He wants to be found.

“When your world is rocked, you don’t want philosophy or theology as much as you want the reality of Christ.” – Lee Strobel

If you’ve ever lost track of a young child, your concern moves to panic pretty quickly as you search for him.

When I read about Joseph and Mary trekking back to Nazareth with their neighbors and extended family after celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem, I think of that sense of panic. They had walked for an entire day before they realized 12-year-old Jesus wasn’t with them. They apparently assumed he was part of the Nazareth group, hanging out with friends or cousins as they walked.

Of course, the story ends well. They go back to Jerusalem, then spend a day in the city searching for him before they find him in the Temple discussing theology with the religious leaders.

What struck me, though, is that Jesus was missing and they didn’t know it. If Jesus went missing on us, how long would it be before we noticed? That won’t happen, of course, because Jesus has promised never to leave us, but too often we live as though he has walked away. We forget to talk to him, to ask him for guidance, or to thank him for his goodness to us.

The reality is that sometimes his presence is so real we feel we can reach out and touch him. At other times, we’re not sure he even hears our prayers. The life of faith enables us to believe his promise never to leave us and, when it feels like he’s far away, he can be found.

Jesus has not gone missing. He’s here. He’s close. He’s waiting for us to reach out to him. He wants to be found.

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.” – 1 Chronicles 16:11

It’s infectious.

“He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life he has—by what I call ‘good infection’.” – C. S. Lewis

I recently read the story of a woman now known as “Typhoid Mary”. She lived in the early 1900’s and was blamed for several typhoid outbreaks in New York City over a few years’ time. Medical professionals determined she was a carrier of typhoid though she never showed symptoms and never came down with the disease herself.

In some way we are all infecting people with something. Some people enter a room and, suddenly the atmosphere becomes brighter, lighter, more interesting. That’s a good kind of contagious. Others come like Eeyore, and they spread an infection of gloom. Which would you rather be?

The writer of Psalm 139 asks God to “. . . see if there be any grievous way in me . . .” I’m told that a “grievous way” is any aspect of character that can lead to grief. This psalmist knew there could be something deep in his heart that would cause pain, and he might not even be aware of it. We don’t always know what is hiding inside us. “Typhoid Mary” certainly didn’t!

While we live, we’re going to be infecting people around us. Maybe we, too, should invite God to search us and make us aware of anything we’re carrying that could cause grief to ourselves or someone we love. By God’s grace, we pray that, since we’re contagious, it will be with what C. S. Lewis calls a “good infection.”

“Be it ours today . . . to be ruled and governed by Thy divine authority, so that nothing false or sinful may reign in our hearts, lest it extend its malignant influence to our daily walk among men.” – Charles Spurgeon

50 Things

“Being joyful isn’t what makes you grateful. Being grateful is what makes you joyful.” – Ann Voskamp

One Thanksgiving morning a few years ago, I got up early, made a big mug of coffee, and sat down with pen in hand to make a list – a list of fifty things for which I was thankful.

The first ten were easy, the kind of standard stuff that all of us tend to give thanks for regularly – family, home, food, friends, health and so on. But as I continued, there were longer pauses between pen and paper. By the time I got to fifty, I was thinking in whole new gratefulness territory. This was taking longer than I thought it would. I was on my second cup of coffee by then.

It may seem trite to do an exercise like this, but it wasn’t. I discovered it was more than a list. Doing this changed me for that day and, maybe, beyond. Of course, there was a new realization of all that I had to be thankful for. But there also was a new understanding of the graciousness of God in my life by providing for things I didn’t even know I needed. And, then a sense of joy in cherishing all that I had been given. And a new light-heartedness that began to affect the way I treated others. That’s a lot of transformation just for making a list!

You might want to try making your own list this Thanksgiving weekend. You might be surprised at what happens in your heart when you do!

Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” – Psalm 100:3-4

The Horse and I

“Let God have your life; he can do more with it than you can.” – Dwight L. Moody

I don’t know much about horses. But, here I was at a ranch for a weekend with my daughter and granddaughter. Because my granddaughter loves horses and wanted me to experience them, too, we all signed up for the trail ride. And I learned something.

We were shown how to use the reins and told not to let our horse get too close to the horse in front of him and not to let him eat foliage along the way. So, determined to do it right, we set out. I pulled on Cairo’s reins when he got too close to Hoss, and I steered him away from the plants along the trail. Eventually, though, he got tired of being micromanaged. He tossed his head and snorted a couple of times. He was not happy!

So, I decided to quit fighting him (he’s bigger than I am!), and I let the reins go slack. He settled into a pattern he was comfortable with, and we finished the ride better friends than we were when we started.

Are you a little bit like me? Wanting to hang on tight to the reins, to steer, to be in control? Sometimes, I think everyone around us would be better off if we stop trying so hard to be safe, right, and in charge. It would be good for us, too, just to realize that God is the only one who can change people or protect us.

And, best of all, when we yield to him, we can enjoy the ride!


“I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;”
– Psalm 131:1b-2a

Feeling loved?

“How would my life change if I truly believed the Bible’s astounding words about God’s love for me, if I looked in the mirror and saw what God sees?” – Philip Yancey

Do you remember the feeling of euphoria when you first fell in love?

I think being in love is a picture of what God feels about us every day. He loves us just as we are, not just on our good days, but every single day. He loved us before we were born and will never stop.

The prophet Daniel, a Judean captive serving the Babylonian king, was praying for his people, pleading for God act on their behalf. While he prayed, the angel Gabriel appeared telling Daniel he had come to give him insight into the things he was praying about. And he gave the reason: “. . . I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved” (Daniel 9:23a). Can you imagine an angel saying to you that he showed up because you were greatly loved – by God?

Maybe we don’t hear it from an angel, but, if I’m reading my Bible correctly, we are as greatly loved as Daniel was. John tells how Jesus loved his disciples. Jesus declares his love for them, too, and for the whole world. Even before Jesus’ time, God said many times how much he loves his own people.

So why don’t we feel the “in love” euphoria every day? Maybe because we don’t really believe it. Think about that. The one who says he loves us is the eternal truth, the God who loved us into being. We can trust him. We can love him back. He will never turn us away. Never.

 “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.”. – 1 John 4:16a

Insight

“A moment of insight from God is worth a lifetime of experience.” – Anonymous

There’s a lot we cannot see with our eyes.

The story in the Bible that gives dramatic evidence of this is when the King of Syria sent a whole army to capture Elisha, and Elisha is calm, but his servant is terrified. So Elisha asks God to open his servant’s eyes so he can see what Elisha already knows: There are heavenly chariots of fire all around them! The servant had been afraid because he couldn’t see the protection God had already provided.

God can help us see the things we cannot see on our own. And praying for him to help us see is biblical, “Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18).

Those might be insights to understand the messages in God’s Word, yes, but I have found there are more ways God helps us to see.

He can give insight . . .

. . . to sense when someone says they’re fine when they’re not.

. . . to clearly discern the direction we are to take.

. . . to know when to instruct and when to confront.

. . . to understand today’s events in light of eternity.

. . . to ‘see’ the heavenly help we receive when the battle seems overwhelming.

