White Chocolate Blueberry Cookies 

Cookie dough:
  • 1 pouch of Betty Crocker Sugar Cookie mixmade as directed (with added butter and egg)
  • 4 oz dried sweetened blueberries (I got mine here) – NOTE: This particular brand has a strong flavor, but it seems to balance out within the cookie as a whole. If you prefer, the sweetened dried blueberries could be omitted and only the blueberry drizzle used or vice versa (see below).
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips

>>> Prepare the cookie mix as directed. Add the blueberries and white chocolate chips. Mix thoroughly and bake as indicated on the cookie mix pouch.

Blueberry drizzle:
  • 2 oz freeze dried blueberries, pulverized (in a blender, coffee grinder, etc—I used a dry vita-mix) 
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice + 2 Tbsp water – 4 Tbsp of liquids total with the amount of lemon juice:water ratio adjusted to taste
  • 3/4 to 1 cup powdered sugar – Since the cookies are sweet, 3/4 cup powered sugar proved adequate for our tastes—a nice tartness to balance with the sweet—but feel free to add more sugar or less lemon juice to fit your tastes.

>>> Pulverize the freeze dried blueberries in a blender or coffee grinder and transfer to a small (2-cup capacity) bowl. Add the liquids to the blueberry powder and stir to combine. Add in the powdered sugar until you reach the desired taste and/or consistency. Add more water as needed. Drizzle over the warm cookies and enjoy.

The Mystery of Christian Growth

Lately, I’ve been contemplating this question: What is the starting point for growing deeper in Christ—and growing to be more like Him? Some will say, “The Bible of course. Spend time in His Word. It points to Christ, it’s powerful, and it can’t help but change you” (Hebrews 4:12, Romans 12:2). It’s true… and also not true. For haven’t we all experienced those times when the Bible fell flat and we couldn’t seem to find a verse that ushered us deeper or worked in us any tangible change?

Another will say, “Still the Bible. You just have to believe what you’re reading, and trust that it’s working even when it feels flat” (Hebrews 10:19-23, Hebrews 6:12). It’s true… and also not true. For many have strived to believe the words they read, and to take the road of legalistic endurance, in which our faith—if it’s even genuine and not self-manufactured—is in the power of routine and, subtly, not in Him and His working.

Finally, one might say, “But of course you must begin with prayer for it is God who works in us to will and to act according to His good pleasure—and without Him, we can do nothing” (Philippians 2:13, John 15:5). It’s true… but His Word also says to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), to remain in Him, and to plant His words in us (John 15:7, Psalm 119:11, James 1:21).

So we see, He has a role and we have a role, the untangling of which is a mystery. Not only that, but our role is not a simple step-by-step addition of spiritual disciplines in a pre-specified order. The path to maturity, I daresay, is beyond human understanding, an idea confirmed in Scripture: Proverbs 20:24 says, “A person’s steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand their own way?” Likewise, Jesus says in John 3:8, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Invite God to guide your thoughts as you consider the diagram below:

A tangled web indeed. Confusing, perhaps. And you may be thinking, “What’s your point?” Just this: We mislead ourselves when we think we can understand our paths—and turn the Christian walk into some kind of guaranteed formula. If there is a formula for shortening our path to maturity, I suppose it might be this:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.”

Proverbs 3:5-6

Scripture References Expounded

The diagram above includes Scripture references in support of each statement proposed: (1) Prayer requires faith, (2) Faith requires prayer, (3) Understanding God’s Word requires prayer, (4) His words, in us, enhance prayer, (5) God’s Word inbirths faith, (6) We appropriate God’s Word through faith, (7) God works our sanctification through various means, and (8) the Holy Spirit’s role. Click one of the links above, continue reading below, or jump to the Final Thoughts.

Prayer Requires Faith
  • James 1:5-8: “…when you ask, you must believe and not doubt…” It goes on to say that the one who doubts “should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”
  • James 5:15: “…the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well…”
  • See also Matthew 17:14-20, which recounts an instance in which the disciples couldn’t heal because they had so little faith.
  • Scripture References
Faith Requires Prayer

The following are examples of prayers for faith in Scripture (a man for himself, the disciples for themselves, and Jesus for Simon Peter):

  • Mark 9:23-24: After Jesus’s suggestion that faith was the key ingredient needed to heal a man’s demon-possessed son, he exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
  • Luke 17:5: In this verse, the cry of the apostles to Jesus was, “Increase our faith!”
  • Luke 22:32: Jesus prayed for Simon Peter’s faith before his imminent testing.
  • Scripture References
Understanding God’s Word Requires Prayer
  • Psalm 119:18: The psalmist offers this prayer to God: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.”
  • Scripture also makes clear the reality that our understanding isn’t automatic.
    • Consider Luke 24:45 and Acts 8:30-31. In the first case, Jesus opened the minds of His disciples to understand the Scriptures. In the second, Philip was guided by the Holy Spirit to a man who was reading Scriptures he couldn’t understand on his own.
    • To grasp the importance of understanding Scripture, compare and contrast Matthew 13:19 and 23: “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart… But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”)
    • Scripture References
His Words, in Us, Enhance Prayer
  • John 15:7: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
  • Praying God’s Word—often equivalent to praying His will—gives us assurance that our prayers will be answered, as described in 1 John 5:14-15.
  • Scripture References
God’s Word Inbirths Faith
  • Romans 10:17 says that faith comes from hearing God’s Word.
  • Genesis 15:5-6 is an example of God’s spoken word to Abraham resulting in faith in God’s promise.
  • Scripture References
We Appropriate God’s Word Through Faith
  • Hebrews 4:2 suggests that God’s Word is of no value to those who don’t “combine it with faith” (or who don’t “share the faith of those who” obey it.)
  • In 1 Thessalonians 2:13, the members of the church in Thessalonica are commended for receiving Paul’s message to them “not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.”
  • Scripture References
God Works Our Sanctification Through Various Means
  • PRAYER:
    • In John 17:17, Jesus prays for our sanctification, indicating the sanctifying power of the truth, which is GOD’S WORD.
    • In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Paul prays for the believers sanctification.
  • FAITH: In Acts 26:18, speaking to Paul, Jesus indicates that we are sanctified by faith in Him.
  • GOD’S WORD:
    • John 17:17 (see above)
    • Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is alive 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.”
  • Scripture References
The Holy Spirit’s Role

Consider how the Holy Spirit plays a role in all these things, working faith in our hearts, helping us to pray and more:

  • FAITH: Galatians 5:22, Ephesians 2:8-9 (Faith is a fruit of the Spirit and a gift.)
  • PRAYER: Romans 8:26 (He intercedes for us and helps us pray.)
  • GOD’S WORD:
    • John 16:12-14 (He reminds us of Jesus’s words and guides us into all truth.)
    • 1 Corinthians 2:14 (God’s words and ways are foolishness to those without the Spirit.)
  • SANCTIFICATION:
    • 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (Regarding our sanctification, He is faithful and He will do it!)
    • Philippians 2:13 (God works in us to will and act according to His good purpose.)
  • Scripture References

Final Thoughts

The path to maturity in Christ isn’t found in formulas or rituals. It isn’t prayer first, then Scripture, then faith—or some other combination thereof. Rather, it involves trusting Him, taking steps—sometimes in uncertainty, with the tiniest seed of faith. Of the many takeaways you might derive from this post, I hope it’s this:

Pray—and obey His word—with the faith you now have; and ask for more faith. Learn from His word, and walk it out with the understanding you now have; and ask for greater understanding. Invite the Holy Spirit to be a part of everything you do, whether in faith, in study, in action, or in prayer, never taking for granted the reality of your utter dependence upon Him. Lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways submit to Him. Help us, LORD! Direct our paths and make them straight. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.

