Known

Talking with friends last week I mentioned that I’ve taken just about every personality test out there, including the silly ones on Facebook. “Ooh, which Disney princess are you? [beat as Friend examines my face] Never mind, you’re Belle. Definitely Belle.”

Spot on.

I have seen Beauty and the Beast twice this month, three times if you include Crosswalk: The Musical (even if you don’t watch all of it, watch some. It’s silly and hilarious!). Our amazing high school put on the stage play, and yesterday our family saw the live action movie.

I may be prettier than James Corden, though not as breathtaking as Emma Watson, but Belle is my Disney princess doppelganger. Like Belle, I am bookish and odd, with my head in the clouds. Belle is outcast for her unusual priorities. The Beast is feared for his appearance. While Gaston, the handsome doofus, receives the admiration of everyone–women want to be with him, men want to be him–even though he may be the scariest character of all.

One line in the movie version caught my heart: the curse caused everyone who loved someone in the castle to forget they existed. Beyond the castle walls, they were no longer known. So sad!

Every human being wants to know and be known. It sounds simple enough. Yet too often we allow our own priorities and our judgments to obstruct how we perceive others. We get in our own way and miss the beauty and love of others who are not like us.

Yesterday I received a message from a friend I’ve known most of my life. I haven’t seen him in person in years, but we’ve kept up through online conversations that sometimes last days and go surprisingly deep (less surprising if you know either of us personally). He had been reflecting on something flippant he’d said about our friendship, something that reverberated. Which compelled him to share it with me.

He didn’t have to share, but he did. Others might have felt too vulnerable. He wrote about me, and the (in his opinion, uncommon) love and gentleness I’ve shared with him. That I am unlike others has been my strength and has had an unlikely effect on him. Though we disagree on core beliefs, my sincere hope and willingness to love him no matter what has allowed him to feel safe to meet me on common ground. He sees in me strength I don’t always feel, and he believes in me.

Reading his words, I felt seen, known. He knows me essentially in a way others with whom I regularly interact don’t. Despite the rejection I sometimes experience, his confidence inspires me to feel newly confident.

This might surprise the crud out of him, but I think God sent my friend at just the right time with just the encouragement I needed to know that God, too, sees me, knows me, and loves me. I don’t have to be afraid. I am not alone.

If I can leave you with a thought: take time to truly see people and acknowledge the best of who they are. Encouragement is a gift you won’t regret.

Jesus: Our Shepherd
Week 4 – Known: John 10

Connect
What sets apart someone you would follow from others you wouldn’t?

Study
Read aloud John 10:1-15.
Describe the difference between the shepherd, thieves and robbers and the hired hand.
What does the shepherd do for the sheep?
Why do the sheep follow the shepherd and not a stranger?
How is the shepherd good?
Retell this scene in a contemporary setting: who would be the shepherd, thief and sheep?Read aloud John 10:28-30.
What does Jesus promise, and how can that be comforting?

Live
How do you get to know the Shepherd?
How do you keep focused on the Shepherd’s voice when there are multiple voices calling for your attention?
Who are the “thieves and robbers” or “wolves” threatening the sheep today?
What can you do differently this week to tune your ear to your Shepherd’s voice?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that you will continually listen for your Shepherd’s voice.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

A Sheep’s Prayer

Hi, Jesus!

Hmm, guess I don’t have to say “Hi,” do I? The shepherd never leaves the sheep. You’re always with me. Though the sheep sometimes wander off, don’t they? Um, don’t we? (Cough) Don’t I? Even when my feet don’t wander, I take my eyes off you. I forget you’re here. I forget you’re caring for me and directing me to the best life, the one you planned for me before I was born. I have a short attention span.

Maybe I need to say “Hi” to remind myself that you’re here and in charge. So,

Hello, Jesus!

