Eyes On The Finish Line

The Commonwealth Games have begun this week.  All countries, still allegiant to the Queen of England, take part in a huge sporting event, on a par with the olympics.  Yesterday I was watching some of the triathlon.  Men were running, swimming, and bike riding, all with one aim — to cross the finish line.  As time passed, you could see the hard breathing, lungs no doubt searing in discomfort, gulping for air to go on.  Muscles were aching, bodies were exhausted, but they pressed on.

Such a race in not dissimilar to the track we run in our spiritual world.  We find ourselves in difficult situations, perhaps it’s hard to breathe, we ache and endure pain of suffering with every event, but we press on, keeping our eyes on the prize — Jesus waiting at the finish line!  One glimpse of His face, and anything endured in our lives will be as nothing compared to the prize of Jesus.

This reminds me of the verse in Job 23:10, But He knows the way that I take.  When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.”  Sometimes this verse is misunderstood.  Some have mistakingly thought this meant that God was deliberately throwing us in the fires of difficulties on purpose; then, if we by our own strength got through, He would reward us at the end.  Oh, no, that is not the meaning!

Have you ever watched a craftsman molding gold?   While it’s in the fire, all the impurities rise to the surface.  Then the craftsman can remove what’s not needed, and mold only what is pure and lovely.  The result is something of great beauty.

When you and I find ourselves in the the midst of the troubles of this world, God has not thrown us in; it’s the result of the fallen and sinful world we live in.  This verse means that, while we are in the fires of painful circumstances, God Himself will offer us His own strength and wisdom to get through.  Then, when we have taken all He gives us to cross the finish line, like the beauty of gold, we, too, emerge beautiful and triumphant!

We know it to be true that God equips us with all we need to daily face our troubles, because there are numerous promises of His help to us throughout the Bible.  When we run a difficult race in our world, God is our coach and trainer, teaching us how to press on, and not give up.  The key is focus.  Like the athletes in the triathlon, their only focus is the finish line.  Let it be the same with us — never giving up, never tripping over a hurdle and laying on the track in failure, but getting up and running again, aiming for the finish line.

When we cross God’s finish line, everyone gets a gold medal.  Everyone wins.  Everyone who reaches the finish line sees the prize that is waiting for them.  Jesus in all His glory — and we get to live with Him —  in a place of no more tears — forever!  Press on fellow athletes!  Let us obtain the prize together.  Oh, what joy!

What Brings Ultimate Joy?

My former high school teacher and dear friend, Maurine, has been editing my next book for me.  It’s a book that deals with building our faith and keeping it strong.  As always, my prayer is that it will indeed be a blessing of encouragement and help to all who read it.  I’ve been working this week with doing some correction and rewrite, getting it all ready for release.  I would like to share an excerpt from the book with you.  I hope it will bless you.  It is as follows:

 

The way of obedience follows salvation. When we become a Christian, we want to learn about Him and obey His ways. I Samuel 15:22 informs us that “to obey is better than sacrifice.” Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, obey my commandments.” He also said in Luke 6:46, “So why do you call me ‘Lord’ when you won’t obey me?”

Sometimes we forget that God’s ways are designed to give us ultimate joy. They are designed for our protection and for our well-being.  Subconsciously we begin to think that God is a control freak; He’s just telling us what to do because He can. He gives us commands He knows we can’t keep just to watch us fail; then He delights in punishments. What a totally warped view of our Heavenly Father.

I had that view early on in my walk with God. I share that in my book,  Back On The Potter’s Wheel.  I thought God the Father was all thunder bolts and lightening strikes, taking delight in my failures. I’m forever thankful that the folly of that thinking got straightened out in my mind. God the Father is total love. I am warmed to the core when I read in I John 4:9-10, “God showed how much He loved us by sending His only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through Him. This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” Isn’t that beautiful?

God the Father understands perfectly the difficulties and hardships that we face on earth. He knows what sin has done to us. He knows we are like lost sheep, wandering without hope of ever being found by our own devices. That’s why He sent Jesus — to save us, to give us hope and purpose, to give us joy overflowing. That’s why He gives us instructions to follow. He has designed a path for us that will always bring peace to our troubled hearts, courage to rising fear, and strength to weakened faith.

