Monday, November 20, 2017

Leg Bone, Please!

 

[Photo of a platter of carved turkey]


“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
—Luke 14:11

Did you ever know anyone who, when seated for a Thanksgiving feast, always asked for the leg bone so that the better portions could be given to someone else? Now, I realize that even a turkey leg bone can be very tasty, but it’s probably not the choice piece of the meat. Or maybe you know someone who regularly would peer over the cook’s shoulder as the turkey was sliced, pointing out the brownest, tenderest looking piece and asking her to save it for him.

Jesus told a parable to some guests at a banquet whom he noticed picked out the places of honor for themselves at the table. (Luke 14:1-14) To these people, He spoke and told them not to take these places of honor, because it might happen that the host would want someone else to sit there and ask those seated to move to another, less important seat. How humiliating! Much better, He said, that you should sit in the lowest place so that, if the host desires, he can invite you to a higher place of honor.

Jesus always likes to turn our human ways upside down. He will often exalt people who may not even be noticed in the typical day-by-day happenings of life. And, in exchange, allow those who seem full of their own importance to become humiliated. God wants humble followers. He never seems to honor or lift up people whom He hasn’t first seen either humbled of their own accord or humiliated by circumstances He allows.

Lord, help us not to live puffed up, better-than-others lives. Instead, help us to live our lives with eyes to please You, even if that means taking a low position until You change the circumstances.

 

 

Monday, November 13, 2017

In Step

 

[Photo of someone walking on gravel]


“Since we live by the Spirit, let
us keep in step with the Spirit.”
—Galatians 5:25

“Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah…”

I could hear him coming down the hallway past my classroom one morning, quietly singing the words to this familiar Disney song. I laughed to myself because Aaron, true to his methodical self, sang it at least half as fast as its common tempo, and he slid along the wall as he slowly made his way to his classroom—never in a hurry, and in his own inner imaginative world.

Conversely, Ellie always ran to her classroom, ignoring clearly stated hallway rules and oft repeated warnings. She had things to do, places to go, people to see!

Do we not act like these children with our Heavenly Father? We seem to either drag along when we know He wants us to do something for Him, or we get so far ahead of Him, thinking we know where He wants us to go, that we run forward without His specific direction. Scripture gives us examples of both kinds of people who thought they “walked” with the Lord.

The slow goer, Moses, argued with God that he wasn’t eloquent enough for the assignment He was given. (Exodus 4:10) He revealed his doubts that anyone would listen to him, and tried to wiggle out of the role God had for him to speak to the Israelites in Egypt. (Exodus 4:1). He dragged his feet at God’s call.

Then we read about Sarai, Abraham’s barren wife, who thought God had decided not to act in giving Abraham a son, so she would take up the task herself by giving Abraham her servant girl. (Genesis 16). What trouble she brought on her household, and the world by that act of running ahead of God.

Neither the doubtful hangers-back nor the presumptive racers walk with the Lord properly. He wants us to walk by faith, and that means staying close to Him. Pray the following with serious intention today:

Lord, keep me walking so closely with you today in faith that I neither get ahead of you nor linger behind. May your voice be clear to me as I listen, and may my steps be in line with your will. May we walk together this day. Amen.

 

 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Team Spirit

 

[Photo of a lone male fan standing at a sports event]


“And let us consider how we may spur one another
on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give
up meeting together, as some are in the habit of
doing, but let us encourage one another—
and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
—Hebrews 10:24-25

An illustration that Pastor Max Lucado uses reminds me of a very important Christian principle. He tells the story of being in Boston for a conference and deciding to take in a Celtics basketball game. They were playing his favorite team, the San Antonio Spurs.

Max found himself standing and cheering alone when “his” team did well, and upon doing so, received stares from the Boston fans around him. A few minutes later, as he stood to cheer, he noticed another Spurs fan across the aisle. When Max stood, he stood. When Max cheered, he cheered. They were united by a common love and purpose.

