During Advent we prepare ourselves for God to come into our world, our lives, and our hearts anew. In Advent we’re invited to wonder, “What can we do as the Church, as Christ’s body here on earth, to welcome God’s reign of justice and peace today? What can we do as individuals to reorder our lives in the light of God’s love? What would it mean to live as people who truly believe in Jesus as the Savior of all the earth and who expect him to come again at the fulfillment of time?
We invite you to celebrate Advent with us as it begins this Sunday, November 29th. Through the Bible App, we will invite you to join as a church family to reflect on this wonderful hope we have in Jesus through daily bible devotions and meditations.
Please join the daily readings by copying and pasting the link below on your web browser: https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/760/together/35776487/invitation?token=2PhSr4mi6hwpH-97mTZGeA&source=share
In the parable of The Persistent Widow, Jesus tells of a marginalized woman seeking justice from a local judge. The judge is an arrogant, corrupt man with no regard for God nor his neighbors. Yet, through her relentless pestering the judge acquiesces and grants the widow her request. Jesus teaches us to pray with the persistence of the widow because if a corrupt judge is persuaded to grant justice how much more willing is our loving father to answer the prayers of his children when he hears our cry?
Like the widow who never relinquished her quest for justice, Jesus compels us to be unyielding in our faith; resolute in prayer through both good times and bad. Adversity tempers faith bringing us closer to God. Each trial overcome bridges the separation between the father and his followers until we live fully in his presence. God desires diligent, patient followers who trust in his faithfulness and rains down justice on those who seek.
Prayer is a spiritual discipline that demonstrates our desire for God’s love and mercy. He created us in his image and our desire for justice reflects his own love of righteousness. Through this practice we seek to establish authentic communication with God. Like worship through song, prayer should be a joyful experience glorifying the heavenly father. But passionate and committed prayer is difficult, especially in this of age rapidly changing technology. Our attention is easily diverted as a deluge of information drowns our thoughts. We preoccupy ourselves with business and the minutiae of daily life. Spirituality takes a back seat to what we suddenly regard as critical. This myopic perspective drives God from the center of our lives. But prayer restores the balance compelling us to turn to God for all our needs.
Prayer concentrates our focus on God and builds faith that is the foundation of our relationship with the creator. But even more, the act places us in spiritual proximity to God and thus eradicates the mystery of trying to discover who we are through the narrow scope of humanity. Instead, we are blessed with the understanding that God perceives us with perfect and unconditional love. He is faithful and dedicated to justice, shielding us from the despair that turns many to embrace sin. Without him, life is little more than a vacant stopover between birth and death. This parable reminds us God is just and faithful. He will make things right, in his time. Prayer constantly brings us back into the heart of God…where we can see God’s ultimate justice and rest in his present goodness.
Yet, many avoid consistent prayer out of a fear that they lack eloquent words or can’t quote scripture at the drop of a hat. God isn’t seeking poetic rhetoric, only sincere words spoken from the heart. The apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:5, “I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”
Jesus entrusts us with the duty of steadfast, dedicated prayer, placing our faith in God’s will. Though we hope for a swift answer, we cannot question God’s timing and must pray with a humble, committed heart. Prayer empowers us to abandon our self-centered obsessions and petty concerns for everyday life so we may profess our allegiance to the heavenly father. When we look at the miracle of creation; our children, nature, a cool breeze on our face, what other choice do we have than to pray to God in gratitude?
The parable of The Persistent Widow makes clear the importance of constant prayer. But more than petitioning God, prayer demonstrates our continual devotion to the creator. The act proclaims our gratitude for Jesus’s sacrifice and zealous anticipation for his return. In Luke 18:8, Jesus asks, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Let our persistence in prayer and absolute faith be the answer.
“Hooks to hang doubt on” was a phrase I wrote in chapter 11 of Love’s Playbook 5. It describes a very important God-decision in the theory of freedom. God could wow us and overwhelm us with the reality of His existence, presence and power, but He doesn’t. “They” don’t because it would actually take away or ruin our freedom. In order for us to be truly free to make our own decision there has to be evidence of both good and evil that is balanced and adequate for us to consider and make a choice. There even have to be questions about God.
