Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 6, 2020

the facet of the two who’s

Yesterday’s focus was on a donkey, and its story began with Jesus riding into the city of Jerusalem at the beginning of the Passover festival week. But that is not actually where that story began. In the first three verses of the eleventh chapter of his gospel, Mark writes …

And when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Beth′phage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, and said to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat; untie it and bring it. If any one says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” (RSV)

Interesting instructions. Wouldn’t you have loved being one of the two He sent? Jump a few days and chapters ahead and we find Jesus sending out two again on another sacred mission with interesting instructions.

And he sent two of his disciples, and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the householder, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I am to eat the passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.”
Mark 14:13-15 (RSV)

Of course, the disciples went and found everything as Jesus had said and prepared the room. That is where I had left things in all my previous considering of this very specific preamble to the sacred Seder Jesus would eat with His disciples. Then this year, I experienced an invitation to hold the lens a bit closer and found a brilliant facet of the Passion narrative that had completely escaped my notice. The facet of two beautiful who’s.

I am very careful to not “fill in any blanks” when it comes to scripture, so please let me be clear. If it doesn’t say it, they are my thoughts and words not His (and therefore, are not to be taken as truth). From my study of the story, I believe it is safe to assume that sometime during the week, Jesus stole away for a sacred appointment. He wasn’t going to see a man about a horse. He went to him about a house. Jesus needed a safe space to celebrate the Seder with His disciples. It was a deeply intentional meal that would be infinitely more so that year. And its setting must be in proper proximity to the Garden, where the events of His dying would commence. He knew just the right place, because He knew the heart of the householder. I would be very careful to compare the two, but this seems to me to be fundamentally like God knowing that He could suggest Job when Satan came to Him one day with a restless report of having roamed the earth (obviously looking for someone to torment).

The mood in Jerusalem was nothing like Parade Day just a few days earlier. The leadership’s anger with Jesus was reaching a fevered pitch, and their plot to kill Him was brewing and bubbling. While they had not yet been very successful in turning the hearts of the people against Jesus, everyone knew it was terribly dangerous to be near Him let alone be found aiding Him.

Answering the knock at the door in that toxic and tumultuous time was the householder. “Of course, Jesus. Come. I have the perfect place.” the householder says during their sacred sit down. It is likely there was no hesitation in his answer to the Master’s request, but there was caution in their planning. There would need to be a signal. The two that Jesus would send could not be so bold and plain as to walk up to the householder’s front door and knock. But what?

The householder thinks and then suggests (I wonder if it really happened like that. Doesn’t it just seem like Jesus to allow the householder to participate in His work that way?). “Tell them to look for a man carrying a jar of water.” Jesus knows how purposeful the suggestion is. We might wonder, “Okay, how exactly are the disciples supposed to notice a random guy carrying a water jug?! Isn’t that like telling someone to walk to Wall Street and look for a guy carrying a briefcase?” Except, it’s not. In that time and place, women would have been the ones carrying a jar of water. Men carried wine (in wineskins, not jars), so a man carrying a water jar would be unique enough to spot and probably not so much so to draw great attention. “Perfect,” the Master said (I think it would be just like Jesus to use that word).

It’s easily argued that the importance of the Seder far outweighs this clandestine detail of its preparation, but to God (and his Son) no detail is insignificant. As we’ve moved the lens a bit closer to the story, I pray that you now also see the deeply beautiful heart and obedience of the householder. One might consider this householder the most minor among the story’s supporting cast, but like the innkeeper on the occasion of our dear Savior’s birth, Jesus knocked at his door looking for welcome … and that is nothing resembling minor.

Before I am all done with this particular facet, let’s also quickly consider the man carrying the jar. We don’t know who he is, but is he any less important than the householder in this story? Maybe one could argue degrees, but he was used of God in redemption’s narrative. Did he look at the householder cross-eyed when he heard the request? Did he ask any questions, or did he only listen? It’s very likely the householder told him nothing of the reason he was being asked to do this. The less the man knew, the better for him and the success of the mission. In all of this, the man carrying the jar was a nameless man who was asked to do something very specific and unusual without knowing why and was simply obedient to the details of the ask.