That story reminded me of the day in my public school teaching career, when, feeling very much alone in my faith, I met a Christian teacher’s assistant who had playground duty with me. We bolstered each other in our faith during those days, and formed a prayer relationship as well.

Soon, that twosome grew to three or four others, and then, a few years later, I became involved with a Christian organization that encourages Christian teachers to live as “salt” and “light”—following the admonition of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in Matthew 5:13-16. What an encouragement we became to each other.

Jesus meant the Church to not only exist to give us a place to worship and minister to others, but to also as a place of community and fellowship. We need a place to expose our wounds from the week to the balm of caring brothers and sisters. We need a place where we can hear the encouragement of God’s work in the lives of others, in order to encourage our own faith. We must not miss out on this important, regularly attended event each week!

Max Lucado puts it like this:

All week you cheer for the visiting team. You applaud the success of the One the world opposes. You stand when everyone sits and sit when everyone stands.

At some point you need support. You need to be with folks who cheer when you do. You need what the Bible calls fellowship. And you need it every week. After all, you can only go so long before you think about joining the crowd.1

______________________

1 Lucado, Max. When God Whispers Your Name. Nashville, TN: W. Publishing Group. Copyright by Max Lucado, 1994, 1999. pg. 140.

 

 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Beyond

 

[Photo of infinity symbol


“No one is like you, O Lord; you are great,
and your name is mighty in power …
Among all the wise men of the nations and in
all their kingdoms, there is no one like you.”
—Jeremiah 10:6-7

Sometimes I hear people questioning to what the “Beyond” in the chain store Bed, Bath and Beyond® refers. But, it got me thinking about that English word, and two Scripture passages containing it.

Perhaps the first passage came to me in an especially difficult time. From 2 Corinthians 1:8, I recalled:

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.

Many will say that God never gives us any burdens we can’t bear alone. I’m not so sure. He wants to grow us to the point in which we have no strength left in ourselves, so that He can show us His mighty power at work in and for us. When we run out of our ability to endure, we can count on His power to take over.

I know this because I read about this power in the Apostle Paul’s words found in Ephesians 3:20-21 (NASB):

Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Our God gives us trials beyond our abilities to endure so that He can do what goes abundantly beyond all that we could even imagine!

In response, I repeat to you from a contemporary hymn:1

O God beyond all praising,
    we worship you today
And sing the love amazing
    that songs cannot repay;
For we can only wonder
    at every gift you send,
At blessings without number
    and mercies without end;
We lift our hearts before you
    and wait upon your word,
We honor and adore you,
    our great and mighty Lord.

The only thing we can do when God shows His “beyondness” over our weakness is to offer Him our thanks and praise in such a way that honors His wonderful name. Amen and Hallelujah!

______________________

1 Perry, Michael. O God Beyond All Praising. Carol Stream, Illinois: Hope Publishing Co., 1982.

 

 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Clusters of Mercy

 

[Photo of a hydrangea]


“Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on
me, for in you my soul takes refuge.”
—Psalm 57:1

One prayer we can always pray and know God will answer is, “Lord, have mercy.” In reading Charles Haddon Spurgeon, that great preacher of the 1800s, I came across a devotional that opened up the word “mercy” to me. The definition reminds me of my hydrangea bushes.

When you look at the bush from a distance, you see the clusters of flowers that look like pom-poms, but when you take the time to look up close, you see tiny petals that make up the smaller flowers within the larger blooms. According to Spurgeon, God’s mercy resembles the hydrangea. Perhaps we have to come to the place where we see our need for God’s mercy up close before we truly realize the beauty, power, and depth of it.

Spurgeon first reminds us that the mercy of the Lord is a tender mercy coming from the gentle, loving touch of God. It is a great mercy. Like God Himself, His mercy shows His infinite bigness. God’s mercy is undeserved mercy. We have no right to it. This mercy is also rich mercy. It has efficacy for all our wounds.

