FLOWERS OF GRACE

Our Spring Tea was held on March 20th at Cornerstone Baptist Church.  If you were unable to come, the following is the message of God’s grace that was presented.

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”  2 Corinthians 9:8

Flowers, we all love them.  They are colorful and filled with aroma.  They are great decorations and bring a smile to our faces.  It’s always a special day when we receive flowers.  Recently, I received a beautiful bouquet without the sender’s name.  The message was “you are much loved and appreciated.”  What a wonderful uplifting gesture someone made to me!  Flowers say “I care.”

When we receive flowers, it’s a bit like the grace of God.  We didn’t do anything to earn the flowers.  They have been sent out of the love of someone’s heart.  God’s grace is like that; it’s his favor given to us, totally unearned.  Our theme verse says that God is able to make all grace abound to you.  To abound means to exist in great quantities.  We’re going to look at this word grace as an acrostic today.  This won’t even touch how wonderful and awesome grace is, but I hope it helps.

G – Great

When we think of something that is great, we may think of size or presence.  We determine what is great.  Sometimes we want to be great in another’s eyes or even in our own.  I remember when I was 12 years old, I thought it would be great to see the Beatles.  I heard they were coming to the Olympia stadium in Detroit.  I knew when the concert was, but my parents didn’t buy me a ticket, so I couldn’t go.  However, I did walk around in my yard thinking it would be great to see their plane go overhead.  It wasn’t long before there was a plane flying over and I looked up and waved to the greatness that I was sure was in it!  Yes, in that day, people thought the Beatles were great, but were they?  The truth is they were humans with many flaws.  The only great one is God.  He is great and good.  Because of this he has shown great favor to us as a sinful people.  He has made it possible for us to have a relationship with him through the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf.  Jesus lived perfectly and died perfectly in our place taking all of the wrath of God against our sin for us.  This grace is greater than anything else we could imagine.

R – Righteous

God’s grace is righteous.  This means that it’s always right, good, and true.  When God, in his great grace, sent Jesus to this earth to live in our place, He lived a righteous life.  Jesus never sinned.  He never had an oops, sorry moment.  He did this for us because of God’s great grace, which is always righteous.   When we believe in Jesus and accept him as our Savior, his righteousness is given to us!  Now that’s something we don’t deserve.

A – Always Available

God’s grace is always available. There are many things in our lives that we want to always be available.  When we turn on the kitchen tap, we expect water to flow.  When we go to the grocery store, we expect there to be toilet paper on the shelf.  But as we have learned last year, these things are not always available.  Sometimes I think we think relationships will always be available.  We can begin to take people for granted.  It may be we put off going to see someone or contacting them by phone, text, email, or letter.  People are not always available.  I remember how I took my mom for granted.  I was able to call her when I had questions, and she had the answer.  Then the day came when I didn’t call her very much because I decided her attitude irritated me.  Life had changed for my mom and me.  She wasn’t available in the way I wanted her to be.  I responded in the wrong way at first, until I discovered she was sick.  We can’t always be available but God can and is.  He desires for us to approach him so that he can pour out his favor on us.  I needed God’s grace to accept that mom was no longer the mom I wanted.  His grace helped me to come to a place of acceptance.  He never holds back his grace.  It is always available to his children.

C – Ceaseless

God’s grace never runs out.  There’s never any reason to yell “who took the last grace?”  You know what I’m talking about…those cookies that are delicious and you know there’s one left.  Yet, when you go to get the last one, it’s gone!  Who took the last cookie?  You see everything in this lifetime ceases.  One day our very life will cease.  We will be no more and only memories will remain.  Sometimes we live as if we’ll never die.  But the truth is we will, and when we do we’ll stand before our maker, the Lord God.  We will have to give an account of our lives all the good, the bad, and the ugly.  But remember God’s ceaseless grace. If you have accepted Christ by his grace, then you have no worries. As you stand before the Lord God, it’s Christ’s righteousness that he sees.  His grace is ceaseless, eternal, it covers you at the end of life.

E – Encompassing

God’s grace totally surrounds us.  There are no gaps or holes in God’s grace.  It surrounds us completely to grant us favor in every area of life.  It reminds me of a hug, a good hug where you put your arms totally around someone.  In that moment you’re surrounding them with your love, encouraging them, holding them up, or being the shoulder they need to cry on.  God’s grace surrounds us that way.  It goes way beyond a hug but it is God’s hug offered freely to us.

God’s grace was great, righteous, always available, ceaseless, and encompassing to me when my stepfather passed away in June 2020.  This man had been in my life for 57 years so he was my dad.  One day he thought a wall was being built by his neighbor.  He was standing outside demanding me to see something that wasn’t there.  These hallucinations were very real to him.  It’s as if his mind broke at that moment and there wasn’t any reality left.  This began a whirlwind of a downward spiral for him.

God’s grace – that I lived on the same street as my dad and could go in the middle of the night if needed.

