Monday, September 17, 2018

Fill ’er Up

 

[Photo of an old fashion service station attendant]


Fill ’er Up

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

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

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

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

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

One of my favorite hymns puts it like this:1

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

______________________

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

—Posted: Monday, September 17, 2018

 

 

Monday, September 10, 2018

No Easy Game of Telephone

 

[Photo of children playing the Game of Telephone]


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Monday, September 3, 2018

Fervor

 

[Photo of an antique clothes iron]


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Slow Down!

 

[Photo of a school zone]


“In the morning, O Lord, you hear my
voice; in the morning I lay my requests
before you and wait in expectation.”
—Psalm 5:3

School Zone: When Flashing—15 MPH. I drove by these city schools often and it seemed so unnatural to go so slowly when I impatiently wanted to get to my destination. Even my car seemed to balk at this slow rate. Yet, police watched these areas closely. Nearly everyone, in a kind of reverential fear, obeyed the signs and slowed down.

They remind me of the school days when, as a public school teacher, I would speed through my daily preparations in my classroom without taking the time to slow down and pray. Yes, I had spent time at home committing the day to the Lord. But, I should have slowed down long enough to pray for each class I would see and even for individual students. I know teachers who regularly touch each desk and pray that the Lord will bless the students who will sit there during the day. I even know one teacher who touched the door frame of her door and asked the Lord to bless all who would enter the classroom that day.

Now, I no longer have the responsibility of managing a classroom. What can those of us Christians on the outside do to affect the work within our public and private schools? When you drive through a School Zone, let it prod you to slow down and pray for that school. The forces of evil remain strong. Only the power of an Almighty God can intervene in the educational systems and individual buildings of the schools in our country.

We need to remember those who carry the presence of Christ in their lives within our schools every day: teachers, administrators, staff members, Board of Education members, and students. We need to pray for the safety of our schools and place all those who work there under the protection of our powerful God. We need to pray that truth would prevail and that Christian students would have equal, unbiased treatment.

With so much at stake concerning the education of our future generations, won’t you please join me in the challenge to pray for the schools in our neighborhoods?

May God have mercy and grant overwhelming blessings upon them all!

 

 

Monday, August 20, 2018

Refusing the Remedy

 

[Photo of a child refusing medicine]


“These are the scriptures that testify about me,
yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
—John 5:39-40

Neither a child spitting out his or her medicine, nor an old man refusing “any more pills,” do themselves any favors when it comes to their healing. When a remedy exists, it is wise to take advantage of it.

Even in Jesus’ time, He met people who didn’t appear to really want a remedy for their woes. In John 5:1-15, we read the story of Jesus meeting a man at the Bethesda pool who had been unable to walk for 38 years. The man was full of excuses why he had not been healed in all that time when a common remedy was available. Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?” To prove the man’s faith, Jesus told him to stand and walk. At once, through God’s power, the man walked away.

Many people have heard the “cure” for their lost condition in the death grip of sin. But, they have refused the remedy that Jesus offers to them. The remedy comes through the simple, yet difficult, submission to the truth of the gospel; that of confession of sin, turning from it, and accepting Jesus’ death for them on the cross as the payment they could never make themselves to a righteous God.

If your conscience has burdened you because of your refusal of the cure for your condition, recognize this voice as Jesus stepping up to you, as He did to this man at Bethesda and saying, “Do you want to get well?” Then, when He says to you, “Get up, walk with me, and accept my healing” you will know cleansing from sin and peace with God—in effect, a new life. Then, you too will have learned that when a remedy exists, it is wise to take advantage of it.

 

 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Bedrock

 

[Photo of the San Francisco Renaissance Tower]


“Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts
them into practice is like a wise man who built
his house on the rock…but everyone who hears these
words of mine and does not put them into practice
is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.”
—Matthew 7:24, 26

Maybe you saw the 60 Minutes® story about the Renaissance Tower in San Francisco. This story featured the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. It contains condominiums that sell for millions of dollars, drawing the richest and most well-off buyers in the Bay area.

The problem with this posh building doesn’t appear to the naked eye. But engineers, who have studied the cracks in the foundation and say it leans, report that the building sinks about two-inches a year, or about 17 inches so far.

Upon close study, these engineers learned that the builders went down 80 feet and built the foundation on very dense sand. Below the sand, the ground consists of years of packed rubble, mostly from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. To reach bedrock, one must extend the foundation of the building downward at least 200 feet below the surface. The question now becomes, how to fix this $350 million mistake.1

Immediately upon hearing the story, I remembered the parable that Jesus told about two men. The wise man built his house on the solid rock of God’s word. The foolish man built his house on the sand of his own willful ways. Though on sunny days the houses may have both appeared stable, when the storms came, only the one founded on the rock stood firm.

This parable, while a reminder for us all that God warns us about trying to build our lives on anything but His truth, also urges us to consider how we will build the next generations.

We could say that Christians, in general, desire their children, grandchildren, students, and congregational members to love God and follow in His ways. But, I sometimes wonder if we really aim for bedrock, or simply settle for something that appears good, but has its foundations built upon sand.

