WHO’S IMPORTANT?

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. … Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person. [Genesis 1:27,2:7 (NLT)]

SK8 Church Steamboat COOur family business makes products used in skateboards and many boarders are familiar with our name. After skiing one day, as my husband got on the bus, he was greeted by a boarder who spotted our company logo on his cap. “Yo, dude!” he called. Pointing to the cap, he asked, “You know those people?” When my husband replied he was “those people,” the fellow responded as if he’d met a celebrity and excitedly introduced my spouse to his pals. Soon they all were in an animated discussion of trucks, decks, wheels, and grip tape. The woman next to me, curious about the commotion in the back of the bus and not wanting to miss a celebrity sighting asked, “Is that someone famous? Is he important?” I replied, “He’s no one,” adding, “It’s just a skateboard thing.”

Later, I realized I’d given the wrong answer and not just because my husband is incredibly important to me. The better answer would have been, “He’s not famous but he is important.” Then, I should have added that she and I were just as important, as was everyone else on that bus, because we’re all important to God! I could have told her that real importance and value have nothing to do with fame, wealth, possessions or power. It has nothing to do with how we look, what we’ve done, where we work, what others think of us, or even what we think of ourselves.

Whether or not we were planned by our parents, we’re not accidents; God knew us all before we were born! Made in His image, we are God’s handiwork and precious in His sight. It was his breath that filled our lungs with life and His spirit that lives within us. Our names are etched on the palm of His hand, He’s promised to strengthen and help us, and He knows everything about us, including the number of hairs on our heads. If God carried an iPhone, our pictures would be on it and our numbers would be listed in His “favorites.” We are so loved by God that He sacrificed His only Son for us! As Christians, Jesus counts us among His friends and we’ve been adopted by God. As His children, we are recipients of a priceless inheritance. As followers of Christ, the God of the Universe has taken up residence in our hearts. Now that’s what I call important!

God does not love us because we are valuable. We are valuable because God loves us. [Fulton J. Sheen]

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me! [Psalm 139:13-18 (NLT)]

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LOVE LIKE A CHILD

And do everything with love. [1 Corinthians 16:14 (NLT)]

GrandpaI actually thought the prayer’s words that Sunday asked God to show us what children can teach us about love. Looking through old photos of my children and grands later that day, I thought about the ways children love. Unconcerned with decorum (or potential lawsuits), they’re demonstrative: touching freely and unabashedly. They cuddle and climb on laps, hold hands, and spontaneously give hugs and kisses. They burrow under the covers with us and aren’t bothered by morning breath or bed head. It doesn’t matter if they’re soaking wet from the sprinkler or their faces are covered with jelly or chocolate nor do they care if we’re sweaty and dirty from working in the garden or dressed in our finest for a night on the town. Children know that touch, whether a high-five or hug, is an important part of love.

Children don’t need words to express their love—rather than talking about it, they show it. In his nineties, Grandpa was frail, nearly deaf, and partially blind by the time the first great-grand arrived. Nevertheless, they didn’t need to talk; the little one knew how to speak with love and the two of them communicated silently, playing games only they understood. Another grand sought out a shy child in her pre-school who wouldn’t speak at all. The girls became fast friends because they didn’t need words to communicate. Perhaps children don’t need discussion because they know that loving actions speak far louder than do words.

Children love with gifts and service and the adults they love become the recipients of a wide assortment of shells, dandelions, painted rocks, pot holders, feathers, rubber band bracelets, drawings, beaded jewelry and pinch pots. As for service: my grands have been known to fight over who gets to help me water the plants, set the table, wipe my counters, dust the furniture or help fold the laundry. Children know that giving of self is a fundamental part of love.

Children love unconditionally and with forgiving hearts. Both of our foster daughters continued to love (and defend) the parents that failed them time and time again. They’d wait all afternoon for the promised visit that never happened only to faithfully wait again the following week. They loved even when the love was undeserved and forgave what seemed unforgivable (and I pray they still do). Children love without judgment.

Children love with generosity and without embarrassment. Last year, when the cousins were at our house, the eldest boy introduced the little ones to the dress-up box. After helping them into princess and pirate get-ups, they wanted him to dress up, too. There was just one costume that fit him and the little guys begged him to wear it. Without complaint, the fourteen-year old donned a Cinderella dress for his young cousins and allowed them to accessorize it with a lady’s hat, purse, and beads. He did this with a smile because children love generously, unselfconsciously, and with joyful laughter.

It wasn’t until I was done with this devotion that I re-read the words to that Sunday’s prayer and discovered it asked God to show us what children can teach us about Him. I thought of the story about a little girl who was busily drawing a portrait. When the teacher asked who it was, she replied, “God.” Reminding her that no one knows what God looks like, the girl said, “They will when I’m done!” God is love and children certainly know how to love; perhaps the face the little girl drew was that of a child. Indeed, children can teach us a great deal about both love and God.

