Kept In Golden Vials

Have you ever noticed that there are several verses in God’s Word that mentions “a sweet smelling odor?”  In the Old Testament there are verses referring to offerings to God being a sweet odor to Him.  In the New Testament Apostle Paul informs us that we who know Him are a sweet odor.  Christ is the sweetest of all for the perfect sacrifice of His own life for us.  There’s another verse in Revelation 5:8 that reads, concerning us, “…before the Lamb were harps and golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of the saints.”  

Reading that always reminds me of God’s deep love for me and for you.  Has the question ever floated in your mind, “Does God really care about the mundane things in my life?”  I’ve heard people say that there are far more important matters throughout the world for Almighty God to take notice of than individual lives simply going through a hard time.  Not true.  We know that’s not true from the above verse in the book of Revelation.  It clearly states that our prayers are a sweet odor to Him.

Elsewhere in Revelation we read that God keeps our tears in a bottle.  Why would He do that —  keep our tears in a bottle and our prayers in golden vials? Things are only kept in precious places when they are valuable.  Does God care about the mundane situations in our lives? Does He care when we cry?  Does He take all that much notice when we call out to Him for help?  We can definitely conclude that, yes, He does; so much so that He stores them away for safekeeping.

The next time you wonder if your seemingly small difficulties or your deep tragedies are important to God in the light of world tragedies, remind yourself that your every prayer is so precious He keeps it in golden vials.   They are sweet to Him.  He treasures everything that matters to you.

Two Kinds Of Hope

I feel confident to say that everyone of us have experienced hoping for something only to find ourselves disappointed at the results.  As we go through life we learn two things about hope:  we don’t always get what we hope for, and when we do, we are often disappointed because the thing hoped for didn’t do for us what we expected it to do.

When dealing with the disenchantment of hope we can identify with King Solomon.  He was a man that could have everything the world could offer; yet he found it all unsatisfying.  He had material wealth but it didn’t satisfy.  He was popular but that didn’t satisfy either.  He experienced the finest wines and the most exotic foods but there was no lasting satisfaction.  He looked for happiness in sex with 700 wives and 300 concubines. (One wonders how he had time for anything else!)  but that brought no deep and lasting satisfaction either.  He wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:14, “I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it’s all meaningless—like chasing the wind.”  He could not find lasting fulfillment or purpose in anything the world had to offer him.  Its pleasures were for a moment and then vanished, leaving him to chase something else to make him happy.  Have you ever felt like Solomon,  running after fulfillment, breathless in the exhausted pursuit?

There are two kinds of hope that we can attain; one type of hope comes from the world and another comes from faith in God.  The first hope is not a bad hope.  We all joy when we get that house or that dream job.  We all appreciate when a bad situation changes for the good.  Even so, the above is temporary.  They involve hope that is fleeting; here one day and gone the next.

The hope that God Himself gives us is lasting in spite of any of the above.  The hope that God gives involves His promises that are steadfast and unchanging no matter the situations of our lives.  His loves is unchanging.  His peace is unchanging.  His joy is unchanging.  His hope is unchanging, enduring through anything, holding us up in everything.

The world’s hope is sometimes satisfying and something not.  God’s hope is steadfast at all times; promising a peace and joy that nothing of the world can ever take away.

What Comes In The Morning

“…If you are walking in darkness, without a ray of light, trust the Lord and rely on your God.”  Isaiah 50:10

I find a great comfort in this verse simply because it acknowledges that Christians can get discouraged.  There are times when one can be made to feel guilty or like their faith in God has weakened when he or she admits they feel down in the dumps.  Well meaning people can say, “no need to feel down; you have God to help you.”  Yes, a discouraged Christian is well aware of that fact.  Reminding one of it doesn’t help.

Times of darkness, depression, feeling very low, comes to everyone at some time or another.  It’s a part of life; a part of living in an imperfect and ungodly world.  Discouragement happens.  We don’t like it.  We don’t want it but there it is swallowing up our hope and joy.  Can anything be done to ease our downcast heart?

There are many examples in the Bible of God’s people falling prey to unwanted discouragement.  The classic case, of course, is Job.  One thing after another hit him full on.  Job lost everything he had:  family, wealth, health, and status.  His wife was his worst comforter.  Yet, in the midst of unimaginable turmoil, Job makes a statement that is extraordinary.  He says in Job 13:15, “Even if God were to kill me, I have no other hope but in Him.”  What an amazing statement!  Job trusted and believed in the fact that God’s ways might not be his ways, but they are by far the best ways.  Job fully understood what we are told in Romans’ 8:28, “ALL things work together for good to those who love God and are called by Him.”