O Father, may I equally and glad-heartedly long to be either the householder or the man carrying the jar in the things you have authored for me to do. May I answer the door when You knock and simply obey without needing to know why. And may I do so, caring nothing for my place in Your story and desiring only to bring You glory. Amen and amen.

Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 4, 2020

the facet of His ways and will

For those who have been readers during some or all of the good many years I have written during this sacred week, today’s facet will be quite familiar. It was the subject of my very first Palm Sunday post, and I have revisited it several times since. It has become one of the most powerful images in my personal experience of this week, and I have chosen it once again as the most fitting place to begin. It is how Jesus deliberately chose to begin his walk to and through the cross and the tomb – as the King, riding into town … on the back of a young donkey.

Christ’s two grand entrances were both made with great humility:  Born, not with a herald in the halls of a gilded palace, but in the anonymity and modesty of a feed trough in a common stable; and riding into Jerusalem as King, not on the back of a noble war-horse, but on the foal of a lowly donkey.  In His coming, living, and dying, Jesus maintained a singular posture. He was the servant King. The Most High bent low in becoming one of us in order to save us. Now that our lens has been rightly fixed on the lowly beast of burden, who carried the One who would soon carry ours, let us move it just a bit closer.

Many years ago, I was introduced to a deeper significance in God’s choice of a donkey to carry his Son into “battle.”  Drawing from personal study and great practical knowledge from my father-in-law (having owned a mule — the offspring of a male donkey and female horse — for many years), I have come to know the donkey is a very smart animal.  It is quite true to its description as a beast of burden, but do not be mistaken.  This is no clueless, led-around-by-the-nose farm animal.  It is equal parts fiercely stubborn will and faithful servant … and this is where I found what I am offering as the first facet.

Numbers 22:21-35 tells the story of a prophet (Balaam) and his donkey. Here it is in a nutshell: God is angry with Balaam, who has saddled his donkey and headed out with princes in the direction of Moab. Somewhere along the way, an angel of God stands, with sword drawn, in the middle of the road, who only the donkey can see. The donkey diverts out into the field to not confront the angel, and Balaam strikes his donkey out of ignorance. The angel reappears at a more narrowed patch of the path and the and again the donkey evaded, pressing against a wall on one side to get around, pinning the prophet’s leg against the wall in the process. Balaam strikes her again. One last time the angel appears in a place along the path giving the donkey no option to pass on either side. She chooses to lay down, preserving the prophet from any harm. Balaam has had it and angrily strikes her once more. At this point, God gives the animal the ability to speak, and she asks the prophet what she’s done to deserve being struck three times.

I am so tempted to write more about the ending to this fascinating story, but before I travel past the point of usefulness in what could turn easily into a rabbit hole, let’s bring this back to today’s facet. I believe this story reveals a great truth about the donkey.  Namely, it keenly senses danger and stubbornly refuses to go headlong into it.  A trusty steed?  Sound the bugle, kick your heels against his side, and he goes charging.  But a donkey?  No way, sister.  You can push and prod all you want, but this animal is going only where it determines, step by purposed and powerful step, and not a step more than there is purpose (and certainly not in the direction of danger). In this, I found a compelling parallel when considering the near complete absence of any action on Jesus’ part after His dramatic entrance into Jerusalem.

It was the most opportune moment to charge onward to the seat of power with the full support of an adoring and boisterous crowd, yet Jesus did nothing. The people waved palm branches (a symbol of military victory) and cried “Hosanna!” (which in Hebrew means “Save us!” or “Save us now!”). This was a perfect storm for a conquering king. There had to be some talk or even possibly significant pressure to act. The people expected Jesus to be their deliverer — a man of action, who would bring down the rod and make right all the times they were on the short end of the conquering stick. Yet, rather than rising to the purposes of the people, Jesus stopped and walked off their path. This King was not here to conquer earthly kingdoms. This King knew His time, walked His own path, and refused to move at another’s pace or for another’s purpose.

