ALL FOR THE GOOD

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)]

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, the True Judge,” is a blessing often said by Jews when they undergo a death or tragedy. “This is all for the good,” or “Blessed is the true judge,” is often said by other Jews in response to their tragic news. Rather than being about God’s final judgment of a person, these words remind them that only God can judge whether events are good or bad. To illustrate this point, the Talmud has a story about the second century sage, Rabbi Akiva. One night, the rabbi, along with his rooster and donkey, arrived in a village. When no one would give Akiva a place to stay, the rebbe said, “All that God does, He does for the good.” He then walked to a field outside of town, set up camp, and lit his lantern. That evening, a gust of wind knocked over the lantern breaking it, a fox came and ate the rooster, and a lion came and killed the donkey. In spite of all that, Akiva said, “All that God does, He does for the good!” Just before dawn, marauders came and attacked the village but, camped in the field without light, crowing rooster or braying donkey to reveal his presence, the rabbi remained safe.

The Talmud explains this story by saying that we must bless God for the bad news that comes our way in the same manner we bless Him for the good things that befall us. Indeed, when Scripture tells us we are told to love God with our whole heart, soul and strength it doesn’t mention any exceptions for circumstances we don’t like. While it’s easy to love God with our entire being when all is good, we must also love Him that same way in our suffering, sorrow and misfortune. Rest assured, in the long run, whatever happens to us is for our good. That, however, does not mean everything that happens to us will be good. Indeed, even when we don’t know why, pain, grief and adversity are blessings. All that God does, He does for the good! Blessed be the true judge.

God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil to exist. [Saint Augustine]

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? … 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 8:35,38-39 (NLT)]

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SEEING THE OTHER SIDE

Monarch buttefliesNow all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. [Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)]

“He’s so young!” said my husband when my brother died at the age of fifty-six. I reminded him that my dad was the same age when he died. “But he was old!” my husband exclaimed. The difference, of course, is that we were in our fifties when my brother died but only in our twenties when my father did. That the same thing can look so different from two viewpoints makes me think of those tilt or magic motion cards that used to come in Cracker Jack© boxes. Done by something called lenticular printing, one card holds two or more different images. Titled one way, there might be the traditional Mona Lisa but, tilted the other way, she would be winking with a goofy grin on her face. Just as whether someone seems young or old depends as much on our age as theirs, what is perceived on a tilt card depends on the angle at which it is viewed.

When we look at a magic motion card, we only see what’s right in front of us but, when God looks at one, He sees if from all sides. Looking at life from just our viewpoint, we only see what’s happening now and how it affects us and those we love. We see the delay and feel the frustration of waiting but, from His viewpoint, God also sees us learning patience. We see the task and protest that our work is too demanding but He sees that we’re learning determination. We see the unknown and hesitate in fear but He sees us learning to trust Him. We see the betrayal and feel resentment but He sees us learning to forgive. We see the burden of caregiving and grow tired but He sees us learning about sacrifice. We see the cranky in-laws and get exasperated but He see us learning about unconditional love. We see the failure and are disheartened but He sees us developing resilience. Rather than looking at circumstances from just our viewpoint, we need to tilt the picture and look at circumstances through the eyes of God.

One of my favorite Bible verses is Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Unfortunately, that’s about as specific as God gets in detailing those plans. So, just as I can’t see both pictures on a tilt card at once, I have no idea what is on the other side of today’s challenges. I will just have to settle for knowing that our loving God sees it all and His plans for me are good ones.

God allows us to experience the low points of life in order to teach us lessons we could not learn in any other way. The way we learn those lessons is not to deny the feelings but to find the meanings underlying them. [Stanley Lindquist]

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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CROWNING GLORY

Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by living a godly life. [Proverbs 16:31 (NLT)]

The glory of the young is their strength; the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old. [Proverbs 20:29 (NLT)]

GrandmaGrey hair may be a crown of glory and the splendor of old age, but that’s about all the splendor and glory I see in advanced years. As my mother-in-law approaches her 102nd birthday, there is little about her quality of life that I consider glorious or splendid. Her sparkling personality, vigor and enthusiasm, along with her hearing, visual perception, ability to reason, and memory are vanishing. Occasionally a spark of her old self resurfaces but, for the most part, the essence of the woman who has been a mother to me for over fifty years has disappeared.

When I join my mother-in-law for meals at her senior residence, along with gray hair, I see plenty of stooped, shuffling, and incapacitated people. While speaking with them, rather than words of wisdom, I often hear the words of confused and failing minds. While writing about fear yesterday, I realized that, while I’m not afraid of old age, I am afraid of the infirmities that can come with it.

