Bible

A Selfless Shepherd Snapping A Selfie

A Selfless Shepherd Snapping A Selfie

Abbott finished ushering the last of the sheep into the pen and snapped the door shut. With a satisfied smile, he threw his arm around the neck of one of his sheep. Pulling his smart phone out of his pocket, he extended his arm and snapped a couple of selfies. “Oh yeah…I’m b-a-a-a-a-d!” A sudden blurb of movement out of the corner of his eyes caught his attention. Phone dropping to his side, he squinted at the figure walking towards him, silhouetted against the backdrop of the blazing sun. It was Jesse’s son.

“Hey David, what’s up man?” Abbott called out with a cheerful smile.

“Hey Abbott...I need to ask you a favor.” David’s serious tone matched the concern streaked across his face.

“Uh...sure man. What’s up?” Abbott replied. Where is this going?

Cabin Fever

Cabin Fever

This month I had the amazing opportunity to embark on my first ever trip to the Smoky Mountains with my family– all planned within the week prior. It was one of those “It’s time to get away, let’s go do this,” moments. Plus it checked off a box on my bucket list to visit all the national parks in the United States (barely started). So I looked up cabin rentals on Google – found a solid one with American Patriot Getaways (highly recommend them, can’t praise them enough), booked it, and off we went.

The game plan was to break up the trip by spending the night in Birmingham on the way to Gatlinburg. This was about a 5 hour journey and approximately half way for us. Instead, we made it to Meridian, Mississippi – a whopping hour and a half away.

A New Year and a Letter from the Past

A New Year and a Letter from the Past

While navigating the catacombs of our garage to kick off our house move in 2018, I found a letter I had written to my high school teacher regarding my final English paper – which I turned in a couple of weeks past its deadline. I found it amusing enough to be worth a share: “Dear Dr. Scott,

I understand that this paper is far past its deadline and I just wanted to clarify as to why I was not able to turn it in on time. I had originally finished my paper well ahead of schedule. The day that it was assigned, I sat down before my computer that evening to get a head start. An hour later I was staring at a very badly worded paragraph and a whole lot of blank space beneath it. Growing weary of my struggle with writer’s block, I was getting dangerously close to the threshold of my frustration. Just as I was about to call it quits, I was suddenly struck by a moment of sheer brilliance.

An Amazing Sight, an Even Better Message

An Amazing Sight, an Even Better Message

“Elek!” Abdiel whispered, shaking the dozing shepherd’s shoulder violently. Elek responded by snoring louder, a stream of drool pooling in his scraggly beard. “Elek!” Abdiel hissed louder, smacking Elek across the back of the head. “..mhama….what?” Elek sputtered. He sprung forwards, away from the oak tree he had been using as a backrest. His hand shot to the spot where Abdiel slapped him.

“What is that?” Abdiel demanded.

“What’s what?” Elek retorted, rubbing his head.

“That!”

Abdiel pointed to the cloaked figure passing through the sheep in the field, silhouetted by the backdrop of a full moon. Elek scrambled to his feet, gripping his rod. “Who goes there?” He declared into the night, spooking a couple of the nearby sheep.

The Lego Movie and Our Desire to Be "Special"

The Lego Movie and Our Desire to Be "Special"

Emmet Brickowski is just a regular guy. In fact, he’s so regular, that coworkers and neighbors struggle to piece together any distinguishing features to describe him: “Yeah, he’s kind of your average, normal, kind of guy. But you know, he’s not…he’s not like normal like us. No, he…he’s not that special.” (Barry, The Lego Movie)

“You know, he’s just sort of a…little bit of a…blank slate, I guess” (Larry the Barrista, The Lego Movie)

“We all have something that makes us something, and Emmet is…nothing.” (Randy, The Lego Movie)

