About Janet

Lover of Jesus, Wife to the hottest man on the planet for 27 years, Homeschooling mother of 4 for 20 years down to my final student. I deeply love God’s artistic skills displayed every day in the sunrise and sunset He has painted for me to enjoy!

Here Comes the Son (November 2017)

“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭130:5-8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Last year Andy suckered me into taking him deer hunting on a school morning while his dad was at work. He hadn’t scored a big buck and needed someone who has a Hunters Ed Certificate, which I possess. (Thank you Salem Junior High PE class).
I’m not the deer hunter of the family as you all know, but I bundled up and trekked with him onto the neighboring federal land to the spot recommended by his dad. As we sat there in the dark, the sun began to appear over the horizon. Andy leaned over to me and whispered, “This is the time, when dad and I hunt, that dad quietly sings, “Here comes the sun. Do do do do. Here comes the sun. It’s alright. It’s alright.”” An old Beatles tune makes a memory for a 12 year old kid that I’m sure will stick with him for the rest of his life of him and his dad hunting.
I read the verse above this morning thinking about all the different occasions I’ve awaited the sunrise, trout fishing at Montauk on opening day of trout season, Easter Sunrise Service as a kid at church, watching the sunrise from my deck, etc.
You know it’s coming, it never fails, and when it comes it will be beautiful and usher in the awaited prize you have been waiting on as you sit there patiently awaiting its arrival.
God is as faithful as the sunrise, actually more so. He is worth waiting on. His love never fails and He is full of redemption- setting us free from all that has entangled us and kept us in bondage. It does not matter how dark the night has been. He will come. We can expectantly wait for Him knowing that what He brings as He rises in our lives will be beautiful and oh so good.
So this morning as you may be sitting in the darkness, waiting for a glimmer of hope. Remember, “Here comes the Son. Do do do do. Here as comes the Son. It’s alright. It’s alright.”
Keep watching. He will never fail!

The Next Chapter Has Begun

My mother in love was an avid reader of Amish love stories. Every year for Christmas, Mothers Day, Birthday, etc. She would text me a list of two or three books from a new series she had started by obtaining book one. If she loved the book, she wanted the whole set so she could finish up the whole story line. My father in love built her a beautiful book shelf that was probably around six feet tall. She filled that shelf full of her collection of treasured books. Often when I would visit her she would mention her books and ask me if I wanted to borrow some of them.

I, on the other hand, am not much of a fiction reader. I love books on theology, Bible studies, and “self help” books. Currently I have four books I am reading or working on (Bible Studies). I tried to get into her Amish books and just couldn’t. But I have found an author that catches my attention for my occasional venture into the Fiction realm, Francine Rivers. I have read several of her books and honestly I wouldn’t mind rereading them. The last one I read , The Masterpiece, has become another favorite book of mine. When it was finished, I was left wishing for more. I had fell in love with the characters and I just wanted to know what the next volume of their life would hold. It is on rare occasion that I put down a finished book and think to myself, “Seriously!?!? is this how this book is going to end?” and wishing the next chapter would start. But it happened the moment I read the last words of that book.

Yesterday was the day my brother in law and my husband had to go and sign papers to complete the sell of my mother in love’s house. Since her death in August our family has been hard at work tying up all the lose ends. A house that has been a part of my memories and life for 28 years is no longer owned by family any more. Earlier this week my husband and I went out to her house to pick up the last few items we needed to get from my mother in love’s possessions. I walked through the house room by room partly reminiscing, partly checking to make sure everything was out. There is the kitchen I learned how to make the Nelson family Tacos dish. There is where her piano sat and I played songs the last time we all gathered there to sing and pray together. There is the bathroom vanity where all her makeup, hair brushes, and perfumes sat. As we walked around outside, I looked out remembering being “very” pregnant with my first born walking around in the back yard during my Father in Love’s birthday party. Then there’s the bedroom window I climbed through, because my toddler had locked me out of their house accidently the few months we had to live with them. I could go on and on. There is a part of me that thinks, “Seriously!?!? is this how this is all going to end a few signatures on some papers, keys turned over, and walking away from the office the transaction all went down?”

