Peace

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” – John 14:27

I was reminded recently of the story of an art contest years ago in which artists were asked to submit paintings depicting perfect peace. There were many entries of quiet rural scenes, reading by the fireplace, mirror-calm waters, and couples hand-in-hand. But one was different. It portrayed a wild storm, winds blowing, trees bending. Almost unseen, near the trunk of a tree with branches swaying, was a tiny bird sitting serenely on her nest with her wings covering her fledglings. That one took the prize.

It’s relatively easy to experience peace when life is going our way, when the days are sunny, and everything is in order. The real test of our peace is when our world seems to be falling apart and the storms rage.

Are you in the middle of a storm right now? I am.

Where do we go when it’s scary, unpredictable, and fierce? We go to God’s promises, like this one: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

We need to intentionally let go of anxiety, pray sincerely (many times a day when the storm is furious), and trust God’s peace will wash over us and fill us as he carries us through.

“If God be our God, He will give us peace in trouble. When there is a storm without, He will make peace within. The world can create trouble in peace, but God can create peace in trouble.” – Thomas Watson

From and To

As for God, his way is perfect . . .” – 2 Samuel 22:31a

Life has its routines: its familiar surroundings, foods, sounds, and patterns. It’s comfortable, even if it’s not perfect.

Sometimes God sends surprises that uproot us from the familiar and force us to face new routines, new challenges. We usually balk at that. We want things to be like they were before the pandemic, before the rejection, before the diagnosis, before the job loss. We just want to go back to what we knew before everything changed.

The people of Israel felt that way after just a short time in the desert. They complained to Moses that they wanted to go back to Egypt (to slavery!) because the food was better. Can you believe it? Moses knew he had some unhappy campers, but he also knew God had a plan. Here’s what he tells the people: “But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised” (Deuteronomy 6:23).

He’s reminding them they’re not home yet. There is more to come. God has taken them out of Egypt not to leave them wandering in the desert, but to take them to a far better place. They just needed to be patient in the journey.

Has God upset your routine? Removed you from the familiar? Created new challenges? Trust that he takes us out of somewhere to take us into someplace better – a place where we can flourish.

In between, we wonder and we worry just as the people of Israel did in the desert.

Let’s remember where he has taken us from, look forward to where he’s taking us to, and trust him in the in-between.

“Leave the broken, irreversible past in God’s hands, and step out into the invincible future with him.” – Oswald Chambers

Make it lovable.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” – Colossians 4:6

OK, I have a really big Bible. It not only has a good translation of Scripture, but it has pages of notes, maps, charts, and commentaries that enrich my understanding of the text. But, that’s not the Bible I carry with me everyday. Instead, I have a discreet purse-sized Bible tucked away until needed.

The point: If we are to be ambassadors for God’s kingdom on this earth, we are to practice good diplomacy. We must not be arrogantly spiritual (oxymoron, right?). We should not lead with our 20-pound Bible, our flowery prayers, or our condemnation of society.

We take our cues from Jesus here. He could have begun every conversation with something like, “I am God, you know.” But he didn’t. He led with his actions. He didn’t send the crowds away hungry. He fed them. He didn’t condemn Mary Magdalene. He cast the demons out of her. He didn’t turn away in fear from the ten lepers. He healed all of them, even the ungrateful. And he didn’t shoo away the kids. In fact, he used them as examples of how we all should approach him – with simple trust.

Maybe we, too, need to lead with hospitality, generosity, and gentleness. Those kinds of actions will open doors that unadorned holiness would see slammed shut.

It is important to be virtuous and pure, but maybe our piety should be between us and God. If it is true holiness, those in the outside world will see it in the way we behave – especially toward them. And that could lead to some important conversations!

“Not only should you be devout yourself and love piety, but you should make it lovable to others.” – Francis de Sales

Why a mountain?

You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established. – Exodus 15:17

My husband and I had the privilege of retiring to the mountains two years ago. We had both lived in the fairly flat Midwest all of our lives and were ready for a change. The mountains called and we came.

Over time, I’ve realized how important the mountains seem to be to God. It was on a mountain that Abraham offered Isaac and later on that same mount where the Temple was built and the people of Israel (and others who would join them) worshiped God.

It was on a mountain that the law was given to Moses, including the Ten Commandments that have been the foundation of laws in many countries today.

It was on a mountain that Elijah, standing in a cleft of the rock, heard God’s quiet voice speaking to him.

It was on a mountain that Jesus taught his followers in the greatest sermon ever given.

On a high mountain in Israel, Peter, James, and John witnessed Jesus in all his glory as he talked with Moses and Elijah.

And, of course, it was on Mount Calvary that Jesus was crucified for the sins of us all.

Why a mountain? Maybe ascending to the height of the mountain is the farthest we can get from the distractions of this world, the concerns of this life. Whether on a mountain or in a quiet room, getting away to get nearer to God – to hear His voice, to see His glory, and to receive his instruction may be the finest thing we can do today.

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.” – William Blake

Three Miles an Hour


“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” – Genesis 3:8

I love to walk, whether it’s around the neighborhood or on a mountain trail (then I get to call it a hike!). And, when I walk, I find things I would never see any other way – near perfect dandelion puffs, hidden streams, or grasses blowing in the wind. And yesterday, a friendly encounter with my neighbor’s dog!

What’s your speed? 70 mph? More on some days? We get used to hurry, and often it can’t be avoided. And we all know there’s nothing like a smart phone to instill constant pressure. Our work and world today seem to demand that we rush.

What is God’s speed? South Asian author Kosuke-Koyama wrote a book a few years ago titled The Three-Mile An Hour God. He based his estimate on the average distance a person walks in an hour, pointing out that when Jesus was here, he most likely moved at about three miles an hour as he walked around Galilee. And, he stopped a lot along the way!

That book led N. T. Wright to comment, “We have to slow down to catch up with God!” Could that be true of us? Do we sometimes race right by God as he moves along at the slower pace of Godspeed?

Do you have a favorite way to slow down? To calm your mind and soul? To pause to go a little deeper? For me, walking is a great antidote to hurry. For you it may be something else. Whatever we have to do to slow down to catch up with God, let’s do it!

“The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.” – Richard Foster

NOTE: If you want more on this topic, check out this website: https://www.livegodspeed.org/

Smile!

“I will celebrate before the Lord,” 2 Samuel 6:21b

Did you know that walking with God is not always about being serious? There are supposed to be times of celebration, belly laughs, and seeing the lighter side.

Remember when David brought the Ark of God to Jerusalem after its long absence? He was so happy he danced in front of the Ark, and it wasn’t a carefully choreographed dance, either. It is described as dancing and leaping – a spontaneous burst of joy.

Then there’s the time when Ezra found the Book of the Law, dusty from disuse for many years. He read it to the people and they were overcome with grief to think of how many ways they had failed God. After awhile, Nehemiah stepped in, dismissed the sad meeting, and called for a party, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine . . . for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

So, how happy are your morning devotional times? Do you smile when you talk to God? Does joy sneak into your heart as you read Scripture and begin to understand the pleasure God takes in his creation and in his people?

How happy are the worship times at your church? Is it a place where singing and praise-filled people worship a joy-filled God?

How happy are you when you look at God’s artwork in the sky, the freshness of new snow, or the wiggles of puppies? The things God makes should lead us to agree with Dallas Willard who said, “God is the happiest, most joyful being in the universe.”