Can you see that facet? If so, may I suggest another? A donkey’s true nature is very much one of beast of burden, bearing burdens as a wise and faithful servant. Balaam’s donkey knew not to confront, but she also did not run. She submitted herself to the striking of an angry prophet, because the alternative was going against the messenger of God. In what amounts to the first steps of His walk to the cross, Jesus did not confront, nor did he run from the suffering He knew what was coming. He submitted to God’s purpose and became the bearer of the greatest burden — the weight of the sins of every person for all time. In His life, there was never an intent to take an earthly throne. In His death, our King’s throne would be a cross. There He would hang — in His true nature — the full weight of all our sins, faithfully born in His body.

In Jesus’ stubborn and unfailing will, He paid the price so that we might live.  What a perfect choice God made in his plan for Christ’s entrance into the city and for our redemption.  Let us all now go into this week, and the remainder of the days God has for us, walking in His deliberate ways and will.

Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 4, 2020

facets of the second Fall

For several years, I had a rhythm of writing during Holy Week. My pattern was to focus on the events of each individual day in Jesus’ final week of walking the full measure of redemption’s road. It was an intensely observational and experiential activity that has produced much good fruit in my life of faith and caused a tectonic shift in my experience of Easter. This year, however, in returning to writing after a brief absence, I am choosing to pen from a slightly different perspective. You may hear a few familiar echoes along the way, but the focus will most often be on details that were not a part of that particular day.

In my devotional reading during this current season of Lent, I have been drawn to the details. I have come to see them and refer to them as “facets.” Facets of the most rare and precious stone created by the pressure and heat present in the events at the peak of Passion week … the days nearest our dear Savior’s death.

It seems the thing to do, when sitting down at the onset of a “project” of this sort, to name it. The name I settled on was born out of a picture which began to form as I completed each of several daily readings where facets were discovered or experienced anew. I began to see a common thread, and soon after a phrase began repeating over and over in my head … “facets of the second Fall.” To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure at first where that last part came from, and perhaps you are a bit confused or concerned as to what that exactly means. I am grateful for the first whisper of the Spirit, and for the clarity that eventually came. The first Fall was that of the first Adam, who ate the fruit of the only tree in God’s garden which he was instructed not to eat from. In choosing to be like God rather than obey God, Adam brought sin into the world and death’s curse along with it. The second Fall was that of the Second Adam (Jesus) who paid the penalty for all the sins of man for all time and put death to death in rising three days later … just as He said. This second Fall was not a failing (like the first). It was an intentional giving up to pay the penalty and cure the curse of the first.

A diamond would not be as precious a stone absent facets. Those facets would not be of much note absent light. In this way, the facets of the Passion narrative (that burst forth with the brilliance of the most rare and precious diamond) would only be cuts or cracks absent the presence of the Light of the World. Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, humbled himself to enter this world as a child. He lived as we do. He came for a singular purpose – to make a way back to God. That purpose would demand His earthly life as the only worthy sacrifice for the sins of all and would be made whole in His rising again on the third day.

Join me each day of the coming week in slowing down and getting quiet with Him to consider a few facets of the second Fall. The very first one will be quite familiar, but in all my years of writing, it remains the most meaningful place from which to begin as we walk together through this sacred week.

A brief footnote: I wish I could lay claim to the words I used to note the second act of the second Fall (put death to death). They are the most succinct and powerful words I’ve heard to describe the moments of Jesus’ waking and walking out of the tomb. They are best attributed to my favorite artist, Andrew Peterson, and are lyrics in a song he wrote for a Resurrection record. The name of the song is “His Heart Beats,” from the album Resurrection Letters: Volume 1. I strongly encourage you go listen to this song and add it to an Easter playlist. Also, you simply must add “Is He Worthy?” from the very same album. With sincere apologies to some grand old hymns, “Is He Worthy?” is undoubtedly Easter’s anthem. I’d encourage getting up extra early this Easter morning and having both cued up to press play at dawn’s first light.

