Obscured

Definition of obscure:

  • hard to make out or define
  • not clearly seen or easily understood
  • unclear, uncertain, unknown
  • hazy, vague, indeterminate, concealed, hidden

When traveling, it’s always good to know the destination (that is, if you have plans to get somewhere) and a decent map to show you how to get there. If you’re traveling in a scenic part of the country, it’s even better to be able to see the surrounding countryside.

In life, we often want a similar situation. We make our goals and our plans on how to achieve said goals. We organize our lives with routines and schedules, mostly with the expectation that things will go as we intend.

Except when it doesn’t. Life doesn’t often fall into line like we want it to. Unannounced things happen. Unpredicted events take place. Our false sense of control shatters about us. And what we thought we saw so clearly suddenly become obscured, blocked, hidden from our view.

We took a trip to visit some friends and family in Colorado last year (as is our custom for us to do). Usually, we expect the views to be quite beautiful. We expect the drive from Colorado Springs to Pagosa Springs through the mountains, across the San Luis Valley, and over Wolf Creek Pass to be even more so. However, this particular time it was not.

Smoke from wildfires burning in the west covered the skies in thick haze. So thick, that as we drove, we couldn’t see the mountains, neither the ones far away, not the ones right next to us.

Our friends have a lovely home with a stunning view of Pagosa Peak and we always look forward to the ever changing, living landscape. However, because of the smoke, this is the view we had when we arrived. No sign of any mountains anywhere.

During the course of our visit, some weather moved in and pushed the smoke out. However, because clouds and snow flurries filled the skies, this is the view we had. No sign of any mountains anywhere.

The weather eventually moved through and the skies cleared and oh, what an amazing view we had. The mountains had been here all along. We just couldn’t see them.

Trusting is being confident of what we hope for, convinced about things we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1 (CJB)

How often does worry, sin, ungratefulness, materialism, and so many other things obscure, shroud, conceal our ability to see the splendor and majesty of what God is doing? How often do we walk about in a haze, not knowing or seeing the soaring heights of his love and care around us.

We couldn’t see the mountains. But we knew they were there. Often we can’t see God’s faithfulness in the midst of trials and struggles. But trust is being confident he is there. When the smoky haze disappears, when the weather disperses, when we can see clearly, then we will know what we believed all along, God’s faithful love for us.

In the same way, we can see and understand only a little about God now, as if we were peering at his reflection in a poor mirror; but someday we are going to see him in his completeness, face-to-face. Now all that I know is hazy and blurred, but then I will see everything clearly, just as clearly as God sees into my heart right now.

1 Corinthians 13:12
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Be Still Series – Consider: Trusting the Abundance of God

In my fiction writing (I talk about my works in progress on my In the Works page) I typically come up with a three book series (a trilogy) idea. However, somewhere along this devotional journey, I felt that the Be Still series should have at least seven books. And I wanted to continue releasing them every November.

At the beginning of 2020, my husband had an idea for the next book, thinking it would have to do with Psalm 23 and rest. In February on the morning of my book launch party for Explore, my prayer was for the Lord to give us opportunities to rest, retreat, work on what we thought would be the next book called Restore. The Lord gave me two words for the year (which I typically don’t receive any word for a given year): Retreat. Generosity. Little did we know in February exactly how the Lord was going to give us rest and retreat, along with much of the world.

As the Corona virus reared it’s ugly head and sent the world into a tailspin, I, along with much of the population, wrestled with the consequences. The stress and uncertainty was compounded by the fact that the virus invaded our home early on, moving from the husband to me, to our son and to our son’s girlfriend (who was staying with us while the world shut down). A season filled with strident political division as well as racial unrest across the country did more than distract, it distressed. I am not one who writes in the midst of stress and busyness. I process first and then write. As a result, my work on the the next Be Still book and my fiction writing lagged.

And lagged. As the months went by, I realized that this would not be the year for Restore or a devotion on Psalm 23. But I still longed to release another Be Still book. I needed it. I felt like others needed it. But on what. The year was already half over.

