Monday, December 10, 2018

Magnify

 

[Photo of frost on a window]


“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my
spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
—Luke 1:46-47

Mary spoke the above statement upon learning that God had chosen her to bear the Son of God. This stirring tribute to her Lord, called “The Magnificat,” comes from the Latin root word from which our word “magnify” derives. This same verb appears in the first sentence of Mary’s declaration.

When we use the word “magnify,” we think of making something appear bigger so that we can see it better. At a ballgame, we might watch the game from the stands on a jumbo screen so that we can see facial expressions and the intricate details of each play. In the laboratory, we magnify tiny creatures so that we can see them better with the human eye. In neither case do we actually make the objects bigger. We just make them appear bigger so that our eyes can see them.

What did Mary mean when she said that she “magnified” the Lord? She looked at His character, His might, His blessing, His holiness, His mercy, and His gifts. Then, she spoke of them in such poetic ways and desired to make them bigger so that she and others could see Him better. It was as though she had practiced this art throughout her short life. God had obviously carefully prepared her for this moment.

Psalm 34:3 records David’s desire to give the same kind of glory to God. He wrote:

Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!

When we get together with other Christians and relate what we know of our God, we also magnify Him. We do not make Him any bigger or greater than He’s ever been. But instead, through our expressions of worship, we show others the bigness of our Lord. We allow them to see and understand Him in ways they may have never seen Him before.

During this Advent season, like Mary, we need to consider our great God, and magnify His character in such a way that others can better see Him, heed Him, and know Him for themselves. He is certainly worthy of this exaltation!

 

 

Monday, December 3, 2018

O Come, Emmanuel

 

[Photo of of a family at Christmas]


“Behold, the virgin shall conceive
and bear a son, and they shall call
his name Emmanuel

(which means: God with us).
—Matthew 1:23

Like the happy family in the photograph above, why do so many people love having a dog? Most of all, I think they love the companionship. Life can often seem like a lonely venture. Children, around whom life has centered, go off to college leaving an “empty nest.” Parents, siblings, and friends, who were once always there, move away, or die, and leave a large hole in our lives.

God purposefully sent His Son, Jesus, to us. He did so for many reasons. But, one of those reasons was to fill a void in our lives that only He could fill.

One of the many special names that God gave Jesus was the name “Emmanuel.” God chose to give this unique name to specifically remind us that, in and through His Son, God is with us.

In other Scriptures (Deuteronomy 31:6, Psalm 94:14, and Hebrews 13:5), we hear that those who have come to know Jesus as Emmanuel have a God who will never leave us or forsake us.

Many at this time of year greatly miss the people who once filled their lives. It is very good that they can know the One who will never leave them. As followers of the Great King Jesus, God has given Him to us as our personal “God with Us.”

Here’s how Michael Card puts it:2

Incredible… are the times we know He is with us in the midst of our daily, routine lives. In the middle of cleaning the house or driving somewhere in the pick-up, He stops us… in our tracks and makes His presence known. Often it’s in the middle of the most mundane task that He lets us know He is there with us. We realize, then, that there can be no “ordinary” moments for people who live their lives with Jesus.

From the very beginning of Jesus’ life, God wanted us to know that He had been sent to be our constant, loving, ever-present, and ever-faithful companion. Knowing that God had this plan for us, we should sing anew this season and cry out in supplication as Israel once did:2

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel.
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

______________________

1 Card, Michael. Immanuel. Cited in Lucado, Max. The Devotional Bible. Nashville, TN:Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2003. Pp.1231-1232.
2 O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Latin hymn from 12th century Latin Antiphons, Public Domain.

 

 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Hurry Home

 

[Photo of headlights in falling snow]


“The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
the righteous run to it and are safe.”
—Proverbs 18:10

I found myself in a conference center in Baltimore, Maryland, on September 11, 2001. The news of the attacks shocked me to the core. Insecure and, with my husband in another part of the conference center teaching a seminar, I felt very alone. More than anything, I wanted to go home.

Another time, as I drove in a blizzard unable to see either side of the road that I knew was framed with deep ditches, I only wanted one thing—to see the familiar lights of home.

A little Preschooler in my school, insecure and afraid, often cried and declared, “I wanna go ’ome!”

Spiritually speaking, when we are afraid, lost, lonely, feeling abandoned, where do we first long to go? Job, in Chapter 23 of the Old Testament book that bears his name, spoke these words:

Oh, if I knew where I might find him!

For Job, his God represented “home” to him.

