Bible study, Non-linear life, Wild seeds

Look, and see ….

 

It happened yesterday — a minuscule moment hidden in a dandy day. I almost missed it.

 

Yesterday was one of those days that started out wonderfully and grew better by the hour. Emma, our oldest daughter, and I woke up before dawn to get ready for the Little Rock Marathon 10K race. It was our first 10K together, as well as our first road race (the others have been trail races, we are more naturally suited to off-road, root-and-rock-hopping, hill-scrambling sorts of races). We were excited, to say the least.

 

The cold air that greeted us as we left our hotel did not deter us. We knew that we would warm up soon enough. As we lined up with the 3,000 other participants in the 5/10K we encountered friends from our hometown and my workplace. As a dad-and-daughter running team we were glad to start the race alongside a coworker and friend of mine who was running with her daughter as well (a shout out to Robin and Hannah for a race well run!).

 

During the race Emma and I talked, ran with other home town folks for a bit, laughed, thanked volunteers along the way, talked even more (she is a teenage girl, after all) encouraged each other, and looked forward to a big post-race breakfast. As we neared the finish we kicked it into high gear — high gear is required for me to keep up with Emma as she approaches the finish line. We finished at the same time, enjoyed post race pictures, and collected our medals for completing the race. Soon after, we found out that of 1600 10K participants we had outrun 1197 of them. To add to our excitement we also learned that Emma had won 3rd place in her division! Make no mistake, this paragraph does function to build the narrative to the point of this post, but it also serves a huge, and well-placed, “dad brag.”

 

Sporting our medals and salty with sweat we made our way back to the hotel for showers and breakfast. We later checked out of the hotel and ran a few errands before heading home. Then, it happened. We stopped at a garden center/nursery in North Little Rock. As I browsed for a new plant for my office Emma said, “Dad, let me have your phone.” One never knows what is on a teenager’s mind when that request is made. She took my phone and began taking pictures of plants. She hunkered down over a few that I had already moved past. Then, smiling from ear to ear — a smile that will soon feature braces — she revealed her pictures. I was stunned.  One of her pictures stopped me in my tracks, which wasn’t difficult considering how stiff I had become after the race. I lingered on her photo, savored it, and admired her eye for beauty and ability to capture it. Her is Emma’s picture:

 

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If I offered a title to this picture it would be “God’s Hidden Jewel.” Here’s why. I had walked past that tiny plant saucering a single drop of water. I hadn’t noticed it at all. Emma had. She had spotted it right away, and then acted on her excitement in seeing it. What a life lesson. How often do I walk by these God-saturated moments and gifts? Each of the many times that I have looked at her picture I have been reminded to slow down, focus my attention, and spot the “hidden jewels” along each day’s path. A child’s giggle, an encouraging word, or a lavender sunset are grace-gifts from our Heavenly Father that can slip by us if we are not on the ready.

 

“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” exclaimed the Psalmist in Psalm 34:8. The lesson gleaned from yesterday was “Look, and see that LORD is good!” Sometimes the biggest part of the day lies outside of the most exciting moments, and is hidden among the smaller ones.

 

As I pondered this lesson another passage of Scripture sprang to mind:
“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Luke 18:17)

 

A simple, and stern, reminder. We come to Christ and into His Kingdom with “child-like” faith. We also recieve God’s gifts as children do — in humble, simple, grateful trust in our Father in Heaven. This reminds us that in order to recognize God’s gifts, and to walk through each day at His pace, we would do well to observe how our children move through moments. As they stop and gasp in wonder, so should we. They miss nothing, neither should we.

 

Today, and tomorrow, let’s set our minds to walk at a child’s pace, to look, and to see …

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Non-linear life

The back side of goals and right side of doors

As I savor the last bits of the Christmas holiday I have begun to look forward to the New Year. A year ago I jotted down a few goals for the arrival of 2015. Looking back, I can say that each of them has made a difference in my life. Here’s the list from this time last year:

1. Start a blog (check). I did, you read it, and we are all better for it, mostly. Seriously, the Bearded Acorn went further, and wider, than I had anticipated. Thank you kind readers.

As an aside, when you start a blog you will attract a few interesting folks and receive an occasional odd comment or two. The award for the out-of-left-field comment of the year goes to the fellow who emailed and stated that if I would change the font and layout of my blog them I would see more people converted to Christ. I didn’t change the font and layout — I am not sure how to do so and maintain what I was shooting for, and because I value content over cosmetics — which means that by not doing so some poor souls remain unconverted. I trust God’s sovereignty in saving sinners more than the razzamatazz of my blog’s font. To wit,  I had no idea that when the blog’s outdoor light was turned on that one of the moths would inspect the font of the lettering on the bulb. Who knew that one could spot such details with so much light shining in his tiny moth face?