Do our churches aim to produce in our children strong, obedient, wise, and serious Christians? Or, do we remain content to develop polite, well-rounded, and knowledgeable young people with the appearance of a fine Christian upbringing, but with little to hold them up through the storms of life—even the temptations of college life or the workaday world? Do the programs we offer children in our churches spend more time on the “appeal factor” rather than actually drilling down into the will and consciousness of these young people?

Thankfully, I have seen, in recent years, parents and churches that have genuinely laid brick upon brick on a solid foundation of the Rock, the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us pray for all who influence the next generation of young people that our families and church produce!

May the Christian leaders of the next generation have what it takes to stand strong and powerful in Christ.

______________________

1 Wertheim, Jon. San Francisco’s Leaning Tower of Lawsuits. 60 Minutes (television program) for August 5, 2018. New York, NY: CBS Interactive Inc., 2018.

 

 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Used Tea Bags and Pencil Stubs

 

[Photo of pencil stubs]


“Do not sacrifice to the Lord your God an
ox or a sheep that has any defect or flaw
in it, for that would be detestable to him.”
—Deuteronomy 17:1

When I was a child, I remember a missionary speaker at my church who told of receiving “care packages” from the States. Inside one box he discovered that the people had sent boxes of used tea bags and pencil stubs. Imagine receiving that kind of gift sent to you in Jesus’ name!

The prophet Malachi was burdened for God’s people about just this kind of sloppy mediocrity, selfishness, and heartless worship. Apparently God’s people were giving to Him as sacrifices defiled food and diseased animals. He rebuked them in Malachi 1:14:

“Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.”

In our day, we may not present defiled animals to God. But, many of us are quite content to give Him that which has cost us nothing. In speaking to a mom of a chorister in my church choir about the child’s erratic attendance, she responded to me with, “It’s only church, for heaven’s sake!”

Make no mistake about it, God wants our best when we give Him our worship. He wants our excellence. This doesn’t always mean perfection. But, it does mean a heartfelt giving of the very best that we have.

Surely when we give offerings to those less fortunate, we can give gifts our own children would enjoy. When we bring food for the pantry, we can buy the same brands we would buy for ourselves.

Let us please Him as we give. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 reminds us of what God desires from His people:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

 

 

Monday, July 30, 2018

Daydreams

 

[Photo of child daydreaming]


“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion
raised against the knowledge of God, and
take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
—2 Corinthians 10:5

Much of my childhood, and more of my adulthood than I would like to admit, has been lived inside my imagination. By the time I got to Junior High school math class, I had so many gaps in my knowledge, I never caught up. I believe now that when class got boring I would slip into my daydreaming mode and miss whatever happened as the teacher explained important math concepts.

As I worked on my master degree project of studying the effects of inattention in music class, I learned that there are children with ADD (without the hyperactivity component) who behave and seem eager to please teachers, but who spend much of their time far away in thought.

I have also learned that often, our greatest gifting can get derailed by sinful temptations. For example, those with vivid imaginations seem to have creative and sometimes entrepreneurial talents that God wants to use for the benefit of His church, and the world in general. But, Satan tempts them into using their daydreams to disrupt God’s plans.

The Puritan, Richard Sibbes, contrasted the evil and good effects of daydreaming.1

Among the faculties of the soul, much of our unnecessary trouble arises from the imagination… The imagination can see greater happiness in outward good things and a greater misery in outward difficulties than there really is. Many lives are almost nothing but imagination.

He poses the solution to this problem.2

It is necessary that God by his Word and Spirit should erect a government in our hearts to captivate and direct this licentious faculty. To cure this malady, we must labor to bring our soul into obedience to God’s truth and Spirit.

Just as Satan can use the work of our imagination to derail our attention, distort God’s voice, or lead us astray, God can use this tremendous power for good. If we dedicate our thoughts to Him, He can show us truths within His written Word in new ways, direct our creative ideas for the use of His church, and excite us to serve Him in new ways.

Again, Sibbes writes:3

A sanctified imagination makes all creation a ladder to heaven.

______________________

1 Sibbes, Richard, as quoted in Rushing, Richard, editor. Voices. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009. p. 170.
2 Ibid. p. 170.
3 Ibid. p. 207.

 

 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Show Me Where It Hurts

 

[Photo of a mother looking at a child's hand]


“Cast all your anxiety on him
because he cares for you.”
—2 Peter 5:7

When I taught school, children frequently came to me with hurt fingers or knees. Often all they needed was my concern, whether I could take the pain away or not. Very often, the actual “hurt” was long gone before they complained.

I love the story of the healing of Lazarus in John 11. Jesus loved the sisters, Mary and Martha, as well as their brother, Lazarus, who had died. Even though word had been sent to Jesus that Lazarus was ill and dying, Jesus stayed where He was for two more days. He had a much higher plan than anyone could have thought.

Bereft, grieving, and totally puzzled by Jesus’ actions, Mary stayed at home while Martha ran to greet Jesus when he arrived. But, what gladness she must have felt when Martha came looking for her saying, as recorded in John 11:28:

“The Teacher is here and is asking for you.”

Jesus was asking for Mary, His friend.

When Mary went to greet Jesus, He saw her weeping and verse 33 reads:

“He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” [And here comes Jesus’ statement:] “Where have you laid him?” [Or, “Show me where it hurts!” And then:] “Jesus wept.”

