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judging whether it is outdated or applicable,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

Doing Hard Stuff

Has God ever asked you to do anything hard? I couldn’t help thinking of that question as I finished reading again the biblical account of Noah and the great flood. Here he was, a man who was favored by God, being as focused on his Creator as possible in a world gone bad. He was surrounded by sinfulness, yet still true to God. How did God reward his faithfulness? By asking him to do something hard – really hard.

First he had to build a huge boat in the middle of a desert land. We can only imagine the ridicule as he brought in logs, sawed boards, pounded nails and created animal enclosures. And, while he built, he preached, calling on people to repent of their sins. Obviously, by the time the flood came, he had no converts other than his own family. Discouraging!

Then, he had to endure the flood – more than a year on a boat with his family and animals of every kind. The work involved must have been never-ending, not to mention the noise and the smell. One whole year, plus. But, happy 601st birthday, Noah! Finally, the ground was dry.

The first thing Noah did when he left the ark was offer a sacrifice to thank God for saving him and his family. He could have complained about the how, but he didn’t. He picked up where he left off before the call to build an ark – worshiping and following God.

Has God asked you to do anything hard lately? If so, don’t run from it. Say, “Yes, Lord” and get to work. God knows how to take of those who are his!

Faith in God has not saved people from hardships and trials, but it has enabled them to bear tribulations courageously and to emerge victoriously.” – Lee Robertson

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

Just come.

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” – Matthew 11:25

When we approach God as little children, we don’t have to worry about what we look like, how we feel, or whether we’re worthy. We just come – hopeful and open and a little scared. And then. . . we are welcomed enthusiastically into his embrace just as Jesus welcomed children when he lived on earth.

What happens when we are accepted flaws and all? We keep going back to people like that because we feel comfortable with them. That’s definitely true in our relationship with God. It takes only one soul-electrifying connection with his great loving heart and we are addicted. We’ll do anything to get that feeling again and again until it sinks in: He really loves us. Just. As. We. Are.

In the family of God, we don’t remain children. We keep returning to his presence, knowing we will never be turned away. And the more we hang out with him, the more we change. We grow up in God’s family much as we see our children grow up in ours.

But to mature spiritually, we have to maintain the attitude of a little child, remembering each day to be humble, teachable, not trying to take control, accepting what comes, trusting our Father, and treating those who come across our paths with joy, curiosity, and welcome. Little children know how to do that. Most of us grown-ups need to learn it.

“Christ wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim.” – C. S. Lewis

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

What are we building?

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” – 1 Peter 4:10

God’s original instructions to mankind were to have dominion over the earth. As his image bearers, he’s invited us to co-create with him, to organize and inhabit the earth in ways that are honorable, helpful, and pleasing to him.

It didn’t take long after creation until earthlings showed they had other ideas. They decided to build a city around a tower that would reach into the clouds (Genesis 11:1-9). Can you imagine all the skills required to do that? They had to have a plan, get everyone to agree, raise money, make building materials, transport supplies into their desert site, and engineer construction of a high-rise tower. These talents were given by their Creator. And how were they using them? To design a life that didn’t need him.

You and I have skills, too. Can we dream big dreams? Design or engineer? Rouse people to action? Raise money? Write? Make things? Organize? Make music? How are we using the talents we have in ways that help humanity to live creatively on this earth as God desires? Ways that serve him, honor him, and provide for ourselves and others? That’s what he had in mind when he gave us particular abilities.

And he gave compatible skills to others, too. So, we should look around and find those who have the same dreams we have and working together, we soon will find we are building into the lives of people we know, nurturing caring communities, and encouraging faith and trust in God. The self-serving Tower of Babel was destroyed. If we do things God’s way, what we build will last forever.

“Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – Francis of Assisi

My way? His way?

As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him. – 2 Samuel 22:31

If you’ve ever wondered about the way God does things, you’re not alone!