God’s grace – that his doctor called me back every time I called him, even though he was on vacation with his family.

God’s grace – my stepsister was able to come and stay for the last two weeks of dad’s life and help me.

God’s grace – whenever I called, my brother came and moved furniture so that dad would be safe, made hospital runs with me, and found the middle of the night no problem.

God’s grace – the doctor gave us the option of taking him home in the midst of COVID on hospice rather than a facility.

God’s grace – the hospice workers were beyond helpful and supportive to my sister and I who were weary.

God’s grace – strength to endure light sleep and light meals through the three weeks of care for dad.

God’s grace – friends who did my shopping, brought much needed Tim Horton coffee, and remembered my birthday in the midst of this.

God’s grace – even though I sleep very sound, I heard all movements in the night my dad made so I was able to get up and keep him safe.

God’s grace – my sister and I were able to hold my dad’s hand for his final breath.

God’s grace –  that there were so many people praying for us as we went through this hard time.  His grace was asked for on our behalf and he delivered it over and over again.

I received a fresh bouquet of flowers of his grace every moment during that time.

God’s grace brings the dead in sin to be alive in Christ at the moment of salvation.  As a Follower of Christ grace abounds in our life during our service and suffering.  God always gives us all we need for this life!  I have experienced this, and I know many of you have too.  Let’s choose to look for the flowers of grace at every turn!

 

GOD IS IN THE UNKNOWN

My ducks need to be in a row.  I have a friend who says the same thing as I do.  We don’t like it when one of our little ducks veer off to the right or left.  The ducks, of course, represent our plans.  We plan and want it to go the way we want it to go.  The problem is, we don’t always know everything, but we think we do.  There are always twists, turns, and bumps in our roads.  God promises to go with us as we navigate all the twists and turns, but we still like to know they are there.  In the Scriptures, there are many times we are reminded that God is in the unknown.

NOAH

“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.  Make yourself an ark of gopher wood.”  Genesis 6:8, 14a

The people of the world were corrupt, and it grieved the heart of God.  He decided to do away with them all, but Noah found favor before God.  Noah was given grace by God because that was God’s choice.  The command God gave to Noah was to build an ark.  Can you imagine building an ark on dry land?  Noah must have had many questions about what was going to happen.  He followed God and was obedient to him in the process of building this ark.  Do you think Noah knew what was going to happen?  It was all unknown, but we know God was in it.  God made sure of Noah and his family’s safety during the flood that destroyed all the rest of mankind.

MOSES

“Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” Exodus 3:10 

What an awesome task God gave to Moses!  He was to go into Egypt and tell Pharaoh to let God’s people go.  These people were slaves and of great worth to the Pharaoh because of the work they were doing for him.  Moses and his brother Aaron met with Pharaoh, not knowing what God was going to do.  Do you think they were fearful?  It was all unknown, but we know God was in it.  God’s people were released from slavery.

JOSHUA

“Moses my servant is dead.  Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.” Joshua 1:2

An unknown land and an unknown people lay ahead of Joshua on the other side of the Jordan river.  He was to lead these people over the Jordan and to the land of promise.  What were the people like in this land?  Could they defeat them?  It was all unknown, but we know God was in it.  God’s people were victorious when they followed him, and they were given the land.

IT WAS ALL UNKNOWN, BUT WE KNOW GOD WAS IN IT.

The above statement is repeated in our examples from the Scriptures.  We can say this because to those who were living it at the time, all was unknown.  But we have the benefit of knowing God was in each and every situation, working things out for his glory.  He is always at work, and he hasn’t stopped now.  He is still working.  We all have unknowns in our lives.

Perhaps there’s a new job on the horizon.  Although it looks so good, there’s so much about it that is unknown.

Maybe, a move to another state where you don’t know anyone.  You desire to move, but there’s so much about it that is unknown.

You may have just received a diagnosis that has caused you great concern.  The medical personnel are great, but there’s so much about it that is unknown.

The college has become too expensive, and you have to transfer over to one that costs less.  The education will probably be the same, but there’s so much about it that is unknown.

Each one of these scenarios call for putting ducks in a row.  We want to know!!  The situations have twists, turns, and bumps which we would like to avoid.  The unknown is scary– just as it was for Noah, Moses and Joshua.  How does God want us to handle the unknown?

“Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.”  Psalm 62:8

When all around us is unknown, we can know that God is in it.  We are told here in Psalm 62:8 to trust the Lord at all times, which would include those that are unknown to us.  What is so encouraging is the second part of this verse!  We are called to pour out our hearts to God, knowing he is our refuge.  God wants us to let him know our worries, fears, dread, and hesitation concerning the unknowns in our lives.  He is our refuge, our shelter, and protection.  We can trust God with each and every duck on the path because he knows what lies ahead, even when we don’t.

Cry out to God and let him know your concerns for all your little duckies! Then put your trust in him because he is trustworthy.  We can depend on this:  God is always in the unknown.