God’s mercy is manifold mercy. Here we see the cluster of multitude blessings. God’s mercy is abounding mercy. We can never exhaust it. It is unfailing mercy. God always gives it to us and it will never leave us.1

As Psalm 23:6 tells us:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow thee all the days of thy life.

Why would we not call for mercy? We can never live beyond the beauty and breadth of it. When you come to the end of your own resources and those of everyone you know, remember that God makes His mercy available to you. And, His mercy will never fail.

______________________

1 Spurgeon, Charles H., Morning and Evening. McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing Co., Public Domain. p. 588.

 

 

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Player Piano

 

[Photo of the player mechanism of a player piano]


“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.”
—Psalm 126:5

Before television came to our house, my sister and I entertained ourselves by the hour at an old player piano. This piano had been purchased by my grandfather in 1934 and it came with 85 player rolls for $35.00.

The player piano rolls contained songs from Chopin Polonaises, to Joplin Ragtime, to Gospel hymns, to Sousa marches. My sister would pump the pedals while I “danced” and I would pump while she “danced.”

The rolls were cleverly created by machines that would stamp the holes and slits in just such a way as to play the correct notes in the right rhythm. What an ingenious idea to provide for “live” music in every home.

As I think about the way in which God wants our lives to play forth songs for His glory, I think of the confusing array of cuts and holes that, He allows our lives to experience. The stamping and punching, in a pattern that only He can read, comes from His wise and overarching wisdom and love.

God wants to bring out the music in us! He punches and slices in just the right places and in just the right time to complete in us the song He is writing. Not one extra hole ruins the sound. Not one slice comes at the wrong time.

God has perfectly engineered the pains, losses, and disappointments to come together so that they make something beautiful. Praise God! He knows just the number of gashes we need to make the music come through to His glory.

The apostle Paul told the Christians at Philippi, in Philippians 1:6, that he wrote them with joy:

Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Though the painful process continues in us, God will achieve the purpose for which He has made and called us—to cause the music of our lives to praise Him!

 

 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Use What You Have

 

[Photo of open hands]


Then the Lord said to him [Moses],
“What is that in your hand?”
—Exodus 4:2

Some music teachers, observing the sparse equipment I had to use, might have wondered how I could teach music with so little. They had the most modern music textbooks and a full range of xylophones and metalophones, as well as the newest electronic white boards and listening devices—even computer programs, which I didn’t have. Yet, it didn’t take much for God to show me that I had plenty of resources to do my job effectively.

One day, while trying to teach a lullaby to an increasingly sleepy kindergarten class (Lullabies work!), I realized I had a square scarf in my drawer I could fold and make into a tiny cradle. When I showed the trick of making the cradle and the “babies” in the cradle, learning these quiet songs became so much more fun and memorable.

Moses didn’t have much when God called him. But, when God pointed out the staff (or rod) in his hand, Moses had just the right tool to convince Pharaoh that Moses had been sent by the Almighty God.

Sometimes God just has to make us aware of what we have. Other times, we need to learn the lesson of contentment with what we do have. Paul says in Philippians 4:11-12:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances … I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.

God sometimes takes us through valleys of poverty in which we long for things we do not have, even things that would allow us to serve Him better. In these times, He often teaches us that He gives us all we really need to serve Him and to live to bring Him glory.

I have mused often on the questions that Joni Eareckson Tada poses in one of her devotionals:1

  1. What do I have?

  2. Am I using what I have?

  3. Am I prepared to lose what I have?

  4. Am I ready to receive what I do not have?

Do you feel that God wants to use you, but hasn’t given you the tools? Let Him remind you of the things He has already given, and be thankful. Ask Him to use what you have. Instead of complaining, become more like the women who Jesus credited with preparing His body for burial by pouring her perfume on His head (Mark 14:3-9), by saying to her critics:

Leave her alone … She has done a beautiful thing to me … She did what she could.

______________________

1 Tada, Joni Eareckson. Pearls of Great Price. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006. From the devotional for October 16th.