Intense Desire

I looked up the word “passion” in the dictionary.  The definition is: having an intense desire or enthusiasm for something.  The reason I looked up the official meaning of the word is because of a verse I came across this week that touched something deep within me.  It’s found in Exodus 34:14, “God is passionate about His relationship with you.”  When we take time to meditate upon these words, the depth and height of its meaning is sheer ecstasy.

God so loves each one of us that He will do whatever it takes to reveal that love to us.  We may see His love through nature, contemplating the making of a tree or how a bird floats with outstretched wing in the sky.  Sometimes we catch a glimpse of the heights of His love when we gaze upon the ultrasound of a child, toes and fingers forming, eyes, nose and mouth all there.  At other times, as we call upon God to quieten the anguish of our hearts and the fury of our thoughts when turmoil attempts to choke to death all hope and peace, we begin to understand the passion of our Father.

You see, His love is so vast and pure that He will use all of life, the good and the terrible, to bring us to a place where we look up and find the resources to get us through each day.  We read in Ephesians 1:3 that God “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms…” In other words, He has given us a treasure chest filled with everything to get us through anything, and all because He is passionate about us.  He knows when we look up to Him, we will find the fingers of His love ready to wipe away all tears.  We will find a trove of His abundance to fill us with peace in the midst of grief, or hope in times of despair, or guidance when we know we are lost and can’t find the way for today, which makes tomorrow a formidable thought.  When we look up to Him, we find courage to endure the unfathomable and strength to reach out and lend a hand to another even when our own hearts are breaking.  As we begin to soak in the passion of God’s love for us, we become overwhelmed with fresh understanding of His intense desire for everything good to come out of everything bad in our lives.

There is no sweeter hope than for one to look up, discover His love, take hold of His hand, and dare to walk with Him into the darkness, for it is then that we are swathed in the light of His passion for us.

He’s Eating The Porch

My mother had been outside playing with Jack.  She comes in and calmly announces, “Jack’s eating the porch.”  “I know,” I replied, equally unperturbed, and added, “Did you see the decorating that he’s doing?”  “Yes,” Mom sighs with a smile, “I guess he’s both decorating the porch and doing some landscaping with that tree stump he brought in.”  We laughed, totally understanding that these things are to be expected when training a puppy.

Today I filled in a hole that Jack dug next to the patio, lifted the lawn chair he flipped over, mopped up the water from his bowl that he stepped in, turning it over, too, and threw away the doormat that he shredded.  In spite of his antics, I’m very proud to say that he has already mastered the game of fetch, actually retrieving and bringing back the ball, and he understands the words “stay” and “sit.”

Interestingly, he seems dumbfounded with the word “no.”  Even so,  I find my love for this little dog just as strong whether he’s being obedient or being oblivious to the things I’m teaching him not to do.  I know my love for Jack is never ending, no matter what he may or may not do.

It occurred to me that if I, an imperfect human, can love my sometimes obedient and sometimes unruly dog, then I can rest in the confidence that my Heavenly Father loves me irrevocably, too.  Like Jack, we can all  learn the things that pleases our Father.  Like Jack, we can also disregard them in an instant.

Why do we humans so often do the things we know we shouldn’t?  When you make a decision that you know isn’t the right one,  do you fall into despair?  Do you get angry at yourself for failing yet again?  It’s easy for us to beat ourselves up.  We can even succumb to the erroneous thoughts that God doesn’t love us anymore.

I take grew pleasure in believing that Jack knows my mother and I love him.  He seems to already know that we will feed him, play with him, give him shelter, all the basic things he needs to live well.  How much more does our Heavenly Father take pleasure when you and I trust His love and care for us?  He feeds us, shares joy with us, gives us His own strength and courage to withstand all the world throws at us.

I love the promise in Psalm 118:1 that states emphatically, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!  His faithful love endures forever!”  In the New Testament, there is a verse in Romans 8:38, “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.  Neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow — not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.”  

