Mighty Love

The first time I saw Yosemite Valley it snowed. I had accompanied my boyfriend (now husband) and his family on a cross-country skiing weekend a short drive from Yosemite. Having never been, they decided I must see it.

The snow itself was beautiful but, as it fell from the sky, it obscured the view. I had a sense that I should be gasping with awe, yet all I saw was white: white clouds, white snow, with patches of grey rock and black trees stabbing their presence known.

So much snow fell so quickly that, by the time we reached the valley floor, we had to purchase chains to drive back out. We may have paused for a quick cup of coffee at the general store, but it was a slow drive for a quick trip.

The next time I saw Yosemite was two years after we married on an anniversary camping trip. This time, I understood all the fuss. I aimed my camera every which direction–at impossibly large rock faces, dogwoods, brooks, clouds in glorious blue skies–understanding that no camera could adequately capture the beauty of standing in this one spot.

You’ve felt it, I’m sure. You recognize that sensation of glory. The feeling of being in the presence of something so awe-some, so wonder-full, of being so small a speck on the face of this planet and yet somehow also feeling larger than life because you had the chance to witness this moment.

In those moments, I am overwhelmed by the presence and power of God. By His might, and His mighty love through which He created everything and everyone. I don’t understand God and have plenty of questions for Him, but recalling those astounding moments when I can do little more than utter WOW! grounds me in gratitude for His presence.

Journey to Freedom
Exodus 5-10

Connect
When has God made you say, “WOW”?

Study
Read Exodus 5:1-9 and 5:22-6:9.
Why did God want the Israelites to go into the wilderness?
How did Pharaoh respond to God’s request through Moses and Aaron?
What does God reveal about Himself?
If you’re discussing these questions with others, break into three groups. Invite each group to read one of the following passages and discuss the questions that follow as they prepare to share with the other groups: Exodus 7:14-8:19; Exodus 8:20-9:12; and Exodus 9:13-10:29.
What are the plagues? What do you notice about each? What do you learn about God?

Live
When have you experienced God’s power? How did you respond?
How do you describe God to someone who doesn’t yet know Him?
Have you ever felt so discouraged by circumstances that you couldn’t see what God might be doing? How did that situation resolve?
What do you do when you just can’t understand God?
How can remembering who God is and what He has done help you in times of doubt and struggle?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Worship God for His fearful might and great love.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Exodus 5:22-6:8 individually and with your family.
When have you seen God’s power?
How do you say thanks to God?
Thank God for being your God!

It’s Complicated

One of the lessons from history that repeatedly presented itself during our recent trip to Washington D.C. was just how amazingly complex humans are. People can do fascinating things–like deciding it must be possible to fly like a bird and, within less than ten years, producing not only working airplanes but aviation schools.

People can create works of intense beauty out of unthinkable destruction, like the artists commissioned by the U.S. government to document World War 1.

People can speak and write on behalf of justice, and still manage to justify living in opposition to their own convictions. Like Thomas Jefferson, who called slavery “moral depravity” and “a hideous blot,” yet owned and directly profited from the work of 600 slaves, freeing only five upon his death.

Does our good work invalidate our bad deeds?
Do our bad deeds make meaningless the good we do?

Maybe. Sometimes. I hope not and, in some cases, absolutely. It’s complicated.

One need only to have participated in church for a few minutes to recognize that some people should not be in leadership. Perhaps they need more help than they offer. Or maybe, in the helping, they are working towards greater health.

Yet one bad sermon doesn’t invalidate a preacher. The occasional missed opportunity or lack of understanding doesn’t mean someone doesn’t care. The Bible is pretty clear that the church is a mixed bag of nuts, sinners redeemed by grace. God isn’t done with us yet. He is bigger than our best attempts and worst failures.

God uses people, broken in oh so many ways, almost despite ourselves. He uses people because He’s good like that, because His grace shines brighter through our cracks, because, in using us, He redeems and restores and heals us along the way.

I’ve long said I’m more Moses than Mary. Sweet, compliant Mary imagined the unimaginable and sang, “Let it be…” My flare for the dramatic makes me, like Moses, prone to argue with God, to be a true chicken squawking that I’m not fit for service.

