Communion

In the future, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’   Exodus 13:14a

As a child sitting on a pew, I remember watching the tears fall gently down my mother’s face as she held the small cracker and the little plastic cup of purple grape juice in her slender hands. I looked intently into her face, leaned into her ear, and asked her why she was crying. I was concerned, and curious. She told me because of the meaning…all that it meant, the implication of those two little things, and all they represented. How they were a reminder of all Jesus had done, and all He was going to do.

In all honesty, I do not remember her exact words that day in church. I cannot recall the precise description or the heart-felt explanation of her tears. However, I can tell you this: I was never the same. The bread and the cup became so sacred, so precious, such a treasure from then on. I longed to experience what she was experiencing in that moment.

CommunionBaptistNow, as a mother myself, it’s rare that I take the bread and the cup without tears falling down my face. The treasure of the moment stirs a joy deep in my soul. And, it is also my turn to look into a concerned little face, with whispering lips, and lean my ear toward a curious child…asking, “What does this mean?” And just as my mother did all those years ago, I tell my child how by the “strength of His hand, the LORD” has done marvelous things.

As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it,

gave it to the disciples,

and said, “Take and eat it; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks,

he gave it to them and said, “Drink from it, all of you.

For this is my blood of the covenant,

which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Matthew 26:26-28

Although I’ve experienced one Passover Seder, I remember very little about the details of what was on the Passover Table that last time Jesus sat with his closest followers just hours before his betrayal by Judas and subsequent trial, scourging, and ultimately his crucifixion. However, there are two items I will never forget: the Bread and the Final Cup.

If my memory is correct, during the meal, the middle of a stack of three unleavened pieces of bread is taken and broken as it is passed and shared. Jesus said, “This is my body.” The disciples were the first to hear this new line in the Seder script, this revelation that had been concealed for hundreds of years was now unveiled to them, and would become so utterly tangible in the days to follow. The unleavened bread cracks and snaps in the hands of those at the table. His body would be broken for them – and for us. This symbolic meal, a foreshadowing in ages passed would be fulfilled, lived out, and demonstrated in living, vibrant colors in the days, hours ahead. No longer would the symbol be a veiled-foreshadow, but forevermore, a completed fulfillment of all the Law, all the requirements, an accomplished work, and a bright vantage point of view of our final redemption and salvation. The breaking of the bread at the table that night would be part of the forever confirmation that Jesus Himself was the Yes and Amen to all the promises of God.

I’m confident there is no way the disciples would or could have grasped in the moment everything that was actually happening; but as you and I can now sit and read the account of this holy meal, do we see the significance? Can we grasp the gravity of the moment? Holy Spirit, enlighten our minds.

Hallelujah.

After the bread, next comes the cup of that deep-red liquid from the crushed fruit of the vine. The color of the communion grape juice has always been a favorite of mine. The combination of the red, purple, almost black and blue holds such depth in that little plastic cup I hold between my fingers at my church pew.

When Jesus lifts the cup and declares it to be His blood of the New Covenant, I can’t help but wonder if Abraham and Moses were leaning off the front porch of Heaven, recounting in their own minds the impact of that cup, the impact of a New Covenant, the significance of a New Covenant with the Covenant-keeping God, and the stark realization that there is no covenant made without the shedding of blood.

Although the words of the Seder script in this portion I cannot recall, there is one line in the Holy Scripture that catches my attention every time I hear it. There’s this one thing Jesus says that draws such a strong reaction from my heart every time I take the cup that I almost cannot contain my emotion…

He looks at his disciples and says,

I will not drink this again until I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. (Matthew 26:29)

Let that sink in.

Jesus is about to face the most intense, horrifying, grueling, strain of physical and spiritual agony and punishment; and yet He’s already talking about the victory that lies on the other side. He’s already talking about the banquet. He’s already talking about the true end of the story. He’s already looking beyond the betrayal. He’s already smiling past the beating. He’s already over the isolation He will experience. He’s already forgiven and finished the task. He’s already thinking past the grave. He’s already casting the vision for a new earth…the old will just not be there.

In that moment, He is preparing them for a kingdom mindset.

In that moment, He is training them for kingdom work.

In that moment, He is giving them victory for a battle yet to be fought.

In that moment, He is the Yes and Amen of all the Promises of God.

Anticipating that cup.

