Monday, September 29, 2014

You Talking to Me?


[Photo of a boy holding his father's hand waving goodbye]

“Gray hair is a crown of splendor;
it is attained by a righteous life.”
—Proverbs 16:31

I was both offended and touched by the little four-year-old boy when he shouted across the room, “Hi, Grandma!” I didn’t know him, and he was merely being friendly. But, the encounter set me back for a moment.

Having never had children or grandchildren, I had never heard such an address intended for me! How did he know my eyes were not focusing well that day, or that my feet were aching more than usual?

All this youngster saw was my gray hair, and assumed I was a woman of a certain age. I guess I am! Our culture so often looks down on the elderly, and most women do what they can to camouflage their true age. Some do better than others!

Our American society seems to have a pecking order: those who carry influence and those pushed aside. Minorities struggle with this constantly. They strive to figure out how they can compete for acceptability and significance.

Yes, age becomes a factor too. You don’t have to look far to see that advertisers aim for those under forty. Even churches spend time trying to appeal to what they think will appeal to that age group, or the even younger Millennials.

What of the rest of us? I guess in St. Paul’s day, the tables were reversed. Apparently their society looked down on the young, for he told Timothy, young in the faith, in 1 Timothy 4:12:

Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.

So, my challenge today for those of us no longer young is:

“Let no one despise your (age or race or gender or socio-economic position or educational status), but be an example in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”

God intends us to always, and in all ways and all places, represent Him well so we may make a difference in our world.

St. Paul thought about the older women in his letter to Titus. He told Titus to encourage the older women of Crete to not only be an example, but to teach the younger women. Note what he wrote in Titus 2:1-10:

You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.

Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.

We all have whatever God wants to use in us to benefit other believers. Let no one look down on your gray hair, or, for that matter, anything else!



Monday, September 22, 2014



[Photo of a before and after furniture restoration]

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory
in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself
restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
—1 Peter 5:10

Have you ever salvaged something from an old barn, or found a treasure at an antique mall or flea market? Or, maybe you have an old tea pitcher or a clock given to you by your grandmother that just has never seemed useful to you. But, when someone with an eye for such things sees it, they can bring a new idea to life from what you may have thought was worthless.

Many of us enjoy picking out pieces that we believe can have a new life. That’s just what God has done with us. From before the foundation of the earth, He saw something in us that He could restore. So, in due season, He sent the Holy Spirit to salvage us and make us over into a new person.

The word “salvation” actually comes from the same root word as the word “salvage.” The Apostle Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:17:

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

Yet, some of us who have become new creations in Christ have also become battered along the way by the trials of this world and by the persistence of sin in our own lives. Like a piece of new furniture that has become water spotted and broken down through years of neglect and wrongful purposes, we have become broken down because of neglect and wrong.

The good news is that just as a talented craftsman can restore that old, battered piece of furniture, so God can restore one of His own dear children who have suffered neglect and misdirection in life.

First, we must see ourselves as God sees us. We must recognize the potential we have and the new function He wishes to employ in us. We must trust Him that when He puts the harsh paint remover to us, or the lye to clean us up, He is preparing us for new, wonderful service ahead.

Once we see the new beauty He brings forth in us, we will only want to praise and delight Him through a new obedience to His ways.

If you desire the restorative touch of God in your life today, let me suggest that you use the following words to instruct your prayers for restoration.

First from Psalm 23:3:

“He restores my soul.”

Next, from Psalm 52:12:

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

Then, from Psalm 126:4:

“Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev.”

Finally, from Joel 2:25 NKJV:

“I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten.”

Once, we see the lost splendor of our lives given new life and purpose, we will rejoice with the nineteenth century hymn-writer, Henry Lyte:

Praise my soul, the King of heaven,
to His feet your tribute bring;
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
Who, like me, His praise should sing?
Praise Him, Praise Him, Praise Him,
Praise Him, Praise the Everlasting King.



Monday, September 15, 2014

“The Cows are Out!”


[Photo of cows beside a swimming pool]

“You hem me in—behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.”
—Psalm 139:5

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant
places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.”
—Psalm 16:6

Usually the call came from my dad, frantically yelling into the house, “The cows are out!” That meant everyone had to jump into action and move out into the backyard, or road, or wherever the family herd had meandered.

Cows do not seem to have the intelligence that you would expect from animals that produce so much of our food. So, they quite frequently get themselves into serious trouble.

The cows, when out of the barn, or a fenced in area, have to be corralled and driven back where they belong. If the barn door gets accidently left open, or the gate gets broken down by weather or struck by a piece of farm equipment, the animals take that as an invitation to explore a world they have only observed from afar.

On the several farms my family members own, stray cows have been known to peer into house windows—even licking them repeatedly. They will stand ankle deep in freshly seeded lawns or flower gardens. And yes, they have even ended up in the family swimming pool.

