Monthly Archives: July 2010

He keeps his promises

Psalm 119: 153-155

Look upon my suffering and deliver me, for I have not forgotten your law.  Defend my cause and redeem me; preserve my life according to your promise.  Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek your decrees. NIV

It’s been a year.

When I was a kid, a year seemed like forever.  Now the years seem to fly by.

My father’s explained it to me this way: time passes more quickly because my brain measures time in relation to its own awareness.  1/6 is a much larger number than 1 divided by my current age.

It’s been a year since my dear friend entered heaven.

In many ways, it seems she has been gone a long time.  In others, it seems like yesterday that we were pouring over Psalm 119, entreating God to allow her more time here with her precious children.  Even as I begged God to extend her life, I knew that whatever happened, these verses were completely true.  He might choose to “save” her by allowing her stay here on earth, but, His perfect salvation would be realized upon her departure.

I think that this chapter will always be a comfort to me.  No matter what worries I have faced or I will face, I can go to my Heavenly Father and quote verses 153 and 154, “Take a good look at my trouble and help me  — I haven’t forgotten your revelation.  Take my side and get me out of this; give me back my life, just as you promised.” MSG

That’s what I’ll think about today.

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Filed under Old Testament, Psalms, Trust

Look for the lessons in it

Hebrews 12: 5-6

And you have forgotten then that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons.  My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. NIV

I’m back in Hebrews 12.  Twice in this chapter, the writer says, “don’t lose heart.”

In these verses, he’s putting God’s discipline in perspective, “My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either.  It’s the child he loves that he disciplines, the child he embraces, he also corrects.” MSG

Don’t shrug it off … but don’t be crushed by it either … that’s a delicate balance, especially for a worrier.

Apparently, this weekend, Rick Warren will be preaching on what pain can teach us.  He says, “You’ll often receive your brightest insights during your darkest days IF you humbly listen to God in quiet trust.”  He goes on to say that the peace that transcends understanding comes from fully trusting God in situations you don’t understand.

“Pain warns you something is wrong,” he says, “Without it, you’d ignore what needs to be fixed in your life.”

That’s a pretty powerful concept, if you keep it in perspective.  I can see that he’s right about the links between physical pain and things being out of whack.

But he goes on to discuss what he calls relational pain, “The greatest relational lessons come from relational pain,” he says.  “Financial lessons from financial pain, health lessons from … etc.”

That’s one I need to ponder.  I can absolutely see the connections between his point and these verses.  This has me wondering. What lessons should I be learning?  What is it that God is trying to teach me?

That’s what I’ll think about today.

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Filed under Hebrews, New Testament, Worry

Put things in the right order

Exodus 34:23-24

Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord, the God of Israel.  I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the Lord your God. NIV

I’ve had an atypical morning.  I had a very early appointment, and, somehow, I didn’t factor that in when I set my alarm last night.

So, out the door I dashed this morning … no make up, no cell phone, no COFFEE, and, most importantly no quiet time.

It’s been quite some time since I have started a day without first opening the Bible.  It has become a habit … one that has benefitted me tremendously.  Someone told me, I can’t remember who, that it says somewhere in the Bible that God calls us to spend time with him in the early morning.  By nature, I’m a morning person, so that really works for me.

But, here it is lunchtime, and I’ve just finally made time in my day to get into the Word.  And, I believe, the verse I found there would not have meant as much to me at 6 a.m. as it does now.

God is good.  So obvious, but so true.

This verse is part of the broader story of Moses receiving the ten commandments.  Last night, a dear friend was speaking about Moses, and she said, “He broke every single one of the Ten Commandments.”  Of course, I began an inventory in my head … thou shalt not … and then she delivered the punch line … “right there on the ground,” she said, miming throwing down the tablets, “he broke them all at once!”  I laughed.  I had never heard that joke before.

So, at this point, Moses has broken the tablets and he’s gone back to the mountain for round two.

