WHAT IS ENOUGH?

After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction.  [1 Timothy 6:7-9 (NLT)]

squirrel

The Bible is filled with stories of God’s provision for his people’s needs. In spite of their complaints about God’s provision, the Israelites never went hungry during their forty year journey. When Elijah was hiding from Jezebel during a time of drought and famine, he was fed by ravens. In Zarephath, God provided Elijah, the widow and her son with enough flour and oil to feed the three of them for three years! Later, God provided Elijah with food enough to sustain him during a forty day journey to Mt. Sinai. Sometimes, God even blesses us with even more than enough, as He did when thousands were fed with a boy’s lunch and several baskets of leftovers remained.

While we may receive more than we need, God doesn’t promise a surplus. Elijah and the widow didn’t have excess flour and oil with which to open a bakery and, if the Israelites tried to squirrel away their manna for anything but the Sabbath, it spoiled and got maggots. Just enough was exactly what God wanted them to have and what He gave them—no more and no less.

The problem for us is that mankind’s concept of “enough” isn’t the same as God’s; David is a perfect example of that weakness. Most of us would think David, the shepherd boy who became a hero and king, had more than enough. He possessed Saul’s entire kingdom and wealth, lived in a palace, and had seven wives along with an unknown number of concubines. Enough was no longer enough, however, once David laid eyes on Bathsheba. Solomon, with his 700 wives and 300 concubines and 25 tons of gold a year, never seemed to think he had enough either!

When is enough enough? God knows, but we don’t. Adam and Eve had all of Eden with the exception of the fruit of one tree, but that wasn’t enough for them! Whether it’s money, friends, time, status, opportunities, jewelry, health, strength, wisdom, or faith—we probably think we don’t have quite enough of something. Whatever it is, we’re sure that if God would just give us a smidgen more of it, then we’d be satisfied. Of course, we wouldn’t because, like Solomon, David, Adam and Eve, we’d want more than enough!

If we’re seeking the Kingdom of God and following God’s plan, He will make sure we have enough and all the resources we need. We may not see it but, if we dig deep enough, we’ll find that God has given us exactly what we need to do His work. If we’re seeking the Kingdom of Self, however, we’ll never be satisfied that we have enough.

Do you have enough?

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:19 (NLT)]

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. [Matthew 6:33 (NLT)]

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PATIENCE

In that day the people will proclaim, “This is our God in whom we trust, for whom we waited. Now at last he is here.” What a day of rejoicing! [Isaiah 25:9 (TLB)]

Come, Thou long expected Jesus Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us, Let us find our rest in Thee. [Charles Wesley]

giftMy daughter has become quite adept at hiding Christmas gifts from her husband. If she doesn’t, he will find the presents and open them early; patience is not one of his strong suits. It wasn’t one of Sarah and Abraham’s either. Although they’d been promised a son and many descendants, they grew impatient waiting and took matters into their own hands. Sarah gave Abraham her maidservant Hagar with whom to make a child. Although she made the offer, he didn’t have to accept—but he did. The boy Ishmael was the result of their rashness and the rivalry and strife that continue today in the Middle East came from that impatience. Like Sarah and Abraham, when my son-in-law knows a gift is coming, he just can’t wait until the correct time to receive it. Fortunately, while his wife may get annoyed when he takes matters into his own hands, his impulsiveness hasn’t resulted in centuries of international conflict.

Consider the people of Judah—they’d waited centuries for God’s promise to be fulfilled with the Messiah and most of them completely missed their gift. Tired of waiting, some lost faith and hope; they stopped looking for Him. Having anticipated royalty rather than an itinerant preacher, others didn’t recognize Him. Wanting someone to conquer Rome rather than sin, still others didn’t accept Him. Fortunately, my son-in-law isn’t like that. Even when he’s unsuccessful in his search for the gift, he never gives up. He knows it eventually will appear. Moreover, unlike the Judeans, he won’t ignore the package if it isn’t wrapped in fancy paper with an elaborate bow or reject it because it doesn’t fit his expectations.

