Do It Again, Lord! (Guest Post by Cynthia Hyle Bezek)

I am delighted to host Cynthia Hyle Bezek as today’s guest writer! Cynthia’s greatest passion and privilege is to help ordinary men and women connect with an extraordinary God through prayer. Leading people into satisfying, two-way, relational, personal conversation with God is the aim of whatever she does, whether as an author, editor, prayer leader, speaker, teacher, mentor, or prayer retreat leader. The following is reprinted with permission from Let’s Talk: Deepening Your Relationship with God Through Prayer.

Desert Sunrise I

Do It Again, Lord!

by Cynthia Hyle Bezek

Sometimes I get annoyed with Bible people. Like this morning. I was reading in Exodus and getting really excited about God. He parted the Red Sea for the Israelites—incredible to imagine! And then when the Egyptian army tried to follow, the waters crashed down on them and they all were destroyed. What an amazing rescue!

Is it any wonder the people rejoiced and worshiped? Moses led them in a song of praise to the Lord. And then his sister, Miriam, led all the women in a joyful dance before the Lord. As I read, the people’s joy nearly vibrated off the pages.

“I will sing to the Lord. He has won a glorious victory!”

“The Lord is my strength and my song. He is my Savior. This is my God, and I will praise him, I will honor him!”

“O Lord, who is like you? You are glorious because of your holiness and awe-inspiring because of your splendor. You perform miracles!”

“Lovingly, you will lead the people you have saved. Powerfully, you will guide them to your holy dwelling. The Lord will rule as king forever and ever!”

(excerpted from Exodus 15, God’s Word translation)

But a mere two verses later, I got pretty upset with the whole lot of them. For Pete’s sake, they act as if God had died! True, they’d traveled for three days in the desert without water. That’s a problem. But instead of asking God for help, they griped about Moses. Instead of trusting God to provide for them as He had done not even 72 hours earlier, they whined: “What are we supposed to drink?” (verse 24).

I paused from my Bible reading. “I cannot believe these people!” I said out loud.

Really? a Still Small Voice asked in reply.

I realized I’d been busted. The Holy Spirit was gently pointing out how much I have in common with the Israelites. Immediately I thought about a situation that I’m struggling with. It’s a genuine problem, no less real than the Israelite’s need for water. And I am utterly incapable of solving this problem. If I think about it very long—like more than about three seconds—I am very likely to gripe and whine, just like the Israelites did.

The irony is, like the Israelites, I have also experienced God’s deliverance in desperate situations. I can name at least three examples of God’s loving intervention, working things out in ways I never would have imagined, and never could have orchestrated on my own.

Still, I forget. The new crisis looms in front of me, and I forget the victory song I’d sung just a few days earlier. Or I doubt. Sure, God delivered me before, but who says He’ll do it again this time?

Either way, my responses are not pretty.

God, I don’t want to be like the Israelites, I told Him this morning. You have delivered me wonderfully before. You have walked through fires and floods with me on other occasions. You have never abandoned me. You have never failed me. I am sorry I forget. I am sorry I doubt. Please help me to remember Your deliverance. And please deliver me again.

It’s a full 15 hours later, and God has not answered my prayer yet. He has not led me to water as quickly as He did the Israelites in Exodus 15. I’m still waiting for His deliverance. But however long I have to wait, I want to do it with faith, not doubt. I want to hope in the Lord. I want to trust that He will help me—as He promises always to do when I call on Him. So that has been my prayer throughout today, and probably will be for days to come: Help me to remember, Lord—and please, please do it again!

Looking back

Photo credit (bottom photo): Susanne Nilsson via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo credit (top photo): TLV and more via Flickr Creative Commons

Bible Out Loud

Storytime

Ever since our firstborn’s first day home from the hospital, we’ve been reading out loud to our sons every night. The book we chose to inaugurate this ritual? Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott.

Not your typical bedtime read-aloud book, but for a one-day-old, we figured it was okay. Our main goal was to establish the daily routine early.

