My House

“To think his thoughts, to choose his will, to love his loves, to judge with his judgments, and thus to know that he is in us, is to be at home.” – George MacDonald

How’s life at your house? I thought it interesting recently to read about the building of the temple in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 1-7). It was beautiful, and it became the place where God chose to show himself to those who would worship him there. In Solomon’s dedicatory prayer, he sees it as a house of confession, worship, prayer – and also of celebration, feasting, and music. Fast forward to the New Testament, where Jesus enters the temple, God’s house, and says, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations” (from Mark 11:17).

Don’t we want that at our houses, too? A place where God shows himself present to instruct, affirm, correct, and lead. A place where we pray and can worship him in the quietness of the morning. A place where God is honored. Then, too, a place of fun, feasts, and, music.

What about your house? Whether it’s cabin-sized or temple-sized, is it a house of prayer? A house of celebration? A house filled with music and joy? Martin Luther said it this way: “The whole world could abound with the services to the Lord . . . – not only in churches but also in the home, kitchen, workshop, field.”

Let’s make our homes places where God is recognized, honored, and worshipped. It can change everything.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:16-17

Come closer.

“A rule I have had for years is: to treat the Lord Jesus Christ as a personal friend. His is not a creed, a mere doctrine, but it is he himself we have.” – D. L. Moody

When God wanted to give Moses the law, he told him to climb a mountain, maybe so he could separate himself from the activity around him and get as close to God as possible while still having his feet planted on earth (Exodus 19:20). On that mountain, he learned God’s ways, received his commandments, and saw his glory.

When Jesus saw a woman who was bent over because of an evil spirit’s influence for eighteen years, he called her to come over to him. He could have healed her from a distance. He could have gone to her himself. But, he stopped walking and invited her to come closer. She did, and she was healed (Luke 13:10-13).

When Jesus went throughout Galilee in his early ministry, he invited people to come to him so they could have rest for their souls (Matthew 11:28).

We see the pattern, don’t we? God does not want to be distant from us. He sent Jesus to bridge that gap and now both the Father and the Son say, in essence, “Come closer. Don’t hide from me. Don’t stand at a distance and call out to me. Just come. Sit at my feet. Listen to my voice. Tell me what you need. Let me love you. I’m waiting for you to move from your place of stress and anxiety and get close enough to me to know me, to trust me, and to receive peace and joy from my hand.”

What are we waiting for?

 “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” – James 4:8a

New

“The people of God are not merely to mark time, waiting for God to step in and set right all that is wrong. Rather, they are to model the new heaven and new earth, and by so doing awaken longings for what God will someday bring to pass.” ~ Philip Yancey

It’s a new year. We have celebrated its coming and have lived a few of its days. How’s it going so far? For me, it feels an awful lot like the old year!

God’s idea of new is different from ours. Read Revelation 21 and you’ll see what I mean. He says, “Behold I am am making all things new.” Not just a new page on the calendar. All things new. And the chapter tells us what he means: a new heaven, a new earth, an entirely new way of living. Amazing, right?

As wonderful as that will be, we don’t have to wait until the end of time to experience God’s idea of new. Those who choose to accept Jesus’ invitation to forgiveness of sins and relationship with him experience a newness that begins right then. Immediate goodbye to the frustration of trying to handle everything alone – including not only life’s challenges but also our guilt, regrets, and fears. Instead we greet a new life where we are guided, accepted, forgiven, and secure forever.

Once we begin to follow Jesus, we live a new and renewed life every day – one filled with anticipation, adventure, God’s presence, and, sometimes, his surprises.

Let’s not settle for a new year when we can have a new life!

“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” – Romans 6:4

For the joy . . .

“You need not cry very loud; he is nearer to us than we think.” – Brother Lawrence

My mind was racing going through all I had to do and all I was worried about. The task in front of me felt heavy, and I was anxious.

“Fix your eyes on Jesus” came into my mind. I mentally saw him carrying his cross, bent in exhaustion and pain. Then I remembered another phrase of the verse he was reminding me of: “For the joy set before him he endured the cross“. It was as if he was saying: “Do what I did. See the joy at the other end. It’s hard and tiring, but keep your eyes on me and on the joy.” The same verse describes Jesus as “the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” He was telling me that he would complete what he had started (from Hebrews 12:2).

But the very next verse (which I looked up later that morning) was the capstone as I thought about my discouragement: “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart”(Hebrews 12:3). The reason to look at Jesus in his suffering? So I will not get tired and discouraged. He is our perfect example.

Don’t you love how the Holy Spirit works? He gave me one small phrase from his word and, when I followed that to the whole text, I had a complete message: Keep your eyes on Jesus. He will show you how it’s done. He will finish his work in you. And you will not be anxious.

Maybe you need to hear that, too, so I am sharing it today.

” . . . learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”. – Matthew 11:29b

Countercultural

“Often a work of God comes with two edges, great joy and great pain, and in that matter-of-fact response Mary embraced both. She was the first person to accept Jesus on His own terms, regardless of the personal cost.”– Philip Yancey

During this Advent season, we think about Jesus coming to this earth to walk among humans in a world that was unsettled at best. What do we learn by observing his sojourn on our planet?

In a world whose leaders were angry at him for doing good, he was angry at sin.

In a world filled with selfishness, he served with kindness.

In a world of competing voices, he spoke confidently and quietly – often to just a few.

In a world of bullies, he was gentle.

In a world of crowds and chaos, he invited his disciples to come away with him to rest.

In a world that demanded retribution, he was forgiving.

In a world that valued silver and gold, he took pleasure in the sparrows.

In a world of hurry, noise, and threats, he said not to be anxious about anything.

In a world of disparity, he advised a man to sell his possessions and give to the poor.

In a world of homes and families, he had no place to lay his head.

Jesus came to show us how to live in an upside-down world. A world that doesn’t know him or his ways. In a world of despair and depression, he challenges us to live with expectancy and hope and, by doing so, our countercultural lives will point others to him. What better time to do that than when we celebrate his birth?

We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14b

Plan C

True faith does not so much attempt to manipulate God to do our will as it does to position us to do his will.” – Philip Yancey

My daughters and I had planned a trip to walk 100 km of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. But that was 2020, Covid loomed, and our plans were put on hold. Late in 2020, one daughter faced a health crisis, and we realized walking 12 to 18 miles a day wouldn’t be possible for her (maybe not for me either!). So we decided that, instead of being pilgrims on the Camino, we would be tourists visiting Barcelona, Valencia, and Seville. Just days before our planned departure, Spain changed its entrance requirements and we had to cancel our plans

We scouted the internet to see what we could sign up for at the last minute and found a great resort in Mexico. We made the trek to spend a week together under the sun and along the sea. It was wonderful! When we came home, I told my husband about the trip: relaxed pace, beautiful surroundings, good food, and great conversations. His response? “It sounds like your Plan C was God’s Plan A.”

Has that ever happened to you? You thought you knew what you wanted, but ran up against obstacle after obstacle. Then God surprised you with a new plan, and you realize his was much better than yours. When we yield ourselves to him, he sometimes has gifts for us we never would have dreamed of on our own. So, even when we’re frustrated, let’s trust him to have the best plan!

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory . . . – Ephesians 3:20-21

Stretching Our Minds

“We are in a time when thinking rightly is more important than ever. The prospering of God’s cause on earth depends upon his people thinking well.” – Dallas Willard

When is the last time you read or watched something that stretched you? That challenged your thinking? Getting out of our comfort zone can be good for us. If we agree with what we read or see, our faith is confirmed. If we disagree, we grow stronger by thinking through the why’s of the beliefs we have.

