Today And Tomorrow

There is a most interesting statement made about God in Ecclesiastes 3:11, “God has made everything beautiful for its own time.  He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”  The three facts here are clear:  1) God makes everything beautiful in His own time  2) He has put eternity in our hearts  3) We don’t know everything about our present or our tomorrow.  What encouragement can we take from these facts?

First of all, it is a matter of faith to believe that in the midst of our personal pain and sorrow, that God is, in fact, making something beautiful out of it.  What can be good when people we love die, or trusted friends of a lifetime betray us, or financial blessing goes bankrupt, or illness racks our once healthy bodies, or loneliness and despair sinks us into a pit of depression, or failure captures our sense of self worth sending our shattered emotions into a prison of hopelessness?  Can something of beauty be made from any of the above?

In our best human reasoning and fortitude, to press ahead in order to conquer all that seeks to destroy us, at its very best brings a temporary solution which is limited to our physical days on earth.  We may gain some victory, with our own efforts, over all that assaults us today, but can we have peace in the midst, and what about tomorrow?  Our verse in Ecclesiastes tells us that a lasting success of joy and peace is indeed possible for all we face today and for all that will come tomorrow.  We know this because God has placed eternity in our hearts.  What exactly does this mean?

It means that it is God Himself who puts purpose into the hearts of humankind.  It is humans who sense destiny.  We are born with a void in our soul that seeks to be filled with meaning for life that will last, not just for a period of defined time, but for eternity.  Humans contemplate life after death.  Are we but dust?  Are we reincarnated into yet another person doomed to last for a time and die again and again?  Do we pass into oblivion becoming nothing at all?  If any of these lines of thought were true, we would not have a sense of “eternity” in our hearts.  There would be no reason for this if there were no eternity beyond our present human existence.  We would not be created to seek meaning or purpose in life if that life merely vaporized into nothing at the moment we took our last breath.

Our sense of eternity, planted in our hearts by God, is to give us a hope that is certain and steadfast.  When God makes everything beautiful in His time, eternity is literally out of this world and today with God renders everything possible.  God is creating a new heaven and a new earth and we are all invited to be a part of that eternity.  In that eternity there is no death again, friends do not betray or accuse, there is no need of finance to survive because all is provided in eternity by God, illness will cease, loneliness plagues no one, and success is a way of life for all, filling us with joy and peace that never fades.  While we wait, God gives us all strength and courage to get through anything at all.

We don’t understand the pain of our present and we can’t know all that tomorrow holds on earth or in eternity, but God has given us promises.  He has promised to be our strength on earth when we are weak, to be our light when we walk in the dark, to never leave us when trusted friends do, to be our food when we are hungry, to quench our thirst for satisfaction, to fill us with lasting peace in the midst of unimaginable pain, to be our quiet joy when we hope for another weary day to end.

As that wonderful hymn by Alison Krauss reminds us:

I don’t know about tomorrow, I just live from day to day.  I don’t borrow from its sunshine, For its skies may turn to gray.  I don’t worry o’er the future, For I know what Jesus said, And today I’ll walk beside Him, For He knows what is ahead.

Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand, But I know who holds tomorrow and I know who holds my hand.

Yum Yum, Garbage!

The title may have led many of you to rightly know that this is a story about our dog, Jack.  I love this adolescent, sweet, lovable, crazy, energized dog — even when he eats garbage, but oh! how I wish he would end this curiosity!  Whenever we go for our walks, I have to be on my guard, watching every sniff to try and pull him away just before he devours something disgustingly gross!  Garbage!

At home he has clean food bowls filled with good food with proper nutrients.  Even his snacks are healthy.  (Never rawhide!!) His water bowl is kept clean with fresh water throughout the day.  His blankets are washed each week.  He is groomed and bathed.  I even brush his teeth!  In other words — he is clean and eats clean — so why on earth is he drawn to garbage!!!!!

