Looking Back & Looking Up: John Part 1

In case you’re unfamiliar with the golden age of Pixar, the above quote is from The Incredibles. Edna Mode is easily one of my favorite cartoon characters. Her words about not looking back are completely in character, but it’s worth noting that in the movie she actually does look back in a very beneficial way. Mr. Incredible wants her to design a cape for him, but she dissuades him by citing multiple superheroes whose capes brought about their premature demise.

One of the things writing this blog has challenged me to do is to look back on the ways God has changed and grown me through this Scripture memory and review thing. This next series of posts will be about the gospel of John. I spent a year and change memorizing it. Since then I’ve put in a lot of hours keeping the whole thing in my brain.

Today I was able to remember something that happened at the beginning of that memorizing journey that really shifted my perspective on why I memorize and review and Who I should actually be seeking to know through my efforts.

Every year my parents, sisters, and their families all meet up at a rental house for a week. In 2016 we met up at a beach house in Virginia. It was a super fun week, but if I’m honest that was completely in spite of me. I was grumpy with Drew and our kids. I snapped at family members for not being able to read my self-focused mind. I know that it was as bad as all that because I have a crystal clear memory of my sister Caroline sighing, then telling me, “You know, Emma, for all of the Scripture you have memorized, you’re really not all that joyful.”

I went and floated in the ocean while I mulled her words over. So it wasn’t enough to spend time committing God’s Word to memory and completing my review schedule every day? That in and of itself wasn’t making me more holy and fruitful? I was pretty bummed out. What did God want from me then?

The Holy Spirit – the Counselor, the Helper- didn’t leave me there. He knew that the words recorded by John would help me understand what God wanted for me before I sought out what God wanted from me.

The gospel of John is overflowing with incredible themes, promises, truths, etc. A huge theme is God’s revealed plan for His children: what it is and how He accomplishes it. Every person who confesses their sin and believes in Christ for salvation is adopted as His child.

John records several of Jesus’ conversations with the Jewish leaders. This passage is from chapter five:

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (v. 39-40)

Right after healing the blind man, Jesus has another conversation with the perplexed Jews. In it, He tells them this:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (10:10)

These are just two of many times Jesus declares His purpose for coming to earth. He came so that those who believe in Him may have life in Him.

Life! Abundantly!

I relate to the Jewish leaders all too much. I have often searched the Scriptures without seeing that they bear witness to Christ. I have hoped that perhaps my works can earn God’s approval.

The Spirit has graciously opened my eyes to His truth and has enabled me to hear God’s voice and follow the Good Shepherd. He continues to faithfully and patiently guide and sanctify me. He is changing my desires, priorities, relationships and everything about me for His good purposes.

So today I’m grateful to be able to look back, free to confess all of the ways I’ve sinned and failed – even & especially in my efforts to grow in holiness. It’s even more of a blessing to look upwards at Him and declare with joyous certainty that my security always has been and always will be in Christ alone.

May it be so for you as well!

Unobscured Counsel: Job Part 2

Quick recap from last week: I chose to memorize God’s answer to Job during a hard season because I wanted to see more of God’s compassion and mercy (James 5:11). But as I memorized and reviewed, I mostly felt confused and as if God’s words were the opposite of comforting.

If you haven’t before (or if it’s been awhile) check out Job 38-42:6 to read God’s exchange with Job. To hear me recite the chapters, click links for 38, 39, 40,41, and Job’s Final Reply.

First, God answers from the whirlwind, clearly demonstrating His great power to a still disease-stricken Job. And the answer starts with a question (just one of many to come):

“Who is this who obscures My counsel with ignorant words?” – 38:2

God immediately levels any potential structures of self-produced wisdom Job (and his friends) may have been fashioning. God makes it plain that human words spoken in ignorance actually obscure His counsel. But what we know about God from His revealed Word helps us there.

“Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent…”

Acts 17:30

“But I received mercy because I acted out of ignorance in unbelief.”

