A Kind God?

Last year, while participating in a once a week fast during Lent season with some others from my church, I set out on my first fasting day early in the morning to seek the Lord. I was stunned when He spoke to my heart that He didn’t want me to do a total fast that day, just a fast from sugar. It seemed too easy, especially since I don’t take in a lot of sugar anyway. And it was out of character for the way I saw God. You see, somewhere along life’s way I got the idea that God likes to make people squirm, likes to make things hard for us. Though I wouldn’t have said so, it’s almost like I saw Him as having a bit of a cruel side to Him.

Probably the one place we might justify God being hard on us is when we have acted out against Him. But He is not even desirous of bringing pain to us there – just look at the story of the Prodigal Son in Scripture. Jesus often gave stories to help us understand God, and in the Prodigal Son we see a God of great kindness. In the story, when the young son insisted on his own way, the father let him go. He didn’t want to let him go; he didn’t want to release him to all of the pain and sorrow that would await him ahead because of his choices. And when the pain came and left the young man destitute, his father, who had been looking for him every day since he left welcomed him with open arms and threw him a party.

Our God is the one who said to His people Israel (who were so insistent on their own way that He had to remove His blessing for a time), “I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you… plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:10-11, NIV). No, our God is not a cruel God at all, but very kind, always wanting the best for us. This is peace for my heart during times when I am feeling pain because I know God doesn’t like it either, but is leading me to good.

In that “easy” fasting day God had something wonderful He wanted to teach me. He wanted to correct my wrong thinking about Him and draw my heart ever closer to Him. And the next week? The lesson was over, so I didn’t get off the hook. But I now know, whether in pain or at ease, He is taking me ever deeper into His great love, and that is a wonderful gift from a very kind God who loves me immeasurably!

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I Got No Time for That!

Lord, My plate is full today. There are bills to pay, taxes to work on, cleaning to do… and that along with things like making meals and doing laundry. And since I stayed up later than usual last night (squeezing out every drop of Friday night freedom I possibly could), I got up a little later this morning. And, well, Saturdays are tough anyway because I am not in my routine. I usually have breakfast, then time set aside with You, then exercise, shower, and then I fly into my activities for the day, and it’s easy because it’s habit. But it’s late today, Lord, and the morning has flown by and it’s already lunch time, and I haven’t had time to sit down with You yet. If I do that now, how will I get everything else done?

Then that still, small Voice, “I’m what puts the rest of your day in order.” So I listen to that Voice, and I open my Bible on my lunch table, nourishing my soul along with my body. And He meets me, and He blesses me, and I know that nothing else matters except getting my soul aligned with my Maker. And suddenly I realize that my perspective has changed. My day is no longer a list of things I have to do, but a path I get to take with my Lord who will, through these things, make eternal deposits in my soul.

Thanks, Lord, for having the last word. Thanks for the way You always lead me to life.

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Every Part Matters

If you’ve done any reading on what happens when you begin to exercise muscles that you haven’t worked on for a while, you are probably aware that expanding your muscles really means creating little tears in them that, when healed, result in bigger, stronger muscles. But the tearing hurts, and that’s what causes the soreness you feel after working out some underworked muscles. The soreness is usually a pleasant feeling in the sense that you know you’ve really worked on something.

Recently, however, I inadvertently worked a little muscle that I found has a big voice of pain (not a little pleasant ouch). Wanting to bless my hard-working husband, I decided to get out his ladder and take down some Christmas lights. Moving a ladder that is about 3 times my height proved to be a formidable task and gave me a new appreciation for the summer painting my husband does. The lights were removed without incident, or so I thought. But there was this little muscle in my back that had been doing its job supporting my body quite nicely. However, when I moved that ladder around, that little muscle was called upon to work harder than it normally needs to, and I had not adequately prepared it for the task. The next day it complained… loudly.

That little, seemingly insignificant muscle has been a source of terrible pain, and has limited my ability to move and live life as I normally do. My doctor assures me it will heal, but the journey has not been a pleasant one.