Often we hear that Jesus wept because of His great love and sorrow over Lazarus. Somehow, I don’t think Jesus was concerned about Lazarus. After all, He knew that Lazarus would, in a few minutes, stand before them healed!

Instead, I think that Jesus wept because of His compassion for Mary’s pain. After the healing of Lazarus, we see what Mary did to show her tremendous gratitude to Jesus. In John 12:3 we read that she poured over Jesus feet a pint of pure nard—a very expensive perfume worth a great deal. The depth of her pain shows in the depth of her gratitude.

Jesus often acts the way with us that He did with Mary. When we suffer, He longs to come to us and call us by name. He shows His concern by deeply moving expressions of His love, and even asks us, “Show me where it hurts.” He wants to know every detail and to share His compassion with us. Lamentations 3:33 tells us:

“For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.”

But, when He finds such things necessary for His greater will, we can count on His loving care, the same as He showed to Mary of Bethany.

I like this quote from Matthew Henry, a 17th century Presbyterian minister:1

Those that in the day of peace place themselves at Christ’s feet, to receive instructions from him, may with comfort and confidence in a day of trouble cast themselves at his feet with hope to find favour with him.

______________________

1 Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary. McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing Co., Public Domain. Vol. V, p. 1053.

 

 

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Mystery of His Silence

 

[Photo of two young boys making a mess]


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______________________

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

 

 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Squeezing Out the Juice

 

[Photo of squeezing an orange]


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______________________

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

 

 

Monday, July 2, 2018

Blessing and Keeping

 

[Photo of a Pastor giving a Benediction]


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

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

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

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

We would do well to say to God:

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

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

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

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

______________________

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

 

 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Light Through the Windows

 

[Photo of a church at night]


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In words that fit the photograph above:

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

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

 

 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Controlled Environment

 

[Photo of a controlled environment]


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______________________

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

 

 

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Big Picture

 

_______________

 

[Graphic of a road trip map]


The Big Picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Job 23:10 tells us:

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

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

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

—Posted: Monday, June 11, 2018

Monday, June 4, 2018

That Which Remains

 

[Photo of threshing wheat]


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

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

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

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

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

They are like chaff that the wind blows away.

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

I like the way that Beth Moore explains it:1

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

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

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

______________________

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

 

 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Anxious to Give

 

[Photo of a child giving her father a gift]


“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to
you; he rises to show you compassion.”
—Isaiah 30:18

Did you ever know anyone who had something to give you and just couldn’t wait for the special event to share it? We think children often do this. They either give the gift early, “casting off restraint,” or “spill the beans” by saying something to reveal the secret of what’s in the gift they wait to give.

Did you ever think of Jesus that way?

Noted Bible teacher, Beth Moore, points out that in the account from Luke 7:11-17 of the healing of the son of the widow from Nain, Jesus, without being asked, “casting off restraint” immediately healed this boy. The men were carrying him out of the house, and Jesus, moved with compassion, told they boy’s mother not to cry. Then, Jesus leaned over to speak the dead son back to life.

At other times, as in the healing of Lazarus, we read in John 11:1-45 that the family sent for Jesus to come. But, He stayed where He was two more days.

To use Beth Moore’s viewpoint, this action must have taken great restraint on Jesus’ part not to hurry to his friends the very minute He heard. Yet, God had a larger plan for the healing of Lazarus. Or, as He said in John 11:4:

This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.

Here’s what caught my attention to Beth Moore’s writing:1

I believe what comes most naturally to Christ every time He encounters need is to instantly fix it. Is it possible He exercises great restraint to work any other way in the face of devastation? I think so.

A plan of profound importance exists that sometimes overrides the miracle we desperately desire. But I am comforted to know that instantaneous healing and resurrection power come even more naturally to our Christ than waiting and working through long but necessary processes.

Perhaps you have shown great trust and faithfulness in waiting for God to answer a prayer you have prayed. Be encouraged that He is waiting, too—for the right moment to give you the gift that will respond to your prayer.

Except for His overriding need to work His ways in us, He would instantly come to us with His answer whenever we pray. Let us be encouraged that He always waits for the best time and thrills to give us His greatest blessing in answer to our requests.

______________________

1 Moore, Beth. Portraits of Devotion. Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2014. Pp. 203-204.

 

 

Monday, May 21, 2018

The God of “Suddenly”

 

[Graphic of an artist's impression of Pentecost]


“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.”
—Acts 2:1-2

For most of us, waiting on God to answer prayer, or show us direction in a matter, seems like a never-ending period of time. We often wait far longer than we had ever anticipated when we started.

The disciples must have felt that way, too. They had seen Jesus ascend back to Heaven and had stayed together in an upper room for most of the 40 days between His death and His ascension. Now they had waited for His promise, the Holy Spirit, for ten more days.

I wonder what they expected would happen when the Holy Spirit came. This sudden wind and the flames of fire that landed on each of their heads must have shocked even these devoted followers of Jesus. I imagine that once they realized what was happening, they experienced a flood of incredible joy!

When we think of sudden happenings in Scripture, we might remember the words of Luke 2:13:

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.”

Certainly these shepherds shook in their homespun pants to see such a sight: the coming of this new-born Messiah for which watchers had prayed and had anticipated for so long.

