What’s on your card?

“It is impossible for that man to despair who remembers that his Helper is omnipotent.” Jeremy Taylor

I have a former colleague who’s caring for his father who suffers from dementia. He describes a recent morning this way:

“I woke up at 4:30 this morning to find Dad already dressed, with his winter coat and gloves on, just standing in the kitchen, staring off into space. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me that he was ‘ready to go.’ I asked him where, but he had no idea. I told him he didn’t need to be anyplace for another five hours.

“He was clearly distraught, confused, and tense. I got him into his easy chair, gave him a bright green, 3×5 note card and told him to hold onto it. On it, I wrote, ‘Relax, everything is fine,’ then signed my name. He read it, and I watched him smile as the tension melted away, but he still held onto that card. Dad trusts that I’m watching out for him. 

“As I pondered this, now unable to go back to sleep myself, I thought of God’s note to me, ‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10). What a loving Father! God’s got this!”

Do you trust that God is watching out for you? That he gives you messages to hold in your heart to reassure you when you get anxious or distraught? What message do you need to hear today? Ask God to give you a verse for this time in your life, then write it on a 3×5 card and carry it with you. Let his words melt your tension away.

Here’s mine:

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.
– 2 Timothy 1:7

Assumptions

“None knows the weight of another’s burden.” – George Herbert

There is so much to learn from the biblical book of Job! What I’m thinking about today is all the assumptions Job’s friends made about him. They thought he was proud, dishonest, uncompassionate, and hiding some terrible sin. They kept telling him if he’d just repent, God would stop punishing him and everything would be OK. The problem is Job can’t think of anything he’s done wrong. And what he doesn’t know is that God agrees with him. God, in talking to Satan, describes Job as totally “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8b).

So what do we learn from Job’s friends? Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t give the easy answer. If you do, you most likely will be wrong! I can’t help thinking about times when I’ve done just that. I see a mom struggling with a defiant child (needs some parenting skills) or a person who is overweight (lack of self-control) or underweight (psychological problems). Or I know of someone always short on money (bad financial decisions) or who loudly spouts his own opinions (arrogant): Negative judgments based on outward appearances and nothing more. What we don’t know is that the child has special needs, the heavy person and the thin one have significant health problems, the money is being spent to care for an elderly parent, or the loudmouth is insecure. Until we know, maybe we should withhold judgment. Why?

Because once we open ourselves to empathetic understanding, our negative view often melts away and we are able to respond with God’s wisdom and love. That kind of attitude will take down barriers and create bridges. Maybe then we can actually help!

“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” – John 7:24

 

 

 

 

Pray for me.

” . . . far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.”

(1 Samuel 12:23a)

Last week, I had a friend ask me to pray for a specific thing to happen in her life. I did. When she called me a few days later, letting me know that our prayers had been answered, I was just as happy as she was and we both gave our thanks to God for his intervention.

I’ve wondered why we ask people to pray for us. Do we think if we have enough voices storming heaven on our behalf, God will be convinced to answer our prayers? I don’t think it really works that way. I believe even one prayer has enough power to move the hand of God. So, then, why do we ask for help in our prayers?

I think the reason is identified for us by Paul when said, On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:10b-11). Paul certainly would have had God’s listening ear if he had prayed for himself. But here he says he had asked other Christians to pray for him, so they could all thank God when the answer came. The goal is more than accomplishing something for ourselves. It is giving glory to God. And when many pray, many give him praise. 

We all have needs. Let’s ask one person, maybe more,  to pray for us, so we can all give thanks to God for his answers!

No man can do me a truer kindness in this world than to pray for me.” – Charles Spurgeon

In the Desert?

“Where there is sorrow there is holy ground. Some day people will realize what that means. They will know nothing of life till they do.” – Oscar Wilde

Nobody signs up for suffering, but it happens to us all: sickness, tragedy, loss, and pain. The hardest of all is the struggle that just keeps hanging on and day after day we feel alone in a hot, dry desert.

If you are there, be encouraged! God uses desert time to make us strong, to help us learn dependence on him, and, often, to prepare us for something he wants us to do. Think about Moses who spent years there tending sheep before God called him to lead his people out of slavery. The Israelites spent four decades in the desert learning to trust God alone to meet their needs. Jesus was in the desert for forty days of fasting and prayer before beginning his public ministry. His wilderness time included direct confrontations with Satan. The desert can be a difficult and dangerous place!

Desert experiences tend to strip away the trappings of life so we can see what is truly essential. It is then that God can reach down, touch our souls, and feed us with food that will satisfy: Manna, refreshment for the spirit, just enough until we are healthy and strong and ready to be led out of the wilds into a more abundant life.

The desert truly is holy ground. If you are suffering today, be as open as you can to God and his Spirit within you. Over time, his healing touch will come.

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever. –
Psalm 30:11-12

From Generation to Generation

“However many blessings we expect from God, his infinite liberality will always exceed our wishes and our thoughts.” – John Calvin

On a recent trip to a South Asian country, my hustand and I attended worship services in a language we couldn’t understand. What we did understand, though, was the loving hearts of parents who brought us their children, asking that we pray for them. They trusted our prayers would be heard and their children would be blessed.

When Jesus was here on earth, there were mothers and fathers who brought their young ones to him for the same reason. If you are a parent, you understand. Who would not want his/her child to be blessed by God?

I remember, years ago now, sitting in the rocking chair, soothing my babies to sleep and praying over their fuzzy heads that God would bless them. I’m sure many of you have done the same. You know what? We can still bring our children to Jesus for blessing even if they’re not babies anymore

One of my favorite signs of God’s blessing was on his own Son – no longer a child, but all grown up. Can you imagine the joy in Jesus’ heart when he heard from heaven, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased”? As a young man, Jesus was experiencing his father’s blessing because he was was making him proud.

God doesn’t stop blessing us just because we’re grown up. We’re still his kids! So, let’s not stop asking for God to bless our children. And let’s ask him to bless us, too. We never outgrow our need for his goodness toward us.






“Give thanks to him and bless his name! For the Lord is good, his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” – Psalm 100:4b-5

Give me your life.

“It’s not those in prison for the sake of the gospel who suffer. The person who suffers is he who never experiences God’s intimate presence.” – Brother Yun

When God commands us to have no other gods before him, it doesn’t mean he wants to be highest on our list of priorities. It means he wants to be our only priority. He doesn’t force himself on us, though. Instead, he waits for us to decide whether or not to make him our one-and-only God, the Lord of our lives.

It’s risky business to make him our Lord because sometimes he asks big things of us. Christians throughout history have been persecuted for their faith, some have been imprisoned or even martyred. Others have been marginalized in their jobs or ridiculed by neighbors. Many of us don’t ever experience that kind of persecution, but the question is the same: Is God first in our lives? Would he still be first even if it cost us everything to serve him? Or are there still some lesser “gods” that interfere with our total devotion to him? 

Maybe our home? Family? Health? Reputation? Or even more obscure things like exercise, favorite foods, hobbies, or activities. As we examine our hearts, let’s ask God to show us if anything might be in the way of our total commitment to him.

Making God first doesn’t necessarily mean we will suffer, but it means we will be willing to. Willing to sacrifice everything for him if that’s what he calls us to do. But in return, we gain his favor, direction, and intimate presence. God asks that we not live our life and make him part of it, but that we give him our life and let him lead it. 




“I am the Lord your God.” – Ezekiel 19:20a

How’s it going?

“Help me to live awake.” Macrina Wiederkehr

How many times have you had this pseudo-conversation?

“How’s it going?”

“Great, thanks.”

Really? Are you sure it’s great? We tend to go through life without really thinking about how it’s going, don’t we? We move from one task to the next, one conversation (digital or personal) to the next, just hoping we’ll get everything done so we can get to bed at a reasonable hour and rise to do it all again tomorrow.