I shall not want because you’re taking care of me—food, drink, shelter, protection, all covered. Except, to be honest, I do want. It’s not like I’m a shopaholic. I’m actually pretty good at avoiding online and brick-and-mortar stores. But I want enough money not to worry. I want fame and fortune, though I truly don’t all that hassle, I do want success. I want to (metaphorically) walk the red carpet, to be recognized for doing what I do well. I want the vacation I saw on my friend’s Facebook feed and, while you’re at it, I want my body to look like my friend’s bikini body. At least sometimes I want more compliant kids, less vim and vigor. I want a husband who anticipates—and meets—my every need before I say a word. I want a stress-free life.

You know stress-free doesn’t just mean me, right? I want peace in my life, but truly I want world peace. I want politicians to step down off their soap boxes and work together in humility. I want freedom and justice for all, no more slavery of any kind. I want food sufficient to feed everyone who is hungry and opportunity for everyone to live a meaningful life. I want an end to cancer.

So there you have it: I definitely want.

Some of those desires are good and come straight from your heart. Help me to know how to live and serve toward a better world. But please, Lord, forgive me for taking for granted all the good things you have already provided. Forgive me for wanting what you know I don’t need, things that would ultimately get in the way of our time together.

Thank you, thank you, for the breath I breathe, this life you made possible. The ability to get out of bed this morning. For the rain that washed new the earth and watered our plants. For the sunshine in the blue sky. For the cozy little home that shelters our family and keeps us warm. For the family under this roof, and the unique way you made each one of us. Thank you for the gifts these people are to me and to the world. Thank you for our menagerie of pets. We are so weird it makes me laugh, but I also know that you have made us different and that’s a gift to the world, too. Help me to appreciate the overwhelming beauty and goodness of these green pastures and still waters.

Oh Lord, I blow it all the time. Why can’t I remember that you’re in charge, that you’ve got the right plan? I get distracted by worry, by busyness, by the glitter and glory the world offers. Even though I know it’s all funhouse mirrors and false promises. It’s the first lie, the trick that always works: you will live forever. I can offer you something the Lord can’t… And I fall for it.

Yet you restore my soul. You are so good, Lord! No matter how often, no matter the mess I make or how battered and bruised I get, you are always ready to forgive. You come looking for me when I wander off. You pick me up from the ravine where I’ve fallen. You put me back on your path, with you in front, leading to the right life for me, one that honors you.

Hey, Jesus, sometimes this life gets way too dark and scary. Illness, death, crisis of all sorts, suck the joy out of life. I get so mad when people I love hurt. I flail in the darkness. I cry out. But I don’t lose faith, because I know, even when life is hard—especially then—that you are with me. You love me, and you love those I love more than I ever can. I don’t need to be afraid because you will protect me. Even in those moments when I can’t feel you with me, when evil forces its ugly way in, you’re in charge. You’re ready to beat down the threats, and you’re ready to keep me in line. I trust you.

Back to my list of wants: no death and no bad guys. Why are there enemies? Why do I have enemies? I’m following you, trying to do the right thing, and still there are people who don’t like it, don’t like me. But what a remarkable God you are that you give those very people a front row seat to the good things you’re doing in my life. You mark me with your blessing, your fragrant anointing oil, and you make me sit down to feast as they watch. I guess, Lord, if I’m getting in line with what you want, so long as you’re pouring I should ask that blessings will overflow my cup so that even my enemies will get to sip of your best wine. There’s always room in the flock for a few more.

You go before me in goodness and mercy and goodness and mercy follow me. Mercy and goodness everywhere I look—open my eyes to see! Not one day of life has been untouched by your love. Your everlasting love shelters me now and will shelter me into eternity. There’s nowhere I’d rather be.

Let it be so.

 

Jesus: Our Shepherd

Connect
Whose hospitality have you enjoyed recently? What made it special?

Study
Read Psalm 23.
What does the Lord do in this Psalm and what does that tell us about Him? What do we do?
Where does the action take place, and why is that significant?
How is “the valley of the shadow of death” like/unlike “my enemies”? Why are both included?
A shepherd cares for a flock but the flock isn’t mentioned. How does that affect the tone?
How does this Psalm assure us of God’s presence and comfort in all circumstances?