It’s true that human love can actually fade away.  Promises can be broken and vows dashed to pieces, but God’s love for us?  It goes on and on!   Take comfort in the truth that He won’t give up on you.  He may, like a potter with a lump of clay, hurl you upon the spinning wheel for remolding.   The hurling may not feel good and the spinning on the potter’s wheel might seem too hard, but remain steady and trusting — God’s training is for our own good, just like my training for Jack; the end product will be beautiful.

 

His Name Is Jack

It was Sunday afternoon when my mother and I came across a thrown away puppy.  He was about 5 months old, a black lab.  He had been abandoned and was sitting next to a fence gate; a look of confusion on his face, but he immediately responded to our coaxing voices, letting us stroke him and pick him up.

I knew we couldn’t keep him for so many reasons, but my heart loved him the moment I saw him.  We took him to our place with the goal of finding him a home.  The little dog was so happy.  We gave him food and water which he gratefully devoured and drank.  He followed me everywhere I went,  rolling on the ground in playful antics, absolute trust and happiness shining from his eyes.  It was so touching the way he responded to the love my mother and I gave him.

Through the help of a dear friend who volunteers for Animal Tails Rescue in Luverne, Alabama, we were able to take this little one to them.  They are wonderful in finding forever homes for our furry friends who need our help.  If anyone is looking for a place to volunteer or to donate to a worthy cause, Animal Tails Rescue, a no-kill place of refuge, is most deserving.

It was so hard to let this little one go, and I had only known him for eighteen hours.   He clung to the car seat as I lifted him out, as if he knew I was giving him away.  I felt like I was betraying his trust.  My head was hurting from tears that wanted to burst forth but I determined to be brave. The helper who took him from me spoke soothing words and held him close.   That scene was sweet relief, knowing he would be cared for, but it did little to ease away the pain of my breaking heart.

As the hours passed, I thought of how quickly I had fallen in love with that little, lost dog. I began to compare it with how much you and I are loved by our heavenly Father. We, too, are lost without Him, like a stray pup longing for a home, hoping for a way out of our dismal situations.  Father God has loved us from the moment we entered into this world. When we come to Him with all our fears and worries, He cares — and — He always has a plan for us; a very good plan filled with hope and a good end.

God loves everything He has made.  He loves us more than we could possibly measure.  God loves the animals beyond what many realize.  Sadly, there are those who do not accept God’s animal love, even though it is plainly taught throughout Scripture; “The godly will care for their animals, while the wicked are cruel to them.”  Proverbs 12:10.   I also love the verse in Matthew 10:29 that reads, “What is the price of two sparrows — a penny?  But not a single sparrow will fall to the ground without your heavenly Father knowing it.”  God loves every living creature He has made.  He knows and cares when any animal suffers or dies.  He loves them so much that He has made us the animal’s caretakers.

Father God loves us even more.  From the very moment we are conceived, Father God is forever in love with us.  He cares about our suffering and about what makes us happy.  Our creator God loves us now, has loved us from the beginning, and will love us forever.  Father knows our names and everything about us.

Neither my mother or I slept very well Monday night.  Throughout Tuesday, tears kept jumping into my eyes.  In the late afternoon I commented to my mother about how much I was missing that little puppy.  Mom said the same thing.  We stared at each other for only a moment before agreeing together — let’s go get him!

We’ve had to reorganize things a bit because we have an older, rather ferocious dog, who doesn’t have the same sentiments toward our newest family member as we do.  Even so, we have found a way to accommodate them both, making them each know how much they mean to us.  It seemed impossible, but we made a way for this little lost pup,  reflecting how God does the very same thing for each of us, turning the unreachable into everything achievable.

 

The Plot

So there was Jesus doing what He always did — healing the sick, offering hope to the downtrodden, feeding the hungry, revealing truth that would change lives forever.  Yet, there were those who hated Him for everything He did.  Some tried to discredit Him.  Others actually wanted to kill Him.  So strong was their hatred that they began plotting a scheme to rid the world of Jesus.

Their strategy involved one of Jesus’ ardent followers.  They needed inside information.  Was there anyone among His disciples that could be purchased?  Yes.  His name was Judas.  For thirty pieces of silver Judas told them where they could find Jesus.  In fact, he would lead the way to Him.  The first part of the plan was completed.

