Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fruit of Discipline

It is late as I sit in the leather recliner, curled up in a blanket, watching the qualification round of women’s gymnastics.  The USA looks dominant on vault, steady on bars and beam.  The commentators talk about how this is no surprise.  They call these five gymnasts the Fab Five—likening them unto the Maginifcent Seven—contenders for a gold medal.

As these young ladies begin their final rotation—floor— the talk is all about the three that have competed on all the events.  Gaby, Ali, and Jordyn—are the ones competing for spots in the all around final.  The difference between their All-Around scores is so close that any of them could make the Olympic All-Around finals, which is the dream of every gymnast.  As I watch, I’m not sure who to cheer for, because I know only two of them are able to do this.  Do I cheer for the underdog?  Or do I cheer for the one who has been on top of the world?  Going into the rotation it looks like Gaby is the only one who will be in for sure.

As I watch, I can’t help but reflect on my own experience.  I know a tiny bit of what they have gone through to get there.  I competed in gymnastics until I was 13 at the gym of two former Olympians who know what gold is like.  I don't know what Olympic gold is like, but I do know what it is like to spend hours in the gym each week.  I trained 15½ hours weekly.  These ladies double that amount, at least.  They train for hours on the events and nearly as many on conditioning their bodies.  They wake up early in the morning to practice.  They go to school.  Then they come back later and practice some more.  They do it because they love it.  They do it because they dream of this moment.

It takes tremendous discipline to do what they do.

As I think about this, I reflect on the similarities between these athletes and the discipline of discipleship.

Paul writes to Timothy to coach him, “Train yourself to be godly.  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come […]  Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress” 
1 Timothy 4:7-8,15 NIV.

Gymnasts train their bodies physically to do routines perfectly; I train my heart, so that it might be godly. 

Gymnasts do many push-ups, sit-ups, lunges and all sorts of muscle building exercises.  They do repetition after repetition of a turn, a tumbling pass, a move on each event.  They build strength.  They build muscle memory by doing it over and over again.  They learn to focus well in each moment of each routine, so that on the day of competition their bodies do what they have been trained to do.

I want to seek God like this.  I want to allow Scripture to sink deep into my heart, so I don’t just read it and forget it.  I want to read it and live it.  So I train. 

I train to listen for God’s voice as I pray, so that I might learn to hear it and respond in the midst of my day.  There are days where I do well.  There are also days when I get distracted from what is important.  I try to learn how to stay focused.  I make mistakes.  I come back and start over and try to do it differently next time.  I balk afraid.  Then, I begin to learn how to surrender and respond, trusting I can do what my coach, the Spirit, tells me I can do. 

This is part of training--learning to make adjustments when I don't get it right, learning to try again.  It is only in working through the problems that I can begin to get it right.

They’re training to become Olympic champions.  The next few days will show whether they will be or not.

Me, I’m training to become like Christ.  It happens one day at a time, one moment at a time.  And by God’s grace, in the someday, I will be.

In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying as I watch the fruit of discipline in the lives of these amazing athletes.

“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” 1 Corinthians 9:25 NIV


Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we train in godliness.  As we seek Him may we find that we become more like our teacher, our rabbi, Jesus.  May we rejoice in the transformation that He works in us—as we learn from mistakes and build on the fruitful places.

Jessica :)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Trust and Obey

There are times when certain words play over and over in my mind. 

Sometimes they are words of Scripture.  Sometimes they are songs.

Sometimes they stay for a few minutes or hours.  Sometimes they stay for days.

This week, I’ve had the chorus of a hymn in my mind for days:
“Trust and obey, yeah, we’ll finally surrender it all, all, all." 

The words of this updated chorus have stuck with me as a prayer I've been lifting up.  They have stayed with me as a conversation I've been having with God, as something I am telling Him I want to be true in my life.  They have also stayed with me as a reminder of how I want to be living.

Trust.  Obey.  Surrender. 

These are characteristics of a life of discipleship.

Simple to say.  So much more difficult to live.

In trust, I find that I must take God at His word. 

In obedience, I find that I must let go of what I think is best or what I want to do.

To trust and obey well, I must surrender—my fears and wants.  I must believe that God is good and He is working for my good in what He calls me to do.

This is the lifelong challenge that we respond to one day at a time with our lives. 

“Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”  Luke 11:28

So this week…

May your desire be to trust and obey and surrender it all.

May you spend time in His presence, learning that he is, indeed trustworthy.

May you experience His faithfulness.

May you hear God’s word in Scripture and seek to live it out obediently.

May you find that in His presence His wants become your wants.

May you trust Him to walk with you through fear.

May you find that He blesses you as you live surrendered in trust and obedience.

"Those who know your name trust in you, for you Lord have never forsaken those who seek you." 
Psalm 9:10


Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we trust and obey and surrender it all to Jesus.   May we find that life is abundantly full of the best He has to offer.

Jessica :)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Observe the Rhythm

I am settling into my seat after the music set at Crossroads.  I pull out my catch-all journal and a pen from my stash.  I flip to the right page and write the date. 

Then I sit expectantly. 

I have been looking forward to hearing Mike Breen speak since I heard him, for the first time last week.  I wonder what he will have to say about “The Good Life” today.  He takes the stage and says, in his British way, he wants to talk about the rhythm of rest that God has woven right into creation. 

I smile to myself, thinking, “I’ve been reflecting on that lately.” 

I’m curious to see what he will say. 

He calls rest an essential rhythm of the good life.

He tells of how work that doesn’t come from rest leads me to believe that change depends on me and not on God.  It leads to anxiety.  It leads to frustration.  It doesn’t lead to fruitfulness.

I find this quite interesting. While I have made the connection that rest leads to energized work, productive work, and life-giving work, I have not associated rest with fruitfulness in my work. 

It makes sense, though.

Mike goes on to describe how we can see this rhythm of rest in the life of Jesus and in the Bible.

He reads John 15, one of my favorite passages of Scripture. 

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up and thrown into the fire and burned.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing that you are my disciples.”  John 15:4-8 NIV

Then as he finishes, Mike begins to trace the rhythm of rest that God set in place right from the beginning.

He takes us back to Genesis and God’s words to man and woman in the garden, “Be fruitful.”

We were designed to be fruitful.

Mike points out the order of events in creation.  Man is created on the sixth day. 

Then, he calls attention to the seventh day.

“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his word.  Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” Genesis 2:2-3 NIV

The first day man lives, they enjoy rest.  We rest before we ever work.

We enjoy our creator.  And then we work. 

This is the rhythm of the good life. 

This is the rhythm of fruitfulness.

I had never considered this before.  Yet, it makes so much sense.

We hop forward to the commands God gives to Israel. 

In the Ten Commandments, we find the command to observe the Sabbath. 

Mike explains that if God puts the command to rest on par with other commands like “Do not kill” and "do not steal" and "do not commit adultery"  it must be important.

I think I begin to understand the reason he says it over and over again in the Law.  “Observe the Sabbath.”

Observe is the word used most in connection with the Sabbath throughout the Old Testament.  I learned this in my Judaism class in college.  In Hebrew, the word is “Shamor.”  It means “to keep,” in the sense of tending and taking care, watching over or giving attention to. 

The teachers of the Law, in Israel, responded to this command by denoting 39 categories of work.  They wanted to be sure they did not fail to observe the Sabbath.  I don't blame them.  There was a high penalty for breaking the command.  While I do not think God was surprised by this development, I'm not sure this is really what he intended when he gave them this command.

I certainly could be wrong, but I wonder if death, as a penalty for breaking the Sabbath, might actually be an act of  mercy.  Because who can really work endlessly without rest?  When we do, aren't those the times when we wish we could just die to escape the work and the heaviness we feel under it? 

We need rest to have a full life.  We need to be filled up by the one who gives us life.

For me, as I read the Hebrew definition, what comes to mind is the idea of caring for the Sabbath, of creating space to rest with God, the one who initiates it. 

I read these words in Exodus:

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths.  This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.”  Exodus 31:12-13 NIV

I hear God inviting me to come.

I hear Him saying “Keep the rhythm of fruitfulness.  Rest and spend time with me.  Let me prune away that which will not bear fruit.  Let me remind you of who I am.  Let me remind you of who you are.  Let me refresh you.”

Can you hear him calling you to rest with Him?

Let’s observe the Sabbath, partaking in this rhythm of rest, that we might bear fruit.


Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we take up the rhythm of rest that God has for us.  May we find that we are refreshed in Him.  May we discover that he bears fruit in us as we remain connected to the vine.