Live
Which images from this Psalm most stand out to you and why?
Share examples of God providing for you, leading you, saving you and caring for you.
Does your life’s landscape currently look more like green pastures or dark valleys? Explain.
What threatens to make you afraid? How can God’s presence with you combat those fears?
Where do you sense God leading you currently?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Praise the Lord for His intimate love and care for us throughout life.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

For Cryin’ Out Loud

How many times have I sat with a group of women, Bibles open to Luke 10, as criticism of Martha zings around the room?

Martha’s too busy.
She’s caught up in the wrong thing.
She’s obviously Type A.
Clearly she’s a fussbudget busybody.
She’s overly dramatic.
She’s causing a scene.
Does she think she needs to prepare six courses? Hasn’t she heard of a one-pot meal? How about a sheet pan dinner?

Poor Martha! Every once in a while a woman seated around the circle will eke out a timid comment in her defense: who among us hasn’t acted like Martha at least once? Who truly feels qualified to cast these stones?

Mary gets the honor, while Martha gets vilified. I think we might be missing the point.

I think Martha lost sight of Jesus.

Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. She made Him and His traveling entourage feel comfortable. Hospitality was a BIG big deal back then, way more so than these days. Dirt floors and mud walls might have made housecleaning less of an obvious burden (or moreso?), but inviting at least thirteen hungry travelers into your home meant you probably had to slaughter a goat or two. To skin it, clean it, cook it, how long would that take? (asks the vegetarian…) Plus the side dishes: I imagine tabbouleh and unleavened bread, eggs and nuts and fruit, cheese and wine.spice-370114_1920

I’m getting better, but I used to turn into a whirling dervish before hosting a dinner party. Except way less graceful. I have a soft spot for Martha.

No, I don’t think it’s Martha’s hospitality that got her in trouble. She worked that gift in spades (go, girl!). The key is in her question. Interrupting the party beyond the kitchen, Martha cried:

“Master, don’t you care…?”

Martha forgot who Jesus was. If God = love and Jesus = God, then Jesus = love. Okay, I’m willing to concede that maybe Martha didn’t know Jesus well enough yet. Maybe the if/then hadn’t been made clear.

And yet: I believe Mary’s stillness at Jesus’ feet and Martha’s busyness in the kitchen were separated by only one thing. Mary was attentive to Jesus and Martha was attentive to her preparations.

Can we do whatever we’re doing and still be attentive to Jesus? I sure hope so! I’ve pretty much built my life and faith on paying attention to God while I also do business. In Out of Sorts, Sarah Bessey claims that real, undignified life is the classroom for holiness. “If you can’t find God while you’re changing diapers or serving food or hanging out with your friends, you won’t find God at the worship service or the spiritual retreat or the regimented daily quiet time or the mission field” (p117).

If Martha had taken off her apron and plunked herself down next to Mary, she still might have missed Jesus. She needed to focus her heart, not her hands.

Martha’s cry recalled for me Mark 4, the disciples in the boat when the storm came up. Jesus was sleeping, which might have been a good tip off that God was not going to sink them. But their fisherman training got the best of them. They’d seen storms and this one seemed bad in the worst way.rembrandt_christ_in_the_storm_on_the_lake_of_galilee

They cried: “Teacher, don’t you care…?”

Of course He does. Jesus loved them. Jesus loves us.

Jesus loves us in the boat. In the kitchen. In the green pastures and the dark valleys, wherever He leads us He also loves us. Psalm 31:7 promises, “I will be glad and rejoice in your unfailing love, for you have seen my troubles, and you care…”

Thinking about Martha’s cry, the disciples’ cry, brought to mind the phrase, “for cryin’ out loud.” I did an online search and each site that popped up confirmed the same origin for the phrase. While consistently an expression of frustration or exasperation, its origin comes from the phrase, “for Christ’s sake.”

Which made me laugh: crying out to Christ, in frustration and fear, for Christ’s sake? That seems appropriate. We call out to Christ–maybe with the wrong motives, sure, but still–we cry out to Him and He draws us near for His own sake. Because He loves us.