David had to wait for God’s promise to materialize but, unlike Like Sarah, Abraham, and Judah, he waited patiently and never gave up hope. After being anointed by Samuel, he had to wait about fifteen years until being crowned king. He didn’t spend that time trying to force his kingship to happen nor did he sit idly and twiddle his thumbs impatiently. He wisely trusted God. The shepherd boy used his waiting time to prepare for the challenges of kingship by growing physically, intellectually, and spiritually so he was ready to receive his crown when God gave it to him.

Unlike David, Sarah, Abraham, and the Jews, my son-in-law knows exactly when his Christmas gifts will arrive—December 25! Unfortunately, when waiting on God to act, we rarely have a calendar marked with His delivery date and we certainly don’t know the date of Christ’s return. Needing patience, we can’t be like Sarah and Abraham who tried to make things happen before the appointed time. Needing faith, we can’t be like the Jews who stopped looking and believing in God’s promised provision. Instead, we must be like David who waited with patience and faith while readying himself for the receipt of God’s promised provision.

When He returns is not as important as the fact that we are ready for Him when He does return. [A.W. Tozer] 

Don’t be impatient. Wait for the Lord, and he will come and save you! Be brave, stouthearted, and courageous. Yes, wait and he will help you. [Psalm 27:14 (TLB)]

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WAITING WITH HOPE

Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory. And he will send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven. [Mark 13:26-27 (NLT)]

advent wreathIt’s less than a month until Christmas. This Christmas will be vastly different from past ones for us as I imagine it will be for you. Traditionally, our holiday season has been a busy and festive one of concerts, friends, church, fellowship activities, volunteering, entertaining, and family but being in the midst of a pandemic has changed all that. In an attempt to keep the spirit of Christmas alive in what has been a dreary and disappointing year, I’ve started decorating for the holiday and playing Christmas music. Christmas, however, is more than decorations, carols, presents, parties, and peppermint bark. Perhaps not having all of the fun-filled extras of this season will help us focus on its true meaning.

When I was young, I always had a special Advent calendar with a nativity scene and 24 little numbered “windows.” Starting December 1, I opened a window every day to find a special picture or Bible verse that helped tell the Christmas story. Advent, however, isn’t just a way to count down the days until Christmas. In the 4th and 5th centuries, the season of Advent wasn’t about Christmas at all. Lasting 40 days, it was a season of penance, prayer, and fasting in preparation for the baptism of new believers on the Feast of Epiphany (January 6). By the 6th century, Advent was tied to the coming of Jesus—but not His first arrival in Bethlehem. Coming from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming,” Advent was about Christ’s second coming—when the one who arrived as a lamb would return as a triumphant lion. It was not until the Middle Ages that four Sundays became Advent’s length and the season was linked to both Christ’s first and second comings along with His presence among us through the Holy Spirit.

Although the custom of an Advent wreath began with Lutheran and Roman Catholic families in 16th century Germany, it didn’t spread to churches until three centuries later. The wreath is a circle of evergreen branches; its circular shape, with no beginning or end, symbolizes the immortality of the soul and God’s promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ. Four candles, representing the four weeks of Advent, are arranged around the wreath; sometimes, a fifth candle is in its center. A new candle is lit on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas with the fifth candle lit on Christmas.

The season of Advent begins this Sunday and, while COVID-19 keeps us from our liturgical church and its Advent wreath ritual, it can’t prevent us from observing Advent at home. We will read the pleas for a savior found in Isaiah 60 and Psalm 80, Jesus’ words about His return in Mark 13, and Paul’s assurance that Jesus will return in 1 Corinthians 1. While it doesn’t seem Christmassy to read about Jesus’ return before He’s appeared in Bethlehem, these readings are reminders that ours is an in-between time—a time between Jesus’s first arrival and His final return. After the readings, we’ll light the first candle on our Advent wreath: the candle of hope, often called the “prophecy candle.” We’ll say a prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of hope that came with the Messiah. This first candle will remind us that we wait with hope for His return: for the time when Satan is defeated, God’s final judgment occurs, all things are made new, and all of God’s promises come true! May the candle of hope stay lit in our lives!