This morning bright and early marks the first day of Deer Rifle Season in our neck of the woods. This will be my 27th opening day since I officially became a “Nelson”. My memories of my first rifle season center around my Mother In Love’s house all those years ago. My side of the family never was much for hunting deer. We’re a little more of the boating and fishing type. I did not realize the level of excitement my husband of 11 months would have upon arriving home at his parents house for the weekend of hunting. He was smiling ear to ear, laughing with his three older brothers, telling hunting stories of earlier years. In fact, it kind of disturbed my image of what I wanted my husband to be. “Redneck” wasn’t exactly what I thought I was looking for ha ha. Through the years I have learned to accept the love for deer hunting. I have had my cold hard heart warmed and softened to the whole season that comes each November, laughing right along with the rest of them and admiring the deer they bring up from the woods.

Today’s hunt is the first in three or four years that my oldest son was able to come and hunt on our land with his younger brother and his dad. So I set my alarm for 5 am. I wanted to make sure my men had their stomachs full before they hit the woods. The laughter and joking had a small remembrance of those 27 years ago in my Father and Mother in loves home. Before they walked out the door I took a picture, because that is what you do in times like these. Make a memory. Right before they headed out to the woods I peaked out our window at them standing on the porch. There they stood heads bowed praying for God’s blessing on their hunt and their day, a tradition started many years ago by my Father in love, Gene. He would stand with his sons and pray right before they embarked to their woods thankful for the time, the deer, and the family that was right there that moment. It occurred to me as I watched my sons and their dad standing on our porch that the sequel has begun. The book of our lives may have had the last chapter close of our Mom and Dad Nelson yesterday, but the next book has already begun to be written. My question I asked “Really, is this how this all ends?” can be answered, “Actually this is how the next chapter has begun.”

In the Bible, the apostle Paul wrote to a young man Timothy about that same kind of sequel a couple of thousand years ago. “as I think of your strong faith that was passed down through your family line. It began with your grandmother Lois, who passed it on to your dear mother, Eunice. And it’s clear that you too are following in the footsteps of their godly example.” 2 Timothy 1:5. The chapters of our lives and the prequels and sequels that surround us are written not about the things we had or have, possessions. They are written and continued in the moments of faith passed down through the family line. Just like the one I witnessed in the dark of 5:30 am on my front porch. The strong faith of my son’s grandfather was passed down through our family line. It began even before their grandpa and was was passed on to him, to their dad. And I am thankful that it is clear that my sons too are following in the footsteps of their godly example. Their sequels of faith have only began to be written, the story will never end because God’s faithfulness to us will go on and on and on. Each day it only begins.

Youngest son with this mornings deer. The legacy goes on!

SHINE!!!

The news today… you would have to be hiding under a gigantic rock to not see what is going on. I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not so out with it, I have been a avid Trump supporter this past election cycle. I’ll admit that four years ago he would not have been my cup of tea, but these past four years he has proven himself, presidentially, over and over.

I have found the censorship on major social media platforms maddening, the left wing agenda driven news media scary, and myself, little ole me, insufficient to really do anything of substance to change any of it. Really at times it can be scary. BUT GOD!!

It just so happens that my husband and I have been reading 2 Kings in the Bible on our YouVersion Bible App Plan (if you don’t have it get it!!!) 2 Kings is a history of the Kings of Israel and Judah as they were a split Kingdom. So you guessed it, division, good kings and then bad kings, actually really horrible kings, are accounted for. Times of peace and prosperity, times of oppression, and horrific injustices, blatant evil are all recounted in that book. In light of our current events in America and around the world, some of the accounts can seem eerily familiar. Which is something my husband and I have been discussing on the regular lately. We’ve almost got to the point, in the Bible, where God’s chosen people have chosen evil over God so much that they end up in exile. Oppressed by foreign rulers and taken away to a foreign land. Through a series of events and several hundred years they end up in the time when Jesus appears on the scene as a baby.

This scene has been playing in my mind a lot this morning. In particular a verse written by the prophet Isaiah centuries before that is about Jesus has been resounding in my heart.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭9:2‬ ‭NIV‬‬
https://www.bible.com/111/isa.9.2.niv

Jesus came to the world in a time of great darkness of hearts. Brutality, oppression, injustice, inequality, dishonesty, etc abounded by those ruling a majority of their world, the Romans. Sadly the religious institutions weren’t too far behind them on their abuses as well. But into that scene Jesus appeared. That light broke through and began a revolution that has changed the world and will continue to do so until God’s Kingdom is fully realized. “Your kingdom come, Your Will be done”.

