A Snowy Day Devos


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Moments ago I stood beneath the shelter of my front porch, holding a cup of steaming coffee and watching the flurries drift onto the white canopy around me. There’s something beautiful in the silence and crisp air filling my lungs. Of course, everyone knows this. People across the country aren’t eagerly stepping out of the comfort of their own living rooms to get their feet cold and wet if it wasn’t a fairly universal feeling. There’s just something ethereal in seeing everything—from patches of dead grass to cars in driveways—covered up in delicate white.

But, and here perhaps I’m some depressing anomaly, whenever I stand around in 18-degree weather I also feel a sudden pang and worry, for what is so beautiful about winter is also deadly. What about that homeless man who always sits outside the bagel store? Did he find shelter last night? What about the children in the World Vision catalog from Mongolia, all huddled beside a fabric tent with snow piled high around them? Suddenly that crisp air able to sweep so quickly into my lungs makes me feel desperate.

Both perfect beauty—the content of a hundred jingles around the holidays—and perilous content in one single flurry. I don’t know what to do with the dichotomy of feeling equally so happy and sad.

Then, however, I shut the door and sat back on the sofa, recognizing something as I read the most stirring poem from 16th century poet, Robert Southwell:

 

This little babe, so few days old,

Is come to rifle Satan’s fold;

All hell doth at his presence quake.

Though he himself for cold do shake,

For in this weak unarmèd wise

The gates of hell he will surprise.

 

With tears he fights, and wins the field,

His naked breast stands for a shield.

His battering shot are babish cries,

His arrows made of weeping eyes.

His martial ensigns cold and need,

And feeble flesh his warrior’s steed.

 

(Read it in entirety here! Seriously…go read it.)

What similarity!

When we really think about it, we Christians seem pretty crazy. We gather on Sunday mornings, banging on piano and drums to sing merrily about things so gory and gruesome it would sound like insanity were it not so familiar. Imagine if we went Message version on the words to some of these traditional songs and everyone sang in unison:

Oh, the wonderful electric chair!

Oh, the wonderful electric chair!

Wants me to come and be fried,

To find that I, can truly live!

Tag on smiling old men and women wearing gold electric chairs necklaces as they shake your hand during greeting time and how quickly we would run away from that place, eh?

But the reality is that Christianity as a whole is this dichotomy of gruesome and incredible. Of absolutely terrifying and positively enticing. Of horrifying and exactly all that I need.

I would never wish for the snow to cease existing; I just would like to live in a world where people never suffered. Likewise, I hate everything about Jesus’ willing sacrifice of undue shame, abandonment, whips, glass, nails, and broken bones. I wish there had been some other way. But if His tears are what “won the field” and gained victory, then alleluia. May snow fall and praises ring.

Blessings and Merry Flurrying,

Melissa Ferguson

P.S. If you’d like to pitch in and protect children and families from frostbite, hypothermia, influenza, pneumonia, and death, consider providing clothing and shelter by clicking here: worldvision.org.

 

And some verses for our snow day…

Praise the Lord from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
stormy winds that do his bidding,
you mountains and all hills…

Psalm 148

Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Psalm 51

“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.

Isaiah 1

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
 You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.”

Isaiah 55:6-13

 

Parenting Riddle: What’s More Fun Than Taking Your Child to the ER Thanksgiving Weekend?

fullsizerender-4 Why, of course, taking both your children to the ER Thanksgiving weekend!

The first merry incident involved a pea and Joy’s finger pressed firmly up her nose. With ten adults surrounding her (including two nurse practitioners) we tried a variety of homespun methods for dislodging the pea. Straws. Snot suckers. Pepper to make her sneeze. At one point Ben pulled out the central vacuum but was outvoted 9-1.

I found him later in the garage (aka temporary laboratory) with the rubber of a slingshot attached to a large and particularly dirty funnel used for changing oil… Again, he was vetoed.