Posted by: mikenicholsblog | April 1, 2020

living wisely and well

Certainly, this must be the mother of all April fool’s jokes.  Did we all just wake up to the world shut-down? Has our existence changed to the point where church is on a computer screen, fine dining comes in a paper bag, important meetings are on Zoom, exercise is on the long-forgotten treadmill, 65 is elderly and millennials are instructing parents to stop going out so much? Can’t we just wake up? Oops, this may be April 1st, but what we all woke up to this morning is anything but a joke. However, we have been given a window of 30 more days to hopefully slow the virus and re-open our country and our lives. So what should a Christ-follower do?

It is so easy to breathe the words, “What should we do?”  My thoughts for this article were focused on how to navigate the next 30 days in light of Covid-19 when a friend reminded me last night that too much focus on the problem distracts from resting in the Problem Solver.  There is no doubt that everyone’s focus right now is on Covid -19 (and I won’t ignore it) but navigating the problem ought not to distract us from a clear focus on where our help comes from.

I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!
Psalm 121:1-2

So, what should we do? Could it be that this virus is reminding us what we should do and how we should live all the time?

Most Christ followers realize that we are ambassadors of Christ and want to present the gospel message with our lives and words. However, life and our own fears often get in the way of being vocal ministers of reconciliation. We shouldn’t need a virus to be vocal about where our help comes from and how true peace is found.

Is there really any difference in taking life one moment at a time than there was a month ago? Just last week I used words that fit any battle, not just this one.  As soon as this circumstance is behind, life will throw another one. And the words of David Jeremiah in Overcomer will still be true.

“Being an Overcomer isn’t something we accomplish by our own power and wisdom. When we can’t see how our everyday decisions and actions fit into God’s cosmic plan, God essentially says to us, ‘Let Me relieve you of that worry, that fear. Just take this one little step into the light I have placed in front of you, and I will see to it that your faithful action will fit into the overarching plan and accomplish both My goals and your good.’”

In the routine of life, we talk about God’s power, strength and ever-present help. But we often get so focused on the next problem that we lose sight of His ability to move mountains, and our moods are dictated by all that surrounds us. We struggle with what John Ortberg calls a small view of God.  Should you or I have to be in a pandemic to re-focus on the size of our all- sufficient God? Again, review the earlier printed statement from Ortberg in If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.

“I strongly believe that the way we live is a consequence of the size of our God. The problem many of us have is that our God is too small. We are not convinced that we are absolutely safe in the hands of a fully competent, all-knowing, ever-present God. When we wake up in the morning, what happens if we live with a small God? We live in a constant state of fear and anxiety because everything depends on us. Our mood will be governed by our circumstances.”

Obviously, my intent and even the re-printing of quotes is to challenge our thinking that living wisely and well (Ps-90:12) is not about a crisis, but how we should live daily, moment by moment.  The next 30 days will be a challenge, but life will not stop being difficult when the world re-opens. And if we need this crisis to remind us to be fully devoted followers of Christ, then the joke is on us!

Maybe we all need to pray:

Father, I have let the moment distract me from resting in You. But today, I claim the truth that my help is in You…maker of heaven and earth. I will choose to focus on You during the next 30 days and trust you in each moment.  Use me as the hands and feet of Jesus! Then when it is all over, I commit to still living wisely and well!

Posted by: mikenicholsblog | March 29, 2020

the next seven days

Seven days ago looked much like today.  My hope is that seven days from today will bring the sense of a world that is beginning to reopen.  Several years ago, I wrote about “the next seven days” with normal circumstances in mind (they seem trite now).  Yesterday, I reviewed the article with far more insight. Maybe those words will remind of what was normal and encourage you from Scripture while managing today’s very abnormal circumstances.

Did your life have disconcerting circumstances last week? To give an example, last week my life contained: spilled coffee (3 times), food poisoning from a restaurant, being asked to pray for a client with cancer,  waking up at 4am (wide awake) once or twice, seeing a business opportunity fall through, and praying hard for our daughter’s musical presentation! I suspect you could answer with your own circumstances from last week and I expect this week to be marked by a myriad of small to large life disruptions. There will be circumstances which make us laugh, frustrate us, cause sleeplessness and maybe even internal pain or conflict. So how will you and I approach the next seven days?

