WE DON’T KNOW WHEN – Advent

Sandhill Canes - Moraine Hills State Pk.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. … So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. [Matthew 24:37-39,42 (NLT)]

The pleasant autumn, with temps in the 60s, suddenly took a sharp turn toward winter. The day’s high was 37° at 4:00 AM and, as the winds increased to over 25 mph, the temperature plummeted. Instead of enjoying the balmy weather of southwest Florida, we were visiting the Midwest and enduring an arctic blast. As we walked in the park that wintery December day, we observed hundreds of Sandhill Cranes and Canada Geese in the marsh. In preparation for their seasonal migration, they gather in the wetlands here. The birds are usually gone by now but, because of the mild fall weather and still plentiful food, they’ve recklessly delayed their departure. Colder temperatures and snow are predicted; soon the marsh will freeze and food will be scarce, not just here, but all along their migration route. Are they like the people of Noah’s day or the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah—having a rollicking good time right up until the weather changes and disaster rains down on them? By the time they realized what was happening, it was too late!

Jesus compared His second coming to the surprise arrival of a thief in the night and unbelievers have good reason to fear that day. As with the flood and Sodom’s destruction, swift and sudden judgment will accompany Jesus’ return. Like unbelievers, Christians don’t know exactly when the thief will appear yet they have no reason to worry. To carry the thief metaphor further, believers aren’t afraid of the thief because they are well insured. Their acceptance of Jesus gives them assurance of salvation; their sins are mercifully forgiven and they have everlasting life. There is nothing to fear!

Seventeen years ago, my granddaughter made her entrance into the world nearly two months prematurely. Not anticipating the early arrival, her unprepared mother was visiting family 1600 miles away from home and her father was 450 miles away from them both on a business trip. On the other hand, when that grand’s father made his entrance thirty-one years earlier, he was more than two weeks later than expected. Although worried and weary of waiting, even I was surprised when he finally made his presence known. While both my daughter-in-law and I had faith that our babies would arrive, neither of us knew the precise time and both of us were taken aback by the unexpected dates. Christians have faith in Christ’s second coming but, like a pregnant woman, we’re not quite sure when. Just as pregnancy’s morning sickness, swollen feet and expanding belly tell a woman her delivery day is approaching, there will be clear signs that Christ’s return is near. The date of deliverance, however, remains unknown.

As we spend Advent preparing for the celebration of Jesus’ first coming, let’s also use this time to prepare for His promised return. Just because we don’t know the exact date doesn’t mean we should be surprised when that day arrives. Three days after our walk in the park, we returned to find the marsh frozen and the birds gone. They’d seen the signs and made the right decision; we should do the same.

For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape. But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief. [1 Thessalonians 5:2-4 (NLT)]

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ARMLOADS OF GIFTS

O Israel, hope in the Lord; for he is loving and kind and comes to us with armloads of salvation. [Psalm 130:7 (TLB)]

dahliaMy arms were filled with precariously piled packages as I trudged through the mall parking lot. Thinking it was the perfect time to test the easy tailgate feature on our new SUV, I kicked my foot forward under the car’s rear bumper expecting it to magically open. Perhaps it was the trailer hitch or that my legs are too short, but the sensor didn’t work and the trunk lid remained closed. After trying several more times, it became clear that, in spite of the car’s promise, I was not going to open the tailgate while holding armloads of anything! It was when I tried to find the keys in my purse that my pile of holiday gifts tumbled every which way. On the plus side, my arms were finally free to lift the tailgate!

As God would have it, that morning’s Bible reading had taken me to Psalm 130 in the Living Bible translation: “He…comes to us with armloads of salvation.” While gathering up assorted packages in the parking lot and muttering a few bahs and humbugs, I wondered how God, with his armloads of salvation, would do with my tailgate. Then I pictured another, far nicer, scenario. It’s Christmas and someone’s at the door. As the host opens the door, he welcomes his visitor inside. The guest’s arms are overflowing with beautifully wrapped packages piled so high that you can’t even see his face. Everyone eagerly gathers around him with open hands to receive their gifts. The boxes, however, aren’t filled with shirts, purses, perfume, toys, books, and the latest electronics; they are filled with a never-ending supply of salvation, redemption, wisdom, forgiveness, joy, peace, faith and love. It may be His birthday, but it is Jesus who brought us armloads of gifts!

Since the Lord’s arms are filled with His gifts, we must open the door for Him. I couldn’t open the tailgate when my arms were filled with packages and we can’t open the door to our hearts if our arms are filled with the stuff and nonsense of this world. Although attachment to wealth and actual possessions can fill our arms, things like unforgiveness, fear, doubt, pride, anger, ingratitude, shame, and guilt also can leave us too encumbered to open the door or accept His gifts. God’s got an armload of good things for us but our arms must be free and our hands empty if we ever hope to get them.