Alas the time came to forfeit large amounts of money and head to the hospital. It wasn’t all bad at least. They did give her a stuffed animal in the end.

Less than 48 hours later, I woke up from a mid-day nap to hear Isaiah’s bloodcurdling screams and discovered Ben hauling the bleeding boy up the stairs. This time the culprit was an old pair of blinds. And off we went again.

The moral of the story?

Stickers. Always bring stickers to entertain your kid at the ER.

No no, I can do better than that.

I was praying this morning a prayer similar to Psalm 51:1-2:

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

As a gal who finds herself bending over approximately 300 times a day to wipe up something the twins so carelessly (and gleefully) drop on the white linoleum, I immediately thought about how weary and dreary and unappealing my request to God was, particularly when considering this wasn’t about a bright kitchen with a few spots on it. I was requesting God to go to the very depths of my heart, to help me with my current negativity and blot out the worst parts of me—the parts I work so hard to hide from anyone else on earth.

And I thought, “What is my view of God, the creator of the world, that I so absentmindedly make this request and assume He will just be a happy camper about complying? For that matter, why do I just assume God wants to spend all this time with me, knowing the worst parts of me, working tirelessly with me as I consistently try and fail and try again, when no other human would be interested in such a task?”

I suppose it’s because God makes it so clear throughout Scripture that that is exactly what He wants to do.

And suddenly I’m grateful.

Just like Ben and I didn’t hesitate to break away from our activities, scoop up our children, and get them the medical help they needed, God doesn’t hesitate to go to the depths for us.

In this season of celebrating Christ’s birth on our behalf, of remembering just how dark and deep God went for us, may we find a renewed spirit of joy and thankfulness.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 51:10

 

Blessings,

Melissa Ferguson

 

Forsaking Your First Love

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It’s the phrase I’ve returned to over and over the past three months, and—of all places—it comes from the book of Revelation. I don’t hear a lot about Revelation (unless someone’s telling me the world is ending in a few days). But I was stopped as I read a passage in Chapter 2 a few months ago, specifically the admonition Jesus, through John, gave to the church in Ephesus:

“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.”

Super, right? If I’m part of the church at Ephesus, I’d be feeling pretty good about myself.

“Yeah, I am working hard,” I’d say. “Thanks for noticing, Jesus. We here have had some intense temptations to quit and give up on you, crawling back to Artemis and the old Jewish temple, especially when people have dragged off our friends. Especially when we have seen our loved ones killed. It’s terrifying, but we have held firm to our faith. Thanks, Jesus, for acknowledging how awesome we are.”

But then Jesus’ words rip the former praises away as if they were of little significance compared to what really mattered:

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.

God Himself. The first love.

“But…Jesus,” my first-century self would reply, aghast. “We are losing work, losing friends, losing our reputations as we look like crazy people following after a poor man who ‘died’ sixty years ago… losing our very lives for you. Isn’t that enough?”

No. Frankly, no.

These Christian Ephesians did so much more than I do, but above all, God wanted loyalty to their first love: Himself.

I’m not one of those people who uses phrases that sound creepily romantic regarding the God-human relationship. I find myself dropping my voice and staring at my shoes when the song plays in church, “And I’m madly in love with you, Jesus…” It’s just…God is God. He’s not a human, and while He loves us, He’s not on par with me.

Like N.T. Wright says when John fell down in Chapter 1, terrified at the sight of Jesus who had eyes like flames of fire, feet like exquisite brass, and looked like the sun in full power:

“For some, Jesus is just a faraway figure of first-century fantasy. For others, including some of today’s enthusiastic Christians, Jesus is the one with whom we can establish a personal relationship of loving intimacy. John would agree with the second of these, but he would warn against imagining that Jesus is therefore a cozy figure, one who merely makes us feel happy inside. To see Jesus as he is would drive us not to snuggle up to him, but to fall at his feet as though we were dead (Revelations for Everyone, p7).”