Thank God, He knew that about Moses before the conversation began. He created me that way, too. And in the push-back, God takes the opportunity to reveal Himself, to teach us more about who He is and what He’s about and how great big GOD can use lil’ ol’ us to accomplish His objective.

“God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.” (I think I read this in Madeleine L’Engle’s books decades ago; but I’ve just now seen it attributed to at least three other authors…)

Sure, I have some qualifications: degrees, work experience, relationships all direct my life in certain ways. But all that would mean nothing if God wasn’t behind the work. In so many ways, I’m unqualified; and so are you; and yet, God calls…

Journey to Freedom
Exodus 2-4

Connect
Share about a time when you made a big move (i.e., going away to college, moving for a new job, etc.) and what you learned about yourself in the transition.

Study
Read Exodus 2:1-10.
Where can we see evidence of God in Moses’s early life?
Read Exodus 2:11-22.
Describe Moses as a grown up.
Read Exodus 2:23-4:17.
What stands out to you from the conversation between God and Moses, and why (2:23-4:17)?
What do we learn about God from this conversation?
Read Exodus 4:18-31.
Put yourself in the meeting of Moses and Aaron with the elders (vv29-31). What encouragement did each receive?

Live
God sometimes delivers people from circumstances, but perhaps more often works through circumstances. How was that true for Moses? For the Israelites? For us?
When have you experienced God turn a mistake or failure in your life into an opportunity?
Moses took off his sandals and hid his face. How do we show respect for God’s holiness?
When has God called you to take a scary step of faith? How did you respond?
Have you ever argued with God? How did that go?
Moses had Aaron and the elders. Who has been a partner/helper/encourager to your faith adventures?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Thank God that He works all things together for good.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Exodus 3:1-10 individually and with your family.
What amazing things have you seen God do?
How can you show respect for God’s holiness?
How do you know that God sees you and cares for you?
Thank God for being so good to His people.

Hold On

It’s exceedingly easy to bolt (or, rather, drag yourself) out of bed, to hustle-bustle the family out the door–to school and to work, to the gym or to walk the dog–and into the day. One thing leads to another, until you have to get dinner on the table, get the kids on to homework or sports or music, pay the bills, answer the emails, until eventually you collapse into bed, hoping not to toss fitfully through the wee hours before the alarm signals it’s time to do it all again.

And to ignore God’s presence in all of it. Just because we don’t acknowledge God doesn’t mean He’s not there.

Other seasons might find us crying out to God, painfully aware of our need for Him in this crazy, chaotic world, only to hear silence in response.

Just because we don’t see or hear God doesn’t mean He’s not there.

How long would it take a dozen brothers to have families that have families that have families enough to create a people group so intimidating that their host country begins to dread them, enslave them, then try to annihilate them? It’s got to be a while, right?

That’s the set-up for Exodus. The Israelites have their babies–which we understand to be signs of God’s blessing–and the Egyptians ruthlessly use and abuse the Israelites, which (somehow) results in more baby-blessings, this strange oppression-population explosion cycle playing out for likely a whole lot of years.

Where is God while His people are getting beat up?

The new king asks the midwives to kill the Hebrew boy-babies. They “fear God” and make up a clever excuse. And there, there is God, pleased with Shiprah and Puah’s God-honoring disobedience. God is pleased with them, so He gives them families of their own.

Did they recognize their own babies as a gift directly from God? I think they did, but I wonder if others could see God so clearly. All those Israelites “miserable with hard labor, crushed under a cruel workload” (The Message), did they remember the stories they had heard about the God of creation? About the God who watched over Joseph even when his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt?

Did they look to the overwhelmingly bad circumstances of their immediate existence and despair? Or did they remember what they had been taught about the God who always sees His people?

I like to think that Shiprah and Puah act as a subset of a whole, that they are the specific example of God-fearing Israelites.

But then, I know from personal experience that it doesn’t always work that way. The world never is as it should be, and we rail against it and lose sight of God in our tizzy. And then, of course, there are the stories yet to come in Exodus of God’s people being just a wee-bit short-sighted and stubborn.

I come back to the main point of a sermon I heard long ago: When you want to ask why, it’s time to worship.

When life gets out of whack, when we can’t see our way past the circumstances, when God seems absent, then more than ever we need to hold on to God’s character and what He’s done in the past, and worship Him.