For example, I’m not Catholic, but I listen to a Catholic radio station. There is much I can learn from my Catholic brothers and sisters. The programming helps me recognize my points of view and, at times, causes me to modify my long-held perspectives.

A couple of years ago my husband read the Koran from cover to cover. He wasn’t thinking about converting to Islam, but he wanted to have a first-hand knowledge of the teachings Muslims believe and follow. His commitment to learning about others’ beliefs opens doors of conversation he hadn’t had before.

Are you stuck in a rut with your thinking? Venture out a bit! Read a book, watch a YouTube video, or follow a blog that comes from a point of view different from yours. Then talk about it with someone else to explore new ideas and see how they fit with your own. If you’re like me, these experiences will drive you to the Bible, our source of truth, and will probably foster new relationships. Our minds are gifts from our Creator are meant to be used for his purposes in this world. He made them stretchable for a reason!

“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

When Discouragement Hits

“Faith sees the invisible, believes the unbelievable, and receives the impossible.” — Corrie ten Boom

I know a lot of people who are discouraged, some even depressed, stressing over financial setbacks, health issues, or relationships. Others have a more general anxiety about the world – political unrest, environmental issues, global conflicts.

Paul’s writings helped me to think more clearly about these things recently.

He begins by warning his spiritual son Timothy that things are going to get difficult, and people are going to continue to behave in sinful, ugly ways (2 Timothy 3:1-5). He then gives Timothy some instruction.

First, he says not to get caught up in the horrible condition of the world around him. Be aware, but not obsessed. Instead, he says Timothy should follow Paul’s example:  You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness . . .” (2 Timothy 3:10). Maybe we all need to look for those who are living God-centered lives in difficult times and follow their examples. They may be people we know personally or authors we read or teachers we listen to. Let’s find people with one foot planted in this world and the other in Scripture and listen to them.

Second, Paul tells Timothy to keep following what he knows to be truth: “. . . continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

Essentially, Paul says, turn your eyes to good role models and your heart to God’s truth. That advice will preserve us from discouragement when times are tough. I’m working on that. You, too?

May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.” – Psalm 25:21

Senses and Savoring

“To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything he has given us — and he has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of his love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from him.” –Thomas Merton

God is the penultimate giver and, as such, he deserves and expects our thanks. Besides, being thankful is good for us. It makes us more positive, more loving, more generous in spirit.

With that in mind, let’s think about just two ways we might learn to make gratitude a natural outflow of our lives:

1. Invite the senses: We can live with more intensity when we consciously engage the senses. It’s like jumping into the lake instead of skimming over it in a sailboat. Jump into your sensory life. Feel the sun on your skin, really taste the food you eat, drink in the beauty of a single bloom. Our bodies need to be part of our experience of God’s gifts. Swim, don’t skim.

2. Savor the moment: Some of us tend to go through life on auto pilot, doing things without even thinking. But taking a little more time (a) to connect with someone, (b) to experience that emotion we are running from, or (c) to pause to ask for God’s insight develops awareness of the moments and not just the passing of the days.

Why are senses and savoring important? They help us become more attuned to the many gifts we are constantly being given. And then, we begin to realize we have Someone to thank. Gratitude naturally flows out of a life lived mindfully. Try it.

“On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate . . . and I will declare your greatness.” – Psalm 145:5-6

What do you admire?

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.” – 1 Peter 3:15a

Recently the devotional I’m reading asked me to think about what I admired most about Jesus. I had never thought of that before, but it didn’t take me long to have an answer to that question.

We could admire Jesus for a lot of things, couldn’t we?

For his compassion toward people of all walks in life.

For his miracles that restored sight, strength, health, and even life.

For his teaching that amazed even the most educated among his listeners.

For his willingness to leave behind everything comfortable and perfect in heaven to come to a dusty, dirty earth to rescue us from sin.

But what I admire most is his relationship to his Father in heaven. He prayed a lot, talking to the other members of the trinitarian God. He listened for God’s direction. He went to his Father when he was tired, or lonely, or unsure of what to do next. He seemed to gain strength and clarity from that relationship and, above all else, he wanted to please the Father, to do his will – no matter what it cost him.

This kind of exercise is not about getting the “right” answer, but it simply challenges us to think about Jesus – to meditate on who he is, what he did, what he taught, and the spiritual life he offers to all mankind. So, if you want to try it, enjoy the journey. We’re always blessed when we’re thinking about Jesus.

Our Father in heaven, reveal who you are. Set the world right. Do what’s best – as above, so below. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the devil. You’re in charge! – Eugene Peterson

God’s Family

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” – 1 John 3:1a

Did you ever wonder why God created humans knowing they would disobey, reject, and hurt him? Wouldn’t it have been better to create a beautiful planet and have all the animals as pets? From our perspective, this might have seemed like a good option.

God isn’t like us, though. He made a fully-informed decision to create people, knowing he would have to redeem them so they would know his love. And that is his ultimate goal: He created humans so he could relate to us and form a great big, loving family.

We are amazingly fortunate if we understand that and enter the family of God. Once there, though, he has some requirements: He asks that we not rebel against him and that we not fight with our brothers and sisters.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? If you grew up in a family, you know there were times you disobeyed your parents, thinking your own way was better. And all of us who had siblings fought with them. But, God says, “no” to both those attitudes. In his family, we must submit to him as our Father, and we must love each other.

Oh, and one more thing: He also asks that we let others know he’s looking to adopt more kids. They can join this amazing family if they simply accept his invitation and come on in. It’s all about his love for us and the love he wants us to have for each other. Don’t miss it!

We become truly personal by loving God and by loving other humans… In its deepest sense, love is the life, the energy, of the Creator in us.” – Kallistos Ware

Need help?

 “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. . . For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Matthew 9:12a and 13b

Author Dane Ortland describes a hypothetical scenario whereby a doctor moves to an area of the world among impoverished villages. He sets up a medical clinic, inviting people to come. Do you know what pleases him most? When sick people show up! Especially the very ill, desperate for his care. If only the healthy came to visit, his efforts would be wasted. He’s doing what he came to do only when the sick come.

Ortland goes on to compare this to Jesus’ ministry. He didn’t come for those who felt spiritually healthy. He came for those who were spiritually sick and knew it. He was accused of hanging out with sinners. Of course that’s what he did! They were why he came. Sometimes he didn’t wait for them to come to him. He went out to find them.

Jesus is back in heaven, but his purpose remains: To seek out those of us who know we’re sinful and to welcome us with open arms. When we come, he cleans us up, sets us on our feet, and loves us into the kingdom of God.

We’ve got it wrong if we think we have to get our act together to be able to approach Jesus. Or if we think what we have done is so bad he could never forgive us. He came for people like us – people who know how much they need a new life, a spiritual bath. Only real sinners can experience his real forgiveness.

. . . for the penitent, his heart of gentle embrace is never outmatched by our sins and foibles and insecurities and doubts and anxieties and failures.” – Dane Ortland

The book cited is Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortland

Jesus: Who is he?

But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” – Matthew 16:15a

What would you think if some some simple person with no social standing, home, or education, stood in front of a crowd and said, “I am the light of the world?” That was Jesus in first-century Jerusalem. Who did he think he was? Light of the world? Really?

To Nicodemus he said, “If I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto me,” and to his disciples, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Why would anyone make these claims?

He said them because he believed he was God incarnate and that his statements were true. If he was not God, then he must have been a delusional narcissist.

There was no narcissism his behavior, though. He interacted with the religious elite and with the lowest sinners. He chose hard-working fishermen and social outcasts to be his closest friends. He healed, he gave his time lovingly even when he was tired. He was patient with his disciples when they didn’t understand or, worse yet, failed him. And he boldly confronted those who abused others.