But sometimes in Scripture, we get glimpses of a God who isn’t just insanely powerful, insanely knowledgeable, insanely bigger than anything we are. Sometimes, like in the Bride-Christ references, we see how God uses intimate wording to emphasize that He really, truly wants an authentic relationship with each of us. A relationship so deep and real—not between a being and a thing, or a being and institution, but a being with another Being—that a marriage metaphor would suit.

“It’s easy to settle down into a vaguely comfortable existence which puts its own

needs first and, sometimes, last as well. The Ephesian church needs to wake up,

to remember how things used to be, to repent and get back on track

(Wright, Revelations, p13).”

And sometimes we do, too.

So yes, stay loyal to the faith. Yes, consider the widow and the orphan and the poor and help them in their needs. Go out and evangelize to your heart’s content.

But above all, don’t forget to do the things that show your love to your first love: God.

 

Pray. Sing. Remember. Listen.

Love.

Blessings,

Melissa Ferguson

 

My Absurd Encounter With Racism…At a Bible Study

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The worst I expected to encounter at the Bible study in a very normal, faithful, non-insane church was that the burnt coffee in its small Styrofoam cup, packed with a tablespoon of non-dairy creamer (which always is bad and yet somehow I’m always drawn to it), would taste exactly as I imagined. And yet I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The study was going splendidly at first. Sure, I was one of the youngest in the room of thirty or so seasoned Christians, but there is something great about hearing from those who’ve been through wars, depressions, loss of loved ones, and the trials of life and still come out with faith stronger than steel.

We were going over Hebrews 2:6-8, which says,

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,

A son of man that you care for him?

You made them a little lower than the angels:

You crowned them with glory and honor

And put everything under their feet.”

 

Then the crazytown came out. The man beside me spoke up.

“Well,” he said, spreading his arm out, “as you can see by this group here, we are all studying the Bible. And as you see, we are all white. Doesn’t that mean something, that we should also be rulers, you know…over all the black people?”

My jaw couldn’t have dropped farther toward the ground. Inconceivable. Not only did his conclusion have nothing to do with the passage, he was actually stating that because there were a few people in this specific room who happened to be Caucasian, the whole world would be run by Caucasian people forever.

Then to my utter disbelief a woman at the front spoke up and said, “Yes. The curse for the black man came at the Tower of Babel. That was when they were cursed.”

What????

My eyes shot to the poor teacher who was fumbling for words against these monumental, utterly false statements that had nothing to do with the passages referenced. How do you begin to reason with someone whose logic is so far gone? Where would she begin? But the teacher managed to pull together some semblance of order and correct, at least to a small degree, both participants of their error.

BUT THEN ten minutes later a third woman said apologetically, “I’m sorry. I think my husband got confused a few minutes ago because I was reading Genesis and told him that God must’ve blessed the white people because they have all the territories on the earth.”

At this point, my body was confusedly trying to figure out whether to punch the elderly man and his wife next to me (not a healthy thing to do, I know), stand on the table and start preaching, or walk out in protest. I mean…not just one crazy person with completely ill-formed interpretations, not just two, but three? And daring to use the Bible as a reference for their preposterous opinions?

Thankfully the teacher spouted out a few good verses of truth. In the end I didn’t take to acts of violence or walk to my car in protest. I didn’t have to speak up (though I would’ve had she not done such a good job herself). The man, at least, made another comment suggesting he was starting to get that racism wasn’t biblical, and the study finished.

As I drove home, however, I couldn’t help thinking about all the things I wanted to say. As I turned on NPR and heard a white supremacist using eloquent speech to so wrongly state that Caucasian people are the real family of America and African Americans are simply outsiders, I thought of all the things I wanted to say. Today when I pushed my grocery cart past a sweet, 6-year-old African American boy and his Caucasian mother I thought of all the things I wanted to say.

And I suppose in a few words it comes down to this: The white people are not God’s privileged.

