Lent 2020: The Wonderful Stories

All day they listened to stories about the wonderful things God had done for his people….How he rescued them — no matter what, time after time, over and over again — because of his Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.

Stories are my favorite. I love to read. But during scary times, I can’t read scary stories. Or sad stories, for that matter. During scary times, I need happy, playful, light stories. Stories of love and laughter.

Ezra read the Law to God’s people and they cried as they recognized how far they had strayed from God’s intentions for them. When Ezra saw their tears, he changed his approach. He read the happy stories, the stories of God with them, protecting and providing for them, loving them no matter what. And they had a week-long party, a festival in which they ate and drank and shared with those who didn’t have food and drink, celebrating God’s goodness and love.

It’s not our job to tell people what to do and not do. That’s God’s job. But when we hear from God that we’ve blown it, we’re also not to wallow in shame and self-pity. Acknowledge your sin and move along. Celebrate God’s forgiveness. Celebrate God’s presence with you. Celebrate God’s love.

Because he has loved and forgiven and protected you once again. So get on with that celebration, because God is good all the time. All the time, God is good!

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Lent 2020

I’ve been reading, studying, digesting, listening to and learning from the Bible over my entire life. I’ve been glad and mad, confused and convicted, by its words. I’ve had conversations and arguments with God and others about what it says and doesn’t say. I’ve read scores of books about the Bible. I’ve attended Bible studies, taken classes on the Bible—I have a seminary graduate degree—and written about the Bible.

One of my goals for 2020 is to interact with a different translation of the Bible. I need to shake things up. I’m still studying and reading and writing about the more traditional/adult versions of the Bible, but the Spirit is nudging me to bring some joy back into my dedicated time with Him.

So here I am, during Lent, picking up one of my very favorite Bibles: The Jesus Storybook Bible.

We discovered this Bible when our youngest son was four years old. As I read the first few stories aloud to him, I delighted in the words and illustrations. This is no ordinary kids’ Bible. This is a work of art.

I have since recommended this Bible to everyone I know who is even slightly at all interested in the Bible. Because of my enthusiasm, our church preschool gives one to every graduate and our sanctuary pew racks contain copies, indicating to families that children are always welcome. It is also our go-to new baby gift.

This Lent, I’m going to read for five minutes a day, as many stories as that allows, and then write for another five minutes about what stood out to me, and then I’ll share posts a few times a week. A sort of lectio divina light, playing and creating with God. Play with me?

Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases. 

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!

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.

 

Live Lent (2018)

Mom Down!

I’ve been sick for two weeks now. What began as a lousy cold–power through, Mom, as most moms do–and I thought I had and was mostly on the mend–became a painful ear infection and virus v2. Six days on antibiotics and I still have pain and no hearing on my left side. Bleh!

Thankfully, I have a loving family determined to carry on around me, caring for me as they go. Guy bought lovely red tulips to bring me cheer and took care of all the kid-duties I couldn’t manage. Q13 offered to refill my water bottle, among other simple tasks. As John says, they have loved me in truth through their actions: “…let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18).

Meanwhile, Lent began this past Wednesday. Lent, that church season during which Jesus’ followers traditionally give up or take on something to more closely identify with the suffering our Lord endured for our sake.

Give up…dessert? alcohol? social media?
Take on…a new form of service? more/different forms of prayer?

I googled Lent and came across this fantastic New York Times article reporting that the Church of England has asked their parishioners to give up plastics in order to better steward God’s creation. As an animal-loving vegetarian environmentalist, mostly for stewardship reasons, I ❤ this so much! They’ve even created a daily calendar of actions one could take to limit plastic consumption…which I plan to print out and work towards.

Research shows the best way to create a new habit is to change one thing at a time, and to stick with it for at least three weeks. So during Lent, we have an opportunity to create two new God-honoring habits, or really dial down on one. Even week by week small actions will make a difference, in our lives and the world.

January 2017 I began keeping a Gratitude Journal, and in January 2018 I recommitted to it. I also recommitted to what should be my ongoing practice of reading the Bible daily; in mid-February I can say that the combination of daily Bible reading + gratitude has brought me new joy.

So here we are at Lent, a new opportunity to create lifestyle changes that will identify us as Jesus’ followers.

In my job as Church Communication Director and based on our sermon series in 1 John, I created a list of twelve things one might do during Lent.

12 Things to Do During Lent
based on 1 John 3:11-5:21
February 14-March 31, 2018

  1. Repair a broken relationship.
  2. Donate goods, money and time to charity.
  3. Set aside regular time to rest in His presence (i.e., read the Bible, pray, worship, sit quietly with the God who loves you).
  4. Do intentional loving acts for those who wouldn’t expect it.
  5. Since Jesus Christ came in the flesh, do something to honor your God-given body (i.e., exercise, eat healthy, soak in a hot tub, get a massage)…and pray!
  6. Search the Bible for passages about the Holy Spirit and spend time getting to know His voice.
  7. Memorize and meditate on 1 John 4:7-12.
  8. Pray for a hard-to-love person in your life and ask God to change your heart.
  9. Read the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and ask God what He wants you to do to faithfully keep His commandments.
  10. Read a book to grow your belief in Jesus as the Son of God.
  11. Pray with bold confidence, for yourself and for others, according to God’s will.
  12. Ask God to identify and cut out sin in your life.

