GERM Day 9

G – Gospel: Mark 10: 13-16

This morning in church, we were treated to a fun as well as meaningful presentation of drama and video. There were moments of utter silliness, awkward volunteer selections, and bad puns. The typical Sunday morning church service, right?

If I told a hundred church-goers from various backgrounds about the service we had, some would be confused, some would smile but shake their heads, and others would wish they had been there. But along with those groups would be people who would say that wasn’t a church service at all. They  might think we had ruined tradition or disrespected God. At the end of the service, one of the pastors said something that stood out to me. “God knows we like to have fun and be silly sometimes, but He also knows we need to be rescued.” We then watched a video of families telling the story of Jesus’ birth as they set up a nativity scene. I started to tear up when the parents said that Jesus came for you and me and held hands with their children.

I thought about the massive grins and bubbling excitement from the children in the room as they watched the silliness on stage. They wouldn’t have been paying that much attention to a sermon no matter how well-spoken the preacher. Jesus dealt with every one who came to Him in the way that reached them the best. With theologians, He discussed the words of the prophets. With a woman drawing water from a well, He spoke about meeting needs. With the children, He talked to them, gave them His attention, hugged them, and blessed them. God can use anything centered around Him.

E – Encourage: I Corinthians 3:18-20

When the disciples were trying to send the children and their families away, I’m sure it was because they thought the children were wasting Jesus’ time. After all, they thought He was putting together a plan to free Israel from the Romans. Certainly that was far beyond the understanding of children. But Jesus turned the tables on them and said they needed to think like children to understand His kingdom. The disciples missed the point of Jesus’ mission right to the very end. I have a feeling that those children got it. “Jesus loves me!”

R – Reflect: I’m one of those people with little, mostly useless factoids tucked away in my brain. Let’s call them “situationally useful,” if they are at all. I could learn everything that every university could teach me and still be the most foolish person in the world if I didn’t grasp something that my little nephews, aged 4 and 6, can sing and recite. “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.” I need to ground everything in my life in that truth and share it with everyone I can.

M – Meet

Tonight, I’m going to pray for my precious nephews. I am so thankful that they are surrounded by family and friends who love God and desperately want to see these two boys become saved.

 

Passages for tomorrow: Matthew 7:24-29 and Exodus 12:21-28

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GERM Day 4

G – Gospel: John 1:19-34

One thing that I never really thought about when reading about John the Baptist was the fact that everyone seemed to know what baptism was and only questioned why John was doing it. After some reading, it seems that, though the word baptism is not used in the Old Testament, the concept was central to much of the Jewish faith. The Law that God gave to Moses included instructions for ritual cleanliness. There were dozens and dozens of things that could make someone ritually unclean and in need of washing. Some of these things were minor, requiring someone to simply spend some time set apart from other people and wash themselves with water. Others were major and became someone’s whole life. People afflicted with diseases such as leprosy had to live separately from the rest of the population and shout “Unclean, unclean!” everywhere they went to warn people not to touch them. It was the practice of ritual washing in water that led to what John was doing.

In this sense, it wasn’t that this dunking in water was actually for cleaning the body, but for being obedient to the Law. Now, we know Jesus was without sin so He never actually needed the cleansing that the Law brings, but He was certainly obedient. Just as I read yesterday that He was obedient to His parents, Jesus started His ministry on earth with a symbol of His obedience to the Father. It was clear that the Father recognized His obedience, because He spoke out loud and said He was pleased with His Son.

E – Encourage: Acts 1:4-8

As a member of a Baptist church, I believe that the practice of being baptized in water is still an important part of my faith. But that isn’t because I believe it brings salvation. The Bible is very clear when it says in Ephesians 2:8, “For you are saved by grace through faith,” and through nothing else. But as Jesus was meeting one last time with His disciples, He brings up baptism. He tells the disciples in Matthew 28:19 to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” So baptism is commanded by Jesus Himself. But Jesus also said that baptism with water is not where power comes from. Jesus says that John baptized with water but that His followers would “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come.” (Acts 1:8)

Now the earliest followers of Jesus had to wait until He had left the earth before they received the Holy Spirit but we don’t have to wait any time at all. The moment we accept the baptism of Jesus’ blood to cleanse our sins, we are filled with the Holy Spirit who will never leave us. In the Old Testament, there are many instances of the Holy Spirit empowering someone for a miraculous act or prophetic word. These fillings were temporary, but my filling is permanent. I am so thankful that I can rely on God’s Spirit in every moment of my life.

R – Reflect: What does this mean for me?