Jesus wasn’t white. The Israelites, God’s original chosen people, were not white. Contrary to what several of my former students erroneously quoted on a quiz, Jesus did not at all look like:

“He is a tall man, well shaped and of an amiable and reverend aspect; his hair is of a color that can hardly be matched, falling into graceful curls… his cheeks without spot or wrinkle, beautiful with a lovely red; his nose and mouth formed with exquisite symmetry; his beard, and of a color suitable to his hair, reaching below his chin and parted in the middle like a fork; his eyes bright blue, clear and serene…

(Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, p86)

Copy of Not Jesus

No, Jesus didn’t look like a white American. He didn’t have those blue serene eyes. His hair wasn’t long and curling like a girl at prom. For a good article on what Jesus did look like, see: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-35120965

And you know what? We who happen to be Caucasian need to be thankful that God doesn’t show favoritism, that He graciously grafted in the Gentile, and as Peter stated:

“I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. (Acts 10:34-35)

We should be glad that one day those from “every nation, tribe, people, and language [will] stand before the throne…” (Revelation 7:9).

We should rejoice because, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

 

Blessings,

Melissa Ferguson

The Topic Google Missed

google-485611_1920Why is it that I can google the anatomy of a seagull and find 1700 diagrams in .00002 seconds but cannot get a single quality article about some biblical passage I’d like to study deeper? I mean, when a few taps on the computer can pull up twelve videos on how to break into my neighbor’s house, why on earth is decent commentary of the Bible lacking?

The other day I came to a particularly mischievous verse in Revelation and tried to look up background information for more insight. To my amazement all that came up were fluffy, cotton candy articles about how God is good (which, while true, doesn’t justify skirting around the topic) or doomsday posts in red ink and dozens of exclamation points to emphasize how the world, if not by this evening, would most certainly be ending by the election.

Where are the theologians? Where are the scholars who know a thing or two about author, date of writing, background into the culture of the Ancient Near East, language, interpretations throughout church history? Why aren’t they so benevolently sharing these insights that enrich our study of Scripture via the world wide web?

Alas, I suppose until that time comes, I’ll just have to rely on the printed page: the commentary.

And, just in case you either haven’t found a good commentary or are wondering about the real value of one, here are a few suggestions.

First, you might want one of these little treasures if you ever find yourself reading the Bible—like 1 Timothy 2:15—and your thoughts fall down this similar trail:

“Um, it just said women are saved through childbearing… Are women just mules? Does God think that of women? Or maybe Paul was a little bit off here? A bit persuaded by the culture of the day? …  If he was though, does that mean the whole Bible is susceptible to error?  And there is no God? And this was all made up?! Okay, calm down, just turn the page and pretend you didn’t see it.”

The three commentaries below are neither written by scholars who believe Jesus was a myth, existing only in our minds to encourage naughty little humanity to behave, nor by those who want to spend thirty pages talking about the meaning of the word “the” in verse one. They are quality commentaries written by educated Christians dedicating their lives to sharing the profound.

*These are examples for Romans, though each commentary has other books of the Bible available*

 

moo

 

 

1. The New International Commentary on the New Testament

Is this book big? Yes. Could you use it to hold up the wheel of a car? Possibly. But it is one of my personal favorites, particularly given the insights of Dr. Moo. If you are looking for something more academic, more ambitious (after all, why is the word “the” there in verse one?), but also with heart, this is a great choice.

 

 

 

 

wright

 

2. The New Testament for Everyone

NT Wright people… former Bishop of Durham and one of the world’s leading Bible scholars. A man with a pastoral tongue and incredibly intelligent mind. This is a great series in everyday language. Note that this series does not include the Old Testament.

 

 

 

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3. The NIV Application Commentary

This commentary focuses less on technical language and more on application to our Christian life. It’s good for Bible studies and wading in to deeper studies without diving all the way and fearing you’ll get drowned in all the academic talk.

 

 

 

 

So, here’s to learning and living out the walk each day!

Melissa Ferguson