His ways are not our ways but they are by far the best ways. Isaiah 55:8-9 reads, “My thoughts are completely different from yours,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

Looking Back To Move Forward

Everyday, the world news is bleak: cyclones and deadly storms, continued disaster in Syria, Ukraine and Russia still at odds, coastal killings in Kenya, a mass family murder in Texas, Israel and Hamas firing missiles at each other — the list could go on and on.  Sometimes it seems the whole earth is spinning out of control.  Wars and rumors of wars widen.  Weather disasters are more frequent.  Brother against brother is nothing unusual.  Political lying, cheating, and backbiting is the norm in any country.  Inflation and unemployment rises daily on every continent.  Hardworking people are sleeping in cars with their families, unable to make financial ends meet.  What in the world is going on?  Is there any hope?  Can any encouragement be found?

First, we must not be surprised by the world’s events.  When countries and individuals choose to make their own way, ignoring God’s plans and directions, then disaster is sure to follow.  The Bible is a historical record of this fact.  When we step off of God’s road, and onto a road of our own making, be assured that the way forward is perilous.

But what about those who are looking to God?  They, too, suffer the consequences of the world’s calamity.  Is there any hope and joy for them?  Yes, indeed.  David reminds us that in the midst of all darkness, God is there to shine His light into hearts that yearn for Him.  He gives faith to the weak of heart.  He gives strength to those who feel they can’t go on.  He gives courage when fear would like to overcome.  He gives peace in the midst of any of life’s storms.

God has never failed anyone in the past.  Therefore, there is no reason to feel He is going to fail anyone today or tomorrow.  Don’t forget, there is a great weapon available to every Christian who feels themselves being pulled down into the mire of this world’s disturbances.  It’s called: praising.  When we praise God for all He has done for us yesterday, it builds our faith to trust Him for all that will happen today.  It gives us peace for the unchartered paths of tomorrow.  As David said in Psalm 103:2, “Praise the Lord, I tell myself, and never forger the good things He has done for me.”

God never changes.  Therefore, it stands to reason that, if God has been your light in the midst of life’s storms yesterday, He will remain your beacon of  safety in dangerous waters today.  He will never fail you.  It’s impossible.  At the core of anything that concerns us, God is there, whispering to us His words of love and comfort; equipping us with everything we need to face anything today puts in our path.

Therefore, why wouldn’t we want to praise Him today for all He has done yesterday, and for all He will most certainly do today?  Remember, He never stops guiding, filling with peace, and kissing our griefs with His tenderness and care.

“Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.”  Psalm 103:1

Alone In The Australian Bush

My friends took me to spend a few days in the Australian Bush. Our cabin was secluded. I was excited.

The first morning I decided to explore the surroundings. There were walking paths to take. As I was walking along, kookaburras were calling to each other, back and forth, louder and still louder.

Then, what did I see? Kangaroos! I looked at them; they looked at me. Just ahead, what crossed my path? A fox. There was a flutter overhead – green parrots with red heads.

The smells of the foliage were fresh, unusual – the slightest hint of some fragrance in the air. I stopped where I was for a moment, taking deep breaths to fill my lungs with this exotic fresh air. I closed my eyes for a moment, enjoying sounds, like whispers in treetops.

It was then the thought came – at that moment in time I was the only person in the entire world there at that spot. A thrill shivered its way up my spine. A joy nearly indescribable poured from my innermost being.

” Thank you, Father!” I called out in my heart. ” Your creation is marvelous. You are marvelous!” The presence of the Spirit of God permeated my being with sweetness.

He inhabits our praises as it says in Psalm 22:3, “You are holy; you inhabit the praises of Israel.” He inhabits our praises, too.

Whether in joyful moments or difficulties – He is there making His presence known as we praise Him.

When Life Isn’t Fair

I’m continuing to enjoy spending time with my dear Russian family in Perth, Australia. It’s a beautiful place stretching along the western coast, looking out over the Indian Ocean.

It’s so peaceful strolling along through the parks with wild, colorful parrots flying about, or walking along the beach keeping watch for dolphins. That peace was slightly interrupted the other day when, as we were walking about, a group of children run by, one of them shouting, “That’s not fair!”

I smiled at the children and thought to myself, we’re not unlike them as adults. How often have situations come into our lives, and we have thought, that’s not fair. Sadly, even Christians can let their minds be filled with resentment toward God for not doing as they thought best. Inwardly they shout at God, “That’s not fair!”

There are lots of things that happen to us that’s just not fair. It wasn’t fair that Gods only Son paid the price for our sin. It wasn’t fair that Jesus died a cruel death for things He never did. It’s not fair that God blesses us with His goodness though we forget all about Him time and time again.

