Day 1 Advent – HOPE – Isaiah 11:1-10

1 hope

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

Death to Life, destruction to Resurrection – a promise no one living today would ignore. There is death and destruction all around us – from within and without, our lives are being attacked at every turn. To believe that out of death comes life – rising like Dumbledore’s phoenix from the ashes – is the challenge of hope.

Sometimes it is easier to think “one day God will makes all things new” but frankly to hold only that thought is to push hope far out into a future that belongs to some coming generation. It makes it seems like, for right now, all we will see is the destruction. If this is the case then I doubt I will be able to bear it.

Instead I believe God is working life out of death all around me. I believe in the advent of His first coming and the hope of His second coming but I also believe that between the two, Jesus is redeeming what is lost. He is Immanuel – God with us- present all around me. He is cultivating soil, planting seed and bearing fruit.

It is my job to partner with His work. I am to stare at the impossibly dead stumps and watch for green shoots. When one is discovered, like the NSB turtle nest watchers, I am to surround the area in prayer and do what I can to guard their way. I am to encourage the fruit that will come in time.

You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. (James 5:8)

Day 41 – Reflection – A Fight for Faith

41 FFF
How Has Your Fight for Faith Changed?

I don’t think my “fight for faith” has changed but this study has caused me to examine it more closely. To look at these eight women reminds me nothing is really new under the sun when it comes to life’s challenges and choices. In their failings I see my own failings, their temptations are my temptations,  their needs are my needs.

Eventually, each of these deficiencies will push me toward God.

The journey toward Him is actually the fight for faith – or maybe it is the fight OF faith.

Faith believes: God loves me. God has a plan. God is able. God will come through. God wants to use me. God cares. God has not deserted me. God has chosen me, in this moment, for this choice – if only to prove to me all these statements are true.

It seems, in my own life, He will not let me forsake the struggle. Behold, He is making something new in me from every need and stumbling. He is developing me to be a strong citizen who will live in and live out His Kingdom right now. He is proving to me at every turn – He is indeed my Immanuel – God with me – every step of the way.

Day 40 Esther – Esther 9:1-19

40 Esther

…on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them.

Just when everyone thinks the inevitable course is set…enter the great reversal! The Jews were doomed but now the tables are turned. Not only are they allowed to defend themselves, all who want to be in favor with the king are joining them to help their cause. Quite the unexpected flip-flop.

“Great Reversal” was the phrase that came to my mind this morning. I’ve been hearing the term “upside down” a lot lately. The Kingdom of God is an upside down kingdom where everything the world systems tell us is totally reversed. In God’s economy the first will be last, the humble will be exalted, the least will be the greatest, anyone who wishes to lead must be a servant to all.

“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my [Jesus’] sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.” Mark 8:35 NLT

I admit I was a little deflated when I Googled the idea and found I wasn’t the only one who thought of this term. 🙂  It is clearly a vetted idea based on everyone who has used it from Rick Warren to The American Catholic‘s web site take on the Gospel of Luke.

But I was surprised, (though by now I probably shouldn’t be), to find it also represented a turning point in church history. And even more interesting, the theme of that turning point is up for examination in my own personal rummage sale of theology. (See Sarah Bessey’s new book – Out of Sorts.)

The following quote comes from a book review on The Great Reversal: Evangelism Versus Social Concern reviewed by Katie Funk Wiebe:

“The Great Reversal,” a term coined by historian Timothy L. Smith, refers to the switchback evangelicals made in the early part of this century from evangelical social concern to individualism. The early church, both in England and America, was noted for its social involvement, establishing welfare societies such as the Salvation Army, schools for immigrants, homes for unwed mothers, city missions, and agencies to help the poor, the sick, prisoners, and other needy folk. The church supported legislation to bring about social justice.

Then came the Great Reversal. The social gospel became linked with liberal theology, and evangelicals, anxious to separate themselves from this group, separated themselves from social action also in order to get “back to first principles.” The present controversy is in essence a continuation of the modernist-fundamentalist disagreement.

Great revivalist preachers like Moody and Sunday preached that social reform began with the individual, not with society. As the liberal wing dropped the responsibility of preaching the Gospel, the evangelicals felt a greater pressure to do so. The gap widened.1

Don’t you hate it to find out your passion for believing one way, might just have been some over-reaction to one side of the family wanting to emphasis something and the other side getting all jittery and running the other way to compensate? Geez!

All I can say is I am grateful for the prickles the Holy Spirit has placed in my comfy nest. The status quo and what I always thought are up for grabs if they keep me from really knowing Jesus – heart and soul.

Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.  Philippians 3:8 NLT

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1 http://www.directionjournal.org/3/1/great-reversal-evangelism-versus-social.html

Day 39 Esther – Esther 7-8

39 Esther

And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen on them.***

Esther and Mordecai’s bravery have interceded in the deadly plan Haman had begun. They could not directly stop it because “…for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s ring cannot be revoked.” Instead Mordecai’s letters provided a way of escape.

In this world, sin has consequences – like tipping the first domino evil thoughts lead to evil actions and gravity demands each, stuck in its place, will fall. Mordecai’s letter gave the Jews permission to move out of the path. The new kingly decree provided a rescue. It was not an easy rescue – they would have to fight back against evil but the king was on their side. And in this knowledge the people found joy and gladness.

Clearly God’s people had been living in fear – so much so that they had not outwardly lived their relationship with God. But now, seeing the power of God on their behalf, many have been set free.

Faith leading to action saved lives and set the captives free. That combination is exactly the same today. Living in my own personal safety does just the opposite.

Lord, forgive me for the times I have let my fear keep me captive and paralyzed. Even today give me a swashbuckling faith that rides on swift horses because there is no time to lose. “To the King! To the Restoration!”

***You know, I think I miss read the verse I quoted at the top.. Maybe it meant the people who were not Jews began to claim to be Jews in order not to be targets. But, you know what? I think the lesson God gave me might still stand – in spite of my proof text error.

I hope it’s not confusing to anyone.

Day 38 Esther – Esther 4

38 EstherShe sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth, but he would not accept them.

…if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—to be put to death,

…hold a fast on my behalf…I and my young women will also fast as you do.

Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.

Here is Esther’s “fight for faith”.

She hears about all the Jews mourning. It’s depressing and hard news. Sackcloth is a visible sign that all is not well and happy in the kingdom and it is a direct reflection on the king. So the best thing to do is pretend it doesn’t exist. Ergo, no one dressed like that enters the king’s gate. If we cover our eyes we are blind to pain or suffering or responsibility.

Boy, does that sound like our world today? For decades the neighbors Christians were supposed to love didn’t expand any further than the people you knew (a thought I gained from Brandon Hatmaker’s The Barefoot Church). Then technology – and our eyes are opened to the poverty, need and every other ill – not just beyond our circle or our neighborhood or city but around the world. It’s overwhelming and we don’t really know what to do with that information. So we close the gates to the distressed and turn our faces inward to those day to day tasks and duties that seem oh so important.

Purposeful distraction dulls the formation of faith.

Next, Esther thinks she can cure Mordechai’s frustration with a change of clothes. We can fix this by covering up how uncomfortable it makes us. Maybe a new news angle will prove it’s not all that bad. It’s an isolated incident and those speaking about it are over-reacting. After all, feeling uncomfortable about our world, when we are safely rescued for heaven, is a threat to our “faith”, right? Won’t it make me doubt or be uncertain or wonder where God is in all this? Heaven forbid I don’t have a 160 character “answer” that proves that God is real and we are okay.

Faith by its very nature includes struggle, doubt and uncertainty.

Now we are getting at it. Esther is terrified. There is no apparent escape for her just by ignoring her people. And in the reality of terror God becomes the only hope. As God is my witness, I live here more than I care to admit. I would rather God just handle it and let me be along for the ride. In truth, He uses terror like a defibrillator to bring my faith back to life.

This is grace – for without faith it is impossible to please God.

So we know we are going to have to follow His lead but we are clueless what that really looks like. Fasting and prayer – how does this possibly work? Who knows – really – but we are desperate to try and find God’s hand to hold. We want all the help we can get because maybe this mystery might not work for us but surely there is someone out there that God will hear. Somewhere in the waiting, in the tension, in the trying hard to focus, in the tears, He calms the storm inside our hearts. He infuses our faith and it comes alive again and beyond belief we trust Him.

Faith is the reward of going through the process and finding we will trust God regardless of the outcome.

Day 37 Esther – Esther 2

37 Esther

And the young woman pleased him and won his favor.

How many times do we see this throughout Scripture? God has positioned someone in an impossible situation and for what appears to be no reason at all, they find favor with everyone they meet. Sometimes it is an up and down thing like Joseph – you’re in – you’re out, rise to ultimate favor. Or Daniel, who was a target even after his very long and faithful service to foreign kings. It is ultimately said of Jesus, “he found favor with God and man.”

Esther was all about prudence and willingness to trust Mordecai’s wisdom. As God guided her by way of M. she reached her ultimate place of standing.