God tells us that every part of the church, the body of Christ, is necessary. There are many in the body whose tasks run in the background, or who may feel that what they do isn’t really needed. A little muscle in my back reminds me that every part is significant. That muscle has been doing its job every day, unknown to me. But when it was called upon to work in a way for which it wasn’t prepared, I suddenly realized not only that it is there, but that it has an important function in my body. And the pain that it has experienced has affected my entire body.

I see two lessons in this. First, each of God’s children has a function in the body of Christ (read about it here). What is your part? If you don’t know, ask God to show you. Second, we need to be building ourselves up for our tasks. Are you learning from the Word regularly? Are you growing in your faith?

You have a task ordained for you from God, and He has given that task to you only, so you are a necessary part of His body, the church. Step up today and live your part so that the body of Christ may function as God intends.

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Don’t Let Life Make You Forget About Death

Quite a morbid title, I agree. I do not write so as to get you to focus on death and rob you of the joy of life. For many, there is much to love about life and much to celebrate. But that very goodness of life can make you forget that you do need to prepare for death, and I’m not talking about preplanning your funeral.

The Bible tells us there are some who won’t die, but Jesus will come and get them when He gets ready to judge the world. In Matthew 24 Jesus said that when He comes to get His people, it will be in the middle of everyone just living life. He said, “There will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left” (Matthew 24:40-41, NASB). In each situation, both the men and the women were just living life, but only one in each pair had prepared to leave the world. The fact of the matter is that whether you die and face judgment, or whether you are here when Jesus comes to get His people, you need to have prepared ahead of time.

Not sure that Jesus is the only way to be ready? He says He is, so it would be advisable to see if it’s so. Don’t let life or excuses get in the way of preparing for the day your life here on earth will end. Not a single one of us knows when that will be, so I encourage you to take it seriously. You can read about Jesus’ claims in the Bible, in the Gospel of John.

Do you think Jesus will squash your good life? I’ve found just the opposite. He promises that you will find Him if you really want to know the truth, so ask Him to show Himself to you and start looking into it while you still can.

 

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Time Management?

Recently I went through a spell of not making time at God’s feet my priority (time learning from Him by reading His Word, the Bible, and interacting with Him about it in prayer). I was busy doing all kinds of things, but I felt weary and out of sorts; my soul was not being fed and I felt the drought. Just like the body will become parched without water, so your soul will become dry without the refreshing of what gives it life — God and His truths (See Matthew 6:31-33).

I am a stay-at-home wife. One would think that time with God would be easy to implement. But anyone who has stayed at home and tended well to their tasks knows that the work is endless. Tending a household can just as easily consume all of one’s time the same as any demanding job might do. And what my soul needs will not be found in my job, whatever it is. My soul has one food, and it is God.

But, you say, I can’t possibly get in all I have to do each day if I take time out for God. Whether or not you realize it, what you believe is that you must take charge of time in order to take care of your needs. With that, however, you will find that you become worn out and tired (in other words, you are not getting all that you truly need). God says that He alone has what you need and that He will provide that to you as you seek His counsel. So the difference is that rather than you being the one in charge and trying to make everything work, you surrender that to His control and trust Him to lead you in your work and trust that as He promises, He will provide for all that you need.

Jesus says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Don’t try to manage your time better, but give some of that time to God to learn what He says matters, and then ask for His strength to do it. You will then find that the very thing you’ve been wearying yourself to get is now yours, but without the weariness.

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A Real Justice League?

I am a “rules person”. I see rules as things to be followed, and when people don’t follow them, it irks me. If there was a real justice league, I’d be a prime member.

In Mark 3 Jesus healed a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees were waiting to see if He would break their rules and heal the man on the Sabbath, which He did. (If ever there was a justice league, the Pharisees were definitely in.) Just before Jesus performed this healing, though, having brought the man to Him He said to the Pharisees, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save a life or to kill?” They said nothing and this angered Jesus, and He was grieved at their hardness of heart.