Cultivating a Life of Prayer: Thoughts from a Christian Mentor

Prayer… At times, it’s one of those things that encamps on our “to do” list. Encamps—without ever getting done. Or maybe we do pray, but our inspiration is slim, our requests vague, and so our motivation plummets. Prayer is one of those spiritual disciplines that seems like it ought to be easy—yet often feels so hard.

I had been struggling in my own prayer life when a group of people from our church began The Red Letter Being Challenge—in which one of the highlighted “keystone habits” is committing to prayer—which prompted me to reach out to someone from my church who excels in this discipline: my dear friend Judy. Here are her thoughts on cultivating a life of prayer:

1. Meditate on John 15. Without Him, we can do nothing…

2. Slowly and prayerfully work your way through Andrew Murray’s 31-day devotion “The True Vine.”

3. Pray for God to reveal the specific prayer focus He has for you. Is it the nation, families, Israel, youth? We’re not able to pray for everything and everyone, so we need to seek His direction.

4. Meditate on any Bible verses He quickens (e.g., promises to stand on in prayer), and record them in a journal along with any dreams and/or visions He gives so you can refer back to them over time. The revelation God brings in all these matters is often progressive. We will learn more about our specific prayer call and the meaning of His revelations over time as we meditate on the verses, dreams, and visions He provides.

5. Keep a notebook of key prayer requests with the date and any answers received.

6. Worship and prayer are a package, so make use of worship music that ushers you into prayer (e.g., Terry MacAlmon‘s “Visit Us” album or whatever works for you). This kind of worshipful listening makes for great intercession!

7. Prayer partners in different arenas can make our prayer lives more fruitful by encouraging us to pray more.

8. We all have prayer needs. Don’t neglect yourself. Seek prayer from others as God leads.

9. Persistence is key. Don’t quit praying (for a person or an issue) until God says it’s time to stop (Luke 18:1-8).

10. Occasional fasting is appropriate, especially a sacrifice of time in which we fast from other activities in order to be with Him.

11. It’s important to remember that your prayer life will be unique. Reading books on prayer and gleaning tips from others can help to a certain extent, but we should always take the advice to God and let Him have the final say. Similarly, it’s not wrong to observe and learn from the prayer lives of others, but we want to aim for God’s best for us—not His best for someone else. This helps us avoid condemnation for not being ‘as good as’ another.

12. Love is the basis of all prayer. Our prayers should be motivated by love, but even when we struggle to love someone, we can—and should—still pray for them (as God leads) because we know He loves them; and we love Him. Mean-spirited ‘prayers’ should be avoided. Pursue love (1 Corinthians 14:1)!

13. We shouldn’t assume we know how to pray in every situation. Our desired outcome for a person’s life—or a particular situation—won’t always align with God’s plans (Proverbs 3:3-7). When unsure how to proceed, we can request ‘His highest good’ for the subject of our prayers, whether an individual, a people group, set of circumstances, etc. Other times, it might be appropriate to wait on the Lord’s direction for how to pray.

14. Prayerfully consider the root underlying each prayer request. Often, we pray for ‘leaves on the tree’ when we need to be praying for roots—that is, being rooted in Christ. It’s not wrong to pray someone into church, for a better job, a better mood, better friends, or restoration to us. However, if the root is addressed, the other issues will eventually resolve (Matthew 6:33). But if faulty roots remain unchanged, there will be no lasting fruit.

15. Be prepared for Sauls—those who begin as enemies of God—to become Pauls. Don’t rule anyone out!

16. Praying for distressing situations involving those we most love presents an extra challenge. In such cases—when we find ourselves desperate for resolution—the very act of persisting in prayer can further our fears and worries, even to the point of distress and anguish, by keeping our minds and emotions fixated on the problem. So, instead of verbal prayers, consider worshipping on behalf of the person whose situation is weighing on your heart. Worship is better than worry-filled prayers because, in worship, we are strengthened, and God can use our praise as He sees fit (e.g., Psalm 149:6-9). Worship also shifts our focus from our troubling situation to God (His power, love, etc).

17. Sometimes, in other troubling situations, there are no words. Some situations are so awful we may weep or groan. We can prostrate ourselves before the Lord—without words. He hears our cries and saves our tears.

I hope, like me, everyone who reads this post will find something in this list that moves them toward a life of greater prayer. Dear reader, that is my prayer for you.

Bible Bites: Chew on His Words

Today I want to do something different. I’ll present a Bible passage, give you space to meditate on God’s word, then offer just a few of the thoughts God brought to my mind as I did the same.

Before you start, I encourage you to ask God to meet you in your meditation and to open your eyes to whatever He might want to say to you through His word (Psalm 119:18, Luke 24:45). In this way, you’re telling God you’re more interested in hearing His thoughts than in trusting your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6). (If you’re not sure how important this part is, consider reading my post on the limitations of human understanding where God’s Word is concerned. Or check out this post from John Piper, “Wonderful Things from Your Word.”)

When you see the passage below, read it slowly and prayerfully, then spend some time listening for God. For me, this means that I avoid mental striving and human effort. Instead of immediately beginning a systematic study of the passage—searching the Bible for similar verses, looking up words in Greek, or turning to Bible commentaries—I encourage you to spend some time pondering the Scripture slowly. Read it in context if desired, and jot down any thoughts that come to mind. For me, these thoughts are often related Scriptures, which I will look up later and meditate on further after the initial flow of thoughts has ceased. Sometimes when I look them up, the process—the flow of thoughts—begins again.

Today’s Verse

In the verse for today, Hebrews 5:13-14, God compares His Word to food. I’ve included verses 11-14 for context:

“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

If it’s helpful, read through these verses again, pausing at key words and phrases for further enlightenment. You might not choose the same key words and phrases I did—that’s okay. I included a short sample list below:

  • you no longer try to understand
  • elementary truths, milk, for infants
  • the teaching about righteousness, solid food, for the mature
  • etc.

Write down any questions that arise, and ask God for answers. Wait and see if He brings anything to mind. Did He use the verses above to prompt any personal prayers? If desired, record those as well. (You can see my prayer at the end of this post.) Did any other Bible verses spring to mind? If you’re like me, unsure of the exact book, chapter, or verse, you may have jotted a few of the words to look up later. If you feel the time is right, look them up now, and add the Scripture references to your notes. If God highlights a particular verse, consider memorizing it so you can continue meditating on it throughout the day.

During my contemplation, here are two verses that sprang to mind:

“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4; see also Deuteronomy 8:3.

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7

Feel free to share what you sensed (any verses or thoughts) in the comments below.

My Thoughts

I’ll finish by offering a few of the thoughts God brought to mind as I pondered the verses from Hebrews 5, especially vs. 14: “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”

Use? What is the use of solid food? Using it is eating it. Contrast milk with solid food. Solids are harder to digest than milk. You can’t chug solid food. You can’t swallow it down without hardly tasting it. We must spend time chewing His Word and digesting it fully in order to receive its life-sustaining nourishment. He is the Word (John 1). The Bread from heaven (John 6:48-51). Not earthly bread on which man doesn’t live only, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3).

