at least that I know better questions to ask to get the answers. But I don’t, and being patient is better than giving in to my pride.

And why is the end of the matter better? Why is it foolish to ask “Why were the old days better than these?” I think it’s because the old days are not where we are headed. We’re headed to the conclusion of all things, some in the near term and some in the ultimate sense of eternity.

Let’s look at this wisdom in the sense of eternity. I’ve heard some people say they would like to return to the Garden of Eden, before sin entered the world. For two reasons I would rather look forward to the New Creation promised by Jesus. First, going back is just wishful thinking of the type Solomon warned against; we can’t go back to the Garden. Second, Solomon said the end is better than the beginning; that means the New Creation is better than the original Garden.

And all this history in between is not a string of irrelevant events. You are on the way to eternity with Jesus, even if you can’t understand how this point gets you any closer to that. Jesus knows where your life will lead and he will get you there.

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How to Keep Your Money Safe From Paula White’s Troubling Numbers

Paula White is telling people they can have a good 2018 if they give God the firstfruits of their wages at the outset of the year. You could give a month’s salary as she tries to do, but admits that sometimes she can only afford a week’s wages. If you can only afford to send her a single day’s earnings, that’s good too. (Paula White Ministries, The Principles of First Fruits.)

She claims this annual giving is based on “a specific principle that I am deeply convicted about and MUST share with you after years of studying the Word of God.” She then presents a jumble of passages, relying on an analysis that reminds one of numerology, all the while ignoring the fact that the ultimate and final Firstfruit has already been given in Jesus.

Rather, in her analysis, firstfruits is a sacrifice to be renewed annually in order to acquire wealth through God.

When you give your first fruits offering, you are planting a seed for the remainder of the year. There is a greater portion that awaits you- Your sacrificial offering will be a seed for blessings the remainder of the year. …

As you remember the Lord your God, according to Deuteronomy 8:18, through your first fruits offering, He gives you the power to acquire wealth to establish His covenant.

In looking at her post on firstfruit giving, it is clear where your wealth must first go. She has a button at the beginning and again at the end of the post labeled “Give Your First Fruit Offering Today” and when you click on it you arrive at a web page designed for you to give your money to Paula White.

Her post isn’t completely one-sided, though.

I want to bless you this season when you give your very best First Fruits Offering! It is important to me. With your best first fruits seed today, I will rush to you my powerful book, “First Things First.” This book goes in-depth throughout the Bible and teaches everything around prioritizing God and the details of God’s Principle of First Fruits.

The more you give, the more you get. If you send her $50, she sends the book and a devotional on the same subject. If you send $75, you’ll not only find the book and devotional in your mailbox but also “A PAULA WHITE 2018 WALL CALENDAR!” (Emphasis in original.)

Jesus never asks you to give before you receive from him.

Jesus, the ultimate and eternal Firstfruit

Ms. White’s insistence that your sacrificial offering of firstfruit is an annual necessity ignores that Jesus’ sacrifice happened once and never needs to be supplemented or repeated.

 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:14.)

Of course, that passage was written in the general sense of sacrifice for sin. Yet within that general truth is the more specific fact that Jesus’ sacrifice satisfies the principle of firstfruits as well. Look closely at the timing of his sacrificial death and resurrection.

Discussions of Jesus’ death and resurrection often focus on the Passover Feast, associated squarely with salvation, which in the year of his death coincided with his crucifixion. Less well-known is that the resurrection on the third day coincided with another feast, as explained by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg in Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus (pp 108-109).

As significant as Passover is, another important feast sheds light on the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection. We know that he was raised to life on the third day … . Remarkably, that day happens to be another feast day, the Feast of Firstfruits. This feast could occur on various dates, some years falling several days after Passover. On the year Jesus died, it exactly coincided with his resurrection. …

Listen to what Paul concluded years later:

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23.)

The principle of firstfruits is all about what Jesus has already done for you, not (as Ms. White argues) what you have to do to have a year of wealth and God’s blessings.