Besides, we ourselves wanted to read Ivanhoe. Also, the newborn began to learn and recognize the sound of his parents telling him a story.

After Ivanhoe, we switched to board books and picture books—Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon, Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Sandra Boynton’s Moo, Baa, La La La!

Rich & Sabina - storytime

We read them slowly, savoring the words and illustrations. We read them so many times that, even now, I can recite them by memory and tell you when to turn the page: “In the great green room / There was a telephone / And a red balloon / And a picture of— [turn page] the cow jumping over the moon.”

Before my second son started walking, he used to crawl to me, dragging a book in one hand. I remember sitting on the floor (as I often do) with my back against the bookshelves, watching him bring me another Sandra Boynton. Here he comes.

As he crawled into my cross-legged lap, I resolved to stay put and read the book to him no matter how many times he asked.

So when I turned the last page and he said, “Again?” I read it again.

And again.

Through every iteration, I made sure to still read it slowly and enjoy the story. No rushing.

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We read that book seven times in a row before he crawled out of my lap. I stayed, waiting to see if he would ask for the eighth.

Of course, we adjusted as our sons grew older. Five or ten minutes of bedtime reading turned into half an hour or more. On weekly library trips, we took home Frog and Toad (Arnold Lobel), Poppleton (Cynthia Rylant), and colorful, well-mannered dinosaurs (Jane Yolen).

Deep and thoughtful discussions became part of bedtime reading as we read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Count of Monte Cristo (all unabridged). Currently, my husband is reading Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper to our nine-year-old, and I’m reading Shelby Foote’s The Civil War (Volume I) to the older two boys.

The initial intent stuck: we established a habit of reading every night, fifteen years and counting. The fun ritual that started with a one-day-old who slept through most of Ivanhoe has become part of our routine, part of our relationship.

Hear the Bible Out Loud

When was the last time someone read aloud to you? When did you recently sit down for nothing but the joy of hearing good words artfully woven together?

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How to Listen to Bible Gateway’s Audio Bibles

1. Go to BibleGateway.com, hover over the “Bible” tab in the upper left, and click on “Audio Bibles.”

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2. Choose your preferred audio version. (For a special treat, try one of the versions “by Dramatized”!)

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3. Choose the book of the Bible . . .

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4. . . . and the chapter.

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5. Press play, and hear the story!

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Consider it a treat. Someone is reading aloud to you. Like the child who asked for the same book seven times in a row, savor the story and hear it as many times as you want by pressing “play” again and again.

Related:

Did you know about International Day of the Bible on November 23, 2015? Check it out.

***
A portion of the above is excerpted from Behold the Beauty: An Invitation to Bible Reading. For more details, including quotes and the book trailer, visit the book’s web page.

A portion of the above first appeared in one of my articles for Charity Singleton Craig’s How to Bring Words to Life Column, 5 Reasons to Go to Storytime (even if you don’t have children).

***

Photo credits:

Elliot Margolies, via Flickr Creative Commons

Alexander N, via Flickr Creative Commons

For quote image: denise carrasco, via Flickr Creative Commons

Open-Heart Bible Study (by Jean Fleming)

In the foreword to Pursue the Intentional Life, I mentioned the article “Open-Heart Bible Study.” Many people have been looking for this article, and I’m delighted to make it available here (with thanks to Jean Fleming for her permission). This article, which first appeared in Discipleship Journal (a discontinued publication of NavPress), will also be linked at the (in)courage Bloom Book Club wrap-up post for this book.

by Jean Fleming

When we approach the Scriptures, too often we grab our tool box of the mind—the concordance, dictionary, commentary, notebook, and pens—and neglect the essential intangibles of the spirit and heart.

Bible, altar, Studland church, Dorset

A curious, capable mind alone cannot invade the deep spaces of this Book. An academic approach to the Scriptures may be fascinating, but it cannot take us beyond the outer husk of truth. To taste the sweet fruit within, we need more than gray matter.

