The Message

The guy who wrote the Bible died last month.

I should clarify: the guy who wrote “The Message” version of the Bible passed away in October. His name was Eugene Peterson. Last January, I made a list in my bullet journal of most of the books he wrote, with the intention of one day checking them all off. And then I’ll start over and read them again. He’s that kind of guy.

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As you can see, I’ve only just begun.
Three down, eighteen to go.

One of the things I loved about Eugene Peterson was his humility. He was a brilliant scholar, teacher and pastor, but he never served a church with more than 250 members. It was his belief that a pastor should be able to call every parishioner by name. He spoke forcefully against the “mega-church” movement and “CEO-type” pastors. After years of pastoring and teaching, he went home to Montana where he wrote books and lived in a house without a TV.

Peterson undertook the mammoth task of singlehandedly writing a translation of the whole Bible. It has become a beloved version to many because of its accessiblity to modern readers.

For instance, the Revised Standard Version of Psalm 35:1 says,
“Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me.”
Peterson’s rendering in “The Message” reads,
“God, punch these bullies in the nose.” 

It’s fun to read this Bible.
Thank you, Eugene.
Well done.

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“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” Romans 12:1-3, The Message

This Wobbly World

This week someone dear to me said these words:
“Your world seems to lack a wobble that is so prevalent today.”

Then I went grocery shopping and pushed a cart with a wobbly wheel all around the store. I started paying attention. Lord, what am I to learn about wobbling?

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By the time I noticed the odd roller under my cart, I was in the dairy section, so I decided to push through. My usual glide through the aisles looked like a crazy zigzag as I tried to manhandle the defective cart. Steering around the end caps was particularly challenging. Plus, that loose wheel was noisy, spinning around in circles while the other three stayed the course. More than one sympathetic shopper smiled in my direction.

Why the wobble?
Something got loose in there.
Something made it unbalanced. 

This is a wobbly world, for many reasons. But we keep pushing through. Some days we are able to glide through life, but most days feel defective — like we’re navigating with an unsteady wheel base. Challenging circumstances can put us into a spin that seems out of control. So we try harder and talk louder, adding to the confusing cacophony of culture.

Something is coming loose.
We need to tighten up a bit.
Do more by doing less.
Control the calendar.
Say no to self.
Sit still.

Something is out of balance.
We need to recalibrate.
Every seven days or so.
Put first things first.
Say yes to God.
Rest.

This wobbly world needs a few steady voices, a few balanced souls, a few glimmers of hope. We should be people who can offer more than a sympathetic smile. A little lack of wobbliness might speak volumes.

God will be the stability for your times,
a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge;
the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.” Isaiah 33:6

“Our hope is real and true, an anchor to steady our restless souls.” Hebrews 6:19

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This Is Not Us

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PB and I just finished watching season one of the NBC hit show “This Is Us”. I know — we’re a little late to the party. With season three in full swing, it will be awhile before we are up to speed on the Pearson clan. Don’t spoil it, please. I’m assuming there are many more tragedies in store, many more gut-wrenching, tear-jerking episodes in our future.

The endearing characters have wormed their way into our hearts. The concept of weaving together the generations is intriguing and compelling. The theme of family and struggle and growth really resonates. The Pearsons try hard to build a good life. They make plenty of mistakes and poor choices along the way, but we forgive them and keep on rooting for them. We hope Jack and Rebecca and Kate and Kevin and Randall find happiness.

But when season 1 episode 18 rolled the credits,
I didn’t feel inspired or heart-warmed.
I just felt sad.

Sad because these dear characters are empty —
yet trying so hard to find fulfillment.

Sad because they are all looking for significance and security —
things only a relationship with their Maker can provide.

Sad because they are seeking freedom from painful pasts —
something only God can redeem.

If “This Is Us” is an accurate portrayal of contemporary life in America, then its depiction should cause us to wonder, “What’s missing here?” Because what’s missing in the show is also what is missing in our increasingly secular culture.

