What’s the News?

A couple years ago, I decided I needed to curtail my practice of ending each day with the first fifteen minutes of the 10 pm newscast. For most of my adult life, I watched the news before bed. But gradually I realized that I wasn’t sleeping soundly, that images or issues from the news wound themselves into my dreams or, worse, left me tossing sleeplessly through the night. Adulting can be difficult enough without insomnia.

Towards the end of 2016 I decided that, for my sanity, I needed to forgo TV newscasts altogether. The presidential race brought out the worst in everyone, me included. Above and beyond the ‘commonplace’ stories on worldwide political shifts and violence, America’s angry politicians and their supporters had turned up the volume. In response, I turned it off.

Although we had stopped taking the paper years earlier, the time had come to once again read the news. To that end, I am grateful for The Skimm, which (ahem) skims the national and international headlines and presents summaries in a nonpartisan, headline style with links to more information.

I need to stay informed, but there is just so much bad news!

Without trying hard, I could rattle off bad news on too many world-changing issues. Yet when I ask myself, “What’s the good news?” I’m not sure I know how to answer.

What is the good news? And, now that we’re thinking about it, don’t we all love those too-infrequent feel-good news stories? The ones where the good Samaritan does some wonderful sacrificial act that changes the life of a wheelchair-bound child, or a homeless person, or simply their neighbor who has fallen on hard times. Maybe someone should produce a regular good-news cast (Is there such a thing? If so, point me in the right direction, because I need it!).

Some days—many days?—I forget that gospel = good news. I forget that Jesus told us all about this: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). I forget that God’s still in charge: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).

I suspect I’m not alone. Not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the world’s troubles. Not alone in finding it incredibly difficult to be still. Not alone in forgetting that God loves the world, this world, the very one He created, populated by all the people He fearfully and wonderfully made.

Not alone at all, because God loves me. And God loves you. And God asks us to love one another.

That love one another thing can be hard, especially with all the bad news. You and me, we may not even like each other. We may be on opposite sides of battle lines, barbed wire, drawn guns, hatred.

Jesus found Himself there, too. And, despite all the bad news that we are, He loved us so much anyway that He did the most wonderfully sacrificial good-news thing ever: He gave His life in our place, for our sins, so that we can live forever in relationship with God. Jesus’ story–which becomes our story–makes for the ultimate good-news cast.

Walk in Love
Week 10: Walk in Love
1 John 4:7-21

Connect
What good news have you received recently?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 4:7-21.
Why should God’s people love one another?
What does God’s love for us look like?
How does God’s love for us change us?
According to this passage, what does the Spirit do for us (vv13-16)?
Compare vv12 and 17. What is the difference between God’s love being made complete in us and among us?
How do God’s people loving one another make God visible (vv12, 17, 20-21)?
What is the connection between love and Christian confidence or “no fear” (vv17-19)?

Live
Does John mean to say that everyone who acts lovingly has a saving relationship with God? That anyone who does not act lovingly does not? Explain.
How do you know God loves you? How do you experience God’s love for you? What’s the difference between knowledge and experience of God’s love?
In your experience, does love or fear inspire more obedience? Better character? Explain.
When have you acted lovingly despite not feeling loving? What was that like?
“Remarkably, loving someone who is unlovely brings into focus the power of God’s choice to love us in our unloveliness” (Gary M. Burge). Have you ever experienced this? If so, describe it.
How would you sum up John’s version of the gospel’s good news from this passage?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray that God will help you know and experience His love so that you have generous love to share with others.

Believe. Love.

Many years ago, in my first church job, I had the privilege of working in the front office. Which meant I was the ‘face’ of the office, handling all the various requests of both members and those who walked in off the street. Brenda, the mentally-absent and sweet homeless woman whom we often let sleep in the women’s lounge, was one of the most colorful ‘characters’ in the mix. Oh, but we all have our character traits that lend to the stories of our churches–and our lives.