God tells Moses that the people should celebrate the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Ingathering, and then He begins this verse, “All your men are to appear before the Master, the God of Israel, three times a year.  You won’t have to worry about your land when you appear before your God three times each year, for I will drive out the nations before you and give you plenty of land.  Nobody’s going to be hanging around plotting ways to get it from you.” MSG

You won’t have to worry about your land … that’s really powerful.

I think that God is saying to put Him in His rightful place, first among all things here, and then everything else, all our possessions, all our earthly obligations, will fall into place.

God wants our best.  He wants the first fruits of our labor, and, I believe, He wants the first minutes of my day.

If I will be faithful, He will provide for me.  I won’t have to worry about the rest of it.

That’s worth thinking about … I’ll do that as I finish up this topsy turvy day.

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Filed under Exodus, Old Testament, Worry

Giving up is not the answer

Genesis 15:4-5

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.”  He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars — if indeed you can count them.” The he said to him, “so shall your offspring be.” NIV

This is the first verse that comes up if you type the word “worry” into Bible Gateway.com and choose “The Message.”

I’ve done that search before and I’ve seen this verse, but, it did not hit me until this morning how important this verse is in the context of this project.

Abraham’s life has not turned out as he expected.  Life has not followed Abraham’s plan.  He planned to have children.  He wanted to be a father and, no doubt, a grandfather.  Now, he and his wife are quite old and the time for having children, he thinks, has passed them by.

When he contemplates what that means in his own society, it appears that he is devastated.   In the verses just before this one, he has given up all hope of a child and is considering leaving his fortune to one of his servants.  “Then God’s message came, ‘Don’t worry, he won’t be your heir, a man from your body will be your heir.'” MSG

God had a plan for Abraham.  In verse 5, God says, “You’re going to have a big family, Abram!” MSG

I love the rest of Abraham’s story.  He and Sarah don’t trust that God’s plan will be achieved, so, they take matters into their own hands and Abraham produces a son from his own body — with Sarah’s maid.

But, that’s still not what God wanted.  Later in the story, Sarah, who is well past child bearing age, is miraculously blessed with a son, Isaac.  Isaac is the father of Jacob and Esau, and Jacob fathers 12 sons, who become the 12 tribes of Israel.  God had a plan and he continued to work it, despite Abraham’s doubts and even interference.  God’s perfect plan for Abraham’s life was achieved.

Not being an older man with unfulfilled aspirations of fatherhood, I’ve never much identified with Abraham … until this morning.

I had a plan for my life.  I’ve had several, actually.  None of them have worked out the way I envisioned them.  For a certain personality type, one that I’m seeing I must share with Abraham, that’s pretty frustrating.  We are the kids who loved the story, “The Little Engine that Could.”  We’re the ones who saw ourselves as the ant in the song about the rubber tree.

As much as he might have wanted dozens of little Abrahams, he could not have them, just like I often am unable to achieve the things I want or that I plan for myself.  In times like these, it is tempting to give up … to stop trying … to take Abraham’s attitude.  “Let’s just write the will and formalize giving everything to the servant … he’s going to get it anyway, so why not at least give HIM some certainty of what is to come?”

But, that’s not what God says.  God takes Abraham outside and tells him to look up at the stars.  He tells him to keep dreaming of the future that he wants for himself, and then, He goes one step further and tells Abraham that He will fulfill his dream.

Worries over things that you cannot control are not eradicated by giving up on your dreams or plans.  The only true antidote for worry is to trust in the One True God, who has your best interest at heart, who is not bound by time, who sent his son to die for you and who has a very definite plan for your life.  You cannot see it, you are not meant to … sometimes I think that one of the rewards that we will most cherish in heaven is that we will finally, finally understand the plan.

That’s what I’ll think about today.

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Filed under Genesis, Hope, Old Testament, Trust, Worry

What can you learn from it?

Hebrews 12:3

Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  NIV

This is the third verse that opens chapter 12 of the book of Hebrews.  It was this verse that I found a couple of days ago when I was searching for references to “lose heart,” a synonym for worry.