Scripture says God is all good. But in some places it looks like God is both good and evil. This increasingly bothered me as I grew up. Maybe I started reading too young without guidance (though there weren’t many Christians questioning then). Years later I wanted to believe God was good, and wanted to understand those passages, I did find some help, but I found that most of the people I read, or talked to, weren’t able to explain them. The collective consciousness hadn’t grown enough to push scholarship to understand. I find it still hasn’t.
Somehow it became very important to me to understand. I can’t even say when or how it started. But it became a burning desire to know and show that God is all good–even in gnarly hard-to-understand scriptures. I really didn’t think about how.
When the idea first came, it was so huge I dismissed it. When I actually began to consider writing a version of the Bible as a story making God look all good, I couldn’t imagine how I would. I questioned writing the flood story before I committed to start. I did think that far ahead, but not further–it’s in the first five chapters, and God said, “Don’t worry. We’ll help you.” And They did!
Now past the first five books, I don’t worry about that–we have gone through some really difficult stories and concepts, and They have always made it plain. I thought today, reading one with my group, I wish I had made it plainer. Some concepts are so big and so new it’s difficult to find words to express them.
I’m grateful my pastor wants our church to read through the Bible this year, and chose what seems to be a really good plan–the You Version that so far has, on average, two chapters of Genesis and two of Matthew, one in Psalms and a few verses in Proverbs every day. It’s the New Living Translation which is well-done and you can listen to it instead of read it!
My husband and I have been listening, and even though it is well-done and up-dated, there are still places that make me cringe. I realize in a translation you can’t explain the background, emotion, etc., like I get to in telling the story.
For example in the 3rd chapter of Genesis it sounds like God cursed the man, the woman and the ground. If you read very carefully you see that it wasn’t God cursing, it was sin, the choice to know evil; God just described the curse that evil brought. The only curse Adonai may have actually chosen was the serpent’s. Again through careful and extra reading, it seems it was a beautiful creature who lost it’s beauty and wings.
God put hatred between Satan and God’s children. (3:15) What a blessing that was! God made sure, right then, that we would still retain 50% of Their character of good to begin with so we wouldn’t be all evil! From then on it comes from our choices as we see in the next chapter with Cain. But that isn’t easy to see either unless you take the time to unpack it and really get into what God is saying and why, as well as what Cain is saying (and not saying) and why.
I was so glad that Matthew 13 came a few days later where Jesus alludes to the war in the universe and who the enemy is that is responsible for evil. (It was only a few days later for us because we were starting late and doubling up on reading.)
There are other questions, but then there is Genesis 38. And you think Where did this story come from and why in the world is this in the Bible? Obviously, Jethro told Moses, and there is a lot left out. That is exactly why I’m writing–to slow it down and fill in the backstory, the emotion, the family systems thinking. The story could get bogged down, so necessarily explanations have to be brief.
You won’t get through the Bible in a year, but a chapter a night (or morning) in Love’s Playbooks would move you through the first five Bible books, plus Job, in six months. And they contain some of the hardest stories to understand when reading fast. And if it takes a year, that’s ok. Understanding who God is and how it all fits together is important.
Reading fast is good for perspective. And when you get bogged down with questions, my books are there now. Freedom demands that there are hooks for doubt so that only sincere seekers find the answers. Only the whole-hearted are safe to have around for eternity.
Blessings of trust and hope,
Be careful how you see, your perception creates your reality.
Imagine a church as a storefront with a huge window that boasts the most beautiful, amazing piece of clothing that was ever seen.
It’s flowing like a robe, but advertised as the one piece of clothing you will ever need. It fits every one who puts it on perfectly from head to toe. It moves with you, never impedes movement, never in your way, breathes, is always perfect for the climate you’re in—cool in summer, warm in winter, and more cozy and comfortable than your old faded cotton pajamas.
And the look of it—no one can describe it. But no one ever gets tired of looking at it. It looks soft and inviting, yet regal and stately. It shimmers and sparkles but is never gaudy or obtrusive, never shouts look at me! It always looks appropriate, never dowdy, and never embarrassing.