Maybe there’s a better way. What if we took a few minutes at the end of each day to think about the conversations, encounters, actions, reactions, joys, and sorrows of the day? Then we could move on to confessing as sin any thing we did, said, or thought, that didn’t please God. Finally, we could pick one specific thing from the day for which to thank him.

If we practice this, even on occasion, we’ll begin to learn something about ourselves and how we are using our hours and days. There may be some patterns of life we need to change. There may be relationships we need to be less invested in and others we should nurture. There may be an awareness of God leading us in a new direction in our work or our service to him.

The point is to pay attention to our lives. We don’t often have time to do that during the rush of the day. But, before we close our eyes in sleep, maybe a few minutes of reflection would enrich us and give God a chance to take us deeper into him. Let’s really know how it’s going!


. . . walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God”. – Colossians 1:10

Trusting?

The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped. – Psalm 28:7a

I want to learn to trust God more and that becomes easier when I think about the many good reasons to believe he is trustworthy:

He loves me.
He’s powerful, and able to help.
His character doesn’t change.
His purposes don’t change.
He keeps his promises.
His past blessings in my life make me believe he will keep blessing me.

If all that is true, there is no reason not to trust him. Maybe what I need to do is to put that trust in to practice. If I do that, maybe I would . . .

. . . be comfortable not being in control of every situation.

. . . stand back sometimes while others make decisions without my input.

. . . be more confident and less fearful in new situations.

. . . enjoy each day for what it is, including both challenges and blessings.

. . . see life as an adventure, knowing God has a good and perfect plan he will unfold one step at a time. 

. . . be OK with not having all my “why’s” answered, believing God has reasons I don’t know of and which he may not be ready to reveal to me.

. . . live to please God alone, knowing that, in doing so, I won’t always please others. And I have found God is quite easily pleased because he sees me through eyes of love.

Are you ready to trust God more, too? Think about what he has done for you so far in your life and then let him know you are trusting him with the rest of it. He will never let you down!


Faith is a reasoning trust, a trust which reckons thoughtfully and confidently upon the trustworthiness of God.     
John R. Stott

You have to ask.

“The Lord waits to be gracious to you . . . He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as He hears it, He answers you.” – Isaiah 38:18a and19b

God offers grace – his intervention on our behalf as a free, unearned gift. Don’t we all want that? 

Naaman, Syrian military officer, (1 Kings 5) came to Elijah because he had heard Elijah could heal him of his leprosy. He was willing to ask.

Elijah tells Naaman to wash seven times in the Jordan River and he would be well. The proud soldier objected. There were much better rivers in his hometown – why wash in the dirty Jordan? 

His aides talked some sense into him: Elijah is not asking much, they say, why not try it? Naaman reluctantly made his way to the Jordan River and dipped in it seven times. Not surprisingly, he came out cured of his disease.

Experiencing God’s grace in our lives seems to require two things: Recognizing our need and being willing to ask. Some of us have a hard time asking for help, but God wants us to ask. 

If we are proud, as Naaman was, we can find it hard to receive what God offers as a free, unearned gift. We’d rather not need God and his grace quite so much. But that is God’s way: Ask and receive. We don’t earn it. We can’t pay for it. We just receive.

What may be keeping God from showing us his grace? Maybe he’s waiting to hear our cry, to acknowledge our desperation for him.  

“The best place any Christian can ever be in is to be totally destitute and totally dependent upon God, and know it.”- Alan Redpath

#God’sgrace 

 

 

Get ready!

If you were coming to my house for dinner, I’d clean my house, have good food cooking, and shake out the welcome mat. I’d want everything to be ready when you rang my doorbell.

Maybe those were some of the desires John the Baptist had when he began his public preaching. What was his message? Jesus is coming, clear the way. Get ready. Prepare for him. He wasn’t talking about cooking food or cleaning house. He was talking about spiritual preparation – getting ready to meet Jesus face-to-face.

Too often we have a casual attitude about God. We rush into his presence, present our list of needs, then leave wondering if we were even heard. Maybe we need some of the heart preparation John was talking about. He told the people to prepare the way for God’s Son by cleaning up their lives, by being honest and grace-filled in their relationships, and by not putting themselves first, but giving others preference. (Luke 3:10-14). 

Does your spiriual life need a boost? Do you want Jesus to come to you in a new  and fresh way? Are you ready for him to respond to your prayers? God’s Word tells us how: Prepare the way by humbly confessing sin and living in ways that please him. We may need to examine our attitudes, priorities, relationships, thoughts, and actions to see if there’s any rubble we need to get out of the way so the path is cleared for Jesus to relate to us in his fullness. And he will. 

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight . . . and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (from Luke 3:4-6)


“Certainly all virtues are very dear to God, but humility pleases Him above all the others, and it seems that He can refuse it nothing.” 
― Francis de Sales

#humility #holy living

You don’t need me?

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth.” – Acts 17:24

There’s a scene from the TV series West Wing in which the US discovers a nuclear explosion in another country. The president meets with the ambassador from that country and is told that it was not nuclear, it was an oil refinery fire. Not true. He gives the littany of evidence of their lack of security, training, and expertise in to be able to handle nuclear weapons and he offers to help. The ambassador says, “We don’t need your help.” The President leaves the room in anger, knowing she’s lying and, in not accepting expert help, is putting the world at risk.

Then I read the prophets of the Old Testament and realize the one thing that seems to make God leave the room in anger is when his people think they don’t need him. “We’ve got it covered, Lord.” And by covered, they mean they are hiding their messes, sweeping the dirt under the rug, putting false fronts on the disasters lurking, and hoping someone (other than God, of course) will step in to save the day.

The messes in our world are big. The messes in many of our lives are big, too. It may be time we admit we’re not doing a very good job of managing things ourselves. Maybe it’s time to turn to God and say, “I need you! I’ve needed you all along, but have been trying to do it on my own. Now look at this mess. Can you, would you, please help me?”

The believing man does not claim to understand. He falls to his knees and whispers, “God.” – A. W. Tozer

#trusting God

Longings and Sighs

“He satisifies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” – Psalm 107:9

Do you realize we sometimes vocalize feelings without using words? There are times we sigh and those sighs hint at something deep within us. Do you know who can read those sighs? God can. Look at this:

“O Lord, all my longing is before you. My sighing is not hidden from you.” – Psalm 38:9

Do you want to know the longings buried deep in your soul? Simply turn to the One who can tell you why you sigh. The best part? Once he shows you your true desires, he helps you meet them. Life becomes more focused, more fulfilling, and far less frantic.

It’s OK to sigh, OK to have longings, and more than OK to tell God about them all. He responds to cries of our heart we didn’t even know were there. Pretty amazing, right?

When I asked God to show me my deepest longings, I realized there was one more compelling than any of the others: The longing to know him and sense his presense. All other sighs are reduced to faint whispers when I am with God.

Maybe today would be a good day to sit with our Father in Heaven and talk to him about desires of your heart. Let him reveal the ones you may not know you have – the ones that reflect the true you. Then invite him to lead you on the journey to having your deepest longings fulfilled.

“The soul must long for God in order to be set aflame by God’s love; but if the soul cannot yet feel the longing, then it must long for the longing. To long for the longing is also from God.” – Meister Eckhart

Do you know why Jesus came?


“. . . to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” – John 1:12

If I had lived when Jesus was here and if I knew he was God, I think I would have been afraid. If God is holy and all-knowing, he must surely be angry at humans. But no! The good news is he came to do away with sin, not us! His disciple John explains it this way: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8b).

John also tells us Jesus came, not to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17).  He knew the world was a mess and we humans are a mess, but he put the blame exactly where it belongs: on Satan! He came to free his children from Satan’s grasp, to invite us into relationship with himself, and to make us better people. He came to reveal the irrational love of the Father for all his children trapped in a world of evil. He came to love us, not to hurt us.