I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about a man named Caleb. He was given a promise at age forty. He would inherit the land he and eleven other men had been sent to scout. If you are a student of Scripture, you’ll recall the story of the twelve men who were sent to spy the land of Canaan. Ten returned with a negative report; only Joshua and Caleb were positive about taking the land. The consequences of their disobedience in not entering the land God had promised were devastating to the nation of Israel and they wandered in the wilderness for many long years. At age eighty-five (45 years after the promise) Caleb asked for possession of his promised inheritance and received it. He was a man of faith who remembered God’s promise 45 years earlier. Caleb never stopped believing the promise would one day be his. That is trust! You and I would be wise to simply believe the promises in Scripture even for the next seven days.

Caleb received a promise but had to endure the wilderness. Can you imagine what that would have been like? It would have been easy to see the dying, murmuring, complaining and struggle of those years and lose hope in his promise. There were certainly tough days, but he persevered as a man of great faith. I am sure that most Christ-followers would just like to live the next seven days with a Caleb kind of spirit … and we can!  But will we take possession of the great truths of Scripture with the same vitality that bleeds from Caleb’s example?

Before presenting a verse to lean on for the next seven days, I would like to offer words which, to me, frame the struggle we face while trying to possess the promises of God’s Word. The words are from the book If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, by John Ortberg.

“I strongly believe that the way we live is a consequence of the size of our God. The problem many of us have is that our God is too small. We are not convinced that we are absolutely safe in the hands of a fully competent, all-knowing, ever-present God. When we wake up in the morning, what happens if we live with a small God? We live in a constant state of fear and anxiety because everything depends on us. Our mood will be governed by our circumstances.”

I don’t believe Caleb lived with a small view of God.  What about our circumstances for the next seven days? Can we live viewing God as bigger than any circumstance and depend on His strength for each day? The answer for all Christ-followers is “Yes, we can!” (Even with Covid-19 dominating our thoughts).

For anyone really willing to live out the promises of Scripture in the next seven days, please let the verse below resonate in your mind and heart daily.

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.
Psalm 55:22

The word burden in the verse implies “one’s circumstances,” and there will be many in the next seven days. I wonder what this week will look like if we choose to cast each burden on Him and accept the promise that He will sustain us. Sure, most Christ-followers believe the promise, but for the next seven days will we possess it as our reality? Caleb lived a long time trusting the promise of God. Let’s start with the next seven days!

Our circumstances have changed, but God and His Word have not!

Posted by: mikenicholsblog | March 24, 2020

one long moment

It was last Tuesday evening (so long ago) when my wife edited the words long moment from an article I was writing. Wait … What? … But, that’s exactly what I wanted to say.

My wife is a master of grammar and punctuation. A moment is a moment, she explained. There is no “long” moment. I stood corrected and gracefully deferred to her expertise. Today, however, those edited words have greater intention and purpose, and I am choosing to coin a new phrase … one long moment. We might all agree that long and moment may not typically fit together, but don’t you agree that it seems like right now we are all stuck in one long moment? To prove my point, try to remember life before social distancing and endless time confined within the four walls of your home.

When leaders say, “We will get through this,” our first response is “When?” Intellectually, we all agree with those encouraging words of the long moment ending. However, the emotional struggle for everyone is keeping a positive attitude in this seemingly endless “moment.”  We all have ritual patterns to our days and weeks, but for the time being our new pattern is one long moment of isolation, quick grocery visits, take-out meals, church online and an unsettled spirit about when this moment will end.

So how are you doing? Covid-19 is called a global pandemic, but the reality is that we are amid a very personal pandemic. In your realm of influence there are people who may struggle with fear, worry, or family burdens. Others are struggling with the financial effects of not working or the losses they have taken in retirement assets. The personal side of this goes on and on!  So how do we match our faith in Christ and confidence in God’s sovereignty with this one long moment?  Hopefully, I can give a small amount of perspective for at least today’s long moment.

“You can’t see the whole path ahead, but there is usually enough light to take the next step and then to trust God’s guidance in the moment.”
— Henri Nouwen

I heard this quote last Sunday and it resonated. Will Covid-19 end today, tomorrow, or May 1st? No one knows. For Christ-followers, that is not the point. God is in charge of our days, and a focus on simply looking and listening for His guidance in taking the next step is essential.  For me, it can be a battle. I focus on His Word and start well and then those Pandemic updates come, and I have to refocus. But in this one long moment, I can live well … living moment by moment.  A favorite verse of mine helps.