Fear may lie about plenty of things but he doesn’t lie when he tells me I’m getting old. The mirror, arthritis, my worsening eyesight, and my less than sharp memory tell me that every day. Fear, however, doesn’t stop at telling me I’m old. When I walk into a room and forget why I went there or fail to recall someone’s name, he whispers “dementia.” When my knees scream or my back aches, he flashes an image of an old woman hunched over a walker. If I need a magnifying glass to read directions or a small flashlight to scan a menu, he tells me it’s only a matter of time before I’m blind as a bat. Fear, however, doesn’t know what the future holds and neither do I.

My life expectancy at birth was almost 70 years of age. Having passed that milestone, I took an online test to determine my expected expiration date. Based on my zip code, marital status, and present health and weight, it’s a high probability that I’ve got twenty-five more years. Rather than finding that number reassuring, I find it terrifying. I don’t want to require help to bathe or dress and I don’t want to give up hikes through the woods or riding a bike. I don’t want there to be a time when I can’t read my Bible, remember the verses I’ve worked so hard to memorize, or do a crossword puzzle or Sudoku. I don’t want to need Depends, use a wheelchair, or forget my children’s names. I want to stay the way I am now but, short of dying today, that’s not likely to happen. Moreover, what I want doesn’t matter. Time will take its toll on all of us and, for some, that toll will be great. All we can do is take care of ourselves the best we can and trust the rest to God. As long as He gives us breath, He has a purpose for us. Our job is to live purposefully, thankfully, and joyfully all the days He’s given us.

As for my mother-in-law, in spite of her loss of vitality and mental faculties, she remains cheerful, pleasant and friendly (and she looks fabulous). Her younger tablemates tell me she’s an inspiration to them. Indeed, when I think about it, she’s an inspiration to me. She is facing the ailments and indignities that come with advanced age with faith, grace, and love. With God’s power, I can do the same. I will make the most of today, send fear packing, and let God worry about my tomorrows!

God never said that the journey would be easy, but He did say that the arrival would be worthwhile. [Max Lucado]

My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever. Psalm 73:26 (NLT)]

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. [2 Corinthians 4:16 (NLT)]

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THE LIAR

Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” [Mark 4:40 (NLT)]

Fear, he is a liar; He will take your breath;
Stop you in your steps. Fear, he is a liar;
He will rob your rest; Steal your happiness;
Cast your fear in the fire. Cause fear, he is a liar.
[Zach Williams, Jonathan Smith, Jason Ingram]

killdeerI was singing along with Zach Williams, “Fear, he is a liar,” when I recalled one of my memory verses: “The Lord is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid?” [Psalm 27:1] I then realized a commonality in the Bible verses I’ve been memorizing: fear. If asked, I wouldn’t say I’m a fearful person and yet the Bible verses I’ve been memorizing contradict me. I don’t suffer an assortment of phobias nor do I see a threat around every corner. I’m not unduly anxious—I don’t pace, bite my nails, stay awake all night, or binge eat. While I’m cautious when the situation calls for caution, I don’t consider myself irrationally fearful, so why did I choose to memorize so many Bible verses dealing with fear?

I’m not afraid of public places like the grocery, losing my cell phone, or reading books, and a walk through my house would tell you I’m not afraid of dust; clearly, I don’t have agoraphobia, nomophobia, bibliophobia or koniophobia. When thinking about fear, however, I was mistaking phobias for a common garden variety fear that can afflict us all. It can keep us imprisoned in much the same way as agoraphobia—only instead of being trapped in our homes, we’re trapped in our small comfort zones. It’s the fear that we’re not enough: not good enough, strong enough or smart enough. It’s the malicious voice that tells us we’re unworthy, unwelcome, unloved, and unfit. It’s the fear that we’re not up to the task, we’ll be embarrassed, or we should be ashamed. It’s the apprehension that we’re either too young or too old and the whisper that says we’re not dedicated, loving or virtuous enough to do God’s work. It’s the fear of failure and of the unknown. It’s the same fear that plagued Gideon and Moses: the fear that we’re inadequate to the task at hand.

In a way, fear does tell the truth—alone, we are not enough. Fear, however, is a liar because he doesn’t tell us the whole truth; we have a more-than-enough God. He has more than enough riches, wisdom, strength, and love for us all. If we live by God’s power, there is nothing to fear! When we place our not-enough-selves into His hand, we become His more-than-enough servants. Indeed, fear is a liar.

