May 31 - One Lonely Daisy

Sunday, May 31, 2009

May 31 - One Lonely Daisy - 2 Timothy 4:9-22

Diane says:
"Timothy, please do everything you can to come to me." Paul says this twice in these last verses (2 Timothy 4:9, 21). He has had friends desert him and others leave for other reasons. Luke is still there and he asks for Mark. He wants a cloak. A simple need, yet something so personal to him. He wants his scrolls. No one knows for sure what was on those, but they meant something to this man sitting in prison for doing the Lord's work.

The pain of loss in these verses is palpable. Everything is gone, only his reliance on the Lord remains. People are moving on with their lives while Paul faces the end of his. How do you finish a life that has been lived like a raging volcano? How does one man ever close out all of the work that he has done when his life has been lived in many cities and among many, many people?

Paul's comfort is spoken in 2 Timothy 4:18, "The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen."

So be it. Amen.

Rebecca says:
These last few verses in Timothy have a subtitle in my Bible - 'Personal Remarks.' In these verses Paul is not an apostle or a martyr or a mentor. He is a man of flesh and bone just like the rest of us and this part of Paul is what I relate to the best.

Here you can feel his humanity. All of his wisdom and teaching is set aside and we get a very pure glimpse into his heart and hear the loneliness, disappointment and the hope that exists in his world.

Paul was isolated. We all experience this at some time or another, sometimes it is just for a moment, yet sometimes entire seasons are spent away from the world where it seems you cannot find a friend within a 20 mile radius. Though I tend to be a bit of a hermit, those seasons are still difficult. It's easy to feel deserted. Paul was alone and let down by so many people in this list and that is such a painful disappointing pang to the soul.

We all have felt it haven’t we? Those times that our phone is silent, our inbox is empty and every friend you have seems too busy to care or notice. I hate those times and a few years back they caused me a great deal of anger. During my period of isolation I could not see anything except the growing list of people that let me down during my time of need.

It was at that time that I fully started to embrace the verse in Isaiah 40:6 "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field." Men are a continual let down, people in general have very short attention spans, few are even aware of people they coexist with let alone some girl down the road with a heavy heart. We all are generally wrapped up in our own lives and only experience seasons where we are selfless, or feel on top of our scripture study or charitable service etc. But sure enough life seems to get in the way or our flesh becomes louder than our spirit and suddenly we are the Demas and Alexanders of our friend’s worlds. I cannot tell you how angry I used to get over this when it was done to me, or when I realized I had done it to someone else.

But then I went back and finished reading that verse in Isaiah and verse 7 changed my perspective. "The grass withers and the flowers fall because the breathe of the LORD blows on them."

That kind of threw me for a loop when I read it the first time. I was prepared to pout and get good and angry at the people that let me down and suddenly the brakes were put on my pity party plan. I couldn’t get angry at the people for disappointing me or not calling or reaching out for being little feeble weak pieces of grass because they did not wither of their own accord, they withered because the LORD blew on them.

He toppled them, he distracted them, and he kept them from calling me, or reaching out, or sending an email. He kept their focus off me and in their own worlds and so if I was going to be mad and yell at anyone it was going to be God and that was just what He intended.

The more and more this happens to me the more and more I realize that in seasons when I am all alone and God has trampled the grassy field of friends in my life it is because He has a deep desire for some one on one time with me. He loves us so much and if in our hearts we truly desire a connection with Him, he will honor that desire at all costs even if it means blowing a few flowers and grass blades away in our life so we are a lone daisy in an acre prairie. Isolation is a gift because our Holy Father desires some alone time with us and he wants to hear the words in our heart, even if those words begin with us yelling at him because we are so lonely or disappointed or sad. He wants to hear it because it is sincere and suddenly the dialogue is opened and He gets to commune with His child and reconnect.

This word isolation has this terrible connotation attached to it in today’s world. We will do anything to avoid it. In our cars we listen to radios, or talk on phones. In our homes we have TVs going or sit on computers just to avoid the quiet. We schedule our lives to the point of no return because somehow we have become a world that cannot stand quiet. Because of that, God creates isolation in the lives of the busy or distracted as a gift of love.

During these times it seems to cause the boil that brings truth to the surface in my life. It is easy when there are other voices to become content listening to them rather than that Divine internal whisper. Sometimes during this period what rises to the surface is uncomfortable, so uncomfortable that it is easier to just silence it with busyness. But I have also learned to embrace even these uncomfortable moments because God is a jealous God who loves His children so thoroughly that He will do whatever it takes to get some alone time.

He will begin with the us, and then if we still don’t take a moment to commune, slowly the distractions will become silenced, then jobs that take up our time, or callings that keep us away from Him. I am convinced that if we do not embrace isolation then desolation is soon to follow - not as a punishment, but because God is desperate to be with His children. When we are unemployed, we have no job to distract us from His grace, when we are broke, we have no money to do all those activities that fill up our day to day and keep us from His whisper. When we are going and going and going, an injury will stop us and finally settle us down enough that we can rest in His arms.

When you are the lone daisy in a barren field and no grass is around to comfort you, it is then that you realize that God is no blade of grass, He is the dirt that anchors your roots tightly so you don’t fail. He is the water that keeps you blooming even when it seems you can’t, He is the stem that holds you up, and He is the light that helps you grow. Sure a luscious grassy lawn seems to be the cat’s meow but sometimes during some seasons a nice rock garden is just what the doctor ordered!

May 30 - Mix Tape

Saturday, May 30, 2009

May 30 - Mix Tape - 2 Timothy 4:6-8

Diane says:
To come to the end of your life and know that you are there has to be so strange, yet Paul approached it with the grace of a man filled with the Spirit. He recognized the power that had filled his life and knew that he was willing to sacrifice it all.

The beauty of this drink offering is that in Numbers 28:4-7, we find that the drink offering is poured out to accompany the sacrifice of the lamb. Paul lifts the sacrifice of Jesus up as he tells us that he is simply the accompaniment to the power of that offering.

Paul has done all that he could to bring Jesus to the world. He is confident that he sacrificed his life in the manner that he was called and that Jesus will offer the crown of righteousness to him. Does he feel like he earned it? If you have read any of Paul's words, you know that this is a free gift that any of us can have (Ephesians 2:8).

Rebecca says:
What I am about to say might date me, but I am a fan of the mix tape. Any child of the 80’s knows what I am talking about. Those little cassettes with certain hand selected songs recorded on them that you gave to the love of your life or at the least the love of your month. Oh, they were the epitome of romance to me and the crowd I ran with. When you cared enough to give the very best, Hallmark was out the door and the mix tape was it.

I remember one of the first mix tapes I ever made had "Crazy For You" by Madonna, "I Can’t Fight This Feeling" by REO Speedwagon and "The Search is Over" by Survivor. I labored over those songs, went through dozens of albums and finally narrowed my search down to the chosen few. I had a mad crush on the guy I gave it to. We were friends and I could not find the guts or the words to ever tell him how I really felt about him.

I remember trying to write him notes letting him know what I felt but those silly little girl words seemed too insignificant for this bone crushing adoration that welled inside. At the time he was my everything and there was no way I was going to leave the expression of that kind of emotion to my own incapable hands. Madonna, REO, and Survivor could say it so much better. Somehow their lyrics seemed to express and convey the sentiment of my inexperienced 15 year old heart.

I’m sure you are wondering what mix tapes have to do with Timothy. He does not, by any stretch of the imagination seem like a Madonna fan, but I could not help but think of those tapes as we begin to creep to the conclusion of Paul’s letters to Timothy.

I started thinking about all that had been written by him; all the emotion that had been conveyed and as I came to this verse I was moved. I felt that little jolt in your heart you get when you realize something really lovely has just happened. "For I am already being poured out like a drink offering." Those are words even more beautiful than any 80s band could come up with. "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." Man, that is just beauty right there. Those are the kind of words that inspire something greater than teenage romance, they create an urgency for love and devotion.

Paul was quite eloquent and truthfully until this study, this was not one of my favorite books, but I have come to appreciate his expression, his devotion and his life. The Bible really is kind of a mixed tape from God to us. Each book was chosen with absolute care, they were hand selected because of the message they contain. They are the words that God sings to our soul to woo us and I am really digging track twelvem "The Letters to Timothy."