We are sustained by His Word (Hebrews 1:3). Not through a single use, but through constant use. Why? Because we need His Word abiding in us always (John 15:3-7). Food enters the stomach, is digested, and passes out of the body. Therefore we must constantly eat His word, so that it is always there, being chewed in our mouths, imparting flavor to our lives, and being digested in our gut, deriving all the energy and nutritional benefits spiritually possible. Taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8). Taste His words (Ezekiel 3:3). Chew on them; digest them slowly. Don’t swallow them whole without allowing yourself to enjoy the rich banquet God has provided in His Word (Isaiah 25:6-8).

Let’s pray

Heavenly Father, help me to feed on Your word constantly, abiding in Jesus and bearing much fruit as Your disciple—in Your wisdom and strength. Help me to “move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1). Enable me to feed on Your words—not just the milk, but the solid food. And as I continuously chew the meat of Your word, train me to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:14). Enable me to hide Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You (Psalm 119:11). Even if I don’t immediately understand a Scripture, help me to continue chewing on it, meditating on it, and hiding it in my heart until I gain understanding, so that the enemy can’t snatch it away (Matthew 13:19). Instead, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your” word (Psalm 119:18). Help me also to continue to live my life in Jesus, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith, and overflowing with thankfulness (Colossians 2:6-7), in order that I would grow the spiritual root necessary to withstand the inevitable persecution and troubles that come (Matthew 13:21). Guard me, LORD, against the distractions and worries of this life, which keep trying to choke out Your word, to make my life unfruitful (Matthew 13:22), and to tug me away from wholehearted devotion to You. Give me both “an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (Psalm 86:11) and a “noble and good heart,” that both receives and retains Your word “and by persevering produce[s] a crop” (Luke 8:15). Finally, LORD, I ask that you would “[search me and] know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). I ask all these things in Jesus’s name. Amen.

(Click here to see all Bible references in this prayer.)

Scriptures for further study:

The Parable of the Sower

The Vine and the Branches

Psalm 119: The Beauty of His Word

Eyes on Advent: John 1:1-14

Link to Scriptures | Fill in the blanks

Over the last several weeks, I’ve had quite a lot of fun examining John chapter 1 as a springboard to a deeper glimpse of advent. I contemplated the WHAT, HOW, WHO, WHEN, and WHY of advent. What follows are my thoughts for each of those questions.

What is Advent?

We could approach this question in many different ways: clinically—by providing the raw information, as one detached from the subject; biblically—as a matter of truth, which may or may not yet have been absorbed into our hearts through faith; or experientially—as those who have personally felt the impact of Christ’s advent in their lives.

Wherever we are in our lives, we can generally agree on the raw information. And so, to start, let’s take a clinical look at the meaning of “advent.”

The Lexico dictionary online defines advent as “The arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.” Think on that for a moment. What is it, in particular, that makes something notable?

Whatever we describe as notable is unique. Possibly unexpected. Not always recognized for what it is at advent’s onset (John 1:10)—yet it often proves to be life-transforming. Revolutionary… like Jesus.

Outside of God’s word, what has been said of Him? Too many words to count, so I settle on these two quotes:

I suppose everyone beyond High School age knows of Napoleon Bonaparte. If you dozed through World History, suffice it to say he was an “exceptional military commander.” You might find it interesting what he had to say about our person of interest: “I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.”

A less well-known author of Christian fiction and nonfiction said this: “Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the Child of a peasant woman. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty, and then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. [And yet…] Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone and today He is the Centerpiece of the human race and the Leader of the column of progress. I am within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that One Solitary Life.” — James C. Hefley, author.

Clearly, the birth of Jesus was an advent which permanently altered the tide of civilization as we know it. Countless writings can be found which expound the historical impact of His life (book, articles: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). Yet, the history is only the outward, the obvious—the tip of the iceberg exposed for anyone with eyes to see.

What lies beneath is this: Though we usually attribute greatness to someone after they’ve lived a good bit of their life, even Christ’s birth—before the beginning of His earthly ministry—was notable. Why? Because the One involved in creating space and time—the Earth and all life—had just arrived in the form of one of His creatures—a man. He arrived in just the way He had designed new life to emerge—as a baby from the womb. He arrived, not as something foreign, or alien and unrelatable, but as something miraculously common. Miraculous, because new life by God’s design is always momentous—providential. Common, because we grow immune to the wonder everyday miracles ought to evoke. And because of that immunity, we sometimes fail to grasp the significance of what advent really is.

The HOW of Advent

How did Jesus arrive at His advent? John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…” The eternal Word whose utterance in creation sprang the worlds into being—that Word, Jesus, became flesh.

The English word, “became,” seems such an ordinary word, vague and insignificant. Yet in the Greek, the word, “became” [ginomai, (ghin’-om-ahee)] “signifies a change of condition, state or place.”

At advent, how did Jesus’s condition, state, and place change? The Word became flesh. The King of kings took on the same humble robe as those of His depraved subjects: skin and bones. He came from perfect light and love to a realm of pain, death, and darkness. From the highest to the lowliest. Prince to pauper.

John 1:14 continues, “We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son…”

Interestingly, the phrase “one and only Son” is actually a single word—the same as in John 3:16: “only begotten.” This word in Greek [monogenés (mon-og-en-ace’)] comes from two words meaning “one and only” and “offspring, stock.” It is literally, “‘one (monos) of a class, genos’ (the only of its kind).” Notable. Unique.

Compare this to the previous verse. We too can become children of God, “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” The Greek word translated as “born” is gennaó (ghen-nah’-o), meaning “to beget, to bring forth.” We are begotten, but not uniquely so. Not the only of our kind.

As the one and only Son, Jesus is set apart—uniquely above and beyond everyone else who has inherited or ever will inherit the title, “child of God.”

Another scripture that speaks to the HOW—and also the WHO—is Luke 1:35. When the virgin Mary questions the HOW of conception without a husband’s help, the angel Gabriel explains: “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35a)… That’s the how. And the WHO? “So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35b).

The WHO of Advent

Just think. God planted His Seed within Mary. And that Seed was the eternal Word (consider John 15:7 and James 1:21). But what is the relationship between this divine Father-Son pair?

Colossians 1:15 says, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” Hebrews 1:3 further describes the Son as “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”

A few Greek words from these verses shed additional light on the Son’s identity: (1) The word Huios (SON, from Luke 1:35) means “Anyone sharing the same nature as their Father.” (2) The word Eikón (IMAGE, from Colossians 1:15) means “mirror-like representation; close in resemblance.” (3) And from Hebrews 1:3, the word Charaktér (meaning ENGRAVING) is “an exact impression, reflecting inner character.”

Whether inwardly, in terms of character, or outwardly, as in behavior, the Son is an exact representation of the invisible God.

This is a mystery even the disciples failed to grasp. Philip put it to words, saying, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered him, “Don’t you know me…? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (John 14:8-10).

To be sure, the WHO is a mystery, only to be unraveled by those able to unlock the secrets of the Trinity. As for the rest of us, we must simply take God at His word: To see the Son is to see the Father.

The WHEN of the WHO

In the intersection of our studies of John 1 and advent, we see that the WHO preceded His notable ministry—and even His conception and birth! It makes little sense then to speak of the WHEN of advent. Instead we consider the WHEN of the WHO, which is divulged in the first verses of John chapter 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:1-2).