Shouldn’t knowing him stir up happiness in us? Let’s live joy today!

“Praise is the mode of love which always has some element of joy in it.” – C. S. Lewis

Unshakable

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” – Jeremiah 31:3

Have you ever had your love for someone shaken? You heard about the affair. You found out what a friend said to another person about you. Your children turn away in anger. Human love sometimes does not survive these deep hurts.

God’s love is different – it never gives up. Peter denied Jesus, but Jesus did not for even a moment stop loving Peter. Jonah was angry at God’s mercy toward Ninevah. God planted a bush so he would have shade. Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s one prohibition. He provided a sacrificial covering for them. God’s love for his own children is unshakable.

Don’t get me wrong. We should not test that love – the Bible is clear about that, too. If we live outside of his boundaries, God will bring discipline into our lives to draw us back into companionship with him. We are far better off living in sync with him than wandering away. But, when we do stray, his love follows us – always.

The security for us is that God loves us because of who he is, not because of who we are. When we hurt him, he still loves. He forgives. He restores. That’s what he does. He just asks that the intent of our hearts is loving him back.

Still not convinced? Take is from Paul inspired words, then: “I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us“. (Romans 8:38-39 The Message).

Unshakable!

God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.” – Brennan Manning

The Truth About You and Me

“He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.” -2 Samuel 22:20

Is it true that you and I are imperfect and sometimes selfish? That, by God’s definition, we are sinful? That we let people down? Yes.

We all recognize our weaknesses, our sinfulness. And sometimes that’s where we stop. But that’s not the whole truth!

I realized that one morning I read this amazing statement: “I will believe the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is.”*

Could it be that there are truths about you and me that are beautiful? Of course there are, but those are things that we often don’t allow ourselves to recognize. Think of how we handle criticism. We take it to heart, brood about it for days and vow never to be like that again

How do we handle praise? Sometimes we just brush it off. Our success was a fluke. If people really knew us, they wouldn’t think so highly of us. We’re not smart, wise, funny, or all that likable.

Why is it so hard to believe something positive about ourselves?

Listen to this: “You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” (Song of Solomon 4:7). True, this is a lover speaking to his bride, but it is also seen as God speaking to his beloved people. It’s OK for us to realize that God thinks we’re lovable and that, through Jesus, he sees us as flawless.

We are always aware of our failures in loving God and others. But we also need to hear the tender messages from our good and merciful God. Believe the truth about yourself even if it’s beautiful!

“God doesn’t love us because of our worth. We are of worth because God loves us.” – Martin Luther

*Macrina Wiederkehr

Afraid?

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

I was anticipating a situation that made me anxious. When that happens, I find it helpful to pray about it. So, I began a prayer telling God all the reasons I had to be stressed about this meeting and then, as it dawned on me who I was talking to, the prayer reverted to something like this:

Me: Are you afraid?
Jesus: No.
Me: Then I won’t be either (pause). Are you stressed?
Jesus: Nope.
Me: Then I won’t be either (pause). Are you worried about what happens next?
Jesus: Not a bit.
Me: Then, me either.

That might seem like a silly prayer exercise, but focusing on God’s serenity calmed me. If we believe that God not only knows what will happen in any given situation, but is actively involved in bringing about the consequences he desires, then we can relax. To the extent we are following him, our outcomes will be exactly what he wants them to be.

Sometimes the question for us is this: Are we content with that? Are we willing to accept his will for us as good? Or will we fight against it? When we have a predetermined outcome in mind, we get anxious. When we commit to being happy with what God has designed, we relax into his plan.

God does have a plan. He’s in control of every situation. He’s not anxious. Why should we be?

“If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, His arm over us, His ear open to our prayer – His grace sufficient, His promise unchangeable.” – John Newton

Need a leader?

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 11:1

Need a story of hope, today? Try this:

God had chosen David to be the next king of Israel, but King Saul was mad and determined to kill David before that could happen. Early in David’s fugitive life, supporters began to gather. Before long, he has a ragtag “army” of about 600 men.

And “ragtag” might be the right word. The Bible tells us they were people who were in debt, distressed, and/or “bitter in soul”. David must have sighed deeply when they met for their first strategy meeting! These were all people who had been battered by life and were, in fact, not responding well to their circumstances.

Fast forward a few years. By then, there were thirty choice soldiers known as “David’s Mighty Men”. The rest were the support team, but all were disciplined, useful, and loyal. They were willing to risk their lives for their leader. Many, in fact, became part of David’s leadership team when he was crowned as king of Israel.

Where are you today? Getting beat up by life? Finding some bitterness in your heart? Discouraged?

If there was hope for change for David’s ragtag men, there’s hope for you, too. Suggestion? Ask God for a modern-day David, a mentor, to walk alongside you, teach you, and encourage your relationship with God. You may be surprised at the amazing changes coming your way!

And, if your life is on an even keel, maybe you are the leader God is calling to help someone else. Be open to that call. You may be the change-agent someone else is crying out for today.

The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion.” – John Stott

Tired?

“I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.” – Jeremiah 31:25

My friend told me that when she was a new believer, she had a hunger for God’s Word and studied it daily. One day, after all four kids were off to school and her husband to the office, she opened her Bible and couldn’t focus. She decided to pray instead, asking God for direction. She heard his instruction as clearly as if he was speaking out loud: “Take a nap.”

So she did. Twenty minutes later, she awoke refreshed and then was able to read her Bible with focus and understanding.

Sometimes we expect too much of ourselves, forgetting that we live with fleshly bodies and active minds that get tired. They require rest, refreshment, and renewal. Even Jesus, when living on earth, needed to get away at time to rest and pray.

What is your deepest need today? Is it for an answer to prayer? Keep praying, but rest awhile, too. Is it energy for a new responsibility? Take it on only if you sense God’s clear direction to do so. Don’t over busy yourself outside of his perfect will for you. You may be accepting a role he has already assigned to someone else, and your jumping in would get in the way of his will for their lives.

There are days when our deepest need may be for rest – for our bodies and our souls. When you sense that is true, remember Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).

“Rest time is not wasted time. It is economy to gather fresh strength… It is wisdom to take occasional furlough. In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less.” – Charles Spurgeon

The wrong question?

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

Should I buy a particular car? Should I change jobs? Should I get more education? If we’re not sure, we pray, asking for guidance as we make decisions. It’s OK to ask “Should I?” in cases like these. In fact, God invites and expects us to do so.

But, do you know there’s a question he might not want us to ask?

Think of the ancient Israelites. They escaped Egypt via God’s amazing miracles, were given the law, and were led to the very border of the land God had promised to give them.

That’s where they hesitated. Instead of making plans for crossing the Jordan River and moving into the land, they stopped, deciding to send in spies before they went further. You may remember that twelve spies went into the land. Ten came back describing the amazing produce they found, but, having seen giants, they said, in essence, “We can’t take them. We’re doomed!”

Two of the spies presented a contrary report saying, again paraphrased, “Yep. They’re big. But this is the land God promised us and, with his help, we can do this.”

Do you see the difference? We are always to ask “Should I?” when we seek God’s guidance about decisions we have to make, but we shouldn’t have to ask “Can I?” if God has called us to action. If God has directed you, of course you can! He will never let you down when you follow his plan.

