The Bible

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Luke 24:44

As I’ve progressed in the study of the Bible, I’ve learned that the entire Bible teaches us about one subject – Jesus.  From beginning to end Jesus appears.  He is part of the creation team, the angel of the Lord speaking to Hagar, the prophecy of Isaiah, and so much more.  So, when Jesus, after His resurrection, reminds the disciples that His death fulfilled all that the Old Testament taught us we should be spurred to investigate further.

He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. Luke 24:46-47

You can buy a Bible that only includes the New Testament.  But that would be like getting dropped into the middle of a battle not knowing why it started and which side you should be on!  And while there are so many great lessons and the message of salvation in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John the full weight of those gifts lies in the cornerstones set in Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Isaiah and more.

It’s believed the first book of the Bible written was Job, around 2000 BC. After that the 10 Commandments and then the Book of the Law were placed in the Ark of the Covenant around 1000 BC.  The New Testament books were written about 50 AD.   Emperor Constantine commissioned the Codex Vaticanus, considered the original entire Bible, in 312 AD.  And in 1381, John Wycliffe defied church authority and began translating the Bible into English and distributing handwritten books to laypeople.  With the advent of the printing press in 1455, the Bible began its journey to being one of the most popular books ever printed.

I’m so thankful God took His Word and through man put it in this book we call the Bible.  With it we can learn about His character, His promises and fulfillment of them, His expectations, His plans for us.  My Bible sat for years gathering dust, not respecting its long history and those who died to make it accessible to all.  It seemed unwieldy and confusing.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit, teachers and the fellowship of Christians I’ve come to see the beautiful story, the amazing truth of Jesus, Son of God.  The Bible is a living document, one which grows with us as we dig deeper into our faith.

Today on this great day of Thanksgiving in the United States I want to spur you to open your Bible.  To read the history of our broken world.  To read the entire, true story of a God who loves us.  Of a God who never leaves us.  Of a God who promises to deliver us from our sins.  Of a God who sent His son to be sacrificed so that we will be brought home, cleaned and forgiven.

Mercy

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. Lamentations 3:22

I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life.  Mistakes that have hurt my husband, my children, others I love, friends, strangers and even myself.  My sins pile up each day, the cessation of which I seem wholly unable to accomplish.  And I’m not alone.  

We are a fallen, sinful lot, us humans.  If we were to take a moment, right now, to think about last week, how many times did we tell a lie, no matter how small?  How many times did we demand to be first, rather than last?  How many times did we put our pride over another’s need?  How many days have gone by that you haven’t forgiven your mother, sister, friend or even that stranger who cut you off on the road?

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Psalms 51:1

There have been a number of attempts over the years to try and convince society that original sin is just a myth.  That man is really a naturally good person.  In the 1800s a man by the name of Robert Owen decided “none are or can be bad by nature.”  So, he set out to create a utopian, socialist society in New Harmony, Indiana.  That experiment lasted just three years before it collapsed.  The reason?  Sin is not the result of some outward set of problems or circumstances that cause us to  “go bad.”  No, it’s because we are by nature sinful.  One only need to look at the answers to my questions at the beginning of this post!

Someone was talking to me about the concept of “being true to our authentic self.”  It was in reference to accepting immoral behavior as good and right.  But I have to tell you, my “authentic self” pops through quite enough already and gets me into plenty of trouble.  I’m just incredibly thankful that at the end of each day as I lay my head down to sleep, I can ask for mercy and forgiveness.  And it is given freely.

Innovation & Creativity

…and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze,to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. Exodus 31:3-5

As I sit here writing this installment of 30 Days of Thanksgiving, I am reminded of a day over 30 years ago as I sat in front of a new Macintosh computer.  As a journalism major at San Diego State University, I was fortunate to be able to use the brand new, one of a kind Macintosh-only lab situated in my college.  Today, I use an incredibly fast and powerful laptop.  But back then that little box with a tiny gray screen and it’s smiling Mac face could barely allow me to save a single five page document on a single sided diskette.  Over the next three years I saw that little Macintosh evolve into a computer with an actual hard drive that could store quite a bit more data.  But compared to the mega computer that is now called my Iphone, it paled in comparison.

God’s gift of innovation and creativity has led to amazing advancements over our 1,000s of years.  The tiny spark of fire and the invention of the wheel were legendary, but history will probably record the last 30 years or so as ones where our unique ability to dream and create new solutions to heal, communicate, build, and more has been some of the most influential yet.  While I was tinkering around with that tiny Macintosh my parents were still trying to get used to their new answering machine and microwave oven!  And look at us now! 

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

A bird creates a perfect nest for her eggs.  But she won’t ever dream of how to make it better.  Her instinct tells her one way to create that nest – which might not withstand a storm.  With our gift of innovation, we learn why buildings collapse in earthquakes and seek new designs and materials and even the best sites upon which to build.  We are a creating people – in the image of God, the Great Creator.