Beginning. What does this word mean to you? It’s the word arché (ar-khay’) in Greek, meaning (figuratively) “what comes first and therefore is chiefpreeminent.” Tied up in this word is a dual meaning encapsulating both the timeframe and the supreme value of Jesus, the Word.

We see the same concept in John 1:30, when John the Baptist said of Jesus, “This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” And also in John 8:58, where Jesus boldly proclaims, “Very truly I tell you… before Abraham was born, I am!” 

In this, we see that the WHEN also speaks to the WHO: the Son, the Word, preexisting the creation and every great man and woman who ever lived. First, and therefore preeminent… Why? Because He is the cause and we, the effect: “without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3). So, He wasn’t just present in the beginning, He is OUR beginning.

The Beginning and The End

The word arché is also found in Revelation 22:13, where Jesus says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” We’ve already explored the Greek word for “beginning” but what about “END”? What does it mean to you that Jesus is “the end”?

The Greek word here is telos (tel’-os): “an end, a toll”; “properly, consummation (the end-goal, purpose), such as closure with all its results.” The picture provided by the root tel- is that of a telescope, “unfolding (extending out) one stage at a time to function at full-strength (capacity effectiveness).”

If we think of the END as consummation, what does that mean? As a verb (“consummate”), this word can mean “finish, complete, to make perfect, achieve.” Jesus is the end—our consummation. Which leads us to the WHY of advent.

The WHY of Advent

What was the purpose of Christ’s advent? Why did Jesus come? Hebrews 9:26 and 28 tell us, “he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself… so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

This passage refers to two advents: one in the middle (not the beginning) and one at the end. But consider this: What is Christ’s ultimate goal for us—to be completed at the end (either our death or when He returns)? 1 Corinthians 13:9-12 speaks of those things which are in part—incomplete. They are temporary—temporal. Not made to last forever, like prophecy. Now we prophesy in part, “but when completeness comes…” the whole reason for prophecy will have vanished (vs. 10). John says in his first letter (1 John 3:2), “when Christ appears, we shall be like Him…”

Friends, we are not yet complete. We are not yet wholly like Him. Even though God’s intent in creating mankind was for us to be made in His image (Genesis 1:26), sin destroyed that likeness. “But when completeness comes…” Just imagine.

Completeness. The Greek word here is teleios (tel’-i-os), and it shares the same root as the word for END. It means “mature from going through the necessary stages to reach the end-goal” and is most often translated as “perfect.”

Remember the picture provided by the root tel-? We are like that telescope, unfolding one stage at a time, seeing Him better, becoming more like Him with every step we take to follow Him.

Divine Promises

We’ve shifted a bit from the subject of advent. But how can we truly study the cause without considering its effect? The very nature of advent is the notable impact it has. And the impact is nothing short of our complete perfection in Him. Note well: this is a promise for everyone who places their hope in Him.

As Philippians 1:6 says, “[He] who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” And in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, Paul prays, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And he ends his prayer with this assurance: “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”

Note the telescopic root peppered throughout the promises above: our completion (or perfection, epi-TEL-eó)—that is to say, our complete (or perfect, holo-TEL-és) sanctification—is God’s promise. “[He] who began a good work”—made a beginning—“in you” isn’t interested in half-completed jobs. Rather, what He commences He also consummates.

But how? Let’s have a look at one means God uses—or will use—for our perfection. Consider again 1 John 3:2: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Here the Apostle John speaks of Jesus’s second coming—but is the basic principle in this verse only applicable to the end times?

Sight through the Telescope

Even now, during our earthly lives, I believe one means God uses to notch our telescopes out from one power of maturity to the next is sight. Magnification of Him and on Him brings maturity! When we see Him—face to face, as He is—we will be like Him. In the meantime, we see only in part—but we can certainly ask God to increase that part!

It’s worth reflecting on the truth that not everyone who saw Jesus during His earthly life became immediately like Him. They saw Him; they heard Him; but did they really fix their gaze on Him?

Hebrews 12:2 encourages us to fix our eyes on Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” As I said in my last blog post, the word translated here as “fix” means, “looking away from all else, to fix one’s gaze upon.” How broad is our field of vision through that telescope? Not very! We have to choose what to look at, and then hone in on that one thing.

So, we have to look in order to see—and even to look away from distractions. But what other requirements make sight possible? From Hebrews 12:2, I would say that sight requires focus. A passing glance at Jesus isn’t the kind of sight that provokes lasting change. Besides focus, several factors—which we’ll get to momentarily—are necessary for sight to take place. But consider this…

When I was a teen and into my twenties, my activity of choice was caving. When you go underground, you bring your light with you because, there, the only light available is whatever you bring. Turn off your lights in a cave and you can’t see your hand waving in front of your face. If you haven’t been underground without lights, I guarantee you’ve never seen such total darkness.

Even in a dark room at night, the dim light from outdoors or from another room might be inadequate to sidestep the scattered toys which serve as the land mines of a mother’s world (a father’s, too)! Without light we can’t see—no matter how good our eyes may be. And that brings us back to John chapter 1.

If you haven’t already done so, read verses 1-14 now. You’ll note that the Greek word logos (“Word”)—and the corresponding pronouns, He, His, and Him—occur repeatedly in the first chapter of John’s gospel… but that’s not all. Other important themes permeate this chapter, including the key word we’ll examine next.

A New Advent

John 1:9 speaks of an advent: “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.” And the advent it speaks of is an advent of light. Not the first, of course. Read Genesis 1:1-5 alongside John 1:1-5 and you can’t help but see the parallels.

In the beginning, God (through the Word) said, “Let there be light.” The first advent of light came in the beginning, shining across unmolded clay landscapes that were “formless and void,” hunkering down in the darkness. Kind of like man after losing the best part of the image in which God made him.

God said, “Let there be light,” yet even after the creation of light, another advent of light was needed. Isaiah 9:2 prophetically describes it as follows: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness”—literally, those living in the land of the shadow of death (see Psalm 23:4)—“a light has dawned.”

So, John 1:9 speaks of a second advent of light—not physical light, as from a world that is passing away, but “the true Light”: something more spiritually true. Something, in fact, that is the truth to which created light points. “While I am in the world,” Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5). That word “light,” in Greek, means, of course, light, but “especially in terms of its results, what it manifests…” 

Further, Mirriam-Webster online defines the English word “manifestation” as “1: a sign that shows something clearly and “2: one of the forms that something has when it appears or occurs.”

A sign that shows something clearly. Jesus—image of the invisible God. Showing the Father to those with eyes to see.

One of the forms something has when it appears or occurs. Jesus—not formless and voidbut rather a mold of the Father, filled with the Holy Spirit.

Why is Jesus described as Light? Consider that dark room littered with toys… Light exposes what’s there. Not imaginations, but truth. Light scatters the darkness. Light and dark don’t mix. Light also allows sight. It reveals. And Jesus is the revelation—a sign showing us the Father. God came to earth in the form of a man in order to make Himself known. He came in a relatable form to further relationship. First (in time) by modeling the life He wants all believers to live: one of total dependence on and submission to the Father. Then by closing up the chasm of sin that kept us separated from God—and kept us from returning to the likeness of the One in whose image we were created.

What is Sight?