Next, Jesus had to be arrested.  After all, there were many witnesses who had heard the claims of Jesus to be on an equal standing with God.  Blasphemous!  This had to end!  Forget the miracles Jesus had performed.  Forget the good works and His compassion.  Forget the fullfilment of Sripture.  Just get rid of Him!  That was their foolproof plan.

The scheme was unfolding perfectly.  Now, a trial without a jury.  There was no one to speak for Him.  Why, Jesus did not even speak for Himself.  How could He stand there, mute, like a lamb being led to slaughter?  If only they knew.

Oh, happy day for those haters of everything about Jesus!  He had been legally found guilty and sentenced to death!  Aha!  They had won!  This will be a most sobering lessen to His followers.  Ha!  Look at them standing beneath the cross.  See how they shed their tears, but see how others hide in the shadows, afraid now to show their faces.  This will show the world the truth about Jesus.  Yes, indeed, the truth will win.  

It was the third day.  Those who hated Jesus, the false religious leaders, still reveled in the victory that was theirs.  Jesus was dead!  No more of His do-gooder ways to gain attention.  No more of His doctrine to fool the people into false belief.  Now the people would once again follow their teachings and adhere to their religious requirements.   They were in for a huge surprise!

What’s this?  Who is that woman running through the streets?  Where is she going? What’s that she’s saying?  What!  Jesus is alive?  She has seen Him?  Good grief!  What nonsense!  The killers of Jesus  had seen Him take His last breath.  They had witnessed the deed to the end!  Oh, they knew of the false claims that Jesus would rise from the dead.  That’s why they had placed Roman Guards to thwart any attempt of Jesus’ followers to steal the body and make these outrageous claims!

On that same morning, the guards came trembling.  They gave their account in abject fear of what would happen to them for allowing the body of Jesus to be taken.  Instead of reporting to their own authorities, they went to the religious leaders.  They explained the earthquake and the angel that had descended, moving the rock that sealed the tomb.  The religious leaders were livid!  They could not allow this report to be given.  They agreed among themselves to offer the soldiers a large bribe to keep quiet about what they had seen.  They were instructed to say that somehow the disciples had come in the night, overthrown them, and managed to steal the body.  The guards accepted the bribe and told the story as they were commanded.  They had no idea that their lies could not hide the truth, and the truth would set men free for generations to come.

Jesus endured great shame and He experienced agonizing pain to pay the penalty for our sins.  His death on the cross was brutal but Jesus’ love for us outweighed His pain.  You see, He knew what the end held for Him and for us.  He chose to suffer because He knew the ultimate result —  total forgiveness of our sins,  an inheritance of eternal life in heaven, strength, peace, and joy for each day on earth.   Then, Jesus actually conquered  death that put Him in the grave.  Yes, He rose again!  Today, He sits at the right hand of God interceding on our behalf!  Those who hated Him didn’t see that coming!  

He’s alive and lives in the hearts of all who invite Him in!  He is still changing lives forever!  When Jesus is invited to sit on the throne of our lives, we are never quite the same again!

“For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”  II Corinthians 5:21

 

 

The Birds Still Sing

This has been a wild weather week for many of the southeastern states in the USA; strong wind gusts, hail the size of golf balls, booming thunder, sharp lightening, and tornadoes ripping across the land.  Thankfully, my mother and I, and our home, were left untouched.  A few branches scattered across the lawn, but nothing more.

Over the years I have been amazed at the power of storms; and, equally amazed at the resolute attitude of animals to keep going and rebuild in the wake of any storm’s aftermath.  Like ours, their homes are often destroyed, too.  I have seen a bird’s nest keep hold on the tree branches in the roughest of winds, and have also seen them topple to the ground in the softest of breezes, but I have never seen these winged creatures give up in despair.  No matter the calamity, the birds still sing.

