Tuesday April 6, 2021 – Missing the Lord in the midst of pain and difficulties

Ruth 1:20 “Don’t call me Naomi, “she told them.” Call me Mara, (bitter) because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”

The story of Ruth is also the story of Naomi.  Naomi and her family moved from Bethlehem to Moab due to famine.  While there her husband died and her 2 sons married Moabite women.  Then her two sons died and Naomi returned to Bethlehem with only her daughter-in-law Ruth, who refused to be separated from her.  Although she had Ruth, her focus was on what she lost.

We go though difficulties and misfortunes as well.  Losses, hurts, disappointments are part of life.  They are not separate from our faith, but God is always in the midst of them.  We can respond in faith and trust Him – or be focused on our circumstances and view God negatively.  Even when we don’t understand, He is faithful and He is with us as we go through the trials.

Sometimes we are able to see the good that comes out of our struggles – sometimes not.  But the Lord is always with us and always for us.  He is actively at work in us to bring forth His character and to bring about His plan.   Remember the marvelous joy we experience when we are tested and come through it faithfully.

Little did Naomi realize that God was using her in a marvelous way – to accomplish His plan of bringing Ruth to Boaz.  How different her response at that time might have been if she was aware that her losses and difficulties were essential for God’s plan to unfold. Not only was Naomi to be provided for abundantly, but she cared for the child born to Ruth and Boaz who was named Obed.  He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

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Monday April 5, 2021 – A life-giving gem!

Ephesians 5:10  and find out what pleases the Lord.

There are 7 words in this verse and they present a thought and a command that is important beyond measure.  I’m embarrassed by the number of times I’ve read the book of Ephesians without noticing this verse.  I think it tends to get overlooked because the verses surrounding it are so significant.

The verses immediately preceding it deal with being children of light and what that entails.  The verses following it instruct us to have nothing to do with fruitless deeds of darkness.  These are major ideas of instruction (commands) for us.  But between them lies this life-giving gem for anyone with eyes to see or ears to hear.

Who is the focus of our lives as Christians?  Why do we do the things that we do?  What is the nature of our motivation?  What are we trying to accomplish?  Who is the love of our life?  What is important to Him?  What opportunities does He give us that are beyond counting?  This verse supplies the key.

We have the incredible opportunity to please Him by what we do – to bring pleasure to our God.  This opportunity doesn’t occur just once, or once in awhile – but innumerable times every day.  His Word and His Spirit will guide us to discover those things that please Him.  It’s not about earning salvation or earning anything.  It’s not about us – but about Him, the one we love and belong to.  It’s not about avoiding punishment or judgment but about blessing Him.  It’s living for Him.

Think of the pleasure you experience when someone does something important to bless you just because of his or her love for you and not wanting anything in return.  By finding out what pleases the Lord – and doing it – we can bring pleasure to our God each and every day of our lives

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Sunday April 4, 2021 – Resurrection Sunday – He is risen!!

Luke 24:30-32  30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

This incident of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus encountering Jesus is one of the more wonderful ones in the Bible.  They were downcast – even though they were aware that some of the women had been to the tomb and had a vision of angels telling them that Jesus was alive. They didn’t understand what had happened or why.

They had such hope in Jesus and it was snatched away from them in such an incredibly vicious way.  Then as they were walking, something unusual happened to them.  Jesus himself came along and walked with them, but they were kept from recognizing him.  The scriptures are clear that understanding of the unfolding events of Jesus’ suffering and death were hidden from the disciples whenever Jesus spoke about it prior to his death.  It was only afterward that Jesus opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures.

So Jesus joined them as they walked along, and said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Then, since it was nearly evening, they stopped for the night and strongly urged this man walking with them to stop and stay with them.  It’s apparent that they were deeply moved by what he had said to them, even though they didn’t know who he was.  Because they insisted that he stay with them, they experienced the wonder of God in having their eyes opened to see this man was Jesus – raised from the dead.

Isn’t it fascinating that God would have Jesus appear to these two men but prevent them from recognizing him?  It was important for them to listen to the message of this stranger and understand the “why” of what happened to Jesus.  The events that happened to him were foretold in Scripture and they needed to understand it – rather than simply see Jesus and get excited.  When God opened their eyes to recognize Jesus, they understood!  The life, death and resurrection of Jesus were fulfillment of God’s purpose.

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Saturday April 3, 2021 – Holy Saturday – Imagine their pain and sense of loss

Matthew 26:31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’”

Any understanding of the events of Jesus’ suffering and death was hidden from the disciples whenever Jesus spoke about it prior to his death (Luke 18:34).  It was only after his resurrection that Jesus opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.  But while the events were unfolding and following his death, they didn’t understand what was happening or why or what it all was leading to.

They had such hope in Jesus – and He and that hope were snatched away from them in such an incredibly vicious way.  On top of that they all had fled just as he said they would. I cannot imagine the pain, despair and hopelessness that they experienced at His arrest, crucifixion and death.  How could they console one another? There had never been anyone like Jesus

Our view is so dominated by the knowledge and joy that Jesus rose from the dead, it’s difficult to comprehend the pain they went through.  That pain, and restless sleepless nights would have continued not only on that Friday, but on Saturday and into Sunday.