Another woman, a leader in her area of volunteer responsibility, was particularly ornery. I don’t know why, perhaps she couldn’t articulate it herself. She came to my office regularly to bark complaints at me. It was always my fault, even when it wasn’t, and she had no time for explanations. I cringed when I saw her coming.

After months of regular, painful, interactions, I put her at Jesus’ feet in prayer. I asked God to help me love her. Of course it would be great if God decided to change her, but meanwhile I would ask God to change me.

I took action. I smiled every time I saw her. I listened with all the patience I could muster. I did everything I could to soothe her frustration and help her in whatever ways she needed. I even committed to greeting her with a huge smile and a hug every Sunday morning during worship. After all, she sat on the aisle only a few pews back from my regular aisle seat.

At first she seemed skeptical. She yelled at me all the time; why would I hug her? I persisted with a big puppy dog-faithful grin. It wasn’t fake–I hate fake! Rather it was a courageous act of obedience to our loving God. Even when we don’t feel loving, we can choose to act lovingly. And sometimes, thank God!, our actions will work into us the feelings.

Over time she melted like an ice cube. She stopped grumping at me. She smiled back. Eventually, she even smiled first. She opened up to share her joys (with the occasional frustration thrown in). When the time came for her to move away to be closer to her grown children in her older age, we shared a genuine, tearful goodbye.

God did change her, but He changed me first. I decided to believe in Jesus, and to live in the truth that Jesus loved her as much as He loved me. Sheesh, Jesus loves me even when I’m the biggest grump in the world! Of course He can strengthen me to share His love with others. Even when it’s hard. Even when they’re hard. Especially then.

1 John 3:23–“And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us”–sounds a lot like the Great Commandment–

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

Believe in Jesus. Love one another.
Love God. Love others as you love yourself.

When we believe, we have the courage to act. When we love, God changes us.

Walk in Love
Week 8: Belong to the Truth
1 John 3:19-24

Connect
To which organizations or clubs do you belong, and what are some of the rules of membership?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 3:19-24.
What might cause someone’s heart to condemn them (v20)?
How can Jesus’ followers set their hearts at rest (vv19-24)? In other words, from this passage, what evidence would indicate that someone “belongs to the truth”?
Notice the balance between what we know and what we feel. Why are both important?
How would you explain vv21-22 to someone who says they prayed but God didn’t answer as they hoped?
How does this passage explain our role and God’s role in our relationship with Him?

Live
Have you ever doubted your relationship with God? What helped you through that time? Alternately, what reassurance have you offered to someone who doubted?
What comfort does it give you that God knows everything?
How might conflict between people who claim to follow God affect one’s faith? Explain the emphasis on the command to love one another.
What does it look like in your daily life to fulfill the commands to believe in Jesus and love one another?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray that God will help you believe in Jesus and love others.

 

 

Hold the Truth Tight

Conflict. Bleh.

With so much conflict in the world, one could hope the church would be a conflict-free zone.

Far from it. The Bible speaks clearly about the Church’s enemy who stirs up discord and strife. And if you’ve been around the Church for even some time, you’ve likely seen it.

I’ve been involved in Church my whole life and in leadership since I reached an age where leadership opportunities became available.

I’ve seen…
Small groups, pretending to be friends, treat their own members brutally.
People poised to react rather than respond, attack rather than listen.
Individuals assume a leadership role for the specific purpose of taking others down.
Abuse of power, its personal and corporate devastation.
The hard work required to attempt to heal backfire on the very ones working to bring peace.
Bad leadership, bad followership, political infighting, and church splits.

All that and I still love the Church. I’m still involved, still in leadership. But why does it seem the Church is hell-bent on living out that old question: With friends like these, who needs enemies?

We can blame it on the enemy, the Church’s enemy or our perceived human enemy. We can blame it on circumstances, constraints, resources, human nature.

Truly, I think it comes down to one thing: conflict erupts when those in the Church take their eyes off Jesus Christ.