I looked back over what I had in my writing files. In the summer of 2014 I started the blog series on the Psalms called First Verse: a journey through the Psalms. As I read through them, I realized I had lots of content for another book. Selecting twenty-one of the blogs, I recrafted them into devotionals with the theme of Abundance. I then combined them with more of my husband’s amazing pictures and the next Be Still book, Consider, was born. We managed to publish it by November and even had copies available for the Artisan Fair.

The book can be purchased on Amazon at Consider: Trusting the Abundance of God.

See all the books currently available by visiting my Be Still page.

All the books in the Be Still series are available on Amazon. Visit my author page Jill English Johnston.

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Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans

I first heard Rachel Held Evans on a sermon podcast when she spoke at Mars Hill years ago. She had probably just released her book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood and spoke about the experience. I found her refreshing, enlightening, and inspiring.

Two things stuck for me from her teaching.

1. Eishet Chayil (Woman of Valor) from Proverbs 31, which instead of being a checklist for Christian women to try to follow (as I had always heard), is actually a beautiful, special Shabbat song in honor of the Jewish woman.

2. Jephthah’s daughter, a story in scripture about a father who made a careless vow after a military victory to sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house. Which turned out to be his unmarried daughter. Rachel and a friend, acknowledging the difficult and sometimes crazy stories in scripture, held vigil in memory/honor of her.

I didn’t pick up any of Rachel’s books, however, until I recently heard reference to her again and her book, Inspired, on another podcast. I downloaded the audible version and the husband and I listened to it on a road trip.

I love the way Rachel lays out her book by telling a story that sets up each chapter. She then invites us into asking hard questions about scripture, and she lays out some of the interpretations and challenges some of the assumptions made about beliefs/areas that impact the way we live out and communicate our faith.

For those who once cherished faith and faith community, but then lost your way because of comments like, “you just have to have faith,” or “you can’t ask that question,” or you just haven’t felt safe asking the hard questions, then Inspired may help you find a kindred spirit. And maybe it will help you find your way back to Jesus and to a richer faith than the one you had before.

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Packing up our toys

Ever watch a group of kids play when one of them gets angry? The angry kid just might pack up her toys and leave.

But if you criticize and attack each other, be careful that you don’t destroy each other.  

Galatians 5:15 (GW)

What is your definition of church? Is it an assembly of believers? A congregation? The body of Christ? A place of worship? The House of God? Our definition will determine the decisions we make regarding it.

Is church merely the place we go to worship each week? Maybe midweek worship or bible study? Is it the place we gather to be fed from the word, from scripture, from the Bible? Is it a place that equips us to be lights and salt to the world during the rest of the week? Is it a place for occasional fellowship, potlucks, community groups, activities and programs? Is it a social club where we hang out with like minded people and people we like?

If so, then what happens when we disagree with something or someone in our church? What if we don’t like a change that’s been made? Maybe in the worship music or format? Or what’s being offered or not offered for our children, our youth, ourselves? What if we don’t like a new staff member or volunteer? Or what if we have differences of opinion on certain issues? Or doctrinal or political disagreements?

If church is nothing more than a place that’s supposed to meet our spiritual needs as we see fit, then when a problem comes along, we might be tempted to pack up our toys and leave. We might move to another church, another place of worship. We might find someplace else more to our liking, our needs, or our theology. If the church is only there to meet our own needs, then we’ve set ourselves up for giving up, moving on, betraying, letting down, breaking faith, hurting others.

Stop judging so that you will not be judged. Otherwise, you will be judged by the same standard you use to judge others. The standards you use for others will be applied to you.  

Matthew 7:1-2 (GW)

From what I’ve experienced and seen lately, the church in America is very selfish, individualistic, and egocentric. It’s all about me. My comfort. My preferences. My theology. My liking. We lack commitment in anything but self. What’s best for me. What’s best for my family. What fits best with my form of beliefs, theology or doctrine.

Oh sure, we frame it as being “led,” or “convicted,” or “a check in my spirit.” Because it’s easier to walk away and start over somewhere else than stay put. It’s easier to leave than to do the hard work right where we’re at. The hard work of surrendering our rights and reasons. The hard work of commiting to pray for each other and with each other. The hard work of wrestling, struggling, and growing along side each other, even when, especially when, we don’t see eye to eye. To walk through the desert wilderness together. That’s hard! It’s much easier to go somewhere else.

