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What’s Behind The Story?

2 Timothy 3:15-17 (NIV)
From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

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What is the Bible?  Does it have authority or is it simply moral guidelines?  Are we supposed to believe every story really happened?  Did any of the events recorded really happen?  What do you think?

I believe God used humans to craft the Bible.  He inspired the writers and committee of decision makers to compile a library of books that reveals God’s love and plan for humanity.  Phew!  God used people to deliver His message. The common thread from start to finish is that this God is uniquely different from any other god in that He loves us, wants the best for us and has always had a plan for spending eternity in relationship with us.  God is for us and with us.

So, what about the stories?  I believe the stories in the Bible are primarily about the message, the big picture, the meaning rather than the facts.  Early stories that were retold around campfires for generations are meant to reveal God’s character more than document actual events.  They explain why and not so much how.  I have much more confidence in the details of later stories for which there were eye witnesses alive while the stories were circulating. 

For all of the writings, our goal is to discern God’s intended message.  I’m fascinated by a series Rob Bell is writing about the Bible that can be found on his Facebook page.  Bell asks these questions:  Why did the ancient people find it important to tell this story?  What was it that moved them to record these words?  What was happening in the world at that time?  What does this story tell us about how the original audience understood who they were and who God is?  What’s developing in the world that caused these people to think the story was worth telling?

These are great questions that have deepened my understanding of some familiar Bible stories.

Deep, Festering Wounds

For if you
forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also
forgive you.  But if you do not forgive
others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
God has bombarded me with challenging messages about forgiveness
in my reading and conversations.  The
ongoing, difficult theme has been forgive,
seek out and pour God’s love on those who hurt you
.  When God repeats Himself, I’ve learned to pay attention.  Today, Dr.
Charles Stanley’s devotion flipped the forgiveness message over, examining the
unhealthy burden of unforgiveness.
Dr. Stanley assures me that I don’t lose my place in eternity when I refuse to forgive.  Rather, my “unrepentant attitude” affects my intimacy with God.  It’s an
elephant in the room.  I cannot be close
to God with unresolved resentment.
Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling.  Bitterness doesn’t fit who I am as a Christian.  Resentment is unhealthy.  Anger becomes a huge wound as it grows and festers.  Scripture emphasizes forgiveness because God
knows what’s good for me (yet again!).
God also knows how difficult it can be.  Think about Jesus’ forgiving words from the
cross for those who crucified Him.  Ask
God to help you lay aside your anger and resentment.  Only with God’s power and grace can we
forgive such deep wounds.
God’s persistence with this message has me searching myself for
any resentment that’s festering below the surface.  How about you?

Us and Them

Jonah 4:2, 10-11 (NLT)
I knew that you are a
merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing
love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Then the Lord said “but Nineveh has more than 12,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals.  Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

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reading a post by Rob Bell, I was reminded of the story of Jonah, often called
Jonah and the Whale.  What do you
remember?  How would you retell the
story?  What is this message?

You probably remember that God wanted Jonah to go to Nineveh (it’s OK if you
couldn’t remember the exact city) and that Jonah ran the other way.  Somehow, Jonah is swallowed by a whale and
transported back toward Nineveh at which point he follows God’s directive.  Is that about right?  Can you fill in more detail?  Is the message that we can’t run from what
God commands us to do?  Well, yes, that’s
part of it.
Bell revealed the history behind the story and pointed out some important
details.  The Israelites have suffered
greatly at the hands of the Assyrians.  God
wants Jonah to warn the Ninevites of His wrath and offer a plan of forgiveness
and redemption.  Bell explains “the Assyrians were like a huge, gaping, open wound for the Israelites.
 Bless the Assyrians?”  Not me! Jonah hops a ship full of pagan
sailors.  Interestingly, when a storm
kicks up, the pagans pray but Jonah tries to ignore God by sleeping.
the fish part, Jonah begrudgingly complies with God and becomes outraged when the
Ninevites repent.  Ironically, the enemy
is more open to God’s Word than Jonah has been. 
Jonah is so disgusted by God’s compassion toward these people that he
becomes depressed and wants to die. 
says the story “blasts our biases and labels to pieces with the
declaration that God is on everyone’s side, extending grace and compassion to
everyone – especially those we have most strongly decided are not on God’s
side.  Religious people have been very
good over the years at seeing themselves as US and people that aren’t a part of
their group as THEM.  But in this story,
the dude who sees himself as
is furious because of how chummy God and them have

is this story about a fish?  Or is the
fish distracting us from the real message?