My father often said, “When you don’t know what to do — do what you know to do.”

What you and I know to do, even in the midst of the the blackest sorrows of our lives, is to keep looking up, hang on tight, call out to Him who loves and helps and leads, grab hold of His promises and make that choice to walk on in Him.  Look up, grab hold, walk on, and while you are walking,  remember another of His promises found in Psalm 30:5, “…weeping may last through the night, but joy always comes in the morning.”  

On The Other Side Of The Door

Last evening I attended a service of remembrance and celebration for the life of a friend who has recently passed away.  It was an atmosphere of shared grief mingled with a tender joy in knowing that our friend is indeed now in heaven.  The joy he is experiencing is immeasurable.

After the service a friend shared a story that touched me very much and filled me with a sense of quiet thrill at what lies ahead, when the time of my own journey on earth, comes to an end.  The story goes that someone she knows was visiting a friend.  It was the first time at this friend’s house.  At one point during the visit, the owner of the home excused himself and left the room for a moment.  During that time there sounded from another door in the room a peculiar noise.  The man strained to listen and identify  what he was hearing.  It seemed to him to be a sort of muffled thud.  For a moment he was slightly fearful because the noise was so strange and grew louder.  Finally, he stood, walked across the room, and carefully opened the door.  In bounded a most exuberant large dog, tail wagging, body twisting in happiness, as if the man whom he had never seen before, was a long lost friend.

The lady telling this story at our gathering last evening went on to say that this story reminded her of how it will be when we get to heaven.  She said at times when we think of death we might sense a shiver of fear because it’s an unknown.  What happens to us the moment we take our last breath on earth?  Will it hurt?  Will it be dark?  Will one be alone?  She said that all those fears of the unknown will be instantly replaced with the greatest of joy because when the door of death opens, in bounds the most exuberant of joy when our eyes catch our first sight of Jesus; His loving eyes peering into ours with indescribable love and welcome.

“We are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives.  We eagerly wait for Him…”  Philippians 3:20

When we know Him, truly know Him. fear of death may come to our minds from time to time because we are mere humans, but when that moment comes that we appear at death’s door, what glorious wonder, peace, and joy will flood into our being, and this joy will not be temporary.  It will last for eternity.

Distractions

Some of you reading this were born into the age of computers, cell phones, and smart tv. Others, like myself, remember the day when white liquid paper was a marvel for correcting typing errors.  Then came the removable silver font balls for (gasp!) an electric typewriter!  I remember getting such a typewriter.  I thought that nothing could top that apparatus of typing wonder — until the fax machine arrived on the scene!

Of course, if you lived during the birth of the electric typewriter, then you probably remember rabbit ears for the television set.  Did you ever attach big squares of aluminum foil to the antennae for better reception?  Those were the days when one actually had to get up and go to the television set to change the channel!

Television interference was not uncommon; I remember, especially if there was a sewing machine buzzing away in another part of the house.  When my mother would get out the sewing machine, wide lines of gray snowlike images would snake across the screen, blurring both the image and sound.  At times I would ask my mother if she could wait until a particular tv show was finished; important shows, like Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, and The Partridge Family.  I was always most patient when she sewed during the news.

My mother was doing good things sewing.  She made the most beautiful dresses.  I still have my prom dress she made me.  It was shiny gold with pearls that she hand stitched around the neck.  Strangely I no longer fit into it.  How it shrunk while packed away is a mystery.

Those memories of childhood days with black and white tv and sewing machine interference brought to my attention today’s interferences.  Life is filled with many good things that make our days much easier.  At a click of a button we can change tv channels, send a message or photo instantly,  or speak to someone on the other side of the world.  Technology has made our work and pleasure so much better.  Even so, like days of old, interference can unwittingly take our attention off what is truly important.

Doing good things can steal away our priorities.  We may feel guilty at first when we push time spent with God or family to the bottom of our to-do list but we excuse it because we’re doing “good things.”  We’re working hard to be the best we can be and technology is helping us achieve that goal.  God time or family time gets neglected but the outcome is for the good, right?