The apostle Paul took a routine “business trip” to Damascus and we read this in Acts 9:3:

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Later, after Paul had begun working for his new Boss, and shared a missionary adventure with his friend Silas, we read of these two men in Acts 16:25-26. They had been imprisoned for speaking about Jesus and Scripture tells us:

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.

We should allow these accounts to give us confidence and renewed faith that God will answer our prayers, even though we may have waited for a very long time. When God decides to act, nothing will stop Him from fulfilling His will. Circumstances that ordinarily just wouldn’t work out can suddenly fall into place when His sovereign plan comes together.

As we think back over our lifetimes of knowing God through Jesus, we must have at least one account when we have seen this suddenness of His character. Let this remembrance and the Scriptures encourage us today. When God wills it, it will happen!

 

 

Monday, May 14, 2018

The “Look”

 

[Photo of a teacher looking at a student]


The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.
Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had
spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows
today, you will disown me three times.”
And he went outside and wept bitterly.
—Luke 22:61-62

The Kindergarten teacher had them trained. When she gave important directives to her students, she would say, “And, I mean…” to which they would loudly respond, “BUSINESS!”

The corresponding “look” expressed her serious expectation. From that point on, all she had to do to remind them of her orders was to give them the “look.” They could read her solemn warning, as well as her disappointment, merely by reading her face. After all, as these were her students, she counted on them to not betray the confidence she had placed in them.

Even the apostle Peter needed reminding with the “look” that Jesus gave him. And, in that moment, Peter remembered the warning and saw the disappointment in Jesus’ eyes.

How often has the Lord instructed us about a serious matter where He has given us instruction in His written Word that He has expected us to obey, only to experience disappointment with our forgetful behavior and our betrayal of His confidence? In the first place, do we neglect to see that He means BUSINESS? Do we think like Peter did that he had the situation well in hand and certainly did not need any reminder?

The Lord knows us so much better than we know ourselves. He can look ahead and see the dangers and pitfalls into which we might readily fall prey. In response, He often speaks to us through His written Word concerning the matter.

How much better for us if we heed the warning He gives us than to have to see the “look” of disappointment on His face when we fail Him. What a joy instead to see His look of pleasure when we listen closely, heed His written Word, and take each matter seriously that He brings to our attention.

As His dearly loved child, has He recently spoken to you through His written Word? Did He then show His love for you by punctuating His message by having the Holy Spirit prompt you with the words, “And, I mean BUSINESS!”

When this happens in our lives, we do well to take our Lord seriously—very seriously.

 

 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Irresistible

 

[Photo of a child looking at a bowl of marshmallows]


“All that the Father gives me will come to me,and
whoever comes to me I will never drive away…
I will lose none of all that he has given me.”
—John 6:37, 39

I remember watching a video of children taking a psychological test. This test examined whether or not the children could withstand the temptation of simple marshmallows.

Each child would sit a table with a bowl of marshmallows immediately in front of them. An adult would explain to the child that she had to leave the room for a moment. She asked the child not to touch the marshmallows until she got back. A hidden camera captured the reactions of each of several children who took the test.

Some children ably resisted. Others played with a marshmallow and put it back. And still others, after looking around, quickly popped one into their mouths. For these last children, the yummy treat proved simply irresistible.

The Reformed Protestant faith believes in the term, “Irresistible Grace.” The belief states that God gives those He has chosen for salvation a very special grace to discover His call on their lives. That special grace irresistibly draws them to God. As the Holy Spirit interacts with the ones God has called, each chosen one responds willingly in faith to the irresistible draw of God’s grace.

Verse 44 of the same chapter of John, which I quoted from at the top of this blog post, tells us that:

No one can come to me [Jesus] unless the Father who sent me draws him.

Likewise, in John 15:16 Jesus said:

You did not choose me, but I chose you.

God’s love and grace powerfully call people to Himself.

Perhaps you wonder if He has chosen you for eternal life through Christ. If you show any interest at all in the things of God, have a curious longing to know Him better, or even think often of knowing Him, God is most likely drawing you to Himself by means of His irresistible grace.

Find a place to be alone with Him. As simply as you would talk to another person, share with Him your doubts, questions, and longings. Invite Him to come and live in your heart and mind. Read His written Word and start with the passages I have mentioned in this devotional.

This could very well begin a wonderful, life-changing journey for you. God loves you and He is irresistibly drawing you toward His grace and love.

 

 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Creaky Gates

 

[Photo of a dilapidated gate]


“Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord through
which the righteous may enter. I will
give you thanks, for you answered me.”
—Psalm 118:19-21

When you come upon a creaky gate, what adjective comes first to mind? To me, I think “neglect.” If a gate makes a sound, it obviously has not been used often and needs lubrication. Or, it needs a new coat of paint and a couple of new hinges.

What if the gates of the Lord’s house make a squeaky sound, are stuck, or are hard to open? Would not a few swings of the gate help? Perhaps the gates need some children running in and out? Or, perhaps the gates need a squirt or two of oil on the hinges?

I really don’t think the mention in Scripture of the gates of the Lord’s house really refers to the gates themselves. Rather, I believe these references refer to the practices and use of God’s house by His people.

If we belong to God through Christ, Scripture found in 1 Peter 2:9 declares that we are a royal priesthood. Surely, priests need to frequent the Lord’s house.

