Monday, July 27, 2015

God, the Mosaic Artist


[Photo of a jungle mosaic]

“Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now
for a season, if need be, ye are in
heaviness through manifold temptations.”
—1 Peter 1:6 AKJV (emphasis added)

“As every man hath received the gift,
even so minister the same one to
another, as good stewards
of the manifold grace of God.”
—1 Peter 4:10 AKJV (emphasis added)

“O Lord, how manifold are thy works!
in wisdom hast thou made them all:
the earth is full of thy riches.”
—Psalm 104:24 AKJV (emphasis added)

Someone once told me that the word “manifold” in the Bible means “many-colored.” Having never studied Hebrew or Greek, I can only take his word for it. But, it has often made me consider the beautiful way in which God artfully uses His grace to meet the various—or manifold—needs and trials of His people.

Like an artist who chooses exquisite tiny tiles that He can see as He works, He can also envision the full masterpiece and how all those tiles fit together. He chooses the crystalline white stones that glint and shine with the light. He chooses the colorful clays that catch the eye and make us happy: bright turquoise, the brilliant reds, the sparkling purples and rich greens. He also chooses the inky black tiles that set the colors off and lend variety and luxuriant contrast to the whole picture.

He sees the objects created by these various tiles in the picture that we never see, although we may get a hint of them in our lifetimes. But certainly, He envisions the total picture we have no eyesight for, and plans a masterpiece made from the pieces of our lives—manifold graces for the manifold trials. As 1 Corinthians 13:12 tells us:

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

God will sometime allow us to see the intricate work of His loving hands that made something beautiful of our confusing and seemingly helter-skelter experiences of this life. I can’t wait to see the many mosaics of Heaven. Each of us will see the artwork He is creating now, and adore the Artist in the most magnificent gallery ever!



Monday, July 20, 2015

Going Nowhere Fast?


[Photo of a woman riding an exercise bike]

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.”
—Psalm 37:7

Do you sometimes feel like God has you riding a stationary bike? You know—one of those exercise bicycles that sits in the corner of a room and you pedal so many minutes to give yourself a workout?

God places all of us, who He intends to make fit for His service, on a regimen of spiritual exercise. He does so without new sights and sounds, away from the trails we would rather ride, and stuck in a seeming waste of time staring at a wall.

I have often wondered how the Israelites felt. They spend the better part of their lives as slaves in Egypt and now were set free to travel back to their homeland. They anxiously waited to see this promised place—a land “flowing with milk and honey” they had heard of all their lives.

But, instead of taking them directly and quickly to their final destination, God assigned them to a regimen of spiritual, mental, and physical exercise that consisted of waiting to move ahead. In addition, spies that scouted out the land of Palestine, came back, and scared them with stories of possible enemies they had never imagined.

This regimen is recorded in Numbers 9:17-23:

Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp.

When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord’s order and did not set out.

Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out.

At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out. They obeyed the Lord’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses.

How frustrating they must have felt. Sometimes it appears they got stuck waiting for a year to move ahead. It must have felt like riding a stationary bike! Yet we know God was working His purposes out in their lives. He wanted to teach them, day-by-day, to trust in His goodness.

In so doing, He showed them wonders never before seen on earth. He taught them that He could protect them from starvation and thirst, from wild animals, from enemy nations. He even kept their clothes from wearing out! And, He did this for forty years. For forty years! (see Deuteronomy 8:4)

If you feel that you get up every day only to ride your very own “stationary bike,” do so thanking God He that has a perfect plan for your life. He has charted a course to move you ahead and to use you for His purposes.

In the meantime, He will surely provide you with the exercise in faith and trust that you will need. He wants to help you get rid of the spiritual flab that will hold you back from running the race before you with the ease of a seasoned spiritual athlete. So, keep trusting God and keep pedaling!



Monday, July 13, 2015

In Spite Of…


[Photo of diseased grape vine]

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.”
—Habakkuk 3:17-18 (emphasis added)

Faith is belief “in spite of”—the contradiction of sight and reason. In the Gallery of the Faithful recorded in Hebrews 11, we read of many courageous, Spirit-filled saints who lived out faith “in spite of.”