Earlier in the Gospel of Mark when the religious leaders had questioned another of the breaking of their Sabbath rules (picking grain and eating it), Jesus told them that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” What I see here is God’s focus on care and love for those He has created. I don’t understand all of the rules that were imposed by God upon the Israelites in the Old Testament, but from this passage in Mark and so many other instances in the New Testament, I can trust that He made those rules because of His love. The same is true of the things God tells us in the New Testament. God’s “rules” are always made from a heart of love for the good of His people.

That’s where we humans screw it up – at least I know I’ve been guilty of it. Where is my focus? Is it on making sure the rules are followed, or is it to love people? Jesus had moments of justice, like the time he turned over the tables of the money changers in the Temple, but His justice flowed out of a desire for the good of those He had created; His justice flows from love.

Are you a justice person, like me? Or maybe you’re the other way around, just love without worries about rules. What we need is a heart like God’s, one motivated by love for the good of people. Father, You alone can give us a heart after Your own heart. I ask You for that.

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Lies That Blind

Jesus was crucified and buried, and the religious leaders wanted to make sure his disciples wouldn’t try to propagate a lie that Jesus had risen by stealing his body. So the tomb was sealed and the guards were set in place.

But the guards came running to the chief priests with the news of an earthquake, the tomb opened, the angel, the body of Jesus gone! Right in front of the religious leaders was the evidence that Jesus had risen, leading to the assumption (one would think) that He was who He said He was, and that they are dealing with God. But their response was to propagate a lie so as to keep Jesus dead in the minds of anyone who might hope otherwise. The very “leaders of God” would not let go of what they believed even with compelling evidence to the contrary. What were they thinking?! It seems that they liked their position of leadership and authority and refused to give it up – even to God. (Read about it here.)

When we get to a place of comfort or honor or status or whatever makes us feel good, it can be a very dangerous place. Our sinful condition is such that we think we have what will make us happy and refuse to let go of it even when what is the truth (that which will truly fulfill us) is right before us. Oh Lord, rescue me from myself! Open my eyes to see and my ears to hear. Let these words of Jesus bring my heart trembling before you:

“…the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; and you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; for the heart of this people has become dull, and with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I should heal them.’” Matt. 13:14-15 (NASB)

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The Human Being

Last summer my husband and I had the privilege of visiting the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. While there we walked through a display of thin cross-sections of human cadavers encased in glass. What I found is that our human insides do not look anything like the pictures you find in your science book at school. The pictures in the book are all neat, and the various parts seem quite distinct and easy to identify. But in the real cross-sections I viewed, you could certainly identify parts that were pointed out to you, but it wasn’t all neat and clean like the pictures; it was squishy looking and everything was meshed together (no pretty colors even!).

My first realization was that the human body is nothing like the things man creates. The inside of a body appears more base, in a sense, than human creations and yet it is incredibly complex and thoroughly functional. And that was my second realization – that the creation of God is way beyond anything man can do. To think that all of the various functions of the human body, this conglomeration of mushy stuff, not only does amazing things (the how of which often eludes us) but even has the ability to address problems and deficiencies in its functioning makes me realize how big my God is and how very small I am.

And as if the awe of the “machine” of the body weren’t enough, there is more. Humans think, feel, and are much more than a well-oiled machine. The “differentness” of mankind from other living things becomes very apparent when someone dies. When we look at a body in a coffin, the absence of life makes a person not look like the one we knew, and the reality that humans are more than a body is right in front of us. I have been at the bedside of people who have died, and the minute the soul leaves that body you know; they don’t look like they are sleeping, instead they look like something different than they were a moment before.

In Psalm 139 we are told that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Yes, indeed.

My thoughts immediately turn to the why of God’s actions. Why would He make such an incredible creation as us, making sure that we have what we need to live? And when we chose to become our own god and call the shots, ruining our relationship with Him, why did He send His son to redeem us? For some reason, we are very valuable to Him. I don’t know about you, but I want to know this God better. I see the work of His hands, I see the provisions He has made, I see His incredible sacrifice poured out on my behalf, and I long to know this God, my God.

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Is God Out to Get You?