1 Timothy 1:13b

It was like a curtain was being drawn back for me; at first God’s words had seemed harsh and unfeeling. But upon deeper reflection I realized that God rebukes ignorance and foolish words because He desires that we know and believe His truth. He wants us to live in freedom.

What truth does God go on to reveal in His answer? The things we obscure with our ignorant words. He describes how He laid the earth’s cornerstone and set the boundaries of the ocean. Interwoven into the poetic descriptions of His creation, God also proclaims His domain over matters of justice being executed toward humankind. He does this in the form of questions to Job, challenging him to acknowledge His Maker in all things, visible and invisible.

“Have you ever in your life commanded the morning or assigned the dawn its place, so it may seize the edges of the earth and shake the wicked out of it?”

– 38:12-13

“Who put wisdom in the heart or gave the mind understanding?” – 38:36

And the one that always, always, always just levels me every Tuesday when I recite these chapters:

“Get ready to answer Me like a man; When I question you, you will inform Me. Would you really challenge My justice? Would you declare Me guilty to justify yourself?” -40:7-8

I don’t remember the exact Tuesday it was when this part really hit home. But I do know that the Spirit enabled my heart to absorb this portion of the infallible Word. Every time any person lobs an accusation God’s way for being unfair, indifferent, or cosmically cruel, this is what we’re doing: declaring God Himself to be guilty to justify ourselves.

What comes after this?

“Do you have an arm like God’s? Can you thunder with a voice like His? Adorn yourself with majesty and splendor, and clothe yourself with honor and glory. Unleash your raging anger; look on every proud person and humiliate him. Look on every proud person and humble him; trample the wicked where they stand. Hide them together in the dust; imprison them in the grave. Then I will confess to you that your own right hand can deliver you.” – 40:9-14

Again, the answer every person has to give to these rhetorical questions is, “Nope.”

This leaves Job and us completely aware of our desperate need for a Mediator and a Redeemer. Job looked ahead in faith and was commended for his active and steadfast faith. Chapter 42 tells us of Job’s earthly restoration and of his death after a full life. He still died. So is it a happy ending or not? Let’s look at what we know from the whole unobscured counsel of God to figure out if the compassionate and merciful purposes are solid.

We know that Jesus never obscured God’s counsel with ignorance. He always spoke perfectly. (John 12:49-50)

We know that all of the wisdom and knowledge of God are hidden in Him. (Colossians 2:3)

We also know, amazingly, that Jesus did not challenge the Father’s plan to save us. He was humiliated and trampled into the dust. He died. He was buried. But the grave couldn’t imprison Him. Nor will it imprison those He died to save. (See: the whole New Testament:)

We know that He will return to shake all of the wicked out of the earth. He will judge all humankind on the day that God has appointed. (Acts 10:42)

And so, in His mercy, God has convinced me that His purposes are indeed compassionate and merciful. He often uses seemingly hard words to do so, but who am I to question His ways?

May I daily follow Job’s example of humility and awe in his final recorded response to God, knowing that God’s plan of salvation in Christ has not been and cannot be thwarted and that He truly is merciful.

“Then Job replied to the Lord: I know that You can do anything and no plan of Yours can be thwarted. You asked, “Who is this who conceals My counsel with ignorance? ” Surely I spoke about things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, “Listen now, and I will speak. When I question you, you will inform Me.” I had heard rumors about You, but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I take back my words and repent in dust and ashes.” – 42:1-6

Sunset from a grocery run last night. The heavens declare His glory. No doubt about that.

The Lord’s Merciful Purposes: Job Part 1

My parents have imparted many wise sayings – always spoken in conjunction with active discipline and genuine love when I failed to listen- over the years. Here are a few:

  • It’s not hard if you don’t try.
  • You have two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you talk.
  • Discipline is doing the right thing at the right time.
  • Bad news doesn’t get better with time.