As Psalm 91:9 tells us:

If you make the Most High your dwelling—even the Lord, who is my refuge—then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.

When disaster threatens us, God wants us to hide in Him and trust Him for our security.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, wrote:

God’s children run home when the storm comes on. It is the heaven-born instinct of a gracious soul to seek shelter from all ills beneath the wings of Jehovah. “He that hath made his refuge God,” might serve as the title of a true believer… Nothing teaches us so much the preciousness of the Creator, as when we learn the emptiness of all besides.1

______________________

1 Spurgeon, Charles Haddon, Morning and Evening. Mclean, VA: MacDonald Publishing Co., Public Domain. p. 649.

 

 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Remembering

 

[Photo of a woman holding a Bible]


“I rejoice in following your statues as one
rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your
precepts and consider your ways. I delight
in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.”
—Psalm 119:14-16

The greatest joy I have as a teacher, other than the wonderful memories of a lifetime of classroom experiences, comes my way when students remember something I taught them.

  • In a department store one day, two little kindergarten girls followed me around the store singing some of the songs I had taught them.

  • One day, I saw a man of 35-ish on YouTube singing a song I had taught his class when he was about nine years old.

  • I received a message on Facebook from a mom of one of my former students. She included a short video clip of her little daughter playing by ear on her violin a song I had taught her singing class.

As I encountered every one of these precious remembrances, and many others, they absolutely made my day.

God must feel that way about us, His children, too. He takes special delight in knowing we savor times with Him in which He has shared His heart through His written Word. He, the Master Teacher, customizes our lessons to fit our unique needs. And, He experiences joy to hear us recognize His lovingkindness.

The Scriptures speak of a time in which most people thought God was most pleased when they gave Him their sacrifices of oxen and bulls. However, in Psalm 69:30-31, the Psalmist turns this idea upside down:

I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hoofs.

At this Thanksgiving time, if they think about it at all, how foolish of humans to thank only each other for the things they appreciate. God bestows blessing after blessing on us, day after day, often answering our prayers, seeing our needs and meeting them, and teaching us from His written Word in remarkable, powerful ways.

How entirely selfish we have become when we don’t at least take the time to remember His goodness and His love. May God be at the top of the list of those we purposefully thank this season!

 

 

Monday, November 12, 2018

My Nice Brown Roll

 

[Cartoon of a mother giving a roll to your child]


“He makes grass grow for the cattle, and
plants for man to cultivate—bringing
forth food from the earth: wine that
gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his
face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.”
—Psalm 104:14-15

I still have one of my childhood books which didn’t get co-opted by my three younger siblings. The little stories were designed to teach children the attributes of God, and to teach them Christian behaviors.

The story I remember as my favorite from this book is titled, “Our Daily Bread.” The story tells about a little boy who thanks his mother for his nice brown roll. She rebukes him with the statement, “Don’t thank me, thank the miller.” When he runs to the miller, the miller tells him to thank the farmer. The farmer, in turn, sends the boy to thank the rain. The rain sends the boy to thank the sun. The sun sends the boy to thank God who made them. So, the little boy returns to the table and thanks God for his nice brown roll.1

As adults, we need these kind of reminders, too. We need to remember how God has made us dependent on Himself, as well as on other people and even the nature itself that God has created. If anything in the process fails its purpose, we would not have food to sustain us, and every other “good and perfect gift.” (James 1:17.)

God has created humans with specific abilities to to plant seeds, to harvest the crops, and to form businesses to process our foods. And, God provides the rain necessary to cause the crops to grow and enough sun to produce healthy foods. God has also created our bodies, which need the very good that He so graciously provides. Season after season, year after year, God’s hidden work blesses the soil, the seed, and the growth of our food.

Today, let me suggest that you pause for a moment, much as you might have done when learning this lesson as a child, and consider the magnificence of our loving, wonderful God who has made all things well. Thank Him for all the ways He sustains us and shows us His miraculous care.

______________________

1 Faris, Lillie. “Our Daily Bread.” Standard Bible Story Readers. Cincinnati: Standard Publishing Company, ©1925. p. 18.

 

 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Take By Force

 

[Graphic of a charging centurion]


“From the days of John the Baptist until now,
the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully
advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.”
—Matthew 11:12

Scripture gives us plenty of vivid examples of how Christians should persevere (Hebrews 10:36), how we must hold on to truth (1 John 2:20-21), and how we have been equipped with the armor for warfare against evil. (Ephesians 6).

