Big Group Jesus

Mark Hall wrote a great book that I got at the 2017 Creation Festival called “Your Own Jesus”, and I am finally picking up speed and finishing it. Okay, so I am halfway through, not near the end, but that is further than I was in 2017. Everything he wrote is hitting me at just the right moment taking the time to dive into it now though.

This year at Creation, I saw such an exciting preacher, and I was so moved, I thought, how do I hang onto this fire when I leave? I do not want to leave it at this festival. I need to be living this, because other people need to be feeling this, and if I am the only one they run into who knows this great feeling, well then I better be on fire still, overflowing and ready to tell them why I feel so good. So when my husband said he wanted to study Revelation then invited me to listen to the audio book I got for him about it on a long car drive, I said okay. Then, I signed up for an online Bible study that wrapped up in the last full week in September. I just ordered myself a book by the same writer who wrote the Bible study I was a part of to continue this growth, to keep this fire lit, because as Mark Hall says in his book, we have to do things to keep that feeling awake outside of a concert.

In a concert, we can ride on the emotions of the music and those around us, and then he said sometimes by the time we get to the parking lot, the feeling is fading. We experience what he calls “Big Group Jesus”, but we never experience our own Jesus. I sort of had this understanding when walking out of Creation, but it is so encouraging to read it from his perspective with his clever labels attached to these feelings.

If you feel like you’ve just been taking part in “Big Group Jesus”, then I invite you to check out Romans 12 that reminds us that we are a living sacrifice and by offering ourselves, we worship God. 

Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

When we are surrounded by dim lighting, beautiful music, hands raised, it feels good, and it is good to worship like that with others; to find our own Jesus, we have to be willing to give ourselves up outside of the sanctuary, concert hall, or music festival. This can make us uncomfortable to think of giving up our own time, after all, so often in this hectic world, every second is precious. 

But what if before you had breakfast, you read a devotional? It by no means is this kind of fasting we read about in Daniel where for three weeks he ate no “choice” food and it isn’t like Jesus fasting for forty days and forty nights, but it is a start in saying, “My day starts out with  you, God, what do you want to fill me up with?” Or maybe an easy way to start to hand over your time is using commute time for prayer and worship. 

If you are looking for ways to be a blazing fire, then I suggest reading “Your Own Jesus”. Or maybe your fire is completely out, and you are just looking for a spark again, I still suggest that book. But, I also invite you to pray and ask God to show you where you can give time to him so that you can discover this worship outside of Sundays or a concert. He wants our hearts, but at the end of the day, it is up to us to give them because we have free will. Music helps me dance into a better place, spirit, or mood so often, so I will leave you with this tune about shining like heaven on earth!

 

Fear is a Liar

I was blessed to have the time to have a husband who was willing to stay home with our dogs and enjoy the whole week of Creation Northeast. If you have never heard of creation before, it is a christian music festival that begins Wednesday night and goes worshipping, praising, and teaching through to Saturday night. It was their 40th year anniversary, which brought many speakers to note the importance of that number in the Bible, and how they viewed it as a turning point for even bigger and better years to come. It was neat to be there for that special occasion, but 40th year or not, it was refreshing to be there for all of the speakers and singers I got to hear. I have wanted to go for the entirety of the festival for a long time, and finally got to.

So many wonderful things were unexpectedly revealed to me or convictions were just lovingly reinforced. From tables selling shirts that read “Worthy” to speakers getting to the nitty gritty of what I claim to believe, to singers pouring out their heart, it is hard to walk away from such an event saying, “I got nothing.” Instead, I feel fueled up and ready to take on what ever life throws at me after spending time fellowshipping with like-minded people. As if to reinforce that, a few times speakers or singers briefly mentioned the importance of fellowship, highlighting the ultimate example of fellowship as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and it was so good to hear and be reminded that I am not alone in this walk, even though I spent time there alone after my friend left, and even though the mounting antagonism against people who believe strongly in something through the media.

