Memorial StonesRemember. It’s one of my favorite words in Scripture. It shows up 187 times in the Old Testament alone; fifty more in the New Testament. Remembering is central to the Jewish feasts and fasts; it is central to the two ordinances Christians around the world celebrate today: the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.

Remembering is what national holidays are all about, too: Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July here in the US; Tag der deutschen Einheit (Day of German Unity) in Germany; Genocide Memorial Day in Rwanda; others in other nations.

When Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan River, he had twelve men each carry a stone from the middle of the now-dry river bed. When the reached the western bank and set up camp, these stones were set in a pile…

6 …so that this will be a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean to you?you should tell them, ‘The waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the Lord’s covenant. When it crossed the Jordan, the Jordan’s waters were cut off.’ Therefore these stones will always be a memorial for the Israelites.” (Joshua 4:6-7)

In the US, today is Memorial Day; it is appropriate to remember the sacrifices made by those men and women who died serving and protecting our nation’s freedoms. But for Christians, it is also—and always—appropriate to remember what God has done for us; not only the sacrifice that Jesus offered to secure our freedom from sin, but the daily provision of God as well as the “big things” He has done just for you:

  • that time God clearly, perhaps immediately, answered a prayer
  • the job you have or promotion you received; your paycheck
  • the food on your table
  • the neighbor who looks out for your kids after school
  • the teacher who inspired you in 5th grade
  • the bed you sleep in, home you have (even if it’s too small, noisy, or in the “wrong” place; check out Jeremiah 29!)

When you’re out and about today, stoop down and pick up a stone and think about one of those times that God showed up for you. Hold onto the stone or put it in your pocket, and every time you feel it, thank God for His presence and work in your life.


Thinking Theologically

Most people agree: the 2016 election season in the U.S. is a little bit crazy, and promises only to get crazier. The most important question for many Christ followers is no longer, Who should I vote for? but rather, How should I even decide who to vote for?

Now, in case you’re about to skip the rest of this post because you don’t want to read one more opinion about politics…don’t. This isn’t about politics, it’s about thinking. It’s about how we think—and specifically, how God, Scripture, and our faith as Christ followers not only inform our thinking, but actually shape it…or ought to shape it. Thinking determines action.

One of my first courses in seminary was called “Thinking Theologically About Ministry.” It was a great title, a great course, and taught by a professor I count as one of the top two I had. It has influenced almost all my ministry, not to mention much of the rest of my life.

Too few Christians think theologically. Whether we consider faith a private thing, segregate it from the rest of life, or simply do not allow our spiritual beliefs to impact our daily choices and activities, most of us do not intentionally reflect on how God and His Word should influence our lives.

I confess, I am given to introspection. Thinking—and thinking deeply—is easy and enjoyable for me; it energizes me. But not everyone is like me. Some are oriented more toward action than reflection; some feel deeply, moved by emotion and empathy. Thinkers, doers, and feelers are all good, strong, God-given types. But just as I need to learn to act and not only think; just as I need to work hard to learn, hear, and express the language of emotions; so others need to grow in the thinking realm—especially about the congruence of faith and life.

Here are some examples:

  • Creation: Christians generally believe that the three Persons of the trinity—Father, Son, and Spirit—each participated in creation. But so what? What impact does that truth have on how we as Christians view, treat, and live as part of that creation? If God created everything and mankind inherited Adam and Eve’s stewardship of creation, then perhaps Christians ought to be leading the way in environmental matters.
  • Career: There is much in the Bible about work—about being diligent and hard-working, showing integrity as both employer and employed, paying honest wages, not being lazy, providing for one’s family. There is also much about “ministry”—that is, about serving others, showing grace, introducing people to Jesus, loving both neighbor and enemy. What isn’t there is a dichotomy between work and ministry; Christians are all called to minister (i.e., serve). So what? So however God has gifted you, whatever passions and skills he has blessed you with, use them to both earn a living and serve others.
  • Voting: The Bible says that all authority comes from God. Governors, queens, and presidents all are given those positions, ultimately, by God. And God has often used even wicked rulers to achieve his purposes So what? As Christians, we shouldn’t live in fear of those who are—or might be—ruling over us. But where we have choice, we are responsible for choosing wisely, and for choosing those who will humble themselves before God.

We live in two kingdoms: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of earth. But those are not two separate entities; they overlap, and one will always and necessarily influence the other. As Christ followers, we must not withdraw from the world, but rather connect the dots of faith and family, marriage and ministry, Savior and struggle.

We must draw a line from Word to work, from God to humanity. We must think theologically.


How Many Loaves?

BrotchenJust looking at this picture makes my mouth water for the Brötchen I gobbled down during my high school days in Germany. I’ve never found them anywhere else—certainly not as good. Crunchy crust (but not too), tender inside…and always best first thing in the morning, fresh out of the baker’s oven.

Bread figures prominently in the Bible; numerous stories in both Old and New Testaments center around people who want bread, and how God miraculously provides it. Maybe that’s why Jesus is called “the Bread of Life.”

The Gospel of Mark (chapters 6 and 8) records two such bread-related miracles. In both, crowds of people—multiple thousands—have come to Jesus for healing and to hear him teach. Jesus’ disciples keep looking at their watches and finally suggest gently that it’s getting late and shouldn’t we send the people home for dinner? But Jesus has a different idea.

How many loaves do you have?

What?! The question is ludicrous! But Jesus keeps a straight face, just a hint of a knowing smile touching the corners of his lips. And the disciples—trying hard not to show their disbelief—offer the count: five loaves and two fish on the first occasion; seven loaves and a few small fish the second time.