What intangibles of the spirit and heart do we need to bring to Bible study? If I were to choose one verse to capsulate the essential attitudes I believe God looks for in His people as they approach His Word, Isaiah 66:2 would get my vote. “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” We don’t hear much about sticking a humble and contrite spirit and a good solid tremble in with our Bible study helps, but without them we will always shuffle around the edges and never penetrate to the heart of God’s riches.

Let’s take a look at three essential attitudes and why they are important as we come to understand the Scriptures.

A Humble Spirit

First, we need a humble spirit. A humble spirit grows in a proper understanding of who God is and who we are in relation to Him.

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God looks for a particular spirit as we come to His Word precisely because it is His Word. The Bible is communication from the high and lofty One, the One who lives forever, whose name is holy, but who lives with the person of humble and contrite spirit (Isaiah 57:15). This Word is the most complete revelation given of the God who is eternal, divine, holy, and personal. God has “exalted above all things [His] name and [His] word” (Psalm 138:2). God gives His Word a place of highest honor.

When we grasp something of the reality that it is God’s Word, we realize that we cannot come to this Book on an equal footing with it. The human mind cannot fathom the thoughts, the character, the Person of God.

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Jack, May, and Gail are people who approach the Scriptures with humble spirits. Jack and May, a vibrant Australian couple, had come to Christ in middle age. As new believers unfamiliar with the Bible, Jack and May felt they needed to start at the beginning and at the bottom. They bought and read a Bible written for children before progressing to an adult Bible.

At conversion, Jack and May, like us, got their first really good look at who they are and, more importantly, who God is. Seeing themselves in their sinfulness and need and God in His pristine holiness left them little confidence in their own abilities to understand the thoughts of God. They would start where babes start.

Like Jack and May, Gail came to the Scriptures with childlike humility. When I met Gail I was particularly impressed by her spiritual depth and insight. I wanted to know something of her story and what kind of spiritual help she had received. Her tale was one of ignorance, frustration, perseverance, and blessing.

Gail’s first attempt at Bible study ended in tears; she couldn’t answer any of the questions. The doors of comprehension were bolted. The windows were boarded over. Not a shred of light seeped in. She read and reread, but her effort yielded nothing. Why could a more-than-reasonably-intelligent woman not understand even one question? she wondered. Her hunger and frustration drove her to call out to God, with weeping, “Please help me to understand.”

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The next morning she got up to try again. This time the door gave way; the windows of her soul let in the light; the Book came alive.

Jack, May, and Gail are not models of humble spirits because they were ignorant and admitted it, but because they continued in that same spirit, aware that they don’t come to this Book as God’s equals in intellect, character, or experience.

Gail’s story seems to me a parable. God withheld from a bright woman the ability to understand the Bible so that He might implant a deeper lesson in her life. God can open or close this Book to us. An intelligent, inquiring mind is not enough. While most people do not find the Bible to be a completely closed book, Gail’s experience illustrates a spiritual truth. Even scholars remain in the outer courts, handling the outside of spiritual things, unless God admits them into the holy of holies.

God calls us to emulate this spirit of humility and hunger whether we are accomplished students or new converts. Intelligent, diligent, careful study is important, but the Bible doesn’t relinquish its bounty to high IQs and polished exploratory skills alone. While it is true that the Bible is in many ways like any other book, it is absolutely unique. This Book reveals “God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began” (1 Corinthians 2:7). Wisdom that no eye has seen “but that God has revealed to us by his Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:10).

Biblical truth isn’t discovered; it is revealed, interpreted, explained, taught by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God alone knows the thoughts of God (1 Corinthians 2:11), and He communicates “spiritual truths in spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2:13) to the human spirit. The language He uses is not Greek, Hebrew, or English; it is spirit. The Holy Spirit whispers it to humble spirits.

