Wednesday, July 31, 2013

No Finger Wagging

Have you ever had someone wag their finger in your face for something you did or didn't do, including how you did it? Maybe you've done this to someone else, or maybe, just maybe, you've figuratively done it to yourself—you know, calling yourself stupid or dumb or kicking yourself for something you said, did, or even forgot to do. And then you let the feelings surrounding it continue to fester and grow more distasteful. I think this is a tendency that many of us struggle with to some degree and maybe more so at some times in our life than others.

A favorite passage of mine concerning wisdom and direction, especially during trials is James 1:5, which reads, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” In this verse I see several things about how my God helps me during times of trial and confusion. The first thing I know is that if I ask Him for wisdom He will give it. I don’t have to beg or hope against hope that He might decide to do so. The Bible says that He will give it, and it goes even further to say that He will give it generously—meaning NOT STINGY! This may come through insight in our time of prayer, hearing His voice, affirming us through His Word—the Bible, or through wise counsel and maybe even setting up circumstances. He is not limited in how He gives wisdom, and we are told as His children that He will give it.

The next thing we know about how He gives wisdom is that He gives it without reproach. This means that He will not put us down, belittle us, or wag His finger in our face. Our God loves us perfectly and this includes how He gives us His wisdom. I know as a father there are some times I have dealt with my kids in ways that neither of us have felt good about afterward, and there are other times when I’ve put my arm on their shoulder or come alongside them and helped or instructed them, finding that it goes much better.

Having said this about my children, I also have seen in them and in myself times when we did not want to listen to the wisdom which was shared. This is generally because it was not what we wanted to hear or it did not nurse our hurt, and then we continued in our struggle often bouncing back and forth between the competing options—including “no hope” or “nothing anyone can do” as an option.

God understands this as well. James continues with a caution concerning how we handle this wisdom from God. We read in verses 6-8, “But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

The caution is this: If you are going to ask God for wisdom, then listen to what He tells you! It’s that simple. If He has spoken to an issue in Scripture, know that Scripture is His Word, and obey it. Don’t try to manipulate it to suit your own desires. If you play this game you will start bouncing around and tearing yourself up with the competing options. In doing this, you are no different that a person sitting in a boat with no method of escape (oars, motor, etc.) as a storm sets in and the water gets very rough—tossing you around. James uses the analogy of the waves on the beach when a storm sets in. These waves grow tremendously in size and power, causing destruction even to the shore or anything else in their path. This type of person, James says, really shouldn't expect anything from God simply because He won’t listen to Him anyway and God knows it.

As I read these words of Jesus’ half-brother, I can’t help but think of Jesus’ disciples on the sea with Jesus sleeping in the boat as recorded in Mark 4:37-40. “And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’ And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Hush, be still.’ And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? How is it that you have no faith?’”

Sarah writes today about trusting God. Rather than trying to find another way and saying, “But God, you don’t understand…,” say as we read in Proverbs 3:5-6 (personalized paraphrase), “I will trust in my Lord with all my heart, and regardless of what other voices might say including my own, I will listen to Him and follow Him in all of my ways knowing that He will direct my steps.” And when God directs my steps he does so with wisdom that is without limitation, knowing past, present, and future fully all at the same time. When things get confusing, go to our God who does not get confused and ask for His help.

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (7/31)

Trust Me in the depths of your being. It is there that I live in constant communion with you. When you feel flustered and frazzled on the outside, do not get upset with yourself. You are only human, and the swirl of events going on all around you will sometimes feel overwhelming. Rather than scolding yourself for your humanness, remind yourself that I am both with you and within you.

I am with you at all times, encouraging and supportive rather than condemning. I know that deep within you, where I live, My Peace is your continual experience. Slow down your pace of living for a time. Quiet your mind in My Presence. Then you will be able to hear Me bestowing the resurrection blessing: Peace be with you.

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27

“… And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” John 20:19

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Beauty In The Battle

Psalm 89:11-15 The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours; the world and all it contains, You have founded them. The north and the south, You have created them; Tabor and Hermon shout for joy at Your name. You have a strong arm; Your hand is mighty, Your right hand is exalted. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; lovingkindness and truth go before You. How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound! O Lord, they walk in the light of Your countenance.

Today Sarah writes about our God who created beauty, and of those things she mentioned that proclaim His presence in the world are the magnificence of the rose and a “hauntingly glorious sunset.” Living in the cloud of smoke from forest fires we are strongly presented this week in southern Oregon with the destruction that comes with these fires. The smoke that fills our air, even many miles away, represents things that once were and now have been consumed with fire, and it reminds us that a battle is being waged to bring those fires under control. Yet throughout our day we are presented with a bright orange orb placed in the sky above—the sun. This is especially evident in the morning sunrise and the evening sunset. When the fires first started we had a contrast between the skies above and the smoke below, but as the fires have continued their advance the distinction has given way to a constant gray filled with ash.

In our lives it is so easy for things that press in on us to choke out the beauty that surrounds us, and more importantly even lead to our losing sight of the Son of God—Jesus Christ who reigns at the right hand of God the Father and who rules in our lives, providing us with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is when the smoke in our hearts gets thick that we need to be mindful that the smoke will pass, but our God won’t. His faithfulness endures forever, and His strong arm is our salvation. It is here that we need to stop and reassess the battle and to place our trust in the One who gives us daily victory and in whom we have our hope.

