Consider the Birds

Consider the Birds

I was awake at 3:30 in the morning. My mind racing as it’s been doing non-stop the past few weeks or so. Certain realities of life that have mostly felt concrete, prior to very recently, are suddenly gone or simply up in the air. Where will it all land? We don’t know, is what the professionals keep saying.

As my mind flitted about from one worry and prayer to another the sound of birds relentlessly pecked at the door of my thoughts. Why are the birds chirping at this hour? I moaned while fluffing my pillow for the countless time. Don’t they know it’s the middle of the night!

Scientists call this early morning bird singing the dawn chorus, which is most noticeable in spring when birds are migrating or mating. The name dawn chorus sounds so delightful except when you’re trying to sleep in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. And, yet, maybe this is the point: singing in the middle of a storm, reaping during a time of scarcity, staying on mission. Maybe the birds have something to teach us after all, I mused.

CONSIDER THE BIRDS

Before I could complete the thought I realized it’s not actually the birds but Jesus who has something to teach us through the birds. The comforting lesson found in Matthew 6:25-26 that Jesus delivered over 2,000 years ago about the birds of the sky feels particularly meaningful right now.

“Therefore I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing?  Consider the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?”

Some translations say look at or observe the birds. The Greek word means to look intently. In other words, we’re to reflect on them, really think about how they go about their lives, and then listen to what Jesus is telling us about our own, and about our heavenly Father’s provision. We notice from Jesus’ teaching that the birds don’t sow, reap, or store, which are have to do with our ability to plan.

Yesterday I sowed seed in my backyard garden and I checked the seed packet for the section that says, days to maturity. This tells me when I can reap the lettuce, kale, and spinach I planted. Sadly, my little raised beds don’t produce enough for me to store anything in barns (I’ll let you know when I’ve reached that level), but if I could store, I would. Planting, reaping, and harvesting require reason and foresight.

HOW MUCH MORE ARE YOU WORTH?

Point being, we humans have the faculties to plan, save, invest, freeze the ground beef until we need it in a few weeks. The birds cannot do this! They live day to day, meal to meal, worm to worm (ne’er was there a pleasanter thought). And still they are fed. Still, they are nourished. Still they have enough for their chicks.

How can this be? Jesus wants us to ask ourselves. He quickly answers. Because we have a heavenly Father who feeds them. And that heavenly Father isn’t just the Father of the birds; He is your heavenly Father. And how much more are you worth to Him than the birds? The answer is clear: infinitely more.

During this season where what you sowed might have just disappeared, or what you reaped is no longer enough to be stored into barns, or what you had in your barns was supposed to be for tomorrow but now needs to be for today, you can have confidence your Father will take care of you. This is not pie in the sky theology, but an evident truth seen in the fabric of nature of which God is the Creator.

YOU MAY BE PART OF GOD’S PROVISION

It’s natural to think, well, what about those who are homeless? Those in poverty? Those who go hungry? Part of what Jesus is demonstrating is a general principle that stems from God’s generous care of creation found in Genesis 1­–2. Jesus reminds us of this care by pointing to two everyday examples, birds and flowers.

Generally speaking, the birds of the air have food, and the flowers of the field are beautifully clothed. Through them we see the fundamental goodness of God, His care for creation, and the ways we can witness this in everyday life. Jesus wants us to remember that we’re infinitely more valuable to Him than birds and flowers and that He will provide for us in even more abundant ways.

In addition, if we go back to Matthew 5:13-16, we see that Jesus calls us to be salt and light, and to do “good works” for others, which can also be understood as “tangible deeds of mercy.” And if you go back to Matthew 6:19-24, Jesus teaches radical generosity. We can look to countless parts of Scripture where God clearly calls His people, His church, to meet the needs of the hungry, hurting, and homeless.

While God is generous in His care for us through creation, we as the church are part of His answer in meeting the needs of the world around us. We are part of God’s generous provision for others.