HOW DO I HANDLE DREAD?

The experience of dread is one we have all tasted.  If we were to compare it to an actual taste in our mouth, it would be bitter.  What makes dread so bitter is revealed to us in the definition of the word.  Dread is “to fear greatly, be reluctant to do something, or apprehension of something in the future” (Dictionary.com). The association of fear and reluctance to do something, go somewhere, or make changes in our lives is dread.  It can be associated with anxiety as we rehearse the dread over and over in our minds. The result of these thoughts will be bitterness toward the reasons we have dread.  If we are thinking about making a job change because the company is closing, we may be bitter toward the company as we dread the change. We may become bitter against a person who we see as the instrument of the change we dread.  How can I handle these thoughts of dread?  What is causing me to fear?  What are the thoughts I keep having that fuel this dread?  Does the Scripture have anything to say about dread?  Let’s look at a couple of examples.

The Egyptians

“But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad.  And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel.  So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field.  In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.”  Exodus 1:12-14

Remember the sons of Jacob who sold their brother, Joseph, into slavery.  He ended up in Egypt and became the right-hand man of Pharaoh.  Eventually the brothers needed food and had to go to Egypt to get it.  After that, there is a family reunion when Jacob and all his household go to Egypt to live with Joseph.  God had orchestrated this in Joseph’s life in order to save many people.  The King of Egypt loved Joseph and welcomed his family.  After Joseph died, his family continued to grow in number, but a new king began to rule over Egypt.  This king didn’t know Joseph.  He had no idea about Joseph being instrumental in saving the people of Egypt during a famine.  All he could see was that the people of Israel continued to multiply, and he was afraid.  He dreaded the possible takeover by these people.  He chose to handle his dread himself.  Here’s what he did.

  1. He became ruthless with the people.
  2. He made them his slaves.
  3. He made them work at hard labor in all areas.

So what we see is that the king of Egypt dealt with his dread by becoming a mean taskmaster.  He thought he could control the Israelites this way.  However, this didn’t really relieve his dread because the people continued to multiply.  He had to change what he was doing and became more ruthless and even killed their young sons.  This is not the way to handle dread!

You may be saying but I would never enslave or murder anyone because of my fear and dread. Maybe not, but our goal is the same as Pharaoh’s, we want to control the situation.  In trying to control we’ll choose to manipulate, avoid, or fret about our circumstance.  All of these choices will lead us to bitterness when the circumstance doesn’t change.  Our way doesn’t work!

Jesus

“And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.  Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.  And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”                   Luke 22:40-44

Jesus is our example of how to handle dread.  He was full of dread before the crucifixion.  He was going to become sin for us and bear all of God’s wrath against our sins.  The Father was going to turn away from him because of our sin.  These were very grievous conditions for Jesus.  He didn’t want to do it and was looking for another way.  We can learn from him as we look at what he did do.

  1. He prayed.  The Son of God, part of the Trinity, got down on his face and he prayed.  When was the last time you got down on your face and petitioned God?  There are a few times I have done this in my life and from that humble position, the Lord revealed things to me in a different light.  When Jesus prayed, it was not just a “God bless” prayer, he prayed from his heart of dread and anguish.  We need to pray earnestly and humbly.
  2. He prayed three times. Our dread needs to be something we pray about more than once.  We can’t lift it to God and then walk away.  As we bring it before God and share our emotions with him, he begins to work even through that.  God wants us to present all of our concerns to him.  If it’s still a concern, then present it again.  Talk it out with your Father who loves you as many times as you need.
  3. He yielded to God’s will. Jesus prayed concerning his dread but he always spoke of his awareness of God’s will.  He was aware of God’s will and he was desirous to do God’s will and not his own.  When we dread, our first instinct is to just change the situation, but that really isn’t the answer.  Jesus knew the answer, and that’s always God’s will.  God has a purpose for the something you are dreading.  He will see that purpose through, and we can follow kicking and screaming or yielding.  Jesus shows us yielding is the answer.
  4. He was obedient. After Jesus prayed this prayer, he was arrested.  He knew he was headed for death on the cross to redeem those who would follow him.  He walked the road to Calvary.  We must be obedient to follow Christ in the midst of our dread.  What do we need to change in order to be obedient?  Maybe just our outlook which should be trust in the Lord, rather than dread and fear.  Jesus was obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Egyptians or Jesus??  What example will we follow today?  The road Jesus took was hard and ours may be too. We know we don’t walk the road alone.  Jesus has gone before us, walks alongside of us, and protects our backs.

 

 

 

SPEECH: FOOLISH OR WISE?

The Proverbs have much to say about our speech.  We all know that the words that come out of our mouths can get us into trouble and hurt others.  We all have a problem with taming our tongue.  The book of James spends a great deal of time on this topic.  It is the hardest area in our lives to control.  Let’s take some time and see what the Proverbs have to say about speech.