Do this in remembrance of Me.  1 Corinthians 11:24-25

God’s Talking

When my oldest child was just old enough to speak in short sentences, he came out one day with a phrase that still sticks with me these 30 some-odd years later. As we were driving home one rainy day he piped up from his car seat behind me with, “Wook Mommy! God’s tawking!” As I glanced back I could see him pointing up ahead. Following the direction of his fingers, my eyes lit upon a glorious shaft of sunlight streaming through the steel gray rain clouds. Immediately, I knew what he meant. In all his church nursery pictures light appeared to be streaming down on various Bible characters when God spoke to them: Paul, Noah, Jonah, among others. I was delighted that at 2 years old he already knew that God speaks to us. I was comforted that in his adult years he would know he has a Creator who loves and cares for him personally as an individual. Even now, years later, I cannot see rays of sunlight streaming through the clouds without being reminded that God is talking to someone. I sometimes even go so far as to pray for the one whom God is speaking to at that moment.

Ladies, God is talking to you today. Are you listening?

God is always talking. God doesn’t skip days or weeks or months or years and talk randomly to us. He doesn’t forget about us for months on end and then think, “Oh I wonder how ole Deb is doing?” He wants a relationship with us like we have with family or dear friends, a relationship where we chat every day. How often I’ve wondered if He felt hurt those mornings I jumped out of bed and hit the ground running without stopping to even say good morning to Him. Crystal Evans Hurst in the book Kingdom Woman, which she wrote with her dad, Tony Evans, reminds us to stretch our arms toward heaven each morning before we ever get out of bed to offer ourselves to our Lord and to ask Him to show us the most important thing He has for us that day. What if your sweet Jesus, the Lover of Your Soul, were the first person you spoke to each morning?

God speaks through His written word so that we always have a concrete reminder in black and white of His love, His promises, His ways, and His instructions for us. While book-1421097_1280prayer is important for us to speak to King Jesus, reading His Word is equally important because that is how we hear directly from Him.

God will speak truth directly to your situation. Just like those rays of light streaming down from the sky, there are days I’ve felt as if God’s face were beaming down on me as He spoke. How very many mornings have I gotten up to read His Word with something heavy on my heart. Often I was going to His Word out of routine or desperation, not for a holy purpose or because I loved Him so. But even those days when I was 2 weeks behind in my Bible reading schedule, a verse or passage I read would speak directly to my situation and I would realize God Himself had scheduled that Bible reading plan years ago; He had guided me to read that plan that year, and He even knew how behind I’d be when I needed those specific words.

God speaks through others. Another uncommon but divine occurence in my life is when a friend randomly shares a verse with me that meets my need. I know in those moments, whether it is by text, in a notecard, or face to face, that God Himself has given them that word of encouragement for me. (If you feel led to text me a verse, please do!)

Sometimes He speaks indirectly and pricks your spirit with the realization of the meaning. I remember the day my college age child was furious with me and shouting at me in our kitchen. In that moment I was trying to speak Biblical wisdom to a heart of rebellion, when said child shouted at me, “Don’t you think I know everything you believe about the Bible!” It was as if God had put the words in my child’s mouth. Immediately my heart calmed down, as God showed me that my kids really did know what I believed and by young adulthood it was time for me to keep my mouth shut and let God do the talking to them in their hearts. I have no doubt that in the middle of the night when I’m not even there, my voice echoes through their minds proclaiming The King’s will and ways.

Similarly, His word planted in the heart speaks for years to come. Those verses sung or memorized in the 3-year-old class are still floating around in us. And they are still bearing fruit. If it hasn’t already happened to you, at some point you’ll have a verse spring into your mind, word-for-word that you never even memorized. God dredges up old sermons, or songs or random verses from the past just when we need them to communicate truth and wisdom to us. I wonder if He puts His Creator finger in our brain and touches just the neuron to trigger just the words we need to be reminded of.

If God can speak through a donkey, he can also speak through secular friends and media. Sometimes I’ve even gotten wise advice through an ungodly source. Yep. I know some of you are thinking, “Well I just don’t believe God would work that way.” Well let me tell you, He does. Late one evening when I was a naive college student I wanted to go to the lake with a bunch of non-churched friends. I was heading toward the car to go when one of the guys said, “You can’t go.” I was like, “Why not?” and his response was, “I know you and your mom. I know what y’all are like. I know what we do at the lake. You can’t go.” And I didn’t go. Who knows what the Lord preserved me from getting involved in.

As the storm clouds roll through today, whether they are literal clouds or those storm clouds of trial, be reminded that your Heavenly Father is above the clouds shining down upon you, speaking words of wisdom, direction, comfort, and peace. Go to His Book. Listen for His words. Seek His heart. Jeremiah 29:12-14 reminds us

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.”