As I look at my dear, crazy, Jack, I love him.  How thankful I am that our heavenly Father loves us, too; even when in the midst of all He provides, at times, we too, choose garbage.  The world is filled with the garbage of temptations that will entice us away from what is holy and good for us.  We look, consider, and like a dog, we sniff and grab a chunk!  Gross!  Nothing this world has to offer can ever come close to the wholesome and delicious food our Father has to feed us.  Still, we take the time to yield to the temptation.  We devour what is not good for us.

Jack often vomits after his frenzy of garbage tasting.  He is then lethargic.  All is not well with him.  It’s the same with us when we succumb to eating garbage.  We lose peace because guilt sets in.  We then lose joy because guilt has stolen it away.  It’s not fun.  It’s not healthy.  It’s not emotionally uplifting. Why on earth do we take on gross habits like a dog and eat garbage!

Jeremiah knew the sheer delight and excitement of eating God’s food.  He tells us in Jeremiah 15:16, “When I discovered your words, I devoured them.  They are my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, Oh Lord God of heaven’s armies.”

Eat garbage — not a good result.

Eat God’s goodness — sheer delight.

Happy feasting!

The Great Merger

You’re probably able to walk around your own home in the middle of the night without bumping into things.  You know where your furniture is placed.  Perhaps there is some amount of light from an outside street lamp or even the moon.  Everything is in black and grey until the sun rises revealing the full colors and shapes of the items in the room.

This is how I have felt the past few weeks as I’ve been contemplating a command given to the people of God in Deuteronomy 6:5, “And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.”  In Leviticus 19:18 we read, “…love your neighbor as yourself.”  In a conversation recorded in the New Testament, Jesus reiterates the importance of these commands.

We are not surprised by the commands.  We agree with them and do our utmost to obey them.  We sincerely ask God to help us to love Him and our neighbor in a godly manner.  We strongly desire to carry it out and we make a plan to do so.  Since we humans are bound by a 24 hour day, we naturally have to work according to the hours given  to us.  We have a time to work, play, and sleep.  In our spiritual world it is understandable that we do the same.  We plan which hour we will spend with God and which hour we will serve our neighbor and which hour we will work, etc.

It is concerning the above, which hour is devoted to what, that the lights came on, revealing color to my shaded understanding.  Excitement began to bubble inside!  You see, it is indeed right to set aside time to spend with God; time in which we meditate on His Word and consider how to apply His truths to our lives.  It is also right that we plan our hours to work and to minister to our neighbor.  However, it is a mistake to separate the point of loving God from loving our neighbor.

If we practice loving the Lord our God as a separate entity from loving our neighbor, we will be carrying out the command but our success will only be partial.  It has wonderfully dawned on me that the two are actually one.  It is as we focus on loving God with all our being, give all of ourselves to Him, long for Him above all else, that something life altering happens — we begin to love as God loves.

It is only in loving Him with all our heart, mind, and strength that love for our neighbor is then supernaturally enhanced.  God is pure love.  When we focus wholly on loving Him, our hearts begin to take on the characteristics of His love.  We take on ability to love as He loves, and how does He love?  “For God so loved the world He gave His only Son..”  It only stands to reason that when you and I begin to draw the love of God into our own hearts, we too, will so love that we give.  We may still plan our day; we have to do so as we are captured into a 24 hour time frame, but we will not struggle so much to “do good to our neighbor;” it will be a natural outpouring of the love of God within us.  God’s love cannot be contained.  It is a love that  gives.  It is a love that forgives.

Goodness can be expressed to our neighbor but pure love can only be given when our hearts are merged into the heart of God.

Breathing

It’s that time of year when allergies attack!  For some people it becomes a miserable endurance of coughing and sneezing.  If left unchecked it can cause something more troubling like bronchitis.  Worsening allergies affect breathing.

We don’t really pay attention to breathing overall and yet it’s vital to survival.  From the moment we are born, we are breathing in order to sustain life.  Quality of life is affected when breathing is made difficult, perhaps through something like bronchitis, asthma, or emphysema. We are not at our best when we cannot breathe properly.