2. Read more, and read better (check). While the idea of reading more is obvious, by “reading better” I meant that I wanted to read with a “writer’s eye” and learn from the pros.  I used a rotation system — which I learned in August was similar to that of Douglas Wilson — of reading a few pages per day in a book on Bible study/Christian exhortation (Douglas Wilson, John Piper, etc.), on the craft and art of writing, in a biography, and in a book of specific interest (humor, poetry, history, etc.). Of course, I read the Bible each day as well, which brings me to the third goal.

3. Read the Bible differently (check). By this I intended to read the Bible as an imaginative exegete, or as an exegetical imaginative. My tool for accomplishing this was Crossway’s ESV Reader’s Bible. The ESV Reader’s Bible is a remarkable Bible that is worth every denarii. It removes the verse numbers, references, and footnotes from the text (which were not in the manuscripts anyway). This lends to reading the Bible as a flowing narrative, much like the original readers would have encountered. The Reader’s Bible has a simple layout with a reader-friendly font. Maybe the moth-guy got to them as well. Oh well, if you do not have a goal for your Bible reading for next year, I would encourage you to read through the New Testament several times in the ESV Reader’s Bible in 2016.

4. Improve my fiber intake (check). This was not a spiritual goal; it was a gastrointestinal one. In case you are wondering — or, if you are not, then you can skip down to number five — fiber intake does improve overall health, reduce the risk of GI cancer, and increase the stock prices of Cracklin’ Oat Bran and Bush’s Beans.

5. Exercise three times per week (swing and a miss). While I did exercise more, I didn’t meet my goal, unless you count reading as aerobic activity (I read pretty hard) or preparing beans and peas several nights per week.

6. Watch less TV (check). This one had to occur in order for me to accomplish number two (not to be confused with the fiber goal) of reading more.

7. Write more (check). Writing blog posts, a book manuscript, and poetry kept both my mind and keyboard busy.

It goes without saying that spending more time with family, doing well at work, etc. were goals as well. They were, and will be next year also.

 

As I peek over the fence into 2016 here is a list of some goals that might make the cut for next year:

1. Use one lunch break at work per week as time for reading and writing.

2. Teach the entire United States of America how to correctly enter and exit a business that has a double-doored entrance. Stay to the right folks. Choose the door on the right hand side when you enter, and — for the love of all that is decent and obvious — choose the door on the right when you exit. The doors did not change sides once you entered the store, and your hands didn’t switch sides either.

3. Reduce TV time even further. I watched less than ever before this past year, even during college football season, and plan to watch even less next year.

4. Double my fiber intake. Just kidding. One’s percentage of the recommneded daily fiber intake does not need to reach four digits, for lots of reasons.

5. Continue to read more, read better, and write more, and better.

6. Post on the Bearded Acorn more frequently.

7. Exercise regularly.

 

I hope that you had a good 2015, and that your 2016 will be even better. Stay tuned, I will share my final goals for the New Year and offer some challenges for you that will make your 2016 deeper and broader, and more sarcastic.

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Non-linear life

Gettin’ in the Deep Water

Calvin Miller once wrote that “deep” is not a destination, it is what we become as we intently pursue God. Do you find yourself searching for a a deeper life in Christ?  Let’s take a look at some verses that will help in your search. Let’s go deep.

“Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.” Psalm 42:7

“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” 1 Corinthians 2:12-13

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Romans 8:26

After reading these verses you might wonder where the connecting point between them rests. It’s not clear at first, but you will begin to see how crucial the Psalms are to growing deeper.

It’s cold and windy outside here, so grab a cup of coffee or hot tea, and make your nest so that we can take a few moments to open up these verses. Afterward, you will have inched toward the deep.

Psalm 42:7 whispers something intriguing: “Deep calls to deep…” Herein lies the grace, power, and beauty of the Psalms. They communicate God’s industrial-grade truth in winsome ways. Because the Psalms are written as Hebrew poetry they are not meant to be read like a newspaper, recipe, or textbook. The Psalms teach us through images, metaphor, and parallels, and they should be read that way. The grand truths in the psalms are not always straightforward, but, they are not hidden either. They are meant to be digested, not devoured; taken in small sips, and pondered. More on this later.

Paul reveals a truth in 1 Corinthians 2:12-13 that can move us  miles ahead. He tells us that we cannot understand the spiritual truths of God’s Word through human means or methods. Rather, they are taught by the Holy Spirit of God. So, we are to stop trying to do it our way, or on our own, and surrender to God’s way of understanding — reliance upon His Spirit. In summary, only God can create depth in us, and He does it by teaching His Word by His Spirit.

