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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A Place at the Table For You

A Place at the Table For You

Day 1: Preparing Our Hearts

As we seek to turn our hearts to the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ, I pray these devotionals will be an encouragement to you, an anchor in a season that thrives on busyness and activity (and materialism while we’re at it.) For some of us the Christmas season is truly one of our favorite times of the year, yet we can blink and miss everything that matters about it. For others, it’s a challenging time when we’re reminded of what we don’t have or all the ways our Christmas can’t measure up to our ideal. No matter how you’re entering the season, we can all find hope and refuge by turning our hearts to the Christmas story and the life-changing message of Jesus. 

We often think that Jesus’ birth begins the Christmas story, but there’s a story before the story. Luke 1 opens with a couple named Elizabeth and Zechariah. Both were from distinguished Jewish lines and both were righteous people who earnestly followed God’s commands. What’s more, Zechariah was a priest in the house of the Lord. In modern terms these are the people who can trace their ancestors back to missionaries or church-planters, who teach the kids in Sunday School, who always have a casserole ready for the neighbors. We love these kinds of people, and if we’re honest we expect that the really good guys should enter Christmas blessed in all the ways we think of as blessed. 

But there was a problem. An ache. A prayer that had long gone unanswered. Luke 1:7 tells us that Elizabeth and Zechariah had no children. Elizabeth was barren, and both of them were old and past child bearing years. Not being able to bear children in first century Judaism was a deep grief not only because of the obvious void, but also because it cost you your legacy in Jewish culture. You were unable to carry on your family name and line. In many ways, it cost you your status in society and even your standing in your religious circle.  

We’d expect Luke to write that because they were righteous God blessed them with a large family, filling every room in their home with children. But that’s not what the verse says. Something that’s always stood out to me about this story is the way Luke puts Zechariah and Elizabeth’s blameless walk before the Lord right up against their barrenness (Luke 1:6-7). I think Luke wanted to tell us many things here, but one is that just because you’re going through a trial doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. And just because you’ve prayed a prayer that hasn’t been answered yet doesn’t mean God has abandoned or forgotten about you.

Scripture Reading and Questions for Reflection:

Read Luke 1:1-7.

  • According to verses 3-4, why did Luke write the way he did and what did he want his readers to feel confident about?

  • What two reasons does Luke give for why Zechariah and Elizabeth couldn’t have children (verse 7)?

  • Are you going through something that seems impossible for more than one reason? What are they?

  • Does it encourage you or discourage you to see that two really good people who were following the Lord also were experiencing a painful void in their lives? Explain.

Morning Meditation: Three Truths Jesus Taught About Bearing Fruit

Morning Meditation: Three Truths Jesus Taught About Bearing Fruit

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5

I grew up in a pastor’s home. This meant many things, not the least of which was a certain familiarity with spiritual vocabulary. For instance, the use of the phrase “fruit bearing” was a normal part of language for me. I remember giving my high school basketball coach a card at the end of our season thanking her for a very fruitful year. This was so weird. What high school junior calls a basketball season fruitful? Well, me. Totally me. Because bearing fruit is a concept I was raised on, and this carried over into my basketball seasons, apparently. The word fruitful might not have gotten any more mainstream since my high school days, but it’s a word I pray will define my life.

When Jesus talks about bearing fruit, I believe He’s talking about the impact our lives are meant to have. 

This past weekend I was in Michigan speaking at a retreat when I happened upon this apple tree. (Please appreciate my climbing skills). One side of the tree’s branches draped over a lake, bombing gorgeous apples into the water. The ones dangling over land and within reach had vanished to other visitors. In my zeal to not leave the state of Michigan without picking one fresh apple I deftly shimmied up a branch. (This was actually not at all how this went, but just imagine me light and agile.) This prompted a reflection on John 15, and three things I learned about bearing fruit.

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1. Remain in the Vine

One of the things that strikes me about a fruit tree is its ability to stand so quiet, without strain or mayhem, while getting things done. I mean, how does a branch produce fruit without the swirl? Do you know what I mean by the swirl? It’s the striving and chaos and energy I often leave in my wake when trying to make things happen, sometimes even for God. In this passage Jesus presents us with an entirely different way.

