Monday, October 15, 2018

By Hap

 

[Drawing of Ruth gleaning in Boaz' fields]


“She gleaned in the field after the reapers:
and her hap was to light on the part
of the field belonging unto Boaz,
who was of the kindred of Elimelech.”
—Ruth 2:3 KJV

Sometimes the language of the King James Version of the Bible catches my attention in a way the modern translations don’t. When Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote his devotional book, Morning and Evening, he used the word “hap”—a word that was quite familiar at the time of his writing in the mid-1800s. It means “by happenstance,” or “taking place by coincidence, or chance.”

The unknown author of the Old Testament Book of Ruth tells the story about how Ruth, seemingly by chance, gleaned in the field of her mother-in-law’s relative Boaz. Here’s what Spurgeon wrote about the story:1

Ruth had gone forth with her mother’s blessing, under the care of her mother’s God, to humble but honourable toil, and the providence of God was guiding her every step. Little did she know that amid the sheaves she would find a husband, that he should make her the joint owner of all those broad acres, and that she a poor foreigner should become one of the progenitors of the great Messiah. God is very good to those who trust in Him, and often surprises them with unlooked for blessings.

If we stop to consider carefully the days of our own lives, most of us would see times when things that seemed “by hap” actually turned out to have occurred by the design of our Sovereign God. Along this vein, I read an account of the day Christian artist and author, Joni Eareckson Tada, had the diving accident that left her a quadriplegic for life.

Joni’s sister, Kathy, was at the beach with Joni. She stayed near the shore and suddenly felt a sharp pinch by a crab and screamed to Joni to watch for crabs. Because Joni didn’t respond, Kathy immediately went looking for her and ended up saving her from drowning. Kathy writes, speaking of God:2

From the big events in life down to the tiniest of details, he is great, he is sovereign, and he is in control.

When we are tempted to think that we have experienced a coincidence, we must remember that as God’s dearly loved children, our Heavenly Father sovereignly looks out for us, directs our ways, uses us in the lives of others, and yearns to have us honor Him with our thanksgiving for all that He so graciously does for us.

In the lives of those of us who belong to God through the Lord Jesus Christ, there simply is no such thing as “by hap”!

______________________

1 Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. Morning and Evening. McLean VA: MacDonald Publishing Company, Public Domain. p. 599.
2 Tada, Joni Eareckson. Pearls of Great Price. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing Company, 2006. Devotional for July 19.

 

 

Monday, October 8, 2018

Get Over Yourself

 

[Photo of an organist's hands on the organ keyboard]


“Humble yourselves therefore, under God’s mighty
hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”
—1 Peter 5:6

Picture two brothers, ages five and seven, fascinated enough to come up close every Sunday during the Postlude to watch me play the organ. They liked the action of the pistons, the movement of my fingers, and especially the movement of my feet, as the music filled the sanctuary.

One Sunday, the older brother posed the question, “Do you ever make mistakes?”

Considering that his question provided a “teachable moment,” I said, “Sure I do.”

To which he responded, “I thought so!”

I’ve thought of that encounter quite a number of times over the years, as I tried to camouflage an errant note or two while I played.

Most of us have plenty of opportunities for God to humble us. Whether it’s a piece of toilet paper stuck to the bottom of our shoe, a wardrobe malfunction, or a “tied tongue” when speaking in public, we know how it feels to experience humiliation. Sometimes we even know why God has brought us down with an embarrassing event.

When we think too highly of ourselves, our Lord says in Isaiah 42:8:

“I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another.”

In so many words, God is saying, “Get over yourself!”

When we compare ourselves to others and boast, even to ourselves, about our imagined superiority, God, in His love and discipline, will allow us to suffer humiliation to remind us that we possess nothing He did not give us, even our well-honed skills. Again, in Isaiah 66:2, our Lord says:

“This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”

God wants humble servants—grateful for all we are and have—not self-assured, boasting performers who feel superior to those around us. When we, in pride, carry out our work—or even our service to Him—we steal His glory. When we bow before Him in humility and thanksgiving, we lift Him up and reveal His glory!

We need to get over ourselves, but never over Him!

 

 

Monday, October 1, 2018

We Had Heard

 

[Photo of the road to Pikes Peak]


“As we have heard, so have we seen.”
—Psalm 48:8

I had heard about and seen pictures of Pikes Peak in Colorado for many years. In fact, I showed pictures to classes as I taught “America the Beautiful” written by Katherine Lee Bates from the top of that mountain. But, I had never seen it for myself. Then one summer my husband and I traveled to Colorado Springs and drove up the mountains to the Peak. I experienced something much broader and bigger than I imagined.