You’ve probably heard the stories. Jesus asks the crowds to sit, says a prayer of thanks, and starts breaking the lunch into pieces. Basket after basket is filled, passed around, and brought back for more. And still Jesus sits, quietly breaking the bread. Seconds are passed around, then thirds. Soon the full baskets are passed and no one can eat another bite. Twelve full baskets remain; seven on the second occasion.

We read these stories and our immediate thought is, “Wow! Jesus did an amazing miracle! The disciples must have been stunned by that display!” Maybe. But did they learn anything? Not much—just a few verses later, Jesus has to ask, “Do you not yet understand?” The answer is clear: No.

But there’s something different we need to read in these passages, too: a difference of perspective. Notice the disciples’ thoughts: we obviously can’t feed these people; they should leave so they can find dinner. They look at the need, the lack. It’s what you might call “a poverty mentality.”

Jesus, on the other hand, had a Kingdom perspective; a power mentality. He didn’t look at the need, but at the resources: the bread, his own compassion, and God’s power. And with gratitude, he put those resources together to feed the crowds.

It’s so easy for me to look at what I don’t have: my weaknesses, the strengths and experience a would-be employer wants that I lack, a dwindling bank account. And my response is like the disciples: I go off on my own to try to find what I need.

But what if I had Jesus’ perspective? What if I looked at the little I have—my seven loaves—and gave them to Jesus to pray for, bless, and multiply. What might he do with them?

How many loaves do you have?

Spiritual Rhythms: Fasting

He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.” Mark 9:29

Fasting is a little-practiced discipline—certainly by me. Recently my wife and I had dinner with some long-time friends who shared their story, which has strong parallels to our own: loss of jobs, wondering where next week’s groceries will come from, wondering what God is up to. But part of their story was also about fasting, and how God clearly answered prayers in the context of those fasts.

Today’s post is written by Katherine Kehler and first appeared at the blog, Thoughts About God

Prayer became more of a discipline in my life after I yielded the control of life to Jesus Christ and began to walk in the Spirit. (Until then, I called to God in emergencies and before meals, but talking to God had not become a way of life.) Then the Bible became alive to me and I began to pray specifically, trusting in and testing God’s promises. Many, many prayers were answered.

I also began to fast. Sometimes for three days, sometimes once a week, sometimes for 10 days or two weeks. Sometimes it would be a complete fast – only water. Sometimes I would have juice. At times I would give up eating certain foods, or watching television or even wearing makeup.

When our son was in his early 20s, we discovered he was addicted to alcohol. For a while he alienated himself from us and from the rest of the family. We never saw him drunk – not once – but others had and we loved him too much to let him destroy himself.

I love coffee and our children often joked that I was addicted. So I reasoned, “If they are right, my prayers for our son are phony.” So I decided, with God’s help, I would stop drinking coffee until he quit drinking alcohol. And that is what I did. Giving up something I really enjoyed so that perhaps God would deliver our son.

God answered. As a family, we decided to have an intervention. We all told him that we loved him, but knew he was in deep trouble and wanted him to go to a treatment center to get help. Before the intervention, my husband made the arrangements for his flight and stay at the treatment center. His boss not only gave him a leave of absence, but helped pay for his treatment. There was only one thing left – he had to agree to go.

Thankfully, he did agree to go and after six weeks at the center he came home and to our knowledge has never had another drink. He was delivered from the addiction to alcohol and today has become a great husband and father.

Sometimes we have to fast and pray to have our prayers answered. If God impresses you to do so, let me encourage you to obey Him.

I’m going to take some time in the next couple weeks to fast—not as a “magic pill” or a bribe to induce God to answer our prayers, but in the hopes that he will do something transformative in me. I encourage you to do the same.

Spiritual Rhythms: The Word, Part II—Soaking it In

Hot tubA couple weeks ago I said different ways of reading the Bible could be compared to taking a walk, driving a car, or flying across the country. Just as different modes of travel will give different perspectives on the land, so each way of reading the Bible offers unique insights.

Today I want to talk about one way, but I’m going to change the metaphor—from taking a walk to soaking in a hot tub. Some might call this meditation; but because that word can scare some people away, I prefer to use the hot tub image: we soak in the Word (the Bible) so that we can soak the Word in.

Soaking in the Word means sitting quietly with a short passage for a long time. Maybe it’s a dozen verses; maybe only one or two. Read it. Read it again. Read it aloud. Read it in different translations.

Then sit quietly. Does one word or thought penetrate your mind? Look again at the text and find that word or phrase. Turn it over in your mind. Chew on it, as it were.

Read the passage again, slowly. What’s happening in your heart? …your mind? …your soul? Do the words encourage you? Do they bring refreshment or peace in the midst of chaos? Or is there a challenge in them—a behavior to change, a sin to confess, a relationship to mend? Talk with God about what you are sensing. Ask for forgiveness, courage, or strength; or say thank you for the encouragement. Praise Him for reaching into your soul.

Finally, sit quietly with God. Sometimes I imagine Jesus sitting on the couch with me, or across the table, just being quiet and enjoying each other’s company. Other times I imagine myself curling up in Abba’s—the Father’s—lap and resting my head on His shoulder. Enjoy God’s presence.

Further thoughts: I’ve been spending some time soaking in Colossians 3 over the past few weeks. It is a rich, challenging, and encouraging passage. Let’s look at the first few verses.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-3, English Standard Version)

If then: Sometimes if means, maybe you have, maybe you haven’t; and sometimes it means, since or because. That’s the sense here—Because you have been raised with Christ…. There is a confidence here, a certainty about our relationship.

So what? So, seek…[and] set your minds on things that are above, not … on the earth. It’s a matter of perspective. Am I seeking only what’s on earth—job, security, home…? What does it look like to seek what’s above—the things of God? What does He want me to seek?

Take some time today to soak in this passage. See what God does in you.