The Speech of a Fool

“A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating.  A fool’s mouth is his ruin and his lips are a snare to his soul.”  Proverbs 18:6-7

  1. A fool stirs up trouble.  We can use our words to be aggressive by speaking out against others.  We may be very defensive when someone tries to help by correcting some of the things we’ve said.  We may speak in an argumentative way in order to get our thoughts heard.  All of these interactions can stir up trouble between people.
  2. A fool speaks thoughtlessly. This is something we can all struggle with as we speak before thinking.  Sometimes it’s because we want our opinion to be made know; so we’ll interrupt and blurt it out.  Other times, we have no consideration for the one who is suffering and may give a pat answer to a complex situation.
  3. A fool is divisive. This happens when we interrupt with rash, irritating comments.  Our opinion is the only one that matters, and we don’t really care about others.  This is an invitation to others to respond in anger to us.
  4. A fool is trapped by his own words. When we lie to others, we can become entangled by our lies.  There comes a point when we can’t keep the lies straight anymore.  Who did I tell that to?  We may lie so much that others soon don’t believe anything we say.

The life of a fool is not one we should be living as followers of Christ.  Our speech needs to reflect our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.  Let’s focus on what the Proverbs have to say about the speech of the wise.

The Speech of the Wise

“The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips.  Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”  Proverbs 16:23-24

  1. Wise speech begins with a wise heart.  Our desire is to have a wise heart that motivates our speech.  The wisdom we have comes from God as we ask him for it.  We also gain wisdom as we read the Word daily, adding to our knowledge.  The wise heart is so important for us because it causes us to be careful with our words.  The words we say will be more focused on a desire to help others than on ourselves.  A wise heart will keep us from blurting out whatever comes into our minds.
  2. Wise speech persuades others toward truth. As followers of Christ, we are called to give warnings to those who are wandering from the truth.  We are called to speak the truth in love to our brothers and sisters.  We will use pleasant words of encouragement, comfort, and challenge in order to help others.
  3. Wise speech is always about others. We are to speak with the other’s best interest in mind.  This is vital for the growth and benefit of our brothers and sisters.

“Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.  Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”  Proverbs 1:27-28

  1. Wise speech will be restrained. As followers of Christ, we are to think before we speak.  We are to engage our brain and consider what we will say.  This will keep us from blurting out hurtful words.  This is the wisdom of self-control.  When we act in a controlled manner with our speech, we will know when and what to speak.  We will also be even-tempered or have a cool spirit as our proverb says.
  2. Wise speech will, sometimes, be no speech. We all need to learn when to be quiet.  It’s interesting that even a fool is thought wise when he is quiet.  It’s important to be quiet, especially in order to listen well to someone.

The life of wisdom is one we should be living as followers of Christ.  Our speech needs to be wise and will be so as we strive to grow in the wisdom and knowledge of the Scriptures.

Let’s take some time and evaluate our speech with the following questions.

Am I a good listener?  Do I really care about what someone is saying to me?  Am I more concerned with my reply to someone?  Do I speak with the other’s best interest in mind?  Do I seek to honor God with my speech?  Do I talk about God?  Do I encourage the truth in others and in myself? What do I need to change in my thoughts and my speech in order to look more like Jesus?

Wow!  What a task God has given us to speak into each other’s lives!  Who are you speaking to?  Who are you listening to?

 

WAITING ON THE LORD

What is it about waiting that drives us all crazy? Waiting means we can’t get what we want when we want it.  Waiting means we have to put patience into gear.  None of us like to do that!  We have so many things we use so that we don’t have to wait.  The microwave oven or the Instant Pot will have our dinner done in minutes.  The internet gives us information after the push of a button.  We don’t even have to watch the opening credits of a movie because we have fast forward.  We hate to wait, but God calls us to wait over and over in the Scriptures.  Does this mean he’s not in the 21st century?  Is he not aware that we don’t like to wait?  What really does he want from us in asking us to wait?  Let’s take a few moments and look at some of the Scriptures which contain the “wait” aspect.

  “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” Psalm 27:14

As we present our requests to God in prayer, we should be anticipating his involvement in the request, always looking for his answers.  However, we get impatient and may even begin to try to solve issues ourselves, rather than waiting on the Lord.  This verse tells us there is a result from waiting – strength and courage.  As we wait on the Lord, our dependency and trust in him will grow, which results in strength and courage to endure.  The waiting on the Lord is not a time of passivity, but one of involvement in trusting the character of God.

“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.” Psalm 37:7a

Waiting is hard enough, but now the Scripture adds to “be still.” Why is being still so hard?  We only do it when it’s convenient for us, like when we are in front of the TV, or reading a book, or sleeping. The struggle to be still is real and affects us all, not just children.  We have to utilize our self-control in order to be still.  It can be so hard to be still as we listen to a sermon, and yet we can spend the rest of the afternoon on the couch playing video games.  We are very picky about when we are still, aren’t we?  Rather than thinking about our bodies moving, we need to think about our minds.  Our minds need to be still and rest in God’s work in the situation we’ve brought before him.  The racing mind of “what ifs” needs to be still and wait patiently for the Lord to work.