Every human since has had to decide how to respond.  At some point, we’ll be accountable for the choice we made: Did we choose to allow him to free us from sin’s stranglehold, or did we choose to continue on a hopeless path without him? We’re not responsible to untangle ourselves from all the trouble sin brings, but we are responsible for the choice we make about Jesus and his invitation to be his.

I hope you choose Jesus this Christmas. And if you already know him, choose to know him better!

“The loving mission of our Lord Jesus Christ was not to condemn but to forgive and reclaim.”A. W. Tozer

Republished from December 2017 blog.

#Jesus #Christmas

As a little child . . .

“. . . whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” – Luke 18:17

I’ve noticed a new word in our culture’s vocabulary lately: adulting.  Seems to be used when someone makes the choice to do the responsible thing even when he’d rather not.

Adulting is important. We can’t remain infantile all our lives. But Jesus tells us that in some ways we must be childlike – no adulting when it comes to the kingdom of God! Instead, he says, we should come as little children.

What does it mean to come to Jesus as a little child?

We seek his blessing. There is a scene in the gospels when parents are bringing their children to Jesus to ask him to bless them. What parent does not want God’s blessing for their child? I still pray he will bless my kids and they’re all grown up! Coming as a little child means desiring his blessing.

We listen to him. I imagine the children in Jesus day were fascinated by his stories about lost coins, people, farmers, and sheep. Maybe our coming to God as little children today means hearing those stories with open ears and ready hearts.

We stay close. The biblical scene in view is Jesus holding children on his lap. Don’t you think they loved his affection? We do, too. He wants us to come as trusting children, staying close enough so he can touch us.

At Christmas, we remember Jesus came to our world as a little child, ready to do his Father’s will.  Then he turns the tables and invites us to do the same to enter his kingdom. God’s kingdom is one place where we all need to be children!

“Advent, like childhood, reminds us that we are in need of someone to hold us.” – Jill Carattini

 

Carattini quote is from Slice of Infinity blog, December 5, 2018

#Christmas #Kingdom of God

I know the artist.

We just bought pottery from our favorite potter – a baking dish with his distinctive markings and an oil lamp to light our home. The works of his hands are beautiful, but they are even more special to us because we know the man who made them.

I have two paintings on the walls of my house that my daughter produced in her growing-up years. They are beautiful themes creatively presented, and I love them all the more because I know and love the artist.

I look outside my window and see expanses of sky with varieties of clouds touching mountain tops all around me. I see the stream running by and notice the morning birds beginning to perch in the trees. The natural beauty that surrounds me is all the more precious because I know the Creator. And he knows me!

Someone once said, “God didn’t create the world and then say to mankind, ‘Don’t mess it up!'” Instead, he may have said something more like, “Here’s my world. Make it home. Plant flowers, grow food, care for the animals, build places to live and work. And don’t forget to take walks, swim in the lakes, have picnics, stare at the stars, and talk to me all the while you are doing these things. The more you know and love me, the more you will love what I have created. It’s ours to enjoy together!”

“Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name.
You are amazing, God.
All powerful, untameable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing, God
“* 

The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.
– Psalm 145:9

– From Indescribable by Chris Tomlin

#creation #worship

What more could he have done?

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” – 1 John 3:16a

Do you ever wonder of God really loves you? If you do, take a few minutes to think about the cross. Jesus, God in a human body, nailed to the cross, bruised, broken, bleeding. He hadn’t done anything wrong! He was tried in two courts and found innocent. Even his enemies couldn’t pin any crime on him. He could have been living in powerful luxury in Heaven, yet he subjected himself to human decisions and ultimate cruelty. And all for one reason: Because he loves us – you and me.

Author Brennan Manning tells the story of his friend Ray who fought with him on the frontlines of war. As they sat talking in a foxhole one evening, a grenade dropped in beside them. Ray looked at Brennan, smiled, and threw himself on the grenade, saving Brennan’s life, but losing his own. Years later when Brennan visited Ray’s mother, he asked if she thought Ray really loved him. Her emotional response, “What more could he have done for you?”*

Self-sacrifice is the greatest evidence of love there is. Jesus sacrificed more than we can ever imagine. And all for one reason: He loves us and wants us to be in an intimate relationship with him, now and forever. There’s no need to wonder if he loves you. What more could he have done? Maybe we just need to believe he meant it!

“It was not nails that held Jesus to that wretched cross; it was his unqualified resolution, out of love for his Father, to do his Father’s will—and it was his love for sinners like me.”
― D.A. Carson

*Story told in The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith

#Jesus

#sacrifice

Looking for Christmas gifts?

Books are always a sure-to-please gift in our household. Here are a few I have written that you may like for yourself or others:

The GodSense Journey: Exploring Sacred Pathways (April 2016): A year-long interactive devotional covering subjects such as intimacy with God, fruit of the Spirit, spiritual gifts, and relationships. Includes teaching, Bible study, prayers, and personal application. Click here to preview: 

The Bible for Skeptics (June 2017 – Second Edition) An invitation to conversation about the authenticity of the Bible and its revelation of God and His plan for those of us who live on this planet. Click here:

The GodSense Devotional (2004): A year-long devotional study of God’s Word, requiring interaction, meditation, and prayer. Click here to preview:

http://www.amazon.com/GodSense-Devotional-Beverly-Van-Kampen/dp/0972419667/ref=la_B001JOTW1E_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1433859238&sr=1-2

 

The Bible Study Teachers’ Guide (2006): A helpful resource for those who lead small-group Bible studies at home, church, or the marketplace. Click here to preview:

https://www.amazon.com/Bible-Study-Teachers-Guide/dp/1932902635/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1543848641&sr=1-2&keywords=beverly+van+kampen+books

 

Who sees?

” . . .this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” – Isaiah 66:2b

My husband and I spent time in the presence of a man recently who impressed us. He doesn’t seem to think much about himself, only about others and how he can help them. He serves people tirelessly, whatever their need, but especially, of late, those who have been devasted by a natural disaster. He teaches from his experience, gently and quietly sharing what God has taught him. And, if he were to read this post, he’d think I was talking about someone else.

We all know people who are not like this man. Instead, they want to be the center of attention. They’re the authority on a particular topic and want everyone to know, always seeking an audience for their latest views. They like receiving accolades for their kindnesses and being recognized whenever they attend a public event.

It’s easy to see the difference, isn’t it? God sees it, too, and speaks of it this way:

“Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:4

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” – 1 Peter 3:8

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” – 1 Peter 5:5b

Next time you serve, or show kindness, or do good for someone in need, and no one notices, be OK with that. God knows what you do, what you say, and what is in your heart. Acting for his eyes only should be our goal. He sees!

“What is most precious in the sight of God is often least noticed by men.” – Robert Chapman

#humility #serving

Thankful, but there’s more!

“Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.” – Psalm 111:2

I think we should move our thankfulness up a notch this year – from being thankful to being delighted. Delight means to take pleasure in, appreciate, relish, enjoy, savor, and bask in. Doesn’t that sound like a lot more fun than just being thankful? It is!

Puppies and small children are the best at being intrigued by everything they see. Delight just seems to come naturally to them! But those of us who’ve lived awhile may have to rediscover that art. How?

Mostly by paying attention, just noticing. By not so quickly moving past the truly wonderful all around us. And if we are going to delight ourselves in the Lord as the psalmist writes, then we should give the most attention to the things God has made, done, and said.

So, here’s the list of things I am going to take time to notice, particularly in this season of thanks:

• Creation
• People
• God’s Word
• His involvement in my life

God seems always to be looking for special ways to please us – in bugs, stars, rivers, flowers, mountains, and seas. In children and friends and feisty old people. In the Bible which still gives old messages with fresh insight. In food, clothing, warm blankets – blessings beyond measure. Let’s not miss any of it! The Giver is delighted when we are!