Though these last few words are written by Paul, and are about Paul, they could very easily be the same words Jesus would speak to us. In fact if you look through this entire book every bit of love and information and advice and wisdom Paul passes on to dear Timothy is the same that Jesus would pass on to us. We are the Timothys and He is the Paul in this little soundtrack of love and I love that thought.

I love it because I know what it was like to pour through thoughts and lyrics and songs trying to find just the right ones to express what mere words could not and somehow God has done the same thing for us in these books. And what lyric serves as a greater reminder of his love than "I am being poured out like a drink offering."

Paul expresses these words to Timothy because they sprang from his heart, the same place any great love song comes from. And now generations later we pass on these words and they live forever and no longer just express one man's life but a Savior's love for us.

Once again I wish I could find some lyric or song to express what I am feeling right now about this because I am not sure it is coming out correctly with these inexperienced and ridiculously fleshly fingers but in my soul I am deliriously joyous because I think it is just magnificent that a simple letter from one man to another can become bigger than a man and used to express love and wisdom and hope from a God to His children.

As a writer it gives me hope and as a human I hope it gives you hope. I cannot imagine how worn Paul’s soul was when he wrote these last few words. To know that you are being poured out like a drink offering. To be imprisoned, ridiculed, and most importantly willing to be honest to just say what you think from one man to another. Did Paul know the effect these words would have on generations to come? I doubt it. They were just a letter to his dear dear friend, and look how they were used. They were chosen by God to express how He feels toward us His children! Yowza.

So what ordinary, kind of things are you putting off because you think they are insignificant? What words are laid on your heart to share with a friend, that seem like nothing special now so you put it off for another day? Wouldn’t it be something if you just spit them out? If you just wrote them down or said them to whomever or expressed them in some way shape or form and then years and years and generations later you found out that God chose them to use on His mix tape to woo and inspire devotion in those He loves?

I suddenly have the urge to listen to a little Madonna, she really does say it best. God I am crazy for you. Ooohh, I feel a mix tape coming on and I really can’t fight this feeling any longer. The search is over and you were with me all the while... Why didn’t I make that tape for you instead of Gary? You’re a much better boyfriend than he was!

May 29 - Itching Ears

Friday, May 29, 2009

May 29 - Itching Ears - 2 Timothy 4:1-5

Diane says:
Really Paul? All of this on one young man? Not only did he charge Timothy to preach, be prepared always, correct, rebuke and encourage, but he did so by invoking the presence of God, Christ Jesus AND the coming kingdom. Wow! That's a lot of weight to land on one man's shoulders.

But, for Paul it wasn't about Timothy or even himself. He knew full well that the impact of Timothy's life and ministry would carry throughout time when men wouldn't put up with sound doctrine, they would turn from the truth and listen to anything that appealed to their 'itching ears.' This charge was important and Paul felt that it was the only thing standing between truth and destruction.

Timothy was told to keep his head, endure hardship, be an evangelist and do everything that he had been called to do in his ministry. We have the same tools that Timothy was given. We have Paul's teaching and his hopes for a future filled with the grace of Jesus Christ. Can we do any less?

Rebecca says:
This verse has one of my favorite phrases in it, "itching ears." That phrase completely captures what seems to surround us in the world. Today’s society is all about pacification. We have become a society that likes to take the easy route.

I cannot tell you how many times during the day I make choices to pacify. I know that if I'm asked for an opinion at work they don't really want my thoughts but want me to agree with their thoughts.

At home with my son there are many times I don’t choose the harder thing. Many times because of my own guilt or exhaustion or fear of starting an argument I give in to itching ears and when he asks a question I tell him what he wants to hear instead of the truth.

I do it with friends and family alike and the worst part is, I often get a case of itchy earitis myself and go probing to find someone in the midst of some trying time that will just stroke my ego and tell me that I’m right.

I have a fascination with trees and it began a long time ago with an old Tanya Tucker song my dad used to play in the kitchen during dinner. It goes something like "Like a tree out in the backyard that never has been broken by the wind, our love will last forever if we’re strong enough to bend." I always loved that song and it was because of it that I started this theory that I have that God gave us trees as little visual examples of what He hopes for us to become.

Tanya was right, if we learn to bend and sway like a tree then even the hardest of storms will not break us. And if we learn to be flexible and bend our ears toward heaven and willingly twist and contort our bodies and lives in order to realign with His word then there is no gust that can tear us down.

But in today’s world with a million itching ears I think we have started to turn it around. Instead of letting God’s Word be the rod that we bend toward we have instead mistakenly fooled ourselves into believing we are much bigger and more important than we are and so we become this stiff unbendable rod and expect God's Word to bend itself into our universe and contort into whatever shape we need for the moment.

You take one verse in the Bible and I can guarantee you I could find at least 20 different sermons on it all expressing different view points and within those 20 I guarantee I could find at least one of them that would satisfy any version of my itching ear. It just seems easier and easier to be a Christian and unfortunately it is not because His yoke is easy and burden light.

Abortion is a horrific topic. I use this example because it is one of the most controversial of our time but even in Christian churches we rarely broach it. We do not say it is wrong because we don’t want to shame some poor girl who made a bad decision years ago. We continue to turn a blind eye to women in our very own congregations getting them even today. Very rarely do you see a church or a pastor get up and make a definitive statement about abortion for fear of alienating someone in the congregation.

But why? The beauty of the Word of God is that it is never wrong. If it produces shame then so be it, if it produces guilt then so be it, if it produces love than hallelujah. The only time the word of God is ever wrong is when we use it with the motivation to produce shame or guilt or even love. When we put our own rod iron weight on it and bend it to manipulate some outcome from a sermon or teaching or conversation that is the only time His word is ever impure.

But what would happen if we just let the rod exist. What if we just laid it out there, just spoke it without any preconceived notions of how it should be interpreted. What if we just shared what was laid on our hearts whether it is in school or with our kids or at our jobs and just didn’t give in to the itchy ears, and didn’t manipulate the outcome? More importantly what if we made a conscious decision to try to stop scratching our own?

The beauty of an itch is that if you ignore it long enough it will just go away, but if you scratch it, it only become worse. If we keep our hands busy, and do just as Paul said and keep our head in all situations then soon enough it will disappear. Until it does, the best we can do is just pray. Maybe prayer is like a big old bottle of caladryl ... But that is an analogy I will save for another day.

May 28 - Word Alive!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

May 28 - Word Alive! - 2 Timothy 3:10-17

Diane says:
Paul contrasts his own example with the false teachers in the previous verses. And he makes this letter so personal by reminding Timothy how well the young man knew the older one. Timothy had seen the persecutions Paul faced down and he intimately knew Paul's work. Timothy also knew exactly who was responsible for Paul's life. The warning that Paul gives to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:11 is not one to be taken lightly. If we think for a minute that we deserve to have an easy life because we know Christ, Paul wants us to realize what a fallacy that is.

Timothy has two witnesses to the things that he has learned: personal testimony and Scripture. We have these same two witnesses in our lives. The words of God found in our Scriptures and the testimony of the lives that have impacted ours throughout our lifetime. That is what we can offer to others as well.

This chapter ends with Paul's affirmation of God's power of the all scripture and the usefulness that it has in equipping all of us to do that for which we are called ... every good work.

Rebecca says:
Sponges freak me out. They are kind of weird, especially those all natural, straight from the ocean types. Every time I hold one and wash a dish I think to myself " this use to be a living being and now it is scrubbing tuna casserole from my pan." That is just strange. How something once alive is now an ordinary household tool used to clean up cars, dishes, bodies etc.

The thing with a sponge is that in order to go from a living being to household chore tool all that needed to happen was a little drying out. Isn’t that weird? It’s strange to think that something once living and breathing can so easily be turned into an ordinary object just like that.

The same holds true for the scriptures. I think we forget that the Word of God is living and breathing. Those verses held between two flaps of leather are filled with life, they ebb and flow and take on new shapes, grow and reproduce and are strong, powerful and moving. But often the day to day of life turns them into nothing more than dead sea sponges, a household tool that takes up space and is only dragged out to clean up a mess.

In this verse it says that all scripture is God breathed. I was really struck by that, it woke me up to realize that the same breath that filled our nostrils in Genesis and brought us to life is the same breath that fills the words that we touch every day in this book. How amazing!

