Tuesday, July 31, 2012

When The Heart Quails

Good morning on this mid-summer day. That seems a bit off to those looking forward to school. The final day of July is observed as the day before August, which seems all too obvious until you realize that summer vacation ends in August. As the dreaded thing approaches, the heart may quail in fear. The heart becomes incapable of bold action; it seems to quiver in the chest and push out waves of weakness to other parts of the body. We may find that the fear we felt for the approach of school as youngsters to be a tiny thing. The fears of adulthood are much greater. Death, financial ruin, sickness, dark basements, scary toys coming to life, mean clowns, we all have fears that seem very much more powerful in the moment. Some fears may even carryover from our childhood. If you feared heights as a child, you may now have a phobia. We get a fancier word, but the fear may be the same. Where do we turn when the heart quails within?

More than likely, you have tried various directions in your life. Some turn from fear to narcotics, others to alcohol in excess, one may hide from his fear in athletic games or sports, another may subsume his fear with competition in the business or financial world, some turn to spouses or friends - often infecting them with the fear too. Answers to fear in this world seem to come in the form of anger or ignorance. God simply tells us 'Don't be'. That sounds a little trite until we read further.

Nehemiah faced enemies armed with weapons and political influence. He told his people, "Don't be afraid of them. Remember the Lord who is great and awesome." Now that sounds encouraging. Remember the Lord... Jesus told the disciples to not fear, and calmed the storm in their presence. Jesus did not need calm waves for himself, He walked over the stormy sea, but He loved the disciples and calmed their immediate cause of greatest fear. The best cure for an immediate and overwhelming fear is Jesus. We learn to look to our Lord and not at the storm. Like the disciples, our hearts may quail in fear first before we listen to the Spirit reminding us of our powerful Lord. Remember the Lord who is great and awesome.


Monday, July 30, 2012

Once Upon a Time...

There was a man named Abram who probably thought things were going pretty nicely right where he was. We do not know if God provided any forewarning of the coming upheaval in Abram's life such as an urge to see far lands, a dissatisfaction with the local attractions, or even a hint from his father. "Gettin' a might crowded around these parts, Abram. Thought you might like to see some new places before you hit 80 or so!" All we know is a bit of genealogy, and then 'boom' God tells Abram to get up and leave his country, family, and father's house, just like that. Not even a direction, just a vague statement about "A land that I will show you." An opportunity to trust in God for sure.

We like to know the destination before we leave. Seldom do we step out of our front door, get into the car, and just drive in a random direction until God says to stop. If someone says, "Come on, we're going on a journey." We immediately want to know the destination. Should I grab a jacket, rain gear, and a case of water, or do I need suitcases and a pet sitter? Are we talking the kind of journey such as I am taking now that involves U-Haul trucks and lots of packing help, or should I be talking professional moving companies? What kind of journey are we talking about here and where are we going? 'To a land that I will show you' is not a direction or a real destination, is it?

In this case, Abram packed up his wife and household and transplanted his life to the west. However, the promised land wasn't quite ready yet. It would be centuries before Israel became the mighty nation under King David and Solomon. Before that, the promised land was ready, but the Israelites were not. Like the ancient Israelites, we seem to be out of sync with our promised land too. We may have a home we would like to stay in, or a town that seems good for the time being, and friends that we don't want to leave, but, we also have a lot of things that don't seem quite right yet. No house or town can satisfy in this world. Friends come and go, and jobs may call us to another place. We want to settle down, but instead we find ourselves stuck in a rut, as the saying goes.

I rested yesterday, but today the final steps of the move get underway. God is with me every step of every day, but when I look at what remains to be done, it is still a fear-inducing prospect. The first load of 'stuff' is loaded on the truck and ready to roll. Life throws an upheaval my way. Will I get to settle down for a bit soon? All I know is that every house, apartment, trailer, tent, or pyramid is but a temporary quarters in this life. We go home when God calls us home and not before.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Little Dirt Clods

This morning, I wondered at my ability to worry about the smallest things. When digging out the holes for my foundation work, I fretted over the little dirt clods rolling back into the hole. After all, I figured that I would have to work twice as hard to get every one of those out of the hole. Now that we are filling the hole back in, the worries over those little things seem far away and kind of useless. This might make a good opening for a devotion on the details in life, but today I thought that this entire life might one day be a sweaty, little detail we look back on and wonder over.