But all that changes when Emmet stumbles across the “piece of resistance to the Kragle” (the top to a tube of Krazy Glue in which the z,y, and u have rubbed off). He is subsequently arrested under the tyrannous regime of President Business and is about to be melted when he is rescued by a mysterious girl named “Wyldstyle”. Emmet – utterly clueless to everything that is happening – is questioned by Wyldstyle:

Thanksgiving, a Trampoline, and a Contagious Spirit of Gratitude

Thanksgiving, a Trampoline, and a Contagious Spirit of Gratitude

This Thanksgiving, I can’t help but reflect on one of my favorite home videos – in which my son is jumping on the trampoline with his baby sister. The dialogue goes as follows: Sawyer: “Mommy, tank you for getting me a baby.”

Caroline: “Where do you think we got her?”

Sawyer (without a moment’s hesitation): “At the gwocery staw.”

Besides being insanely cute, there’s a few nuggets about the nature of thanksgiving buried in the exchange:

3 Ways That God Moves Amidst Suffering

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Special thanks and credit to my friend and mentor, Paul, for the insights on Job, the umbrella, and Isaiah 30. If trouble were raindrops, we'd live in a stormy world. Flick the channel to the news station and it doesn’t take but a minute to see that the world is steeped in suffering. Of course, you don’t need a newspaper or a television to convince you – simply living your life out will suffice.

All this begs the question: if God is good, why does suffering exist? There is a plethora of material on this subject, with varying levels of eloquence and insight. Though different stances exist, I identify well with C.S. Lewis:

“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can't. If a thing is free to be good it's also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.” (C.S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity)[1]

So then, God does not cause evil – but He does permit it from morally culpable beings.

Second question: why does suffering occur to me?

Is it a direct consequence of something I’ve done wrong?

Well, maybe. If I rob a convenience store at gunpoint and now I’m serving a sentence in jail, the correlation is self-evident. However, this is not always the case. Take the book of Job:

"Then the Lord asked Satan, 'Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.'

Satan replied to the Lord, 'Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God. You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property…But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!'

'All right, you may test him,' the Lord said to Satan." (Job 1:8-12 NLT)

Two key things here. One, God is actually the force holding back Satan’s attacks – an umbrella against the rain drops of evil, if you will. Two, even though Job is “blameless”, God removes the protection anyway – and Satan unleashes a plethora of torment and suffering.

It is true that sometimes we step out from under the umbrella and bring rain upon ourselves (i.e. rob the convenience store). It is the proliferation of wickedness and the rebellious rejection of God that prompts His allowance for Assyria (followed by Babylon), to exact punishment on the wayward Israelites and bring them into exile in the Old Testament (although he did send prophet after prophet to warn them).

Other times, though, we seem to do nothing wrong, yet God collapses the umbrella and we find ourselves drenched. As it says:

“For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” (Matthew 5:45 NLT)

…why?

I’d like to share my understanding of three ways that God moves amidst suffering, hopefully providing a level of encouragement along the way, and perhaps whetting your appetite in prayerfully pursuing further understanding.

1. Teaching Opportunities

"Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes. Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say. “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left. Then you will destroy all your silver idols and your precious gold images. You will throw them out like filthy rags, saying to them, “Good riddance!” Then the Lord will bless you with rain at planting time. There will be wonderful harvests and plenty of pastureland for your livestock." (Isaiah 30:20-23 NLT)

As I mentioned earlier, the Israelites brought about suffering upon themselves in this case with their idolatrous wandering away from God. Nevertheless, we see a good example here of God using the “adversity of food” and the “drink of suffering” to expose their idols for what they truly were – fake substitutes for a loving relationship with the one true God. When we elevate things of the world (money, fame, success, etc) above God in our lives, they become idols. We may not even be aware of it until it all comes crashing down. I have had an idol or two smashed in my life in such a manner.

Job was taught a lesson himself – one that brought down barriers towards having a greater understanding and a more intimate relationship with God.  John Piper describes it this way:

“I picture Job as a beaker of water. Job had been so worked upon by the grace of God that his life was pure. You could see right through the water. People looked at him and they saw a pure man. But there was a sediment of self-reliance and pride at the bottom. It wasn't huge and it wasn't damning, but it was there.