While God is generous in His care for us through creation, we as the church are part of His answer in meeting the needs of the world around us. We are part of God’s generous provision for others.Click To Tweet

You may be in a time of need where you’re trusting God and His provision. Or you may be in a time of abundance and He’s calling you to give to others. No matter what season you’re in, my prayer is that in the middle of the night, in the middle of unprecedented times, when we hear the birds chirping with purpose and delight, we will remember the words of Jesus and so add our hallelujahs to the dawn chorus.

The post Consider the Birds appeared first on LifeWay Voices.

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The Nearness of God in Uncertain Times

The Nearness of God in Uncertain Times

If you’re anything like me over the past few weeks you’ve been vacillating between a confident trust in God and waves of panic and fear. For those of us who are Christ followers we want to trust the Lord but we get tripped up on wondering what exactly we can trust Him for—can we count on Him to spare us from looming hardship and make sure everything turns out okay on our terms? We know He’s bigger, greater, higher, stronger, but what does that mean for the very real and ominous threats we’re facing?

I’ve been reflecting on the account of Jesus calming the storm that threatened to overtake His disciples in Matthew 8:23-27. Since I think we can collectively agree we’re in a pretty big storm right now, I think this a timely passage that helps solidify what Jesus has promised us.

THE NEARNESS OF JESUS

“As [Jesus] got into the boat, his disciples followed him. Suddenly, a violent storm arose on the sea …” (vv. 23-24).

Right away we find it’s possible to be a follower of Jesus who follows Him straight into a storm. This is something we don’t talk enough about. The context is also important. Right before this story Matthew tells us of two other “disciples” who wanted to follow Jesus but who either didn’t count the cost of following Him or didn’t count the value. Regardless of their hang-ups, those two were safe on the shore while the true Christ followers were scrambling for their lives in the storm tossed boat.

My fears get the best of me when I believe that God delivering me from the storm is more valuable than His presence with me in it.Click To Tweet

But—and this changes absolutely every single detail of the story—the disciples who were in the storm were also the ones who were in the boat with Jesus. My fears get the best of me when I believe that God delivering me from the storm is more valuable than His presence with me in it. We don’t know what today or tomorrow holds, but we can lean into the unshakable reality that He is with us and promises to never leave us. He is able to comfort, speak, guide, and offer peace in tumultuous times.

THE GODNESS OF JESUS

We’ve often used this story to assure others and ourselves that God will calm the storms in our lives. And He certainly can, no question! He’s done it over and over in my life. But I think there’s more to the story here. I appreciate what Dr. Craig Blomberg says, “…the focus of this passage remains squarely Christological—on who Christ is, not on what he will do for us.”1

In Psalm 89:8-10 the psalmist describes Almighty God as the One who is able to rule the raging sea and still the surging waves. The disciples would have known from the Old Testament that the only One who had power over nature was The Lord of Hosts. By rebuking the wind and the waves Jesus was showing His disciples that He is God!

This doesn’t mean that Jesus won’t do mighty things for us during uncertain and troubling times. Of course He will. But what we can absolutely count on during the trials in our lives is that Jesus is God Himself. He alone holds the power over storms, viruses, stock market crashes, and our personal health and finances. It brings me great comfort to remember that just as He brought the wind and waves under His control, so any other storms He rebukes must also obey.

THE HOPE OF JESUS

The other night I read this story out of a children’s Bible to my 9-year-old nephew, Will. He said, “If I was in that storm I would have woken Jesus up and asked Him to read me a bedtime story, because I would know everything was going to be okay since Jesus was there.” And Will’s not wrong. But the question he will wrestle with later in life is, what does it mean for everything to be okay?

My prayer is that he will continue to understand that in Jesus everything will ultimately be okay because of the enduring hope we have in Him. And because of Jesus’ ultimate power over death, sickness, and evil, one day all will be made right and we will dwell with Him forever. In the meantime, He is present in us and through us now to bring redemption here on earth.

We hear this ring of hope in Jesus’ question to His disciples, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” (vs. 26.) I think Jesus was trying to communicate to His followers, though not yet in full, that they were ultimately safe because He had come to conquer the storm of sin through His death and resurrection. He had them once and for all whether He stilled the immediate storm of the moment or not. And He has us both now and forever.