I have no idea where this will go. I have no idea how all this will affect my life, but I also know that the light of Jesus has not been snuffed out by all these events. It cannot be. It goes forward and it fills the earth with God’s glory!

So what does all this mean for little ol me, Midwestern, middle class, mid aged woman in the Middle of the USA? SHINE!!! That light that burst on the scene is still shining and it burns brightly through every Jesus lover on the planet. This is not the time to cower in fear of all the what if’s of the future. This is the time to display the love, the joy, and the peace that won my heart so many years ago. In the end whether Trump is able to prove the allegations of fraud true and the results of the election are turned around or Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take the reigns of our country. I am not to fear. God has always had a plan. I must trust it, and I must do what I was created to do by Him all along. SHINE!!

Thorns in My Flesh: Foot Pain and Anxiety

“Foot pain Sucks!” There I said it. As a person who has suffered with foot issues and pain all my life, it kind of feels relieving just letting that out. My earliest memories of heading to the big city from my very small rural hometown was for the very purpose of visiting a foot specialist. My parents saw my need and did their best to provide the best they could for their flat footed child. Which meant orthopedic shoes. They were kind of special when you are 7 or 8, but by the time I hit my teen years I was fairly certain I would rather hurt than wear anything so ugly, bring on the Nikes and Adidas! But as time went on and the pain increased, my willingness to see pediatrist or orthopedic surgeons that specialize in feet increased. It gets old trying to decide if you would rather stay seated or stand on up and work on through the pain. So began my love for Birkenstock anything, Feet Fleet Shoe stores, orthopedic shoe inserts, ankle stretches, an overnight foot splint to help with plantar fasciitis (takes a little getting used to), etc. It’s amazing the lengths I go to so I don’t have to slow down, sit down, and live with a ton of pain… All this being said, The battle against foot pain still goes on and due to pain in both of my feet, I’ve got an appointment with a specialist this week to see if there are any other tricks up his sleeve that can help…

Being a person of faith, and one who believes that God does answer prayers, and that He still heals today, I’ve brought this issue up to God more than once. I’ve asked for the elders of the church to lay hands on me, anoint me with oil, and pray for me more than once as the Bible talks about in James 5:14. I know God can heal my feet, but for now I tend to view them as Paul did his affliction he mentions as his “Thorn in His Flesh”. 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. Paul asked for God to take it away from him three times and God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” and there is no record of Paul’s thorn ever being removed.

This all came to mind this morning as I have contemplated another couple of “Thorns in my flesh” That seem to stick around, Anxiety and depression. Once again I have found myself going to great lengths to try to keep up with my “self care” regimen of exercise, eating right, prayer, meditation, medication, rest, fresh air, daily confessions of who I am in Christ, etc. Plus the appointments with a counselor… It’s uncanny the parallel between my foot pain and my struggle with anxiety and depression. Probably the thing that sticks out the most is to what lengths I would go to get some relief for both of them. Because whether it’s pain in every step you take or pain in a majority of the thoughts you think, both are uncomfortable and therefore worth being treated the best way you can, self care, spiritually, and with help from the professionals. And just as I have taken my physical foot pain to God and asked for healing, I have done the same with my mind, but I believe part of the reason my struggle has not been totally relieved isn’t because I am doing something wrong. It’s more a matter of God helping me to get a perspective I never had before.

My youngest son has some of the same issues with his feet that I have, sorry son… If he complains of his feet aching, I automatically empathize with him deeply. I’ve been there, as a matter of fact, I’m there now… I can also say that my accepting where I am in my struggles with anxiety and depression, has given me compassion for those who struggle in their mind. I can tell you what little I know that works the best for me to get relief and I can point you to the One who ultimately makes sense out of all the ins and outs of life- Jesus. I know that looking back through the years and seeing the path I’ve walked that His presence and His help is what has made the difference for me, and although I haven’t seen Him come in and zap my mind into always thinking happy thoughts, I have found Him more than enough when I was unable to see straight or find the will to keep getting up and keep going on. In fact, it is in my growing in knowing Him more that I can take the time to stop and appreciate the little things like the changing leaves, my grandson’s smile, laughter with my kids, or the embrace of my husband. All of these are gifts He has given me to show me that it is true, “God’s grace is sufficient for me, and His power is made perfect in my weakness.” Whether the weakness be the aching of my feet or the struggles in my head, I can confidently say, “God and His grace is enough for me.” and “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Psalm 27:13. Because the Evidence of God’s goodness is there, even in our struggles. It’s whether or not we chose to open our eyes to see it.

