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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HE CAME DOWN (Zacchaeus – part 2)

Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. [Revelation 3:20 (NLT)]

black-crowned night-heronConsider the determination of Zacchaeus, the despised little man who, unable to shove his way through the crowd to see the rabbi from Nazareth, doggedly ran ahead and climbed a tree just to catch a glimpse of Him. Running and climbing were undignified behavior and certainly inappropriate for a wealthy businessman like Zacchaeus. Do we desire Jesus so much that we’d push our way through obstacles or risk looking ridiculous for Him? Are we as determined as the publican to learn about the Lord or do we use any flimsy excuse to miss church, Bible study or time in prayer?

If Zacchaeus thought he’d escaped notice hiding behind the broad leaves of the sycamore, he was mistaken. Jesus saw him as did the crowd when Jesus called out, “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” The crowd must have loved seeing the hated man embarrassed as he exposed his legs while climbing down the tree. But, it wasn’t just the tree from which Zacchaeus needed to descend; he had to come down from his “high horse” and humble himself before the Lord. In the presence of Jesus, Zacchaeus was no longer a rich powerful tax-collector; he was just a lowly sinner.

When Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’ home, the man didn’t say he had previous plans, the house needed cleaning, or his wife had nothing ready for dinner. The tax man immediately (and joyfully) welcomed Jesus into his home and life. Are we that quick (and happy) to meekly respond when God calls us or do we grumble and find a dozen excuses to delay?

As happens when we humbly encounter the Lord, once Zacchaeus met Jesus, he repented of his ways. He promised to give half his wealth to the poor and make full restitution to those he’d cheated by giving back four times the amount owed! The story of Zacchaeus, the man who almost instantaneously went from greed to generosity, shows us the amazing transforming power of Jesus. Zacchaeus, however, knew that what he was being offered by Jesus was far greater than any riches he could amass as a corrupt tax collector. The lost sheep had been found!

Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” [Luke 19:9-10 (NLT)]

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WHY HIM? (Zacchaeus – part 1)

When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” [Luke 19:8 (NLT)]

The little ones at Sunday school love singing the song about the “wee little man” who “climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see.” While “wee little man” makes Zacchaeus sound somewhat endearing, if we were casting him in a movie, we’d hire the short man audiences love to hate: 4’10” Danny DeVito who, with his deep raspy voice, has specialized in playing mean-spirited ruthless people. Zacchaeus was a tax collector (publican) and could have been the poster boy for corruption in Judea. Under Roman rule, people bid on the right to collect taxes. While publicans had to pay a fixed amount to Rome, in lieu of salary, they could charge far more than required and keep the difference for themselves. As the chief tax collector in Jericho, Zacchaeus got a share of everybody’s taxes and had become a rich man.

Although Jewish, a publican was excluded from Jewish social life. Considered unclean, he was made to stand with the Gentiles at the Temple. Despised by both the Romans and his fellow countrymen as a corrupt collaborator, Zacchaeus may have been rich but it’s hard to think he was very happy.

By this time in Jesus’s ministry, our Lord had attracted quite a following and a crowd of people surrounded Him as He entered Jericho. Whether it was a guilty conscience, discontent, or simply curiosity, Zacchaeus wanted to see this unusual rabbi. Perhaps the miserable man had heard that Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and other sinners. Unable to see over the heads of those in front of him, the little man unsuccessfully tried to make his way through the crush of people. As disliked as he was, there may have been a few extra shoves and elbow jabs as he was jostled by the crowd. Determined to see Jesus, Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed up into a tree to get a better look when He went by.

The children’s favorite part of the Zacchaeus song comes when they point their fingers, and call (as did Jesus), “Zacchaeus, you come down, for I’m going to your house today!” I don’t think the children wonder why Jesus chose this man but I’m sure the people of Jericho did! Picture a crowd following someone like the Pope. Imagine their shock if he stopped his motorcade and called into the crowd, “Bernie Madoff, come over here. I must come to your house today!”  Why would someone as holy as the Pope want to spend time with the notorious Ponzi schemer who bilked thousands out of billions? Stunned, the crowd around Jesus was asking a similar question, “Why would the good rabbi pick out Zacchaeus, a notorious sinner, and want to spend time with him?”

Perhaps, out of all of those people looking for a Messiah to save them from Roman rule, Zacchaeus was the only one who saw the need for someone to save him from sin! Jesus hadn’t come for the self-righteous; He came for the ones who knew they were unrighteous. Rather than the self-satisfied, Jesus came for the lost. Like the publican in Jesus’s parable about the Pharisee and tax collector (found in Luke 18), Zacchaeus knew who and what he was: a sinner in need of redemption.

But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.” I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. [Luke 18:13-14 (NLT)]

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SILVER LININGS

clouds over Steamboat Springs

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before or after his time. [2 Kings 18:5 (NLT)]

“Every cloud has a silver lining!” says the wife to her warrior husband in one of Jim Unger’s Herman comics. Since he’s holding one sword in his hand and has another running right through his chest, she points out, “Now you’ve got two swords!” Indeed, we should accentuate the positive. Nevertheless, when we see clouds forming, in spite of the possibility of their having a silver lining, it’s wise to get out the umbrellas and prepare for a storm.