The winding, treacherous road, the clear air above the timber-line, the steep climbs, the breathtaking views from the summit, all gave me a much more vivid view of this great mountain.

In Scripture, we find several examples of persons experiencing the wonders of God for themselves that they may have only heard about before. In Psalm 48, the people recount the deliverances of the Lord in their past history. They exclaimed together:

“We had heard about God’s mighty acts. We heard the stories from childhood, but now, in our own time, we have actually seen them for ourselves.”

In the book of Job, we read the story of God’s servant whose life God allowed Satan to devastate. Job suffered great torture and never knew the reason. Yet, he didn’t give up on God. At the very end of his story in Job 42:5, Job confessed to God:

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

Job’s experience far outweighed the stories about God.

In 1 John 1:1, the Apostle describes what he and others had experienced of God:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”

Here again, the early church gave great significance to the experience of seeing and knowing Christ.

Paul recognized the importance of a personal knowledge of God. In Philippians 3:10, he yearned:

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

Do we want to know Christ in this way, by experience? God invites us to come near, to know Him, to experience the way of life He offers, and to no longer live only on the encounters of others.

 

 

Monday, September 24, 2018

Yet

 

[Photo of a watch and a book]


“Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so
disturbed within me? Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
—Psalms 42:5

Don’t you just love procrastinators? They say they will send you something, or come to visit you, or do something for you or others, or take care of an issue, but you can’t depend on when or if they will actually do what they have promised. You watch and hope they will come through. You wait and you wait and you wait.

Many accounts in the Scriptures make God look like a giant procrastinator. We wait and wait and pray and pray and nothing happens like we think it should.

We have many examples in the Bible. Joseph, son of Jacob, stayed in prison for a crime he didn’t commit for two full years. (Genesis 41:1). Hannah wanted a baby, but the years went by and she remained childless. (1 Samuel 1:7). David was anointed king. But, before he was crowned king, he still spent years being chased by the murderous King Saul. (Books of 1 and 2 Samuel). Yet, in the study of all these stories, and many more, we see that God had a long-range plan and waited for the right time to bring that plan to pass. A pastor I once knew called it “the eventuality of God’s working.”

In the Book of Habakkuk, we hear the prophet’s cry in 1:2:

“How long, O Lord, must I call for help?”

God answers the prophet in 2:3:

“For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”

In Habakkuk 3:17-18, we read that the prophet himself has taken up the word “Yet”:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

When we “hope” our procrastinator friend will come through, we “wish” more than actually having a godly hope. But, when we wait on God, the Bible encourages us to depend upon real hope. The Psalmist speaks of such hope in the verse at the top of this blog post. Jeremiah, in Lamentations 3, whose “splendor, and all he hoped for from the Lord was gone,” used the word “yet” and spoke of the “hope” he had.

What a God-given hope it takes for us to believe that, after months or years of praying and believing and waiting, God will eventually act according to His plan and His love for us.

Wait and pray and believe. Trust God to strengthen you for the waiting days ahead. Read Biblical accounts of faithful servants who hoped and waited and received what they prayed for from the Lord and be encouraged.

 

 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Fill ’er Up

 

[Photo of an old fashion service station attendant]


Fill ’er Up

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is
debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”
—Ephesians 5:18

Patrons at gas stations didn’t used to pump their own gas. Instead, they stayed in their cars and let the attendant on duty “fill ’er up.” Full service meant checking the oil level, cleaning the windshield, checking the air pressure in the tires, and filling the tires with additional air if necessary. Once you drove away, you felt that you could travel safely until your fuel level once again hovered near empty.

As Christians, God gives us the seal of His Holy Spirit when we turn to Him for justification from sin (Ephesians 1:13-14). And, as we live out the Christian life, the Holy Spirit continues to fill our spiritual “fuel tank.” We, like empty vehicle gas tanks, need that filling in order to travel through this life living for Christ. None of us has the ability to faithfully serve Him without the intervention and help from His Holy Spirit.

Have you ever noticed one of those yard inflatables that has lost air and droops over and looks half dead? Sometimes I feel that way when I come to God asking for a “fill-up.” None of us has the strength, the grace, the power, the energy, or the wisdom we need. In fact, God purposefully gives us tasks and circumstances for which we need Him. Without His divine aid, we are rendered useless.