Psalm 146:5-6 How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, Who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;

Walking outside it is recommended that we wear a mask to filter out the dangerous particles in the air. As we walk through the struggles of our days, that mask dwells in us and is our constant help and protection. We would be wise to wear the mask outside, and we would be even wiser to trust in the power of Christ who gives us life as we take our every breath.

Colossians 1:13-18 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (7/30)

Worship Me in the beauty of holiness. I created beauty to declare the existence of My holy Being. A magnificent rose, a hauntingly glorious sunset, oceanic splendor – all these things were meant to proclaim My Presence in the world. Most people rush past these proclamations without giving them a second thought. Some people use beauty, especially feminine loveliness, to sell their products.

How precious are My children who are awed by nature’s beauty; this opens them up to My holy Presence. Even before you knew Me personally, you responded to My creation with wonder. This is a gift, and it carries responsibility with it. Declare My glorious Being to the world. The whole earth is full of My radiant beauty – My Glory!

Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Psalm 29:2 (NKJV)

And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6:3

Monday, July 29, 2013

Living In His Presence

Psalm 55:16-17 As for me, I shall call upon God, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur, and He will hear my voice.

Psalm 139:7-8 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.

Psalm 140:13 Surely the righteous will give thanks to Your name; the upright will dwell in Your presence.

Today there is a lot of focus on having a Quiet Time or using a Daily Devotional, and this focus is an important part of our spiritual life. Getting alone with God is something talked about and modeled in Scripture, including by our Lord Jesus Christ. While these terms may be of a more recent nature, they are solidly representative of biblical practice. We read repeatedly in the Psalms and Proverbs about hiding God’s Word in our hearts and meditating on it. We read about being still before God and waiting on Him. We read about knowing, understanding, and obeying His commandments, ordinances, and statutes. Setting aside this time with God sets an important foundation for our day as it brings us before the One who is to direct our steps throughout that day.

But there is another aspect to this, and that is the rest of the day when we are likely not alone with God which represents the overwhelming majority of our time. It is here that we are to be constantly mindful of God, of His Word, and the leading of His Spirit. It is here that we stop momentarily to praise Him and thank Him, to pray to Him for those things which come to our mind, and to seek His continual guidance. This is the part of our walk that is commonly referred to as “Practicing His Presence.” There are numerous writers who have prepared devotionals to help with this and others who have written wonderful books about their own discoveries in the process or how they have learned to value this majority portion of their daily walk with God.

It would be a poor analogy to say that we fill our tanks when we sit down and spend time with God and His word, and then we run off that full tank throughout the day. While there is a functional truth to this in that we do need that special time to learn and grow before God and to focus on Him alone worshiping Him as our true God, this by itself falls far short of describing our walk with God. This is because there is the additional and equally great truth that as we move through our day God’s Spirit continually empowers us, intercedes for us, and directs us—even making alive the Word which we had earlier hidden in our hearts.

It is in His continual presence that we are called to live whether that is alone with Him, shared in corporate worship and study, or walking through the routines of our day. God is everywhere present all of the time, being constantly attentive to us. His Spirit has been given to us as a full-time resident, even making our bodies temples of the Holy Spirit. And as we live and grow as Christians, we build into His body—the church and we reflect to the world our Savior whom we serve as His ambassadors and His light.

Sure, there will be times when we lose sight of God in our days, but the amazing thing is that He never loses sight of us. While we may be walking and doing what we know as right and good, others then see through us the working of our God. This is practicing His presence. While there are certain commonalities that should run through us as Christians, there are also the unique differences that make us each a special and unique handiwork of God intended beforehand to accomplish His purposes according to the special skills, talents and gifting which He has so generously given.

Psalm 119:1-11 How blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord. How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart. They also do no unrighteousness; they walk in His ways. You have ordained Your precepts, that we should keep them diligently. Oh that my ways may be established to keep Your statutes! Then I shall not be ashamed when I look upon all Your commandments. I shall give thanks to You with uprightness of heart, when I learn Your righteous judgments. I shall keep Your statutes; do not forsake me utterly! How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. With all my heart I have sought You; do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.

 Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (7/29)

Come to me continually. I am meant to be the Center of your consciousness, the Anchor of your soul. Your mind will wander from Me, but the question is how far you allow it to wander. An anchor on a short rope lets a boat drift only slightly before the taut line tugs the boat back toward the center. Similarly, as you drift away from Me, My Spirit within you gives a tug, prompting you to return to Me. As you become increasingly attuned to My Presence, the length of rope on your soul’s Anchor is shortened. You wander only a short distance before feeling that inner tug – telling you to return to your true Center in Me.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. Hebrews 6:19

And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. 1 John 2:28

Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’”” Matthew 22:37

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Soaking Not Sulking

Romans 8:31-39 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [ESV]

Victorious living is open and honest living. It is not about shutting down in front of the One who can’t be fooled, or hiding ourselves away nursing the things which bother us most or over which we are the most ashamed. As amazing as it might seem when we actually sit back and think about who our God is and what He knows of us, we still have tendencies to nurse hurts, bear grudges, hide sins, and put on blinders. It may not be something we do a lot, and it is even likely something that is done less and less as we mature in Christ. I would venture it safe to say that there are areas in our lives over which we struggle and in which we find disappointment and possibly even personal justification.  But the reality is that God knows absolutely everything about us, and He knew it before He ever called us to receive His gift of salvation, the forgiveness of all of our sins, the promise to grow us in Christ to maturity, and to sustain us in the process ultimately delivering us to glory.