It seems that animals and birds have an inborn understanding of God’s character revealed in nature.  They sense God’s finger drawing messages of love in the earth and His voice speaking truth in the wind.  I love the verse in Romans 1:20 that tells us, “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and the sky.  Through everything God made, they can clearly see His invisible qualities — His eternal power and divine nature.  So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”  God is everywhere and He can be found if we look with eyes searching for truth.  He promised that if we seek we will find.

Why is it so easy for us humans to despair?  Why don’t animals give up when nature strikes its cruel blows?  At the end of every storm, how can animals accept their tragedies with composure and continue on in peaceful stride?  Why do we humans agonize over material ruin while the birds still sing when they have lost all?

Jesus taught the truths of nature to His followers when He said to them in Matthew 6:25-27, “I tell you not to worry about everyday life — whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear.  Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?  Look at the birds.  They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, because your Heavenly Father feeds them.  Aren’t you far more valuable to Him than they are?  Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”

If only we humans could take hold of positive resolve when adversity strikes.  If only we could move on peacefully to build again when disaster takes away what we toiled so long  to gain.  If only we would determine to search for God’s truth in the middle of every mishap.  When we seek, we find.  When we knock, the door is opened.  When we ask, we receive all we need.

The next time difficulties come your way, don’t forget why the birds still sing.

 

Kitty’s Trip To The Vet

Kitty, our partially blind cat, became unwell yesterday.  I could tell something was wrong by her behavior: lethargy, frequent urination, lack of appetite; but of course, I couldn’t see what was going on inside her body.  I needed help.  I needed the vet’s expertise.

Therefore, I loaded her up and took her to the vet where both my mother and I work.  An ultrasound and blood work were done which concluded that Kitty has a urinary tract infection.  She was given antibiotics and meds for pain.  I feel certain that in a few days Kitty will be back to good health.

Kitty needed medical assistance.  She had to go to the vets to get it.  As I was thinking about this, it came to me that, just as things can go wrong in our physical worlds, things also go wrong in our spiritual worlds.  We need help.  We need expert assistance.  We need church.  At times, when our spiritual hearts get hurt and confused by the issues of this world, we need cleansing and guidance, explanation and direction.  We need help from our spiritual family.  We cannot always diagnose ourselves.

I have heard it said by some that they, “don’t need church because they can worship God wherever they are.”  Yes, of course we can all worship God wherever we are, and indeed, we should, but to worship is only one part of meeting together with other believers.  We need each other to share one another’s burdens, to pray for those who are weary and down trodden, to encourage those who are disheartened and hurting.  We need to meet together to hear God’s Word explained to us in order that we may make proper application of God’s principles in our lives.

Just as Kitty was sick and needed expert help in her physical world, you and I become  weakened by the diseases of darkness that lurks all around us.  We need expert help to strengthen and guide us.  That’s why God made us a part of one body that needs each other. We are told in I Corinthians 12:26-27, “If one part (of the body) suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.  All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”

I’m so thankful for doctors who assist us with our medical needs; I’m thankful, too, for our pastors and churches, who assist us with our spiritual needs.  We were made to need each other so that we may be lifted up and encouraged.  At times we all need guidance along our journey.  We need to pray for others and to be held up in prayer ourselves.  None of us are merely a piece of a body which is separate from the body.  Instead, we are each a piece of the body that makes us all a part of the whole body of Christ.

There are multitudes of people around the world who don’t have the opportunity to freely go  to church.  Many of our brothers and sisters are greatly persecuted for merely attending such a meeting.  It’s a privilege that is still available to us in the western world.  Let’s not abuse something so necessary and free to use for our own good as well as for the good of others.

Oh, what joy to give to the body of Christ, and what comfort to receive from the body of Christ, when we are weakened and burdened.

 

 

Surprised By Grief

It came with no warning.  There I was enjoying the day with friends.  I was sitting in the front seat of the car, passenger side, laughing and talking, enjoying the beautiful scenery of the rugged seascape of Wales.  Seagulls were floating, wings outstretched on the thermals of the blustery day.  The white capped swells of the ocean rushed to meet the shore, crashing in splendor, each wave gliding, leaving white foam etching patterns on the sand.  Kite surfers happily battled the elements, dog walkers tossed frisbees and balls to their tail wagging, canine friends, and children undeterred by the weather, licked ice-cream cones.  It was a perfect day.