Did you know it’s the same in our spiritual world?  We are not our spiritual best if we are not breathing properly.  When we are “born again” as Jesus talks about in the New Testament, He is referring to spiritual birth.  The New Testament, originally written in Greek, talks about the Holy Spirit that comes to us when we experience the second birth.  The Greek word used for the Spirit is pneuma which translates as breath.    When we receive Jesus Christ into our lives, the Holy Spirit begins breathing in us to help us to sustain spiritual life.  In John 20:22 we read, “Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'”  A spiritual life cannot be attained without the Holy Spirit and it cannot be maintained if the Holy Spirit is ignored.

The Holy Spirit is our comforter and teacher.  He gives strength and wisdom, joy and peace.  It is our communion with God that keeps our spiritual ears and heart receptive to hear and know the guiding of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  When we ignore that communion, something happens: we become spiritually sick.  When we are not breathing properly, we begin to weaken.  Our senses are dulled to know the way forward. We struggle to breathe in joy.  Peace fades away.  Ignoring how well we are breathing, physically or spiritually, will only worsen our symptoms.

Our every breath is necessary to walk in good health.  Today and everyday, may you take deep, full breaths of the Holy Spirit, letting Him fill your senses with the knowledge of Father’s immeasurable love, His guidance, wisdom, and His peace and joy.

Breathe physically and walk strong; breathe spiritually and do the same.

Wars Of Darkness And Light

There comes moments in all of our lives when we feel a need to get away and rest.  We may call it a time to chill out or to recharge ourselves.  It comes when we feel tired from our work, perhaps stressed from the demands of the everyday workplace.  It may be that even family needs and responsibilities are heavy to bear.  We tell ourselves we need to find a place to relax in mind and body.

In our place of rest we imagine the worries of this world fading away even if it will be for just a few days.  We desire to slip away to a place where we may nurse an emotional wound and revive an exhausted body.  Hope for such relief is strong but often shattered too soon.

You see, it’s in places of solitude that something either wonderful or dreadful takes place. True rest and rejuvenation depends on who wins the battle of the mind.  In our mind, battles between darkness and light take place.  The wars in this zone of thought either revitalizes or demoralizes.  It is a war not wanted but it is there nonetheless seeking to destroy all hope for any rest.

We all experience the effects of such battles.  There we are longing for rest, so we get away to a quiet place.  Then it begins.  Our yearning for a sea of tranquility turns into storms of exhausting thoughts.   Voices of darkness begin its invasion, drowning hope with a wash of reminders of arguments had, desire for revenge; lust and greed surface, the pain of loss and rejection suffocate.  We are sinking.  We are losing the battle.

Our spontaneous reaction to this unwelcome onslaught?  Fight or flight.  Too often we run for our lives, getting as far away from damaging thoughts as we can.  We get busy.  We do something fun.  We watch a favorite film.  We do whatever it takes for the dark and loathsome thoughts to go away; and they do, but only for a time.  When we once again seek solitude, the darkness swiftly returns to haunt us yet again.  Exhaustion grows.  Inside we cry out for rest but it refuses to come.  We are caught in a cycle, believing that if we get away once more, this time rest will come, but once again, hopes are shattered and exhaustion continues to weigh us down.  You see, we will never know the full benefit of physical rest until we learn the key to mind rest.

In the battle for our minds, flight is never the best answer.  We must fight but not with weapons of this world; with supernatural weapons of what is unseen.  We are reminded of this in II Corinthians 10:3-4, “We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do.  We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.”  The weapons that God makes available to us are the only source of victory over the accusations and destructive thoughts of the prince of darkness.  Philippians 4:8-9 gives us the key to rest: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.  Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise… Then the God of peace will be with you.”

