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)]

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, the True Judge,” is a blessing often said by Jews when they undergo a death or tragedy. “This is all for the good,” or “Blessed is the true judge,” is often said by other Jews in response to their tragic news. Rather than being about God’s final judgment of a person, these words remind them that only God can judge whether events are good or bad. To illustrate this point, the Talmud has a story about the second century sage, Rabbi Akiva. One night, the rabbi, along with his rooster and donkey, arrived in a village. When no one would give Akiva a place to stay, the rebbe said, “All that God does, He does for the good.” He then walked to a field outside of town, set up camp, and lit his lantern. That evening, a gust of wind knocked over the lantern breaking it, a fox came and ate the rooster, and a lion came and killed the donkey. In spite of all that, Akiva said, “All that God does, He does for the good!” Just before dawn, marauders came and attacked the village but, camped in the field without light, crowing rooster or braying donkey to reveal his presence, the rabbi remained safe.

The Talmud explains this story by saying that we must bless God for the bad news that comes our way in the same manner we bless Him for the good things that befall us. Indeed, when Scripture tells us we are told to love God with our whole heart, soul and strength it doesn’t mention any exceptions for circumstances we don’t like. While it’s easy to love God with our entire being when all is good, we must also love Him that same way in our suffering, sorrow and misfortune. Rest assured, in the long run, whatever happens to us is for our good. That, however, does not mean everything that happens to us will be good. Indeed, even when we don’t know why, pain, grief and adversity are blessings. All that God does, He does for the good! Blessed be the true judge.

God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil to exist. [Saint Augustine]

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? … And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:35,38-39 (NLT)]

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Monarch buttefliesNow all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. [Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)]

“He’s so young!” said my husband when my brother died at the age of fifty-six. I reminded him that my dad was the same age when he died. “But he was old!” my husband exclaimed. The difference, of course, is that we were in our fifties when my brother died but only in our twenties when my father did. That the same thing can look so different from two viewpoints makes me think of those tilt or magic motion cards that used to come in Cracker Jack© boxes. Done by something called lenticular printing, one card holds two or more different images. Titled one way, there might be the traditional Mona Lisa but, tilted the other way, she would be winking with a goofy grin on her face. Just as whether someone seems young or old depends as much on our age as theirs, what is perceived on a tilt card depends on the angle at which it is viewed.

When we look at a magic motion card, we only see what’s right in front of us but, when God looks at one, He sees if from all sides. Looking at life from just our viewpoint, we only see what’s happening now and how it affects us and those we love. We see the delay and feel the frustration of waiting but, from His viewpoint, God also sees us learning patience. We see the task and protest that our work is too demanding but He sees that we’re learning determination. We see the unknown and hesitate in fear but He sees us learning to trust Him. We see the betrayal and feel resentment but He sees us learning to forgive. We see the burden of caregiving and grow tired but He sees us learning about sacrifice. We see the cranky in-laws and get exasperated but He see us learning about unconditional love. We see the failure and are disheartened but He sees us developing resilience. Rather than looking at circumstances from just our viewpoint, we need to tilt the picture and look at circumstances through the eyes of God.

One of my favorite Bible verses is Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Unfortunately, that’s about as specific as God gets in detailing those plans. So, just as I can’t see both pictures on a tilt card at once, I have no idea what is on the other side of today’s challenges. I will just have to settle for knowing that our loving God sees it all and His plans for me are good ones.

God allows us to experience the low points of life in order to teach us lessons we could not learn in any other way. The way we learn those lessons is not to deny the feelings but to find the meanings underlying them. [Stanley Lindquist]

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. [Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)]

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Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by living a godly life. [Proverbs 16:31 (NLT)]

The glory of the young is their strength; the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old. [Proverbs 20:29 (NLT)]

GrandmaGrey hair may be a crown of glory and the splendor of old age, but that’s about all the splendor and glory I see in advanced years. As my mother-in-law approaches her 102nd birthday, there is little about her quality of life that I consider glorious or splendid. Her sparkling personality, vigor and enthusiasm, along with her hearing, visual perception, ability to reason, and memory are vanishing. Occasionally a spark of her old self resurfaces but, for the most part, the essence of the woman who has been a mother to me for over fifty years has disappeared.

When I join my mother-in-law for meals at her senior residence, along with gray hair, I see plenty of stooped, shuffling, and incapacitated people. While speaking with them, rather than words of wisdom, I often hear the words of confused and failing minds. While writing about fear yesterday, I realized that, while I’m not afraid of old age, I am afraid of the infirmities that can come with it.

Fear may lie about plenty of things but he doesn’t lie when he tells me I’m getting old. The mirror, arthritis, my worsening eyesight, and my less than sharp memory tell me that every day. Fear, however, doesn’t stop at telling me I’m old. When I walk into a room and forget why I went there or fail to recall someone’s name, he whispers “dementia.” When my knees scream or my back aches, he flashes an image of an old woman hunched over a walker. If I need a magnifying glass to read directions or a small flashlight to scan a menu, he tells me it’s only a matter of time before I’m blind as a bat. Fear, however, doesn’t know what the future holds and neither do I.

