MAKE IT PERSONAL

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 NLT

white peacock butterflyI recently read a devotion that suggested substituting our own personal anxieties and concerns for the troubles listed by Paul in Romans 8. Perhaps your version would read: “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither old age nor loss of loved ones, neither cancer nor dementia, neither our fears for our wayward children nor our worries about finances—not even the powers of terrorism and hate can separate us from God’s love. No hurricanes or earthquakes—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Then again, maybe widowhood, heart disease, migraines, foreclosure, floods, stroke, bullies, loneliness, crime, hunger, depression, fires, hard times, debt, anger, betrayal, homelessness, violence, or tornadoes would be on your list. However you fill in the blanks, Paul’s words remain true and bear repeating. Nothing—absolutely nothing—can separate us from God’s love as shown in Jesus Christ.

That God is for us, however, doesn’t mean we have no enemies. In fact, Paul’s words were written to the Roman church, a church that underwent tremendous persecution for the following 300 years. We encounter threats from both physical and spiritual enemies daily. What it does mean is that those enemies, no matter how powerful they are, can’t turn God against us. Because God gave His only son to save us, we can be sure, not just of his unchanging and everlasting love, but of our salvation.

What troubles would you substitute for Paul’s in Romans 8? No matter what they are, rest assured in the promise that the battle is already over and overwhelming victory is ours through Christ our Lord!

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? … overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. [Romans 8: 31b-32,37b (NLT)]

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THE SCARLET CORD

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation. [Hebrews 11:1-2 (NLT)]

red roseRahab is one of the two women Paul lists in his “Hall of Faith.” This woman from Jericho married Salmon, was the mother of Boaz, a great-great grandmother to David, and one of Jesus’s ancestors. Oh—and she was a prostitute who collaborated with the enemy. Yet, Matthew makes specific mention of her in Jesus’ genealogy and both James and Paul speak highly of her in their epistles. Why?

From what Rahab had heard of the Israelites, she recognized their God as supreme. This perceptive woman anticipated Jericho’s defeat and judiciously aligned herself with the winning side when she protected two Israelite spies. After hiding them from the king’s men, she requested the same loyalty to her that she’d given them and negotiated for the safety of her family. As she lowered the men to safety on a scarlet cord, they told Rahab her protection was only ensured if she had that same cord visible on the day of their attack. True to their word, when Jericho fell, Rahab and her family were saved. Was it Rahab’s treason to Jericho that caused Paul to include her in his list or was there more?

After leaving Rahab’s house, the spies hid in the hills for three days before returning to camp and reporting to Joshua. After that, the Israelites broke camp and moved to the banks of the Jordan where they stayed another three days before crossing the river. Once across, the Israelites erected memorials to commemorate their crossing by God’s power. Four days later, the people celebrated the first night of Passover and, at some point, all of the men were circumcised. As the Israelites observed the eight days of Passover and the men recovered from their surgery, the invincible city of Jericho closed its gates and readied itself for battle. Meanwhile, Rahab had waited at least two weeks for the Israelites and her rescue. Did she begin to doubt the two spies and their God? Had she picked the wrong side to support? Did she consider bringing in that scarlet cord and making an alliance with a protector in Jericho? Was she tempted to lose faith in the God of the Israelites?

Eventually, the Israelites set off to conquer Jericho but they didn’t assault the town or lay siege to it. Instead, seven priests blowing rams’ horns led the Ark of the Covenant followed by 40,000 soldiers around the walled city before returning to their camp. For six days, Rahab watched from her window as the army silently marched around the city and then departed without lifting a weapon. Was Rahab’s faith shaken by this strange behavior? Were the men too afraid to attack? What kind of God used such a bizarre battle plan? On the seventh day, when she watched the Israelites parade seven times around the city, did she abandon all hope as she witnessed what appeared to be another day of even more pointless marching? Apparently not; that scarlet cord, the sign of her faith in the God of the Israelites, was still hanging from her window. When the army finally shouted, the walls of the unconquerable city collapsed and Rahab and her family were saved.

The walls of Jericho were leveled by faith in God. Rahab helped two strangers and kept that scarlet cord dangling from her window by that same faith. When God’s plan seems inexplicable or a long time in coming, do we exhibit a similar kind of faith? When things seem at a standstill, when we can’t see His plan, do we despair or do we hang out a scarlet cord of faith in God?