What if I live for 100 years on this earth? Here, now, it seems like an enormous stretch of time. I am not quite halfway there and my life seems an endless series of short adventures punctuated by long periods of relative boredom. One hundred years could hold many adventures for anyone, but what if that century is just the tiniest little detail in a hardly noticeable span of the millionth part of eternity that has only just begun? Apparently, I've been out in the sun too much this morning. However, my mental state is but one little detail in a life that is but a breath of wind in the span of God's eternity. This could be a heavy thought for the weekend, or a lighter thought when we realize that our troubles now will soon be but a small memory.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hope On The Horizon

Ah, football camps open throughout the land. The drought of 2012 continues, but there is hope when we see the wealthy modern-day gladiators arrive to begin work at their respective coliseums. Once upon a time, athletes and stage performers got by on little or nothing, some even performed as slaves. Today, those same trades can be among the most well-paid in the world. Those of you laboring to clean facilities as janitors, or keeping house with no pay, or working the farms as hired hands, you too have hope for the future. One day, the all-star janitor c. 2412 may command an absurd salary for doing what he or she loves to do. Nah, you're right, probably not. Somehow the gladiators, thespians, and minstrels took over the land, some even serving in public office as presidents and congress persons. Floor swabbers and stall muckers are still pretty much the same. Without the government mandated minimum wage, the wealthy would still keep them as slaves.

This is no idle speculation. In Revelation, we learn about the coming of the ultimate celebrity. A man so celebrated by the world that he will be given a crown. The world system will once more trade in slaves, not in the shadows as it is now, but out in the open. The citizens of this nation-state system will no doubt be very wealthy. Times for those who believe in Jesus will be terribly difficult, but... there will be hope on the horizon. Signs will appear and the time of the great persecution will be short. Some will die in the tribulation, but many will endure to see the arrival of Christ with His heavenly host. All our small tribulations lead to the same place: Christ arriving with healing in His wings. We may not get to see our Lord in person when coming out of a time of personal tribulation, but we know that His healing is here for us now. Does that mean that all cancer and other disease will be healed in this lifetime like some of the television folks say? No, I think that like the tribulation saints in Revelation, our horizon may open on a new land and to the sight of Jesus coming to greet us.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Some Things Are Too Big

Good morning on the 'What day is it?' edition of our devotional. Fortunately, the realtor called yesterday and gave me a countdown to doomsday. In the anxiety and worry department, we can imagine a great many events that never happen. We can pile on the 'what if's' until we feel the paralysis of fear taking over life and happiness. Some things are just too big for us. We are commanded to give them over to God, but we like to entertain thoughts of fear and daydreams of tragedy like the unwanted mongrel that keeps eating at our back door. Of course, those with a little compassionate distance would tell us to stop feeding the mongrel and it will go away. Worry over something we cannot control is a way to feed the fear and keep it coming back for more good eats. What that fear is eating is our happiness, our thought life, even our physical life if kept around too long. We must give over the fear to Jesus.

When I think of how little I actually control in this world, it becomes clear that I need someone much bigger and more powerful than I am. Might as well throw in, more knowledgeable, ever present, and aware of the future too. In fact, it wouldn't hurt if this big, powerful being loved me, cared for me, and died to save me from my sins also. Hmm, kind of sounds like someone we know. Giving up our fears to God gives us the ability to serve Him in the way He has designed us to serve. God can help someone paralysed by fear, but He cannot get much use out of a person so stuck in fear and worry that no action can take place. Imagine trying to help out at the church while cowering under your bed covers in fear. Nope, wouldn't work very well. Gotta put that faith into action!


Monday, July 23, 2012

Not Polite - Put In A Way Parents Won't Recognize

Good morning on this first day of the work week. I know that I have, and I suspect that you have too. We have changed a word to something that we think parents will not figure out. Cockney slang is words changed so that the police won't figure out what is being said. Gangsta talk in the 'hood, this thing of ours, tech jargon, and in many other ways we take a perfectly understandable language and make it difficult. Sometimes it is children making up a secret language, other times adults do it. We get together in a group and seek to exclude others from our communication with a changed way of talking. One of the first things we do in life is take a word that would earn us a well-deserved punishment and change it into something that is as close as we can come without arousing suspicion from the authorities. Of course, the first authorities are the parents in most cases. The intent is to deceive and we start out in life with some ability in this area and develop it as we grow older.

We find that as we grow from sibling relationships to neighborhood clubs, on to school cliques or gangs, and into our adult societies that we kind of enjoy having a secret, but generally aren't very good at keeping one. Any group with a secret ritual backs it up with some threat for exposure, including expulsion from the group to fines and in some cases actual physical punishment. Often the only thing that makes a secret ritual special is to do the obvious, and keep it a secret known only to those initiated into the group. A mysterious ritual with a published manual in the local library is not much of a mystery. On the other hand, Christian groups with secret rituals or closed meetings may have something wrong going on.

The good news of Jesus Christ is not a secret to be kept among a select group. Throughout the history of churches, someone always wants to put together an elite group, sometimes with secret rituals or closed meetings. In a society such as ours where we are allowed to practice our worship of God in the open, it makes no sense to close the doors and whisper secret passwords to each other. Secret meetings in the dark tend to increase the temptation to sin. We have this tendency to forget that God is watching when we think that no humans can see us. Fear of God helps us to do the right thing when we see every opportunity to do what is wrong. Fear of the parental authority may cause a child to resort to secret whispers in the dark, but it also motivates the right kind of behavior in a child. The better way is a cleansing of the heart so that we want to obey God, but until that is fully completed in us by the Spirit, we need a little fear to keep us in the light. May God forgive us our sneaky ways. Didn't I outgrow that kind of thing? Surely do wish that was always the case.