I believe God wants us to live in the light of his revelation every day. Commitment to constant walking with him allows us to see the things only he can reveal, and our decisions, understanding, and relationships take on new and richer dimensions. Open my eyes, Lord!

“. . . that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you . . .” – Ephesians 1:17-18a

Old Friends

“Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.” -Aristotle

I had a best friend in the 5th grade. She and I both liked to write – we wrote stories and poems (hers were better than mine!). We rode bikes, and we were involved together in kids clubs and, later, the youth group at our church. We had spiritual and philosophical conversations that grew in quality through the years.

We remained friends through high school, then our paths diverged (including moving from our hometown), as they often do, though we kept in touch somewhat through social media.

Recently we’ve had the opportunity to reconnect. We scheduled a time to meet and talked for two hours. That wasn’t enough, so we met a few days later and talked for 2 1/2 hours. So many parallel stories and a multitude of memories and revelations; so much common ground in our families – parents, children, grandchildren; our education and career experiences; and, best of all, our commitment to a step-by-step, year-by-year walk with God.

At some point we realized the value of what we had in each other. Growing a friendship takes time. Not just activity time, or conversation time, but years of time. We both have newer friends we value very much, but neither of us has the time to develop a half-century long friendship with another person.

Do you have a friend like that? Maybe it’s time to reconnect and to recognize the value in such a relationship.

Do you need a friend like that? Maybe you don’t have decades to build it, but use the time you have. Be a friend, find a friend. Spiritual friendship is one of the greatest gifts we can give or receive.

“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” – Proverbs 27:17, (NLT)

Just ask.

Let your cares drive you to God. I shall not mind if you have many of them if each one leads you to prayer. If every fret makes you lean more on the Beloved, it will be a benefit.” – Charles Spurgeon

Do you find it hard to ask for help? A lot of us do. We want to think we can figure things out on our own, we can tackle any problem. And we don’t want to be a bother to anyone else.

That independent attitude might be admired by some, but not by God.

He wants us to express our needs to him. He wants us to look at every life situation as an invitation to turn to him. In fact, James tells us that sometimes he is just waiting for us to ask: “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2b). So, I have been asking, and he welcomes my requests every single time.

I’ve figured something else out, too. It has become clear to me that God uses our requests as ways to respond to us at the point of our deepest needs. Do we need patience? He might make us wait a while before he answers. Do we need humility? He might remind us to submit to his will. Do we need comfort? That’s the Holy Spirit’s specialty, and prayer opens our hearts to receive.

Do you understand? God’s greatest desire is to be connected to us, to provide for us, to comfort and lead us. Praying, asking, and just talking to him opens the doors for his love to flow back to us. Just ask. That’s the way he wants it.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6

The Happiest Being in the Universe

“If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. – C. S. Lewis

Author John Ortberg tells us that “God is the happiest being in the universe.” Our joyful, creative, energetic, and passionate Father wants us to be happy, too.

In fact, joy is part of the Fruit of the Spirit described in Ephesians 5. When God uses agricultural images like fruit, I think he’s reminding us of what farmers already know: Growing anything takes patience. We sometimes want to hurry the process by using earthly pleasures to manufacture joy, but what we get then is a poor substitute for the real thing.

True joy grows over time. I think the Holy Spirit plants the seeds and then, with our cooperation, helps those seeds grow into full, ripe, abundant fruit.

What might our cooperation in growing this fruit look like? Here are three assessment questions that help me when I’ve lost my joy:

Who am I trying to please? If it’s another person or even people in general, we’ll be frustrated. If it’s God alone, we will experience his pleasure. And that makes us happy.

Is my focus on the temporary or the eternal? Having a long view helps us forego an immediate pleasure for a future reward. That brings peaceful confidence.

How close am I to the Happiest Being in the Universe? God’s effusive joy will overflow to us if we consciously engage with him all day long.

If our focus is on knowing and pleasing God more than anything else, joy will come. Guaranteed smiles.

“Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous.” Psalm 33:1

Getting Ready to Hear from God

“. . . in the liturgy from the past, I am reminded that wisdom from God has been around a long time. My words aren’t revolutionary. I can be helped by my brothers and sisters from the past. . . the words penetrate. They break away the hardness of my morning heart and get spiritual warmth pumping through my veins, showing once again it’s worth persevering in this liturgical pursuit, this routine.”* – Matthew Molesky

It’s a chilly morning. For the first time in weeks I reached for a sweatshirt before I sat in the chair with my Bible, pen, and fresh cup of coffee. Then, with my body warm and comfortable, I began to address my heart.

Do you, too, sometimes find you need to warm your heart before you’re ready to hear from God?

My heart gets ready when I read from the writings of Christians in ages past who had a longing to know God, feel his presence, and follow his direction. Some have written memoirs or left diaries or devotionals that give us windows into their hearts. The spiritual journeys of others can inspire our own desire to grow.

Here are a few of my favorites (would love to see yours in comments!):

Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer

The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence

The Normal Christian Life, Watchman Nee

Morning and Evening, Charles Spurgeon

My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers

After I read a short passage from one of these authors (or others like them), my heart is ready to turn to the Bible and to respond to its Spirit-guided message for today. The warm-up time is worth the effort!

Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” – Jeremiah 6:16a

Some things take time.

Biblically, waiting is not just something we have to do until we get what we want. Waiting is part of the process of becoming what God wants us to be. – John Ortberg

David was anointed by God when he was young, tending his father’s sheep. He knew he would be king, but God had some preparation to do before that could happen.

David was brought into King Saul’s circle and, while there, became a popular public persona. Saul, though, was not impressed, and he planned ways to kill David – so much so, that David ran for his life.

It must have been frustrating moving from place to place, living sometimes in desert caves, always on the alert for Saul’s armies as they chased him. But what happened to David in these intervening years?

He grew up. He went from being a young boy to being a mature man.

He became strong. He fought many battles, growing in courage and confidence.

He learned to lead. There were 600 men who became his defenders. They were described as bitter, in-debt, and distressed. But they were loyal to David, and he led them to become more than they ever dreamed they could be – God’s ragtag army.

He became discerning. There were two times David did not take an opportunity to kill Saul. He knew there was a better way and was willing to wait for God’s plan. His actions show wisdom and spiritual understanding.

God didn’t waste the desert years in David’s life and he won’t waste yours either. If you are waiting for God’s next move, be patient. Know that he is using this time to prepare you for what is yet to come. Trust his grace.

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;” – Psalm 130:5

Planning Ahead

“Christ told his disciples not to be anxious about tomorrow, but he never said not to consider tomorrow. Intelligent problem solving demands careful consideration of the future effects of present solutions.” – R. C. Sproul

How are you at planning? Some personalities like to “wing it”, assuming everything will be OK. There may be times for just taking what comes and enjoying the ride. Most times, though, we need to plan. The book of Proverbs tells us that, and our Creator shows us this truth by example.

Paul says that God planned for our redemption before the world was created. He knew if he created beings with free will in a world where Satan could tempt, they would fall, and they would need a Redeemer. He foresaw it and planned for it before he said, “Let there be light.”