The Scripture passage from Psalm 118 at the beginning of this blog post seems to indicate that thanksgiving lubricates those gates. When Christians come together, they should enter God’s house full of thanksgiving and joy. Certainly a robust congregation will demonstrate this gratitude. Psalm 100:4 tells us to:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise…

Hebrews 10:25 gives us a strong admonition:

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.

Obviously the author of this passage of Scripture saw the importance of keeping those gates swinging with our usage.

If the “gates” of your place of worship depended on you for their usage, would they swing easily on their hinges, or creak and fall off? Is it your “habit” to neglect the meeting together of the church? Even those of us who make well-worn tracks into and out of the church building can do so without the joy and purposefulness God requires.

When Sunday rolls around this week, why not make it your glad intention to enter the gates of the Lord’s house with joy, with thanksgiving, and with encouragement for your brothers and sisters in Christ? Say with Nehemiah, as found in Nehemiah 10:39:

We will not neglect the house of our God!

 

 

Monday, April 23, 2018

I Think I’ll Wear Pearls

 

[Photo of a pearl necklace]


“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a
merchant looking for fine pearls. When
he found one of great value, he went away
and sold everything he had and bought it.”
—Matthew 13:45-46

I think I’ll wear pearls today. One reason I will wear pearls today is because beloved First Lady Barbara Bush died this past week and she always wore an iconic strand of pearls. I will also wear pearls today because they remind me of the name given my Savior: “The Pearl of Great Price.”

Joni Eareckson Tada reminds us, in her book, Pearls of Great Price,1 that pearls are unique gems, not mined out of the earth, or made from rocks and crystals. Rather, pearls rise out of suffering.

A grain of sand sticks in the fleshy part of an oyster and creates an irritation. To this the oyster adds smooth milky layer after layer to cover the sand until the irritation becomes smooth and acceptable. Jesus, in suffering for us, became like a pearl, a priceless gem of great worth for which a wise person would be willing to trade everything.

Not only did Jesus show us the way to suffer, but He also showed us how He expects to make us beautiful in His time. He has embedded us in a world of troubles and suffering. He has embedded us in a culture that often sees us as an irritation. All of this becomes for Him a perfect environment to bring out the “pearl” in each of us. He will cover us with His shiny beauty for all the world to see.

Yes, I think I’ll wear pearls today. And, I will remind myself that all the irritation and struggles of the day will indeed bring forth His handiwork in my life.

______________________

1 Tada, Joni Eareckson. Pearls of Great Price. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Company, 2006. Preface.

 

 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Father’s Arms

 

[Photo of a man holding a child]


“The eternal God is your refuge and
underneath are the everlasting arms.”
—Deuteronomy 33:27

I have vague memories from age two or three of going with my father to collect eggs. Our hundreds of laying hens roosted in a large hen house on the loft second floor. A ladder stretched from the ground and sat propped to the second floor “balcony”—the only access. My dad became very adept at walking backwards down the ladder carrying full baskets of eggs. On the days when I joined him, he precariously carried me as well as the full basket, with no hands on the ladder.

My mother often reminded me of those days, because I’m sure she did not fully approve of the practice. But, as for me, I enjoyed the climb down the ladder and never feared my father would drop me, or make a misstep. I fully trusted him.

I wish I could say that I trust my Heavenly Father like that when He carries me through precarious situations. Yet, His written Word promises that all my life I can trust His arms to hold on to me and keep me safely in His care, as found in Isaiah 46:4:

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

Sometimes when we go through a new dangerous state of circumstances, it helps us to look back at the times He has so lovingly and wisely carried us through. In Isaiah 60:9, Israel was reminded of all the times He did just that for them:

In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

At the beginning of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses reviews the travels of Israel through the wilderness. He reminds them, and puts to rest their fears of the future, by helping them remember God’s care for them. Here’s what Moses told them in Deuteronomy 1:31:

Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the desert. There you saw how the Lord you God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.

The older we get, the more history we have experienced with our watchful Heavenly Father. And, the more instances we have to remember His special care. Today, if you are facing a precarious situation, go back over all the times God carried you through other dangerous and terrifying times. Be encouraged that, as He did for you in the past, He will continue to do in the future.

 

 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Tell-Tale Marks

 

[Photo of a teacher with a chalk mark]


“Live such good lives among the pagans
that, though they accuse you of doing
wrong, they may see your good deeds and
glorify God on the day he visits us.”
—1 Peter 2:12

One day after teaching all day, I stopped at the local supermarket where I saw a woman in the bread aisle. She seemed smartly dressed, with comfortable shoes, looking intelligent, and collecting her groceries quickly. I wondered if she might be a teacher, too.

Not until I pulled my cart up behind her in the check-out line did I know. There on her back side stretched the all-too-visible line of chalk. I knew it! No one but a teacher would have that tell-tale mark.

Christians should have tell-tale marks, too. Do you have identifying signs—tell-tale marks—that reveal a family likeness to Christ?

Do people recognize the presence of Christ in you by the purity of your speech? By your respectful treatment of others? By your submission to authority? By your refraining from gossip? By your reputation for loving others?

When you sit down to lunch, do you bow and quietly thank God for it? Do you show compassion and caring? Do you live a holy life?

In some settings, governmental law may prohibit us from preaching Christ. But, no law anywhere can prevent us from showing the Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (see Galatians 5:22-23)—even in a public school, or in the public square!

