THE BEST TIME TO MEET HIM

I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. [John 11:25-26 (NLT)]

In commenting about the unexpected death of a young man, the pastor said, “The best time to meet God is when you’re right with God!” For a good part of his brief life, the young man about whom he was speaking had been a troubled unbeliever but, shortly before his death, he came to know Christ. While he will be missed by his grieving family and friends, they can find comfort in knowing his final destination. Since they, too, are believers, they know they will see him again in the future.

The pastor’s comment made me remember a sympathy note written by C.S. Lewis in 1944 to the wife of fellow professor at Oxford. After expressing how much he missed the man, Lewis told the new widow how deeply the professor’s funeral had affected him. Mentioning the many times he’d heard the same service read for non-believers, he admitted to a sense of relief at hearing those same words said for a true man of faith: “a man not unworthy of the service.” Lewis admitted that, “In some queer way it enormously strengthened my faith, and before we filed out of chapel I really felt…a kind of joy—a feeling that all was well, just as well as it could be.” Understanding that the best time to meet God is when you’re right with God, Lewis knew the professor had been welcomed home by his Father in Heaven.

I think of a friend, whose husband is nearing the end of his life.  As non-believers, she knows a religious service would be hypocritical and has been pondering what sort of funeral she might have for her husband when the time comes. For a non-believer, there is little comfort in hearing that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and His believers will never die or that our bodies “buried in brokenness…will be raised in glory.” Scripture’s words of assurance that Jesus has prepared a place for us in His Father’s house or that nothing can separate us from Christ’s love are meaningless to someone who doesn’t know Jesus.

Believers and non-believers alike experience grief but it was the faith C.S. Lewis shared with his fellow professor that allowed him to experience joy at his friend’s funeral. The words of a traditional Christian funeral/celebration of life service are only comforting to a believer if the dearly departed was a believer.

When my friend’s husband dies, I don’t know how she will mark his passing, but it won’t be with words of Scripture, prayers, psalms, or hymns. When that day comes, I will choose my words of sympathy carefully; they probably will be something innocuous about hoping her memories bring her comfort and solace. (Her lack of faith certainly won’t!) No matter how nice the memorial program or beautiful the music, I will not feel a kind of joy as I depart because I know that the best time to meet God is not when you deny His existence. The best time to meet God is when you’re good with Him!

Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. [1 Corinthians 15:43-44 (NLT)]

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IT COULD BE WORSE

Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God—soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God. [Psalm 42:11 (MSG)]

cardinalThe story is told of a circuit-riding preacher who never failed to thank God for the day’s weather. One Sunday, after battling through wind and sleet to his preaching appointment in a distant town, the congregation wondered how he could be thankful in such dreadful weather. When it came time for prayer, however, he said, “This is a wretched day, dear Lord, no doubt about it. But, we thank Thee, Lord, that every day isn’t as bad as this one!”

There certainly are times when it is difficult to praise the Lord, and not just because of the weather. We’ve all had days, weeks, months or maybe even years, when every time we turn around, something else seems to have gone wrong. A financial, health, family or business crisis seems to lurk around every corner. In fact, it’s so bad that the light at the end of the tunnel is just an oncoming train! God knows, it’s not easy to get through those times. It is tempting to stop thanking and start complaining: to allow our prayers to reflect our circumstances rather than our faith.

Another story is told about Matthew Henry, a 17th century preacher and Bible commentator. One evening, on his way home after preaching in London, Henry was accosted by four thieves. His response is said to have been this prayer: “Lord, I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed.”

While I would prefer to be neither, I have to agree with Matthew Henry that I’d rather be the one robbed than the robber. At least the robbed has not offended God or his fellow man. As these two stories illustrate, there is always something for which to be thankful, if only because it could be worse!

Father, forgive us if we lose sight of you when we are beset by trouble. Give us the ability to rejoice, not for our difficulties, but for the knowledge that we are not alone and that you are greater than any problems we may encounter. Give us thankful hearts for all of your mercies—even when that means we’re thankful that we were the ones robbed rather than the robbers or that every day does not bring a raging storm! When necessary, remind us that it could be worse!

Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer, but richer for having made it. [A.W. Tozer]

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (MSG)]

Thank God! Pray to him by name! Tell everyone you meet what he has done! Sing him songs, belt out hymns, translate his wonders into music! Honor his holy name with Hallelujahs, you who seek God. Live a happy life! Keep your eyes open for God, watch for his works; be alert for signs of his presence. [Psalm 105:1-3 (MSG)]

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A WORKER’S PRAYER

For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. [Romans 14:7 (NLT)]

Lord, speak to us, that we may speak in living echoes of your tone; … Oh, lead us, Lord, that we may lead… Oh, feed us, Lord, that we may feed… Oh, teach us, Lord, that we may teach The precious truths which you impart;… [Frances Havergal]

campionAt last Sunday’s worship, we sang Frances Havergal’s beautiful hymn “Lord, Speak to Us, That We May Speak.” First published in 1872, the hymn originally had the heading “A Worker’s Prayer,” and made reference to Romans 14:7: “none of us lives to himself alone.” It is a simple prayer that God will speak to, lead, feed, teach and fill us so that He can use us in the service of His kingdom. Busyness had taken over my days and, having fallen behind in my writing, my supply of devotions was running dangerously low. Indeed, I needed Him to speak to me so that I could speak!