The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.” – George Mueller

Need a new outlook? Try this.

Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Ephesians 5:20

My Bible teacher was right in trying to help us cultivate a positive attitude by naming three things daily for which we were thankful. I did that for a few weeks, but soon started to repeat myself – thankful for the sunrise, my husband, God’s provision, coffee, family, good health – you probably have a similar list.

Then, as I had my Bible in my lap one morning, I kept finding things in the passages I read that I wanted to give thanks for.

For example, I read this in the Psalms: “Surely you have granted him (the king) unending blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence” (Psalm 21:6). That made me think about times when I felt God close to me. Just being with him brought me joy! So I thanked him for that.

Then I turned to the 6th chapter of Romans and, when I came to verse 23, I was newly amazed at what I had read so many times before. Instead of death, we get eternal life. and it is a gift! In Paul’s words: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I couldn’t help saying “thank you!”

Now, day by day, as I read God’s Word, I search for things to thank him for. My list is no longer repetitive, my thanksgiving is more heartfelt, and I am happier. Want to try it?

“. . . worship is natural to the Christian, as it was to the godly Israelites who wrote the psalms, and . . . the habit of celebrating the greatness and graciousness of God yields an endless flow of thankfulness, joy, and zeal.” –J.I. Packer

Any mountains to be moved?

I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. – Isaiah 45:2

I look at mountains every day outside my windows. I don’t want any of them to move! They’re strong, ancient, and remind me of God’s creative power. Yet, Jesus taught we could move mountains with just a mustard-seed-sized faith.

One morning, he seemed to ask specifically, “Do you have any mountains you want me to move?” He didn’t mean the ones outside my window. He meant mountains relating to my life. Mountains I don’t have the power to move myself. 

For God, power isn’t a problem: “The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth” (Psalm 97:5). So, I prayed. He listened. And I tried hard just to trust.

When I think of God moving a mountain, I’d like it to be instantaneous – an earthquake maybe. But, often, it seems, he moves the mountains a stone or a rock at a time. That requires my patience, but it’s OK. Usually, I can see him at work and know that someday that mountain will be moved.

One of the mountains I prayed about that morning has been removed. Gone! And without any help from me. I’m so thankful for God’s melting it away like wax. The others? I’m still praying, still trusting – believing God is moving them in his own way and in his own time – maybe just pebble by pebble.

Are there any mountains you need to pray about today?

“The wonderful thing about praying is that you leave a world of not being able to do something, and enter God’s realm where everything is possible. . . Nothing is too great for His almighty power. Nothing is too small for His love.” ~ Corrie Ten Boom

 

 

 

 

 

The Melody

“I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.” – Psalm 104:33

” . . . and the melody that he gave to me within my heart is singing.”

Do you remember that line from the hymn In the Garden? It came to me recently as I was humming through my day and those words drew me into the rest of the song, “And he walks with me, and he talks with me. And he tells me I am his own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”

Do you hear it? Knowing God is with us, hearing his voice, being reassured of his love, and, then, the joy so great that we never want it to end. Don’t ever think you’re the only one who wants a relationship with God like that. This song was written in 1912 and the author, even then, understood what it meant to walk and talk with our Father in Heaven.

And it took  just one little line of music to bring it all to my mind.

The Bible, from beginning to end, encourages incorporating music into our lives:

“. . . be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” (Ephesians 5:18b-19)

Has God ever given you a melody? A song that draws you to him? Sing it. Hum it. Take it with you wherever you go. We need reminders of God, and music can be the vehicle to soften us enough to sense his loving presence. 

If God has given you a song, sing it, and let him use it to attune your heart to his.

“Where words fail, music speaks.” – Hans Christian Anderson

 
 
 

Feeling foolish?

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes . . “ – Romans 1:16

The book of Revelation foretells destruction of everything man-made – governments, idols, economic systems – all created by the human mind and effort. In spite of learning, technology,  and advanced civilization, everyone described in Revelation 13 is conned by a charismatic, but deceitful, world leader, except the followers of Jesus.

Following Jesus is not a second-rate way of life. The way of the world can seem more intellectual, more complex, or more rational, but only the way of Jesus will bring what we need most – peace with God and peace in our souls. Jesus is the way of life, light, and truth.

Why do so many not see that? Why are the people described in Revelation so easily deceived by the world systems? Hear Ravi Zacharias: “A man rejects God neither because of intellectual demands nor because of the scarcity of evidence. A man rejects God because of a moral resistance that refuses to admit his need for God.”

Many in today’s world try to make Christianity appear foolish and Jesus’s followers as intellectually lacking. But, if Ravi is right, it’s not a matter of evidence, it’s a matter of the heart. A willingness to believe truth has to be there before truth can be clearly seen.

As Christians, we must be committed to knowing truth. At the same time, we should know that, while Christianity is intellectually defensible, it is about so much more than that. It is acknowledging the Creator and his right to our worship and allegiance. Once the submission barrier is crossed, truth becomes clear. Only God and a willing heart can make that happen.

A wise man may look ridiculous in the company of fools.” – Thomas Fuller

It’s a battle you can win.

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:57

We often struggle with the way we behave, live, feel, or think. There are things we would like to change, but, after trying too many times to be better, some of us decide we simply are who we are, and there’s nothing we can do to change.

We have have have at issues that plagues us: bad habits, phobias, obsessions, fears, or substance misuse (alcohol, drugs, food, nicotine, caffeine, etc. ). We really don’t want these “enemies” in our lives, but we’ve decided they’re too big, too strong, or too comfortable to get rid of. So we live with them.

That sounds a lot to me like the rationale the Israelites gave when they stopped short of driving the idol-worshiping Canaanites out of the land of promise: They’re big, they’re strong, and we think we can just learn to get along with them. They forgot God and his strength. Do we, too?

With God, freedom can be ours. We can conquer the things that disturb us, weigh us down, distract from full life, and hold us back. We don’t have to live with our enemies!

It will take . . .

. . . consecrating ourselves to God,

. . . obeying his guidance (which often includes counsel and/or community), and

. . . persistence.

If we do these things, we make room for God to act on our behalf, and when he does, we find the enemy we face becomes a little weaker. Soon we notice we have strength to say “no” at least some of the time. When we can do that, we are on our way victory! We don’t have to settle for less than God’s best for us. Believe that.

“Willfulness must give way to willingness and surrender. Mastery must yield to mystery.” – Gerald May

Much more on this topic can be found Addiction and Grace, a book by Gerald May.

What? What? So what?

“Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.” – Psalm 119:165

The Bible is an amazing book, written long ago. Yet its message applies not only to those for whom it was originally written, but also to everyone today who is open to receiving its message.

The goal of reading the Bible is rarely just to learn about the stories, wisdom, and history it contains. For most of us, reading it is a personal journey as we seek to know God, his plan for this world, and his purposes for our individual lives.

In that quest, we don’t just read passages from the Bible, but we interact with them. Years ago, I was taught to ask three questions about the biblical texts as I read. Those three questions are What? What? and So what?* Easy to remember, right?

What? What does the text say? Does it tell a story, give instruction, or offer a perspective?

What? What does it mean? What is God’s purpose for including this passage in the Bible? Is there a new insight or understanding for me?

So what? Why does it matter? Will what I am reading make a difference in my life? Am I willing to let its message change me?