Orphan No More

Back in the early 90’s the world became aware of the Romanian orphan crisis. I remember, as a college student, surfing channels late at night on my parents TV and stumbling across a news report about it. In 1989 communism fell. Things hidden in the darkness came to light as the world watched news reports of hundreds of abandoned children left in orphanages that were poorly staffed. The bare minimum was done to keep these babies and children alive. I was captured by images of one year old infants in institutionalized baby beds rocking themselves back and forth. There was no one to hold them, no one to comfort them, no one to sing to them, tell them stories, or even call them by name. They had adapted to such cruel circumstances by soothing themselves the only way they knew how. Rocking back and forth with a blank stare on their face.

This morning as I spent my quiet time with Jesus, the image of these children came to my mind. So I open my YouTube app and did a quick search of the Romanian orphans of the 90’s. The first link that caught my eye was a short BBC report of a young man who survived the Romanian orphanage. He was adopted at the age of 11 by an American couple from California. What struck me about his interview was a quote that he said, “I could not adapt to a family environment. My mind was just so used to living in an institution. I was desperate to go back to Romania…” Institution, abuse, neglect… that was all he had ever known. A loving family with his needs being met was unfamiliar and uncomfortable. He talked about how easy it is to spot those who had survived the orphanages. “When you see a grown adult, sitting or standing rocking back and forth or doing something only an institutionalized person would do, you can instantly recognize that person grew up in an orphanage.” The final phrase that stuck with me, “I miss the orphanage. It was my home.” The young man in the report went back to Romania to visit his birth family and he had found that his mother wasn’t able to be the mom he was looking for and he went back to the United States.

Everyone has a past. Everyone has things they wished had never happened or that they had never done. We all are very much like the Romanian orphans of the 90’s. Due to the condition of our hearts, before Jesus, we have become used to the methods to self soothe that we developed through the years (addictions and coping mechanisms), and unfortunately we have let the conditions we came out of become our home, where we feel we belong, deep inside of our hearts. The labels we were given, engrained in us, are what we believe we are. So much so that we find ourselves searching back in where we came from trying to find the missing piece instead of embracing the “New” that Jesus died to give us.

I’ve spent the last week reflecting about my own identity, who I am. It’s not an easy task. Because just as that Romanian man looks at himself as an orphan, at times I tend to view myself as a spiritual orphan, left to my own devices. God speaks to me in His word about how I am to renew my mind, my thoughts, by thinking about the truth of the Word. I am not what I’ve felt like I was. I am who He, God, says I am. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen people…God’s special possession…” or as the Passion Translation puts it “But you are God’s chosen treasure…” When God came to my Spiritual orphanage and found me in deplorable conditions, rocking back and forth trying to feel some kind of comfort for my broken and lost soul, God picked me. He took me out, He cleaned me up and put medicine on my wounds, changed my filthy, sin stained, rags out with His beautiful, righteous garments, and in that very moment Zephaniah 3:17 says the One who Delights in me, God, my Heavenly Father “sings” over me, His chosen treasure. God sings…

It is at this point, the truth of us being His treasure, that you and I have to make a choice. Will we accept the gift we have been given, new life, new identity in Christ, or will we wander about unable to take it all in because we cannot shake the image of ourselves that we have seen for so long? Only to find that what we thought was our “home”, our lives without Jesus, was nothing more than a cold and lonely place far from where God, the one who loves us, wants us to be, with Him, held closely by Him.