I am not an inventor but I am the type of person always looking for ways to streamline or how to “do it better.”  From cooks who seek to adjust recipes to be healthier to the farmer who discovers new ways to increase crop yields and the doctor who discovers a pattern in a disease to the scientist who turns an Amazonian plant into a cure, we humans always seem to be seeking the best way, the new way, the different way. 

I thank God today for the innovative and creative spirit He placed in us.  Our lives have all been blessed with each leap we take forward into the future.

Written Word

Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water.  And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant – the Ten Commandments.  Exodus 34:28

As a college student, I majored in journalism with a minor in English.  You could surmise I enjoy the written word so much I wanted to make a living at a job that required a lot of writing.  I dreamed of one day writing a novel or even a regular column in a magazine.  And although neither of those has happened (yet!) my eventual career path in public relations saw me using those skills in abundance. 

The degradation of the written and spoken word these days drives people like me a bit batty.  Not only do people rarely speak face to face but they also don’t write much.  Text messaging has broken all the basic rules of the written word with shortcuts such as “lol” and “brb.”  But I suppose it’s just another step in the evolution of God’s gift to us of language and the written word.

Write them (the Commands) on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates,” Deuteronomy 11:20

There are currently around 6,000 different languages spoken around the world. It’s been estimated that it would have taken at least 100,000 years for a single language to have diversified that much. That would take us back to the middle of the Stone Age according to BBC Science Focus magazine.  But archeologists have found languages written in Mesopotamia dating back to the 8th millennium BC.  God has been at work helping us communicate with each other for a very long time!

When we think about Moses writing the Bible about 1500 years before Jesus’ birth, we should sit in awe at the beauty of it all.  The poetry, symbolism, logic, history and storytelling have guided millions upon millions of believers.  I’ve marveled with my Bible study ladies at the sophistication level of the apostle’s letters to the churches.  Their ability to use the written word to educate, admonish and encourage people for thousands of years must be the envy of any author.

God has always provided what we, as humans, need to survive and thrive in this world.  His gift of language and the written word has catapulted us ahead of all the biological life on Earth.  I thank Him not only for the Bible but for all the poetry, novels, history books, songs, letters, phone calls, conversations and yes, text messages that have been made possible because of His love for us.

Stars

The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. 1 Corinthians 15:41

I have always been fascinated by the stars.  In fact, for many years I longed to be an astronaut so I could travel beyond our atmosphere and see the stars from a different vantage point.  It’s strange to realize that the average person probably knows little to nothing about the beautiful lights that grace our heavens each and every night.

When we got our current dog, Tucker, I insisted that my husband and I walk him each night.  It’s become a wonderful time for us to recap our day and spend time together.  We have a route that takes us around our block and through a local park.  And as we approach an open space area we stop and marvel at the heavens.  Orion’s belt, the Big Dipper, Venus, Mars, the moon all wink back at us, along with thousands of other beautiful pinpoint lights.

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  Matthew 2:10

Of course, this time of year stargazing takes on a special meaning.  It’s a reminder of God’s sign to the world that something amazing, His long-given promise, was about to unfold.  It was a perfect way to announce our Lord’s birth.  A unique bright light from the heavens for all to see.  Some would accept it as a miracle while others still today consider it a threat to all they hold dear.

I thank God for those millions of tiny lights in the sky.  When I turn my face upward I know I’m looking right at God’s wonder, glory and authority.  It’s His way of telling us there’s more to this plan than just the Earth.  The heavens and its stars are endless, just like our Almighty God.

Gifts of the Spirit

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 1 Corinthians 12:4-5

A friend of mine and her husband recently participated in a church workshop which helped them identify their various gifts and strengths.  While doing her homework for the workshop she reached out and asked me and a few friends to help her identify three values she’s passionate about and three abilities she has.  I think it surprised her when all three of us identified the exact same qualities.  What was interesting was that she, herself, was struggling to do the same.

For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:8-10

I think so often as Christians we get caught up in this list of gifts from 1 Corinthians and forget what else this chapter says.  We are all given the Holy Spirit and we all are given gifts to assist the body of the church. So, when our friends tell us one of our gifts is being trustworthy or loyal or even diligent or empathetic, we might not see those as important as one of the “Big 9” and therefore not as worthy. And yet I will tell you having a person managing the church funds whose gifts are trustworthy and diligent is incredibly important!

I’m so thankful that God gave me the gifts of being organized, able to multitask, a love of writing and teaching.  I can’t interpret tongues but thankfully none of the jobs I’ve had, both volunteered and paid, required that!  I would love to stand on my church stage and be able to sing you a beautiful hymn but that’s just not going to happen.  What I can do, however, is thank God not only for the gifts he has bestowed on me, but the ones He has given others.  Together we make up the talented body of Christ.

Beauty

Three sons and a daughter were born to Absalom. His daughter’s name was Tamar, and she became a beautiful woman. 2 Samuel 14:27

While I was visiting my daughter’s family about a week ago, we took a stroll through the Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis.  As far as botanical gardens go late fall isn’t the ideal time to visit.  However, this large tribute to God’s botanical world has a number of year-round gems.  Their tropical greenhouse exhibits seemingly endless unusual flowers bursting forth in yellows, purples, oranges, reds, and greens in all shapes and sizes.  Around each corner is yet another example of God’s gift to us of beauty.  And if that wasn’t enough a walk through the Japanese garden section sees an explosion of fall colors with fiery red Japanese maples and an array of colorful mums.