Let’s never stop reading the Bible, meditating on its words, and taking them into our heart for comfort, direction, and growth. Effective interaction with God through his word is a lifelong journey and one with great rewards.

“But the performance isn’t just about our own private pilgrimage. It’s about becoming agents of God’s new world – workers for justice, explorers of spirituality, makers and menders of relationships, creators of beauty. If God does indeed speak through scripture, he speaks in order to commission us for tasks like these.” – N. T. Wright

*From teacher, author, and pastor, Erwin Lutzer

#readingthebible

A Still Small Voice?

“In distress you called, and I delivered you. I answered you in the secret place of thunder.” – Psalm 81:7a

We often think of meeting God in a quiet place and hearing from him in a “still small voice” as Elijah did on the mountain millennia ago.

But there are times in the Bible when God makes himself known with a lot of noise – ruckus even. Remember he appeared to Job in a whirlwind, and he took Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind. In Isaiah 29:5-6, God describes himself as appearing with thunder, earthquake, noise, whirlwind, tempest, and fire. That’s not quiet, it’s chaotic!

Let’s go back to Elijah’s still small voice. Remember that the quiet message he received was only after the wind, earthquake, and fire. God is not a quiet God. He is active and strong, and he speaks in many ways and in every circumstance in which his children find themselves. And, when he speaks, we are comforted: “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” (Psalm 94:19).

We’d like to have peaceful, non-chaotic lives, wouldn’t we? But we live in a challenging world that includes storms – physical, societal, relational, and sometimes spiritual. If we want God’s consolations to cheer our souls, we should never stop listening for his voice in the storm – shouting above the fray or whispering in our ear. When we hear him, we can be calm – even when life rages around us.

“A faithful person sees life from the perspective of trust, not fear. Bedrock faith allows me to believe that, despite the chaos of the present moment, God does reign; that regardless of how worthless I may feel, I truly matter to a God of love; that no pain lasts forever and no evil triumphs in the end.” -Philip Yancey

All He Wants You to Have

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” – Philippians 4:11b-12

Remember Joseph? Favored son of Jacob, he was sold by his jealous brothers as a slave and taken to Egypt where he was purchased by an official named Potiphar. Potiphar immediately recognized Joseph’s skills and put him in charge of his household. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph (Genesis 39) and he refused her, citing all the responsibilities and all the possessions Potiphar had given him charge of, then stating that it included pretty much everything – except her.

Joseph knew Potiphar had given him everything he wanted him to have – and it didn’t include his wife. Instead of thinking about her all the time and finding ways to rationalize responding to her invitation, he walked away knowing that saying “no” would cost him something.

Think now of all our Master has entrusted into our hands: Possessions, finances, health, relationships, creation, evangelizing, and teaching. He, too, gives us everything he wants us to have. Dallas Willard taught that, as we grow closer to God and experience his many blessings, we “find it possible to take the absence of something from our lives as sufficient proof that we do not need it.”

We must be careful never to step outside the boundaries of God’s commands to go after something he has not given us. Living within God’s boundaries will result in satisfaction, contentment, and peace. And maybe that’s enough. 

“Contentment is one of the most distinguishing traits of the godly person, because a godly person has his heart focused on God rather than on possessions or position or power.” – Jerry Bridges

Speaking it

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. – Hebrews 13:15

In his book Life without Lack, Dallas Willard says, “All relationships and kingdoms work by words, and the first act of faith is to speak.” We have to say something out loud.

OK, so what do we say? He has a suggestion for that, too: Praise. That really is an easy place to start if we want to build relationship with God, isn’t it? Think something he has created. Surely there is something to praise him for: sunrise, your dog, peaches, trees. Look around you and start with praise.

Or think about relationships in your life. Praise him for the people who matter to you and who have been placed beside you for a purpose. Thank him for his patience with you in those relationships.

Always start with praise. The Lord’s Prayer does when it acknowledges the holiness of God and his name. We do well to emulate that prayer. Then, after we have praised well, we can speak out other things: confession (Romans 10:9), requests, complaints (that’s OK – really – the psalmists do it), thanks, worship.

Do you see that it’s all about words? We cannot love God and relate to him with growing intimacy if we don’t use words. Words, as Willard says, are the tools by which all relationships and all kingdoms work – even the kingdom of God.

We can practice with praise (so easy!) and move on to the harder stuff from there. God will meet us where we are and invite us to keep on coming closer.

“Spiritual people are not those who engage in certain spiritual practices; they are those who draw their life from a conversational relationship with God.” ~ Dallas Willard

This is the way . . .

And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. – Isaiah 30:21

For some time now, I’ve kept a record of key dates in my life: Children, grandchildren, parents’ events, marriages, significant illnesses, personal crises, work history, new places, ministry involvement, publications. and so on. The list helps me keep track of experiences and the kinds of things that have shaped me. It also helps me see what I want to include in my future. We always need to be considering, “what’s next?”.

There’s scriptural precedence for this. I read Numbers 33 recently in which Moses recounts all the places the people of Israel had traveled from Egypt’s boundary until, 40 years later, they were once again on the edge of entering the land of promise. At the end of this recounting, God gave instructions for entering, conquering, and dividing the land. He gave them a backward look and then directed them forward. It’s almost as if he’s reminding them that what they were not ready for 40 years earlier, they are ready for now.

Where are you in your life today? Are you ready for a change you weren’t ready to face years ago? Do you feel you are on the edge of something new? That God is urging you forward into a new area of promise?

There may be value for all of us in the backward look personally, and also within organizations and even nations. We learn from mistakes, we see God’s hand at work, and we rejoice in his providence. Then we face forward once again and move on with confidence – forgiven, hopeful, wiser, and trusting.

“The only way to get rid of your past is to make a future of it. God will waste nothing” – Phillips Brooks

Where’s your cell phone?

” . . . let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. . .” – Hebrews 12:1b-2a

A friend of mine, recently retired from a successful career, told me employees in her firm were told never to put their cell phone on the table when they were having lunch with a client. Having it there, in full view, conveyed a message that you wanted the option to take the call if someone rang in during lunch. That doesn’t promote good relationships with clients!

Now a really personal question: When you are having one-on-one time with God, where’s your cell phone? Mine has been on the table next to my chair while I pray and read the Bible. Every time it signals, it calls for my attention, whether I respond to it or not. So I’ve started something new: Unless I need the phone for my listening prayer app, I leave it in the drawer so I can focus 100% on God. Just the presence of the phone beside me showed my attention was divided, my focus compromised.

If good business people give total focus to a client, how much more should that apply to God? What message could I possibly receive that would be more important than one from my Creator? Especially during what should be the most focused hour of my day.

Are you ready to make God the #1 priority for the time you’ve devoted to him? Maybe, you, too, need to put your cell phone away for awhile. That simple act could open great opportunities for intimate conversation with the all-important One.

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” – Anne Lamott

Why, God?

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” – Psalm 34:18

In the year 2000, a small group of devoted monks moved from the relative comfort of their lives to Norcia, Italy to re-establish the monastery founded there long ago by St. Benedict. Their sole purpose was to love and serve God through the solitude and simplicity of the ancient monastic life.

Then in October of 2016, the Basilica of St. Benedict, built in the 14th century as the center of this monastery’s worship, collapsed in an earthquake. It was a shocking tragedy. The monks couldn’t help wondering how God could allow the destruction of this cathedral when it was built by, and then used for centuries by, those who loved him sacrificially.