It’s all about numbers

Ms. White attempts to bolster her analysis with a look at some supposedly significant numbers:

Let me explain…

The word “eighteen” is made up of two letters of the Hebrew alphabet – Chet (ח‎) and Yod (י‎), forming the word “chai”, meaning “alive”, or “living”… In Hebrew, the related word chaya means “living thing” and is derived from the Hebrew word chai (חי),meaning “life”. We are demanding LIFE to your purpose. And with obedience to this first fruits instruction, which is PUTTING GOD FIRST NOW, your purpose, your year, your prosperity, and your power will have LIFE and be resurrected! In the name of Jesus!

The Bible says, “On one particular Sabbath, while teaching in a Synagogue, Jesus healed a woman that had a ‘spirit of infirmity’ which had bent her over for 18 years!” That which has plagued you IS REBUKED AND DONE FROM YOUR LIFE NOW. 2018 is a year of life and deliverance from struggle. It begins right now with First Fruits.

This sounds much like numerology, which is:

… belief in the divine, mystical relationship between a number and one or more coinciding events. It is also the study of the numerical value of the letters in words, names and ideas. (Wikipedia.)

The ancient Israelites had no concept of our modern calendar numbering, and how Hebrew words can be coordinated with the fact this is the year 2018 goes unexplained. Ms. White’s reliance on the healing of the woman in the synagogue (Luke 13:10-17) is even more inexplicable.

Apparently her healing after 18 years of suffering is tied to calendar years with the number 18 in them, according to Ms. White, but if so then not only this year but every year of our modern calendar with an 18 “is a year of life and deliverance from struggle” as she puts it. That would also mean the entire 19th Century would be blessed, since every year in the 1800s had an 18 in it. Of course, this blessing only comes to those who follow Ms. White’s principle that blessing “begins right now with First Fruits.”

Yet firstfruits is nowhere mentioned in that passage about the woman’s healing. There is no indication the healing occurred in conjunction with the Feast of Firstfruits, Jesus does not call the healing an example of the blessing of firstfruits, and no New Testament Writer or Old Testament example is given by Ms. White for relating this type of healing to firstfruits. It just is because Ms. White says so: the passage has the number 18 in it and this is the year 2018 and that means blessings will come if you give your firstfruit offering. Which the woman healed did not, yet she received the blessing of healing from Jesus anyway.

Fine sounding arguments may be quite unsound

Ms. White promises wealth and prosperity and claims the Bible backs her up. Even a cursory review of her arguments show they are unsound, and Paul warned about unsound arguments.

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. (Colossians 2:2-4.)

The deception of fine-sounding arguments is that your treasure is found somewhere other than in the richness of understanding who Jesus is and in having a relationship with him. Your wealth is godly wisdom and knowledge, not worldly money and possessions. Let no one tell you otherwise and deceive you.

The numbers just don’t add up.

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[The irony that this post is going up on 1/8, a number visually resembling Ms. White’s 18, is not lost on me.]

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Casting My Cares on Jesus? Why Worry Still Overtakes Me

My psychology teacher at community college said that dreams are the mind’s way of dealing with things you didn’t finish thinking about when you were awake. I thought of his teaching on dreams when I read this:

A dream comes when there are many cares … . (Ecclesiastes 5:3.)

I rarely dream wonderful thoughts. Not that every dream is a nightmare, but they are often riddled with frustration, confusion and anxiety. Sometimes they take a familiar form, looking similar to what I’ve dealt with during the day. Other times they are completely foreign in their settings, only adding to my sense of disorientation.

So what am I to do with a verse like this:

Cast your cares on the Lord
    and he will sustain you;
he will never let
    the righteous be shaken. (Psalm 5:22.)

Does God let my dreams shake me because I am not righteous? But Peter promised that God cares for me and that I should give God my anxieties.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7.)

And yet I am still subject to worry, anxiety, confusion. So again, what am I to do with this passage:

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!

Common Raven, Death Valley, California (Wikipedia)

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? (Luke 12:22-26.)

Why do I worry, Jesus? Because life is hard sometimes. Yes, there are times I worry needlessly, or over things that aren’t worth worrying about. But when I get a late night phone call about my dad being rushed to the emergency room, or the first I learn about a crisis at work that threatens my job is when a news reporter calls asking for comment, or my wife faces surgery over a critical condition and she’s the same age my mother was when she died from cancer, there’s not much my mind can do but go to worrying.

And having a passage like this one lobbed at me like a scripture bomb doesn’t help in the slightest.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7.)