“Those who are ‘beloved of the Lord’ must be the most happy and joyful people to be found anywhere upon the face of the earth.”  – Charles Spurgeon

The Voice

“God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding.” – Job 37:5

Someday, we’ll hear Jesus’ voice with our ears and not just our inner selves. When we do, I think it will be unlike any we’ve ever heard, it will be God’s voice in a human body – one we will want to listen to forever!

  • It was his creative voice that said, “Let there be light” and the worlds came into being (Genesis 1:3; John 1:3).
  • It is his majestic voice that thunders over the waters (Psalm 29:3).
  • It is his gentle voice that says,  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (John 11:28).
  • It was his authoritative voice that brought Lazarus alive from the grave (John 11:43).
  • It is his redemptive voice that says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 22:34).

As Henry Blackaby has said, “A word from Jesus changed everything!” And it still does. It will be Jesus’ voice that will someday welcome me into his eternal presence. I hope you have that amazing anticipation, too!

Presently, Jesus’ voice is internal to us, quiet messages in our hearts and through his Word. Let’s not miss what he is saying, because his voice inside us is more than a message, it’s an invitation to relationship – day-by-day, hour-by-hour, forever. So, with open ears and hearts, let’s keep listening!

“Specifically, in our attempts to understand how God speaks to us and guides us we must, above all, hold on to the fact that learning how to hear God is to be sought only as a part of a certain kind of life, a life of loving fellowship with the King and his other subjects within the kingdom of the heavens.” – Dallas Willard

#hearinggodsvoice

Fighting Giants

“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:4

One of the intriguing things about the biblical David is that we see him from a young man fighting Goliath all the way to his old-age death decades later. We see how his walk with God began and how its earthly version ended.

As the years go by, I’m interested in how people transition from one stage of life to another. David is a real example for those of us who are in Act III of life. We are told of a war with the Philistines when David was confronted in battle by a descendent of giants. His men rescued him from certain death, but told him he could no longer go to the battle front. They would take it from here. In the very next verses, we are told that in subsequent battles, when David stayed home, these soldiers killed three more giants who were attacking God’s people. David was known for his greatness in defending Israel, his strength in battle. But no more. He had come to a point when it was someone else’s turn to kill the giants (2 Sam 21:15-22).

There comes a time in our lives when we step back from the front lines and pass the responsibility to the next generation. God has plans for them, too. Plans for using them to pick up where we leave off. Plans to use us as teachers, encouragers, cheerleaders – but from the sidelines. Sometimes we just have to get out of the way and let them do it!

“Ideal teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross, then having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create bridges of their own.” – Nikos Kazantzakis 

 

#leadership

 

Hope

“Through the dark and stormy night

Faith beholds a feeble light

Up the blackness streaking.

Knowing God’s own time is best

In patient hope I rest 

For the full day breaking.” – John Greenleaf Whittier

I have been distressed lately because I have been looking at all the problems that exist, that could exist, or that may be on the horizon or trajectory of my life or the life of someone I love.

Hope doesn’t do that. Hope looks at all the amazing and wonderful things God will do in the middle of the problems and the waiting. When we are sad, discouraged, or even in despair, we have a God who is bigger than our circumstance and is ready to fill us with hope.

Someone I knew had completely given up on his marriage. He was sure it was beyond repair, but, because his wife pressured him, he agreed to go to a counselor. I was very surprised when he continued, week after week, to go back to talk about his marriage with this therapist. Later, when the relationship was in the process of healing, I asked him how that happened. His answer was something like this: “From the very first session, the counselor painted a picture of possibililties. I had lost hope, but she knew how to give it back to me. When you have hope, you can do most anything.” 

Do you need the energizing power of hope? Maybe a prayer I’m learning to pray will help you, too:

Lord, may I trust you with my impossible situations – the things I despair over. Take my sadness away and fill me with joy and peace. And, Holy Spirit, may I overflow with hope by your great power.”

Now, let’s wait  – peacefully, faithfully, alive with hope! 

#hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” – Romans 15:13

A Holy Place

“I am the Lord; for they shall not be put to shame who wait for, look for, hope for, and expect me.” – Isaiah 49:23b

Do you have a holy place? A place where God seems close? It might be as simple as a familiar chair where you pray every morning or as complex as driving to a church or chapel for an intimate time with him. Wherever it is, do you spend a lot of time hanging out there?

If so, you will understand Joshua. He wasn’t content with a faith delivered through someone else. He wanted to know God personally. So, when Moses went into the tent to meet with God, Joshua waited outside. Then, after Moses went back to the camp, Joshua stayed at the tent, wanting more time in the holy place.

This contrasts with the rest of the people who were afraid of God and asked Moses to represent them and bring messages back so they didn’t have to risk being too close to the all-powerful one. Joshua wanted first-hand experience –  he wanted to know God for himself – even if it was risky (Exodus 33:7-11).

We can know God for ourselves, too! The key may be hanging out a little more often and for longer periods of time in the holy place. The place where he is near and has shown himself in the past. He longs to connect to us. We just need to be ready to receive him.

Lord, I want to be like Joshua – staying in your presence so I can be there when you have something to show me or something to say to me. I don’t want to miss you!

“God will lead you, almost without your knowing it, if you will be faithful to come before him quietly.” – Francois Fenelon

 

#prayer

 

Warm-ups for Prayer

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” – Colossians 4:2

I tend to greet God in pretty much the same way every morning and it’s a pattern I picked up from a revered Bible teacher. It involves saying “good morning” to each person of the Trinity, pausing to worship the Triune God, then asking for his mercy. The opening words are often the same, but the worship or follow up prayer time changes from day to day.

Why do I do this? Because when I begin my quiet time, I may not feel very spiritual or even ready to pray. My routine opening prayer becomes a catalyst for more conversational prayers to follow.

Here’s another example: We’ve taken what is commonly known as The Lord’s Prayer and often use that in a way that can be mechanical or rote, but if we slow down and think about what we are praying, phrase by phrase, it’s powerful. And the very familiarity of the prayer often opens our hearts to deeper, more personal prayers.

Another way to stimulate heart-felt prayers is to use a psalm or other portion of Scripture and pray about each phrase or sentence as you read. In Scripture we read about God and his purposes. Praying those understandings back to him sometimes opens a fountain of thought about people or situations in our lives we need to pray about.

I think we all sometimes need to calm, direct, and warm our hearts and minds for prayer. A routine reading, prayer, or pattern can do that for us. God enters our lives when we find a way to open the door to him.

“Prayer is not only asking, but an attitude of mind which produces the atmosphere in which asking is perfectly natural.” — Oswald Chambers

#prayer

Don’t live afraid.

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

There is so much to be afraid of these days. On a personal level, we’re afraid of traffic accidents, sickness – especially the life-threatening kind, criminal activity, storms, environmental contamination, and even the future.

And those are just the physical issues. We also have emotional fears of things like rejection, job loss, criticism, finances, and broken relationships. The problem is that living in fear overshadows our walk with God.

Safety and security are fundamental human needs. When we feel unsafe, we cannot be the productive, happy, fulfilled people God intends for us to be. So, he, as our all-powerful heavenly Father, offers to protect us, to shield from attack, and to make sure we have a safe place in which to know and serve him.

We just have to believe that and stay close to God, described in Scripture as our Rock, our Fortress, our Protector. If we rest in his presence, we might hear him whisper something like this:

“I am with you on every mountain trail and on every city street. I am with you on every drive in the car or flight on an airplane. Nothing can happen to you that is not my will unless you run away from me. Stay close and you won’t live afraid!”

Do you hear that? Don’t live afraid anymore! Believe God is with you and thank him. Talk to him all the time in every circumstance. Tell him you trust him and let him lead. Then, you can be free. You don’t have to live afraid anymore!