If we are believers in the power of the resurrection to heal and bring hope into people’s lives, then we should be willing to display what that looks like to the watching world.

We need to be couples who take hold of each others’ hands and, in humility, pray together about our problems. We need to be families who seek out the direction and support of pastors and spiritual leaders when things get too hard to handle. We need to be people who understand sacrifice and selflessness in light of eternity.

I get it — a drama like this can capture the television viewing public.
But this is not us.

Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ….
without hope and without God in the world.
Ephesians 2:12

But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, he who formed you:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
Isaiah 43:1

Tomato Wisdom

This week in Bible study we talked about wisdom and knowledge.
Are they the same thing?
Or not?

So, what’s the difference between knowledge and wisdom?

There were many helpful thoughts on this:

  • Knowledge is a matter of knowing facts. Wisdom is understanding and applying principles.
  • Wisdom is knowing what, how, when, why, where to use the knowledge.
  • Wisdom is seeing things from God’s perspective.
  • Wisdom is knowing how to navigate the realities of life when the rules don’t help.

But, by far, the best definition came from a guy named Miles Kington:

Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.

Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

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We learn some good stuff in Bible study.

“Wisdom is more precious than rubies.” Proverbs 8:11

(And ruby red tomatoes.)

A Prayer for the Cooks and Custodians

Several years ago, PB and I were asked to join with other faith leaders in the community in a service of prayer for our schools. A few days before school started, we gathered together to lift up all aspects of education in our town. We were each assigned a special group of people to pray for and we each took our turn giving voice to our prayers in the assembly. One prayed for the teachers, another for the students; someone prayed for the principles and administrators. There were prayers for the elementary schools, the middle school and the high school; we prayed for the Christian schools and for home-schoolers. Prayers were lifted up for the safety of the buildings and all the people in them.

My assignment that night was to pray for the cooks and custodians.

“Father, You know I’ve done my fair share of cooking meals and cleaning up after kids. And what I know to be true is that those things often go unnoticed and unappreciated. Unless, of course, there is no food on the table and no clean clothes in the closet. We do not want to overlook these dear people, the cafeteria workers and custodians, who feed our kids and clean up after them. These people are servants, and we know that’s something You value greatly. Equip these good people all over our schools to carry out their responsibilities with excellence and integrity.

It’s hard for kids to concentrate on math when their tummies are empty. And it’s hard to pay attention in science when the toilets are plugged and you gotta go. As these servants meet physical needs of both students and teachers, help them to also be aware of and sensitive to the child who needs a smile as they go through the lunch line. Give them Your grace to see the student who may need a kind word.

We pray for the hearts of our cooks and custodians, dear Lord. Let there be joy for them in the baking of the bread and in the sweeping of the floors. Use their hands to do this holy work.

We pray in the name of Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve. Amen.”

We may not be able to pray IN our schools,
but we sure can pray FOR our schools.

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“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people —
for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
1 Timothy 2:1-
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Do You Trust the Cloud?

What is “the cloud”, exactly?
And where is it, honestly?
And who is in charge, precisely?

Are the pictures of my grands and my garden floating somewhere in space? Are my documents being filed in a cosmic cabinet in the sky? Is my stuff safe up there? Am I a fool to trust my work to an ethereal nimbus?

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It seems we are not the first generation to question “the cloud”.

The Israelites, who had been delivered from slavery in Egypt, had to deal with a cloud as well. They would wake up in the morning, look out their tent flap and see what the cloud was doing. If it was lifting up, it was time to pack and move. If the cloud was settled over the Tabernacle, they could go back to bed after gathering their portion of manna for the day.

Easy.
If the cloud moves, you move.
If the cloud stays, you stay.

Imagine — a visual representation of God’s glorious presence right outside your door 24/7. A comforting cloud during the day to shade the intense desert sun and a fiery pillar at night to provide warmth and a nightlight. What more could anyone want?

Except people tend to get stiff sleeping in tents. And stiff-necked.