Missouri Botanical Gardens

While many lessons in the Bible warn us of making beauty an idol, that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the beauty of God’s world.  Beautiful women mustn’t rely on that beauty but instead have an inwardly beautiful heart.  And the riches of the world – shiny gold, silver and diamonds — cannot be the treasure we most desire.

But one read through the description of the new Eden in Revelation reveals God’s desire for us to live amongst His gift of beauty.

The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. Revelation 21:19

God didn’t have to make such a colorful, beautiful world.  Everything could be black and white.  So, on your next walk around your neighborhood give thanks to a God who loves to place color and beauty in our lives.  From the tiny pink flower nestled in the sidewalk crack to the glorious red and orange evening sunset and the beautiful bluebird to the spectrum of colors that make up our human hair, God’s gift of beauty is one that has little reason yet brings so much joy.

Self-Improvement

She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants. Proverbs 31:15

Over a year ago, my Bible study group embarked on a 90 day adventure into the world of the famed Proverbs 31 woman.  Each week we studied a verse which described a woman who took care of her husband, made sure her household was up to snuff, bought and planted land, and even had her own business.  Throughout the study we were challenged to look at our own lives and see where we needed to improve.

She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. Proverbs 31:17

If you go into any bookstore or do a simple search on Amazon you’ll find 1,000s of book titles which focus on self-improvement.  We seemed to be always looking for ways to get slim, have better skin, increase our muscles, learn more, and take on new hobbies.  I find it so fascinating that God placed in all of us this self-improvement desire.  And while we may not act on any of those desires, we certainly dream about them!  Isn’t that what we do every New Year’s Eve?  Making our mental lists of how we plan to improve our lives.

She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Proverbs 31:27

As Christians we know this self-improvement nugget God has placed in us is really His desire to have us grow closer to Him.  To seek His will for us.  To turn our bodies and minds over to Him.  I’m so thankful for that Proverbs 31 study He sent our way and all the ones since.  His gift of self-improvement helps me become the woman He wants me to be.

Courage

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

There’s certainly a lot of courageous people in the Bible. After Moses’ death, God commands Joshua to take the Israelites into the promised land – not knowing what to expect.  God reminds Joshua that with every step, He will be just ahead of Joshua paving the way. 

The dictionary definition of courage is: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.  But that doesn’t really do “courage” justice.  There’s plenty of people who build up their courage to do really stupid things.  And without consulting God on our next steps how can someone really “withstand” fear and difficulty?  

Courage is one of those mysterious uniquely human gifts.  A gift that is frequently used wrongly when the Holy Spirit isn’t involved.  I find when I’m telling myself to be brave it’s a signal that I need to start praying.

Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord. Psalm 31:24

Awhile back I challenged a group of friends and acquaintances to embark on what I called The Boldness Challenge.  I asked each of them to make a list of five things they’d like to accomplish.  And then, they were to start working on each of them, reporting in occasionally.  For some it was digging deeper into their faith. For another it was completing the John Muir Trail.  From starting a business to learning to fly, the lists were incredibly diverse!  One list included forgiving certain people in their lives. Each person had been putting off tackling a dream or a goal.  All of them would need God’s courage to move forward.

I’m so thankful that when I know I’m going to encounter a difficult situation or embark on a new and scary adventure I can count on God for the mysterious courage.  The Holy Spirit wells up inside me and gives me the strength to take that step forward.

Fiery Trials

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 Peter 4:12

There’s a famous line in the movie Animal House, “Thank you, Sir!  May I have another!” which the college students must say as they receive a paddling in order to become members of the fraternity house.  This scene always comes to mind when I read about the trials and tribulations we most certainly will face as followers of Jesus.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. James 1:2-3

James especially brings this message home – not only will we endure trials but we should enjoy them!  Of all the lessons and directives in the Bible I think I find this one of the most difficult.  In my more “infant” Christian stage it could take me months or years to see the blessings from a fiery trial.  But as I have progressed in my faith journey I’m working to shorten that time span.  My goal? To be in the moment of trials asking God to show me the lesson and blessing.  And not only that, to try and be a blessing to others while things aren’t going so well for me.

The dark moments of our life will last only so long as is necessary for God to accomplish His purpose in us.  

Charles Stanley, 30 Life Principles

I  don’t know about you but I’m taking this to heart these days.  I want to accept the lesson as quickly as possible.  And while I’m not begging for trials, I know for certain they will come.  I’m so thankful He has given us opportunities to improve our hearts and minds, our relationships with other people, and with the Creator Himself.  I heard Joyce Meyer say the other day, “When we are in the midst of a trial we get thrown at God.”  And I’m thankful when we are thrown into the midst of the fire He is right there reaching for us.