Some disciples were walking along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, depressed and discouraged (Luke 24). Jesus was the one they had counted on to rescue them from oppression. Now he was dead. There were rumors of resurrection, but who knows? Then, by the end of the chapter, they realize Jesus is alive (good news) and he’s not going to deliver Israel from the Romans (bad news). In fact, he’s leaving them (really bad news).

Even so, we find them a few weeks later praising God in the temple (v. 53). They went from sadness to joy, from confusion to worship. Jesus didn’t do things their way, but maybe they were beginning to see his way was better.

What are you praying desperately for? What do you wish God would fix for you? We pray with such limited vision! We see things only from our perspective and time.

His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. They are bigger, better, bolder. They take us to a place we could never envision for ourselves. We simply don’t know what’s best for us or for someone else. We cannot know while we are in this world, living this life.

So, what do we do when, like the disciples with Jesus, we find that God’s not going to answer our prayers as we want him to? We accept and believe his way is better. We entrust him with our bodies. We rely on him for resources. We let him feed our souls and give us hope.

“Let God have your life. He can do more with it than you can.” – D. L. Moody

Wonder and Wait

The symphony he is composing includes minor chords, dissonance, and tiresome fugal passages. But those of us who follow his conducting through early movements will, with renewed strength, someday burst into song.” – Philip Yancey

Life is about the day-to-day, isn’t it? We get caught up in what is next on the schedule, what we need to plan for, shop for, or fix. Life can be mundane.

Then a crisis hits and we long for the “boring” days, the days when all we had to do was the next thing on our calendar. Now we are taken to a new place and it can be a place of discouragement, frustration, and even dread. We can’t see how this will end. We are vulnerable and afraid.

Let’s rewind that scenario. What if we see the crisis we face not as an obstacle to get around, but an invitation from the God of creation to let him lead us through it? What if there are heavenly blessings and spiritual understandings we cannot get any other way than by going through something we didn’t sign up for? Something we detest? Something we fear?

If we are in crisis, let’s face it with awe at what God is about to do. With wonder at what will unfold as we walk day-by-day with him in the middle of it. With anticipation of an outcome we cannot, in our humanness, even imagine. Let’s lean hard into the one who has promised never to leave us, always to love and care for us – no matter what we are facing today. Then we can watch in wonder as he does his amazing work!

“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” – Habakkuk 1:5

I have a question.

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” – 1Corinthians 13:12

I want to ask you “why?”, Lord. Why did my daughter get cancer? Why did you not heal her after the last time? She is a true lover of you, a disciple, growing in her faith over the years. Why would you let this happen?

Then I read a prayer from Carolyn Myss this morning. She said, “I have learned by now that you do not answer questions: You answer prayers.”

That was true of Job, wasn’t it? He wanted to confront God about the disasters that had come into his life. He wanted to know why. He wanted to know what he had done to deserve this pain. God didn’t answer Job’s questions, but he did reveal himself and his glory to Job. That was enough to quiet Job’s heart and satisfy his questions. He learned he could trust God with the whole story of his life including what he was experiencing that day.

So, Lord, I will change my questions to a prayer instead: May we realize your presence in this journey. Give us courage. Give us hope. May I trust you as the author of my life story and my daughter’s. And, please, reveal to us your glory so our questions become unimportant, and you become all-important. Amen.

When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal, but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.” ~ C.S. Lewis

NOTE: Painting shown is by Bernard Vaillant (Dutch, Lille 1632–1698 Leyden) and is titled “Socrates Looking into Mirror”.

Comfort

For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.” – Isaiah 49:13b

A friend called. She knew I was struggling. She encouraged me, assured me of her prayers, and let me know she cared. After her call, I felt stronger, lighter, ready to take the next step God would put in front of me.

What did she do? She comforted me. Not with the kind of “comfort” that pats me on the back and says, “Everything’s going to be OK.” I would have recognized the lie.

The word comfort comes from two roots. The first is com which means with. The second is fortis which means strong. Comfort connotes coming alongside to give strength. If we truly comfort someone, we make them stronger. That’s what my friend did. Her comfort strengthened me.