Our theme verse at the beginning of this blog post urges us to seriously fight to advance in our life of faith. Often, when we talk about spiritual warfare, we have mental pictures of Christians duking it out with one another (Unfortunately, we can probably all cite examples of this!) However, the Scripture in Ephesians 6:11-12 tells us:

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

This battle we wage to forcefully take the Kingdom remains far too powerful for us alone. Christ has told us that we have the Holy Spirit within us to fight these battles in prayer against the forces of evil, for the Kingdom of Light, and for those who belong to it.

And, how do we pray with this kind of power? According to Ephesians 6:17, we take the “sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.” Praying portions from God’s written Word helps us forcefully take down the Enemy. In this Ephesians passage, the word “wrestle” occurs. Wrestling signifies perseverance and struggle.

In Genesis 32, we read the story of Jacob when he met God face to face. Jacob wrestled with Him all night long. This prevailing prayer allowed Jacob to receive the blessing of God and go on his way in victory.

All of us need the power in this present evil world to wrestle against sin and darkness, in our own lives, in the lives of our loved ones, in our churches, and in the greater culture. God wants us to forcefully claim the Kingdom He has purchased for us in His own battle against sin. Let us pray that we can take up the task and powerfully engage for Him.

 

 

Monday, October 29, 2018

Wedding Meal Tasting

 

[Photo of a couple at a food tasting]


“Blessed are those who are invited
to the wedding supper of the Lamb.”
—Revelation 19:9

Wow! I didn’t know just how involved it gets to sample and taste foods for a wedding dinner. In looking on the Internet, I found a large number of articles similar to the following:

  • “100 Things to Know About Wedding Tasting”

  • “Eleven Tips for Wedding Tasting”

  • “Questions to Ask When Attending Your Wedding Tasting”

  • “18 Tips to Get the Most from Your Wedding Tasting - On The Bride’s Side”

  • “Wedding Tasting Etiquette: 10 Things You Should Know”

  • “What to Expect at Your Caterer’s Tasting - Vibrant Table Catering”

Let me just say how crazy it all sounds to this woman who served homemade Jello® salads and homemade “fancy” sandwiches at her very own wedding reception!

However, I do see some parallels between preparing for current wedding dinners and preparing for the Wedding Supper of the Lamb mentioned in the Scripture passage at the top of this blog post. For one, the invited guests truly know the Bride and Groom.

Often in Scripture, we read the title for the church: “The Bride of Christ.” If you truly know the Groom and His Bride, you will find yourself included in this invitation to the heavenly wedding. Notice that I didn’t say, “If you know about the Groom and His Bride.” But rather, do you “truly know” them.

In fact, those already invited can taste the heavenly banquet now, while awaiting the joyous full table, the laughter, the tears of gratitude, and the true company of the righteous in Heaven.

Now, in the present—even as we await the future celebration in the Kingdom of God—we can enjoy our fellowship with other believers, our sampling of the words of Scripture, Holy Spirit-filled prayer and preaching, and pleasure from the gifts given to us by God. Only those who truly know the Bride and Groom and experience these blessings now will actually get a full helping of the rich stores awaiting us in eternity.

I particularly like the familiar old gospel hymn that uses the word “foretaste.”1

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
This is my story, This is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, This is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

Right now, we believers experience a foretaste of what will someday come to pass. How blessed we are when we belong to God through His precious Son.

______________________

1 Crosby, Fanny, Blessed Assurance. Gospel hymn. Public Domain.

 

 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Old Maid

 

[Photo of an Old Maid card]


“One of those listening [to Paul and Luke] was a
woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the
city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The
Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.”
—Acts 16:14

Perhaps it was my sleep deprived addled brain, but I swear I saw the “Old Maid” driving a car this morning! What on earth would have brought back the memory of that old childhood card game? Okay. I guess the lady driving did resemble the woman in the photo found on the box and in the graphic above!

In those days, and for much of human history, a woman without a husband had the reputation as a bit of a “loser” in society—just as the person who chose her card and ended up with a graphic of her on that card became the loser of the game.

I can’t say for sure, but I think Lydia from the book of Acts had no husband—at least the Scripture doesn’t mention one. She had a successful business dealing with beautiful, imported cloth. It wouldn’t surprise me if she actually was the one who founded the group that met together on the Sabbath near the river that listened to Paul and Luke preach.

