Did you get it wrong?

“Bless the LORD, O my soul . . . who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.” Psalm 103:2-4

We make decisions early in life that set a trajectory that’s hard to change. You know the kind I mean: Education, career, marriage, home, and kids. Often before we’re 30.

Wanting to get it right, we ask God for direction and then decide. Sometimes we make good decisions and sometimes not. If we realize, often years later, we’ve made some mistakes, is there anything we can do? The Bible gives some insight here:

God had been ruling Israel through judges. The people, though, noticed that other nations had kings, so they wanted a king, too. They persisted and, finally, God relented and gave them a king.

Some time later, Samuel reminded them they had been wrong to ask God for a king. The people seemed to realize Samuel was right, and they acknowledged their bad judgment. But what could they do? They already had the king they’d asked for.

Samuel said: “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart” (1 Samuel 12:20b). He says, essentially, just follow God in your present situation.

Have you ever made a big mistake? Or have you committed a sin you’ve regretted for years? God still says something like this, “Yes, you were wrong, but don’t be afraid. Just follow me, love me, serve me where you are today.”

He is the God of second chances. He still leads, heals wounds, and uses broken people who keep on following him no matter what.

“. . . the things about you that make you cringe most, make him hug hardest.” – Dane Ortland

Photo courtesy of a friend and neighbor. Thanks!

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

Making a Difference

“. . . (The Lord) who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
 who satisfies you with good
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
– Psalm 103:4-5

Life can be frustrating, discouraging. Sometimes we feel like we are trying our best, but not making a difference at all. We find ourselves asking if what we are doing today will matter in the long run.

Don’t give up. God works in ways we cannot see – at least not yet! I read recently about the life of David Brainerd, missionary to American Indians in the 1700’s. He kept a journal, so we have a window on his private thoughts. He was often discouraged. He was alone and lonely. He was sick (diagnosed with consumption). And his ministry was not very successful. But, even when he was depressed, he kept going. He prayed – sometimes for a whole day at a time. He fasted. He read and re-read his Bible.

And, listen in to the cry of his heart: “Lord, let me make a difference for you that is utterly disproportionate to who I am.” God answered that prayer. Though he had few converts and died at the age of 29 after only a four-year ministry, his devotion to God during tough times has inspired countless others to gives their lives to God in service as ministers and missionaries.

So, even when we are discouraged, we don’t quit. God is working something in us and through us that we don’t understand. Let’s pray, as Brainerd did, that God would use us to make a difference that is disproportionate to who we are!

” . . . God can and does use weak, sick, discouraged, beat-down, lonely, struggling saints who cry to him day and night to accomplish amazing things for his glory.” – John Piper

Nothing More, Nothing Less

“Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life”
– Psalm 23:6a

What do you want God to do for you? Or give you? The biblical David, who grew up tending sheep, understood the role of the shepherd – it was to provide for and protect the sheep. Reflecting on his life, he wrote Psalm 23 in which he expresses trust in God, the Shepherd who’s been with him through life’s journey and has done all the things a good shepherd should do. In fact, if all he had was the Shepherd himself, that would be enough. This Shepherd would give him what he needs and what he wants him to have – nothing more, nothing less.

Do we have enough trust in God to say, as David did, “The Lord is my Shepherd. I lack nothing.“? That whatever he provides is enough? That just being with this Shepherd is enough?

Listen to God’s whisper:

Am I enough even if I don’t answer your prayers?

If I don’t heal your child?

If I allow you to be sick or in pain?

If your bank account dwindles?

If you lose your job?

I am your Shepherd, your Father, your God. Am I enough?

If we trust in his goodness, his power, and his love for us, he will be enough. We can go through any difficulty, face any threat, go without any material thing, suffer any pain, or experience any loss. Knowing the Shepherd is with us, we realize he will give us everything we need – nothing more, nothing less. And it will be enough.

“You have given all to me.

To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours.

Do with it what you will.

Give me only your love and your grace,

And that is enough for me.”

from Pray-As-You-Go devotional

Doing Hard Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Value of Time

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

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

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

Here are a few examples of how that might help:

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

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

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

All He Wants You to Have

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why, God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaving Traces

“. . . for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.” – 2 Corinthians 8:21

Someday we’ll die. We don’t get to choose how it will happen – and sometimes death is sudden. So, here’s a question: If you were to leave this earth unexpectedly, what traces will you leave behind?

  • What books will still have bookmarks in them – in progress, but unfinished? What will those titles tell others about you?
  • What underlinings and notes will there be in your Bible? Will those notes show your desire to know the Author?
  • What emails, phone messages, and social media posts will have just been delivered? What replies will your family see coming back to you?

I read about a 90+ -year-old woman who died in her sleep. Those who found her body also found on the bedside table her written goals for the coming year. Her family read them and smiled, knowing she had lived her life fully to the last moment.

We leave fingerprints and footprints wherever we go.  Someday we’ll make our final impressions on this earth.

When we live everyday in light of life’s fleeting nature,

when we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man, and

when we live in light of the potential of lingering effects in every moment,

we begin to be aware of not only being good and doing good, but looking good, too. Our imprints reflect on our God. Let’s make good ones!

“O may all who come behind us find us faithful, May the fire of our devotion light their way. May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe, and the lives we live inspire them to obey. O may all who come behind us find us faithful!” – Steve Green

Growing Pains

 

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But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,and self-control.” Galatians 5:22

Do you have a difficult person in your life? An ongoing health situation or a demanding job? There may be a reason for these things beyond what you can see.

I am convinced there are characteristics God wants to develop in each of us that come only by facing difficult circumstances. No shortcuts.

• How will we learn the joys of gentleness without being involved with a defiant child or a crying baby?

• Or the fruit of faithfulness if we are not in a difficult relationship from which we’d like to run?

• Or the trait of kindness without someone who needs our care and concern?

When I am tempted to complain about my “to do” list for the day, I try to  remember to pause to thank God for putting people and situations in my path which will give the Spirit opportunity to develop the characteristics in me that He wants. Sometimes the hard stuff is there to help it happen. And when it does, the resulting blessing, contentment, and happiness will overflow from us to others.

Dear God, may I be full of Your love, joy, and peace as I face each situation this day. May Your fruit ripen in my life as I am called in each relationship to be faithful, good, patient, and kind. I am eager to see how you will challenge and change me today and I yield myself to You for Your amazing work. Amen

“Next to the might of God, the serene beauty of a holy life is the most powerful influence for good in the world.” – D. L. Moody