When we choose to stand, amidst all the pain of dark thoughts, something extraordinary takes place: the accusing and dark voices begins to recede, losing strength, not able to shout so loudly.  Instead, as we make the choice to stand against the attack by focusing on truth, we begin to be able to hear the Light speak louder than the voices of darkness.  When the Light of God’s truth speaks, a sense of sweet peace replaces the fear, gentleness comes to soothe grief and loss,  and joy and hope lifts our faces from the sea of despair where we can breathe in goodness, kindness, and the greatest which is love.

Darkness will never cease attempts to take over our minds but if we choose to stand, to allow God’s truth to penetrate the wall of doom, then truth itself will shatter all that is not of God.  Remember — Light always diminishes the darkness.

 

Rounding The Last Corner

Every morning by 6:00am our dog, Jack, and I are out the door to greet the day.  I love the feel of the morning coolness touching my face.  Jack never tires of this walk even though it’s the same route day after day.  We make our way through the neighborhood, crossing streets at particular places and slipping down short lanes.  Jack is never in a hurry, taking time to enjoy the smell of blades of grass and bushes lining the way.  He ambles along — until we round the last corner.  When we get to this last stretch before reaching home, his pace quickens, mouth opens and eyes are shining, curly tail up.  As much as he just enjoyed his walk, he knows what awaits him.  Joyful anticipation is noticeable.  He makes me smile as I observe his happy behavior for what he knows is surely to be his — the morning peanut butter stick!  Oh, ecstasy!

As I watch Jack, thoughts  come to me of our own journey to our real home.  Here on earth we wade through the toils of the day, engage in times of hard work and relaxation. We experience stress and happiness.  At the end of each day, perhaps we, too, anticipate what joy awaits us behind the closed door to the place we call home; or sadly, perhaps it’s a dreaded necessity that we must endure until morning comes to take us away again.  On earth, emotions range wide between the very good and the very bad.  Oh, but like Jack, as we round the last corner before we reach our final destination, inexpressible joy awaits all who are joined together in Jesus Christ.

I vividly recall the last week of my father’s life on earth.  He was peaceful, joyful, feeling the anticipation; like Jack with his peanut butter stick, the moment he would actually look into the face of Jesus.  My Dad would say things like, “I can’t really imagine what it will be like, but I know I won’t be disappointed.”

Most people take their final turn of the corner home in old age or due to sickness, but it’s a different moment for each of us.  Whether young or old, as each day fades into a new one, we are one day closer to that corner and the anticipated promises of eternity in the presence of Jesus.

“I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among His people! He will live with them, and they will be His people.  God Himself will be with them.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death, or sorrow, or crying or pain.  All these things are gone forever.'”  Revelation 21:3-4

May your journey today be blessed with Father’s strength, peace, courage, and joy, to take you closer to your final corner.  Oh, what a day of rejoicing that will be!

The Knots Prayer

I read something the other day (I don’t know who wrote it) that caused me to ponder the power of our thoughts.  Our arch enemy, Satan, seeks to pull down, discourage, and disillusion us by lying constantly about who we are and who we are not.  Our Heavenly Father seeks to build up, encourage, and  satisfy us by constantly telling us the  truth that we may see ourselves as He does — a people of possibility to live peacefully and joyfully.  Consider the following:

The Knots Prayer

Dear God:  Please untie the knots that are in my mind, my heart and my life.  Remove the have nots, the can nots and the do nots that I have in my mind.  Erase the will nots, may nots, and might nots that find a home in my heart.  Release me from the could nots, would nots and should nots that obstruct my life.  And most of all, Dear God, I ask that you remove from my mind, my heart, and my life all of the “am nots” that I have allowed to hold me back, especially the thought that I am not good enough.  Amen.

Our arch enemy, without exception, always tells us that we are not good enough.  What he doesn’t want us to realize and keep in our thoughts, is the fact that — when we can’t, God can!  When we are put in a right standing with God through Jesus, then we are good enough to do anything and be anything because, as we are reminded in Luke 1:37,  with God nothing is impossible.”