Most of us love this message to Israel that we claim, too: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). There’s comfort and even awe in knowing God is planning ahead for each of us.

And he has a plan for how this world will end and the new eternal world will begin. The book of Revelation shows that plan in visions and pronouncements. It’s a hard book to figure out, but we do know God’s plan will unfold exactly as he envisions it.

We have responsibilities and dreams that will never be fulfilled if we don’t plan carefully. What is it for you today? Financial security? Emotional healing? Healthy relationships? Intimacy with God?

Yes, we live by faith, but our faith must be accompanied by some God-guided planning!

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” – Proverbs 16:9

The Gift of Hope

“I claim the gift of hope. I have hope, not in the glorious achievements of man, but in the ever-glorious providence of God.” – Dwight Longenecker

I like to pride myself in being an optimist – you know the “glass half-full” kind of person. You, too? Optimists are surely more fun to be around than pessimists!

But in a world full of problems that seem unsolvable, optimism falls short. It usually is unrealistic and is ineffective in addressing the challenges of life. Instead, I suggest we turn to hope. Not the weak, “I hope so” kind, but a strong biblical hope based solely on the providence of our almighty, all-loving God. It’s a hope that is an assurance God will act, good will come, and justice will prevail, even though we may have to wait for its complete fulfillment. If our hope is based on biblical promises, what we hope for is as real as the ground we walk on.

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul assigns hope with faith and love as the three main values that endure. Why, I wonder? I think because faith is needed to access hope. When we learn to trust God’s promises and his character, we will be filled with hope. With that in place, what can we do but love him and love others? Godly hope energizes love because we know we are and will be taken care of – there is enough of God’s provision for everyone. Hopeful people are loving people.

Once we get a taste of that kind of hope, we realize the shallowness of mere optimism. Hope based on God’s providence is not optimism. It’s reality.

“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:5

Tuning in to Heaven

“When I am tempted to complain about God’s lack of presence, I remind myself that God has much more reason to complain about my lack of presence.” Philip Yancey

Every morning, I walk into my quiet place and shut the door. Then I whisper, “For this time, Lord, I’m unavailable to the earth because I’m tuning in to Heaven.” Shutting the door is a tangible signal to myself that the world is shut out so I can turn to the eternal.

Why does that little ritual matter? It seems that for a time every day we should turn to the most important thing – knowing, loving, and following after God. If he is who we think he is, don’t you think it’s possible we hurt his heart when he’s ready to relate to us, and we turn to him with only minimal attention?

If we can shut a door or turn off the cell phone, we’re letting God know we are available to him for whatever he wants. And, if he has something to say, we’ll be listening.

Do you remember Jacob when he was running for his life from his brother? He wasn’t really paying attention to the spiritual world but, as he slept under the stars that night, God gave him a dream about a ladder that reached heaven. Here’s his reaction: “When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it” (Genesis 28:15). God was there, and Jacob almost missed him!

Let’s take a daily opportunity to be in God’s presence – completely, earnestly, with full attention. He wants to commune with us. That’s just too amazing to miss!

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” – 1 Samuel 3:10

Enduring

“I’ll lift you and you lift me, and we’ll both ascend together.” – John Greenleaf Whittier

If you’ve lived very long, you’ve figured out that life’s road can be (and will be) bumpy. There are challenges around every corner it seems. We tend to think that, if God is all-loving and all-powerful, he should protect us from those challenges, smooth out the path under our feet. Make it a straight line – and an easy way.

Having lived in the Rocky Mountains for a few years, I learned that the most difficult treks can be the most beautiful. The twists and turns have great surprises along the way. The climbs and curves slow us down enough to see the views, the wildflowers, and the wildlife that would be a blur on a long, straight path where we can speed along at our best pace.

God knows we would prefer an easy way. But sometimes he has a bigger purpose for us than ease (that restfulness will come only in the life to come). There are periods in our life for slowing, for thinking things through, for relying on another traveler to help us get past the rough spots, and for simply trusting God. None of that happens when everything is easy.

What do we do if we are on a rocky part of the road right now – and maybe it’s been challenging for a long time, with no smooth path in sight yet? We endure. We go a step at a time. We ask for help from someone near. And we cling to the promise that God is producing something good in us as we take courage and keep on keeping on.

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

Bad news?

And all my life, You have been faithful
All my life, You have been so, so good
With every breath that I am able
Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God
*

We’ve all been on the receiving end of bad news at some point or another, right?

“You’ve been a great employee, but we have to cut costs. Sorry.”

“Just calling to let you know about your lab tests.”

“There’s been an accident.”

So how do we react? At first, panic, desperation. Then sadness or depression. But, over the long haul, we pull ourselves up and begin to think clearly. Paul shows us by example that there’s something we can focus on to get us through the bad news times:

When he was on trial before King Agrippa, he recounted his earlier life, his conversion, his missionary efforts, and finally his arrest in Jerusalem, and he sums it all up by saying, “To this day I have had the help that comes from God” (Acts 26:22).

He’s in trouble – again. This time he’s about to be sent to Rome to stand trial before Caesar, an emperor known to throw Christians into dungeons or to the lions. And, what is Paul thinking about? The past. God’s faithfulness. God’s help in every situation.

If we are in distress today, we can do what Paul did: think about the times God has helped us in the past. Times when we’ve had bad news, and he came through. Times when we prayed and were flooded with peace. Then we ask him to do it again. He is faithful to his children and hears their cries for help.

“. . . you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. – Psalm 63:7

“The Goodness of God”, written by Ed Cash, Ben Fielding, Jason Ingram, Brian Johnson and Jenn Johnson, and published by Bethel Music

Just a Word

“I know I am coming to the day in which I will be free of words: their master rather than their servant.” – Thomas Merton

Sometimes we talk too much. And, if it isn’t our own speech, it may be the talking of others. We are surrounded with words – written, spoken, heard.

Maybe we should look for a little more silence – internal quiet that provides space for communication beyond words – the kind that true friends share, and the kind the Holy Spirit gives. Here are a couple of thoughts on this from the Bible:

Be concise

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent (Proverbs 10:19).

Author and pastor Eugene Peterson was known for long pauses in his conversations. If he was asked a question, he would often sit quietly for a time before responding. And then his answer was concise, to the point.* I want to learn to do that. Not to just say the first thing that comes to mind and then go on and on explaining what I mean. Isaiah indicates the same concept when he prays, “. . . that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary” (from Isaiah 50:4). Not a sermon or a book, but a word. Sometimes that’s all we need to say.

Be gracious

 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips” (Luke 4:22b: about Jesus).

To those who followed him, to those who were in need, to those who were seeking truth, his words were filled with grace. I’d like to be like Jesus that way, wouldn’t you?

Today may our words be few and gracious!

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” – Proverbs 16:24

*Winn Collier, A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson (New York: Waterbrook, 2021).

Surprise Ending

“Do what God tells you to do now, and, depend upon it, you will be shown what to do next.” ― Elisabeth Elliot

When we’re going through a tough situation, we have a tendency to predict how things will play out. Though we have limited power, we put our logical thinking into play and try to figure how to make things better. Nothing wrong with that. That may be exactly what we should do.