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Our Spotless Lamb

Choosing a lamb for Passover should have been a matter of the heart. True worshippers with a strong faith wouldn’t settle for less as they chose a lamb without spot or blemish. Their lamb, chosen to be slain, the blood a reminder how God saved them and brought them out of bondage. A reminder to the Israelites of their struggle against slavery and their deliverance out of Egypt. The Jews were to keep the passover as a perpetual feast.

And then came Jesus. The Lamb of God without spot or blemish. (I Peter 1:16) The one that God sent to ransom and redeem us from our bondage with His own precious blood. The Jews had to go and choose a lamb. Our Lamb, Jesus, came to seek us. (Luke 19:10). John saw him and proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” Jesus Christ became our Passover Lamb and was sacrificed. (I Cor. 5:7)

Let us be reminded of the high price that our precious Savior paid to rescue us from the slavery to sin. Let us rejoice and praise our Lamb! He is worthy!

Revelation 5 – Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.”

 

11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”

 

13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, 

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

 

A Good Friday

“My stomach hurts.”

That was all he said as we exited our vehicle that Good Friday. I had just capitalized on the opportunity of a captive audience as we drove to a friend’s house. I had taken the opportunity of a captive (in a literal sense, they literally were captive in my van – not to be confused with intrigued and spellbound) audience to elaborate on the events of that First Good Friday. As the Martin 3 and I traversed the roads I spent the time telling them the timeline of Jesus’ last hours. I want them to grow up with an ever-present knowledge of how He loves them and what He was willing to do on their behalf.

As we meandered over the curvy roads I explained how He healed an ear, was dropped down a hole, stood next to a known murderer, who despite a warning Pilate had to free -beaten. I took an opportunity to remind them of the world history they’ve learned and the role of the Roman Empire. I reminded them of the Passover we had experienced the night before with some friends and the significance of the Pascal Lamb. I told them how He was beaten, and not only was He beaten, He was mocked and humiliated, hurt beyond anything we could imagine. How at the very moment He needed the Father, the Father wasn’t there.

catholic-celestial-christ-37737.jpgI told them about the temple and the veil and how human hands couldn’t have torn it. I told them about words He spoke from the cross. I explained how crucifixion works and how Jesus died before there was an opportunity to receive the final blow leading to death. I told them this and reminded them over and over and over that the motivation for such a terrible thing was Love. A love like the world had never seen before. A love like no other. A love for each of them. A love so strong that Jesus took their place. He took my place. He took on the sin of the world.

As we reached our destination the heaviness was palpable in the car. The chatty Martin 3 were silent a moment. Maggie, who seems to understand best how much she needs the King, expressed her love for Him and was delighted to know what He said from the cross. Charlotte, my silent ponderer, just looked around, and I could almost see her thoughts of silent reflection. Shelton, only said the above statement.

“My stomach hurts.”

Those 3 words made me understand exactly what he was thinking. Shelton is much like his mama and when I am deeply troubled by something my stomach hurts. When I empathize with someone who is hurting, my stomach hurts. I reminded him that all is well, because despite the events I had just described. Jesus is alive and He loves us. He is close and we do not have to be afraid. And he came to take away all the hurts.

Then in the time it took to walk from a curb to the front door of a friend’s home his stomach no longer hurt.

A Good Friday indeed.

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As you go about your day tomorrow, Good Friday, meditate upon the the stomach churning events of that Friday some 2,000+ years ago. Allow yourself to absorb the gravity of the sacrifice He made, so that Sunday you may rejoice in the victory of His resurrection.

 

Tax Day

As we in America file our taxes today, I’m reminded of a story in the bible of Jesus’ encounter with a tax collector.

It’s summed up in a cute little kids’ song that goes something like this

Zaccheus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in the sycamore tree for the savior he wanted to see.
And as the Savior passed that way He looked up in the tree,
And He said, “Zaccheus you come down.
For I’m going to your house today.”

How often have we felt like the wee little man – the unimportant, unwanted, or left out one? We may feel despised for the job we do, the past we have, or the choices we’ve made. We see ourselves as unacceptable in the society. We believe we’re judged by those eyes looking at us everywhere we go, even church sometimes.

If we take time to think about the words of the song or to read this story from scripture, the heart-touching part of this simple story shines through.

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

IMG_8499Zaccheus’ innate curiosity led Him to encounter Jesus. You too have been given a personality with certain traits and God will use those to lead you to encounter Jesus.