Time is a funny thing.  It can give to us and it can take away.  What we easily forget is that we can be the master of time rather than time ruling over us.  That is why we are reminded in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.  A time to be born and a time to die.  A time to plant and a time to harvest.  A time to kill and a time to heal.  A time to tear down and a time to build up.  A time to cry and a time to laugh.  A time to grieve and time to dance.  A time to scatter stones and time to gather stones.  A time to embrace and a time to turn away.  A time to search a time to quit searching.  A time to keep and a time to throw away.  A time to tear and a time to mend.  A time to be quiet and a time to speak.  A time to love and a time to hate.  A time for war and  time for peace.”

You and I have difficulty prioritizing our time.  There are so many temptations even doing good things.  That’s exactly why we so need our God-time.  When we take that time to spend with Him in His presence, the things of our world slip into right order.  When our world is ordered as God designs, there is peace in the midst of chaos and direction in the midst of all that can distract us.

Have A Good Laugh

You know how it is, when at times throughout any given day, some funny memory of long ago will pop into your mind and you begin to laugh? I have been caught laughing while walking by myself down the street.  What curious looks I get from passersby.  Haven’t you had that happen to you?

Just this week I noticed a woman wearing sandals; her toenails painted a bright red.  Memories came to my mind which brought on a loud chuckle of laughter.  The memory? Well, it was a particular morning when I was getting ready to leave the house.  I had decided to put on fresh coats of polish on both toe and finger nails.  That task being done I next took out my woman’s repair kit, placing before me an assortment of face creams, mascara, powder, and lipstick.  Of course, while doing this I saw my bedroom shoes and promptly stuck my feet in them.  I must have walked around for an hour before time to kick my bedroom slippers off.  Imagine my dismay when they wouldn’t come!

One of my all-time favorite memories, that still causes me to shake all over, takes me back to a time when I was fourteen or fifteen years old.  I was with my parents shopping in the Air Force Base Exchange in Honolulu, Hawaii where my father was stationed at the time.  The aisles were just below shoulder height so any adult-sized person could easily see all around the store.  I had been browsing when I saw my father standing rigid in the aisle staring motionless.

“Dad?”  I approached him.  “What are you looking at?”

“A grown man picking his nose,” he answered in monotone.

I followed his gaze and sure enough, there stood a man, forefinger stuck up his right nostril with much action going on.  I burst out laughing!  My Dad joined me.  We were both lost in our world of hilarity.  Mom came over but when we pointed out the object of our hysterics, she did not share the humor.  “You two need to behave,” she answered, probably somewhat embarrassed, although she managed a few chuckles when we got to the car.

There was also the time when, (I admit I was sixteen and should have had better sense), I decided to test whether or not one would really slip and fall after stepping on a banana peel.  I stood in our kitchen taking the peel off a banana.  Then, strategically placing it, slippery side down in the middle of the kitchen floor (linoleum!) I paced my steps and began my casual but staged walk across the floor.  After stepping on the banana peel, feet flying out from beneath me, landing me in a breathless heap stretched on the floor, my father’s face appeared in the air above me.  “If I hadn’t seen that with my own eyes,” he proceeded, “I would never have believed it.”  He meanders away, leaving me to catch my breath and join him in the other room where we, as we so often did, burst into bouts of great laughter.

Doesn’t laughing make you feel good all over?  I’m so glad that God created us with the ability to laugh; and because we know we’re created in His image, we know that He laughs, too.  Can’t you imagine the fish stories that Jesus and his disciples must have laughed about?

Did you know that laughter is a healthy thing to do?  “Laughter is a good medicine, but a crushed spirit can dry up the bones.”  Proverbs 17:22  God is the author of laughter.  I have a friend who once told me that she deliberately looks for at least one thing to laugh about everyday.

May you all enjoy a good bout of laughter today.  Think back to something funny.  Share the story.  Laugh.  God gave you the ability to do so and it’s great for your health!

Keeping Safe

“That’s amazing!”  I heard someone say as I passed by two teenage girls having a conversation.  They were animated about whatever “amazing thing” they were talking about.  We all like having something “amazing” take place in our lives.  We love that excited feeling of adrenalin pumping when the extraordinary happens and we are there firsthand to experience it.

For the Christian, when we see God perform in amazing ways; perhaps provision of something desperately needed, or the healing of a very ill family member, we are filled with immeasurable joy.  We are thrilled that what we longed for, God made happen.