Just a couple Sundays ago, we had a baptism in my church. The man who was baptized expressed a genuine excitement, raising his arms and whooping with a grin after he stood up out of the water. Why? It wasn’t because he had been saved in that moment. In fact, my church doesn’t baptize anyone who hasn’t already declared faith in Jesus for salvation. It was because he had just made a commitment to living for God and he was excited about fulfilling it.

Jesus started His ministry with baptism as a symbol of His commitment to the task the Father had given Him. I was baptized many years ago to show those around me that I had committed my life to following Jesus. I don’t need to be baptized again and I don’t need to receive more of the Spirit, but I can always refresh my commitment to God and be excited about getting to follow Him.

M – Meet

Today, I want to pray for those I know who might be struggling in their commitment to their faith. I know they don’t lose their salvation, but they may lose their joy in it. They might feel like they’ve lost their power, even though the Holy Spirit is still there. I will pray that God will remind them that He is there. Commitment to God was never meant to be a draining burden. It can energize anyone who leans into it.

The GERM Method

This morning as I drove to class, I was listening to a podcast called Ear Biscuits. It is put out by two guys named Rhett and Link who started out as YouTube entertainers and have become quite popular for their show Good Mythical Morning. In their podcast, the two men discuss various topics including: “Why You Procrastinate,” “Resolving Your Conflicts,” and “Solving Your Strange Job Problems.” They also answer important questions like, “Is Being An Only Child Better?,” “Are Magicians Actually Cool?,” and “What Did Your Dog Name You?” While I certainly wouldn’t say I agree with everything these guys say, it is neat to hear honest and open conversations that can be deep while also being entertaining.

This morning, I was listening to the episode titled, “What If The Day Was 12 Hours Longer?” Rhett thought this would allow him more family time. Link decided it would relax some of his anxiety over perfectionism and feeling a time crunch. Contemplating it myself, I felt more anxious about having to fill more time in a day when I’m tired or if I’m bored.

Rhett mentioned that one of their friends had come up with a pattern for his daily life – the normal, 24-hour version – that he called JERM: Journal, Exercise, Read, Meditate. Having a structure to follow appeals to the perfectionist part of my personality but makes my my laid-back part feel pressured. I’ve tried to set up schedules and templates for my day before and I’ve only stuck to them for a short time, but my mind latched onto this idea for a specific part of my day. I always end my day by reading a passage from the Bible along with a devotional thought associated with it and then spending time praying. That was one of the purposeful habits that managed to stick. I’ve enjoyed the devotional books I’ve been reading lately, but sometimes I feel I want something a little more.

In the car, my brain started chewing on the idea of the JERM and I came up with my own version: the GERM method. Original, I know. It sounds like a neat idea in my head, but I’m afraid I won’t stick with it. So, taking a cue from Julie Powell on whose life the movie Julie & Julia is based, I am going to put it out here and… here we go… commit to writing on this blog every day for the month of December so you can follow along with me on my GERM journey. (Yes, I contemplated trying a pun with that, but it sounded stupid in my head and I know it would have flopped in text).

I guess if I’m going to commit to catching GERMs and spreading them on the internet, I better tell you why you might even be the slightest bit interested. I am going to use a new method for my nightly Bible reading based on the letters in GERM.

  • G: Gospels – dive into the life of Jesus. With Christmas coming up, I figure I will start with comparing the accounts of Jesus birth and early life and then just keep going. I KNOW there will be important things in there for me to learn.
  • E: Encourage – energize with motivation from the Word. It doesn’t matter what form those verses are in, whether they are encouraging, entreating, or empathizing. I will use passages to help direct me in my Christian life.
  • R: Reflect – put my heart in front of the mirror and apply verses directly to my imperfections. This could include reading additional verses or simply thinking on the ones I’ve already read.
  • M: Meet – spend time with the Father, one-on-One. Pray over what I’ve read, thanking God for providing His Word and allowing me to talk to Him about anything. Focus on praying for others and for the spread of His Kingdom.

As I said, I plan to do this all through the month of December. Who knows, it may become a new life habit. It might not help me at all. But it certainly can’t hurt.

Now, normally I do my devotions right before bed. Writing a blog about it right then and there wouldn’t be practical, so I’m also going to try moving my devotional time into the afternoon or early evening. I haven’t worked out the right time yet, but when I do, I’ll let you know. I may still be in my pjs, regardless.

In my posts, I’ll be recording the verses I’ve read as well as anything I found particularly interesting or applicable. I will also be posting the verses for the next day so that those of you who want to read along but do your Bible reading in the morning won’t be left a day behind.