Praise God for grace!

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Moving Experience

Good morning as the sun begins to roast us a good 'un today. The painting went quite well this morning; thanks go out to Jeff and his son, Eric, for their help today. Another weekend, another move...and I certainly cannot point any fingers, because the very next week, I will be the cause of that very thing. The hottest part of the hottest year in recent decades, and the moving experiences just keep on coming. I have faith that God provides always just the right number of persons at the right time for each move. Have I sometimes questioned God's number, perhaps even gone so far in my mind or mouth as to dispute His estimate of the situation? You bet, I must confess that sin in me. In fact, I remember thoughts very like that as I dug a couple of deep holes around my house. But, the holes got dug, in plenty of time, and it didn't kill me. So who was right? The moves that have seemed short of people, and I have been on a couple of them, still got done, in plenty of time, and no one got hurt or died. So was God right in His provision, or was I right in my grumbling? The results speak for themselves of course. God is always right, and when I grumble against Him - I am always wrong. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

We have the ability to complain and grumble. Now, a complaint may happen and we don't sin. Conditions, such as the heat we have experienced this summer, may bring out a complaint or two. We are uncomfortable and the conditions outside could be dangerously hot. This is a part of the curse on the world and we are not expected to love it. Grumbling, such as the Israelites did back in the day, is a more serious matter. God brings us out of a place and we grumble that He should have left us there, or we want to go back and so we stop obeying God's calling to the promised land. Either one is a sin against God. Grumbling is when we call God things like mean or unfair or hateful. Perhaps we don't use those exact words, but constant complaining can lead us into grumbling of the type that God hates. Trust and faith are the antidotes to the grumbling that gets us into hot water with God. I may be uncomfortable in the heat outside today, and of course I need to be careful in this kind of heat, but God will not lead me out without good reason. Blessed be the name of the Lord.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Things That Make You Pause

So, a person I have an appointment with one day makes the comment, "It's a dying town..." The next day, I call a realtor in that town and she will not be available the following morning. She has a funeral to attend. A few minutes later, I have to pause. You can spin your own interpretation of that sequence of events. I'll just keep my big mouth shut. I am glad that the pause did not occur to me while on the phone. Actually, it was the mad temptation to giggle that I am glad did not occur to me at that precise moment.

I am worried that in some ways I tend to take off without consulting God first. The speed of events in this world can seem to overwhelm. Decisions must sometimes be made without time to sit for an hour or two with the Word of God and a prayer. What then causes me to pause and hear a statement in my poor confused brain: 'I am with you always, even to the end of the age.' I may not be able to slow down the mad charge of this world, but I have never been in control of much. God is in control. The speed of this world is not catching our Lord by surprise. In fact, Daniel prophesied that a time would come when people would rush about. I think we are at that point, or at least very close to it.

We put a lot of effort into saving for a rainy day, stocking the pantry for a blizzard, or in every way preparing for disaster. In spite of our best efforts, disaster strikes and we are left with little or nothing. We tend to blame ourselves, "Next time, I will be better prepared!" However, the Lord is not put off by our little preparations when trusting in Him alone is what we need to learn. Our storehouses will be taken down if we come to trust in them in place of having faith in God first. Jesus called the prosperous man foolish who trusted in his harvest and grain bins. It is easy to look at the numerals of a large retirement account and say, "I'm good, trust in me." The Lord would have us to learn why He is named 'Providence' by many in the words of the founding fathers of America.

We sometimes do well in our own strength, until that strength comes to an end, and then we remember to cry out to the Lord. Remember first to thank God for the strength He has given. Call for help when you begin the task; the Lord may not send help until your strength is exhausted. In your weakness is my glory and strength, the Lord reminds us. We are not saved in our strength, but in that area where we are weak - the temptation to sin. All of us have a sin that seems open to easy attack by the Adversary. Paul may have called that his thorn when he spoke of asking three times to have it removed. God did not remove it, but used it for His own glory. Trust in the wisdom of God.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Praise The Lord For The Day

We can start a day with complaining about this or that, or we can choose to begin the day right. As we grow in Christ, it may become apparent that we need no special or particular reason to praise God for the day. That PCH van didn't show up at my door this morning, and why should I look to that kind of worldly windfall for a reason to praise anyway? If I need a special circumstance to praise God then I am not serving with the correct attitude. A morning can be a good enough reason to wake up praising God. An evening should be more than enough reason to fall asleep praising God. Afternoon, mid-day, anytime is a good time to praise the Lord. We can list the things we are grateful for, and that is a good exercise at any time, or we can simply sing a song of praise. If our neighbor is looking down about something perhaps we can shout a good... wait a minute.

