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

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

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