Zaccheus’ height may have felt like a handicap at times, especially in a crowd like this where he wanted to see what was going on. Father God already had the tree growing there that Zaccheus needed – God had made a way for Zach to come to Jesus even with whatever perceived handicap or weakness he had. And God has already made a way for you as well.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

Ole Zach didn’t have to seek out Jesus, Jesus sought out Zach and ended up right at his tree. And what was Zach’s response? He was glad! He jumped down at once because he was ready to welcome Jesus. Are we glad when Jesus meets us? Do we see Jesus as a desired guest coming to our house or as a hard task-master critiquing our every failure?

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

Others talked. And they will. Others will talk about us when we begin hanging out with Jesus. “Doesn’t Jesus know who she used to be?”

But Zaccheus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Zaccheus’ heart was changed forever when he encountered Jesus. Though he had most likely been a greedy, money-focused person (and we know that because of the reputation and requirements for how tax collectors conducted their business during those times), Jesus changed him. Money was no longer his focus. Jesus Gave him a new heart, a heart of generosity and repentance.

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:1-10

Zaccheus experienced salvation that can come only through Jesus. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He sought out and saved ole Zach. And He is seeking you and your loved ones who do not know Him. He seeks to find us and rescue us and pull us out of our old life of walking in darkness to a new life walking in the light of His love.

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Hashtag #PalmSunday #StunnedSilence

The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” 

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”

John 12:12-15

 

Every summer our family, along with my Mama and my sister and her family take an annual beach trip. We prefer the Alabama Gulf Coast and the very most western part of the Florida coast as our vacation destination. That geographical location is familiar and when we go there it feels like home. We aren’t real big on attractions or extras. We are typically there for the sand and water. We have a few dining dives we like to visit, but this is limited to a just a few and most of them can be visited in a coverup for a late lunch or happy hour, shoes may or may not even be required.

The Martins always take a Day field trip, educational in nature so as to count at least one day of vacation as a day of school. We’ve been to the art center and the nature center, the library. Scott Martin proudly boasts an Orange Beach Public Library card he obtained on a previous excursion to the local public library. (The beach library will give a card to near anybody and there is no such thing as a late fine there. We determined we are well suited for the Orange Beach Library.) Other than the aforementioned, there aren’t really any predetermined plans. If I had to classify us, I reckon I’d call us laid back in our vacation approach.

We are fairly consistent in our vacationing, that is except for the year of 2010. That year the Gulf Coast of Alabama experienced an oil spill and we vacationed in Panama City. That year we stayed at a fancy-like place with huge pools and “fun for everyone.” That year Maggie Martin announced to some random kid in the huge pool “That’s my Dad. He’s a lot bigger than my Mom.” That one still makes me giggle all these years later.
The look on Scott Martin’s face was priceless. I don’t even know if hashtags were around back then but if they were this just might have been a sampling: #NoWords #StunnedSilence #WellTheresThat #Random #ICYMI #Duh #What #WeDontKnowYouKid #ThisFancyPoolNotOurStyle #BigDad #BigMomToo #RandomKidWeNeverSawAgain

Anyway, that vacation proved to be different in many ways. One thing though was the same, I awoke early and headed out of doors, the King’s book and the earliest of the Martin risers alongside me, specifically the aforementioned sharer of random and obvious information.

beach-beach-chairs-coconut-trees-261186.jpgAs we sat on the balcony overlooking the fancy pool, a team of landscapers was already hard at work. They had been tasked with trimming the palm trees. The fancy pool of the fancy resort had dozens of them. There was a climber who sawed, like he used a literal saw, no plucking or pinching, those branches had to be cut away. There was a gatherer and a cleaner-upper; the jobs were many and I marveled at how there was a lot of work going into the palm tree trimming. Heavy duty work, the very thing vacations are not made of. They were focused and deliberate in their task, beads of sweat rolling down their faces. I grew tired just watching them.

As the King’s word sat open on my lap I watched those trained individuals make an unintentional carpet of palm branches and it hit me. For all my years that day, the one known as Palm Sunday, had seemed, well, lack luster to me. The following week is my favorite, after all, that’s where all the action is, all of humanity’s sin debt paid for and the King conquered death, once and for all.

In addition, the week prior to Resurrection Day serves to frustrate me that a group of folks could be yelling “Hosanna!” To the King one day and not even a week later the same fickle folks are yelling “Crucify Him!” I’ve always just imagined their praise was half-hearted and insincere, that was, until the palm tree trimming. I realized in that moment that to remove palm branches and make way for the King would have required a deliberate action. There would have been considerable effort required to lay those palm branches on the road that Sunday morning, a degree of sincerity, would have served as the motivation required for such a laborious task. It occurred to me in that moment that I am those same fickle folks. Sincere and devoted one minute, caught up in the moment the next.