If I’m no longer happy or content or satisfied, then I can pack up my toys and go elsewhere. Sort of like my favorite restaurant. They’ve changed their menu. Raised their prices. Took away my favorite dish. Or changed the server I always have. Guess it’s time to find a new favorite restaurant.

We must also consider how to encourage each other to show love and to do good things. We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming.  

Hebrews 10:24-25 (GW)

But what if church is something more? What if it’s supposed to be community? Family? Truly the body of Christ, knit together, belonging to each other, part of each other. One heart. One Spirit. A people we invest in, commit to, love unconditionally, come along side, faithfully walk with through all the difficulties and differences? If we see church as something more, something greater, wider, bigger than ourselves, that might shift our perspective enough to not pack up our toys and leave so quickly. After all, don’t we follow a Savior who willingly laid down his life for us, his church?

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 

1 John 4:11-13 (NIV)

What we translate as church in the New Testament is the Greek word ekklēsia which means “to call out from.” Such as, a people called out from the world. The English word we use as church comes from the Greek word kyriakos which means “belonging to the Lord.”

If we’re acting like the rest of the world, can we call ourselves the church, the called out ones? If we’re acting like the rest of the world, can we call ourselves ones belonging to the Lord? If we belong to the Lord, we shouldn’t act like or look like the world. If we belong to the Lord, we have his Spirit. And his Spirit bears fruit.

The fruit of the Spirit is love. Do we love well? And don’t give me that tough love stuff. Because God’s love is audacious. Extravagant. Lavish. It never fails. It never gives up. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Is our love for one another like that?

The fruit of the Spirit is peace. Shalom. It is more than absence of conflict. It speaks of being made right, complete, full, a wholeness that encourages us to give back with great generosity. Do we seek peace with one another, or do we stir up conflict or walk out in disagreement?

The fruit of the Spirit is kindness. Are we kind? Or do we feel the need to be the Holy Spirit in other people’s lives? Do we tear them down rather than build them up? Point out their speck of sin when we have logs in our own eyes?

The fruit of the Spirit is faithfulness. Are we faithful? Or do we bounce around from church to church, looking for what we consider the perfect place, the perfect people, the perfect program? Because the trouble with that, is wherever we go, there we are. And truthfully, the issue in packing up our toys and leaving may be that we’re the problem.

Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come.

2 Corinthians 5:17 (GNT)

 

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Be Still Series – Explore: Enjoying the Creation of God

When I was selling my books at one of our church’s artisan fairs, a friend stopped by and told me how she and her children were using Praise as a morning devotional. Of course that touched my heart, but it also gave me inspiration for the third book in the Be Still series. Explore would be designed as a devotional that a parent or grandparent could read together with a child.

I mentioned how a photo meditation book on the Psalms inspired me to combine Jon’s photos and my writing in a book together. As I assembled the content for Wonder, I perused other devotionals (there aren’t many photo devotionals, however) to give me ideas for layout and formatting. I did the same for Explore. Since I planned for Explore to appeal to children, I needed to make it fun and interactive. Many of the ideas were inspired by various children’s magazines. I included questions about creation and nature to explore, brightly colored photos to look at with accompanying questions, and also ideas and activities for more exploring of God’s amazing world that a child could do with a grownup.

I also wanted to include something for older children, so I wrote a companion devotional with recommended passages of Scripture to read along with a devotion, questions to answer, and more activities suitable for for older children to do on their own.

I formatted the first two books in the Be Still series in Microsoft Word. The program was a bit clunky because it didn’t like the large photos I inserted, but I managed to bully it into submission, save the content as a PDF, and upload it to Amazon Create Space (now known as Kindle Direct Publishing). However, Word would not work with my plans for Explore; I needed to find something else.

Given my production budget (and the fact my books weren’t quite flying off the Amazon shelf), my choices were limited. But I found a delightfully easy and reasonably priced program called Swift Publisher. It suited my needs for Explore quite well and I’m pleased with how it turned out.

The book can be purchased on Amazon at Explore: Enjoying the Creation of God and the Companion Devotional.

See all the books currently available by visiting my Be Still page.

All the books in the Be Still series are available on Amazon. Visit my author page Jill English Johnston.

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