Bumper Sticker Disturbance

Driving home from church last Sunday, I pulled up to a red light and apparently was behind another churchgoer. Anyone driving a van adorned by a bumper sticker including a Bible reference on a Sunday after lunch, it’s a sign. Unfortunately, this sign wasn’t positive. My spirit was immediately disturbed. I took a pic so I could chew on this disturbance.

When I got home, I looked up this verse because my mind was having a hard time connecting any scripture that would support this statement. Here’s what it says:

“No harm will come to you; no plague will come near your tent.”

My disturbance made sense. The statement of choice is a personal choice that, whether you agree with it or not, doesn’t have to cause disturbance. The verse read in its context and understood by the Psalmist’s intent doesn’t have to cause disturbance. The disturbance is when they are put together as if they belong together. They do not belong together. Here are three reasons why:

1. Putting them together abuses the Bible narrative. If you could use this statement to choose to not participate in the challenges of this world, then much of the Bible narrative doesn’t make sense. Driver, is that the message you wanted to send when you chose to buy that bumper sticker? Many of the most beloved characters in the Bible endured harm and plague. Suppose Joseph had declined to participate in the famine. Or if Daniel had chosen not to participate in denying the King’s decree. Or if Paul had decided enduring prison was going too far, not a choice he was going to agree to. Or if Esther had said, “My life is too good to choose to put it at risk.” Believer, if you want to know a better understanding of Psalms 91, here’s a link to an article that does it justice. An excerpt of the article says this about the message of Psalms 91:

Psalms 91 is God’s way of telling us that whoever runs to him and seeks his divine protection will be saved from calamity and destruction. When we pray the words of this psalm it becomes a powerful shield of protection from fear. However, some people mistakenly thought the teaching is an unconditional promise and proof that life will be smooth sailing, that we won’t face hardship, illness, or any other crisis. This kind of thinking is often preached by pastors and ministers who teach the false and deceptive prosperity gospel. Nothing can be farther from the truth. God promises protection, but it doesn’t mean that we won’t suffer even in the face of this pandemic.

2. Putting them together denies God’s sovereignty. It very well could be, Driver, that people you love will test positive, be hospitalized, come close to or succumb to death during this pandemic. It could be you. What happens to faith then? Is God no longer in control? Absolutely not. When we decide to make choices that make us feel good and in control, we’ve basically kicked God off our heart’s throne. And, thankfully, he has plenty of mercy and patience to wait us out. They go on forever. And when we realize our choice was wrong, that his ways and thoughts are indeed higher and better than ours, he will do what Psalms 91 is all about-offer us comfort by reminding us he’s in control.

3. Putting them together creates division and lacks love. Division and selfishness most likely aren’t your intent. You heard a leader declare this statement of choice was truth. Unfortunately, it’s not. If we know anything from today’s culture, false messages are divisive and self-serving. Christians cannot say they love God and people while declaring a false message.

So if this message is wrong, what’s the right message? Based on these three thoughts, here are three edits of the statement:

“I have chosen to accurately know God’s word in this pandemic.”

“I have chosen to trust God in this pandemic.”

“I have chosen to pursue peace and share love in this pandemic.”

Disclaimer: In general, I’m not a bumper sticker fan. You print one of these non-disturbing three, I might become one.

    Taking Jesus Seriously

    Started this book today:


    Jethani has doodled and produced 72 devotionals based on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).


    After reading the first nine, I encourage you to check it out. If you wonder what might be troubling you about followers of Jesus, you might discover it in this book. It’s possible we haven’t taken Jesus seriously enough.

    “Self,…”

    Fear is exhausting. Well, at least misplaced fear can be. Proper fear can actually provide joy and comfort.

    Several people have commented how that in spite of being slowed down since March they still feel tired, maybe even more so. Perhaps fear is to blame.

    I started a new book this afternoon, Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn. His book contains 48 devotionals written as notes to “Self,” reminders of what you know based on Scripture. Note #3, entitled “Fear,” includes these thoughts:

    Worldly fear will lead you to toe party lines, compel you to try to live a safe life, and lead you to so prize the good gifts of God that they mutate into idols.