In Christ we are fully accepted by God, and there is nothing we can do which separates us from His love and the effectiveness of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. There is nothing we can do to catch God by surprise and give Him cause to question our salvation. It was never about how good we were in the first place, but was about what God did for us when we could do nothing. And as such, while He calls us to obedience as His children, our obedience did not lead to our salvation and it does not sustain our salvation. Having said this, Scripture does say that those who are saved will evidence there salvation in their lives. This has never meant perfection but perfecting—evidencing a real work of grace having been done and a proving that God’s Spirit is continuing to build on that work through our sanctification (growth in likeness to Christ).

And since this really is a work of God done as we submit to Him and follow His ordinances, we really are best to lay everything out before Him and trust Him to do a work in us, recognizing fully that some things will change faster than others.

And when we are hurting it is again best to be honest about those hurts trusting the God who is our help and our comforter to do His supernatural work in our hearts and lives. Sarah quotes today from the beginning and end of Psalm 139, asking God who knows our hearts to search our hearts. In between these verses we read about our God who does this, and is was learning about God in this way that He used to draw me to Himself. And to this day it continues to be one of the key passages I run to when I have a tendency to sulk about or worry over something, knowing that soaking in the truths about My God opens my heart to trust the One who is much more powerful than any situation that might press on me.

Romans 8:27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (7/28)

Let My love seep into the inner recesses of your being. Do not close off any part of yourself from Me. I know you inside and out, so do not try to present a “cleaned-up” self to Me. Wounds that you shut away from the Light of my Love will fester and become wormy. Secret sins that you “hide” from Me can split off and develop lives of their own, controlling you without your realizing it.

Open yourself fully to My transforming Presence. Let My brilliant Love-Light search out and destroy hidden fears. This process requires time alone with Me, as My Love soaks into your innermost being. Enjoy My perfect Love, which expels every trace fear.

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:1-4, 23-24

There is no fear in love [dread does not exist], but full-grown (complete, perfect) love turns fear out of doors and expels every trace of terror! For fear brings with it the thought of punishment, and [so] he who is afraid has not reach the full maturity of love [is not yet grown into loves complete perfection]. 1 John 4:18 (AMP)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Beauty From Ashes

Psalm 124:8; 125:1-2 Our help is in the name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. … Those who trust in the Lord are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, So the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forever.

As I reflected on a photo I took yesterday showing the smoke from multiple fires in the sunset, I also saw the rays of bright light shining above. This reminded me of the great hope we have in our God especially when the things we endure here seem so ominous. Sarah wrote about this for today in my "Jesus Calling" devotional. I hope to spend more time reflecting on it later today, but for now to know that my hope does indeed rest in the name of my Lord. He is my protector and the provider of my strength, just as He is for all who call upon His name. And as I think on this today, I will also be mindful of those who are are fighting those fires, those whose homes might become endangered, and the forests and wildlife that are threatened and even destroyed. Our God is capable of bringing beauty from ashes, just as a family we know of has been in the process of experiencing in a very literal way this week. And as we celebrate at a wedding this afternoon (which itself had to move its location due to another fire), I am mindful that our God continues to work and to bless.

Isaiah 61:1-3 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners;  to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (7/27)

Hope is a golden cord connecting you to heaven. This cord helps you to hold your head up high, even when multiple trials are buffeting you. I never leave your side, and I never let go of your hand. But without the cord of hope, your head may slump and your feet may shuffle as you journey uphill with Me. Hope lifts your perspective from your weary feet to the glorious view you can see from the high road. You are reminded that the road we’re traveling together is ultimately a highway to heaven. When you consider this radiant destination, the roughness or smoothness of the road ahead becomes much less significant. I am training you to hold in your heart a dual focus: My continual Presence and the hope of heaven.

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans 12:12

But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 1 Thessalonians 5:8

God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. Hebrews 6:18-19

Thursday, July 25, 2013

More Than Bird-Watching

Matthew 6:26 “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?”

Clark's Nutcracker at Crater Lake National Park
I love watching birds. While they seem to fly to and fro with purpose they don’t seem stressed in the process. When the robins light on our yard in search for worms and other delightful (to them) proteins they do so with a bounce. The sparrows and other small birds jump from branch to branch seeking food or items for their nests. The pair of doves rest on the wires, and the flickers and woodpeckers go from tree to telephone pole to even the side of our buildings in search for bugs, and they keep coming back even at early hours of the morning almost as an alarm clock. The seasonal birds come and go year after year filling our skies and bringing color into our lives, and with all of them there are their own sights and sounds that fill our eyes and ears. And of course, there is the majesty of the great birds of prey such as the eagle and the osprey that float the skies with their incredibly sharp eyes searching their next meal. It’s no wonder to me that bird watching is such a favorite activity.