If we keep it in that context, continually viewing it as a living entity, it has power and force that can mold and shape our world. But if we take God out of the equation, remove those words from His hand and begin to hold them in our ownm then we do to them the same thing sponge divers do off the coast of the Mediterranean. We take it out of its element and slowly it dies and becomes ordinary and used for our own purposes.

God’s breath is never ending. It is strong, enduring and stands the test of time. It is the only true air that breathes life into anything and the only reason anything really exists - including the Word of God. Without His involvement it is just lifeless, black and white ink on a page. I wonder how often I forget to include God in my scripture study. How often do I make His word as ordinary as the daily news.

It’s easy when you handle it every day and when you reference it with all you write to grow accustomed to its magnificence. Easy for it to become ordinary and average and something that I take for granted. It’s easy to dry up the glory in its pages under the heat of the day in and day out. But this verse in Timothy reminds me that it’s a gift, a really beautiful living gift that we get to handle every day.

We are so blessed to hold it in our hands and read through its pages and let it breathe in our lives. God is alive, Christ walks the earth through this book, and His truth is still a viable energy. He graciously gave us this wonderful set of scriptures to keep His presence active and living in our life, but like a sponge we must continue to keep it in its element. We must keep it connected to its life source and not try to take it into our own hands and make it a part of our world because when we do it dries up and looses vitality. It becomes hard and rough and abrasive instead of tender, loving, and constantly evolving.

After the horrific forecast of attributes that are sure to invade our world from the earlier verses, Paul was so wise to remind Timothy that he holds in his hand a living, breathing work of God. Wise to remind him that regardless of how horrible things might seem, the Bible is God breathed and living and powerful. He reminds him to keep his focus on the Word that has grown with Timothy from infancy. It is a powerful weapon in our arsenal for facing the world today. And it truly gives us all we need to be thoroughly equipped for the tasks, callings and challenges that lie ahead.

There are two ways to handle the Word - proactively and reactively. Proactive handling means we keep it a living breathing sea sponge, attached to its life source, living and breathing day after day and we use it to arm ourselves and equip ourselves for the journey.

Reactively means that we take it out of the sea into our own hands and remove the breath that was once placed into it. We dry it up and make it our own instrument for our own uses to clean up the mess of our life when convenient.

I’m definitely trying to become part of the proactive pack and this passage in Timothy makes me rethink my views on the Word and what I use it for. I pray that for all of us, those scriptures find more uses in our lives than just cleaning up a few messes every now and again!

June Blog Study

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

May is coming to a close and so is the study on 1 & 2 Timothy that Rebecca Bauman has been pouring herself into with me. This has been fun for both of us and I hope that everyone has enjoyed reading her insights along with me. If you have enjoyed this, please let her know ... leave a note as a response or email me and I will forward it to her.

Authors of blogs sometimes feel as if we are alone in the world - tossing our words out, wondering if anyone ever reads them, much less understands them.

She is moving back to Florida in June and we are talking about doing another collaboration this fall on something new and different. I look forward to it since I really love her insight!

Next month, though, I will take us down a new path. I am going to delve into four of the minor prophets. Joel, Zephaniah, Zechariah and Malachi. These four prophets talked quite a bit about "The Day of the Lord." We'll see locusts and destruction, judgment and hope. God's Word never ceases to amaze me.

The Word of God is my passion. Teaching it is a way for me to share the passion that I have for it with others and to encourage as many people as possible to actually read their Bibles. Every day I find something incredible in a passage that I read and more often than not I am moved to tears by the power with which God reveals Himself to us through His Word.

If you know of someone who would like to spend time learning, encourage them to follow this blog. If they need a daily reminder to read, have them email me at nammynools (@) cox (.) net and I will get their name on my contact list.

May 27 - Get Some Perspective

May 27 - Get Some Perspective - 2 Timothy 3:1-9

Diane says:
This is a list that should scare us to death. While it is very simple to see that these qualities are prevalent in our society today, they have been around since the beginning of time. The frightening thing is how simple it is to become like this. There is nothing worth redeeming in this person. In fact Paul tells Timothy to have nothing to do with them.

The church in Ephesus was becoming overrun by people who had gone after the women in the congregation who were weak-willed, filled with sin and overcome by lust. They were open to whatever new fad and heresy intrigued them and could never settle into God's truth.

The story of Jannes and Jambres was a fictional story (not Biblical) of two of Pharaoh's magicians who competed against Moses and lost (from Exodus 7:11; 9:11). Paul was comparing Timothy to Moses, which would have encouraged him as he dealt with these men 'of depraved minds.'

Rebecca says:
Wow, this is a pretty heady set of verses. Really the whole sum of them makes me want to just go find a bunker some where and hide until the heavenly chariots show up.

"Abusive, unforgiving, slanderous, and brutal." Ugh, those are terrible words, the kind of words that make fear enter my soul. And I am only fearful because it seems so true. Everywhere I look these days there seems to be treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure and to be frank they frighten me, this world frightens me. I don’t watch the news or I would never sleep at night.

I guess part of that fear is because we are all vulnerable fragile humans. We are all weak willed women when it comes down to it. There is nothing in us, no reserve in any of this flesh that is strong enough to take on these kinds of battles. We might survive for a little time but eventually if it was left to us, we would be doomed.

I currently live in Utah, surrounded by mountains on just about every side. I have seen pictures of mountains, but until you are face to face with one you just never realize how gigantic they are. Tall and rocky and steep, when you are face to face it seems impossible to move one regardless of how big or little your faith is.

But the other day I was sitting in my office looking out at the range that lies to the west of my job. And it was funny to me how small they seemed. Since they were so far away they looked like they were an inch high and could be removed with a flick of my finger. I realized that if they look small to me from 20 miles away, how small must they seem to God from His throne.

The Rockies that are gigantic to me are nothing but a speck to Him. The only difference is perspective. When I look at them from an earthly point of view filled with human vision and assumptions, I am overwhelmed, but when I think of looking at them from the viewpoint of a plane in the sky and then zoom it out even farther and try to envision them from a heavenly perspective, suddenly it seems quite possible to move them with just a speck of faith.

I kind of think it is the same thing with these horrific terrible warnings about our world today. Because I live in it day to day and come face to face with abuse, unforgiviness and lack of love and self control, they all seem too big for me to handle. Too scary for me to tackle, too large for me to do anything about. It is easy to believe they are destined to worm their way into my life because I am after all just a weak willed woman. It’s my nature.

Then I stop and try to get a different perspective. When I remember that I am not just a woman here on this earth but instead a daughter held in the hand of a beloved Father, all these things take on a different form and suddenly they lose their power. Yes, to the world these are terrible times, and if I was just a girl and if my flesh dictated the rest of my existence I would surely be over run by all of them. But there is no need to fear because I am not merely flesh, and neither are you. We are also part spirit and when we tap into that part we are suddenly lifted up and see all of this for what it is - small and powerless and nothing to fear.

It is good to be aware of what surrounds us, but also important to keep things in perspective. When we are caught up in the world it is easy to believe that all we are weak willed women, which is a deception that this world wants us to swallow whole because if we do, then we give it power and start to crumble under the enormous weight of it all.

But if we can somehow continually strive to remember that we are His - day and night and night and day, if we can remember that it is in His hand that we stand, in His heart that we live, then everything this verse and this life holds becomes so small and powerless because we are no longer weak willed women but divinely developed daughters and that knowledge alone can move any mountain.

So I guess I won't head for the bunker just yet. But I am still not watching the news, it seems the weak willed woman in me tends to be the one that listens to those stories and the Divine Daughter has not figured out how to put them on mute so she can sleep!

May 26 - Validate Me

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

May 26 - Validate Me - 2 Timothy 2:22-26

Diane says:
In Paul's eyes, Timothy was still a young man. By this time he was probably in his 40s, yet he still had a lot of growing up to do. I wonder how much of that was like the way my father refused to believe that Carol and I were actually capable of making decisions well into our 40s.

His advice to Timothy was to stay away from youthful desires and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace. Avoid arguments because of where they can lead and avoid quarrels because it is so important to bring people to God rather than push them away.

Paul had come a long way from the raging dynamo that held cloaks at Stephen's execution. The Lord had touched him and gentled him to a man who believed in kindness and gentleness. He knew that these were the things needed to draw people away from a life of sin and to knowledge of truth.