One stand there had beautiful wooden signs with scripture on them, engraved in, dotted with color. They were beautiful. Sitting in front of the signs were a few boxes of little Jenga sized blocks that, on each side, had a little truth from God’s word. I snapped a picture of them with the adolescent treatment center my childhood church goes to in mind, what a great trinket we could give the girls if they would be allowed to have them. I sent the picture off to the woman who goes every week and she thought unfortunately with everything that has been going on their lately, they may not allow them to be given to the girls. Despite that news, I offered perhaps a lesson plan could be done around them instead, to which she responded, “Great!” and a thumbs up emoji.

So I created a coloring sheet with the four truths that were coupled with scripture from the blocks and created a lesson plan to tie them together.

Fear is a Liar.jpg

I began with the Matthew 21 story of Jesus and the fig tree and how when Jesus and his disciples approached the fig tree, all leafy and green, yet it had no fruit that Jesus said, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And right then, the tree withered up and was dead. I asked if any one of them ever had a house plant, because I have, and no matter how hard I try, I tend to always kill them! But it is a slow, sad process of yellow leafs appearing, then a few leafs falling off, and it takes a while, but eventually the plant dies, but not the fig tree, this whole tree died right away. As some continued to color, one read the verses from Matthew:

Matthew 21:21 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

Faith will bring victory, and we could see that very plainly when Jesus commanded the fig tree to no longer bear fruit. This became possible because Jesus’ father is God, the creator of all things, the king of all things. Then I had someone else read the next verse, and someone eagerly read the Psalms:

Pslam 103:19 The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
    and his kingdom rules over all.

He isn’t like a king, a mayor, a president who is human. A man running for office might make a promise before he gets into that seat of power, and he might not always follow through, because he is human, he is flawed. But God is perfect, and God is king over everything, so his promises will come true. Promises like we find in Deuteronomy where he says he will never leave you nor forsake you, or like ones in Isaiah where those who hope in him will rise up on wings like eagles because God’s promises are still true.

With that truth from the little wooden block and their coloring sheet being said, I then read a version of the Corinthians verse I found in the New Living Translation, because some versions weren’t easy to understand.

2 Corinthians 1:20 For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!”

With these amazing promises you would think it would be easy to follow what the Bible says, but the ways of the world are painted as so much easier or more fun. Take for example, staying up late Saturday night at a party, doing things you shouldn’t verses waking up early Sunday to go to church. Or maybe it seems easier to make fun of the new or different girl, or it is at least easier to say nothing.

Someone who knows this all to well is someone named Zach Williams. I asked the girls to raise their hands if they knew who Zach Williams was. Those who weren’t zeroed in on their coloring sheet looked at me like they wanted to say they knew, but as they thought of names, they really didn’t. I revealed to them, one of their favorite songs to sing, Chainbreaker, is by Zach Williams; the eyes I could see lit up.

I gave a brief rundown of Zach’s personal testimony that I had gotten to hear last summer at one of his concerts. Zach’s story begins with despite growing up in a christian household, one where he knew the truths on the girl’s coloring sheets, Zach still fell in with the wrong crowd. Once in college, he began his music career, which landed him a spot as a singer in a rock band. From the outside, he looked successful, touring in Europe with his band, but everything you would think that comes with being in a rock band like drugs and alcohol followed.  He was unhappy and his marriage was falling apart when one day he heard a song by Big Daddy Weave, a christian group, on the radio and right then and there as he puts it, “God showed me a glimpse of what my life could be like, if I would turn from my sin and follow him.” So he did, he quit that band and made things better with his wife, and since things were going so well, he thought the music chapter in his life was over, but he was wrong! As soon as he started to follow God’s calling and write christian lyrics, God opened door after door for him!

One of his songs is titled “Fear is a Liar” and I told the girls we were going to listen to it as soon as someone read the John verse.

John 8:44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

The devil wants us to think his way is easier, more fun, or what other people are doing, but he knows no truth. Jesus, the son of the King of Kings, the king who created everything is the one who said that truth. I emphasized, every time Zach Williams says fear, he is referring to the devil, because the devil creates fear, while God provides a perfect love that casts out all fear.