So, like the psalmist, let us cry out, “Let me understand the teaching of your precepts” (Psalm 119:27). Charles Simeon (1758–1836), an English preacher who taught others how to preach, wrote, “The more lowly we are in our own eyes, the richer communications we shall receive from Him.”

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A Contrite Spirit

Next, we need to have a contrite spirit. A contrite spirit has an acute awareness of its failings. This awareness is accompanied by deep distress over them and gratitude that there is a place of refuge in the mercy and grace of God.

The concordance defines contrite as “smitten, maimed, dejected.” It only follows that if we get an accurate picture of ourselves in our fallen humanity and of God in the splendor of His holiness, we will be a bit bruised by the contrast. As Isaiah lamented after seeing the Lord in His glory, “Woe to me!” (Isaiah 6:5).

But, of course, the glory of the gospels is that “the bruised reed he will not break” (Isaiah 42:3). Jesus doesn’t break but, rather, He blesses those who are poor in spirit and who mourn over their sin (Matthew 5:3-4). “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

The Word comes in love to bruise as well as to bless. If we come the Word as self-sufficient, self satisfied consumers of blessing, the blessing cannot penetrate the armor of self. The Word of God must pierce our thick skins, must strike stinging blows at times, must put our hips out of joint, must hold a mirror before our faces that we might see what our sin is doing to us. The Word must wound before it binds up. Otherwise, far worse sores fester out of sight, waiting to erupt and destroy us. A contrite spirit welcomes God’s work that reveals who we really are. It limps to the throne of grace to receive the healing balm.

It is clear that God values a contrite spirit, but do we? Let me illustrate. A mature believer in the Sunday school class I attend confessed her failure to share the gospel with family on a recent trip. She said she had been unfaithful and asked us to pray for her. Her words bruised me. I, too, often lack the courage to speak the message God has entrusted to me. I was ready to stand and say so. But before I could, the class rallied to erase her discomfort. With the kindest intentions, they assured her that God had used the time and that contrition was unnecessary, even out of the question.

Just as I became aware of my sin and need when I heard her confession, my heart is made sensitive by the Scriptures as I see God’s plans, commands, and promises. But always I must be alert to the tendency to undermine or dismiss the response of contrition. This tendency makes us discriminating “partakers,” straining out anything unpalatable to us, instead of devoted servants.

Apart from the Holy Spirit’s enlightening ministry to our spirits, not merely to our minds, we will certainly accept or reject the thoughts of God according to our reasoning. We cart along Bible study baggage of which we are barely aware. John R.W. Stott wrote, “It is essential to give up the illusion that we come to the biblical text as innocent, objective, impartial, culture-free investigators, for we are nothing of the kind.” We must face our defects—and acknowledge that we have barely begun to face them. We must acknowledge our biases and blindness—and know that we are still blind to them. We must come as open-minded and openhearted as we can—with the full realization that we are entangled in the sticky web of our humanity. And we must grieve. This is contrition.

Trembling at His Word

God wants us to come to the Bible as those who tremble at His Word. That means we need to take God seriously and believe God is who He says He is, that He thinks and acts just as He says. Trembling at His Word is the equivalent to the “fear God” used so often throughout the Scriptures.

Years ago on an Okinawan beach, my husband and some of his friends spent the day reading together passages from the gospels that took place by the water. The day climaxed with a fish and bread dinner on the shore after they read of Jesus feeding the multitudes. As they ate, my husband noticed a man watching them from the cliffs above. Roger climbed up to talk with the man and to invite him to join them. The man turned out to be a young Marine involved in Satan worship. As they talked, Roger thought of Jesus’ encounter with the demoniac (Mark 5:15ff.) that they had read earlier in the day. Roger extended his New Testament toward the Marine. The man began to tremble violently and ran off.

This is not the trembling that God honors; nevertheless, his trembling puts me to shame. James 2:19 says, “Even the demons believe … and shudder.” It seems the demons in him grasped more fully than I do that this Book is alive, powerful, dangerous.

