IT IS WELL

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright. [Psalm 20:7-8 (ESV)]

With Hurricane Ian bearing down on us, I finished this devotion in the wee hours of Wednesday morning while I still had power and internet. Whether Ian skirted by our area leaving little damage and minor flooding or left us with a major disaster of ruined homes and business, downed trees, flooded streets, and no power, cell service, or safe water for days, I don’t know. Even if we were left untouched, other Floridians will not be so fortunate.

We certainly were prepared—we stowed the lanai furniture, fueled the cars, had extra propane tanks for the grill, and stocked up with plenty of food and water. Our solar/crank weather-alert radio is ready, the boots and slickers are handy, new batteries are in the flashlights and lantern, the power banks for our phones are charged, and the 5-gallon water jugs are filled.

As for the house, we have aluminum roll-down or accordion shutters covering every window and door. The exterior of our house is made of steel-reinforced poured concrete walls, every roof truss is anchored to the concrete walls, and, with its extra-strong steel track system and twist-resistant framework, the garage door can withstand winds of more than 150 miles-per-hour. If the Three Little Pigs lived here, the Big Bad Wolf wouldn’t stand a chance, no matter how hard he blew!

Nevertheless, we know better than to put our trust in our concrete walls and storm shutters. The 6-feet thick/26-feet high walls of Jericho didn’t save it from Israel nor did Hezekiah’s 22-feet wide/25-feet high wall protect Jerusalem from the Babylonians. Throughout Scripture, we see how people and things can fail. Jeremiah warned against trusting in men and we certainly didn’t base our decision to remain here by trusting the forecasters. Like baseball players, they’re considered excellent when they get it right less than a third of the time! Isaiah warned Judah about putting their trust in Egypt, horses, horsemen, and chariots and Hosea warned the Northern Kingdom about trusting in their own military might so we knew better than trusting our ability to outsmart this storm.

Scripture warns us about putting our trust in people, riches, anything man-made, and even ourselves. Common sense, of course, told us to be prepared for the worst and, because the worst can happen, we did just that. Nevertheless, our trust isn’t in our preparations because our trust is in the Lord. While that doesn’t guarantee we’ll emerge unscathed from this storm, it does mean that whatever happens today, tomorrow, and every day after is in God’s hands alone. Because of that, we can join in Horatio Spafford’s hymn and sing, “When peace like a river attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul!” Indeed, in spite of the weather, it is well with my soul!

There is only one secure foundation: a genuine, deep relationship with Jesus Christ, which will carry you through any and all turmoil. No matter what storms are raging all around, you’ll stand firm if you stand on his love. [Charles Stanley]

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” [Psalm 91:1-2 ESV)]

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BE PREPARED

When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes. [Matthew 24:37-39 (NLT)]

black vulturesLast Friday, there was hardly a spot in the parking lot of a local warehouse club, empty carts were at a premium, and the wait for gas was over 30 minutes. Inside, people were gathered around the fork truck bringing down more generators, packages of batteries were being grabbed by the handful, and cases of bottled water were being snatched right out of the stockers’ hands. The supply of things like toilet paper, garbage bags, bleach wipes, and paper towels was dwindling fast.

June was the official start of hurricane season and even though our Florida newspapers were filled with articles about hurricane preparedness and several days were set aside as sales tax holidays for hurricane supplies, most people did little to prepare until Friday. Up to then, the “spaghetti plots” of Tropical Depression 9 were all over the place but that morning’s weather report showed them coming together over our part of the state. By that afternoon, forecasters predicted a major Category 3 hurricane and warned us to be prepared. By Saturday, the storm had a name (Ian) and the governor had declared a state of emergency for 24 counties!

What part of being prepared didn’t we get back in June when the NOAA warned us to expect an “above average” year of named storms? Perhaps, we were lulled into a false sense of security by the season’s calm beginning and an August without any named storms. Until we see a storm heading straight at us, we tend to ignore the warnings. While better prepared than many, I’m not pointing any fingers; Friday morning, we were filling the gas tank and getting bottled water and batteries!