“We are human but we don’t wage (spiritual) war as humans do.  We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments (of our arch enemy).  II Corinthians 10:4  (parenthesis mine)

May you be blessed today with truth and press on in confidence, peace, and joy.

Still Waiting

Everyone has to wait for something.  The dreaded things like annual trips to the dentist or final exams or inspections at work can take all the time in the world and we don’t mind one bit.  However, the longed for things like good health after a serious illness or a promised job promotion or marriage can take all the time in the world and we fret.  We feel anxious with the wait and we even wonder if it will happen at all.  Sometimes the things waited for never come to pass.  Waiting can be a relief for things not wanted or a time of despair when hope grows dull.

Why does God let us wait?  After all, He’s God and can do anything so why doesn’t He speed things up?  I read a book this week called From Beyond The Rivers  by: Gila Garaway.  It’s the true story of this woman’s work in the Congo.  You will not be surprised that her stories include descriptions of mass poverty, human cruelty, tribal warfare, and lack of general education and medical care.  People of the Congo, as well as in every third world country, suffer great need.  Poverty and homelessness is even found in the richest of countries.  In describing her experiences she wrote, “One of the fruits of life here, patience, grows on the tree of suffering.  A sweet fruit, giving great strength, it doesn’t seem to grow on trees of convenience.”

That sentence jumped off the page at me!  I had to stop reading and ponder for a long time.  It reminded me of the value of suffering.  It also reminded me of the wise words found in II Peter 1:5-8, “…Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self control, and self control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.  The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be…”  Suffering and waiting in the midst of suffering is something we dread.  We naturally don’t find it useful, but supernaturally God uses it to make us strong in character, building our faith and strength.  Therefore, the whole situation of patience and suffering is a treasure when we rest in the arms of our Father rather than kick against the molding taking place on the potter’s wheel.

Whatever you’re waiting for or hoping for, may the moments build trust and joy.  Remember, we don’t know what tomorrow holds, but our Father who stands outside of time is already there.  He’s waiting with you.

When All Is Stripped Away

When we examine our own hearts, the only hope of seeing truth is to be brutally honest. We need the strength of the Holy Spirit to be so forthright in admitting to ourselves the weaknesses and sin that lives in our vulnerable vessels.  We don’t like such truth.  We prefer to lie to ourselves, repeating over and over that we’re not so bad really, and certainly many others are worse.

I was faced this very week with a challenge to look at myself. My thoughts shouted against this voluntary examination for no other reason than I was afraid of what I would find, but I looked. The reflection I saw in the mirror of God’s Word is not what I wanted to see.

It’s not an easy task for any of us to sit before Holy God and not have the legs to our chair of self assurance crumble beneath us. The crash landing is never pleasant, seldom wanted, but so very necessary with promise of inner peace and joy.

This line of facing myself truly began some years ago when I received a gift of a book from a dear pastor friend.  The book is The Only Necessary Thing by Henri Nouwen.  In a note included with the gift, the pastor instructed me to take my time with each page, reading and meditating, allowing the truth found in every sentence to penetrate the deepest places of my heart.  I admit I paid little attention to the instruction upon my first reading, although the book touched me deeply.  I have read the book several times since then and each time I find that I scrutinize with careful and slow deliberation.  God has anointed each word on every page and I am drawn to meditate.

The more I read and ponder, the greater the truth of God’s words.  His instructions for my life sound out strong and clear.  Facing them has become wonderfully and painfully unavoidable.  The meditations of late are to do with time spent with God and of expectations of Him from having spent that time.  Looking honestly at myself, excuses stripped away, naked truth reflected back to me, I fall to the floor of my heart and cry out for His loving and assured forgiveness.

I heard it once said that the busier we are in our day the longer we must spend with God. This has been my goal.  What’s wrong with that you may well ask.  The wrong thing is, I suddenly realized how very proud of myself I had become in taking this time. Subconsciously, but there nonetheless, I could hear my own reflective thoughts as I smiled in times past, knowing God would bless me for the time I spent with Him. How wonderful I had become to spend such holy moments in His presence.

