Category Archives: faith

Going It Alone

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Ethiopia vista

Jordan is the type of separation where there is no fellowship with anyone else, and where no one can take the responsibility for you.1

How many years had Elisha walked with his mentor, Elijah? Seven? Eight? How many times had he witnessed the power of God come down through the words and deeds of the great prophet? Countless times. And now….

For days now, Elisha has known the time was at hand. Three times the prophet had told his young protege, stay here while I go into the city. Three times, Elisha has refused, insisting that he stay by his side. And in each city, the locals remind him that his master’s days are numbered. I know, he says. Shut up and don’t remind me! And now….

Now Elijah has disappeared, taken up miraculously from before his very eyes. Chariots. Horses. Fire. A whirlwind. And when the tumult dies down, Elisha is alone. Alone on the banks of the river they had crossed together only moments before.

The thunderous drama of the prophet’s exit only magnifies the deafening silence in which Elisha now stands; Elijah’s billowing cloak, now lying in a dusty clump on the parched ground, the only sign that he’d ever been there. And now….

Such spectacles do not come frequently in our lives, but the times of aloneness are all-too-common. We leave the spiritual height of a mission trip and, on returning home, find that no one really understands, and too few even seem to care. We meet God at a mountain camp, only to return to the doldrums of daily life back at sea level. We are fêted well as we say goodbye to a ministry we have loved and prospered, then find ourselves alone and waiting by the Jordan for some sign that we are not really alone.

And there on the banks of our own Jordan, as Chambers says, “you have to put to the test now what you learned when you were with your Elijah. … If you want to know whether God is the God you have faith to believe Him to be, then go through your Jordan alone.

Think about that for a moment: Do you want to know whether God is the God you think He is? You can only know it when you get alone. No one can know it for you. Friends, mentors, a spouse… they can all tell you it’s true… that God is true. But only you can know it.

In order to know he was not alone, Elisha had to pick up the prophet’s cloak and put it around his own shoulders. What is that cloak for you? Perhaps a Bible that has sat too long untouched. For me it was a Jacob-like wrestling match with God (see Genesis 32:22-32).

Pick up the cloak and know the truth of what you believe.

1 [Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, Aug 11. See 2 Kings 2:1-25.]

Listening in Community

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Western culture places great emphasis on the individual. In sports we call out and praise individual performance, giving little more than lip service to how well a team plays. (Just look at baseball: nine players on the field, but only the pitcher is said to have won or lost the game.)

In school, each student is given a grade the she alone has worked for. Team projects are the exception, and a dreaded one at that.

Even in the Christian faith we stress the individual’s responsibility to accept or reject Jesus Christ. (I’ve written about this twice before, based on my first experience in Ethiopia. You can read those posts from 2015 and from 2008 if you want.)

But there is power in community, especially when it comes to making decisions. I recall a scene in a documentary from many years ago: the elders of an African tribe sitting in a circle discussing the appropriate marriage dowry for one of the girls in the tribe. Even as I write that i struggle with how wrong everything about it sounds – but only because it is foreign to me; I also see great wisdom.

Imagine if we were to harness the power and wisdom of collected minds for such things as job changes and career moves; for engagements (or divorces!); for discerning God’s call on our lives.

My parents recently gave me a number of books they’ve read over the years; the one at the top of this post among the titles. I just started reading it but wish I’d read it six months ago. Or three years ago. or twenty years ago. Listening Hearts: Discerning God’s Call in Community provides sound biblical and practical wisdom for a community of Christ-followers to listen for and to God’s call. The authors and a team of researchers combed through centuries of Christian literature to learn how previous generations and various traditions defined and discerned God’s call – for the community and for individuals within the community. Here are just a few tidbits that have stuck out to me:

Call may be emphatic and unmistakable, or it may be obscure and subtle. (p. 7)

We often find our calls in the facts, circumstances, and concrete experiences of life. … A call may not be so much a call to “do” as to “be.” (p. 9)

Discernment requires our willingness to act in faith on our sense of what God wants us to do. (p. 27)

If you are wondering what you should be doing; if you are facing a decision about a career change or a cross-country move or whether God is calling you to be in full-time ministry, then I want you to do this: read this book, get a small community of people around you (who should also read it), then listen together for to discern God’s call.

How Many Loaves?

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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

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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.

Holy Week

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Holy Table SettingHoly Week—what is it? We tend to focus more on the second word, week, than the first; for many, a legitimate synonym to Holy Week is Spring Break, with all the connotations that phrase carries. But what is Holy Week? And why is it holy?

Holy isn’t just about righteous living, and it certainly isn’t just about religious living. Holy means “set apart for sacred purposes.” It is a distinction between the common and the sacred, the ordinary and the God-focused. Perhaps the best picture is the difference between the dishes and silverware we use every day and that special set we bring out only at holidays or for special guests: the wedding china and the silverware.

Holy Week is so much more than spring break, so much more than just a week off school. It is a week set apart for the sacred purpose of drawing near to God; of setting the table of our heart with the good china and inviting Christ to dine with us each day.

“Behold, I—Christ—stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and will dine with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

Will you make today holy? Will you set apart this day, this week, for Jesus Christ? Will you set your table for Him?