“I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” – Thomas Merton

On Praying Out Loud

“I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and He will hear me.” – Psalm 77:1 (ESV)

Most of us pray silent prayers in our minds, and I know God hears those prayers. Heart/mind prayers are a way of communicating with him even while we are walking down the street or sitting in a meeting.

But there are times when we might be better off praying out loud. I think God loves to hear our voices as much as we love to hear his. And, guess who else is listening? Satan can’t read our thought prayers, but he can hear our vocalized prayers. I think it makes him shake in his boots to hear us giving ourselves and our problems to God.

There’s another reason, though, to give voice to our prayers: When we are speaking aloud, we think more clearly about our words, and our minds don’t wander as they often do when we are praying silently – and we all have that problem! As we listen in on our own prayers, we begin to know our own hearts.

A friend of mind who, at one time in his career, had a long commute to work, said he used to imagine Jesus sitting in the passenger seat of his car as he pulled out of the driveway. He would talk out loud to Jesus most of the way to work, sharing his stresses, praying for his wife, and committing the day into the all-powerful hands of his divine passenger.

If you don’t already practice praying out loud, you may want to try it. Prayer can become conversation that makes a difference!

“True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that – it is spiritual transaction with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.” – Charles Spurgeon #prayer

Royalty

“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, ” – Ephesians 2:6

How do we decide what to wear, read, or eat and drink? Or what to follow online or watch on TV? Most of these decisions happen, not out of a lot of thought, but out of our character, personalities, or habits.

Some of these decisions lead us down unhappy paths as we find ourselves doing things we’re not proud of. And, deep inside us, we want to be better than our behavior might suggest. What’s the solution? Realizing and acknowledging who we really are: We are God’s children. We are of royal blood. Really, we are! We are told we will reign with Jesus someday.

We look at our surroundings, problems we face, decisions we make, and people who cause us trouble, and we don’t see the royal part at all. That’s where faith comes in. It is God who defines who we are. And he says we are his kids, heirs, with a future secured by Jesus himself. In our bodies, we actually house the Spirit of God. We are recipients of our Father’s love and mercy. And our Father is the King above all kings! When we believe that, we will, over time, begin to behave like princes and princesses.

If we are making decisions, consciously or unconsciously, that are beneath our dignity as a dearly-loved children of God, we need to ask God to help us see and understand our true identity. Let’s read the Bible, learning and listening to who God says we are. Then let’s believe it. Royal behavior is sure to follow.

“We are made for larger ends than Earth can encompass. Oh, let us be true to our exalted destiny.” – Catherine Booth

 

#changingbehavior

Life is so daily.

“The Lord rewards everyone for their righteousness and faithfulness.” – 1 Samuel 26:23

Do you sometimes long for something more or different in your life? You have the same tasks over and over again. Same views out the window. Same people, same conversations, same opinions. We’re trying to follow God, to please him, to do something that will matter eternally, but we are caught up in the dailiness of living. Sometimes we can feel like Belle in Beauty and the Beast when she sings, “There must be more than this provincial life.”

Maybe that’s why God emphasizes faithfulness. He wants us to be faithful in doing the next task, caring for ourselves and others, praying and reading his word, and loving those who may not be lovable on some days. Faithfulness sometimes means doing the same right things over and over again.

And, in that faithfulness, we just might be building something greater than we know – something God is working together we cannot see. I was encouraged today when I read this from Oswald Chambers:

“We are not taken up into conscious agreement with God’s purpose, we are taken up into God’s purpose without any consciousness at all. We have no conception of what God is aiming at, and as we go on it gets more and more vague. God’s aim looks like missing the mark because we are too short-sighted to see what He is aiming at.” 

There is so much about God and his plan we cannot know. But, we can be faithful in what he puts in front of us to do and, in that faithfulness, hang on to him, believe his promises, and know we can trust his aim – whatever it is!

“Who a man is is always more important to God than what he does.” – A.W. Tozer

#faithfulness

Hearing God

“I will praise the Lord who counsels me. . . . “ – Psalm 16:7a

God spoke to his people in ancient days in visions, by voice, and through prophets. He spoke to the people in 1st century Israel even more clearly in the person of Jesus. Sometimes, now, we hear God’s voice through the Holy Spirit as he guides and enlightens us – often through something in the Bible or through another Christian.

The story of the first time Samuel heard God’s voice is encouraging to me. God was talking and young Samuel, never hearing God speak before, didn’t know it was him!

I’ve felt that way, too, and perhaps you have. Was that really God talking through thoughts that came to me? Samuel’s experience is helpful in figuring out where the voice in our heads is coming from. If it’s from God, it will likely have these characteristics just as it did for Samuel:

It will be personal. He called Samuel by name. If the Holy Spirit is giving us a message, it will be something he specifically wants us to hear, understand, or feel.

It will be persistent. It took God four times to get Samuel’s attention! If our hearts are right, he will continue to call until we hear and know for sure it’s him.

It will be powerful. We don’t forget a message that comes directly from God. I remember specific things he told me nearly 40 years ago! And I’ve found that hearing includes empowering us to act or tell – whatever he requires.

So, let’s keep listening, knowing how much God loves to talk to those who are willing to hear and respond!

“I need to be able to recognize God’s whispers – those moments when he draws near and breathes words of life into my soul.” – Margaret Feinberg

Building Bridges

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” – Romans 14:19

We recently visited Budapest, a city that seems to have two personalities, one on each side of the Danube River. Buda is hilly and has ancient churches and castles. Pest boasts a thriving commercial center. Two cities, varying emphases, united to form one amazing cultural capital in Europe.

It wasn’t always that way. Buda was set on one side of the Danube and Pest on the other. Two towns with common problems , but separated by a hard-to-cross river. Then someone had an idea – build a bridge! Engineers were hired and construction began. The first bridge between Buda and Pest opened in 1849 and the two towns became one. Pest was able to take advantage of the hills of Buda for defense and Buda was able to participate in the active commercial areas of Pest. Today there are many bridges connecting Buda to Pest, but it all started with one idea about uniting two communities.

Jesus is the ultimate bridge-builder, making a way for us to be connected with the Father. To do that, he had to set aside his own rights and leave heaven’s luxuries to come to earth, and live among humans. Maybe we can learn from Jesus something about how to build bridges. It may involve leaving our comfort zones, giving up some of our rights, and walking alongside others to understand their perspectives. If we are willing, God may use us to build bridges between ourselves and others, or within families, or across cultures. Do you see any bridges to be built in your world today?

“Got any rivers you think are uncrossable?
Got any mountains, you can not tunnel through?
God specializes in things thought impossible
He does the things others cannot do.” – Oscar C. Eliason

 

#peacemakers

Break for Blessings

“We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.” – Psalm 33:21-22

Sometimes when we pray or read the Bible, we think we’re doing God a favor. Don’t get me wrong, he loves it when we spend time with him – he wants to be the focus of our attention. But I’ve found he always gives me so much more than I give him!

Then throughout the day, when I stop to think about God, offer a short prayer, or remember a verse or phrase from the Bible, it’s as if I’ve opened up a pipeline to heaven through which he sends blessings. The most common one, for me, is joy. But there are others:

  • a sense of his presence
  • peace, knowing he has everything under control, even when I don’t
  • a new idea for a problem I’ve been wrestling with
  • or reassurance of his desire to be working for my good

He’s waiting to do all that for you, too. I think you already know that!

Our Father in heaven wants to be in daily, hourly relationship with us. He is always there, always ready. Stopping to engage with him is our responsibility. When we do, he responds. And our needs are met, sometimes needs we didn’t even know we had. Those moments become sparks of joy that brighten our entire day.

So, no matter how busy we are, let’s pause often to remember the one who waits for us to turn to him. His smile will be worth the pause!

“When I remember to pause, blessings appear. I break for blessings.” – Macrina Wiederkehr

 

#blessings

What do you see?