Distorted Images Lying to Me

The McDonalds in my home town had warped carnival mirrors by the cashiers when I was a kid. I don’t know if it was because I grew up in a small town or it was the more simpler times of the 80’s, but I can remember laughing at the distorted images of me when I would walk by. My head would either be 10 x’s too big or my stomach would be. That is kind of amusing when you know the truth of what you really look like away from the distorted mirror. I’ve often thought about how that mirror at McDonalds is very similar to a couple of “mirrors” that I’ve had inside of me. They aren’t amusing to look at like the carnival mirrors at McDonalds. They are warped images of what I sometimes think is a reflection of God or sometimes the warped images of what I think is the reflection of the inside of me.

I’ve been involved in a Bible study on Discipleship with a few ladies. Studying my lesson this week has brought the distorted images back into view. I’m not sure where I got the image of God in my head that makes Him angry, watching for my sudden slip up with anticipation of the punishment to follow. Sometimes it’s best compared to the God with lightening bolts that is impossible to be good enough for that I think is watching me. These images are not as prevalent in recent years but occasionally they do raise their ugly head. I found myself this week when I saw the title for this weeks study, “The Disciple’s Lord”. My thoughts of how short I fall from being what I should be and how holy He is started to play through my mind. Then as I read the scripture the things that stuck out to me were that Jesus as “Lord” is first above all. Colossians 1:15-20 points out that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, before all things, holds all things together, the head of the church, the fulness of God. The enemy would want us to look at these images of who Jesus is with a type of “spiritual drunk goggles”. You know the type of goggles the Highway Patrol uses in school demonstrations to show the kids how being under the influence makes you not see or feel correctly. Sometimes we look at the word in the Bible with those kinds of distortions instead of the comfort and encouragement it is meant to be. Jesus as the head , the one before everything is a wonderful thing. If we allow God to remove the “distortion” goggles from our eyes we can see that Jesus being Lord is not what we sometimes make it.

Paul writes in Colossians 1 that He prays that the Christians “grow in their knowledge of God”. The reason being is if we really know Jesus, we will gladly follow Him. Look at the Jesus in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), He is the Jesus who took time for the hurting, the lost, the broken, those wore down by life. Colossians 1:15 says this Jesus is the “image of the invisible God…” When we see the heart of love in Jesus, we see the image of the heart of love of God. As we look deeper and deeper into who Jesus is we see more and more of what God really is like. Jesus before all, Lord of all, is God’s heart of Love ruling over every detail of our life with His Goodness towards us. Colossians 1:12-13 Paul talks about exactly how it is that God accomplishes His Lordship in us. We can never be good enough so He is the one who qualifies us. We cannot overcome on our own so He is the one who rescues us. We cannot, but He can. Because He rescued us from the hold the darkness has had on us and brought us in to His kingdom.

When we take off our distortion goggles or step away from the warped mirror of lies the Devil would have us believe, we see that Jesus’s Lordship in our life, the things He asks us to lay down at the foot of the cross, the things He asks us to obey Him in may appear to be the death of us and they are… But they are the Life of Him. And His life is all we really needed all along.

Really, Where are You Going to Go?

1992 The Summer of Love

I’ve been married to my husband for 27 years now. We met in April of 92 and were married in January of 93 after a whirlwind romance we jokingly call our “Summer of Love”. Looking back at it now we were just a couple of kids. I was 21. He was 19. Yes, I am a cougar. lol. Our first year was a time of two independently minded people trying to figure out how to navigate, decisions and live with our oppositeness. My husband is direct. I am not. My husband lets you know exactly what he’s thinking. I do not. My husband has opinions on almost everything. I have trouble expressing mine sometimes. I kind of like to go with the flow. His characteristics aren’t bad, just different than mine. This difference brought out many late night fights/ arguments, and us dragging our tired butts into work the next day. Because we took it literally when we read in the Bible that we should not “let the sun go down on our anger”. Thankfully, we’ve both mellowed quite a bit in our middle aged state. Our fights are significantly fewer. We’ve kind of came to a place that we fit like a comfortable pair of old blue jeans. Our fight/ arguments/ or as we call them in front of our kids “discussions” are a lot more fewer and far between than they used to be back in the 90’s. But every once and awhile one does explode on the scene. Especially when we are H.A.L.T. (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) Such was the case last Friday.