They mourned the loss of this great place of worship, but soon all their spiritual training kicked in, and they began to make plans for starting over. One writer described their reaction as “receiv(ing) this catastrophe as a call for deeper holiness and sacrifice.”*

Is that how we respond to crises in our lives? As a “call for deeper holiness and sacrifice?” Not usually. More often our response is “Why, God?” I think it’s OK to ask, but if the answer doesn’t come (and often it doesn’t – at least not right away), we need to accept what has happened and move closer to God as we pick up the pieces.

One of the monks said, “These are mysteries which will take years – not days or months – to understand.”*

Do you have an unanswered “why?” in your life? Let’s not let God’s silence stop us from answering his call to deeper holiness. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it!

“Joy is not necessarily the absence of suffering. It is the presence of God.” – Sam Storm

*Both quotes are cited in The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher (Sentinel Books: New York, New York), 2017, p. 243

Disease

“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” – Malachi 4:2

We have treatments for many illnesses these days: medicines, pain killers, physical therapy, even surgeries when the simple fixes don’t work. Then there are things that aren’t so easy to treat: cancer, psychological disorders, or even epidemic viruses that come suddenly on the scene.

For some in this world it seems nearly everything is untreatable. In less-developed countries, many people don’t even have aspirin, the nearest doctor may be miles away, and getting there is on foot. What to do when disease strikes and there is no treatment, no cure?

The crowds following Jesus in Bible times were in similar circumstances. They sought him out because they were sick or disabled and had no hope but him. When they pleaded for help, he responded with compassion, and they were made whole.

Some of us need that kind of healing in our lives today, don’t we? The kind for which there is no ready cure. Our needs might relate to our bodies, but often to our minds or emotions as well.

Most of us have some kind of dis-ease we face every day. What do we do? If there’s a treatment we can get from a doctor or a counselor, we need to do so. But sometimes what we are dealing with is something only God can heal.

If Jesus were here, we’d go to him just as the crowds did centuries ago.

Remember, he’s still here.

He’s still loving.

He invites us to bring our dis-ease to him. Let’s be as bold as those early followers and ask him to intervene today.

“The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and the acceptance of love.” – Marianne Williamson

Sailing or Drifting?

“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” – Hebrews 2:1

Years ago, I had a friend, Phyllis, who owned a small sailboat, and we shared some sunny afternoons on that boat, sailing across Spring Lake and back.

When we pushed out, Phyllis would choose a spot across the lake and set her sail toward that point, making corrections along the way to keep us on course. Working with the wind to move us in the right direction required constant attention. But we always reached our destination and always returned to our home port safely, and usually dry!

There is a spiritual truth here. Generally, we don’t turn around and sail away from God. Instead, we drift away. One day we wake up and realize how far we are from him. What can we do?

Be intentional: Phyllis always had her eye on the shore, skillfully keeping us on course. Spiritually, we need to keep God always in focus, adjusting our activities, decisions, and relationships to be constantly moving toward him. It won’t just happen. We have to work at it.

Pay attention: If we ever take our attention off the rudder or the sail, we drift and the results can be disastrous. We must not let distractions interfere with our goal.

If we have drifted away from God, let’s get back on course. We can place him in our mind’s eye and keep him there. Then we pay attention by filling our mind with the important and by not being distracted by the inconsequential. Set the sail and stay on course. He’s worth it!

“You either line yourself up with the Son of God . . .or you capitulate to the principle which governs the rest of the world.”– Elisabeth Elliott

Living Like the Wind

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” – John 3:8

John tells about an interesting conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus that occurred late one night. Jesus was trying to explain to Nicodemus the difference between physical life and spiritual life. And it seemed that he said a person living the life of the Spirit of God lives lightly – you don’t know where he comes from or where he goes, just like the wind.

I never completely understood that verse and, maybe I still don’t, but could it be that Jesus was saying (and this is consistent with other teachings of his) that living by the Spirit means we are no longer deeply attached to things of this world? Instead, we are more spiritually-minded and, therefore, more free? If that is so, this is what living the Spirit life might look like:

  • Having the ability to move freely from one environment to another – content in plenty or in need, comfortable with young and old, smart and simple, holy and not-so-holy.
  • Traveling lightly – not overly attached to material possesions (houses, cars, clothes) or weighed down by anxieties about life and/or the world.
  • Living in constant spirit-to-Spirit communication with God within us.
  • Being able to live with unpredictability – like the wind, moving at God’s direction, not always following fixed patterns or pathways.

The wind moves slowly or quickly at God’s command. It appears from nowhere and goes to places we cannot see. Do we dare yield to the wind of the Spirit?

“If we get our information from the biblical material, there is no doubt that the Christian life is a dancing, leaping, daring life.” – Eugene Peterson

Surrender

“Just as water ever seeks and fills the lowest place, so the moment God finds you abased and empty, His glory and power flow in.” – Andrew Murray

Most of us don’t like the word surrender. It sounds like giving up, giving in, letting someone else take over our lives. It sounds like an unhappy ending to a long war. And it sounds risky. Actually surrender can be all those things.

When we look at it spiritually, though, we realize surrender to God isn’t defeat, it’s voluntarily giving control of everything to him. And it’s not risky. Yielding to him is the safest thing we can do!

And there are rewards: “It is wonderful what miracles God works in wills that are utterly surrendered to Him. He turns hard things into easy and bitter things into sweet.” (Hannah Whitall Smith).

Have you ever surrendered everything to God? Holding nothing back? If not, today may be the day to do that. Then I’ve found I need to re-surrender on occasion because the me in me creeps back in to take back control from God. Here’s my prayer of surrender for today, maybe it can be yours, too:

Dear God,

I surrender my body to you – its health, shape, aches, its need for protection, and its power.

I surrender my heart to you – its wounds, desires, regrets, and hopes.

I surrender my mind to you – its learning, meditations, its every thought.

I surrender my spirit to you – gladly, joyfully, for its keeping for all of eternity.

My whole self, Lord. Nothing kept back, no place you can’t enter – without reservation, without restriction – forever.

Amen

“. . . offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.-“ Romans 6:13b

What about the big kids?

“May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:5

If you have adult children, how’s your relationship with them? We watch and worry as they learn how to do life on their own. There’s a problem, though, when we think our grown-up kids are still ours to direct and protect. If we respect them as adults, we may need to rethink our role.

At some point we have to let them go, encourage them to grow on their own, quit worrying so much about them, and stop trying to be their Holy Spirit. We can do that pretty well when we approve of their decisions, but not so well when we think we know better than they do how they should be living their lives. Some of you can relate to that.  And you know in your soul you have to stop trying parent to another adult.

So, as we let go, what do we do? First, we give up trying to control. Then we put them into the hands of our loving heavenly Father and under the guidance of the all-wise Holy Spirit. If you are at a loss as to how to do that, here’s what I have prayed about my own grown-up kids. Maybe it will help you, too.

Lord help me to . . .

love them deeply as you do,

guide them wisely as you would,

listen to them carefully,

hear what they’re not saying,

hold them loosely so they can fly, and

keep them ever before you in my prayers.