“Above all, he was unselfish. Nothing is more striking than this. Although believing himself to be divine, . . . he was never pompous. There was no touch of self-importance about Jesus. He was humble.”*

Who do you say he is? An outrageous egotist or God himself? He can’t be both. Your answer to that question matters more than you know.

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.” – C. S. Lewis

*Stott, John R. W. Basic Christianity, pp. 43-44

The Backward Look

“Remember the wondrous works that he has done.” – Psalm 105:5

Many of us try to live in the present moment. After all, the present is the only time we have, right? The only chance we have to make a difference, to experience God’s presence, to interact with those around us.

That is a good mindset, but once in awhile we are wise if we stop to realize that where and who we are in this present moment is the result of many things that have happened along the way.

As I paused today to think back on my own life, I realized how God took me into and out of situations that molded me; how he brought me spiritual friends who encouraged my faith, how he gave me ways to serve him, how he drew me closer to himself. Even in circumstances I didn’t like, he was always faithful, always loving, and always looking out for me.

What about you? Whether you’ve lived a few years or many, take some time and let God show you where he’s been involved even when you didn’t realize it. You may be surprised at what he brings to mind. You have never been alone!

Why look back? So we can thank God for his active participation in our lives. So we can share with others who may be struggling in the day-to-day that there is a long view, a plan that God is working out one day at a time. So our faith can be renewed and our hearts encouraged. It’s worth a backward look.

“If you believe in a God who controls the big things, you have to believe in a God who controls the little things. It is we, of course, to whom things look ‘little’ or ‘big’.” – Elisabeth Elliot

Truth in Context

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John 3:18

When a witness is on the stand and is told to answer only “yes” or “no,” you know you’re not getting the full story, and a yes or no answer could actually be misleading. Truth, to be understood as truth, has to have context. The witness has to be able to tell his story.

There are those who object to Jesus saying “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” But he made that claim after several years of public ministry in which he showed in other ways who he was. For Jesus the concept of “way, truth, and life” included his compassion for those in need, healing those who were lame or sick, teaching about his Father, and moving lovingly toward those who were sinful. For him, saying he was the “way, truth, and life” was a summary of what he had exampled among the people already. The statement was set in the context of his life.

There is a lot of skepticism these days about truth in just about every arena of life. If Christians want to be seen as people of truth in a world gone sideways on the subject, we need to remember Jesus’ model: live it first, then tell it. Intellectual truth is important, but it doesn’t have the impact of truth contextualized in a well-lived life. Live truth.

The people of God are not merely to mark time, waiting for God to step in and set right all that is wrong. Rather, they are to model the new heaven and new earth, and by so doing awaken longings for what God will someday bring to pass.” – Philip Yancey

Did you get it wrong?

“Bless the LORD, O my soul . . . who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.” Psalm 103:2-4

We make decisions early in life that set a trajectory that’s hard to change. You know the kind I mean: Education, career, marriage, home, and kids. Often before we’re 30.

Wanting to get it right, we ask God for direction and then decide. Sometimes we make good decisions and sometimes not. If we realize, often years later, we’ve made some mistakes, is there anything we can do? The Bible gives some insight here:

God had been ruling Israel through judges. The people, though, noticed that other nations had kings, so they wanted a king, too. They persisted and, finally, God relented and gave them a king.

Some time later, Samuel reminded them they had been wrong to ask God for a king. The people seemed to realize Samuel was right, and they acknowledged their bad judgment. But what could they do? They already had the king they’d asked for.

Samuel said: “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart” (1 Samuel 12:20b). He says, essentially, just follow God in your present situation.

Have you ever made a big mistake? Or have you committed a sin you’ve regretted for years? God still says something like this, “Yes, you were wrong, but don’t be afraid. Just follow me, love me, serve me where you are today.”

He is the God of second chances. He still leads, heals wounds, and uses broken people who keep on following him no matter what.

“. . . the things about you that make you cringe most, make him hug hardest.” – Dane Ortland

Photo courtesy of a friend and neighbor. Thanks!

Practice on Humans

“. . . anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (I John 4:20b)

We can’t see God. Or sit across the table with him. Yet we are told that the greatest commandment is to love him and the second is to love our neighbors. I wonder if it has to be in that order.

Praying about loving God one morning, a thought came that I believe was from him: “Practice on humans.”

Maybe it is easier to love someone we can look in the eye, or touch, or hear. And maybe loving humans better will help us love God better, too.

We can start with those who are easy to love – babies and small children. Right? Then other family members, people at work or in the neighborhood. The next step is when God asks us to love someone who is dirty, angry, clingy, selfish, or arrogant. We start with those we can love easily, and then God moves us on to bigger love challenges. When we accept those challenges, allowing God’s love to flow through us, we become better lovers and, as we do, we find our love for God and love for human beings are closely intertwined.

Mother Teresa was ministering to lepers one day when a visiting American businessman saw her put her arms around a sick and very dirty man. Cringing, the American visitor commented to the person with him, “I wouldn’t do that for all the money in the world.”

Overhearing him, Mother Teresa responded, “Neither would I. But I would do it to show him the love of Jesus.” She had mastered the love lessons. Let’s find someone to love today!

“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” – Mother Teresa

The Every Day God

My mouth is filled with your praise and with your glory all the day”. – Psalm 71:8

As I’m writing this, it’s Sunday morning. God’s day. Going to church on Sunday is good! But, it’s even better to make every day, all day God’s day. I don’t mean we should sit, pray, and read our Bibles all day. God wants us to live our actual lives – family, work, play – all of it.

But, what if, while we were living our daily lives, we invited God to be with us? What if we acknowledged his presence by talking to him – as we drive to work, shop for groceries, or relate to others?

“Spiritual people are . . . those who draw their life from a conversational relationship with God” (Dallas Willard). When we have an ongoing conversation with God, he enlivens us, energizes us, gives us true life. We become aware of what pleases him, are a little bolder in sharing our thoughts about him, and find our hearts softening toward those around us. Then, little by little joy creeps in. When I talk to God more, I smile more, too!

What can you talk to him about? Here are a few ideas from Psalm 71:

Tell him when you don’t feel safe: “Be to me a rock of refuge to which I can continually come.” (v. 3a)

Praise him for who he is: “My praise is continually of you.” (v. 6b)

Talk to him about your dreams: “I will hope continually.” (v. 14a)

Thank him for something he did for you: “My tongue will talk of your righteous help all day long.” (v. 24a)

The more we talk to him, the more natural it feels. Life gets a new dimension – God’s perspective, direction, companionship. Amazing, really!

“Prayer is talking with God about what we are doing together.” – Dallas Willard

Just love him.

“Direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only.” – 1 Samuel 7:3

If you have made a commitment to follow God, you know you don’t do it perfectly, right? He doesn’t talk out loud to us. His Book can be hard to understand. We pray and believe, but sometimes we don’t know if he hears. We want to love others as ourselves, but know we don’t do that as well as we should.

When I was getting discouraged about these things recently, God placed this question in my mind: “Where is your heart?” That was easy to answer. My heart is with God. I love him. I want to serve him. You know what I then “heard” in my head? “That’s all I need.” Really? All I have to do is direct my heart toward him and he’s happy with that? Yes. Because if he has my heart, he can work with me, steer me, grow me, use me.

Where is your heart?” has become an encouraging question for me. Answering that a few times a day might be helpful for you, too. If our hearts are directed with sincerity toward God, we will find ourselves making decisions (time use, possessions, spending, sharing) based on our knowledge that we really do love God. That reassurance helps to guide our choices. We have to focus on only one thing – where is my heart? Our actions will follow as naturally as water flows toward the sea.