At the last supper, Jesus told his disciples that, though he was leaving, he would send his Spirit to live in them. “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (John 14:16 KJV). Jesus would no longer be there to help them, but his Spirit would.

If you are a follower of Jesus, you have his Spirit living inside you. He is always there, guiding, enlightening, correcting, and, yes, comforting. That’s one of his names – Comforter! And his comfort makes us strong.

I still like it when a friend calls, though. Don’t you?

“You don’t have to be alone in your hurt! Comfort is yours. Joy is an option. And it’s all been made possible by your Savior. He went without comfort so you might have it. He postponed joy so you might share in it. He willingly chose isolation so you might never be alone in your hurt and sorrow.” – Joni Eareckson Tada

He came.

“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him…” – John 1:9-10

There were announcements of Jesus’ coming birth to Mary and Joseph, and his arrival was heralded by angels. But in the darkness of the Bethlehem stable, the most amazing proclamation of all came directly from the newborn boy. He stirred in his makeshift cradle, and his cry broke the silence of that night. That baby’s cry was the voice of God himself.

That cry shook the world of angels and demons. Eons ago, they had heard it break another silence as it called the world into being. They knew it as the voice that cast Satan and his angels out of heaven. It was the voice that called Abraham, spoke to prophets, and empowered kings. That world-changing voice was now coming from a tiny bundle of humanity. Could it be? What power was contained in that cry! What foreshadowing of what would come in his life. What hope for the world, created perfectly, now fallen. God had not sent a prophet this time or a king or an angel. He had come himself, and the world would never be the same.

The voice of God still speaks today for those who will hear. As we sit before him in worship and wonder, we wait to hear again the voice that cried out on that holy night. Then it comes: His voice resounds in the deepest recesses of our heart – through his word and through his Spirit.

Listen.

“What God ever came so tender we could touch Him? So fragile that we could break Him? So vulnerable that His bare, beating heart could be hurt? Only the One who loves you to death.” -Ann Voskamp

NOTE: Post inspired by Demon: A Memoir by Tosca Lee.

The Value of Time

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” – 1 Corinthians 3:6-7

Have you ever heard of the time value of money? The concept is if you have a little money, invest it where it can earn interest, and let principal and interest grow together, eventually you will have a great deal more money than you started with. The key ingredient is time.

There’s a time value to spirituality, too. We begin with commitment to follow Christ. Then we learn a little here and there, adding to the knowledge we already have. We sense the foundation of our spiritual life is getting stronger. Then, we add experiences, sound teaching, spiritual practices, and relationships until, over time, we realize we’re changing (2 Peter 1:5-9). There are many behaviors and activities that contribute to our spiritual maturation, but time is a key ingredient to fostering true transformation.

Here are a few examples of how that might help:

  • Temptation that is persistent tests us, grows us, and invites God to intervene. We shortchange ourselves when we give in to temptation without a fight. If we resist and trust God, we get stronger (1 Corinthians 10:13).
  • Faith that has to wait for fulfillment grows deeper with time. If all our prayers were answered immediately, our faith would be fragile. As we learn to trust God’s timing, our faith grows (Romans 4:20).
  • Spiritual fruit comes only after seeds are buried and the plants mature. Growth to the point of fruitfulness in God’s Kingdom takes time (Mark 4:26-29).

We want to encourage our own spiritual growth, but we can’t hurry it. Most of the highly valued things in life take time. Don’t give up!

“Be not afraid of growing slowly. Be afraid only of standing still.” – Author Unknown

Expectations!

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, . . . She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.” – Proverbs 3:13 and 15

We bought a pail of sand for our grandson from a rock shop in Colorado because we had been told there were stones to be found in the sand if the recipient was willing to dig for them. He was!

One by one a wide variety of rocks were found – everything from tiger eye (his favorite) to obsidian to geodes. Each was greeted with appropriate appreciation and, sometimes, awe. As his treasures were washed and laid out on a towel to dry, I thought of how different the result would be if he had not been willing to take off the cover and begin to dig.