As I watched that fancy resort grounds crew trim those palms, I made a note and dated it so as not to forget that act of worship on that first Palm Sunday so many centuries ago, and to remind myself that to obtain a palm branch would have been difficult and would have to have been chosen and deliberate just as my worship of the King should be. The fickle folks and I have more in common than I’d realized and because of that picture of deliberate choice and act of worship, the commemorated day, Palm Sunday, for me is less and less about the fickle folks and more and more about My King who rode a donkey, the worship I offer him. His love and grace, his willingness to suffer that would set a plan in motion that has been the catalyst for the single most life-changing event that I have ever experienced and for that… there really are no adequate words and it leaves me in stunned silence.

Only God

“I am the Lord and there is no other.” Isaiah 45:5

I often tell my kids that walking with Jesus is a great adventure. It’s not an easy journey—in fact, Jesus himself guaranteed it would be difficult. Yet in the midst of the hard, God reframes your focus and He rewrites the script of your life. And if you pay attention and seek to walk in submission to God, you just might find yourself part of a beautiful story that ONLY GOD could write. The following story is one of those miraculous God stories—not miraculous in the staff-turning-into-a-snake or sick-person-made-well kinda way—but miraculous in the way God orchestrates our lives and brings His people together. It’s a story that can be explained one way — ONLY GOD.  

Before we begin our story, a little background: I am part of an international Bible study ministry. This ministry has local Bible studies in communities across the nation and around the world. The Lord birthed our local ladies Bible study seven years ago and we, through the prayer and support and equipping of our national leadership team, serve our community by discipling ladies, teens, and children through in-depth Bible study. Our local study has a five person servants team who helps lead and shepherd a larger leadership team. We all work as partners in the gospel to bring this Bible study ministry to our area. Though the week to week purpose of our study is to disciple our community through Bible study, the foundation of our ministry is prayer. And we have seen God do some miraculous things, but this year, we got to be a part of a story that spans continents and cultures—something bigger than our minds could ever conceive.

This ONLY GOD story starts in April 2018 with a ministry-wide leadership training meeting in Colorado Springs. At this training were men and women from all over the world. Our local leadership ministry team was at training and through a casual salad bar conversation (because, of course, God works at buffets), one of our team met the National Ministry Director of an East Asian country—a country where untitled-design-4.pngto be a dynamic follower of Christ can mean a death sentence. During their brief conversation, his heart was so overwhelmed with love for his people and their spiritual condition, he honestly and tearfully asked my friend, “Is anyone praying for us?” My friend came back to the table with tears streaming down her face and said, “We have to pray for him.” So we did. When we began our local Bible study in Fall of 2019, we adopted his country as our international prayer focus. We prayed for him and his people each week.

Flash forward to January 2019: As the teaching director for my class, I am required to go to a Teaching Director’s conference every few years to recharge and refocus, and 2019 just happened to be a conference year. Also attending this meeting are our international leadership—regional and national country directors from around the world. Since our encounter with our East Asian friend the year before, our team wanted to let him know we were praying for him. So as a leadership we were praying I would see our friend so I could give him an answer to the question he asked almost a year before, “Is anyone praying for me?”  I wanted to tell him wholeheartedly, “Yes! We are praying for you!”

All weekend I looked forward to our International Meetings. At these meetings we would break up into regions of the world and hear from brothers and sisters around the world about how God was moving in their country and how we could pray for them. When we got to the East Asia Pacific Regional Meeting, I was so excited that our friend was there! Not only was he there, but he seemed to be the spokesperson. Turns out he had been “promoted” to Regional Director of all East Asia-Pacific Countries. Only God.

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After the meeting I noticed there were many people stopping to talk to him. I waited, determined to let our friend know what an impression he made, and that our study was praying for him. I finally got to speak with him, and nervously told him where I was from and relayed the whole story from our training time back in spring of 2018. He smiled and thanked me and said in his thick accent, “Al-ah-bah-ma? You’re from Al-ah-bah-ma? I will be there in two weeks.”

“You will!” I squeaked out excitedly. “What for?”

“My daughter is having (minor corrective) surgery at the children’s hospital in Birmingham. Is that far from your study?” he asked.

At this point, I think I might’ve screamed, “NO! It’s just 15 minutes south of our community. Could I contact you? Would you be able to come visit our class?” He gave me his card and I ran out and texted our team. My first words in the text were “ONLY GOD!”

