Monday, January 15, 2018

Grace for the “No”

 

[Photo of a very disappointed young child]


Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it
[the thorn in my flesh] away from me. But he
said to me, “My grace is sufficient for
you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
—2 Corinthians 12:8-9

As a young child, I remember how hard I cried whenever my parents said, “No!” to me. I held out hope that perhaps they would change their minds if I just showed them how miserable they were making me by not allowing my friend to stay overnight, or to get the sweater I really wanted, or to accept the invitation to go swimming.

Much of my adult life, I spent sulking or feeling sorry for myself when God didn’t answer “Yes” to my reasonable requests for a coveted award, or a Christmas trip home, or even for a baby of my own.

Just lately, in the “golden” years of my life, I have learned that when God says “No,” He has a much better plan— even though it might not seem that way at the time. Most times, that “No” signifies that he will fit me with extraordinary grace through means I would never have imagined.

In the Bible story recorded in in John 11, sisters Mary and Martha learned this difficult lesson from Jesus Himself. They had sent for Jesus because their brother Lazarus was dying. Yet, Jesus waited two more days before going to them. In the meantime, Lazarus died. Jesus promised them they would see the Lord’s glory through this, but they still grieved and criticized Him for not coming sooner to heal Lazarus.

The story ended even better than they would have ever imagined. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead for the display of His power and sovereign will. Their brother was alive and their Lord had shown Himself to the crowd that had gathered. He was indeed glorified through this act of love and grace.

I would encourage you to do what I am learning to do—to be content with God’s will and to watch and wait for the ways He reveals Himself in His “No” answer to our prayers. May we see His amazing grace demonstrated in our lives, as we trust Him and learn to accept His answers!

 

 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Janus

 

[Photo of The Cathedral of St. Paul in Erie, PA]


“The Lord will watch over your coming
and going both now and forevermore.”
—Psalm 121:8

The name for the month of January comes from the name of Janus, the Roman god of doorways. This god had two faces: one looking forward and one looking backwards. As we step over the threshold into this new year, we certainly have a better view of the year behind us than we do of the one ahead.

We constantly read in the Psalms that we are to consider the Lord’s works and see all that He has done. This good advice is illustrated many times in Scripture.

Samuel, in a story recorded in 1 Samuel 7, met with the Israelites at Mizpah to confess their sins and cry out to God for deliverance from the Philistines. Here Samuel took a stone and set it up, naming it “Ebenezer,” saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.”

At this threshold of a new year, we should look back long enough to see how the Lord has helped us through the year just past. I like to make a list of the high points. Then, I take note of how impossible it would have been to meet the challenges and enjoy the blessings without the direct intervention of our Lord.

Looking forward into the new year presents a bit of a harder task. And, lest you get into too much daydreaming, as I often do, let me warn you of the dangers here. We cannot possible know what lies ahead of us in the new year. As much as we would like to plan it out, we don’t have that luxury. We need to remember that God controls the future. We do not.

Nevertheless, we do need to consciously and volitionally trust God with what lies ahead. We often will not know what the next day will bring. Yet, we should not live in fear, or presume life will always work out according to our plans. If we belong to a Sovereign God, we know that we can rely on His wisdom to guide us and His love to watch over us.

I pray that we will know more about how to live in the way of trust, to live in peace with our future, even while we do not know what it will bring. We can depend on the One who knows every day before we get to it and the one who will bring light to the pathways of our lives. As the Psalmist has committed himself, recorded in Psalm 119:105-106, let us also say:

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws.

______________________

1 Note: The photo at the top of this devotional of The Cathedral of St. Paul, Erie, Pennsylvania, was taken by photographer, Pat Bywater, December 26, 2017.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Disrupted!

 

[Photo of Mary and Joseph talking]


“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but
it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”
—Proverbs 19:21

Mary and Joseph were planning a wedding. The initial approval of parents and the pledge that would forever bind them together had taken place. Now Mary could prepare for that important date they had ahead of them.