The twelfth king of Judah, King Hezekiah, was one of the few good ones. He removed pagan shrines throughout the land, instigated several civil reforms, restored daily worship at the Temple, reinstituted the Passover celebration, fortified Jerusalem’s walls, and made their water supply invulnerable to siege. When the Babylonian king sent an envoy bearing gifts to Hezekiah, the king proudly showed the delegation both his armory and all of the nation’s treasures. Perhaps Hezekiah saw a potential alliance and wanted to impress Babylon, a rising power in the east. Nevertheless, it was like the chicken taking the fox on a tour of the henhouse. Hezekiah’s boastful action led to Isaiah’s prophecy of Judah’s defeat by Babylon. The prophet told the king that none of Judah’s treasures would remain and that some of his sons would be taken away in exile to serve as eunuchs in the Babylonian court.

We’d expect Hezekiah’s reaction to such a devastating prophecy to be one of despair, if not repentance, sack cloth, fasting and ashes. Instead, Hezekiah chose to see the silver lining in the storm cloud hanging over his nation and family: Judah’s destruction wouldn’t take place during his lifetime! Perhaps, rather than pride, Hezekiah’s sin was that of self-centeredness. His concern was only for his legacy—the peace and prosperity of his reign rather than the future of the nation, his people, his family, and the continuation of David’s line. He was just happy that his reign was secure and he wouldn’t be alive to see the destruction of all that he’d built! It was that short-sightedness that led him to cozy up to the Babylonians and incur God’s displeasure and discipline in the first place!

While Hezekiah is known as the best of the Judean kings, his son Manasseh is known as the worst! Manasseh was woefully ill-prepared to continue his father’s reign and, as soon as Hezekiah died, the nation immediately returned to its idolatrous and sinful ways. Manasseh built altars to Baal, worshipped the stars, erected Asherah poles, defiled the Temple, sacrificed his own children, dabbled in sorcery, astrology and wizardry, cruelly executed those who opposed him, and is said to have been responsible for Isaiah’s death. I can’t help but wonder how Judah’s fate might have changed had Hezekiah been as concerned about the storm cloud rising in the future as he was about the silver lining of his present. Less than 150 years later, Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, carried away all of its riches, and took the people of Judah into captivity.

Sometimes, the silver lining in a cloud just isn’t worth it! The wife in the comic saw two swords instead of a fatally injured man and Hezekiah saw a great legacy instead of Jerusalem’s destruction. Let us remember that it’s not enough for us to finish well; we want those who follow us to do so, too.

King Manasseh of Judah has done many detestable things. He is even more wicked than the Amorites, who lived in this land before Israel. He has caused the people of Judah to sin with his idols. So this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I will bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of those who hear about it will tingle with horror. 2 Kings 21:11-12 (NLT)]

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MODERN LOVE

Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. [1 John 3:18 (NLT)]

Canada Geese

Several years ago, we were celebrating Valentine’s Day with a dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. A young couple was seated next to us and, from the way she kept flashing the shiny diamond on her left hand, it appeared they were newly engaged. I thought how sweet it was for us old married folks to sneak a peek into some young love on this traditional night of romance. Instead of holding hands, however, the couple held their phones. Instead of staring into each other’s eyes, they stared down at their phones. Instead of whispering sweet nothings, they texted, tweeted, Facebooked, or Linked in. They did look up long enough for the waiter to take their picture, which was instantly sent off to the cloud somewhere. The only time they touched was when they posed for the requisite selfies. The phones were lowered only when a glass or fork was raised. Unless they were texting one another (which is a distinct possibility), the few times I saw them speak was to share something on their phones.

“What happened to romance?” I wondered. What happened to conversation? What happened to touch, eye contact, or even laughter? When did it become more vital to share our thoughts with the world than with the person beside us? When did it become more important to memorialize an event digitally than to live the event while it is happening? When did it become more imperative to show the world our faces than to show our loved ones our hearts?

Part of me wanted to grab their phones away and warn them that love needs more than on-line posts and a relationship can’t be maintained with 280-character tweets. I’m just an old married lady, but even I know that love requires work and that Google, Alexa, and Siri don’t have all the answers. Love is far more than looking good for the rest of the world; love is being good with and for one another. Being loved and being able to love are gifts from God. Although I said nothing to them, I did pray for them. If I’d had their numbers, I might have texted Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 13 that have guided us in our marriage. Maybe then they would have noticed one another.

Recently, I watched a young family at another restaurant. Both mother and father had their noses in their phones the entire evening and their two children were busy with their individual tablets: one watching a movie and the other playing a game. The only time they looked away from their devices was to speak with the waitress. I couldn’t help but remember that twosome many Valentine’s Days ago. If they’re even still together, is this what their family meals are like?

Let us never mistake simply being there with being present. Love is far more than just the presence of our bodies—it’s our mental and emotional presence, as well! While our cell phones and tablets connect us with the world, that connection must never be at the expense of truly connecting, face to face, with one another! If we ever hope to truly connect, we first must disconnect.

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. [Romans 12:9-10 (NLT)]

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