Rebecca says:
When it comes to Christianity there are few things I love more than the Word of God. I love the scriptures. They are like little kaleidoscopes that always contain the same colors but take on different shapes and forms with just the twist of a thought or one little change in the way you look at them. One single verse can have a myriad of meanings and they are so rich and thick and full that I believe we could feast on them daily our entire lives and never pick them to the bone.

The Bible became God’s love letters to me those first few years. At night after my son was in bed I would dig under the covers with my Bible, notebook and pen. He and I went line by line through the New Testament and He dazzled me and wooed me with every word. These verses that I thought I knew took on new meanings and created new thought patterns. They are so beautiful that they easily became the reason I write. I get so caught up in their beauty that it is hard for me to keep it to myself and I want to shout and share it with the world.

The problem was that within those first few years I was still what most considered 'spiritually young' and so not many were very receptive to me trying to share or discuss ideas or thoughts on theology. They pacified me but rarely took me seriously and it was INCREDIBLY frustrating. Due to that frustration I often got into arguments just because I wanted to be heard. I jumped into debates because I wanted to be taken seriously, and I often went home after church activities and cried because of the absolute head banging irritation of it all.

I had many conversations with God about this; often I was yelling and wondering why He made me want to share it? Why couldn’t I just keep to myself the things He taught me? Why did it feel like a hole was burning in my chest if I couldn't let it out? If I was suppose to talk, why didn’t He help me in my delivery or incline their ears toward what I had to say. Why was it such a struggle?

Just when I was ready to blame God and everyone else, God posed a little question to me. Was all my talking and sharing and debating because I wanted them to understand God or because I wanted to be understood? Was I upset because I was sharing these thoughts and ideas for validation? Why did it matter if they agreed? If I truly believed they were from God then did it really matter who said what about any of it? God brought me to my knees because my intentions had very little to do with Him and everything to do with my own insecurities, doubts, ego and flesh.

The beauty of God's Word is that truth is the truth whether it is recognized or not. It does not matter if what we share is received well, or believed, or even laughed at or mocked. It will not change the truth. The only time those things have any power is when what we speak or teach is false or human. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and the one sure fire way of finding out which is which is by throwing them in the fire. Toss it out there and if it remains even after it is stabbed and poked and ripped and torn and shredded, then it was of Him and otherwise it was just my own stupid notion that I had mistakenly called Divine.

God has no need to defend, no need to prove anything and the more we understand of Him the less we need to rely on our own desires and cravings to be right or understood or validated. Once we know this we can do just as Paul says and “flee from the desires of our youth” and pursue righteousness. When we can fully turn our backs on our own insecurities which cause us to need agreement, or understanding, or acknowledgement from human forms, when we can fully flee from those things and instead turn toward God and pursue His righteousness, faith, love and peace, it is then that we are finally of some use to Him. Then that we are finally stable and steady enough to be the vessel we are truly called to be.

When we are still caught up in all the insecurities of youth that cause evil desires such as fame, fortune, perfection, and approval there is no way we are steady and stable enough to hold the weighty truth of who He is. But if we all flee just as Paul recommends to his friend Timothy, and instead pursue more of Him and less of our youth then we are well on our way to doing some great stuff for him.

It is because of this that I have little use for Ponce De Leon or the fountain of youth but instead hope to become the type of person that keeps moving forward. However, I am 39 and the occasional need for validation still rears its ugly head. I am a work in progress - what can I say. Thank goodness He is patient and gives me little tidbits like 2 Timothy to remind me what direction I should be headed!

May 25 - A Golden Furnace

Monday, May 25, 2009

May 25 - A Golden Furnace - 2 Timothy 2:14-21

Diane says:
The most difficult thing in the world to control is my mouth. It seems as if I'm not the only one. Arguing over words is something Paul warns about, but I never seem to listen. Theologians have been arguing about words for centuries and Paul is correct, it simply messes with the listener. But, the Word of Truth can be wielded as a tool for God.

Poor Hymenaeus. He shows up again as a model for terrible behavior. Not only did he wander away from the truth, but he is caught up in spreading false teaching. This false teaching is hurting others. But, listen to Paul's assurance. God is above all of this. He knows who belong to Him. God is the solid foundation and no amount of chatter whether it be true or false from us will shake that foundation.

Paul's analogy in 2 Timothy 2:20-21 describes how we can be used based on what we do with our mouth. Will we use it for noble purposes? Will we cleanse ourself so that we can be made holy, useful and prepared to do any good work?

Rebecca says:
I have sort of a wicked fascination with fire. It started in girl’s camp. I loved to sit by the campfire at night and watch marshmallows drip off the sticks and melt into a gooey mess. Back in those days I was unaware of Al Gore, or global warming, so every Styrofoam cup I drank from was thrown into the fire because I loved watching it shrink against the flame. I was always finding little bits of this and that because I liked to see how different things seemed to react to the fire.

Now before anyone calls Pyromaniacs Anonymous on me, please know this was always in a nice little circle pit and though I have a wicked fascination with fire, I also have a very deep reverential respect for it, because on more than one occasion I have been licked by a flame or two and it hurts!!

I thought of fire today as I read this section of 2nd Timothy and went on a hunt to find the verse that talk about God’s Word as a fire. I finally found it in Jeremiah 23: 29 "Is not my word like fire," declares the LORD, "and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”

I love that verse because it is so true. God’s word is a fire and a hammer that breaks rocks into pieces. It has destroyed certain aspects, thoughts, misconceptions and beliefs that I held onto at times and on more than one occasion I looked around to discover I was sitting in a big pile of ash, and with time, beauty rose from it.

The thing with fire is that people think of it as destructive but in many cases it is actually really good. Farmers burn fields after a few years of crops in order to enrich the soil. Forests once destroyed enjoy a resurgence of beauty and become better than before. God and fire are great purifiers in many ways and I am grateful for that because after the smoke clears what remains always seems to be the strongest and best parts of me.

It amazes me to think that we are walking infernos, small little coal stoves with orange glowing embers inside because of Him. And just like those campfires, all it takes is a whoosh of breath from the Holy Spirit and we are lit on fire and breathe out the word of God that sets souls on fire with His love. You’ve had those moments haven’t you? When you open your mouth and out come words, comfort, or prayers that are absolutely not of your own making. They are filled with wisdom and love and speak with such passion and effectiveness you know they can only be of Him, because they are that fire He is speaking of in Jeremiah.

Paul was no little coal stove, he was a disco inferno! His mouth was a glowing ember filled with fire and it is why he was as effective as he was in spreading the gospel. But in order to contain such a fire he had to work very hard to make his life a vessel capable of holding such a flame.

There is a reason that ovens and stoves and fireplaces are made of metal and not wood or clay. Could you imagine the charred mess a stove made of clay could be? If that clay was baked it could probably hold flame to a certain temperature but with limitations and if it was just the moldable kind it couldn’t even hold a match. And a stove made of wood seems a bit moronic don’t you think? Wood is a catalyst for flame; it could not contain or hold the fire but instead would just go up in smoke with it and probably burn really hot and hard but then result in nothing more than a pile of ash.

But how much heat could a fire of gold or silver hold? How hot could that flame get? The beauty with gold and silver is that heat only refines them, flame burns off impurities so the hotter it gets the more pure it becomes. Paul was a golden fireplace of a man. He knew that if Timothy just stayed a little lob of clay, he could not hold that fire in him for any period of time, and if he became hardened like wood that fire would not only be uncontainable but burn out, turn to ash and destroy him for good.

But what if Timothy or you or I could follow Paul's lead? What if we could strive to refine this life of ours to such a degree that it was golden? What if we willingly went into those dark places of our lives and extricated that silver or mined that gold and allowed our life to become golden fireplaces for God. What kind of noble purposes could He use us for?

Gold is precious because it stands the test of time. We value it because it is a soft metal so it is easy to forge but incredibly strong. The fire of God will never break a golden furnace but only reshape it into whatever form He has in mind.

I’d like to believe this life of mine is golden, but I know I have a bit of kindling still in my soul. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all follow Paul’s lead and become the kind of vessel that could hold and breathe and warm those around us with the words of God that are the flame in our soul? That is the kind of global warming I don’t think even Al Gore would mind!

May 24 - Are You a Pusher?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

May 24 - Are You a Pusher? - 2 Timothy 2:8-13

Diane says:
Verse 8 is Paul's gospel. Jesus is the Messiah (the Christ), he is raised from the dead (a feat no one accomplished), he is descended from David (Jesus was the fulfillment of the Covenant made with David to the Israelites). Paul then saw his chains in comparison to God's Word which is unleashed in the world. Nothing can bind or even stop God's Word, not even our inattentiveness to it.