Do you live with a constant gnawing that God is just waiting to take away anything good that He brings to you? Until recently, I didn’t realize that I was living under that fear. I knew in my head that when God takes something away or brings something hard into my life, that it is because He is loving me into life – but I was not able to live in the moment and enjoy today because of worry about what might be next. As much as I knew I could trust His plan, I was also afraid of it.

I imagine a little girl, surrounded by the blessings of her parents’ love but never able to enjoy those blessings because she is always expecting her parents to discipline her. Of course her parents will discipline her if she needs it, but that is not to concern her, she should just be enjoying their love.

If you have struggled as I have, join me in seeking to live in God’s love:

Father, let me be like Paul who said that he had learned how to be content with plenty and with lack; he was content no matter his circumstances. Father, You may give and You may take away. You may take me on a beautiful path or a very dark one. I don’t want my trust and contentment to rest on whether or not my circumstances are good or bad, easy or hard. And I don’t want to live my life in the constant fear that You may strike me at any moment. Oh Lord, let me live in the joy of today. Let me be content in the moment, no matter what that moment carries. You are my God, and You love me! Everything You do in my life is good – always! Let me just walk with You as Your child. Let me leave the cares of where we’re going and what comes along the way to You. I want to be a trusting child, Lord.

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No Bacon Today (A Tribute to My Dad)

Yesterday I stood and watched my dad’s coffin being lowered into the ground. The funeral and burial were as beautiful as they could be, but it was all hard, very hard. Dad had died last Saturday, but I was home and in the midst of packing up Jim’s step-mother’s house for a move, so the weight of loss didn’t settle on me until the morning of the funeral. I was at my nephew’s house (Dad lived with him and his family) making room in the refrigerator for food that a friend had brought over and I came across Dad’s Gatorade bottle – the one that he filled and refilled with his drinking water. When I emptied the water into the sink and discarded the bottle in the trash, suddenly the tears came. Dad was gone. The wave of emotions came and went throughout the day as the events of saying goodbye unfolded. As I told so many who came to honor my dad, I am not sad for him – his suffering was shorter than expected, and he suffers no more because he is in Paradise, and for that I am happy – but I am sad for me. I will miss him until I see him on the other side.

My dad was a country boy, born in the back hills of Tennessee. School attendance was sporadic for him as working the farm was much more of a priority for his family, so he had less than a 6th grade education. But my dad was no simple man; he was full of profound wisdom and love that touched the lives of everyone who knew him. And even without the education to make him smart, he was incredibly smart. He taught himself to play the guitar from an early age and could figure out how to fix just about anything. He could solve puzzles that baffled others – like the peg puzzle at Cracker Barrel at which he knew how to get that one-peg solution.

As children do, I was learning from my dad from the time he first held me in his arms. Many times his teaching was intentional – like when he showed me how to do simple maintenance on my first car, or how to put my ear to a watermelon to check for ripeness (one I still haven’t mastered!). But much of his teaching was unintentional; he was pouring himself into me by just being the man that he was. And he was teaching all who knew him right up until the night he closed his eyes here and opened them in Heaven, because he showed us how to face cancer and walk the path of unwavering faith in God in the midst of the suffering it brought.

Two weeks before he died I got to spend five precious days with him. We sat out on the back porch for hours, went out to eat with his friend, attended Sunday service at his church where I saw them pour out love on him as they prayed for him, and just got to be together. When I cooked our breakfast of bacon, eggs, and toast, he told me that I had mastered the art of cooking bacon. Dad cooked bacon like no one else – it was always perfect. And now he told me that I was cooking it just like him.

In days to come, I hope others will see in me that beautiful character that lived in my dad. His pastor and dear friend said of him at the funeral that if you didn’t like Roy, the problem was with you, not him. He was a man who was greatly loved by others because of the love he gave out so easily. That is how I want to be; like my dad.

Someday soon I’ll be cooking some bacon for my family, though not today because it’s just too hard. But when I do cook that bacon, may it not be the only thing that is like Dad, but may the love that goes with it be what flows through me as it did through him continuously.

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