In love, we learn that first finding out what is wrong with our neighbor might be reason enough to keep our praise to a softer level, perhaps even simply a prayer of praise within our own mind. If our neighbor just received bad news such as the passing of a dear friend, we can praise God silently that we are in a position to join in sorrow with our neighbor. Shouting a stout 'Hallelujah!" might not be the best thing for a grieving neighbor or friend. He might not feel like praising the Lord at just that moment.

I praise God for the day, but I am also learning to be sensitive to those around me. We will all praise God together one day when all tears have been wiped away and sorrow and death are no more. What a great day that will be! Today is a day of praise for me; it may at the same time be a day of mourning for another. We look forward to that day when all can praise God as one.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Nope, Didn't Hit Bottom Yet

Good morning! The fluffy little clouds, the cool breeze, the comfortable temps, this does not speak of a day in the triple digits (again). What is seen around you or me may not indicate that one of us is seeking the bottom of a dark valley. This morning I did not hit the bottom of my hole. My hope did not arrive with the morning dig. However, that condition belies my belief that I am on the climb out of my own dark valley. A lot of work remains in my climb, but problems are being solved and the light is shining. You may want to 'check your six' as they say, you might still be looking for the bottom of your dark valley. Now, that's not a very encouraging thing to hit you with today. Let's say that both of us have been led by our Lord into a dark valley and both of us are on the way back up to the peak. Many is the time that in a trial by fire we miss the bottom, and still complaining we begin the journey upward with our Lord. Only later, when looking about on a peak of peace and joy in this world, do we realize that Jesus faithfully led us completely through the dark times.

The climb up the other side of that trial by affliction did not seem like a time of increasing joy and peace. At times, that climb may have seemed very much like the bottom of the dread and despair. Looking back though, we may wonder now why we thought ourselves so afflicted when things had begun to improve before we fully realized it. Once more, we must face the fact that we should have been grateful to God well before any gratitude appeared in our poor, downtrodden minds. Ya know, things aren't always so bad in this life. Muscles may be sore, joints may ache, hearts may mourn, minds may worry, but Jesus is faithful, God is generous and kind, and the Spirit in us praises the Lord without ceasing. We do have much to be encouraged about, and much more to be grateful for in Christ. Live for the day!


Monday, July 16, 2012

God Lifts Me Up

Good morning as we begin another week of toil in whatever salt mine you labor in to make or maintain your living standard in the era of downsizing and the downtrodden. Whew! Note to self: Never again work up a greeting that long or complex. As I work to dig down another foot or so each morning (I rested yesterday), I become more than ever aware of how close I am at any moment to failure. Not the pessimistic kind of thinking that we strive to avoid, but the realization that life here is so very fragile. A wrong step on the shovel, a step backward off a ledge, a twist of the back, and my career in dirt mining is done for at least a while if not for this lifetime. We are upheld by our Lord each and every day...along with a little thing called the universe. In Hebrews 1:3, we read that Jesus upholds the universe with the mighty power of his command. You and I too are upheld by more than just our physical strength and coordination. This is a better and better thing as we get older because those strength and coordination things get more and more difficult.

As I think about my age, I have come slowly to realize that I probably won't make the Olympic team this year. Other factors may be involved as well, but we'll stick with my age for today. I probably won't make the 2016 team either, even with 4 years to prepare. As we like to say in one of those nonsensical statements, the athletes get younger each time the Olympics come around. This obviously cannot be true or we would be watching little sperms and eggs compete by now. We understand this statement to come from people growing older and further away from their dreams of Olympic glory. The fact that I cannot run the 100 meters in less than nine minutes anymore does not mean that I am not upheld by our Lord. Yes, I did mean 'minutes'. 9.58 seconds, the current world record for running 100 meters, is about what I use to pour a good cup of coffee. Later, I might run somewhere to answer a call of nature, but I am not going to set any world records even with that incentive. I may never set any kind of speed record in anything that I do. Some folks rush about in everything they do, but I was never built for much speed, and as I grow older I find myself actively resisting any attempts to speed me up. It is enough for me to know that God lifts me up in all things.


Friday, July 13, 2012

Not What I Thought It Was

Good Friday morning on this 13th day of July. Have you ever known, I mean really known with assurance, that something was what it was, only to find out that it most definitely was not? Perhaps you have learned the meaning of 'known with arrogance' such as the designers of the Titanic came to know about the word unsinkable. Many a work of man has received acclaim in various ways beginning with the tower of Babel. At times God causes the work to fail, at other times it just wasn't what they thought it was. After days of laborious digging in fairly soft earth, I found a bit of dirt more consistent with my pessimistic expectations. The final stroke of the shovel for this morning's digging required a leap of faith to set the blade.

"I say, Horatio, old fellow, I seem to have discovered a gusher in the yard. Do be a good chap and pass out the life jackets while I run for the valve down below!"