Thinking of the frenzied crowd at the store and gas pumps, I thought back to Noah. While Genesis focuses on the building of the ark and Noah’s obedience, such an enormous project couldn’t have gone unnoticed. Surely Noah’s neighbors wondered about the massive craft being built in his backyard. Genesis tells us Noah was righteous and blameless and 2 Peter 2:5 tells us that ”Noah warned the world of God’s righteous judgment.“ If he preached the need for repentance and cautioned that God would bring a flood and everything on earth would die, the people ignored his warnings and probably laughed at what seemed an impossibility. When the rain began and the water continued to rise, imagine their panic as the reality of what was happening set in.

In Matthew 24:36-44, Jesus warned of the arrival of another time of judgment and cautioned that the world would be caught off guard as it was in Noah’s day. When that day comes, there will be no spaghetti plots on the weather channel and no chance to run out and get bottled water or batteries. There simply will be two groups—those who are prepared and saved and those who are unprepared and lost.

By Sunday morning, Ian was expected to reach Category 4 intensity once it reaches the Gulf, the “cone of concern” broadened to include the Florida panhandle, and the governor declared a state of emergency for the entire state. With the latest news, the people north of us are now frantically filling gas tanks, water jugs, and sand bags. Jesus, however, wasn’t speaking about hurricane preparedness. He was speaking of His second coming. While many Floridians are fleeing out of the storm’s path, there will be no fleeing when that day arrives. Whether the Last Days or simply our last day here on earth, there will be no way to escape and no place to hide when it comes. Are we prepared?

Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. [Matthew 24:42-44 (NLT)]

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JUDGING THE PUDDING 

sheep goatsAnd the King will say, “I tell you [the sheep] the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” … Then he will answer them [the goats] saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” [Matthew 25:40,45-46 (ESV)]

“The proof is in the pudding” is the shortened version of the original proverb: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” In other words, rather than what something claims to be, it must be judged by trying it yourself or seeing it in action. Regardless of its outward appearance or what the label states, the value, authenticity, and quality of something can only be determined by experiencing it or seeing the results!

Jesus probably never tasted the pudding to which the original proverb refers but we know that He frequently told parables illustrating its point. Rather than talking about a seasoned minced meat and grain dish boiled in a bag, He was telling us that the true evidence of our declaration of faith is not found in our words; it is seen in our actions. In His parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25, the King separated the sheep from the goats. After doing so, he said to the sheep, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” [25:35] The goats, however, got a vastly different message: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” [25:41]

Since both species are Bovines in the subfamily Caprinae, roughly the same size, have cloven hooves, and chew the cud, the King couldn’t determine their identity with a quick look. Their difference, however, had nothing to do with their appearance: whether they had a groove in their upper lip or wool instead of hair. He wasn’t concerned with the shape of their horns or whether their tails hung down or pointed up.

The King judged the animals’ breed by their actions. While sheep graze and goats browse, their eating habits weren’t what determined their destination because Jesus really wasn’t talking about sheep or goats. He was speaking of the final judgment, specifically of those who claimed to be one of His flock. The parable’s sheep (like true followers of Jesus) fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited the prisoner—the very people Jesus called “the least of these.” The goats, however, hadn’t. With His parable, the Lord made it abundantly clear that the way we love one another shows the way we love Him and that our actions have eternal significance.

Jesus wasn’t preaching salvation through works; He was telling us that our actions are evidence of the faith we proclaim! It’s not enough to hear or even to profess; we must obey! We can dress up as sheep and claim to be Christians, but, as the old proverb goes: the proof is in the pudding!