So, Jesus is the lightrevealing the Father, exposing our sins, and helping us to see. But what does it mean to see? Physically, we look with our eyes and see. But are eyes truly the part of the body most necessary for sight? Consider this quote from DiscoveryEye.org:

The eye works like a camera. The iris and the pupil control how much light to let into the back of the eye, much like the shutter of a camera. When it is very dark, our pupils get bigger, letting in more light; when it is very bright our irises constrict, letting in very little light.

The lens of the eye, like the lens of a camera, helps us to focus. But just as a camera uses mirrors and other mechanical devices to focus, we rely on eyeglasses and contact lenses to help us to see more clearly.

The [focused] light rays are then directed to the back of the eye, [onto] the retina, which acts like the film in a camera. The cells in the retina absorb and convert the light to electrochemical impulses which are transferred along the optic nerve to the brain. The brain is instrumental in helping us see as it translates the image into something we can understand.”

So we see, we need eyes in focus and a working brain to help us make sense of what we’re seeing—but also the presence of light, without which no sight can take place. Did you ever think of sight as being so complicated?

All these factors are clearly physical in nature, but can they also shed light on the inner workings of our spiritual sight? To some degree, I believe they can.

Consider: How often does something escape our notice physically because we’re focused on the wrong thing? Similarly, a spiritual focus on Jesus, what He did for us, suffered for us, in order to bring heaven—a gloriously joyful eternal life with Him—into focus in our future, makes the trials of this world pale in comparison (Romans 8:18). The eye was made to focus on one thing at a time. Everything outside that area of focus is a blur. So which is blurred for you: your worries… or the King of the Universe who turns problems into praise?

And what about the brain-eye connection?  Physically, though our eyes absorb the image of what we see, its interpretation is left to the brain. You might not be surprised to learn that the meaning of the Greek word for SEE (from 1 John 3:2, for example) often assumes this metaphorical meaning: “to see with the mindperceive.” John 1:10-11 says that the true Light “was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”

The image of the invisible God had His advent on this earth, and many eyes saw His form, His miracles, His character embodying the message of love He spoke. They saw Him—but their brains failed to perceive the significance of who He was. Two people can see the same thing and come to completely different conclusions based on their personalities, upbringing, experiences (whether ordinary or spiritual), etc. Unless we’re blind, we all see physically. But no one interprets physically. Often, the way we interpret what we see is intuitive or instinctive. We feel our way to perceived truth based on what we think we know, what we’ve been through, what we think we want, and how we feel.

I don’t know about you, but I think Paul had it right when he said, “Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:2). With all the unintended factors that inadvertently influence our interpretations of what we see, how can we possibly lean on our own understanding (which Proverbs 3:5-6 warns against)?

Romans 12:2 also provides a warning: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” From this verse, right off the bat, we learn at least two things: (1) Our minds need renewing. The processing center for the interpretation of sight and therefore interaction with the world is fundamentally flawed. (2) Our natural inclination is to follow the pattern of this world, which I daresay is to believe we can trust our eyes, our powers of sight, and our own understanding—but we can’t! Spiritually, without the light of Jesus we’re blinder than bats!

So this second advent of light, of which we’ve been talking, is also a second advent of sight—but only for those who have experienced creation’s second advent. For “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3). That second birth opens our eyes to a whole new reality—a spiritual reality beyond the material world, much more real than the physical and longer lasting as well.

Romans 12:2 & Final Thoughts

Consider the second birth—a birth meant to set right our loss of identity from the Fall, to give shape to souls made formless and void by sin and to reinstate our image as sons and daughters of God. With that birth came spiritual sight. And that sight means we can finally see Him—can finally start conforming to the image of the One in whose likeness we were meant to live.

I spoke of Romans 12:2 in my last blog post, but let’s have another look at two key words which connect it with the WHO and WHY of advent.

The Greek word for conform is sysēmatízō which, according to HELPS Word-Studies, means “assuming a similar outward form (expression) by following the same pattern (model, mold).”

Does that remind you of anything we discussed above? Light—one of the forms something has when it appears or occurs. Jesus—an engraving of the Father. He never acted on His own authority but rather followed the pattern His Father set. We were made in His image, molded like clay. Formed from the dust of the earth. But we lost our form—our identity. We can’t be children of God without sharing the same nature as our Father—just consider John 8:31-47.

So, conformity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It depends on whose mold we’re trying to fill and whose model we follow. Remember, the sight we most need isn’t physical. But the physical is the most apparent—and it’s very distracting. There is a saying: Monkey see, monkey do. It’s hard not to have our eyes on the culture—the world—and inadvertently succumb to its influence. Our physical senses are immersed in it! Yet, that’s not the pattern we follow if we belong to Him. Rather, we fix our eyes on His character, His life, and His words and let them change us from the inside out.

We are not to follow the pattern of this world but to be transformed, metamorphóō in Greek, which comes from the words metá, meaning “change after being with” and morphóō, “changing form in keeping with inner reality.” If we accept Christ as Lord, He has already given us new birth, has already begun His work inside us, however inconspicuous it may be. It takes time—time with Him!—for that inner reality to work itself out into the open. It also takes time with Him, in His word, to reset our mistaken mindsets. Eventually, every mindset—what we really believe whether good or bad, true or false—comes out. As Jesus says in Matthew 6:23, “If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

But for those of us who believe, “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6, and vs. 4!). So we see, He is the BEGINNING—PREEMINENT. The END—our PERFECTION. And the more we SEE Him the more we conform—not to the patterns of this world—but to His IMAGE, the image in which we were created.

The Value of Biblical Meditation

Colossians 3:2

A few days ago I sensed God highlighting Colossians 3:2. In context it reads, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”

Our life is in heaven with Christ. We were raised with Him—not just at some future date, but even now. Our hearts and minds belong up there—not down here.

In considering this verse, I had to acknowledge my tendency toward distraction regarding earthly things. I recognized the need for change—but my thoughts went blank when I considered how to fix my mind on things above. 

As often happens in these cases, I resorted to the old standbys. To words I say so often that they roll off the tongue without engaging my heart or mind. Do you see the problem? It’s hard to fix the mind on anything through mindless engagement!

In this, I rediscovered my own deficit of ideas, energy, and inspiration to see it through—so I gave it back to God in prayer: “Help me to fix my mind on things above. I want to do better, LORD. Teach me how.”

ANSWERED PRAYER

The next day I woke with the desire to find a sermon expounding on Colossians 3:2. Not an intellectual discourse, to cram into my brain, but rather for Spirit-empowering words that would inspire. I searched online and settled on a video-recorded sermon by Pastor Bill Johnson. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but I see it was just what I needed.

The theme included endurance in prayer—but it went beyond that. He said we ought to live in response to the Father—not in reaction to the devil. (Consider Psalm 37, especially verses 7 and 8). Bill said we should always pray, yes—but not because we’re overwhelmed by the evil around us (thereby magnifying the devil’s works). Rather, what gives us endurance in prayer, he said, is a surpassing awareness of the overwhelmingly good nature of God. We esteem Him—His word, His works, and His ways—more highly than those of the enemy. So, in order to motivate prayer, we need to cultivate a sense of awe in who God is—but how?

Bill’s answer: Biblical meditation.

