Category Archives: Faith

Light it up!

Matthew 5:13-16 – You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Last weekend my family and I packed meals for Feed My Starving Children‘s #LoveSomalia mobile pack event here in the Twin Cities. Our first shift was on Sunday, so of course I came down with a migraine that afternoon. Some prescription meds and a nap later, I called on my faithful prayer warrior friends to pray that I would have “a supernatural burst of health and energy” for the event. God answered our prayers, and a burst of health and energy is exactly what I got! By the time the introduction/training portion of the event was done, I felt great. And as we developed a rhythm on the packing floor (I run a sealer and Jacob is a pro boxing coordinator/table lead. Scott usually helps in the warehouse, but for this event he stayed with the fam and scooped the vitamins and veggies), I was having a lot of fun! Jacob and I had a rhythm going. As I finished sealing a bag, I tested the seal then flipped it into the air, and he would reach out and snatch it up and put it in the right place. (We were very careful. I never threw them high enough to damage a bag if he didn’t catch it, and I tossed them over the sorting table so they didn’t hit the floor. One actually missed the table and landed right in the box!) We laughed, we sang along with the music playing in the arena, and even danced a little (or what passes for “dancing” in our family…) I physically worked to pack meals for about two hours, yet I left with more energy than I had going in! When Scott and I talked about it later, the only way I could explain that energy and why I keep signing up for events like that was to say that it “lights me up.”

Do you know the feeling of being lit up? Maybe you LOVE babies, kids, or teens, and spending time with them gives you that burst. Maybe you’re an actor, musician, comedian, or public speaker, and you feel the thrill of the live audience. Maybe creating artwork, playing a sport, or writing your novel gets you too excited to sleep. I’ll bet that there is something in your life that energizes you in spite of the calories it burns. This is passion. This is what you were put on this earth to do.

That may leave some of you baffled, or even insulted. The first time I heard a sermon on giftings and passion, I was hurt. I remember sitting in church and praying, “God, I make good cookies. What are you going to do with that?” I didn’t see my passion for food as something God could or would use. My “spiritual gifts” test always came out as “helps” which means pitching in where needed. So my passion was food and my gifting was pitching in. I thought that was pathetic. I thought it relegated me to bake sales and funeral lunches. But I wanted to make a difference in the world!

It took time for me to mature and for my interests and giftings to come together into something I could think of as a calling. Now here I am: writing, sometimes raising funds, and volunteering to my heart’s content for the cause of global hunger relief. I believe that when I asked God what He could do with my talent for making cookies, He had a fatherly chuckle and said, “Watch me.” Your talent may seem small, or like something that doesn’t coincide with spreading the gospel or changing the world, but God doesn’t make mistakes. He gave you your gifts and personality because He needed just that you in just the life He gave you. Let your light shine!

Why Bother with the Old Testament?

When we look at the Old Testament, we love to pick out the classic Bible stories, find solace in the Psalms, and run far away from Levitical law. Most of it is outdated anyway, right? When Jesus came and died, he paid the penalty for our sins and ended the old covenant (covenant means “contract,” or “agreement”). So Levitical law no longer binds us; the stipulations of that contract were fulfilled by Jesus and he formed a “new covenant” with us (John 19:30, Hebrews 9:15). So why should we care about Leviticus? I believe that knowing what God wanted from the Israelites tells us about who God is and what He values. And God never changes (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8 to name a few…).

What do we learn about God’s character from the Old Testament law? He is a jealous God. First and foremost, he wants, even demands, to be #1 in our lives (Exodus 34:14, Deuteronomy 6:15). Jesus affirms this as well, in Matthew 22, when he says “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind” is the “greatest commandment” and that all the law and prophets hang on this and the second great commandment, “love your neighbor as yourself.” All of human history, the very foundation of the Jewish faith and the Christian faith, the air we breathe and the beating of our hearts is founded on loving God with everything we are and loving others with the same automatic, instinctual protectiveness with which we love ourselves (and don’t get confused here about self-esteem, loving yourself is not ego or warm fuzzies. It’s fighting for air, water, and nourishment. [Ephesians 5:29] Faith is not the icing on the cake of your life, it’s not warm feelings or Santa Claus, faith is daily bread and living water.) God’s requirement that you put Him first in your life did not expire with the new covenant.