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds. You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? [James 2:14-20 (NLT)]

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NO EXPERIENCE WASTED

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

God has a plan for each and every one of us and no experience is ever wasted. All that happened in the past has prepared us for what happens today and what will happen tomorrow. For example, consider Moses; the first two-thirds of his life were merely preparation for what he accomplished during the last third. For forty years, he acquired a unique skill set while living as a member of Pharaoh’s household. Being the adopted son of an Egyptian princess, he received an education befitting a prince and came to understand the protocol and ways of the royal court. Moreover, since he also was cared for by his birth mother, he knew Hebrew and understood the plight of his people. With his Egyptian/Hebrew background, Moses could communicate with both Israelites and their Egyptian oppressors. Quite likely, he was the only person with access to both Israel’s elders and Pharaoh’s court and that royal education certainly served him well when he penned most of the first five books of the Bible.

Moses’ second forty years were spent as a shepherd in Midian. A stranger in a strange land, the pampered prince had four decades to learn how to live as a nomad and shepherd. He also had forty years to learn about controlling his temper (the reason he landed in Midian in the first place). The skills he developed while herding dumb animals in the wilderness prepared him for forty years of guiding over two million “stiff-necked” people and their livestock through the desert.

At eighty, Moses might have been thinking about taking it easy—maybe selling the sheep and relaxing in his hammock under a palm tree. God, however, wasn’t going to let those eighty years of experience go to waste. It was during the last third of his life that Moses fulfilled his God-given purpose by shepherding the Israelites to the Promised Land.

Our life experiences do more than develop character and spiritual maturity; they provide us with distinctive insights, strengths, and capabilities. Every one of our past successes, failures, sorrows, joys, gains, and losses prepared us to do God’s work today and every one of today’s experiences will become tomorrow’s assets. We know how the story of Moses finished but how will our stories end? Like Moses, will we use our assets to further God’s Kingdom or will we squander them while relaxing in the hammock under a palm tree or sitting on the porch in a rocking chair?

No experience is wasted. Everything in life is happening to grow you up, to fill you up, to help you to become more of who you were created to be. [Oprah Winfrey]

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. [1 Corinthians 15:58 (NLT)]

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HAVING FAITH

It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead. [Hebrews 11:17-19 (NLT)]
lanceleaf arrowhead - duck potato

Since Sunday school days, we’ve read the story of Isaac and Abraham and we know it has a happy ending. Abraham, however, hadn’t read the end of the chapter when he set out for Mt. Moriah. During the fifty-mile journey, the father had three days during which he must have agonized over God’s command to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. Did Abraham ask God, “Why?” Why would God finally provide the promised child and then take the blessing away? Did he ask God, “How?” How, with his son dead, was he going to have those countless descendants God promised? Did he ask God, “What next?” What would he tell Sarah if he returned home without their dear boy? True faith isn’t blind—it knows exactly what can happen but steps forward anyway and Abraham had seventy-two hours to agonize over the possible consequences of his actions. In his distress, he may even have been tempted to turn back home again.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew what happens to flesh in a fiery furnace, Daniel knew what hungry lions do to fresh meat, and, after the deaths of Stephen and James, the rest of the apostles knew what happened to Christians when they dared to share the gospel message. None knew whether they’d die or miraculously escape their fates and yet all boldly acted in faith. If we’ve peeked ahead and know the story ends well, we’re simply being obedient and cooperative. It’s faith when we know full well what could happen but not what actually will. Faith trusts God’s promises. It knows that stepping out in obedience to Him means the story will end, not as we would write it, but as God wants it written.

Scripture tells us Abraham thought God might bring Isaac back to life again but God made no such promise and this was centuries before another resurrection would occur. Abraham may not have known the outcome but the father knew his God so he faithfully obeyed. Him. With confidence, he told his servants that both father and son would return after worshipping on the hill and, when Isaac asked why they had no lamb for their offering, Abraham assured him that God would provide. Still, Abraham had no way of knowing if his words would prove true. As Abraham and Isaac built an altar and piled wood on it, there must have been tears in the father’s eyes. How anxious he must have been as he tied up his son and laid him on the altar and what anguish he must have felt as he picked up his knife and brought it to Isaac’s neck. Nevertheless, Abraham continued in faith and demonstrated that he loved God more than his own flesh and blood.