The word “remain” (abide or dwell) in the Greek means: “not to depart; to continue, to be present; to be held, kept, continually; to continue to be, not to perish, to last, endure” (Vines). The idea is that this is a very restful place to be. If we as the branches remain in Him as the Vine, we draw energy and marrow to produce the fruit He longs to bring about in our lives. It’s all about our attachment and connectedness to Him. This doesn’t mean our lives will be void of activity or the expending of energy, simply that we’re able to draw everything we need to bring forth meaningful fruit that will last. As restfully as a tree beside still waters, because have you ever seen an apple tree freaking out?

2. Embrace The Pruning

Earlier in the chapter Jesus points out that God the Father is the One who prunes our lives so we will be even more fruitful (vs 2). The problem for me, historically, has been quite simple: I don’t always enjoy the pruning process, turns out. Maybe you’re in one of those places where God is refining your character by cutting out a massive tumor of greed or pride. The disease of bitterness is being scraped back. Perhaps that particular false god you were really quite attached to just got lopped off, plummeting to the ground in a most unpleasant way. As I’ve learned a bit about gardening over the years, pruning spares the nourishment of the vine for the branches that are most viable. If God is paring back an area that is presently painful, it is only for the bearing of more fruit—A life of greater impact for His glory (vs 8). So let God do His work and have His way in your life. Don’t resist the hard good He is doing.

3. Expect A Harvest

When Jesus says that if we remain in Him we will bear fruit, this is a promise. Part of the beauty of a fruit tree is that its prolific bounty is an annual and rather predictable offering. No one on the camp grounds seemed all that taken with the fact that this tree had fruit hanging from its branches. In October, the Michigan apple is to be expected. You can count on it. Essential pieces of our existence—like apple cider, apple pie and cider donuts—depend on this reliable reality. How much more can we rely on the spiritual premise that remaining in Jesus means bearing fruit that will last?  In other words, as we abide in Christ we can confidently expect the fruit He will bring about.

May we abide in Him so our activity is peaceful and not full of strife. When the Gardener sharpens his shears, may we let Him have His loving way with us. And as we dwell in the Vine, let us expect the certainty of bearing fruit. Fruit that will last.

Fruit more sure than the autumn apple.

The Power To Believe You Are Loved

The Power To Believe You Are Loved

Morning Meditation, September 28, 2015

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…” Ephesians 3:18-19

This passage of Scripture is not new to me, and perhaps not to you either. It’s one of the “hit” verses of the bible—to know how wide, long, high and deep is the love of Christ. Who doesn’t want to know this kind of love? And yet we often find God’s love for us incredibly difficult to grasp. We just know ourselves too well. We go to bed swatting away critical thoughts, fear consumes us, we’ve given in to our wayward lusts, or maybe it’s the shame of something from our past that seems to be the metal shield off of which God’s love for us will forever ricochet. It’s just so hard to believe sometimes that He really loves us. And even if we believe it in our heads—like we believe our mothers think we’re pretty, because they sort of have to—we don’t know how to coax it into our souls.

Given this common struggle I was intrigued when I noticed a word in this passage I’d never seen before. It’s the word power—as in, the power to grasp the love of Jesus. The Greek word is exischyō and is used only one time in the New Testament. Once. Right here. And it means, “to be eminently able, to have full strength, entirely competent.” In other words Paul is praying that we would have the power, the ability, the strength to grasp God’s overwhelming love because he knew it wouldn’t always come easy.

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Photo courtesy of www.juleeduwe.com photography

 

Paul prayed for the strength to grasp God’s love

Paul prayed that the church at Colossae would be able to grasp God’s love. This tells me that God’s love is so beyond us that we will need His help to receive it on meaningful levels, to truly understand it and believe it in our bones. This inspires me to pray for those who can’t seem to receive the tender love of our Savior, even if they intellectually believe it. It inspires me to pray for myself, that the Lord would give me the capability to more fully grasp how wide, long, high and deep is the love of God. Though God’s love is a gift He lavishes upon us, being able to comprehend that love requires a certain strength, and Paul reveals that he prays for that strength. I believe we should, too.