How does God fill us? If we allow His written Word to soak into us, He gives us direction and faith in His ability to live through us. If we ask Him, He will govern and empower our way with the filling He wants to provide.

One of my favorite hymns puts it like this:1

Jesus, Thou Joy of loving hearts,
Thou Fount of life, Thou Light of men,
From the best bliss that earth imparts,
We turn unfilled to Thee again.

______________________

1 Bernard of Clairvaux. Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts. Public Domain.

—Posted: Monday, September 17, 2018

 

 

Monday, September 10, 2018

No Easy Game of Telephone

 

[Photo of children playing the Game of Telephone]


“Tell it to your children, and let your
children tell it to their children, and
their children to the next generation.”
—Joel 1:3

Nearly everyone has played the “Game of Telephone.” A simple phrase gets secretly passed from one person to another until the last person proclaims it aloud. To the enjoyment of everyone, the phrase has often drastically changed from the original whisperer. The game seems more fun, the more outrageous the change.

When the Gospel of our Lord passes from one generation to another, we should aim at accuracy above all else. We all know people who come from a long line of faithful Christians, but who may have heard a twist to the story that changes them into doubters or cynics of the faith—or even deserters from the faith. Other voices get into the game. In fact, one who sows lies joins the circle and, before long, the last hearer completely disavows what he heard at first.

How do we keep the children of this generation from those who would try to influence them away from the Gospel, the Truth of the Word of God? Parents can’t always prevent their children from hearing wrong voices. However, if they have carefully orchestrated whom their children hear the most, and find ways to introduce them to winsome Christians and friends, this generation can carry on the faithful truths of our great heritage.

When I taught elementary music, folk songs became the “fodder” of my curriculum. Not only did they supply the musical elements I taught, they also provided students with the “mother tongue” of their heritage as Americans. Scripture is the “mother tongue” of our Christian heritage. Our children need to hear faithful preaching and faithful teaching. They need to know faithful Christians in the church and observe their lives of service and devotion.

Children need to see and hear people who have made the Christian life a firm foundation for their lives and whose lives they can emulate. They need to learn the songs and hymns of their Christian heritage. At the end of Moses’ life, recorded in Deuteronomy 31, he wrote a song and instructed the Israelites to teach it and sing it as a testimony of God’s work.

Psalm 78:1-6 speaks of writing parables to teach the next generation. Excerpts of those verses say:

I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old… We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord… he commanded our forefathers to teach their children so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.
Not only has God given us means to teach the next generation, He can give us the courage, wisdom, grace, and all that we need in order to do so. Let us pray for this generation of children and for those who not only begin with the message of Christ, but carry it on throughout their lifetimes.

 

 

Monday, September 3, 2018

Fervor

 

[Photo of an antique clothes iron]


“Don’t burn out; keep yourselves
fueled and aflame. Be alert servants
of the Master, cheerfully expectant.”
—Romans 12:11 MSG

I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to iron clothes before electricity. Not only were there no “easy-care” fabrics, there wasn’t even a way to maintain a heated iron to use for the entire job. Most women used a series of irons, heated one at a time on the wood stove nearby. They had tricks to use for doing the job with a super-heated iron and other tricks to use as the temperature of the iron cooled.

This reminds me of something that the Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Roman Christians in the early church. Romans 12:11 from the New International Version says it this way:

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, “fervor” amounts to “warm steady intensity of feeling or expression.”

I think the key word here is “steady.” Certainly the invention of electricity makes the steady heat of a clothes iron possible. Although we sometimes have an awareness of when the electric current reheats our iron, we do not have to make it happen.

Where does the fervor come from for a steady warmth of service to God? Like the old fashioned iron, we must go to the source of the “spiritual heat” and spend time with our Lord, whose Holy Spirit burns within us. To maintain that warmth of passion throughout the day, we must stay “plugged in” to Him and draw on His power, moment by moment.

It’s corny but true: “Seven days without prayer make one weak.” Even one day without an infusing of God’s miraculous power puts us in jeopardy of making crucial mistakes, of sinning against our Lord, or of losing our focus and our fervor.

Remember the symbolism of the day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2? Tongues of fire landed on the heads of each of Jesus’ disciples. This symbol of the Holy Spirit reminds us of the fire that God wants to ignite in each of us: for power, for light, and for a passion to do His work in this world.

Let us pray daily for that fire to burn richly within us that we might become a steady usefulness for our Savior.