Amen

 

“We may not say that we have the answers. Questions of how to conduct oneself as a Christian or how to serve as a Christian must be answered by life itself- the life of the individual in his direct responsible relationship to God.” – Elisabeth Elliott

God’s Language

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.  – Psalm 19:1-2

Author and missionary Frank Laubach prayed this prayer on January 1, 1937, “God, I want to give you every minute of this year. I shall try to keep You in mind every moment of my waking hours . . . I shall try to learn your language as it was taught by Jesus and all others through whom you speak . . . “

He kept a journal during that year in which we see him trying to figure out the language of God. As he goes through his days, he finds God speaking through unsolved problems, needs, notes in his calendar, mottos on walls, memories, and, of course, the Bible, teachers, and creation itself.

We, too, can learn God’s language. We simply have to be looking for his activity around us, listening for his direction, wanting to know what he is trying to say. Laubach wanted to be doing that every waking minute of his day. I’ve tried that – it’s really not possible! But if the desire is there, even with failed attempts, God will begin to reveal himself.

Focusing on that connection doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Sometimes it’s a quick “thank you” or, if you have no words, a nod and a smile – a simple acknowledgement that he is with you, right there in your office, kitchen, den, or car. And he’s always speaking. We just need to learn his language!

“We look for visions from heaven, for earthquakes and thunders of God’s power . . .  and we never dream that all the time God is in the commonplace things and people around us. If we will do the duty that lies nearest, we shall see Him.” – Oswald Chambers

Confused? Frustrated?

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” – Luke 24:32

If you feel challenged and confused these days, you’re not alone! Many are mourning the absence of life as they knew it and are wondering how things will change when everything settles down. What will the new normal look like?

After Jesus’ crucifixion, his disciples struggled with some of those same challenges. They’d believed Jesus was the Messiah. They’d followed and trusted him over several years, and now he was dead. They couldn’t imagine what their new normal would look like.

On the Sunday after Jesus’ death, two disciples were walking toward the town of Emmaus when a third man joined them on the journey. Luke tells us that their faces were “downcast”. Their new companion listened as they told him about the events over the past three days – Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, burial, and their crushed hopes. And now, some were telling of an empty tomb, and that confused the situation all the more.

Don’t you love that Jesus. though unrecognized, was with them right then in their confusion and pain? Through Scripture, he began to make everything clear. And, when they sat down for a meal, he prayed and broke bread and at that moment they recognized it was Jesus who had been with them all along! He listened to their problems, taught them from Scripture, and revealed himself to them – alive!

Jesus is here in our confusion, too, and his mode is still to listen, teach, and reveal. Don’t you think we can trust that he will help make sense of whatever we are going through? I do!

“All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” – Julian of Norwich

Can you believe it?

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” – Isaiah 26:3

Do you know why the people of Israel were forced to wander in the desert for 40 years after being delivered dramatically from slavery in Egypt, given the Ten Commandments, and led by the great prophet Moses?

My first thoughts: They disobeyed God by worshipping a golden calf, they grumbled a lot, and they even suggested they should go back to Egypt. But the writer of Hebrews lets us in on the true problem: They didn’t believe God!

After recounting their bad behavior, he sums things up by saying, “So we see that they were not able to enter because of their unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19). After all God had done for them, they still didn’t trust him to fight the giants and give them the land. Unbelief kept an entire generation from receiving the blessings God had prepared for them.

Our trust in God is fundamental to his active involvement in our lives. In fact, Jesus said we needed to believe before our prayers would be answered. If we want to grow our ability to trust, maybe we start by believing some things God has already promised:

  • Your pain won’t last forever.  (Psalm 30:5)
  • Justice will come. (Psalm 103:6)
  • Your needs will be met. (Philippians 4:19)
  • God’s Word will show the way. (Psalm 119:105)
  • Relating to him will give you strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)
  • You don’t have to be afraid. (Psalm 23:4)
  • God has a place and purpose for you. (Philippians 2:13)

Our earthly and eternal well-being depend on believing in the God of the Bible so much that we entrust our lives to him. None of us trusts him perfectly, but we can begin today to do it better!

“Man says, ‘Show me and I’ll trust you’. God says, “Trust me and I’ll show you.” – Anonymous

Rethinking the Cross

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11a

I never expected to be wearing a gold cross around my neck. I heard all my life about the suffering of the cross and was told we should not trivialize its awfulness. I agreed because what they said was so logical. Then I changed my mind.

I read about the early church’s choice of the cross as its symbol. They chose the cross because it was the turning point of history. On that day, Jesus’ work was finished. The veil of the temple was supernaturally torn apart indicating the opening of the way for us to enter God’s holy presence. Early Christians could have selected a symbol other than the terrifying cross. But they didn’t. They chose the cross, I believe, because Jesus had transformed it from a thing of horror to a symbol of hope.

He does that! He takes messy lives and makes them beautiful. He changes murderers into saints, drug addicts into Good Samaritans, and the apathetic into enthusiastic followers of God. Satan thought he had used an instrument of torture to defeat Jesus that day, but no – Jesus had turned the battered, blood-stained cross into a thing of beauty.

I was involved in a women’s Bible study when I began to realize all this, and I told them about the change in my thinking about the cross. A short time later, they presented a simple gold cross necklace they had purchased as a gift for me. I wear it almost every day. The cross is beautiful because Jesus made it beautiful. And wearing it is a moment-by-moment reminder of whose I am!

“If the cross of Christ is anything to the mind, it is surely everything – the most profound reality and the sublimest mystery.” – John Stott

 

NOTE: Some of the most insightful teaching on the cross can be found in John R. W. Stott’s book, The Cross of Christ.

The Narrows

“Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path . . . with walls on both sides.” – Numbers 22:24

A few years ago, we traveled with some of our family to Zion National Park where we entered “The Narrows”. It’s the most confined section of the canyon where, at times, you can touch both sides of the towering rock walls as you walk through with a river underfoot. I’m not fond of closed-in spaces, so I knew that hike was not for me!

Sometimes we don’t have a choice about how narrow our lives get, and the walls can seem too confining. Some of you are feeling that now when you can’t leave your home even for work. We’re used to wide open spaces – highways, malls, meeting places, beaches, and parks. Now we are kept inside with only occasional recourse to the outside world.

No matter if we are sequestering alone or with a large family, God is waiting with us in the narrows. He offers grace for each day, mercy in our stresses, hope that the wide-open spaces will soon reappear, and joy as we step cautiously through the restricted pathways of our present lives.

To access that grace, mercy, hope, and joy, we need to do one thing: Let our hearts be soft enough to receive. These gifts are there for us. Jesus is simply asking that you recognize he is with you in the small space and acknowledge you need him. As you turn toward him, he will respond. He always does.

Let’s be open to God today! When we do, the walls will seem to disappear, and the vastness of eternity will enter.

“. . . a bench outdoors, a porch swing, a chair in the library. Such places, as much as a church pew, provide openings to grace.” – Emilie Griffin

A Little Bit of Light

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12

I well remember being afraid of the dark as a child. Every sound seemed threatening and what I thought was hiding under my bed kept me wide awake. Turning on the light to check the dark corners was the only solution to my fear.

The darkness evident in the world today causes similar anxieties. But, there is a solution for those fears, too, and it is held in the hands of those who follow Jesus. 

Jesus told us he is the light of the world. That we can believe. He is true, right, and good. Then, he turned to his disciples (that includes those who follow him today) and said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). What? Me? You? Yes. He has entrusted us with the awesome and sometimes scary responsibility of bringing light to dark places.