“Consider what great things he has done for you.” – 1 Samuel 12:24b

What do you see when you look at the image on the left? That’s easy, isn’t it? It’s a black dot. But wait, there’s more. There’s also the white background and that is a far greater proportion of the image than the black dot is, right?

What’s the black dot in your life? When you aren’t focused on something else, where does your mind go? The broken relationship? The child with a troubled spirt? The job that’s a continuing frustration? The bad choice you made? Financial pressures? The habit that controls you? We all tend to have a black dot – something that keeps life from being perfect or, sometimes, even happy.

Maybe we need to spend more time looking at the white background! What is good in our lives? What has God already done for us? Make a list. Do you have friends, family, health, resources, skills? Do you get to look at clouds, sunsets, wonders of creation? Can you see? Hear? Touch? Smell? Taste? Do you have something to hope for? Someone who loves you? Someone to love? Can you enjoy music, reading, cooking, or eating? Do you have a bed with warm blankets, a roof to keep out the rain? All of that is what we should see first – not the black dot!

God is in control. He is loving, good, wise, and kind. Maybe the distracting situation will always be there, but God’s goodness gives us much more to turn our minds toward. When we do that, just maybe we can trust him with that black dot!

“The greater your knowledge of the goodness and grace of God on your life, the more likely you are to praise Him in the storm.” – Matt Chandler

 

 

 

#trust

#thankfulness

 

Looking down or looking up?

“The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him.” – Psalm 37:23

When I walk on trails, I look at my feet a lot. The way is often rocky and the path is sometimes narrow. I don’t want to stumble, so I keep my eyes down.

That may be practical on the trail, but as I walk through life, I am beginning to realize that God’s  eyes are on me, so mine can be on him. I don’t stumble or stray if I am looking in the right place – at God, through his Word, prayer, and contemplation. Eyes on him always and then the path becomes smooth beneath my feet.

The benefits are amazing when we stop looking down: We can see the views around us and further along the path ahead of us. And, as we are open to God’s guiding presence, we realize he wants to calm our fears, enhance our joys, fulfill our hopes, and give us peace. He whispers, “Be healed. Be whole. Be fully alive! I am with you and will never leave or turn away. My eye is on you, my arms are open for you. I guide, calm, comfort, and provide. Trust me. Love me. Enjoy and thrive in the life I have given you.” With God, every step becomes a joy!

For all of us, it’s about realizing how much God loves us and that he chooses to be with us. Not because we are great, but because he is. He watches over every step. The journey is more of an adventure when we’re looking at him. It’s less about where our feet are and more about where he is leading.

“There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler.”– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

#walkingwithgod

Living generously

“I will gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well.” – 2 Corinthians 12:15a

What do you think of when someone talks about generosity? Probably we anticipate we are about to be asked to part with some cash. But, there’s a lot more to living generously than giving money.

Peter and John give us a great example of that (Acts 3). They saw a man on the Temple steps who’d been lame from birth. People carried him there every day so he could provide for himself by begging. When approached for alms, Peter said, in essence, “I don’t have any money, but I have something else I can give you, ‘In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, walk.'” Peter gave this man a gift of far greater value than a few coins!

What does it mean to live generously? Sometimes it does mean giving money. And we need to do that willingly and often. At other times, we may need to give something else. Maybe our skills to lend a hand to someone who needs help. Maybe it’s a listening ear. And, sometimes hardest of all, it means being generous with our love for those who are hard to love and forgiveness for those who have wronged us.

Generosity has more to do with attitude than with cash. Living generously frees us from the burden of accumulation and allows us to travel lighter, to be less self-centered and more compassionate. And, somewhere along the way, joy creeps in. Maybe today is a good day to look around and see who needs our generosity – financial, spiritual, relational, or merciful. Then, let’s open our hearts and our hands!

“The noblest thing a man can do is just humbly to receive, and then go amongst others and give.” – David Livingstone

 

#generosity

All Day Long

” . . . pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

How’s your prayer life? We all wince at that question, don’t we? We feel we should pray more and have a really hard time actually doing it. But maybe we pray more than we think we do.

The writer of Psalm 119 seemed to have some good prayer practices, one of which was praying at various times during the day. He talks about praying before dawn (v. 147), early evening (v. 148), at midnight (v. 62). In fact, he says he prays seven times a day (v. 164).  That’s a lot. Or is it? How many times a day do you pray?

For me, there are days when I go for hours without talking to God at all. On other days, it seems we are in constant communication – I see his creation and tell him thank you. I think about something I read in the Bible that morning and talk a little to him about it. A friend comes to mind and I bring her name before the Father. Do you do that, too? I like those days. Perhaps I’m less persistent in prayer than the psalm writer who made it a point to pray seven times a day. Sometimes I need to be more intentional in that focus. But I do love it when the communication lines between God and me are open all day long. I think that’s what he wants. I think that’s what we want, too. Let’s keep the conversation going!

“I have found that my reluctance to pray increases when I regard it as a necessary discipline and decreases when I see it as a time to keep company with God. True prayer comes from within, from the longing of the heart.” – Philip Yancey

#prayer

Cleaning Up

“I dwell in a high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.” – Isaiah 57:15b

Sin is a dirty word. We don’t like to talk about it. We don’t like to acknowledge sin may be a problem in our lives. So we hide it or ignore it. I do that, too, sometimes, but am beginning to see my sin as God does:

  • He hates my sin, but he loves me.
  • He’s not surprised when I sin. He knows my frailties.
  • My sin grieves God, partly because of how it damages me.
  • God is holy and cannot look on sin, so my unconfessed sin is a barrier between me and God, between me and answered prayer, between me and the blessing God wants to give me (see Isaiah 59:1-2).

Maybe we should begin looking at our sin in a whole new way – not as something to hide, but as something to be acknowledged, something from which we can be freed. It’s like working in the garden all day, coming in hot, dusty, and sweaty. We can ignore our condition or we can get in the shower. Which is better?

All God asks is that I recognize my action or attitude as sin, then confess and receive forgiveness and the strength to overcome. The joy of confession is that my relationship with him is fully restored, my prayers are heard, and my life is blessed. Confession is not a bad word. It is cleansing, restorative word – something we should not turn from, but should run toward. It’s like a nice, warm shower!

“Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.” – Jerry Bridges

Because I love you . . .

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” – Ephesians 2:4-5

Do you ever go through those times when you think, “Why does God even bother with me? I’ve let him down again. I keep failing to overcome some of the issues that haunt me. I don’t know why he doesn’t just give up on me.”

Listen. Really listen to the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit inside you as you sit in his presence, as you pray, as you read the Bible. You are likely to hear something like this:

I love you even when you feel unlovable. And because I love you, I

  • answer your prayers
  • guide your steps
  • teach you through my Word
  • protect you from the evil one
  • draw you closer to me
  • will take you someday to a place where we can be together forever.

I love you just because. You’re going to have to get used to that!

Can you believe that? Really believe it? It’s true, you know. God loves each of us unconditionally. Once we grasp the reality of that truth, we will never be the same. Our worthiness is not even a small part of the reason God loves us. He loves us because he created us. He loves us because it is part of his eternal nature to love us – no matter what. How can we help responding with joy to such unconditional, unchanging love? Believe it. Live in it. To God, you are always lovable. And always loved!

“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

 

It’s going to be beautiful!

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

My friend, who worked for an art gallery, believed we should surround ourselves with at least a few beautiful things. She was convincing enough to sell me a framed print for my office! There’s something about the beautiful that gives satisfaction and, even, peace.

Is your life beautiful today? Is everything in order? All relationships going smoothly? Are you healthy? Happy? Content in your work? Growing spiritually?

If you answer “yes” to all of those questions, you are most blessed! And most unusual. For the rest of us there are situations, areas of life, concerns that are not at all beautiful. Those are the things we pray about, sometimes get anxious about, and wish there were answers other than the ones we are receiving. And if you’re like me, you work at making things beautiful all by yourself, when, instead, you need an expert. And the expert at making our lives beautiful is none other than God himself.