The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way?
Proverbs 20:24 (NLT)

In our personal pandemic adventure, we can rest in the fact that He has ordained each day for us.

As I think of this season, my mind wondered back to some of my heroes. Abraham and Sarah had a long moment waiting for a child. Joseph had an extended time in prison before God raised him to great authority.  Moses lived a long moment on the backside of the desert and then another hard season in the wilderness. I can’t even fathom the moments that Job walked through on his journey. David’s difficult long moment running from Saul had to be tough. What about that 40-day wilderness experience of our Savior doing battle with the devil?

Do you think that Abraham and Sarah and Joseph and David and Moses and Job and Jesus got weary in their long moment?  God was sovereign over those moments, and our lives have been deeply impacted by the faith of these ordinary people who were part of the extraordinary story God recorded in his Word.

Allow me to close with something I read in David Jeremiah’s book, Overcomer. I believe it speaks to this time of personal pandemic.

“Being an Overcomer isn’t something we accomplish by our own power and wisdom. When we can’t see how our everyday decisions and actions fit into God’s cosmic plan, God essentially says to us, ‘Let Me relieve you of that worry, that fear. Just take this one little step into the light I have placed in front of you, and I will see to it that your faithful action will fit into the overarching plan and accomplish both My goals and your good.’”

God has some goals and purposes for you and me in this long moment.  We can live each day just taking the next step into the light He places before us and we will get through this … well!

Signed, A fellow struggler.

 

Posted by: mikenicholsblog | March 22, 2020

praise perspective

This morning before praying, I reviewed verses in Psalm 145 on praise. We have all been so deep in the weeds of Covid-19, that giving praise may have drifted away from front and center as we call out to God on this virus. Well, David reminded me that it shouldn’t.

I will exalt you, my God and King, and praise your name forever and ever. I will praise you every day; yes, I will praise you forever. Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!  No one can measure his greatness. Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts; let them proclaim your power. I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor and your wonderful miracles.
Psalm 145:1-5 (NLT)

We all need perspective … praise perspective!  As Christ-followers, we understand that God knows everything about Covid-19, cares for us personally, and will guide us day by day. So, for encouragement today, I have copied a true story about another tough time. Just like then, God does miracles today!  And even before we see miracles, we can praise.

During Desert Storm the United States Marine Corps was ordered to push up the Saudi Arabian coast through the minefields in southern Kuwait and capture Kuwait City. To move 80,000 marines up that coast, we had to build a logistics support base. We built that base at Kabrit, 30 kilometers south of Kuwait and 30 kilometers in from the Persian Gulf. We picked Kabrit because it was an old airfield that had water wells that provided 100,000 gallons of water a day. The Marines needed that much water daily to carry troops into Kuwait.

Fourteen days before the war began, General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander in chief of the central command, made a daring move called the “great left hook.” This sweep of forces flanked the Iraqi army. It was a great move, but it forced the Marine Corps to move 140 kilometers to the northwest and locate a new logistic space at the Gravel Plains.

There was no water. For fourteen days we had engineers digging desperately to find water. We went to the Saudi government and asked if they knew of any water in this area, and their answer was no. We brought the exiled Kuwaiti government down to our command post and asked, “Do you know if there’s any water in this area?” They said no. We went to the Bedouin tribes and the nomads, the people who lived in that area, and said, “Do you know where there’s water on the Gravel Plain?”

They said, “There’s no water there.” We kept digging wells hundreds of feet deep — to no avail.

Every morning at 7:15 a.m., during my devotional time, I asked the Lord to help us find water. On the Sunday before we were to enter Kuwait, I was in a chapel Service, where we were praying for water, when a colonel came to the tent and said, “General, I need to show you something.”