I've loved watching birds for a long time, even as a youth being a member of the Junior Audubon society. But I've found over the years that even when I have the time I don’t take advantage of it to sit back and watch and listen. However, birds and their beauty have influenced my hobbies in that when I was looking for something to fill my time after the Northridge earthquake in 1994, I started making whirly-gigs and not just any whirly-gigs. I chose to look up my favorite birds in my Audubon and other books and design them into whirly-birds, even doing little write-ups on each of them. Now as I cut and sand and paint them my mind finds time to relax.

Today Sarah writes about as we listen to the birds calling to one another that we are also to be mindful of God’s Love-call to us—His constant presence evidenced in the various ways in which He makes Himself known. Both require setting aside time to sit back—resting, watching, and listening. And as the birds do not disappoint, neither does our God when we spend time with Him—more than filling our hearts and minds. I just need to make sure when I do this that I am not more focused on identifying the species, recording its call and its habits, and tracking its every activity. While I might find great joy in the investigation, I also then tend to turn this time of connection into a task. Similarly, with God I need to set aside those times where I set aside my agendas and just be present with my always present God, and if I then run afterwards from there onto a joy-filled rabbit trail (mixed metaphor) so much the better.

Isaiah 40:31 Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.

Oh, for better eyes to see….

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (7/25)

As you listen to birds calling to one another, hear also My Love-call to you. I speak to you continually: through sights, sounds, thoughts, impressions, Scripture. There is no limit to the variety of ways I can communicate with you. Your part is to be attentive to My messages, in whatever form they come. When you set out to find Me in a day, you discover that the world is vibrantly alive with My Presence. You can find Me not only in beauty and bird-calls, but also in tragedy and faces filled with grief. I can take the deepest sorrow and weave it into a pattern for good.

Search for Me and My messages, as you go through this day. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with your whole being.

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27

We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose. Romans 8:28 (AMP)

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Giving Thanks From A Grateful Heart

“Thank you” is a pretty powerful combination of words and thankfulness is a powerfully uplifting condition of the heart. At the core of both is the attitude of ‘thanks’ or ‘giving thanks.’ This is a prominent attitude and practice in the Bible—both Old and New Testaments. Even our Lord on the night He was betrayed, sat with His disciples to share Passover with them. During the Passover meal we read that He took a cup and He gave thanks, and then He took bread and before breaking it, He again gave thanks. The Greek word used here for ‘given thanks’ is ‘eucharisteo,’ from which the term Eucharist comes. This word is a compound word comprised of the adverb ‘eu’ meaning well or well done and ‘charis’ meaning grace or kindness. Putting them together we arrive at a heartfelt appreciation for a well done act of grace or kindness—to show ourselves grateful, well-pleasing. It clearly is an attitude that comes from deep within and is intensely sincere.

Yet sometimes I know that I have said “Thank you” without really feeling thankful. There have even been times when I have been disappointed in what I am thanking someone for, and yet I forced the words because I was at least thankful for the thought or even more basic—it was the right thing to do. And I remember even being called on this a time or two, when maybe my parents or someone else said, “You sure don’t look like it.” I know I have even called my own children on this. It’s almost the same as saying “I’m sorry” when I’m really not.

This gives rise to the question as to whether we really take time to reflect not only on the things for which we give thanks, but even more importantly on our appreciation of the person whom we are thanking.

Jesus knew what laid ahead of Him, He knew the events of the night would lead to Him being arrested, falsely convicted, harshly treated, and then nailed to a cross. He knew it would lead to His death. Yet He also knew that in dying He also would have victory over death and would return to His original glory and presence with His Father, and in doing this salvation and eternal life would come to man. He knew He would have to endure the greatest rejection in order to provide even greater acceptance. Later that evening He would ask the Father to take the cup from Him if God the Father was willing, but then He immediately added, “yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Matthew records for us, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done” (Matthew 26:42)

The Eucharist, as recognized by the early church, has forever linked the shedding of blood and the breaking of the body with the giving of thanks. And today, when we approach our God we do so knowing that we have this access because Jesus, the Son of God, personally gave His life as a ransom for many and has subsequently given us confident access to the presence of God.

Ephesians 2:13-22 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

The example of our Lord is a powerful reminder of what we can endure with joy, knowing that our good God has given us much and that we have so much more to look forward to.

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (7/24)

Thankfulness opens the door to My Presence. Though I am always with you, I have gone to great measures to preserve your freedom of choice. I have placed a door between you and Me, and I have empowered you to open or close that door. There are many ways to open it, but a grateful attitude is one of the most effective.

