Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Week Four - I Will Not Doubt

I've been studying the book of James in preparation for teaching the ladies' group here at church, and I wanted to share with you a poem I'll be sharing in the first lesson. I came across it when I was using Streams in the Desert as my devotional many years ago. It so spoke to my heart that I made a copy and keep it taped to the inside flap of my Bible. I hope it will be a blessing to you.

I will not doubt, though all my ships at sea
Come drifting home with broken masts and sails;
I will believe the Hand which never fails,
From seeming evil worketh good for me.
And though I weep because those sails are tattered,
Still will I cry, while my best hopes lie shattered:
'I trust in Thee.'

I will not doubt, though all my prayers return
Unanswered from the still, white realm above;
I will believe it is an all-wise love
Which has refused these things for which I yearn;
And though at times I cannot keep from grieving,
Yet the pure ardor of my fixed believing
Undimmed shall burn.

I will not doubt, though sorrows fall like rain,
And troubles swarm like bees about a hive.
I will believe the heights for which I strive
Are only reached by anguish and by pain,
And though I groan and writhe beneath my crosses.
I yet shall see through my severest losses
The greater gain.

I will not doubt. Well anchored is this faith,
Like some staunch ship, my soul braves every gale;
So strong its courage that it will not quail
To breast the mighty unknown sea of death
Oh, may I cry, though body parts with spirit,
'I do not doubt,' so listening worlds may hear it,
With my last breath.

Friend, as the day approaches, let's not be doubters but be grounded in faith with our hearts fixed solidly on Christ.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Week Three - You're Not Alone

Immanuel, God with us, is one of my favorite meditations, especially at Christmas. As I was reading the book of John, I noticed Jesus building more on this truth and using it as a source of strength on His road to the cross.

In John 14, Jesus begins by saying, "Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in me." You might know that passage. 

Then, in verse 17, He speaks of the Spirit of truth that would indwell the hearts of believers, saying the Spirit "dwelleth with you and shall be in you." Isn't that a blessed promise? 

Then, 16:32 reads, "I am not alone, because the Father is with me." And there is it - God with us. God with Jesus. He was not alone in the things He was about to face, and neither are we!

I had to go back and pick up John 15:27, where Jesus says, "he hath been with me from the beginning." Jesus drew strength from the promise of God's presence. An excruciating road lay before Him and would end in death, but He looked beyond that to the promise of reunion with the Father. That reunion was on the other side of His obedience. 

Facing the cross was a heavy calling, yet He knew God would remain with Him through the trial. Maybe that's why His comment on the cross, "My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me, " is so poignant. 

In order to make the ultimate sacrifice - which was not only death but separation from God, Jesus had to "taste death," He had to experience the meaning of separation (Hebrews 2:9). He was made perfect - the perfect sacrifice - through suffering (Hebrews 2:10). It was by this death, this separation, that He destroyed the power of death, delivering us from bondage (Hebrews 2:14, 15), and becoming our merciful and faithful Saviour (Hebrews 2:1,7,18). 

He suffered the feeling of separation, or might I even say, the fact of separation to complete His calling - to be made like us, to suffer as we do, so that "he is able to help them that are tempted (Hebrews 2:18) and to confidently say, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee (Hebrews 13:5).

We, too, can rest in God's promise and use it, as Jesus did, to give us strength to carry on, face difficult times, and yet look forward with hope when we remember that the blessing is on the other side of obedience and God is beside us with every step.

Friend, you are not alone in your trials or needs; God is with you. He sees you, and He cares. Allow the presence of God to be the comfort and strength for your heart today. You are never alone.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Week Two - Out of the Saltshaker

Jesus lovingly met people where they were, drew them with kindness, and went about doing good. Consequently, they came seeking Him, and He spoke truth to them. Oh, how we need to learn His skill.

I started reading Rebecca Pippert's book, Out of the Saltshaker and into the World, just before Christmas. I found it so refreshing, challenging, and instructive on evangelism. 

She reminded me to see people as divine appointments and take the risk to speak for Christ. If I look beneath the crust to hear the cry of their hearts, I will see their need. 

So many people are "frantically looking for the right things in all the wrong places." We miss opportunities if we wait until we have all the answers or find healing for our hurts, "It may well be that one of the first steps toward our own healing will come when we reach out to someone else."