But when you introduce God into the scenario, prediction goes out the window. I saw it today in Judges 4. Deborah received a message from God she needed to pass along to Barak. He was to gather troops and fight against Sisera, leader of the army of the enemy of God’s people. Barak told Deborah he’d go to fight only if she went with him. She agreed to go, but warned that the honor of capturing Sisera would belong to a woman, not to him. That wouldn’t be an insult today, but it was in that culture at that time

So what do we all think will happen? Deborah, a judge and a prophet, is somehow going to defeat Sisera. But, no! God had something else in mind: There was a woman, Jael, who Sisera thought was on his side. He fled from Barak and stumbled exhausted into her tent. When Sisera fell asleep, Jael killed him, and is forever remembered in Israel’s history as the woman who conquered an enemy general. Only God could have engineered that ending!

Invite him into your situation. He may have an ending to your story you never would have thought of – one that will surprise you!

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”1 Corinthians 2:9b

Beautiful

“The greatest saint in the world is not he who prays most or fasts most; it is not he who gives alms, or is most eminent for temperance, chastity or justice. It is he who is most thankful to God.” – William Law

Do you remember a time when someone did something really nice for you? Maybe it was a gift or an act of service or a rescue from circumstances beyond your control. How do you thank someone who does something so above and beyond you cannot possibly repay it?

Mary of Bethany found herself in that situation after Jesus raised her brother Lazarus from the dead. You can’t repay someone for that! But she wanted to do something to show her love and appreciation. So she got out her most treasured possession – a jar of nard, probably something she was saving for her wedding day. But, instead of keeping it, she brought it to dinner at Simon’s house where Jesus was also present. She broke the jar open and poured the expensive contents on Jesus’s hair and feet (John 12 and Matthew 26). She then proceeded to wipe his feet with her hair.

The disciples began to criticize her extravagance, but not Jesus. He quieted them by saying, “. . . Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me” (Matthew 26:10b). Jesus knew her heart.

Jesus’s raising Lazarus was an amazing gift, but is it any more amazing than giving his own life so we can live forever with him? Doesn’t it just make you want to do to do something beautiful for Jesus as Mary did? It does me. What can it be today?

” . . . the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7b

What was he thinking about?

“Calvary is the one objective, absolute, irrefutable proof of God’s love for us.” – Jerry Bridges

Jesus hung on the cross for a long time. In horrible agony, with time slowly passing as the minutes and hours wore on. What he was thinking as he chose to persist, even though he could have called the whole thing off? He was thinking about joy!

Hebrews tells us he endured because of the “joy set before him” – the joy of saving broken humans.

“I’m doing this for Peter though he argued that this wasn’t going to happen. He denied me multiple times last night, but I love him and want him to be with me forever.”

“I’m doing this for Thomas, too, even though he won’t understand right away. What amazing things he will do for my kingdom.”

“Oh, I’m doing this for Mary, whose heart is breaking right now. I can’t wait to let her know the rest of the story.”

It brought him joy to think about those he loved and about those who would come to know him in the centuries after his death and resurrection. Maybe my name came to his mind. Or yours.

We’ll never fully understand what Jesus did for us or why he was willing to do it. But it seems he had such great love for those who would believe that he wouldn’t quit. That’s who he is. He still doesn’t give up. He supports us in our struggle, encourages our faith, responds to our prayers, and stays with us no matter what. And that gives him joy.

“. . . looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:2

Not much new there.

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

We were driving home from church last week, and I asked my husband, “What did you think of the sermon?” The message was based on a very familiar passage from the Sermon on the Mount, so, after thinking for a minute, he said, “There wasn’t much new there.” I agreed.

Every pastor reading this is cringing at this point, but the story didn’t end there. We began to talk about certain points this pastor made, and I acknowledged there was one point that was my “take away” for the morning – something that I needed to hear and to pay attention to in my life. Then Warren said he really had one of those, too, and his take away was specific to him. We had a great time talking about what changed for us as we listened to and processed that message.

What just happened? The Holy Spirit showed up. He took an old message, a familiar passage, and applied it in a new way in our hearts. The scripture is the same we had heard from our childhood until now, but our life circumstances are different, the problems we face have changed over time, and our hearts are more or less receptive at any given moment.

So we need to keep going back to the Word of God. True, it’s an ancient book, but it’s not a dead book. It may be old, but it never gets old. It refreshes our souls in new ways and with new emphases over time.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12

Half a Mile Ahead

I never see God. I seldom run into visual clues that remind me of God unless I am looking. The act of looking, the pursuit itself, makes possible the encounter. ” – Philip Yancey

When we traveled to Israel a few years ago, we learned to stay close to our guide. We literally would have been lost without her!

Given that experience, it was interesting to read in the story of the Israelites crossing the Jordan River (Joshua 6) that God gave different instructions. He wanted the people to follow the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant, but they were to follow more than half a mile behind. Not up close, but quite a distance away. That meant they might lose sight of the Ark or the view might be obstructed. I know I would have wanted to be a lot closer to those leaders. It’s more comfortable to follow by sight than by faith!

It made me think about life. There are times when we’re on a path we believe God placed us on, but we’ve lost sight of him, or we’re not understanding his guidance as clearly as we’d hoped. We begin to question whether we’re even on the right path. And, on really bad days, we’re afraid he’s forgotten us. He hasn’t! He’s sometimes half a mile out front making sure everything’s ready when we get there.

God’s not as far away as we think. He may be out of sight, but he’s still leading. We need to follow and trust. We’ll probably see him around the next bend.

 “. . . I go to prepare a place for you. . . And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” – John 14:2b-3

Something new?

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” – C. S. Lewis

Are you facing something new in your life? A new relationship? Job? Baby? Class? Diagnosis? Neighborhood?

After Moses’ death, the Israelites were facing something new, too. They had been in the desert for 40 years and now were were camped on the eastern side of the Jordan River just waiting to cross and begin to claim the land God had promised. Joshua recognizes how scary this might be when he said, “you have not passed this way before.” (Joshua 3:4b)

There was a new leader to follow, a new river to cross, new land to take over, and new cultures to understand. So, God tells them, through Joshua, that he will show them the way. They just have to follow the priests who are carrying the Ark of the Covenant.

When we face something new in our lives, don’t we feel like that? We have left behind something familiar and comfortable. We haven’t done this thing before. How can we do it right? How can we succeed? Joshua’s message brings us comfort knowing that God realizes our fears. He knows we haven’t passed this way before, but he knows the way and tells us just to follow him.

And following God always brings the unexpected. The next thing the Israelites saw was the priests stepping into the Jordan River which was overflowing its banks. The rushing water stopped and the people were given a path through to the other side.

If we want a full life, we sometimes have to let go of the old path and turn to the new. God will lead us and may have a few surprises along the way. Just ask Joshua!

“You have made known to me the path of life.” – Psalm16:11a

Results

“The One who calls you to a life of righteousness is the One who, by your consent, lives that life of righteousness through you!” – Major Ian Thomas


The quality of the life we live is the product of many small choices we make each day. God tells us  “the fruit of righteousness will be peace, the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.” (Isaiah 32:17).