Here are just a few of my notes on the subject (some verbatim from Bill’s sermon): Biblical meditation requires shutting down all external distractions. It’s the ability to be lost in Him. It is not a means of intellectual comprehension—it’s a simple exposure to God’s truth. In Biblical meditation we murmur, mutter, speak to ourselves, repeat, and rephrase God’s truth in our own words. We meditate on the WORD of God, the WORKS of God, and the WAYS of God until His word becomes flesh in us again (just as the Word became flesh in the person of Christ). The ambition is that His way of thinking becomes so deeply rooted in us that it becomes our initial response. In this way, our mind will be anchored and shaped by the knowledge of God. This gives us the mind of Christ and aids in warfare (protection against the enemy), because we know the truth and the truth sets us free. (Watch it here.)

After listening to this sermon, thankful that God had answered my meager prayer, I sought to put these new insights into practice. But of course my mind did what it always does—it blanked out. “Meditate on God’s word. Okay. But where do I start? What truths do I most need?”

Unsure of how or where to start, I began reading, studying, and meditating on all the verses brought to mind by what Pastor Johnson had said. What follows are my written meditations, slightly revised to help the reader follow my train of thought (which wasn’t particularly linear).

PHILIPPIANS 2:12-13

Philippians 2:12-13: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.”

WORK OUT your salvation—in HELPS Word Studies (HWS), “work down to the end-point.” This isn’t a one-step, a two-step, or even a twelve-step program. It’s a lifelong dedication—persistence is key. And yet, I am assured that as I allow myself to be exposed to the truth, it WILL set me free. What goes IN must come OUT as God works in me, first to will and then to act in line with His good plans for my life.

Work out your SALVATION. According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, this isn’t restricted to “future salvation, the sum of benefits and blessings which Christians, redeemed from all earthly ills, will enjoy after the visible return of Christ from heaven in the consummated and eternal kingdom of God,” but also “salvation as the present possession of all true Christians.” It involves present deliverance from bad habits and besetting sins—and even physical deliverance (from sickness, enemies, etc). In all these things I am more than a conqueror through Him who loves me (Romans 3:37).

Working out your salvation leads to OBEDIENCE. This word, obey, literally means “under hearing” (HWS). It is “acting under the authority of the one speaking…to hearken” to act upon what is heard. Our own will power isn’t enough to achieve this end result. “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Nothing, He says. And yet in John 15:10, our LORD bids us keep His commands—sounds a lot like obedience.

As helpless as we are on our own, how can we KEEP His commands? Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance provides this description: “to guard (from loss or injury, properly, by keeping the eye upon.” Keep the eye upon HIM—and upon His commands. Remain under hearing (His voice). Without Him we can do nothing. But we can watch what we’re watching…

A concept God highlighted for me recently in Ruth Chou Simmons’ book, “Beholding & Becoming,” was this: We become more like whatever it is we take the time to behold. The longer and deeper we gaze upon Him the more like Him we become. This is why it’s so important to fix our eyes on Jesus.

Hebrews and Romans 12:2

In the Berean Study Bible, Hebrews 12:2, reads, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The word translated as “fix” here meanslooking away from all else, to fix one’s gaze upon” (HWS). It means that we have eyes only for Him. This idea reminds me of a small child who, having experienced something scary to them, looks first to see their parent’s reaction before deciding how they ought to react. Many times when our human reaction is to fret, God sits in the heavens and laughs! Oh, to see the cares and worries of this life framed within God’s perspective!

Romans 12:2: “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.”

Do not CONFORM. The Greek here comes from two words meaning “identified with” and “having outward shape” – “properly, assuming a similar outward form (expression) by following the same pattern (model, mold)” (HWS). Culture wants to reshape mankind in its image, but in this world we are like HIM (Genesis 1:26, 1 John 4:17)!

Like Him?!? Even Paul admitted the struggle: “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19)! The sinful nature, too, wants conformity to a fallen world, but we must be TRANSFORMED. In the Greek, this word comes from two others, meaning, “change after being with” and “changing form in keeping with inner reality” (HWS). Wow!

Our inner reality determines our outer reality—even if that “reality” is wrong! As Jesus says in Matthew 6:22-23, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” And yet, as we spend time with Him, in His word, our inner landscape begins to change. We are changed by the ones—or the One—with whom we spend the most time. What goes in will come out (Luke 6:45). So we need to continuously meditate on the truths He’s provided to clean us up and set us free (John 15:3, John 8:32).

Only by changing that inner reality through time spent with Him can we hope to work OUT our salvation from a life of enslavement to sin, for this is how God works in us: through His word, His presence, and our constant leaning on Him in prayer. Persevere my friends, continuing to abide in His words (and in Him!) until God works them down to the end-point of completion!

Quotes from 2020

Just yesterday, God led me to peruse my blog—at which point I realized that today was my blog’s birthday!

So I set out to do as I’ve done in the past: I reread my posts and began selecting favorite quotes from the past year. But as I did this, I noticed a definite theme: Seeds. In almost every post I use the word. And along with the word comes the idea of new birth and continued growth—especially after a season resembling death.

In Seeds in the Waiting, I say:

In this moment, certain promises are waiting in seed form in my life. How about you? What seeds is God working in you? Do they bring you excitement, joy—expectation? Or have you discounted the day of small beginnings—the mustard seed of faith? Are you stuck in the darkness of a tomb or an ark, unable to see beyond the endless floodwaters or the musty grave?

Implicit in the word “seed” is the idea of darkness, death, waiting—and often trials. The seed dies. The growth comes—but often not to the naked eye. It takes time.

In His Yoke: personal reflections on Christian growth, I explain:

As a former self-condemnation addict, I’ve been encouraged… to learn a little more about Hebrew thought and the clues it provides about how we might view [the abundance of Biblical] imperatives in light of our ongoing struggles.

According to Torah Life Ministry, “Hebrew [thinking] sees a thing not just as it appears in the moment…, but from its tiniest seed form all the way through to when it reaches full maturity. This is a critical distinction… seeing things from God’s eternal… vs. man’s temporal perspective.”

Imagine that. God looks at us and sees His finished work. Before the seed in our hearts has even split, He sees the bloom, the fruit.

What an encouragement!

Just as God plants seeds in our lives, we’re also called to plants seeds. In An Encouragement for Mothers, I wrote about this specifically in relation to a mother’s role in training her kids, which often feels like it’s two steps forward, three steps back:

[Whether] or not we feel successful in discipling our children—or in prayer—is not the point. The real point here is to distinguish between God’s role and ours.

We are called to obey—to prove faithful to His word—not to strive to bring results. As 1 Corinthians 3:7 says, “So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” Our job is to keep planting and watering seeds (by word, prayer, and example) and to trust God to do what only He can do.

I don’t know about you, but I find this truth incredibly freeing. No longer need I worry if I’ve made the whole truth clear to my daughter every time I speak. But if I keep sharing devotions, songs of worship, and prayer, I’m bringing clarity incrementally as I open new doors for God to work. I share instruction, but just as importantly, I share myself—my imperfect love as well as failures and life lessons. In this, my daughter learns that being a Christian isn’t all about toeing the line. It isn’t born of rules—but rather finds its life in relationship with the living Christ.

Our job is to plant seeds and leave the growth to God. What a relief!

In The Gift of a Birthday, I relate seeds to a baby’s chance at life, saying this:

[Birth’s] precious gift is only the beginning of celebration, each day another present to be unwrapped in the discovery of who each little person will grow to be. We [parents] hold our breath in expectation of what God already knows, because He exists beyond time, from which He shapes His creation.