The next time something unfair takes place in our personal world, perhaps we can take a moment to ponder the love of God shown to us even though we don’t deserve it. Remember, too, His way of doing things is beyond our understanding, but His ways are perfect.

“He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” Matthew 5:45

Life may not be fair; God always is, and He will be your everything to get you through anything.

It’s A New Day

I’m in Australia enjoying a sweet reunion with dear Russian friends who immigrated from Kyrgyzstan six years ago. They’ve shown me beautiful sights in their new homeland. I’ve seen a variety of trees I’ve never seen before. I’ve seen parrots of brilliant colors, and today I saw my first kangaroo in the wild!

All of these things are wonderful, but for my blog this week, those of you who know me well, won’t be surprised that my topic was inspired by a dog named Jessie. This little black and white terrier belongs to Ivan and Galina who I am staying with while in Perth.

Jessie was happy enough to meet me but had a reserve about her. However, a gift of a squeaky rabbit, endless time tossing a ball, and several energetic walks later, and Jessie counts me as one of the family.

This trust and joy in my company has thrilled me. As I have thought about the joy shared between us, I realize it has come about as a result of time spent together. It’s not unlike the joy that grows with time spent in the presence of God. He gives us good gifts, walks and talks with us, and is always pleased when we come to Him.

It’s the “coming to Him” where many of us fail. We convince ourselves that we’re useless, unworthy, failures on a regular basis, etc. Such feelings can rob us of tremendous joy.

What can we do? We can begin by remembering what is written in Lamentations 3:22-23, “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed. His compassionate never fail. They are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness.”

Try to always remember that our Lord loves you to come to Him. Come with your concerns or come with your joy or come to worship, but come. He is always there, waiting with a longing that you will come and enjoy Him.

Leave yesterday in the past. Every morning offers you a new day.

An Unlikely Hero

This past Sunday, many churches celebrated Pentecost — the day that Jesus told His followers they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit.  (Acts 1:5)  Jesus told them all in Acts 1:8, “But when the Holy Spirit is come upon you, you will receive power, and will tell people about me everywhere — in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.  Do you recall Jesus’ disciples?  What a motley crew.  A rough and tough band of fisherman.  These were the ones Jesus chose, to train them up, to take His message of love and hope throughout the world.  If these same men were to enter any type of leadership training program today, they would be shown the door.  They had no skills, no training, and showed no natural abilities of leadership of any kind.

Remember Peter?  Loud mouthed, a bit of a braggart, very opinionated, and when it really counted, He proved himself to be a coward.  He was sorry enough after his cowardly deed; he wept bitterly, but the deed was done.   At this point, Peter was not a shining example of success in Christian living.

Now, let’s get back to the part where Jesus promised that after He returned to His Father in heaven, He would send the Holy Spirit to be their comforter and teacher.  The Holy Spirit would remind them of the things Jesus taught them, and He would empower them to make a difference in the world in the name of Christ.  Even Peter?  I’m happy to say — even Peter.

Peter was used mightily of God.  In fact, just as soon as the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, it was Peter who led the way out into the streets to share the Good News of Jesus.  I love the verse in Acts 2:14, “Then Peter stepped forward…”  Gone was the former fear.  Cowardice was nowhere to be found within him.  The rest of this chapter in Acts records a most powerful sermon, and it was given by Peter.  How could this be? He was empowered by the Holy Spirit.  What happened?   3000 people came to accept Jesus as their Savior that day.

Before the Holy Spirit took charge of Peter, he was the most unlikely candidate for “Hero of the Faith.”  Do you ever feel that way?  Have you really blown it?  Has the Lord put in your heart to do something, or to share His truth with someone, but you got so scared you backed away?  Like Peter, have you been so sorry you wept bitterly in misery and self loathing?

If that’s you, take heart from the example of Peter.  What a failure he was — before surrendering all of himself to the molding and empowering of the Holy Spirit.  Then — what a success he became, used mightily of God to bring literally thousands into the Kingdom of Heaven.  If God could take a loud mouthed coward like Peter, and turn him into one of the Bible’s greatest success stories — can’t God do the same with you?  After all, He is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  Hebrews 13:5

Don’t waste time beating yourself up for failures.  That’s what Satan wants you to do.  Instead,  spend time soaking in the Word of God.  Then, like Peter, step forward in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Turn the impossibilities about your life into everything possible through Jesus Christ.