Remember: even the smallest drop of God’s strength is more than enough to cover our frailties, our shortcomings, and the places where we deem ourselves weak. [Lysa Terkeurst]

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline. [2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT)]

I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for He is right beside me. [Psalm 16:8 (NLT)]

For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. [1 Corinthians 4:20 (NLT)]

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IT HURTS

I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, “My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.” [2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (MSG)]

oleander - rocky mt. bee plant

I recently read about a man who can’t feel pain because of a rare neurological condition called “congenital insensitivity to pain.” As someone who often reaches for the Ibuprofen because of assorted aches and pains, this sounded like a true blessing. In actuality, as nice as never having a headache, sciatica, or feeling the sting of fire ants initially sounds, it is life-threatening. Although this man can identify whether something is warm or cool, he can’t know that the coffee is burning his tongue, the stovetop is blistering his fingers, or the subzero temperatures have given him frostbite. He won’t feel the pain in his abdomen before his appendix bursts or the tightening in his heart signaling a heart attack. He chewed off part of his tongue when just a baby and has broken over seventy bones simply because he doesn’t know how to avoid injury. With no pain to restrain them, children with this condition tend to be daredevils. Pain is what teaches us to use our bodies correctly and safely. It warns of danger by telling us when something is too hot, cold, heavy, tight, hard or sharp and alerts us when something is wrong—a muscle is torn, a bone is broken, or an infection has set in.

Not only does pain protect and correct us, it certainly gets our attention, knocks us to our knees and turns us toward God. Moreover, it offers an opportunity both for our church family to draw near and comfort us and for us to witness to others in our pain.  As much as we don’t appreciate pain, it is a blessing rather than a burden. In reality, along with thanking God for the Ibuprofen, we should be thanking Him for the pain.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. [C.S. Lewis]

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. [2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (MSG)]

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)]

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TRUSTING GOD

This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. [Psalm 91:2 (NLT)]

The Lord is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble? [Psalm 27:1 (NLT)]

During our western trip with the grands, I wasn’t the only one to step out of my comfort zone. The two youngsters (fifteen and eighteen) took some big steps when they did a four-hour “Treetop Adventure” – think Swiss Family Robinson crossed with the X-Games or Tarzan meets American Ninja Warrior. After ascending the mountain, they had a short safety briefing, suited up in body harnesses with tethers, and set off on their aerial adventure. They maneuvered through the tree tops on elements like swaying bridges, z-shaped balance beams, high wires, hanging ropes, swinging logs, and flying skateboards. They climbed ladders, scrambled up and through cargo nets, rode thirteen zip lines, tree top adventure - jacksonand literally jumped through hoops; all of this took place some twelve to eighty feet above the forest floor.

Their equipment included a safety belay system which, in theory, always kept them clipped to a safety wire. Although participants could fall, the harness and tethers would keep them from falling more than a few feet. While it would be difficult, they could pull themselves back up and continue the course. If unable to get back up, injured, exhausted, or faint of heart, there were a few guides scattered about who could effect a rescue and lower them down to the ground. In spite of all the safety precautions, the detailed waiver we’d signed that morning made it clear there was an element of risk to the activity.

As we watched (and prayed) from the ground while the teens progressed through the course, I thought of my granddaughter’s words earlier that day: “I know it’s dangerous and that I might fall, but I also know that I’m tethered to the cable and can’t fall far.” That’s the sort of confidence we find in the Psalms. David, of course, faced far greater challenges than a ropes’ course and zip lines and, rather than trusting a cable and safety harness, he trusted God. Trusting God doesn’t mean there’s no risk or that we might not fall. Trusting God means that, like the safety harness, we know God’s there to catch us! Trusting God doesn’t mean that our journey will be easy or effortless. Trusting God means that while our journey may be challenging, like the arduous ropes’ course, getting through it is possible. Trusting God doesn’t mean we’ll never find ourselves in a dark valley. Just as the guides were there to help in an emergency, trusting God means we know we’ll never be in that dark place alone; God is always with us.

The kids completed their adventure without mishap (Praise God!). Their confidence in facing that extreme course made me wonder why I so often am hesitant about taking on much lesser challenges: not challenges requiring a liability waiver or a tethered safety harness but challenges that simply require trusting in the Lord.

If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, His arm over us, His ear open to our prayer – His grace sufficient, His promise unchangeable. [John Newton]

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. [Psalm 23:4 (NLT)]

I entrust my spirit into your hand. Rescue me, Lord, for you are a faithful God. …  So be strong and courageous, all you who put your hope in the Lord! [Psalm 31:5,24 (NLT)]

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