“Let a man set his heart only on doing the will of God and he is instantly free. If we understand our first and sole duty to consist of loving God supremely and loving everyone, even our enemies, for God’s dear sake, then we can enjoy spiritual tranquility under every circumstance.” – A. W. Tozer

Breaking Promises

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. ” – Hebrews 10:22

Did you ever make a promise and later regret it? We probably all have. We are people of our word and, no matter what, we’re determined to keep a promise we’ve made. But, should we?

Most of the time we should. But, the Bible teaches that, if keeping a promise leads to sin, it’s better to break the promise than to do something harmful or wrong. David’s an example of this when he vows to his 600 fighting men that they will wipe out the household of Nabal because Nabal refused to provide food for David’s men. David is on his way to do that when Nabal’s wife, Abigail, meets him, brings food, and talks him out of his foolish promise. David relents and then acknowledges that her intervention kept him from sinning (1 Samuel 25).

Herod should have been willing to go back on his promise when he told Herodias’ daughter she could have whatever she wanted, and she asked for John the Baptist’s head. Herod was too proud to go back on his word, and John was unjustly and immediately beheaded.

If keeping our word will have consequences that are harmful, sinful, or just plain unwise, it’s better to break that promise than to keep it (Leviticus 5:4-6). We will have to give explanations, apologies, and even restitution if we have hurt someone by backing away, but that’s better than doing the wrong thing.

We should not make promises lightly, but we should never keep a promise that leads to sin or harm. Speak carefully, correct thoughtfully, live wisely, and God will be glorified.

“Never do what’s wrong! Do nothing until it’s right. Then do it with all your might.” – Chuck Swindoll

What I Can’t Do for Myself

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,” – 2 Corinthians 3:5

If God loves us, has all the resources in the world at his disposal, and is almighty, we should be living lives of ease, right? Just ask and he will deliver what we need. Kind of like Amazon.

Yet, we know it doesn’t work that way. God invites us to tell him our needs, but he often asks us to participate in answering our own prayers and sometimes even our prayers for others. If we’re sick, we pray for healing, but we also see a doctor, take the medicine, and get rest. If we’re in financial need, we ask God for direction and help, but we also work with diligence and spend with discretion. And if we pray for a friend in need, we might also lend a hand.

God enables us, partners with us, and blesses our efforts. He knows that is better for us than simply giving us everything we ask for. Maybe our prayer should be more like this:

“Dear Lord, please do for me what I cannot do for myself.”

When we pray that way, we begin to realize there are some critically important things only God can do. Only he can direct our paths, protect us from the evil one, forgive our sins, and give rest to our souls. Every one of these things is foundational to our physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being and, try as we might, we cannot do them for ourselves.

Sometimes, though, when he thinks it best for us, he steps in to heal, provide, or give special wisdom. Only he knows when and how to intervene. That’s why we trust him.

“Our quitting point is God’s beginning point.” – Woodrow Kroll

Just a Glimpse

Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight . . .Please show me your glory.” (Moses to God in Exodus 33:13 and 18)

There sure are a lot of problems in our world. Every now and then I try to think of ways to solve them. Last week I hit upon a solution – something that would take care of a lot of the these issues in a moment’s time. So I prayed all that day, off and on as I went about my activities, that God would just give a glimpse of himself to everyone in this world. Just a peek at who he is – some revelation of his glory, power, justice, majesty, awesomeness. That’s all it would take, I thought, to set things right.

But, his answer to that day-long, murmuring prayer came to me in my Bible reading the next morning, “You do not know what you are asking” (from Mark 10:38). Of course he was right. I have no idea what it would mean for God’s glory to be revealed to the whole world. Maybe it would set everything right. Maybe it would create a chaos I cannot fathom. I had to acknowledge that sometimes my prayers are wise and sometimes foolish. Maybe I should resist giving God advice and accept that he has a plan I don’t understand.

Something inside me still wants a glimpse of him for myself – even if not for the whole world. The more I know of him, the more I want of him. And I know I’m not the only one. You, too?

“The deepest longing of the human heart is to know and enjoy the glory of God. We were made for this.” ~ John Piper

Scars

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” – Romans 5:3-4

If you walk among the aspens, you’ll notice their scarred trunks. Many of the roundish blemishes are from branches that have fallen off, a natural part of the tree’s growth. Others, though, are more rugged. These irregularly shaped scars are usually the result of elk having chewed on the bark. Over time the wounds heal, but the scars remain as a testament of survival.

We all have scars. They are evidence of our past, and they make us unique. Our scars usually result from trauma – physical or emotional. For some it was abuse or neglect in childhood. Others of us carry scars from broken relationships, losses, accidents, illnesses, or threats. Many older people, looking back on their lives, acknowledge the pains they have endured, and still end up saying, “I wouldn’t change anything.” Why? Because they know they wouldn’t be the people they became over time without the events that sometimes wounded them.

We don’t have to be ashamed of our scars. They record our histories, they give evidence of our ability to survive, to heal. And they allow us to connect with those who recognize those scars as theirs, too.

Jesus was raised from the dead after a brutal crucifixion. He could have had any resurrection body he wanted, but he chose to keep his scars. They verified his identity to doubting disciples, and they still give evidence of his triumphant sacrifice for humankind.

Every scar we have represents pain that, by God’s grace, made us stronger, better, more like Christ. He didn’t hide his scars. We shouldn’t either.

Suffering is arguably God’s choicest tool in shaping the character of Christ in us. – Joni Eareckson Tada

Paradise Lost?

 “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 23:43

I walked along a familiar road when I came upon this new sign telling me Paradise Drive was off limits. I had taken that shortcut many times before, but was no longer welcome.

Then I read the small print: HOA Residents, Guests, and Deliveries Only. Apparently there is a way in. Because I have nothing to deliver, my only hope is to be invited by a resident. I guess I’ll have to make some new friends!

You probably know where I’m going with this. We all want to get to Paradise someday, don’t we? Or Heaven as we more often call it. We shouldn’t be surprised to find that Heaven has restrictions for entry, too. But there’s hope! We already have Someone in residence there who wants us to come in. In fact, here’s what Jesus said to his disciples on the night he was arrested: “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2b-3).

Then, just a few hours later, from the cross, Jesus tells the repentant thief that they would be together in Paradise that very day. It seems that the way in is to accept an invitation from Jesus to join him there. So, this sign notwithstanding, I know my way to Paradise. I am the guest of the one who is preparing a place for me.

He issues that invitation to you, too. Say “yes” to Jesus and follow him home!

God is going to be as pleased to have you with Him in heaven as you will be to be there with Him.”
– A. W. Tozer

Obstacles

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9b

Do you feel like you’ve been stopped in your tracks? You’ve been on a path you thought God was directing, and now there’s a roadblock you hadn’t anticipated. What do you do? Turn around? Give up? Or push on?

In the first chapter of the book of Judges, we read about the Israelites moving into the land God had promised them. With God’s help, they took over village after village, then came to one area where the people had iron chariots and they gave up. Didn’t even try.

If the Red Sea and the walls of Jericho were not obstacles too big for God, would he be intimidated by iron chariots? Of course not! But the people didn’t see that, so they stopped. As the history continues, we find the people with iron chariots were the very ones who led God’s people into worship of idols. Stopping short of the goal God has placed in front of us leaves us in danger.

What obstacle do you face right now? Difficult relationship? Job or career struggles? Sickness? Financial setback? If we are walking with God and, to the best of our ability, following his will, there is no obstacle too big for him. None!