Thankfulness is built on a substructure of trust. When thankful words stick in your throat, you need to check up on your foundation of trust. When thankfulness flows freely from your heart and lips, let your gratitude draw you closer to Me. I want you to learn the art of giving thanks in all circumstances. See how many times you can thank Me daily; this will awaken your awareness to a multitude of blessings. It will also cushion the impact of trials when they come against you. Practice My Presence by practicing the discipline of thankfulness.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. Psalm 100:4

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Let Your Light Shine

What does it mean to be a Light-bearer of Christ, who Himself is the Light of the world? We've seen this in so many ways just this month. We've seen it in the cancer diagnosis of our daughter-in-law Lydia’s mother, Mary, and Mary’s response which has led to opportunities to share about the hope that she has, even being asked about this by one of her attendants. We've seen it in those who surround her and her family to pray, support, and care for them. We've seen it this week in our neighborhood as a result of a home explosion and fire which sent the husband to the hospital (and he is now doing pretty well). Their home and their cars were destroyed, and this family was instantly placed in a position of great need. In response, there has been a flow of people helping in whatever way they can, and the family remains hopeful for what God has in store.

We’ve also seen the love of Christ shown to our children as they've added to our number of grandchildren and they have been gifted and supported in their new adventures as parents. We see it in our church as people are walking with cancers and looking to God. We see it regularly as those who are afflicted trust and look to God in their affliction, and those who come to their aide share in their hurt with compassion and in providing them with the help that God supplies.

When Jesus left to return to the Father, He left us as His ambassadors and as His light-bearers in the world. We read His words on this in Matthew 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Nearing the the time of His crucifixion, while in the upper room with His disciples, He said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Jesus tells us in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son [speaking of Himself], that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” And Jesus has called us to love one another, particularly in the body of Christ, but also to share this love of God with those who so desperately need to know about Him. In doing this, maybe we will get to answer the question like Mary was asked. 1 Peter 3:15 "but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence…."

Hebrews 6:19 "This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast…."

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (7/23)

I am the Light of the world. Men crawl through their lives cursing the darkness, but all the while I am shining brightly. I desire each of My followers to be a Light-bearer. The Holy Spirit who lives in you can shine from your face, making Me visible to people around you. Ask My Spirit to live through you, as you wind your way through this day. Hold My hand in joyful trust, for I will never leave your side. The Light of My Presence is shining upon you. Brighten up the world by reflecting who I Am.

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

“You are the light of the world. The city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18

God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Exodus 3:14

Monday, July 22, 2013

Friends Of The Master

Today Sarah starts off by saying of Jesus, “Find freedom through seeking to please Me above all else. You can have only one Master.” As I reflected on this today I thought of the connection between Christ as my Lord whom I am called to serve, and Christ who calls me His friend with whom I have been gifted with a relationship and through whom I have been granted a rich and eternal inheritance. Central to this is the truth that Jesus is God and always has been. He is the Creator of all things of which I am part. As His creation He loves me, and He chose me to have a relationship with Him, to love Him with my whole heart, and to serve and obey Him fully.

John 15:14-16 “You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.

Hiding His truths in my heart helps me to keep this forefront in my heart and mind, realizing that my Lord and my Master is not harsh, but fully wise, just, and sovereign in all things. He has a plan, and I have a part in that plan. He knows what He is doing and He will direct my steps. In response to this my only reasonable spiritual response is to bring testimony to this truth through presenting myself to Him fully for His service as we read in Romans 12:1-2. “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

It should not be much of a leap to reach this conclusion, especially when we consider just what Christ did for us when we were lost in our trespasses and sins and we were totally incapable of doing anything to fix our condition. Recognizing that having been saved by Christ that He now lives in us, and His Spirit permanently indwells and empowers us. No longer are sacrifices required in a temple, but the once-for-all sacrifice has been offered up in Christ and we are now the vessels through whom He resides and works. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”

While we may not fully grasp the role of a slave, we all in some recognize the authority of human bosses, parents, or leaders, whether they be good ones or not so good. We know that our approval from the world’s side is often dependent on our attitude and our behavior.  The big difference with God toward His children (believers) is that our approval is based not on our attitudes and actions, but on the work of His Son—Jesus Christ on the cross and even now as our Advocate. But this does not excuse us to do whatever we please, even in response to our earthly “masters.”

Ephesians 6:5-8 Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. (See also Colossians 3:22-24)

It is so easy to get lost in the demands that face us and equally easy to grow bitter towards those who place them on us (including ourselves). But Scripture tells us that we need to step back from those internal or external demands and remember Who it is that we truly serve, and then to reframe all that we do in light of our service to Him. God will direct us in the paths that He intends. Our role is to humbly submit ourselves to His direction and to honor Him before all men.  This necessitates that we spend time before Him and that we trust and acknowledge Him in all that we do.

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (7/22)

Find freedom through seeking to please Me above all else. You can have only one Master. When you let others’ expectations drive you, you scatter your energy to the winds. Your own desire to look good can also drain your energy. I am your Master, and I do not drive you to be what you are not. Your pretense displeases Me, especially when it is in My “service.” Concentrate on staying close to Me at all times. It is impossible to be inauthentic while you’re focusing on My Presence.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Ephesians 5:8-10

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.” Matthew 23:8

“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Matthew 6:1

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Daniel Did It Different

There are many things that marked Daniel as being different from most of those around him. He was indeed remarkable in that sense, and we continue to hold him in regard today. Our children have been taught in Sunday School and adults through sermons and books have been encouraged in some way to, “Dare to be a Daniel.” Sure, Daniel had a lot going for him as a human. He was good in appearance, intelligent, and wise leading to him being in a select group to be trained to serve in the courts of a foreign king. And right off the bat, early in his selection, we learn that Daniel was going to do things differently. I would encourage reading all of Daniel, chapter 1, but have only included some of the verses in order to briefly paint this early encounter of distinction.