When you’re wearing it, people look at you; you see in their eyes You look terrific! They smile and say, “Love that outfit, you look so good in it.” as though you’ve never worn it before. EVERY time! In fact they look at you again and again as though they just can’t look at you enough. When they invite you anywhere, they say “Wear that robe thing.” They never get tired of seeing it.
People ask, “Where did you get that?”
And you always answer, “A friend gave it to me.”
“Really?” They ask. “How could I get one?”
“You just have to ask,” you say. “Just have to be his friend.”
“But can I buy one?”
“No,” you say.”He doesn’t sell them.”
“But surely for the right price…” they counter.
“They aren’t for sale.”
“Not even for a million dollars for one robe?”
“Not even a billion for one robe.”
They look at you like you’re crazy. So you say, “They are priceless. There isn’t enough money in the world to buy one.”
“But they’re a gift?” they are almost sarcastic now.
“Right” you respond.
“And I can get one? Is this guy like impossible to like or something, that he bribes people with these clothes?”
“No, he is actually the nicest, most caring, most helpful, most respectful, most encouraging friend I’ve ever had.”
“Ok, then what’s the catch? Nobody gives something of value for nothing.”
“I already told you, you have to let him be your friend, let him love you.”
“Ah, so that’s it. He wants to control you. Buy you with that robe, so he can own you and do whatever he wants with you or to you. Your his love slave.”
“No, it’s not like that. He really just wants you to be your best self. As I said, he wants to be your best friend. He wants to love you into your truest self. That’s why he gives you the robe. It makes you look your best, feel your best, do your best. It covers all the things you don’t like about you, all the scars you have. It makes you beautiful because he wants you beautiful and happy and free, strong and able to love.”
“Wow!” they say, heads shaking. “Wow! Tell me more about your friend.”
Is this overstating the graciousness of God? I don’t think so. This is how I see it—how I see Him and His gift of identity.
I haven’t fully experienced it yet, but I “get” more and more of Him.
To find other works by Arla, you can visit her blog @ arlasoveralls.wordpress.com
During February we celebrate Black History Month. So I wanted to share one of the great ironies of our country…the irony that so many blacks became Christians. Centuries ago, when slave-traders kidnapped men and women, boys and girls from Africa, these Africans were not Christians. They were kidnapped, sold, transported in the most horrendous circumstances across the ocean, sold again, beaten, tortured, threatened and killed with impunity…often by “Christians”. For the most part, slave owners in America did not want their slaves to become Christians…because Christianity taught the worth of each individual, freedom and dignity, and hope. Yet, many of these slaves began to believe in Jesus anyway. They began to gather and worship and have hope because of the amazing grace of Jesus and his offer of eternal life. These slaves became believers in Jesus despite the fact that their owners were not sharing Jesus with them and many did not want their slaves to believe. God works in amazing ways. But, this also gives me hope. If God can use slave owners to demonstrate the power of Jesus, surely he can use me too!
In Mark 4:13-19, Jesus explains a parable he told earlier in the chapter about a sower who sows his seed. This sower sows the word of God. God is the sower…but so is anyone who is willing to share the good news of Jesus. God never gets tired of sharing his good news…even sharing with people who do not want to receive the love of Jesus. But, even for those who do want to follow Jesus and hear his words, it is not easy. Jesus says this is because we are in a spiritual battle involving demonic forces. Jesus uses the example of soil to illustrate the different responses people have to hearing the word of God shared with them and how the evil one gets involved when God pours out his love on people. In v. 15 we see that when the word is sown to the first group of people (on the “path”), Satan comes immediately and takes away the word. In other words, Satan gets working! He is content to leave people alone as long as they are not actively receiving God’s Word. Satan loves nothing more than for people to be bored to death. But, when they become open to receiving God’s Word, boredom is no longer an option. Satan must now take action.