If you’re not someone who has a daily time in Bible reading and prayer, I encourage you to come along on this month long experiment. I was never very faithful in my devotions as a teenager and college student, but when I got my first job and was truly “out on my own,” I found myself slowly slipping away from active participation in my faith. It was easy to justify skipping church. That church was so big, no one there actually knew me, anyway. I wouldn’t have been missed. Bible reading was important, but I was just too tired after work and couldn’t get up in the morning. What brought me back from the edge of complacency was my own determination. Actually, that was probably the smallest portion of what saved me. The Holy Spirit did the nudging, strengthening, guilt-tripping, and motivating.

I didn’t want to lose something that was clearly so important. So I set myself the challenge of following a “read through the Bible in one year” plan. I did that two years in a row. God used it to improve me. Maybe He will use GERMs to do some more work.

The Words on the Screen

A few months ago, I was given an opportunity to join a ministry team in my church, True Life Church. I was asked if I would consider joining the team that puts together the slides that project the song lyrics onto the screen during services. It was a job I had watched my mom do when I was a teenager and I liked the idea of directly helping the congregation. I’ve now been a part of the team for a little while and I’m starting to learn important lessons about phrasing and minimizing the distractions of a busy background or having a lot of slides to flip through for a fast song. But probably the most important thing I’m working on is the timing of switching to the next slide. You would think that you would want to keep the words of a verse up on the screen until every syllable had been sung but it is actually best to switch to the next slide just as the last word is being sung, or even a word or two before in a fast song. This allows people to start processing the next words and be able to sing continuously.

I’ve started to get the hang of that trick, but one thing I consciously have to make myself do is look at the screen that everyone is reading from rather than the screen of the computer in front of me. The screen at the front of the auditorium only displays one slide at a time, but the screen on my computer shows the whole set of slides for the song side by side. It is really easy for me to start looking at that screen and read one slide after another and forget that no one else can see those slides until I press the “next” button. Unfortunately, I have been late switching the slides due to this bad habit a few times. It isn’t so bad when the song is very familiar and most of the congregation sings right along, but when the song is new or just familiar enough that people can sing it if they are given the words, there is a noticeable drop in the number of voices singing along.

Sometimes in life, we can feel like we know the path we’re walking on. We can see the plan for our week, our month, our year mapped out in front of us. But what happens if the next step of the plan is suddenly erased? What if you flip to the next page in your calendar and nothing is there? What if the slides with the words of instruction get stuck on just one line? If that ever happens, which it does more often in life than we’d like it to, the slide it usually gets stuck on says, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10a) It is such a familiar phrase that it can seem trite or cliche, but there’s a solid reason behind it. God is the one sitting at the computer with all of the slides laid out in front of Him. He has the master list of instructions. Because we see the slides flashing in front of us at regular intervals, we can feel like we know the next step, the next phrase of life, but in reality, we only know one step at a time.

It is really hard to trust God when the screen goes blank or seems to be stuck, but He really does deserve our trust. This doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be actively following along and planning to take the next step. If the words stop popping up in front of me, I can still hum along with the tune, trusting that guidance will return. God has all the answers right at His fingertips. In fact, He doesn’t even need the words on a screen at all. He wrote them in the first place.

“For I know the plans I have for you” — this is the Lord’s declaration — “plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” – ‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭29:11‬ ‭

The Familiar Unknown

I had quite a unique sighting yesterday. My parents and I were driving back from the local grocery store and right along the main street in town I saw a lovely large bird. It was a sleek swan. Unfortunately, its feathers were merely rubber, and its insides were made of air. This large pool toy was floating in the above-ground pool display at the local pool store. I’ve driven past this store, obviously a renovated small house, for most of my life, but never had a reason to go inside. I looked through the windows and could only see the products standing right next to the windows. For some reason, I thought, “I’ve never been in that building. There are a lot of places in town that I know exactly where they are, exactly what kind of stuff is inside, but I’ve never actually seen inside.”

This past month it was time for my cats to get their annual shots so I made an appointment at a local vet clinic, again a renovated house on the main street. The outside is painted a dark green with warm cream trim and has an inviting wrap-around porch. I was quite surprised to open the door and find clean white walls; a tall-ceilinged, light-filled waiting room; lovely light grey tile floors; and stainless steel counters. Not at all what I expected from the outside, but a welcome look for a vet clinic.

I’m not sure why I suddenly became intrigued by these familiar buildings that, in reality, are unknown to me, but it made me think of the way that we tend to have hidden nooks and crannies in our hearts that we may let God have a peek at while we show Him around the rest of place, but we never let Him all the way in. That would be like saying my heart is an office or restaurant where God is a regular patron, but He never gets to go into the storage room or kitchen. My heart is supposed to be God’s house. He should know it the same way I know where to step in the hall to avoid squeaking the floor in the middle of the night. God should know His way around like that. We should be joint inhabitants of my heart-house, rather than host and Guest.