We don’t see, but He sees the gifts in each seed and the many fruits each life brings, and which the generations magnify. Remove one stone from the river’s bed and the flow in that place—and downstream—is forever changed. Sediments meant to be carried, sift out too soon. Others meant to be taken up, remain buried.

So there is life… and there is life snuffed out by another’s choice—the choice to end all further choices. God sees the stolen destinies—the limbs of family trees cut off—and mourns as the only One who grasps the full impact. There’s a hole in History only He can see. And in a mother’s heart—whether broken or hardened—another hole is formed.

The theme of seeds even appeared in a guest post by Author C.E. White, who says this:

God realized, even if I didn’t, that when a firm faith is what you’re after, digging into your own heart won’t get you there, but digging into Scripture will. And here’s the weird thing: the Scripture you’re digging into takes up a shovel of its own.

I didn’t need to dig into myself first. I needed to dig into Scripture first so it would dig into me.

And it turned up a rocky field—boulders of unbelief, roots of dissatisfaction, stumps of distraction, weeds of worry. Slowly but surely, biblical truths tore out the stubborn places in my soul. It was painful, but oh so worth it!

[And then at last,] Seeds planted finally began to find the conditions they needed to grow in my heart.

And the last post with a reference to seeds pertains to Jesus Himself. In Certain Uncertainties, I say:

[Through] it all—in this season especially—God has been faithful to remind me: Life is not an instruction manual to be written and arduously followed. It’s an adventure!

Adventure. Advent. The coming of something new—or of someONE. Jesus came into this world, a tiny seed of the man He would become in human history. He came to bring change—a new revelation of God. Every year we celebrate this holiday of joy, the coming of a Savior. But how does it affect us here and now?

The fact of His birth long ago means nothing to us now unless it collides with our present, breaking off pieces of self and leaving behind the fused imprint of who He is and how He desires us to live. And yet, His birth touches us here, today—and even year-round—whenever His presence births something new within.

Do you see it? The scattered “seeds” in these posts? The scattered implications of new birth? Even the fact that new life was literally born within me last year. My youngest daughter was that seed in the waiting that forced our surprise trip to the ER! As I said in my very first post in 2020, “When God hems you in, it’s meant to bring about fresh growth—new life. No one ever said it was pleasant navigating the birth canal. Not pleasant, but necessary for new life.”

I’ve long sensed—over the past year—that God was placing me in a parable bigger than myself. In my ER pain, I sensed the coming of trials. (And how widespread they were!) In my pregnancy, I sensed the advent of a new birth. (I believe this is still coming—and I pray it’s widespread, too.)

The point is this: All these struggles we’ve been facing—the pandemic, the political and social unrest (which constitute my other two unquoted blog posts)—are not for nothing if we know Christ as Lord. Rather, we might consider these trials as seeds in the waiting. Trials that bring the kind of death that ushers in a greater abundance of life. Like how a harsh pruning makes a tree look dead—but actually helps it thrive in the end.

That’s what we are in His hands.

An Easter Surprise

Most of my posts are well thought out. They’re written, revised, and tweaked to my satisfaction. They have to have a certain flow. A flow in the rhythm of the words. A flow of thoughts.

Today, I’m just writing. And—like the empty tomb, which came as a shock to the women who’d come to prepare Christ’s body—you might not get what you expect. But hopefully something better.

Easter surprise: two kinds, three things—but what?

The First Surprise

I did something somewhat impulsive a few days ago—which led me to do something impulsive just the other day: (1) I recorded a completely unscripted version of my testimony. It doesn’t go into all the little details like my blog posts would, but I just did it (because planning it out would take forever). And then I shared it on Facebook, expecting all of two people to watch it. Turns out it was my most popular post of all time—by a lot. Which got me thinking and let to impulsive act number two: (2) I created a YouTube Channel and posted the aforementioned video.

I’ve got another video ready to post and more ideas on the way, so if you want to stay informed, consider subscribing.

My new YouTube Channel at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgRRckkagyeuFyPv-d0Fp-A

Bottom line: I feel like this might be one of those God things. When I decided to start a blog, I didn’t know I would have what it takes to keep going. (I didn’t think I had enough ideas!) But whenever we step out in faith and try something new, we almost always learn something. And sometimes that something we learn is how we’re good at something we never would’ve discovered if we’d never tried that new thing.

Like how I uncovered a passion for digital art because of the need (at times) to create unique images to accompany my blog posts. And that brings me to my next point.

The Second Surprise

I recently worked with my oldest daughter to create a couple of Easter-inspired works of art I’d like to share with you today.

The first is a digital collage of my daughter’s handprint, a few attribution-free photos from Pixabay, and two stamps from Hobby Lobby. I printed multiple copies to send out as Easter cards to various friends. Here’s a copy for you—and hopefully a good reminder of the One who could never forget you:

The second began as a watercolor art project. Tearing strips of masking tape and sticking them strategically to the page, I spelled out the message I’d planned, a modified version of John 3:16. I also used a watercolor resist pen to create a different “font” to distinguish between different parts of the message. The bottom of a large coffee tin defined the borders of the Earth, while my daughter’s hands (outlined) formed the continents. At my direction, she added little crayon touches here and there—and I added a few of my own. Then the watercolor.

My daughter painted the water blue, the Earth green and brown, and the vacuum of space with strokes of black. I may have helped to fill in the gaps around the borders. Then we let it dry, peeled the tape/resist, and scanned it. And I continued with digital modifications like adding color to some of the words, dropping shadows behind the Earth, and adding the crescent of gold on the bottom left. I also added my youngest daughter’s footprint (to scale with my eldest’s hand) to the “African” continent.

The final result was an 11 x 14 image, ready to be printed as a poster. “For God so (heart) the (Earth) that He gave Yeshua (whose name means) SALVATION.”

Final Thoughts

The YouTube Channel and the works of art are my two Easter surprises for you, my faithful readers. Admittedly, they might not be the something better. But let’s not forget that first Easter surprise discovered by the women at the tomb. They came to prepare His body for death… But He rose again to prepare His chosen for life everlasting. And that’s definitely something better!

Happy Easter! He is Risen!

Hallelujah!

How we respond to Jesus (and how He responds to us)

Note: This post is the part of a Good Friday message I participated in presenting at my church. My portion covered the first three last statements of Jesus prior to His death.

Image by Thomas B. from Pixabay

This evening, in following the first three last words of Jesus—with a few other scriptures besides—I’ll be giving special attention to varying ways in which different people responded to Jesus.

In the account of Jesus’s crucifixion, we see that…

  1. some people responded with mourning—as did the women following Jesus
  2. others with scoffing—as did the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law
  3. one responded with a confession of faith—specifically, the second criminal
  4. and one responded with obedience—that is, the apostle John

The first response to Jesus comes from Luke 23:27-31:

27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’ 31 For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

The women responded to Jesus’s crucifixion with mourning and wailing.

Image by Karen Nadine from Pixabay

This sorrow and weeping is a significant response that we could easily imagine as pointing to the depth of their love for Jesus. Not the kind of love based on an idea or a concept, distant and impersonal as that can be, but a love born of their own experience—from some personal touch they’d received from Jesus.

How many of them had He healed? How many unforgivables had He forgiven? How many had met His eye and, in His gaze, witnessed true love pouring out for them from their Creator—in spite of their many sins?

They might not have had a great knowledge and understanding of the law and the prophets (as did the Pharisees), but they knew that they knew that they KNEW that Jesus was their Savior. And that was enough for them.