Cows are curious creatures, and sometimes they just want to try new adventures. Sometimes it seems that they believe the grass might truly be greener and taste sweeter outside the fenced-in meadow.

Truthfully, in all too many cases, we’re not unlike those cows. Sometimes we just wander off. For no apparent reason we take advantage of an open gate and launch off into someplace we really shouldn’t go. We just drift away from the safety of God’s best place for us. We, like the cows, don’t see the warning signs—like speeding traffic or a pool of water eight feet deep.

How many times do we get dissatisfied with certain aspects of our own lives and take it upon ourselves to explore new vistas, even sinful ones we know will lead us down the wrong path. Discontent can provoke us to move into dangerous territory.

How do we avoid getting “outside” the boundary lines that God has assigned to us?

First of all, we need to stay close to our Heavenly Guardian. He will remind us, if we ask, that we are getting too near unhealthy and ungodly associations, temptations, or influences.

Secondly, we need to very insistently and very carefully watch out for ourselves. Proverbs 4 instructs us to guard instruction, guard our hearts, and pay close attention to our paths. We do this by staying close to God’s Word, and by remaining vigilant against the suggestions of our culture and our enemy, Satan, who 1 Peter 5:8 tells us:

“…prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

We should gratefully submit to the instructions of God’s Word, to His known will for us, and we should consistently trust His grace when we seem penned-in to some place where we would rather not live.

If we belong to Christ, when we do stray we can be assured that He diligently calls out His heavenly crew of angels to get us back inside the fence of His will. But, how much better for us and for our witness to the watching world, if we stay out of the places where we don’t belong—places of ruin that we can certainly avoid!



Monday, September 8, 2014

Out of Ashes


[Photo of a flower growing in a pile of ashes]

“[The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord] has anointed me…
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment
of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting
of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”
—Isaiah 61:3

Sometimes it feels like all we have left to give the Lord are ashes. That which we had—that which seemed to be the best offering we could produce—has been burned and now gone. All we have to offer our God is brokenness and the burned up remains of a well-intentioned life.

We can find various stories of the lives of people who thought their world had ended, but then went on to do amazing things despite the burned out remnants of something seemingly lost.

Consider Beethoven, a man with the keenest sense of hearing, who composed exquisite music, but suffered complete deafness when he had so many songs yet to give the world. Despite the extreme loss, he composed the most well known and loved symphony, his Ninth, while totally deaf.

Think of Joni Earecksen Tada, a young girl with a promising knack for painting, who loved sitting next to her artist father with her crayons and imagination, dreaming of producing wonderful pictures. Then, she experienced a horrible diving accident, spent months in the hospital, and ended up a quadriplegic. She could have never known what God saw in her future, of the magnificent works of art created by colored pencils held between her teeth.

To Joni, and many others with severe limitations, these verses from 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 must ring very true:

“But he [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Maybe something you depended on to give you the means to serve God has been taken from you. Maybe the dreams you had have vanished like smoke. Even so, be aware that God’s plan never gets thwarted. He wants to give you beauty for ashes, and hope where you have despair. He is able to produce in you something of His design.

Stay faithful, and you will soon see the beauty develop in ways you never imagined!



Monday, September 1, 2014

Taking Stock


[Photo of a female teacher holding a two-way radio]

“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom…May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands.”
—Psalm 90:12, 17

She was about my age at the time, almost fifty, and energetic, efficient, extremely competent. Now she was gone, dying all too quickly of a stroke.

Fran Jones was hired as our school system’s assistant superintendent, but she had served for the past school year as my school’s interim principal. We had often laughed together as we planned events for the school. She had won the hearts of all who worked with her, and said this was one of the happiest years of her career.

She had just begun a second year as an interim principal, this time at the Middle School, for what she hoped would be a short-term assignment. After a staff meeting, she fell ill and never recovered. She died several days later.

I guess that everybody has a clarifying moment like this, a time to reflect on his or her own life. This period in my life allowed Psalm 90 to take on new meaning. I wanted to make a difference, live for Christ as I never had before, to affect lives for the Kingdom. Fran’s death had made me more eager than ever to make certain I did not waste whatever time I may have left in my life.

Moses wrote this 90th Psalm. I wonder at what time in his life he wrote it: when he cared for sheep in the desert; or after the Lord had called him to lead His people out of Israel; or toward the end of Moses’ life, as he struggled with the nation in the wilderness?

Maybe Moses, too, saw someone important to him, vital, influential, and dying. Maybe he, too, wanted more than ever to be God’s servant with a significant ministry to His people.

If God has you pray the kind of prayer contained in Psalm 90, you can be sure that He has blessing ahead for you!