When we agree that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, fully God and fully human;
that He came to show us the way back to our Heavenly Father, to take the punishment for our sins;
because He loves us that much;
that He sent us His Spirit to guide us day in and out;
and that He calls us to love Him and others as ourselves…

…well, that ought to result in reliance on Him to help us love one another even (especially) when it’s hard. It ought to bring about unity and the willingness to put aside our agendas to listen well. It ought to shape our prayers and our behavior as we look at one another with God’s loving eyes.

We can disagree on a lot of other issues if we agree on that.

When conflict erupts, it would sure help if we got back to basics.

Walk in Love
Week 5: Hold to the Truth
1 John 2:18-27

Connect
Reflect a recent conflict you’ve encountered and how you handled it.

Study
Read aloud 1 John 2:18-27.
How does John explain what has happened in his church (vv18-19)?
What is “the truth” and what is a lie (vv20-25)?
How does John use his followers’ “anointing” to equip and encourage them (vv20, 27)?
What is the relationship between knowing the truth and remaining in the Son?

Live
Have you ever experienced a church split or other significant split of Christian community? What did you learn from the experience?
Why does it matter what we believe about Jesus?
What does your anointing mean to you?
How do you ‘remain’ in the Son?
Reflect on this quote: “Christian life is not merely a cognitive embrace of Christ; it is an engagement, an encounter with Christ in the Spirit.”—Gary M. Burge.
How could someone try to lead you astray today?
What significance does ‘the end’ have for you? How might you live with ‘the end’ in mind?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to fill you with knowledge of and experience with His beloved Son.

Note: I highly recommend the book The Peacemaker by Ken Sande. For more information, check out Peacemaker Ministries.

What’s Your Name? 1 John 2:2-17

Naming our big dog wasn’t difficult. We met her on a Wednesday and when we picked her up on Friday, our big kid declared: “Her name is Izzy.” We all agreed.

Naming our puppy? Not the same story. Oh for sure, C19 named him in seconds, but the rest of us took weeks to agree. We made a long list. We tried each out. We discussed and debated. Big Kid persisted, and the rest of us caved. Jasper it is.

But he’s also earned a handful of nicknames. Rascal, because he’s a curious, playful puppy. Dapper Japper, because he wore a plaid bow tie throughout the Christmas season and looked oh so dapper. Stinky, and Baby Dog, for obvious reasons.

My parents, Mom especially, gave me a bunch of nicknames. My baby brother couldn’t say my name, so Sisi (pronounced “SeeSee”), which sounds like my given name, is still in play. Others, I’m not even sure how to spell–Sivereno or Sisiliana–my parents making long my short name. My 80’s era camp name was Lambchops, because my white-blonde permed hair looked like lamb’s wool; my high school band nickname was Huggy Bear, because friends said I dropped my backpack every few steps to hug a friend.

Cute at the time, I’m grateful to have outgrown some of those nicknames. I’m hopeful Baby Dog will outgrow some of his as well (Stinky, especially).

Nicknames grow out of experience and relationship. When I call my kids by their full names (first, middle, last)–names I love, given with intention to children I love–I might do so out of exasperation. But when I call them Buddy or Lovebug, it’s true to our relationships. Lovebug may sound babyish, but even with teen boys I can hope they won’t outgrow those terms of endearment.

Some cultures wait to formally name a child until the child reveals his/her character. It seems we nickname based on character.

Our actions reveal our character. So perhaps our nicknames also influence our actions.

I still respond to SiSi because those who call me SiSi have known me from forever. They knew and loved me in good and bad and through it all. When I call my kid Buddy, he hears me calling him to make good choices to be his best self. He is my Buddy, and he knows I’m his biggest fan, asking him to live into his best.

The names we call each other make a difference. The name itself can call us forward.