    Your possessions can go up in flames, but you have treasure in heaven and stand to inherit the kingdom. Your reputation may be sullied, but you are justified in Jesus. You may be rejected by those who you admire, but you are accepted by God. You may be hated, but your Father in heaven loves you with an undying love.

    The fear you need to maintain and cultivate is a fear of God, for in it you will discover wisdom and develop strength that enables you to persevere in faith to the end.

    Somewhere in those reminders may you find rest from fear, whether you’re fighting your own or burdened by other’s.

    What if you wrote your own note to self? What reminders would it include?

    Photo Credit: Unsplash/Melanie Wasser

    Questions: Three for God, Three for Us

    The media, culture, and environment in which we live has sought to define love as a feeling that lives rooted deep within our emotional character. This could not be farther from the truth when understood through the focused lens of God’s Word. God defines love not in emotional terms but in commitment and covenant. God has self-defined Himself as love and rests His identity in His intention that He will never recant that commitment to humanity nor will He break His own special covenant no matter our propensities toward sinfulness or spiritual rebellion. (-The Pastor’s Wife and The Other Woman)

    I started a new book last night. This quote is from a section discussing how our choices regarding our time indicate what is significant to us.

    What is significant is more than what feels good. What we know we can count on, what is solid, what has been tested, what has survived fire-that is significant.

    When we question our significance to God, here are three questions to ponder:

    1. What promises has He kept?
    2. How has He shown Himself to me recently?
    3. When was the last time He forgave me?

    Turning the spotlight on the other person in the relationship, here are three questions for us:

    1. What promises have I made to God?
    2. How am I looking for God each day?
    3. How do I open my heart to God?

    God of My 20’s: My “Pharis-ectomy”

    (Post #7 in a collaborative series)

    Guest Blogger Mark Stanifer

    It is July 2005. I’m 32 years old. On this hot summer day I’m disoriented, sitting in an unfamiliar church auditorium, listening to an unfamiliar dude. He’s got long hair, tattoos, a Canadian accent, and is wearing shorts and sandals. He seemed innocuous enough, but he’s just rocked my world and I didn’t see it coming. That’s when my spiritual surgery began, and it would take years to fully recover.

    To understand why this is so significant, roll the clock back 20 years to 1985. I’m 12 years old, mid-way through the usual summer church camp and God grabbed hold of my heart. Growing up a church rat—you know, the kid who is always there because his parents were always there—I knew the language and the routine. This summer I began a deeper understanding of why. I remember tears, talking with one of the camp counselors, and an intense resolve to pursue God from that point forward.

    My life has always be defined by coloring inside the lines. I like to know the rules and the right way to do things. For some, that is suffocating. For me, it is comforting. This is how I am wired. It has advantages in the right context. It can also create problems. One of those problems is a too-familiar relationship with fear. Another is an inclination toward stasis unless the way forward is clear. These two are related, for sure. They both have dogged me.

    In 1995, I graduated from college, married my high school sweetheart and began life out in the “real world.” It felt like I had waited a long time for these things to happen, so the excitement was real. As we built our life together, we invested heavily into our local church. It was part of the real world requirement for a God-follower. Nursery duty, teaching younglings, helping the teens, leading small groups, starting whole programs, serving as an elected leader. Name the church thing and I had done it. My church resume was impressive. So much so that “churchianity” had started to replace Christianity for me.

    In reality, I was becoming more like a chief priest or ruler of the law. I see that now, although at the time I didn’t. My spiritual swagger from right believing and right living was becoming arrogance. Non Christians were more like projects. Christians who weren’t in my tribe were marginalized. All the while, I lived with a strong fear, just below the surface, that unless my beliefs and actions were right God would be disappointed in me. As Wayne Jacobsen says, I was trapped in the “obligation of religious performance.”

