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.

 

 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Fresh Perspectives

 

[Photo of Willink Farm]


“Because of the Lord’s great love, we
are not consumed, for his compassions
never fail. They are new every
morning; great is your faithfulness.”
—Lamentations 3:22-23.

Have you ever seen something old from an entirely new perspective?

My family farm, well over a century and a quarter old, stays in my memory like no other place. This is where I grew up and spent the first seventeen years of my life.

From all the childhood years of running from one end to the other to my adult life of watching it grow under my brother’s and his sons’ hands, I have seen the familiar driveways and buildings change and expand—all the time with the stable memory of the house and the original barn I knew so well.

Nothing quite prepared me for the perspective of the drone images my nephew captured last spring. I could see the old familiar places, sort of, but the house and old barn are completely dwarfed by all the new buildings. This view gives me a new appreciation for God’s blessing on our family and the legacy of hard work handed down over five generations.

As I live life, I appreciate the Scriptures more and more. Why? I think because my life experiences give me different ways of looking at the words and allow me to learn about my great God from different perspectives. I see this same kind of experience in the story of David. Psalm 18 contains this heading:

Of David the servant of the Lord. He sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.

This long psalm of praise to God comes from the depths of an experience of God’s rescue and victory in David’s life. Interestingly, though, He quoted this entire Psalm again at the end of his life, as recorded in 2  Samuel 22. I can imagine what fresh praises came to him this second time around as King of Israel.

When we read Scripture, God expects us to read with fresh eyes, new praises, and from a new perspective now changed by the experiences He brings into our lives. I often wondered how we could obey the often quoted admonition of Scripture to sing to the Lord a new song.

I think the answer comes to us as we see God from new viewpoints, new perspectives. If we allow Him to lift us to new heights, He will show us things we have never seen, at least in this fresh way. This will permit us to renew our thinking processes, to read His Word with new eyes, and to sing to Him from our hearts with a new song, even if we use old words!

 

 

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Hiding Place

 

[Photo of of stuffed animals in a corner]


“For in the day of trouble he will keep
me safe in his dwelling; He will hide
me in the shelter of his tabernacle.”
—Psalm 27:5

Do you remember as a child loving hiding places? A little closet under the stairs, an attic hideaway, or even a spot behind the sofa? Old houses often had intriguing rooms, forgotten and dusty, but places for secret meetings with sisters and friends. Nancy Drew mysteries often revealed wonderful rooms behind bookcases or under floors.

You may also have read the story The Hiding Place by Corrie TenBoom, a real-life story of her family who hid Jews in Holland during the early days of World War II. That special secret room in their house served only utilitarian uses—no frills or extra comforts.

When the Scriptures speak of God hiding us in the secret place, or in His refuge, I think of something a lot less frightening and more inviting. Sometimes, He refers to these places as under the wings of a large mother bird, or a strong tower as in Psalm 91. In this psalm, the psalmist tells us that this place provides rest and protection from such things as snares, pestilences, terror, plagues, and arrows.

What makes God’s refuge a place of rest? Because He not only supplies the place, He is the place. Can God be a large enough Place to give us comfortable rest, every provision, and protection until the storm or trouble has passed? Psalm 91 also tells us He sees to it that angels guard us, as well. Just as Noah’s family rested comfortably in the rooms provided in the ark, God stocks our hiding places with all that we need for the duration of our storm.

Hear the admonition of Psalm 62:5:

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress. I will not be shaken.

God does, indeed, prepare a wonderful refuge for us when we need a hiding place: fully equipped, comfortably ready, and surprisingly fortified with His strong Presence. Praise the strong name of the Lord!

 

 

Monday, September 18, 2017

They Called Her “Much Afraid”

 

[Photo of a woman despair]


“When I am afraid, I will trust in
you. In God, whose word I praise, in
God I trust; I will not be afraid.”
—Psalm 56:3-4

In Hannah Hurnard’s classic allegory, Hinds’ Feet On High Places, the main character, little Much-Afraid, lives among her relatives, the Fearings, in the Valley of Humiliation. She knows the Good Shepherd and desires His fellowship. She learns that He wants her to leave this place and follow Him, rather than live forever with those who would have her marry Craven Fear, the fiercest of the Fearings.

Much-Afraid learns from the Shepherd how to climb to the High Places, the Kingdom of Love. This is the place where His love casts out all her fears, including all those kin who have plagued her throughout all of her life. Through the struggles of a very long and circuitous journey, she becomes Acceptance-With-Joy in the Kingdom of Love.

This journey from fear to acceptance, love, and peace cannot happen quickly. In our own lives, we seem to have to learn this lesson over and over. Some of us have a greater struggle than others, because we too live among Fearing relatives who constantly whisper their evil plans for us in our ears.

I am intrigued that God speaks the words “Be not afraid” more often than just about any other admonition in Scripture. He knows our weakness and the trials we come up against in this fallen world. After all, Jesus Himself lived with the terrors of sickness, storms, plots of hatred, sleepless nights, and even death. He most certainly understands fear.

Unfortunately, this life does not afford us a quick fix to our fears. But, I believe that God wants us who know Him to learn to trust Him, to look in His face, to arm ourselves with His promises through His word, and to seek His hope and encouragement. The path away from fear takes us through obstacles, sharp precipices, loneliness, and often dangers on every side.

If you are dogged by this constant companion Fear, hear Your Savior say to you in the words of Isaiah 41:9-10:

“You are my servant; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

 

 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Joy

 

[Photo of a boy in braces]


“But for you who revere my name, the sun of
righteousness will rise with healing in
its wings. And you will go out and leap
like calves released from the stall.”
—Malachi 4:2

I could hear the squeals of delight as Jamie came down the hallway. In these first few days since he had learned to walk, he had the time of his life. Jamie had come to kindergarten in a wheelchair. Eventually, he learned to get beyond his ability to crawl, and, through much therapy, began to use a walker.