Such joy is a normal response; perhaps causing us to believe that our joy will never fade again — until it does.   Why, after experiencing such happiness in God, can we so easily fall into a pit of despondency?  Some even fall away from walking in God’s ways completely.

David wrote in Psalm 18:2, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.  He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.”  We can easily forget that it is God Himself who is our safety and our joy rather than the thing that He may bring about to keep us safe.   Think about this: A person may be saved from drowning by a boat that appears on the horizon, but a person is still saved whether they drown or not when they are in God.   When we learn to have our focus on God being God; the One who loves us perfectly at all times, then we come to realize that we are always safe in this world because we are always in Him and He is in us.  We are merged into the love of God and kept safe by Him through all trials in life; God giving us His own strength and peace to face anything.  Even death does not take away our safety, for in death, eternity with perfect love and peace truly begins.

When we  know that we are in Christ, we are safe at all times; not because of some amazing thing He may bring across our paths on earth, but purely because we are hidden with Christ in God.  There is no more beautiful or safer place to be.  “Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.  For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.”  Colossians 3:2-3   As we begin to absorb the truth of these words, we then understand that wherever God leads us, we are safe.

My Hero

I overheard a bit of a conversation earlier this week.  One person said to the other about someone they were talking about, “he’s my hero.”  Immediately I pictured someone in my mind who is my hero.  When I think of this person, a gladness always washes over me.

It was an incident that took place some years ago.  I was traveling in a somewhat volatile country.  Caution was needed at all times.  Plans were made for me to fly to another part of the country when someone said to me that they felt uneasy about this flight.  I felt fine about it, but it was agreed that we would pray and ask God to show us, beyond doubt, something that would make me know I was not to take this flight.

The next morning, the day I was to fly, I phoned my parents to say hello.  My father immediately tells me to listen carefully.  Then he told me that a friend of ours had just phoned, in tears, sharing that she had a terrible dream in the night.  “Tell Vickie to please be careful,” she said crying.  “Thanks Dad,” I responded.  “I will take care.”  I cancelled my flight.

It was several weeks later, when someone from the town where I had intended to fly, came to see me.  He took my hands as he said, “We are so thankful you didn’t make that flight.”  He then explained that a prison outbreak had taken place.  Many of the prisoners pledged to make an international statement through a kidnapping.  They would look for a foreign woman to take.  I would have flown right to them.

It was not my time to go so our Father in Heaven arranged to send a message to me to keep me off that flight.  He sent the message through a dream to someone He knew would listen and take action.  That person is a young woman named Amanda.  She is my hero.  When I feel discouraged or get tired of “waiting” for something to take place, I think of my hero.  I remind myself of her faithfulness to God, her unwavering obedience — without question — to His direction.  When I think of my hero, I am able to press on myself, to take action, to wait when it’s hard to do so.

When I next saw Amanda I asked her about the dream.  She told me that she saw me in the backseat of a car.  We were driving through a wooded area when men wearing masks charged out, stopping the car.  She said they took me out of the backseat and dragged me into the woods.  She woke up crying and knew she had to call my parents to tell them.

Was the above a coincidence?  No, it was a specific answer to my specific prayer.  Amanda listened and took action.  As Peter explained in the New Testament book of Acts, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy.  Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.  In those days I will pour out my Spirit on men and women alike.”  Acts 2:17-18

There is one other thing I will tell you about my hero.  She is Down Syndrome.  Can everyone be used my God?  Yes, but it takes a willing, obedient, and pure heart.  Amanda is one who, as the old hymn says, “trusts and obeys for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.”

Nothing That Can’t Be Forgiven

Someone once said to me, “I’m going to straighten out my life and then I’m coming to God.”  I explained that line of thought is backwards.  One doesn’t straighten his life out and come to God; one comes to God and He straightens the person’s life out.”  Seeking and receiving forgiveness is often misunderstood.

I’ve heard some say that their sin is so terrible that God would never forgive them.  Others have been more complacent, saying that they’ll “live it up” a little while longer and then come to God.  Still others have an indignant attitude toward God’s forgiveness; someone saying to me once, “you mean God forgave Hitler!”  I explained that God did not forgive Hitler because Hitler never asked to be forgiven; but had Hitler come with a sincere heart of repentance, then God would have forgiven him.