So, let’s not quit before we complete what God has called us to do. We need to rely on him for strength and push through the challenge in front of us – whatever it is.

“We need to remind ourselves that God can change things. Outlook determines outcome. If we see only the problems, we will be defeated; but if we see the possibilities in the problems, we can have victory.” – Warren Wiersbe

The Family Name

“I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters”, says the Lord Almighty. – 2 Corinthians 6:18

Parents who adopt look for a child they think will fit into their family – someone they can love, nurture, and provide for. Once they find the child, they can’t wait to welcome him into their home.

God is building a family, too! His first adoption was the Jewish people. Here’s what he said to them, “. . . the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth (Deuteronomy 14:2). Scripture often refers to Israel as God’s son.

God wasn’t done yet. Now, he we hear about other peoples of the world – those who are not Jews: “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:4b-5).

We are not born into God’s family with our physical birth. We have to be adopted in. The good news, though, is that anyone who wants to be in God’s family can be. He’s still in the adoption business.

Being adopted means our name changes. As we read above, we are brought into God’s family through Jesus Christ and, thus, we take the name Christian. It’s up to us now to carry that name with dignity, to bring honor to the family of God, to look to God as Father, and to follow Jesus as an older brother.

In all that, we never, never forget that God saw us, loved us, and chose to adopt us as his own. With that, we should wake up every morning smiling!

By God’s mercy, wretched paupers are made royal heirs together with Christ. By God’s mercy, wayward sinners are embraced as righteous sons.” – Jan Verbruggen

Forgetful?

“But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. . .” -1 Corinthians 2:7

Poor Jeremiah! He is trying hard to get the attention of the people of Israel to tell them their worship of idols is going to bring God’s judgment. They won’t listen. They seem to have forgotten even the most basic of God’s commands. Here’s how Jeremiah sums it up, “. . . they have rejected the Word of the Lord, so what wisdom is in them?” (Jeremiah 8:9b). It’s a blunt way of saying that, without God’s Word, humans are not as smart at they think they are.

Fast forward a few centuries to Jesus’ conversation with the Sadducees. They ask him a question about the afterlife and Jesus, after hearing their theory, says, “You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29b). He, like Jeremiah, is saying that since they didn’t really know the Scriptures, even though they made a show of their presumed knowledge, they were getting things wrong.

Sometimes we forget our limitations in understanding and knowledge. We make plans assuming we have it all figured out. Then we hit a roadblock we hadn’t anticipated. That’s when the Holy Spirit reminds us (maybe as bluntly as Jeremiah and Jesus did) that we need him and his revealed Word to know the path we should take. Without an ever-growing understanding of the Bible, we’ll keep making mistakes, coming up against the impossible, and working in the dark.

We need to constantly go back to the Book. As one author says, “I need to keep opening my Bible and reading stories about how he operates. I’m a forgetful person.”*

Me, too.

“Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.” – Charles Spurgeon

*Brant Hanson

Bold Prayers


Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16

Do you pray wimpy prayers? Sometimes we all do. Prayers that are routine – people we want God to bless, safety for our children, good weather – you know the kind I mean. Not that these prayers are unimportant, but if that’s all we pray about, we’re missing something!

At least 1/3 of the psalms in the Bible are classified as laments. The writers are crying out to God asking him to wake up, to act, to strike enemies, to remember his people. These psalms are raw, honest, and bold. And God responds – in his own way and time.

So, what do you want to ask for? Do you need God’s comfort? Ask him. Or his forgiveness? He’s just waiting for you to ask. Who do you want God to chase after like the hound of heaven? Do you want to tell him about your frustration about unanswered prayers? Or talk to him about what’s making you sad or angry? Go ahead. Be confident. Pray as you’ve never dared pray before.

When we do that, we find out something: Praying boldly energizes us, fills us with strength. Confident prayers inspire faith, causing us to be on the lookout for answers we hadn’t had the courage to look for before. Bold prayers remind us that God is the only reliable source of our rescue or provision.

So what are we waiting for? Let’s start praying in a whole new way – with confidence and boldness. God wants to hear the honest cries of our hearts.

“He already cares about the things we pray about . . . He has simply been waiting for us to care about them with him.” – Philip Yancey

Lost?

“He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.” – Psalm 145:19

We all wander away sometime. We don’t intentionally turn our backs on God, we just stop paying attention to him. We get distracted and, eventually we stop following where he leads.

When a sheep does that, he gets lost. And a lost sheep has no way to find his way back home. So he usually finds a bush or a rock to lie against and he waits to be found. In the meantime, the shepherd has returned from the fields to the sheepfold for the night and, in his counting, realizes that one of his sheep is missing. By now, though, it’s dark and that little sheep will be hard to find. But, the shepherd lights a lamp, ventures out, and begins the search, calling as he goes.

At this point in the dark of night, the sheep will never be found unless he participates in his own rescue. His job is to hear the shepherd’s voice and then respond with a bleat – as loud as he can and consistently over time until the shepherd can follow the cry and bring back the wanderer who, by now, is cold, hungry, and afraid.

Are you feeling lost today? Far away from God? Having no way of knowing how to find your way back to him? He’s reaching out for you already, but he waits for you to participate in your own rescue. How do you do that? You call out to him. You pray. You wait for him to hear your cry for help. He will come. He will rescue you and carry you home.

“Human beings do not readily admit desperation. When they do, the kingdom of heaven draws near.” – Phillip Yancey

Note: Lost sheep concept taken from the book The Good Shepherd by Kenneth E. Bailey

Making a Difference

“. . . (The Lord) who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
 who satisfies you with good
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
– Psalm 103:4-5

Life can be frustrating, discouraging. Sometimes we feel like we are trying our best, but not making a difference at all. We find ourselves asking if what we are doing today will matter in the long run.

Don’t give up. God works in ways we cannot see – at least not yet! I read recently about the life of David Brainerd, missionary to American Indians in the 1700’s. He kept a journal, so we have a window on his private thoughts. He was often discouraged. He was alone and lonely. He was sick (diagnosed with consumption). And his ministry was not very successful. But, even when he was depressed, he kept going. He prayed – sometimes for a whole day at a time. He fasted. He read and re-read his Bible.

And, listen in to the cry of his heart: “Lord, let me make a difference for you that is utterly disproportionate to who I am.” God answered that prayer. Though he had few converts and died at the age of 29 after only a four-year ministry, his devotion to God during tough times has inspired countless others to gives their lives to God in service as ministers and missionaries.

So, even when we are discouraged, we don’t quit. God is working something in us and through us that we don’t understand. Let’s pray, as Brainerd did, that God would use us to make a difference that is disproportionate to who we are!

” . . . God can and does use weak, sick, discouraged, beat-down, lonely, struggling saints who cry to him day and night to accomplish amazing things for his glory.” – John Piper

Following and Trusting

“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” – Job 23:10

I was hiking with friends in the Rocky Mountains recently when we came to a narrow part of the trail. I looked to my left and realized there wasn’t much room between me and a long drop to the creek below. My heart raced and I slowed my pace. Beth, walking behind me, asked if I was afraid, and I admitted I was. She understood and asked Bonnie, another friend, to walk in front of me. Bonnie got around me and then walked a slow and steady pace, knowing I needed to be able to follow. It was much easier getting through the tough part of the trail when I was watching her feet instead of the drop-off beside me.

I learned two things that day. First, I have some great friends. They saw I was in trouble and, one behind and one in front, helped me through. When we struggle with a hard part of life’s path, we need friends like these two!

Second, I needed someone to trust. I knew my friends had hiked this trail before, so I had confidence in them. When I took my mind off the scary edge next to me, focusing on Bonnie instead, I calmed down and made it to the wider part of the path.

