Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Week 1 - My One Word

"Be silent, and know that I am God."  Psalm 46:10 (NLV)

When my son was in 2nd grade, his first year at the local public school, he had difficulty adjusting.  His complaint to me was that his classroom was loud.  Having been in his room a few times, I knew that generally the class was well behaved and not overly boisterous.  What I realized when I went in for a conference was all the visual stimulation, the clutter and busy-ness of the classroom and the fast paced schedule.  It all made it hard for him to quiet his mind enough to concentrate on his lesson.

That was an "ah-ha" moment for me.  It clarified something I had been trying to understand for years:  The world in which we live is loud! And I don't just mean it's filled with noise (which is it!). It's colors are loud, it's demands on our time & energy are loud, we are visually assaulted with images, our schedules scream "hurry up", we talk about the ticking of clocks of self-imposed, culture-imposed, and even biological deadlines (presumably getting louder as time moves on).   All this NOISE makes it difficult, and sometimes impossible, to focus on the important things in life.  We can easily get distracted, off track, and confused. 

We all need to find a way to slow down.  The medical world is finally discovering what God has been telling us for countless ages:  REST.  Rest is essential.  Quiet is necessary.  Let go and let God!  "Be silent, and know that I am God."  Psalm 46:10  

We need to limit the noise of living in order to focus on the important things of life.  The book My One Word will help us do just that.  

This Friday, March 28th, we begin with the video and book series, My One Word.  If you have not yet purchased your book, it's okay.  Most orders from Amazon come within a few days :)  And you don't have to do any reading before our first session, anyway.  Order your book here to support Redeemer Youth, and relax.

If you have your book and want to start reading, here's what I suggest as an order of importance:
1) pg 181-184 Video Discussion Guide (scan the questions, we will discuss them after the video)
2) pg 13-16 Introduction
3) Chapter 1
4) Reflection questions at the end of Chapter 1

After this week, the reading will be important for you.  It is how you will narrow down your One Word, which we will all eventually share with one another.  Sharing our word is essential in being held accountable to it.

I strongly recommend a journal.  While there is often some blank space after the reflection questions at the end of each chapter, it's not very much.  As I was journal-ing today, I found that by writing out what I at first thought was a non-answer, I eventually came around to something more significant.  It was through the process of slowing down to write that allowed me to see what was really going on.  There may be things within the chapter you'd like to make note of, too.   And, you may want to note things that stand out to you in the videos as well, since this is what most of our discussions will be based upon.*
Your journal can be anything, by the way.  It can be an old notebook, a binder with lined paper, or just some paper stapled together.  Whatever you have that you can keep with your book and bring to your computer and/or our sessions.
If you've never 'journaled' before, don't let that intimidate you.  It's just the latest word for writing because the word 'writing' often intimidates people!  It's just writing down what comes to mind, making note of favorite ideas, and jotting down things that bring up more questions for you.  It doesn't require much time, either.  There is no quota of pages to be filled or number of words.  Put your thoughts on paper - there is no judgement or critique.

*If you are following on-line and not attending Friday mornings, start or join a discussion on the reflection questions or group questions on our blog (note: if you receive updates via e-mail, you must go to the blog to enter a Comment).  The group questions from the video don't rely on having seen the video; it is the discussion between us that is vital.  Visit our blog and the My One Word blog (click here) for even more support and connections!

I am so excited to get started!  Thank you for joining me on this journey of life change!!

Your Partner in Ministry,

"Kind words are like honey - sweet to the soul and healthy for the body."  Proverbs 16:24

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Java with the Judges - Week 6

"In those days Israel had no king, so the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes."  Judges 21:25

Thank you for working through Judges with me over the last 6 weeks!  It has not been easy, but I hope it has been worthwhile.  In all it's fallen depravity, there are lessons to be learned.  When we compare the Israelites to our own global society, there are many parallels.  Using these to look closely at our own faith, helps us to see where we need to call on our Lord.  And reminds us that God is with us; He will not abandon us, and will use us, forgive us, and love us no matter what!

If you thought Judges was filled with awful people and situations up until now, hold on to your hats!  Chapters 17-21 are even worse!  My study Bible groups these chapters together under the heading "The Moral Failure Of Israel".  It goes on to say, "This section shows Israel falling into idolatry, moral decline, and petty fighting.  Israel, the nation that was to set the example for spiritual living, had instead become morally depraved.  When Israel did serve God, and that was seldom, it was often from selfish motives."  The darkest hour is just before the day dawns, and these are dark hours for the nation of Israel.  

Thankfully, there's a whole lot of Bible after Judges, so we know this is not the end of the story.  Which, for me, allows me to read it with a glimmer of hope.

The details of the story are sometimes graphic and gory and we have a hard time connecting with such heinous acts.  But, after reading the chapters, pull back and look at the overarching themes: idolatry, selfishness, revenge, territorial elitism, egotism, lack of moral conviction.  Generalize some of the behavior and you may just see some scary similarities in our world.

