I’M FINE

And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for. [1 John 5:14-15 (NLT)]

snowy egretsWhen asked about her boys, a friend used to answer, “They’re doing their own thing.” Years later, I learned “their own thing” meant they were breaking her mama’s heart with their addictions and run-ins with the law. Because she kept her pain concealed, she carried the weight of that burden alone for many years. We often hear similar answers when we ask someone how they’re doing— brusque responses like, “I’m fine,” “It’s taken care of,” or “We don’t need a thing.” Maybe everything really is hunky dory but those answers are often used when life has gone seriously awry and things are anything but fine. Those vague but terse responses are conversation stoppers. Even best friends, who suspect something is amiss, won’t pry and the subject is politely changed.

We wrap ourselves up in a nice package on the outside when inside we’re a mess. We allow people into the vestibule of our lives but won’t let them in to see the messy kitchen or dirty floor. We refuse to expose our vulnerabilities and then we wonder where our friends are when we need them. No one knows we need them if we refuse to allow them into our lives. The same goes for God. “Where are you God?” we complain without being willing to admit life’s a mess and we need Him.

Think of the paralyzed man whose friends took him to see Jesus in Capernaum. What if he’d told his friends he was just fine and didn’t need a thing? While his friends went off to see Jesus, he would have remained paralyzed at home and there would be one less miraculous healing. What if the blind man in Bethsaida or the centurion’s servant had said they were fine? Scratch two more healings!

As for Job’s friends—he could have rebuffed them at the door, telling them, “I’m fine; this is just a little setback.” Instead, he allowed them inside to see his scabs, sores and misery. Even with his friends’ erroneous theology, Job must have found comfort when they remained at his side. Perhaps their discussions even strengthened his faith in God.

We tell people we’re okay when we’re not and we often tell God the same thing. We’re so used to replying, “I’m fine,” when a stranger says, “How are you?” that we forget our friends and God actually care about the answer. Most of the time, when people inquire about our lives or ask how they can help, they sincerely want to know. If they’re not really interested, their response to our answer likely will be, “Sorry, I’m busy!” Even though God knows everything about us and all that we need, He tells us to ask Him. He knows we’re not fine, but do we? Fortunately, with God, we can be confident that He’ll never tell us He’s too busy!

Refusing to ask for help when you need it is refusing someone the chance to be helpful. [Ric Ocasek]

You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy. [John 16:24 (NLT)]

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. [Matthew 7:7-8 (NLT)]

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DOWN BUT NOT OUT

No one lights a lamp and then hides it or puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house. Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when it is unhealthy, your body is filled with darkness. Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness. If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling you with light. [Luke 11:34-36 (NLT)]

broken lightTo avoid the southwest Florida heat, I waited until dusk to take my walk. Thanks to Hurricane Irma, most of the street lamps in my neighborhood don’t work. For a light to function, electrical energy has to be converted into light energy and both a source of electricity and a working connection are needed. For many of the lights, the connection was broken when blowing debris shattered their bulbs. For others, Irma’s 150 mph winds broke the connection when it blew off their tops, wrapped their poles around trees, or knocked them to the ground. Without a connection to their source of power, those street lights are useless—they’re just a tangle of wires and a pile of glass, plastic and metal. Even though they don’t work, people have been cautioned to remember that their exposed wires are live. It’s not the electricity that is missing; it’s the connection that is inoperative. Two poles, however, were down but not out. Even though they’d been flattened by the storm, neither wires nor bulb had broken. In spite of the storm’s violence, they remained connected and were beacons in the night’s darkness.

When the storms of life batter us and knock us down, like those street lamps, we can lose our connection, not to electricity, but to God. Our minds may get so caught up in anger, worry, fear, depression, or self-pity that we become separated from our true source of power—Jesus. He told us to let our lights shine but we can’t shine if we’re not connected to Him. When our lives go dark, we should remember that God hasn’t gone anywhere—like the electricity, He’s still there. We’re the ones who are broken. Unfortunately, no Florida Power & Light truck is going to arrive and reconnect us to God.

