The wrong question?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disease

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember, he’s still here.

He’s still loving.

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

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

Living Like the Wind

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confused? Frustrated?

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” – Luke 24:32

If you feel challenged and confused these days, you’re not alone! Many are mourning the absence of life as they knew it and are wondering how things will change when everything settles down. What will the new normal look like?

After Jesus’ crucifixion, his disciples struggled with some of those same challenges. They’d believed Jesus was the Messiah. They’d followed and trusted him over several years, and now he was dead. They couldn’t imagine what their new normal would look like.

On the Sunday after Jesus’ death, two disciples were walking toward the town of Emmaus when a third man joined them on the journey. Luke tells us that their faces were “downcast”. Their new companion listened as they told him about the events over the past three days – Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, burial, and their crushed hopes. And now, some were telling of an empty tomb, and that confused the situation all the more.

Don’t you love that Jesus. though unrecognized, was with them right then in their confusion and pain? Through Scripture, he began to make everything clear. And, when they sat down for a meal, he prayed and broke bread and at that moment they recognized it was Jesus who had been with them all along! He listened to their problems, taught them from Scripture, and revealed himself to them – alive!

Jesus is here in our confusion, too, and his mode is still to listen, teach, and reveal. Don’t you think we can trust that he will help make sense of whatever we are going through? I do!

“All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” – Julian of Norwich

The Narrows

“Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path . . . with walls on both sides.” – Numbers 22:24

A few years ago, we traveled with some of our family to Zion National Park where we entered “The Narrows”. It’s the most confined section of the canyon where, at times, you can touch both sides of the towering rock walls as you walk through with a river underfoot. I’m not fond of closed-in spaces, so I knew that hike was not for me!

Sometimes we don’t have a choice about how narrow our lives get, and the walls can seem too confining. Some of you are feeling that now when you can’t leave your home even for work. We’re used to wide open spaces – highways, malls, meeting places, beaches, and parks. Now we are kept inside with only occasional recourse to the outside world.

No matter if we are sequestering alone or with a large family, God is waiting with us in the narrows. He offers grace for each day, mercy in our stresses, hope that the wide-open spaces will soon reappear, and joy as we step cautiously through the restricted pathways of our present lives.

To access that grace, mercy, hope, and joy, we need to do one thing: Let our hearts be soft enough to receive. These gifts are there for us. Jesus is simply asking that you recognize he is with you in the small space and acknowledge you need him. As you turn toward him, he will respond. He always does.

Let’s be open to God today! When we do, the walls will seem to disappear, and the vastness of eternity will enter.

“. . . a bench outdoors, a porch swing, a chair in the library. Such places, as much as a church pew, provide openings to grace.” – Emilie Griffin

A Little Bit of Light

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12

I well remember being afraid of the dark as a child. Every sound seemed threatening and what I thought was hiding under my bed kept me wide awake. Turning on the light to check the dark corners was the only solution to my fear.

The darkness evident in the world today causes similar anxieties. But, there is a solution for those fears, too, and it is held in the hands of those who follow Jesus. 

Jesus told us he is the light of the world. That we can believe. He is true, right, and good. Then, he turned to his disciples (that includes those who follow him today) and said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). What? Me? You? Yes. He has entrusted us with the awesome and sometimes scary responsibility of bringing light to dark places.

Light reveals what’s hidden in the darkness and it shows a way out of the darkness.* Many people think they know how to deal with the darkness around us, but, Jesus says his followers are the ones who carry the light of this truth: The solutions to the most basic problems in this world are found in him.

How are we doing as lights of the world? We might be tempted to back away when we realize that many people don’t want the hidden things of darkness to be revealed. Jesus warns us not to hide our light. Instead, he says we must hold it high, ready to warn of the dangers lurking in the dark and eager to lead those who are willing directly to Jesus, the source of all light and truth.

“Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself”. – Erasmus

 

 

*Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Martino Publishing: Mansfield Centre, Connecticut,), 2011, p. 168.

Rest awhile.

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” – Mark 6:31

Has your life changed because of the corona virus? Most of us have had events and activities canceled. Some have kids home on a prolonged break from school. Many have run into shortages at local stores. Some have been asked to work from home instead of coming in to the office. And our calendars are suddenly cleared!

The result? More time at home, less time on the run. So, let’s stop to assess our new normal and take a deep breath. We are now permitted to slow the hectic pace of our pre-quarantine lives and mellow out a little.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Maybe this world’s enforced slow-down is his invitation to rest, to spend time alone with him, and to let our minds stop the constant distraction of our old normal.

Let’s not overfill the extra time we may have. Instead, let’s live into it. Limit social media use, take soaking baths instead of quick showers, read a little longer to the kids at night, make mealtime last for an hour instead of minutes, take walks, read good books, talk to God, read his book, and enjoy being his kid. I think he has plans for us during the time apart.

If we listen to the Spirit and use this time well, we may emerge from the respite being more purposeful in our pursuits and less frenetic in our pace. We might find a renewed zest for life as we make more God-centered choices about time use than we did before this unsought slowing. Maybe it’s an opportunity to push the reset button!

“Converse less with man, and more with God.” – George Whitefield

Live your own life!

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

Whose life are you living? If you’re constantly called to commiserate with an overly reliant friend, if you’re consistently focused on another person’s decisions or actions, or if you’re preoccupied about what may happen today or tomorrow in the life of someone you love, you may be missing the life God gave you to live. 

Don’t get me wrong – I believe in empathizing with those who are struggling, helping those in need, supporting our children to adulthood and beyond, and being a true friend. But, when worries about other people’s lives dominate our thoughts, we’re surely missing what God is offering us.

Today, he wants us to experience his leading in every decision, blessings from his hand, peace beyond understanding, and love that refreshes our souls.

Today, he wants the fruit of the Spirit to grow in our hearts: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. I want that, don’t you?

So, how do we care deeply about others and still position ourselves to receive what God wants for us? 

  • Think about our blessings.
  • Acknowledge that the life God has given us is good. 
  • Cherish each day.
  • Praise God.
  • Yield to his direction.

When we live in distraction, we cannot take in all God wants for us. So, let’s live our own lives – deeply and gratefully. Then we will be able to do more than worry about or sympathize with friends or family –  we will enable them to live their own lives, too!

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

The calm comes.

“Peace doesn’t come from finding a lake with no storms. It comes from having Jesus in the boat.” – John Ortberg

After some minor surgery recently, I was disoriented and agitated as I woke from the anesthetic. Nurses were trying to calm me, asking what I was feeling, reassuring me. One nurse turned my face toward hers and said, “Look at me. Everything’s OK.” I was still distressed.

Then, glancing over her shoulder, I saw my husband. His were the eyes I locked in on. His words, almost the same as hers, were the ones I trusted. In the middle of my confusion, his was the voice that connected with my fear and brought peace.

Are you thrashing about in life today? Not feeling anchored? Distraught? Angry? Worried? Listening to music might help, or taking a walk, or talking with a friend. But often messages from those around us aren’t enough to bring peace. What do we do?

We look over the shoulder of this world to see Jesus. He understands what it’s like to be human, and he’s strong enough to carry our fear or pain. We read from the Gospels to gain confidence in who he is. We pray, knowing he not only listens, but is loving enough to respond – with power or with a quiet voice inside us. 

Whatever way we find to turn to Jesus, when we lock our eyes into his, we are able to stop struggling against circumstances or emotional reactions. Peace comes when our trust is placed in the One who knows just what we need. He will take care of us.


“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” – John 14:27

Don’t live afraid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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