Another year had Jamie walking with braces and crutches. And, then came the time, somewhere in the middle of his second grade year, when he could walk on his own. He acted like an ecstatic baby who had just learned to walk. The same joy and laughter accompanied him everywhere he went.

I remember thinking that when God makes us new creatures in Christ, our first days of “walking in the Spirit” seem like that of an ecstatic toddler. We walk in joy for we have been healed from the bondage of sin. But, like Jamie, after we have walked in this new life for awhile, the novelty of it wears off, and we start to behave like all the others around us.

Human nature causes us to forget our early joys. In Revelation 2:1-7, God gave John the Apostle words to send to the Church in Ephesus. After telling them the good things about their church, God says this:

Yet, I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.

I don’t think God intended for us to ever lose the joy of first love. He wants us to walk with Him every day, just as we did that first day, in delight and gratitude.

Take time today to reflect on your new life in Christ. Remember your first excitement in following Him, and the freedom that kind of joy brings. Others will notice the difference Christ has made in your life. As you traverse the hallways of your life, may laughter and gladness accompany you!

 

 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Going Overboard

 

[Photo of Jesus' disciples on the Sea of Galilee]


“Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the
Lord, he put on his outer garment
(for he
had removed it), and plunged into the sea.”
—John 21:7b

I love impetuous Peter. He couldn’t hold back his enthusiasm or his love for the Lord Jesus. Familiar around boats all his life, twice we read in the Gospels that he jumped overboard into the water.

The most familiar story we remember comes from Matthew 14:22-32. This passage tells the story of the storm on the Sea of Galilee, or Lake of Gennesaret, in which the disciples feared for their lives. Jesus came to them on the water, and Peter jumped out of the boat and walked on top of the water to meet Him. Here Peter exhibited enough faith to take a few steps toward Jesus before he had to call out for rescue.

A lot of time and experience had passed between that event and the one in which Peter again jumped out of the fishing boat to greet his Lord. Jesus had gone through the torturous death on the cross and come out of the grave alive. The disciples had seen Him a few times before He came to them on this morning after they had fished all night. Yet, Peter had haunting memories of his three denials of his Lord (recorded in John 18) and couldn’t let this moment pass to show his love and even shame over what he had done.

I like Peter. He always seemed to show his love to Jesus in obnoxious ways. He would say things and do things that appeared unorthodox and perhaps silly. No one could keep him and his wild passions for Christ from going overboard. In more ways than two!

Peter had zeal. We don’t often use that word anymore. But, it fits the description of this powerful disciple. God likes zealous people. In Numbers 25:10-13, God rewarded Phinehas for his courage in defending the honor of his God and his zeal. In John 2:17, the disciples watched Jesus overthrow the tables of the wicked in the temple and commented on His zeal for God.

In Romans 12:11, we read instructions to those who know Christ:

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

Can people see in us a definition of zeal for God, for Christ’s name, for His church? Do we dare go overboard for Him, even though others might scoff at us? Do we love Him with an eagerness that glorifies His greatness and causes those who don’t know Him to take notice? Does our fervor encourage others to display the same fervency? Does it keep us going even when all seems bleak?

Let us pray with the hymn writer who asks God for “one holy passion filling all my frame.”1 His love for us went overboard when God sent His only Son to us, and then allowed His death on the cross to pay for our guilt. He deserves nothing less than our passion for Him!

______________________

1 Croly, George. Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart. Public Domain.

 

 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Lost in Wonder

 

[Photo of a young woman sitting by the sea]


“One generation will commend your works
to another; they will tell of your mighty
acts. They will speak of the glorious
splendor of your majesty, and I will
meditate on your wonderful works.”
—Psalm 145:4-5

My old Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines the word “wonder” as “ Rapt attention or astonishment at something awesomely mysterious or new to one’s experience.”

Children seem to catch the wonder of a moment more quickly than adults, probably because, to a child, everything presents itself as something new. However, if we take the time, adults can experience wonder, too.

Charles Wesley, the author of more than 6,000 hymns, occasionally would “borrow” phrases from the hymns of others. One such phrase he used, originated from the hymn, When All Thy Mercies, O My God, written by Joseph Addison in 1712.1

In this hymn, Joseph Addison looked back over his life and surveyed the way God had cared and guided him from infancy, through youth, in hidden dangers, sickness, sorrows, and “every period of my life.” He stated that, as he considered all the times and ways of God’s good providence over him, he got lost in wonder, love and praise.

As for Charles Wesley, he used this phrase in his well-known hymn, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling in 1747.2 Wesley wrote this as a corporate prayer, asking God to work in His church to make us, His people, like Him in His love. He asks for Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God Himself to invade the hearts and minds of God’s people with His awesome character. We find the “borrowed” phrase at the very end of the hymn, where He concludes, Till we cast our crowns before Thee, lost in wonder, love and praise.

Taken together we see that God fills our earthly life with the wonders of His grace. And yet, we look forward to even greater wonders when “in heaven we take our place.” What a wonderful meditation from two godly men of the 18th century.

Let me suggest you find the words to these two hymns, meditate on them, and use them as a means of worship and praise. Lose yourself in the wonder of our gracious and glorious God!

______________________

1 Addison, Joseph. When All Thy Mercies, O My God. Public Domain.
2 Wesley, Charles. Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. Public Domain.

 

 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Renovated

 

[Photo of a renovated corridor]


“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect
the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into
his likeness with ever-increasing glory,
which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
—2 Corinthians 3:18

No one was surprised that my elementary school, the oldest in town, needed renovation. No other option existed. We had to go through this process over the course of a school year and two summers. What a mess this made of our schedules, our classrooms, our special events, and our programs.