If righteousness brings peace, quietness, and confidence, what does it say about choices I’m making if, instead of those qualities, I’m experiencing anxiety, turmoil, and fear? Maybe I need to take a closer look at righteousness!

What kind of life would God consider righteous? Loving him comes to mind, as Jesus clearly stated. Jesus also taught that right living hinges upon loving those around us and showing that love in tangible ways. It seems that righteous living includes seeking justice for the mistreated and help for the suffering. We would all agree that righeousness includes virtuous living: purity of actions and thought – in eating/drinking, sexual morality, caring for our bodies, and protecting our minds.

Only the Holy Spirit can enable us to live righteously. So, if we want the peace, quietness, and confidence that right living brings, we need to turn to the One who stands ready to transform our hearts, minds, and souls. He won’t do it without our invitation and cooperation. But, when we invite him, we begin to be sensitive to his conviction of wrongdoing and to his nudges toward good decisions. As we respond to those convictions and follow those nudges, we grow, realizing, as we do, that all righteousness is God-given. Without him, it’s impossible!

” . . . being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 1:6

NOTE: This post is was originally published on this site in July of 2019.

We know what he wants.

“Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God’s will will be done. If we choose to cooperate with it, life will be much easier than if we oppose it.

Pharaoh is an example to look at. It was God’s will to free the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and to send them back to the land he had promised Abraham and his descendants generations earlier. Pharaoh didn’t see it that way and decided to fight against God’s plan. The result was complete devastation of Egypt and, eventually, the release of the Israelites as God had planned all along. It was going to happen. Pharaoh could make it easy or hard for his people. He made it hard, but God’s will was done in the end.

God makes his general will very clear in the Bible. We are to be faithful to him, to love him and our neighbor, to forgive as he has forgiven us, to love justice, and to practice mercy. It’s also his will that all people come to a knowledge of the truth and experience his salvation (1 Timothy 2:4). We can help fulfill that part of his will by sharing with others what we know to be true about God and his redemptive plan.

Next time we pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, know that it will be as he has willed. We have a choice, though: We can fight it, or we can cooperate with it. We all know which is better!

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”– Romans 12:2

Does it matter today?

“Every Christian should have a passion to please God. We are to delight in honoring Him. It should be our greatest desire to please our Redeemer.” – R. C. Sproul

Sometimes it’s hard to read Old Testament passages without tuning out. I had that challenge in my reading this morning. I was in Deuteronomy and Moses explained that when the Israelites got settled in their new land, they were to take the first portion of their crops (“firstfruits”) and give it to God. It was a way of acknowledging his provision of their new homeland.

Last week my husband and I moved into a new neighborhood in our old home state of Michigan. We believe God has brought us here. How do we acknowledge that in a way that would be parallel to the Israelites offering the first portion of their crops after arriving at their new home?

I don’t imagine I’ll ever offer literal firstfruits to God. We don’t have a garden, and our lawn is not even doing very well at this point! So, how can I show the same attitude God expected of Israel, but in a different way? I asked God about that. Here are two ideas that came to mind:

Donate to an organization helping those who have no homes.

Make our home a place of hospitality – sharing food and friendship with others.

The Bible is applicable to our lives every day. Sometimes we have to ask God to enlighten us to see how we can accomplish the goal of his original command. Let’s think more about that next time we find a text that seems out of touch with today’s world. It probably has a connection we haven’t seen yet!

“And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house. . . “ – Deuteronomy 26:11a

A Trustworthy Love

“Oh, holy night, fill with silence that I might hear that which is not spoken by human voices.” – Sharon Ann Reich-Gray

How well do we know God? We are told that even the stars in the sky reveal who he is. We see his fingerprints all around us in creation. He speaks to us through his Word when a verse just seems to come to life as we read it: The message jumps off the page and into our hearts.

And he speaks through our thoughts, sometimes giving direction, often just letting us know how much he loves us or encouraging us to trust him. He might say something like this:

I love you beyond anything you can know. Accept my love. Love me back.

Or this:

Accept that I have given you gifts and talents for you to use and enjoy as you choose. You don’t have to prove anything. Just receive my love. Know me better. When you really begin to know me, you will serve me better, too.

Or this:

Believe I am who I say I am. Trust me to go ahead of you on the path, to always tell you the truth.

Or this:

Trust me in the dark. Trust me never to leave you, always to love you.

He truly loves his children and wants nothing but the best for us. If we believe that, we can face anything that comes our way today. Keep listening!

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” – Ephesians 3:17b-19

It’s not about religion.

“People must have righteous principals in the first, and then they will not fail to perform virtuous actions.” – Martin Luther

What do you think of when you hear the word righteous? Positive or negative? We cringe when we think of those who wear their “righteousness” like a badge of honor. Wanting to make sure we all know how good they are. They’re not usually fun to be around. And, yet, we know we’re supposed to be “righteous”.

According to the Bible, true righteousness is living ethically and morally, but , , ,

. . . does not call attention to itself

. . . is not about keeping a list of rules

. . . is not competitive

. . . is humble

. . . is attractive to others

. . . serves

. . . shows compassion

. . . points to attention to God

Jesus used the Pharisees of his day as bad examples of right living. They kept a lot of rules – 613 commands, in fact, and they tried to make sure everyone else kept them, too. They prayed long prayers for show. They made sure everyone knew when they were fasting. They gave to the poor only when they knew others were watching. That’s hypocrisy – not righteousness.

That’s why Jesus told his followers, who admired the Pharisees’ religious fervor, that their righteousness had to exceed the righteousness of these leaders. The disciples realized Jesus’ demand was an impossible goal until they began to understand that the righteousness Jesus talked about couldn’t be earned. It would be a gift – from him.

True righteousness never seems so. If we’re humble, righteousness fits like a beautiful garment and attracts people to us. We don’t show off our goodness, instead, we show them Jesus, the only source of true righteousness.


He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” – Micah 6:8

It takes practice.

“To learn strong faith is to endure great trials. I have learned my faith by standing firm amid severe testings.” – George Mueller

Have you ever learned to play a musical instrument? If so, you know you don’t sit down and play a Mozart concerto on the first day. You start with a few notes and repeat them until the notes on the page flow through you into melody. Making music begins with easy pieces. But if you want to go to the next level, it takes work, stamina, making mistakes, letting the music get into your bones, and, at long last, the more complex composition translates into beautiful sounds. Making music takes practice.

Trusting God is like that: We learn to trust by trusting. The hard part is that the only way to practice this skill is to encounter a problem we can’t solve on our own. Not our favorite thing. And it becomes harder the longer the problem persists. If we don’t give up, our trust grows as we go through the struggle stage-by-stage.

When it’s over, and we’re on an even keel again, we realize our confidence in God is much stronger than it was before the problem began. Then, when God is ready to move us to the next level of trusting, we do it all over again with a new problem life brings, but this time we’re stronger and better able to be joyful, peaceful, and hopeful even in the struggle.

So, let’s not complain when we’re faced with a challenge. Maybe God is taking us to the next level of trust, of knowing him. At each new level, the music is more beautiful, the joy more complete. Keep practicing!