We drove down a road we had built through the desert from the Gravel Plains to the border of Kuwait. About a mile down that road, the officer said, “Look over there.” About twenty yards off the road was a tower that reached fifteen feet into the air. It was a white tower, and at the top of the tower was a cross. Off the ends of the cross were canvas sleeves used in old train stations to put water into train engines. At the base of that cross was an eight-foot-high pump, newly painted red. Beside that pump was a diesel engine, and beside that, four batteries still in their plastic. On the engine were an On button and an Off button.

I pushed the On button, and the engine kicked over immediately. I called one of my engineers and asked him to test the flow coming out of the pipes. An hour later he said, “Sir, it is putting out 100,000 gallons a day.”

General Charles Krulak, in a message given at the Leadership Prayer Breakfast, Wheaton, Illinois, October 2000

In a search for this story you would find that it was called the “The Miracle Well” by the London Times. I was challenged by the verses this morning to think of praise and miracles. We all know believers should praise, and that our Father still does miracles

My challenge for you today is to start every morning praising … every morning. And don’t discount our Father’s ability to intervene with miracle-working power. Do you still believe in miracles? He still does them!

Posted by: pmarkrobb | March 19, 2020

sing as a bird in winter

I stepped out the side door Tuesday morning and was met by a chorus of what sounded like hundreds of birds. In these last few days of the winter season, and in the first days of altogether different season that certainly feels as cold and harsh as winter can be, it was a shock to my senses. It was a deep inhale of the fresh and pure air of hope, and it almost immediately made me think of a post I wrote back in February of Two-Thousand Sixteen. The daily reading it sourced from seems so appropriate for where we find ourselves today, and its concluding truth rings (or should I say, sings) just as loud and true as it did then. For such a time as this, I would like to revisit that post as an encouragement to your heart today.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
James 3:13-15 (ESV)

Not long after the sun dawned on Monday, the day took on a very solemn tone.  After greeting me with a good morning kiss, my wife shared some tragic news she received via text shortly after 1:00am.  A young couple were out celebrating Valentine’s Day and were hit head-on by another car.  The husband died instantly, and the wife was in critical condition.  The young man was the best friend of someone very near and dear to us.  He was to be his best man.

My heart sank, and silent prayers were offered.  Then quickly came, the news that the wife had, herself, just fallen into the arms of Jesus.  This world’s great loss was heaven’s great gain.  I navigated the remainder of that day with an intensely heavy heart.  This was “wrong” on so many levels.  This was not how things were supposed to be.  Yet, the Bible says this is exactly what we should expect.  Our world is not how God created or intended it to be.  Original sin carried a curse, and death in this life is assured (unless Christ comes back first).  It should war against our souls.  It should always seem so desperately wrong to the true follower of Jesus.  It grieves God, and God’s Spirit within us echoes that grief.

I stepped out the side door of my house a little before 8:00am the next morning.  It took only a few steps to be overwhelmed with profoundly contrasting sensory experiences.  As my eyes measured my steps, I could clearly see snow on the ground.  Yet as my cheeks hit the temperate air, something seemed amiss.  As I took a deep breath through my nose, my senses were at full-on war.  I typically pause in such moments.  They are the kind where your eyes announce sour, but your palate experiences sweet — or when you expect a bite to be sweet and are shocked by savory.  Something doesn’t compute … and it definitely didn’t that morning.  Every bit of my visual cues and calendar knowledge declared winter, but the cool-ish air and distinct scent shouted spring.  O how I love moments when two polar opposites or multiple warring senses create an unavoidable and uncomfortable tension.

And then I heard the birds.

I stood beside my car for a minute to watch, breathe and listen.  The sweet sound of the birds seemed to elevate above my other senses. I found myself lost in their song.  As I buckled in and started off, I began connecting the experience back to the heaviness of my yesterday.  Although it was not of the same intensity or consequence, there was also something “wrong” on Tuesday morning — birds were singing and there was snow on the ground.  How is it that there were birds singing?!

In what seemed like an instant, I associated their song with the bewildering beauty of gratitude in the midst of suffering. The conditions were harsh, yet they went on singing.  It was the natural world declaring the absolute truths of “give thanks in all circumstances” (I Thess. 5:18) and “count it all joy” (James 1:2).  Thanks in the circumstances and joy in the trials of various kinds … not because of them.