So when John refers to Dear Children, or Fathers, or Young Men, it matters. Dear Children=all of us loved by God, whose sins have been forgiven, who can truly call God Father. The love relationship is mutual, complete, fulfilled. Fathers=those who have a lifetime of faith. Not just men (gratefully, not just men!, but using language of old, when masculine terms applied equally to women), but all those of a certain age and stage in life. Those who have weathered storms and held steady in faith. And Young Men=those young in life and faith (again, not exclusively male), whose youth fills them with vigor and verve to take risks for God.

The nicknames mean something. They directly connect with the message for those groups/individuals. But going forward, the message to all is the same: stay strong. Live into who you are, the best of who you are, and so remain strong in faith. Because the world will do its best to beat you, but you–in God’s strength, living into the terms of endearment God has for you–can be stronger than the strongest temptation.

Walk in Love
Week 4: The World’s Allure
1 John 2:12-17

Connect
Share a nickname you’ve earned and how you got it.

Study
Read aloud 1 John 2:12-17.
To whom does John write, and what does he say to each (vv12-14)?
What reasons do God’s people have to not love the world (vv15-17)?
What does love for the world look like according to John? What might it look like today?

Live
What does it mean to you personally to know God as Father? To know Him “from the beginning”? To be strong to overcome evil? Which description best fits you and which would you like to grow into?
How can God’s Word strengthen you to resist temptation?
How does your identity as a believer influence your behavior?
What gifts do younger and older believers have to offer each other?
What, if any, hostile threats do you perceive in the world? How do you manage them?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to fill you with love for Him that crowds out the world’s distractions.

Why? Glorify!

I awoke today with a few thoughts roiling around in my brain:
I don’t feel well.
I feel like a 13-year-old girl for all the drama in my life right now.
When you want to ask WHY?, it’s time to worship.

Huh? Those may seem unrelated, but they make perfect sense to me. The drama is wonking with my head, my heart, my immune system…and maybe I’ve got a cold coming on as a result. And Thought #3 comes to me now and again, when life seems hell-bent on doing its worst.

It was the main point from maybe the best sermon I have ever heard, given by Bill Oudemolen (pastor of Foothills Bible Church) at one of Mount Hermon’s Summer Family Camps. He was preaching on the biblical book of Job, the Bible’s longest (and potentially most confusing) answer to the problem of suffering.prayer-888757_1920

Job is a good, God-honoring guy. The enemy approaches God and says, “Well, of course he worships you. Look how you’ve blessed him! Give him to me for a while and see if he still acknowledges you.” To which God says, “Okay.”

So the enemy took Job’s oxen and donkeys. He took Job’s sheep. He took Job’s camels. He took all of Job’s children in one terrible blast. Still Job says, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;  may the name of the Lord be praised.”

The enemy attacked Job’s health, at which point Job’s wife has had it. She tells him to “Curse God and die!” Humble Job replies, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

Job has three well-meaning friends who accuse him of having done something wrong. Surely God wouldn’t allow this if Job was as upright as he seems. Job must be hiding some dark and dirty sins in his closet. They give long, tiresome sermons that sound right at times, but aren’t. Job is righteous; God does allow suffering, for no reason humans can divine; Job still praises God.

Finally Job breaks (just a little) and shouts his pain at God. He asks, “WHY?” The Lord answers, but not as Job expected (does God ever answer as we expect?).

God asks His own questions: Who is questioning me? Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Who keeps the sea in its boundaries? Have you commanded dawn to appear? Can you direct the stars? Can you make the clouds rain? Is it your wisdom that makes a hawk soar? Do you still want to argue with the Almighty?

Job repents for having questioned God; God rebukes and restores the “friends” who spoke wrongly about Him; and God blesses Job with far more than the enemy stripped away. All’s well that ends well…

[The book of Job makes me grateful for the Psalms–God does not smite the Psalmist for questioning God’s wisdom when life gets hard. For all the times I’ve yelled at God, at least I’ve yelled at God…]

Back to Oudemolen’s sermon:
Job asks, Why?
God says, I’m in control. I made the world, and I’m holding it all together. You have no idea how truly BIG I am. It’s time to worship.