1 Blomberg, C. (1992). Matthew (Vol. 22, p. 150). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.​

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Studying Scripture During Lent

Studying Scripture During Lent

I love when I learn something new, but what I appreciate even more is learning something that helps expand my capacity to learn more new things. My friend gave me a cookbook for Christmas called The Food Lab. While it has recipes in it, what the author really wants you to know is the science behind cooking so you don’t need as many recipes. If you know what types of ingredients go together and how to prepare and season them, the idea is that you can successfully cook without having to follow step-by-step recipes because you understand the basic principles of putting together a good meal.

Studying Expands Our Capacity To Grow

The same is true for Scripture. When we learn basic principles like how to study Scripture, how to interpret certain texts, and what we’re looking for when we study, our capacity to learn increases. Ultimately, the goal is not for more knowledge, but for loving Jesus with more of our hearts and lives.

As we move into a season of Lent—a time when we set aside something so that something new can grow—stretching our minds in our pursuit of Jesus should be a part of our process. Maybe read through a book on the latter days of Jesus, the crucifixion, or the resurrection.

Knowledge Affects How We Live

What I think directly affects what choices I make. And what I think is directly influenced by the knowledge I have.

My brother makes homemade pizzas that are better than anything in town, which is saying something. My knowledge of David’s great pizzas had a direct impact on the choice I made on Super Bowl Sunday to possibly have six slices. What I know affects my behavior. (I also happen to know that six slices makes me gain weight, which I really don’t want to do, but that’s another issue for another post.)

The more I understand about Jesus, His nature, His power, His love for us, the role He plays in history, His desire for those in my life to know Him, the more my life choices will be impacted.

For instance, knowing what Jesus says about our treasures in Matthew 6:19-24 changes what I do with my money. Listening to what He teaches about the worthlessness of worry in Matthew 6:25-34 helps me approach my fears and anxieties differently. Understanding what He says about not judging others in Matthew 7:1-6 is a constant reminder for me to look for the good in people instead of being critical.

Knowledge affects my behavior. And knowledge of Jesus not only affects my behavior, but also transforms my heart behind my behavior, especially if I’m walking in His Spirit.

Knowledge Makes Us Better And More Humble Teachers

While knowledge of God and His Word are encouraged throughout Scripture, we also know that knowledge can puff us up (1 Corinthians 8:1). And no one wants to be around a puffed-up person. But if we approach our studying with humble hearts learning new things in Scripture should actually make us more humble as we continue to realize how much more we don’t know. It’s like the phrase, the more I know, the more I realize how much I don’t know.

Learning more about Scripture will also make us better thinkers and teachers. We’ll have more to offer those around us by way of what we’re able to teach them, ultimately so they can grow in the “grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

We’ll also have more confidence when we share with others why we believe what we believe about Jesus and the Bible. We’ll teach and evangelize with humility, love, and kindness, because this is what the Bible teaches. And we’ll know this is what the Bible teaches because we’ve have studied it.

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A Call to Simplicity

A Call to Simplicity

For the first time in 19 years, I stayed in Nashville over the Christmas break. I needed to air out. To clean stuff out. At first, it started with drawers and closets, under beds and inside wicker baskets holding all manner of sewing kits, lint brushes, and emery boards…I don’t think I’ve ever purchased an emery board in my life, but it turns out I have what it takes to become a supplier. Clothing I haven’t worn in a few years, papers “I need to get to” that are past needing to have been gotten to, cannellini beans that would have been savory in 2008—it all went away. I went to Goodwill, I recycled, I returned items I’d borrowed, I gave some things away, I took a trip to the dump. It was wonderful!

Paring down gives you eyes to see what’s important, it reminds you of the meaningful things you possess that you didn’t know you possessed because they were being obscured by lesser belongings, and it creates space for you to best utilize the essentials. What I didn’t realize is that this was a process the Lord wanted to do in my soul as well—paring down to the people and work He’s called me to so I can serve Him more effectively. It had been too long since I’d taken a good inventory.

