Paradise Lost?

 “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 23:43

I walked along a familiar road when I came upon this new sign telling me Paradise Drive was off limits. I had taken that shortcut many times before, but was no longer welcome.

Then I read the small print: HOA Residents, Guests, and Deliveries Only. Apparently there is a way in. Because I have nothing to deliver, my only hope is to be invited by a resident. I guess I’ll have to make some new friends!

You probably know where I’m going with this. We all want to get to Paradise someday, don’t we? Or Heaven as we more often call it. We shouldn’t be surprised to find that Heaven has restrictions for entry, too. But there’s hope! We already have Someone in residence there who wants us to come in. In fact, here’s what Jesus said to his disciples on the night he was arrested: “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).

Then, just a few hours later, from the cross, Jesus tells the repentant thief that they would be together in Paradise that very day. It seems that the way in is to accept an invitation from Jesus to join him there. So, this sign notwithstanding, I know my way to Paradise. I am the guest of the one who is preparing a place for me.

He issues that invitation to you, too. Say “yes” to Jesus and follow him home!

God is going to be as pleased to have you with Him in heaven as you will be to be there with Him.”
– A. W. Tozer

Lost?

“He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.” – Psalm 145:19

We all wander away sometime. We don’t intentionally turn our backs on God, we just stop paying attention to him. We get distracted and, eventually we stop following where he leads.

When a sheep does that, he gets lost. And a lost sheep has no way to find his way back home. So he usually finds a bush or a rock to lie against and he waits to be found. In the meantime, the shepherd has returned from the fields to the sheepfold for the night and, in his counting, realizes that one of his sheep is missing. By now, though, it’s dark and that little sheep will be hard to find. But, the shepherd lights a lamp, ventures out, and begins the search, calling as he goes.

At this point in the dark of night, the sheep will never be found unless he participates in his own rescue. His job is to hear the shepherd’s voice and then respond with a bleat – as loud as he can and consistently over time until the shepherd can follow the cry and bring back the wanderer who, by now, is cold, hungry, and afraid.

Are you feeling lost today? Far away from God? Having no way of knowing how to find your way back to him? He’s reaching out for you already, but he waits for you to participate in your own rescue. How do you do that? You call out to him. You pray. You wait for him to hear your cry for help. He will come. He will rescue you and carry you home.

“Human beings do not readily admit desperation. When they do, the kingdom of heaven draws near.” – Phillip Yancey

Note: Lost sheep concept taken from the book The Good Shepherd by Kenneth E. Bailey

Shh. He’s working.

“The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” – Habakkuk 2:20

Our twenty-something grandson had come to visit us in Colorado, planning to take hikes and summit mountains. But an unseasonable snowfall kept him indoors for a few days instead. He broke out his canvas and paints and began to create a landscape while glancing out our front window.

I looked over his shoulder, wanting to tell him that the open field he just put in was really over a bit further, wondering about the colors he chose, and really getting concerned about all the wild brushstrokes that were not taking any shape at all. But I said nothing. Over the next couple of days a beautiful landscape emerged. It was related to the view out our window, but it also incorporated other scenes from his memory. It had its own artful color scheme, and all those wild brushstrokes emerged amazingly as mountains. It wasn’t what I envisioned. It was so much better! And I was really glad I had resisted the urge to try to get him to do it my way.

Then I remembered the verse that asks us to be silent before God. Wait! I thought we were supposed to talk to him always, tell him our needs, plead for others, ask him to intervene in our lives. Yes, that’s true. But sometimes we don’t understand the picture he’s painting. When that happens, we watch and wait without interference. The picture that emerges may not be anything like we expected, but it will be God’s own idea, and it will be beautiful. Sometimes we just have to be still and let him work.

I hear a voice in the silences, and become increasingly aware that it is the voice of God”. – David Brainerd

Note: I thought you might want to see the results of our artist’s efforts. The painting is titled “Magnificent Vista” and is shown above.

Why do I pray?

And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” – Isaiah 6:3

Though I can’t see you, Lord, I know you are with me.

I pray because I believe you listen to me.

You love me.

You want what’s best for me.

You’re always working behind the scenes of my life.

You’re powerful enough to do whatever pleases you.

You will someday make all things right.