Daniel 1:3-6,8-9,11-12,5,17-19 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king appointed for them a daily ration from the king’s choice food and from the wine which he drank, and appointed that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king’s personal service. Now among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. … (8-9) But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself. Now God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials, … (11-12) But Daniel said to the overseer … “Please test your servants for ten days, and let us be given some vegetables to eat and water to drink. … (15) At the end of ten days their appearance seemed better and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king’s choice food. … (17-19) As for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom; Daniel even understood all kinds of visions and dreams. Then at the end of the days which the king had specified for presenting them, the commander of the officials presented them before Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them, and out of them all not one was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s personal service.

Scripture records that Daniel continued to grow in stature, and as he grew others were left behind who became jealous. In their jealousy they sought to have Daniel and his three friends destroyed, and of course from this we get the well-known accounts of the three, no four, men in the fiery furnace and Daniel himself in the lions’ den. It is what led to the lions’ den that it the focus of today.

It was well known among those around Daniel that he was a devout man, who worshiped His God, refusing to bow his knee to any other, and committed to praying to His God on a consistent and even predictable basis. His detractors used his faithfulness in prayer to set a trap, such that a king who loved Daniel would have his hand forced to be the one to order him thrown into a den of lions. Daniel 6:4-11 records the setting of the trap and it being tripped.

Daniel 6:4-11 Then the commissioners and satraps began trying to find a ground of accusation against Daniel in regard to government affairs; but they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was to be found in him. Then these men said, “We will not find any ground of accusation against this Daniel unless we find it against him with regard to the law of his God.” Then these commissioners and satraps came by agreement to the king and spoke to him as follows: “King Darius, live forever! All the commissioners of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the high officials and the governors have consulted together that the king should establish a statute and enforce an injunction that anyone who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, shall be cast into the lions’ den. Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document so that it may not be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked.” Therefore King Darius signed the document, that is, the injunction. Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously. Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and supplication before his God.

If you don’t know what happened next, go to the book of Daniel and continue reading. The point for today is that while Daniel was without fault in his service and his respect of those in authority, it was also known which lines he would cross and which he wouldn’t. Scripture records his unquestionable integrity in dealing with others. It also details his and his friends’ willingness to suffer the consequences for not compromising their faith in God in order to satisfy others. Daniel was indeed different, and he was different in the most admirable of ways. Even those who did not know his God knew this and it had an impact on their lives as a result.

Today Sarah writes about not being afraid to do things different from others; following the path that God has uniquely designed for us. Daniel demonstrates this for us, and He demonstrates how important His time with God was in finding direction for that path. When he knelt in front of his open windows just as he had done privately, he did so knowing that there might be consequences. But he did not let the fear of those consequences or the power of any individual pressure him to do this differently.

Daniel did not fit the mold, and he stands today as an example of God’s miraculous direction and provision for His children when they follow after Him with their whole heart.

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (7/20)

Seek My face, and you will find all that you have longed for. The deepest yearnings of your heart are for intimacy with Me. I know, because I designed you to desire Me. Do not feel guilty about taking time to be still in My Presence. You are simply responding to the tugs of divinity within you. I made you in My image, and I hid heaven in your heart. Your yearning for Me is a form of homesickness: longing for your true home in heaven.

Do not be afraid to be different from other people. The path I have called you to travel is exquisitely right for you. The more closely you follow My leading, the more fully I can develop your gifts. To follow Me wholeheartedly, you must relinquish your desire to please other people. However, your closeness to Me will bless others by enabling you to shine brightly in this dark world.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? Psalm 42:1-2

Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. Psalm 34:5

…so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe. Philippians 2:15

Friday, July 19, 2013

Hope When It Really Hurts

Psalm 3 A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son. O Lord, how my adversaries have increased! Many are rising up against me. Many are saying of my soul, “There is no deliverance for him in God.” Selah. But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the One who lifts my head. I was crying to the Lord with my voice, and He answered me from His holy mountain. Selah. I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord sustains me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me round about. Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God! For You have smitten all my enemies on the cheek; You have shattered the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to the Lord; Your blessing be upon Your people! Selah.

It is very easy to read a psalm and ignore the first line—the line that says who wrote it and for what reason or what context. Psalm 3, which is an incredible psalm of deliverance, is a psalm written of when David fled from his own son who was seeking to have him put to death. It would have been a big deal for a king to be pursued by another power and seeking to save his life and the lives of his family, but to have to flee from the hands of his own son is something that most of us would have a hard time imagining. It is one thing to be attacked, it is entirely another to be betrayed by someone close. Yet I imagine that most of us can relate to this aspect of the account in one way or another.

Starting with 2 Samuel 13 we read the account of Absalom (David’s third-born son). We read of his full sister being raped by his oldest half-brother and then him having that brother, Amnon, killed, to his fleeing and subsequent return, even returning to a place of authority. Then we read of Absalom using his position of authority to build his own influence and favor which led to him declaring himself king in Hebron, where David himself was first made king and first ruled prior to moving to Jerusalem. 2 Samuel 15:12-16 records for us what happens next.