Reconnecting is a choice we have to make. Reconnecting is trusting God and ceding to His will. It is prayer and reading the Bible; it is praise, thanksgiving and worship. Reconnecting is turning to God and choosing joy over misery, light over darkness, love over hate, forgiveness over rancor, peace over anger and service over selfishness. Fortunately, we’re not alone in this. We may not have FP&L but we have something more powerful (and far more dependable)—the Holy Spirit! If we allow Him, He will reconnect us to the light of the world. We may be down, but we don’t ever have to go out! By His power, our lights can continue to shine.

Remember this. When people choose to withdraw far from a fire, the fire continues to give warmth, but they grow cold. When people choose to withdraw far from light, the light continues to be bright in itself but they are in darkness. This is also the case when people withdraw from God. [Augustine]

And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven. [Luke 24:49 (NLT)]

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” [John 8:12 (NLT)]

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MINDSET

dawn - Duluth HarborDon’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. [Philippians 4:6-7 (MSG)]

The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. [C.S. Lewis]

The above words are from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. For Lewis, those first moments of wakefulness were the most important ones of the day because they set one’s frame of mind. When God is our first thought of the day, we begin the morning with a sense of peace and power – peace because we know it all is in His hands and power because we know that through Him we can get through anything the day throws at us. It’s as if an invisible barrier has been set up between us and the desires, troubles and cares of the world in which we live.

Unfortunately, some days that barrier doesn’t get erected. When that happens, it’s as if the world uses a battering ram to crash into our thoughts and things like anxiety, annoyance, outrage, stress, pain and fear come stampeding through our minds. For the rest of the day, we struggle to find that peace God promised. When Lewis wrote those words about shoving back our thoughts and ceding our minds to God, he added, “We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting Him work at the right part of us.”

Some sixteen years later, Lewis truly knew how difficult it was to shove back the world’s thoughts and let God’s voice come flowing into his mind. His wife Joy had again been diagnosed with terminal cancer and a second miraculous recovery did not appear to be in God’s plan. When writing to a friend about Joy’s cancer, Lewis said the following: “The dreadful thing, as you know, is the waking each morning—the moment at which it all floats back on one.” Sixteen years after writing about those first waking moments, he was still struggling to turn his thoughts over to God. We all do.

When life goes awry, dark troubling thoughts bombard our minds at the crack of dawn. Instead of dedicating our thoughts to God, we think things like, “Oh God, not another day like yesterday…not another day of pain and trouble…not another day of bad news…Please God, no more!” Surely, Abraham woke to dark thoughts the morning he was to sacrifice his beloved Isaac. David, knowing his infant son would die, must have had those dark thoughts every morning during the seven days of his boy’s illness. Perhaps even Jesus, knowing what lay ahead for Him, struggled with dark thoughts when he woke that Maundy Thursday morning.

As Lewis so wisely said, “We are Christians, not Stoics.” Anxiety, worry, and even fear are part of being human and yet they sap our strength and undermine our faith. The first moments of our day, however, can make a tremendous difference in our journey. It’s a darn sight easier to erect a dike before the flood, shore up a wall before it starts to cave, and turn the day over to God before its troubles start barging in. We’ll still have the challenges of the day but we’ll have the power and strength to face them. As Lewis discovered, it’s not easy but it’s worth a try!

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. [Philippians 4:8-9(MSG)]

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WHAT’S YOUR GOLIATH?

Don’t let the excitement of being young cause you to forget about your Creator. Honor him in your youth before the evil years come—when you’ll no longer enjoy living. It will be too late then to try to remember him when the sun and light and moon and stars are dim to your old eyes, and there is no silver lining left among your clouds. For there will come a time when your limbs will tremble with age, your strong legs will become weak, and your teeth will be too few to do their work, and there will be blindness too. [Ecclesiastes 12:1-3 (TLB)

“What’s the Goliath in your life?” was the subject line in an email advertisement for a new book. That question made me wonder what opposing force I face today that appears to have overwhelming odds in its favor. Of what am I afraid?