Verses 11-13 are more than likely part of a baptismal ceremony commonly used at the time. The words, "If we died with him, we will also live with him" are taught with greater depth in Romans 6:2-23 as part of Paul's teaching on baptism. "If we endure, we will reign." Our sufferings bring glorification (Romans 8:17, Revelation 3:21). "If we disown him, he will disown us" reminds us of Jesus' words in Matthew 10:33, but "If we are faithless, he will remain faithful." Christ's work on our behalf is not contingent on our faithfulness ... it is a gift.

Rebecca says:
I am what you might call a pusher. I always have been and because of many years of honing this skill, there are few I cannot push away. I do it because I don’t want to get hurt. If someone gives off even a scent of possibly disappointing me, I quickly push, push, push until they can't take it anymore and finally leave. Sometimes I have to be very tricky about it, sometimes it takes a little manipulation, but I can think of only a handful of people I have not successfully pushed away when I set my mind to it and most of them are family. But I have a little secret that not many people know. Deep down in the part of my heart that is still a little girl and believes in good things and fairytales, I really really hope every time I push that someone will just shake me and tell me to knock off my nonsense because they are not going anywhere regardless of how much I try.

I like to push people away because I will be the one who walks away and it gets me off the hook. If they leave I can pull out the 'abandoned' card, but if I leave I am a bad person because when the going got tough, I got going. It’s a very manipulative passive aggressive, spineless thing I do and I think I never realized how ridiculously weak it was until I started typing this.

I did that with God a while back, but the problem was I couldn’t seem to push him anywhere and I resorted to verbal threats. The night I came to Christ began with just such a threat. I went to a play for my son that our neighbor was in because he just kept begging me to go. It was at a church and when I walked in, I in all my pushiness stepped over the threshold and pointed up to the ceiling and said "God let me make this quite clear. I am not here for you, I am here for my son and I better not even feel a goose bump through this thing. You stay on Your side of the fence and I will stay on mine." I thought I had successfully pushed Him away because I did not feel even a goose bump or chill through the entire night and I was pretty proud of myself.

Then, just as I was gathering up my belongings to walk away in triumph, the pastor got up and started talking about receiving Christ into your life and how He loves us and how He could change our lives and he began to pray the prayer of salvation. My world started caving in. You see, my little 7 year old son who is my life and the only, only person I have ever truly given my heart to started to weep during that prayer and at the end the pastor said that if you prayed that prayer then you accepted Christ into your life and part of accepting Him was to come forward as a proclamation that you did that.

And my son who would not even go to the bathroom without asking me to go with him, did something I will never forget. He raised his little head and without even looking at me, stood up and stepped over my leg and started walking forward. My entire existence came crashing in around me and I started screaming at God, telling Him that was not fair and then I heard Him. I heard Him for the first time in forever and He spoke into my heart and said "He is mine, I want you too, but it’s your choice. We are moving forward and you will be left behind."

I panicked and stood up because I could not let my son do this alone. I started walking forward just out of selfish, motherly instinct and not wanting to let go of my son, my heart. And somehow with just that one act of standing up, God changed my world and by the time I reached the altar with him I was changed and brought to my knees.

"If we are faithless, he is faithful for he cannot disown himself." I realized today after reading this in Timothy that though I pushed and though I was faithless, God never moved. Even in my anger and rage he found that one true part of me, that one still pure part of my heart that was linked to my son. And in that part He saw a reflection of Himself and because of that He did not disown me. My son was the thread that kept me from being tagged as only faithless, not disowning.

God is so unbelievably gracious, so unselfish, so loving that even when wretches turn their back on Him he still searches to find that one spot that still is a reflection of Him. We need not have arms that reach or voices that praise or knees that bend but only one tiny thread of love that still exists, regardless of how buried it is. And with that one thread He will weave our lives into such a tapestry of wonder that I truly become breathless when I think of it.

He never lets go even if we do and even when we are ready to turn our back and walk away He searches for that one place, that one secret link that still might keep us connected because He adores us so much. He willingly died just for a chance to hold that thread a little longer and do something magical with it. Oh, how blessed we are to know such a God. And how grateful I am that though I was faithless, He was faithful, I don’t know who or where I would be if that were not so but I am so very grateful I never have to find out!

May 23 - Many Dimensions

Saturday, May 23, 2009

May 23 - Many Dimensions - 2 Timothy 2: 1-7

Diane says:
In just a few words, Paul says so much to Timothy. He begins by telling Timothy to be strong and then sets up the 'mission by multiplication' formula that through the centuries has connected even us to Paul. What Timothy heard him say should be shared with others, who will then teach to others. Through the links of personal testimony and teaching, after 2000 years, we have received the word of God from Paul.

In the next three verses, Paul tells Timothy to persevere even though he faces difficult times using three metaphors: the soldier who has a single purpose, the athlete who abides by the rules and the farmer who will certainly receive a reward for a job well done.

And if Timothy has any doubt about Paul's words, time spent with the Lord will help him to understand what is important.

Rebecca says:
I've taken up a little side hobby. For years I have written children’s books but they stayed in notebooks because I can't draw. But, I decided to finally take a stab at drawing some of the illustrations. Surprisingly it is really quite fun once I stop striving for perfection. The first few drawings weren't the best; they were flat and boring. Then I got brave and decided to try adding a little dimension to it and it has made all the difference.

Multi dimensional drawings, even juvenile ones, are actually kind of hard for me because I have to really factor in a lot of things. Size, scale, perspective, in these details the buildings and ladybugs begin to take shape and create pictures that resemble the images in my mind while I was writing the stories.

This whole multi dimensional stuff has really opened my eyes to a new side of life that I guess I kind of took for granted. If it is difficult for me to draw a city or forest with a pencil and paper I can't imagine the creative genius behind the dimensions that weave us together. God is truly an artist and when He created us He didn’t take the easy route and leave us as flat little stick figures but He ingeniously engineered layer upon layer of our lives to make us multidimensional.

As I read this passage from Timothy, I wondered why Paul would use the metaphor of a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer all within the same passage. I mean how are they linked? What similarities do any of them have? And so I broke each one down and realized they are a representation of layers in our life, metaphors for our various dimensions that God created.

When I think of soldiers I think of enlistment, brave young men and women willingly signing up to join the ranks and fight a battle to defend our country. It is a role that one walks into hopefully by choice but often through obligations, family tradition, or even in times of distress by force. And so I could see how that easily translates to religion, how often we too voluntarily step into roles in our churches, or congregations hopefully by choice but often through obligation, family tradition and in times of distress by force.

And when I asked myself what separated an athlete from a regular Joe Schmoe I surmise that it is because of hard work, dedication, training, refining of a natural talent and hard hard work day in and day out. An athlete takes a natural gift or ability and refines it to such a level that it becomes something so extraordinary it could win a crown or a trophy.

And a farmer... yes he was the easiest dimension to relate to because farming is really as natural to all of us as breathing and blinking. Often we are so accustomed to farming that we forget we are doing it. Day after day with our words, and choices, and gifts, and talents, and choices we sow and then reap, sow and then reap and it is impossible to make it stop. At our very core we are farmers and that is most certainly a dimension that is such a part of us that often we forget it even exists.

Each of us has these dimensions; soldier, athlete, farmer - they are woven together and represent facets of our lives. I am astonished at Paul’s wisdom in capturing it so clearly. Each of them are intricate parts that weave together the beauty of the human form and without one or the other we are less than all that God created us to be.

I imagine that for Timothy overwhelmed by the nature of the task that before him, might easily put on his little soldier cap and pour all his efforts into this one little dimension for quite some time. He might become stringent and posed for battle and take on strategic stances and lines of defense.

He could refine his gifts and become disciplined and stretch and strain every spiritual muscle and gift he had and forget all about the other two dimensions. Or he could get caught up in planting seed after seed in the hopes of sprouting a spiritual garden in Ephesus and neglect the soldier and athlete inside. But because of Paul’s God-given wisdom, he is reminded to nurture and cultivate not just one part but all three so that he might be multidimensional and experience the fullness the God intended.