I didn’t even see Zach Williams this year at Creation, but the little blocks I found there were just the perfect thing to bring back and share with those girls who need to know love. You never know what you will find at Creation, but there is always something encouraging, something enlightening, and something dare I say beautiful.

By the way, if you want to print the coloring sheet, please do! If you fold it in half, then in half again, you can create a rectangle log that you can tape together and let it set up so you can be reminded of a promise from God’s word. You can turn it to one that speaks to you, or maybe turn it day by day, what ever works for you!

 

Light

Looking back through verses that I have posted in more recent entries caused me to pause and re-read them in the style of my last post. I replaced law from this Psalm and inserted Jesus, and it made me smile.

Psalm 119:97 Oh how I love Jesus!
    He is my meditation all the day.
98 Jesus makes me wiser than my enemies,
    for he is ever with me.
99 I have more understanding than all my teachers,
    for Jesus is my meditation.

He reached out to everyone, he loved everyone. He was a great teacher. Wouldn’t it make sense that if we are living with Jesus on our minds all the time, we would act differently to everyone around us? After all, those who look to him are radiant, because he is a light, and their faces shall never be ashamed according to Psalms 34. This leaves me beaming.

Looking to him, meditating on him and being left radiant also left me curious as to how many times the word light appears in the Bible. According to the Christian Bible Reference website, it varies a little based on version, but in the King James Version, light is mentioned 177 times in the Old Testament and 93 in the New Testament. Meanwhile, the Knowing Jesus website has 440 instances in the thesaurus where the word light shows up in the Bible. Either one of the websites counts are impressive and is proof that the idea of light is important.

So many verses express how, once knowing Jesus, you have light. Once believing in Jesus, Christians are described as the salt and light. The description of a man being foolish to hide a lit lamp under a bushel is a popular parable of Jesus. This idea of light makes me think of a child playing with a flashlight, even when their hand is squeezed over the lens, and orange glow creeps out from between fingers. To really hide the light, you have to turn it off or completely turn it inwards, utterly blocking the light.

John 12:46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

And yet, despite what that verse says, we do stay in darkness much of the time, don’t we? We hide our light, we keep it pressed close and inward so we can go out and no one will notice, for fear of actually having to discuss what we believe. We take out our flashlights and wave them like lighters at a concert in praise on Sundays, we feed the flame during the pastors message, but then we tuck it away again as soon as we leave the church parking lot. How many people know what light we have, does it creep out from between our fingers as we others politely enough? Or is it all together absent when the waitress gets our order wrong, the car mechanic lists off ten more things that are wrong with your car that you didn’t expect, or a friend comes to us crying asking why?

It can feel safer or easier to just ignore the light, to just hide it. Especially if you have gotten close to the brink or given up all together on the supposed “how-to” manual. After all, if you don’t even see results and you feel the pain that the world brings, what is the point of having the light? You might as well tuck it away until the occasional Sunday or holiday and live like the rest of the struggling world.

But, if you have the light, we are not like the rest of the world. We should know what true love is and want to share it. Think about a couple that just started dating, they can’t stop talking about the other person, they blush when they come up, and they make changes to their calendar just to see more of that person. A newly engaged couple is always happy to show off the ring and talk about plans for the big day. That other person is their life, and they would do anything for them. I can’t sum up any better how that sort of relationship should exist between us and the Light and how it should radiate out of us to affect others beyond this verse from John:

1 John 3:16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

If you are feeling like giving up, if you feel like it is easier to hide your light, if you feel like this “how-to” manual left out a few pages and isn’t fixing your problems, please don’t forget, you know what real love is and it comes from the Light. Life can get exhausting, confusing, and it can down right hurt, but Jesus’ arms are outstretched and he says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

I have to include this song from Tauren Wells because it is a beautiful reminder not to give up.