Not only did Lydia open her heart, but her home. And, in Acts 16:40, we read that a church met in her house sometime later. These meetings had great significance in the furtherance of the gospel. Lydia became the first Christian in Europe. And, the first church met in her house! Rather than living with a stigma of not having a husband or children, God allowed Lydia a significant place in His new church.

Do you know women who have never married, but have given Christ the totality of their lives and have done magnificent things for Him? While God has used many such women, the life of Corrie Ten Boom comes immediately to my mind. This Dutch watchmaker, in her early years, helped in the training of children. In her fifties, she hid Jews in her small bedroom’s closet. Eventually, she became a prisoner of war in Germany.

She suffered in three concentration camps, including Ravensbrüch, from which God miraculously allowed her release. From that life in concentration camps, Corrie became what she called a “Tramp for the Lord.” She traveled the world telling her story and sharing the gospel with thousands of people.

Maybe you are living a single life, and see yourself as the most unappealing “card” in the “deck of life.” Surrender that pain to God. Let Him show you what wonderful things He has planned for you.

Perhaps you know other single women who need to hear words of encouragement that tell how God calls them to serve Him in some unique way that only their unmarried state would allow. Be Christ’s voice to lift them up. They, along with all the other “cards,” belong in His hand and He will use them!

 

 

Monday, October 15, 2018

By Hap

 

[Drawing of Ruth gleaning in Boaz' fields]


“She gleaned in the field after the reapers:
and her hap was to light on the part
of the field belonging unto Boaz,
who was of the kindred of Elimelech.”
—Ruth 2:3 KJV

Sometimes the language of the King James Version of the Bible catches my attention in a way the modern translations don’t. When Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote his devotional book, Morning and Evening, he used the word “hap”—a word that was quite familiar at the time of his writing in the mid-1800s. It means “by happenstance,” or “taking place by coincidence, or chance.”

The unknown author of the Old Testament Book of Ruth tells the story about how Ruth, seemingly by chance, gleaned in the field of her mother-in-law’s relative Boaz. Here’s what Spurgeon wrote about the story:1

Ruth had gone forth with her mother’s blessing, under the care of her mother’s God, to humble but honourable toil, and the providence of God was guiding her every step. Little did she know that amid the sheaves she would find a husband, that he should make her the joint owner of all those broad acres, and that she a poor foreigner should become one of the progenitors of the great Messiah. God is very good to those who trust in Him, and often surprises them with unlooked for blessings.

If we stop to consider carefully the days of our own lives, most of us would see times when things that seemed “by hap” actually turned out to have occurred by the design of our Sovereign God. Along this vein, I read an account of the day Christian artist and author, Joni Eareckson Tada, had the diving accident that left her a quadriplegic for life.

Joni’s sister, Kathy, was at the beach with Joni. She stayed near the shore and suddenly felt a sharp pinch by a crab and screamed to Joni to watch for crabs. Because Joni didn’t respond, Kathy immediately went looking for her and ended up saving her from drowning. Kathy writes, speaking of God:2

From the big events in life down to the tiniest of details, he is great, he is sovereign, and he is in control.

When we are tempted to think that we have experienced a coincidence, we must remember that as God’s dearly loved children, our Heavenly Father sovereignly looks out for us, directs our ways, uses us in the lives of others, and yearns to have us honor Him with our thanksgiving for all that He so graciously does for us.

In the lives of those of us who belong to God through the Lord Jesus Christ, there simply is no such thing as “by hap”!

______________________

1 Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. Morning and Evening. McLean VA: MacDonald Publishing Company, Public Domain. p. 599.
2 Tada, Joni Eareckson. Pearls of Great Price. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing Company, 2006. Devotional for July 19.

 

 

Monday, October 8, 2018

Get Over Yourself

 

[Photo of an organist's hands on the organ keyboard]


“Humble yourselves therefore, under God’s mighty
hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”
—1 Peter 5:6

Picture two brothers, ages five and seven, fascinated enough to come up close every Sunday during the Postlude to watch me play the organ. They liked the action of the pistons, the movement of my fingers, and especially the movement of my feet, as the music filled the sanctuary.

One Sunday, the older brother posed the question, “Do you ever make mistakes?”

Considering that his question provided a “teachable moment,” I said, “Sure I do.”

To which he responded, “I thought so!”

I’ve thought of that encounter quite a number of times over the years, as I tried to camouflage an errant note or two while I played.

Most of us have plenty of opportunities for God to humble us. Whether it’s a piece of toilet paper stuck to the bottom of our shoe, a wardrobe malfunction, or a “tied tongue” when speaking in public, we know how it feels to experience humiliation. Sometimes we even know why God has brought us down with an embarrassing event.