We had a few choice words for each other. Then a few angry texts to each other. Then I decided I need to go for a drive. So I hopped in my car and drove the mile of gravel to the highway, sat at the stop sign, and thought to myself. “Really, where are you going to go?” The truth of the matter is our occasional blow up cannot outweigh our usual times of loving companionship. I like the sunset drives on our golf cart around our property. I enjoy the runs to town for an ice cream cone. I’m a huge fan of holding hands as we walk into SAMS for our “old people date” of Sushi and shopping. There really isn’t any place I would rather be than with him. So I took a 20 min scenic drive to cool down. Pulled back into our driveway and went back into the house to work out our spat.

This all came to mind as I contemplated my Bible study this morning. It probably pales in comparison, but there may be a slight parallel between my relationship to Rich and God’s relationship with me. ““Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭14:28-33‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Twenty Eight years ago my husband and I began to count the cost of our relationship. Would it be worth it to sacrifice our own desires, our own opinions, our own plans, to be united in marriage? As a couple of starry eyed love sick kids, we agreed it was. We stood in front of friends and family and made a commitment that we would stick together, in sickness and in health, in the good times and the bad times, and our vision for life would no longer be two but one. Jesus is alluding to that kind of cost counting for following Him. “So you want to follow me, you need to think of what this may mean past the glamour of large crowds, miracles, and all the good times. It also means that sometime along the way, you will have to lay aside your desires, take up a cross of death like I do, and follow Me.” Somewhere along the line you may find yourself sitting at the edge of your spiritual gravel road thinking to yourself as you run from where God may take you, “Really, where am I going?” The question is, “is the cost worth what you gain?”

John 6:60-68 is an account of Jesus’ disciples coming to that crossroad as they walked and talked with Jesus 2000 + years ago. Jesus told them in no uncertain terms that being with Him and following Him would mean that they would have to let His life become their own. They would no longer be calling the shots. He would. So “many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching, Who can accept?'”. They decided to turn back and no longer follow him. Jesus then asked the Twelve that were with Him, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”. This was their own time sitting at the edge of the gravel road and open highway hearing the still small voice saying, “Really where are you going to go?” Peter answered this question the way I always hope to have courage to answer Jesus with. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” Where else can I go? Things may not always be easy in the life of following Jesus, but what is the alternative? Do I want to go back to the time before I had Him actively in my life just because I do not want to work the things out in my heart that need adjusted? I love the joy and peace He brings. I love His presence always abiding with me and His power He gives to walk through this life. I appreciate the gifts and blessings He has given me. So for the sake of one or two things that are hard am I really wanting to drive away? What would my life really be like without Him?

Taking advantage of the front bench seat of our truck while listening to our song “Everything I Do” -Bryan Adams

Counting the cost is important. Just like it was for my husband and I twenty eight years ago as we prepared to get married. We promised to never use the “D” word, “divorce”. We would work it out. Jesus wants us to look at our lives of following Him. Obedience and never quitting are not an option. If our commitment is to do just that and Follow Him, He assures us He will give us all that we need to follow through. Because there really isn’t any place we can go. He is the one with the “words of eternal life.”

Considering the Cost- The Spiritual Heart Check Luke 14

Discipleship has been on my heart a lot the past year. What does it mean to be a disciple? What does it mean to make disciples as Jesus commanded us to in the “Great Commission” of the church? Exploration of this topic has brought me to a Bible study workbook called “Discipleship The Growing Christian’s Lifestyle” by James and Martha Reapsom. It’s a pretty straight forward type of study: Look up verses, think about them, answer questions. I enjoy taking time to think about and “chew” on portions of scripture. This study, however, has led me to some of the hardest verses in the Bible for me to wrap my mind around. Luke 14:25-35. They’re all about what it costs to follow Jesus. Modern Christianity, especially American Christianity, seems to focus on all the good stuff we get when we follow Jesus: He wants a relationship with us, He loves us unconditionally, He chases after us and woos us to yield to Him, He heals our hearts, He blesses our lives, etc. All these things are so very true of Jesus and His love for us, but He also says some very hard things in these verses. Things like, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters- yet even their own life- such a person cannot be my disciple.” or “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” Those are both bars set very high by Jesus, Himself, and they aren’t exactly what I would call “Feel Good” quotes.