One of the points that Sandra Glahn makes on "Sunday" is how women are treated in these chapters.  It is vastly different from what is seen up until now.  It is also very different from how we are treated within our normal society.  Sadly, it is not that different from how women are treated throughout the world, and even here in our own country.  And that is just one example of the parallels that can be drawn between ancient, morally corrupt Israel and our 21st Century world.  On "Friday" and "Saturday", Ms. Glahn brings full circle the treatment and role of women.  She shows us the light at the end of these very dark chapters in Israel's history.  If you are asking, 'where is God in all of this?', she points us ahead to where God has been planning and working all along - we just couldn't see it while we were in the muck of those last few chapters of Judges.

Have you ever found yourself in the muck of life?  Wondering why everything seems to be against you?  Nothing seems to be going right?  At that point, did you ask, "Are you there, God?"  Our "Friday" reading of 1 Samuel 1 shows us that He is.  Not only is He there, He's working hard to bring His children peace, love, and closer to Him.  He works on a societal level and an individual level.  Throughout Judges, He blesses the nation of Israel through empowering individuals.  How has God empowered you?  And how have you, through God's empowerment, been a blessing to others?

If you are tempted to put down your book because you just can't endure another terrible act by the Israelites, I urge you to carry on.  Work through the study questions and try to be aware of the "time-and-culture" differences.  It is through these theologically challenging Scriptures that we add layers and depth to our understanding of our faith.  Judges really pushes our boundaries.  Consider this a bit of theological weightlifting.   After turning the last page, feel free to strike your best "Stong Woman of Faith" pose!

What I learned from the Book of Judges:  I have seen how much God loves me.  That even when I want to push Him away, He will reach down into the most dangerous and disgusting part of my life and pull me closer to Him.  I use to think this was a new message brought to the world through Christ, but now I see it was not new.  It was the enduring message of a God who loves His people.

What insight have you gained over the last 6 weeks?  Please share in the Comment section (click here if you are reading this in your e-mail).  I look forward to reading all of your comments!!

Next week: My One Word by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen.  Bring a friend and spread the word!  Get your book and journal now (if you don't already have them)!  Go here to order your copy through Amazon and support our Youth!  

Your Partner in Ministry,

"Kind words are like honey - sweet to the soul and healthy for the body."  Proverbs 16:24

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Java with the Judges - Week 5

"When her son was born, she named him Samson.  And the Lord blessed him as he grew up.  And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him while he lived in Mahanehdan, which is located between the towns of Zorah and Eshtaol."  Judges 13:24-25 NLT

Welcome to week 5 of Java with the Judges!  Congratulations on your perseverance.  This can be difficult material for a number of reasons.  The first: we don't really hear about these characters outside of heroic Bible stories in Sunday school.  The second: in Sunday school we mostly focus on their heroic deeds, and rightfully so!  But, as we read these stories in their unrated entirety straight from the source, we learn that our Heroes were also very Human.  It's a bit like peeking behind the curtain!

How we use that knowledge is what strengthens our Faith and, I think, why these stories of flawed, but faithful leaders were included in our modern Bible.

This week we read the PG13-rated version of Samson!  I can only imagine what this would look like as an Hollywood movie!  Given the sex and violence, it would probably be a blockbuster!  Mankind hasn't really changed much since ancient Israel, has it?  And if that's true, what can we learn from Samson's story?  A lot!

This week I had the opportunity to do the entire study in one sitting (thanks to a nearly 2 hour wait at the car dealership)!  I have to admit, it was a bit much to digest.  So many contradictions in Samson's life made my head spin.  He was a hero empowered by God since before he was born, with restrictions on how he should live.  He followed most of them, but he had character flaws - he liked sweet things and fine women.  He broke his restrictions to satisfy his "sweet tooth", not once but many times!  Despite this, and using this, God delivers his people from their oppressors through Samson.

What does that mean for us?  I use to think I couldn't possibly be used by God because I wasn't a 'great' Christian.  I would resolve to be a better person, but fell back into old patterns and wasn't consistent in living out my 'new' life.  Because of this, I thought I couldn't possibly be a leader or a teacher.  Thankfully, that is not a Biblical concept!  As we've been reading throughout the book of Judges, and especially here in the story of Samson, God does not need or even want 'perfect' people, He wants faithful, willing people.  He can use anyone to accomplish His plan.  In fact, He can even use our weakness!

One verse in particular that I found very interesting is Judges 15:20, "Samson led Israel for twenty years during the days of Philistine prominence." (page 113).   So, despite his antics with his first wife and all the murdering she caused him to do (30 men in 14:19, an unnamed number in 15:8 after burning their wheat fields, vineyards, and olive groves; and he killed a thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey in 15:15-16).  After all that, he ruled for 20 years!  And seemed to have his desires under control.

Then he goes to Gaza and his old habits return!  His earthly desires cloud his judgement and he looses sight of God's plan.  In a twist on the "Cycle of Misery" on page xiv, it is not the people who cry out at the beginning of the story, but Samson at the end, "Samson called to the Lord, "O Master, Lord, remember me!  Strengthen me just one more time, O God, so I can get swift revenge against the Philistines for my two eyes!" (Judges 16:28, page 101).  God delivers His people by raising up Samson as a judge and delivers Samson the Judge from his personal captivity.