Nor did God’s requirement that you “love your neighbor as yourself.” The New and Old Testaments are both overflowing with commands that we provide for widows, orphans, and the poor (Leviticus 19:9-10, Leviticus 23:22, Proverbs 28:27, James 1:27, James 2 – this list could get long. I literally have a notebook page FULL of just the references for verses about helping the poor). Loving others starts with the very basic ideas of meeting people’s physical needs and treating others with respect. We are told to share food, clothing, and money, and also to speak up for those who are mistreated and need to be defended. Loving others really and truly starts with opening your eyes and taking responsibility for what you see.

Right here I want to throw something in that is semi-related but important. God is not a Republican. He is not a Democrat. He is not an American. His primary concern is not securing American borders. God cares about the physical and spiritual needs of Syrian refugees as much as he does about our own. Obviously we need to be careful, I’m not suggesting we just throw open the doors. But people need to stop tying God to their politics and national security concerns. God is not the God of nations and places. He is the God of people. All people.

But I digress… Much of the Levitical law is the plan for worship and sacrifice – a hands-on manual for the practice of the Jewish faith. I’m not going to say a lot about this, but note two things: First, the payment for sin requires blood. Literal blood. The Israelites used animals. We have Jesus. He made the ultimate sacrifice and shed the ultimate, perfect, sinless blood of God’s own son. So the animal sacrifice portion of our worship has passed. The blood has already been shed for you and me. (Thank God, because Jesus is amazing and I appreciate what he did for us, but also because I’m a spoiled, modern American and having to go through that ritual sounds yucky to me…)

Second (and this is something we like to ignore), God is very exacting. He gave very specific directions about the materials and dimensions of the tabernacle and how things were to be handled and managed. And He wasn’t messing around. There is a story in 2 Samuel 6 about King David and his people moving the Ark of the Covenant. At one point the oxen pulling the cart stumbled, and one of David’s men, Uzzah, reflexively reached out to steady the ark. And God struck him dead on the spot. This kind of flies in the face of our ideas about God being merciful! Touching the ark was a big no-no and everyone knew it. What if God had let him off? It was an accident, an instinct, right? But it reveals Uzzah’s heart, that he didn’t have the proper reverence toward the ark. In verse 7, God calls it an “irreverent act.” If He didn’t follow through with the promised punishment, how many other Israelites would have wavered in their faith, wondered if God was real, etc.? I think these days we want God to be a God of mercy, and we forget that He is also a God of wrath, and that he has exacting standards. He’s not a God of checklists, but He is the God of “heart issues,” Proverbs 27:19 says, “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.” Reaching out to grab the ark was not a reflex, it was a reflection of a heart that wasn’t paying attention. Likewise, failing to notice a problem or opportunity is not an excuse, it is a reflection of a heart that isn’t looking out for others. This is the “commission” vs. “omission” setup. There are sins we commit, like lying, cheating, stealing, etc. and there are sins of omission, things we are called to do but neglect. Both are sin, and God doesn’t differentiate between little sins and big sins like the justice system does (James 2:10, Matthew 5:27-28). All sins – little or big, committed or omitted, separate us from God.