As John 17:3 says, “Now this is eternal life: that they KNOW”—experientially know—“You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay

The second response to Jesus comes from Luke 23:32-38:

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.

In this we see that one of the most prevalent (verbalized) responses to Jesus was mockery. And it came from every tier of society: from soldiers, religious leaders, passersby, and even one of the criminals.

From their words, it’s clear these people had either seen or heard of Jesus’s works. We know that many of the religious leaders witnessed His miracles firsthand, but these acts of kindness—the healings, the forgiveness, the love outpoured—didn’t touch the pharisees the same way they touched the women. Why? Because their hearts were too hard and they’d put too much trust in their own understanding—their interpretations of the Sabbath, for example.

And yet Jesus’s response was the same for all who gathered—and everyone who would gather even now—at the foot of the cross: “Father, forgive them…”

Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

The third response to Jesus comes from Luke 23:39-43:

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

We don’t know what these men knew about Jesus before facing their own cross, but we can tell from their words what affect He had on them.

The two criminals responded very differently to Jesus.

Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay

Both criminals had heard enough to know the basics of who Jesus claimed to be… Yet one spoke harshly: “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” And the other? “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Can you hear the hardness of the one and the humility of the other? The selfish pride of the first and the confident faith of the last? The latter admitted his guilt and bowed his heart to Jesus’s authority. The former admitted nothing, and elevated his own selfish desires above all.

Romans 10:17 says: “So faith is from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” The rhema word of Christ.

Faith isn’t something we produce in ourselves, yet we have this warning from the Holy Spirit about the way in which we HEAR:

“Today, if you HEAR his voice, do not harden your hearts…” (Hebrews 3:7b-8a)

Consider the second criminal: How did he respond—and why? This criminal responded in faith because he heard—really heard—Jesus’s words from a place of utter wretchedness and destitution. He had nothing to offer but a heartfelt defense of Jesus and his own confession of faith.

“Father, forgive them,” Jesus had said. They both heard with their ears, but only one took hold of the truth with the obedience that comes from faith.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

And that leads us to the final response, which comes from John 19:26-27:

26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

How did John respond to Jesus—and why? Put simply, he HEARD Jesus’s words, IN FAITH, and gave attention to how he might carry them out according to Jesus’s perfect will. I don’t believe he heard quickly, casually, or carelessly—nor did he hear only to memorize the words, but in order to walk in obedience to what he’d heard.

I think it’s notable that Jesus didn’t say to John, “take care of my mother” or “take her into your home.” Instead, He said, “Here is your mother.” In other words, treat her just the way you would want your own mother to be treated. Don’t only care for her physical needs, but also for the deep hurt she bears at the knowledge of My suffering and the inevitable separation that’s coming.

And this last part is the heart right here: Be to her what I would’ve been to her if I could remain.

It’s a tall order, only possible through a faith willing to lean into God’s strength. Not easy—and yet John heard and obeyed.

Modified from an Image by Dorothée QUENNESSON from Pixabay

I’d like to finish with a look at God’s warning to the Hebrews in chapter 3, verses 15-19:

As you listen, keep your ears attuned for the following words: HEAR or heard, DISOBEYED, and UNBELIEF.

15 As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.”

16 Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.

So we see this close relationship between hearing, believing, and obeying… Faith begins when we hear His voice. Then, as we submit ourselves to His words, this faith born of God grows feet and leads us toward obedience. But how? How exactly?

I’m not going to tie this up into a neat little bow—as if I had all the answers. But God invites us into the mystery. To seek Him diligently. To follow. As Jesus says in John 3:8, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

And so it is with us… as we’re willing to hearken to His voice.

Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay

Certain Uncertainties

I have this tendency to want to plan everything out. So much so that I get stuck in the planning and delay the action. I try to think of everything I’ll need before I go to the store. I look up ratings and reviews of items to help me decide which products to get. I want to know that these items are in stock… (The madness of persistent pandemic shortages?) Because sometimes, even when they say they’re there, they’re not.

Shopping is only one example of how this neurosis has manifest itself in my life of late. It might be a recipe I’m considering. An art project I’ve pondered. I want to make these things my own, and yet I also want a guarantee. So I Google culinary substitutes in line with my innovation. I research types of glues to see which products work best. Which always seems to require another trip to the store in which I may or may not find what I’m looking for.

(Nevertheless, I always seem to walk away with several impulse items I hadn’t planned on buying. After all, it’s easier to take what I see right in front of me—to hedge my bets in case I don’t find anything better later.)

This pattern in my life has become clear. Whether I’m strategizing better methods of discipling my older daughter (more about mothering here)—or trying culinary combinations few have tasted before—I often seem to get stuck in the planning.

If you’re familiar with Myers-Briggs, you might understand me when I say that my innovative N and planner J too often go head to head.

I either waste a lot of time trying not to waste time and resources (planner J)… or I waste a lot of resources trying to satisfy my inspired intuition (innovative N).

As I think back, I see this tug of war isn’t all that different from the experience I described earlier plotting novels (see here). I had, at times, gotten stuck in the brainstorming, in this elusive idea that I could somehow figure it all out and save myself the time of exploratory writing—aimless writing to my way of thought.

But, as God told me then, he tells me now: Let go of your tight-fisted plans. Let go and trust… Trust Me to guide you by My Spirit—and not by your own understanding. I suppose I have Proverbs 3:5-6 hanging on my wall for a reason!

Because my reasoning keeps tricking me into thinking it’s all-wise!

Nevertheless, through it all—in this season especially—God has been faithful to remind me: Life is not an instruction manual to be written and arduously followed. It’s an adventure!

Adventure. Advent. The coming of something new—or of someONE. Jesus came into this world, a tiny seed of the man He would become in human history. He came to bring change—a new revelation of God. Every year we celebrate this holiday of joy, the coming of a Savior. But how does it affect us here and now?

The fact of His birth long ago means nothing to us now unless it collides with our present, breaking off pieces of self and leaving behind the fused imprint of who He is and how He desires us to live. And yet, His birth touches us here, today—and even year-round—whenever His presence births something new within.

His advent into our lives brings correction, love, peace, joy—hope. Though never through faulty human plans—and not without adventure! He doesn’t call us to take the wide easy road, nor the one that’s predictable. 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD (Isaiah 55:8). Rather, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). (That’s obvious from the testimony He gave me: part 1 and part 2.)

So all this impulse to plan—to the very last detail—isn’t born of God. Certainly, some planning is good—a fruit of the intellect He gave us. But the agonizing? Not so much.

In all these restless wanderings, I hear a loud KNOCK, KNOCK. But it’s no joke. From the other side comes a voice: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20). 

So you see, the invitation to advent—to adventure—is always there. Every time we listen to His voice in place of the world, the flesh, and the devil—and take a leap of faith to obey it. At times, it might seem a farther off whisper than the loud clanging that demands the security of our plans. But are our plans really secure?

Not. One. Bit. The appearance of certainty—I assure you—is only an illusion.

After all, you had plans. Then Covid.

I had plans. Then an ER visit with a strange twist: Guess what—you’re pregnant!

World leaders have plans—you bet they do!—but only God’s plans stand the test of time. 

“Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?” says the LORD. “Do I close up the womb when I bring to delivery?” says your God (Isaiah 66:9). 

“I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do” (Isaiah 46:10-11).

So I say, “Come, Lord Jesus. Let the adventure begin!”