I pray because talking to you helps me order my tangled thoughts.

I pray not just hoping you will answer, but because I know I will be heard.

I pray because there is more to this life than what I can see. My prayers help me access the unseen life where everything is ordered, justice prevails, no one dies, and you rule. Prayer is my connection to that world and that connection makes everything in this world more bearable, more hopeful, less frightening.

I thank you when my prayers break out into worship. When it finally dawns on me that I’m talking to the one who created me and the entire universe around me. I am talking to the one who is holy, powerful, present everywhere, knowing everything, and living in unapproachable light. Yet I dare to enter your light because you have invited me to come. I stand amazed that I can be in your presence at all. Amazed at you.

You respond always in love, grace, and mercy. You bring me peace and fill me with hope. You create in me a clean heart, a renewed mind, and a desire to leave this place of prayer to serve you and my fellow travelers with joy. I am so thankful. Amen.

That’s why I pray.

“Prayer is keeping company with God.” – Philip Yancey

My way? His way?

As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him. – 2 Samuel 22:31

If you’ve ever wondered about the way God does things, you’re not alone!

Some disciples were walking along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, depressed and discouraged (Luke 24). Jesus was the one they had counted on to rescue them from oppression. Now he was dead. There were rumors of resurrection, but who knows? Then, by the end of the chapter, they realize Jesus is alive (good news) and he’s not going to deliver Israel from the Romans (bad news). In fact, he’s leaving them (really bad news).

Even so, we find them a few weeks later praising God in the temple (v. 53). They went from sadness to joy, from confusion to worship. Jesus didn’t do things their way, but maybe they were beginning to see his way was better.

What are you praying desperately for? What do you wish God would fix for you? We pray with such limited vision! We see things only from our perspective and time.

His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. They are bigger, better, bolder. They take us to a place we could never envision for ourselves. We simply don’t know what’s best for us or for someone else. We cannot know while we are in this world, living this life.

So, what do we do when, like the disciples with Jesus, we find that God’s not going to answer our prayers as we want him to? We accept and believe his way is better. We entrust him with our bodies. We rely on him for resources. We let him feed our souls and give us hope.

“Let God have your life. He can do more with it than you can.” – D. L. Moody

Wonder and Wait

The symphony he is composing includes minor chords, dissonance, and tiresome fugal passages. But those of us who follow his conducting through early movements will, with renewed strength, someday burst into song.” – Philip Yancey

Life is about the day-to-day, isn’t it? We get caught up in what is next on the schedule, what we need to plan for, shop for, or fix. Life can be mundane.

Then a crisis hits and we long for the “boring” days, the days when all we had to do was the next thing on our calendar. Now we are taken to a new place and it can be a place of discouragement, frustration, and even dread. We can’t see how this will end. We are vulnerable and afraid.

Let’s rewind that scenario. What if we see the crisis we face not as an obstacle to get around, but an invitation from the God of creation to let him lead us through it? What if there are heavenly blessings and spiritual understandings we cannot get any other way than by going through something we didn’t sign up for? Something we detest? Something we fear?

If we are in crisis, let’s face it with awe at what God is about to do. With wonder at what will unfold as we walk day-by-day with him in the middle of it. With anticipation of an outcome we cannot, in our humanness, even imagine. Let’s lean hard into the one who has promised never to leave us, always to love and care for us – no matter what we are facing today. Then we can watch in wonder as he does his amazing work!

“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” – Habakkuk 1:5

I have a question.

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” – 1Corinthians 13:12

I want to ask you “why?”, Lord. Why did my daughter get cancer? Why did you not heal her after the last time? She is a true lover of you, a disciple, growing in her faith over the years. Why would you let this happen?

Then I read a prayer from Carolyn Myss this morning. She said, “I have learned by now that you do not answer questions: You answer prayers.”

That was true of Job, wasn’t it? He wanted to confront God about the disasters that had come into his life. He wanted to know why. He wanted to know what he had done to deserve this pain. God didn’t answer Job’s questions, but he did reveal himself and his glory to Job. That was enough to quiet Job’s heart and satisfy his questions. He learned he could trust God with the whole story of his life including what he was experiencing that day.