Do you know the person I trust the most? Even more than my friends? Jesus. I’m trying to learn to follow his sandaled feet whenever I’m afraid. He always leads me to a safer place. He’ll do that for you, too!

“Self-denial . . . means no longer seeing oneself, only him who is going ahead, no longer seeing the way which is too difficult for us. Self-denial says only: he is going ahead; hold fast to him.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Don’t give up!

 “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you . . .” Psalm 63:1a

We are all working toward something. We have goals and dreams. Is God on your wish list? I heard a teacher say recently that we need to take God off any list. He stands alone as the one and only priority in our lives. When we make him that, he will become a part of and will invade every other aspiration we have. He’s not something to do. He’s someone to pursue.

We need to be patient in that pursuit because It takes time to get to know God. Don’t give up, though. He gives this promise, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13). It’s not that he’s hiding. It’s that he’s so great and beyond our understanding that he has to reveal who he is a little at a time. But his promise stands. If our hearts are right, we will find him. We will get to know him. We will find ourselves in his presence – a place of security, love, joy, and purpose. It’s a promise!

When we get discouraged with the process, we should remember that the Magi watched and studied the sky for years looking for the cosmological sign that would announce the coming of the Messiah. Then, one day, a star appeared. And, when it did, they followed it until they found Jesus, God in human form. So we keep looking, searching, desiring to find him, to know him, no matter how long it takes. We will never stop wanting more of him.

“Let all our employment be to know God: The more one knows him, the more one desires to know him.” ~ Brother Lawrence

Nothing More, Nothing Less

“Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life”
– Psalm 23:6a

What do you want God to do for you? Or give you? The biblical David, who grew up tending sheep, understood the role of the shepherd – it was to provide for and protect the sheep. Reflecting on his life, he wrote Psalm 23 in which he expresses trust in God, the Shepherd who’s been with him through life’s journey and has done all the things a good shepherd should do. In fact, if all he had was the Shepherd himself, that would be enough. This Shepherd would give him what he needs and what he wants him to have – nothing more, nothing less.

Do we have enough trust in God to say, as David did, “The Lord is my Shepherd. I lack nothing.“? That whatever he provides is enough? That just being with this Shepherd is enough?

Listen to God’s whisper:

Am I enough even if I don’t answer your prayers?

If I don’t heal your child?

If I allow you to be sick or in pain?

If your bank account dwindles?

If you lose your job?

I am your Shepherd, your Father, your God. Am I enough?

If we trust in his goodness, his power, and his love for us, he will be enough. We can go through any difficulty, face any threat, go without any material thing, suffer any pain, or experience any loss. Knowing the Shepherd is with us, we realize he will give us everything we need – nothing more, nothing less. And it will be enough.

“You have given all to me.

To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours.

Do with it what you will.

Give me only your love and your grace,

And that is enough for me.”

from Pray-As-You-Go devotional

Do you want God’s favor?

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us . . .– Psalm 90:17a

Do you know that you’re one of God’s favorite kids? It’s true! He loves each of us as if we were the only person in the world.

I think I hear some of you asking, “If God loves me so much, why is my life so hard?” It’s a fair question.

First, know we cannot earn God’s favor, and there is no mantra or magic that will manipulate God into blessing us. But there are some specific things he requires of those who want to experience “favored child” status.

It has to do with the way we live.

“. . . the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11b). There are many statements in the Bible that tell us God blesses those who are righteous. They love him, love other people, live wisely, and try to do his will. When we live God’s way, his presence and provision will bless us – even when (maybe especially when) there are problems we face.

It has to do with the way we think.

“. . . to the humble he gives favor” -(Proverbs 3:34b). It takes humility to admit we can’t do anything on our own – that we depend on God for everything – including his favor. Those who are most humble are most blessed.

We can’t coerce God into blessing us. But right living and right thinking will position us to look for it. To ask for it. And to receive it with thanksgiving. We stand in desperate need of God’s favor. Let’s live his way in readiness to receive.

 “My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” – Brennan Manning

Only What’s Important

Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” – Ephesians 4:29b (NLT)

I have a friend who mentors, teaches, and engages easily in spiritual conversation. After one of those discussions, she followed up with this text which she later shared with me “….I treasure most the conversation we had. I love talking about what’s going on inside of us as we search for meaning for our lives–using the gifts, talents and resources we have been blessed with to help and love on others. I’m at the stage in life where I want to talk only about things that are important.”

I read that and thought of all the lesser conversations I have each day. Then I began to think about what kinds of communication I would describe as important. Here what I came up with:

Relationships: Our conversations should build each other up, encourage, and empathize. This is the kind of talking and listening that shows love and wisdom and draws people together in friendship and community.

Ideas: Let’s skip right over talking about people, things, and events and get to ideas. Great ideas can challenge lazy thinking, steer our futures, and make us better humans.

The eternal: There is perhaps nothing that matters more than talking about knowing God, understanding the Bible, planning our lives for 100 years from now, and walking in harmony with others on our spiritual journey.

Are we stuck talking about the mundane instead of building relationships, entertaining new or old ideas, and connecting with the eternal life of the unseen spiritual world? It may be time to get “unstuck” and start engaging in more of the conversations that matter!

“The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man’s observation, not overturning it.” – Edward Bulswer-Lytton

God Connections

“Blessed are the people . . . who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face,
who exult in your name all the day. . .”
– Psalm 89:15-16a

Would you like God to be gracious to you? To lead you? To teach you truth? If we love him, we want that, right? The Bible is filled with verses that tell us the path to these blessings is for us to keep God in the front of our thoughts all the time. Here are just two examples:

“Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” Psalm 25:5

“You keep covenant with your servants and show them grace, provided they live in your presence with all their heart.” (1 Kings 8:23b)

So how can we live our busy lives and still constantly connect with God? Sometimes our minds have to be otherwise engaged, so I try to take advantage of times when when I’m walking or doing things like cleaning, driving, or preparing meals. For those of you who garden, it’s a perfect time for conversations with your Creator.

When we keep him in our thoughts with intention at these times, we will find the Holy Spirit within us carries on the connection even when our minds are doing something else. Then when we finish our conversation with someone or put the project down, the Spirit gently draws us back into awareness of God’s presence. We can trust him to do that.

A unique blessing comes to us when we sense God’s nearness all day long.

We have the ability and the responsibility to keep God present in our minds, and those who do so will make steady progress toward him for he will respond by making himself known to us.” – Dallas Willard

Jumbled thoughts?

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” – Isaiah 26:3

A few years ago, I took our grandson to a petting farm where he could see and touch all kinds of animals. We stopped at the enclosure where baby chickens were chirping excitedly and running around the pen – into and over each other. My grandson said, “I wish they would stand still so I count them.” Even though they were really cute, the chaos was unsettling. But there was no way to control them!

Later I heard God whisper that my thoughts were a lot like those chaotic chicks – noisily bouncing here and there, out of control, without direction, without peace. And, they were. I acknowledged that to be true and then realized he was reminding me that I should put my mind on him alone. I should calmly and confidently look to him and then my thoughts would follow – in a nice, quiet, straight line – just they way I like them.

I understood the problem better when I read this from Paul: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunningyour thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).

There is a tempter who wants to create chaos in my thoughts by leading me away from pure devotion to Christ. God, on the other hand, directs me to stay focused on Jesus, promising that peace will follow. We know which of those two we want to listen to, don’t we? As we begin to know Jesus, we realize that he knows the path we need to take. Following him is the only way to peaceful thoughts!