When God shook Job, the sediment colored the water, and you find Job saying some terrible things about God in this book. God knew that it was there, and he knew that in shaking this godly, blameless man there would arise some imperfection into his life, and that it would need to be purged. So the last thing [he says], therefore, [is] ‘I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.’”[2]

2. Kingdom Advancement

"And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them." (Romans 8:28 NLT)

In the second chapter of the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples at Pentecost, empowering them to miraculously speak the gospel to “devout men, from every nation under heaven”[3] in many different languages. Out of this, the Church is birthed. Newly converted Christians decide to stay in Jerusalem, their numbers increasing every day. The growth seems like a great, wonderful thing…until the stoning of Stephen – of which, Paul is at the forefront.

“Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria.” (Acts 8:1 NLT)

It’s easy to miss at first glance, but as an outcome of the persecution, there are now multi-national gospel speaking believers scattered in all different directions. It’s absolutely amazing how God used Paul to spread the gospel – both as an enemy before his conversion, and then as an advocate afterwards. God continues to work amongst persecution today.

On January 23, 1999, Australian missionary Graham Stuart Staines and his two sons, Philip and Timothy, were burnt to death by a gang of Hindu fundamentalists while sleeping in his station wagon outside a small village in Odisha, India, where he had been working among lepers and the poor. In response to the murderous tragedy, Graham’s wife Gladys stated in her affidavit, “It is far from my mind to punish the persons who were responsible for the death of my husband Graham and my two children. But it is my desire and hope that they would repent and would be reformed."[4]

Her shocking reaction, broadcasted to the nation, combined with her relentless resolve to stay in India and continue to work amongst leprosy patients until 2004, led to countless responses to the gospel. For her impact, Gladys was awarded the fourth highest civilian honor in India – the Padma Shree – in addition to the Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice.

There is simply no limit to the redeeming nature of God in creating beauty from ashes. Joseph understood this when he declared to the brothers that had sold him into slavery:

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” Genesis 50:20

3. Strengthening Souls

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:2-4 NLT)

The concept is intuitive. We liberally apply clichés like “no pain, no gain” and “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” – usually when pumping iron at the gym. However, trusting that our faith will somehow emerge stronger in the wake of tragedy is far more difficult – possibly impossible – without the supernatural strength of God to walk us through it.

There is another caveat to this, however. That is, our walking through suffering strengths the faith of others.

I’m currently watching a friend walk through a terminal cancer diagnosis with a level of grace and steadfast faith that drops my jaw to the floor. Wow, I think. If God can walk him through that, how much more can I rely on Him to help me through my petty “struggles”? I could not be more grateful for the encouragement that his walking testimony emanates.

I do not believe that God delights in suffering, nor do I hold Him accountable for its existence. Neither can I say, however, that like the apostle Paul, I have “learned in whatever state I am, to be content”[5] I get angry, I get frustrated, I get upset at God for hands that I am dealt. I am a work in progress, riding the rollercoaster of life, with my hopes set upon a future of perfection. In fact, I think I wrote this post as a reminder for myself more than for anyone else that may be reading it. Nevertheless, I hope you are encouraged that no matter what you may be going through, God is working – even if we don’t see it this side of heaven.

-  Nicolas C. Day

[1]https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/437424-god-created-things-which-had-free-will-that-means-creatures

[2]https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/how-should-i-read-the-book-of-job

[3] Acts 2:6

[4]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Staines

[5] Philippians 4:11

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Note: we are an affiliate of Christian Book Distributors and may earn a small commission for any purchases made through the above link

Jesus Wants to Hang Out with You in Heaven - He Said So Himself

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One of the many passages of Scripture that floors me when I read it is John 17:20-24. The verses are chalked full of more theological principles then I could possibly hope to address with my limited knowledge, but I would love to share how and why it speaks to me – chiefly that I can point to it as a historical moment in time that Jesus prayed for me. I find that most places throughout the Gospels, we absorb the words of Jesus through a sort of transplantation, taking what Jesus is speaking to His disciples and supplanting its applicability to ourselves – and rightly so. What I find neat in John 17, however, is the specificity with which Jesus calls out his future believers (of which I am one):

 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message." (John 17:20 NLT)

Alright, Jesus, you’ve got my attention.