One winter day before Christmas we even had to take the entire student population on a “field trip” visiting other buildings in town for special programs. The students came to school in the morning, were sent onto another bus with their classes for the “field trip,” and at the end of the day came back to school and got on their buses for home.

We tolerated a long year of sacrifices. But, once renovations were finally completed, the building became the boast of the town. We had new windows, new heating and air conditioning, a new roof, new carpeting, new counters, and even new furniture. The changes ensured more comfort, safety, and productivity. We had a like-new, attractive place to teach and learn. What a fun school year opening it was once the renovations were completed!

At some point in our lives, maybe the Lord wants to take us through a renovation process. Be prepared for a messy job. We’ll probably find things in closets that we had forgotten we had stored there, and see “dust” that embarrasses us. We may find that our lives gets disrupted and uncomfortable. No longer will He accept the old sins we’ve lived with for so long.

The Lord needs us for more productive and even more attractive work for His Kingdom. Maybe He wants new windows from which we can view the world more like He does. He wants to clean up our inner persons and rebuild us to serve His purposes in the world. Trust ourselves into the wise and loving hands of the Master Builder. He does everything well! New usefulness and new joy will result.

Listen to the words God gave Isaiah to tell the city of Jerusalem, when He was about to do a major renovation of their hearts and their culture. From Isaiah 54:11-12:

O afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will build you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with sapphires. I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones.

Oh what a beautiful prospect for a ruined and torn down city. A renovation project indeed! God always sees the renovation project to its glorious end. We can count on Him.

 

 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Adding Alleluias

 

[Photo of up-reached hands]


“Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.”
—Psalm 34:3

If I asked you what contribution Charles Wesley made to Christian history, most of you would know he wrote hundreds of our beloved hymns. If I asked you the same question about Martin Madan, you probably would have no idea. But, if I asked you to sing the words to Christ the Lord is Risen Today, written by Charles Wesley, you would add the words he didn’t put in himself. The Alleluias were added later by Martin Madan.

Martin Madan added Alleluias to other hymns of Charles Wesley’s, through whom he came to the saving knowledge of Christ. Yet, virtually unknown today, Madan influenced others for Christ, and even became a preacher of the Gospel. Still, his most remembered legacy comes in this simple addition to Wesley’s hymns.1

This made me wonder. Do we add Alleluias to other people’s praises? Do we enhance the praise and testimony of others? Do we, together with them, exalt God’s name, as the Scripture verse at the beginning of this blog post suggests?

Surely, when God’s people meet and exalt Him, He sends His Holy Spirit to enliven, empower, and encourage them. We read in Acts 2:1 that:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.

Three times in the first two chapters of this Book of Acts, in giving the story of the first Church, the author uses the word “together.”

At first, they met together for prayer. (Acts 1:14). In Acts 2:1, the Holy Spirit came to them when they met together. In Acts 2:44 and 46, we read how they met together, as God formed through them His early Church.

It’s apparent that God brings His power to bear on believers when together they meet and praise Him.

We may not all have a gift for writing hymns, or preaching, or praying aloud. But, we can all add “Alleluias.” The power of the combination of our praise exalts our God and brings others to the wonder of His presence with us.

Alleluia to His name!

______________________

1 Information for the opening of this blog post was gleaned from the following book: Brown, Robert K. and Mark R. Norton. The One Year Book of Hymns. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1995. pp. May 25, May 27, August 8.

 

 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Bowed Down and Lifted Up

 

[Photo of a vase full of drooping flowwers]


“But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me;
my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.”
—Psalm 3:3 KJV

I am amazed how quickly flowers start to droop. And, we know how unappealing and useless such a bouquet becomes. But, what a change in the structure of the flowers happens once we add fresh water to the vase!

Sometimes, we feel ourselves like a droopy flower, like a bowed attempt to look productive and useful on a banquet table. What makes us bow over like that and to keep our faces down? Sometimes we bow in shame over some past sinful practice. We hide our heads from God and those around us who know us well. We consider ourselves on the way to uselessness before Him.

Other times, our “bowing down” comes from some great sorrow, or from a long term trial. We feel like our heads bend with a heaviness we can’t get rid of, with a tiredness and joyless outlook on the future.

To us, the Psalmist David says in Psalm 145:14:

The Lord… lifts up all who are bowed down.

And again, in Psalm 146: 8, we read:

The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.

I think God cares specifically and kindly for those in the condition of feeling bowed down. His written Word tells us in 1 Peter 5:5 that:

He gives grace to the humble.

And what do we do for our droopy flowers whose heads bow toward the floor? We run and pour some fresh water in the container. We feed them with that which they need the most.

We can hear Christ say, in John 4:13-14:

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become to him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

If we drink the water Christ welcomes us to drink, we can be assured that our heads will face the sun again and our shame will be washed away. God will lift us up, give us His grace to stand. And, He will do this, not only for us, but also for all those who will catch the sweet scent of the Living Christ in our raised and shining faces.

 

 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Tight Spots and Wide Open Spaces

 

[Photo of a woman looking under the hood of a vehicle]


“You… knew the anguish [straits] of my soul.
You… have set my feet in a spacious place.”
—Psalm 31:7-8

If you’re like me, on occasion you’ve been in tight spots in your life.

I remember a day before cell phones when I sat in the middle of an intersection in rush hour traffic on my way to the garage with my horn blaring (out of my control) and the car refusing to start. Drivers behind me impatiently honked. When the police came, they pushed my broken down vehicle to the side of the street where I waited for help.

I remember other times, in that same car, with windows open, driving in the summer breezes through the countryside admiring the wide-open spaces, enjoying every moment of the ride.