Faith is two empty hands held open to receive all of the Lord. [Alan Redpath]

Look! I have been standing at the door, and I am constantly knocking. If anyone hears me calling him and opens the door, I will come in and fellowship with him and he with me. [Revelation 3:20 (TLB)]

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THE CHAIR

What sorrow awaits those who look to Egypt for help, trusting their horses, chariots, and charioteers and depending on the strength of human armies instead of looking to the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. [Isaiah 31:1 (NLT)]

The best-equipped army cannot save a king, nor is great strength enough to save a warrior. Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—for all its strength, it cannot save you. [Psalm 33:16-17 (NLT)]

Lake LouiseThe small chair looked quite inviting but there was a note on it: “Broken—do not use.” That note has been resting on the same chair for several years. Had the chair been mine, it would have been repaired or at least hidden out of the way. As it is now, the chair is useless and an invitation to disaster. Just a slight breeze might blow the warning off the chair; the next person to come along could sit there and end up sprawled on the floor surrounded by splintered wood.

In contrast to the precarious antique chair at my friend’s house, is the large leather arm chair in our family room. It’s not there for looks—it’s there for support and comfort. Oversized and well-built, it’s strong enough to hold my weight and that of all the grands as they pile on it with me. It’s durable, comfortable, welcoming and dependable.

Some people depend on things as fragile as that broken chair—things that look nice but can’t be trusted like wealth, career, appearance, possessions, power, contacts, intelligence, or fame. They may appear sturdier than that broken chair but, like it, they can easily shatter and collapse when we need them most. Our circumstances can change in an instant and what we had yesterday may not be here tomorrow. The Old Testament is filled with stories showing the danger of relying on the wrong things. The kingdoms of Israel and Judah suffered for their dependence on idols, other nations, and themselves rather than God; we will, too. When we depend on anything as weak as a rickety old chair, eventually it will collapse and we’ll be left to pick up the broken pieces. As for me, I’d rather depend on a God who is like our arm chair—strong, steadfast and indestructible! Ours is a rock-solid God who won’t fail us, no matter how much weight we place on Him.

On who or what do you rely? Is it reliable….as reliable as God?

But the Lord watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love. He rescues them from death and keeps them alive in times of famine. We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone. [Psalm 33:19-22 (NLT)]

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BOTH SEEN AND HEARD

And the angel also said, “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the Lord has heard your cry of distress. … Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.”  [Genesis 16:11,13a (NLT)]

sparrowThe slave woman Hagar felt invisible. It was Sarah who was loved by Abraham; Hagar was just a substitute womb. Of course, Hagar wasn’t entirely blameless. Once pregnant, she taunted her mistress with her fertility and Sarah retaliated by treating her harshly. Abraham washed his hands of the whole thing when he told Sarah the way she treated (or mistreated) the maid was her business, not his. After all, Hagar was little more than a brood mare; the powerless victim of Sarah’s scheme, she meant nothing to Abraham so she ran away. Invisible, unappreciated and unloved—she sat by a spring of water in the wilderness. The angel of the Lord heard and saw her, comforted her, gave her hope of a future and sent her back to her mistress. From then on, Hagar referred to the Lord as El-Roi: the God who sees me.

Fourteen years later, Sarah bore a son—Isaac. Animosity and jealousy between the women and sibling rivalry between the boys made a bad situation even worse. Now that the promised son was born, Sarah demanded that Abraham get rid of both Hagar and Ishmael. Although Abraham was upset about losing his first son, Hagar continued to be invisible, unappreciated and unloved by him. After strapping some food and water on her back, he sent mother and son off into the wilderness. Their water supply was soon depleted and, at death’s door, Ishmael lay under a bush and cried. His name meant “God shall hear” and, indeed, God did. Hearing her boy’s cries, God again reassured the distraught woman of her son’s future and opened her eyes so that she saw a well and a means of survival.

We have a God who sees and hears us. If He could see an invisible unloved slave woman in the wilderness and hear her unwanted son’s cries, He can see and hear us. If He knows when a sparrow falls to the ground, He knows when we need Him. It may seem that we’re invisible and unheard by those around us but we are never invisible or unheard by Him. He will open our eyes to possibilities and give us hope and a future.