I’m the type of girl that doesn’t like wearing lots of different hats at the same time. I have a tendency to latch on to one dimension and ride it out until my legs are sore and the saddle is worn. I often dive in and overdevelop one part of my character while neglecting the others, yet I strive to find balance so that they might all exist cohesively. Each dimension in our lives add a different flavor to this walk we are taking. Every layer has different perspectives, and requires scaling and resizing to make it all work together. Paul must have known that and gave us this little reminder, but what I love the best is the very end of this particular passage. "Reflect on what I am saying, the Lord will give you insight into all of this."

Thank goodness for a God who does not ever let us remain flat and boring just because we don’t get it. All we have to do is take a second every now and then to reflect and God so lovingly jumps right in and erases the little stick figures we become and makes us a body with arms and legs and cute little eyelashes that blink, blink, blink. How grateful I am that He is such a creative genius and how lucky we are that He never lets us forget it!

May 22 - Onesiphorus

Friday, May 22, 2009

May 22 - Onesiphorus - 2 Timothy 1:13-18

Diane says:
Who better than Paul's dear son to receive the precious trust of the gospel of Christ that Paul says was given to him in 1 Timothy 1:11? The Holy Spirit would help Timothy as he guarded against heresy and the twisting of the gospel.

Paul was disappointed in two (Phygelus and Hermogenes), yet Onesiphorus stands as a shining example. This young man had tracked Paul down in Rome and even though the stigma of being a prisoner was harsh, was not embarrassed or ashamed to be associated with Paul. Onesiphorus had associated with Paul as a helper while he taught in Ephesus and more than likely hosted a house church there (2 Timothy 4:19).

Rebecca says:
I hate to admit that I have jumped ship a couple of timeson this journey with God. I grew up Mormon and it was in fact that religion that gave me my first taste of God. It was in that church that I learned about family, and love, and dedication. It taught me many attributes of God that I carried with me for most of my life and kept me in His boat even during some rough waters. But there were a few things that happened at the tail end of that era of my life that left me hurt, and feeling duped, befuddled, and more than a little let down by the God I thought I knew. So I jumped ship and I headed deep, deep, deep into the wilderness.

I was a foreigner at that time hiding out in the proverbial forest trying to stay as far from God as I could possibly get. I crawled under a rock to lick my wounds and told God that if this was the way He operated I wanted nothing to do with Him. He let me walk away, He let me run, and He let me live in that pit of a forest for a few years. It stunk there, and I became a horrific creature there. I did things and made choices that I still shudder at. I am debating even as I write this sentence whether I should tell you one of my larger secrets. It is still hard for me to shine light on it but I have always tried to be honest with the readers of my blog and so I guess the best thing to do is just level with you and let you all know that I became a phone sex operator. Uugghhh, that may be too much for some of you, you might never look at me the same again but it is true. I was lost and now working in an industry that was more than a little taboo. My few friends laughed about it but to this day it is not something any of us talk about ever because there is a stigma it carries with it still even now.

I have not thought a lot about that part of my life until tonight, as I read these verses because one particular phrase jumped out and almost choked me. "He searched hard for me until he found me." Those words are beautiful to me and in many ways I can imagine how dear Onesiphorus must have been to Paul. Paul also had a little bit of a stigma attached, though his was not self inflicted. A prisoner back in those days was no one to be friends with. They were the lot of society you steered clear from and didn’t make eye contact with, yet Onesiphorus didn’t care and searched hard to find Paul. That says something, you know? There is a level of love in that whole situation that touches me at my core because it is one that has a familiar scent.

When I was in that job, even though I was running hard and fast as far away from God as I could, He diligently searched for me. Out of protection and defense I buried myself under masks and weights and year after year, layer after layer, I lost the girl I once was. To my eyes that girl was lost forever. But God searched hard, He did not give up. And it mattered not to Him what line of work I was in, or how far away I was holed up, or what type of chains had me bound. He searched until He found me and then tenderly restored me. He was my Onesiphorus. Yes, yes I know there is a bit of a difference between good old Paul and me. I voluntarily entered a prison of my own design and Paul was unjustly held there by another man's will but beyond that, what this verse screams to me is the absolute unconditional love our LORD has for us regardless of our chains.

We are all bound by chains, those parts of ourselves - lost sections of our soul that have jumped ship and still try to stay in Rome when the rest of our lives are running out of Ephesus. I am brought to my knees with that love, filled up so fully that I cannot breathe when I think of God searching hard for us no matter where we have roamed.

I wonder how, with that sort of evidential love, do I still not search as hard for Him some days? How in situations that seems confusing, or challenging, or difficult, or painful, do I so easily forget His whereabouts and just try to gulp it down. I wonder why in circles of non believers I let the stigma of religion silence my thoughts, or why I let friends embarrassed by a hallelujah shout successfully keep me on mute. If He so willingly fills the role as my own personal Onesiphorus, then why won’t I reciprocate?

This world is a dark forest and sometimes it is incredibly difficult to know where He is. Sometimes I am blinded by circumstances or emotions or stress, and sometimes God does something that I do not understand and even disappoints me. But should I not still willingly search hard for Him regardless of the climate around me? Shouldn’t I still seek Him out even if what He is doing isn’t something this limited mind of mine approves of? Even when He confuses me shouldn’t I still guard that deposit He has placed in me and seek His face no matter what?

So many people deserted Paul when all he was doing was spending his life doing what he thought best. That must have been incredibly hard for him. And I am so grateful for Onesiphorus, for his diligence and willingness to look past stigmas and taboos of society to find his friend and let him know he was not alone. I am grateful to a God who has never abandoned me, and still searched hard beyond all my external ickiness to find the daughter he created. Grateful that He sees beyond stigmas or stereotypes or labels this world places to still find us and comfort us and remind us we are not alone.

It is my sincerest hope after this little wake up call tonight that we will all be that kind of friend to Him. The kind that does not let society, or emotion, or our own preconceived notions keep us from searching hard for Him regardless of the situation. Because everyone, even the great I am deserves an Onesiphorus don’t ya think?

May 21 - Interior Design

Thursday, May 21, 2009

May 21 - Interior Design - 2 Timothy 1:8-12

Diane says:
Paul. In chains in a Roman prison. But, that isn't what he is thinking about. He considers himself to be Christ's prisoner. For His sake and for His purpose.

We often say it, but the truth of these verse is so raw considering Paul's external condition. We have done nothing to deserve the salvation that God offers us. It was given to us before the beginning of time, but was revealed when Jesus appeared on earth. Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life AND immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:10) These powerful words are our lifeline. Nothing we can do in our lives can draw us any closer to God than what Christ did for us on the cross.

Do any of us actually consider that we are suffering for Christ? Really? Or are we sometimes just inconvenienced and feel a little bit of pain and call that suffering. Would we? Could we?

Rebecca says:
I always wanted to be an interior designer. I decided that in eighth grade during a home economics class. We had to design a room and pick out fabric swatches, paint colors and accessories and make a little story board to display all our choices. I am a fan of fabric, loved textiles of every shape and size and could get lost in lamp stores because I can dream up entire rooms based on the shape and color of a light that tickles my fancy. I love thinking of vignettes, shopping for furniture, creating color schemes, and designing curtains. But I am not an interior designer because of HGTV. You see, it was there that my proverbial bubble was popped and I realized that part of being a decorator involved painting and possible carpentry, and hanging wallpaper and to be frank, I am not into manual labor. If it involves a ladder, paintbrushes or coveralls of any sort I am not really interested. I like the flashy side of decorating, the fun parts of shopping and creating and know that I would burn out quickly in days filled with cutting and measuring wall paper. I just want to pick it out I don’t want to hang it!

Sometimes I think that kind of translates to religion. When I first came on board I was like the Pollyanna of Christianity. So happy about God that butterflies were flying out my ears and daisies were sprouting on my knee caps. I whistled through the first year or two like Julie Andrews from the Sound of Music singing on the mountain top. There was nothing you could say or do to convince me that this life was not the most glorious life that ever existed. I thought God was all about the lollipops and soft kitten purrs of life and that anything that was bad had nothing to do with Him. If you were sad or going through some hard stuff it had to be of your own doing because Daddy Dearest would never ever make one of His beloved children cry. Just as I was getting comfortable with my armchair in Oz, my world began to crumble. It took about four years for the entire landscape to be bulldozed, but piece by piece of my Pollyanna wonderland fell into oblivion.

