The following was written by one of our student leaders at Impact Campus Ministries, South Bend. This blog post struck me because it speaks to the way God sees us, not how we see ourselves. He is there in our darkest times because we are his, and that is enough! Here is a link to Hannah’s blog Grace Upon Grace.
If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there
The most precious thing I have ever received is the grace of God.
He tells me over and over again that I am Hannah Grace, he shows me grace; grace upon grace. He did not just show me grace as a one-time act when he died a brutal death for me on a cross. Yet even if that was the only time he showed me grace, it would be enough for me to bow down on my face and worship him out of complete reverence & thanksgiving. The crazy thing is, his grace does not stop there. That is what baffles my mind. He gives me more grace. Every. Single. Day.
I love Psalm 139. David expresses how intricately the Lord knows us. David states, “You have searched me and known me!.. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it all together…”
The part of the psalm that really blows my mind is when David says, “If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” When I read that, I think, boy! How many times have I literally made my bed in hell and camped out there for a while because I had a bad attitude, was being selfish, and totally not acting like a precious daughter of God. Way too many times. Instances come to my mind where I have pouted with where the Lord was leading me. Most recently, all semester I have pouted about how difficult nursing school is, & why the Lord did not lead me to a Christian college. I could go on about so many other moments where I have acted far from Christ-like, and by doing so, literally bathed in my sin, then made my bed in hell and slept there. I got comfortable relaxing in a place that is so far from God. For that, I am so sorry, Lord.
And yet, the scripture says, “If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.” Wait, what?
You mean to tell me that when I am a pouty, selfish, untrusting, unfaithful, little girl, the Lord follows me there too? He just is not with me when I am making him proud, but he is with me when I am “failing” miserably in trusting the Lord. That is grace.Praise the Lord that he pours out his grace upon his children each morning. I try so hard to follow him and fall short. Praise the Lord for his grace stacked upon grace that stacks up so high that it bridges the gap between me & my failures and the righteousness of God.
“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” John 1:16
Tagged: Christianity, Faith, God, Grace, Psalm 139, Students
Practicing the presence of God on an hourly basis is a difficult habit to attain at times. We get so busy with our activities and thoughts that we often forget God’s presence. One of my best friends, Jon, said it like this: seeing the sunset and taking a moment to thank God and acknowledge his hand in it, that’s practicing the presence of God. Talking to God and saying “I don’t understand what you are doing here God, I trust you, but I don’t get the plan here, and I am not sure I like it,” that’s practicing the presence of God.
Brother Lawrence was a monk in the middle 1600’s who sought the presence of God even in the mundane daily chores. As a practicing monk, they adhered to the hours of prayer every three hours, but he sought God’s presence even in the between times. He sought God’s presence as he prepared meals and washed the dishes. What it comes down to directly is forming good habits.
At our house, we have 2.5 acres to mow and many trees to work around. It also gives me plenty of opportunities to practice the presence of God by looking around at the beauty of creation, looking at how many things I have to be thankful for, but I also can go through a chunk of my day without my mind turning to God… unless I am purposeful about it.
Paul writes in Philippians 4:8-9 “Finally brothers (and sisters) whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is any worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
Paul set’s the example of how to keep his mind on the presence of God. Think back to the numerous times he has been in prison. What is he doing? He writes to all of the churches about how to live the gospel of Christ in a world controlled by the Roman Empire. Or let’s go to Acts 16:22-25 “The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”
How often can we think about the things of God in the day? Maybe it’s a short prayer for a friend or family member as their names come into your head. Perhaps it is a quick “thank you God for the rains you sent but a huge thank you for the sunshine today.
Frank Laubach a Christian missionary wrote in one of his letters “Can I bring God back in my mind-flow every few seconds so that God shall always be in my mind as an after-image? I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering this question.”
Take a few moments each hour and think on the things of God. Maybe it is his love, his grace or his mercy, or say a short prayer for whatever happens to be on your mind. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to turn your thoughts to God, and see how this helps shape and mold your day… even if it is doing routine tasks like Brother Lawrence.
Sorry for the delay in posting this week, we have had two separate internet issues that has kept me offline for most of this week.
Taking a look back at the cultural climate in the decades after Christ was crucified there is a distinct difference between the culture of the Roman Empire and the followers of Jesus. When Rome enveloped a country or a city it left an unmistakeable imprint, usually make vast improvements. Even the most remote cities had beautiful gyms, arenas, gardens, spas, and running water. Despite the wealth and beauty, it was also a time when you could charge someone with being a Christian simply by writing up a bill of complaint and presenting it to the local magistrate.
And yet the Gospel of Christ continued to spread.
The very nature of Christianity was so contradictory to the Roman culture that Christians were tried and tortured… unless they recanted their faith and offered incense to Caesar and the local deities.