My life expectancy at birth was almost 70 years of age. Having passed that milestone, I took an online test to determine my expected expiration date. Based on my zip code, marital status, and present health and weight, it’s a high probability that I’ve got twenty-five more years. Rather than finding that number reassuring, I find it terrifying. I don’t want to require help to bathe or dress and I don’t want to give up hikes through the woods or riding a bike. I don’t want there to be a time when I can’t read my Bible, remember the verses I’ve worked so hard to memorize, or do a crossword puzzle or Sudoku. I don’t want to need Depends, use a wheelchair, or forget my children’s names. I want to stay the way I am now but, short of dying today, that’s not likely to happen. Moreover, what I want doesn’t matter. Time will take its toll on all of us and, for some, that toll will be great. All we can do is take care of ourselves the best we can and trust the rest to God. As long as He gives us breath, He has a purpose for us. Our job is to live purposefully, thankfully, and joyfully all the days He’s given us.

As for my mother-in-law, in spite of her loss of vitality and mental faculties, she remains cheerful, pleasant and friendly (and she looks fabulous). Her younger tablemates tell me she’s an inspiration to them. Indeed, when I think about it, she’s an inspiration to me. She is facing the ailments and indignities that come with advanced age with faith, grace, and love. With God’s power, I can do the same. I will make the most of today, send fear packing, and let God worry about my tomorrows!

God never said that the journey would be easy, but He did say that the arrival would be worthwhile. [Max Lucado]

My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever. Psalm 73:26 (NLT)]

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. [2 Corinthians 4:16 (NLT)]

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snake river raftingHe said, “That’s what I mean: Risk your life and get more than you ever dreamed of. Play it safe and end up holding the bag.” [Luke 19:26 (MSG)]

If I am never tempted, and cannot even imagine myself being tempted, to gamble, this does not mean that I am better than those who are. The timidity and pessimism which exempt me from that temptation themselves tempt me to draw back from those risks and adventures which every man ought to take. [From “Reflections on the Psalms” by C.S. Lewis]

We were accompanied by two grandchildren, ages fifteen and eighteen, during part of our trip west. When my husband mentioned taking them on a raft trip, I pictured a scenic float down the Snake River and readily agreed. What got booked, however, was a white water adventure. Not a thrill seeker, adrenaline inducing adventures are not my thing. I was not happy about the scheduled activity and began thinking of ways to gracefully bow out of it. By coincidence (or what I call God-incidence), the above quote by C. S Lewis arrived in my email. I realized that my fear of stepping out of my rather narrow comfort zone was threatening to keep me from sharing this once-in-a-lifetime experience with my precious grands. Lewis’ words (and some much needed prayer) convinced me that this was one adventure I should not miss.

Prayer got me in the raft and I bravely paddled through the rapids. Even after we tipped and lost six of the eight passengers on the third set of rapids, witnessing the grins on the kids’ faces as they were pulled back into the raft made both the dunking and the adrenaline spike worth it. All’s well that ends well and, in spite of the soaking in the rapids, the rafting wasn’t nearly as terrifying as I’d imagined. When asked to name the highlight of their twelve days with us, our grands both mentioned the raft trip—and to think I nearly missed sharing that experience with them! The pictures taken from the photographer’s spot on shore would not have captured their smiles and whoops of delight at the rapids or the thrill of the ride!

While a certain amount of caution is wise, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, there are certain risks and adventures that none of us should miss. Timidity, pessimism, faint-heartedness, fear, and anxiety can keep us from unsafe behavior like drugs, gambling, or adultery but they shouldn’t make us retreat “from those risks and adventures which every man [and woman] ought to take.” Consider what they would have missed if Peter had allowed fear to keep him from stepping out of the boat onto the water, if David had allowed faint-heartedness to keep him from facing Goliath, or if Moses and Gideon had allowed their pessimism to prevent them from accepting the tasks given them by God.

God invites us to participate in world-changing adventures that probably have nothing to do with white water rafting. We mustn’t allow a reticence to step out of our comfort zones prevent us from accepting His invitation to go on that journey. While the adventure may involve an element of risk, the rewards will be well worth it!

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. … Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. [Philippians 4:8-9,13 (MSG)]

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But you have followed what I teach, the way I live, my goal, faith, patience, and love. You know I never give up. [2 Timothy 3:10 (NCV)]

great egret

On Moses’ sixth ascent up Mr. Sinai, the Lord told him to bring Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of Israel’s elders part way up the mountain with him. All of the men saw the God of Israel and ate a covenant meal in His presence. After Moses was told to come further up Sinai to receive the stone tablets, he entrusted the Israelites to Aaron and the other men who then went down to their camp.