Falling back into bad habits, forgetting a good habit, losing sight of what we know is right, satisfying ourselves rather than making the better choice to follow God: been there, done that, will probably do it again!  Thank goodness God forgives those who call upon Him!!  And we have these stories of flawed, but Faith-Filled judges to remind us of that.

There are many things we can learn in Judges 13-16, but my favorite is found on page 114 of the study, "Even our flaws can't thwart God's purposes."  When I understood that message for the first time, I heaved a great sigh of relief!  Reading these stories reminds me of that consistent, divine message.

If you're having a tough time getting through the study guide, jump to Saturday's conclusion and read Friday, because it fills in some important background information on exactly what Samson was (a Nazirite).

Comments: I love 'em!!  This week, let me ask you: how does this reading of Samson differ from what you knew about him before this?  How does his story help you live a life dedicated to God?

Happy Valentine's Day! "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him" John 3:16-17 NIV! 

Reminder: we will begin "My One Word" on February 28th!  Who will you bring?

For those who attend in person:  Given the snow that may be coming Wednesday night, please check your e-mail before leaving for our gathering Friday morning.  As always, safety first!

Your Partner in Ministry,

"Kind words are like honey - sweet to the soul and healthy for the body."  Proverbs 16:24 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Java with the Judges - Week 4

"The Lord's spirit empowered Jephthah.  He passed through Gilead and Manasseh and went to Mizpah in Gilead.  From there he approached the Ammonites."  Judges 11:29

Oh My Goodness!  What...?!  How...?!  There are things in our reading this week that confound and confuse me.  Namely the apparent sacrifice of Jehpthah's daughter.   How about you?  Rest assured we are not alone.  The fate of Jephthah's daughter is highly debated among scholars and much evidence is given for both camps: those that think she was offered as a burnt sacrifice and those that believe she was dedicated to service of the Lord for the rest of her life, never marrying or having children.  Either way, she died a virgin and Jephthah's lineage ended with her.

So, let's put the debate aside and look at the rest of the story.  What can we learn about God and how he works?  Where is He and what does he do for his people?
There are a lot of politics going on here.  Jep (this is what I like to call him) is kicked out because he's an illegitimate son, but when he makes a name for himself as a great warrior they beg him to come back and be their leader.  On page 84, Ms. Glahn asks us to look at the similarities between how Israel treats God and how Gilead treats Jep.  It's an interesting exercise.  Through her questions we also get a chance to examine our own lives and compare them to characters and situations throughout Judges 10-12.

We may not, at first, think we could possibly have anything in common with this story or it's characters.  But upon closer inspection, we can see a thread that connects us.  Have we overcome something in our past?  Jep's checkered past did not hold him back from becoming the top pick to lead his people into battle.  Nor did he hold it against Gilead for kicking him out.  And who would have thought this 'brave warrior' (Judges 11:1) would have chosen diplomacy first when dealing with an invading army?  He schooled the Amorites, not only on the battlefield, but also in teaching them a lesson in "history, logic and theology" (pg 83)!

The study guide questions help us see all the ways in which Jep leads God's people.  We see him as a black sheep, a warrior, a diplomat, and someone empowered by the Lord's spirit.  We see him be forgiving, rash, loyal, and decisive.  Have any of these words ever described you?  And what about the other people in this story: Jep's half-brothers of Gilead, the Ammonite king, Jep's daughter, and the Ephraimites?
Have you ever acted like any of these or been in a situation where someone else has - perhaps you were on the receiving end:
* judged someone based on their exterior or their past?
* ignored the facts because it didn't fit your own plan?
* encouraged someone else to keep their word, regardless of the cost?
* tried to horn-in on the glory after all the hard work was done?
* stirred up controversy between family and friends?

In the end, there is much we can learn from Judges 10-12 about God and His relationship with us.  He is our leader and defender.  He uses the weak and the strong to deliver His people from their oppressors.  Whether the oppressor be an invading army or sin, God wants us to call on Him to set us free.

Let the comments begin!  What did you learn about yourself through these three chapters?  Have you ever experienced a situation that was similar to any of these?  I can't wait to read your comments!!

A note regarding weather: If the preschool is closed, we will not meet.  If Denville school has a delay, I will cannot arrive until after 10, in which case I will notify everyone via e-mail, so please check before heading out.  If you can be there before that, please start without me!  Always consider your comfort level driving in the current weather/road conditions.  Safety First!

Looking Ahead:  After Java with the Judges, we will return to My One Word by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen.  For some this will be the first time and others it will be a second visit.  I am excited to do this again!  I have found that reading a book or doing a Bible study the 2nd and 3rd time, while different from the first, is no less inspiring and informative.   We will begin the new study on February 28th.  This is a fast, 4-week study with video introductions each Friday.  This is appropriate for everyone, whether you are just starting your faith journey, well into it, or still asking questions.  It's the perfect opportunity to bring a friend!

Stay warm and safe in snowy north Jersey!

Your Partner in Ministry,


"Kind words are like honey - sweet to the soul and healthy for the body."  Proverbs 16:24