God can put any of us in a tight spot when He sees we need the discipline, or the lesson to build our faith, that such a spot will teach us. Some tight spots keep us confined for a very long time and we begin to feel forgotten, like I did in traffic that long-ago day.

In those times, God seems far away, but He still hears us when we cry to Him. Psalm 18:6, 19 uses that same word that means “strait”:

In my distress [strait], I called to the Lord, I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears…He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.

Imagine God of the Universe delighting in us, waiting for our cry for help, and arranging a rescue for us.

God’s rescue may not come as soon as we’d like, like the wait we sometimes have for the towing service to show up on the scene. But, if we trust Him, we know He will come to us at the best possible time with our best possible interests in mind.

The Israelites felt as though they had stayed in the straits of Egypt far too long, but we know God had a great plan to rescue His people there. Deuteronomy 6:21-24 sums it up:

We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand… He brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers. The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive.

God always has our best in mind, even when we seem to live in the “straits.” When we find ourselves in the “straits,” we must learn to trust Him to come to our rescue in due time. And, we must not forget to praise Him for His kindness and generosity in providing everything we need!

 

 

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Rest of the Story

 

[Photo of Paul Harvey]


The Rest of the Story

“A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the
Son of David, …Salmon the father of Boaz,
whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed,
whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of
Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.”
—Matthew 1:1, 5-6

Anyone who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s knows the name of the late radio announcer Paul Harvey. You could hear his daily syndicated broadcasts on many radio stations at noon. Typically, one of his stories shared at the end of a regular newscast would begin like this one:

When you’re a little boy and Dad calls you “good-for-nothing,” it’s just got to hurt! That’s just what Guiseppe’s Papa called him.1

Harvey goes on to relate the story of an immigrant family from Sicily who worked in the fishing industry after coming to America. Guiseppe became ill each time he helped out on the boat. The “rest of the story” began after Guiseppe decided to leave fishing and began working at other odd jobs before finally stumbling on the thing that most interested him. He entered the world of sports and turned that world upside down.

Paul Harvey dramatically ended the story with these words:

For if that young man hadn’t been too seasick to join the family business, he would have left a vacancy in baseball’s Hall of Fame too great to fill… Guiseppe… Joe… DiMaggio. And, that’s the rest of the story.2

One of the reasons I like the Old Testament stories so very much comes from the fact that the people in those stories didn’t possess our knowledge of how the story would end. They got caught up in tragedy, or intrigue, or adventures they didn’t understand. And, at that moment in time, God alone knew the rest of their stories.

I think of two women, Rahab and Ruth. Rahab, a former prostitute, simply allowed Hebrew spies safe haven in her Jericho home because she had heard the reports about the Hebrew God who did miracles for His people. You can read the beginning of the story in Joshua 2, but the rest of it comes centuries later in Matthew 1.

Ruth, the poor immigrant Moabitess, who followed her mother-in-law and her monther-in-law’s God back to Bethlehem to scrape together a living, had no idea, even when she married and had a baby boy, that he would also become part of the lineage of David and Jesus, the Christ. The beginning of her story happens in the Book of Ruth and also concludes in the first chapter of Matthew.

I reckon that all of us play a role in stories of which we don’t know the ending. The Sovereign God of the nations, of time, and of a plan which He hasn’t fully made known to us, works through our seemingly mundane experiences, many of which we might be tempted to call “coincidences,” in order to complete the rest of our stories.

We need to ask God to show us His fingerprints in our lives, as He leads us through circumstances and experiences we don’t understand. Perhaps, in His time, He will reveal His plan so that we can more fully trust Him and take encouragement. Perhaps we will not know the end of the story until we see Him in the next life.

Whichever way God chooses to work out our stories, we can be sure that we will praise and exalt His sovereign and loving plan for us, when we at last come to know the rest of the story!

______________________

1 Aurandt, Paul. Paul Harvey’s the Rest of the Story. New York: Bantam Books, 1977, pp. 62-64.
2 Ibid

 

 

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Devil and Cinderella

 

[Photo of Cinderella]


“Your enemy the devil prowls around like a
roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
—1 Peter 5:8

Cinderella, the beauty of her family, lived her life by the stories her stepsisters told her and in the mockery and servitude in which they made her live. She willingly allowed them to pile the dirty jobs on her and to intimidate her into believing she wasn’t fit to attend the ball she prepared them to attend.

In their book, The Sacred Romance, Brent Curtis and John Eldredge liken many of us to this poor housemaid. The authors suggest that we believe the lies that we may have heard all our lives, instigated by our real enemy, Satan himself.

This very trickery worked on Eve in the Garden of Eden when Satan questioned her—as recorded in Genesis 3—and asked “Did God really say?”

Unsuccessfully, Satan tried these same tactics on our Savior when He went into the wilderness of temptation before He began His public ministry. Satan tried to put doubts into Jesus’ mind over God’s plan, as well as doubts about His place in it, using such statements as “IF you are the Son of God…” found in Luke 4:3, 9.

Satan likes to tell false stories to us, as well. Sometimes he uses the voices of family members or classmates, causing us to believe the lies he tells us. If we allow him to convince us, our whole lives can feel useless and pointless, unaware of the Prince of Peace who has a new name, a new nature and a new ever-after for us.

Here’s how the authors of The Sacred Romance put it:

Fortunately for Cinderella, the prince is a romantic who will not give up searching the city until he has found her, and they live happily ever after. And so it will be with us who are the beloved of the great Prince who is Jesus. It is this destiny that so enrages our enemy and makes him determined to destroy the love affair that he can never have a part in.1

Have you been listening to the wrong voices? Let God’s written Word, His great Love Letter to us, fill your mind and heart. And, accept from Him the invitation to see yourself as the Child of the King with a royal purpose. Allow Him to invite you to the singing and praising of God’s people, where you will find a sense of belonging and true rejoicing.