As we sang Ms. Havergal’s straight-forward and expectant prayer, I felt the Spirit’s convicting voice. Rather than prayers asking God to speak, lead, feed, teach, or fill me, I’d simply been pleading for more time to get everything done that needed to be done. I realized my problem wasn’t lack of time, but how I was spending that time. We certainly can’t hear the news without turning on the TV, learn French without attending class, get to a new destination without consulting the GPS, be nourished without sitting down to eat, or recharge our phones without plugging them in! How can we expect God to speak to us, let alone lead, feed, teach or fill us without spending quality time in prayer or taking the time to read more than a few Bible verses? Yet, that is exactly what I’d been doing. I recalled the words of Martin Luther who, when asked what his plans for the day were, is supposed to have replied, “Work, work, from morning until late at night. I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” I came to understand that, by putting God at the top of my day’s “to-do” list, I’d be more productive rather than less.

Last Sunday’s sermon was about fulfilling our God-given purpose of communicating the hope and love we have in Jesus and, while all Christians share that purpose, the way we fulfill it differs from person to person. Nevertheless, none of us can accomplish God’s purpose without His speaking to, leading, feeding, teaching and filling us! He’s more than willing to do His part; the problem comes on the receiving end—we must be available to listen, follow, eat, learn and receive. Often, we’re not! So distracted by the business and busyness of life, God ceases to be our priority.

Havergal’s hymn is, indeed, a worker’s prayer. As we submit our lives in worship and service to God, let our morning prayers echo her beautiful words: “Oh, fill us with your fullness, Lord, Until our very hearts o’erflow In kindling thought and glowing word, Your love to tell, your praise to show.”

It’s not enough to splash a little prayer on in the morning or to run through a sprinkler of God’s mercy now and then. It’s not enough to double our spirits in an hour of worship on Sunday or to dash into a drizzle of teaching every month or so. Our souls need to soak in God’s presence. It’s no luxury, this time we spend in the healing waters of God’s grace. It’s neither excess nor indulgence to immerse ourselves in communion with our creator. It’s a spiritual necessity if we want to become the people God has created us to be. [Penelope J. Stokes]

Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food. Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life. [Isaiah 55:2-3a (NLT)]

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WHAT IF HE HADN’T? (Zacchaeus – part 3)

Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should. [Psalm 90:12 (TLB)]

climbing asterWhen Jesus stopped in Jericho, He was on His way to Jerusalem; His trial and crucifixion would soon follow. Although our Lord knew He would not pass that way again, no one else did; certainly not Zacchaeus. What if the publican had been too busy collecting taxes that day to go and see Jesus? What if it looked like it might rain or he was just too tired to make the effort? What if Zacchaeus had been discouraged by the large crowd and his inability to get a good viewing spot? Thinking he always could see Jesus the next time He passed through Jericho, what if he hadn’t run ahead and climbed that tree? Zacchaeus would have missed meeting Jesus and accepting His call.

Jesus once told a parable about a rich man so focused on the here and now that he concentrated on amassing earthly wealth rather than developing a rich relationship with God. One night, while planning to build even bigger barns to store his wealth, he died! The rich fool had waited too long to make provision for his soul!

In a different parable, Jesus told of another wealthy and selfish man who died. While suffering in torment, the rich man saw the pitiful beggar he’d callously ignored while alive; the beggar was being comforted in the arms of Abraham at a heavenly banquet. The rich man wanted Abraham to warn his brothers that, unless they changed their greedy ways, they would end up in torment, too. Refusing, Abraham told him they’d already been sufficiently warned. There are no second chances once we’re gone.

One of my husband’s favorite songs is “Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croce and he once said that he’d like it sung at his Celebration of Life. In this song, Croce wishes he could save time in a bottle “till eternity passes away” just to spend it all with his love. “But there never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do, once you find them,” he adds regretfully. In response to my husband’s request, I reminded him that we can’t save time in a bottle or wishes in a box; we must make the most of the time we have. When we’re dead and gone, it’s far too late to regret poor choices and missed opportunities.

Let us never make the mistake of being so occupied with the stuff of life or so sure of tomorrow, that we miss the opportunities of today—whether it’s meeting Jesus, showing compassion to those in need, or merely spending time with those we love. Like the rich fool’s brothers, we’ve been warned!