Easily missed when reading Exodus 24 is that Moses’ assistant, Joshua, continued up the mountain with him. The two climbed a little further and made camp where they stayed for the next six days while a cloud covered the mountain. On the seventh day, God called to Moses from within the cloud and the Israelites’ leader disappeared into the mist. He wasn’t seen again for forty days. During that time, God gave Moses various instructions and commands for the Israelites. When God told him of their sacrilege and wickedness with the golden calf, Moses went back down the mountain where he met Joshua.

Although Joshua served as a sort of personal assistant or servant to Moses, there is no mention of him during those forty days. We know he couldn’t have returned to the Israelites’ camp or been with Moses; in either case, he would have known that the clamor from the encampment was that of pagan revelry and not warfare. It appears that Joshua stayed on the mountainside alone and patiently waited for Moses’ return. If I’d seen someone vanish into the mist, I’m not sure I would have lasted even four days but Joshua lasted forty. As the days wore on, did Joshua worry that Moses may have been eaten by lions or consumed by what appeared to be fire? Did he wonder how long he should wait before giving up? Waiting alone in the wilderness, did he fear for his own safety? Think of the patience and faith it took for the young man to remain there for Moses’ return.

The rest of the Israelites, however, lost both faith and patience. They all had seen the glory of the Lord like a consuming fire on Mt. Sinai’s summit and seventy-three of them had gazed on God and eaten with Him! In spite of the miracles they’d experienced, they lost faith and grew impatient. Fearing Moses wouldn’t return and wanting to set their own time frame for events, they fashioned another god to lead them.

We think of Joshua as a scout, military strategist, leader, statesman, and a man of great faith but do we ever think of him as a man of patience? Yet, the same man who waited forty days alone in the wilderness had to wait an extra forty years before setting foot in Canaan! His faith and patience, however, were rewarded when he arrived in the Promised Land.

Faith and patience go hand in hand. If we have patience, we won’t lose faith in God’s plan as did the Israelites. If we have faith, we can be patient, even when things take longer than expected, as they did for Joshua.

My brothers and sisters, when you have many kinds of troubles, you should be full of joy, because you know that these troubles test your faith, and this will give you patience. [James 1:2-3 (NCV)]

Be like those who through faith and patience will receive what God has promised. [Hebrews 6:12b (NCV)]

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butterfly weedBut when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. [Galatians 4:4 (NLT)]

When an angel of the Lord told the elderly priest Zechariah that his barren wife, Elizabeth, would conceive a son, the old man was struck dumb because of his unbelief. As happened with Samuel more than 1,000 years earlier, this child’s future was decided even before his conception. This time, however, it was God who decided the boy would be a Nazirite, have the spirit and power of Elijah, prepare the people for the coming of the Lord, and be named John. Imagine the mute Zechariah, with gestures and writing, trying to explain his supernatural encounter to Elizabeth and her reaction to his shocking news.

As strange as God’s timing must have seemed to the elderly Elizabeth, God’s timing probably seemed even stranger to Elizabeth’s cousin, a young virgin in Nazareth named Mary. While Elizabeth’s unexpected pregnancy seemed late in coming, Mary’s must have seemed terribly premature to her and her betrothed, a carpenter named Joseph. Nevertheless, both of these unexpected pregnancies were part of God’s enigmatic plan and came at exactly the right time, at least for Him.

We don’t know why God chose that particular time in history for the births of John and Jesus. Did God pick it because He had the right people to be the parents he needed? The priest and his wife were “righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations,” [Luke 1:6] which certainly qualified them as a prophet’s parents. For the parents of Jesus, God needed a both a virgin and lineage to King David. Rather than glowing words to describe Mary, we only have the virgin’s obedient and willing response. Risking rejection, disgrace, and even stoning, she willingly offered herself as God’s vessel. As for Joseph, he was a righteous man, of the house of David, and, like Mary, obedient to the Lord. Perhaps God chose that time because conditions were favorable for the start of a ministry: there was peace in the empire, Greek had become the universal language, an excellent road system enabled easy travel, and a postal service existed. Was it a perfect combination of both people and conditions? We’ll never know; we only know that the time was right for God.

Nevertheless, I’m sure God’s timing didn’t make much sense to either woman. For Elizabeth, God seemed late and, for Mary, He seemed way too early. Let us remember, however, that God is neither late nor early; He’s always right on time!

In the infinite wisdom of the Lord of all the earth, each event falls with exact precision into its proper place in the unfolding of His divine plan. Nothing, however small, however strange, occurs without His ordering, or without its particular fitness for its place in the working out of His purpose; and the end of all shall be the manifestation of His glory, and the accumulation of His praise. [B.B. Warfield]

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. [Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT)]

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