This point is taken even further in Romans 8:26. The handle to grasp onto in this verse is that there are many parts of the truths of God, our walk with God, and being in prayer to God that are not get-ahold-able. Paul says that God’s Spirit intercedes for us with groanings that are “too deep for words.” Bingo! Now we are getting somewhere. In fact, we are there and do not even know it.

Another verse to compound your confusion on this — which, I promise will soon turn to clarity:

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” Psalm 139:6

That’s it! Much of what God will teach us is beyond us, beyond our comprehension, and must be brought to our hearts and minds. And — here is the unsettling part — it is not done so in short bursts or single-line solutions. It is done in ways that will cause us to see before we can know.

Enter the Psalms. The Psalms are hymns that were sung, and were written like poetry that is prayer, or prayer that is poetic, whichever you prefer. The grandeur of the Psalms is that they are the intersection of truth and life. In fact, most everything that you will encounter and experience in life is covered in the Psalms. It is covered with honesty; it is where the beauty of God meets the bluntness of life. The richness of the Psalms is poured into the poverty of our souls and lives slowly, and through words, images, and phrases that make us ponder, and pray, and pray about what we are pondering. This is why you find the Hebrew word, “Selah” — which means to pause and think — all over the Psalms. It’s the only appropriate response to them.

Now let’s connect the bones that we have assembled with a single ligament of truth. The deep things of God are often shown to us, not told to us. Those “showings” of truth run deep throughout the Psalms. If you want to grow deeper, launch out into the Psalms. That is where deep calls to deep, deep shows depth, deep builds depth. That is also where you will find that your handy maps and homemade instruments cannot navigate the waters or storms, only God’s Spirit can and will (1 Cor. 2:12-13). That is where you will pray and ponder in grunts and groaning that words cannot describe, and where you will see word pictures and truths high above you in the starry sky. That is where God will show you, and you will see, and then know, and then be … deeper. That is where in the black of night that you will sense Jesus’ calming the waves in your life, soothing the hurts of your life, scrubbing sin out of your life, and see Him as the radiant Light of life. You will first sense and see, then you will know, then you will grow.

Blessed is the one who sets sail into the Psalms.

The deep is calling. Refill your cup of coffee, turn to the Psalms, let go of the rope that holds you to the harbor, and set sail … it’s deep out there.

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Bible study, Non-linear life

You want me to do what?

 

In Matthew 21:2-3 we find Jesus issuing a straightforward command to a duo of his disciples. There could be no misunderstanding it. It was simple, concise, and odd.

“Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,”Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'” Matthew 21:1-5 (ESV)

This precedes the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. You are likely familiar with these verses, but let’s ease into them, and sit, and splash around. There are a few things present in these verses that could be missed if we zip by them without taking the time to digest what Jesus was saying, and why He was saying it.

Let’s begin by working backwards through these verses. This can help to set the stage. Verse 5 tells us why Jesus gave the command: so that prophecy could be fulfilled about Him. Jesus did not tell the disciples that this act was being done to fulfill prophecy. He just told them to do it; and they did it. Good, straight-line obedience is shown here. While the act of obeying was straightforward — Jesus spoke, and they went and obeyed — the path getting there wasn’t. We could say that this passage shows the non-linear ways and work of God.

For those of you who didn’t like algebra, non-linear simply means that it doesn’t go in a straight line, or a straight path. So, this passage has a non-linear nature to it. In other words, it takes a direction that doesn’t seem like a straight, or common sense, or logical one to us. We know from Isaiah 55 that God’s ways are not our ways…at all. This passage illustrates this profoundly.

To develop this further let’s put some examples up on the workbench and tinker with them.

There are many times in the Bible when God tells His people to do odd things. The crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus comes to mind as an example of this. Moses and the Israelites were fleeing Egypt and walked straight to the Red Sea, yet there is no Red Sea Toll Bridge for crossing. The enemy is closing in … sweaty-arm-pit-time. The next thing that you know they were walking across the powder dry bottom of the Red Sea. This is a great demonstration of the power and the work of God, though it does not strike me as non-linear for two reasons: 1. That was the direction that they were headed to get to where they were supposed to go. 2. The enemy was right behind them, and angry (the Egyptians were not riding hard toward them to remind Moses that he had forgotten his favorite blanket!). So, while it was a miraculous event, it is in my mind a linear one.

When Jesus miraculously fed thousands, or Daniel wasn’t torn apart and eaten in the lion’s den, or Elijah called down fire at Mount Carmel, the visible, powerful work of God was displayed. And, it made some sense. Further, the acts of God in these and other passages show that His miraculous works were in response to a situation and were the sensible resolution to the situations involved. Or in other words, the conclusions to the situations are imaginable. Had Jesus not fed the masses, and instead given them new sandals, or the lions surrounding Daniel turned in butterflies, or Elijah smote the wicked priests with a pox, then maybe that’s a non-linear response.