I could feel the smile stretched on my lips as I gazed across this wonderful scene just below the craggy cliff tops.  The radio was on and we were singing along with the old songs of yesteryear.  I felt young again with the songs playing from my youth.  We sang loudly.  I knew every word from one song after another.  Then it happened.  A song began, and with just one line sung, a pain, deep and unexpected, struck the chords of my memory.

In only a moment I was transported to a time past, sitting next to my father.  Tears shot to my eyes, filling them, threatening to spill over my eyelids.  I turned my head to gaze out the window, hoping my companions would not see.  This was a very private moment and I wanted to share it with no one.  What had happened, I asked myself?  What a total surprise; an unwanted surprise!  But wait; no, it was not unwanted.  It was painful, but there was beauty in it, too.

As my thoughts raced to bring some explanation, I came to an understanding:  While the pain reminded me of what I had lost, the memory itself reminded me of the joy of what I once had with my father, and of what I would have again.  After all, the promise of life after death, a continuance of living with our loved ones in Christ, is the secure and comforting hope of every child of God.

The song on the radio continued, but with each verse, watching my father in my mind’s eye, the tears disappeared, and a smile, once again, came to me.  I was thankful to have experienced this beautiful pain.  It reminded me of the joy of love; love that knows no end.  Yes, it really was a perfect day.

“You keep track of all my sorrow.  You have collected all my tears in Your bottle.  You have recorded each one in your book.”  Psalm 56:8

 

Where Are You, Daddy?

I was walking through a park the other day when what I came upon brought a huge smile to my face.  The scene was of a little girl and her father playing together.  First, he was pushing her on the swing until she called out that she wanted to stop.  Then, squealing in delight, she ran as fast as her little legs would go, shouting, “Catch me, Daddy!”  She ran a little way, turned around, but her father was no where to be seen.

I slowed to watch what would happen.  I had observed her father slip behind some shrubbery.  The little girl didn’t seem at all dismayed that she couldn’t readily see him.  She trotted in one direction and then another, calling out, “Where are you, Daddy?”  When he finally jumped out from his hiding place, she ran to him laughing all the way.  He hugged her, lifted her up and set her down again, took her hand, and the two walked off chattering happily.

It struck me the total trust the little girl had in her father.  He had seemingly disappeared but she showed no fear.  Instead, she looked and called out, “Where are you, Daddy?” When he appeared, it wasn’t relief she exhibited, but simple joy in his presence.  I knew she never doubted that he would come.

I thought to myself, if only we were as trusting in our Heavenly Father.  We can’t see Him with our eyes; perhaps we feel He is hiding, but the evidence of His presence is all around us.  We can see the things He has made, and we can see the results of His blessings in our lives.  We can sense His nearness when we feel afraid, and we can feel His joy just by thinking about Him.  We may forget His presence, but He is always there, just as we are reminded in Genesis 28:16: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not even aware of it.”

There is a song, one of my very favorites, that brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it.  It reminds me of the vastness of God’s love, of His overwhelming and undeserved grace, of His mercy without end:  Surely The Presence Of The Lord Is In This Place by Lanny Wolfe

Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.
I can feel His mighty power and His grace.
I can feel the brush of angel’s wings
I see glory on His face
Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.

In the midst of His children
The Lord said He would be.
It doesn’t take very many
It can be just two or three.
And I feel that same sweet Spirit
That I’ve felt oft times before.
Surely I can say
I’ve been with the Lord

There’s a holy hush around us
As God’s glory fills this place.
I’ve touched the hem of His garment
I can almost see His face.
And my heart is overflowing
With the fullness of His joy.
I know without a doubt
That I’ve been with the Lord

When Giants Threaten

Nearly everyone, it seems, is familiar with the story of David and Goliath.  Goliath was literally a giant of a man who hated the Israelites.  During this time David was just a young boy.  He had been tending his father’s sheep for most of his young life.