Wherever God has placed us in this world, He expects us to reveal the tell-tale marks He has placed on our life.

 

 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Will You Celebrate?

 

[Painting of Jesus appearing to the disciples in the Upper Room]


On the evening of that first day of the
week, when the disciples were together
with the doors locked for fear of the
Jews, Jesus came and stood among them
and said, “Peace be with you!”
After he said this, he showed them his
hands and side. The disciples were
overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
—John 20:19-20

The first time the disciples had gathered together since the Last Supper, at which time Jesus had explained to them the importance of His upcoming death, must have been a real celebration. Yes, there was some fear and doubt. But, once the disciples began to realize what had really happened, can you imagine the joy?

Did someone go out and bring back food? Did they dance and sing? The evening air must have rang with stories from the women who had first discovered the tomb was empty and who had ran back to tell the disciples what they had discovered; from those two disciples who had sped to the tomb in the morning; and from the two travelers who had met Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Can you imagine how these devoted followers of Jesus moved from their doubts and fears to the sudden realization of the amazing truth of the resurrection?

Do you think they worshipped and sang hymns? Surely, if they sang a hymn as they went out to Gethsemane on Thursday evening, they would have much more joyfully and willingly sang on this occasion.

Do you celebrate on Easter? Now, I’m not asking if you take your children or grandchildren to meet the Easter Bunny in preparation for this special day. I’m not asking what you intend to serve at your special Easter dinner. I’m not asking if you have a new dress, or hat, or purse to wear for the Easter parade or to attend your church’s service.

I’m asking what you will do to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Will you take the time to consider the miraculous rescue Jesus planned for us through His conquering of sin, death, and Satan on our behalf? Will your heart fill with worshipful gratitude for the eternal plan of God the Father, the suffering of His Son, our Lord Jesus for us, and the amazing power over our sin, and all, sin won through the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit?

Will you celebrate in the company of others who rejoice in the joy of the resurrection? Will you heartily sing songs of praise, listen to the Scriptures with attention and awe, and realize again the love of God for you? Will you enjoy this period of Eastertide, from the sunrise on Easter Sunday morning and all through the days to come? Will you shout with great joy: “The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!”

As George Ratcliffe Woodward’s marvelous hymn declares:1

This joyful Eastertide,
   away with sin and sorrow!
My love, the Crucified,
   has sprung to life this morrow.

Refrain: Had Christ, who once was slain,
   not burst his three-day prison,
   our faith had been in vain.
But now is Christ arisen, arisen, arisen;
   but now is Christ arisen!

Death’s flood has lost its chill
   since Jesus crossed the river.
Lover of souls, from ill
   my passing soul deliver.

Refrain: Had Christ, who once was slain,
   not burst his three-day prison,
   our faith had been in vain.
But now is Christ arisen, arisen, arisen;
   but now is Christ arisen!

My flesh in hope shall rest
   and for a season slumber
Till trump from east to west
   shall wake the dead in number.

Refrain: Had Christ, who once was slain,
   not burst his three-day prison,
   our faith had been in vain.
But now is Christ arisen, arisen, arisen;
   but now is Christ arisen!

______________________

1 Woodward, George. This Joyful Eastertide. Public Domain.

 

 

Monday, March 26, 2018

With Passion

 

[Drawing of Christ showing compassion]


“The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
—James 5:11

Christ was full of compassion—“com - passion”: with passion. What a wonderful picture of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ as He faced the cross. How many times does Scripture indicate that Jesus had compassion? So often we find the phrase, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion.”1 And, of course, compassion motivated Jesus, along with His love, to die in our place in such a horrifying manner.

In the Old Testament, compassion was symbolized by the Mercy Seat within the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle. Once a year, the High Priest entered this sacred place to offer a sacrifice for the sins of his people.

The Mercy Seat—the “hilasterion”—indicated to the people of God that He fully sympathized with their sin, their pain, and their sorrows. The New Testament Greek text of Romans 3:25 KJV reads:2

[Jesus Christ] Whom God set forth to be a propitiation [mercy seat] through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;

The moment Jesus took His last breath, Scripture records that the veil in the temple was torn in two so that we all now have access to the mercy and love of Christ.

When we show compassion to others, we reflect Christ to them. When we take on someone else’s suffering, we put ourselves in their place, just as Christ did for us. When we invite others into our lives, we show the hospitality of Christ.

The mercy of God should flow through His people to others, just as it flowed constantly through Jesus’ earthly life. God the Father has compassion, Jesus the Son has compassion, and through the Holy Spirit, we can have compassion for others.

I am reminded of an old hymn that talks about the mercy seat. The mercy seat being a place of prayer, or a place of congregated believers who show forth Christ’s compassion.3

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish;
Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel;
Here bring your wounded hearts,
Here tell your anguish;
Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot heal.

Joy of the desolate, light of the straying,
Hope of the penitent, fadeless and pure,
Here speaks the Comforter, tenderly saying,
“Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot cure.”

Here see the Bread of Life; see waters flowing,
Forth from the throne of God, pure from above;
Come to the feast of love; come, ever knowing
Earth has no sorrow but heav’n can remove.