Jessica :)

P.S.  If you would like to listen to or watch Mike Breen's messages from "The Good Life" series at Crossroads, I recommend both.  You can find them here (weeks 4 and 5).

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Keep Walking

On Thursday’s I have been sharing a little bit of what I have been learning as I read through 1 John.

1 John is a letter written to the believers in Asia Minor.  Until this point, John has been giving examples of what a believer who walks with God looks like.  He has been contrasting these believers with those who say that they walk with God, but whose actions and beliefs do not support their claims.  He calls these people liars and says they walk in darkness.  John wants the believers to be able to recognize the difference between that which is true and that which is false. 

Now, John shifts his tone for a few verses to remind the believers that are receiving this letter of their standing before God.

“I am writing to you, dear children,
    because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young people,
    because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, dear children,
    because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers, 
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young people,
    because you are strong,
    and the word of God lives in you,
    and you have overcome the evil one."   1 John 2:12-14 TNIV

It is clear upon reading these verses that there are three groups of believers that John is speaking to—children, fathers, and young people.  It also seems that these different categories are based on three ages of spiritual maturity.  John has a different reason for writing to each of them. 

To the children, John writes “because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name,” and “because you know the Father.”  These new believers are walking joyfully in relationship with God.  They walk in confidence that their sins have been forgiven because of Christ.  And they walk in relationship with God, having experienced Him.  They know the joy of newness of their faith. 

Do you remember that time in your relationship with God?

I do.  For me, it was a time of growth and discovery, a time when I couldn’t get enough of reading in Scripture and learning more about this God who loved me enough to redeem me through His Son, Jesus.  It was a time where I made new choices about how to conduct myself.  At that time, I was a rather sarcastic person.  I began to realize the grain of truth that made sarcasm hurtful and began to alter the way I spoke to my friends and my family.  It was a time of beginning to submit my eating habits to God, recognizing that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.  It was such a joyous time in my faith journey.

John recognizes this and encourages these children in the faith, reminding them of what they are experiencing.  I like the way that the New Jerusalem Bible says it “you have come to know the Father.”  These believers are building their relationship with God.  They are coming to know the goodness of God, one experience at a time. 

If this is you...savor every moment and keep going.  Trust Him through all that may come.

To the fathers or “parents,” as some translations read, John writes, “because you know him who is from the beginning.”  These believers have walked with God for years and years.   They have been through both highs and lows and watched the provision of God in the midst of each circumstance.  These believers are the ones that have experienced the long faithfulness of God.  He has been there every step of the way.  John is reminding them of this.

This message isn’t one directed to me, yet.  But these are John’s words to the mature believers I look up to and want to learn from.  These are the ones with the stories I could listen to for hours as they speak of His faithfulness.  People like my mom and my parents-in-law.  And others like Chappie and Marybelle, Bob and Sue, Jerry and Patty, Alice, Don, Cindy, Dorothy, Jan, Anne, Judy, Jennie and SO many more. 

These believers are the ones who can talk about how to walk through the decades continuing to grow and learn and be submitted to God.  These are the ones who can talk about how to continue to live full of grace and peace and love when the world changes around you so much.  

What words of encouragement and wisdom they must hold of God’s faithfulness if I am willing to listen.  And as the years go by he will build this kind of knowledge of His faithfulness in me so that one day I will be one of the seasoned saints.  I think this is true for you as well.  Keep going. 

And if you fall into this category already?  Think back and remember His goodness.  Keep going and well done.

To the final group, the young people, John writes, “because you have overcome the evil one” and “because you are strong and the word of God lives in you and you have overcome the evil one.”  These believers are the ones who struggle daily to submit their lives to God, to keep their eyes focused on Christ.  They are in the midst of the battle. 

This is the group that seems closest to what I experience day to day, maybe for you too?  Daily struggling to live out what I believe.  Daily struggling to choose what is best—for my mind, for my eyes, for my ears, for my body and its actions.  This is the battle for my heart that takes place in every moment of life.  Will I choose to be submitted to Christ in this moment or not?

John’s words are comforting to me.  “You are strong.  The word of God lives in you.  You have overcome the evil one.”  These are words of encouragement.  You can do this.  You know God’s word.  It lives in you.  You know God’s Word.  He lives in you.  Abide in Him.  You have overcome the evil one.  You have overcome the evil one because of Christ.  He is greater than the one who is in the world.