I realized my Goliath doesn’t look imposing, strong and powerful. Nowhere near nine feet tall, my Goliath has osteoporosis and is stooped, frail and weak. Rather than carrying a sword, my Goliath uses a walker and, instead of an armor bearer carrying a shield, this fearsome enemy has a caregiver who carries his glasses and cuts his meat. My Goliath doesn’t have a vast army behind him; he has outlived both his spouse and contemporaries and has trouble recognizing anyone else. My Goliath is old age.

When our Florida pastor asked who wanted to live to be 100, neither my husband nor I raised our hands. We’ve seen 100 (his mother is approaching 101) and it isn’t appealing; in fact, it is daunting. If we could physically and mentally remain as we are today, we would have raised our hands instantly. Unfortunately, we know that no matter how well we care for ourselves, our bodies and minds will be thirty years older and deteriorating the way milk does near its expiration date.

Someone asked if I was afraid of death and I quickly answered, “No!” Death is going home to God and will be wonderful. Dying, however, is another story; it can be a slow and painful process and that scares me. Granted, I can lob a few stones at Goliath in the way of healthy habits, but there is no way, short of death, that I can delay his arrival. Ecclesiastes 12 paints a vivid but grim picture of old age with its physical infirmities and loss of faculties.

Several hours after the Goliath question appeared in my email, a different question showed up in my inbox: “How firm is your foundation?” That question gave me pause. If my foundation is firm, nothing can defeat me! I had been thinking of old age as my Goliath instead of my David. David was small and weak, as I am fast becoming, and yet he overpowered Goliath. I can’t vanquish the indignities and decline of the oncoming years and I certainly can’t evade my body’s final defeat, but God will give me the power to rout that defeatist attitude. I’ll do that by having a firm foundation and doing as the writer of Ecclesiastes advises: fear God and obey His commandments. [12:13] My Goliath isn’t old age; it is fear of old age! With a firm foundation in God, I can trust His promises. Knowing He will never abandon me, I can face my enemy with confidence and defeat it as did David with Goliath. As long as God gives me breath, He will continue to calm my fears and give me both purpose and the power to achieve it.

 If wrinkles must be written upon our brows, let them not be written upon the heart. The spirit should not grow old. [James A. Garfield]

I have created you and cared for you since you were born. I will be your God through all your lifetime, yes, even when your hair is white with age. I made you and I will care for you. I will carry you along and be your Savior. [Isaiah 46:3b-4 (TLB)]

But the godly shall flourish like palm trees and grow tall as the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted into the Lord’s own garden and are under his personal care. Even in old age they will still produce fruit and be vital and green. This honors the Lord and exhibits his faithful care. He is my shelter. There is nothing but goodness in him! [Psalm 92:12-15 (TLB)]

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SOUNDING BRASS

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. [1 Corinthians 13:1 (KJV)]

maccaw

1 Corinthians is actually Paul’s second letter to the young church at Corinth;  the first letter does not remain. What we consider the first letter is actually Paul’s reply to the Corinthians’ response to his first one. While much of his letter is spent confronting the Corinthians about their sins and correcting their behavior, this rebuke to a troubled church has one of the most beautiful chapters in the Bible: 1 Corinthians 13. Paul, however, is actually writing about the Corinthians’ abuse of their spiritual gifts. By only associating this chapter with weddings and anniversaries, we may miss some of its original meaning.

The “tongues of men” probably refers to the Sanhedrin, the supreme judicial and administrative council of the Jews. Having jurisdiction over religious matters, the high priest acted as its president and its members consisted of the chief priests, scribes and elders. They were to be men of distinction and wisdom conversant in all seventy languages of mankind so interpreters weren’t needed in court. It’s likely that the tongues of men to which Paul referred were the supposedly wise and multilingual tongues of the Sanhedrin. Being ministering spirits, angels have no need for tongues. Nevertheless, there were times they took on flesh and appeared to man and, when acting as God’s messengers, they were inspiring and eloquent in their speech.