Why did he bother to open it? Because he expected to find something. He believed if he dug deep enough, there would be treasure.

I couldn’t help applying that thought to the Bible that sits next to my chair. Why do I choose to turn the cover and read it every day? Because I expect to find something. Something I will value, something that will please me, something that will correct me, something that will add to my knowledge or will give me direction. And I am never disappointed!

Do you see what I mean? The treasure is there, but we have to be willing to dig for it. So, let’s keep reading God’s Word, believing he has a message for us there every time we open it. Soon we will have a collection of understanding, promises, and encouragement that will make us wise and our lives beautiful!

“Our pursuit of God is successful just because he is forever seeking to manifest himself to us.” A. W. Tozer

Am I the answer?

“He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.” – Job 6:14

Most of the time, we don’t know what’s on another person’s prayer list, do we? Sometime they share their burdens with us. More often, they are silent about what keeps them awake at night. We might not even know they need help.

But God does. He knows, as well, our relationship to this person, and it just may be that he wants to use us to answer a prayer request we aren’t even aware of. So what do we do?

First, as friends, we should learn to listen with sensitivity and to observe behavior. Often a person in need will give clues to what he cannot seem to verbalize, but we have to be aware and watchful. The Spirit will often reveal what we would not see on our own.

Then we can come in a little closer and try to help – sharing from our resources, offering our skills, giving biblical counsel, and standing alongside until our friend’s burden gets lighter. If we are willing, we can make a difference – one act of kindness at a time.

We usually aren’t called to solve other people’s problems, but we are called to respond in whatever way the Spirit shows us until they, with God’s help, can solve their own.

We may be the answer to someone else’s prayer. That, dear friends, is one of the greatest joys of the Christian life. Serving God. Loving others. Sensing God’s affirmation. And being reminded of Jesus’ own words, “. . .It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35b).

None of us can help everyone. But all of us can help someone. And when we help them, we serve Jesus. Who would want to miss a chance to do that? – Max Lucado

Call me.

“The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. My eyes are ever on the Lord . . .” – Psalm 25:14-14.

You see a friend across a crowded coffee shop just as you are on your way back to work. You give a quick signal with your hand to your ear, meaning, “Call me.” And you mean it.

Do you know God has been saying “call me” to his people for many centuries? Here are a few of his “call me” signals to us:

  • “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3)
  • “The same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:12b)
  • When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.” (Psalm 91:15).

God makes it clear that he waits for us to call out to him with earnestness, consistency, and commitment. If we call, he will answer.

Did you notice something else about these verses? Not only does God ask us to call him, but he promises good things when we do: revelation, understanding, riches, salvation, rescue, honor, and his very presence. Don’t you think it’s worth the call?

One more thought. Calling on God is important for us, but I’ve found that the stronger my communication is with him, the better I can help others on life’s path with me. Without a vital, two-way relationship with God, I’m not much good to anyone else. You may sense that, too. Give him a call – for your sake and theirs!

“We are called to an everlasting preoccupation with God.” – A. W. Tozer

Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From and To

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make it lovable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why a mountain?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Miles an Hour


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smile!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unshakable

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unshakable!

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

The Truth About You and Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Macrina Wiederkehr

Afraid?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Need a leader?

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

Need a story of hope, today? Try this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tired?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wrong question?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Need a new outlook? Try this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any mountains to be moved?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are there any mountains you need to pray about today?

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

 

 

 

 

 

The Melody

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
 

Feeling foolish?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a battle you can win.

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

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

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

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

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

It will take . . .

. . . consecrating ourselves to God,

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

. . . persistence.

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

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

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

What? What? So what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*From teacher, author, and pastor, Erwin Lutzer

#readingthebible

A Still Small Voice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

All He Wants You to Have

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the way . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where’s your cell phone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why, God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disease

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember, he’s still here.

He’s still loving.

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

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

Living Like the Wind

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

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

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

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

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

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