Relinquishing the Good for the Best

This is certainly not new, but it bears repeating: The good things that tug on us get in the way of the best things. Most everything I pulled out of a drawer or closet was good and useful, but I had better and more beneficial items available to me. The former only got in the way. Similarly, after taking inventory of my year, I realized I’d said “yes” to many good activities that ended up stealing from the best ones I could put my mind and hand to. Whenever we say “yes” to something we’re necessarily saying “no” to something else. While it always pains me to part with something good, the freedom and efficiency that come with clinging to what is best never carry remorse. “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts” (Psalm 90:12).

Unloading the Bad for the Best

Perhaps my favorite trip of the great year-end purge was my drive to the dump. I unloaded items that weren’t fit to be given away or even recycled—they simply needed to go. Like heaving sandbags off a hot air balloon, after removing those items my home felt lighter and airier. Nothing left to trip over or maneuver around. It wasn’t but days later that the Holy Spirit showed me things in my heart and habits in my life that also needed to go. The intangibles like pride and self-reliance, but also the specifics such as too much time on my iPhone, or spending time on frivolous things that rob me of what’s meaningful. I made some adjustments and set some boundaries. These disciplines will help me get rid of what ultimately keeps me from flourishing. I will never tire of the imagery the author of Hebrews uses, “Therefore since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance the race that lies before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

Sorting the Unnecessary from the Necessary

This step overlaps the first one—Relinquishing the Good for the Best—but it’s different in that it requires a good look at the people and work to which we’re called. I plotted out on a piece of paper the major parts of my work that I know I’m called to and thought about the people the Lord has entrusted to me as an aunt, sibling, daughter, friend, or minister. This gave me the clarity to see what the essentials are in my life. The nominal or simply good activities are more easily spotted once we’ve determined what’s non-negotiable. I think of Jesus’s words in Matthew 6:19-21 from His Sermon on the Mount, “Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Oddly enough, treasures in heaven can only be stored up from here on earth. As you consider what are the heavenly treasures the Lord wants you to seek, beware of the competing “good” things, be ruthless with getting rid of the competing bad things, and pare back on all things so you have the clarity to see what’s important. I have a feeling you’ll find more treasures worth living for than I found emery boards. And that’s saying something.

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Slow and Steady Faithfulness in the New Year

Slow and Steady Faithfulness in the New Year

As we untangle the lights from the tree, store our precious ornaments in the attic, and make tentative plans to come off sugar at least until the second week of January, many of us will make resolutions for the coming year.

Charting plans and making goals at the top of the year seem like wisdom to me—no time like January to consider what we want to do with a fresh beginning. But what will prove more significant than the one or two major tasks we hope to accomplish this coming year will be our small, daily, faithful acts of obedience to Jesus. These are what will make a far greater difference in our lives when we pull those lights back out next year (and half the bulbs aren’t working). Our daily obedience to Christ in the seemingly small and hidden places will also put us in the best position to experience our Savior.

ZECHARIAH, ELIZABETH, AND THE NEW YEAR

Though we tend to think of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s account in Luke 1 as a Christmas story, their faithful obedience is also a good New Year’s one. Luke goes out of his way to detail how good and faithful these two servants were (Luke 1:6). He also goes out of his way to detail the plight they bore as a childless couple (Luke 1:7). Can you imagine how many times Zechariah showed up for work for his daily tasks as one of 18,000 priests? Or how many times he ran through his ritualistic duties, offered a sacrifice, or prayed for a worshipper, meanwhile wondering when God was ever going to answer his and Elizabeth’s own prayer for a child? Not to mention their prayers for a long-awaited Redeemer to come and rescue their people. Elizabeth and Zechariah’s daily obedience was being worked out when it’s most difficult to obey—in their trials and longings.