So what is he praying for? That’s where it gets really interesting:

I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you…” (John 17:21 NLT)

He wants us all to be one. Sounds like a nice Hallmark card, but is it feasible? How, for instance, could LSU fans and Alabama fans possibly bridge the impassable ravine of football rivalry? This is accomplished not through our own power, but through the glory of Christ working within us:

“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me." (John 17:22 NLT)

So, Jesus...what do you want this to look like?

"May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” (John 17:23 NLT)

Wow. Let that sink in. Jesus is calling us to experience harmonious perfection to the point that God’s infinite love will be self-evident to those that see it. Talk about a gut check.

Why does Jesus want this? Why does Jesus want us to make known to the world that he was sent so "that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life?"[1]  That’s what even more amazing about his next declaration:

"Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!” (John 17:24 NLT)

He wants this…because he wants to spend eternity sharing his glory with us in heaven.

Boom. Jesus wants to hang out with you in Heaven. It’s right there in writing. He said so himself!

 

- Nicolas C. Day

 

[1] John 3:16

 

 

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

Note: we are an affiliate of Christian Book Distributors and may earn a small commission for any purchases made through the above link

Hurrication

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With another tropical disturbance barreling towards the Gulf of Mexico this past weekend, we packed up and headed out… to the beach. That probably seems like a strange choice, but we had the vacation planned and to be fair, at the time of the decision all the projections for the storm were aimed at the heart of New Orleans. So Thursday night we all crammed into the minivan, handed out the kids’ amazon fires (our DVD player has been rendered useless due to the countless coins shoved into the slot), and took off towards the panhandle of sunny Florida. Destination: condo in Navarre. Friday was fun. Though the ocean was too rough to enter, we still managed to squeeze in a relaxing day of playing in the sand and swimming in the pool. Anxiety levels grew that evening, however, as the projected path of Hurricane Nate crept eastward towards Mobile Bay and Pensacola.

Saturday morning we faced an uncomfortable decision. Though it looked like we would be okay in Navarre, any drastic last minute shift in the storm could put us in a bind. Rather than take the risk of losing power with three toddlers, we decided to buy cheap insurance in the form of a hotel room a little further east in Panama City – just in case. Thus commenced a weird day of watching the kids swim in freezing pool in the rain (while dealing with a pesky virus) that ultimately culminated in the five of us crammed into one bed with my son waking up and puking on my wife in the middle of the night while wind and rain pelted the window. It was a strange vacation.

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Sunday morning we headed back to Navarre – a pit stop on the way back towards New Orleans. Nate was travelling so fast that the eye of the storm was already far to our north, though remnants of high gusts and heavy rain remained on the backside (the storm’s hiney we deliriously told Sawyer, giggling in sleep deprivation). We arrived just before noon.

The sight on the beach was breathtaking – ferocious waves pounding the pier, ocean rabidly foaming at the mouth. It was picturesque scene of the unbridled power of nature. It probably wasn’t too far off from a stormy situation that Jesus’s disciples faced crossing the Sea of Galilee:

Then Jesus got into the boat and started across the lake with his disciples. Suddenly, a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” Jesus responded, “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!” Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm. The disciples were amazed. “Who is this man?” they asked. “Even the winds and waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:23-27 NLT)

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By Rembrandt - www.gardnermuseum.org : Home : Info : Pic, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6812612

“Anglican clergyman John Clowes commented that by asking the question ‘Why are you so afraid?’, Jesus was asking his disciples to explore in their own minds the cause and origin of fear, so they would realize that all fear has its roots in natural affection and thought, separate from spiritual affection and thought.”[1]

Fear is not of God:

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Let’s break that down a little further.