And my personal favorite from my Mom, typically uttered somewhat ironically before guests arrived or when I struggled to meet a deadline:

“If you wait ’til the last minute it only takes a minute.”

That’s pretty much how I’ve been treating blogging over the past few weeks. Generally I’ve waited until I have enough time to sit down and piece something together and process it in real time while writing. Going forward I’m going to *try* to be more disciplined in preparing for posts. I was tempted to not even try today. But then I remembered that an attempt to present something is better than just throwing in the towel. Thanks, Mom!

It was the early summer of 2016 when I finished memorizing Revelation. As I’ve shared before, there are difficult realities in that book that Christians can’t ignore or gloss over. Revelation is full of praises to the threefold God. It repeatedly affirms the fairness of His judgments and calls believers to persevere through earthly trials. Because I love connections in the Word these exhortations brought James 5:11 to mind:

“Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”

I was familiar with the account of Job’s life, both from reading it on my own and hearing sermons about it. Satan asks God for permission test Job. God gives it. Job experiences catastrophic loss of family members, wealth, then his own health. On top of all that he endures an abundance of biting words from his so-called friends. Yikes. In all of this, Job doesn’t curse God like Satan expected. Yes. I want that kind of steadfastness for sure.

There are so many lessons we can learn from Job. Why do bad things happen to good people? Simply put: they don’t. There are no good people. Even Job, easily one of the better men to walk this earth, acknowledges his need for a Mediator and a Redeemer. Job remained steadfast because Christ is the sure and steady Anchor.

With those things in mind (and because I felt unbalanced by having only memorized New Testament passages) I figured it would be beneficial to memorize God’s answer to Job in the last four chapters on the book. I wanted to see more of God’s mercy and compassion and to grasp how His purposes worked themselves out in real life.

So how did it work out that summer as I memorized those verses? Did I have lots of epiphanies right away? Did saying those verses over and over again enable me to be inexplicably at peace as I lost a deeply valued friendship because of my commitment to the Bible? Or as Drew and I separately and collectively struggled a lot? Not even close.

If Revelation had me scratching my head at certain parts, God’s answer to Job nearly gave me a bald spot. And that’s where I’m going to end for today.

Until the last minute of next Monday, friends.

The Final Four: Revelation Part 7

Happy basketball season to those of you who sports! Today I’ll wrap up this series of posts on Revelation with reflections from the last four chapters of the book.

Although my review of Revelation has typically been and currently is spread out over several days, there was a solo road trip back in 2017 where I was able to say the whole thing aloud (pausing every so often for Sheetz runs, of course!) We also had a read through of Revelation with friends awhile ago. At read throughs we take turns and read an entire book of the Bible out loud and then spend some time praying.

I do remember the exhale feeling of getting to chapter 19 and then into 20 during that road trip and at our read through.

At last.

The many forces that have been warring against the Lamb and His people are vanquished. The cry of the martyrs in chapter 6- “How long, O Lord?” has been answered. No longer, weary martyrs. Enter into the joy and rest of your Master because in Him you are called, chosen, and faithful !

“These will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them because He is Lord of lords and King of kings. Those with Him are called, chosen, and faithful. ” -17:14

After a lot of throwing down (literally) the false prophet, beast, and the dragon and all who follow them are thrown into the lake of fire to receive eternal punishment for their rebellion.

Then in chapter 21 and 22 the apostle John describes the new Jerusalem that awaits all who believe in Christ. Earlier in his life, John recorded Jesus’ cry of “It is finished!” from the cross. Now He records this truth from Christ’s mouth once again…but this time from His rightful throne.

“And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” ‭‭(‬ ‭21:6‬)

This is our inheritance, brothers and sisters in Him. Jesus has already finished the work – our sin is paid for, our adoption as sons and daughters is finalized. We don’t yet see all things restored…but we will. All of His enemies will be dealt with and there will eternal peace and rest.