The gusher also happened to be filling up the very hole I spent hours digging out. The poor cat nearly got plowed in my haste to shut off the water downstairs, but I managed to stop the flow before my hole became a moat. These sort of things could almost make one believe in the myth of Friday the Thirteenth, but I tend toward the arrogance of human knowledge theory. The problem could lie in the absentmindedness of the tired miner too. Jeff and I replaced that section of piping not that long ago, and I should have remembered that it was there. Alas, you are taking devotional instruction from a man who sets out to waterproof his foundation only to attempt to create a moat instead. Whatever day it may be, I do know one thing without the slightest hint of arrogance: Jesus loves you and me. 'Nuff said!


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Conditions Are Ripe

Now, I can see that the thermometer says 63°, but why did I get so hot so quickly this morning? The temperature is obviously only one measure of the conditions around us. We talk about the relative humidity a lot, but we fail to see that little measurement called the dew point. If the air temp and the dew point are close together, a body cannot sweat to cool down. Combine that with zero breeze and the sprinklers pumping water into the air and ground all around, and that same body might as well try to work in a sauna. The dew point thing does not happen often around these parts, not like the eastern lower elevations where it can stay high all day long. Mornings and evenings can see a high dew point though, and that is of course when I am outside trying to dig a deep hole. The bugs also like to gather in a crowd and tease me when there is no breeze in the air. That pretty much sums up life in this world: When you need to do a lot of hard work to get out of a hole, you cannot catch a break. And once you are down in the hole, there is always a crowd ready to tease you about it. Conditions become ripe in a hurry when sweating in a hole for a cry out to God for help. Conditions in the hole also become pretty ripe when the sweat doesn't evaporate away, but that is another subject.

We may find it difficult to sing a song of praise and joy when conditions are so bad that we are overheating rapidly and attracting bugs. These things do not populate our dreams of comfort. A little heat and sun when combined with an onshore breeze and a nice sandy beach is more to our liking. Skip the bugs entirely, please. We have some idea of what conditions in heaven should be, or at least what might make the earth a bit more like our idea of heaven, but we seldom achieve these conditions here in this life. A person might work for two years to purchase a vacation at a nice beach resort. Two years of labor for a two week vacation, how fair is that? The vacation quickly fades in memory as a good time gone by, and we are back to the grinding toil of the world. Well, ya can't say we weren't warned. The Bible very early on tells of Adam and his sin. Adam gained the knowledge of good and evil, and a whole lot of toil and thorns to go with it. We inherited all of this, and each day to our toil we will go.

The change in us becomes apparent when we cease complaining about the toil, and start praising God for the relief and rest...and the toil. Do we have to praise God for the toil too? Well, the world could praise God for a nice vacation. No one needs a changed heart to be grateful for a good time of nice weather and no work. Revelation prophecies a time when God will be given glory, but the sinners doing it still refuse to repent of their sin. To see the changed life of the Christ-one, the world must know that we praise God for the tribulation times just as much as we praise Him for the easy times. Yes, I agree, we don't yet praise with the same enthusiasm and good cheer that we do the good times. Jesus never claimed that life from our rebirth would be a long stay on Vacation Road. One day though, we will stand with Jesus and see how the long periods of toil did so much more for our own good than the short times of rest and relaxation ever did. By the way, Jesus will also cleanse us from the stink and stain of sin on that day. The ripeness of hard work is easily remedied, but we need Christ to get rid of that stench of sin.

Have a better toil this day!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Gone Diggin'

In order to find out what is under your house you can, 1 - drill holes in your basement floor, or 2 - dig down to the bottom of the foundation walls and then start excavating under the floor. One thing I can tell you about digging out the foundation is that by the time I arrive at the bottom, any curiosity about what is underneath will have long since been pushed out by various aches and pains. As I was there for the construction, I have good idea about what I might find, dirt and rocks, and perhaps a bit of construction 'trash'. On the other side of that curious coin is those who have no idea what lays under the surface of their home or property (or the neighbor's property). Gradually, they can become convinced that some sort of buried treasure is there, just out of sight...waiting to take them to life on Easy Street. We can stand up here in the light of day and laugh at such a notion, but we have also felt it in some way. The big lotteries in our nation speak of that longing we all feel.

That feeling is not exactly a bad thing. Of course, it is wrong if the feeling becomes centered on greed and money (or digging up the neighbor's back yard). However, that seeking feeling in our soul also leads us to search the Bible scriptures, to seek out other Christians, and to ask God. Sometimes a seeker may send up a prayer to the heavens, "Are you there, God?" We believe, but not all believe yet and a prayer like that is a good way to start a search. A person may ask you why it is that you seem content with the future, or your future in particular. You would then have the opportunity to share your great hope in Christ. Questions can be bothersome at times, but that question may be the one chance we have to share. The seeker may go a way we warn him away from. We too searched many different beliefs and ways before Jesus broke through the stone around our hearts. Have faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit will watch over those seekers chosen by God to find the narrow way.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Echoes of Eternity