The old hymn reflects this sentiment:

Faith of our fathers, living still,
in spite of dungeon, fire and sword. 1

Faith like this does not come to those who “dabble” in Christian belief. That is, those who call themselves “Christian,” but rarely work it out in powerful prayer or courageous action.

Instead, God calls those who will devote themselves to faithful discipleship to trust Him, and acknowledge His all-powerful hand, which He can use in response to His peoples’ faith.

Puritan writer, Thomas Manton says:

We give up the visible for invisible rewards. We do not look at the things that are seen, but unseen… Faith provides invisible supplies to endure visible dangers… Sense judges only the outside of God’s dispensations, but faith looks within the veil. 2

Even if everything for which we pray does not come to pass in exactly the way we hope, the truly faithful look for God’s hand and trust His ultimate wisdom in every situation.

Psalm 23:4 says:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.

God still works miracles. We may see His power in miraculous reversals of circumstances and health. But, when we trust Him in those “in spite of” times, He gives miraculous grace to sustain us, to give us peace, courage, joy, and a grateful spirit. His grace allows us to see His hand above all the circumstances.

Hymn writer William Cowper wrote the following:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
and rides upon the storm.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense
but trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
and scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
and He will make it plain. 3

God reserves His awesome power and grace for those who place their faith in Him, who pray, and, then, who leave the working out of all things to Him.


1 Faber, Frederick. “Faith of Our Fathers!” Public Domain.
2 Manton, Thomas. In Richard Rushing (Ed.) Puritan Sermons in Voices from the Past. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009. p. 59.
3 Cowper, William. “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” Public Domain.



Monday, July 6, 2015

Harrowing Predicaments


[Photo of fire department personnel rescuing trapped window washers]

“We do not know what to do,
but our eyes are on you.”
—2 Chronicles 20:12

On November 12, 2014, two window washers became trapped 68 floors up at One World Trade Center in New York City when their scaffolding came loose. We hear of such events because they rarely happen: a person’s parachute doesn’t open, a trapeze artist dies from a fall because he had no net beneath him, a bridge collapses plunging cars to the river below, etc.

We humans try to cover all eventualities, to make sure we are never caught without the help we need in any situation. We live in a country with regulations for every worst case scenario. We use seat belts in our vehicles, have smoke alarms in our homes, receive weather alerts, equip our boats with life preservers, fly on planes with all the technology available, all to keep people safe in an emergency.

Regardless of the lengths to which we go in order to avoid trouble, we can’t avoid it totally. We must deal with scary diseases, horrible accidents, injuries from war, and a host of other maladies outside our control. We need reminding of how many times in Scripture we read the words, “Do not fear” or “Be not afraid.” Nearly every Book in our Bibles has something to say about fear in the face of overwhelming odds.

We can’t get ourselves out of serious trouble any more than those window washers could. We must learn to trust in a God who has promised to care for us and who will show us goodness and mercy every day of our lives. This bare-knuckled kind of faith comes hard, and only through severe adversity. It tests our dependence on God, as well as His ability to help us.

In a book of Puritan devotional readings, I came upon this paragraph by Thomas Lye:

Faith is the antidote and healer of all diseases. It allows a believer to live in the midst of death. God has extraordinary means to bear us up when ordinary ones fail. He can turn poisons into antidotes, hindrances into furtherances, and destructions into deliverances. The ravens give Elijah food. A whale becomes Jonah’s ship, and pilot too. An Almighty God can work without means. God often brings his people into such a condition that they do not know what to do. He does this that they might know what he can do. God is with his people at all times, but he is most sweetly with them in the worst of times. 1

God can speak peace to us in the midst of terrible circumstances. He can bring help from strange places. Quite often, those things we often fear never happen, or come in a different form than we expect so that we are able to bear them.

Hear God say, “Trust me in this. I love you,” and experience His peace that passes all understanding.


1 Lye, Thomas. In Richard Rushing (Ed.) Puritan Sermons in Voices from the Past. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009. p. 185.