Friday’s Worship Walk

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“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

1 John 4:1

To me, this verse is a reminder of how important Bible study is for every believer. We need to be equipped to tell if a teaching or a message or even a piece of advice is aligned with God’s Will. The phrase that comes to my mind is “let Scripture speak for itself,”

Question To Ponder: Is Bible study a daily habit for you? If not, try starting by reading and reflecting on one or two verses each day. Scripture is powerful, even in small bites!

More On Meditation

 

the-holy-bible-1483623In my last blog, we looked at what it means to meditate in the Christian way – namely. putting our focus on God’s Word. So, is it just a matter of sitting and repeating a scripture over and over again? Well, that can have some benefit. For one thing, you might actually end up memorizing it, and having scripture tucked away in your mind and heart is always a good thing.

But there are other methods of meditating that can be powerful learning tools. One general thing to keep in mind is that you’ll do better with smaller “bites” of scripture – one or just a few verses as opposed to a whole chapter. Many passages are rich in both language and meaning. Trying to handle too much at one time may cause you to miss something valuable.

Once you have a passage to ponder, take some deep breaths to settle yourself. You can close your eyes, or find a scene out your window to watch as long as it doesn’t distract you. I’ve had some great times of meditation sitting out in my backyard. Read through the passage a couple of times, either out loud or to yourself, letting it sink in. Then the fun can begin! Ask yourself some questions:

 

  • What is the litteral meaning of this passage?

 

Some verses, especially narrative style, are pretty self-explanatory. But others are a little harder to define. That’s okay – this is just a starting point to make you more aware of what you’re reading. I sometimes jot down quick notes alongside the verse in my Bible so I don’t forget them.

 

  • Are there any words or phrases that stand out?

 

Scripture contains unfamiliar sayings, poetic imagery and strange prophesies. Rather than letting those scare you off, let them be an invitation to explore the language a little. I often look words up in the Merriam-Webster or Bible dictionary for more clarity.

 

  • Is there a lesson in this passage for me?

 

This step is about applying what you’ve learned in the actual passage. For me, it’s the best way to really understand and remember scripture. God’s Word becomes much more personal and real.

When I have time, I finish up by doing a journal entry. I’ve found that part of the importance of meditating is when I go back later and review all that scripture has revealed. And it reminds me of how much our Heavenly Father wants to give us wisdom and encouragement.

 

From Martha To (More Of) Mary

I wrote last week about Martha and Mary, and admitted my tendency toward Martha’s mindset when I cook meals. Well, I was challenged to live that out as Thanksgiving approached.

I used to really get excited about preparing Thanksgiving dinner. It was more than just cooking – I loved all the prep too. The first stage, planning, would start right after Halloween. During the first couple of weeks in November I’d pour over cooking magazines for new recipe ideas. I didn’t really need to, since my husband and kids wanted pretty much the same dishes every year. But looking at all the pictures inspired me.

The next stage was list-making, and boy was I good at that part! I’d categorize and prioritize, cross-referencing ingredients until I had a full shopping list. Then I’d map out a schedule for cooking, baking and roasting.

Like a well-oiled machine, I set to work. Monday was cranberry sauce and chopping up veggies for the stuffing I made on Tuesday. By Wednesday evening, the pies were baked and the turkey was pre-cooked. Everything sat ready in stacked Tupperware containers, a checkmark next to every dish on my list. And I would feel equal parts satisfaction and exhaustion.

Last year, though, things changed. It was actually during my usual session of celery and carrot cutting when my wrists started to hurt. I decided to push through the discomfort, but by the time I got the stuffing together the enjoyment was fading. The meal came out about as good as others had, but I was in pain.  

This year I knew I had to scale back. But as I walked down the grocery store aisles lined with all sorts of mixes and packages, I felt my heart sink. Each possibility of a yummy thing to make my family and guests beckoned me. But I knew there would have been too much stirring, chopping or grating for my joints. Lifting up little prayers for strength, I kept walking.

Letting go of my old all-encompassing approach was hard. Not to be over dramatic, but I felt a sense of loss about making changes to such a familiar ritual. And I was afraid of letting people down.

I shouldn’t have worried. Because in the end, I felt better and that helped everyone have a better time. And I got to have more of Mary’s experience, which I should have been focusing on anyway. All in all, it was a good trade.

Testimonies Part 2

Earlier this week, I wrote about the power of testimonies. I thought it would be helpful to look at someone in Scripture who wasn’t afraid to tell others about how Jesus changed his life.

The Apostle Paul had quite a story to share – reading through the Book of Acts gives us a great overview of it. For now, let’s zero in on Chapter 22, one of the first times he relates the details of his dramatic conversion.

Remember when I mentioned three qualities that make a testimony compelling for me? Well, I found all of them in abundance in this passage.  Check out these excerpts:

Paul’s story was honest

He wasn’t afraid to confess his mistakes, his faults, his sin, which helps me relate to him.