______________________

1 To name just a few: Matthew 9:36, 14:14, 15:32, and 20:34
2 Quoted by Beth Moore in Moore, Beth. A Woman’s Heart. Nashville: LifeWay Press, 1995. p. 181.
3 Moore, Thomas and Hastings, Thomas. Come, Ye Disconsolate. Public Domain.

 

 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Plans

 

[Photo of an open planbook]


“Being confident of this, that he who began
a good work in you will carry it to
completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
—Philippians 1:6

The teacher lives by his or her plan book. If the teacher has done a good job, inside each plan book you can find day-to-day lessons. Each individual lesson will have an individual goal. Monthly or unit lessons that relate to the individual lessons will have a larger, more encompassing goal. Year-long plans for a specific grade level, or subject, will reflect the goals of the curriculum for the particular subject area.

Some teachers, once they have achieved mastery of all of these levels, begin planning “longitudinally.” This is the practice that I followed. I had music students from Kindergarten through Grade Four, so I looked at my students with the strategy of a five-year plan. How rewarding to see the skills these children acquired over those years and to know that I, in large part, had taught them and watched them grow in their proficiency.

We use a theological term for this kind of progress in our spiritual lives: sanctification. It’s important to note that sanctification follows God’s longitudinal design for us. And, rather than planning for a whole group of students—or disciples—God specifically designs a customized plan for each of us. He measures our individual progress against His long-term goals, which He has formulated for each of us since before the foundation of the world.

Joni Eareckson Tada, who became a quadriplegic as a teenager—on the day the doctors moved her in the hospital from “acute care” to “chronic care”—learned the very hard lesson of looking into God’s plan book. She knew then that this “lesson” of growth would become a long-range process. Here’s how she put it:1

The core of God’s plan is to rescue us from sin and self-centerdness. Suffering—especially the chronic kind—is God’s choicest tool to accomplish this. It is a long process. But, it means I can accept my paralysis as a chronic condition. When I broke my neck, it wasn’t a jigsaw puzzle I had to solve fast, or a quick jolt to get me back on track. My paralyzing accident was the beginning of a lengthy process of becoming like Christ.

As we consider God’s work in our lives, we should ask ourselves what God uses to teach us short lessons, longer chapters, or life-lessons, and how He masterminds all of it for His long-range good purposes in our lives. And, we should remember that lessons always go best when we cooperate!

______________________

1 Tada, Joni Eareckson. Pearls of Great Price. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Company, 2006. Devotional for February 17th.

 

 

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Sap of the Maple

 

[Photo of painting by Charlene B. Willink Kidder]


“The trees of the Lord are watered
abundantly and are filled with sap.”
—Psalm 104:16 Amp.

I love that in the months of February and March a great transformation takes place. The ground lies frozen beneath a blanket of snow and all the trees look like dead stalks. I can remember my childhood on a maple syrup-producing farm. Yes, before the robin sings his first song, before pussy willows pop their soft fuzzy shoots, or before the ice-hardened streams flow freely, we can find new life within the maple tree.

The maple tree, in order to produce the sweet sap, must teem with new life. Through its hidden roots, it must draw up from the moisture in the ground the glorious liquid that becomes its sap.

In a similar way, a Christian should bring forth new fruit and new living nourishment for the benefit of himself or herself and others. This fresh life is produced by the work of the Holy Spirit, Who brings the divine ability to give off the many effects of that new life. The root system of a Christian reaches deep down in God-breathed experiences, deep down to the Water of Life, the Lord Jesus, and deep down into the written Word of God that feeds spiritual nourishment to him or her.

The result of tapping into one of these mature maple trees and allowing a hot fire to boil away the extra liquid can be tasted in the remaining syrup and the many products made from the syrup, such as maple cream and maple sugar candy.

Mature Christians, with the living graces of Christ flowing into them, through them, and from them, produce sweet refreshments for others, as well. In Scripture, Galatians 5:22-23 refers to these sweet refreshments as the “Fruit of the Spirit.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon had this to say1:

As the sap manifests itself in producing the foliage and fruit of the tree, so with a truly healthy Christian, his grace is externally manifested in his walk and conversation.

Let us continually feed on the Water of Life so that we provide Christ’s sweetness to everyone we meet.

______________________

1 Spurgeon, Charles H. Morning and Evening. Public Domain. Devotional entry for October 24th.
2 The photo above was taken of a portion of the mural painted by Charlene B. Willink Kidder for the UPMC Chautauqua WCA Hospital Emergency Department’s Waiting Room in Jamestown, NY.

 

 

Monday, March 5, 2018

Spiritual Sinkholes

 

[Photo of a sinkhole]


“Therefore let any one who thinks he stands—who
feels sure that he has a steadfast mind and is
standing firm—take heed lest he fall
[into sin].”
—1 Corinthians 10:12 Amp.

If you were driving along and came to the sinkhole shown in the photo above, would you try to drive around it? If you were planning to build a house, would you set your sights on the lot adjacent to such a sinkhole? No reasonable person would do either.

Yet, we all sometimes dare walk by and peer into a pit like this and suddenly get drawn into it. Sin entices us when we least expect it and we fall.