Standing in your ruins feels a lot like the end
So used to losing, you’re afraid to try again
Right now all you see are ashes
Where there was a flame
The truth is that you’re not forgotten
‘Cause Grace knows your name

 

Re-reading the Manual

Sunday, our normal preacher didn’t take the stand, but the pastor of operations did. Shane and I have heard the younger speaker before, and agree, he is just as inspiring as our senior pastor. This week, he did not disappoint, bringing forth the word, and presenting it not as a “how-to” manual for life, but instead a story of who. If we constantly and only approach the word as a manual, then we are bound to be disappointed. Ways we can be disappointed could be in ourselves for not measuring up or being disappointed because even though we were following the “directions”, things did not turn out how they were supposed to. We can be disappointed as we feel we are following the “directions” yet others around us, who don’t seem to be following them get promoted, get a bonus, get that relationship we’ve been wanting, that job, that home, what ever.

If your heart is heavy and mind is tired from trying to follow the “how-to” manual, these lyrics from the song “Particles” seem to sum up how it feels in that moment of things not working:

Here I am
Floating in emerald sea
Keep me dancing
Keep me as still as can be
And I try to keep the balance right
And I try but it feels like wasted time

But these heavy hands
They’re pulling me down on my chest
Latching on, coloring all of my flesh
Quietly, you hover over me
And I fight but it feels like wasted time

I’ve been there. Who hasn’t been there? I think what really hurts sometimes is seeing someone you love right there; there in that moment of “but what did I do so wrong, wasn’t I basically following the manual? I have seen others follow it far less, and yet I’m the one suffering.” Any time spent following the manual, feels like wasted time. Disappointments pull you down and seem to latch on. I so want to tell everyone who is standing in that place, there is a door, there is a pathway, there is more to the story. Thank goodness, there is more to the story, there is redemption.

Our regular pastor has been speaking on Revelation, and he is in chapters two and three at this point, and Jesus is revealing things he knows about specific churches, a testament to a central theme in Revelation that God knows what you are going though, it is evident by what he already knows about the churches. At the end of every church statement is written, “He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says…” Meaning, if we put it in context of ourselves, we have to be willing to listen. We have to be willing to look for signs of all sizes. This is where our senior pastor said, “Do not miss the subtle ways God reveals himself because you are only looking for the powerful.” Maybe it is a song, maybe it is a blogpost, maybe it is a friend reaching out, but that is God acknowledging that he knows what you are going through and he is trying to reach out to you about it.

The bridge for me between his message from Revelation on April 29 to this past Sunday’s sermon on the Bible as a “how to” guide, was this idea of not giving up. If you have followed the Bible like a “how-to” manual instead of a story about who, then trying something else might seem to make more sense, ignoring it until Sunday may seem easier, or tossing out the manual altogether may seem like an answer, but there is more to the story than a list of do’s and don’ts and more to your story. It may feel like God hasn’t noticed how you have followed directions or at least that other people have followed them less and yet they are receiving blessings and it just feel like time wasted, but there is more.

Pointing out synonyms, we looked at Psalm 19:7-10 where it speaks of the law of the Lord, or synonyms for law like commands or decrees.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
    making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
    giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
    giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
    enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
    and all of them are righteous.

10 They are more precious than gold,
    than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
    than honey from the honeycomb.

 

Here it is, verses making promises, following all these rules should work, right? So why doesn’t it always work out? Where is the beauty in illness, in a car crash, in debt, in a broken family? Let’s pause and consider, what if we re-read those verses and replace the “how-to” with a who.

7  Jesus is perfect,
    refreshing the soul.
Jesus is trustworthy,
    making wise the simple.
Jesus is right,
    giving joy to the heart.
Jesus is radiant,
    giving light to the eyes.
Jesus is pure,
    enduring forever.
Jesus is firm,
    and all of them are righteous.

10 Jesus is more precious than gold,
    than much pure gold;
He is sweeter than honey,
    than honey from the honeycomb.

 

And what if we look at the truth Jesus shared about himself in Matthew 11 where his arms are stretched out, reaching for us? It adds so much to these Psalms full of promises and helps fulfill a beautiful image of a caring savior.

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus is the answer. He is perfect, he is pure, he is forever. He is all of those things that the Psalms describes. While those descriptions may be applied to many unreachable gods, Jesus is reachable. In fact, he is reaching out for us with the promise of rest.