Journey to Freedom
Exodus 1

Connect
How might your childhood neighbors have described your family? How might your current neighbors describe your family?

Study
Read aloud Exodus 1.
Describe the Israelites (vv7-9, 17-19). What might the specific example of the Hebrew midwives tell us about the Israelites as a whole?
Why did the new Egyptian king perceive the Israelites as a threat, and how did he handle it?
Read Genesis 46:8 and Genesis 1:28. What might the echoes of Genesis in the beginning of Exodus mean to its readers?
The Egyptians dreaded the Israelites. What sense do you think the Israelites made of their situation?
Where do you see God in this chapter?

Live
Who appears in your genealogy of faith? How can a faith legacy make a difference?
Share some things God has done for you. How does God working in your past affect your faith presently?
When have you felt like God was absent? How did you hang on to faith during that time?
“Things are not the way they ought to be, but we rest in God’s promises. We have faith” –Peter Enns. How was that true for the Israelites? How is that true for God’s people today?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God for the courage to live faithfully even when the world seems hostile.

 

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Exodus 1:8-21 individually and with your family.
Why should you obey God?
Has anyone ever told you to do something you knew was wrong? What did you do?
Ask God to help you do the right thing.

 

Greatness

[Since I don’t post when I’m away from home, this week I’m going to post some of the content I wrote while on vacation…]

“Do you think this makes one too many visits?”, my mom asks as we’ve ‘lost’ the teenagers again in the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

“No,” I reply, “never too many visits. The kids just know their way around. They know what to look for and what to expect. And they’re bigger, so they move faster.”

We’ve been coming here for so many years, truly, their lifetimes. We know what we’ll see in each exhibit, each tank. We’ve long ago determined our favorites and, also, the ones we’ll quickly pass by. We know where to find each other for the long looks, the tanks that even now warrant wonder, our focused attention.

Okay, so maybe the teens are a little underwhelmed after all these visits, but that comes with the age.

No matter how many times I’ve been here, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has earned my respect. Their work in research, conservation, and education is nothing less than awe-inspiring.

Just today, we saw a program we’ve never seen before: a live-narrated video presentation about Great White Sharks. We have seen Great White Sharks live, in their tanks (though they don’t have one now); most people have never seen a Great White except in a movie.

I don’t always love a zoo. There’s something about animals in captivity. But the best zoos, including aquariums, care for both animals and viewers. MBA is The Best Aquarium.

These creatures…we’d never see them otherwise. Fish with vibrant colors. Shore birds swimming in silly circles to churn up whatever delicious bite might have lodged itself in the mud. Baby bat rays that swim up and slide down the glass. Penguins treading water as they watch crazy humans. Octopus tentacles clustered against the tank while it sleeps. Cuttlefish marvelously changing color as they glide.

The beauty and variety of these creatures amazes me. No matter how small they might be, they make me feel small. Together, we are the creations of an infinitely creative God who loves all of us.

Later, I walked along the coast, finally perching on one of the many benches (with a coast this dramatic, there should be this many benches). I soaked in the view, the smells and sounds and sights: the crash of waves on rocks; the delighted squawk of a seagull discovering a fat, dead fish; two sea lions ‘porpoising,’ taking turns gracefully arching their bodies up and out of the water; an otter, bobbing and diving in the surf.

I clicked open my daily Bible reading app to Psalm 145, a favorite.

“Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise! No one can measure his greatness. Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts; let them proclaim your power” (vv3-4).

While we admire God’s greatness mirrored in the beauty of His creation, my sister lies in a hospital. Again. For fourteen years, she’s been fighting for her life.

“The Lord is good to everyone. He showers compassion on all his creation” (v9).

If she could be here, she would be as enthralled by the coast and its creatures as I am. But of course she is also fearfully and wonderfully made, more precious to God than all the rainbow fish. So we pray that God will fulfill His promises:

“The Lord helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads. The eyes of all look to you in hope” (vv14-15).

We pray and we hope…

 

[Update: she is out of the hospital but, given her chronic illness, she will never be entirely out of the woods. We pray and we hope…]

jean wimmerlin

Overflow

The Friday before the Monday C19 left for college out-of-state, neighbors we hadn’t met posted on social media that they were giving away a full-size bed, a few years old with limited wear-and-tear, with an almost-new mattress. Free.