2 Samuel 15:12-16 And Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, from his city Giloh, while he was offering the sacrifices. And the conspiracy was strong, for the people increased continually with Absalom. Then a messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom.” David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise and let us flee, for otherwise none of us will escape from Absalom. Go in haste, or he will overtake us quickly and bring down calamity on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.” Then the king’s servants said to the king, “Behold, your servants are ready to do whatever my lord the king chooses.” So the king went out and all his household with him….”

As we progress through the account of what transpired, we find that Absalom did indeed enter Jerusalem and take authority in his father’s house. We even read in 2 Samuel 17:1-4 that his next step was to have his father pursued and put to death. 2 Samuel 17:1-4 Furthermore, Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Please let me choose 12,000 men that I may arise and pursue David tonight. I will come upon him while he is weary and exhausted and terrify him, so that all the people who are with him will flee. Then I will strike down the king alone, and I will bring back all the people to you. The return of everyone depends on the man you seek; then all the people will be at peace.”  So the plan pleased Absalom and all the elders of Israel.”

But then another plan was brought forth to which Absalom agreed, and then the one who brought the plan forth, Hushai, sent messengers to David to warn him of the plan. In doing this he changed the plan enough that the advantage shifted to David, and led even to Absalom’s death as is recorded in 2 Samuel 18:9-18.

While there was relief in the end of the uprising, there was also great mourning by David because the leader who died was still his son. We read in 2 Samuel 18:33, The king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And thus he said as he walked, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” Of course this was not received well by those who had just fought on behalf of David, leading them to even feel that he had favored his rebellious son over their faithful service. David was confronted with this, and though his heart was broken for his son, he also recognized the faithful service of others, forgave those who were swayed by Absalom, and was himself restored to his kingdom.

Today Sarah writes about bringing God all of our feelings, and letting Him deal with them. As we know from Scripture our God does indeed know our every feeling, thought, and word before they ever approach our heart, mind, or tongue. David wrote about this so eloquently in his psalms to the Lord, and in particular we see this in Psalm 139:1-6. “For the choir director. A Psalm of David. O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it.”

Just as we know David found solace and hope from God, we too can find it in those intense times when we come before Him openly, admitting our thoughts and our hurts and then focusing on who He is and His ability to handle our problems. This is true of the really big ones like David experienced with his family and the small ones we experience on a daily basis. There is nothing too big or too small for our God, and in that we can truly praise Him.

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (7/19)

Bring Me all your feelings, even the ones you wish you didn’t have. Fear and anxiety still plague you. Feelings per se are not sinful, but they can be temptations to sin. Blazing missiles of fear fly at you day and night; these attacks from the evil one come at you relentlessly. Use your shield of faith to extinguish those flaming arrows. Affirm your trust in Me, regardless of how you feel. If you persist, your feelings will eventually fall in line with your faith.

Do not hide from your fear or pretend it isn’t there. Anxiety that you hide in the recesses of your heart will give birth to fear of fear: a monstrous stepchild. Bring your anxieties out into the Light of My Presence, where we can deal with them together. Concentrate on trusting Me, and fearfulness will gradually lose its foothold within you.

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Ephesians 6:16

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 1 John 1:5-7

“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:2

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

“Gone Praying”

Yesterday I took our eleven year old son out for what he called “some father-son time.” We had a mini-pizza and went downtown to a small store he had wanted to go to. It was a store with huge tables where you could pay a fee and build a Lego object. He had asked about going there several times, and we finally did it. But when we got to the store there was a sign on the door. It was closed for the day for a family event. From our side there was some disappointment, but this disappointment was mixed with a brief discussion of the importance of even small store owners having times when they can close their doors. In years past there might have been a sign saying “Gone Fishing” or “Gone Hunting.” But whatever the sign, there was a recognition on both sides that getting away was an appropriate and acceptable thing to do. On our side of the door, our response was to walk to a favorite coffee stand and get him a smoothie and then to our landmark popcorn store to get a bag of popcorn and sit down and talk for a while, realizing that a trip to this store was still something to look forward to and fully intend.

Today Sarah writes about getting away with God for a while. It can be so tempting to push that which is flexible to the side in favor of that which seems inflexible and demanding. With the store owners, they risked missing a customer who might not come back.  They put at risk whatever funds they may have earned for the day. But on the other side, who knows what they gained.

Our time with God can seem so flexible because He hasn’t posted an open or closed sign. He hasn’t given us hours in which He is in or out. Rather, He is always present 24/7—365. As such, we might be tempted to think we must deal with the pressing and then spend time with God when it is not so pressing. But the truth couldn’t be more opposite most of the time. Of course, there will be those times when our days begin with an alarm of some form that we did not intend or expect whether it is an emergency phone call or a sick child. But this is not the case most of the time.

God does not get lost in the busyness of our days as we might. He sees the beginning and the end at the same time in full clarity, and He is able to shape the path from one to the other. And in Him we can find the strength, peace, and wisdom to progress through each part.