Not in the slightest.

Worries with Jesus

Sure, I know I’m to cast my cares on Jesus. But I still worry and get anxious, confusion taking over and my mind shutting down from even the simplest of tasks. My body doesn’t help matters any, refusing to sleep and eat, leading to illness (I am sure that catching pneumonia a few years ago was a result of my body being worn down by worry, unable to fight the infection before filling my lungs with too much fluid).

One thing I know about Jesus, though, is that he’s never left me. In the 34 years I’ve been a Christian, he has kept his promise:

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20.)

“Never will I leave you;
    never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5.)

But the burden of life can still be a crushing burden. So yet again, what do I do with this:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30.)

This is the passage that gives me hope, even when I feel the weariness and burdens that lead me to feel worried, anxious, confused.

Why hope? Because Jesus says that no matter what I’m dealing with, he is not going to make it any harder. In fact, he says he’ll make it easier than it would be without him by my side.

I’ve learned to trust him in this. Sometimes I am alone and he comes alongside me and settles my mind. Sometimes he brings me people to come alongside me and prop me up. Either way, it is a fulfillment of this principle:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4.)

God comforts, and leads people to comfort those around them. He does this by coming alongside us, and bringing people to come alongside us as well. This is literally what the word translated “comfort” in this passage means. It could easily be translated as

“… the God of all coming-alongsidedness, who comes alongside us in all our troubles, so that we can come alongside those in any trouble with the coming-alongsidedness we ourselves receive from God.”

This is where I’ve found the ease of Jesus’ yoke, of him being at my side. At times it is – as Jack Tempchin put it – a peaceful easy feeling. And other times it has been – as Ringo Starr sang – getting by with a little help from my friends.

In both ways. God has seen me through. Does this mean I am done with worry and all that goes with it?

No, but I think it means I’m done with worrying about worry.

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Healing the Tongue Takes Heart Surgery

[Today’s guest post is from Kathryn Sowinski, whose prayer for a patient on the table led to her own spiritual healing.]

“Don’t push it too fast…..it will kill him; but not too slowly either…..he needs the medicine, or he will die.”

I could hear the anxiety in her voice as she calmly but urgently explained what needed to be done. Typically, medicines in a situation like this would be steadily administered by an IV pump, but we were out of pumps, and this was a life or death situation.
I had just started the IV on the patient, and was handed the syringe. “Dear God, please don’t let this man die right now,” I fearfully and humbly prayed.

Image courtesy of British Columbia Institute of Technology (Creative Commons license)

I cautiously began pushing the syringe, keenly aware of every breath he was taking, every line coming across the heart monitor; constantly praying, and the Lord answered my prayers with His Holy Word.

Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Proverbs 18:21.)

Not exactly the answer I had anticipated.

I was witnessing the delicate balance of life and death; I was so intentional with every move I made, every glance, every push of the syringe, observing the direct impact of the medicine on this man’s heart rate and rhythm.

I was far more reckless with my words. I was known for quick wit and sarcasm which often had a caustic bite. Feeling somewhat rebuked, I immediately replied in prayer “Yes Lord, I hear You, I will speak more nicely…..please help this man! I can’t stand here all night with him; what if we run out of this medicine?” Anxiety began to creep in as I noticed that half of the syringe was gone. He again answered with His Word.

A good man produces good out of the storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. (Luke 6:45.)

“Cath lab is ready! Let’s go!” We rushed the man into the cath lab where they were able to fix the cause of his problem, his heart. Although the medicine was managing my patient’s symptoms, the cure was not the medicine, he needed a physician to fix his heart. Similarly, I need the Great Physician to fix my broken, sin stained heart.

Only He can give my heart the healing and repair it desperately needs.

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Katherine Sowinski describes herself as a flawed follower of Jesus, aunt, sister, daughter, nurse, friend, encourager, dog person, and agent of grace in the war against shame as the Spirit leads. You can connect with Kathryn on Facebook (I do!) for more insights and interactions.

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2017’s Top Five Movies Never Made

These movie mash-ups might never make it to the big screen, but they still qualify as the top five movies not made in 2017!