Here is a fact of forgiveness: The ultimate grounds for our forgiveness is God’s initiative.  The reason for our forgiveness is wholly of God and nothing of ourselves.  Look at the wonderful verses found in Isaiah 43:25 & 44:22, “I, yes, I alone, am He who blots out your sins for My own sake and will never think of them again.  I have swept away your sins like a cloud.  I have scattered your offenses like the morning mist.  Return to me for I have paid the price to set you free.”  To me, these verses explain the beautiful grace of God like no other.  Here we see a threefold repetition that points to His Lordly and Kingly decision concerning us — “I, yes, I alone and He…”  He does not have to forgive sin, but in His sovereignty and majesty, His Holy love compels Him, and Him alone,  to do so.

Our pardon from anything we have ever done or ever will do rests on His decision.  From the beginning, His decision to forgive is one-sided; it is His will to show His love to us through His forgiveness.  God made His decision to forgive us when we were not seeking it.  Only He can forgive sin because only He is holy.  There is no other way to come to God, entering into His presence, except through seeking forgiveness through His dear and holy son, Jesus, who died for our ransom.

When we realize this and come to God in our brokenness, He forgives and makes us whole by actually removing our sin from His record and making us a new creation.  In other words, we are “born again.”  This removal of our sin is complete eradication.  As if that were not wonderful enough in itself, Almighty God then reveals that when He forgives He forgets.  Only a holy and loving God can do something that perfect and amazing.

It is Satan who cruelly seduces us into sin, then convinces us that our sins are so terrible that not even God can forgive them.  Never be duped into believing the lies of evil Satan, but only the truth of Holy God.  When God says He will forgive, that He will remember your sin no more, and that He will make you into a new creation, walk forward in the light of that truth.  Humbly accept and walk on in great joy in the position of honor that God then gives you —sons and daughters of God, destined to live with Him in perfect joy, peace, and forgiveness, for eternity.

God will not change His mind in this matter.  We know this because He said in Malachi 3:6, “I am the Lord and I do not change.”

To be made in His image, to be forgiven of all our sin, to walk in a new life — why wouldn’t everyone want it?  Forgiveness is yours today.  Just come to the Father, ask His forgiveness, receive the gift of life that Jesus died to give to you.  Then walk in His promises.  There’s nothing to compare to such amazing grace.

When The Heart Speaks

None of us knows when it will come — news that shocks, or hurts, or sends one into hopeless unbelief.  “Surely it can’t be!”  We shout to ourselves, knowing all along that the news we have received is true. Some want to walk away to think alone.  Others seek out family or close friends to talk it out.  All of us who have a personal relationship with God want to pray — but sometimes words won’t come.

I experienced the above this week, receiving news about a dear friend that I didn’t want to be true.  Tears slowly came to my eyes as the fact of what I was reading from my friend hit me.  Suddenly I was feeling a pain deep inside, an unwanted hurt that I could not send away.  The thought came that I must pray.

I wanted to pray, to lift my friend’s situation to our Father, but words would not come.  Not one word formed in my brain to utter on behalf of my friend.  Thankfully, I knew this didn’t matter.  Prayer is so much more than words.

Have you ever felt so distressed that forming sentence structures to speak out as a prayer escaped you? If you have ever experienced that and felt a weak failure, then please take comfort in knowing that prayer is not confined to written or spoken language.  While prayer can be given in words, the words themselves aren’t necessary.  You see, it’s all a matter of the heart.

The Bible reminds us that it is God who sees what is in the heart.  Mankind cannot hide from God because He sees what no one else can see.  Words often reveal what is in the heart and they also hide what is there to human onlookers, but never to God.  He knows all.  He sees all.  “…The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them.  People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  I Samuel 16:7

For our subject today, when you come to a point of such distress that you want to speak words of prayer but cannot — you are actually at that point in a place of prayer.  When you have a desire to bring your pain to your Father, to ask His help and comfort, He is already hearing and answering.  He listens to the pain of your heart better than you can interpret it yourself.  He knows why you cry.  He takes that grief or fear and begins His response to your heart’s prayer.  Isn’t that absolutely beautiful?

Father does not require words.  He requires that we give Him our heart and all that is in it.  To be aware of His presence is a life walking in prayer.  To have a desire to give Him our pain is a life that lives in prayer.  That is why He tells us that He holds our every tear in a bottle.  Why does He do that?  Because every tear represents a prayer of the heart, calling out its need for hope, comfort, and guidance.

He cares about all that hurts us.  He hears our heart.  He holds every tear.  He answers every prayer.