Psalm 121 A Song of Ascents. I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever.

Reflecting on Psalm 121 is an incredible reminder to me of who our God is to us and what He will do. While I know that I have frequently fallen into the trap of busyness, I also recognize how foolish it is to imagine that seeking to accomplish any task in my own strength is a foolish thing to do when my God has promised to strengthen me in my Lord and to guard my steps. As such, I have committed myself to hanging out this sign in my heart—“Gone Praying”, knowing that the benefits of this time make the rest of my times much more profitable and reminding me that my God, though He is always present, does desire to spend special set-apart time with me. Maybe you can think of a better wording for the sign. If you do, let me know. What I do know is that you can’t think of a better One to spend it with.

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (7/17)

Come away for Me for a while. The world, with is nonstop demands, can be put on hold. Most people put Me on hold, rationalizing that someday they will find time to focus on Me. But the longer people push Me into the background of their lives, the harder it is for them to find Me.

You live among people who glorify busyness; they have made time a tyrant that controls their lives. Even those who know Me as Savior tend to march to the tempo of the world. They have bought into the illusion that more is always better: more meetings, more programs, more activity.

I have called you to follow Me on a solitary path, making time alone with Me your highest priority and deepest Joy. It is a pathway largely unappreciated and often despised. However, you have chosen the better thing, which will never be taken away from you. Moreover, as you walk close to Me, I can bless others through you.

“The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.” Song of Songs 2:13

“But only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:42

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Knowing Hope In Darkness

Psalm 139:7-12 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,” Even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.

The Mirriam-Webster describes self-pity as a self-indulgent dwelling on one's own sorrows or misfortunes. Its focus is on our troubles and how overwhelming they are, how undeserved or even deserved they might be, and how different you are from everyone else. It is as if you are alone in this, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. It is a helpless and hopeless condition. Sometimes it is prolonged and sometimes it is only momentary, and at its depths there is incredible darkness.

But Scripture tells us that there is no depth or intensity of darkness to which God’s hands do not reach or His light extend. David wrote a lot about His struggles, but as we read of His struggles (particularly in the Psalms) we find that he quickly changes his focus from those struggles to God and then things change. The circumstances don’t change, but things change because He is assured and encouraged by the presence of God.

Getting back to the description from Webster as a self-indulgent dwelling, we can see that David found his answer not in a continued focus on his troubles, but in looking to God who is faithful and present in those struggles to be his help. David wrote in Psalm 139 that with our God there is no difference between darkness and light—they are alike to Him. And there is no depth to which we can descend that God is not there, nor place that is so remote that His hand will not lead us.

This morning I also read John chapter 11 about two sisters and a brother that Jesus loved (Mary, Martha, and Lazarus). Mary had come to Jesus to tell Him of the extreme sickness of her brother, to which Jesus responded, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” Then we read that Jesus did not race off to Lazarus’ side, rather He remained a couple more days, and even in doing this He took a day’s walk at a time, responding to their urgings as He went. And prior to arriving Jesus tells His disciples first that Lazarus was sleeping, to which His disciples responded that he surely then would awake. They did not get Jesus’ point, and He more plainly said in verse 14 and 15, “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” As it turns out when they “finally” arrived that Lazarus had been dead for four days.

Martha came out to meet Him, but Mary remained at home. The first thing Scripture records that Jesus said to Martha was, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha, with a hope for the future resurrection agreed with Jesus, to which Jesus added, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” To this Martha responded, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” Then she left to go get her sister. When Mary came out she made the same statement as Martha concerning Lazarus not dying if Jesus had been there. Following this they all went to where Lazarus had been laid, and when Jesus got there Scripture records that He wept (verse 35).

Jesus told them to remove the stone and Scripture records in verses 40-43, Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.”

The death of a loved one is probably one of the most trying things we can endure, not because we aren’t certain of the hope of eternal life, but because of the severing of a relationship here (if only for a season). Jesus loved Lazarus and He cried at his grave. Martha and Mary loved their brother, and they mourned his death, though as Martha declared she knew he would rise again. For them there was hope, and as Jesus had told them they did indeed see the glory of God manifest, even affirming that Jesus Christ has been sent to give life both here and now and for all eternity.

For David his hope was found in turning his eyes and his attentions to God, and finding His salvation (both temporal and eternal) in Him. Jesus demonstrated this power through three friends who He dearly loved. For all of us as we know the presence, power, and glory of God there is truly no reason to lose hope.

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (7/16)

Self-pity is a slimy, bottomless pit. Once you fall in, you tend to go deeper and deeper into the mire. As you slide down those slippery walls, you are well on your way to depression, and the darkness is profound.

Your only hope is to look up and see the Light of My Presence shining down on you. Though the Light looks dim in the pit, those rays of hope can reach you at any depth. While you focus on Me in trust, you rise ever so slowly out of the abyss of despair. Finally, you can reach up and grasp My hand. I will pull you out into the Light again. I will gently cleanse you, washing off the clinging mire. I will cover you with My righteousness and walk with you down the path of Life.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord. Psalm 40:2-3

Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance. Psalm 42:5 (NKJV)

The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. Psalm 147:11