So if there are areas of our lives that need beautifying, we turn to him, we pray, and we give up trying to control situations by ourselves. In prayer, we learn to trust him even while we wait for him to act. Believing he is at work even when we can’t see anything happening. And, if I read the Bible right, he’s making even the ugly things beautiful. He doesn’s waste our pain, failures, or tears. He weaves them all together into a life that will, in his perfect timing, be beautiful. When it comes to beauty, God is the expert!

“Through prayer we become part of a greater story – the story of what God is doing in our lives, our families, our communities, and around the world.” – Margaret Feinberg

 

Let me see!

“The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” – Psalm 119:130

Have you ever watched a legal drama on television? First we hear the prosecution’s case and it’s clear the guy is guilty. Then the defense presents its case and we aren’t so sure any more. The same thing happens when we hear the other side of an argument – particularly those about theological or sociological issues. If we listen openly to a well-presented response to our viewpoint, we may walk away saying, “I never thought of it that way before.” Don’t you like those moments of insight that open up new possibilities of thinking for you? I do!

In Acts 9, we read about Saul. He was persecuting followers of Jesus because he thought he knew the whole story about this now-dead Jewish rabbi. Then he was confronted by the resurrected Jesus and the encounter left him physically blinded, but spiritually enlightened. He was sent to Ananias in the city of Damascus. Ananias touched him and the Bible says something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see clearly. The restoration of his eyesight evidenced the truth that he had met the Christ, but the greatest miracle, to me, is the opening of his spiritual eyes so he could now see the world around him as God does: without prejudice, arrogance, or fear. Everything changed for Saul when he met Jesus and, for the first time, saw him as Lord.

“Dear Lord, I acknowledge the way I see things may be wrong. Remove the scales from my eyes so I can see the world, people, and your work among us as you do – with an understanding mind and loving heart.”

“We know the truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart.” – Blaise Pascal

 

 

Because you prayed

“. . . in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. – Philippians 4:6b

Do our prayers make a difference? Yes! God hears and responds.

King Hezekiah in an interesting example. The Assyrian army was outside Jerusalem ready to attack. But first they came with threats, hoping the people would surrender. They bragged about all the nations they already had conquered and mocked God saying he was not strong enough to save them.

Hezekiah took those threats before God in prayer, asking that God defend his people for his own glory. Here’s God’s response (through Isaiah, the prophet):

“. . . Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, this is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him:” (from Isaiah 37:21)

And he promises Sennacherib will be defeated and Hezekiah’s army will not have to lift a finger. The next morning 185,000 Assyrian soldiers were found dead in the camp. The others fled.

Look again at what Isaiah said to Hezekiah: Because you prayed this is what God’s going to do. And he did.

Keep praying! Who knows what happens because you pray? I imagine a scene in heaven when God says to us,

  • Because you prayed, your child was healed.
  • Because you prayed, your friend came to know me.
  • Because you prayed, your soldier came home.
  • Because you prayed, others learned to pray, too.

How will he finish that sentence for you? You won’t know if you don’t pray. For reasons we’ll never understand fully, God takes our prayers seriously. At least that’s what he told Hezekiah. I think he says the same to us. Our prayers matter!

“The sense of mystery must always be, for mystery means being guided by obedience to Someone Who knows more than I do.” – Oswald Chambers

#prayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above all . . .

“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” – Isaiah 30:15

How good are you at resting? God is very big on rest and actually designed our weeks to have one whole day in which we are told to rest – to stop what we do on other days and do something that is refreshing and restorative.

After God had given the commandments to Moses, he emphasized one of them: Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you'” (from Exodus 31:13). Above all? Does God really mean that? Why, I wonder?

I think it’s so we learn to trust him. Trust him with the work we didn’t get done, with the plans that need to be made, and the relationships that need to be fixed. Trust him with the anxieties we carry all week. One day a week, we rest in his love and grace and his work on our behalf.

And that includes spiritual striving. God does the work of making us holy – setting us apart for him. We can try harder, working our hearts out to please him, but if he’s not in it, all our efforts are fruitless. Sometimes he just wants us to sit still in his presence and let him work his transformation in our lives. It is in that rest, perhaps, that we learn to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Maybe restful living is mostly about letting go.

“Unhurried does not describe how I spend hours or minutes. It describes a state of heart. Unhurried comes not from forced breaks, but from chosen stillness.” – David Timms

#sabbathrest

Going for a walk.

“Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” – 1 John 2:6

I’m going for a hike today with women who love to be outdoors following mountain trails in the sunshine of Colorado. They have led me to waterfalls, wildflowers, and picturesque views. Every hike with them is a new adventure!

This morning I read in John’s epistle that those who follow Jesus should walk as he walked. I took that literally as I contemplated my day. Jesus was a hiker. He and his disciples walked everywhere they went, so we have some clues as to how Jesus walked. Two things come to mind.

First, Jesus observed the world around him and drew lessons from what he saw. When they were in an olive grove, he talked about vines and branches. When he  saw a farmer sowing seed, he talked about the seed as the Word of God, when he looked at grainfields, it made him think of the many people whose hearts were ready to believe. I hope to observe the world around me as I walk today to see God’s fingerprints in creation, and to invite him to speak to me through his handiwork.

Second, Jesus related to the people with whom he walked: his close disciples, general followers who joined along the way, and people who interrupted his journey with specific needs. For me, my companions will be women who have become friends along the footpaths together over the past months.

Where are you  walking today? And who will walk with you? As followers of Christ, we are to walk as he did: Aware of the world around us and lovingly attentive to those who share the journey.

“Jesus was God spelling himself out in language humanity could understand.” – S.D. Gordon

#Jesus

Unlovable?

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:35

Shortly after Jesus had washed their feet, he turned to his disciples and said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

If I had been in the room when Jesus said that, I’d be looking around at all the disciples and knowing immediately which of them would be hardest to love. My thoughts might have gone something like this:

Look at Peter. He’s always shooting off his mouth and getting into trouble. Sometimes I wish he would just quit showing off and be quiet. Loving Peter is a daily challenge.

Then there’s Simon the Zealot. His political views drive me crazy. If he had his way, we’d be at war the Romans right now. Loving him may be beyond my capability.

And how about James and John? They’re nice enough guys, but there’s a reason Jesus calls them “Sons of Thunder”. Oh the fights they can get into when the anger flares! Not too lovable at those times.

Then I might notice that some of them were looking at me and I’d realize they might be thinking the same thing: ‘How can Jesus expect me to love her?’

When I think about it, there are times when I may not be very lovable either. I guess we all have issues, don’t we? But, for some unfathomable reason, Jesus loves us all – even on our worst days. And he expects us to do the same for each other. Dear Father in heaven, I’m going to need your help!

“Tragedy is that our attention centers on what people are not, rather than on what they are, and who they might become.” – Brennan Manning

#lovingothers

Wanting to Please

“. . . your steadfast love is before my eyes and I walk in your faithfulness.” – Psalm 26:3

Do you have someone in your life you love so much you wouldn’t do anything that would cause him/her pain, or sadness, or doubt about your commitment?

I think David felt that way about God. In Psalm 26 he writes about his life of integrity, sincerely telling God to show him if there was something that needed correction. With all his heart, David was trying to do what God wanted and, it seems, he was being quite successful at it!

What made it possible for him to live that way? Verse 3 gives us a hint. David says, “. . . your steadfast love is before my eyes and I walk in your faithfulness.”

This tells us something about the human heart:

  • Love motivates response.
  • Faithfulness fosters deep commitment.

Isn’t that true in your relationships? It’s easy to be committed to someone who loves us, is faithful to us, and who looks out for our welfare. But we all know that even the most loving, faithful person can let us down. And  others love us only when we make them happy. What we really crave is love that is unconditional.