When we think too highly of ourselves, our Lord says in Isaiah 42:8:

“I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another.”

In so many words, God is saying, “Get over yourself!”

When we compare ourselves to others and boast, even to ourselves, about our imagined superiority, God, in His love and discipline, will allow us to suffer humiliation to remind us that we possess nothing He did not give us, even our well-honed skills. Again, in Isaiah 66:2, our Lord says:

“This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”

God wants humble servants—grateful for all we are and have—not self-assured, boasting performers who feel superior to those around us. When we, in pride, carry out our work—or even our service to Him—we steal His glory. When we bow before Him in humility and thanksgiving, we lift Him up and reveal His glory!

We need to get over ourselves, but never over Him!

 

 

Monday, October 1, 2018

We Had Heard

 

[Photo of the road to Pikes Peak]


“As we have heard, so have we seen.”
—Psalm 48:8

I had heard about and seen pictures of Pikes Peak in Colorado for many years. In fact, I showed pictures to classes as I taught “America the Beautiful” written by Katherine Lee Bates from the top of that mountain. But, I had never seen it for myself. Then one summer my husband and I traveled to Colorado Springs and drove up the mountains to the Peak. I experienced something much broader and bigger than I imagined.

The winding, treacherous road, the clear air above the timber-line, the steep climbs, the breathtaking views from the summit, all gave me a much more vivid view of this great mountain.

In Scripture, we find several examples of persons experiencing the wonders of God for themselves that they may have only heard about before. In Psalm 48, the people recount the deliverances of the Lord in their past history. They exclaimed together:

“We had heard about God’s mighty acts. We heard the stories from childhood, but now, in our own time, we have actually seen them for ourselves.”

In the book of Job, we read the story of God’s servant whose life God allowed Satan to devastate. Job suffered great torture and never knew the reason. Yet, he didn’t give up on God. At the very end of his story in Job 42:5, Job confessed to God:

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

Job’s experience far outweighed the stories about God.

In 1 John 1:1, the Apostle describes what he and others had experienced of God:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”

Here again, the early church gave great significance to the experience of seeing and knowing Christ.

Paul recognized the importance of a personal knowledge of God. In Philippians 3:10, he yearned:

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

Do we want to know Christ in this way, by experience? God invites us to come near, to know Him, to experience the way of life He offers, and to no longer live only on the encounters of others.

 

 

Monday, September 24, 2018

Yet

 

[Photo of a watch and a book]


“Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so
disturbed within me? Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
—Psalms 42:5

Don’t you just love procrastinators? They say they will send you something, or come to visit you, or do something for you or others, or take care of an issue, but you can’t depend on when or if they will actually do what they have promised. You watch and hope they will come through. You wait and you wait and you wait.

Many accounts in the Scriptures make God look like a giant procrastinator. We wait and wait and pray and pray and nothing happens like we think it should.

We have many examples in the Bible. Joseph, son of Jacob, stayed in prison for a crime he didn’t commit for two full years. (Genesis 41:1). Hannah wanted a baby, but the years went by and she remained childless. (1 Samuel 1:7). David was anointed king. But, before he was crowned king, he still spent years being chased by the murderous King Saul. (Books of 1 and 2 Samuel). Yet, in the study of all these stories, and many more, we see that God had a long-range plan and waited for the right time to bring that plan to pass. A pastor I once knew called it “the eventuality of God’s working.”

In the Book of Habakkuk, we hear the prophet’s cry in 1:2:

“How long, O Lord, must I call for help?”

God answers the prophet in 2:3:

“For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”

In Habakkuk 3:17-18, we read that the prophet himself has taken up the word “Yet”:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

When we “hope” our procrastinator friend will come through, we “wish” more than actually having a godly hope. But, when we wait on God, the Bible encourages us to depend upon real hope. The Psalmist speaks of such hope in the verse at the top of this blog post. Jeremiah, in Lamentations 3, whose “splendor, and all he hoped for from the Lord was gone,” used the word “yet” and spoke of the “hope” he had.

What a God-given hope it takes for us to believe that, after months or years of praying and believing and waiting, God will eventually act according to His plan and His love for us.

Wait and pray and believe. Trust God to strengthen you for the waiting days ahead. Read Biblical accounts of faithful servants who hoped and waited and received what they prayed for from the Lord and be encouraged.

 

 

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.