I think of the scenes of Aslan’s death from ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’.  Lucy and Susan watched as the hundreds of horrible creatures tortured and then killed Aslan.  In their heartbreak, they witnessed the jubilation of the Witch and the wicked host who believed they had won and that nothing could now stop them.  Aslan was now gone forever.  The girls’ tears and misery lasted throughout the night.  In the morning they experienced more pain as they tried to untie Aslan’s body.  They had no idea what was about to happen.

Two thousand years ago, the first disciples spent today in such pain.  Wicked men had killed Jesus of Nazareth, the man so used by God and they were helpless to stop it.  They experienced the shame of running and hiding.  They deserted Jesus – just as he said they would.  They didn’t understand what was about to happen.

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Friday April 2, 2021 – Good Friday – Peter’s pain and God’s encouragement

Luke 22:61-62  The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.  Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.”  62And he went outside and wept bitterly.

I cannot imagine the pain that Peter experienced after he denied Jesus the third time and the rooster crowed – and he saw Jesus look right at him.  Their eyes met!  Peter knew – that Jesus knew that it had happened just as Jesus had said it would. Then Peter went outside and wept bitterly.  It was bad enough that Jesus had told him a few hours earlier that it would happen; but to have Jesus witness it and to look right at him at that very moment is pain and a sense of failure beyond imagining.

Peter had some other difficult moments.  When he walked on water he sank.  When he rebuked Jesus for talking about his coming suffering and death, Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”  In the garden when Jesus was being arrested, Peter drew his sword and cut off Malchus’ ear, earning a rebuke from Jesus.

I find it so encouraging that in spite of these events, Jesus didn’t reject Peter and send him packing!  Jesus chose him because he believed in him.  When Jesus spoke to him of the denials, he also said, “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  After Jesus’ resurrection, the angel told the women who had come to the tomb, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter.”  Then Jesus appeared separately to Peter.  Think of what each of these would have meant to Peter as he struggled with his actions of denying his beloved Lord.

Peter was a mixture, just like you and me – lots of potential and lots of things to work on.  In spite of difficulties noted above, Peter was the one who did walk on water. He was the disciple who first acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God.  He spoke for all the disciples to the crowd in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. He was rescued from prison by an angel.  He was also the one who received the vision from God regarding the gentiles who then received the gospel at Cornelius’ house.  Peter was one of God’s chosen servants who never gave up and God used him mightily.  What an example he is for us!

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Thursday April 1, 2021 – Brown, black and gray…

Proverbs 20:12  Ears that hear and eyes that see— the LORD has made them both.

Opportunities – they surround us each and every day.  How many righteous opportunities do we miss because we don’t perceive them?  How many unrighteous ones do we walk into because we don’t perceive their nature either?  Today, let’s focus on the righteous opportunities that are there around us.

When our two oldest sons were little we lived in Wheaton, IL.  Nearby was Morton Arboretum.  We loved to take John & Jamie for hikes there.  In the spring of one year something important occurred.  We were walking through the woods and I asked them what colors did they see?  They answered, “Brown, black, gray.”  I said to look closer and got the same answer of, “Brown, black, gray.”  They just saw soil, leaves covering the ground, tree trunks and tree limbs without leaves – all brown, black and gray.

Then I pointed to a tree and said to look beneath it.  When they started to answer, “Brown”, I said, to look closer – in the leaves to the left of the tree.  All of a sudden they shouted, “Oh, there’s green!”  I pointed to another area and they shouted, “There’s pink!  Blue!  White!”

They began to see the spring flowers in bloom all around us.  They just hadn’t seen the colorful flowers before because they were distracted by the dominant brown, black and gray.  Their eyes were opened, by being trained in what to look for.

We likewise have to train our spiritual eyes and ears to recognize many of the opportunities that the Lord puts in our path.  We can miss so much “color” because of the brown, black and gray of life.  But with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can see and embrace many more of the beautiful and colorful opportunities that are all around us.  Ask Him to train your eyes and ears to perceive them, and He will.

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Wednesday March 31, 2021 – Lord, make this me!

Psalm 130:6  My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.

About 22 years ago, in our Sunday service, a song based on this verse was being sung.  The words of the song were describing a passionate longing for the Lord that I didn’t have.  In the distress of this realization, I went forward in the midst of it being sung and spoke to our rector who was leading worship.  I told him, “I can’t sing this song because it doesn’t describe me.”  When the song ended, I was so blessed by his words of wisdom.  He commented, “When we sing songs that don’t describe us, let the song be a prayer that you are asking to become true of you.”

God used this experience to create within me the desire to become passionate for Him – with a passion that was palpable.  I began searching for verses in the Psalms that communicated passion to me – and I found many of them.  Another verse that particularly struck me was Psalm 42:1, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.”  I wanted to have my soul pant for the Lord.  These verses then became the focus of my “Lord make this me” prayers.