We want answers, results, satisfaction. We didn’t ask for this lot, God, we asked for that one. This one hurts. This one’s messy. We want an exchange. Aren’t you in the customer service business? Can’t you make this right?

He can. Maybe He will. Then again, maybe He won’t. Maybe there’s something in this one we need to learn. Maybe He’s trying to teach us something. Maybe He’s trying to shape us. This work out hurts…

At the very least—which is pretty huge at best—we need to learn to worship. God is good. All the time. All the time God is good. Even when life hurts.

When we want to ask WHY?, it’s time to worship.

Come & See
Week 2 – Psalm 34:1-10 & Romans 12:1-2

Connect
What is your favorite food?

Study
Read Psalm 34:1-10 & Romans 12:1-2.
Notice all the verbs the psalmist uses to express glorifying God (extol, praise, rejoice…). What nuances do you hear in those words? How would you explain their cumulative impact?
In Psalm 34:4-10, what actions does the psalmist attribute to God, and why are those significant in this context?
In Romans 12:1-2, what does Paul require of body and mind? Why are both necessary in glorifying God?

Live
What are some of your favorite ways to glorify God?
How does one “taste” the Lord to see that He is good?
How would you explain Psalm 34 to someone who says that plenty of Jesus’ followers experience troubles in life and lack “good things”?
What do these passages communicate about what it means to be Jesus’ disciple?
Who would you like to invite to worship at your church, and what might it take to get them there?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Spend time glorifying God for the things He has done! Then pray that He will give you opportunities to bring others to come and see Jesus.

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Romans

romansHonestly, when our pastor announced that we’d study Romans for fifteen weeks, spring straight through summer, I felt more apprehension than enthusiasm. Paul’s letter to the church in Rome contains some of my favorite verses in Scripture but, as a book, it has not been my favorite. Paul’s convoluted courtroom argument hurts my brain.

So when our pastor also invited me to take a turn in the pulpit, my first in the ten years we’ve been in this congregation, I uttered a flattered maybe.

When I prayerfully read my text, Romans 5:1-11, I thought, Well, huh, maybe… But I would need the right story, the perfect illustration.

The next day, at a ministry meeting, the right story materialized. The encouragement I needed to say yes.

I put aside all other creative projects and spent a month working on a sermon. Day 1 I waffled. Why had I said yes? I have taught but I haven’t preached in years. I’ve been trained for this (that seminary degree accounts for something), but I’m rusty. For the love, pastors make it look easy but preaching is hard work!

Prone to dramatics, I had to silence the voices: the “You’re not good enough—what if you blow it?” crazy. Not one for personal political statements, I never want to be “The Woman” in the pulpit, so I fought against that added pressure. I prayed myself out of my tizzy tendency.

And then God Showed Up:

Already one story had presented itself. Others flooded my sight.

Out of the blue, a friend texted how she has grown spiritually for my presence in her life.

Another friend posted a workplace video about using “your unique fingerprint” to imprint your business, and how people long for your unique fingerprint–encouragement that I would preach this passage with my unique voice, the same and yet differently than any other preacher.romans (1)

I read and studied and took notes. I put all the notes away, went back to the passage, and started writing. And what God wanted me to say flowed from my head and heart through my fingers, filtered by the voice that would speak it.

Pastors all around the world preach every Sunday. In some ways, it’s no big deal. And yet this was, for me, a very big deal. I had the privilege to boast about God. And so I did.

In addition, I wrote our small group Bible study guides for Romans 1-8 all spring-summer long. Fifteen weeks of Bible study. One of my favorite work tasks, we usually take a welcome summer break. But since this series began in spring, we continued the study guides for the groups who would meet during summer. I hope groups/people used them but, even if not, I wrote them. This biblical book that previously had me stymied, well, God showed up. The guides seemed to almost write themselves, we trust because the Spirit flowed.