    By the time my 20’s came to a close, I was on my way to becoming a righteous Pharisee. This wasn’t the path I intended. My desire was to follow God, to know Jesus. However, in my attempt to find that path I drifted toward religiosity. It was seductive—measurable activity, documented beliefs, outward proof of my allegiance to God. There was also my “good life”—good job, good wife, good kids, good health, good [fill-in-the-blank]. I equated good life with God’s love. The problem was, it was never about religious performance. God’s love isn’t evidenced by good circumstances. I was missing the whole point. It has always been about an intimate relationship with Jesus.

    Which brings us full circle back to 2005 and the Canadian. I had no idea that this was the first incision of the surgery. A surgery that I would eventually refer to affectionately as my “Pharis-ectomy.” It took years of incisions, healing, and recovery to get to where I am. Yet I am grateful for it all. Why? Because I have today what I didn’t have before:

    1. A deep, abiding confidence that I am loved by Father, regardless of what I do on His behalf
    2. An intimate and growing relationship with Jesus
    3. A immense freedom that I didn’t realize was possible; a freedom to live for Jesus way beyond rules; a freedom to engage others from a place of love rather than fear and judgement

    Who was God in my 20’s? The same God I know and follow today. I just better understand who He is. And I better understand who I am in Him. This is what He’s wanted for me from the beginning. It took a journey through my 20’s to be ready to embrace it. One that I will always value. One that I’m happy to have behind me.

    God of My 20’s: Mourning Replaced with Savoring

    (Post #6 in a collaborative series)

    Guest Blogger: Dawn Stark

    Throughout my 20’s I worked for an international airline and traveled the world for almost nothing. But all I really wanted was a baby.  I mourned continually over my empty arms.  Nothing else would appease me: Hawaii, the Greek Islands, Europe, sailing down the Nile – a decade of beautiful places and experiences that I mainly viewed through the lens of pain. I didn’t understand God’s love language to me in the waiting season.  I missed so many amazing places of worship on the way to my arms being filled to overflowing.

    The way I spent my 20’s shrouded in mourning is a life regret.

    Today I am traveling again, for different reasons, but still very similar to the way I did so many years ago. I know without a doubt God has once again given me this season as a gift in a beautiful way of merging mission and passion. It’s a do-over of sorts. Life is full of long, complicated, and painful journeys; infertility was only one of many that I’ve endured. In my early 50’s now, with 5 miracle children in my life, there is sufficient evidence that I cannot fret or worry or mourn my way through this life.

    Recently, work led me to Puerto Rico. A traveler to my core, I was so excited about this new adventure I couldn’t fall asleep the night before my flight.  I’ve been to the island years ago on two other occasions, but only in the San Juan area.  This trip required me to rent a car and travel to Mayaguez, on the western side of PR.  I padded my travel time on each side of work events to allow for moments of spontaneity: pulling over to enjoy look-out points, taking the temperature of the Caribbean water with a quick dip, snapping photos of interesting sites, and choosing local eats over convenient chain options.

    Puerto Rico did not disappoint!  I so enjoyed spending time with ministry partners, learning about the heart-breaking impact of Hurricane Maria, and discovering the resilience of the people. I intently practiced present-moment mindfulness by not letting my thoughts creep back to other weighty matters and instead choosing to focus on the “great and small” of life happening right in front of me:

    • the vibrant colors saturating the Puerto Rican culture through nature and art.
    • the proud rooster walking down the sidewalk, crowing like he totally belonged in that human space.
    • the irony of eating St. Louis (my hometown) style rib from the BBQ joint I just happened to stop at for dinner.
    • the newlywed who coaxed me to jump into the rough shore break and enjoy the sunset with her family.
    • the experience of driving in San Juan’s rush hour traffic when 12 lanes of inbound cars merged into 4 without traffic lines or signals of any sort.

    While travel is all a little harder on my body these days, I am intent on not missing the moments made for worshipping along the way this time.  I cannot reverse the way I lived my 20’s, doubting the goodness of God, but I can learn from that experience.  My trip to Puerto Rico reminded me – again – to savor the gifts I’ve been given. The song, Peace, written by Michael McDonald and recorded by Russ Taff, perfectly captures my thoughts:

    I have come from so far away

    Down the road of my own mistakes

    In the hope you could hear me pray

    Oh Lord, keep me in your reach.

