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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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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TWICE A DAY ISN’T ENOUGH!

Peacocks - albinoThey [the Levites] are to stand every morning and evening to thank and praise the Lord. [1 Chronicles 23:30 (NLV)]

Several years ago, when my daughter and grand visited, we had a fun-filled day with excursions to both the botanic gardens and a private animal preserve. When offering grace over dinner, we thanked God for our meal and the many plants and animals we’d seen that day. Later that evening, I realized it wasn’t just the abundance and beauty of God’s creation for which I was thankful. I was grateful for the look of amazement on my grand’s face while petting an iguana and feeding a zebra, for the volunteer workers who make places like botanic gardens and animal refuges possible and for the donors who fund their cause. I was thankful for the people who rescue mistreated and abandoned animals and the grocery stores that donate food to feed those animals. I was thankful for Legos and the talented artist who created the delightful Lego sculptures at the gardens, the GPS that led us to the remote refuge, seeing peacocks with their beautiful plumage, and our laughter as we played silly card games after dinner. As the list continued, I realized how incredibly blessed we were, not just that particular day, but every day. After all, every day with which we’re blessed becomes an extraordinary day! The Levites were required to give thanks at least twice a day but twice a day hardly seems enough.

Father, forgive us when we fail to properly thank you for the many blessings in our lives. A few words are never enough to express our appreciation for the way you make our ordinary days so very extraordinary.

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]

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and sing praises to Your name, O Most High. It is good to tell of Your loving-kindness in the morning, and of how faithful You are at night, with harps, and with music of praise. For You have made me glad by what You have done, O Lord. I will sing for joy at the works of Your hands. [Psalm 92:1-4 (NLV)]

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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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NO REGRETS

Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. [Revelation 21:3-4 (NLT)]

It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. 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. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies. [1 Corinthians 15:42-44 (NLT)]

tiger swallowtail butterfly on bergamotWhen writing yesterday’s devotion (“It’s Curtains”), I couldn’t help but feel a brief pang of regret because I never had those conversations with my parents before they died. The thoughts, “Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you,” may have been assumed but never were spoken. I was fifteen when my mother succumbed to cancer. I saw her that day in hospital but, when I walked out that afternoon, I was sure I’d see her again when I visited the following day. I never thought the next time I saw her she’d be lying in a casket. When people would say, “She looks so good,” I wanted to shout at them and say, “She doesn’t look good; she looks dead!” Five years later, I was in the same funeral home and surrounded by many of the same mourners. That time, it was my father’s body lying so still in the front of the room. Two day earlier he’d been hunting pheasants when his heart failed; he died in the middle of a corn field. I’d seen him just a few weeks before that and never thought our farewell was the final one. Did my parents know how much I loved them? Did they know how sorry I was for my failings? Did they know I forgave them for theirs? Did they know how thankful I was for the life they gave me?

If we’d had those conversations at that time, however, I’m not sure how satisfying they would have been. I was far too young to have any concept of what it meant to be a parent and make the difficult choices parents do. I was too immature to have a real appreciation of the sacrifices they made for me or to understand the depth of parental love and the pain that so often accompanies it. And, I was far too young to acknowledge how wrong I’d been in so many ways. I think of the Apostle Paul’s words, “I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child.” Indeed, I did. Now, more than fifty years later, I have the blessings of faith, maturity, perspective, and experience but those conversations cannot take place. Surely, like me, there are others whose final farewells were nonexistent or less than satisfactory. Nevertheless, they were final.

Although I expect to meet my parents in heaven, I think we’ll be too busy joyfully worshipping God to bring our regrets with us to the afterlife. What’s done is done and those last farewells, as unsatisfactory as they were, will have to do. The past is just that—passed! There really is no room in our lives for regret or looking backward. After all, we still have a race to run.

To dwell on the past simply causes failure in the present. While you are sitting down and bemoaning the past and regretting all the things you have not done, you are crippling yourself and preventing yourself from working in the present. Is that Christianity? Of course it is not. [Martyn Lloyd-Jones]

I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. [Philippians 3:13b-14 (NLT)]

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IT’S CURTAINS

Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. [Psalm 90:12 (NLT)]

Death never takes the wise man by surprise; He is always ready to go. [Jean de La Fontaine]

PEONYWithin a week of one another, two friends joined the ranks of widowhood. One was not surprised when she joined this club. Her husband surrendered to cancer several months ago when they chose to stop all treatment and make the most of their remaining time together. The other woman was caught by surprise; she went to bed a wife and awoke the next morning a widow. Her husband, who appeared to be the picture of health, had suffered a fatal heart attack during the night.

I thought of these women when reading an article in Prevention magazine by Dr. Ira Babcock. His experience as a palliative physician taught him the value of making four statements before saying our last good-byes: Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. Although the first family had an opportunity to prepare for that last good-bye, the second family did not.

We may picture a peaceful ending with family gathered around the bedside affording us an opportunity to say and hear whatever needs to be said or heard. In actuality, that’s probably not the way the last act of life will be staged. Any forgiveness that needs to be asked for or extended, any thanks that should be offered, and any words of love to be spoken cannot wait for the last act. We may not even know the play is nearly finished, the people to whom we want to speak may not be present, or conversation may not be possible.

Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. They’re all thoughts that shouldn’t wait to be expressed until we or the people we love are at death’s door. In their last moments, did either of those husbands regret having left something unspoken? When the casket was closed, did their family members weep because of words they’d left unsaid? I’d like to think the first husband and his family had expressed their forgiveness, thanks and love. As for the second husband—as he was gasping his last few breaths, did he wish he’d said “I love you!” before his wife went to bed? Do his children regret not apologizing for something or failing to express their love and appreciation for all he did? Does his wife wish she’d told him how much she loved him that night? Does she regret their morning argument or wish she’d thanked him for his incredible patience?

Lazarus died and was resurrected. If he or Martha and Mary left anything unsaid the first time he died, I imagine they didn’t the second. Unlike Lazarus, we don’t get a second chance at dying and, unlike Martha and Mary, we don’t get a second opportunity to say farewell to our loved ones.

Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. We don’t know when the curtain will close. Is there anyone to whom we should say those words before it does?

Everyone knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it…If we did, we would do things differently. … Forgive yourself before you die, then forgive others. [Morrie Schwartz in “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom]

Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath. [Psalm 39:4-5 (NLT)]

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