It was then I realized, I hadn’t asked about his precious daughter having surgery or asked how we could pray for her. How could I be so inconsiderate? So I went back in the room, composed myself, and walked back up to our friend, who now had less of a crowd around him. I apologized for being so thoughtless and asked, “How can I be praying for you? How can I pray for your daughter?” Maybe because the crowd had dwindled, or maybe because of my fumbled apology, the door was opened to a deeper conversation that made him determine in his heart to visit our class. God even uses our mistakes for His good purposes. I’m so thankful He can use a mess like me. Only God.

imagesTwo weeks later, our friend was in Birmingham with his daughter. Her surgery went extremely well and our friends spent their recovery time with a lifelong ministry partner who lives in a small Alabama town. Our study was so excited about the possibility of our East Asian friend and his daughter visiting, but try as we might, logistics were not in our favor. The small town was about an hour and a half from our study and he wasn’t sure he could get transportation; his daughter’s follow up appointments were on the same days our study was to meet. So we prayed. Within a couple of days, his daughter’s follow up appointments were changed and his host “happened” to have a free day on our study day and was able to drive him there. Only God.

The big day arrived and our friend and his young daughter and his pastor/host friend came to visit. He was able to update our class on what the Lord is doing in his part of the world through the study of the Word. He talked about how his people do not have a good translation of the Bible in their heart language (the dialect they speak in their particular area of his country), which makes it so difficult for them to study the Bible. His eyes pooled with tears as he recounted his desire to see his people come to know the Word of God and the God of the Word.

Another thing our friend shared is how much he needed to be refreshed in the Word, how much our prayers meant to him, how much this invitation to visit our study overwhelmed his heart, how much he longed to see those who were going to the throne of God on his behalf. He cried tears of joy when he told us in his broken English that his heart was growing hard and he was growing weary in ministry, but seeing us and being with us and knowing we were praying for him was causing his heart to melt and be renewed.

But what he didn’t realize is that his presence was refreshing and renewing our study, giving us new passion and zeal to carry on with our ministry. Our leaders were growing weary in doing good and needed a reminder that God is at work in our community and around the world. He was spurring us on in obeying God’s call, just as we were spurring him on to walk in his calling. Only God.

As I said good-bye to our East Asian friend, who is now a dear brother in Christ, I stood in absolute amazement. From the Far East, to a salad bar in Colorado Springs, to an awkward invitation in Colorado Springs a year later, to a personal visit to our little suburban Alabama community, how God orchestrated every detail. I know the full purposes of this encounter and this visit have not been fully realized, but I do know our East Asian friend lit a Holy Spirit fire in our Bible study and in our leadership. To see the Lord do something only He can do. To pray specifically and watch Him do what seems impossible. To be a part of the work the Lord is doing in our community and around the world. To give our study a “world” vision. To help them see what a great gift we have in being able to read the Bible and study it for ourselves. ONLY GOD!

God sure does write the best stories! Do you have an ONLY GOD story? We’d love to hear it—leave your story in the comment section.

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Library Lover

I was a library aid once.

I used to know the Dewey Decimal System and it’s complimentary card catalog with such accuracy that I rarely had to use any resource or cheat sheet when shelving books. Now the library boasts a librarian from the computer… a cybrarian. He or She’s not very personable but it gets the job done. In my opinion the Cybrarian is not nearly as tactilely stimulating. I can still feel my fingers glide over thousands of tiny cards alphabetically organized. Their yellowed hue and unmistakable scent a testament to their age. Only the new additions to the the library shelves boasted crisp white cards. All of their text, typed out with an old fashioned typewriter, they held the key to knowing where knowledge lay.

When I was younger, like maybe 5, I remember sitting cross legged on the floor of the nearest public library sounding out words that would string together to make a sentence. backpack-books-bookshelves-256431Sentences constructed together to make a page and those pages made a story. The day an old house in Paris covered in vines came alive to me was a day that changed my life. Perhaps deep in the recesses of my mind that emergency appendectomy (it would be 17 plus years before I heard that word or knew what it was) and that smallest of girls helped to persuade me into a medical profession. Perhaps not, but one thing is certain, I always have and do love a public library. I could list the reasons and they include but are not limited to:

-Magazines I am too cheap to buy, but still love to peruse are not in short supply.
-The library is quiet. I need quiet to think, therefore it is a thinking space.
-I love the the smell of books. Smells solidify memories for me I suppose.
-The library is free. A good public library is a good budget friendly way to spend an afternoon indoors. I am sure those in-door-bouncy-parks are nice too but they cost money and the library does not.
-My children have a shared love of the library. They frequently ask me to drive them to a favorite one or two.
-I’ve found myself lost and in need of healing, many times that healing has resided within the pages of a book.