Re:Create • Sanctified Imagination

Pictures of cute kittens and babies aside, one of the more useful benefits of social media is connecting with people you haven’t seen in a while. That’s exactly what happened when, a few years ago, I got a message from a friend I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. He had stumbled across our church website, then found my picture, and reached out. Since then I have been grateful to be back in touch, especially through his posts on Facebook and his blog. Quite a thoughtful writer, I am thrilled to have him share on the blog today. We would all do well to consider how the people in our lives shape the stories we read, tell, and live.

re:create recess #2: Randy Ehle

Re:Create
One of the greatest truths of our humanity is that we are created in God’s image. And being created in the image of the Creator God—the creative God—means we, too, are creative. Creation came into being when God spoke. He has revealed himself for all history through his Word, written. His redeeming Son, Jesus, is called The Word. And so my image-of-God creativity is expressed in words.

Re:New
I grew up in the church, so I knew all the stories, all the books, all the characters. I knew about daring to be a Daniel and being patient like Job (though frankly, Job never seemed all that patient to me once I really read him). I knew the twelve disciples and most of the twelve sons of Jacob. I knew Moses and Joseph, David and Jonathan, Samson and Delilah. I’m sure I had the full set of Little Golden Books, including Jonah’s whale and Jericho’s tumbling walls.

But by the time I’d become a pastor, the stories had become merely that: stories. Even with more translations at my fingertips than Legion’s demons, I could scarcely read my Bible without already knowing what comes next. Familiarity had bred, if not contempt, at least complacency. Then I met Carolyn.

Carolyn volunteered in our church office. Warm, chatty, deeply caring, and ever wanting to learn more about Jesus, Carolyn and I had long conversations about life, the Bible, and whether the God of the Old Testament changed in the New. I learned as much from Carolyn’s questions as she did from any of my seminary-trained insights. I also learned something about disabilities. You see, Carolyn had been in a wheelchair for a quarter century, the result of a freak accident in which her mail jeep overturned, pinning her under a mound of first-class letters, junk mail, and packages.

Carolyn's baptism in the American River

Carolyn’s baptism in the American River

As I got to know Carolyn, I also met anew some men and women I’d been reading about since childhood: the blind men, lepers, and paralytics whose lives intersected with, and were changed by, Jesus. As I heard more of Carolyn’s story—not just the accident, but everyday life with a lower spine injury—I began to wonder about the lives of those biblical men and women.

Re:Write
Though I’ve enjoyed writing since my school days, for most of my life I wrote only for myself. Even when I began writing a blog, I did little to solicit readers. Writing was an outlet for the thoughts and ideas circulating in my head, but I never felt I had much to add to the world’s conversations. Any conversation. Meeting Carolyn began to change that, and led me to think about another paralytic:

His friends created the world’s first skylight, lowered his bed through the hole, and hoped beyond hope they wouldn’t have to lift him out the same way. Waving the swirling dust away from his face, the itinerant healer in the room below spoke … not words of healing, but of conviction!

“Your sins are forgiven.”

We who are familiar readers of the text barely skip a beat here. We rush right on by, scarcely noticing the crowd’s incredulity. We want to get to the good stuff, the miracles, the healing. We know what comes next and love to watch Jesus stick it to the self-righteous religious folks … who, of course, are not we. Because of Carolyn, I read the words with new eyes; like a blind man given new sight, I began to see beyond the words on the page.

The over-crowded room had only packed tighter with the invasion of the horizontal alien from above. The dust and dirt of the impromptu renovation choked throats while the brief cooling from the escaping air was replaced with the heat of the noonday sun now streaming onto their heads.

“Your sins are forgiven.”

What?!? What in the world does that mean?

Neither the hushed crowd nor the prone man could believe what they’d heard. They were equally incredulous, but for vastly different reasons: the crowd, because of the healer’s audacity to think he had the right to forgive sins; the paralytic, because of the audacity to think he—crippled as he was—had even the slightest capacity to sin.