The other thing we see in Leviticus is the practical application of physical life rules. Things like waste disposal, infectious disease control, and dealing with mold are all covered in Leviticus and the Old Testament law. Much of this is not applicable to us because we live in a different climate, we’re not nomadic tent dwellers, and modern science has changed how we deal with these things. But even here there is something for us to learn. God cares about the physical well-being of his people; he wants them safe, clean, and healthy. Second, things that are “unclean” are required to be physically removed from the camp so they don’t hurt others. There is an object lesson there for some of us. We think we can carry around our sin, hide it, minimize it, control it. But what we really need to do is banish it. We become embarrassed that we struggle in certain areas, and we don’t want others to know, so we try to control our sin instead of eradicating it. This is a trick the enemy uses to keep us close to our sin so we can fail again and again. Some people cannot drink at all, because a social drink becomes a bender. Some people cannot watch certain movies because a questionable scene draws them back to porn. When we allow ourselves to be ashamed of our struggles we keep them close at hand, where they can trip us up over and over. Get hardcore. Create a safe margin, a buffer zone, between you and your sin.

As you can see, there is a lot that we can learn about the heart of God by reading the old covenant He made with the Israelites. What other aspects of God’s character do you see there?

Divine Appointments: Avoiding “Should Have”

I’m ashamed to admit this, but I can’t even begin to tell you how often I stop and suddenly realize that I had an opportunity to help someone and didn’t even notice it. I hate that feeling, and I hate knowing that there are people struggling and suffering because I didn’t even notice, or I noticed and it didn’t dawn on me to do something about it. Do you ever feel like that? “Should have” is a painful phrase.

Recently a friend told me that she has been praying for opportunities to serve. This friend has a job that brings her in contact with random strangers all day long, and she told me that she prays before and during work for God to bring her opportunities. And He has! All through her shift, people seek her out to ask for help, and to share their burdens. She has started bringing along supplies to hand out to the needy, and snacks to share with anyone who asks. Is God bringing these people to her because she asked, or were they always there and she just started to notice? I think the answer is a bit of both.

First off, we serve a God who answers prayers. And a selfless prayer like “bring me in contact with people that I can bless” is certainly in line with the heart of God. So knowing that He has a willing worker on the streets is a great opportunity for God to bring people together. He loves his children, and wants to see needs met. He also wants to see our character develop, so when we ask Him to put us in opportunities to grow through serving, He’s not likely to say no to that!

Second, a “use me” attitude opens our eyes. If I go to work and all I’m thinking about is me and what I need to accomplish today, I’m like a horse wearing blinders. All I can see is the task immediately in front of me. But asking for these “divine appointments” removes the blinders. If you have a heart to look for needs, you will find them. They’re all around us!

There are many examples of divine appointments in the Bible. The book of Esther, for one, tells the story of a young lady put in just the right place at just the right time to save her people. After the queen disgraced him, king Xerxes held a reality-TV worthy search for her replacement. When he made Esther his queen, he had no idea that her presence in the palace would save the Jews. But Esther spoke up for her people, and they were saved. She didn’t desire to be queen, but she was willing, and God put her there. She was afraid to confront the king about her people, but she obeyed, and they were saved. Esther 4:14 reads, “who knows but you have come to your position for such a time as this?”

I ask you the same question: Who knows but you have come into your position (job, neighborhood, circle of friends, family) for such a time as this?

Open your heart and your eyes, and don’t be afraid to speak up. God can, and will, use you in big ways!

Greater Love

If you follow Food Shelf Friday on Facebook, then you may have seen this week’s scripture image featuring John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that to lay down one’s life for his friends.” This is a beautiful picture of what Jesus did for us by dying on the cross. It is also frequently used to honor the memory of heroes who sacrificed their lives in military service or in an effort to save others, like firemen and police who die in the line of duty. But I think there is more here, a message not just about the dead, but for the living.

Matthew 16:24-26 (also found in Luke 9, and Mark 8) – Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Galatians 2:20 –  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 5:24 – Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Death does not always mean the end of physical life. Repeatedly the Bible calls us to die to self, to willingly lay down what we want in favor of what God wants. We are called to deny ourselves, to stop striving to gain the whole world at the cost of our souls, and to keep our eyes on God’s kingdom over our own.