Even in his youth we become aware that David had a strong faith in God.  I love the story of David and Goliath because it reminds me that the only requirement for being used mightily by God is to have a willing and obedient heart.  God does not demand we reach a certain age or hold a specific educational degree or be raised in a particular family or born in a mighty nation.  While mankind may look at these outward appearances and be impressed, God always looks at the heart.

God was looking at David’s heart when Goliath was taunting the Israelites to come and fight him.  “If you win,” Goliath would shout, “we Philistines will be your slaves!”  Obviously, Goliath never thought for a moment that the Israelites had any hope of beating him.  Sadly, the Israelites didn’t believe they could beat him, either.

There they were, trained soldiers.  They had engaged in many battles, and yet, they found themselves paralyzed in fear.  They could not bring themselves to approach this seemingly insurmountable giant.

Then David arrives on the scene.  Not for one moment did he believe that it was impossible to defeat Goliath.  After urging the king to give him a chance, David approached the giant.  We know the outcome of the story.  David, equipped with only a slingshot and a stone, killed the giant by sinking the stone into his forehead.  The battle was won in an instant.

Why could the entire army of Israel not enter this battle?  Why did David have the victory?  We know the answer.  It was because of his faith in his God, but where did David get his faith?  What’s more, how can we acquire such faith?  There’s an interesting and revealing verse in I Samuel 17: 37.  David is talking with the king when he says, “The Lord who has saved me from the claws of the lion and the bear will save me from this Philistine.”

You see, David had never known God to fail; therefore, he never believed He would.  Filled with the knowledge that God had never failed him, he stepped forward into an impossible situation and watched God perform a miracle through him.

Have you or I ever seen God fail?  Haven’t we known his blessings time and time again?  Why would we dare to think there might come a time or a situation in which God might not be there to be our everything to get us through anything?  Is anything too hard for God?  Is He unable at any time to be our courage and our wisdom or to fill us with His peace and His guidance?

There are many giants of trouble and despair in our lives, but is even one too big for our mighty God?

Too Tired To Stand

Remember those times when you’re full of strength and courage; a resilience vibrates in your inner spirit?  Remember, too, those times when life pulls the rug out from under your feet?  Plans are dashed and you’re left bewildered.  Your brain tells you to keep going on while your body and spirit wilt beneath the load.

I was reminded this week that those feelings came upon Moses while he was in charge of leading the Israelites on their wilderness journey.  Enemies would often come upon them.  Moses was the leader, and  God equipped him to point the way and encourage the people.

Exodus 17 tells the story of a time they came under attack from the army of Amalek.  Moses carried a staff which was a symbol of God’s authority and of His strength and protection.  As Amalek’s army was coming upon them, Moses instructed Joshua to lead his men to engage in battle against Amalek.  While they were warring, Moses stood on a nearby hill and held the staff up high.  What an encouragement to his men; this visual reminder,  that God was leading the battle.

As it happened, as the conflict went on and on, Moses’ arms were growing tired.   When he would lower the staff to rest his arms, the enemy would suddenly start winning; however, when Moses would again raise the staff, the Israelites would take the lead.  Hour after hour the hostilities raged between the two armies.  Moses held up the staff until he was utterly exhausted.  His muscles gave way.  We read in Exodus 17:12-13, “Moses’ arms finally became too tired to hold up the staff any longer.  So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on.  Then they stood on each side, holding up his hands until sunset.  As a result, Joshua and his troops were able to crush the army of Amalek.”

What a beautiful reminder of how God made us a family; brothers and sisters, with the love of God in our hearts to encourage and assist each another.   When one of us despairs, we can rally around, holding up arms in prayer, holding up arms in helps, holding up arms in words of encouragement, holding up arms in reminders of God’s love and direction.  No one need fall helpless below a heavy burden.  All God’s people have the responsibility to gather round and lift up the heavy hearted, bind up the wounds of those hurting, and urge on the discouraged.

When we look around us, asking God to give us His eyes to see those who are troubled in heart, He will show us, and He will help us with His own strength and wisdom, to hold up the arms of the weary, spurring them on as they rest.  Then, He will fill us will great joy for having done so.