I suppose I am more often a support for the bird who attempts to sing in the midst of their circumstances and trials.  I have not experienced deep loss as often as have others in my life.  It is desperately hard but infinitely easier to be the bird’s friend, than to be the bird.  Father, continue to make me worthy of that sacred opportunity and make me able to sing when circumstances and trials of various kinds befall my life.  I pray this for those whose lives have been turned upside down by the tragedy of this young couple’s death.  And I also pray that we don’t miss this:

The singing makes people stop (as I did Tuesday morning) and listen.  The song is a powerful testimony of God’s strength and love in carrying us through the circumstances and trials that bring us to our knees.

Dear brother and sister, sing as a bird in winter.  Sing to the Creator, the Great Healer.

Posted by: mikenicholsblog | March 17, 2020

We need to land squarely

Consider the world of seven days ago. There was a virus, and we were all a bit concerned. Then that concern went into overdrive.  Today, Covid-19 dominates almost every discussion, and social distancing is now a popular phrase. The world of seven days ago is a distant memory. Normal activities for this week include: working from home; driving through for a take-out meal; determining just the right time to visit the grocery store; understanding what children need and elder isolation. And all this while living six feet apart … or did someone say three?! What a difference a week makes!! As Christ-followers, how should we view and respond to something that is so unnerving, far-reaching, and with seemingly no quick resolution?

Years ago, I was challenged with what to do in situations I could not control, fix or avoid. Covid-19 certainly tempts each one of us in the direction of a place that seems a bit uncontrollable, with no real capacity to fix or avoid. So what do Christ-followers do?

We need to land squarely on our faith and trust in our unfailing and unchanging God. It is hard to imagine, but we all experienced similar but different emotions on 9/11 with terrorism, and then again in 2008 when the financial world collapsed. Three eruptions in twenty years, but God still holds it all and He knows right where each of us is and what we need. There is no hopelessness when our eyes are fixed on our Father. Words came from a friend yesterday that were penned by Martin Luther concerning the Black Death. His perspective from another time was timeless.

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, He will surely find me, and I have done what He has expected of me, and so I am not responsible for either my death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however, I shall not avoid place or person. I shall go freely as stated above. See this is such God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.” (Luther’s Works; Vol 43, pg. 132).

Well said from a long-ago generation! When I started this article, faith over fear was on my mind. But in Christ, we already know that. So, I (and we) have a challenge. Christ-followers around the world are praying, trusting (while battling fearful emotions), and wanting to help. Look at Romans 12:9-13 with me, and then accept the opportunity to minister.

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. (NLT)

With Covid-19 interrupting our world, will you choose with me to be the hands and feet of Jesus to just one or two people a day? It could be a phone call to encourage or pray with someone, helping with groceries, or maybe sending a gift card. Be who you are in Christ to others, and genuinely touch lives in the next seven days. Narrow spiritual and relational distance while respecting the social kind. There may never be a better moment to show His love! Don’t expect others to do what you can do, and let your faith comfort the fears of others.

IMPORTANT NOTE: We believe God may be inviting us back into a moment in time or season of life relative to Journey OnWord. He has stirred our collective hearts to offer some encouragement once again, rooted in biblical truth, for a time such as this. We don’t know the answers to the questions of “How often will you post?” or “Does this mean Journey is back?” For now, we listen for God’s prompt and joy in the opportunity to share with you again.

Posted by: mikenicholsblog | December 31, 2019

Start 2020 in the right way!

 

There is no better way to seek clearer vision in 2020 than to seek His perspective!

There is no better way to get His perspective than by reading His Word.

If you do not already have a structured daily Bible reading plan, we would like to strongly encourage you to consider this one. It is a read through the New Testament in a year plan offered by the Navigators. They call it a 5x5x5 plan — 5 minutes a day, 5 days a week, 5 ways to dig deeper. Will you consider investing this small amount of time to deepen your daily walk with Jesus? The decision is yours today in order to begin tomorrow.

A PDF of the plan is linked here, and is also available on the side menu of the Journey OnWord site.

Blessings,
Mike and Genel Nichols

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