It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing down. It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. [Hebrews 11:30-31 (NLT)]

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DISAPPOINTMENT

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. [2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

OrchidPeople disappoint. Consider Moses’ disappointment when, fresh off Mt. Sinai after a 40 day meeting with God, he returned to find the Israelites worshipping a golden calf. Can you imagine David’s disappointment when Saul, the man he’d comforted with his songs, plotted his death? Picture Nathan’s disappointment in David when he confronted him about his adultery with Bathsheba. Think of Joseph’s disappointment in the brothers he thought loved him as they callously sold him into slavery. Consider Jesus’ disappointment in the denying Peter, the betraying Judas, and His sleeping disciples. For that matter, consider the disappointment of the disciples as they saw their hope for the end of Rome’s tyranny die a criminal’s death on the cross.

People let us down. I remember back to 1974, when the Watergate cover-up began to unravel. My in-laws were deeply disappointed and saddened when the president they’d supported resigned in disgrace. Today, that sort of public betrayal doesn’t surprise us. Every day we learn of another betrayal of the public’s trust, abuse of power or lack of integrity. Manipulation, deception, and falsehoods are daily events. Nevertheless, when they’re done by someone we actually know—someone in whom we believed—we’re shocked and hurt. Recently, I’ve learned that people I thought I knew—people I trusted and respected—are not worthy of that trust or respect. That some others, knowing of their duplicity, have chosen to tolerate or gloss over it adds to my disappointment. Yes, people can let us down.

When efforts at rectification and reconciliation failed, my initial response was anger and indignation. That’s when the one most hurt by this betrayal of trust reminded me that I must always lead with love. Resolution is not possible, anger and retaliation are wrong, so forgiveness, prayer and grief are all that remain. With a forgiving heart, I will pray for both the betrayers and betrayed and grieve for what has been lost. Then, putting this disappointment behind me and trusting in God’s guidance, I will move forward into tomorrow.

It’s been said, “People will let us down but God never will.” Indeed, people let down Moses, David, Nathan, Joseph, and Jesus and they will continue to disappoint us. Jesus, however, never let down the disciples. Their hopes were briefly dashed when He was laid in a borrowed tomb but, with His resurrection three days later, they saw the end of sin’s tyranny and the beginning of life eternal. God will never let us down. As I lay my disappointment before Him in prayer, I know He will take my sad heart and restore it with strength, confidence, faith, and love. He will never disappoint!

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. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. [Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)]

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PSALM 88

O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out to you by day. I come to you at night. Now hear my prayer; listen to my cry. For my life is full of troubles, and death draws near. [Psalm 88:1-3 (NLT)]

zebra swallowtailI woke to yet another cold dreary winter day. Troubled by a variety of concerns and hoping to improve my glum mood, I turned to Psalms. Unfortunately, I made a bad choice in Psalm 88. Written by Heman the Ezrahite, I saw that originally it was to be sung to the tune “The Suffering of Affliction” (which should have been my clue to read no further).

During David’s time, Heman was one of three chief Levites appointed to conduct music in the tabernacle (the equivalent of today’s worship leader). Perhaps he wrote this psalm to console David in his sorrow after the loss of his son but there seems to be nothing consoling about it. The speaker’s life is full of troubles; he considers himself a lost cause and as good as dead. Repulsive and depressed, he’s been forgotten by his friends, feels God’s anger, and asks God why he’s been rejected. Typically, psalms of lament eventually turn from despair to hope and from misery to confidence but there’s not even a glimmer of hope in this one! “Darkness is my closest friend,” are the psalmist’s final words. Although the RSV Bible subtitles the psalm a “Prayer for Help in Despondency,” a far better title would be “Job’s Lament!”

Later that morning, we attended worship at our northern church. The service, an Advent tradition there, was a celebration of the beautiful music of the Christmas season. As I listened to the words of the carols, my spirits lifted. Unlike Heman, this was a worship leader who knew what songs would help the despondent.

With my improved outlook, I thought back to that mournful psalm and realized that, as miserable and depressed as the psalmist was, he hadn’t given up on God. His words were honest—he was wretched and desolate—and yet he knew God heard his complaint. Even though he felt abandoned, he continued to pray which means he knew he hadn’t been forsaken. In fact, knowing his words were not falling on deaf ears, he vowed to continue his prayers. He knew that tears and prayers go together—that his troubles were a reason to talk with God rather than a reason to stop praying

It was the words of John 3:16 that made me finally understand that the sorrowful psalm and the joyful carols were telling me the same thing. No matter how wretched we feel, no matter how distressing our situation, no matter how severe our suffering, we are loved. Unfortunately, faith is no protection from trouble and sometimes we will sink in sorrow. Nevertheless, like the psalmist, we can remain earnest in prayer. Knowing that God loved us enough to give us His only son, we can know He loves us enough to hear our prayers. Even when we feel abandoned, God is with us; Immanuel is His name.