“This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” – Isaiah 25:9b

Secret Believers

 “Oh, how great peace and quietness would he possess who should cut off all vain anxiety and place all his confidence in God.” – Thomas a’ Kempis

In some countries, Christians must be careful about sharing their faith with people they don’t know, and they often bond with other Christians and meet together secretly. Their lives may depend on staying under cover.

For most of us, though, we’re not in danger if we talk about God or claim to be a follower of Jesus. But still, many of us tend to keep our faith under wraps.

The Gospel of John tells us many Jews believed in Jesus after witnessing the raising of Lazarus. But they believed secretly because they were afraid they would be ostracized by the religious establishment. John saw through their motivation for secrecy. He said, “They loved human praise more than praise from God.” (John 12:43)

John’s implication is we can either please other humans or we can please God, and very often we can’t do both. Sometimes we have to be willing to be criticized or ridiculed if we’re going to be bold in living out our Christian faith.

Maybe we need to be more honest about who we are, more comfortable with letting our faith in Christ show, and more willing to speak the truth. Sometimes that may bring a negative response, but, if we share of ourselves with quiet confidence and grace, God will be pleased. Who do we want to please the most?

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” – 1 Peter 3:15b-16

Now’s a good time to pray.

“A man may study because his brain is hungry for knowledge, even Bible knowledge. But he prays because his soul is hungry for God.” – Leonard Ravenhill

Do you have any soul hunger going on? Wanting to know God better. Wanting to feel his presence. It’s likely he is the one putting that desire in your heart. When it comes, respond. How? By praying. When we pray, we reach out to connect, knowing he’s already reaching out to us.

Why the urgency to pray now? If you’re busy, it seems OK to wait until later to pray, right? Or if you are distressed about something, it’s hard to focus on prayer. God must surely understand that!

Here’s what David says to God in Psalm 32 “ . . . let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found” (verse 6). Personally, I don’t think God will go into hiding if I don’t pray right away. That would not be consistent with everything else we read about him in the Bible. Instead, I think the danger of not “finding” him when we pray may lie with us as the pray-ers.

Maybe we need to pray before we get distracted with the the things around us and forget to get back to him. Or before we make decisions without his guidance and find ourselves not wanting to reach out for help. Or before we get accustomed to moving through life without him. God doesn’t want that to happen to us and neither do we. So, the antidote to “losing” God through distraction, stress, mistakes, or just hard heartedness is to pray now. Now, while our hearts are drawn toward him.

Got a minute? How about using it to talk to God?

“Pray all the time.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (The Message)

Sing me a song.

Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.” Martin Luther

Does your church sing praise songs? Probably. Hymns? Those, too, I imagine. I have some favorites such as “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” and “Open the Eyes of My Heart.” I would think that, by now, you’re thinking of your favorites, too.

But, there are times when I am going through my day and I just want to sing a song to Jesus. Sometimes I choose the standard fare from church, but there are other times when only a good old-fashioned love song will do. Here’s one I’m singing to him lately:

“This is where I want to be, here with you so close to me –
until the final flicker of life’s ember.”
*

It says so much: I like having him close. I want to stay in that space where I can sense his presence until the day I die.

Then there I times that I imagine he sings to me, too – maybe something like this one:

“Call me, don’t be afraid you can call me. Maybe it’s late, but just call me.
Call me and I’ll be around.
“**

A friend confided recently, “Sometimes I sing him songs – and not always the ones I Iearn in church.” I found out there was someone who showed love to Jesus in the same way I do. How about you? He might like to hear a love song from you right now!

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.”
– Psalm 13:5-6

*From “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars,” written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Gene Lees

**From “Call Me,” written by Aretha Franklin

Getting to Know Him

“There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them, and that this relationship guarantees God’s favor to them in life, through death and on for ever.” – J. I. Packer

What does God feel when he looks at you? Approval? Frustration? Does thinking about that help you grow spiritually? Probably not. I propose that our personal and spiritual growth is not so much about what God sees when he looks at us as it is about what we see when we look at him.

If we focus on earning God’s approval, we try self-improvement schemes: looking good, behaving well, getting over bad habits, and trying to love everyone! That’s a lot of work and we’ll never be better people just by trying harder.

The first step, of course, is accepting Jesus’ invitation to follow him. After that, it’s about learning to know God – as he reveals himself in the Bible, in times of prayer, and through wise and mature Christian teachers and writers. When we see his heart, we realize he’s pleased with us already. He knows we will fail and, when we turn to him, he forgives every time. And when he does, he begins to change us. It’s his work, not ours.

So instead of anxiously trying to earn God’s approval, let’s just get to know him. Most of us have some incorrect perceptions of him that need to be fixed. So let’s put our energy into learning who he is and responding to his heart. When we know him, we will love him, and our efforts to please him will be out of love, not fear.

 “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . .” – Exodus 34:4

Stressed out?

“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.”  – Charles Spurgeon

There’s plenty to be stressed about these days, and so much of what makes us anxious is beyond our control. On the other hand, there are really practical things we can do to reduce stress in our lives. Some of the best advice on that is found in the book of Proverbs. Let’s take a look.

Plan ahead. Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow. One way not to have to worry is to have a plan – whether it’s for raising children, advancing in your career, saving money, or serving God.

Set good priorities. Part of planning is prioritizing. Find your priorities and follow them consistently.

Choose friends carefully. Get close to friends who will walk with you through joys and sorrows and will encourage your faith in our loving God.

Always tell the truth. It’s too much work to remember what you told to whom. Truth-telling is not only biblical, it’s safe!

Find good counselors. Proverbs is all about getting good input. In fact, it talks about having an abundance of counselors. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice!

Keep your finances in order. Make it a goal to spend less than you earn. Debt creates stress!

Help others. Step up when you see those who have needs they can’t take care of by themselves.

Trust God more than you trust yourself. As much as we’d like to, we really can’t trust our own thinking sometimes. That’s where God comes in. Trust him first and always. If everything follows from that foundation, stress will be calmed.

If you haven’t read the book of Proverbs lately, this might be a good time to revisit its amazing wisdom!

A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh . . .”– Proverbs 14:30a

It will make sense – eventually.

God will not permit any troubles to come upon us, unless He has a specific plan by which great blessing can come out of the difficulty.” – Peter Marshall

Why? is a question we find ourselves asking a lot. Why doesn’t God heal me? Why can’t I find a good job? Why aren’t my prayers being answered? Why, God?

Sometimes there are identifiable answers to those why’s. Maybe we’ve made bad decisions and need to correct them. Maybe we’ve wandered from God and need to reconnect. But, at other times, we sense there’s more to the story than what we see.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey at the beginning of the week of his crucifixion, the disciples watched, and John says they “. . . did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him” (John 12:16). They didn’t understand because they didn’t have the whole story – yet.

Later, just before the disciples and Jesus had their last Passover meal together, Peter objected to his Lord washing his feet. Jesus responded, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand” (John 13:7). In other words, just wait until you see how this ends. Then it will all make sense!

Sometimes we can understand the here and now only in light of what happens later. This requires trust that God is good and loving and powerful and will not allow our suffering to go unaddressed. Our cries are heard and our why’s will be answered – when we see how the story ends.

