Monday, July 16, 2018

The Mystery of His Silence

 

[Photo of two young boys making a mess]


“You have covered yourself with a cloud
so that no prayer can get through.”
—Lamentations 3:44

A person who spends any amount of time with a toddler fears the silence. “What is he up to now?” we ask. The inference: “up to no good!” We prefer to trust what others do when we can’t see them. Sometimes, in our relationship with God, we hear nothing but silence and wonder, “What is He up to now?”

Job, the upright and blameless man, whose life and trials the Bible documents, heard nothing from God but silence when God took away his family, his business, and his health. In one frustrating moment, recorded in Job 23:3, Job cried out:

“Oh, that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come before His presence!”

Job did a lot of self-talk, just as Jeremiah did in his Book of Lamentations. This self-talk reminded both men of God’s unsearchable ways, His wisdom, and His care. Both came to the conclusion that they were not God, and could do nothing but cling to His mercy and to trust in Him. Both lived with God’s silence for much longer than either of them wanted.

In her book about women from the Bible, Carolyn Curtis Jones writes:1

God’s silence is not an accurate way to measure what he is doing. It’s easy to forget he often does his best work when, so far as we can tell, he doesn’t seem to be doing anything at all. But looking back on those long agonizing stretches of God’s silence, most of us will say those were the times in our relationship with God when he was doing the most.

Like Job, we may not know what God plans for us, as we travel through the darkness and silence. But, He wants us to learn to trust Him. And, like Job’s words, recorded in Job 13:15:

“Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.”

The conclusion of the story finds Job in Job 42:5 remarking:

“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.”

God is not like the toddler: “up to no good.” No, instead He is always “up to good.” His good and our good.

______________________

1 James, Carolyn Curtis, Lost Women of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005. p. 127.

 

 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Squeezing Out the Juice

 

[Photo of squeezing an orange]


“But his [the blessed man’s]
delight is in the law of the Lord, and
on his law he meditates day and night.”
—Psalm 1:2

Experts say that squeezing two to four oranges yields about eight ounces of juice. Nothing can beat real freshly squeezed orange juice for flavor and sweetness. Yet, most of us would rather buy the “made from concentrate” brands in the supermarket. Why is that? Well, because of the time and mess involved, I suppose. At least that’s my excuse.

And, why don’t Christians enjoy the sweet fellowship of God in Jesus Christ more? Probably for a similar reason. It takes time to squeeze out the best flavors from His written Word. Nothing substitutes for meditation on the written Word of God and the sweet truths we learn through it.

In Scripture, we read that David, named the “man after God’s own heart” loved meditation. Vividly, we see in Psalm 19 that David meditated on the wonders of the sky, and the wonders of the laws of God. After considering, He prayed, as recorded in verse 14:

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

Puritan minister, David Clarkson, who lived in the 17th century, wrote about the advancement of faith through meditation. He stated that God develops faith in us when we think on His express promises, Scriptural assertions, God’s acts through and on behalf of His people, through the prayers of His people, and through His commandments. He writes:1

Gather the promises and meditate on them. They are meat in this wilderness. Often be mining their treasures. Do not allow these pearls to lie neglected in the field. Treasure them up. Fill your memories with them. A promise treasured will afford comfort in our callings, dungeons, and banishments. Meditate frequently and seriously on them.

Occasionally, try paring down your Scripture reading to just a few verses and spend time meditating word by word. Specifically:

  • Pen in hand, expand your thoughts about God and record your thoughts on paper.

  • Write a prayer using the words of the verses you have just read.

  • Remember a hymn that connects to the concepts on which you have just meditated.

  • Consider other Scripture passages that bring out the same truths about God, and compare and contrast them.

In other words, squeeze out those sweet juices. You will develop a connoisseur’s taste and build your faith in the process!

______________________

1 Clarkson, David, quoted in Voices. Richard Rushing, editor. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009. p. 174.

 

 

Monday, July 2, 2018

Blessing and Keeping

 

[Photo of a Pastor giving a Benediction]


“The Lord bless thee, and keep thee:
The Lord make his face shine upon
thee, and be gracious unto thee:
The Lord lift up his countenance
upon thee, and give thee peace.”
—Numbers 6:24-26 KJV

The smiling clerk in the copy store always ends our time of business with “Have a great weekend.” The cashier at the bank closes with “Enjoy the rest of your day.” And, the kid at the drive-through window of the fast food restaurant tells me, “Have a good one!”