You are probably wondering why I am making a big deal about this idea of God’s work occasionally, or frequently, being non-linear. It’s because it is at the heart of this story in Matthew 21, and an undercurrent that flows throughout the Bible, and it will help us to see and follow Christ in the manner that He desires, not the manner that we manufacture to fit our own needs or wants.  I hope that I have your attention now. Let’s move on and see this in action.

In Matthew 21, there was no enemy pursuing, or needy crowd to feed, heal, or teach. It was just Jesus and his rag-tag band of followers approaching Jerusalem. Jesus was walking to His death — the death that would be the atonement for sinners like me, and you. As He prepares to enter Jerusalem, he tells two of His disciples to do something simple, or so it appears. Let’s reduce Jesus’ words to a checklist that those two were to follow:

  • Go to the village.
  • Find a donkey and a colt.
  • Untie them.
  • Bring them to me.
  • If you run into someone who wonders what in the goose liver you are doing, then tell them that “the Lord has need of them,” and you will be on your way back to me.
  • An Old Testament prophecy will be fulfilled although the disciples did not know it at the time.

Is it beginning to look a little odd, or crazy, to you yet? It kinda looks like the disciples were about to pull off a “donkey-jacking” (now, that is a dandy pun embedded in that hyphenated term, please keep reading while I pat myself on the back.) and go for a joy ride — albeit a dang slow one — back to Bethpage. And, Jesus had told them to do this. Chew on this for a bit. Slowly.

Now, let’s take the same scenario and put it into today’s context. This is where your mouth will drop open, and you will run around your living room shouting, “non-linear and non-sensical” over and over, until you spouse tells you to shut up.

Let’s imagine that we are at our weekly small group meeting and prayer time. All of a sudden we have an Acts chapter 2 experience in which we all sense in unison that two of us are to go and do the Lord’s bidding. It is as follows:

A missionary and his family are returning home to start a farm, which they will use to build an orphanage. God wants to use us to meet one of their pressing needs. He had revealed to the missionary family that two people would show up with the very thing that they had been praying for to enable them to do their work.

Two of us are to go to the local John Deere dealership early the next morning. There will be a brand new John Deere tractor and an F-150 Ford truck (four door of course, with a moonroof too!) that will be unlocked. The keys will be in the ignitions of both the tractor and truck. A bag of cash will be sitting in the back seat of the truck. This very tractor, truck, and the cash will be used to help buy the farm, build the orphanage, and honor God. All of it will fulfill the promise of God to these humble missionaries.

We are to take the tractor, truck, and cash and bring them to the missionaries.

And, if anyone stops us and asks what in the heck we are doing, or flashes a badge, we are to tell them that “the Lord has need of these things.” And, they will let us go. Uh-huh.

The point here is striking, and kicking us in the shins. Oftentimes, the things that God does, or leads us to do, make little sense to us, and they won’t follow the straight-line sense or logic that we use in everyday life. That is because when we walk with Christ there is no such thing as everyday life, or common place, or usual. Our life-walk with Christ won’t be on a linear path, or smooth path, or easy path. So, all of this to make this point: an authentic, biblical Christ-following life isn’t a simple line; it is non-linear!

Many sermons, books, TV “preachers,” and such present the Christian life as a set of keys that unlock life’s mysteries and problems, formulas that yield success, and steps that bring prosperity and peace, etc.

The Christian life — as presented in the Bible — is non-linear. There are no magic keys or secret steps, though many books are sold that suggest, or outright claim this. There is no formula either. It isn’t “A + B = C” every time, or ever. It is life of faith. Keys, secret steps, and formulas are ways to walk by sight, and our own senses, and to try to maintain control of our lives, or manufacture our preferred outcomes. God’s ways are above us and beyond us and our faculties. We must walk by faith … faith that is fed and informed by God’s Word and applied by His Holy Spirit.

This non-linear nature of Christ-following can be challenging, or frightening. But, it is actually thrilling. Children, or at least my children, do not have any problem with the wonder, fun, and excitement of non-linear living; they enjoy it. They rarely, if ever, know the outcomes, or connect the dots of different events. Yet, they love, laugh, soak in moments, and look forward to things to come. As God’s children we are to do the same. Child-like (not childish) faith honors Christ. It also embraces paths that aren’t straight, and that do not seem to make sense to us. This post is about to come to an abrupt halt. That is intentional. It is so that the punctuation at the end of this meditation on Matthew 21 and the non-linear — at least to us — ways and work of God is two verses that cause us to pause, ponder, and realize that…

“… give me life in your ways.” Psalm 119:37

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)

His ways are not our ways; they are the way of life. It’s a non-linear life. Buckle up, it’s incredible.

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