I have come to understand that within words there is power. The power to transform, Words are transforming and none more so than the Bible. Perhaps, long before I loved the King’s Word, I learned to love the place where words were housed. Perhaps am element of foreshadowing as it were, that would illuminate my path just as it is promised in His book of Psalms.

Psalm 119:105, Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

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Construction Zone: Is Your Plumbing Working?

Stepping in my basement door I was greeted with a “splash.” It stopped me dead in my tracks. That had never happened before. Our oatmeal colored Berber carpet looked like a layer of sand under an inch of water, as if a wave were retreating along the shoreline. If you’ve had the misfortune of finding yourself in a similar situation, you no doubt understand the importance of properly working, well maintained plumbing in your home. When plumbing is working correctly we never notice it, and we take it for granted. But faulty plumbing is noticed with alarm and taken seriously.

Piping in our homes has flow coming in and flow going out. It is designed to be a channel  for water to come in, be used, and then leave. Spiritually we are designed to operate similarly. Just like empty pipes would be useless, our lives devoid of the Spirit flowing through us would be of little use in God’s kingdom. We are designed with a capacity for the Holy Spirit to come in and fill us. But just like the piping in our house, we are also meant to have the filling of the Spirit pass through us in ways that are useful and effective in the lives of the world around us.

Spirit input. We should be constantly seeking more of the Spirit’s filling. A steady intake of the Word of God each day and seeking His heart through prayer keeps us constantly being filled. It prepares us to let the fruit of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – flow through us whenever and wherever.

mixer-tap-413745_1280Quenching the Spirit. We’re instructed in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 to not quench the Spirit. If we are seeking to be a part of God’s kingdom coming here on earth and His will being done in society around us we must be aware to nurture His Spirit within us, to listen to it and obey it and not to quench it. Quenching the Spirit in our metaphor is very much like cutting off the water supply valve to your whole house. You leave yourself unprepared and empty of the very thing you need the most.

Outflow of the Spirit. When we turn on a water faucet in our house we expect the water to flow out. In our lives, we expect the Spirit to flow through us in all his varied and glorious ways. Acts 4:31 tells us of those who were filled with the Spirit and spoke the Word boldly. In other places in the New Testament we see a variety of other things coming from those filled with the Spirit: wisdom, faith in the face of imminent death, healing, ministering to needs, and an outflowing of many other gifts of the Spirit. Are we so filled up with Him that the Spirit’s power is able to flow through us at a moment’s notice just as water would flow when we turn on a faucet?

In Genesis 12:2-3 God told Abraham, “I will bless you;… and you will be a blessing… and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” We too are blessed to be a blessing. The blessings of that Spirit that flow into us are meant for us, but they are also meant for others. We are not to be a stopped up pipe. We are to allow the Holy Spirit’s power to flow freely into us and out of us. John 7:37- 39 puts it pretty plainly:

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

There is a thirsty world all around us. People are in desperate need of a drink of the living water we possess. Is your plumbing working? Is the living water flowing from within you? Or have your pipes backed up? Be a conduit of the myriad of gifts the Spirit has to offer the world around you. Allow the fresh, living water of life to flow forth wherever you go.

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A God Whose Plan Will Not Be Detoured

Pharaoh then commanded all his people: “You must throw every son born to the Hebrews into the Nile…” Exodus 1:22

The evil that seeks to destroy life has existed in our world for a long time. The powers of darkness have been ordering the murder of sweet babies for thousands of years. Yet, like many of you, I’ve watched in absolute shock and horror as arrogant politicians have intensified their pursuit of pro-abortion legislation. Seemingly with blind vengeance, modern statesmen grant permission to slaughter human life without so much as a wink toward apology. It is unnerving, disarming, infuriating, depressing, and quite frankly, demoralizing.

Where is the light? Who are the good guys and where are they? Is there an end to the darkness? This is not new news and these are not original questions. Although shocking perhaps, this depth of evil is not a novelty in our earth’s history.

At the beginning of the book of Exodus, the Bible tells us the Israelites (or Hebrews) were multiplying in the land of Egypt. The family who began as seventy persons has grown to an innumerable people. The God of Israel has blessed them, just as He promised Abraham He would. However, as often goes the historical theme and plot, there arises a ruler who is unaware of the history of this people, and the strong ties between his very existence and this great family. He doesn’t know the story. He wasn’t listening in History class.

The Bible tells us this powerful Pharaoh concocts an evil plan to lower this blessed population by conjuring fear and paranoia in the hearts of his own people. He plants seeds of imagined conflict and fabricated betrayal, which leads to his precise and only solution: Kill all the baby boys of the Hebrews.