 “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.” – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18a

He kept walking.

“When Jesus set his face to walk the Calvary road, he was not merely taking our place; he was setting our pattern.” – John Piper

Jesus knew what was coming. He told his disciples he was going to Jerusalem where he would be arrested, tried, and crucified. After three days he would rise from the dead. Jesus knew what had to take place if he was going to be the Savior of the world. So, “. . . he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).

The walk from Capernaum was nearly 80 miles long. Lots of time to think about what was about to happen. But he didn’t waver. He pointed himself toward Jerusalem and kept walking. He stopped to heal people along the way – then kept walking. He stopped to eat and sleep, and then kept walking. Resolute. Pointing toward his own death. Never turning back.

What was he thinking about? We get a clue from this passage: “. . . let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1b-2).

He kept walking because, at the other end of agony, there would be joy. Joy at doing the Father’s will. Joy in bringing salvation to the people of the earth. He did it for joy.

Are you facing health issues? Family problems? Emotional trauma? Financial setbacks? Work stress? Do what Jesus did. Keep walking, knowing he has a plan for you, knowing the end result is in his hands, resting in his promises of presence, power, and joy. Don’t give up. Keep walking. That’s what Jesus did!

” . . . for the joy that was set before him. . .” – from Hebrews 12:2

NOTE: Original walking concept from Emilie Griffin in Small Surrenders

Power

“What wings are to a bird and sails to a ship, so is prayer to the soul.” – Corrie Ten Boom

Have you ever fantasized about what you’d do if you were in charge of the world? The fantasy doesn’t last long, does it? The problems are great, and we have so little power to make a difference.

But wait. We may have more power to effect change than we realize – maybe not on a grand scale, but, instead, in our circle of influence – people we know up close and those we reach through media.

What power do we have?

First, there is the power of words: Some of you are great at engaging in discussions about important issues. Others know how to say just the right things to people in distress. Still others have great powers of persuasion. We can use our words, whether written or spoken, to urge, comfort, and counsel. Our timely words matter to someone!

The second is the power of community: Sometimes it is who you know. We may not have what we need to make the impact we want, but we may know those who do. Power isn’t simply added when we include another – it’s multiplied!

The third power we have is spiritual. When we pray, God hears, responds, directs, and, yes, empowers. One simple, weak, tired thing we do can be supernaturally empowered by the Spirit to make a big change in this world.

We shouldn’t feel powerless. We cannot do everything, but we can do something! What is the “something” God is putting in front of you to do today? It matters!

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, . . . that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,” – Ephesians 3:14,16

Staying lost?

Prodigal Son (New Your Public Library), Public Domain

“I cannot be reborn from below; that is, with my own strength, with my own mind, with my own psychological insights. I can only be healed from above, from where God reaches down.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen

I had a dog years ago who liked to explore the world, and sometimes he got lost. One of two things happened when we realized Luey had taken off again: Either we’d go looking for him, calling his name, checking his favorite haunts, or he would get hungry and find his way home. The end result was the same either way: The lost dog didn’t stay lost.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables about lostness. The first was the lost sheep. The shepherd knew the wanderer would never find his way back to the flock on his own, so he secured the 99 sheep and set out to find the one who was lost.

The second was about a woman who lost a valuable coin. She searched until she found it and then called her neighbors in to celebrate. What was lost had been found.

The third is familiar to all of us. It is about a lost son, the one who declared independence from his father, took his inheritance early and set off to a far country where he lived an irresponsible life until his money ran out, a famine hit, and there was no one to turn to but Dad who welcomed him home with a great feast.

The point of these stories? That which is lost can be found.

If you’re feeling lost today, God knows where you are. He will help you find your way back home. You don’t have to stay lost!

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10

Maybe it’s a test.

“Let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings!” – Henry Ward Beecher

In some ways, all of life is a test. How will we react when things go wrong? Or when we don’t get our way? Or God feels far away? Those are circumstances we all understand. But, have you ever thought that a blessing from God could also be a test?

In Exodus 15 we find the people of Israel several weeks’ journey into the wilderness after their escape from Egypt. They’re out of food and starting to complain. God tells Moses not to worry because he (God) will provide quail for the people at night and a strange new food the people will call manna six mornings a week. He went on to say he was doing this as a test to see if the people would obey his instructions. They could collect manna six days a week, but not on the seventh, because that was a day of rest. Most passed the test, but some didn’t. They had to learn the hard way.

There’s more: What God was offering was not just food. He was giving them the gift of enough and the gift of rest. They received the full blessing only when they were obedient.

After reading this story in Exodus, I have to wonder if God blesses us and then stands back to see how we will use the gifts he gives us. Maybe, with his blessings, he is trying to grow in us a willing obedience, care for others, and trust in him. Are we passing the test?

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” – Ephesians 1:3

About Leaders

The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion. Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.” – John Stott

Think about leaders you know. Some are on the world stage as leaders of nations or, in other ways, are international influencers. Others are more local – in our communities, churches, businesses, and families. You can learn how to lead by attending seminars, watching videos, or reading books, but maybe one of the best ways is by observing.

I’ve been reading recently about Moses and his confrontation with Pharaoh about freeing the Israelite slaves. In their conversations and God’s responses (ten devastating plagues!), we see two kinds of leaders at work.

Pharaoh was was ego-driven, power-hungry, inconsistent, angry, and stubborn. As a result of his decisions, Egypt was devastated – crops and livestock wiped out, military might destroyed, and there were unimaginable personal losses for every family. His people suffered greatly under his leadership.

Moses, on the other hand, has been called the humblest person ever born (Numbers 12:3). It was also said of him that God talked to him face-to-face as a man speaks to a friend (Exodus 33:11). Moses wasn’t perfect, but he did his best to follow God’s direction and to live by his principles. As a result, God’s people were set free under his leadership.

Whether we lead or follow, we must acknowledge that leaders matter. So, when we have a choice, let’s choose carefully who we will follow. And, if we lead, let’s do so with Moses-like humility and authority. That’s leadership God honors.

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” – Hebrews 13:7

How does God really feel about us?

God loves us not because we’re lovable, because He is love. Not because He needs to receive, because He delights to give.” C. S. Lewis

Most of us have been taught that God loves us. We hear it in children’s songs and in the earliest verses we memorize. But, do you know that he also likes us? On some days, I find it much easier to believe he loves me than that he likes me; but, look at this verse (and there are others like it in the Bible): “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” (Psalm 147:11).

It’s hard to understand how the God of the Universe could take pleasure in a mere human. And what exactly pleases him? According to this verse, that this human is in an appropriate and loving relationship with him. Apparently God likes that. I think of him as a doting parent who smiles at every advance we make, cringes at our mistakes, aches over our sins, and protects us from going too far outside his loving boundaries. He loves us because he created us, and he likes us because we are all unique beings with our own personalities, quirks, and ways of relating to him.

He is our teacher, our guide, our heavenly parent. He delights when we respond to his instruction. He smiles when we return his perfect love with our human, less-than-perfect, version. He rejoices when we do the right things and is saddened when we take a wrong turn. He loves us completely and, on most days at least, he likes us, too!