Only a few days after walking through the Red Sea on dry ground,
there was grumbling.
Only a few weeks after being delivered from 400 years of enslavement,
there was quarreling.
Only three months into their trip to the Promised Land,
the people had stopped looking at the cloud
and decided a golden calf was a better option.

Oy vey.

I’m tempted to think it would have been easier to follow God back then. Yet His visual presence didn’t seem to make obedience any easier for people. Perhaps it was just as tempting then for people to take their eyes off the Lord as it is now. Then again, it’s hard to love a cloud.

How glorious is it that the cloud returned when Jesus came onto the scene in the New Testament? There was a cloud at Jesus’ baptism, at the transfiguration and at His ascension. How starkly revealing is it that there was no cloud present at the crucifixion? The death of Jesus at Golgotha was the one time the Father turned His back on His Son because of the sin He carried on our behalf.

When Jesus returns, He will be seen coming in the clouds — unbridled glory for all the world to see. All believers who are living on earth will be caught up in those very same clouds.

It takes a lot of faith to hit “save” and believe that our personal information is safe and sound, somewhere in “the cloud”. May we all have the same kind of trust in “The Cloud”.

“Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out;
wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped.
Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year,
the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out;
but when it lifted, they would set out.”
Numbers 9:17, 22

In Every Pew

I once read a book by Ann Graham Lotz (Billy Graham’s daughter) entitled “In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart”. I’ve often wondered, as I’ve taken my seat in the 3rd pew from the front right side,

“Whose heart is breaking here today?”

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The thing is, we’re all so good at coming to church with our game faces on that it’s hard to tell. But, as Pastor H. A. Ironside told his seminary students, “Always preach to broken hearts and you will never lack for an audience.”

I have several friends going through trials right now. Each situation is different, each one is painful. I have these dear names written on a card that I keep in my prayer book. “Carry one another’s burdens,” the Apostle Paul told his friends in Galatia. But how do we do that, exactly?

“What do I do with other people’s pain, Lord?”
“Child, learn from the Good Samaritan.”

Good Sam was walking down the road when he noticed someone in the ditch, beaten and bloody. It wasn’t his tragedy. It wasn’t his problem. He could have kept going. Instead, he entered into the pain and did what he could. The Bible says it was compassion that drove him to action. (Luke 10:30-35)

I think God puts others’ sorrows in our hearts from time to time. The inability to shake off the burden must mean that we are being invited in, to help shoulder the load. It should be received as a privilege. To share in someone’s grief is a holy summons. Maybe the nudge means nothing more than to pray. Perhaps at that moment, no one else is doing that for our wounded friends. The hurting person may never even know that our tears and prayers went to the throne on their behalf. It is a hidden ministry — an anonymous service.

It takes time.
It requires emotional energy.
It demands a compassionate heart.
But,
we dare not walk by on the other side.  

There’s more.

Good Sam did what he could — above and beyond what most would do. He eased the poor man’s pain and tended to his wounds. Good Sam put the helpless victim on his donkey and took him to an inn where he stayed with him for one night.

Then he left.

He didn’t stop living his life. He carried on with his other responsibilities. Yet he provided resources and caretakers with a promise to follow up and continue to help.

That’s a truth we need to hear.
Our job is to enter into others’ pain in order to carry them to Jesus
not to carry them.
Only the Everlasting Arms are able to bear that kind of load.

Like Good Sam, we need to check in regularly and see what needs tending. It might mean providing a meal or a hug or a well-chosen book. It might mean introducing other caretakers who can meet a particular need. It might mean interrupting your regularly scheduled program for an intense season of suffering alongside a friend.

Look down your pew this Sunday and watch for broken hearts.

They are hiding there.
Let compassion move you
to help carry a burden,
to soothe a wound,
to bind up a hurt.

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Of course, broken hearts aren’t only in pews.
Many more are outside the doors of the church.
Take your compassion with you into the world.
It’s desperate for hope and help.