     

    How I’ve longed through these wasted years

    To outrun all my pain and fears

    Turn to stone from own cried tears

    And now its your grace I see

     

    Love won’t compromise

    It’s a gift, it’s a sacrifice

    My soul renewed, and my heart released

    In you I find my peace.

     

    Wonderous child of whom the angels sing

    Know my joy, feel my suffering

    Shining star make this love you bring

    So bring that I may believe

     

    That my way will not be lost

    From now on, ‘till that river’s crossed

    My soul renewed, and my spirit free

    In you I’ll find my peace

    Book Suggestion

    I’m really enjoying my current read, Spirituality of Listening by Keith Anderson. If you’re attending First Baptist Bradenton tomorrow, you’ll hear some references.


    I just finished chapter five, Story: Shaped by Biblical Narrative. Here are some examples of why you might enjoy this book:

    God doesn’t ask that we rise above all of life’s pain; rather, he asks that we bring all of our story to God. God doesn’t ask that we walk around in disguise pretending there are no holes in our hearts; God asks that we bring those painful hearts to the throne of grace.

    When someone says thank you for something you have done, it is a gift of gratitude from God. When someone shows you love, that love is a gift of grace from God. When someone tells you the truth, it is a gift of love because God cares to move you from your defenses, hiding, and resistance. Telling our story to one another is perhaps the most sacred thing we do because God shows up in the words, emotions, and crafting of our words.

    God of My 20’s: The Father’s Love

    (Post #3 in a collaborative series)

    Guest Blogger Linda Nelson

    I would love to say that I have been a passionate follower of Jesus all my life. However…..

    I grew up on a farm in Minnesota. We learned to work hard, and did so to please and earn favor from my hardworking dad. Mom was a hard working, loving woman who loved to bake, cared for our home, and had a great since of humor. Both parents were very outgoing and enjoyed getting together with friends. We went to church and Sunday school from the time I was born. While growing up I was involved with our youth group and always loved hearing the Bible stories and prayed at meals. It was just something we DID. I attended the Lutheran church and was baptized as a baby and confirmed at 13.  I loved going to Sunday School and enjoyed all of the Bible stories. My Sunday School teacher game me a plaque that hangs on my wall to this day which says, “LOVE NEVER FAILS…For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting  life. John 3:16.”  I did not understand what that really meant, but I cherished it none the less.  I liked to study the catechism and learned much ABOUT God and Jesus but never had a Bible until age 13, until AFTER confirmation. It lay in a drawer and was never opened.

    My parents were married at a very early age, and it was expected that we kids would also. I met the love of my life when I was 15. We dated through high school and married at age 17; Gaylord, my husband, was 20. We farmed with his parents, and by the time I was 23 we had 3 wonderful children.

    Throughout my 20’s we continued to attend church weekly; and, of course, our kids were all baptized as infants. God was someone you read about, and I never doubted who He was.  I loved to hear about Jesus and all of the Bible stories.  I tried like crazy to obey the 10 commandments and ALWAYS felt I fell short.  We always prayed before meals, the “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest” prayer; but every prayer I ever prayed was written in a book or taught to me.  All throughout my 20’s God was just a far away God. I truly never doubted that Jesus was my Savior, BUT I knew I had to be GOOD or I would miss the mark. I came to realize that my view of God was shaped by my earthly father, that if I was good and worked hard I would win God’s love and favor.

    It was not until I was 37 that I ever heard about a personal relationship with God.  I had never heard of God’s unconditional love for me. And when I did, it radically changed my life.