The morning is cool and nice for digging... Uh, did you say 'digging'? Yes, my morning workout was put to good use this morning. Now on this nice and cool morning, I am hot and sweaty and more than a little dirty too. Will we have to dig in heaven? Pretty sure that 'have to' is out, but I'm not sure about 'want to'. However, the very action of digging speaks of earth and soil and things that are down under. Not in Australia down under, but down under heaven. We speak of eternity in faint echoes from the Bible. The secular books and movies showing this thing or that know no more than we do about heaven, and perhaps quite a bit less than we give 'em credit for. However, we all have visions of what heaven might be, and I suspect there is some faint echo of eternity coming from the Holy Spirit in us. If we put all of our faint echoes together, and then add it to what we can glean from God's word, we might come some tiny bit close to a hint of what might be a small impression of the greatness of eternity with Jesus our Lord. We are so very bound to the earth and our experience here that we can hardly know the wonder behind God's promise to bring us home one day. We go on faith in God's greatness, and in that same limited view we can hardly know the greatness of God either. On that subject, however, we do have much to study and read and learn in God's own word. A great God must surely have something great in store for you and me.


Monday, July 09, 2012

To Bring Forth The Witness

Good morning, as we try once more to figure out exactly what sort of summer 2012 will bring. This year the June rains arrived in July after the wheat harvest came early due to the drought and heat of late spring and early summer. What is next for us? A more normal sort of summer, or what exactly is normal for us anymore? This morning in the cool of the day, I thought what a privilege it is to speak in a small way for God. My witness is of God and what His Son did for me. Now, I often confuse that with my resume, which is a listing of what I have accomplished in this life. Some of us look at our lives and decide there is not enough accomplishment to warrant a witness. Some of us try to tell the story of all that we have been through in this life. Those things certainly help round out a good story, but the essence of our witness is His story, the good news of Jesus Christ. No one can be saved by my story apart from the most important part - that which Jesus has done for me in my life. The greatest witness of what Jesus has done is not the speaking or writing part, but the silent speech of a changed life.

So, where then does all of our unique experiences, life events, good stories, and such come in to this witness? God created you and me with special powers. Not jumping over tall buildings kind of powers, though I admit that might be amusing for a bit, but the sum total of all that we are. Take what you are now, combined with what has happened in your life and what you have learned, and top that off with what Jesus did for you and to you, and present this special creation as your witness. You may never be called to give a public speech, but people look and some will be led to ask about you. God created you and saved you for His purpose. Before the day you and I said 'yes' to Jesus, our Lord was at work in our lives shaping our witness for that day when we would begin to be the witness. We are called to witness because we are the witness, the witness for Jesus Christ. What a privilege we enjoy.


Saturday, July 07, 2012

Everything Looks Innocent...On The Outside

Good morning after our big rainstorms in the middle of the night. If the written word seems a little sleep-deprived this morning, that's alright 'cuz the writer certainly feels that way. I took a tour around the house, but everything looked innocent on the outside. No big floods on the inside, but after the downpour around midnight, I felt that something might be a little displaced in the morning to show how much rain we had or some other sign that it wasn't all a bad dream. As I pondered that, I realized that many persons look innocent...on the outside. Serial killers, or sociopaths to use the psych term, often live among their neighbors without raising the slightest alarm. The news reporters have no trouble finding neighbors, friends, and coworkers who had no idea the man was 'capable of such horrific acts'. This is an extreme example of a common failing. We all look innocent on the outside most of the time, but God sees what is going on in our deepest, most secret and well-guarded heart of hearts.

We learn early on in life to put up the white-washed sepulchre in front of our inner dwelling place. People want us to be good kids, good neighbors, good people, but the Bible says there is none who is good. Before we give our lives to Jesus to be reborn, we learn to put up those fronts of public goodness. Back in the days of secretive sin, we obeyed the laws, or at least most of them. We lived under the authority of our government without protesting too loudly or joining in the sign-waving fests. Our complaints about political candidates or elected officials were generally not very serious, more of a passing the time sort of thing. As children, we received a whipping when we deserved one, and so we cannot blame an abused childhood for the occasional fault that slips out in public. We look good to casual observation, but we pilfered office supplies at work, cheated on the speed 'suggestions' put up by the state government, and perhaps took a tax deduction in a so-called grey area. Oh, but those little sins are nothing compared to what went on in our secret thoughts during that time.

God looked past the white-washed public front though... and sent His Son to die for our sins. Everyone looked so very sinful on the inside, and Jesus still sacrificed himself on the cross to save us. How does that make you feel? I have tried to be good enough for Heaven on the outside, and failed. The inside life that no one sees is so much worse, and yet, Jesus died to save me. That is just so, uh, opposite of everything I learned before my rebirth in Christ. Even now, my flesh cannot understand a love so great. Perhaps you have met a skeptic in the world who asked the question, 'What was in it for Jesus?' As far as we can tell from the Bible, nothing but a lot of pain and the horror of separation from His Father. Jesus gained the victory over death, but we gained all the benefits of His victory. Yes, we did - the ones who try so hard to look innocent on the outside while harboring the darkest of thoughts on the inside. It boggles the mind. Praise God for a love so great that we are saved through Christ alone.