So, Lord, I will change my questions to a prayer instead: May we realize your presence in this journey. Give us courage. Give us hope. May I trust you as the author of my life story and my daughter’s. And, please, reveal to us your glory so our questions become unimportant, and you become all-important. Amen.

When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal, but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.” ~ C.S. Lewis

NOTE: Painting shown is by Bernard Vaillant (Dutch, Lille 1632–1698 Leyden) and is titled “Socrates Looking into Mirror”.

Expectations!

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, . . . She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.” – Proverbs 3:13 and 15

We bought a pail of sand for our grandson from a rock shop in Colorado because we had been told there were stones to be found in the sand if the recipient was willing to dig for them. He was!

One by one a wide variety of rocks were found – everything from tiger eye (his favorite) to obsidian to geodes. Each was greeted with appropriate appreciation and, sometimes, awe. As his treasures were washed and laid out on a towel to dry, I thought of how different the result would be if he had not been willing to take off the cover and begin to dig.

Why did he bother to open it? Because he expected to find something. He believed if he dug deep enough, there would be treasure.

I couldn’t help applying that thought to the Bible that sits next to my chair. Why do I choose to turn the cover and read it every day? Because I expect to find something. Something I will value, something that will please me, something that will correct me, something that will add to my knowledge or will give me direction. And I am never disappointed!

Do you see what I mean? The treasure is there, but we have to be willing to dig for it. So, let’s keep reading God’s Word, believing he has a message for us there every time we open it. Soon we will have a collection of understanding, promises, and encouragement that will make us wise and our lives beautiful!

“Our pursuit of God is successful just because he is forever seeking to manifest himself to us.” A. W. Tozer

From and To

As for God, his way is perfect . . .” – 2 Samuel 22:31a

Life has its routines: its familiar surroundings, foods, sounds, and patterns. It’s comfortable, even if it’s not perfect.

Sometimes God sends surprises that uproot us from the familiar and force us to face new routines, new challenges. We usually balk at that. We want things to be like they were before the pandemic, before the rejection, before the diagnosis, before the job loss. We just want to go back to what we knew before everything changed.

The people of Israel felt that way after just a short time in the desert. They complained to Moses that they wanted to go back to Egypt (to slavery!) because the food was better. Can you believe it? Moses knew he had some unhappy campers, but he also knew God had a plan. Here’s what he tells the people: “But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised” (Deuteronomy 6:23).

He’s reminding them they’re not home yet. There is more to come. God has taken them out of Egypt not to leave them wandering in the desert, but to take them to a far better place. They just needed to be patient in the journey.

Has God upset your routine? Removed you from the familiar? Created new challenges? Trust that he takes us out of somewhere to take us into someplace better – a place where we can flourish.

In between, we wonder and we worry just as the people of Israel did in the desert.

Let’s remember where he has taken us from, look forward to where he’s taking us to, and trust him in the in-between.

“Leave the broken, irreversible past in God’s hands, and step out into the invincible future with him.” – Oswald Chambers

The Truth About You and Me

“He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.” -2 Samuel 22:20

Is it true that you and I are imperfect and sometimes selfish? That, by God’s definition, we are sinful? That we let people down? Yes.

We all recognize our weaknesses, our sinfulness. And sometimes that’s where we stop. But that’s not the whole truth!

I realized that one morning I read this amazing statement: “I will believe the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is.”*

Could it be that there are truths about you and me that are beautiful? Of course there are, but those are things that we often don’t allow ourselves to recognize. Think of how we handle criticism. We take it to heart, brood about it for days and vow never to be like that again

How do we handle praise? Sometimes we just brush it off. Our success was a fluke. If people really knew us, they wouldn’t think so highly of us. We’re not smart, wise, funny, or all that likable.

Why is it so hard to believe something positive about ourselves?

Listen to this: “You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” (Song of Solomon 4:7). True, this is a lover speaking to his bride, but it is also seen as God speaking to his beloved people. It’s OK for us to realize that God thinks we’re lovable and that, through Jesus, he sees us as flawless.

We are always aware of our failures in loving God and others. But we also need to hear the tender messages from our good and merciful God. Believe the truth about yourself even if it’s beautiful!

“God doesn’t love us because of our worth. We are of worth because God loves us.” – Martin Luther

*Macrina Wiederkehr