 
How many times do we tire of taking the next right step or simply doing the next thing we know we’re supposed to do? The regular and sometimes mundane tasks of the day can seem like the least likely place for God to show up. And yet isn’t it true that most of the supernatural happenings we read about in the Bible took place in the middle of someone’s otherwise “normal” circumstances. While supernatural happenings solely belong to God, our daily faithfulness and obedience tend to put us in the places where we’re most likely to encounter Him. This is exactly what happened to Zechariah and Elizabeth.
 

A LONG OBEDIENCE IN THE SAME DIRECTION

After decades of serving, Zechariah was chosen for a special task of service in the Lord’s temple. This sacred opportunity came around once in a priest’s lifetime. As Zechariah was burning incense and the priests were outside the temple praying, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Your prayer has been heard.” Those words changed everything for Zechariah and Elizabeth. All those steps of quiet obedience, every faithful act, every uttered prayer had led to this moment. I’m not talking about works-righteousness here or the false idea that if you do the right thing you’ll earn a blessing. No. I’m talking about how much the Lord delights in a long obedience in the same direction (as Eugene Peterson wrote about), and how our small acts of daily devotion make a difference over the long haul.

As we begin a new year, do you find yourself praying the same prayers you were praying last year? Are you wondering if your daily faithfulness and obedience are really worth it? Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story should give you confidence. Not in your ability to be righteous and blameless, but in God’s power to accomplish His good work in your life. Not in your strength to crush the goals on your list for the new year, but in His grace to empower you to take daily steps of obedience, even when they seem small and insignificant. After all, God has been known to show up in the most unexpected places. And we want to be there when He does.

 

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Bible Studies For Your New Year

Bible Studies For Your New Year

As we head into the New Year I hope you’re making plans to study the Bible. So many wonderful tools and options are available and the most important thing is that you choose something and commit to it. If one of my studies could be of help to you I’d love to come alongside you. As you think about what you might want to study, here’s a little information about each of the studies I’ve written and the heart behind writing them.

Finding God Faithful: A Study on the Life of Joseph

I loved getting to write on Joseph’s life because he’s one of the most beloved in all of Scripture. His story has fascinated me since I was a little child sitting in Sunday School. As I’ve grown, so have both my joys and pains, which is why I love Genesis 37-50 even more. Joseph’s story welcomes us with open arms, summons us into the living room and invites us to sit down awhile and listen. So many have found a dear companion in Joseph because his life displays so much of the human experience. We all “get” Joseph on some level. We can relate to him. We’ve probably never owned a multi-colored robe that nearly cost us our lives, or traveled as a slave by camel to a foreign land, but we understand difficult family relationships. We’ve experienced betrayal. We know unfair. Broken dreams have nearly sunk us. And almost every one of us has wondered at some point in our lives, where is God?

Joseph’s story doesn’t necessarily answer all of our questions, but biblical stories rarely do. They actually accomplish something more important. They reveal truths about God, our world, and ourselves, and in doing so sweep us into the much bigger story that’s being told: The saving story of Jesus. No matter what season you’re in, Joseph’s story speaks to all of us. (Teaching videos are available for this study, as well as a teen version.)

No Other Gods: The Unrivaled Pursuit of Christ

People often ask me what my favorite study was to write. While my favorite is typically whatever I’m writing at the time, No Other Gods is definitely what I would call my life-message. It’s the most personal of all the studies I’ve written because I struggled and fought this one out with the Lord years before, and even while, I was writing it. I was thankful to recently add teaching videos to No Other Gods while updating the content because no journey has been more full of blessing and freedom than the journey of turning from the things I’d put my hope and trust in (my personal idols), and being obedient to Jesus. There is nothing and no one like Him.

In this study we’ll spend a good amount of time looking at the Israelites, since they had so much experience with idolatry, while also jumping to the New Testament for a good measure of the power and freedom and healing we have in Christ. If you only do one of my studies, I would encourage you to do this one. (Teaching videos are available for this study.)