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. – Psalm 16:11

Hearts’ Desires

“. . . it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us . . . We are far too easily pleased.” – C. S. Lewis

What is the most important thing to you? What does your heart desire? Some of us have given in to desires that now control us: Food, alcohol, drugs, pornography, approval, unhealthy relationships, senseless accumulation. We really want to change, but every time we try, we fall back to old habits. Could it be that our desire to be freed from those controls is not as great as our desire to keep things just as they are?

This is where God steps in if we let him. He wants to give us what truly satisfies, not just the immediate comforts we reach for. He can actually change what we want. He can give us new desires. It happens in marriages when a troubled couple falls in love all over again. It happens in other areas, too.

I heard of the testimony of a young woman with an addiction. Soon after giving her life to Christ, she said she no longer had a taste for what she had craved uncontrollably just weeks earlier. God had taken away her old desires and replaced them with new. That’s what he does! For her, it was immediate. For many, it happens over time. But our short-sighted desires are eventually replaced with better ones.

God knows our true needs. So, he helps us want the right things. Then he fulfills the desires he plants within us. Result? Freedom from enslavements. Empathy for others. Love for God. Please, Lord, change our hearts!

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” – Psalm 37:4

Quiet, please.

Biblically, waiting is not just something we have to do until we get what we want. Waiting is part of the process of becoming what God wants us to be.” – John Ortberg

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations we are powerless to do anything about: world events, governmental decisions, someone’s cancer, choices of a wayward child, or even the weather. What do we do when we can do nothing to make things better? Maybe we sit back, get quiet, open our hearts to God, and watch him work.

For some of us, taking our hands off the controls is a difficult first step. But there are times when we can get in God’s way by not letting go. It’s not that we don’t care or won’t do what he directs us to do, but there are times when we need to consciously let him take over while we stand aside. It worked for Moses at the Red Sea and for Joshua when he needed a longer day (ever want one of those?), and for the disciples when thousands showed up for lunch. They each had a problem they couldn’t solve, but they knew Someone who could.

Some of us are at a Red Sea moment in our lives right now. Maybe it’s time to stand aside and watch him work: No suggestions, questions, complaints. Just watching in silence and awe.

God can accomplish in a split second what we cannot do in years of working, worrying, struggling, and, (dare I say it?) nagging. For most of us, letting go and staying quiet is the hardest part, but God may be waiting for us to do just that. Catching up with him may mean sitting still.

“The Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him.”
– Habakkuk 2:20

My way? God’s way? Or both?

“God does not give us everything we want, but He does fulfill His promises, leading us along the best and straightest paths to Himself.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Crossroads in life are hard as we try to figure out what God wants for us. How can we be sure we are choosing the right path? The Gospels show at least two ways God guides our lives.

Sometimes he gives instructions directly. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her she would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit and he would be the Son of God, she is shocked, but then says, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38b). God told her what he wanted. She said “I’ll do it.” God often initiates his will in our lives and we need only to respond. The Bible is generally the conduit of or at least the confirmation of those instructions.

Sometimes he hears our cries. We want something and begin to pray about it, asking God to lead and to fulfill our desire. We initiate and wait for God to respond. When the Centurion asked Jesus to heal his sick servant, Jesus commends the man for his faith and then says, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed” (Matthew 8:13b). Sometimes God wants us to tell him what we want, and he will respond in a way that keeps us in his perfect will. Our faith, our desire, and our initiative matter to God!

Whether it’s our idea or his, we need to ask him to show his signposts, then follow. An adventure awaits!

“. . . the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” – 1 John 2:17

How’s your love life?

“The world is not a playground; it is a school-room. Life is not a holiday, but an education. And the one eternal lesson for us all is how better we can love.” – Henry Drummond

I had a pastor years ago who said that, when we stand before God, he will have one question, “How was your love life?” I still think about that because I believe he was right.

Loving is good, but we have to be very careful where we direct our love. Read this ” . . . in the last days people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (from 2 Timothy 3:1-4). Paul is describing people who are good lovers, but they are loving the wrong things! He mentions three areas:

Self: We should value our lives, appreciate the unique way God has made us, and live with confidence. But we go wrong when our focus is on ourselves, what we want, where we are going.

Money: We have to have money to live, but when money becomes our primary focus, not for survival, but for prestige, affluence, or luxury, it’s a dangerous love.

Pleasure: We work hard and we get stressed. So, there are times when we should throttle back and enjoy the good things life offers. That’s great, but only if we are not living just for pleasure – the next thrill or trip or indulgence.

Jesus told us where our love should be directed: Toward God and toward others. We will never do it perfectly, but when that is our goal, God will give us contentment, confidence, and joy – and when we stand before God, he will be pleased that we loved wisely and well.


“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” – Proverbs 4:23

Good or Bad?

“According to Jesus, there are no good people, only humble people and proud people. He favors the humble and opposes the proud.” – Brant Hansen

Are you trying hard to be good?

The archetypal “good boy” in the Bible was the rich young man who asked Jesus what good thing he had to do to ensure his eternal life. Jesus responds by telling him if he wants to earn eternal life by being good, he has to keep all the commandments. Check. Have done that all my life, he says. OK, then, Jesus says his true goodness will be evidenced by his selling everything he has, giving the money to the poor, and then following Jesus. But that’s too much to ask, so he goes away sad.

The problem? He was good. He wanted to do good things. He wanted to have eternal life with God. But, he was proud of his own goodness, and he didn’t want to hear he might be wrong.

Later Jesus was talking to religious leaders and tells them that the “bad” people believed the truth about Jesus, but they, the “good” people, didn’t believe even when they saw credible evidence. Jesus zings them with this: “For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him” (Matthew 21:32).

Neither the young man nor the religious leaders were willing to change their minds. They refused to believe they might be wrong. The problem? Pride. In God’s eyes, spirituality is not about goodness and badness. It’s about pride and humility. Giving up our way for his.

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” – James 4:10

Where did he go?

“No soul can be really at rest until it has given up all dependence on everything else and has been forced to depend on the Lord alone. As long as our expectation is from other things, nothing but disappointment awaits us.” – Hannah Whitall Smith

God doesn’t impose himself on us. At times, the people of Israel rejected him and turned to idol worship. God repeatedly called them back, but they wouldn’t listen. So he said, “I will return again to my place until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face and, in their distress, earnestly seek me” (Hosea 5:15). We might paraphrase it this way: “I’m going back home until you understand how much you need me.”

Sometimes God seems far away even when we go to church, sing the songs, and take communion. Hosea says something about that, too: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” The people of Israel were doing many right things like going to the temple and offering sacrifices. But outward actions didn’t change their hearts or keep them from following other “gods”.

God’s greatest desire is for us to know and love him – above everything and anyone else. Our true devotion is more important to him than ceremonial actions. I’ve found that if I am missing a sense of God’s presence in my life, I soften my heart and ask him to come back. With that invitation, he usually begins to work with me and makes himself known again.

Does he seem far away right now? Tell him you miss him. You love him. You want to sense his presence. He’ll come.

For the Lord your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn his face from you if you return to him.” – 2 Chronicles 30:9b

New

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

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

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

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

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

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

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