Listen up!!! Valentine’s Day is Friday and I would like to officially reject any part of it that makes the ones I love feel unloved. Fact is St. Valentine was a priest, single, believed in marriage, loved Jesus and knew everyone was wanted by the Father. So go big this year. Shout someone’s worth. Hug your kids, the neighbors kids, your nieces and nephews. High five and text and send cards to your single pals, worried friends, married friends, in relationships, divorced people, single moms and dads trying to hold it together. Loved. All of you. I have a hint for you too - if you are feeling left out or down or sad or whatever I've found the best pick me up is to help someone else feel less alone. Do the work this week to tell your people they are ALL loved.
This morning I didn't hit the snooze button. I dragged my tired body and my warm blanket into another room and sat with my journal and Bible. It had been a long time since I'd cracked open either book. Sure - I read my Bible on my phone grabbing a fast sip full of truth in between sorting my junk mail, pursuing Instagram and catching up on my Noom tasks. But to actually sit in a chair with my Bible and pause and pray? I don't slow down that often.
I've got a big list of things to accomplish this year. Books to read (36 ones I've been given or purchased, 100 total). Some weight to lose (those pesky last 5 pounds). My art class to finish (10 drawings to go). Several LARGE tasks at work (just keep swimming). But the sermon yesterday reminded me that none of it matters save a commitment to being in the word and following what it says.
So I dragged my body into my chair and this is what met me there.
"For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear. I will help you." Isaiah 41;13
My right hand is the one that writes all my lists. What I use to keep track of things. With it I do do do always keep doing. And it makes me tired.
And God promises to slow me down, to take my hand, to comfort me like a child, to go my speed and to help me. Oh goodness. What a great verse.
That's the Book: Revelation
Recently I had the great joy of spending a day at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. While there we saw all the greats; the beautiful ballerinas of Edgar Degas, Waterlilies by Monet, the bright eyes and cheeks in Renoir. The Homer Winslows reminded me of the bits of the Bible which tell history. Lots of color and detail which help readers - or viewers - to understand a culture and how humanity moved within it. Pretty. And factual.
We wandered through my favorite gallery where the lovely impressionist paintings live. These Van Goghs, Manet, and Monets evoke beauty and move my soul. These remind me of the books of the Bible which are full of songs and worship and poetry. Think the Psalms. Or Isaiah. Pretty Pretty Pretty. More symbols, fewer facts, still truth.
Then we wandered through the abstract art gallery. These paintings are interesting. They make viewers reflect and see things in a new way. They cause questions, challenge assumptions, and are full of symbols. They aren't supposed to be viewed the same way as the realistic paintings and they don't have the same effect as the impressionists. But they are still powerful. Just like the book of Revelations.
The book of Revelation is likely the most misunderstood and confusing books in the entire Bible. It's written by John who was one of the disciples of Jesus. He had a vision about the future and wrote it down for people to have some clue as to how the rest of human history would play out. I have a little hint for you before we dig into the book. Jesus wins.
Some of the themes which sink into my heart when I wrestle with Revelations carry me in hard days. I've got these verses posted about and when life seems too hard I read them out loud. Because the truth screams.
Jesus is the only one able to touch the problem of pain. He's perfect. Lovely. Holy. He stays the same.
And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, "HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME". Revelations 4:8
"Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE YOU, FOR YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED." Revelations 15:4
Pain and destruction and darkness and death loses. Justice wins. Grace wins. We win.
And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. Revelation 20:10
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. Revelation 21:4
God is not done with the church. Even with her flaws and hypocrisy. He loves her. He still calls her, uses her, loves her, restores her.
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Revelations 3:15-19
Endurance is a large part of what the Christian faith preaches. Don't quit faithful one.
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. Revelation 2:10
Revelations is a big, sometimes scary, powerful book with relevant messages to share with believers today. Life can be complicated. God is not simple. So the book of Revelations with all its abstract symbols and grand language gives us a glimpse into the mystery in ways the other books simply can't touch. Abstract is still truth.
And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:5
You'll find this walkthrough especially useful. The team at the Bible Project are the very best. I told you Revelations is complicated - it takes two videos to sum up.
For those of you who are looking for book recommendations here are a few on my current or just finished reading list.
Romance, history and lots of C.S. Lewis quotes? Yes Please! This book won the Christie Book of the Year award and I'm just loving reading all about how C.S. Lewis finally fell in love.