God’s love is best understood within the community of believers

Notice Paul writes about being rooted in love together with all the saints. Believers in Jesus who isolate themselves from the body of Christ will have difficulty grasping Christ’s love for them, because part of comprehending His love is experiencing it within the community of Christ. I have a friend who’s been going through a hard season with health issues, her husband lost his job, and she and her new baby were recently in a car accident. She told me how our home church has reached out to her in such overwhelming ways that she’s receiving the wider dimensions of God’s love for her in places she’s had difficulty accepting it before. It’s taken the body of Christ to help her experience God’s love for her more fully.

God’s love surpasses our finite knowledge

I see another insight into why I sometimes have a hard time internalizing God’s love for me, really letting it seep into my being. This passage tells us that God’s love surpasses knowledge. And isn’t it typically our knowledge that stands in the way of us believing in God’s love? It’s the knowledge of the hurt in this world, the loss of a loved one who God could have healed, the guilt we can’t believe can be washed away. It’s all this knowledge of our circumstances that sometimes makes His love hard to grasp. Yet at this precise place, the love of Christ surpasses our limited, finite understanding the way a winning runner flies past the competition. Our knowledge, intellect, reasoning, understanding will never, not ever, be able to beat out His love. His love will always surpass what we know.

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The Amazon River in Manaus

My friend Kari recently returned from a trip to the Amazon. When I asked her what her most profound moment was she explained how the Amazon is simply the most vast thing she’s ever witnessed. “I’ve never seen a more magnificent river than the Amazon”, she said. “Overlooking the river reminded me that the love of God is wider, longer, higher, and deeper still.”

And still He gives us the power to grasp it.  

 

A Birthday and Three Gifts of God’s Faithfulness

A Birthday and Three Gifts of God’s Faithfulness

Morning Meditation, September 21, 2015

 “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

I turn a year older this week. What is it about birthdays, especially the adulthood ones that make you reflect on God’s faithfulness? Cherish it, actually. Realize you wouldn’t be here without it. Last night I sat on a friend’s porch over dinner with two of my closest, longest-time friends. We were working on putting the final pieces together for Justice and Mercy International’s Benefit Gala (an organization I partner with in the Amazon), and it suddenly hit me—that we’re the adults in the room. We plan stuff. People occasionally want our opinion. I don’t know exactly how or when I got old enough for this to happen.

The marker of another year causes me to look back on the path from whence I’ve come, aware that all my choices for obedience don’t add up to having gotten me to where God has brought me. In other words, grace fueled any obedience I can claim and made up for everything else. All of us have glimpsed around the room of our lives—be it a job we never dreamed would be ours, a child so unique we couldn’t have imagined him or her up, the ministry calling so beyond us—and realized we just couldn’t haven woven all this together, not to mention redeeming the bad stuff for good. When it comes down to it, there’s really just one word to describe God’s hand on our lives: Faithfulness.

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The prophet Jeremiah points to three facets of God’s faithfulness:

We Are Not Consumed

We have not been snuffed out by our guilt and shame and selfishness. I admit the idea of, awesome, I haven’t been consumed today is not the first grace I think of when I consider God’s love. Still, Jeremiah’s words are both sobering and relieving. My sin could have taken me out a few different times—or as my friend likes to say in Old Testament terms, I could have gotten smote. So just the reality that I am writing these words, and you dear sister are reading them, says we do this because we have not been consumed. Because we are alive. Because of His great love for us.

His Compassions Never Fail

There’s just no telling who or where I’d be right now, or what my community would look like, if the Lord’s compassions were to have failed me at any point. They would have had only fail for a moment, at the wrong time, for things to look so very different. You may feel the same. I think in my younger years I presumed upon the Lord’s compassions, as if they were there for me like oxygen—paradoxically too plentiful to be seen as a treasure. But now I realize God’s never failing compassions are why I have anything at all. As I become more aware of the fragility of life, I am keener to the reality of His mercies. The fact that Almighty God bows His head toward us with compassions is deeply meaningful, but the fact that these compassions never fail is what keeps us alive.