“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.” Psalm 62:5

Now we’re told to wait in silence, really?  I can’t even complain about having to wait.  It’s easy to complain about being in line at Burger King longer than five minutes because fast food should be fast!  We are not to complain about waiting on the Lord.  The Lord’s time table is different than ours.  He knows best and acts for our best interest.  We can trust him and need to remind ourselves that he is our hope.  Our hope doesn’t disappoint us (Romans 5:5).  The hope we have in the Lord is confidence that he is always working on our behalf.  We can really quiet ourselves and wait on the Lord because this is our hope.

It’s so true about waiting none of us like it, yet all of us are called to do it.  There must be something good about waiting.  In these three verses, we found out that waiting can lead to strength, courage, calmness, trusting, and hope.   So how do we combat the urge to give into impatience?  Once again, we use the Scriptures to give us the answer.

“Be still, and know that I am God.  I will be exalted among the nations.  I will be exalted in the earth!” Psalm 46:10

We need to surrender our will to God’s will.  We need to surrender what we consider our rights and follow God.  He is God!  We are not!  The idea that most of us live with is that we deserve this or that, but the truth is, we don’t deserve anything but hell.  God, in his mercy and grace, has seen fit to rescue people to call his own.  As a follower of Christ, you are one of those people.  Our recognition of God and his position is key to our being able to wait.  We are called to be still and KNOW that he is God.  This is an intimate knowledge of who God is and what that means to each of us.  The stillness and the waiting will happen when we focus on knowing God for who he is.  We are not to make him in our image, but we are made in his.  He is the creator, sustainer, and deliverer.  The more we know him, the easier it is to wait on him.

As you wait for your Instant Pot to cook your chicken breast, thank God for always hearing your prayers and acting in his time.  The chicken will taste better, guaranteed!

 

 

EVERYDAY LIFE AND GOD’S PRESENCE

It’s just another day with all the ups and downs of life.  As you move through the day, there are so many times you wonder if God is really with you.  Sure, you’ve said you believe he’s always there, but do you?  When the utility sink is overflowing with water onto the basement floor because you forgot to change the lint filter, is God there?  As you are driving down the street trying to focus with screaming kids in the back, is God there?  Maybe it’s the grocery trip when everyone forgot their masks and you have to stop at CVS to purchase new ones for the third time this week.  Is God there?  Everyday life is not always “normal” or “easy”.  Things happen which grab our attention and cause us to wonder, is God really here?  What can we do in order to remember God is here?  What can we do to find peace in the midst of chaos?

  1. God’s presence is relational. 

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

As followers of Christ, we can’t be separated from relationship with God.  When God saved us and made us his – No One – not even we ourselves, can separate us from him.  In John 10:29, Jesus says, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”  God himself, keeps us in relationship with him.  Therefore, we can communicate with him at all times no matter where we are or what we’re facing.  Our communication with him should be constant because he is always with us and is always listening to us.  We need to remember to cry out to God in those everyday moments that are difficult. There are things, even in the difficult everyday moments, for which we can be grateful.

  1. Grace is always present because God is present.

“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” Psalm 145:18   

 “My grace is sufficient for you…” 2 Corinthians 12:9a

The Lord is always near because he is all around us.  When we call on him, we are assured he is right there with us.  He hears us and gives us grace.  He always provides the grace we need when we need it.  Grace is always available.  God is everywhere and so is his grace.  We need to ask for grace for the difficult everyday moments we face.  This grace is his favor which actually helps us to endure the difficulty.  Look for his grace.  Be aware of his presence by seeking to see his provision for you in the midst of disaster.

  1. God’s power is always present.

“And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”  2 Corinthians 1:21-22   

“for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7

God’s presence is with us because we have his Spirit within our hearts.  He doesn’t leave us and we are his temple or his dwelling place.  He is the Spirit of power.  This power within us can be the source we draw on when everyday life becomes too much to handle.  He’s plugged in and we have to turn ourselves onto his power and help.

These are the thing to remind ourselves of so that we remember God’s presence with us.  We need to be thinking about God, and realize that how we handle the everyday things of life is a reflection of who he is.  Are we a good reflection or not?  It’s easy to let the water on the floor or the screaming in the car or the trip to CVS be all consuming.  It’s the tyranny of the urgent that we allow to get in the way of the truth of God’s presence in the midst of the storm.  Maybe, it’s that we think God doesn’t care about these things we face every day.  We can be assured he does care.  Jesus came to live the life we couldn’t live for ourselves.  He faced hardships, relational challenges, discouragements, rejection, and so much more.  He went through these things perfectly because he knew we couldn’t.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”  Hebrews 4:15

The above verse tells us, in no uncertain terms, that God cares about every part of our lives.  We see that there is sympathy for us in our situations.  He always cares and is always present to help us in our time of need.  So, what can we do?  We can remember the truth about our Lord and Savior.  When he says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” in Hebrews 13:5, we should believe him!

