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!

 

 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Open Wide!

 

[Photo of a baby eating]


“Open wide your mouth and I will fill it…
You will be fed with the finest of wheat;
with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”
—Psalm 81:10, 16

We’ve all watched as a mother tries to feed her child something the child thinks is undesirable: the mouth shut tight and the head squirming away from the spoon. The beets or peas—or worse yet, the medicine—remain despised, even though what’s on the spoon may be meant to nourish or heal.

How often have we closed our mouths, our hearts, or our minds to our Heavenly Father’s intention to feed us with something new that we perceive as totally undesirable. The struggle goes on until a smidgen of the substance gets into our system, leaving a messy face and a determination on our part to never take any more of the dreadful stuff.

However, our Heavenly Father loves us too much to allow us to persist in our stubborn ways. Sooner or later, He initiates the feeding again, and eventually teaches us that He has our best interest—and that of His Kingdom—at heart.

Do you remember the lengths to which Jonah went to keep His mouth and will closed up against God’s plan? God had requested Jonah to go “proclaim” the words God had given him to the people of Ninevah. After the unfortunate ship ride, the detour inside the giant fish, and the expectoration upon the beach, Jonah reluctantly obeyed so that God’s miracle work could happen for the Ninevites. Jonah opened his mouth and God filled it with His message.

Perhaps you don’t know what God wants to put in your mouth. You hesitate because you want to be sure you will like what He has for you. Or, you hesitate because you want to be certain that you are capable of “keeping it down.”

Yet sometimes, God only wants us to trust His wise and loving intentions. Even though the spoonful may not appeal to us at first, we must believe He has something tasty and nourishing for us.

Let us learn the valuable lesson to “open wide,” allowing Him to give us all He has for us!

 

 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Keep Us

 

[Photo of a girl with her cat]


“The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will
watch over your life; the Lord will watch over
your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
—Psalm 121:7-8

Often children are given responsibility for a plant, or a young pet, so that they learn the reliability it takes to keep something safe and alive. They learn the necessity for dependability and the sacred duty of a “keeper.”

Have you ever had the responsibility for taking care of another human being? A child, an elderly parent, or a sick spouse? The heavy task of such care gives comfort to the one under your watch. We want that one to feel at peace, to know that even in danger, he or she can relax, unafraid.

The older I get, the more I realize that I am incapable of taking care of myself. Yes, I do my best to live spiritually for God. But, more and more I recognize that I have nothing in me that will please Him. If left to ourselves, we produce only spiritual deadwood. We have no “life” in us but what Christ has given us. Even with the best of intentions, we utterly fail at pleasing God, of showing forth His glory, of doing His will in His way.

God has taken the responsibility of our care upon Himself. Not only does He watch over our physical and emotional needs, He has taken upon Himself the accountability for our sin, and cares for us spiritually. We would utterly fail, and die, were it not for His keeping power.

I love the prayer that Charles Haddon Spurgeon penned:

Hast Thou not said, “I, the Lord do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day”? Lord, keep us everywhere. Keep us when in the valley, that we murmur not against Thy humbling hand; keep us when on the mountain, that we wax not giddy through being lifted up; keep us in youth, when our passions are strong; keep us in old age, when becoming conceited of our wisdom, we may therefore prove greater fools than the young and giddy; keep us when we come to die, lest, at the very last, we should deny Thee! Keep us living, keep us dying, keep us labouring, keep us suffering, keep us fighting, keep us resting, keep us everywhere, for everywhere we need Thee, O our God!1

______________________

1Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. Morning and Evening. McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing Co., Public Domain. p. 363.

 

 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Let Me Off!

 

[Photo of a woman crying]


I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would flee far away and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.”
—Psalm 55:6-8

I remember seeing the musical, Stop the World, I Want to Get Off! when I was a high school student.

The show focuses on Littlechap, from the moment of his birth to his death. Each time something unsatisfactory happens, he calls out 'Stop the world!' and addresses the audience…He allows his growing dissatisfaction with his existence to lead him into the arms of various women in his business travels as he searches for something better than he has. He becomes rich and successful, and is elected to public office. Only in his old age does he realize that what he always had—the love of his wife— was more than enough to sustain him.1

Littlechap’s life could be summed up in the phrase, “The grass is always greener…” He could never be satisfied, nor could he completely rid his life of troubles. Neither can we!