Wanting, Wanting, Wanting

Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from Him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity. 1 John 2:15-17 (MSG)
Traditional translations say “Don’t love the world or anything in the world. If you love the world you don’t love God.” Wow!  That’s extreme! I do love this world – its beauty, my family and friends, my life. Didn’t God create it all to be good?
Sometimes Scripture uses radical statements to get our attention. Or maybe we lose something in the translation from Greek to English. The Message paraphrase helped me better understand this one.
We are surrounded by messages promoting the world’s values. This product will make you happy and you deserve happiness. Don’t risk your personal comfort, security or safety. You control your future. Power is success. More money and more things will satisfy your restlessness.
None of these are from God. Buying in to these values squeezes out the kind of love God promotes. This lifestyle isolates you from Him. We are created with a God-shaped hole in our souls that remains restless until we fill it with Him. Only God can satisfy and bring us lasting joy, not the world’s ways.
Only God.
I personally know this to be true. I have turned to many things in search of happiness, but only in the past few years have I found real joy. My relationship with God fills me up. He loves and forgives me. His guidance gives me purpose. My strength comes from Him. I pray that you, too, satisfy your restlessness with Him.

Turning Red to White

Isaiah 1:18 (NLT)
“Come now, let’s
settle this,” says the Lord.  “Though your
sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow.  Though they are red like crimson, I will make
them as white as wool.
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talk laundry.  Can you clean a blood
soaked cloth so well it becomes pure white? 
Not a nice shade of gray but as white as fresh snow?   Oxyclean or bleach might do a pretty good
job, but imagine living in Biblical times and getting anything as white as snow. 
Impossible?  Don’t you know God
loves the impossible?
is the comparison God uses to describe His forgiveness.  He turns blood red to bright white.  Gone. 
Removed.  No lurking stains.  No hint of them remaining.  Purer than humanly possible.
we acknowledge our sin, He erases it. 
Even sin we’re unaware of, He forgives. 
We are human.  No matter how kind
and loving we try to be, we ultimately fall short.  We’re incapable of perfection.  When we humble ourselves and simply realize
our sinful tendencies, He is gracious and completely wipes them away.  He restores our relationship with Him.  He makes us right (that’s what righteous
means – in right relationship).
you believe that?  I mean truly know it
in your core?  Can you lay down the
guilt, leave it behind and claim your right, pure, clean relationship with God?

Hate Your Family????

14:26 (NLT)
If you want to be my
disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you
cannot be my disciple.

This makes no sense.  Hate
our families?  Jesus tells us to love our
neighbors and especially our enemies. 
Why should we hate our families?  It’s
completely backwards.
Notice the words ‘in comparison’.  When we nurture our relationship with God
above all else, He gives us a greater capacity to love others.  We actually love better because He gives us
deeper compassion, greater patience and more joy.
In our fast paced lives, time spent quietly praying or reading
God’s Word feels unproductive.  Nurturing
a relationship with God doesn’t seem as immediate or important as taking care
of our families.  The irony is that when
we put God first and love Him more than anything else, He multiplies our time
and energy.  Somehow, He works in and
through us so we’re more effective than we could be on our own.  He fills us with the Holy Spirit. 
God wants the best for each of us.  While His ways don’t always make sense, they
lead to fullness of life.

God Loves the Impossible!

Luke 1:37
For nothing is impossible with God.
loves the impossible.  That’s when He
shines.  When God brings us through an
impossible situation, we have no choice but to acknowledge Him.  It is often the turning point in one’s faith.
early September, I wrote that I felt called to an impossible Fall schedule.  I felt guided to each study group and
activity set before me, but I knew I could potentially lose my mind as it
played out.  Fall is always a busy time
for me, but I was completely overbooked leading three Bible studies plus
confirmation, attending the writer’s retreat as well as two fun weekends with
my sister, organizing a group for the Women of Faith conference, not to mention
taking care of my family and school fundraising.  Where would I find time to prepare for classes?  Would I be able to prioritize my devotion
time?  Would I freak out under the
pressure?  In September, it looked crazy
and indeed it was!  My mantra was ‘Trust
God.  He has led you to this place.’
I could
be speaking too soon since Thanksgiving and Christmas are ahead, but God has
definitely worked the impossible.  Everything
has fallen into place, dare I say, supernaturally.  Moreover, conversations have been richer than
I could have anticipated.   You may think it’s because I’m such an awesomely
organized superwoman, but my friends and family know I totally fly by the seat
of my pants.  It was ALL God.  The unmistakable proof is that God has given
me remarkable energy and excitement!  I’ve
been pumped (and even nice) – filled with the Holy Spirit as I watch Him work
things out.  What a thrill!  Praise God!
I don’t
wish a tragic situation on you, but I do hope God brings you to a task that’s
humanly impossible.  Through your
inability, His Glory is unmistakable.