With little energy to do much else, I joined a Facebook group: 40 Bags in 40 Days. Created by a woman who follows a Lenten discipline (though that’s not required), the idea is to declutter our households and donate to charity. Which fits well with #2. So far, I’ve attacked some bathroom and refrigerator drawers (much of which went in the trash), and plan to keep at it.

As with any day, any season, I cannot yet predict how this Lenten season will pan out. I pray that God will grow me in new ways, teach me new things, ingrain in me new ways of being that honor Him and mark me as His follower.

What will you do?

Walk in Love
Week 7: Love One Another
1 John 3:11-18

Connect
If you’re married, reflect on highlights from your wedding day. If you’re not married, reflect on a time you knew you were well loved.

Study
Read aloud 1 John 3:11-18.
Compare 1 John 3:11 to 1 John 1:1, 5. What does love for others have to do with God’s light?
Contrast the negative example of Cain’s relationship with his brother Abel to Jesus’ positive example of love.
Compare vv13-15 with Matthew 5:21-22, then explain John’s equations: hate=death and love=life.
How might sharing your possessions be an example of laying down your life (vv16-17)?
Can someone speak lovingly but not in truth? Can someone act lovingly but not in truth? How is it different to love “with actions and in truth” (v18)?

Live
How do you know if you love someone? If someone loves you?
How could you handle well a religious disagreement that brought about hostility?
Without breaking confidentiality, what have you done to intentionally act lovingly towards someone who was hard for you to love? Did it change the relationship and if so, how?
How might material possessions get in the way of one’s spiritual life?
What would it look like for a church to be generous with Christ’s love? What can you do, personally and as a Community Group, to more generously share Christ’s love?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray that God’s love will overflow your life.

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.

Walk in the Light – 1 John 1:5-2:2

One of my earliest childhood memories took place on a sultry Rhode Island summer night. My parents had friends over and all of us, adults and children, had congregated in the backyard. Did we eat outside? Possibly, as I have seen pictures of al fresco meals on other occasions. But in this memory, the sun had set too long ago for pictures.

Trees bordered the back edge of our yard; a short sloping dirt trail led down to railroad tracks. An open field connected our side yard to our neighbor’s so, despite the warning to stay away from the train tracks, we had plenty of open space to roam.

Swatting at the mosquitoes buzzing and biting our tender skin, my friends and I played Hide and Go Seek. How many hundreds of such games must we have played since then? But this one vividly stands out in my memory because, at only three or four years of age, being outside at night, way past bedtime, in the pitch dark, playing with friends while the adults contented themselves with their own conversations, well, this was novel.

We ran, hid, stifled giggles behind our fingers, then shrieked with wild joy and excitement. The unprecedented freedom of playing in the dark thrilled us almost beyond what we could bear. Our sweaty skin shivered despite the humidity.

But we froze when we heard it: “Oooo, watch out, I’m the Bogeyman…!” There…we heard it again: “Oooo, here comes the Bogeyman, oooo…!”

Our giggles grew nervous. I remember saying, first whispered to my friends, then louder: “What’s a Bogeyman?” before we all ran to our parents, who assured us that some teenager was hiding in the bushes, trying to scare the little kids.

The little kids who had felt like such big kids only moments earlier, squashed by someone else’s fun at our expense.

As I reflect on that night, a few things stand out that still ring true today:

Playing in the dark was exciting, precisely because it was dark, and because it wasn’t something we were typically allowed to do. (What kinds of darkness entice us today?)

The darkness hid potential dangers. (What dangers lurk in the tempting darkness?)

Playing in the dark gave us a new sense of freedom and independence, all good until we got scared and needed help. (How does darkness imitate light? And where do we find help when we need it?)

Walk in Love
Week 2: Walk in the Light
1 John 1:5-2:2

Connect
Reflect on a time when you have taken ‘a walk in the dark’ (literally or figuratively). What was it like?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 1:5-2:2
With whose authority does John write this letter, and why does that matter (v5)?
Explain the light/dark metaphor (vv5-7). Look up one or more of the following passages from John’s gospel: 1:4-5, 9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:4-5; 12:35-36, 46.
What deceit does John call out (vv6, 8, 10)?
What happens when we confess sin and live rightly (vv7, 9)?
What do we learn about Jesus in this passage, and why is that significant?

Live
Explain the attractions/detractions of light and darkness. In what ways do Christians try to stay in the darkness? Why is this so easy to do?
What makes it difficult to “come into the light” in our relationships with one another?
Is it possible to ever be done for good with sin? Why or why not?
How might fellowship with one another help us avoid sin and maintain fellowship with Him?
If you’re willing, share about a victory over sin that Christ accomplished for you.
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Thank God for His faithfulness to us even when we try to hide from God and others.