Let us be alert to the season in which we are living. It is the season of the Blessed Hope, calling for us to cut our ties with the world and build ourselves on this One who will soon appear. He is our hope—a Blessed Hope enabling us to rise above our times and fix our gaze upon Him. [A.W. Tozer]

However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert! … Don’t let him find you sleeping when he arrives without warning. I say to you what I say to everyone: “Watch for him!” [Mark 13:32-33,36-37 (NLT)]

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OUR KEEPER (Psalms of Ascent – Part 1)

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved, he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. [Psalm 121:1-4 (RSV)]

zion - court of the patriarchsPsalms 120 through 134 have the superscription A Song of Ascents. What that means exactly, no one really knows. The original word translated as ascent was “stair” or “step” and some scholars believe the title refers to the temple’s fifteen steps leading from the Court of the Women into the Court of the Sons of Israel. Jewish tradition holds that Levites sang a different one of these psalms as they climbed the steps to the temple. Other scholars posit that the title of the psalms has to do either with the rising moods or thoughts in the psalms’ words or their rising pitch as they were sung.

Written by several different authors and ranging from the time of David to post exile, these fifteen beautiful psalms were at one point a separate temple songbook that later was incorporated into the Psaltery. Some scholars attribute the collection to King Hezekiah who, when laying on his deathbed, was granted another 15 years of life. He supposedly compiled these 15 psalms to represent those additional years. Psalm 126, with its reference to returning from exile, disproves that theory since it had to have been composed after Hezekiah’s death.

Because Jerusalem was on a hill, all roads leading to it went uphill and some scholars believe these psalms were sung during the journey back from Babylon as the exiles ascended the hill to Jerusalem. Another commonly held belief is that these psalms were brought together to be sung by Jews returning to Jerusalem to celebrate the pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.

One of my favorite psalms, Psalm 121, is in this collection. Perhaps giving credence to the theory of pilgrims walking up to Jerusalem’s gates, the psalmist looks to the hills and asks from where his help comes. When he asked that, was he looking at the hillside with its threats from wild animals, pagan enemies, and bands of robbers? Or, was he confidently looking up toward Mt. Moriah and the temple? With his answer of, “My help comes from the Lord,” I think he was looking beyond the mountains to the God who made them. The psalmist is so confident in the Lord, the one who “keeps” Israel, that he doesn’t even mention what is troubling him!

In this eight verse psalm, the Hebrew word shamar is used six times. Usually translated as keep or preserve, it meant to have charge of, protect and guard as would a watchman. For many pilgrims, the trip to Jerusalem was an arduous one taking several days. With its promise that the one who watched over them never slumbered, this psalm would have been reassuring to the pilgrims as they made camp in the wilderness each night.

We’re not Levites ascending the temple’s stairs nor are we pilgrims journeying up to Jerusalem and we’ll never know why these psalms are songs of ascents. Nevertheless, we’re all on a journey that often seems like an uphill climb. The psalmist’s faith and strong conviction that God will come to his aid certainly makes my spirit ascend. Let us take comfort in knowing the Lord is our keeper, watchman, and protector; He is the God who never sleeps!

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not smite you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and for evermore. [Psalm 121:5-8 (RSV)]

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STORIES

Just make sure you stay alert. Keep close watch over yourselves. Don’t forget anything of what you’ve seen. Don’t let your heart wander off. Stay vigilant as long as you live. Teach what you’ve seen and heard to your children and grandchildren. [Deuteronomy 4:9 (MSG)]

Generation after generation stands in awe of your work; each one tells stories of your mighty acts. [Psalm 145:4 (MSG)]

Hedge bindweedStories—everyone loves a good one and we all have stories to tell. My children loved hearing their Grandpa tell stories of boyish pranks like stealing watermelons and tipping over outhouses but it wasn’t just his tales of mischief they enjoyed. They relished hearing about him working on the farm, playing basketball and wrestling, working his way through college, having a victory garden, and starting a business. The stories we never heard, however, are the ones I wish he had shared: the stories of his faith journey. He was a Christian, yet I don’t know how he came to be such a man of faith. I know he met his wife at a church social and they both attended the Lutheran church in our town, but that doesn’t tell me when and how the Holy Spirit truly entered his life. It doesn’t tell me about the times he might have doubted or been afraid or the times he knew without question that God was holding his hand or had answered his prayers.