 

 

BOOK REVIEW – A LOVING LIFE – BY PAUL E. MILLER

This is another book review of a book that I read twice.  I enjoyed it both times and continue to be challenged by the contents.  The complete title is A Loving Life, In a World of Broken Relationships.  You can see where the challenge has come from in that our world is full of broken relationships. What part of that brokenness is our part?  The author, Paul Miller, takes time to explore love in the book of Ruth.  The truth he reveals about love is challenging.  It has caused me to ask myself, “Am I really loving well?”

The first chapter begins the same way the book of Ruth does by introducing the subject of suffering.  On page 19 Paul Miller states, “…suffering doesn’t create love, but it is a hot-house where love can emerge.”  As the interactions between Naomi, Ruth and Orpah take place, we are very aware of the suffering these three widows are experiencing.  We see how Naomi has love for them and wants them to return to their people so that they can marry and have children.  But Ruth won’t go and displays love for Naomi which includes a commitment to God.  What kind of love is this?

This is hesed love.  God loves us with a hesed love.  This is described for us on page 24 as a “commitment with sacrifice”, “one-way love”, “without an exit strategy”, and “stubborn love”.  Ruth loves Naomi in this way.  The Lord loves us this way.  I’m to love others this way.  Are you getting the challenge?  Even as I write this, once again, I feel the weight of not doing this well.  We could stop right here and seek to display this in our love but there’s so much more to challenge us.

As the development of the book of Ruth continues, Paul Miller shows how love is part of lament, not based on feelings. The death of ourselves is part of living this love out.  We can see how Ruth continues to display this type of love for Naomi throughout the book.  She continues to put Naomi and her needs before her own.

            “Hesed love is a determination to do someone good, no matter what, to be faithful to a covenant regardless of its impact on you.  It wills to love when every fiber in your body screams run.” Page 34

We see this displayed by Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz in the book of Ruth.  They are a reflection of God’s love to one another.  How can we display and maintain this type of love to others?

  1. Get to know God.

We deepen our love of God not by direct pursuit of God, but through the good work of love, where we enter the gospel and the pattern of Christ’s life becomes our pattern…As we enter a life of love, we get to know God.” Page 138

God wants to be known by his children.  I am so encouraged by this quote, which really is saying to us, it’s not enough to read the Bible and pray every day.  We have to put sacrificial love into practice.  It’s not good enough to just know about it.  As we put this love into practice, we get to know God more.  This is a hard calling but one in which we will grow to be more like Christ who has loved us sacrificially.

  1. Hope in God’s Sovereignty

“If God is guiding the pilgrimage, that gives us the hope to endure in love.” Page 128

God is sovereign.  He is in control of all things.  He knows how hard it is to live the life of love in relationships with people who are just like us.  We are all sinful and selfish but we are called to love.  Our hope is that God is aware of the challenges and uses them to grow us.  When the relationship seems hopeless, we can have hope in God to use our sacrificial love for his glory.

  1. Trust in our Redeemer, Christ

“Redeemers own the problem; the weight of the other person’s life falls on them.” Page 115

Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross.  His blood was the payment required and God accepted it.  As a follower of Christ, he is my redeemer and I belong to him.  Everything I face in this life, he carries for me.  I’m free to love others well because Christ has loved me well.  Christ’s love for me didn’t stop at the cross but continues today as he walks with me down difficult roads.  His loving care for me gives me the ability to love well.

There’s so much in this book to commend.  It’s a great study of the book of Ruth.  The challenge to love well is the weight of it.  At the end of the book, the challenge to love well is still front and center.  It has caused me to think about my love for others again as I read it.  I highly recommend this books to you and pray God will give us the grace to love well.

            “You simply can’t beat love.  You can’t out-humble it.  You can’t suppress it, because you are always free to love no matter how someone treats you.  If others are putting nails through your hands, you can forgive them.  If someone is shouting curses at you, you can silently receive them.  Love is irrepressible.  Faith and hope will one day pass away, but not love.  Love is forever.” Page 156

 

 

2021…THREE WEEKS IN

The experts say it takes three weeks to change a habit and then three more weeks for it to become the new habit.  How are you doing?  We are in week three of making changes; that is if we even bothered to try.  The idea of resolutions beginning in the new year has been around since Ancient Babylon. The following quote is from history.com.

“The ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions, some 4,000 years ago. They were also the first to hold recorded celebrations in honor of the new year—though for them the year began not in January but in mid-March, when the crops were planted. During a massive 12-day religious festival known as Akitu, the Babylonians crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king. They also made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed. These promises could be considered the forerunners of our New Year’s resolutions. If the Babylonians kept to their word, their (pagan) gods would bestow favor on them for the coming year. If not, they would fall out of the gods’ favor—a place no one wanted to be.”