That morning, C19 had awoken in the twin-over-full bunk beds he’d had since childhood. We asked if he’d like a new bed, even though he wouldn’t sleep it in often. He replied with an emphatic, “YES!”

We didn’t need more to do that weekend, but nevertheless we made arrangements to see the bed, and the owner, congenial and overly generous, helped us load the pieces into our minivan. He easily could have sold the bed/mattress, but he just wanted it gone. Two trips and less than a half-hour later, our kid had a new bed he loved.

Q13 liked it, too. Since his bed was the metal frame we’d found, free, when the crib-daybed-full bed frame that had served both our children finally cracked, he decided he’d be moving in to the new bed as soon as his brother left home.

Guy recognized that Little Brother, easy-going and uncomplaining as he was, had grown tired of hand-me-downs. He needed a new bed of his own. He also needed a show of provision from his parents. So he checked online and found another almost-new bed/mattress combo for sale at a ridiculously low price. He bought it, and wouldn’t you know?, it matched the existing decor of Q13’s room as if we’d planned it all along.

We donated all the matching bedding from the twin-over-full bunks to charity. We listed the bunk beds for sale, and the low purchase price was still enough to pay for the purchased bed plus new bedding for the free bed.

And somehow, we still had a good quality full-sized mattress left over. We gave it to a young friend in her first apartment + (low-paying) professional job.

We thought we didn’t have time for more in an already overly-full weekend. But generosity flows downhill. Someone generously giving something away led to more, and more, and more. In the end, our kids had new-to-them beds they love, we came out about even on the cash flow, and we still had things to give away.

God is good!

By the way, I was going to title this post “Pay It Forward,” but I’ve already used that title on another post about someone’s generosity. C19 still enjoys that gift when he’s home and driving about town!

Abundant Life
Week 2: Grace-Fueled Gratitude
Luke 7:36-50

Connect
Share about a generous gift you have received.

Study
Read aloud Luke 7:36-50.
Describe Simon. Describe the woman. How does each interact with Jesus?
How does Simon view the woman? How does Jesus view her?
How would you retell this story in a contemporary context? Who would play the Pharisee and the woman?
Based on this story, why do you think the religious establishment and “sinners” had such different reactions to Jesus?

Live
Write a Yelp! review for the banker who forgave your $36,000 debt (equivalent to 500 denarii today). How would your review reflect your gratitude?
How are you like the Pharisee? Like the woman?
What moves you about the woman’s response to Jesus? Does anything about her response unsettle you, and if so, why?
How can we demonstrate our gratitude to Jesus?
What prayers has God answered for you?
How do we prevent a pharisaical, judgmental mindset? In other words, how can we keep God’s grace in constant view?
What would it take for the Church to be as welcoming to sinners as Jesus was?
Discuss: “Appreciating beauty and giving thanks for life’s treasures is not living in denial of life’s suffering and challenges. It’s what helps us cope with life’s suffering and challenges” (Rene Schlaepfer).
Create a Generosity Project—something you can do, ideally with others, to demonstrate and share your gratitude to God with others.
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to help you stay grateful and reflect His generous spirit to others.

Favorite Things

Sing along…

Raindrops on roses And whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

While I’m a big fan of dew-dropped roses and kittens, my favorites list includes different items:

My family, my marriage (coming right up on 25 years!), our home
Our menagerie of pets, and animals in all their wild and wonderful weirdness
The beach

Well-told stories, and a library system with access to more books than I will ever read
Sharing a crisp sauvignon blanc with girlfriends on a warm summer evening
A fire in the fireplace on a cold winter’s night, and candlelight all around
Cooking healthy and delicious food to share with people I love
Walking our neighborhood and hiking trails, especially with family, friends, and dogs
Meaningful work
Adventures in exploring the world near and far
Beautiful home-grown flowers
Farmers’ Markets overflowing with fresh produce
Laughing so hard I cry
Heartfelt conversation
Quiet moments of awe, wonder, peace
Cheering on my people as they do what they love
Art and creativity in oh-so-many forms

I recognize all these things (and so much more) as gifts from God, examples of the riches of His grace which He lavishes on us.