My passion-meter or “passiometer” as I have referred to it, was not budging at all when this began.  No passion was being reflected within me as I read and prayed the passion verses that I wanted to become true of me.  Week after week; month after month; year after year, I prayed these verses throughout the Psalms.

As time went by, I was thrilled by the realization that the Lord was doing it.  He caused passion to grow within me so that I could honestly say that these verses were now describing me. I hadn’t “arrived” but my “passiometer” was now registering passion within me as a Geiger counter recognizes radiation.

God in His goodness allowed me to see that I was missing such an important attribute that He wants growing in me. He desires me to become more and more passionate for Him.  He gave me a plan and the determination to pursue it so He could bless me by answering it.  He will do the same for you.

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Tuesday March 30, 2021 – The coronavirus and a “not so dumb” illustration

Psalm 42:5 Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Have you noticed that difficult situations can have a strong impact upon us particularly if they drag on and on?  (Even more difficult is our current situation with the coronavirus where our world has never experienced anything like it.)  Difficult situations can wear us down.   Consider being in a boat without power at sea that is drifting with the current towards a reef.  The sound of the waves pounding the reef are harbingers of the doom that is about to smash our boat and us to smithereens.  It’s just a matter of time…

Think of being overcome with distress and ‘downcast’ as the boat drifts nearer the reef. But then an unseen voice cries out to us, “You are in a sailboat!” We respond, “So?”  The voice speaks again, “Put up your sail!”  (Let’s assume we are really dense)  To which we reply, “What will that do?”

The voice answers, “The wind is blowing away from the reef – and it is stronger than the current!”  We obey the voice and put up the sail – and as we do, the wind catches it and moves us away.  The reef and pounding waves are still there but we are not at their mercy.

At this point, instead of thinking this is a dumb illustration, consider how often we succumb emotionally and spiritually to the stresses in our lives (and currently the coronavirus around us), instead of looking to Christ.  Through our hope and trust in Him, He provides the ‘sail’ and the ‘wind’ to take us to spiritual peace and security; He frees us from being downcast and overcome with fear.

With our focus on Jesus, let us faithfully obey the guidelines being given us by our leaders to stay free from this pandemic.  We are not at the mercy of our circumstances!  In the midst of whatever we find ourselves in, Jesus is our hope, our joy and our strength.  Let us look to Him.

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Monday March 29, 2021 – They are new every morning

Lamentations 3:22-23 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.

These verses make me think of a pastoral picture.  Think of a large flower garden with the morning sun upon it.  There is a breeze blowing and rain is falling upon the garden from a small cloud above it.  Sunshine, rain, a breeze and flowers blooming providing both enjoyment and a place to labor.  It is a picture of freshness, vitality, beauty and joy.  Day by day God’s provision is there.

That picture is such a thing of beauty to me, just like the marvelous realities that these verses describe!  God’s love for us is fixed and unchanging and unending.  It never ceases.  It doesn’t depend upon us thinking it’s there.  It is there for us to experience – to trust in and to enjoy.  It’s like the air we breathe, it’s there. Think of the times when we feel the wind blowing upon us.  The air, that we typically don’t see or feel manifests itself in a way so we feel it.  God does the same thing with His love for us.

Likewise His mercies – they never come to an end and are new every morning.  Think of the manna – the bread of Heaven – that came down every day for the Israelites when they were in the wilderness.  Each day they could only take what was needed for that day.  Tomorrow’s manna, came the next day, not today – except on the 6th day when God supplied double because the 7th day was the Sabbath.  His mercies are never ending and there for us each day.

Consider that it is impossible for God to be unfaithful.  If we think that He is or has been unfaithful, we’re simply wrong.  Think of situations when you have been faithful to someone or experienced someone being faithful to you. Faithfulness is such a blessing – something so important to be able to count on.  In our times of need, God is always there.  He’s always faithful.  The blessings He offers if we but have the eyes to see and the sense to turn to Him.

Be a blessing to God each morning by recognizing and being thankful for His love, His mercies and most of all, for Him.

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Sunday March 28, 2021 – How do you recognize good and evil?

Romans 12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

This verse really underscores the importance of the Scriptures and the critical role they play in our lives.  Their absence is debilitating while their presence is empowering.  By absence, I mean that we have a casual approach to the Scriptures and the role they play in our lives.  By ‘presence’ I mean that we embrace the Scriptures; learn them and apply them.  They develop the framework through which we view life.  They are the basis for us defining what is good and evil.

How do we resist being overcome by evil if we don’t recognize the evil that surrounds us?  While much evil is obvious, there is much that is not.  Likewise we must learn to recognize good.  The problem is twofold: the society around us at times is clueless as to good and evil; and the Church is greatly affected by the fact that our culture has so infiltrated the church.  This results in the problem that Isaiah identified in 5:20 where he pronounces a warning:

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”

We must recognize that this is going on all around us now and the Scriptures enable us to address it.  In Hebrews 5:13-14 we see the reality of this problem and the vital role God’s Word has:

13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

The Lord wants our lives to glorify Him.  We are able to do that by living lives that are not overcome by evil, rather we overcome evil with good.

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