All Things New: A Study on 2 Corinthians

I was initially drawn to this letter because of Paul’s thorn in the flesh and the sufficiency of Christ that met him in the midst of his trial. But I realized how much more there was to 2 Corinthians. For starters, the city of ancient Corinth was much like our own modern-day cities. It was a melting pot of electrifying cultural experiences, along with the myriad pitfalls of spiritual depravity. Still, Paul wrote to the church of God in Corinth. Consider that—God’s church in the middle of a booming culture. Through Paul’s letter we see that God’s church is meant to thrive in any city and every circumstance, making his message as timely as ever.

If you’ve never studied 2 Corinthians before here are a few things we’ll explore: What it means to bear treasures in jars of clay; How to meet Christ through a pressing trial; How to open your heart in the midst of hurtful relationships; What it means to embrace the lost and lonely; The joy and adventure of living generously; And perhaps what was most meaningful to me, what it means to live as ministers of the new covenant (the new covenant changes everything, by the way). Because of Jesus the old has gone, the new has come. 2 Corinthians is a great book for the new year and new beginnings. (Teaching videos are available for this study, as well as a teen version.)

What Love Is: The Letters of 1, 2 & 3 John

I was drawn to John’s letters because he speaks refreshingly in absolutes. He tells us what we can know about God and what we can be certain of. He draws straight lines between truth and lies, light and dark, and loving God versus loving this temporal world. John’s letters were written to encourage followers of Jesus to remain faithful to the truth, a message that’s as relevant and needed as ever.

I also love John’s emphasis on the meaning of true fellowship and community. He was big on us loving God and walking in the light in the context of rich community. And I learned a great deal about the doctrines of the Christian faith, which can sound academic, but when pressed into our daily lives are more grounding and hopeful than I could have imagined. John was all about the unfathomable love of Jesus, and he wanted you and me to know Him more than anything else in this world. (Teaching videos are available for this study.)

Nehemiah: A Heart That Can Break

Nehemiah had always been taught to me from a leadership angle (which it does lend itself to), but as I began studying it I realized it’s a book about missions. Nehemiah’s heart for the hurting, suffering, and poor stands out in dramatic fashion as he leaves the comfort and security of the Persian palace for the broken down city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah’s heart for the oppressed and suffering is a reminder to the church that we’re to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

While writing this study I was also working a good deal with a ministry in the Amazon Jungle. The Lord showed me a lot about how Nehemiah’s story is relevant to the work that needs to be done today all over our world. This study addresses teamwork, integrity, generosity, truth in culture, God’s compassion, and much more. It was one of the most practical and tactile studies I have gotten to write. Discover what God has put in your heart to do through the study of Nehemiah’s story. Let God break your heart for the lost and hurting, because a breaking heart is often what God uses to restore the broken. (Teaching videos are available for this study.)

Ruth: Loss, Love & Legacy

Now this study may actually be my favorite. It practically wrote itself, because what more can you add to the book of Ruth? While it has all the elements of an epic story of love and redemption, God as the hero of the story is unmistakable and points us to the coming Messiah as clearly as any Old Testament book does. Plus, it shows us how God is always at work in our lives even when we can’t see it (or how it’s right in front of our face and we just don’t want to accept it). If you’ve ever been devastated by loss, struggled as a stranger, or longed to be loved you’ll find a place with Ruth. She is one of my very favorite women in the Bible. And the way God shows Himself present and faithful—when life’s circumstances seem anything but—is profoundly hopeful and encouraging. (No teaching videos available for this study, so more time to discuss with your group.)

A Place at the Table: Fresh Recipes for Meaningful Gatherings

Okay, so this isn’t a Bible study. Not even close. But it is a great way to get cooking and cultivate community in the New Year! I wrote this cookbook with my dear friend and accomplished chef, Regina Pinto, and it’s a lot more than a cookbook. I had the chance to write about my own life, share gardening and hosting tips and tricks, and also reflect on how nourishing people around our tables fills both bodies and hearts. If you’re wanting to reach out to others in the new year, invite people over, and cook more, I hope you’ll grab a copy of this cookbook. (Hint: the best deal on A Place at the Table is at Amazon.com, LifeWay.com, Barnesandnoble.com)

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