The surest place to get the kind of love we need is from God himself and he has made that possible by loving us first. When we learn to open ourselves to receiving his love, we find we would not want to do anything that would hurt him. I think that’s where David was. His relationship with God was so important, he would not risk disrupting it by bad behavior. I want that to be true of me, too! Are you with me on that?

“Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” – G. K. Chesterton

#lovingGod 

It’s about time.

“Oh! Teach us to live well! Teach us to live wisely and well!” – Psalm 90:12 (MSG)

Most of us don’t wear watches anymore, but not because we’re not concerned about the time. Our phones handle time management for us with a ding 30-minutes before our next appointment and a beep every time we get a new text or email. Who needs a watch when we have a device constantly calling us to pay attention?

There are two Greek words for time. The first is chronos and refers to what we might call “clock time”. Chronos keeps us on the go, always preparing for the next thing, always feeling hurried. That’s the kind of time our beeping phones can help us handle.

Then there is kairos. Kairos refers to a period of time, a season, an era. Kairos asks us to resist responding only to the urgency of chronos and invites us to openness, willingness, patience, and introspection – to an observation of growth, change, or healing. Kairos is the kind of time we need God to help us understand.

How we spend our hours and days is important, but God’s perspective is longer, more patient, more focused on end results. He calls us to peace, not anxiety. He reveals the eternal view, not the temporal. And he never seems to be rushed. That, I think, may be why he calls us to a day of rest every week. A day to re-calibrate our hurry, to trust him with what we didn’t get done, and to allow him to refresh and renew us. We can’t escape clock time, but, by his grace, we can live above it!

“The most important thing in your life is not what you do; it’s who you become. That’s what you will take into eternity.” – Dallas Willard

#spiritualjourney

God speaks.

 

“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” – Joshua 1:8

Do you ever wish God would talk to you? Maybe you should just ask him to. Then listen. When I do that, his answer is often something like this:

“What I have to say to you today I’ve written in my Word. Read it expectantly, believing you will find my message in what you read. Search for it as if you are looking for treasure.”

So what might we find as we read God’s word with anticipation of finding a message just for us, for now?

Wisdom – “. . . from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” – Proverbs 2:6

Confidence “Those who look to him are radiant . .  .” – Psalm 34:5a

Direction – “He guides me in paths of righteousness. . .” – Psalm 23:3

Revelation – “The Lord confides in those who fear him.” – Psalm 25:14

God does talk to us, many times in what he highlights as we read the Bible. I find when I approach his book expectantly, I often receive insight, encouragement, and direction meant especially for me at that moment. It can happen for you, too, but requires reading each passage, then prayerfully mulling it over until he reveals what it is he wants us to know. His message is already written. Our job is to search it out!

“Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.” – Eugene Peterson

 

 

 

A Handful of Quietness

“Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil. . .” Ecclesiastes 4:6

Busy. Sometimes that’s a too accurate picture of our lives. Even when we have opportunity to slow a bit, we choose to be busy. We can work later and make a little more money. We can buy the house that  needs help and end up working every evening to make it better. We can volunteer at too many places and be on the run serving others. The constant pressure is unsettling after awhile. That’s why the writer of Ecclesiastes says “Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil. . . “ (Ecclesiastes 4:6 ESV)

So, how do we find a little bit of quietness in the middle of a busy life? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Before you get out of bed in the morning, lie still for a few minutes, thinking about being in the presence of God. Feel the love he has for you. Be amazed at his majesty.
  • Take a 10-minute walk alone at lunchtime, paying particular attention to the wonders of creation around you. There is a double blessing in experiencing your quietness in the sunshine!
  • If you have a few minutes between appointments, sit in stillness, silently saying “thank you” to God for something specific. You’ll find that you  can create an internal quietness in spite of activity around you.

God’s plan is not for us just to be busy, but to have an abundant life – including a centered peace. A handful of quietness in our day today might move us toward that goal!

“It is precisely when life is at its most frantic, most frightening, that we each need a place to go to, a place that wraps us around in silence and calm.” – Joan Chittister

 

#contemplation

Did I make the right decision?

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” – Psalm 32:8

Even when I pray over a decision and think I’m hearing God’s direction, I second guess myself. Do you do that, too? I want to do what he wants, but sometimes it’s hard to sort out his will from my own.

So, today, I went back to God questioning a decision I had made. “I was really trying to do what you want, Lord, but now I’m not sure I did the right thing. Did I mess it up by going down a path that might have been more mine than yours?”

What came back was a reassuring message. It was something like this:

“You did what you did because you thought it was what I wanted you to do. That’s what really counts – your attitude of wanting to please me. Not all of your decisions will be right, but I look at your heart. And, remember, I can work with every choice you make. My will will be done in your life, not because your decisions are right, but because your heart is right.”

He works with my decisions! If my attitude is right, he will intervene and overrule my bad choices and turn it all around for his glory and my good. I like that! Then I remembered David. God saw him as a man after his own heart even though David made some bad decisions. God is loving and forgiving toward all of us who truly want to do what he wants. That sure makes me breathe easier! You, too?

“We count on God’s mercy for our past mistakes, on God’s love for our present needs, on God’s sovereignty for our future.” – Augustine 

 

#decisions

Leaving behind . . .

“Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees, that I may follow it to the end.” – Psalm 119:33

We’re packing to move and, in that process, are sorting all our belongings into three theoretical piles: What goes to our Colorado home, what will be moved to our downsized  Michigan condo, and what will be left behind (given away or discarded).

This laborious process made me think about Jesus’ call to Peter, James, and John. They were fishermen and he asked them to leave their nets and boats and, in James and John’s case, even their father. Then I realized that following Jesus always means leaving something behind.

And, for us, that means even family. We’re moving across the country leaving adult children and amazing grandchildren in Michigan. Of course, we’ll still see them several times a year and we hope they’ll come often to visit, but following Jesus to Colorado (long story, but we believe he’s asking us to go there), means leaving family, and friends too, who will remain in Michigan. Ouch! Really, God?

“Yes, really. Following me means leaving some things behind and missing some people – at least for a time. Trust me with this. All will be well. I am working together a plan you cannot see and could not possibly imagine on your own. It will be good!”

Can you relate? Is Jesus calling you to follow him in a new direction? If so, what is he asking you to walk away from? It might be a home, job, relationship,  habit, or possessions. Talk to him, yield to his will, and watch him work his plan. Be prepared to be amazed!

“For God Himself works in our souls, in the deepest depths, taking increasing control as we are progressively willing to be prepared for His wonder.” – Thomas Kelly

#followingGod

He wears well!

” . . . there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” – Proverbs 18:24b

Some people burst into our lives, make a big splash, and then fade away. There are others who wear well, proving to be consistent, faithful friends. The more we know them, the better we like them. God is like those friends who wear well, making us want to know him better and better over time. How can we do that?

First, we can read and reread the Bible to find out what it reveals about him. This book is the most direct way for us to understand God, his expectations, and his dealings with us and with mankind through history.

Second, we can look at the natural world and discover something about God in what he has created for us to enjoy. I’m not a science person, but when I realized I can know God better if I understand his creation better, I became motivated to read and learn.

Third, we can learn to notice God’s involvement as we look at what’s happening on Planet Earth. The Holy Spirit, living within us, will give us insight. As we become aware of world events and as we face issues in our own lives, he wants us to realize he is in control – nothing happens that takes him by surprise.

Fourth, we can talk to Him constantly. If we just ask, God will reveal his character, his personality, and his will so we can know him better, trust him more, and serve him with commitment.

Let’s keep on getting to know him. He’s a friend who wears well!

 For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?” – J.I. Packer

 

This post is adapted from The GodSense Journey: Exploring Sacred Pathways, Week Eighteen

#knowingGod