The second group of people hear the word and receive it with joy (“rocky soil”). But, sadly, they have no root and fall away when trouble or persecution comes. This is not random. Satan brings trouble. Growing roots means getting deep with Jesus…spending time with God. The third group of people are compared to seed sown among thorns. They also receive the word, but have an incomplete view of God. They are distracted by worry, fear, temptation and lust. In short, they are not willing to trust God to be in charge of their lives. We live in a spiritual battle. God loves us…without us doing anything. Yet, we are afraid to let this God of love be in control of our lives. We trust ourselves more than God. It is totally understandable…yet doomed.
The last group are the good soil. They hear the word, accept it and produce a crop. This is where many Christians get confused. Do we have to DO something to produce a crop…or simply be good soil? That is a tricky question, because the answer is we have to DO something…but that doing something is simply being good soil! GOD is the POWER. God is the one who draws people to Him. Yet, God uses us. God loves us so much he gives us the FREEDOM to use his power in whatever way we choose. We get to enjoy living for Jesus. God doesn’t tell us most of the time who to share with, how to love, when to love or where! But, Jesus tells us that if we are good soil, we will produce a crop. God never tells the church that they need to grow numerically! Yet, God says it is the inevitable result of being good soil. Today, God invites us not to stress. SIMPLIFY. God is looking for faithful people…but in the amazing love of God, he uses unfaithful ones too!
I have never written a blog before. Every week I write a sermon. Four pages of material I would like to share about what God has already shared and what thousands of other preachers throughout history have already shared about too. I don’t pretend to be innovative or ground-breaking. But, I do try to think. And, frankly, I am worried that many people don’t think anymore. I have been particularly astounded by the seemingly daily conversations from people about their lack of faith in statistics. (I won’t quote you one of the many studies showing that Americans don’t trust statistics because you wouldn’t believe those statistics either!) They say things like, “you can’t trust statistics” or “you can make statistics say anything you like.” I always respond, YOU ARE WRONG! Statistics always measure what they say they are measuring. But, you actually have to make sure that the people who tell you what they are measuring are telling the truth. That involves thinking! It is hard work. Yet I believe God calls us to think…to do the hard work.
In Mark 4:1-12, Jesus tells a parable that we call the Parable of the Sower (when we want to share it from God’s perspective) or the Parable of the Soil (when we are talking about it from a human perspective). He tells of a man who went to sow seed. In Mark 4:14 we find the seed the sower is sowing is the WORD. This means…the word of God. I believe the word is the same thing as the LOVE of God. God’s word is a revelation of God himself to people…it is God talking about himself. When God talks about himself he describes what he is like…and the most important thing about what God is like is love. So, God is sowing the seed…sharing his love for people. But, he does it in a way that makes no sense to us. My grandfather was a farmer. When he wanted to plant corn he tilled the ground and prepared the soil. But, God (the sower represents God first, but also includes any person who is sharing God’s love) does not just sow on the soil that is ready to receive it (called the good soil in this parable). God is extravagant with his love. He just starts walking around scattering his love on any old ground.
He starts on the path! I am not a farmer, but I know enough not to sow seed on the path. But, God doesn’t mind. His love is extravagant. He has plenty of love to go around. Then, he moves on to the rocky soil and the soil covered in thorns. This is not ideal soil, yet the ground is thirsty for the seed. But, sadly, even though they receive God’s word and his love with joy, trouble and distractions pull them away. But, it does not stop God from sowing his love.
Why does Jesus tell this story as a parable? Jesus tells parables (from the Greek word “parabole” which means two things side by side) is a story about earthly things that helps us to understand Heavenly realities. Jesus uses things we can understand (a man planting a crop) to help us understand things that are hard to understand (Heaven, God’s love, salvation, etc.) Jesus wants us to understand his love. But, Jesus also uses parables because they are HARD to understand. That way, if we are not receptive to his meaning, we will not be pushed further away from God. We simply walk away and shrug our shoulders. Jesus loves us so much that he intentionally loves us in ways that we either respond to or we just walk away from. That is wisdom.
Today, I invite you to seek the TRUTH…to think and explore the deep meaning of this parable. This truth is that Jesus has extravagant love for you. He is willing to offer you his love all the time and in every possible way. If you are open to receiving his love, I invite you to keep digging and keep reading…and God will continue to reveal Himself to you.