This verse reminds us to remember the suffering endured by Christ as we face the obstacles and worries that are sure to be in our path.  He has walked the path that we are walking.

Christ became human not only to save us, but also, I believe to better relate to us.  He has seen the world through human eyes, and has experienced the pain that humans are capable of inflicting on one another.  What a comfort that is.  Christ understands our hurts and our worries and is there to comfort us.  We must only remember to consistently take our worries to Him in prayer.

The chapter goes on to discuss the encouragement of discipline.  At first glance, that seems to be an oxymoron.  But, as I thought more about the chapter, I can see that it is completely on point.

This summer, I’m growing roses.  I’ve never grown them before, and, in the part of the country where I grew up, they weren’t terribly common.  I ordered them on line.  Nine little miniature rosebushes.  They came in nine tall boxes, and, as I planted them in my garden this past Spring, I remember not having much hope for them.  They seemed spindly and awkward and not at all likely to produce the lush foliage and gorgeous flowers that I’d seen on the Internet.

I followed the instructions, and planted them in full sun.  For the first month or so, nothing much happened. I watered them faithfully, and then, a few blooms began to appear.  Not all nine plants had flowers, I think I got about four little roses.  I took pictures of them and sent them to my family, and I figured, that was  it.  Nine plants, four blooms … that was honestly a better ratio than I had expected.  I let the blooms fade and turn brown, and then I had just nine little green plants, but, they were at least growing new leaves.  I kept watering.

Then, someone told me that I had to cut the blooms off.  My mom sent me a book on growing roses, and it said the same thing.

So, I cut off all the dead blooms.  Several days later, to my surprise, a few more blooms showed up.  As those faded, I cut them off, just as the book instructed.  And, an amazing thing began to happen.  The more I hacked off fading foliage, the more new blooms I got!

In the face of opposition — or, perhaps in response to discipline — those determined little plants have become more and more beautiful.  They don’t yet look like the picture on the Internet, but, I consistently have 15 or 20 beautiful rose blossoms to admire out my window.

That’s the kind of Christian I want to be.  I will not wilt or worry or lose heart in the face of opposition.  Instead, I will see it as a blessing, as discipline that I can learn from, and I will flourish in it.

That’s what I’ll think about today.

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Filed under Hebrews, Lose heart, New Testament, Worry

Study how he did it

Hebrews 12:2

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. NIV

This is the second of three powerful verse that open Chapter 12 of the book of Hebrews.

My NIV Bible gives some background on this book.  According to that synopsis, this letter was written during the time of the first century church, which was undergoing a good deal of persecution.  It goes on to say that the recipients of the letter were likely “Christians who were thinking of abandoning their faith.”  Throughout the book, the author, who is unknown, but thought to be Barnabas or Apollos, “exhorts them to hold fast to their confession of Christ as savior and Lord.”

Our church is studying Max Lucado’s book, Fearless.  Last week,we discussed chapter 13, titled, “What if things get worse?”  The chapter addresses the fear of global calamity.

There’s a lot of global calamity going on at the moment.  There are earthquakes, the oil debacle, longstanding wars, devastating hunger, financial collapse.  There is also some persecution of the Christian faith.  Like those Christians who are the recipients of the letter of Hebrews, the persecution that we face in the U.S. has not yet resulted in martyrdom, but, for the first century Christians, my Bible says, the persecution was severe.  Lucado points to verses (Matthew 24:4-14) that indicate it will get worse.

It is through that lens … pressure that the church was struggling to bear up under … that this book is written.  And, if we use that lens today, these verses still inspire.

Worry can exert internal pressure as powerful as any external force.  When that happens, we must heed the instruction of the writer of this letter, “Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in.  Study how he did it.  Because he never lost sight of where he was headed — that exhilarating finish in and with God — he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever.  And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.” MSG

That’s what I’ll think about today.