If we were filming in 21st century style, we might pause the action here and focus the camera on the man’s reclined face. He would speak an aside, directly to the audience, revealing his inner thoughts and feelings. Having no such cinematic tools at our disposal, however, we are left to our imaginations – our sanctified imaginations. It’s a term my mom uses often to encourage deep, extra-biblical thinking about feelings, thoughts, and actions the Bible doesn’t tell us. And so I write—or rather, rewrite—from that sanctified imagination.

In recounting the story of the paralytic, the gospel writers are concerned with Jesus’ divine authority. Saying “your sins are forgiven” is easy and shows no visible effect; but causing a known cripple to walk is no cheap trick. In fact, the evangelists tell us, this is more about confirming Jesus’ authority to forgive than about demonstrating mercy.

There’s more to the story; more to the story that’s written, and more to the story that’s not written. Maybe my re:creation—my sanctified imagination—will open others’ eyes to the Creator. Maybe my words will open others’ ears to the Word whose Word is Life. Maybe I have something to add to the conversation, after all.

rehle-bio

 

Randy Ehle is a husband and father, coach and teacher, writer and speaker. He was—and longs again to be—a pastor. He’s lived in Canada, Germany, England, and throughout the United States; and has traveled on four of the seven continents. A self-described “rushed contemplative,” Randy has known life and death, gain and loss, wisdom and foolishness. He uses writing as a creative outlet, spiritual inspiration, and personal challenge for his readers. Find more of Randy’s thoughts at www.randehle.com.

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.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

What I Didn’t Pack

Today’s guest post comes from a dear friend. Guy and I were in a church Community Group with Brad and his wife Shawn; for many years we and another few couples met regularly to discuss God’s Word and pray together. We also shared a lot of life, good food and drink, service and outreach, and knit ourselves together as family. Brad is a deep thinker who works out his faith on his feet. I love that this challenge to create nudged him deeper in faith, and I hope it will do the same for you.

Create Challenge #35: Brad White

bwhite-hiMy wife and I just returned from our annual anniversary vacation. We celebrated our first incredible nine years together and are looking forward to many more nine’s. Hawaii is a beautiful place to celebrate and a great place to reflect. It is here where my blog contribution finally came to me.

Getting ready for vacation can be stressful. Right? What to pack? What not to pack? How will this look with this? Are we carrying on or are we checking? “Are you going to golf this year?” “Are you bringing long pants?” All of these questions must be answered. I am pleased to say that I packed light, did not pack a pair of long pants, and wore shorts to dinner every night.

This contribution is not at all about what I did pack but what I did not pack and missed. You see, my friends, I claim to be a man of faith and try to live the right way and practice what Jesus teaches. Yet, when it comes to taking God on vacation, did I pack Him? In my heart yes, but in my practice I did not. Did I need a vacation from Him? No Way! I just didn’t make Him important.

When I start my day in the Word—either in my devotional or other readings—I seem to get grounded and off to a great start. So why did I not pack my devotional and Bible? It was right there on the nightstand. Was it a conscious decision? No. It was not like I said, “You are staying here this week.” It was more like getting my head wrapped around all the other stuff that really doesn’t matter.

My friend Patrick Bradley and I talked about this while we were in Hawaii. Patrick and his lovely wife Lisa are good friends of ours. We met them three years ago on vacation and have vacationed together twice since. Patrick and Lisa are Christians and Patrick is deeply into the Word.

Coming home I was determined to get into my devotional to see what I missed and how I could have used it.

Thursday, October 20 “Confident in the Father” Perhaps if I had read this the flight would not have been so stressful knowing that one of our stores had just discovered asbestos in the flooring and it was going to delay an opening. Did I pray? Did I turn the stress over to God? Did I read this and know that He had me and this situation?

Friday, October 21 “Our Choice to Love” The One who had chosen to love created one who could love in return. Now it’s our choice. Did I show love and compassion to a stranger today?

