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)]

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. [Romans 5:3-4 (NLT)]

rocking chairs

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’s happening today and what will happen tomorrow. Consider Moses—the first two-thirds of his life were merely preparation for what he did during the last third. As a member of Pharaoh’s household for the first forty years, he acquired a unique skill set. The adopted son of an Egyptian princess, he understood the workings of Pharaoh’s court. He’d been given a royal upbringing and an excellent education. Since he was cared for by his birth mother, he also understood his Hebrew heritage. With that background, he was well prepared to confront Pharaoh about the plight of the Israelites. In fact, he probably was the only Israelite who could gain access to Pharaoh’s court and that royal education served him well when he wrote much 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. Our life experiences do more than develop character and spiritual maturity; they give us a unique skill set. Everything we undergo provides us with distinctive strengths and abilities. Our successes, failures, sorrows, joys, pain, gains and losses prepare us to do God’s work. Yesterday’s experiences become today’s assets.

We know how the story of Moses ends—over the last forty years of his life, he fulfilled his purpose and led the Israelites to the Promised Land. How will our story end? Like Moses, will we use our assets to further God’s Kingdom or will we waste 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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KNOWING HIM WELL

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. [Colossians 2:6-7 (NLT)]

spiderwortMy husband and I have been married for fifty years now and there’s not much that surprises me about him anymore. Even the surprise birthday celebration he planned for me earlier this year wasn’t a surprise. Oh, the way he managed to fool me into thinking I was just going to a business dinner—that truly was a surprise; that he chose to do something special for me was not. I was sure that, true to form, he had something wonderful up his sleeve for my 70th birthday; I just had no idea what it actually was!

After fifty years of togetherness, more often than not, my husband and I think alike. When one of us makes a suggestion, the other usually admits to having the same thought and, with at least 97% accuracy, we know what the other will order at any restaurant. We recognize each other’s voice in a crowd and probably have a good idea what the other is saying! After half a century, we’ve seen one another at our best and worst; there’s nothing left to hide and any awkwardness, embarrassment or shame is long gone. I know when he needs some nudging and he knows when I need words of encouragement. Appreciating each other’s strengths and weaknesses, we rest comfortably in the knowledge that we love, trust, and honor one another completely. It’s not boring in the least; it is relaxed, pleasant and peaceful. Even though we usually know what to expect, as my birthday celebration proved, we can still surprise one another in beautiful ways.

The covenant relationship of marriage is much like our relationship with God with one major difference. Through five decades, both my husband and I have changed to complement one another. God, however, doesn’t change and any changing that must be done is done by us, not by Him. As in any relationship, the more time we spend in His presence, the easier it is to recognize His voice and to hear the Holy Spirit’s whisper in our hearts. The more we read God’s word, the more likely it is that our prayers will be in harmony with His plan. As we draw closer to Jesus, we become attuned to His rhythm and pace and we’ll even begin to walk like Him.

At its most basic, Christianity isn’t a doctrine, philosophy, code of ethics or a way of life; it is a relationship with God and believing in Jesus is not the same as having a relationship with Him. We have to spend time in His presence, praying, listening to His voice, and reading His word for that relationship to flourish and grow. No relationship is developed overnight; it took decades for my husband and me to get to this point in our marriage. Fortunately, developing a deep relationship with our triune God doesn’t take nearly that long. Like marriage, however, it is a relationship that continues to mature and mellow through the years.

After fifty years, I can ask myself, ”What would Bob do?” and pretty much know the answer. As we develop our relationship with God, we’ll be able to ask, “What would Jesus do?” and know that answer as well!

Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. [1 John 2:6 (NLT)]

You must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen. [2 Peter 3:18 (NLT)]

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DOUSE THE FLAMES

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. [John 13:34-35 (NLT)]

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself. [Galatians 5:13-14 (NLT)]

hate has no home hereAs we watched the helicopters fly through the sky, we could see the water buckets hanging under them. Once the copters were in position, hoping to extinguish the forest fire, the crews would open the dump valve and empty water on the flames below them. The helicopters flew back and forth all afternoon as they refilled their buckets from the glacial lakes. If the helicopters are too low or slow in dropping the water, the water will be too concentrated to work effectively and, rather that put out the flames, the rotors’ downwash will intensify it. Even though those buckets can carry as much as 2,600 gallons of water, to those of us on the ground, it seemed a little like a mop bucket was being used to extinguish a house fire. Nevertheless, the firefighters continued their valiant fight against the blaze.

For most of this month, we’ve been on holiday, away from the newspapers and television, and able to ignore much of the world around us. Our pastor’s sermon yesterday reminded me that I cannot close my eyes to the inferno of hate in our midst. This has nothing to do with politics, color, or nationality. It doesn’t matter whether we live in a red or blue state, lean left or right, or what statues are erected in our town square. This has to do with hatred and bigotry and, regardless of the First Amendment, there is no place in a Christian’s life for them. I’ve noticed signs posted throughout our town saying “Hate Has No Home Here” and, indeed, hate has no home in a heart that claims to be filled with the love of Jesus.

What can we do to keep this firestorm of hate from spreading? No matter how loudly I speak, I’m little more than a household mop bucket; even then, my words of love can douse a few hateful flames. If we join forces, however, perhaps we can be as effective as those 2,600 gallon fire-fighting buckets. Moreover, whenever we feel empty, we can refill from the source of our love—Christ’s living water. Can our words of love douse the hate? I don’t know, but I know we must try. We start by examining our own attitudes, words and actions so that we don’t fan the fire’s flames with them. The words we speak must be those of love, tolerance, patience, hope and peace. We may not extinguish the fire completely but, by using only words of love, we will be doing our utmost to suppress it and keep it from growing any larger.