Do you recall Jesus’ words? 

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Our job is to abide in Christ.  Our job is to remain submitted to Him.  He brings peace in the midst of battle.  He is the one that overcomes the evil on in us.

If this is you...keep going one moment at a time. 

And the way that John writes these things to the children, parents, and young people? 

He writes in the present perfect tense.  A past decision made by these believers, to trust God, has yielded these present “consequences” (John Stott Commentary on the Epistles of John). 

The decision to trust Christ leads to new life and relationship with the Father.  The decision to walk with Christ leads to strength, knowing the word of God and overcoming the evil one.  And walking with Christ through the years leads to knowing the faithfulness of God, the one who is from the beginning and never changes. 

So be encouraged in the midst of John’s word, whether you are a new believer, a seasoned saint, or one in the middle.  Keep walking with Him and trust that He is doing something good in you.


Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we walk with God.  May we remember the excitement of life as a new believer.  May we learn to abide in Christ allowing him to bring peace in the midst of trouble—trusting that he who is in me is greater than the evil one of this world.  And may we come to discover the faithfulness of the God that never changes by walking with Him day after day, year after year, all our lives.

Jessica :)

P.S.  Thank you to my husband for the middle photo.  All of them were taken at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What I Do Have

It was so easy in rural Utah to feel like I was doing all I could for the poor.

In this respect, moving back to my hometown has been hard.

There, my exposure to the poor was through the food pantry, the soup kitchen, a dear elderly friend, and the occasional panhandler on the street corner near the Walmart parking lot.  For the panhandlers, it was easy to grab a sandwich, some fruit, or something to drink when I went on an errand and drop it off before I left.  Sometimes, I would have a conversation, others I would say a few words of blessing and head on my way.  It was easy, because it didn’t happen very often.  And since it didn’t happen very often, I felt like it was manageable.

Here, it seems like I pass a panhandler, nearly, every time I get on the highway.  And these aren’t rotating faces.  They are the same ones.  And I don’t know what to do with that.  Part of me feels sorry for these people, wondering what brought them to begging on the street and what keeps them here.  Part of me feels angry that they are there, forcing me to confront the poverty I see in them, every time I pass by.  This isn’t easy.  And it certainly doesn’t seem manageable at all. 

I wonder about addictions, jobs that, surely, could be found, and about mental illness.

I wonder where their family is.

I wonder why it is that I feel guilty as I pass by with nothing to hand them. 

I can’t shake thinking about all this, because I know God loves these people. 

There is much in Scripture about how God cares for the poor.  He wrote provisions for the poor right into the Mosaic Law.  He had harsh words for Israel’s failure to consider the poor in the prophetic books.  And Jesus himself tells about separating the sheep and the goats based on how those people helped the poor or did not help the poor. 

This is important for me to get.

“Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”  Proverbs 14:31

Yet, what does it really mean to love the poor?  What does kindness to the needy look like?

I’ve been thinking about this lately.

I don’t have the answers.

I do know that last night God brought to mind a particular story in Acts.  I think it tells me a lot about what loving kindness toward the needy looks like.

“One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon.  Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts.  When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money.  Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!”  So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.  He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.  When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.”  Acts 3:1-10 NIV

The lame man calls out for money.  Peter and John notice him. 

Peter calls out, “Look at us!”  The man looks, expectantly waiting.  But they don’t give him money at all. 

Instead, they give what they have. 

Peter speaks, healing him in the name of Jesus, and helps the man to his feet.

Is the man sad that he didn’t get money?  Not at all.  He is overjoyed that he is no longer lame. 

He goes along trying out his new legs—walking and jumping—praising God.

And the people are filled with wonder at what happened to him.

This story encourages me, because there were those who sought help then, just as now.

People passed the same man daily as they came and went asking for help, just like I pass the panhandlers day after day.  And while panhandlers may not all be physically crippled today, something in me wonders if they are lame in a different way. 

It makes me think that while they ask for money, to last the day, what they really need is somthing else.  They need someone to take notice of them.  They need someone ot take notice of their real need.  And they need someone to speak healing over them in Jesus' name. 
I think on a deep spirit level I must know this.  I think it is this that causes the guilt as I pass by—feeling like I ignore someone with a very real need.   