But, the angel Gabriel, coming to her with an unheard of announcement, completely disrupted the wedding plans. She would have a Baby by the Holy Spirit. Not only that, they would have to travel to Bethlehem, some 90 miles away, just about the time the Baby would be due. Plans disrupted!

Mary and Joseph were planning a trip home to Nazareth from Bethlehem. They must have been excited about introducing their families to the Newborn, and getting into a “settled” life as newlyweds.

But, an angel came and told Joseph that, in order to protect his family, they would have to go to Egypt for awhile! Plans disrupted!

In all of these events, Mary and Joseph responded to God’s plans by obeying and adapting their schedules and dreams. From the very beginning, they seemed to submit willingly to God’s mysterious will. Mary even responded to the angel, as recorded in Luke 1:38:

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”

I must admit that I have much more trouble adapting to disrupted plans than Mary and Joseph seemed to have. If the weather gets bad, and friends are unable to make it for dinner, or cousin Jake gets sick at the last minute and the family can’t get together for pizza and games, I’m disappointed. If I felt assured that I had the new job for which I had applied, and then I heard that someone else got it instead, it would take me several days to move on from my disappointment. Maybe you respond to disruptions in the same way.

When we stop to remember that we, like Mary and Joseph, no longer should live for ourselves, but rather for the God who has called us, we can begin to live in the place of His blessings, protection and usefulness to the Kingdom. I think of the verses in 1 Corinthians  6:19-20:

You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

Lord, help us to realize, like Mary and Joseph did, that since You called us, our lives will never be our own again. Help us to understand that we have a new loyalty, a new responsibility, to do Your will above our own, and a gladness and eagerness to obey, in order that You will be glorified. May Your will be done on Earth, in us, as it is in Heaven. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

 

 

Monday, December 25, 2017

Special Gifts

 

[Photo of a Christmas tree with gift box ornaments]


“Then they opened their treasures and presented him
with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.”
—Matthew 2:11

One of my fellow teachers, Ramona, loved gifts! Every year after Thanksgiving, she would bring out the “gift pin” which she wore on her lapel. It started with one “present” and grew to several attached together by the time the last day came before Christmas vacation. She hoped that this subliminal message to her second graders would result in many packages coming her way by the end of the month! We laughed at Ramona’s ploy. But, more than we liked to admit, each of us enjoyed the little gifts kids would bring to us.

Even though the Christmas gifts gave me pleasure, too, I think that the little surprises that came my way throughout the year pleased me even more. “Mrs. Wilson, I made this for you!” Gina entered my classroom and handed me a handmade picture. “Mrs. Wilson, you’re my favorite music teacher!” came my way from another child. At other times, the hugs given out of the blue helped me through a rough day.

What kind of gifts can we give to the Lord that He would appreciate during this season, and the new year to come?

St. Paul mentions that the Macedonian churches, which lived in extreme poverty, shared with a generous spirit. He commended them because they gave themselves first to the Lord. (2 Corinthians 8:5). Whether we have great riches to bring to our Lord or not, we can give the most important thing He desires, and that which He requires.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet, what I can I give Him: Give Him my heart.1

______________________

1 from “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Christina Rossetti

 

 

Monday, December 18, 2017

And He Shall Reign

 

[Photo of St. Edwards Crown]


And He Shall Reign

“He will reign on David’s throne and over
his kingdom, establishing and upholding
it with justice and righteousness from
that time on and forever. The zeal of
the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
—Isaiah 9:7

The Prophet’s word promised a King of kings and a Lord of lords—forever! We sing about it, we say we believe it, and yet, we find it oh so hard to live in the truth of it!

All of us are born with the compunction to create our own mini-kingdoms—places where we have control of our comforts, conveniences, desires, happiness, schedules, career paths, and more. Just notice how you respond the next time you have to wait in a line of Christmas shoppers!

Psalm 99:1 reminds us of God’s place:

The Lord reigns, let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake.