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The Bible brings me into direct contact with the clear-eyed gaze of Jesus Christ. As the demons know, this Word is not something to be trifled with.

Josiah was the kind of “trembler” God esteems. During his reign the long-neglected Book of the Law was found in the Temple. When Josiah heard the message of the book and realized the extent of the nation’s disobedience and the judgment that would surely fall on them, he tore his clothes and wept in anguish (2 Kings 22–23).

Josiah came to the scrolls with a prior commitment to obey them with all his heart and soul. He reinstituted celebration of the Passover and began a vigorous campaign to rid the land of false gods. His responsiveness characterizes the man or woman who takes God’s Word seriously.

A trembling heart prepares our spirits for greater intimacy with God’s Word. As a teenager, E. Stanley Jones, a Methodist missionary to India for 50 years, would press his lips to passages that spoke to his heart. Jones’s holy kiss seems to me to express the same spirit the writer of Psalm 119 recorded: “I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches” (verse 14). “Your statutes are my delight” (verse 24). “How sweet are your words to my taste” (verse 103). “My heart trembles at your word” (verse 161).

When we take God’s Word seriously, our hands hover over our Bibles in anticipation.

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God said His Word is the necessary bread that will satisfy (Isaiah 55:1-3; Matthew 4:4). It is like snow and rain that come from heavenly realms to the earth for a purpose. God’s Word comes to nourish and refresh, to make fruitful and effective. The Bible is not ineffectual; we can expect something to happen when we receive God’s message to us (Isaiah 55:10-11).

A spirit of anticipation banishes a blasé approach to Scripture. A trembling heart does not tolerate the thought that it is okay for “mature” believers past the first flushed excitement of life in Christ to stifle their yawns.

Before you open your Bible, stop! Reflect. Kneel. Pray. This book is spirit, and you need the indwelling Spirit working on your spirit to receive spiritual truth. The Author of this book is your Interpreter. Who else knows the deep things of God except the Spirit of God? He comes to read to your spirit the language of your Father. The translation you need is something more than Greek or English. The Spirit works both to bruise and soften your spirit and then to unfold the mysteries of God to you when you can receive them. Be alert to your spirit because it is a Book interpreted Spirit to spirit.

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“Open-Heart Bible Study” first appeared in Discipleship Journal (Sep/Oct 1995). Copyright © 2014 Jean Fleming, all rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Also by Jean Fleming: The Practice of Pondering

Jean Fleming is the author of Pursue the Intentional Life, A Mother’s heart, Feeding Your Soul, and others. Visit NavPress.com for details.

FREE PRINTABLE: Would you like to hand out free copies of “Open-Heart Bible Study” in your Bible study group? Download this printable version.

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Photo credit (Bible): MattLake (Creative Commons license)

Photo credit (girl reading Bible): Brielle King (Creative Commons license).

The Practice of Pondering (by Jean Fleming)

The following full-length article first appeared in Discipleship Journal (a discontinued publication of NavPress). You’ll find a condensed version of this article (with Ann Voskamp’s excellent photography) at Ann’s place today. Don’t miss it!

by Jean Fleming

Have you ever sunballousa-ed? If not, you should try it. Our Lord’s mother, Mary, did. It characterized her life.

The word sunballousa is Greek for “placing together for comparison.” In Lk. 2:19, the word is translated “pondered.” The Amplified Bible translates Lk. 2:19 this way: “But Mary was keeping within herself all these things (sayings), weighing and pondering them in her heart.” Later in that chapter, Luke says that Mary “treasured all these things in her heart” (v. 51, emphasis mine).

What things? The words of the angel Gabriel. The words of her cousin Elizabeth. The words of the shepherds. The words of the Old Testament about the coming of the Messiah. Every developing event, every new word, might yield more light to this astonishing unfolding. So she kept adding to her treasure store. She held all that was happening in a precious bundle. Over and over again, she unpacked it and spread it out on the table of her heart. Each time she would arrange the pieces anew, placing the various elements in fresh configurations. Continue reading

Read It Like You’re Bleeding [and a book giveaway!]