20,000 Justice Leagues Under the Sea: Captain Nemo explores the ocean depths, battling sea monsters and pirates alike. But his greatest challenge is fighting off the entreaties of his friend Aquaman who begs Nemo to join a new league of superheroes. Nemo is adamant in his refusal … until he meets Wonder Woman. It has been too long since Nemo visited the island of the Amazons. Will their adventurous romance be smooth sailing or storm-tossed?

Legal Guardians of the Galaxy: A merry band of social workers travels from planet to planet, star system to star system, searching for young ones who have no one to care for them. Hijinks ensue as the little imps (some of whom are literally Imps from the planet Impy) put their guardians through their paces. But will a conflict in intergalactic law break up the new-formed family? The imps and waifs (some of whom are literally Waifs from the planet Waifer) band together to cut through the red tape (literally red tape entangling their ship) drawing it closer and closer to the planet Bureaucracy, from which no one has yet escaped.

Murder on the Orient Express Lane: Hercules Poirot travels to Hong Kong where the Express Lane at the market clearly says 15 items max. All is well until a customer tries to bring through two shopping carts filled to the brim. Tempers flare and death ensues. Will famed detective Poirot solve the Murder in the Orient Express Lane?

The Fates Are Furious: Dom and his gang are out to thwart another evil-doer. Or commit crimes of their own. Or throw a big backyard party with all their friends. It’s so hard to keep track of whether these are good guys or bad guys that the Fates – who would rather everything go along predictably and according to plan – are furious. Until, that is, they realize that every one of the Fast and Furious movies goes completely according to its predictable plan. Which makes the Fates even more furious that they each spent $12 on tickets to watch the latest movie and even more on pop corn and a soda.

Beauty and the Beastie Boys: Belle ventures from the castle and finds herself in another music-filled adventure. The Beast comes looking for her and is about to thrash the Hip Hop artists Belle is with when all of a sudden they break into song. He can’t help but join in, and everyone soon discovers another hidden beauty in the Beast – he’s one talented beatboxer, dropping rhythms and booming out bass drum beats better than the boys have ever heard. The Beastie Boys decide to change their name the Beast’s Boys.

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If you know of another movie mash-up not made in 2017 that should be on this list, please add it in the comments.

Happy New Year!

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The Return of the Magi

[From the archives.]

“So, you have made it home safely,” said the king.

“Yes, Sire. It was a longer journey than we expected, but a journey I would not have missed for my very life,” said one of the king’s counselors.

“Nor I,” said another. “The things we saw! If anything can be called heavenly, that was what we received from our travels west.”

“Truly? You must tell me, then. Did Herod treat you well?”

“Well … I wouldn’t say he mistreated us,” said another wise man.

“What’s this? Surely he must have been pleased that you had come to celebrate the Jews’ blessed event.”

“Sire, as soon as we asked him about the birth of the promised King, Herod seemed confused, even agitated. He called for his own wise men and made them search their sacred writings.”

“Are you telling me the King of Judea knew not of the royal birth?”

“He did not seem to,” said the oldest of the magi, seated to one side of the king. The king allowed this ancient counselor to rest, as his wisdom and friendship were of more value to the king than any of the others. “I could not explain it, but he seemed taken by surprise.”

“Did his counselors not find the answer he sought?”

“They found an answer,” the old one said, “but I do not think it pleased King Herod.” He leaned forward and rested his hands and chin on the head of his short walking staff. “The wise men told us their writings prophesied the promised King would be born in Bethlehem, a small village none of us, even with our knowledge, had ever heard of. And Herod took us aside privately and told us to return to him with a report, saying he wanted to go worship the child himself.”

“So Herod encouraged you in your quest!”

“Not the type of encouragement I am used to,” said the old one. “I have counseled many kings. Herod did not strike me as one who desired counsel, but vengeance.”

“Vengeance? For what?”

“None of us could say, Sire,” said the magus who had spoken first. “But we all felt the same.”

“Did you ever see the child you sought, then?”

“We did,” said one of the younger men. “It was … it was … I don’t know how to describe it except to say that I was standing in the presence of heaven.”

“Like being in Paradise, was it?”

“Not like it, Sire. And not what we’ve been taught about Paradise, but … .” He looked away to the west, as if searching for the star once more.

The old man spoke up. “The Jews speak of Heaven as the dwelling place of the One True God, the Lord of creation who made all things but who himself has no beginning or end.”