The Babylonians were concerned about making changes and keeping promises in order to satisfy their gods.  They were striving toward being who their gods wanted them to be and if they didn’t, they considered that they would be out of favor with their gods.  This idea of resolutions for us is a little bit different.  Most of the time, we make resolutions to better ourselves for ourselves.  Here are the five most popular resolutions for Americans according to the internet.

  1. Exercise more
  2. Lose weight
  3. Save money
  4. Eat healthier
  5. Reduce stress

I’m sure, if you are honest, some of these were included in your thinking for change this year.  We are always talking about striving to make these types of changes.  Now we are three weeks into these changes, and we’re wondering what changes we were thinking we were going to make.  I know that some of you actually do follow through and have accomplished some of your goals.  The majority, however, are probably more like me and allow life to get in the way of changes to habits.  What comes to my mind even now as I write this, is that our resolutions are so self-focused and yet we can’t seem to focus on them.  Does that make sense?  I think it’s time for a change in our resolutions.

The Babylonians were concerned about pleasing their gods for the coming new year.  As followers of Christ, we know God, the real God, the one and only God, the creator of the universe, and the Father of all who believe.  This is so exciting and should encourage us to pursue him in our daily lives.  What if we made our resolutions more God-centered than me-centered?  What if we added Bible reading, prayer, memorization of the Word, or service to others to our resolutions?  If we did, we would begin to know God more.  He calls us to know him and be in relationship with him.

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.  Amen.” 2 Peter 3:18

If we make our resolutions about our growth in Christ, will we fail?  You bet we will!  We are still sinners, saved by grace, but sinners none the less.  We are going to fail, get up, fail again, and get up again.  The wonderful thing about God is that he doesn’t base his favor on our performance.  All of the grace we receive from God is because of what Jesus did for each of us on the cross.  The Babylonians were trying to please their gods, but Jesus pleased God once for all in his death, burial and resurrection.  In fact, Jesus doesn’t give up on us and tell us to hit the road or get away from him.  He says, “Come.”

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30

We’re three weeks into January with plenty of time to make some changes in our lives for the glory of God.  What do you need to change?  How can you make the effort to grow in the knowledge of the Lord?  Where can you look when you fail?  You can look to Jesus who says “Come” to each one of his children.  This life can throw lots of potholes at us, which can cause us to stumble and fail, but Jesus tells us to get back up and “Come.”

May today be the day when growing spiritually is the most important exercise you can do!

 

GOOD NEWS OR BAD NEWS…ALL ABOUT PERCEPTION

In this world of social media, news travels fast.  We no longer have to wait until we can make a long distance call or write a letter that will take days to get to our family members.  It’s fun to be able to share the birth of a baby or wedding pictures immediately with everyone on your “the ones who care” list.  We can also share news that is sad to hear, like the death of a loved one.  What makes news good or bad?  Sometimes the same news can be good to one and bad to another.  The determination of whether the news is good or bad comes from our perception.

Everyone has a perception, their own point of view, which is derived from their experiences and knowledge.  It’s because of this fact, we have to be sensitive to others who don’t have the same perception as we have.  One thing to remember is that our perception can be subjective, as we base it on what we believe to be true.  Emotions can play a big part in our perceptions as well.  It’s so easy to base our conclusions on our feelings.  In fact, it makes us feel better to do that!  All of these things are a part of how we interpret news and determine whether it’s good or bad.

Numbers 13 – Moses sent the spies into Canaan

“Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, send a man, every one a chief among them.” Numbers 13:2

God gave this command to Moses and he chose one man from each tribe to go into the land and check it out.  These 12 men went in and found grapes, pomegranates, and figs.  They packed them up to bring back to the camp.  They spied out the land for 40 days and then returned to give their report.

“…We came to the land to which you sent us.  It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.  However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large.  And besides we saw the descendants of Anak there.” Numbers 13:27-28

The news brought by 10 of the 12 men was discouraging. They gave the emphasis on the fortified cities and the descendants of Anak who were very tall, giant people.  This was bad news.

“But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, ‘Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.’” Numbers 13:30

The news brought by two of the 12 men was encouraging.  Caleb spoke for himself and Joshua when he said that they could overcome the people of the cities.  This was good news.

These men had different perceptions of the situation, but these perceptions went much deeper.  The 10 had the wrong perception of God.  He had brought them out of Egypt and he could certainly take them to Canaan.  However, their perception of God was clouded by their fear.  Caleb and Joshua were the only two of these men who made it to the promised land.  The others died before they could get there, as God had them wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.

Does the truth of God inform your perception?

Now that’s a question for us to ponder.  We like our viewpoint, our opinion, and our version of truth.  This question should cause us to think about our perception of the news we hear.  Is it good news because it promotes the gospel?  Is it bad news because the gospel is being squelched?