Phase One in the Pharaoh’s murderous plan was to have the Egyptian midwives do his dirty work. He orders them to kill the baby boys of the Hebrew women in the midst of their delivery, but he underestimates the character of the midwives. They fear God and, in defiance of Pharaoh, they protect the lives of the baby boys. The Bible tells us God blessed these precious midwives because of this.

When the evil monarch’s plan with the midwives proves unfruitful, he sends orders out to all his people: You must throw every son born to the Hebrews into the Nile.

That’ll do it.

Can you imagine the chaos and the pain? Can you hear the sounds and feel the agony of those days? The broken cries of mothers. The desperate weeping of fathers. The painful confusion of big brothers and older sisters. It must have truly been an absolute terrorizing time for the people of Israel. One minute you are celebrating, the next minute you are mourning. One moment you are happily living your life, the next moment life has so dramatically changed that you hardly recognize it. The grief must have been unbearable. All peace and sanity was lost. Precious little bodies floating facedown in the strong current of the Nile. Surely the angels wept as their heavenly nursery filled so quickly.

What is it about power and position that can turn a human heart so dark, so evil? What could possibly overcome this murderous level of darkness?

Is there a light, some light, any light?

They say there is something special about the moment just before the sun peaks over the horizon. They say the sky in that moment, just before the light breaks through, is at its darkest. The people of Israel had reached their darkest night indeed.

The light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it.    John 1:5

A ray of light comes from a courageous and cunning Hebrew mother. The Bible tells us in another passage that there was a man named Amram, and he married a woman named Jochebed. We know from the Scriptures they had three children, the youngest being a beautiful baby boy. Now Jochebed is diligent to hide her baby son as long as she can, but ultimately, she takes an unspeakable risk and concocts a shrewd plan of her own. The baby-basket-blanket-161534Bible tells us she made a basket, coated it to seal it like a small ark, placed her beautiful son into that basket… and then she placed that basket among the reeds along the riverbank of the Nile.

I wish I could have heard the whispers Jochebed spoke to herself and to that sweet baby boy in those desperate moments. The words she would’ve rehearsed… “Well, he’s in the Nile. I put him in the Nile.” The petitions she would’ve prayed… “Oh God of my fathers, remember Your servant Joseph. Remember Your promise.” The story she would’ve told of Noah in the ark… “And God closed the door. And God saved Noah inside the ark…”

I can almost feel her pounding heart in her ears.

I can see her brimming tears, then falling down her cheeks.

I can hear her lips pucker for the gentle kisses against baby skin.

I can sense her resolve as she placed her young infant into those reeds.

I can see her waiting… rocking in her chair… cradling her face in his blanket.

Did she know what would happen? Was her placement of the basket a strategic one? Or did she hope to hide him for an hour, and then go get him out again? Or had she practiced with Miriam, the big sister, what she was to say? Did she know the princess would be bathing close by?

Heart pounding. Prayers lifted. Tears brimming. Promises reminded. Chair rocking.

I have found in my few years of reading the Holy Scriptures that no one paints a story like the Ultimate Author. The twist in the plot. The unseen hand. The page turn that you didn’t see coming. The light in the darkness.

The Bible tells us that Pharaoh’s daughter went to bathe in the Nile, and she saw the little basket among the reeds.

Heart pounding. Prayers lifted. Tears brimming. Promises reminded. Chair rocking.

When the princess opened the basket, she saw the child… he was crying.

Heart pounding. Prayers lifted. Tears brimming. Promises reminded. Chair rocking.

MosesRescued_FromTheNile“Poor little thing. He’s one of the Hebrew babies!”

Did time stand still for just a second? What would she do? The Bible tells us her servant girls were all around her. They all saw the baby. They all knew what Pharaoh had ordered.

Then comes my favorite part…

Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Should I go call a Hebrew woman who is nursing to nurse the boy for you?”

“Go,” Pharaoh’s daughter told her. So the girl went and called the boy’s mother.

Then Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse him for me, and I will pay your wages.” So the woman took the boy and nursed him. (Exodus 2:7-9)

Only the Ultimate Story-Maker, the Creator-God could pull the heartstrings of compassion inside the breast of a pagan princess, and then pay a mother the wages to nurse her own son.

The light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness has not overcome it.   John 1:5

This is not the end of the story. It is only beginning. It is only part of the story.

There is hope in the midst of despair.

There is light in the darkness of chaos.

There are midwives who defy an evil ruler.

There is a mother weaving a basket.

There is a pagan princess who will show pity.

And there is a God whose plan will not be detoured.

The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.