______________________

1 Curtis, Brent, and John Eldredge. The Sacred Romance. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997, p. 110.

—Posted: Monday, July 17, 2017

 

 

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Pleasure of Your Company

 

[Photo of a wedding invitation]


“I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit
is sweet to my taste. He has taken me to the
banquet hall and his banner over me is love.”
—Song of Songs 2:3-4

You can still read the lines, “The pleasure of your company is requested...” on formal wedding invitations. These words most often get overlooked when we keep reading to learn the details that follow.

Chances are that you enjoy the company of special people: those with whom you feel comfortable, those you know well, or those you would like to get to know better. As Christians, we learn to enjoy the pleasure of our Lord’s company through Bible study and prayer, most often in the privacy of our quiet time alone.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, which many believe summarizes the doctrine of the Bible, begins with the question: “What is the chief end of man?” And, the answer written there says simply: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Most often, when we consider these words, we think about our lives “glorifying” God. I wonder how often do we think about “enjoying” Him?

David, the man after God’s heart, says in Psalm 16:11:

You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Another psalmist in Psalm 43:4 refers to God as his “joy and delight.”

And, God requires nothing of us to meet with us than our firm desire and our time. Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

He knows the pleasure and rest we find coming into His presence. We do not have to wonder if this presence comes only at certain times. Yes, sometimes we can sense His nearness more than at other times. But, He has promised never to leave us alone.

In fact, the very last words Jesus spoke before He ascended into Heaven, recorded in Matthew 28:20, remind us:

“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

An old hymn1, written in the 18th century, captures the concept of joy in His presence:

O thou, in whose presence, my soul takes delight,
On whom in affliction I call,
My comfort by day and my song in the night,
My hope, my salvation, my all!

We can get started receiving this close fellowship with the Savior by beginning our prayer time as follows:

Oh, Lord, You who have invited us to know You, we request the pleasure of Your company during this prayer hour. Reveal Yourself through Your written Word as we draw near to You.

Thank You for Your promise to be with us always through our Lord Jesus. Amen.

______________________

1 Swain, Joseph. Hymn: O Thou in Whose Presence, Public Domain.

 

 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Knowing the Voice

 

[Drawing of Little Red Riding Hood]


“When he [the shepherd] has brought
out all his own, he goes on ahead of them,
and his sheep follow him because they know his
voice. But they will never follow a stranger;
in fact, they will run away from him because
they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”
—John 10:4-5

Evidently Red Riding Hood did not know her Grandma as well as she thought she did. On her famous visit, the wolf, who had earlier spoken to her in the woods, disguised his voice in such a way that he tricked the little girl into thinking he was her Grandma. Had it not been for her quick legs and a woodsman nearby, the wolf would have had her for dinner.

We know that in our modern day, voice recognition software helps authorities identify people scientifically. As our fingerprints, the retina of our eyes, and our DNA give distinguishing characteristics, so do our voices.

Just as Jesus taught, we can recognize His voice if we know Him. He does not reveal Himself to “strangers.” In the same way that Red Riding Hood was duped by the clever wolf, so our spiritual enemy, Satan, has packs of evil emissaries that come to us with trickery and temptation.

So, how do we come to recognize the true voice of the Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ?

First of all, we know Him by speaking to Him frequently. I don’t recognize the voice of someone with whom I’ve only had one or two conversations. But, even something as simple as the clearing of a throat of someone I know intimately, identifies that person to me.

Secondly, we can discern the real voice of our Lord by the way in which the voice speaks to us. In James 3:14-17, the apostle gives us these distinguishing marks:

If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But, the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

Do we hear the loving, merciful, and engaging voice of our Savior? Or, do we hear the accusing, resentful voice of our sinful nature and our enemy, Satan? This kind of discernment comes from a mature walk with God. And, it becomes increasingly evident the longer we live.

Maybe Red Riding Hood should have prayed before she began her walk to Grandma’s house. Each day, and in each decision we feel unsure to make, we need to stop and pray that God will make Himself evident in our thinking, and that we will clearly recognize His loving voice, distinguishing it from all other voices.

 

 

Monday, June 26, 2017

You Are Here!

 

[Photo of a woman looking at which road to take]


“Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths;
guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are
God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”
—Psalm 25:4-5

I used to think that only young adults had all the questions about “Where do I go next” or “What does the Lord want me to do with my life?” I have learned through painful experiences that, as circumstances change, these questions come up again and again in life. We don’t somehow get wound up like a spring in our youth and, once set in motion, run automatically until we “wind down” at the end of our lives.

God gives us times when we sense His call to consider where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going. Sometimes, it seems easier to only look at the past and the future because the present seems full of questions. In those times, we need to stand and look. As Jeremiah 6:16 tells us:

This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”

In our frenetic lives, we often fail to stop and look, to consider, to pause for a “Selah” moment. Yet therein lies the cure for our anxious questions, our confusing outlooks, our deep need for the Counselor, the Holy Spirit.

When we spend the time required to consider where we are, and where God wants us to be—and, when we pray earnestly as Moses did in Exodus 33:15-17—we receive the reassuring answer from Him:

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”

One friend of mine takes an occasional retreat weekend to a favorite cabin in the woods to get her bearings and renew her commitment to the Lord. Though we cannot all do that, we can spend extended times alone with God’s written Word and in prayer to get the direction we need.

Our God waits for us to come to Him in sincere faith asking for new light on the path ahead. It pays to stand and see the sign, “You are Here!”