This summer God has broken a barrier I hadn’t realized I’d constructed. For one who loves reading, studying, discussing, and writing about the Bible, there remained a book I wouldn’t willingly touch. Until I was required to. Once again, He proved Himself faithful. “…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). Thank God He helped me conquer Romans!

Hear my sermon.
And the study guide

Other sermons in the Romans 1-8 series
Romans 1-8 study guides

create.

Today’s guest post writer has been a thoughtful and generous friend for close to ten years. We have been in Bible studies and women’s groups together and, crucial to my professional life, she makes beautiful the words I write/edit for our church publications. I deeply admire her creative talents and the way she intertwines prayer with life, work, creativity and play. One quick example: she gave me an unexpected Christmas gift of glamorous nail polish with a note that said, “Let your nail polish dry and pray!”

Create Challenge #10: Nancy Ingersoll

Create is such a vague term. It can refer to something tangible, an environment or a mindset. However, all three of these tend to work in tandem to have the best results.

Creativity can be contagious. If you set yourself up in an environment that feeds creativity, it will increase exponentially. By entering a space that has everything you need to execute your creative act, your attitude will welcome creative juices to flow and productivity will increase.

This will look completely different for different people. For some, it will be a kitchen stocked with ingredients and equipment. Others will need a flat surface to spread out or a place to set up tools so you can indulge your creative outlet spontaneously, while others will need a tote bag of supplies ready to throw over their shoulder as they venture outside.

Many will require a space with great lighting, and personal preferences will vary from those who want quiet to those who need a constant rattle from music. The key is to understand what feeds your creativity and then discover ways to adapt so that when you are not in that ideal environment, your creativity can continue to live.

Once you have a creative act you really enjoy, intertwine it with other areas of your life. My latest creative pastime is hand lettering. I have made it a part of my spiritual discipline by hand lettering prayers, Bible verses and parts of Bible verses. This has made my lettering skills better since I have been practicing them more, and deepened my time with the Bible as I have spent more time thinking about what stood out to me from a passage before I set my pen to paper.

Since I am on a crowded, bumpy commuter train about three hours each week, I have adapted this less than optimal environment into a time of mental preparation. I use commute time to reflect and sometimes scribble a note or two down, so that when I return to the space I have created – with a flat surface, lights, inspiration hung on the walls, and all my supplies waiting for me – I have the right mindset. If you want a peek at what happens in this space, hop over to my instagram account, where I have been posting a few of my creations each week.ningersoll instagram

As we become a more environmentally conscious society, I want to challenge you to make an effort to think of at least one thing you can do in your creative practice to reuse something. For the writers out there, it might mean figuring out how the double-sided print function on your printer works. For the cooks and gardeners, try re-growing something from your food scraps, like the bottoms of green onions.

One thing I do in my effort to be environmentally mindful is to repurpose parts of some of the packaging I come across. My last purse came with a cute little cardstock pocket to hold the manufacturer’s details and it is now attached to the inside of my Bible to hold prayers I scribble down on index cards. As luck would have it, the index cards fit perfect without a need to cut a special paper size. I just painted a little blob to make a rose and added a leaf in acrylic paint to cover the logo before using standard white glue to attach it.Ningersoll Bible

Romans 12:6 reminds us, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”  It is up to us to develop these gifts and use these gifts, so be creative and expand the ways you use your talents. After all, Maya Angelou explained that “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

Ningersoll family

Nancy is a California native with an affinity for typography. Professionally, she is both a teacher and a practicing artist. She teaches a high school Advanced Placement Photography class, hence the instagram name, and does freelance design work in addition to creating her own artwork, most of which recently have been hand lettered faith-based pieces. She and her husband live in the San Francisco Bay Area; they have launched two kids through the UC system, one recent graduate and one still in school.

Instagram: @thephotocottage
Shop: www.nancy-ingersoll.pixels.com
Luggage: www.ugobags.com/art-and-fashion/nancy-ingersoll