For example, we all have “besetting” sins that we get used to having in our lives. Some of us live close to a sinkhole called “Worry.” We find it so easy to step over the side and fall into this sinkhole. Others of us nurse “Grudges.” We stand too near the rim and catch ourselves—on the way down! Some of us get too close to the edge of a pit called “Self-pity.” Before we know it, we’re at the bottom of this sinkhole with no apparent way out.

How do we make it a practice of staying out of the neighborhood where sinkholes abide? Some days we’d much rather build our house right there on the perimeter and enjoy our misery. Do you ever feel that way?

In her book, Jesus Calling, Sarah Young writes about this problem area. She explains the importance of this crisis of daily living.

Be on guard against the pit… When you are weary or unwell, this demonic trap is the greatest danger you face. Don’t even go near the edge of the pit. Its edges crumble easily, and before you know it, you are on the way down. It is ever so much harder to get out of the pit than to keep a safe distance from it.1

Sarah Young suggests that Christians with this problem—the enticement of the pit—should occupy themselves with praising and thanking God for His blessings. She also speaks of living close to God in order to put a distance between us and the pit. Her suggestions are both good ideas.

Scripture itself, in the same passage as our introductory verse, tells us that we have help available if we want it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 states:

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

I hope that you will join me as we work at staying away from spiritual sink holes. Comfortable though it may be to peer into them, whenever we put ourselves into that kind of temptation, we cannot please our heavenly Father. He has definitely given us help to overcome such temptation.

______________________

1 Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008. Devotional for February 23rd.

 

 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Hidden Treasures

 

[Photo of a Waterford crystal apple and Grandma Raymond]


“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on
earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where
thieves break in and steal. But store up for
yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth
and rust do not destroy, and where thieves
do not break in and steal. For where your
treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
—Matthew 6:19-21

I have a beautiful photograph of my maternal grandmother as a teenager. What a treasure! I also have a Waterford crystal apple given to me by my music colleagues on the occasion of my retirement from teaching. What a treasure! Once in awhile I take the opportunity to look at my various pieces of furniture, jewelry, dishes, photographs, and paintings that I consider true treasures.

I don’t think Jesus was opposed to earthly treasures. But instead, He wants us to put them in perspective and use them as an illustration of the greater things He wants us to value. Even more than the way we pull out our keepsakes and admire them, I believe He wants us to take the time, once in awhile, to admire the eternal treasures He gives us. What a better time than the period of Lent to do so?

Do you have familiar passages of Scripture that you memorized a long time ago, or learned as a child, but which have slipped into the background of your thinking? Why not take those passages out, dust them off, and reclaim them?

For example, how long has it been since you have read and meditated on Psalm 23? Or, perhaps the Lord spoke to you and changed you through another passage of Scripture that you haven’t looked at in some time? Take the time to read that passage in another translation, to study it verse by verse, word by word. If you do so, a treasure awaits you!

Another source, in my glass case of memories, comes through the hymns and spiritual songs that I have sung over and over throughout my lifetime. These hymns hold treasured phrases and living images of God’s truths. To review them brings renewed blessing, challenges, gratitude, and love for my Lord.

If you journal your spiritual progress like I do, the things that God teaches you daily in your quiet time with Him, reveal a fortune of riches. Take a look back through your journal entries. See how He has blessed you through the day-to-day revelation of His presence. The times He has met with you, answered prayer, and taught you about life with Him should make you rejoice in the treasures He has given.

So, I am suggesting that we all pull out the treasures we have stored in our hearts of Scriptures and spiritual songs and the day-to-day remembrances of His presence. We need to slowly turn them over in our minds, admiring the prized truths that bring our Savior closer, and help us adore Him, the greatest Treasure of them all!

 

 

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Gourd and the Worm

 

[Drawing of Jonah sitting under the tree after preaching]


Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed
for Tarshish…
[Jonah] answered,
“I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the
God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
—Jonah 1:3, 9

Jonah was proud of his Hebrew heritage, and considered himself a prophet of the Most High God. Yet, somewhere he lost his way, and cared less about God ’s will than his own.

Yet God, in His faithfulness, not only to the Ninevites to whom He had called Jonah, but to Jonah himself, took extraordinary measures to discipline his servant Jonah. The Hebrews hated the Ninevites and would have rather seen them destroyed by God than saved. Jonah bought into this cultural opinion, and therefore, Jonah turned away from helping them in their return to God in repentance and headed in the opposite direction by ship.

Even after God called Jonah a second time and he reluctantly obeyed, he became very angry that the people of the wicked city of Nineveh turned and repented. So, he sat down outside of the city and pouted.

In kindness, God provided for Jonah a gourd with large foliage to protect him from the sun and scorching wind. This vine became the only thing in this story that made Jonah happy. Then, God did something that again made Jonah angry. God sent a worm to eat the gourd, causing the foliage shading Jonah to wither and die.

God went to extreme lengths to call His wayward servant back to Himself. What a readjustment Jonah needed! God used a storm, a fish, a gourd, and a worm to call Jonah back. If God would do this for Jonah, we can be assured He will not let us disobey and turn from what He has called us to do. God is faithful. He will keep us from going and straying away from Him.

The Scripture passage found in 2 Thessalonians 3:3 tells us:

But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.

God expects of His servants today the same thing He expected of Jonah—complete obedience to His will. And, God will not let us think more of our own comforts than we think of His sovereign plan. Even if He has to provide a gourd and a worm to prove it!