The flesh is strong. Very strong. I’m hungry, tired, weak, and selfish every day. And I find ways to appease myself every day. I eat junk food because it makes me happy and I “deserve” it. I rest when I should be busy (rest is not bad, you have to take care of yourself, but let’s face it, laziness is also real and I know most of us cross that line often). I fail to resist temptation. I think about myself and my rights first. This is what humans do. We take care of our own in as much comfort as we can afford, and then we think of others with our leftovers and cast-offs. It’s human nature.

But God’s nature is different. His eyes are on the big picture, a global scale that transcends time. Isaiah 55:8-9 reminds us of this: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

God calls us to resist our own nature and take on his priorities. We are called to willingly sacrifice our rights, our comforts, and our sense of control for the ultimate goal of getting the gospel message to the people around us. We have to die to our selfish desires, showing the kind of love that Jesus showed when he was crucified to pay the penalty for our sins. In this way we show the ultimate kind of love, laying down our lives for a friend.

One Word – A New Year’s Revolution

I’ve posted before about how I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I used to work at a gym, so I have seen first hand how useless they are. You start off so gung ho that you annoy everyone around you, and then you just fade back to your old habits. Changing your life is hard, even when it’s necessary.

Apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way. A few years ago I began to hear about the idea of having a one-word focus for the year instead of resolutions. Basically, you pray and ask God to reveal one word to you that you can focus on for the year, then you just pick one. Some people say that they have a strong sense of what word God has for their year, while others experience less direction and make a more self-guided choice. Then, for the entire year, you think about that word and how you can put it into practice. I don’t know if you get better results, but I do know you feel less discouraged, because it’s never too late to get back on track with your word.

My first experience with this came at a retreat I attended. On the first day, the leaders of the event invited us to pray and ask God to give us a word for the weekend. I closed my eyes, and said, “Lord, I don’t want to put words in your mouth. This has to be obvious if it’s from you.” Instantly I thought of the word empty. Seeing as how I was hoping for something like peace, calm, or relaxation, I knew that empty was not my idea. In my self-centered mind I decided that work, grad school, and other obligations had left me empty, and that God was going to refresh my spirit and I would leave the retreat feeling full. I was wrong again. By the end of the long weekend I understood that I had arrived full: full of self, full of fear, full of responsibilities and concerns that were not mine to shoulder. As I spent that beautiful fall weekend with my friends, I felt myself letting go, and I vowed to make some changes in my life, to empty myself of me and take on more of Jesus.

Last year I prayed again and asked for a word for 2016. Again, I wanted something pretty, but what I got was open. Ugh. I’m a good, stoic, Midwestern Scandinavian woman. We’re hard workers and good cooks (in general), but we’re not real touchy-feely (OK, some are. My one sister is a sweet, empathetic crier, but I’m more of the emotionally wary Scandinavian stereotype). It was hard. And while I didn’t undergo any dramatic personality changes, I did open up and talk about things I wouldn’t have otherwise.

This year my word is honor. Again, it wasn’t what I was looking for per se, but it fits. It actually came to me in a strange way. I was watching a video of a pop up sale that Made New Co. was having, and I saw some cute key necklaces on turquoise ribbons. I asked what they said, and was slightly disappointed that they said “honor.” I associate honor with the commandment to honor your father and mother, or with military service. But the necklaces were cute and a great price, so I ordered them anyway. By the time they came in the mail, I knew that honor was going to be my word in 2017. It was just stuck in my head like a catchy tune.

So that’s my one word revolution for 2017 – honor. I am focused on being mindful about acknowledging birthdays, speaking the compliments I usually just think to myself, writing thank you notes, and being an all-around encourager. In 2017 I will work on putting others first, making my husband and son feel loved, and lifting up prayer needs. After all, Matthew 22:34-40 tells us:
“Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”

Do you have a word for 2017? Share it in the comments!