 

 

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Most Exotic Flower

 

[Photo of a beautiful flower]


“We love because he first loved us.”
—1 John 4:19

An exotic plant takes extra care: avoidance of drafts, careful watering, the right soil, lots of sunlight, and an appropriate climate. No one can just water and forget this kind of flower.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon writes about this:

Love is an exotic; it is not a plant which will flourish naturally in human soil, it must be watered from above. Love to Jesus is a flower of a delicate nature, and if it received no nourishment but that which could be drawn from the rock of our hearts it would soon wither…Love must feed on love. The very soul and life of our love to God is His love to us.1

We know that love to God and love to each other appears in the greatest commandment, recorded in Matthew 22:37-38:

Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

In the great “Love Chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13, we read in verse 13 that:

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

The list of the “Fruit of the Spirit” listed in Galatians 5:22-23 begins with the most exotic plant—Love.

In and of ourselves, we do not have the soil or the ability to grow the flower of love. According to Romans 5:5, we must lean on the Holy Spirit, who sheds abroad His love in our hearts.

Pastor James Cymbala of the Brooklyn Tabernacle recalls an Easter Sunday in which he sat down on the edge of the platform after the evening meeting. He sat there exhausted as people continued to pray around him. Shortly, a man with shabby clothing and matted hair came toward him. Pastor Cymbala had no desire to speak with another person that night, tired as he was.

However, he nodded the man forward and spoke to him. This is how he describes the encounter:

When he came close, I saw that his two front teeth were missing. But more striking was his odor—the mixture of alcohol, sweat, urine, and garbage took my breath away. I have been around many street people, but this was the strongest stench I have ever encountered. I instinctively had to turn my head sideways to inhale, then look back in his direction while breathing out.2

After briefly speaking with the man, David, the pastor prayed, “God, forgive me.” He swallowed hard as God’s love flooded his soul.

David sensed the change in me. He moved toward me and fell on my chest, burying his grimy head against my white shirt and tie. Holding him close, I talked to him about Jesus’ love. These weren’t just words; I felt them. I felt love for this pitiful young man. And that smell…I don’t know how to explain it. It had almost made me sick, but now it became the most beautiful fragrance to me.3

David surrendered his life to Christ that night and got the help he needed. His life changed forever through that encounter. Pastor Cymbala sums this up by saying:

Carol and I have found that unless God baptizes us with fresh outpourings of love, we would leave New York City yesterday!4

Those of us who desire to obey our Savior’s admonitions to love Him and to love others must realize that, like growing an exotic plant, the conditions must come from the source of nourishment: the love of God for us. We cannot hope to accomplish anything unless His loving Spirit indwells us and makes God-breathed love possible.

______________________

1 Spurgeon, Charles H., Morning and Evening. McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing Company, Public Domain. p. 326.
2 Cymbala, Jim. Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997. pp. 141-144.
3 Ibid
4 Ibid

 

 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Obstinate

 

[Photo of a young girl sticking out her tongue]


“I gave them this command: ‘Obey me, and I will be
your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the
ways I command you, that it may go well with you.’
But they did not listen or pay attention; instead
they followed the stubborn inclinations of their
evil hearts. They went backward and not forward.”
—Jeremiah 7:23-24.

Blame it on a poor regular classroom teacher, poor class makeup, or even my inability to teach them in my music class, this fourth grade made it impossible for me to deal with them! Even though I loved this age group the best, this particular class refused to allow me to teach.

I had so many fun games and songs to use. I knew that if they had only given me a chance, they would have loved my class and learned a lot at the same time. Every singing game that involved holding hands in a circle ended in some kind of tug of war or refusal to participate. Games with a ball ended in someone trying to “get another classmate.”

These children preferred to goof around, waste class time watching each other play, and generally refused to enjoy the lessons I developed for their best interest. I modified my lessons to do everything I could to turn them around. And then, they had the audacity to complain that they were bored!

Do we treat our Lord the same way? Do we refuse to accept His plans for us and generally make it impossible for Him to deal with us? Do we miss the good things He wants for us because we think we have a better idea?

Sometimes, we stubbornly hold on to things that do nothing to help us, or give us joy. We fight against those alongside us whom He has given to us for the sake of His good purposes. Then we wonder why our lives disappoint us, and the Lord seems so far away.

If this attitude describes us, we must return to the Lord and His mercy. We need to promptly acknowledge His righteous and loving purposes. And, we need to take to heart the message of these verses from Micah 7:18-19:

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

 

 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Preacher Kid

 

[Photo of a large wooden gate]


“From the lips of children and
infants you have ordained praise.”
—Psalm 8:2

Children do so well at repeating what they have heard, and they do so with such authority! One day in a public school music class, I was teaching the spiritual “Who Built the Ark?” It contained the musical element I was explaining that day, so I felt perfectly comfortable presenting it, though some might consider it a religious song.

As I always did when I could, I talked about the background of the words. I asked the second grade children to describe an ark and, if they could, tell about Noah’s story. One little girl fairly burst at the seams to tell the class what she knew.

After telling how Noah built this huge boat at God’s command, he called the animals in two by two. She told how Noah believed God when He said it would rain and only His family would be saved. (Genesis 6-9)

She ended the long, correctly detailed story with the statement, “And God closed the door.” She paused, and then in a louder voice, quoting Revelation 3:7 she said, “Did you know that when God closes a door, no man can open it, and when He opens a door, no man can shut it?”

How could seven-year-old Charlotta possibly have known that I was struggling that day with a decision I thought rested solely on my own reasoning? She reminded me that we serve a sovereign God. We cannot thwart His purposes with our finite minds—especially when we have already asked Him to guide us.

My decision didn’t rest on my own solution. God doesn’t often rubber stamp the plans we make because we have such brilliance. Yes, He will work through our minds, experiences, best considerations, friends’ advice, but only when we have trusted Him with the outcome.