Those who are in trouble of mind may sing this psalm [Psalm 88] feelingly; those that are not ought to sing it thankfully, blessing God that it is not their case. [Matthew Henry]

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. [John 3:16 (NLT)]

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THE CHAIR

What sorrow awaits those who look to Egypt for help, trusting their horses, chariots, and charioteers and depending on the strength of human armies instead of looking to the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. [Isaiah 31:1 (NLT)]

The best-equipped army cannot save a king, nor is great strength enough to save a warrior. Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—for all its strength, it cannot save you. [Psalm 33:16-17 (NLT)]

Lake LouiseThe small chair looked quite inviting but there was a note on it: “Broken—do not use.” That note has been resting on the same chair for several years. Had the chair been mine, it would have been repaired or at least hidden out of the way. As it is now, the chair is useless and an invitation to disaster. Just a slight breeze might blow the warning off the chair; the next person to come along could sit there and end up sprawled on the floor surrounded by splintered wood.

In contrast to the precarious antique chair at my friend’s house, is the large leather arm chair in our family room. It’s not there for looks—it’s there for support and comfort. Oversized and well-built, it’s strong enough to hold my weight and that of all the grands as they pile on it with me. It’s durable, comfortable, welcoming and dependable.

Some people depend on things as fragile as that broken chair—things that look nice but can’t be trusted like wealth, career, appearance, possessions, power, contacts, intelligence, or fame. They may appear sturdier than that broken chair but, like it, they can easily shatter and collapse when we need them most. Our circumstances can change in an instant and what we had yesterday may not be here tomorrow. The Old Testament is filled with stories showing the danger of relying on the wrong things. The kingdoms of Israel and Judah suffered for their dependence on idols, other nations, and themselves rather than God; we will, too. When we depend on anything as weak as a rickety old chair, eventually it will collapse and we’ll be left to pick up the broken pieces. As for me, I’d rather depend on a God who is like our arm chair—strong, steadfast and indestructible! Ours is a rock-solid God who won’t fail us, no matter how much weight we place on Him.

On who or what do you rely? Is it reliable….as reliable as God?

But the Lord watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love. He rescues them from death and keeps them alive in times of famine. We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone. [Psalm 33:19-22 (NLT)]

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MY VACUUM

Can you solve the mysteries of God? Can you discover everything about the Almighty? Such knowledge is higher than the heavens—and who are you? It is deeper than the underworld—what do you know? It is broader than the earth and wider than the sea. [Job 11:7-9 (NLT)]

great blue heronAt our house, the closest thing we have to a pet is one of those robot vacuums. While it’s nearly as entertaining as a puppy, it needs far less care. As I watch it zip around the house, its movement appears to be entirely random. Sometimes it starts by spiraling outward in a circle and other times it heads for the perimeter of the room. Whenever it hits an obstacle, it seems to bounce off in another direction. Apparently, it has multiple sensors that help it calculate room size, detect obstacles, and adjust for variations in surface.

Sometimes I think I’m not even as smart as this silly machine. It knows enough to stop and beep if it gets in a tight spot; as for me—I usually think I can get out of tight spots on my own when I clearly can’t! I should call on God as readily as the robot beeps for me. The robot will stop when it is filled with dirt. Like it, I don’t function well when bogged down with the grime of my life. Unfortunately, I’m not very good about confessing my sins and asking God to empty me of my burdens. When its battery runs low, this little vac knows enough to find its way back to its recharging station, connect, and charge up again. I, however, tend to forget the importance of resting in God and letting Him power me up again. I often run myself ragged until I stop dead in my tracks.

In spite of reading various explanations of its programming, I have yet to figure out whatever logic is built into this robotic cleaner. Right now, it is zipping around my office, going under tables and chairs and ducking in and out of corners; I can see neither rhyme nor reason to its behavior. Nevertheless, that robot knows what it’s doing and, given enough time, does a good job. I can’t help but think of the often inexplicable way God runs the universe. The events of life often seem random, disconnected, and perplexing and yet they are all part of a program we simply don’t understand. Just because we don’t understand them doesn’t mean they’re not part of God’s perfect plan.

I can program the vacuum to clean on my schedule, move it wherever I want, and place it on or remove it from the charger. I can even erect a virtual wall with a battery-powered infrared beam so it stays where I want. Clearly, in the case of my vacuum, I’m the one with the power. With God and us, however, He’s the one with all of the power and we are at His mercy. He schedules our lives, gives us tasks, and erects life’s barriers. He moves us wherever and whenever He wants and determines when our running time has ended. We just need to remember that the way He orchestrates our lives, like the way my little robot works, is beyond our understanding.

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen. Romans 11:33-36 (NLT)]

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