Jesus often spoke of His kingdom, and set patterns for life in that kingdom, that turned on its head the methodologies of the natural world and our natural inclinations controlled by our sinful bent.

Here’s how Paul Tripp explains it:

Jesus had to rescue us from our bondage to our little kingdoms of one and usher us into his kingdom of loving authority and forgiving grace. He came to destroy our self-oriented kingdoms and dethrone us as kings over our own lives. In violent grace he works to destroy every last shred of our allegiance to self-rule, and in rescuing grace he lovingly sets up his righteous rule in our hearts. In grace he patiently works with us until we finally understand that truly good rule in our lives is his rule.1

I return to Psalm 99:5:

Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy.

Here we see our place. In modern jargon, “He’s God and I’m not.” Or, in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” (Matthew 6:10)

This season, as you hear the beautiful text of Handel’s Messiah, allow it to remind you of His place and ours. Submit to Him again as the King of kings and Lord of lords over all of your life, and bow at His footstool in worship.

______________________

1 Tripp, Paul David. Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017. p. 56.

—Posted: Monday, December 18, 2017

 

 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Stranger Danger!

 

[Photo of an angel appearing to Mary and Joseph]


And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.
I bring you good news of great joy that will be
for all people. Today in the town of David a
Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
—Luke 2:10-11.

Shepherds were afraid of very little. They “were able to tangle fearlessly with fierce predators or club-wielding poachers, but they felt their legs turn to jelly when confronted with the sudden appearance of the divine messenger.”1 Scripture says they were “terrified.” (Luke 2:9)

This sight, so surprising, so bright and loud, of a “great company of heavenly host appearing with the angel” (Luke 2:13) was like nothing these country bumpkins had ever encountered. This invitation to see the Baby pulled them from their terror, and excited enough of their curiosity, that they got up and went to Bethlehem.

The experience of seeing the newborn Messiah changed these poor, backward men into evangelists of the Good News of Christ. No longer did they shake with fear. The angel’s words to them and the encounter with the God/Man in the form of a Baby incited them to “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.” (Luke 2:17)

Has God invited you to a new experience with Him, called you to a new venture, given you a task that you know will tax everything in you? Hear the angel’s words: “Do not be afraid.” Believe that He wants to reveal to you something great about Himself that He expects you to share with others. It could possibly be, as it must have been for these shepherds, a turning point in your life.

After they shared the news of the birth of Jesus, they returned to their flocks “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (Luke 2:20) God wants us to experience a higher joy that produces higher worship and praise than we have ever felt before. During this Christmas season, listen for God’s voice and obey His call. He desires to show us His glory!

______________________

1 Gugel, John. Messiah. Fenton, MO: Creative Communications for the Parish, 2003. p. 20.

 

 

Monday, December 4, 2017

It Came a Flower Bright

 

[Photo of snow covered rose]


“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.”
—Isaiah 11:1
“I am a rose of Sharon.”
—Song of Songs 2:1

It came, a Flower bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half-spent was the night.
1


You may recognize the words of this Christmas Carol sung by many people from as far back as the 14th century. The images portrayed in this hymn give us a sense of something unexpected, welcomed in the coldest and darkest time of year.

This beautiful meditation reminds us that in our most sinful and hopeless state, Jesus came to us with salvation. This coming also quietly and largely unexpectedly appeared in the most undesirable of locations, in a most unconventional way: the birth of a Baby to a peasant, unmarried teenage girl, into poverty, and in a stable.

That night still surrounds us. But, we can continue to welcome the Light of the World. Even in our darkest hours, He comes to us with His beauty and shocking favors, through that same Flower of long ago.

Meditate this season on the ways Christ has come to you in the dead and cold of night with His light and His fragrance, as a rose blooming in winter. Read and rejoice in these words:

This Flower, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor
The darkness everywhere.
True man, yet very God,
From sin and death He saves us
And lightens every load.2

______________________

1 German Carol. Lo! How a Rose E’er Blooming. Public domain.
2 Ibid. Verse three.