I tasted death, sickness, poverty, homelessness, loneliness, abandonment, unemployment, and a vast myriad of days filled with stubbed toes, broken down cars, and uncooperative allies. It was a huge wake up call to me and for the first year I just kept asking God what I did to deserve it all, what areas of my life were so bad that I was being punished and what it would take to just get back to Oz, because my yellow brick road was black as soot.

I began to think that maybe if it was this hard that I didn’t want it and would hang Christianity on the same hook as my Interior Designer dream because it was just to hard. It took me a very long while and God’s infinite patience to finally show me that God is God all the time in the good and the bad and that none of it is a punishment but sometimes His big picture is more important than our temporal comfort.

We think that often if we do or say or pray or fast all the right ways this life will be free of persecution and imprisonments, and sickness and even death but Paul understood that even in the darkest of caves, chained up and imprisoned because of Christ we still taste more freedom than we deserve. Just because he loves us even on our worst day we are still at our best. It comes with time and the day after day of walking and working out our salvation that we realize that all of it, the homelessness, the poverty, the imprisonment, is all just temporal that’s all. A circumstance that may impede on our emotions and cause us to feel unhappy but does not shake the inner joy that is held fast by Him through thick and thin.

Sometimes when things aren’t going right we are ashamed to show it, ashamed to admit that our life does not resemble any Julie Andrews mountain top moment. We think that if we don’t appear a certain way people might mistakenly think or say that is because we were bad or God is not good. And truthfully often they will. But even on our worst day in the midst of Oz crumbling around us, we should not be ashamed to testify about our Lord or ashamed to be suffering like we are. It is when we are weak that we are able to show the world that He is strong. It is then that we are able to step out of the way and above rhyme or reason or logic when we are still standing and singing even though our world has crumbled we tell the world of His strength which is the only evident reasoning for us to still be standing.

The world justifies goodness. When our lives are peachy it’s easy to swallow the God part because that makes sense and easy for non believers to discount Him because there are a million reasons why we appear content. But in the bad, in the suffering, when we still have joy, when we still whistle through the weeping, and we still stand when by all logic and reasoning we should lay broken, the world has a harder time with justification and is forced to come face to face with the power of God and His goodness which shines through even in the midst of pain.

Paul got this, he was so certain of this, so certain of God and even of himself that there was nothing, no situation that would or could shake his faith and even in chains he was an example of all that we should hope to be. I wonder what chains you and I are under today - there’s some buried somewhere - and I hope that even in the darkened cave we will still also remember our hope and remain convinced that he is able to guard what we have entrusted to him for that day. Christianity isn’t all about the fun stuff. Sometimes it requires the ladders and the coveralls and some sweat, but we are blessed to be part of His grand design.

May 20 - I Am a Friend of God

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

May 20 - I Am a Friend of God - 2 Timothy 1:3-7

Diane says:
The second letter to Timothy was written near the end of Paul's life. We see a sense of urgency in Paul's words throughout this book. Paul was chained in a Roman prison. The only thing that occupied his time was prayer. But, Paul wasn't praying for himself or his escape. He was praying for Timothy, who was ministering to the church that Paul loved so much.

The last time Timothy left Paul, he cried. I can't imagine the loneliness of his situation. He had expended so much of himself bringing the Word of God to the world and now, he was in prison again facing his death. He remembers this wonderful young man who had a sincere faith. The word used here actually translates as 'unhypocritical.' How many people do you know that have an unhypocritical faith to the core. This faith came through the generations to Timothy. You can tell that Paul treasures him.

The gift of God: spirit of power, love and self-discipline. Paul had laid hands on Timothy and knew what God had poured into him. As he called it forth, he also knew that his ministry would continue through Timothy.

Rebecca says:
Sometimes I am overwhelmed with how much I want to do. There is so much I want to write about, so much inside I want to say, so many experiences I want to share and there are days I am enormously frustrated with the limited amount of time I have to do any of it. And so as I read this passage and thought about what Diane wrote, I cannot imagine how Paul must have been feeling. He was so passionate about sharing every dimension of Christ, and to be chained up far away, out of the world so to speak would be so incredibly difficult. Timothy was his only option for hands, feet and a voice to carry out all that golden lava welling up inside, burning to get out.

It is no wonder Paul constantly remembered Timothy in his prayers. What a blessed relief to have such a connection with someone. Timothy was not just an officer filling a role but a dear friend with a connection that ran so deep it brought him to tears when they parted. I am certain that connection gave Paul a little bit more breathing room when it came to the burden he carried to share the message. He knew Timothy, his heart, his background, his genetic makeup. He knew everything about him and loved and adored it all. He had great confidence in him and so the fact that Timothy became Paul’s "great white hope" wasn’t that much of a risk.

Paul knew what was inside Timothy, the knowledge, passion, the Spirit, and the eagerness to share the gift of Christ. He knew that it was all pure, all golden molten lava. I think in some ways Paul was more certain of Timothy and his abilities than Timothy was of himself. And so Paul encourages him to fan that flame so that Timothy can begin to taste the fire.

You know to fan a flame, all it takes is a little breath - just one little opening of the mouth and what comes out stirs the embers from a nice burning glow into an actual fire that ignites and spreads. Paul knew that all it would take for Timothy was for him to find his voice. To open his mouth and just breathe out all that was laying inside of him and fan it into a flame. He encouraged him to not be timid but to tap into that power to accomplish the mission and ministry of Paul.

How much hope Paul must have had for Timothy, and how secure that connection must have been. Timothy’s victories would become Paul’s, and his sorrows would have been tasted by Paul. Their mission was united and of one accord. I thought a lot about that partnership today, about how well they worked together and how because of Timothy, Paul’s work was still carried out though he was in a far away place and only communicating through letters. Paul still found ways to encourage, teach, to command, and Timothy remained focused, loyal, obedient, and willing to carry out Paul’s mission. It never became Timothy’s mission, he never formed a separate agenda.

In many ways we all are Timothys, and their relationship is a beautiful portrait of who and what we should strive to attain in our walk with Christ. Yes, He is far away and in a different place but he has left us instructions, encouragement, gifts, and a clearly defined mission to carry out. We miss Him, weep to just touch him and say hello again, and He longs for us and continually prays for us because we have become His great white hope, his arms and legs and voices that are not here to carry out His mission.

Often we forget that. We forget that this is a partnership with a dear friend. We forget that this is about His agenda and not our own. And like Timothy, we forget what lies inside us and remain unaware of the power and strength that was given to us by His Spirit. We walk through life with a gut full of glowing embers and are unaware of the powerful lava that pumps through our veins. But if we take this passage and stop looking at it as a letter from Paul to Timothy and instead read it as one that Christ wrote to us perhaps we would see things differently.

He thanks God and constantly remembers us in His prayers. He recalls our tears and longs to see us so that He may be filled with joy. He is reminded of our sincere faith, He knows our hearts and from who and where we came from. And He, Christ Jesus himself, wants us to fan into flame the gift of God which He has given us. He knows that if we just find our voice, and open up our mouths the fire will be lit and spread. We need to dig deep and remember that God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power, of love, and self discipline.

How different it all seems to think of Christ saying those words to me. How much stronger and more eager I am to move forward and do whatever I need to carry out His mission, because I adore Him, I miss Him and I want so much to do whatever I need to do so that He can bring it all to completion. Timothy was a dear friend to Paul, and it is my hope that we all are the dearest of friends to our Lord. How blessed we are to be entrusted with such a command. And how hopeful I am that it will actually be carried out! We are, after all, His only option for hands, feet and a voice to give and share and do and carry out all that golden lava welled up inside of Him burning to get out.

May 19 - Treasures

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

May 19 - Treasures - 1 Timothy 6:17-21

Diane says:
I can imagine Paul writing frenetically as he tries to get the last thoughts out to Timothy in this letter. He's already spoken about those who have no money, yet desire it. Now he speaks to those who actually have wealth. Paul reminds them that arrogance and placing their hope and faith in that wealth is uncertain. God is our provider and gives us what we need. Look at the words that finish 1 Timothy 6:17. He provides not only our needs, but he provides for our enjoyment.

The wealthy should use what they have to further God's kingdom, to be generous and willing to share. This life will fade away, but the life that is truly life is found in Jesus Christ.