    It was at that time we moved from Iowa to Chicago. We visited a church where the pastor and people were talking and singing songs TO God NOT just about Him.  The pastor told us that God longed to have a personal relationship with me not because I worked hard and was “good” but that He loved me unconditionally. I had never heard that before.  See what love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God. And that is what we are.” 1 John 3: 1.  (Tears fill my eyes even to this day when I hear this Good News!!!!!) I came to realize I had transferred that thought and feeling from my relationship with my dad to my Heavenly Father.  We were invited to a small group where we received such love, friendship, and best of all a new Bible. Small groups have been at the heartbeat of my walk with Jesus ever since. I was discipled to love God with my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to spend time with God in His word daily.  As I spent endless hours each day devouring God’s Word, I became acquainted with my precious Lord Jesus. I also grew to understand that “we are saved by grace through faith, not by works.” Ephesians 2:8. You would have thought I was given a pot of gold. And indeed, as God opened my heart to the truth of His word, I received a Treasure more precious than gold and silver. I, at last, met my Savior, Redeemer, best Friend, and Lord.

    Break a Cup

    Here’s one other memorable story from David Platt’s book Something Needs To Change. While visiting a home housing girls who had been rescued from trafficking, he learned one example of how they were led to see themselves.

    On a table in the room, I see cracked glass tea cups. The woman who leads the home, Liv, tells us how these cups were an art project. In a recent class, the group talked about seeing beauty in the middle of brokenness. Each girl was given a glass tea cup and asked to break it by throwing it on the floor. The girls were hesitant at first, but one by one they threw their cups and watched them shatter into pieces. Then each girl was asked to glue her cup back together, piece by piece.

    Next they placed a small candle inside each cup and lit it. The cracks in those broken cups actually allowed the light of the candles to shine brighter. That led to a discussion of how in our lives we might feel broken because of what we’ve done or what’s been done to us. But if we let him, God puts us back together and the light of his love shines brightly for others to see, even through our hurts.

    There are many “ifs” in this scene.

    • If they talked
    • If they threw them down
    • If they put them back together
    • If they lit the candle
    • If they let God

    Beauty is hidden when we stay stuck in the ifs. The enemy loves our being stuck; our Redeemer longs to fully free us in order to shine through us. Are you stuck? Maybe it’s time to break a cup.

    Be Bold

    (Day 23 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

    I once heard a story about a man who, when he was a teenager, wanted to ask out a pretty girl he liked. However, he chickened out and did not ever ask her. Years later he found out that the girl’s mother had told her it takes a lot of courage for a young man to ask a girl out and that she should date anyone brave enough to ask at least once (within reason). So if this man had been bold enough to ask this girl on a date she would have said yes, but it was too late by the time he learned that.

    Sometimes the idea of being bold scares us to the point of never trying something. And I think that can happen when we pray to God, too. Plus we are always told to “fear” God, to have a deep sense of awe and respect for God above anything else. That can make it easy to think that the God we fear should not be bothered with our little issues, and we should pray for only big things or things we feel safe praying.

    The good news is God loves us! He showed His unending love for us when He sent Jesus to save us. When God became a man it also showed us that God is not bothered or inconvenienced by our small issues. He cares about every part of our lives, big and small.

    To take it another step further Jesus was very bold, even in death. And we are to be like Jesus. When He died, the curtain to the temple was torn in two, symbolizing that we can come to God at anytime from anywhere. We do not need a priest or pastor to help us, and we do not have to pray only in a temple or a church building. Those things are great but not necessary in order for God to hear you.

    The curtain tearing was like God telling us, “Come to me, I am ready to hear it all! So don’t hold back.” God is a big boy, and He can handle anything we can come up with. And all of this together should bring us hope and encourage us to be bold.

    God is all-powerful, He loves us each more that we can imagine, and He invites us to talk to Him about anything because He cares about us so much. Whatever you want to pray about, you can pray about. Any struggle, or joy, or confusion, or anything else you want. You can even pray to God when you are mad, even if you are mad at Him for a while. The important thing is that you believe in Him, you are talking to Him, and being honest with Him. When you interact with God that way, great things happen. So go to God with anything you want or need. Be bold!

    This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord. Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. Ephesians 3:11-12

    So if the old way, which has been replaced, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new, which remains forever! Since this new way gives us such confidence,we can be very bold. 2 Corinthians 3:11-12

    By Frank Welch