“Yes, I’ve heard something of that,” said the king. “And seeing the child made you think of that?”

“Being in the presence of the child made me understand it, young Sire.”

“And so now you understand … .”

“I understand the presence of the Lord more than I understand being in your presence this very moment, Sire.” The old man stood. “I stood in the presence of the Lord of Heaven, the One True God, the Creator of all there is and was and ever will be. I stood in the presence of God himself when I stood in the presence of that child.”

“You are shaking!”

“As did we all, I am not ashamed to say,” said the youngest one.

“We did not stand long,” said another. “First I was on my knees, then my face lay on the ground. When I looked to one side, I saw the others the same.”

“This is very curious,” said the king. “What did King Herod say when you told him all this.”

“We did not,” said the first wise man.

“But he told you to return to him so that he could also worship this child. Why would you not honor his request after he helped you on your way?”

“An angel spoke,” said the elder. “An angel of the Lord spoke and warned us not to return to Jerusalem. Herod meant only evil.”

“But what am I to say if he sends envoys here to me?”

“Herod is not worth your consideration, sire,” the young counselor said. Again he looked west, but this time deep sorrow draped his face, not longing.

“We received word on the caravan route from a courier passing us on his way to Damascus,” said the first magus. “Herod killed them all.”

“He killed the child of the prophecy? And his parents?”

“No, they were no longer in Bethlehem. But he killed every boy born in that village since the time we first saw the star that led us to the child.”

“How foolish we were to tell him all we’d seen!” said the youngest.

“Remember, this too was prophesied by the Jews,” the old man said quietly, now seated again in his chair. “Bethlehem would mourn.”

“So your trip ends in tragedy. I am sorry.”

“We are not,” said the first counselor, as the others spoke their agreement.

“No?”

“We have stood in the presence of heaven, and that is enough.” The old man stood again. “Yet I am not satisfied with mere memories. With the king’s permission, I would like a room set aside where I can pray to the One True God.”

“As would I,” said the first wise man.

“And I,” said the others in their turn.

“I see that you are all changed by this encounter,” said the king, his voice barely a whisper. He shook himself and smiled. “You shall have your room. Perhaps you can include a prayer for me, that I might come to understand what you received in that village.”

The old one stood and laid his hand on his king’s shoulder, smiling  as he passed out of the room. “I have already begun, Sire.”

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Jesus is the True Light of Christmas

[On Christmas Eve, 2017, Jane Spriggs preached not only about Jesus’ birth but also about his illuminating trip to the Temple in Jerusalem eight days later. This guest post is adapted from that sermon.]

Hello, and Merry Christmas!

I’d like to spend a few minutes thinking about Jesus – specifically, about him being the true light of Christmas.

You’ve heard the Christmas story – how Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem for their nation’s census; how Mary gave birth to baby Jesus while they were there – and used an animal’s manger for a crib.

And then shepherds, who were watching their sheep in fields close to Bethlehem, suddenly had a visit from an angel. And when the angel appeared, the sky around them became brighter than the shepherds had ever seen it – because, the Bible said, “The radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them”.

The shepherds were terrified, but the angels told them not to be afraid, because they brought good news that would give all people great joy (that’s including you and me) – this baby born in Bethlehem was the Savior, Messiah, and Lord.

And then, all of a sudden, the angel was joined by hundreds of other angels – the very armies of heaven – praising God and saying:

“In the highest heaven, glory to God!
And on earth, peace among people of good will!”

The shepherds quickly ran into Bethlehem, found the baby Jesus, and discovered everything the angels told them was true!

Simeon’s Song of Praise, Rembrandt 1631
(Wikipedia)

I want to tell you about another part of Jesus’ story – this happened 8 days later, when Mary and Joseph presented him in the temple. A very godly older man named Simeon was at the temple – and when he saw Jesus, he recognized him as the Messiah that would save all people. Simeon took Jesus into his arms, praised God, and listen to one of the things he said:

“…He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
And he is the glory of your people Israel.”

Fast forward with me 30+ years. Jesus has grown up, and has begun his ministry – he is now beginning to tell people who he really is. Listen to what he says:

“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.)