Friday, July 06, 2012

A Shot In The Dark

Sounds like the start to a certain bad novel, but that line is, "It was a dark and stormy night." Snoopy wrote it several times as he struggled to become a published author. I haven't used it yet, but at this point I will reject no possibility. This morning, I gave some thought to a shot in the dark. In many places, i.e. cities around the world, a shot in the dark is sort of like the trains for us. They come and they go, and as long as the blast of the horn doesn't sound right outside your window, you roll over and go back to sleep. In these parts we don't hear many shots in the dark. To hear one would be a cause for concern. Where did that come from? Is a madman with a gun on the way to our home next? If we heard a shot at night followed by a bone-chilling scream, then we might arm ourselves, call the authorities, and forget about sleep for the remainder of the night. We do at times take a 'shot in the dark' in a manner of speaking.

I have felt the pain of that shot many times. Sleep is suddenly stolen away by a thought of anxiety as the evil one 'shoots' me with one of his faith-stealing bolts. At night, I do not sleep unguarded by the angels of the Lord, but some shots are allowed through my guard and my armor. The Lord may be testing me, or I may allow the bolt to strike me by reaching for it. The flesh is full of worries and fears. As if the evil one were not enemy enough, our flesh will awaken us with nightmares and thoughts of dread. The temptations that arise in the flesh during the waking hours are not the only battleground we face each day. So many things that we should leave with God, such as those anxious worries for the future, are paraded past our quivering minds during the hours of darkness. There is a power behind those anxious thoughts, whether it is our own mind of flesh or the Adversary's minions. Want to cause some confusion to both parties? Think the name, "Jesus".

Start your call with a simple name. It is amazing to me how powerful the name of Jesus is when my thoughts are running to and fro from one anxiety to this worry and to that fear. With that in mind, I also wonder why I don't say it sooner and more often. There is indeed a perverseness in me that enjoys the horror show for a while at night. This lack of trust in God gives way only after I cause myself unnecessary suffering. Say the name of Jesus quickly and say it sooner. Learn to pray at the start of worry. Trust in God in the darkness of the night. Begin the night's sleep with a prayer for guarding and guiding. Trust and have faith, o ye of the trembling fear!


Thursday, July 05, 2012

What Is The Length Of A Trial?

A cloud threatens to bring wind and rain to us this morning. The weatherperson threatened us with another 'hundred' last night. The storm, the heat, or both for our morning? We don't know until it happens, and the same goes for the length of our trials. God does not send out a schedule or project plan for our development into the image of Christ. We don't get the date a trial or season of testing will come to a close. The length of a trial is: just long enough for God to complete His purpose in our lives. The season that seems to us so difficult to bear is just difficult enough to make us cry out to Jesus. Great! The next time this happens, I'll cry out right away and avoid a whole lot of suffering. Sorry, God is not a human that he can be so easily fooled. Your suffering, my trial, his testing, her tough time, whatever we want to call it will last just the right amount of time. All along the twisting trail into and out of this dark valley, God will send His Son to be with us every step of the way. Along that way, we will often cry out for our Savior, and He will always be there before the cry ceases to quiver on our lips.

What if the trial does not end in this lifetime? Many of our Christian brothers and sisters have suffered long in this world before going home. Are we to be like them? Maybe, we do not see the end at the start of our descent into the dark valley of testing. What better reward for our endurance than to wake up in Heaven and see the smiling face of our Savior? How much easier would the current test be if we knew it was our last? We might leap down into the valley of testing too quickly, trying in our haste to rush God's timing and grasp our reward before the effect of our trial is complete. Trust in God's wisdom. If we cannot see the end, it is because God knows that it is better that we do not see at this time. The length of the trial is in God's control; we have nothing to fear.


Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Happy Independence Day

What do we say? The 'hundreds' have dropped out of our weather forecast, the evening rains have returned, do we dare hope that summer has returned to a more normal mode? Faith says: Praise God for the relief from the serious heat. Doubt says: I'll believe it when I see it. Both may come to mind at nearly the same time fighting for space in my thoughts. Does one make me sinful and the other faithful? Actually, if we read what Paul has to say in Romans, we come to realize that this war raging within us is a sign that the Spirit has come to dwell in our hearts. We want to listen to only the faithful voice of the Spirit, but the flesh born in sin and raised in a fallen world speaks up too. At times, the voices may be difficult to discern as the flesh gets help from a band of clever liars who follow their chief, the father of lies. In a way, at our rebirth in Christ, we declared our independence from sin and death. Like many nations, a declaration of independence does not mean the fight is over, rather that the fight has only just begun. The world and its prince do not want to give up their captives.