I think looking at these verses in the light of the Apostle Peter’s life has helped me understand them better. Peter was there when Jesus said these words, and It is recorded that Peter had a mother in law, so this meant he was a married man. Jesus wasn’t speaking of Peter hating his wife. He was setting a comparison of our commitment to Him over the other relationships we have. The Greek for the word “hate” in verse 25 means “to esteem less”. Jesus is first. His direction for our lives and His will comes before any other endeavor. Another thing that strikes me about Peter being a disciple is that when the rubber hit the road and Jesus was crucified, he bailed. Jesus had told the crowds the day He taught on the cost for being a disciple that they would need to “Consider the Cost” of following Him. Peter considered and when the threat was there the first time around, he denied Jesus and ran away. But Jesus doesn’t leave Peter there in his mess. He meets him on a beach days after the resurrection, with a fish breakfast for Peter, who had given up the whole disciple thing and decided to go back to what he knew before, fishing. Jesus didn’t meet him with an “I told you you’ve got to hate your family and give up everything quote.” Instead He asks Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Jesus knew Peter’s heart was desiring to follow Him. It was just a case of the “spirit being willing, but the flesh being weak.” Then Jesus’s promise of the Holy Spirit empowered Peter in his human frailty to be the disciple that Jesus wanted him to be all along.

It seems to me that every time I come across the words of Luke 14 I do a little self examination. Do I love Jesus more? more than my own family, my things, my hobbies, my life… Do I have what it takes to “Consider the cost” and give up everything I have? For someone who struggles with feelings of insufficiency on the regular, these verses rattle something inside of me. I probably feel like Peter did on that beach when Jesus asked him three times, “Peter do you love Me?”. Peter replied, “Lord You know all things, You know that I love You.”

Peter was the fireball preacher on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. He was a major leader in the early church, and he died a martyr’s death. He fulfilled the call that Jesus gave to him despite his internal struggles of his younger years. He literally “took up his cross” to follow Jesus as he was crucified himself, upside down as he requested because he was, “not worthy to be crucified in the same manor of his Lord” But all these things weren’t because Peter was some spectacular guy who could do anything Jesus wanted him to on his own. It was the power of the Holy Spirit inside of him that gave him the power to be Jesus’s “witness/ martyr”.

So back to me and my spiritual heart check. God knows me. He sees inside. My spirit is willing, but my flesh is weak. I need the power of the Holy Spirit, just like Peter did so I can have the power to be a witness as well, and I too can follow Him wherever He leads because Jesus sees deep inside of my heart as well. I love Him and want to be whatever He wants me to be. The Spirit will help me in my weakness just as He helped Peter. So Be it! Amen

The Banquet Invitation

Way back in the 90’s my oldest brother was an officer in the US Navy. I was a young college student. One of my spring breaks I was able to manage a trip to Jacksonville, Florida where he was stationed. The goal was to get to fulfill a lifelong dream of going to Disney World. I also got a once in a lifetime experience. I toured the ship he was assigned to and got to eat dinner in the officers quarters. I felt like I had arrived. The atmosphere of the officers dining room was quite the experience: Formal wait staff, golden utensils, fancy dining room furniture, etc. It definitely impressed this small town, middle class, midwestern girl. It felt pretty good to have connections with a Naval Officer.

I have been thinking about that trip this afternoon as I have contemplated Luke 14. The setting of this passage is a dinner that Jesus attended at an prominent Pharisee’s(Jewish religious leader) house. I imagine there were several in attendance that felt pretty lucky to have scored a seat at the table with a “miracle man prophet” and a man of high position in the Prominent Religious Party of the day. It was enough to stir thoughts in one of the guests who had to comment to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the Kingdom of God”. He probably got the picture of how neat it was to be there at that meal, and how in comparison sitting in the very presence of God at His Kingly table would be.

Jesus took that opportunity to teach a little lesson. In typical Jesus’s style, He told them a parable.

In His parable a man was preparing a great banquet. He was arranging the venue, planning the menu, and getting a list of his guest. He had put a lot into it and when he expected his guests to reply with the anticipated RSVP’s, he got turned down. Replies like, “I’m too busy. Just got married…”. “Just bought a set of five yoke of oxen for me to try out.” (Today’s equivalent of a new John Deere Tractor with all the accessories.). Or “I’ve just bought a field. Gotta settle down and enjoy it.” It was enough to shock the generous host with such snubs.