“I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.” (v. 4-5)

Paul’s story was specific  

The descriptions he included help me feel like I’m there – I can almost experience the events with him as he remembers them.

“About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’  ‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied.”  (v.6-8)

Paul’s story was God-centered

A thread of praise runs through his whole tale, challenging me to acknowledge God’s authority and His Will for me.

“Then he said: ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.”          (v. 14-15)

 

I hope Paul’s story can inspire you as you write your own!

Fearfully Made? Who, Me?

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”                      Psalm 139:14

At my women’s Bible study last night, we talked about how creative God is, and that He made us to be creative, too. When I asked the group to write down a couple of their gifts though, some seemed hesitant. They said it seemed like boasting to talk about their own gifts.

Do you ever feel that way? I can relate.

It’s definitely easier for me to notice another person’s gifts and talents than it is to focus on mine. It is much more comfortable for me to recognize others than to get noticed myself. Why? Well, I think the concern about boasting is one reason. There’s a second, less noble reason – I’ve had trouble accepting the gifts I’ve been given.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve often compared myself to others. The habit started early on the elementary school playground, and over the years got rooted in my spirit. I used comparison as a way to measure myself: Gail can jump rope really well, so I should be able to.

The tragedy of thinking that way is not only how much pressure we put on ourselves, but how we discount our own abilities in the process. I was so intent on copying someone else that I lost track of my own unique set of talents and gifts. Though I didn’t have the athletic skills to jump rope like Gail, I could write and perform little skits for our class that she enjoyed, for example.

In Psalm 139, David gives us “inner comparers” a healthier way of looking at ourselves. His words seemed very bold to me at first, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” As if that weren’t enough to challenge us, David goes on to say that God’s “works are wonderful.” He means each of us!

Naming our gifts doesn’t have to lead to big ego trips. And it doesn’t mean settling for less than what someone else has. I’ve come to believe that God intended me and you to accept, celebrate, and use our own unique set of talents. I don’t want to insult the One who created me by dismissing how He made me. How about you?

 

The Fidgets

Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you.” Psalm 116:7

I’m what you would call “fidgety” a lot. It may be partly due to being a Type A personality – I would rather be doing something than not. Or maybe it comes from being slightly compulsive. Whatever the reason, this trait is at best amusing, and at worst disruptive, occasionally both.

Just ask my husband how many times I’ve popped up from the dining room table during meals over the years. It’s like my body has been set on “alert” mode to take care of any needs or clear any dishes. This was kind of helpful when the kids were little, but not so much anymore.

The figets show themselves during conversations, while attending a concert or watching TV. Nothing big – just a kind of restless feeling. My brain joins in too, and reminds me of things I could be doing instead of sitting around. I’ve often wondered why I behave this way. Well, I’ve come up with all sorts of possible reasons – pent up energy, too much sugar, a mental tick. And true to a Type A, I have pushed to myself to change and “Just relax already!”

But God had a different plan to offer me, and this verse from Psalm 116 sums it up beautifully. His desire is for me to have rest and peace. Boy that sounds good, doesn’t it?

The second part of that passage says where this rest comes from. Instead of trying to take care of everything myself, I need to see how much God does for me. Slowing down to look at His blessings calms my body and spirit.

I still fight the fidgets for sure. But now instead of jumping up from the table every time, I take a deep breath and remember God’s got things covered.

Our Jealous God

I’ve struggled with the idea of God being jealous.  Jealousy and envy seem like such human, base emotions – beneath God, in a way. But scripture tells and shows us examples where God expresses them.

I think part of my trouble in grasping this has been that I’ve defined jealousy by my own experience of it. I found these synonyms in my Roget’s Thesaurus – “envious, grudging, jaundiced” – and could immediately relate to them. I know all too clearly how jealousy toward a person or prize eats away my self-esteem. And after each episode, I’ve ended up both resentful and a little ashamed. 

Is that what God goes through when he feels jealousy? No – I believe His experience is vastly different. For one thing, my own bouts with jealousy are rooted in insecurity – someone else has or is what I think I need. God is complete, and has no need of anything. He is totally secure. Also, to be honest, my longings are self-centered – the object of my ‘affection’ will benefit me first. In contrast, God’s longings are for our good: freely giving grace and peace to us, and making our lives better by His presence.  

The Merriam-Webster definition of “jealous” paints a powerful picture: “intolerant of rivalry or unfaithfulness” and “vigilant in guarding a possession.” This evokes an image of God watching over and protecting something He already has and greatly cherishes. Rather than trying to grab hold of something out of fear or lack, God reaches down with deep love from a place of strength. 

It turns out, the real struggle for me in looking at God’s jealousy isn’t in accepting that He feels it, but in accepting that the Lord of the Universe loves and desires me that much.