Let’s put these things together –

  1. When angels announce Jesus’ birth, they shine with the light of God’s glory and give glory to God because of the baby Jesus’ birth;
  2. When Jesus, as a baby, is recognized as the long-awaited Messiah, he’s predicted to be ‘a light to bring the knowledge of God to ‘Gentiles’ (all of us who are non-Jews), and
  3. Jesus, revealing his identity, tells people that He is the light of the world. And not only that, but whoever chooses to follow Jesus will have the ‘light of life’ and ‘never walk in darkness’.

Jesus really is the true light of Christmas. There are many more examples in the Bible – but I want you to hear that Jesus is the light of the world, because he is God. And because he is God, he shines with God’s glory – God’s goodness, and everything else that makes God, God.

And the most amazing thing is – when we are following Jesus, he says:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16.)

So this Christmas, and in the New Year – follow Jesus and let your light shine before others – so they can see the good things you’re doing and thank God.

Following Jesus, Shining Light

I was talking with a woman yesterday who wanted to do something to serve others, but didn’t know what…because money is tight right now. But here’s the thing – the woman is a whiz at doing hair. So, she’s thinking of offering haircuts to homeless people. What a gift that will be.

A seven-year-old girl playing a Christmas carol on her violin touches all of us (that happened at my church yesterday) – what a way to light her light shine!

Whether you’re a man (or woman) who can fix cars or do home repairs, listen to or counsel others, or just have the ability to be kind – your light will shine. And others will see and glorify your God in heaven.

Baby Jesus, whose birth we celebrate, was “born not just to bring light but who is Light in this darkened world!” (Tim Fall.) Follow Jesus’ light, and, in 2018, shine your light.

Amen.

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Jane Spriggs is an ordained minister, author, and advocate for change. She is the lead pastor at Monticello Covenant Church, serves on the board of the Monticello Food Shelf, and has training as a spiritual director. She previously worked as a dietitian and health educator; and is passionate about her family, music, God, and dogs. She lives with her husband and two sons in Minnesota, and is on Facebook as well as Twitter (if she could remember her handle).

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The Mixed Messages of Christmas

[From the archives.]

Luke 2 is full of wonder, telling the story of Jesus’ birth, God himself being born as a baby in a simple manger. This was news worth telling as the angel demonstrated by announcing it to  shepherds, people who knew intimately what it meant for the promised Shepherd of Israel to finally come. (Ezekiel 34:11-16.) Yet it wasn’t all good news.

In fact, the angels might as well have started off the announcement by asking, “Which would you like first, the good news or the bad news?”

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12.)

This is no doubt good news. The promised Messiah has finally come, and the angel is even telling them where to find him. He even emphasizes that this “will cause great joy for all the people.”

But it’s not a simple matter of joy for everyone. When the sky gets crowded as more angels enter earth from heaven, things get complicated:

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:13-14.)

God’s peace, then, is not on everyone who hears the good news but only on those “on whom his favor rests.” What is that favor? Jesus said it is found in the choice God made in drawing people into his family. (John 6:44. See Ephesians 1:3-14 as well.)

The shepherds might have known this already, if they’d been paying attention to their prophets. Isaiah has plenty of those good news/bad news passages in it.

And it will be said: “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”

For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:14-15.)

This is certainly good news, isn’t it? God who is high and holy chooses to be with us, to revive us. He brings us life by being right here alongside us where we are. That was the point of coming to us in the flesh, of being born in that humble stable in Bethlehem.

Yet Isaiah, like the angels, had more to say, and it wasn’t all good news:

“Peace, peace, to those far and near,” says the Lord. “And I will heal them.”
But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. “There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”

Much like the angels’ message, the second part of Isaiah’s pronouncement repeats the good news but then declares doom on those who are not in God’s kingdom..

How Do You Hear The Message?

Is the message of God’s salvation – whether in Isaiah or Luke – a message of hope and peace for you or a message of judgment and doom?

The hope of Jesus and the peace of God is offered to you now at Christmas as much as at any other time:

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. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” (Romans 10:9-11.)

The gift of God, the Savior born in Bethlehem, the one whose birth was announced by angels, whose coming fulfilled the words of Isaiah, that gift is open to all who receive it.

Receive it.

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[This is the second of a two-part series on the life and death meaning of Christmas. Here’s the first post with a focus on how God blesses his creation through it all.]

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