I expect to pass this way but once; any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again. [Etienne De Grellet]

My life is no longer than my hand! My whole lifetime is but a moment to you. Proud man! Frail as breath! A shadow! And all his busy rushing ends in nothing. He heaps up riches for someone else to spend. And so, Lord, my only hope is in you. [Psalm 39:5-7 (TLB)]

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BROKEN

Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins..…Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me—now let me rejoice.…The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. [Psalm 51:1,7-8, 17 (NLT)]

tiger swallowtailI showed the antique dealer the old silver tray we’d found at an antique store many years ago. Having just read Stephanie Kallo’s novel Broken for You, I’d been drawn to it. Hers was a story of secrets and redemption that told of how two women salvaged their brokenness, first by smashing priceless antique porcelain pieces that had been stolen from Jews during the Holocaust, and then by repurposing the fragments into beautiful mosaics. The novel was an homage to the beauty of broken people and broken things. The tray’s handle had been damaged and soldered back on and I imagine much of the silver plate had worn off its top. It was, however, a thing of beauty because it had been artistically covered with broken pieces of antique painted china. The dealer told me that artists often come into her shop looking for chipped pieces of decorative porcelain. Because they plan on breaking it to use in jewelry or mosaics like my tray, they don’t mind chips or cracks.

Since it was our anniversary weekend, my husband and I had purchased that tray as our gift to one another. The repaired tray, with its broken pieces of china, was a reminder that things don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. When I looked at the tray this time, however, the words from Psalm 51 telling us that God desires a broken spirit came into my mind. The psalm records David’s repentance regarding his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah. By bringing his broken and contrite heart to God, he was made clean and whole again.

Seeing the value in old but damaged china, those mosaic artists won’t reject it when they see it in the antique store and, seeing our value (no matter how damaged we are), God welcomes sincere repentant sinners who come to Him. Knowing that, in spite of our many flaws, we are precious, He salvages and repairs us. Rather than hitting us with a hammer or tossing us at a wall, God chips away at our pride, self-righteousness, hypocrisy, stubbornness, rebellion, and other sinful habits with His word, Spirit, and circumstances. Then, instead of taking our fragmented bits and using solder, glue, and grout to reassemble us, God takes our broken, humble and repentant selves and restores us. Indeed, because of His mercy and grace, with clean hearts and right spirits, we can become things of beauty.

Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God’s love encompasses us completely. … He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. [Dieter F. Uchtdorf]

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. [1 John 1:9 (NLT)]

“Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.” [Isaiah 1:18 (NLT)]

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HEIRLOOMS

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. [Matthew 6:20-21 (NLT)]

CamillaWe’re selling our northern home and, with limited space in Florida, I must winnow out our 52 years of accumulated possessions. “How can I give them away?” I wondered while looking at the beautiful hand-painted Bavarian dinner and dessert plates that belonged to my mother and her mother before that. My fondness for the plates, however, has less to do with their beauty than with their provenance.

When my mother died, I was only fifteen. I remember sitting with my older brother and sister as my father read her hand-written note to us. He tried to hold back his tears as he spoke her words of farewell that passed along various family heirlooms to each of us children. Mentioning her joy at never having broken a plate in the 23 years she’d used them, my mother gave her mother’s china to me. When I look at what is little more than clay, bone ash, flint, feldspar, glaze, paint, and gold gilding, I don’t see plates—I see my mother’s exquisitely set table, the two of us setting it, our family gathering together for a holiday dinner, and my father reading her farewell words to me.

Later, when sorting through books, I came to some that had been my mother’s. Inside the front covers, she’d carefully written her name and home address. “How can I give away these books that meant so much to her?” I thought. Many of them were written by C.S. Lewis and I suspect my affinity for the author comes from her. She belonged to a women’s guild at our church—sort of the 1950’s version of a small group. The women gathered twice a month for fellowship and service and often met at our house. They would sit around the dining room table and sew something called “cancer pads.” My mother couldn’t even thread a needle and her poor eyesight and clumsiness with a needle probably made her more of a hazard than a help in the women’s work. What she excelled at, however, was reading aloud, analyzing the written word and leading discussions. When the women realized that busy hands didn’t keep their mouths from minding other people’s business, my mother suggested that she read to them while they worked.

As I ran my finger over her name, I decided to save just one of her books. The rest of them will go to the church’s library so they can bring someone else pleasure and knowledge. Then, realizing that I don’t need the china to remember the beautiful woman who gave me life, I decided to keep just one of the dessert plates and give away the rest. Rather than hold onto things, I will hold on to my memory of a woman who, recognizing her limitations, wisely used the gifts God gave her.

While the Old Testament speaks of material inheritance and even gives guidelines to ensure the financial welfare of the family, the New Testament speaks of a spiritual inheritance. Rather than worrying about amassing things here on earth, Jesus told us to store up treasures in heaven. Granted, we want our families cared for once we’re gone but more crucial than passing along possessions is the passing along of good character, love, and faith in God.

The important thing is not to hold on to material possessions but to remember the people we associate with them, the love they offered, and the lessons they taught us. I think of the words of Morrie Schwartz (in Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie) who said we continue to live on in the hearts of everyone we’ve touched and nurtured while we were here. “Death ends a life, not a relationship,” said the wise old professor. My children don’t need old china or books to know my mother; they know her through me!

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. [1 Peter 1:3-4 (NLT)]

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