Accounts of faith journeys are some of the best stories we’ll ever hear. It’s not just from pulpits or lecterns that I’ve heard people chronicle their faith journeys. These stories came from people just like you and me: people who openly shared their wounds and scars and the way God changed their lives. They spoke of mental illness, alcoholism or physical abuse or told of losing a loved one, their health or even their faith. I’ve heard a Gideon tell how the Bible guided him to Jesus, an addict tell how a 12-step program brought him to Jesus, and a minister tell about his time in prison. I’ve heard people tell of reaching the depths of despair when they thought life was impossible and others tell of miraculous healing. These stories had little or nothing to do with what church they attended; they had everything to do with what God did with, for and to them. They were the testimonies that came from their tests and the messages that came from their messes and I am thankful to those who shared their lives so openly.

After ridding him of demons in Gerasenes, Jesus told the once possessed man to return home and tell his story. Can you imagine what it was like to hear his testimony or the testimony of Paul when he told of meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus? Can you picture what it was it like to hear Peter speak of walking on water or Bartimaeus tell of regaining his sight? The woman caught in adultery would have had a powerful testimony to the forgiveness of Jesus and Mary Magdalene to His resurrection. Granted, not all of us have stories as remarkable as theirs, but we all have stories about the way Jesus has touched our lives and we don’t have to be missionaries, ministers, or Biblical scholars to share them. We are, after all, disciples of Christ!

What’s your story? Who should you tell?

I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love. …
I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory,
To tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.
[A. Katherine Hankey]

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the demon-delivered man begged to go along, but he wouldn’t let him. Jesus said, “Go home to your own people. Tell them your story—what the Master did, how he had mercy on you.” The man went back and began to preach in the Ten Towns area about what Jesus had done for him. He was the talk of the town. [Mark 5:18-20 (MSG)]

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KEEP CALM AND PRAY ON

Naples FL sunsetDon’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you. [Isaiah 41:10 (MSG)]

The minute I said, “I’m slipping, I’m falling,” your love, God, took hold and held me fast. When I was upset and beside myself, you calmed me down and cheered me up. [Psalm 94:18-19 (MSG)]

In 1939, on the eve of World War II, the British government produced three posters to be used in the event of war. Printed with the goal of reassuring the public of the nation’s ultimate victory, the posters featured a plain background, a small crown logo on top, and simple block lettering. The two posters that were distributed said, “Freedom is in peril, defend it with all your might” and “Your courage, Your cheerfulness, Your resolution will bring us victory.” The third poster, with its message to “Keep calm and carry on” was only to be issued in the event of a German invasion. Fortunately, it never was needed. In 1945, most of the “Keep calm” posters were destroyed and forgotten until some were discovered and popularized sixty years later. In spite of the unsettled political climate in our nation, freedom doesn’t seem to be in peril but, if there ever were a time we need, pluck, optimism, determination, and composure, it is now!

Since we’ve been invaded by COVID, I’ve seen several memes with variations on the “Keep calm” posters. They suggest everything from keeping calm and washing our hands, quarantining on, masking up, and staying home, to drinking wine, baking brownies, eating chocolate, blaming someone else, and calling Batman. One simply said “Now panic and freak out!” When faced with a disaster, misfortune, or major mess up, I admit to having done nearly all of those things (except call Batman) but none did much to calm my troubled soul. Perhaps the Christian’s versions of the original poster would have a cross on the top and include suggestions to keep calm and pray on, remember God loves us, or trust in the Lord and His plan. At least, those suggestions would work!

Let’s remember: Jesus stilled the water and waves on the Sea of Galilee with just a word! If He can do that, He is more than capable of calming our troubled hearts and quieting every storm in our lives, even a global pandemic! In the face of life’s predicaments, troubles, uncertainties, and calamities, let us choose to carry on with courage, cheerfulness, and resolution by keeping calm and praying on!

When we fight our battles on our knees, we win every time. [Charles F. Stanley]

You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed. Pray often, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge to Satan. [John Bunyan]

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. [1 Thessalonians 5:18 (MSG)]

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