But sometimes I don’t. Sometimes, I get tired and cranky, disillusioned, caught up in my own frenzied spirals or the harshness of others and the world’s brokenness.

All the more reason to keep reminding myself of the good gifts God pours into my life…

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad

Abundant Life
Week 1: Lavish Generosity
John 10:10-11 & Ephesians 1:3-8a

Connect
Reflect on a generous gift you have given.

Study
Read aloud John 10:10-11.
Contrast the thief and the good shepherd. What happens to those who are near them?
Read aloud Ephesians 1:3-8a.
What has God done for us, and why?
How would you explain “every spiritual blessing” with which God has blessed us to someone who doesn’t feel blessed (v3)?
What does it mean that we are “in him” (vv4, 6-7)?
How does this passage describe our relationship with God? What difference does that make?
Which of God’s blessings depend on us? Which change or affect us, and how?

Live
Why do people choose to follow the thief instead of the good shepherd?
Name some of your favorites of God’s lavish riches. How do you respond? How can you share them with others?
“…worship and praise are so crucial [because] they give opportunity for us to tell the truth about ourselves and God” (Klyne Snodgrass). How are worship and praise appropriate responses to reflecting on what God has done for us?
How can you hold on to the truth of the abundant life God has designed for us in light of the daily realities of a messy, pain-filled world?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Read aloud from Psalm 145 as a hymn of thanksgiving to our lavishly generous God.

Keep Focused

Does the word psychosomatic still have a negative connotation?

It used to be that if someone accused you of having a psychosomatic illness, they meant it was “all in your head.” In other words, change your thinking and your illness will disappear.

But we know so much more now about the mind-body connection. The mind does affect the body and it can cause very real, very distressing physical ailments.

When Q13 first developed cyclic vomiting, everyone asked, “It must be stress, don’t you think?” That question stressed me out! I felt like they were blaming me, like I could somehow change my parenting and his cycles would stop. I already work so hard to keep stress out of my home. Don’t you think that if I could have done anything differently to keep my child well, I would have done it?

As it turns out, the poor kiddo has anxiety hand-in-hand with inattentive ADHD. He does not look like an anxious kid, but who knows what loopdeloops his brain spins. And his body pays the price, which increases his anxiety. More than one cycle at play, because of course our bodies affect our minds as well.

My sister is in the hospital. Again. She’s been in and out of the hospital for years with a chronic illness. Like most illnesses I’m sure it can be aggravated by stress, but the physical pain in her body sure causes stress.

She texted me an update and, understandably, vented her frustrations. She also yelled at God a little bit.

That’s okay, He can take it. But I took the opportunity to encourage her that God isn’t doing this to her, that He’s right there with her holding her hand and hurting with her.

Life happens, whether it’s illness, conflict, a bad day at work, or ordinary inconveniences like a flat tire or keys locked in the car. It can shake our confidence and, some days, even make us question God.

We all need some encouragement, all the time, but especially when discouragement flusters our faith. We need other people to help us keep our focus squarely on Jesus. When all else fails, He is our solid ground.

Walk in Love
Week 12: Final Words
1 John 5:13-21

Connect
What helps you feel confident?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 5:13-21.
What does this passage say we “know” (vv13, 15, 18-20)? Why are those things important?
What does this passage say God does for us (vv14-16, 18, 20)? Why are those things important?
Name some examples of prayers you could boldly pray “according to his will” (v14).
What specific prayer does John encourage (v16)?
Why do God’s children not continue to sin (vv18-20)? How does that square with your experience of life?
Why do you think John ended his letter with a caution against idolatry (v21)? How does that fit with what he’s already said?
Imagine you are among John’s congregation, hearing these words after a contentious church split. Explain how this passage would make you feel.

Live
When have you felt uncertain in your faith, and what did you do about it?
What helps you focus on Jesus when you feel discouraged?
How does your eternal life influence your daily life? Explain.
Share an example of a bold prayer you prayed and God answered.
How have you seen people in the church handle (well or not so well) other people’s sin?
What idols compete for your attention? How do you guard yourself again their temptations?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Thank God for the gift of eternal life through His Son, Jesus.