He does bless us when we spend time with Him, but how dare I take the attitude that my actions are what earned those blessings.  I am but a speck of dust in the vast universe.  I may spend an hour with God but do I live the other twenty-three with my mind fully on Him as His mind is fully on me?  Sadly, I do not.  The ugly truth hits me as I stand in holy reverence before God who does not snuff me out, but tenderly lifts me up, wiping tears away, whispering words of love, urging me to carry on for He Himself is with me.  I cannot give up on me because He doesn’t give up on me and I cannot contradict Him.  Oh, what an underserving, wonderful, awesome God.

I leave you with two paragraphs from the book The Only Necessary Thing that wonderfully knocked the prideful wind from my sails and touched me with the Holy Spirit instead.  The paragraphs are written by Anthony Bloom, and Henri Nouwen respectively:

“We complain that God does not make Himself present to us for the few minutes we reserve for Him, but what about the twenty-three and a half hours during which God may be knocking at our door and we answer, ‘I am busy.  I am sorry.’  Or when we do not answer at all because we do not even hear the knock at the door of our heart, of our mind, of our conscience, of our life.  So there is a situation in which we have no right to complain of the absence of God, because we are a great deal more absent than He ever is.”

“So, who is more in need of our prayers: we or God?  God is.  Who wants to be heard most?  we or God?  God does.  And who ‘suffers’ more from our lack of prayer: we or God?  I say it in awe but without fear:  God does.  As long as we continue to reduce prayer to occasional piety we keep running away from the mystery of God’s jealous love, the love in which we are created, redeemed, and made holy.”

“…The Lord is compassionate and full of tender mercy.”  James 5:11 

To Be Set Free

I was walking our dog when thoughts of fish came to mind.  We were walking around a little lake near my home.  It’s filled with fish in the water and birds nesting on the banks.  I love this little lake with trees overhanging and a variety of flowers in all colors.

As I continued to contemplate fish, thoughts suddenly went to the sea and fishermen casting their nets, catching cod and haddock and plaice.  Once caught, these larger fish rarely escape; however, the smaller ones often slip through the net and back to freedom.

My next thoughts were of us humans.  We can so easily get caught up in the snares, traps, and nets of this world that would lure us into false peace and hope.  We only have to turn on the television news to see reports of robberies, murders, crimes committed under drug and alcohol influence, stories of loneliness.  All of these people who find themselves on such dark paths got caught in nets of destruction.  They swam too close to traps that promised riches but instead sent them spiraling into despair.

None of us are beyond getting caught in such traps.  We all like the allure of riches or an easy way out of some dilemma.  If we are promised that we can forget our troubles even for a short time, the temptation to follow that path is strong; we don’t even suspect that a net is set to catch us at the end.  This snare seeks to rob us of inner peace, kill all hopes of joy, and imprison us forever, making it impossible to know true happiness and freedom again.

Good news — no one has to get caught, and if already entrapped, there is a way for anyone to slip through the net.  A path of peace and joy, offering hope to all, awaits.  God has a way that is literally out of this world.  It’s a plan He has already made for every person.  The blueprints for our lives are kept safe in the heavenly places.  Paths to led us to hope and peace is ours for the asking, and God will not refuse anyone.

Are you caught in a net?  Call out for God to reach down and pull you to safety.  He gives everyone free choice.  He won’t force you to get on the path of His wonderful and perfect design.  No one has to take the peace that passes all earthly understanding, but it’s freely available to all.  It’s a unique path full of adventure but not exempt from trials and temptations.  Even so, it’s a path that promises to give us everything needed to keep well away from the snares of this world that seeks to destroy us.  God loves us so very much that He promises to be our everything to get us through anything — always.

“We escaped like a bird from a hunter’s trap.  The trap is broken, and we are free!  Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”  Psalm124:7-8