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Filed under Faith, Fear, Hebrews, New Testament, Worry

Don’t allow yourself to be entangled

Hebrews 12:1

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  NIV

This morning, I went back to the word “lose” in my concordance, in search of references to “lose heart.” Hebrews 12:3 is the third verse from the bottom of the lose listing.  When I got to Hebrews 12 and began reading, I realized that several of the verses there are reminders not to worry.  They stand easily on their own, and, when combined, they are a powerful missive.

This first verse is beautifully written.  I love the imagery that it contains.  The words, “cloud of witnesses,” are compelling.  The Message says, “all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on.”  When I think about the group of “all these witnesses,” that the writer references nearly 2000 years ago, I am struck by how much larger the cloud of witnesses has grown in the intervening time between then and now.  As I trace my faith in my own family, we are the religion that we are because of a home missionary who helped a widow and her children many years ago.  That widow and her household converted to the missionary’s faith.  My grandmother was one of her children.  That missionary is in that cloud, and so are countless others.

The next phrase is the reminder here … “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”  That’s worry.  Worry is a hindrance and a sin that will entangle your time, your energy, your determination, everything … worry is an effective tool to render the believer ineffective.

And then, “let us run with perseverance.”  I don’t like to run.  It’s really hard work and, I find, I never really had the stamina to keep up with my friends when we would go jogging.  However, I do love to watch people run.  One of my childhood friends was a champion runner and hurdler.  She went to college on a track scholarship.  When she ran it was pure joy for her.  And, there is a picture in our yearbook of her clearing a hurdle.  The look of complete determination on her face is inspiring.  That’s the kind of running that we are called to do as Christians.  We are to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

While I don’t know what God has planned for me — the race marked out for me — I do know that there is a plan, and that I will not achieve it if I’m not up running the race.  It is not a sprint around a track.  “We are to run with perseverance,” that means cross country running, or a marathon.  A long-distance runner can walk or bike or even run the track of an upcoming race prior to the real thing, but he or she cannot possibly know all of the things that will be encountered when the race is actually happening.  I can’t know everything that will be in my path either, or all the things that I will be called to do … even though I’d really like to know those things.

Each of us as Christians is on a path.  We might stumble or wander from it from time to time, but, this verse reminds us to keep the goal in mind, and to run with perseverance.  We must avoid the obstacles that our worries pose and  listen for the cheering on of those who have gone before … they’ll be there at the end of the race to welcome us home.

That’s what I’ll think about today.

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Filed under Fear, II Corinthians, New Testament, Worry

Go in the strength you have

Judges 6:14

The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand.  Am I not sending you?” NIV

I love the story of Gideon.  At this point, when the angel of the Lord sits down to speak to him, Gideon is threshing wheat in a winepress.  He and his people have been terribly oppressed by the Midianites, and, presumably, the winepress was somewhat more sheltered than places where the wheat would ordinarily have been threshed, making it less likely that a Midianite will show up to steal the wheat that Gideon is working with.

Gideon is making do with what he has.

I love that.  He has found a way to achieve his objective, despite seemingly large obstacles.  But, Gideon isn’t thinking as big as God is thinking.  God wants to use Gideon’s abilities to achieve great things for Israel, not just to provide for his own family.

In verse 12, when the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, He said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

Gideon pushes back, asking, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?  Where are all his wonders that our fathers old us about?”

Gideon has heard the stories of God bringing Israel up out of Egypt, but now, they seem to him to be just that … stories.  I find this part so interesting.  The angel of the Lord shows up to talk to him, and Gideon, instead of falling on his face, displays his hurt and anger at all that has happened.  And, God doesn’t smite him … far from it … he is encouraging and really patient.

He says to Gideon … “Go in the strength you have … am I not sending you?”

Gideon protests some more.   He says that he is the weakest of his family, to which God answers, “I will be with you.”

In the rest of the chapter, Gideon asks the angel of the Lord to wait while he prepares an offering, and He does, and then he asks God twice to confirm his instructions by first wetting a fleece with dew on dry ground and then wetting the ground with dew and  leaving the fleece dry.  God patiently complies with all of these requests.