Only, I never realized before that it isn’t what I don’t have to give that is important.  It is what I do have that is important. 

So, I may forget my cold bottle of water in the refrigerator; and I may forget to bring the food packs along when I head down to the Banks, when a Red’s game is happening.  But, I still have something to offer.  I can listen and I can speak healing in Jesus name.

Jesus said:

“Very truly I tell you, all who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” John 14:12-14 TNIV

Do I believe Jesus when he says this? 

He healed people—lame ones, people with illnesses of all sorts--physical, spiritual, emotional.  

He fed people, thousands of them from just a little.

I’ve heard of miracles happening like this today.  I believe it happens.

Do I believe He can do this through His Holy Spirit that lives in me?

Because if I do…

It seems to me, by noticing the real cry of someone’s heart and meeting their real present need, it will be doing the most loving thing of all.  It will usher them into the presence of a loving God, the one who can truly meet all their needs.


Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we seek to honor God by being kind to the poor and needy.  May He give us eyes to see the real needs whether physical, relational, emotional, or spiritual.  Jesus, may we trust that as we give what we have—You—that You will heal and make them whole.

Jessica :)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Look At The Heart

As I drive to meet my sister for lunch, I sing a verse from the song I sung with others, earlier in the morning.

“I will keep my eyes open, open for the Lord.
I will keep my eyes open, open for the Lord.
Though sometimes hidden, I can trust he’s near.
I will keep my eyes open, open for the Lord.”

As I near downtown, I offer up my desire to keep my eyes open to for the Lord. 

I want to have my eyes open to the ways He might be seeking to work in the midst of those I come across as I walk along and those I have conversations with, like my sister.  

I want to live aware and responsive to Him.

I make my way to my sister’s building and wait for while she makes her way to street level. 

We decide to have lunch at a place a few blocks away.

We are walking down the street, when a man by the edge of a building calls out, “I thought the last woman to walk by was fine, but you are more fine.”

I am in shorts, a plain t-shirt, with crocs.  Comfortable.  Not cute.

My sister is in a cute blue dress with a blazer top and stilettos.  This man is talking to her.

I cringe, uncomfortable, knowing that he’s speaking to her in such a way. 

I look at this man.  He stands in tattered clothes with bags next to him, filled with all that he has in the world. 

I want to tell him that this is no way to speak to a woman. 

Instead, we pass as quickly as possible.  I hope we will not pass him again on our way back.  I think, perhaps we should walk an entirely different way back to her office to avoid the possibility.

Yet, when we unexpectedly take our lunch to go, we end up walking back the same way we came.  My sister tells me there are some good places to sit outside, but we have to go back up the street. 
follow reluctantly.

We start to pass the man again.  He asks us a question, a little hint at humor is in his voice.  

“Did you bring back some of that food for me?”

His voice is softer—gentle, even.

I am at a loss for words.

My sister says, kindly, “I’m sorry, no.”

The man responds in the same way, a bit sad, “I know.  It’s okay.”

But, it is not okay.

We walk on and my heart breaks, because he spoke like he expected this response. 

His voice was sorrowful.

I know it deep inside, this man would have been full of joy and gratitude had I said to him, “Yes, this food is for you.  All for you.”

Gone was the off-putting pretense of this man.  I had glimpsed a bit of his heart. 

He was worn and hungry and wanting some kind of connection. 

And I missed it.

I couldn’t see through my fear and judgment to compassion, until now.

Too late.

At the end of our sister lunch, I am eager to run into Bruegger’s on the corner, to take him something to eat.  I look back up the street, to see if he is still there.  He isn’t.

As I walk back to the car, I lift up thanks to God for opening my eyes to see.   

He helped me to see past this man’s rough exterior to catch a glimpse of his heart. 

He reminded me that this is what is important.

He helped me to see the real needs of this man.  Hunger.  Rest.  Connection.

And He got me thinking about what it might look like to respond differently next time.

I thank Him for this man with the hungry heart.

The Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him.  The LORD does not look at the things human beings look at.  People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 TNIV


Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we keep our eyes open for the Lord.  May He teach us to see as He does.  May He present us with opportunities to share His grace, peace and love with others.  May He teach us through experience in ways that will shape and transform us.  May we live changed.

Jessica :)