How many of us consider the words that the pastor says over his or her congregation each week as a kind of “Have a good week?” This send-off—when done in church we actually call it the “Benediction,” which is the Latin word for “the blessing”—has far more power than something someone just says when you sneeze, or end a business transaction, or say a good-bye.

The Benediction, or Final Blessing of a Worship Service, represents not only the words and deliberate intention of a pastor to share God’s blessing, but it needs the reception of the congregation to complete it. Don’t we always say “thank you” even to the parting phrases spoken to us in a store?

We would do well to say to God:

Thank You that I will now live under Your blessing this week. I receive that word as though spoken by You to me. I also receive Your keeping power: the grace and the peace that the pastor, on Your behalf, has just given me.

In one church where I worshipped, the Order of Service provided for an additional minute of reflection after the Benediction and before the chatter and loud notes of the Postlude. In this time, the congregation silently and reverently thanked God for all they had received during that hour, including His blessing.

I would suggest that from now on, every Sunday when we hear the Benediction from our pastor, that we would consciously and purposefully “receive” that Benediction with thanksgiving. Emily Brink states it this way:1

Perhaps you, like me, really look forward to the final blessing in every service. That is the time when God speaks his reassuring words of power, when he promises us that he will be with us and will sustain us. When the minister raises his hands, we receive, long distance as it were, the laying on of hands. And we know that the Holy Spirit will grant us the power that is needed to make us a blessing.

______________________

1 Brink, Emily R. “Make Me a Blessing: Benedictions Are More Than Pious Wishes.” Reformed Worship, March, 1991. https://www.reformedworship.org/article/march-1991/make-me-blessing-benedictions-are-more-pious-wishes (accessed: June 28, 2018).

 

 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Light Through the Windows

 

[Photo of a church at night]


For we are the temple of the living God.
As God has said: “I will live with them
and walk among them, and I will be their
God, and they will be my people.”
—2 Corinthians 6:16

What does the photograph of the church above tell you? Would you guess this congregation is active or dying? If in the summer months, with the windows wide open, you would hear robust singing? Would you then gain more of an understanding about what goes on there and how lively the people worship and engage with each other? Does this church look like a welcoming place?

Plenty of churches will illuminate their fa├žade with carefully placed spotlights to reveal the beauty of the building in which they meet at some time during the week. But, how many actually beam the Light of God’s inner working out of the windows and onto anyone who might pass by? Does the very building speak of a Living Lord dwelling among the members of the congregation?

I imagine we could use this same image to represent individual believers. When others “pass by” us in their daily walk, do they see the Light of Christ in us?

Jesus reminds us in John 8:12 that He is the Light of the World, and in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:14) that just as He is the Light, we also are the light of the world.

In that same passage, (Matthew 5:16) Jesus said:

“…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

In words that fit the photograph above:

“Keep your lights on in the window and throw them open to allow all to see and hear about Him through you.”

May our “light” reveal welcome and cheer to every person who crosses the pathway of our lives, through the gracious Lord that we serve!

 

 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Controlled Environment

 

[Photo of a controlled environment]


“The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy
shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall
not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil:
he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall
preserve thy going out and thy coming in
from this time forth, and even for evermore.”
—Psalm 121:5-8 KJV

In looking through various definitions of “controlled environment,” I find clarity in this summation:

A controlled environment is an area where nourishment, temperature, humidity, air movement, and light are controlled and supervised in order to provide optimal growing conditions.

Unlike most traditional farmers, who constantly watch the sky and weather conditions in order to grow their crops, scientific farmers have learned to mitigate the negative results of wind, temperatures, and weather on their produce.

Recently I considered this in light of God’s written Word. Alec Motyer, in his study of Isaiah 54 reminds us that:

God as Creator not only started things off. He also maintains everything in its existence, controls everything in its operation and guides everything to His intended goal… As the Creator’s children in the Creator’s world we are a protected species in a planned environment and destined for a glorious future that is already ours.1

Not only do all people in our world enjoy the common grace of living in a controlled environment of temperature, air pressure, and other vital elements needed for life on earth, but those individuals whom God has specifically called as His children enjoy the kind of preservation and constant care He gives us out of His love and compassion.