Light reveals what’s hidden in the darkness and it shows a way out of the darkness.* Many people think they know how to deal with the darkness around us, but, Jesus says his followers are the ones who carry the light of this truth: The solutions to the most basic problems in this world are found in him.

How are we doing as lights of the world? We might be tempted to back away when we realize that many people don’t want the hidden things of darkness to be revealed. Jesus warns us not to hide our light. Instead, he says we must hold it high, ready to warn of the dangers lurking in the dark and eager to lead those who are willing directly to Jesus, the source of all light and truth.

“Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself”. – Erasmus

 

 

*Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Martino Publishing: Mansfield Centre, Connecticut,), 2011, p. 168.

Rest awhile.

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” – Mark 6:31

Has your life changed because of the corona virus? Most of us have had events and activities canceled. Some have kids home on a prolonged break from school. Many have run into shortages at local stores. Some have been asked to work from home instead of coming in to the office. And our calendars are suddenly cleared!

The result? More time at home, less time on the run. So, let’s stop to assess our new normal and take a deep breath. We are now permitted to slow the hectic pace of our pre-quarantine lives and mellow out a little.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Maybe this world’s enforced slow-down is his invitation to rest, to spend time alone with him, and to let our minds stop the constant distraction of our old normal.

Let’s not overfill the extra time we may have. Instead, let’s live into it. Limit social media use, take soaking baths instead of quick showers, read a little longer to the kids at night, make mealtime last for an hour instead of minutes, take walks, read good books, talk to God, read his book, and enjoy being his kid. I think he has plans for us during the time apart.

If we listen to the Spirit and use this time well, we may emerge from the respite being more purposeful in our pursuits and less frenetic in our pace. We might find a renewed zest for life as we make more God-centered choices about time use than we did before this unsought slowing. Maybe it’s an opportunity to push the reset button!

“Converse less with man, and more with God.” – George Whitefield

He’s calling you.

. . . they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.”– Mark 10:49

Imagine being blind in a world where there’s no economic safety net. Every day someone leads you to a spot on the road where people pass by. You call out when you hear them coming, just hoping someone will have mercy and give you a coin or two. Imagine that life day after day. No change. Nothing to look at. Unthinkable boredom. No hope. Then you hear of Jesus and his miracles. Maybe, just maybe, he would give you more than a coin and everything would change!

When blind Bartimaeus heard Jesus was on his way to Jericho, he was determined to get his attention. So, he shouted, begging Jesus to stop, to be merciful, to respond to his need. He was so obnoxious that people around him asked him to quiet down. But Jesus heard his cry and spoke to some who were nearby, “Call him.” They went over to Bartimaeus and gave him this amazing message, “Take heart. Get up. He is calling you.” 

Bartimaeus got to his feet and allowed the men to lead him to Jesus where his life was changed in an instant. He could see! No more need for someone to lead him by the hand. No more need to beg in order to survive. No more mind-numbing existence sitting alongside the road. New life began the moment he met Jesus.

Where are you in life today? Jesus hears your cry and he’s calling you. He asks that you take heart, get up, and come to him. Only he can change your life!

“Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.” – Augustine of Hippo

Reunion vs. Reconciliation

 

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” – Hebrews 12:14

Jacob had cheated his brother, Esau, out of his birthright more than 20 years earlier and now was bringing his large family and flocks and herds back to Canaan. As he prepared to meet his angry brother, he sent gifts ahead, tried to protect his family from attack, and prayed for God’s favor. Fortunately for Jacob, the reunion was one of rejoicing and celebration. Forgiveness seemed to abound and, at least on the surface, all seemed to be well.

Esau, with true Middle Eastern hospitality, invited Jacob to bring his family and herds to live near him in Seir. Jacob says, in essence, “OK, but we’re going to travel slowly because of the little ones and the animals.” So Esau goes on ahead, but Jacob never follows him to Seir. Why? I think there were too many differences remaining between them – cultural, religious, and maybe even some obvious animus from previous offenses.

Reunion is one thing. Reconciliation is another.

Maybe there is a person in your life you think of as toxic, or even dangerous to your physical or emotional well-being. Can you forgive that person? Yes. Forgiveness is for your benefit even more than it is for the person who has hurt you. And God requires his people to forgive.

Should you be in close relationship with him/her again? Most likely not, unless you see a true and long-lasting change of heart. It’s possible Jacob knew association with Esau would bring trouble. So he agreed to an amicable relationship, but not a close one. Sometimes distance is the best decision. Forgiveness is one thing. Reconciliation is another.

“It takes one person to forgive, two people to be reunited.” – Lewis Smedes

Do you know?

Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend. – James 2:23b

As we relate one-on-one to God, we learn things: how much he loves us, how deeply he teaches us, and how desperately we need to rely on him. We find the Bible coming alive as we read, – correcting, encouraging, directing. We gain so much by living in close connection with our Creator! But do you know how much he wants that connection, too?

God desires relationship with us as much as we do with him. Probably more. Think about Abraham, a mere human, called by God to leave the familiar and go into the unknown. James says Abraham was a “friend of God.” Or Moses, who was not a perfect man, yet we are told God communicated with him face-to-face. Then there were the disciples who lived in close proximity to Jesus for months. On the night he was arrested, Jesus said to them. “I no longer call you servants . . . Instead, I have called you friends , , , ” (from John 15:15).

Why would God want to be a friend to humans? I don’t know, but story after story in the Bible tells us it’s true. And the better we get to know him, the more we believe it. As I was beginning to understand how important our closeness was to both of us, God whispered “That’s something many of my children don’t know.”

Do you know? God loves having your attention. Relationship with him is what you were made for. He wants to be your Savior, your Lord, and your friend. I think he wanted me to tell you that today.

“Let’s dare to enter into an intimate relationship with God without fear, trusting that we will receive love and always more love.” – Henri Nouwen

Christian Privilege

“This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” – 1 John 2:5-6

We hear a lot these days about privilege, most frequently “white privilege”. We know it’s true, don’t we, that some of us grew up in more privileged circumstances than others? We had food to eat, decent clothes to wear. We had a safe place to live and got to go to school every day. 

We also know that with privilege comes responsibility. The Bible itself tells us that in Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted much, much more will be asked.” It’s a biblical principal we must take seriously.

In light of that, think about this: As Christians, we have a far greater privilege than that which is afforded by our ethnicity, race, family stability, or the level of our education. We have the privilege of knowing and serving the living God! And with that comes greater responsibility than any social privilege might give us.

How do we live out that responsibility? We learn to yield to the Holy Spirit who will enable us to live as Jesus would if he were living our lives. We already know Jesus was confrontive with abusers, kind to children, compassionate toward the weak, patient with his followers, and enlightening to seekers of truth. His was the greatest privilege of all – after all he was the Son of God! He showed us how to live out privilege through humility and self-sacrifice.

The good news is that Christian privilege is available to all, no matter religion, race, gender, or intellect. If we know that, we have a responsibility to spread the word!

” . . . life’s joys are only joys if they can be shared.” – Ravi Zacharias

 

Using Money

“Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” – 1 Timothy 6:18

Whether we have a lot of money or a little, God teaches us how to use it. This is what I think he has in mind for the cash in our pockets:

If we have a family, we’re responsible to take care of them. Children need clothes, food, shelter, education, and healthcare. Elderly parents may need financial support as their savings are depleted. Family is priority in God’s economic plan (1 Timothy 5:8).

