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

My House

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come closer.

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

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

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

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

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

What are we waiting for?

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

New

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the joy . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Countercultural

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

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

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

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

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

In a world of bullies, he was gentle.

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

In a world that demanded retribution, he was forgiving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plan C

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

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

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

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

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

Stretching Our Minds

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

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

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

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

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

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, “ – 2 Corinthians 10:5

When Discouragement Hits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senses and Savoring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you admire?

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

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

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

For his compassion toward people of all walks in life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Need help?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus: Who is he?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Backward Look

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truth in Context

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

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

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

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

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

Practice on Humans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking Promises

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

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

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

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

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

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

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