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(***GIVEAWAY UPDATE*** Congratulations to Beth and Erica who will receive Discipleship Journal’s Best Bible Study Methods!)

Something about this woman drew me to her. I wanted to be her friend and probably would have pursued that friendship if I ever had a chance. Though I never knew her, she taught me a pivotal spiritual lesson—a Bible-reading lesson. I wish I knew her name.

If she were still alive…

Read the rest of my article at BibleDude.net: read it like you’re bleeding. At the end of the article are the book giveaway details! I’m giving away two copies of Discipleship Journal’s Best Bible Study Methods. I’d love to see you in the comment box over at BibleDude.net!

i'm a bibledude.net writer

Two Aromas

Some people are attractive, like magnets—Carol Mayberry, Tom Eklund, Jean Fleming, Jay Cline. If they threw a party, everyone would want an invitation. People look for them in a crowded room and hope for a chance to shake hands or say hello. I’ve seen people actually burst into a cheer when Tom entered the room.

But these four go beyond “magnetic personality.” They attract others to Christ. They live a life that results in others wanting to be closer to Jesus.

I want that. I want it bad.

I told my husband about it. “Some people are so attractive—I mean, they are magnetic people that attract others to Christ. You know, like Carol. I want to be like that.”

Charles nodded.

“Because of that, I’ve been meditating on something I came across in Proverbs.” I told him the verses:

Let lovingkindness and truth never leave you.
Bind them around your neck.
Write them on the tablet of your hearts.
Then you will have good repute
with God and men.
(Proverbs 3:3-4)

I kept thinking out loud. “So it seems like lovingkindness and truth would help me get better at drawing people to Jesus.”

Charles gave a thoughtful pause. “Those are good verses,” he said, “but I don’t think they’re about the attractiveness you’re talking about. There’s a difference between having a good reputation and having that magnetism for Christ.”

Ah.

I thought, then, of those verses about being a fragrant aroma. I made a mental note, a little to-do item: Copy those “aroma” verses and meditate on them.

I never got around to it. (That’s why mental notes are inferior to written ones.)

But God got me around to it.

Five months later, my Bible reading plan took me to Second Corinthians—the “aroma” verses.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life.
(2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

I used to think being a sweet fragrance for Christ meant directing that fragrance to others—living so that people will like me, even if that meant conforming my personality to theirs. I have to listen to the music they like! I have to go to the mall if they like shopping! I have to be like Tom!

But my direction was all wrong. Being a sweet aroma does not mean being a people-pleaser. “We are a fragrance of Christ to God . . .”

I read the whole thing again. There are two aromas. I drew pictures of them in my journal.

One aroma is the knowledge of Christ. This aroma is from God, through me, to others.

The Knowledge-of-Christ Aroma:

The Knowledge-of-Christ Aroma journal sketch

The other aroma is me (“we are a fragrance of Christ”). This aroma is from me, to God, in the presence of others.

The Aroma of Me:

The Aroma of Me journal sketch

The knowledge-of-Christ aroma IS directed to others. But the aroma of ME is to be Godward.

I am to be a God-pleaser.

I shouldn’t worry about how people perceive the aroma of me, whether they think my life-fragrance is a sweetness or a stench. I shouldn’t adjust my life according to what people think (which seems awfully similar to fad-conforming peer pressure), but according to what God thinks.

If I want that magnetic-personality, attractive-fragrance that draws people to Christ, the point is not to please them but to please God. Then of course, though the aroma is Godward, the people around me will pick up the scent.

Father, keep reminding me that my fragrance is to You and for You. Please use me to spread the knowledge of Christ to those around me.

This Wednesday Ann Voskamp hosts a community of those who share about “The Practice of Faith.” Click on the Holy Experience badge below to read more posts on Faith!