I received a text from my sister as as I prepared to publish this- she shared about the great suffering believers in Nigeria are experiencing. Many have been killed for their faith. Their families are bereaved and destitute. You can sign up to receive a prayer guide for these persecuted brothers and sisters and give financially to assist them here .

These sons and daughters in Nigeria continue to weep and ask God, “How long?” and we lament with them. Our God hears. The day draws near when we will never cease to praise Him as we enjoy and glorify Him forever.

“He who testifies about these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.” – ‬ ‭22:20-21‬

My incredible sister Cate- the one who works for Smyrna- made this for me. It’s in our kitchen and reminds me daily of our great hope!

Not a Vacation Spot: Revelation Part 6

So it’s six weeks into this series of posts and I still haven’t shared several things about Revelation. For example: what my view of the millennium is, who Babylon the Great might be, the meaning of the mark of the beast, or if the locusts in chapter eight are actually helicopters….and….I won’t in this post either. Apologies!

What I do want to do in this post is continue to share how God has used previously perplexing passages to teach and comfort me. I want to encourage you to keep reading, listening to, memorizing and meditating on every single verse in the Bible. It’s all God-breathed. It’s all profitable. And if you have the duty and privilege of teaching it to others, resist the temptation to skip over a chapter or a series of verses. Dig in. Ask Him for wisdom. Seek out sermons and insights from other believers and teachers. May He continue to teach us and nourish us with Word of truth.

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” -John 8:31-32

Like I said, I won’t be sharing (and don’t actually really have) a firm opinion on who Babylon the great is or could be. My favorite response to those tough questions comes from my BSF lecture leader Kathy. “Lots of people say different things about this. So who’s right? Well, God’s right.” He is indeed!

At first as I memorized and began to review Revelation 18 it mostly felt bizarre, harsh, not relevant, and hard to say out loud. Phrases like “she has become a haunt for unclean and despicable beasts” ring strangely in my ears. So does the call in verse 20 for the saints to rejoice over her because God’s judgment has come.

And yet, as I continue to walk through my time on earth as an exile and become less and less comfortable here, the truth in this chapter comes to life. I see and read about oppression that occurred so that evil rulers can continue enjoying themselves. I witness human life being bought and sold as slavery is still existent in much of the world. People walk into the abortion clinic and money changes hands for a human life to be extinguished.

Revelation 18 doesn’t leave any doubt as to whether God sees or cares about corrupt economies and the slaughter of the weak. He will act in total justice to ensure every wrong is repaid in full.

And as always, the Word pierces right through into my days:

“Then I heard another voice from heaven: Come out of her, My people, so that you will not share in her sins or receive any of her plagues.” – Revelation‬ ‭18:4‬ ‭

Some days saying these words have helped me stop surfing Amazon so much- don’t waste time and money on stuff you don’t need, Emma. It has an expiration date, but God’s good gospel doesn’t. Invest there, Emma.

Other days it’s been the Spirit convicting me over my entertainment choices. “Hey, Emma, that TV show that portrays sexual immorality like it’s a good thing…you can’t watch that. You’re one of My people.” And I’m free to come out into His glorious and wide path! God is patient and kind. He saves all who repent. And He saves us to live in freedom. He reminds me to not even vacation in Babylon because I’m a citizen of heaven! Wow.

That’s my rambling for today. I would definitely appreciate feedback as far as if this approach to books of the Bible is helpful, how it can be better for you as a reader, things you’re learning in your own journey…comment or reach out anytime!

Be blessed!

Perseverance Demanded, Perseverance Given: Revelation Part 5

“And a third angel followed them and spoke with a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, which is mixed full strength in the cup of His anger. He will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the sight of the holy angels and in the sight of the Lamb, and the smoke of their torment will go up forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or anyone who receives the mark of his name. This demands the perseverance of the saints, who keep God’s commands and their faith in Jesus.” Then I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write: The dead who die in the Lord from now on are blessed.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “let them rest from their labors, for their works follow them! ” – Revelation 14:9-13

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’ve read the whole Bible, or perhaps you’re working towards that end. In any case, if you’re a Christian, you do have to acknowledge and wrestle with the reality of hell as revealed by God in His Word. Anyone who rejects Christ will be judged according to his or her own works and will stand condemned before him. The consequences are eternal.