Go in the strength you have … am I not sending you?

How often do we doubt our own abilities?  How often do we fail to rely on the limitless strength of the one true God who is sending us into the world to do His work?  God repetitively tells us, “I am with you,” and yet, we still see the world through the lens of our worries, and our own perceptions of our strengths and weaknesses.

I will have to think about that today.

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Filed under Judges, Old Testament, Trust, Worry

Don’t be so focused on it

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. NIV

I know that this is a reminder not to worry.  But, I find that my perspective is so far from Paul’s at the moment that I’m having trouble relating to it.  I know that he is right.  What is seen is temporary, what we are experiencing is temporary, but, often, it is hard to get your mind around that.

I broke a toe yesterday.  My foot has turned a lovely shade of blue, and it hurts to walk and, just as I’m sitting here, it is throbbing.  Toes are such a small part of your body … how can one small part command so much attention!?!

It strikes me that my toe is similar to the worries of this world … they are small and insignificant in comparison to the whole of eternity, and yet sometimes I get bogged down in them such that I lose sight of the whole.

I know that is the opposite of what Paul is expressing.  I need to adjust my perspective.

I’ll think about that, and also go and find a bag of ice now.

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Filed under II Corinthians, Lose heart, New Testament, Strength, Trouble

Get busy!

2 Corinthians 4:1

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. NIV

For the last several days, I’ve been working through the listings under the word “lose” in my concordance.  I’ve been specifically focusing on the phrase, “lose heart,” which, in most cases, is a synonym for worry.  While the “lose” listing is not of an insignificant size, I’ve abruptly found myself deep in the New Testament.  The verses in my concordance are organized from Old to New Testament, so, it takes a while in any word search to get out of the Old Testament.

This morning, I was struck by the difference in Paul’s perspective from the Old Testament writers that I’ve spent so much time with on this project.  It looks like only 31 of the verses that I’ve found so far have been New Testament ones, so, it seems that the second half of my project will be, perhaps, even more encouraging than the first has been.

Paul begins this chapter, “Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing …” MSG

I love that!

Paul appropriately gives the credit to God, not to himself.  Paul is being beaten up and thrown in jail and maligned for doing God’s work, and yet, his perspective is, “Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job because we run into occasional hard times.” MSG

I am in awe of his perspective.

Had I been Paul, I’m pretty certain my attitude would have been, “Hey, give me a break!  I changed my entire life for you, I completely reversed direction in my career, all my former associates think I’m crazy, I have this physical problem that won’t go away, people keep putting me in jail, and this is unpleasant!”  But no, Paul says, “Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing …”

He counts it a privilege to be in service, to have this ministry, this ability to serve.

Sometimes, I think that God uses our darkest times not only to test our faith, but also to more effectively equip us to serve.  Like new recruits into the armed services, we must be broken down and then rebuilt to be effective.

These last two years have been among my hardest.  I haven’t always taken Paul’s approach, but, I’m often reminded of a story my mom shared with me last year.  She found it in a Bible Study or in a quiet time guide.  I wish I knew who wrote the story, so I could give him credit.  The image is one that I carry with me.

A person was watching a silversmith work with silver.   There was a flame involved, and the craftsman was explaining that he needed to heat the metal to just the right point, and then no hotter to achieve his objective.  The observer asked, “how do you know when it’s ready?”  To which the silversmith replied, “That’s easy, when I can see my reflection.”

The first time I heard that story, I wept.  God allows trials in our lives not to break us, but to make us more dependent on him.  Our purpose here is to glorify Him, to commune with Him, to reflect Him to our world and to do His work.

If we’re focused on those things, we, like Paul, cannot lose heart or worry … there is too much to accomplish!  God has generously let us in on what he is doing … let’s get to it!

That’s what I’ll think about today.

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Filed under II Corinthians, Lose heart, New Testament