His Mercies Are New Every Morning

It’s the daily dose of His morning mercies piled up from thousands of daily servings that have, one by one, carried me to today. Carried us all here. If the Lord had dolled out His mercies in one lump sum I may have used them all up, clean gone. If there were a limit to His tenderness, I may have outrun it. But every morning brings a fresh batch out of the oven. They are new. They are here today. They will rise on the wings of the dawn tomorrow.

So this week I will turn another year older. I’m looking forward to being with family and friends and perhaps strawberry cake. And I will breathe deeply these surroundings because I have not been consumed, because God’s compassions are present and they do not fail, and because His mercies will be new that morning, and every morning for as many days as God gives me.

Great is His faithfulness.

 

 

 

How To Be Fully Known (And Know You Are Fully Loved)

How To Be Fully Known (And Know You Are Fully Loved)

Morning Meditation, September 14th

Psalm 139:1, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.”

I used to watch the Cosby show as a kid and I’ve never forgotten this exchange:

Boyfriend: “I think I’m going to just spend some time trying to find myself.”

Cliff: “And how long do you think that’s going to take?”

Boyfriend: “About five or ten years.”

Cliff: “In that amount of time you could find yourself and a few other people.”

I remember thinking this was funny but also wondering what in the world this meant. How could someone be trying to find himself? Didn’t he know who he was? Wasn’t he just who he was and that was that? This was before I grew a little older and realized that knowing who I am is more complicated than I once thought.

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Hannah Smith Photography

God Knows Me Even When I Don’t Know Myself

In high school and college, discovering who I was seemed determined by what I liked: sports or theatre or spending time in the library. Who my friends were said a lot about me—or who I wanted to be. But all this shifted around a lot and made me wonder where I fit and who I really was.

Even now I have days where I don’t know why I reacted so harshly to that innocuous comment, or why someone’s kind smile left me sad, of all things. I wonder why I’m anxious in an environment that’s supposed to make me happy, or why some days I’m not quite sure what I even want. Today during my Pilates routine I teared up, for no apparent reason, when a hymn came on the radio (that I listen to hymns while exercising is another phenomenon altogether). What I’m telling you is that I can’t always explain why I think this or feel that, but I should be able to. Right? Because, after all, it’s me. Not fully knowing who I am is such a strange thought because I want to say to me, Hey Kelly, it’s you. Don’t you know you by now?

When I can’t understand myself, God says, I have searched you, I perceive your thoughts, I am familiar with all your ways. (Ps 139:1-3) 

God Knows Me When People Can Only Know Me So Far

Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” I adore people who do this for me. I am crazy about these people who—when I can’t get a handle on what I’m thinking or feeling— reach into the swirl of my being and tug on the one piece of yarn that unravels the whole mysterious ball. So, that’s why I’ve been feeling this way! But people have their limits. Even the super wise, prophetic, godly ones can only reach so far.

When people can’t reach any further into my soul, God says, I created your inmost being, I knit you together in your mother’s womb. (Ps 139:13) 

The Lord Knows Me Even When I’m Afraid To Be Known

Haven’t we all wondered that if we’re fully known we might not be fully loved? Or if we’re fully loved we’re afraid it’s because we’re not fully known? I lived so many years hiding from God what He already knew. My frame was not hidden from Him (vs 15). I was sure the darkness I sometimes felt in my heart, because of what I’d done or what had been done to me, was too dark for Him to peer into. But even the darkness is not dark to God. (vs 12).

I’ve wondered that if I were fully known could I be fully loved? And the whole of Psalm 139 says ‘yes’ to this ache in our hearts with a crescendo. “I praise you,” the Psalmist says in his naked exposure and vulnerability, “because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (v14).

When I’m afraid of what being fully known means, the Psalmist says, The thoughts God thinks about me are precious and vast. (Ps 139:17) 

To be known more wholly than we can know ourselves. To be known more deeply than others can know us. This is the knowing with which God knows us. But do not be afraid…for He loves us wholly still.

 

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