There are verses in the Bible that talk about our hearts being God’s home, the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (I Corinthians 6:19). As God often does, He gave me this thought yesterday, and in today’s message at church, the pastor used one of the verses these thoughts brought to mind.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; Psalms 139:23

David, the man who wrote this verse, known as a man after God’s own heart, knew that God already knew everything about him and was not afraid to have God search every hidden corner of his heart. Despite the fact that David was human and sinned as all humans do, he knew that trying to kick God out of His home would only make everything worse.

The Heartbeat

I felt pretty special when the vet gave me my own job to do. I was just a High School age intern at the Cherry Brook Zoo in my hometown, but I was given an important job. The vet had been called in to check on a llama that she had treated a while ago for a broken leg. The cast had to come of in order for the vet to check on the strength of the leg and that required her to sedate the llama. The zookeeper, the vet, and I herded the fluffy white llama into a small barn in the exhibit and prepared to work. The vet gave her a quick injection with a sedative and we waited. Slowly she sank to her knees, then onto her stomach, and finally onto her side. She wasn’t completely unconscious, but she was pretty close and not worried at all when the three of us surrounded her.

The vet straightened out the leg with the cast and prepared her cast-cutting saw. “Okay, I need you guys to hold onto her, just in case she starts to wake up and try to move around.” The zookeeper I was shadowing that day moved to hold the llama’s other front leg and her head. I knelt down behind her and wrapped my arms loosely around the llama’s torso. The wool was so thick, my arms seemed to sink into the animal’s side.

“Can you feel her breathing?” the vet asked me.

“Yes, I can. She is taking slow, deep breaths.”

“Good, you be sure to tell me if that changes, especially if she stops breathing.”

It made me feel so good to be helping with such an important task, rather than just standing out of the way and watching. I was fascinated as I watched the saw cut into the plaster and expose the wooly leg. Things were healing well but the vet was concerned about there being enough strength in the leg for the llama to get around in her rocky enclosure after having a cast on for quite a while. She decided to let her wake up in the barn and stay there for a few hours before she went outside again. After some of the amazing things I’ve seen this far in my zoo career, this simple cast removal seems a bit mundane. But it will still be the first time I helped out with a vet procedure on one of “my” animals, and that’s why it sticks in my mind.

Sometimes events are so poignant, or intense, or infuriating, or joyful that we remember them easily. Other times we need little things to remind us of specifics. You would think that having God come down and die a horrible death just to take away our sins would be an amazing enough thing for us to remember all the time, but Jesus knew what humans are like. He knew we would need a reminder. He set up that reminder during what we call “The Last Supper,” when Jesus ate the Passover meal with His disciples right before he would be crucified. He took a piece of bread and compared it to His body that would be broken and He took a cup of wine and compared it to His blood that would be poured out. It was to be a reminder of His sacrifice, one that was easy for us to replicate and continue to practice. Paul said it this way in I Corinthians 11:26 “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

My church practices this reminder, called communion, once a month. Last Sunday, we took unleavened bread, shared it around, and ate it together to remember His body. We then passed around little cups filled with grape juice to remember His blood. As I was holding my tiny plastic cup in my lap with both hands, I just stared down at the deep red juice. The lights on the ceiling were reflecting on the top as little yellow dots. I tried to hold the cup as still as I could, something I remember trying to do since I was young. Even though the cup wasn’t moving and I was sitting as still as possible, the yellow light spots kept jumping around. Then I realized why. My heartbeat, the blood pulsing through my fingertips, was making the surface of the juice vibrate. It was like that scene in Jurassic Park where the glass of water shakes in time to the T-Rex footsteps. But this wasn’t water. It was deep red juice reminding me of my Saviour’s blood. Blood that was once pumped by His heartbeat and was poured out for my sins. It was as if I was seeing God’s heartbeat right there in my hands.

And can it be that I should gain

An int’rest in the Saviour’s blood.

Died He for me, who caused His pain?

For me, who Him to death pursued?

Amazing love! How can it be?

That Thou, my God, should die for me?

Amazing love! How can it be

That Thou, my God, should die for me!

He left His Father’s throne above,

So free, so infinite His grace;

Emptied Himself of all but love,

And bled for Adam’s helpless race;

‘Tis mercy all, immense and free;

For, O my God, it found out me.

Amazing love! How can it be

That Thou, my God, should die for me!

No condemnation now I dread;

Jesus, and all in Him is mine!

Alive in Him, my living Head;

And clothed in righteousness divine,

Bold I approach th’eternal throne,

And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Amazing love! How can it be

That Thou, my God, should die for me!”

– “And Can It Be, That I Should Gain?” By Charles Wesley