Then, we are to be as generous as we are able. God expects us to give money to the church and to his work in the world. But, sometimes the “giving away” goes directly to someone we know who is struggling. We are to be merciful to those in true need if we have the ability to help (Luke 10:36-37). In doing so, we gain friends for God.

There are so many needs, though. How do we know where to start? The Bible says to help other Christians first (Galatians 6:10). They are like extended family to us and their needs take priority over those outside the faith. Then, if we have more, we offer our help to the needy ones God places in our path day by day.

The bottom line: God wants us to use money to build relationships! Sometimes that means taking the kids out for ice cream or going on vacation. Sometimes it means sacrificing for the good of a neighbor in need. Whatever the opportunity, money is a tool to be put to work for eternal good. (Luke 16:9). 

 

“But for money and the need of it, there would not be half the friendship in the world. It is powerful for good if divinely used.” – George MacDonald

Prayer for the Sad

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” – 1 Peter 5:6-7

I have two friends who are struggling with depression. They know God. They pray and they ask friends to pray for them. But still, God seems far away, and the sadness and hopelessness remain. If you are there, too, you are not alone.

David was one of God’s favorite people of all time, yet, he had many problems in his life. There were times when David was depressed and, when he felt that way, he was honest with God:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”
– Psalm 13:1-2a

And he doesn’t give up. He keeps praying and, at the end of the psalm, though things are not better, he expresses trust in God’s love and salvation.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me
.” – Psalm 13:5-6

David was honest with God and he was committed to trusting him – that may be a good pattern to follow when we are depressed, too. In fact, one of my struggling friends sent me a prayer she is praying in her sadness, believing with the best of her ability that God hears and, in his time, will answer. Maybe this is a prayer we all need to pray:

“Lord Jesus, enlighten what is dark in me,

strengthen what is weak in me,

mend what is broken in me,

bind what is bruised in me,

heal what is sick in me, and lastly,

revive whatever peace and love have died in me. Amen.” – Anonymous Author

NOTE: Prayer and Bible reading are our “go-to’s” for sadness, but if you are deeply depressed over a long period of time, you may need to seek professional help. God uses many means to meet our needs and good Christian counselors and doctors are on his team.

Critic or Companion?

For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. – Psalm 103:14

“God’ll get you for that.” That was a supposed-to-be-funny, but semi-serious, retort when I was growing up. I think it was a view of God that many in my generation shared. God was just waiting for us to step out of line. Hard as I might try as a teenager, I knew I stepped across that line too many times. I kept waiting for God’s hammer to fall. 

Do you ever feel that way? That you really can’t measure up to God’s standards, so you might as well quit trying? If that’s your mindset, you may need a new view of God.

Yes, he is holy and wants us to live in ways that honor him, but he knows we are weak and will fail. That’s why he sent Jesus to live the perfect life we cannot live and to die and be raised to pay for all within us that falls short of God’s standard. Does that sound like a God who’s just waiting for us to step out of line so he can zap us? No! It sounds like a loving God who made a way for us to become better over time – not by our own efforts, but by the power of the new life he gives us through Jesus. 

It may be our view of God needs to change to be more consistent with the God Jesus revealed. As we walk with him, he guides and grows us. When he finds something to correct, he always does it lovingly. He is never out to catch us in a fault, but to help us overcome it.  

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. – A. W. Tozer

Someone should be taking notes.

“Whoever belongs to God hears what God says.” – John 8:47a

I was in a meeting once with a consultant who had been brought in to advise on a non-profit organization’s proposed development project. He began his presentation, then looked around the table and said, “If I’m talking, someone should be taking notes.” That seemed arrogant on the part of an engineer, but it’s not at all arrogant when it comes to God.

Sometimes we do hear God speaking to us, don’t we? Usually it’s a thought, a highlighted verse of Scripture, or a nudge to do something we hadn’t planned to do. That’s often how God guides, encourages, and teaches us. As we get to know him better, we learn to recognize those messages.

When God speaks, it’s something to take seriously. For that reason, I like to keep a journal close at hand, so when God says something to me, I can take notes. Recently, for example, I asked him about a situation in my life and his response seemed to be “I will make a way.” It was clearly from God, and I wanted to be sure I’d remember it, so I made a note. That thought has come back to me numerous times since. I do the same with Bible verses or phrases that seem to speak to me on a particular day. Writing these messages down cements them in my memory and also makes them available for revisiting – sometimes years down the road.

God’s word is eternal. What he speaks may be valid for more than one situation. Let’s write his messages down, then read them again and again. When he speaks, we all should be taking notes!

“People are meant to live in an ongoing conversation with God, speaking and being spoken to.” – Dallas Willard

Cloudy Days

Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, extol him who rides on the clouds; rejoice before him—his name is the Lord. – Psalm 68:4

I like sunny days! When the clouds come in, it feels sadder somehow. But that sadness gets a bit lighter when we realize what God says about clouds. Think about it with me:

Clouds were the backdrop for the rainbow he placed in the sky to promise never to destroy the earth again with a flood.

He used a cloud to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt and into the land of promise.

We are asked to imagine God riding on the clouds (Psalm 104:3 and Psalm 68:4). That’s quite a picture, isn’t it?

Finally, we all know rain comes from clouds, and in every place in the world that depends on crops to eat, rain is considered God’s blessing.

One of my favorite statements about clouds is given by the prophet Nahum when he says, “His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet”. (Nahum 1:3b). It’s as if Nahum is saying that when we look at the underside of clouds, we see where God is walking. Stirring up dust. Making his presence known. Somehow, that makes me see clouds in a whole new way – whether they are the clouds in the sky or the clouds that seem to follow me in life. What is God stirring up to get my attention?

This new perspective tells us that clouds represent God’s presence, his comforting cover over us, and his provision for us. Clouds in our lives, whether real or figurative, are designed to draw us to him. Let’s go there!

“God will meet you where you are in order to take you where He wants you to go.” – Tony Evans

Yielding

“Now may the God of peace . . .equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” – Hebrews 13:20-21

Jesus taught what it means to follow him. It means saying “no” to our own ideas and walking with him. Not second guessing his plan.  Not explaining why we prefer our way to his. It means yielding decisions and desires to him. Why? Because he knows what we need better than we do:

  •  We want sunshine every day. God knows the earth needs rain, snow, and even a good lightning storm once in awhile.
  • We want trouble-free lives for our children. God uses troubles to mold them and draw them to him, just as he does with us.
  • We want everyone to like us. God wants obedience, boldness, and holiness over acclaim.
  • We want good health. God wants us to realize our frailty, our dependence on him. Maybe he allows failure in our bodies to help us share in his sufferings.
  • We want everyone to live at peace. He reminds us that he knew his coming to earth would create division, but he came anyway.

Yielding to God is not fatalistic. It’s following as his disciples did: walking with him wherever he led, stopping when he stopped, listening when he taught, and doing what he asked. It’s trusting his understanding and his intentions. Leaning in. Living confidently. Listening for his whispers. Following with anticipation.  His way is better than my way every time!

“In all his acts God orders all things, whether good or evil, for the good of those who know him and seek him and who strive to bring their own freedom under obedience to his divine purpose. “ – Thomas Merton