For example, King David came under frequent attack from Saul and his armies. He called out to God over the anguish, fear, insults and abuse he suffered from the hands of his enemies.

All of us have times in our lives when we feel we can no longer cope, when the troubles have piled up to such a degree that our strength is sapped and our faith weakened. We cry with King David, “Oh, that I had wings that could carry me away!” Yet, in Psalm 55, David demonstrates to us the proper response to this kind of agonizing trouble.

King David calls out to God, listing the complaints he has. He reaffirms his knowledge of God’s ability to see his suffering. He rehearses God’s character, His love, His care. And, then, David recommits himself to God’s care. To us, in Psalm 55:22, he says:

Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.

When we feel we can no longer “hang on,” when we have nothing in ourselves to help, and when we just want to “Stop the world,” we can have the assurance that God’s strength, His hope, His love, His mercy, His grace will never fail us. Our extremity is His opportunity!

______________________

1 Stop the World! I Want to Get Off! cited in Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Last modified March 19, 2016.

 

 

Monday, January 22, 2018

You Deserve It

 

[Photo of Arthur Ashe]


[Job] replied,…“Shall we accept
good from God, and not trouble?”
—Job 2:10

You’ve seen the commercials. “You’re worth it!” “You deserve a break.” Our culture not only urges us to desire things that feed our pleasure centers, but also persuades us that we are somehow entitled to them. We begin to believe that God owes us everything we think we have coming.

This kind of thinking also has a flip side. That we don’t deserve trouble. That we shouldn’t have to suffer, or feel need, or want for anything. Our society has us convinced that God is good, but only when He grants our wishes like some grand Santa Clause.

I have read the story on a couple of occasions of Arthur Ashe, the famous tennis star in which he was confronted about his own suffering. Ashe, who was the first black man to win the U.S. Open, Australian Open, and Wimbledon, contracted AIDS during heart surgery in 1983. He had become infected by the blood with which he was transfused.

He received a letter from a fan which asked: “Why does God have to select you for such a bad disease?”

To this, Arthur Ashe replied:

The world over—50 million children start playing tennis, 5 million learn to play tennis, 500,000 learn professional tennis, 50,000 come to the circuit, 5,000 reach the grand slam, 50 reach Wimbledon, 4 to semi final, 2 to the finals. When I was holding a cup I never asked God “Why me?”

And today in pain, I should not be asking God “Why me?”

Happiness keeps you Sweet,
Trials keep you Strong,
Sorrow keeps you Human,
Failure keeps you humble,
and Success keeps you glowing.
But, only Faith & Attitude keeps you going.1

When you see the blessing and favor of God on your life, why not ask: “God, why me?” And, when things don’t go the way you would like, why not say:“Thank you, God. In spite of my disappointment, I can still declare, ‘You are a good God.’”

______________________

1 Pathak, Harit. The Why Me? Story. Found on the website: EssentiallySports.com. May 24, 2015.

 

 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Grace for the “No”

 

[Photo of a very disappointed young child]


Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it
[the thorn in my flesh] away from me. But he
said to me, “My grace is sufficient for
you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
—2 Corinthians 12:8-9

As a young child, I remember how hard I cried whenever my parents said, “No!” to me. I held out hope that perhaps they would change their minds if I just showed them how miserable they were making me by not allowing my friend to stay overnight, or to get the sweater I really wanted, or to accept the invitation to go swimming.

Much of my adult life, I spent sulking or feeling sorry for myself when God didn’t answer “Yes” to my reasonable requests for a coveted award, or a Christmas trip home, or even for a baby of my own.

Just lately, in the “golden” years of my life, I have learned that when God says “No,” He has a much better plan— even though it might not seem that way at the time. Most times, that “No” signifies that he will fit me with extraordinary grace through means I would never have imagined.

In the Bible story recorded in in John 11, sisters Mary and Martha learned this difficult lesson from Jesus Himself. They had sent for Jesus because their brother Lazarus was dying. Yet, Jesus waited two more days before going to them. In the meantime, Lazarus died. Jesus promised them they would see the Lord’s glory through this, but they still grieved and criticized Him for not coming sooner to heal Lazarus.

The story ended even better than they would have ever imagined. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead for the display of His power and sovereign will. Their brother was alive and their Lord had shown Himself to the crowd that had gathered. He was indeed glorified through this act of love and grace.