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. … God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. [1 John 4:11-12.14b (NLT)]

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OTHER DEMONS

No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. 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 8:37-39 (NLT)]
Halloween ghost

Yesterday, I wrote of the emotional vampires that can plague us but there are other demons even harder to spot than those two-legged ones. Invisible, they go by the names of guilt, anger, doubt, resentment, shame, regret, fear, and worry. They haunt us with “if only,” “what if,” “should have,” and “could have” and leave us discontented, sullen, resentful, fearful or worried. They are the hobgoblins that whisper lies and half-truths in our ears: we’re unlovable, contemptible, unforgiven, helpless, inadequate, or worthless. Like vampires, these monsters also can suck the life out of us. Friends of the enemy, they keep us from living boldly, stepping out in faith, and leading the fulfilling and joyful life Jesus promised.

It’s time to declare war on these monsters; they have no place in our lives. In the old movies, evil was repelled by the crucifix—a mere religious symbol. In real life, however, it is the power of Jesus that defeats the enemy! Through His power, we can banish those demons that steal our joy and suck the life from us. We can face our secrets, shed our shame, forgive others (and ourselves), know we are loved, release our anxiety and fear, trust God and choose His truth. The voice we hear can be that of the Holy Spirit rather than the unsettling voice of the enemy. With the power of the cross, we will be able to step out of the haunted house of our lives not in fear, but in faith—not in darkness, but in light.

Heavenly Father, help us look into the dark corners of our lives and, through your power, banish the demons that keep us from the abundant life you promised.

The scariest monsters are the ones that lurk within our souls. [Edgar Allen Poe]

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. [John 10:10 (NLT)]

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

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FILL ME UP

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. [John 6:35 (NLT)]

moon at dawnSince he had a business meeting in Switzerland later in the week, my son went to London over the weekend to see his daughter who is in college there. Nearly every photo texted back to us showed my grand eating. Admittedly, she is a starving college student, living on a tight budget, who has grown tired of eating peanut butter, hummus with veggies, Raman noodles, and pasta in her apartment, so she took advantage of having access to her father and his credit card. With Dad paying the bill, she could again eat steak and lamb chops, indulge in gelato, and stock her pantry with fruit, meat, and cheese from Borough Market. As much as this starving coed needed food, what she really needed was a visit from home. Hugs from her father probably offered more nourishment than any amount of food. His visit did more than replenish her cupboards; it recharged her emotional batteries.

Sometimes, we have a hunger that won’t be satisfied by a trip to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, or Olive Garden; no amount of food can satisfy spiritual hunger. Rather than having our father visit, take us out to dinner, and fill our grocery bags, we need time with our Heavenly Father so He can fill our hearts and souls.

Last week, early in the morning, my husband asked if I had time for a walk at the beach. “No way!” was my first thought. Having spent several days in preparation for presenting a Bible study that evening, I was way behind in my writing, the bed linens needed changing, the laundry basket was full, and there were enough crumbs on the floor that you literally could eat off it! But, knowing how overwhelmed and spiritually empty I felt, I agreed. Being early risers, we arrived shortly before dawn and the full harvest moon in the west watched over us as the sun rose in the east. Feeling like I had yesterday, today, and tomorrow in the palm of my hand, I was reminded that God really does. In awe, as the moon’s light shimmered on the water while the sky grew pink with the sunrise, I walked in the beauty of God’s creation and felt His peace descend on me. Filled with His grace, I was renewed, refreshed, and restored. Remembering a lovely praise song, I silently sang: “Fill me up, God. Fill me up, God…” As the aroma of bacon wafted from a beach-side restaurant, my stomach reminded me that I hadn’t yet eaten breakfast. Nevertheless, that quiet time with my Heavenly Father sated my spiritual hunger and filled me up in a way that bacon, eggs, and toast never could.

God gave us a weekly Sabbath to rest, relax, restore, and replenish. The Hebrew word sabbat, which we know as Sabbath, comes from the verb sabat which means to stop or cease. The observance of the Sabbath every week was central to the Israelite’s life (and should be to ours) but, sometimes, in our fast-paced world, one day a week is not pause enough. There are times, like that Thursday morning, when we need what Terry Hershey calls a “Sabbath Moment” — a temporary cease-fire from the assault of busyness that so often bombards our lives. It’s a brief turning away from the day’s hustle and bustle to spend time with our Heavenly Father. The Sabbath moment does for us what her father’s visit did for my grand: it feeds and restores us. It fills us up!