Declaring our independence from this world does not mean that we get to live somewhere else either. The temptations to sin are all around us, and in our thoughts as well. An idle moment from the toil brings thoughts of lust for this thing or that, almost like someone waits to pounce upon us as soon as we are still. Is there no rest in this world then? No, not 'in this world'. We must look in a different direction for our rest. We must seek the way to find rest. Hold the phone, didn't someone claim to be the way? Why yes, He did in John 14:6. By seeking the way, the truth, and the life, we have what we need to combat the confusion, the lies, and the death that surround us in this world. Anxious thoughts are stilled by thinking on Jesus and His sovereign will. Death-like depressed thoughts are lifted up from the muck by thinking on the risen Savior and His promise to return. The deceptions of the world are uncovered by the truth of God's Son. Life here is not easy, but we do not face it alone. The enemies may gather in strength, but our God is the Almighty. Live ever more closely to our Lord and His wonderful Word. We cannot face win this fight on our own.

God bless you on this Independence Day!

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Just My Calling, Please

Good morning! We all have a calling from God. No problem, most of us realize that, but what happens when we try to do something that is not in our calling? The struggle may cause despair to grow in us. That is, if I try to do something that seems to be a good and godly work, such as preaching sermons on Sunday mornings, but I am not made by God for that calling, the strain can become too much for me. God strengthens and trains us for our respective callings, but His strength may be lacking in those endeavors you and I are not called to perform. I am not trying to give any of us an excuse for not helping out around the church. Every church has many tasks that are not callings, but chores and we can all help out there. Callings align with the gifts of the Spirit. Teaching, for example, is not a chore that anyone can do when it needs doing. Teaching requires preparation, reading of the Word, prayer, and a calling from God.

But, despair is not the only enemy of our good works. Pride may come when a ministry is successful, but not a calling from God. Many an evangelist has built up a popular following, raised up funds to build larger churches and finally reached the point of national television ministry. The money pours in, the minister receives speaking invitations, some may be saved by Christ, but the minister sits back and says to himself, "Look what I have built!" The work itself was not wrong, but perhaps that man was never called by God to be a pastor at all. God could see the potential for pride that comes with fame, acclaim, and lots o' loot, and called the man to what pride would tell us is a lesser calling. Instead, the man wanted to be one of those preacher men on television, and he succeeded. A preaching ministry, when called by God, is actually an antidote to pride. The minister called by God is on-call 24/7x365. His Sunday sermon is bisected and dissected by the armchair Bible scholars. Self-elected pundits and critics will come forward to let him know everything he did wrong and what he should do better in every aspect of his life. And let us not get started on what the world will bring to bear on that preacher from that little church on the hill. A calling from God is not a call to a life of ease and smooth sailing.

We cannot perform our own calling well without the strength of God at work in us. Trying to do more than what God created each of us to do in His kingdom brings stress that we do not need. God may let us go to fail in our own abilities, or worse, let us succeed until pride overwhelms. Today, just my calling, please, dear Lord. The work you have set before me is enough to prove my need for your strength and guidance. Teach me to be content with what I have in you. Amen.


Monday, July 02, 2012

Way To Pray, People!

Good Monday, as the sun rises through the orange haze. Yesterday, the pastor called for us to pray for rain to heal our parched land and bring some relief from the heat. We prayed and the rains came yesterday evening. Good job praying! Give yourselves a pat on the back... wait, what is wrong with this picture? When we make a request in prayer, we do not complete the action. I can no more make it rain with prayer than a witch doctor with his rattles and chants. The credit goes to the one who answered the prayer, not the one who made the request. We made the request to God who causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. The good response is in the rain and the glory is due the responder, and not the humble supplicant. I am grateful for the opportunity to pray for rain, but I cannot make it rain by prayer. When the rain arrives in response to prayer, I cannot claim that my great faith made it rain. My faith often wobbles and falls down. When faith produces a response to prayer, it is because my faith was placed in the hands of a great God.

It is too easy to give ourselves the credit when a prayer is answered in place of giving God what is due Him when He chooses to answer our prayers. The proper response is one of thanksgiving to God, not a pat on the back for those who made the request. In a restaurant, we give our compliments to the chef for a wonderful meal. We would not give a compliment to ourselves for choosing well from the menu or for coming into the restaurant at just this time and place. If the service is well performed, we tip the one who did the table waiting. What would you think of the one who, in place of a gratuity, patted himself on the back for sitting in his chair properly? How easily we fall to the temptation to grab a little glory for ourselves in prayer. The pastor issues the call, we make the request to God, and the rains come. Then the tempting thought comes, "Good job on that prayer! Look what I did! Praise me!"

Forgive us, Lord, for failing to give you the glory. Please lead us away from the temptation and deception of the evil one. Thank you for answering our prayers. Thank you, Lord, for the wonderful rain last night. Thank you for loving us and providing for us. To you, dear Lord, be the glory and honor. Amen.