Paul has entrusted much to Timothy and urges him to guard it, to beware of subtle things that will lead to opposing ideas. Paul has come full circle to the concerns he presented in 1 Timothy 1:3-6. False teachers were prevalent everywhere, Gnosticism was a growing heresy and Paul had a limited amount of time to ensure that the teaching God had entrusted to him was being shared throughout the churches.

Rebecca says:
These are Paul’s last thoughts to Timothy, a reiteration of what he has already said. I think it is easy for someone like me who has little money, and no prospects of a vast inheritance or random lottery winn to bypass this 'wealthy' part of the verse. That section only for the chosen few, right? But just for kicks and giggles I decided to look at the King James version of this passage and there was a particular stance that just kind stuck with me like sticky rice on the ribs after some Chinese takeout.

"That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate;" When I read that particular portion of this verse I realized that in some big or small way each of us can relate to riches. Yes some are actually rich but if there is anything I've learned in a life filled with thrift store shopping and hand me down clothes it would be that being rich isn’t always about a bank account.

I have a sister that is filled with vast amounts of patience and love. She raises three young children and at the end of the day she still talks kindly to them and is not prone to Velcro harnesses on a wall.

I have a friend that is an absolute goof. He has a way of making you forget you were upset and can make you smile and laugh even in the midst of pain.

There is Emily who is always good for a word of encouragement, Donna who loves deeply, Richie who can praise and worship to such a delicious degree that it is contagious, and Diane who has honed her research skills to such an art she really should have her own website!

My father was a gifted carpenter, my brother a terrific cook, my son is amazingly creative, and Mr. Twinkly Eyes has a knack for numbers that makes me think he has a microchip in his brain somewhere.

The world is filled with artists; people with gifts of hospitality that make you feel welcome even when you’re a stranger. There are neighbors walking around us that can garden better than Martha Stewart, and cook better then Paula Deen. And the irony is that very few of any of those I have mentioned would ever say they were rich because this human mind of ours always attributes wealth to a number followed by a bunch of zeros.

We all have something we know we are good at. Even the most humble of us deep down knows the one thing that they can do better than most, even if they are unwilling to brag about it. In some ways even that kind of wealth can cause us to be a bit high-minded, it can create in us a certain security that we can rely on instead of God, the same way the wealthy sometimes rely on the money for their own little leaning post of assurance.

Paul reminds Timothy that all those riches are given by God alone and be it wealth or otherwise, in any place in our life we have abundance or lack, it is created or left empty by God for a purpose. If we are filled with patience, or brilliance, or goofiness, or love to the point of overflowing, if those areas of our life are abundant and we taste of wealth in them than we should be ready to distribute them and at the very least communicate them to those around us.

Can you imagine what this world would be like if each of us shared just a tenth of each area we excel in? If those that could love deeply shared that love with a stranger, and those that could cook made a few extra meals for the mom who is not blessed with patience and love at the end of a very long day. What if the Martha Stewarts gave just a tenth of that gardening time up to teach us less than green thumbed plant killers how to at least keep a cactus alive?

My bank account is weak, but I am a wealthy wealthy girl in many ways, most of them intangible. I pick and choose those areas to distribute and share or communicate those gifts but not as much as I should, and not always where God would have me. I rarely take the time to ask God where he would like this overflow He has given me to be dispersed but instead set it in little buckets to share at some convenient time or date. This verse has encouraged me to reach out a little bit more and invest it in the only secure option that is available to me which is God himself.

In Isaiah 54:11 it is written: "O afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will build you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with sapphires."

Those sapphires are the gems hidden in us, the mines of wealth he has stored in us and as we take our little picks and axes and mine them out of the caves and share them with the world, He takes them and lays our foundation just as Paul said. I guess it’s time for me to go deep into the mines and start distributing and communicating a little bit more because it would be a shame to keep such a beautiful gem buried deep in a cave for it’s entire existence! Don’t you think?

May 18 - Dirty Work of the Spirit

Monday, May 18, 2009

May 18 - Dirty Work of the Spirit - 1 Timothy 6:11-16

Diane says:
In contrast with the 'some people' of 1 Timothy 6:10, Timothy was to pursue (chase after) personal virtues. This list can be compared to the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 and the requirements for elders in 1 Timothy 3:1-13.

The confession that Timothy made in front of many witnesses was likely his baptism. Paul makes his most solemn charge to Timothy here - to keep the commandment - which is the entire body of teaching that Timothy has received from Jesus and from Paul.

Paul was aware that Jesus might not return immediately and encouraged Timothy to always be prepared. God would bring the Messiah back in His time. With these words he transitions to a glorious doxology, praising the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Rebecca says:
Growing up I was a fan of dolls. I loved them; every type, shape and size. At my mother's house, I had a set of porcelain collector dolls that sat on a shelf and wore beautiful satin dresses and carried parasols. At my father's house I had two baby dolls that I played with and carried and fed on a daily basis. Both were the same but I preferred the blond over the brunette only because her eyes closed when I laid her down to sleep and to a four year old that was a pretty big thing. Since I preferred her, she also tended to look like she was my favorite, she was worn around the edges, hair sticking straight up in every direction, pen marks on her face from where I tried to enhance her appearance, her skin was more brown than porcelain from long days out in the yard laying in the dirt as she took her naps, her clothes a little tattered from all my constant costume changes. She was at the very least grubby, but I loved her. She was a treasure to me and when my grandpa came to visit and sat down to play dolls with me I always let him play with her and I kept the 2nd rate brunette that looked brand new. I remember every time he would laugh at her hair and what a wreck she looked like, but he knew she meant a great deal to me and considered it a privilege that I entrusted him with her well being and always treated her that way.

I was thinking of those dolls as I read this section of Timothy. In this short little section of verses there are a lot of 'charges' Paul gives to Timothy. Action commands like 'pursue' and 'take hold' and 'fight the good fight.' In this little passage, Paul is basically telling Timothy to get down and dirty with the gospel, to use and reuse all of the ins and outs of it so that he can carry out all he is commanded to do in this area.

Sometimes I think we take the gospel and all its good parts, the righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness and we treasure it so much that it becomes like one of those porcelain dolls I had at my mother’s house sitting on a shelf. We value it to such a degree that we are almost afraid to get down and dirty with it day after day because we don’t want to mess it up. When I took those porcelain dolls down I attempted to play with them but they were stiff and rigid, and their clothes did not lend themselves to costume changes and their parasols were too delicate to play in the dirt with. Their hair always remained in the tidy bun it came packaged with because I would not dare take a brush to it and put my little strawberry shortcake barrettes in it. They had long dresses with huge petticoats that kept you from cradling them comfortably. In many ways the gospel is that same way to us. We put God and all His glory up on a shelf and we rarely take it down and just 'play' with Him daily. We dare not mess up His heavenly robes with this muckity muck life and so we don’t drag him into the bars, or out onto the streets and wade in the filth of this world. Instead we keep him in nice clean chapels with nice clean ladylike discussions because we don't want to taint or tarnish all that righteousness. If we begin to rub elbows with dirty filthy scallywags then we fear some of that dirt may rub off on us and get our porcelain perfection mussed up and undo that perfect little bun of hair.

But Paul reminds Timothy that what he holds in his hands, the righteousness, godliness, etc. was not made to sit on a shelf and look pretty but to be like my favorite baby doll and used day after day. It is durable because it was given life by God the "blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings, Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light." He has given us righteousness, godliness, faith, Love, endurance and gentleness; treasures that He himself has worked through to perfection. He lends it to us the same way I gave my favorite worn out doll to my grandfather because I loved him and wanted him to have the very pick of the litter.

God gives us these things to be utilized so that we can get down and dirty with them and fight the good fight of faith. He has blessed us with the very best parts of himself so that we can work them through. Fruits of the Spirit are not meant for a shelf, they are not the porcelain dolls of faith that are just there to give a shiny perfect appearancesto those of us that proclaim to be Christian. They are tools; the durable, strong, well worn, tried and true tools that He himself has handled and now lends to us so that we can dig in and do the work we are called to do.

Paul rarely had a porcelain doll of faith. Every story that you read about him involves some sort of action command. If his faith was personified in a doll I have no doubt that it would resemble my favorite little blond with the pen marks and frayed hair. And it is my hope that when it comes time for me to return my own little doll of faith, it too will be grubby and worn and tattered and a little frayed around the edges because I doubt there are shelves in heaven and I am certain there is no need for satin parasols!