Faith takes steps knowing that a loving God has given the command and trusting that whatever the result, it is God’s plan. I’ve never been asked to exercise the kind of faith shown by Abraham and the rest of the Bible’s heroes and I pray I never have to do so. I wonder how my faith would stand up at the door of a fiery furnace, the mouth of a lion’s den, in front of a soldier’s sword, facing an angry mob of unbelievers, or if told to sacrifice one of my children. Would I trust God with the outcome or would my faith crumble? Father, forgive me, but I just don’t know.

Faith is not the belief that God will do what you want. It is the belief that God will do what is right. [Max Lucado]

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. [Romans 15:13 (NLT)]

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COWARDS NEED NOT APPLY

The Lord replied, “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” [Jeremiah 1:7-8 (NLT)]

plumbago

One look at the Bible’s heroes makes it clear that obstacles and challenges are an unavoidable part of doing God’s work. While they knew doing God’s work wouldn’t be trouble-free, did they realize it would be so very hard? Consider Moses—he knew it would be challenging when he signed on to lead the Israelites, but he didn’t know that an eleven-day journey to Canaan would turn into a forty-year commitment. God never promised it would be easy but He also never warned Moses about the decades of complaints, rebellion, and continual disobedience of the “stiff-necked people” he’d be leading. Moses certainly wasn’t told that he’d never enter the Promised Land once he got there. If he had known what lay ahead, would Moses have accepted God’s assignment or would he still be arguing with God on Mt. Sinai?

Would David have told Samuel to go find another fellow to anoint if the young shepherd knew he’d spend most of the next fifteen years fleeing for his life before actually becoming king? If he’d been told about the trials, battles, responsibilities, betrayals, and challenges of being king or known of the tears that he’d shed during his life, would he have decided to stick to shepherding?

What about Mary? When she told the angel she was the “servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word,” she had no idea of the challenges that lay ahead—the finger pointing and whispers regarding her pregnancy, the difficult journey to Bethlehem, giving birth in a stable, and fleeing to Egypt to save her son’s life. Had she anticipated that or the anguish of watching her son’s torment as He died a criminal’s death, would she so willingly have accepted God’s plan? Would Elizabeth have welcomed her pregnancy if she knew her beloved son’s head would be served on a platter to Herodias? Although Paul and the Apostles realized their ministries would be demanding, would they have been as enthusiastic in their evangelism if they’d seen all the struggle, imprisonments, persecution and martyrdom that lay ahead for them? Would Isaiah have said “Send me!” to God if he knew, as tradition has it, that King Manasseh would order him sawn in half? If Jeremiah had known how he’d be despised, abused, beaten, put in stocks, cast into a muddy cistern, and continually preach to a people who refused to hear his words before being stoned to death in Egypt, would he have accepted God’s call?

When describing the lives of the Bible’s heroes and heroines, the book of Hebrews lists the sufferings: being destitute, homeless, afflicted, mistreated, mocked, flogged, tortured, chained, imprisoned, stoned, and being killed with a sword. Some of those heroes (like Moses, Jeremiah, and Gideon) hesitated about their ability to serve God but, once God assured them that they were up to the task, they signed on without knowing exactly what the future held for them. Putting their unknown futures into the hands of a known God, they trusted Him, followed His plan, and boldly did His work.

Like the Bible’s heroes, let us fearlessly go forth wherever God sends us and do whatever He calls us to do. As we faithfully place our unknown future in the hands of God, we can remain secure in the knowledge that He always is with us on our journey. If we trust God, we don’t have to know or understand!

God will not have his work made manifest by cowards. [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. [Isaiah 40:29-31 (NLT)]

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