Personally, I like brass quartets and the sound of those tinkling cymbals worn on the fingers of Middle Eastern dancers, but those are not what Paul meant. Paul actually was referring to sounding (or echoing) brass which were large cast urns placed around the back of a theater. This primitive sound system served to amplify the actors’ voices and Corinth had a famed set of them. The “sounding brass” could no more create their own sound than could a Bose speaker; having no voice of their own, they only could reproduce sound. As for tinkling cymbals, the two kinds of cymbals used during Jewish worship were percussion instruments. Only played during interludes in the vocal music, they didn’t produce a light tinkle. One was more of a shaker with small cymbals attached to a handle that was shaken. The other cymbals were smaller and heavier than today’s orchestral ones. Rather than the pleasant ringing of wind chimes, they were said to penetrate “as far as Jericho.”

In their cultural context, Paul’s words make far more sense. Even if he could speak with great wisdom, in every language known to man and as magnificently and eloquently as an angel, if his words didn’t come from his heart, they would have no meaning. If he just thoughtlessly  echoed words, his voice simply would be an irritating  loud sound.

We worry so much about what to say and how to say it when an opportunity to share our faith arises that we usually fail to share God’s message at all. Paul’s words should reassure us that it’s not the words or eloquence that matter; it’s the love behind those words. If we love God and love people, then the words we speak will be filled with love. Without love, however, no matter how articulate, self-assured and knowledgeable we are, our message will be meaningless noise.

The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. [1 Timothy 1:5 (NLT)]

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EROSION

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.… When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. [Luke 4:1-2,13 (NIV)]

Athabasca Falls - Alberta, CanadaAs I viewed the picturesque waterfall, the tremendous amount of water pouring over the rock, and the deep gorge formed by the glacial river, I thought of H. Jackson Brown’s quote: “In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins, not through strength but by perseverance.” Thinking it a good start for a devotion about patience and determination, I looked forward to writing it when I got home. Having been out of town thirty out of the last seventy days, however, I’ve been playing “catch-up” since returning from Canada. Domestic chores, family obligations, paper work, commitments, appointments, assorted health issues, and then my mother-in-law’s hospitalization have eaten away at me and I’m physically and emotionally exhausted. Today, during prayers, it occurred to me that something else is as persistent (and effective) as that rushing water—Satan! While the enemy enjoys throwing major disasters our way, as he did with Job, he also likes to peck at us like a troublesome woodpecker or whittle away at us as water does to rock. Through persistence, water defeats rock; like that persistent water, the enemy is determined to defeat us.

Satan came to Jesus when he was weakest—alone, tired and hungry after forty days of fasting in the wilderness. He does the same with us. It doesn’t take much for him to start his work. Even a small amount of worry, exhaustion, illness, busyness, discouragement, fear, delay, discontent, frustration, adversity, anger, anxiety, or pain makes us vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks. Add enough of them together for a long enough time and what seemed rock solid may break down or collapse.

The Apostle Peter likened Satan to a prowling lion and we should be wary of his attacks. If he can’t devour us in one assault, however, he’ll take a nibble out of our souls whenever an opportunity arises. Enough little nibbles can erode our spirit the same way water erodes rock. This morning, I realized that Satan was making inroads; it was time to shine up my armor of God and go on the offense. Instead of spending less time in Bible study and prayer, I needed to spend more (especially in the praise and thanksgiving departments)! While it may have taken five million years for water to carve the Grand Canyon, it wouldn’t take the enemy that long to leave a large chasm in my heart.

Almighty Father, Creator of all, thank you for the blessings of this and every day. Strengthen us so that we can resist the enemy’s attacks. Give us wisdom to understand your word and grace that we may live in obedience to it. May our faith increase daily so that we can do your work and fulfill your purpose for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. [Ephesians 6:10-11 (NIV)]

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. [1 Peter 5:8 (NIV)]

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