In an Empire where Roman citizenship often meant status and wealth, Paul writes in Galatians 3:25-29 “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons (and daughters) of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
These words are what circulated all throughout Asia Minor, seeming to undermine the upper classes of Roman citizenship as if it were a call to mass mutiny. This very message of oneness and unity was completely counter the their culture. This message of unity through faith in Christ was one worth dying for. Ignatius, thought to be a disciple of John and successor of Peter as the head of the church at Antioch, was executed for his faith in Christ sometime between AD 98 and AD 117. He wrote letters to the little communities of believers as he was escorted to Rome by a host of soldiers begging the Christians to remain steadfast in their faith, reminding them that they should be united together.
In the end, Ignatius wrote as approached Rome “On land and at sea, by night and by day, I am in chains with ten leopards around me—or at least with a band of guards who grow more brutal the better they are treated. However, the wrongs they do make me a better disciple.”
We live in a similar culture that does not understand our faith and doesn’t play by the same set of rules. Our gospel is the same as that of Ignatius, John, Peter, Paul, and Jesus but is it up to us to decide what to do with it. Do we work hard to be united in Christ? Do we run from our faith in times of crisis and persecution or do we stand firm? Do we approach things with the love and peace of Christ, proclaiming the truth of Christ in any and every opportunity?
We are a part of a broad community of believers that stretch aroudn the world. The spread of the gospel in the early years is a direct result of Christians how hose to stand firm in the faith in the face of death. Remember today those that are still persecuted, losing their lives for their faith, and that we all would remain steadfast, showing the love of Christ.
Definition of margin:
1: the part of a page or sheet outside the main body of printed or written matter
2: the outside limit and adjoining surface of something: edge at the margin of the woods continental margin
3 a: a spare amount or measure or degree allowed or given for contingencies or special situations left no margin for error
b (1): a bare minimum below which or an extreme limit beyond which something becomes impossible or is no longer desirable on the margin of good taste (2): the limit below which economic activity cannot be continued under normal conditions
c: an area, state, or condition excluded from or existing outside the mainstream
“Margin” is a word that can be defined in a variety of ways. I want to use it here in the sense of creating “a spare amount” of space in our lives. Creating margins for ourselves is not something that our culture is particularly good at. We like to stay busy. We are proud of being busy. It signifies that we aren’t being lazy, that we have a lot of important stuff going on. I think we equate being busy with being successful. In ministry, we are sometimes busy because there is an endless list of things to get done and people to minister to.
When we create margins in our life we are saying that there is a limit, an edge to the things we fill our time up with, we are creating space. The hours of any given day are filled with endless things that demand our attention. After our jobs then there is tv, Facebook or other social media, the internet, emails to catch up on, bills to pay maybe homework to do and finally sleep. Where do we fit in time for our spiritual life, what part of the day does Jesus get? Being intentional in our walk with Jesus requires making space in our hectic schedules, creating margins.
Many times a day that had the potential to be bad and hectic has been filled with peace because I was intentional to take time at the start to focus my heart and mind on that which matters most, Jesus. Jesus did the same in Mark 1. Jesus is surrounded by people wanting his attention, wanting to be healed. his renown was starting to spread and Mark writes in 1:35-36 “And rising very early in the morning while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and thee he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him…
Jesus created space to spend time alone with God on a regular basis probably on a daily basis. If Jesus needed to have margins how much more do we need margins? If Jesus needed to go to a place where he could quiet his soul, how much more do we need it?
Luke 5:15-16: But now, even more, the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate placed and pray.
What do you need to say “no” to in order to create space in your day for God?
Henri J. Nouwen writes in his book Making All Things New: An Invitation To The Spiritual Life “The Spiritual life is not a life before, after, or beyond our everyday existence. No, the spiritual life can only be real when it is lived in the midst of the pains and joys of the here and now. Therefore we need to begin with a careful look at the way we think, speak, feel, and act from hour to hour, day to day, week to week, and year to year.”
I love this quote from Nouwen because that is exactly what a life that is intertwined in a relationship with Christ looks like. A Spiritual life that is found in the day to day existence of reality. If you were to do a search of the Bible, you won’t find the words “spiritual life” because the Jews never viewed the spiritual life to be separate from life, it was life.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Our daily thoughts and actions are the arena where our faith is lived out. It is in that daily pursuit of Jesus where we will be transformed, in the way we think, speak, feel and act.
There is another aspect to that verse and that is the idea to put into practice the things they have seen Paul do. He tells the people at Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:1) to imitate him as he imitates Christ. I can think back to the many times I would imitate my dad, just to be like him. The disciples of a rabbi sought to imitate their rabbi in order to be like him, wanting to have the same relationship with God that he did.
Why don’t we imitate those who have the kind of faith and relationship with Jesus that we wish we had?
Take a moment and think about someone you know who lives a life of faith. Get to know them, spend time with them, find out the things they do on a daily basis in their pursuit of Jesus. Imitate those things that they have put into practice.
What can you do today to take one step closer to Jesus?
Defining words and ideas down to easy to remember phrases can be difficult especially when we interpret the same words in different ways in church or in campus ministry. In our campus ministry (Impact Campus Ministries) we describe the word disciple in 6 words.