If we make sure that we haven’t taken over the reins of our journey and truly put our faith in His ability to guide us, no matter what the results we can believe He will accomplish His sovereign purposes for us. Guidance of that sort includes listening to the conversations around us. And, we shouldn’t discount what even children can teach us. Sometimes God uses their sweet, raspy, little voices to speak His truth!

 

 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Tethered

 

[Photo of a toddler wearing a harness]


…there was given to me a thorn in the
flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment
me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord
to take it away from me. But he said,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for
my power is made perfect in weakness.”
—2 Corinthians 12:7-9

As a toddler, my younger sister liked to put stones from our driveway in her mouth. To avoid this danger, my mother used a tether on my sister and tied her to the laundry pole in the backyard while Mom hung the wash on the line. Unpleasant for a time, this method of guarding my sister’s behavior proved extremely helpful in preventing the “stone eating.”

Have you ever felt tethered to something that kept you from the freedom you would like? Certainly, God can use the tethering cord for a short time. But, what about those times when He tethers us for a very long term?

Perhaps you feel tethered to a financial problem, a debt that won’t go away, or a life of poverty. Maybe you have a chronic physical problem that severely limits your activities, even those you would like to accomplish for the Kingdom of God. Or, maybe you feel tethered to a boss who, regardless of your prayers and hard work, fails to commend you or pay you what you are worth.

The Apostle Paul, in the passage at the beginning of this blog post, recounted a physical problem with which God had tethered him. He had begged God to take it away. But instead, God, in His overarching love and wisdom, denied Paul’s request.

When we ponder this kind of experience, we all ask, “Why?”

Paul knew why God had given him this weakness. Prior to this, Paul had experienced the privilege of a divine revelation. In order to keep him from conceit, God made him humble through this “thorny” physical limitation—perhaps something that disfigured his appearance or hampered his clear vision.

As I considered Paul’s situation, I realized that my mother had tied my sister to the laundry pole for the sake of her protection—nothing else. We must consider that perhaps our long term trial has come from God for just such a purpose. What sin might He have kept us from through the trial? What accident or wrong choice has He shielded us from?

Then again, perhaps God saw how self-reliant we had become, how easily we go about our own agenda, leaning on our own feeble ability and power, rather than on His enormous ability and power.

Perhaps, God wants us all to realize that, like Paul, we need His strength instead of our own, and that “His power is made perfect in our weakness.”

Another reason for God to tether us comes from the reality that He has other people whom He wants to bless through us. Sometimes, to reveal His grace, people need to see the way in which He does the impossible for us. Even Lazarus’ death , recorded in John 11, came about because Jesus wanted to be glorified through Lazarus’ resurrection.

We may never know the reason for the bothersome, painful, joy-sucking tether we wear. But, we can get ever-closer to trusting our wise and loving Savior with the decision He has made to tether us.

Let us pray to have the grace, strength, and dedication to Him and to His cause that will result in His glory! Amen.

 

 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Issues

 

[Photo of a woman touching the hem of Jesus' garment]


And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood
twelve years, and had suffered many things of
many physicians, and had spent all that she had,
and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse,

When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press
behind, and touched his garment. For she said,
If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole.

And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made
thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague.
—Mark 5:25-28, 34 KJV

In our current culture, we use the word, “issues” in an entirely different manner than it was used historically. To us it means negative circumstances or questions. In the passage above, the word referred to a “discharge from the body.”

Nevertheless, I see a very real parallel between this Biblical story and current usage. We certainly deal with “issues” in our lives. Some wear us down, as the discharge of blood did this woman. Some make us physically sick, financially vulnerable, heart-wounded, grief-stricken, scared, lonely, hopeless, etc.

What are our “issues” today? Have we strained to reach out to Christ, who has power over all the woes of our lives and can help us make sense, or at least cope with all that happens?

The use of the word, “spent” in this story also speaks to me. The woman had spent all she had. And, even the doctors had come to the end of their solutions. As an old hymn states:1

When we have exhausted
   our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed
   ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end
   of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

A wonderful friend of mine has written a morning prayer on this subject. I give you some of her words:2

Quite literally, Lord, I am bleeding to death, so I press toward you this morning, because I realize I need only that which you can supply. It seems that I’m beholding you from afar. Although it is closer than I’ve ever been before, it is still not close enough to touch you. Do you know I’m here? Do you hear the pleading of my heart? Are you aware that I finally know that, without you, I can do nothing?

Just a touch this morning is all I need—no spouse’s touch, no physician’s touch, just your strengthening touch which will bring with it healing, wholeness and peace. Amen.

______________________

1 Flint, Annie Johnson. He Giveth More Grace. Lillenas Publishing Co. 1941.

2 Ruffin, Clara V. “I Come With Issues.” From: He’s Prepared My Heart for Harvest. Hartford, Connecticut: Food for Thought, 1998. p. 18.

 

 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Whatever!

 

[Photo of the whatever smiley]


“Whatever is true, whatever is noble,
whatever is right, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is
admirable—if anything is excellent
or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
—Philippians 4:8

Do you catch yourself using the fad expression, “Whatever!”? I do. In our current culture, it has become an expression of resignation to something less than ideal we feel we have accept.

In the verse above, “whatever” indicates the importance of discrimination in choosing the things about which God expects us to think. He concerns Himself with not only what we do, but also with what we think about.

In Colossians 3:2, Paul admonishes us by saying:

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

The author of Hebrews, in Hebrews 3:1, says:

Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus.

The list in Philippians contains descriptive adjectives we rarely use in our current culture: noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy. Can we even define these words?

Christians, moved by God about their thoughts, will need to look in uncommon places to find such things on which to dwell. We can start with Scripture. How often do we put our minds to memorizing verses that God has brought to our attention? How many times God has brought to our awareness a verse that speaks to our needs?

We can also memorize the words to hymns that draw our attention to Christ. Many of us know familiar hymns, and with a little polishing could easily recite the texts from memory. The rhyme of the words and the tune will make remembering hymns even easier than memorizing Scripture verses.

I can’t count the number of times God has brought a line from a hymn to my mind while I’m praying to encourage me or counsel me. This kind of thinking fits perfectly with the adjectives in the verse at the beginning of this blog post.

Other beautiful and thought-worthy things with which we can fill our minds—uncommonly though they may occur in the surrounding culture—would include such things as good music, poetry, wholesome reading, nature walks, or conversation with uplifting friends.

Jesus said, as recorded in Mark 12:30:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

Choosing to discipline our minds by thinking about praiseworthy things will help us go a long way toward fulfilling this command of our Lord.

Whatever! Indeed! Whatever fits the description of noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy! It takes discriminating taste and a mind to please our Lord. Let’s just think about that!

 

 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Because I Said So!

 

[Photo of woman with her head in her hand]


“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter.”
—Proverbs 25:2

“Because I said so!” How many times have we heard our mothers’ voices come from our own lips as we repeated those words? Most times we give good reasons when we want children to respond positively to our decisions. However, sometimes when the matter seems either too complicated, because children can’t have the privileged information we have, or because we don’t have either the time or energy to discuss it, this particularly adult response comes from our lips.

Fortunately, we can take some comfort from the fact that God has been known to deal with us in the very same way. In Scripture, we read the stories of Moses, Job, David, Naomi, and others whom God dealt with in mysterious ways.

Joseph, in prison in Egypt, certainly didn’t know what God had in His plan. God had given Joseph dreams about a future in leadership that he had accepted by faith, yet everything seemed to go in the wrong direction for him. Sold by his brothers into Egypt, he had eventually been falsely accused and was now prison! Where did he go wrong? Only years later did he find out God’s awesome and complicated plan to rescue him and the entire nation of Israel.

Sometimes nothing seems to make sense to us. I’m thinking about those times when God requires us to experience failure, pain, or loss; when we have done all we thought God was asking of us and still things don’t turn out well, at least according to our human reasoning.

I love this old hymn. Here are a few verses:

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

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.1

Do we trust God’s love enough to allow Him to keep silent regarding His plan for us? Maybe we can’t understand the complication of the matter. Maybe He hasn’t given us privileged information that He alone has.

But, what we should know, deep in our innermost beings, is that He does not withhold information from us simply because, unlike us, He doesn’t have the energy or time.

The question we must ask ourselves, “Do we trust His authority and His wisdom when He says to us, ‘Because I said so!’”

______________________

1 Cowper, William, God Moves in a Mysterious Way. Public Domain.

 

 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Following Hard

 

[Photo of a child hugging his parent]


“They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with
Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were
astonished, while those who followed were afraid.”
—Mark 10:32

Have you ever watched a child cling to a parent and constantly step on the parent’s shoes while watching something scary? That’s how I feel sometimes with God. Life is scary, and the surest Help I have comes from Him.

It seems that all of us follow God more closely when we feel the need for Him the most. Yet, truthfully, we need to acknowledge our need and cling to Him in all circumstances—including those in which we feel confident.

We can become lost in the crowd, or confused by the signals we see. I remember my first experience with a subway and my mother telling me I had to stay close because the door could close on me and leave me behind.

In the Authorized King James Version of Psalm 63:8, we read:

My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me.

We need that kind of confidence in God every day and in every place. We know that He never leaves us or forsakes us. But, how often do we forget Him and wonder away?

The moral of this story can be summed up, “In order to keep from getting lost, facing scary things alone, and being able to hear the voice of our Savior, we need to stay close to Him at all times.” Let’s make that our aim this week.

 

 

Monday, April 24, 2017

All Will Be Well

 

[Photo of a girl hugging her dad]


“Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me
and keep all my commands always, so that it might
go well with them and their children forever.”
—Deuteronomy 5:2

When everything seems to go wrong, when life gets really hard, when disappointment and pain accompany us every day, do we, as adults, just wish our father would come and soothe our worries by taking over and making things right? We long for these words, “Everything will be okay.”

When my younger sister learned she had a very aggressive cancer that might take her life, she said to her weeping grandchildren, “I’ll be okay. And, even if I’m not, everything will still be okay.” In other words, God will work everything out as we hope. Or, He will work out everything to go well, just as He has planned.

We read in Isaiah 3 about the judgment God was about to bring on Jerusalem and Judah. He warned them that supplies of food and water would dry up, the military, legal, and governmental supports would become destroyed. He warned about oppression and disaster. Yet, He tells His people this in verse ten:

“Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds.”

Even when all seems hopeless, we can trust God to bring good out of any evil. In His goodness, He rewards our faith with joy and peace. Our Heavenly Father comes and assures us that He has everything under His control. And, because this is so, it will be well.

Let us allow this hymn text to encourage our faith today, no matter what our circumstances might be.

Through the love of God, our Savior,
All will be well;
Free and changeless is His favor,
All, all is well.
Precious is the blood that healed us,
Perfect is the grace that sealed us,
Strong the hand stretched out to shield us,
All must be well.

Though we pass through tribulation,
All will be well;
Ours is such a full salvation,
All, all is well.
Happy when in God confiding,
Fruitful if in Christ abiding,
Holy through the Spirit’s guiding,
All must be well.

We expect a bright tomorrow,
All will be well;
Faith can sing through days of sorrow,
All, all is well.
On our Father’s love relying,
Jesus ev’ry need supplying,
Or in living or in dying,
All must be well.1

______________________

1 Peters, Mary. Through the Love of God, Our Savior. Public Domain.