More of your spirit is what we need,
More of your annointing,
More of your glory, fill me.
Fill me up God (fill me up God),
Fill me up God (fill me up God),
Fill me (that’s what I really want). [Will Reagan]

Let them praise the Lord for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them. For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. [Psalm 107:8-9 (NLT)]

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AS WE GATHER TOGETHER

Moraine Hills State ParkWell, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you. [1 Corinthians 14:26 (NLT)]

If you’re like us, when you visit a new church, you tend to sit toward the back so you can view the rest of the congregation and see when people stand, sit or kneel. If communion is served, you probably anxiously look around to see how it is done in that church. After all, we  want to worship “correctly.”

While there often appears to be a certain way to worship in a particular parish or a specific denomination, there is no one right way for us in our personal worship of God. At a church we recently visited, a young woman spontaneously stepped into the aisle and did a beautiful dance during a rousing praise song. The dance was her worship gift to God (and a blessing for the rest of us). While I pray silently when the pastor offers a prayer, I often hear people around me quietly adding their own petitions during his prayers. Recently, while the rest of the congregation sat, a woman stood and clapped her hands in praise during one of the songs. Some people shout a loud “Amen!” or applaud during the sermon when they heartily agree with the pastor while others quietly nod their heads. At our northern church, one woman’s “Amen!” at the end of every prayer can be distinctly heard above the rest of the congregation. At our Florida church, some people kneel and pray at the altar rail following communion while others quietly return to their seats for prayer. Kneeling in prayer, making the sign of the cross, genuflecting before entering a pew, or raising our arms during a praise song are all ways various people worship but not the way all people do. Nevertheless, if those actions come from the heart, they all are the correct way!

One size does not fit all in clothing and certainly not when it comes to either private or communal worship. Worship is an intensely personal act; we each bring our own unique worship style with us wherever we go. Some of us are staid and reserved while others are ebullient and demonstrative. The joy of the more expressive worshippers often enriches the worship experience for all and I imagine God prefers an enthusiastic “Amen” to a half-hearted one any day! Whether alone or with others, the important thing is to come before our Lord with love, passion, praise and thanksgiving.

In spite of my words, I’ll continue to play it safe and sit in the back when visiting a new church. After all, no one wants to be the person in the front row left standing when everyone else is seated! Then again, God doesn’t mind so why should we?

Worship is an inward feeling and outward action that reflects the worth of God. [John Piper]

Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship, for they will walk in the light of your presence, Lord. They rejoice all day long in your wonderful reputation. They exult in your righteousness. [Psalm 89:15-16 (NLT)]

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SEIZE THE DAY

Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God. [Ecclesiastes 5:18-19 (NLT)]

great egretFrom the viewing platform at the marsh, I watched a Cooper’s hawk soar high in the sky. When I turned to leave, I looked down and saw several white egret feathers on the ground below. Whether it was the hawk, a raccoon, or some other predator, the park had one less egret in the pond. Those beautiful white feathers were a stark reminder of how precarious life is, not just for wild birds, but for us all. I was reminded of Ecclesiastes: “For people and animals share the same fate—both breathe and both must die.” [3:19]

Beginning with the words, “Everything is meaningless,” much of Ecclesiastes expresses disappointment, discontent, and a cynical world-weariness. The world is a fallen place where life is unfair: good happens to the bad and bad befalls the good. The future is unknown and filled with uncertainties and satisfaction is not guaranteed. We can strive for a goal and never reach it or attain the goal and discover it wasn’t worth the effort. The pursuit of pleasure, possessions, wealth, achievements, wisdom, or power comes to nothing. As disheartening as the author’s words are, I’m not sure we can really argue with them. Life is capricious and frequently makes no sense and the same destiny—death—awaits both the righteous and wicked. Sadly, sometimes, our efforts really do feel like an exercise in futility.

Yet, hidden in those sobering verses are nuggets of beauty and comfort. Just because life is hard and its meaning is hard to find doesn’t mean life is meaningless. Granted, some seasons of life are perplexing, challenging, or downright unpleasant but, as much as we wish we could control or understand them, they are beyond human control and understanding. The seasons of life are not in our hands but God’s. Rather than knowledge and comprehension of His plan, however, God gives us sort of a consolation prize: the ability to find enjoyment in life. While we can’t control the seasons, we can accept and find contentment in them.

Those feathers on the ground were a reminder to live life with gusto—to accept and enjoy whatever we’ve been given—to seize the day! Yet, Ecclesiastes is not an “eat, drink, and be merry because tomorrow you die!” promotion of hedonism. Woven throughout its verses is one more theme—that of fearing God. We can’t find the meaning to life apart from God and we certainly can’t live life on our own terms. The enjoyment of life neither permits us to disobey God not does it exempt us from His law. Telling us to enjoy life, Ecclesiastes also tells us to fear (i.e., obey, revere, love, serve, honor and worship) God while doing so!

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. So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. [Ecclesiastes 3:12 (NLT)]

That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. Go will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad. [Ecclesiastes 12:13 (NLT)]

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