“That which claims the most thorough part of our hearts, minds, and time both reflects and shapes our lives.” – Jill Carinini

Perspective

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” – Romans 14:13

I’m reading a book that talks a lot about perspective: How we think we remember things correctly, when often we don’t. How we think we are paying attention when we’re not. How we see ourselves as better, smarter, more careful, more skillful, kinder, more moral than others. I think the author was describing you, but not me, right?

Let’s face it: We all have a way of rationalizing our point of view and marginalizing the opinions of others. Maybe we would be wise, in this world of extremes, to understand that sometimes we are wrong. Sometimes we don’t see things clearly. Or, if we are honest, sometimes we’re strongly opinionated about something that doesn’t really matter.

Don’t get me wrong: We should never compromise on clear biblical teaching on any subject. We should never compromise our morality or character as described in the Bible and as generally considered “orthodox” (right teaching) by the church through the centuries.

But, on things that are not so clear, we may need to take a step back and try to see the perspective of the other side. Paul gives first century examples of eating meat, celebration of feast days, etc. that were causing contention then. Today it might be something far more political in overtone. But let’s realize that it’s not dangerous to try to see another viewpoint. We don’t have to change our minds. But trying to understand what others are thinking and honestly evaluating what is worth fighting for are important steps toward living a life of love.

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” – Augustine of Hippo

Sacred Imagination

“Oh, how I love your law!  I meditate on it all day long.” – Psalm 119:97

Do you sometimes feel there’s more your could get out of reading the Bible, but you just don’t know how? Many have realized through the centuries there are gifts of understanding God wants to give us that we won’t get by reading and study alone. Let me share what may be, for you, a new way of engaging with God through his Word. All you need is some quiet time and your imagination.

We can engage our imaginations by mentally placing ourselves in a biblical story. Recently I read the story of the woman anointing Jesus’ feet while he was dining at a Pharisee’s house (Luke 7:36-50). Then I decided to relive the story in my imagination. I saw myself in the place of this unnamed woman. She had a tarnished reputation, but she loved Jesus a lot. I imagined what she must have been feeling as the men around the table watched her anoint Jesus’ feet with her tears, knowing many of them were judging her. As I walked through the story in my mind with emotions fully engaged, I began to feel the weight of guilt she must have felt about her past and then the lightness of joy of hearing Jesus say, “Your sins are forgiven. . . Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” 

Want to try it? Next time you read a biblical narrative, enter into it, imagining the surroundings, the other people, the smells and sounds, and sensing your own response as the story unfolds. Imagination is a gift from God. If we let him, he can use it to teach and transform us.

Human imagination is not simply our means of reaching out to God, but God’s means of manifesting himself to us.” – Christian Wiman

Twinning

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. ” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Twinning. It’s a concept born in the mind of Mother Teresa, the famous little Albanian nun who gave her life to helping people with the severest of needs. Over time, several thousand nuns were called by God to work with her. One of her most often repeated sayings was that they could do nothing without prayer.

So, when a friend of hers wanted to join the work, but was sidelined by physical limitations, Mother Teresa asked her to found an organization made up of others like herself who couldn’t go, but could pray. They called it The Sick and Suffering Co-Workers. Each person from Sick and Suffering was assigned to one of Mother Teresa’s missionaries, and the two became “twins”. When one suffered, the other did, too. When one was on the front lines for God, the other was, too – through their prayer connection.

They prayed for one another daily. They wrote to each other at least twice a year. One twin was homebound and had the time and heart to pray. The other was busily working humbly and daily with the needy and dying, relying on the prayers of her twin.

Do you have a “twin”? A person who prays for you every day? Who suffers when you do and celebrates when you do? Who connects now and then by text, phone, or email? Who will take your call no matter what? I do. For several years now, God has used each of us to do through prayer what neither of us could do without it. Maybe we all need a spiritual twin!

A true friend is the greatest of all blessings.” – Francois de La Rochefoucauld

We are what we read.

I will delight in your statutes;
   I will not forget your word.
– Psalm 119:16

Did you ever notice that, if you’re reading a good book, your mind returns to it as you go about your day? You want to know what happens next. You think about ideas the author plants in your mind. A good book affects us.

The same thing happens when we read the Bible with open minds. With purpose, With understanding.

We don’t read the Bible to make us feel good. It might not.

We don’t read it because we are ‘supposed to’. Though the discipline of reading the Bible even when we don’t feel like it is a good one.

We read it to find what it reveals about God and his plan for this earth, for us. 

We sometimes approach the Bible intellectually evaluating whether we think it is true,

deciding whether or not we will accept its directives or explain them away,

judging whether it is outdated or applicable,

concluding whether it is meeting our needs or not.

Or we expect it will give us information or direction or that it will provide inspiration or comfort. 

Maybe the best way is to approach the Bible with curiosity. What does it say? What does it reveal about God? Or the universe? Or relationships? Or success? Or wisdom?

Read humbly,

without judgment,

anticipating that it will have something to say to us personally,

willing to accept whatever message it gives,

willing to submit to its commands,

to claim its promises, and

to absorb its words until it changes us from the inside out.

               

“In our reading of this book we come to realize that what we need is not primarily informational, telling us things about God and ourselves, but formational, shaping us into our true being.” – Eugene Peterson

What do you really want?

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” – Luke 6:45

A business man once told me that people make decisions based on emotions, not reasoning. If they want something badly enough, they will find a way to justify the decision and will think they are acting rationally. So I began to watch in the business world as people made choices that seemed to be because the numbers added up, but as I listened to what they said, it often became obvious that the decision was made mostly because they wanted to. Some even acknowledged that to be the case.

If we understand that our wants are going to steer our decision making, we realize we can’t reason our way into being better people. Emotions are stronger than logic almost every time. So what do we do if we know we need to change our behavior? We acknowledge that, since we will do what we want, what we want must change. And, as spiritual mentors have long taught, we change what we want by consistently practicing some simple, do-able things.

Liturgical readings and prayers, Scripture passages, creeds, or hymns sincerely repeated become powerful forces to mold our desires. Consistent, repetitive acts of worship, even using someone else’s words, invite God to reach into our hearts and tune them to loving the best things. Add Bible reading, prayer, and communion with other believers, and we find that, over time, these holy habits change us. God’s desires become our desires. We will do what we want to do and it will be good!

“A mistaken thought may be corrected easily, but an errant affection is nearly unmanageable.” – Watchman Nee

Loving the Lamb

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” – John 1:29

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday, the crowds saw him as the one they believed would be their conquering king. So they excitedly waved palm branches and offered praise.

Jesus knew differently, though, He was entering Jerusalem, not as a conqueror, but as a sacrificial lamb. In fact, this was the day, four days before Passover, that all observant Jews would select the lamb they would sacrifice in the temple for the sins of their family. Until Passover, the lamb would live in their home. You can imagine emotional connections that would occur as the family cared for the little lamb, knowing he would soon die for them.

This year was different, though. Jesus himself was the Lamb, already selected by the Father in heaven, to be the one to die for the sins of the world. From Palm Sunday through Thursday this Lamb spent time in Jerusalem. He taught, cleansed the temple, confronted the religious leaders, and served and loved his disciples. For those days the people in Jerusalem had the final sacrificial Lamb living among them, and they didn’t know it. A few, though, shared an amazing Passover supper with him as he explained that the very meal they were eating was symbolic of his broken body and his blood which would be shed for the forgiveness of sins. Once. For all. Forever.

In these few days before Easter Sunday, let’s be aware of the Lamb in our midst. Talk to him, show him we love him, thank him for dying and living again so we, too, can truly live.

We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” – Pope John Paul II

Sorry!