Some examples

“I’m getting married.”  Good news but then the question, “Is he a believer?”          “I really don’t know but I love him and he loves me.”  Good news has just turned into bad news.  The two perceptions here are different in that one just wants someone to love her. The perception of the other is informed by the truth of God.  She desires her friend to be married to a believer.  Good news – Bad news

“I just got a new job with a substantial raise.”  Good news for this person.  The friend asks, “Full time?”  “Yes, I’ll be working seven days a week.  Lots of overtime.”  Good news has just turned into bad news.  The first has the perception that the extra money will be worth it.  The friend has the perception informed by God’s truth, and knows we need the church community.  Money will not replace love and encouragement from brothers and sisters in Christ.  Good news – Bad news.

Genesis 3:16 – The curse on the serpent.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”           Genesis 3:16

This is good news, bad news.  Good for us because it is the promise of the Messiah, the one who would save us from our sinful selves.  Jesus Christ came, lived, died in our place, paid the price for our sins, and then rose on the third day. This is the Gospel; good news for those who will believe.  However, for Satan it is bad news.  It is announcing his defeat. Satan continues to try to get in the way of the gospel but the end has been written for him and it is very bad news.

“and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”  Revelation 20:10

What informs your perceptions?

 

2021…HERE WE GO!

The bus is just around the corner to take us into 2021.  How strange that sounds!  I was born in 1952 and never even dreamed of the year 2000 much less 21 years past that!  The truth is, I feel old and young at the same time.  My body tells me I’m old, but my mind says, “You still got some oomph left!”  Admittedly, the oomph is more mental than physical.  In light of this, how do I approach this bus taking me into yet another year when aging is inevitable?  When my thumbs don’t want to work, and my knees crack, it’s hard to think of what’s next.  The truth is, that is exactly what I should be thinking about because with every breath I take, God is to be glorified.  There is always a “next” in each of our lives.  Let’s explore what the Scriptures have to say about our “now” and our “next.”

NOW

“So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”  2 Corinthians 4:16

It doesn’t matter whether we are old or young, we are to be renewed day by day in the purpose of God-his glory.  This day-by-day includes our “now.”  What are we doing to renew our minds?  The truth is, we are all very busy with the things of this life.  Some of those things bring us joy and others are just part of what we do because we have to do them.  How can we take our busy lives and include mind renewing to the mix?  Do we have to give up some things?  Well, maybe, but what we’ll gain will far outweigh that.  There is not a new method or a magical thing to do to renew our minds.  It’s an old method that brings about eternal thinking.

  1. Pray to your heavenly Father.  This is necessary for us so that we don’t lose our connection with God.  It’s so easy to lose relationships because we don’t connect often.  Don’t allow this to happen to the most important relationship in your life!  Praying will be part of mind-renewal daily.
  2. Read God’s Word. You are saying, “I know, I know.”  The point is every follower of Christ knows this, but do we make it a priority in our busy lives?  We have to take what we know and put it into practice.  Reading God’s Word will bring about mind-renewal.
  3. Be part of a church body. You may think you don’t have time for church but we all have to remember that the church is people.  We need each other.  We need others to hold us accountable and to encourage us in our walk with Christ.  In the same way, others need us.  To live as a community of believers will bring about mind-renewal.
  4. Listen to sound teaching of the Word.  If you are in a church body, you’re probably already doing this.  The challenge is to ask ourselves if we are really listening.  It takes intentionality to listen well.  We have to control our thoughts which come and go so often in our minds.  Listening to sound teaching will bring about mind-renewal.
  5. Talk about God. There are times in our lives when we’re willing to talk about God, but other times we don’t have the courage to do this.  When we talk about God and what he’s done in our lives, it shows he’s actually on our minds.  Talking about God will bring about mind-renewal.

There are many other things we may be able to do to renew our minds on a daily basis.  Think about what would be helpful to you in the “now.”  As we approach the 2021 bus, we should be already working on mind-renewal.  This will help us as we get to the “next.”

NEXT

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”  2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Once again, age is not a factor in the looking ahead to our “next.”  We all are headed for eternity, but before we get there we have to live on this sin-cursed earth.  Suffering will be a part of our lives here, but this suffering is preparing for us “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”  The comprehension of this glory is so far beyond us.  This eternity will be ours as we step on the last bus that will pick us up from this life.  For some of us, the last bus may be 2021, but that is in God’s hands.  Before eternity, we have jobs to do here in order to bring God glory.  We all have a “next.”  This bus may take us to a different ministry, or a different home, or bring a child into our family, or a marriage, or the death of a loved one, or a debilitating illness.  But whatever 2021 holds for us, we can be sure that God is driving the bus and will provide all the stops we need along the way.

 “The Lord of hosts has sworn:  As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand.” Isaiah 14:24

The bus is almost here, so beginning “now”, renew your mind for the “next.”