What happens next surpasses the out of place dining of a small town, midwestern, college girl’s dining in the Officers Quarters of a US Naval ship. The host told his servants to go out and compel the poor, the blind, the crippled, and the lame to come to the meal. When the banquet hall wasn’t full he told them to go to the country roads and lanes to find more guests for his banquet. The honored guests for the distinguished host would be the very people who during the time of Jesus were the lowest of the social echelon.

So why all the fuss over banquets, dining and rsvp’s in Jesus’s parable? This is a reflection of who it is that Jesus calls to be a part of His Kingdom feast now, the very ones He invites to become His disciples. There are those He invites that let their relationships, their possessions, their season in life to keep them from valuing the opportunity of a life time, sitting at a table as a guest of Jesus’s meal. There are those who never would expect to be invited because of who they are and what they have become. He compels the poor with nothing to offer, those crippled by their anxieties, pain, and past. He compels the blind who strain to see past the darkness that envelopes them, and the lame who are unable to stand on their own. Those far away in the places that would never expect an invite. Those are the ones He invites to come. Simply because He wants His house to be full.

I’ve heard many people talk about how they are not worthy of following God and sitting down with Him at the feast of the Kingdom. No One Is! This is the beauty of the invitation. Just as I sat in the US Navy’s Officer’s Dining hall having never worn a uniform or fulfilled any qualifications of an officer. Simply because my Big Brother was qualified to be there, we are invited to sit at the most important event of eternity God the Father’s banquet because our Big Brother, Jesus is qualified to be there and He has compelled us to come and dine. Ours is simply to respond to the RSVP.

Sitting on the Bench or Abide

A little known fun fact about me: I played basketball one season in the 7th grade. Not because I am some stellar athlete… The team was short on girls, they needed someone/ anyone, and I was reminded by a friend just how good looking Coach Johnson was. That alone made my adventure into the realm of athleticism a reality. But alas, his handsomeness was not enough to captivate me for a second season. For one thing, I was AWFUL at basketball, and I HATED running, especially the sprints/ suicides… And an entire season on the bench with the occasional chance and failure to play and make a shot was enough to limit my tenure as a Lady Tiger. Bench sitting is no fun. You practice and practice, running drill after drill. Sitting on the bench is like an insult to all that hard work. I’m not sure which was worse, sitting or actually being put in to play. Being the disappointment of your teammates over and over from missed shots isn’t all that and a bag of chips either…

Me and the Ever So Handsome Coach Johnson. Lol (Not sure what I was thinking…)

I’m not sure if it’s the COVID outbreak with two quarantines, a change in churches, kids growing up and branching out, a death in the family, or just life itself, but I’ve felt like I’ve been benched by God here lately. What’s funny, yet really not so funny, is I’ve invested myself in this Beth Moore Bible study “Chasing Vines”, and as God would have it that is exactly what my Bible study is about. Feeling like you’ve been benched or maybe even pruned. Kind of lying dormant for a season. Transplanted to a different place where God intends for me to produce fruit in the future. Yep, there’s a lot to that.

Tonight’s the first night in I’m not sure how long I’ve had the house alone. I kind of dig it. No TV. No lights except my lamp by my chair. No noise. Just me, this computer, and my Bible app to contemplate life. Better yet meditate on the main verse for this weeks lesson in the study I’m in. John 15: 1-3,5-8 MSG

“I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken… I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.”

Better known to me as the “Abide in me” verses. Thankfully my relationship with God is nothing like my 7th grade Basketball experience. However, the American Christian’s mindset may very well be exactly like it. I don’t know how many times I’ve caught myself running sprints and trying to keep up so I can look impressive to coach… God. Only to find myself so wrapped up in my performance and how it lacks impressiveness. But God simply wants me to “abide”. To rest in Him, be connected to Him, let His life flow into me so I can do what He created for me to do all along… bear fruit, His fruit. The beauty of it all is He aims for an “abundant” harvest in me. It’s all about what He does in and through me. God isn’t a coach who benches, but a farmer who tends and I can expect that His tending to me will bring about Good things in me and around me. Not because of how exceptional I am, but because He is just that Good. And He loves me!