Just today God provided me with a great conversation and an opportunity to share the good news. My new friend is quite convinced of the certainty of hell for the really bad people he knows. But he wasn’t concerned with it affecting him someday, despite admitting he doesn’t believe in Christ alone for salvation at this point in his life. We said goodbye on friendly terms and I hope we’ll run into each other again so that we can talk more. Either way, I’m asking fervently for his salvation.

But I’ll admit that on my drive home I was like, “God, what if not? Why me to know you and maybe not him? What about all the people outside of Christ who are already dead? What about the people I’ve prayed for for years who still haven’t received Your incredible love?”

And once again the Spirit brought Revelation 14 to mind. He doesn’t downplay the reality of His eternal wrath against the disobedient. The judgment is coming and it’s serious. But, don’t forget and don’t doubt it, Emma: God is very patient and He is fair. Keep the faith, Emma. Persevere, Emma.

I reached chapter 14 in my memorizing schedule in February 2016, just a year before the deaths of loved ones began to ravage my friend’s lives. Some lost young children, and continuing to trust His providence in those losses is still very difficult. (As an aside, this book is very comforting).

Some were believers and some- by what could be seen- were not in Christ. Then, just a few months after those losses, God woke me up early on a Saturday and urged me to go back out to pray and sidewalk counsel at the abortion clinic. It’s a place where death seems to win out, where offerings of tangible help are often rejected, and where I don’t get to see what happens in the lives of those who hear that God loves them but walk on by.

God knew what was ahead. The Spirit was getting me ready to hang on to Jesus for dear life. He was establishing me to continue working- because every prayer and every proclamation of the good news matters.

I can’t wait to rest from these labors and see how these works follow us. But for now, let’s persevere.

Sure Things: Revelation Part 4

A few weeks ago we had a Valentine’s Day party at our house – toddlers ran wild, crafts were crafted, and an inordinate amount of sugar was consumed by all.

The day before the party I was hanging decorations while all three kids napped (a rare occurrence these days!) and so I got to do my review without interruptions. I started with Revelation 8 and 9. It was so very incongruous to be festooning my living room with pink and red streamers as I recited a passage about the terrors of the last days. Here’s one passage:

“[The locusts] were not permitted to kill them but were to torment them for five months; their torment is like the torment caused by a scorpion when it strikes a man. In those days people will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.” – Revelation‬ ‭9:5-6‬

But you know what? It was exactly what I needed to hear. I had been stressed about party details. About chocolate covered strawberries and glittery hearts. Hearing those words again brought me face to face with what is eternally important. I have been redeemed and rescued from the just wrath of God against my sin. Anyone who shelters in Christ can be saved. That’s the real reason I love to celebrate anytime there’s an opportunity to do so. And I want everyone I know to be able share in that celebration!

Revelation chapter 6 ends with every type of person – rich, poor, slave, and free – crying for the rocks to hide them from God’s wrath. Refusal to shelter in Him is serious. The day of judgment is a sure thing. He desires everyone to come to Him and be adopted into His family (1 Timothy 2:3-4).

Chapter 7 showcases the beautiful reality that He has redeemed people from everywhere on the earth, and the vast multitude of saints ascribe praise to His name and are promised eternal security and perfect intimacy with Him. He will wipe away every tear! That’s promised in chapter 21 as well. It’s a sure thing.

This post is up late because I didn’t really feel like I was qualified to write a post (a rough weekend turned into a rough Monday) and because I didn’t know how to write about these chapters clearly. But I know I can’t go wrong pointing to Jesus’ power to save anyone who repents and believes. And for believers, we can always hear another reminder that our tears here are running on borrowed time.

Be blessed,

Emma

Aforementioned strawberries 😊