What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31 (NLT)

But in my distress I cried out to the Lord; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reached his ears. [Psalm 18:6 (NLT)]

Why should I feel discouraged, Why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart feel lonely, And long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? A constant friend is He;
His eye is on the sparrow And I know He watches me.
[“His Eye Is On the Sparrow” by Civilla D. Martin]

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GOD-INCIDENCES – Thanksgiving 2017

The Lord has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything. [Psalm 103:19 (NLT)]

mountain bluebirdMost of us live rather ordinary and somewhat predictable lives that are occasionally interrupted by major life events (some welcome and some not). It is life’s little surprises—its happenstance and serendipity—that keep our lives from becoming humdrum. On this Thanksgiving Day, let’s give thought to those little blessings we call coincidences.

We probably have no problem crediting God with the big blessings of life—things like the birth of a healthy child, the benign biopsy, the successful surgery, the spouse he gave us, the better paying job or His gifts of salvation and forgiveness. On the other hand, we tend to think of the little unexpected blessings—the butterfly or bluebird, the chance meeting, the phone call from a loved one, the sermon that spoke to our need, or the humorous email that arrived when we were in the dumps—as mere coincidence or luck. After all, our God is almighty and far too busy running the universe to deal with the minutiae of our everyday lives. Make no mistake; nothing is unimportant to a God who sees every sparrow fall and knows the number of hairs on our heads. Our universe is not run by random chance and God can multitask better than a one armed paper-hanger or a mom with triple toddlers! Nothing escapes His notice!

We speak to God in prayer but often chalk up His answer to luck or coincidence. Although He speaks audibly, I think he also speaks through a seemingly random Bible verse, a fortuitous encounter, words in a book we happen to pick up, a picture we see, or even sunsets, sunrises, flowers and animals. When we credit the little blessings of life to coincidence, we’re happy. When we credit them to their orchestrator, we become thankful. While we’re surprised by these seemingly random or chance events, our God never is! Both the big important incidents and the unimportant trivial ones come from His hand.

On this Thanksgiving Day, we will give thanks for our food, family, health, homes and all the major blessings of life. Let us also give thanks for the little blessings, the godsends, that make our ordinary lives so extraordinary: the ones that encourage us when we want to give up, put smiles on our faces, fill our hearts with joy, answer our questions, or remind us how much we’re loved. Along with all the big things, let’s be sure to give him credit for the little ones—the God-incidences—that he scatters throughout our days. His fingerprints are everywhere we look!

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)]

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. [Psalm 107:1 (NLT)]

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OUR FATHER

Mute swan - cygnetsPray like this: Our Father in heaven…” [Matthew 6:9a (NLT)]

Throughout Scripture, God is called by several ancient names that reflect His character: El Shaddai (God Almighty), El Olam (The Everlasting God), El Elyon (The Most High God), and El Roi, (The God Who Sees). He is Yahweh-Jireh (The Lord Will Provide), Yahweh-Rapha (The Lord Who Heals), and Yahweh-Roh (Our Shepherd). We also find references to God as both a Rock and a King. Yet, with all these ways to address God, when Jesus taught us how to pray, He chose to address God with the words “Our Father.”

As I pondered calling on our Father in prayer, I recalled an episode that occurred more than twenty-five years ago when two of our children attended college together. They went camping with a group of friends and enjoyed beers around the campfire. In the wee hours of the morning, the group was awakened by a police officer who breathalyzed them all. Unfortunately, the results indicated they’d been drinking and, since all were all under 21, each received a ticket for “illegal possession of alcohol by consumption” (a Class C misdemeanor). My children’s friends were amazed when they immediately called their dad, admitted their mistake, and asked his advice. My daughter’s response to her friends’ shock at their quick call was simple: “If I can’t call my father, who can I call?”

Our children called their father not because he paid their tuition and provided for them or even because he has a law degree. Even knowing he would expect them to face the consequences of their foolishness, they called on their father because he loves them! He’s their daddy and they are his children and they knew that, in spite of his disappointment in them, he would lovingly forgive and wisely counsel them.

“Our Father,” said Jesus. We can address God as Creator, Most High, Shepherd, Rock, Healer or any of a dozen other impersonal ways but it’s like calling on someone great and powerful; we know of Him but we don’t know Him. Prayer isn’t like scheduling an appointment to present a petition before a foreign king; it is an intimate conversation with someone we love who also loves us. It’s like my children coming to their daddy, confessing their error, and asking for his guidance. We appeal to God in love, not in fear of His anger or even awe of His power. God adopted us when we accepted Christ—we are His children, His heirs, and we can come boldly before Him with our prayers. That our unchanging, sovereign, all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present, infinite God desires a relationship with us and wants us to address Him as “Our Father” is a privilege and an honor—let us never take it lightly.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. [Romans 8:14-16 (NLT)]

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. [Romans 1:7b (NLT)]

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