Though sometimes, we may feel the chill of cold “weather,” and the blasts of terrifying “winds,” we can enjoy the assurance that we live safely in the controlled environment of God’s sovereign will and good jurisdiction. He wants to see our growth in grace. And, He knows exactly how to care for us.

______________________

1 Motyer, Alec, Isaiah By the Day. Scotland, U.K: Christian Focus Publications, 2011. p. 265.

 

 

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Big Picture

 

_______________

 

[Graphic of a road trip map]


The Big Picture

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,
the Beginning and the End.”
—Revelation 21:6

Only recently have I decided that I am a “big picture” person. Always before, when asked, I would say I wasn’t sure because I so often deal with details in sequence.

But, when I think about it, even as a child, I always liked to see the map with the entire trip in view from start to finish. Only then could I follow the exact route, town by town, which we were driving to reach our destination.

While I am getting used to reading books using the Kindle app on my phone, I have trouble reading on the device because I can’t see the whole book—front to back. I like to read about the author, see how many pages I’m dealing with, and I like to view those photos tucked in the middle: all before I start to read the actual text of the book.

Perhaps we “big picture” people have more trouble trusting God because we can’t see the route to the final destination and its relationship to our present location. Yes, we know the route we travel will finally lead us to Heaven. But, what about the next 15 to 20 years, or longer?

I am grateful that our God names Himself the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the Ending. Though time does not bind Him, He knows our beginning and our ending, along with all the routes in between. And, He has promised us He will be with us every step of the way.

As recorded in both Deuteronomy 31:8 and Hebrews 13:5 God says to us:

“I will never leave you. I will never forsake you.”

We can trust God because He does know the end from the beginning. I don’t know His way, but He knows mine.

As Job 23:10 tells us:

He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.

In order to trust Him and not fear, I need to stay close to Him. That alone will keep me from frustration over every circumstance that seems to tell me things are out of control and I have lost my way.

Like a Good Shepherd, He goes ahead and leads us because He trly knows the “Big Picture.”

—Posted: Monday, June 11, 2018

Monday, June 4, 2018

That Which Remains

 

[Photo of threshing wheat]


“Simon, Simon, look out! Satan has asked to sift
you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that
your faith may not fail. And you, when you
have turned back, strengthen the brothers.”
—Luke 22:31-32

Every summer on my family farm, my father and his helpers used the old, rattle-trap, noisy threshing machine on the latest crop of oats. Like harvesting wheat, the machine would beat the grain until the seeds were separated from the straw and chaff. The straw ended up as bedding for cattle, the seeds became feed for them, and the chaff, well, it just blew away. The value lies in that which remains.

We dared not get too close while watching this process. Every time we did, the chaff would find its way into every crevice of clothing, between our bare toes, even up our noses. Chaff—what a dirty and useless material it is. We cleaned and cleaned it from our bodies.

In Bible times, as we read about in Ruth 3:3, men would use sledges, heavy wooden platforms weighted down with stones and fitted underneath with anything sharp. These sledges, pulled by teams of animals, would ride over the crop of wheat on a threshing floor. The farmers would “winnow” the loose plants with a winnowing rake and the chaff would blow away.

The agrarian culture of Bible times provided plenty of illustrations for the writers of Scripture to use in teaching God’s truths. The Psalmist, in Psalm 1:4, likens the chaff to the wicked people who walked away from God’s truth:

They are like chaff that the wind blows away.

But, why did Jesus allow Peter in the passage from the Gospel of Luke at the beginning of this blog post to go through the sifting process with Satan in charge? Certainly Jesus didn’t place Peter in the same camp as the “wicked.” What was Satan’s purpose here? I am convinced that Satan wanted to destroy Peter, the future leader of the Christian church. But, God had a different plan.

I like the way that Beth Moore explains it:1

Satan’s goal in sifting is to make us a mockery by showing us to be all chaff and no wheat. Christ, on the other hand, permits us to be sifted to shake out the real from the unreal, the trash from the true. The wheat that proves usable is authentic grain from which Christ can make bread.

Often we find that God puts His choicest servants through the hardest circumstances in preparation for powerful ministry. They learn what God considers chaff in their lives and submit to the painful and brutal threshing process.

If God seems to be beating the chaff out of you these days, rejoice that He has called you to suffer for His sake. Trust Him to bring about His purposes in your life, so that you may become nourishing bread for others. Remember, the value lies in that which remains.

______________________

1 Moore, Beth, Portraits of Devotion. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2014. P. 264.