It all seems so simple but she must have been terrified. To have been taken from her only family and rushed off to the palace of a King, who quite frankly, was manipulated by his advisors at every turn. They appealed to his whim and self-importance. Esther, in her under the radar approach, stood in complete contrast to him.

The meek shall inherit the earth…God is against the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Such was Esther’s experience.

Here’s the trick. If I want to live by God’s kingdom rules, you just take the world’s and then flip them upside down!

Day 36 Esther – Esther 1-10

36 Esther

For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14

God’s name is not mentioned in Esther but God’s hand is unmistakable. Esther is given an opportunity that could very well save her people but she is hesitant. Mordecai is her encourager – take the chance. His logic is reasonable: if you do nothing you likely will not survive the current circumstances and how do you know that God hasn’t put you in this very place for a reason.

He may not be totally sure about Esther’s role but his faith about God is rock solid: if you don’t respond to God’s opportunity, God will deliver his people another way. Why? – Because God loves his people and His ways and intentions will not be thwarted.

So Esther is won over. She seizes the day before her.

When and how can I act as Mordecai – encouraging others to be all God has called them to be? When will I act on my own belief that God is able and willing and will act – in spite of other people’s choices?

When will I be Esther? Taking the risk/opportunities God places before me – though they may seem impossible – knowing that God is able beyond my personal abilities.

God will deliver. It is really just a matter of will I join him.

Day 35 Ruth – Ruth 4

35 Ruth…may his name be renowned in Israel

And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Obed’s name did become famous –mentioned over and over in the genealogy of Jesus. I can’t help but think he must have been loved and cherished by his parents and his grandmother Naomi and maybe even his paternal grandmother, Rahab. Not to mention the people of Bethlehem, who adored his entire family.

Don’t you love happy endings? I do.

Day 34 Ruth – Ruth 3

34 ruthHebrew word – gaal: to redeem, act as kinsman

“I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” And he said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask,…

Remember when Boaz told Ruth she had sought refuge under the wings of the Lord, the God of Israel? Now here is Ruth asking Boaz to spread his wings over her.

Boaz had already taken on this role toward her. The legal requirements for a “kinsman redeemer” in Ruth’s situation are not actually spelled out in the Scriptures. And it is quite up for debate to scholars if what was being asked and what Boaz did even ties to the laws that are mentioned in Deut. (….surprise, to all of us who have heard the term and thought it was rock solidly spelled out somewhere.)

But here’s the deal. Boaz was a man who lived beyond the requirements of the Law – he lived out the intentions of the Law. He was a guy Jesus would have given an A+. In following God, Boaz was already a faithful, kind, generous protector of Ruth from the day he met her. He didn’t need some formal agreement. He just did it.

I think that Naomi knew about the system but took particular note of his kindness. Certainly she could have known that there was someone closer than Boaz (he knew right away) but she did not act on any “legal” basis to ferret that person out. Instead I think she saw a Godly man who lived out his kindness. Only then did she institute a meeting and gave Ruth her instructions. (Besides, Naomi knew her God. He was the gaal of Israel – over and over.)

Ruth, no doubt was nervous. Maybe she didn’t fully understand the customs but she had thrown in her lot with Naomi from the beginning. She trusted her and actually relied on her guidance before this. But Ruth too probably felt she knew Boaz by his actions – in the same way he knew her.

What I love about this encounter is that Boaz is overjoyed to be asked! It makes me realize how God must feel when I come to him – to be cared for, protected or redeemed. He has been my Boaz all along but in that moment – when I choose Him – He is overjoyed! WOW!

Day 33 Ruth – Ruth 2

33 Ruth

“The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”

There are a ton of needs going on all around me. Some I can fix, some I can help, some are way beyond my reach. I’m feeling the weight of the pile and it doesn’t help that I’m in a physical “energy slump”.

In Just Courage, Gary Haugen’s offers to the reader the same call he received from the Lord:

Follow me beyond what you can control, beyond where your own strength and competencies can take you, and beyond what is affirmed or risked by the crowd – and you will experience me and my power and my wisdom and my love.”

He also quotes Mother Teresa who, in essence says, she could not imagine doing her work for more than thirty minutes without prayer. Then his question isDo you and I have work that we can’t imagine doing for thirty minutes without prayer?”

And then, of course, here is Boaz speaking to Ruth – it is under the wings of the Lord, the God of Israel that you have come to take refuge.

Without a doubt God is saying to my heart: “Take your refuge in Me, and then do your work.”

Right now I am setting my alarm for every 30 minutes. The work is beyond me but not beyond God. And I know God is full of mercy and ready to rescue those in need. He might use my prayers or my resources but what will be evident is His power, His wisdom and His love.