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” – Psalm 90:12

I learned a lot playing Sorry! with my daughter, 11-year-old grandson, and 13-year-old granddaughter recently. Have you ever played the game? You draw a card, do what it says, and try to get all four of your pieces from Start to Home before the other players do. Because of the Sorry! function, you can knock another player’s piece back to Start, so the lead in the game changes many times before it’s over. Here’s what I learned in playing this game:

Play to win. You have to be willing to make the choice that will best help you reach your goal. That works in life, too. We can get sidetracked with the peripheral things and lose our perspective. Stay focused!

Study the board before you decide your move. We want to make good decisions. Thinking about options is part of that process. If we don’t look at the ramifications of our choices, we could make ourselves vulnerable to attack and defeat.

There are setbacks for every player. The nature of the game means there are times when we get knocked back to start. It’s OK. We can pout or get mad or we can shrug our shoulders and cheerfully start over again. It’s our attitude that counts.

The people around the table are more important than the moves on the board. We laughed, we asked for mercy, we tried again, and we rooted for each other. In the end, all the pieces went back in the box, both winners and losers went on with life, and the fun was the part we remember the most.

“The workshop of character is everyday life. The uneventful or commonplace hour is where the battle is won or lost.” – Anonymous

Be good news!

“Let all that you do be done in love.” – 1 Corinthians 16:14

I recently was reading a book by Richard Foster and came across this statement, “We cannot preach the good news and be the bad news.” I had to think about that. Have I ever been a “bad news” Christian? Judgmental, critical, dissatisfied, unaccepting, arrogant, stingy, or uncompassionate? Yeah. Probably. Sometimes.

I think you will agree there’s a lot of bad news in the world today. It’s easy to find it and to react to it. But, if we have a relationship with the eternal God and his Son who is the redeemer and ruler of this world, that bad news should not make us into bad news Christians. Of all the people in the world, Christians should be able to rise above the rhetoric of the day and be the most gentle, wise, loving, stable, compassionate, honest, confident, humble, and generous people on the planet.

Jesus commissioned his followers to share the news of his life, death, and resurrection and of his promise of new and eternal life to all who would believe and follow him. We are told to go into all the world to share this message and to invite people everywhere into relationship with the God of creation. That’s the best news anyone could hear. Few will listen, though, if we’re reflecting more of the bad news in our world than the good news Jesus told us to share.

We all want the same things, don’t we? To be loved, listened to, understood, and accepted. And that’s what Jesus did for the people around him. Maybe to share the good news, we first have to be the good news, just as he was.

“To love someone means to see him as God intended him.” ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky

Shh. He’s working.

“The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” – Habakkuk 2:20

Our twenty-something grandson had come to visit us in Colorado, planning to take hikes and summit mountains. But an unseasonable snowfall kept him indoors for a few days instead. He broke out his canvas and paints and began to create a landscape while glancing out our front window.

I looked over his shoulder, wanting to tell him that the open field he just put in was really over a bit further, wondering about the colors he chose, and really getting concerned about all the wild brushstrokes that were not taking any shape at all. But I said nothing. Over the next couple of days a beautiful landscape emerged. It was related to the view out our window, but it also incorporated other scenes from his memory. It had its own artful color scheme, and all those wild brushstrokes emerged amazingly as mountains. It wasn’t what I envisioned. It was so much better! And I was really glad I had resisted the urge to try to get him to do it my way.

Then I remembered the verse that asks us to be silent before God. Wait! I thought we were supposed to talk to him always, tell him our needs, plead for others, ask him to intervene in our lives. Yes, that’s true. But sometimes we don’t understand the picture he’s painting. When that happens, we watch and wait without interference. The picture that emerges may not be anything like we expected, but it will be God’s own idea, and it will be beautiful. Sometimes we just have to be still and let him work.

I hear a voice in the silences, and become increasingly aware that it is the voice of God”. – David Brainerd

Note: I thought you might want to see the results of our artist’s efforts. The painting is titled “Magnificent Vista” and is shown above.

A Good Life

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10b

How are you doing with living what Jesus calls an abundant life?

A life not focused on trivialities, but on substance.

A life with purpose that goes beyond what we can see.

A life of gratefulness for the pleasures we can enjoy, the beauties we can see, and the people we can love.

A life in which we truthfully can say something like, “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing else I need.”

Pastor and writer John Piper talks about living with “. . . the awakening of heart capacities to soar with beauties, and the mysteries of creation and redemption, and with the revelation of God’s nature and God’s ways in Scripture.” A heart that soars – that sounds like abundant living, doesn’t it?

Notice that abundance does not mean lots of stuff, money, thrills, or entertainment. It’s a deeper level richness – abundance of the heart, of relationships, of eternal values, of appreciation. It’s a learned skill to rise above the earthly to the spiritual, but it’s so worth the effort.

Here’s a prayer that might help us get a bit closer to the abundant life we all want:

Lord teach me to play, to have fun, to enjoy this life with you at my side. Teach me to be courageous, to try new things, to risk failure. Give me the imagination to find new paths, make new friends, travel to new places, to stretch and grow and love and learn and dream. Teach me how to skip happily through life in love with you, enjoying your presence with me always.

“The transformation of the self away from a life of fear and insufficiency takes place as we fix our minds upon God as he truly is.”” – Dallas Willar

The Test Question

” . . . whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” – John 3:37b

There is a really scary verse in the Bible.

It’s the one where Jesus says that on the day of judgment many will come telling about all the things they did in his name, “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me . . .” (from Matthew 7:23). Doesn’t that scare you even just a little bit? It did me recently and I wrestled with it off and on all night.

What if I only think I’m a Christian and am deceiving myself? What if I’m doing good things for all the wrong reasons? How would I know? These people thought they were “in”, but they were wrong. Am I wrong, too?

I believe God sent me a message during that night. He said something like this: I am not trying to trick you. Take me at my word when I say, ‘whoever comes to me won’t be cast out’. That was enough to let me sleep, but in my morning prayer time, there was more.

God had a test question for me and this was it: “Would you rather live in a mansion without me or live in a prison and have me come to visit everyday?”

I didn’t even have to think about my answer. I would rather be in prison with Jesus than anywhere else without him. I knew then that I belonged to him.

How would you answer that question?

If you can answer as I did, you know you are his, and that scary verse is no longer a threat. If you can’t, please talk to Jesus now, receive his forgiveness, and commit your life to following him – no matter what. He is enough!

“To know God’s love is, indeed, heaven on earth.” – J. I. Packer

Why do I pray?

And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” – Isaiah 6:3

Though I can’t see you, Lord, I know you are with me.

I pray because I believe you listen to me.

You love me.

You want what’s best for me.

You’re always working behind the scenes of my life.

You’re powerful enough to do whatever pleases you.

You will someday make all things right.

I pray because talking to you helps me order my tangled thoughts.

I pray not just hoping you will answer, but because I know I will be heard.

I pray because there is more to this life than what I can see. My prayers help me access the unseen life where everything is ordered, justice prevails, no one dies, and you rule. Prayer is my connection to that world and that connection makes everything in this world more bearable, more hopeful, less frightening.

I thank you when my prayers break out into worship. When it finally dawns on me that I’m talking to the one who created me and the entire universe around me. I am talking to the one who is holy, powerful, present everywhere, knowing everything, and living in unapproachable light. Yet I dare to enter your light because you have invited me to come. I stand amazed that I can be in your presence at all. Amazed at you.

You respond always in love, grace, and mercy. You bring me peace and fill me with hope. You create in me a clean heart, a renewed mind, and a desire to leave this place of prayer to serve you and my fellow travelers with joy. I am so thankful. Amen.

That’s why I pray.

“Prayer is keeping company with God.” – Philip Yancey