This is the best selling fictional novel about a child who is abandoned in the South Carolina marsh. I'm listening to this one on Audible and am about half way through - so if you're one of the people who have kept this novel on the best seller list for 20 consecutive weeks don't tell me how it ends. But wowsa. Its mesmerizing.
Fantastic negotiation book. I'm going to read this one again.
Classic children's novel - fun, intelligent and clever. This is my daughter's doctor's favorite book so we are reading it for something to talk about next time we see her.
This morning at church our kid's program was a hit. It was a hilarious show, charming and all the cuteness. The plot revolved around a church putting on a Christmas show and crisis hits when the delivery of costumes is all wrong. Shepherds become pirates, Angels show up as cheerleaders and the wise men don pirates costumes. Funny. My daughter was on stage and two nephews and a niece. A whole pile of other kids I call my own. Pride for all of them.
And then Mary and Joseph hit the stage holding the baby Jesus. Joseph looked a little bewildered by all the lights. His head was down and his face was set. I'm sure the original Joseph was the same. Mary had her eyes glued to the baby Jesus. I had an overwheming gratitude for the real baby who came at Christmas. For the one who left the perfect place and joined the mess for the sake of love. I found tears dripping down my cheeks. Truth is I cry every year when I look around at the kids I know telling the story I love.
That's the Book: Jude
In the 1980's it was awesome in Florida to purchase large Burmese pythons. Apparently the other drug dealers were not only impressed by white suit jackets with teal t-shirts but they also liked the idea of pets that could kill you. However, drug dealers don't have the best instincts when it comes to caring for living creatures so they frequently got bored and released their pets into the wild. In Florida the nearest wild is The Everglades. Fast forward almost 40 years and the pythons have taken over.
The python population in the Everglades is estimated to be at least 10,000 and could be as high as several hundred thousand. No one knows. In addition, "Scientists say that the snakes are responsible for a recent 90 to 99 percent drop in the small mammal population in the national park." (see citation link at the bottom of this post - seriously - read the whole article. It freaked me out). There are almost no rabbits, deer, raccoons or wild birds. The pythons have started taking on the alligators. Nasty.
The book of Jude was written by one of Jesus' brothers. He, like James, was not a follower of his family member until after he had witnessed the resurrection. But then Jude spent the rest of his life spreading the word about Jesus and serving the early church. The book of Jude is a one chapter warning to the church not to let false teachers into their midst. Because like the pythons in the Everglades, they have the tendency to kill, maim and destroy.
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you.They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. Jude 1:3-4
The group of scientists tasked with attempting to control the python population in the Everglades state that finding the snakes is difficult. But possible if you know and track their behavior. Same thing is true with people who do not have God's truth as their goal.
These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage. Jude 1:16
This verse makes me want to filter my Instagram feed through this perspective. Who am I following who grumbles all the time? Who finds fault? Who boasts or flatters for their own advantage? And a scarier question is do my social media posts reflect this or God's grace? Are my conversations with others patterned after Jesus or a snake?
The way to stay true is spelled out in Jude.
But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Jude 1:20-21
The quote from the python hunting scientist which really sunk in was this; "If nothing were done about these pythons, they could eventually convert our entire wildlife biomass into one giant snake".
And this is also why Jude wrote his letter to the church. If nothing was to be done about the lies influencing the early believes they could have been swayed from the truth by that original snake in the garden. Grumbling, pride, and lies are still today some of his favorite tactics. And like then, if nothing is done to remind the church to hold the line and stay with the truth outlined in scripture we could all turn into one giant lying snake.
But there is good news. Something was done about our invasion. Christ came. He lived a perfect life. Died for our sin and rose from the dead. And this something resets the environment we live in. Because of His life we have the power to overcome. Jude knew it. If you need encouraged today - read this verse out loud. Print it out. Post it on your fridge. Take a photo and make it your phone background screen. He is able to keep you from stumbling. Glory to Him.
To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. Jude 1:24-25
Take that snakes, liars, drug dealers, grumblers and prideful boasters. I know who wins.
Unless you are very familiar with the Old Testament and other Jewish historical texts; the book of Jude can be confusing. I really appreciated The Bible Project's overview as they went step by step through each section. This will help you unpack the important book and understand all the references.
Jackie Hill Perry is a poet, prophet and preacher. I love this woman's teaching. She just launched a full study of the book of Jude. I'd recommend you check it out.