Also linking with Bonnie Gray for Thursday’s Faith Barista Jam on Faith and Friendship. Click on the Faith Barista badge below to read more community posts!

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Do You See Anything? (What To Do with Partial Vision)

I didn’t notice all the question marks until about chapter eight—questions from Jesus. Don’t you see? Don’t you hear? Don’t you remember? How many loaves did you start with? How many baskets of leftovers did you pick up?

I wondered about these questions in the Gospel of Mark. What do they reveal about the Lord? And as I pondered, I fell in love with Him again. Jesus is not a one-way God. He wants conversation. He wants interaction—with me.

Questions encourage remembrance. Also, Jesus’ questions show that He wants me to think. With questions, the Lord not only stimulates the disciples’ memory but engages them in conversation. And conversation requires response.

I was already thinking about this—about Jesus the conversational God wanting interaction with me, about Jesus not being a one-way God like a professor in a lecture hall but one who desires my response—when I arrived at Bethsaida with Jesus and the disciples.

In Bethsaida the beautiful, unnamed “they” brought a blind man to Jesus. They implored Jesus for the blind man’s sake. Touch him, Lord! Touch him!

Taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on him, He asked him…

(all quotes from Mark 8:23ff.)

And here is the question that captivated me:

Do you see anything?

After reading this, I put on my running shoes for my daily half-hour run. I spent all those thirty minutes meditating on one question and asking it of myself: Do you see anything?

When Jesus asked, Do you see anything? He wasn’t chewing His fingernails wondering if the healing worked. He was being Himself, the conversational God, stimulating the man’s thinking, forcing him to pick up his head and take a look around, leading him to say in his own words what has happened so far.

And he looked up and said, I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around.

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Partial vision. Jesus didn’t immediately take this man all the way to 20/20. By taking him only part of the way, the Lord created an in-between time—and during this time, He asked a question.

Jogging, I turned off of Allegheny and uphill onto the steepest part of Centennial Boulevard, my regular route. The question repeated, like the cadence of my strides: Do you see anything?

Do you see anything?

Do you see anything?

I veered up the dirt trail that parallels the road. The evening sun warmed my right side as I jogged. Do you see anything?

When the Lord has given me partial vision—when He doesn’t give me all the answers right away (which is when I usually want them)—how do I respond?

I asked myself, then:

Do I see anything? What has God partially revealed to me, and how can I acknowledge it—at this point in the journey?

I considered: what, so far, are some things that I certainly know?

God loves me.
God wants me to be with Him.
God is teaching me to obey Him.
God’s plans for my future are solid
and always good.
God wants me to give more of my energy to homeschooling.
God wants me to pray more.
God doesn’t want me to attend or teach Bible study on Tuesday mornings, but only in the evening.
God wants me to take a break from teaching Sunday school.
God wants me to reserve my time and energy, in case I need to give more for our toymaking company.
God doesn’t want me to be part of the worship music planning team.

These are examples of what I see at this point. Yet, much more do I not see and not know. In these unknowns, I choose to trust Him and wait in the exciting in-between time—all the while looking up, seeing, and acknowledging the men like trees, walking. This is what I do with partial vision.

Father, thank you for what you have shown me so far. Thank you for your step-by-step guidance. Thank you for the in-between times, full of unknowns. I give my desires to you, trusting that you will accomplish your will in and through me. May I glorify you and accomplish the work which you have given me to do.

This Wednesday Ann Voskamp hosts a community of those who share about “The Practice of Faith.” Click on the Holy Experience badge below to read more posts on Faith!

Also linking with Bonnie Gray for Thursday’s Faith Barista Jam. Click on the Faith Barista badge below to read more community posts!

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The Protection of Illness

I usually don’t drink enough water on a backpacking trip, so dehydration probably triggered the headache.