I would encourage you to do what I am learning to do—to be content with God’s will and to watch and wait for the ways He reveals Himself in His “No” answer to our prayers. May we see His amazing grace demonstrated in our lives, as we trust Him and learn to accept His answers!

 

 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Janus

 

[Photo of The Cathedral of St. Paul in Erie, PA]


“The Lord will watch over your coming
and going both now and forevermore.”
—Psalm 121:8

The name for the month of January comes from the name of Janus, the Roman god of doorways. This god had two faces: one looking forward and one looking backwards. As we step over the threshold into this new year, we certainly have a better view of the year behind us than we do of the one ahead.

We constantly read in the Psalms that we are to consider the Lord’s works and see all that He has done. This good advice is illustrated many times in Scripture.

Samuel, in a story recorded in 1 Samuel 7, met with the Israelites at Mizpah to confess their sins and cry out to God for deliverance from the Philistines. Here Samuel took a stone and set it up, naming it “Ebenezer,” saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.”

At this threshold of a new year, we should look back long enough to see how the Lord has helped us through the year just past. I like to make a list of the high points. Then, I take note of how impossible it would have been to meet the challenges and enjoy the blessings without the direct intervention of our Lord.

Looking forward into the new year presents a bit of a harder task. And, lest you get into too much daydreaming, as I often do, let me warn you of the dangers here. We cannot possible know what lies ahead of us in the new year. As much as we would like to plan it out, we don’t have that luxury. We need to remember that God controls the future. We do not.

Nevertheless, we do need to consciously and volitionally trust God with what lies ahead. We often will not know what the next day will bring. Yet, we should not live in fear, or presume life will always work out according to our plans. If we belong to a Sovereign God, we know that we can rely on His wisdom to guide us and His love to watch over us.

I pray that we will know more about how to live in the way of trust, to live in peace with our future, even while we do not know what it will bring. We can depend on the One who knows every day before we get to it and the one who will bring light to the pathways of our lives. As the Psalmist has committed himself, recorded in Psalm 119:105-106, let us also say:

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws.

______________________

1 Note: The photo at the top of this devotional of The Cathedral of St. Paul, Erie, Pennsylvania, was taken by photographer, Pat Bywater, December 26, 2017.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Disrupted!

 

[Photo of Mary and Joseph talking]


“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but
it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”
—Proverbs 19:21

Mary and Joseph were planning a wedding. The initial approval of parents and the pledge that would forever bind them together had taken place. Now Mary could prepare for that important date they had ahead of them.

But, the angel Gabriel, coming to her with an unheard of announcement, completely disrupted the wedding plans. She would have a Baby by the Holy Spirit. Not only that, they would have to travel to Bethlehem, some 90 miles away, just about the time the Baby would be due. Plans disrupted!

Mary and Joseph were planning a trip home to Nazareth from Bethlehem. They must have been excited about introducing their families to the Newborn, and getting into a “settled” life as newlyweds.

But, an angel came and told Joseph that, in order to protect his family, they would have to go to Egypt for awhile! Plans disrupted!

In all of these events, Mary and Joseph responded to God’s plans by obeying and adapting their schedules and dreams. From the very beginning, they seemed to submit willingly to God’s mysterious will. Mary even responded to the angel, as recorded in Luke 1:38:

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”

I must admit that I have much more trouble adapting to disrupted plans than Mary and Joseph seemed to have. If the weather gets bad, and friends are unable to make it for dinner, or cousin Jake gets sick at the last minute and the family can’t get together for pizza and games, I’m disappointed. If I felt assured that I had the new job for which I had applied, and then I heard that someone else got it instead, it would take me several days to move on from my disappointment. Maybe you respond to disruptions in the same way.

When we stop to remember that we, like Mary and Joseph, no longer should live for ourselves, but rather for the God who has called us, we can begin to live in the place of His blessings, protection and usefulness to the Kingdom. I think of the verses in 1 Corinthians  6:19-20:

You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

Lord, help us to realize, like Mary and Joseph did, that since You called us, our lives will never be our own again. Help us to understand that we have a new loyalty, a new responsibility, to do Your will above our own, and a gladness and eagerness to obey, in order that You will be glorified. May Your will be done on Earth, in us, as it is in Heaven. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.