Saturday, October 22 “Do Something” Did I do something to demonstrate my devotion? Did I pray, teach, go, write a letter? No, I held a table at the bar for three hours so we could have a great view of the TV to watch the Cubs beat the Dodgers. Some will say God is a Cub’s fan…!

Sunday, October 23 “A Crisp View of God” It sure is easy to see God when things are good, but much harder to look for Him and see Him when things get rough. Reading this when I got home made me feel even worse. It made me feel that I see God when it is crisp and convenient and yet I didn’t think enough to bring His Word and guidance with me.

Monday, October 24 “In a Word” Did I have the presence of God with me this day? Well, the day started with three hours of work. I did manage to pack that and knew that opening four stores while on vacation would prove difficult. I was right. This devotion spoke specifically to having the love of God on everything we do. Did I have God’s love when one of my team members told me via email that we were not going to make an opening because we failed to convert utilities? Did I have the love of Jesus in my heart when I made that call? Would I have approached it differently if I had read the Word in the morning? I believe I would have shown more grace. Instead, I needed to ask for forgiveness.

Tuesday, October 25 “What Heaven Holds” Pure Joy! Arguments will cease, for jealousy won’t exist. Every sin is gone. Every insecurity is forgotten. Every fear is past. There is pure hope, pure love, and no fear. What a great way to start your day. Right? I wouldn’t know, since I left it at home. Instead, I started my day with three hours of work and two conference calls.

Wednesday, October 26 “No Secrets from God” That’s kind of scary, don’t you think? I’ve been there. Thinking I can fix things on my own if I work harder, push harder with little to no regard for how it makes people feel along the way. Three more hours of work and calls all day. But hey, we opened four stores today. However, He knows I am going to do that. He knows who I am and He is patiently waiting for me to ask for forgiveness. I believe God is asking, “Brad, how many times do you need to do this before you figure it out?” The good news is He loves me anyway. Even when I don’t deserve it.

Thursday, October 27 “A Gentle Lamb” Thank goodness we have this gentle lamb we can call Father. What an incredible gift. We serve a God who says that even when we’re under pressure and feel like nothing is going to go right, He is waiting to embrace us whether we succeed or fail. What a beautiful message to start your day. This was a beautiful day indeed. We went snorkeling and saw some of the amazing creatures our God has created. Fish of every color, schools of fish being chased by a barracuda, and a huge sea turtle. I came out of this day in this peaceful place totally amazed by our Creator’s power. I sure wish I had started my day that way.

Friday, October 28 “A Heart Like His” Happy Anniversary to us. God certainly knew what he was doing when he brought Shawn into my life. She is my everything. Should I have read this before my anniversary day started? Oh, heck yes! Let me tell you what I missed. This devotion spoke about the ledger we keep when measuring success and accomplishments. The ledger I keep is full of so many unnecessary columns. I think about this as I look at the best earthly being who has ever been part of my life. Why do we keep ledgers? Why do we measure? Why do I find it difficult to display pure love? These matters are irrelevant to God and should be to me as well.

Saturday, October 29. We are Home! I can read what I have been missing. I can pray and ask for forgiveness, and I can get back into my routine. Sounds easy, right? It’s not.

So what did I learn during my vacation? A few things…

  1. Pack your routine with you.
  2. Enjoy the beauty of the Creator
  3. Look at the stars
  4. Breathe
  5. Don’t pack long pants when you go to Hawaii
  6. Love freely
  7. Open your heart to the love of the Creator
  8. No more ledgers
  9. Don’t try to open stores during vacation!

The peace I find in writing this is simple… While I might have forgotten to pack God when preparing for my vacation, He NEVER forgets to pack us. He has us right there in His never failing grip of love.

That’s a good thing.

bwhite
Brad White serves as Senior Manager of Construction, Expansion, and Facilities for Oportun Inc, responsible for the organization’s rapid expansion in California, Texas, Illinois, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. He has been married to Shawn Casey White for 9 years and a member of MVPC for 9 years. Brad is the blessed son of Bill and Ethel White of Maryville, Tennessee, and proud father of William White, 30, of Sarasota, Florida.

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