Heavenly Father, give us the right words and the courage to speak them so that we can combat the hate in the world today. Let us remember that hate has no home in our hearts.

By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. [Martin Luther King Jr.]

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. … For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. [Ephesians 5:1-2a,8-9 (NLT)]

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IT SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA

Fools think they are doing right, but the wise listen to advice. [Proverbs 12:15 (NCV)]

Grand Tetons - rubber rabbit brushAfter it was returned by the Philistines, the Ark of God had been neglected in Kiriath-jearim for twenty years. Fresh from victories over the Philistines, David decided to bring the Ark back to its rightful home in Jerusalem. It certainly seemed like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately, ignoring the law’s clear instructions that the Ark could only rest on poles and carried on the shoulders of Levites, David had it placed on a cart pulled by oxen. The oxen stumbled, the cart tipped, and Uzzah reached out to steady it. Under Hebrew law, touching the sacred Ark was a capital offense and Uzzah was immediately struck dead. The Ark should never have been on a cart and it was David’s disobedience and carelessness that caused the man’s death. Nevertheless, David’s reaction was to get mad at God.

How many times do we have what seems like a good idea that turns out bad? We try to do the right thing the wrong way and then get mad at God when things don’t turn out well. How many times have other people been hurt because of our haste, overconfidence, or ignorance? David had wisely consulted the Lord on military strategy against the Philistines. Yet, when it came to moving the sacred Ark, he consulted only his officials, the officers in his army, and the people. Was it pride at his military victories that keep David from consulting God about this endeavor? Remembering that our Father knows best, let’s learn from David’s mistake and seek God’s advice in all of our actions.

Lord, no matter how noble the goal, stop us when we barge on ahead without consulting you. Keep us from both reckless action and thoughtless inaction; show us how to act carefully and prudently. Remind us that easy answers are rarely as easy as we think them to be. Please don’t let our idea of a solution ever create a greater problem.

Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed. [Proverbs 16:3 (NCV)]

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GOD BLESS EVERYONE

CANADA GEESEYou have heard that it was said, “Love your friends, hate your enemies.” But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil. [Matthew 5:43-45 (GNT)]

In “The Family Circus,” a comic written by Bil and Jeff Keane, little Billy is saying his prayers. “And bless Mommy and Daddy, Bless Dolly, Bless PJ, …um.” He pauses and asks his Dad, “Is it all right if I add a few ‘Don’t bless’ to my list?” Obviously, his little brother Jeffy (and perhaps others) irritated him that day.

Sometimes, it is difficult to ask blessings for certain people in our lives. Jesus, however, made it abundantly clear that we aren’t to pick and choose who to love or for whom we pray. That includes difficult bosses, irritating neighbors, bothersome in-laws, and even annoying little brothers. We may just find that after praying for those bothersome individuals they cease being so annoying. Their behavior may change or, more likely, our attitude toward them will. It’s not easy to remain angry or upset with someone when we’re asking God’s blessings upon them!

Heavenly Father, fill me with your love so I am as generous with mine as you are with yours.

Why should God reward you if you love only the people who love you? Even the tax collectors do that! And if you speak only to your friends, have you done anything out of the ordinary? Even the pagans do that! You must be perfect—just as your Father in heaven is perfect. [Matthew 5:46-48 (GNT)]

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THE PINKY

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. [1 Timothy 2:1 (NLT)]

turtlesWhen a child, I was taught to pray the “Five Fingers of Prayer”—thanks, praise, confession, intercession and petition—as a way of remembering that God came first, others next and me last. A local Christian preschool uses the “Five-Finger Prayer” approach. Often attributed to Pope Francis, it helps little ones remember all of their “God blesses.” When the hands are folded in prayer, the thumb is nearest and reminds the child to pray for the people who are closest to him: his family and BFFs. Next is the index finger—that pointing finger used by teachers everywhere. This finger reminds the child to pray for those who teach. Next is the middle finger, the tallest one, which reminds the child to pray for those in authority: the pastor, the president and other government officials. The fourth finger is the weakest one. With this finger the child remembers those who are helpless, in trouble, or suffering. Finally, the child gets to the pinky and prays for himself. That little finger reminds him of his smallness (and the smallness of his needs) in relation to God’s greatness and the needs of others.

While there are no hard and fast rules about prayer except to believe in it and do it, we are told to pray for all people and to share one another’s burdens. It is both a responsibility and a privilege to lift others’ needs to God in prayer. Abraham interceded for the people of Sodom, Job for his friends, Moses for the Israelites, the early church for the imprisoned Peter, Daniel for his captive nation, Paul for the readers of his letters, and Jesus for His disciples. No special commission or training is needed to become a prayer warrior. We all are called to intercede for others and we have four fingers that remind us to do it.

There is nothing wrong with praying for ourselves. In the Lord’s Prayer, we were taught to ask for our daily needs, forgiveness of sins, and deliverance from temptation. The Psalms are filled with pleas for God to intervene in the psalmists’ lives. Hannah, Jabez, David, Paul and even Jesus prayed for themselves. Praying for ourselves brings us into an intimate relationship with God and invites His blessings into our lives. The problem arises when we come to God just for those blessings and never intercede for others. We stop seeing the needs surrounding us, become self-centered, and risk turning God into Santa Claus! While there are five fingers on our hands, when it comes to prayer, only the pinky belongs to us!

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. [Ephesians 6:18 (NLT)]

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. [Galatians 6:2 (NLT)]

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