 

Power

As if the power a storm wields isn’t hard enough to comprehend, imagine the power required to STOP one in its tracks. Oh, and that raging ocean? God can fit it in the palm of his hand:

“Who else has held the oceans in his hand? Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers? Who else knows the weight of the earth or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale?” (Isaiah 40:12 NLT)

 

Love.

No love is greater than that which is purely unconditional.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:8 NLT)

Enough said.

 

Self discipline.

In relation to the wonderful mystery of the incarnation in which he is both fully God and fully man, Jesus faced very real temptations – and emerged the vanquishing victor.

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15 NLT)

 

God is powerful. God is love. God is without blemish. And if we abide in Christ, God will work those qualities through us.

 

- Nicolas C. Day

 

On a side note - I cannot wait for this hurricane season to come to an end.

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calming_the_storm#cite_note-8

 

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

Note: we are an affiliate of Christian Book Distributors and may earn a small commission for any purchases made through the above link

 

Refrigerator Art

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“Dad, wook come see what I made!” My son’s face lit up with enthusiasm as his little hand pulled me towards the refrigerator. “Show me!” I replied, his excitement transferring instantaneously in a bold denial of the laws of physics.

“Wook!” He turned to me, grinning from ear-to-ear, tiny finger outstretched towards the scribbled mess suspended by a magnet.

“Wow! It’s amazing!” I said, turning towards him as he beamed with pride. I looked back at the piece of paper. It looked as though a game of connect the dots had gone horribly, horribly wrong. “…What is it?”

“It’s a (fill in the blank)!”

Now, I consider myself a pretty abstract thinker. Whenever my toddlers decide to show off their art to me, however, I’m usually hard-pressed to identify even a slight resemblance to whatever they confidently claim to have drawn. Nevertheless, their masterpiece commands an undeniable, rightful place on the fridge that I wouldn’t trade for a Picasso.

…why?

It’s not for the quality of their drawings – although I fail to see the distinction between their work and some of the stuff hung up in museums:

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 By Kazimir Malevich - (Transferred from en.wikipedia - was: en:Image:Black Square.jpg), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=507949

It’s a square... a square. What am I missing???

Anyway, my point here is that the picture itself is irrelevant. It’s my children’s’ inner intentions in which my heart delights.

I wonder, how much is this adoration a replicated quality of the Father in whose image we are created?

Perhaps we need look no further than “the man after God’s own heart” – King David.

At face value, David does not fit the image of piety. His dirty laundry list is abhorrent. Adulterer, murderer, family in shambles, host of concubines…all things we would not or should not want to replicate. Yet, despite his shortcomings, David possessed a deep longing to be in God’s presence; to be apart from it was tantamount to torment.

“Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight…

…Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.” (Psalm 51:1-4;10-12 NLT)

David fell hard. He repented harder.

Now I’m not saying what we do with our lives is irrelevant. David paid deeply for his sins. David’s son born to Bathsheba died. His son, Absalom, rebelled against him and slept with his concubines.[1]Nevertheless, it was his heart – not his sins – that defined him.

In the words of Thomas Merton, "the fact that I think I am following your will, does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you, does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing."[2]

I am well pleased just to see that desire in my children, regardless of what they bring me. In the same way, I’m convinced that God would rather we draw a stick figure and bring the scribbled mess to Him, then paint the Sistine Chapel by ourselves.

And you know what? I'm actually impressed by the scattered streaks generated by my children's toddler minds. Who knows? Maybe one of my kids will be the next Picasso after all!

 

- Nicolas C. Day

 

[1] 2 Samuel 12

[2] http://reflections.yale.edu/article/seize-day-vocation-calling-work/merton-prayer

 

 

 

 

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