Disciple: Submitted to Jesus, becoming like Him
Simply, a disciple is someone who has submitted to Jesus and seeks to be more like Jesus every day. This is a lifelong journey, and it doesn’t end at age 30, or 55, or 75. No matter who we are and where we are in our faith, we can always become more like Jesus today than we were yesterday.
That brings me to the word discipleship. We define it at Impact as imitating a mentor who imitates Christ.
For a first century Jew, to follow a rabbi meant to “be covered with the dust of his feet.” When Jesus called His disciples, it was implied that they would begin this process of becoming like Him by following closely in His footsteps. They would try to imitate everything Jesus did to become like the Jesus in his walk with God.
Paul himself says in 1 Corinthians 11:1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
Or Hebrews 13:7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
Now with this is also a call to step up to the plate. We are called to look for others who are stronger and further along in the faith to imitate. Paul said to imitate him only as he imitates Christ. This fits in well with the example from History of the disciple following his rabbi closely.
Who are you imitating?
The next challenge then is who are we discipling and what do they see in us that they imitate? That might be a bit scarier to think about. If we were to step back and see our whole day laid out before us, are there things we wouldn’t want others to imitate because they were not Christ-like? That is part of the growing process, casting aside the things that are not of Jesus.
Focus Text For The Day
We often look at Matthew 28:19-20 as an evangelism passage but I believe it to be a discipleship passage. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” This sounds a lot like imitating a mentor who imitates Jesus. Just as Jesus was the teacher to his disciples, they were to go and make disciples who would imitate them, keeping the commands and the teachings of Jesus just like they did.
Who are you discipling?
We are continuing on from the last post Desert Part 1 where we discussed how God uses the desert we go through in life to shape and mold. There is a passage from Isaiah 32 that has new meaning since my Israel trip in 2016. If we stop and look around at the people we know in our church, and in our community, we will see so many who are in deserts of their own. As followers of Christ, we are put in a unique situation.
Isaiah 32:1-2 reads:
Behold, a king will reign in righteousness,
and princes will rule in justice.
2 Each will be like a hiding place from the wind,
a shelter from the storm,
like streams of water in a dry place,
like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.
Jesus being the only King who actually reigns in complete righteousness, then we as heirs of God and disciples of Jesus would be the princes (and princesses) who rule in justice. I don’t think this is justice as we would understand it in the court system. The words of verse two suggest what it looks like to rule in justice. We are to be like a hiding place, a place of refuge, a refreshing stream and the comfort of the shade. Never is this made clearer than when you are in the heat, rocks, and sand of a literal desert.
As followers of Jesus, are we these things to those who are in the desert?
We can walk along side of those who are struggling, those who are in deserts for what ever reason. We can be comfort, peace, love, we can be the shade of a great rock or the stream of water, and we are definitely in a weary land right now.
This doesn’t mean we try to rescue people from their desert, or bail them out of their circumstances… this is important… they still need to go through it to be shaped and molded. We all do and it is usually no fun. But, how much better is it to have someone there to lift you up, to encourage, to show empathy, to show love, to walk beside you. That is what I feel this passage calls us to.
This is one of my favorite photos from my trip taken at Ein Gedi after a long hot day in the desert. This oasis pops up out of now where and is a refreshing relief in the Judean Wilderness. It is a reminder that I can be an Ein Gedi to others, or I can let them suffer through their own desert alone.
Who can you be an oasis for? As you encounter people today, tomorrow, this week, ask God to reveal those in your path that you can uplift and encourage. Ask God to be an oasis to someone.
Deserts are hot, there is no way around it, and the heat just radiates off of the sides of the rocks and sand. If we think Indiana summers are hot, we haven’t got anything on the heat of the desert.
On our Israel/Turkey trip last year we spent several days in the desert wilderness. One thing that was amazingly clear to me was the amount of water needed to survive the heat and dryness. When ever we would come to the slightest bit of shade it would feel like a drastic temperature difference.
We had a significant benefit that the Israelites did not have in their 40 years of wandering. We had water packs that could carry a three or more liters of water, we would return to an air-conditioned bus after our hikes then head to a hotel to eat supper, shower, and sleep.
There is an obscure passage in Exodus that I know I have read before but never really realized the significance until I was in the same desert the Israelites were in.
Exodus 13:17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”
The path through the Philistine country would have been shorter with plenty of water and food sources. The land was lush and green, running along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. So why would God lead them into the desert? He led them into the desert to shape and mold them into his people. The land of Goshen in Egypt is one of the most fertile places on the planet. Recent Science estimates that the topsoil depth of the area is between 70- 100 feet deep. The second most fertile place on the earth is in Iowa with around 6 feet of topsoil. When faced with war, I can understand why they would return to Egypt when they lived in the most fertile place on the planet.
The Israelites needed to learn to trust God, they needed to become his people so they could show to the other nations the One true God.
The question becomes what desert has God taken you through to shape and mold you? God loves us so much that he works to shape and mold us and helping us grow in our faith. We can trust his love, and hold on to the hope that above all else, he loves his people. This was one of my favorite lessons from the desert.
Hear O Isreal, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might, and love your neighbor as yourself.
Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow