WHAT IF?

What if the Lord had not been on our side? Let all Israel repeat: What if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us? [Psalm 124:1-2 (NLT)]

butterfly on lantanaI looked down at my wedding ring and asked myself, “What if?” What if an odd set of circumstances hadn’t occurred and I hadn’t met the man I married when I did? What if he hadn’t relentlessly pursued me? What if we hadn’t gotten married less than a year after meeting? Since my father’s death occurred only a few months after our wedding, had I not been married, I would have been left completely on my own at the unwise age of twenty. I don’t think the “What if?” scenario would have been very good. I do know it wouldn’t have been as wonderful as the scenario God gave me.

“Whew, that was close!” Surely, you’ve had times like that—occasions when you’re sure God’s hand delivered you: that split second that kept you from being a traffic fatality, the chance encounter that led you to the solution for which you’d been searching, being one of the 5% who beat the prognosis, or the time your toddler’s close encounter with a car was only that—close. “What if…?” we ask ourselves. What if He hadn’t saved me from my enemies? What if God hadn’t stopped me when He did? What if He hadn’t saved me from myself? While I’m not much for looking back and regretfully asking that question, when asking it reinforces our confidence in God’s deliverance, it’s a good question to ask.

Monuments and holidays help us remember God’s deliverance. Moses built an altar of stones at the foot of Mt. Sinai to commemorate God’s covenant with Israel and representatives from the twelve tribes gathered stones to build a memorial to remind the Israelites how the waters of the Jordan River stopped flowing for them. Our Jewish friends celebrate Purim as a reminder of their deliverance from Haman’s murderous plot and Passover as a reminder of their deliverance from bondage in Egypt. Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter to remember what Jesus did for us with His birth and resurrection. We remember deliverance in other ways, too. A friend tattooed his sobriety date, his day of freedom from addiction, on his ankle. For over 75 years, my mother-in-law displayed four small faded Limoges plates. They were all that remained of her family’s china after their home exploded and burned in 1929; they reminded her of her family’s survival. Those plain plates now reside in my china cabinet to remind me that we can lose just about everything but, as long as we have God and family, we will have enough and can persevere.

We often forget what God has done for us. Worse, we often attribute it to good luck or to our own skill. David’s psalm asks the people of Israel to consider what might have happened if the Lord had not been on their side. He points out that the Egyptian solders and Israel’s enemies through the ages would have destroyed them. After reviewing God’s past deliverance, he declares his confidence in God’s future faithfulness.

While it’s not wise to dwell on the past, every once in a while it’s a good idea to ask ourselves, “What if?”

They would have swallowed us alive in their burning anger. The waters would have engulfed us; a torrent would have overwhelmed us. Yes, the raging waters of their fury would have overwhelmed our very lives. Praise the Lord, who did not let their teeth tear us apart! We escaped like a bird from a hunter’s trap. The trap is broken, and we are free! Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. [Psalm 124:3-8 (NLT)]

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SHED THE SHROUD

Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” [John 11:43-44 (NLT)]

red-spotted purple admiralWhen Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb, the once dead man emerged from the tomb with his face wrapped in a head cloth and his body bound in burial garments. Jesus commanded people to unbind him and free him from the trappings of the grave. Something tells me that, after four days in a tomb, Lazarus left behind more than some linen cloth soiled with the detritus of the tomb and death. While we don’t know what he experienced during those days, He must have returned to life with a new perspective. As he walked into the sunlight he never expected seeing again and inhaled the air he never anticipated breathing again, can you imagine how much he appreciated his new lease on life? Given a second chance, he probably wasn’t about to bring any regrets, resentment, anger, or guilt with him. Raised from the dead, he probably shed much of his past along with that shroud as he stepped from the tomb’s gloom.

Unlike Lazarus, we haven’t physically died. Our family didn’t wash us with warm water, rub us with spices and oil, wrap us in a burial garment, lay us in a tomb, and mourn our passing. Like Lazarus, however, we were dead before answering Jesus’ call. Born again into a new spiritual life, we are no longer spiritually dead and our grave clothes are no longer necessary. Lazarus shed his, why can’t we? We tend to carry the detritus and debris of our yesterdays with us when we come to Christ. Instead of putting on the new clothes of salvation and righteousness, we stay wrapped in the shroud of the past that’s stained with betrayals, anger, disappointment, loss, and hurt and embellished with remorse and disgrace. Even when we think we’ve donned the fresh clothes of a new life in Christ, we often tuck a pang of guilt or shame into a pocket. We can’t believe we’ve been forgiven, but we have; we can’t believe we’re good enough, but we are; we can’t believe He could possibly love us, but He does!

When Lazarus stepped into the light from that dark tomb, he shed his shroud. When we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we were given a new spiritual life; let us shed our past and clothe ourselves with joy and the presence of Jesus Christ.

And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. [Galatians 3:27 (NLT)]

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy. [Psalm 30:11 (NLT)]

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EQUIPPED

But Moses protested to God, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?” God answered, “I will be with you. [Exodus 3:11-12a (NLT)]

pale purple cone flowerNot all of us have the benefit of eighty years’ experience as did Moses when God called on him. Take David, for example, he was just a young shepherd boy when called on to become both warrior and king. Peter and John were fishermen; nothing in their backgrounds prepared them for their roles as Apostles and founders of a church. Mary was just a girl, in the town of Nazareth, engaged to be married to a local carpenter. What preparation did she have to become the mother of God? Gideon was a farmer, hiding from the Midianites in a wine press while threshing wheat, when God called to him. In fact, Gideon protested that, as the most insignificant member of the weakest clan, he couldn’t be the one to rescue Israel.

When God called to Moses from that burning bush, Moses didn’t see his eighty years’ experience as an asset. Instead, like Gideon, he focused only on his inadequacies. Understandably, the man raised in Pharaoh’s court wondered how the elders of Israel would believe he had been chosen to free their people let alone how an exile could convince Pharaoh to let the people of Israel leave his country. God, however, provided Moses with the additional tools and skills necessary to do the job. He was given three signs to demonstrate God’s power to the Israelites and was enabled to perform miracles before Pharaoh. When Moses pointed out that he wasn’t eloquent, God promised to give him the necessary words and then provided him with Aaron to serve as his mouthpiece. God empowered His servant and provided all that was necessary to achieve His task.

While God probably won’t get our attention with a burning bush, I think He regularly calls to us with tasks. There’s a good chance we’ll be like Gideon and Moses and see only our inadequacies and, like those men, we will be inadequate on our own. God, however, doesn’t ask us to do His work by ourselves. He told Gideon, “I will be with you!” and He will be with us. As God did with Moses, He will shore up our weak spots and provide us with the resources and skills we need to accomplish His will. God doesn’t call the equipped; He equips the ones He calls!

May he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen. [Hebrews 13:21 (NLT)]

This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. [Joshua 1:9 (NLT)]

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AFTER THE STORM

compass plantThe terrible storm raged for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone. [Acts 27:20 (NLT)]

“Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He calmed the storm to a whisper and stilled the waves. What a blessing was that stillness as he brought them safely into harbor! [Psalm 107:28-30 (NLT)]

While walking this morning, I could see the toll last night’s hail storm took on the wildflowers. Many that yesterday stood tall and proud over the prairie were now bent and broken. These defeated looking plants made me think of a friend and the storm that overwhelmed and nearly defeated him.

Raised in a Christian home and once a believer, he lost his faith in a loving God years ago when a series of medical errors left his child with severe brain damage. Angry at God and then disillusioned by the hypocrisy he saw in his church, he decided to worship the god of achievement and wealth. All went well for him until one day it didn’t. The storm hit when the multi-national corporation for which he worked closed its doors. In spite of his stellar resume, nearly two years passed without employment. When the economy tanked, so did his investments and his savings dwindled to nothing. Upside down with his mortgage, his god of success and prosperity was nowhere to be found. It was at that point that this once proud man literally fell to his knees and humbly admitted his defeat and nothingness to God. He wanted to believe but needed to know that God really was there. He didn’t ask for relief; he asked for reassurance of God’s presence. “Show me that you exist, that you care, that you are good!” was his simple prayer.

Most of those drooping wildflowers along the trail will again stand tall when the sun shines. Like those flowers, my friend was raised up when he turned to God and allowed the Son back into his life. Within a day of his prayer, he received a call from a struggling Christian-based non-profit and, within a week, he’d started working there as the CEO. Several years have passed and he is happier and more content than he was in his previous life. Because of his business acumen, the organization he serves is now thriving and people’s lives are being changed in incredible ways. His child is still disabled and his standard of living is not what it was before the storm, but he lives joyfully in the knowledge of a loving and good God—a God who can still storms and lift a drowning man out of the sea.

A hail storm can knock down flowers and, sometimes, God knocks us to our knees with a storm of troubles. It’s when we’re on our knees, however, that the only place to look is up! When we ask God to reveal Himself to us, we shouldn’t expect Him to do it with a job or financial support. After all, God only promises relief from all of our troubles in the next world. In this life, we will be relieved only from some of them; other troubles He will enable us to endure. Nevertheless, when we humbly and sincerely ask God to reveal himself to us, He will.

If God seems far away, who moved? [AA slogan]

But whenever they were in trouble and turned to the LORD, the God of Israel, and sought him out, they found him. [2 Chronicles 15:4 (NLT)]

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WHAT’S OLD?

Now that I am old and gray, do not abandon me, O God. Let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me. [Psalm 71:18 (NLT)]

 Here is the test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t. [Richard Bach]

eastern black swallowtail butterflyYesterday morning, I was shocked to hear a sportscaster describe both Venus Williams (at 37) and Roger Federer (nearly 36) as “old.” Although Williams was defeated in the Wimbledon finals, Federer easily defeated his youthful 28-year-old opponent and became the oldest person in 87 years to win the title. Since both players are just a little more than half my age, I wondered what defines “old.” When we spent our winters in Colorado, we’d occasionally see Banana George (George Blair) in his signature yellow jumpsuit shredding the slopes on his yellow snowboard. Having learned how to snowboard at 75, George was in his eighties and early nineties at the time. Was he old? Famed as a star of the Cypress Gardens water show, this stunt water skier didn’t even learn how to water ski until he was 40. He started barefoot skiing six years later and became a legend by water skiing on one foot while holding the tow rope between his teeth! He continued doing that trick until he was 79! It was not until he was 92, and suffering from Lewy body dementia, that George reluctantly hung up his water skis and snowboard.  I’m sure he would have had a few choice words for the sportscaster who called those tennis greats “old!”

When 36 is considered old for tennis, it’s easy for “seniors” (a nice word for old people) to consider youth a prerequisite for feats of strength and bravery. After all, David was probably about seventeen when he heroically defeated Goliath. Daniel and his three friends were less than fifteen when they boldly refused to be defiled by eating the king’s food. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were no more than thirty when they bravely chose a fiery furnace over worshiping Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue. Samuel was just a lad when he readily answered God’s call and Mary was barely in her teens when she willingly became mother to Jesus.

It’s good to remember that youth is not a requirement for doing God’s work. Moses was eighty when he led the Israelites out of Egypt and, when he died forty years later, he still had clear eyesight and was strong and vigorous. Joshua had to have been at least sixty (and probably much older) when he led the Israelites into the Promised Land. Abraham was seventy-five when he left Haran and headed for Canaan and Sarah was ninety when Isaac was born. Moreover, contrary to popular belief (and most Sunday school coloring pages), Daniel was not a young man when he faced those lions. By that time, he was acting as an administrator for Darius the Mede; six Babylonian kings had come and gone and sixty-six years had passed since his arrival in Babylon as a youth. When he was thrown into the lion’s den because he dared pray to God, Daniel was around eight-two years old. At that age, we’d expect a stroke or heart attack to finish him off before the hungry beasts could. Nevertheless, Daniel survived and continued to prosper under both Darius and Cyrus the Persian; he recorded his prophetic visions for at least three more years.

Even though we probably won’t take up snowboarding in our seventies or get pulled on bare feet through the water while holding a tow rope between our teeth, like Banana George, we can continue to have a passion for life. While Roger Federer and Venus Williams may be considered old by tennis standards, none of us are too old by God’s!

When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, “I used everything you gave me.” [Erma Bombeck]

Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! [2 Corinthians 4:16b-17 (NLT)]

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PENTECOST

Jesus said to them, “I’ve told you what the Father promises: John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” [Acts 1:4b-5 (GW)]

roseate spoonbillAfter His resurrection, Jesus spent forty days with his disciples and then told them to remain in Jerusalem until they received the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. On the fortieth day, with his followers watching, Jesus was taken up in a cloud and ascended into heaven. Bewildered, the disciples stood there, mouths agape, until two angels promised that someday Jesus would return. We know the disciples then attended to business and chose a replacement for Judas, but how else did they spend the next ten days? There were twelve apostles and about 120 believers. How difficult was it for this diverse group of people to keep the faith and wait for something which seemed so perplexing? Where was this Holy Spirit promised to them? When would Jesus return? Did they grow impatient or begin to doubt what they’d seen with their eyes?

Yesterday was Pentecost (meaning fiftieth). At that first Pentecost, all of Jesus’ followers were gathered together. Because the Jewish holiday of Shavu’ot was being observed, Jerusalem was teeming with people from far and wide. One of three pilgrimage festivals, all able-bodied Jewish men were required to visit the temple and offer sacrifices. Called the Feast of Weeks, Shavu’ot occurred seven weeks after Passover and celebrated both the first harvest and Moses being given the law at Mt. Sinai. It was on this day, fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, that the Holy Spirit, accompanied by high winds and tongues of fire, descended upon Jesus’ followers. As every believer was filled with the Spirit’s power, he or she began to speak in other languages. Shavu’ot had brought together Jews from fifteen or more different regions, each with its own language, and yet everyone was able to understand the Spirit-filled Christians as they spoke. The Holy Spirit had empowered them to bring Christ’s message of salvation to all people.

It hardly seems an accident that God chose this specific day, the Jewish celebration of Shavu’ot when the city would be packed with people, for such a miraculous event to occur. On a day when people went to the temple to be in God’s presence, the Holy Spirit’s arrival meant that God could always be present in His people. On a day that commemorated the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai—an external means of keeping Israel from sin—the Holy Spirit descended and believers no longer had to adhere to laws carved on stone. By His power, the law was now written on their hearts and, through Him, believers could live righteously. On a day that celebrated the first harvest, 3,000 people were baptized. That incredible first harvest of souls marked the beginning of the New Testament church. So, in a way, while Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, Pentecost celebrates the birth of the Christian church.

Since the days of Pentecost, has the whole church ever put aside every other work and waited upon Him for ten days, that the Spirit’s power might be manifested? We give too much attention to method and machinery and resources, and too little to the source of power. [J. Hudson Taylor]

Peter answered them, “All of you must turn to God and change the way you think and act, and each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins will be forgiven. Then you will receive the Holy Spirit as a gift. This promise belongs to you and to your children and to everyone who is far away. It belongs to everyone who worships the Lord our God.” [Acts 2:38-39 (GW)]

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