I tried the normal anti-migraine things to nip it in the bud—drink lots of water; eat protein; drink strong coffee quickly; lie down in the cool, dark basement. None of it worked.

Within hours, this thing had grown into the fiercest migraine I’d had in years—debilitating pain, violent nausea. I was reduced to the words: “Help me, God. Help me, God.” As hard as I could, I pressed hands to head and head to pillow to keep my brain from bursting out of my skull.

In the middle of the pounding, I remembered. God had taught me something in the Gospel of Mark, and I thanked Him that I could even think about it despite the vice clamped on the upper part of my brain.

Many sick or friends of the sick came to Jesus—flocked to Jesus—desperate for healing.

Others, Pharisees, came to Jesus wanting to kill Him.

I pictured these two kinds of people. On one hand, the sick. I imagined their ailments, perhaps lifelong, and the suffering they’ve endured. Doctor fees, degrading treatments, physical pain, emotional anguish. I could see why, when they heard about Jesus, they came running.

On the other hand, the Pharisees. They followed Him around and even invited Him to dinner to test Him, to trap Him, to find grounds to condemn Him. Watching Him especially on the Sabbath to see if He would heal that day, they cared more about the Sabbath (which is supposed to be for man) than they cared about man.

He [Jesus] said to the man with the withered hand, Get up and come forward! And He said to them [the Pharisees], Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill? But they kept silent.

After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, Stretch out your hand. And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.
(Mark 3:3-6)

To actually want to destroy Jesus for healing on the Sabbath! Apparently, miraculous healings don’t astound everyone.

As I pictured these Pharisees, their hunting hatred, and the scornful looks on their faces, I realized . . .

None of these guys are sick. They’re all healthy—physically healthy—otherwise they would have cared more about Jesus’ healing than the fact that He did it on the Sabbath.

Would physical illness have changed their attitude?

Many who were sick came to be healed; others who were healthy came to kill. Would sickness have protected the Pharisees from being—well, pharisaical?

When I am sick, could it be a protection?

I’ve never had pride and a migraine at the same time. When I’m hurting, I’m not hating. Does God allow my illnesses or hard circumstances so that I might have a soft heart toward Him?

This is what I remembered that Saturday evening as I half wished I could cut off the throbbing part of my head: the pain I experience now is protective. In this pain, I am not a Pharisee. In this sickness, God brings me to healthy humility. Remembering my lessons from the Gospel of Mark, I held my head and thanked God.

Then I took an ibuprofen.

(This Thursday Bonnie Gray invites: Share a moment you felt close to God recently. Click on the FaithBarista badge below to read more posts on closeness with God!)

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Why Jesus Came

My collection (so far) of “why Jesus came” verses:

to serve (Mt 20:28)

to give His life a ransom for many (Mt 20:28)

to preach in other towns, too (Mk 1:38, Lk 4:43)

to call sinners (Mk 2:17)

to do God’s will (Jn 6:38)

to save His people from their sins (Mt 1:21)

to be the Savior of the world (1 Jn 4:14)

to die (Jn 12:27)

to save the world (Jn 12:47)

that the world might be saved through Him (Jn 3:17)

to destroy the devil’s works (1 Jn 3:8)

to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind (Jn 9:39)

to bear witness to the truth (Jn 18:37)

to save sinners (1 Tm 1:15)

to seek and save the lost (Lk 19:10)

A New Hue at Rainbow

We’re thrilled to let you know that Charles Sharman’s Through the Bible with My Child is now available at Rainbow Resource Center (where we find many of our home school books and supplies). Have fun exploring the Rainbow!

An excerpt from the Rainbow Resource catalog product review (written by Deanne of Rainbow Resource):

As Christian families, our greatest desire is to be actively involved in teaching our children the Bible, but often times we just don’t know where or how to begin. Beginning with the premise that God entrusted parents to teach the Bible to their children and that the Bible was written for all of us, Through the Bible with My Child has been created to equip parents for this monumental task…

(As always, also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other bookstores.)