And the link if you want to purchase Jackie Hill-Perry's new study on Jude.
Crazy interesting article about the Pythons in the Everglades. READ HERE. And if you want more go to YouTube and look up Python vs. Alligator. You'll see how I spent my Saturday morning. FREAKY.
That's the Book: 3rd John
When I was about 12 my family took a vacation to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. My parents had been there previously and had befriended a family who lived nearby. So we were thrilled this trip to have personal tour guides and help with translating Spanish. Kind friends always make things more fun. We got to go horse back riding out in the jungle, take a ride across the bay and then climb up to a gorgeous waterfall and generally see some sights not on the normal tourist itinerary. Our friends owned an apartment in Guadalajara so their children could attend college and they invited us to stay there with them over the weekend. One epic night we rode through the old town in a horse drawn carriage and they hired a mariachi band to serenade us all during dinner. Such good hosts!
This kind of cheer reminds me of the joy with which John writes to his friends in the book of 3rd John. This one chapter book is the third in a series of books to encourage and challenge his friends. John's main points this book where to cheer joyfully on their faith and to encourage them to practice hospitality for follow believers.
It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. 3 John: 2-3
Our trip to Mexica was fantastic. And then near the end of our time there, my family all got sick. Barfing, way too much time in the bathroom, thought we were gonna die Montezuma's revenge kind of sick. And this is when our hostess really kicked in.
I'll never forget the care of this sweet mama. She welcomed us into her home, made us the most lovely tea, went to the local pharmacy for electorolite drinks so we would not become dehydrated and generally comforted this lot of pitiful travelers. We felt better. Not so much in our bodies - that took a few days - but we immediately felt better in our souls.
This is what good hospitality does. It makes you feel welcome, included, comforted and known. This mama made me feel better 30 years ago and I still am grateful.
John was a traveling pastor - as were many of those believers in the early church. And the local people who gave them room and board made all the difference. So John spends the rest of this chapter reminding them to show hospitality - and to call out those who don't.
We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth. I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. 3 John 1:8-10
Over my life I've had other times when friends and believers made me feel welcome. When a meal made all the difference between hope and despair. When I wasn't sure how to continue and someone had a cup of coffee, made me laugh and encouraged me forward.
Some people are intimidated by hospitality. They get caught up in a cycle of comparison, self doubt and shame. My guess is this is partly fueled by too many instagram posts of perfect dinners and the predictable Pinterest fail.
Listen. Hospitality doesn't have to be fancy. My friend in Mexico gave us hugs, looked us in the eye, made us a cup of tea. She didn't need fancy to show love. And neither do we. This is work we can all do. And its joy giving.
Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. 3 John 1:11
A neighbor was sharing with me a story from when they lived in Oklahoma. We had got onto the subject of tornadoes and the odd things they do.
A family had just sat down to dinner one stormy evening when the tornado watch alarm sounded. Being in Oklahoma, they had a storm cellar that they could immediately retreat to safety.
The tornado ended up hitting their home spot-on! Unharmed, the family eventually emerged from their storm cellar to find that their home had been completely demolished. They soon, discovered, however, that their dinner table had somehow remained untouched. Everything, including the food, was in perfect order still awaiting for them to resume their evening meal.
How fantastic is that!? I have heard of tornadoes doing strange things, but this one floored me the most.
There are days when we see the tornadoes of evil that seem to be swirling in our world more viciously than ever. These things we are witnessing can sometimes feel like an unbearable weight on our spirit.
My husband sent me a cute Peanuts meme of Pigpen stating, “Peace is not the absence of trouble, but the presence of Christ.”
Do you know what else spins? The spin cycle of our washing machines. And what is it’s purpose? To pull out all the final impurities that the rinse cycle has brought out of our clothes.
The spinning tornadoes we face in life can do the same in us if we look to God to see us through. He can use them to pull out the impurities in us so we can shine more each day in the midst of the grey stormy clouds.
God is our “storm cellar”. With faith, we have to believe that He has us fully covered and safe in the midst of the worst of evil’s tornadoes that seem to beat mercilessly. When the tornadoes end, because eventually they do end, we will rise above it all, shining and pure and “ we shall see Him, face-to-face”. (I Corinthians 13:12).
He will be glowing brighter than the sun and He will have a banquet table set perfectly for us and we will celebrate the final end of all storms!
I love Jesus. I think my two daughters can change the world. I think you can too.
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