Jesus is the answer. Every time he speaks to a church in Revelation, our pastor pointed out, Jesus identifies himself to them, and to the suffering church of Smyrna, he presents himself as the one who died and came to life again. For that particular church, they needed to know that, they were under real persecution, and some wouldn’t survive. But, we need to be reminded of eternity too. This isn’t it, there is more, so much more to all of our stories thanks to Jesus, and when it seems like the rules, the decrees, the manual isn’t working, Jesus is perfect, refreshing to the soul and waiting to give us rest.

I have to finish with this quote from our senior pastor because as I heard it the first time, I found it so encouraging. The connection I made with this particular quote from his message and resting in Jesus rather than a “how-to” manual just culminated into a beautiful reminder I want to carry into the remainder of this spring. It is a reminder that I can’t keep to myself as I see hurting people all around me feeling like they are wasting time on laws and decrees with hollow promises. And to contrast the song “Particles”, I also want to share “Your Promises” and hope it is a song you can carry with you this hour, this day , this week to remind you to not give up.

“Don’t give up even though you don’t always understand what God is doing, you may not like it, you may not understand it. Things might happen to you that God didn’t orchestrate because somebody else turned wrong, made a wrong decision and now you are paying the price and he would’ve not wanted you to go through that, but he promised he’d be with you, even in the middle of it. But even if there are things God orchestrates, and you don’t get what he’s doing and the end result, don’t give up.” -Denny Krajacic, Senior Pastor at Butler Community Alliance Church 

 

Just a Pinch of Salt

How many recipes do we look at that say “Add a pinch of salt” or “Season to taste with salt”? Other recipes are far more direct, a half a teaspoon here a fourth there. Salt is definitely a staple in the kitchen.

Lately I have heard it more than once out of that context. I’ve heard the verse and I have heard many people say how as christians we are to be the salt in the world, but I was reading a page or two from a book titled “The Mercy Prayer” by Robert Gelinas that really gave an urgency to the need to be salt in this world. He actually brought it up after speaking about the ten men who lived on the outskirts of town because of their leprosy.

Books

The author takes note on how Luke recorded the path that Jesus was taking to Jerusalem, the border between Samaria and Galilee. It is here that the ten cry out for pity, or eleison and as the author points out, it is translated mercy. The challenge is then given to the reader, are we aware of those in need of mercy? With so much bad in the world, there are many outlets where we can reach out, but do we? This is where Robert Gelinas makes the poignant point that salt slows down decay only when in contact with the meat. Salt is useless unless it is in contact with the meat.

I had just read those words when my sister in law suggested a podcast to me, Family Talk. Eager to switch up my routine while driving of just music, I enjoy a good podcast, so I downloaded a few random episodes of Family Talk. One of them titled “Fight for Freedom in a Godless Society” had the great speaker Dr Robert Jeffress on it, and wouldn’t you know it, he brought up that same idea of being the salt in this world. Honestly, some of the facts he gave about our country were just so disheartening, and I know we are familiar with them, but the idea that we as the salt can help slow down the decay of our decrepit world was encouraging.

Honestly, sometimes messages like the one on that particular episode by Dr Robert Jeffress can make things seem hopeless. It makes it easier to ignore the big issues if we settle for that hopelessness too. He said something to the affect of the only reason we are pushing back against the evil is to give our world a little bit longer to hear the truth and be saved, which makes me take it back to the image of the salt, we slow the decay. He ended with this great quote though, “If you think it is too dark out there to do it, remember this, the light shines brightest in the darkness… Ladies and gentleman, if your goal in life, like so many christians, is peace, prosperity-the absence of any kind of pain, then these are truly terrifying, depressing days in which we’re living. But if your goal, like the apostle Paul, is to share Jesus Christ with as many people as possible, there has never been a better time to be alive than right now! Because the darker and darker this world becomes, the brighter the hope of the gospel shines.”

I think that when we hear something repeated, in various contexts, that it is God whispering to us. This time of the year, it is easier to be the salt as we naturally enter a season of giving. I pray that this was an encouragement to you to be aware of moments where you can live on the border like Jesus Christ, be the salt, and have a goal like Paul.