What is God Like?

“What comes into our minds when we
think about God is the most important thing about us.” –A.W. Tozer, The
Knowledge of the Holy
(New York: HarperCollins, 1961)

I’ve read or heard this quote by
A.W. Tozer multiple times in the last month. 
Let me just say that God’s most common method of speaking to me is persistence
because I can be slow at connecting the dots. 
So when a message repeatedly shows up I’ve learned to pay attention.
Even though I noticed its
repetition, the statement didn’t mean much to me until the recent Women of
Faith conference.  If you view God as
angry or judgmental you’re likely to be hard on yourself, critical of others
and carry feelings of guilt or shame.  If
your God is loving and forgiving, you probably have a more positive, hopeful
outlook.  If you believe you are a
treasured, beautiful child of God you definitely have a stronger sense of
self-worth.  What you believe about God
changes everything.
What is your first impression when
you think about God?  Be honest and don’t
think about right or wrong answers.  Your
initial thought is more likely what you believe
Him to be like.  How is that image
shaping your attitudes and actions?

Giving Leftovers

Matthew 25:40 (NLT)
And the King will
say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my
brothers and sisters you were doing it to me!’
I had what I call an ‘ah-ha’
moment yesterday.  You may have seen the
light bulb blinking over my head. 
As I closed my vegetable garden this week, I harvested a bunch of kale
for the food cupboard.  My kale
production this year was plentiful and I’m frankly tired of finding ways to use
it or give it away.  I was relieved to be
rid of a huge bag I didn’t have to wash and cook.
That is all wrong –
completely backwards!
I should have been
stripping my garden every other week for the food cupboard instead of giving
them the leftovers.  Within 3 or 4 days
my garden would have produced more and I may have actually enjoyed a few days
without kale (and zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes…).  My giving was convenient,
not generous.
Interestingly, others jump
to rationalize my actions:  “You’re
feeding a family.”  “You don’t want to
run out.”  Why are we touched by self-sacrificing
acts of kindness we hear about on the internet but hesitant to encourage such
radical gestures?  Why, when a friend feels
called to give sacrificially, do we point out the logic against it?  I’m talking about vegetables, not a kidney.
Jesus calls us to a
generosity that doesn’t make sense in this world economy.  I gave Jesus leftovers.

Those Annoying People!

Matthew 6:27-28
Love your enemies, do
good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who
mistreat you.
Confession:  I am quick to judge. I have a visceral
response to people I don’t like.  It’s a
character trait I struggle with.  My
roommates used to say they knew within seconds from my body language whether or
not I liked someone.
We all
encounter people we don’t particularly care for.  Who comes to mind?  Are they annoying, critical or
opinionated?  Self-centered, lazy or
needy?  What is it about them that bothers
about the person who has hurt us or offended one of our children?  We may not call them an enemy, but we
certainly wouldn’t invite them to dinner. 
They succeeded where we failed or spoke hurtful words.  We keep a close eye on them and watch our
calls us to love these particular people. 
Not just in theory but in action. 
We are to serve them.  It’s easy to be kind to people we like.  Christians are called to be overtly loving to
the rest.  That’s what we mean when we sing ‘they’ll know
we are Christians by our love’ (go ahead, hum the song). Our love doesn’t make
sense to non-Christians.  Our love stands
out. Our love identifies us.
I like
to think I have improved over the years at controlling my body language.  But that’s probably not true.  God has changed my heart to see His people
John 13:34-35
“A new command I give
you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one
another.  By this everyone will know that
you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

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Each post is a brief scriptural thought that will grow as you let it take root in your thoughts.  If you have time, dig into one area of interest and plant a whole garden.
Each post is a brief scriptural thought that will grow as you let it take root in your thoughts. If you have time, dig into one area of interest and plant a whole garden.

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