Isn't she right? Many people are hurting and looking for answers in all the wrong places. It is easy to sit complacently and take care of number one without concern for those around us, but we must "love them with the baggage they bring." God loved us that way, didn't He? 

Even this morning, my heart was pricked as I prayed for a dear friend who has yet to come to Christ. I pray for his salvation, but at the same time, I sense a fear of speaking up. Why? Because it could be embarrassing? Because I don't want him to feel uncomfortable? And yet I sit in my little corner praying and rejoicing for all God has done in my life and withhold that blessing from him? Surely that is wrong!

Coming to Christ was the most significant that ever happened in my life. Knowing Him makes me fully me in a beautiful Spirit-filled way. So why would I not rejoice to invite others into the same relationship?

"To have no time (or motivation) to be the aroma of Christ to an unbelieving neighbor, friend, or colleague means we aren't taking seriously God's command to go and make disciples." We can't remain insulated and isolated when commanded to penetrate the world with the gospel (Matthew 28:19, 20).

So the challenge ahead of us is to get out of the saltshaker, dear friend. Don't be afraid to be different, to be salt and light. Speak up and see what God can do through you! Let your little light shine. Look for ways to naturally bring Christ into conversations. Don't push and shove; just let them see a difference in how you love others, use kind words, control yourself, and show up for those divine appointments, those opportunities to shake a bit of salt about!

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Week One - Adjust

Every year I have a word, and this year is no exception.

My word for 2023 is adjust. In the Christmas story, we see Mary adjusting her life, allowing God to move her plans around. She shared her unexpected joy with Elizabeth, who was also adjusting. Joseph faced adjustment, and even Jesus adjusted his life to the Father's will by taking on the form of man. I'm sure they each had moments of hesitation and questioning, but they accepted their calling and moved forward in obedience to cooperate with God's plan. Adjusting takes a great deal of cooperation if we are to do it well!

When we know God is calling us to a measure of obedience or opportunity of service, do we adjust our lives and cooperate? Or do we keep trying to make God fit into our plan, wanting to desperately hold on to what  we have instead of releasing it and adjusting to the new normal? We miss God's best when we refuse to change or yield. 

Mary adjusted - and we can be so thankful she did. Her obedience affected history! Maybe we should ask ourselves who might be affected by our obedience? Or - to whom is our disobedience a stumbling block? That’s something to consider, isn’t it?

I am facing a 2023 that will challenge my level of adjusting. We are preparing for a 12 month furlough and hoping we cover all our bases, while we try to figure out housing, transport, and schedule for months of travel ahead. 2023 will take a lot of adjusting. Experience has taught me that I come through best when I cooperate with God and obediently adjust my will to His.

This challenges me to remember my word from 2022 - purpose. All things happen according to the purpose of God's will. If I truly believe God is the planner and designer of my life, if I believe He works all things for my good and according to His will, then adjusting shouldn't be such an effort but a joyful anticipation of what He has in store.

2023 is unknown for all of us. Let's pray we can cooperate with God and set our hearts and attitudes to adjust in joyful obedience.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Week Fifty-Two - The Family Tree

Have you noticed the number of times the Bible lists a person's lineage? Even the Christmas story in the book of Matthew starts with Jesus' family tree all the way back to Adam.

As I read my devotion book, it spoke of our link to Bible characters and how we are a part of something bigger.

Henry Blackaby writes, "When God encountered Moses, He did not give him an assignment independent of what He had done through those who had preceded him. God had made promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob hundreds of years earlier, and He was now going to involve Moses in His ongoing activity to fulfill the covenant he had made with Moses' forefathers. The God who led Moses, who worked through Elijah, who directed Paul, who guided each man and woman of God through the centuries, is the same God who approaches you to become involved in His work."

Isn't that a fantastic thought? God has used every man and woman throughout history to complete His plan. Some of them are recorded for us in history, but as Hebrews 11 reminds us, "time would fail to tell" of them all. But even what they experienced, their part in God's plan, as we are told in Hebrews 11:40, is not complete without us. So even if we see ourselves as a tiny blip on the timeline, we are still linked to something bigger and invited to be involved in the work of God.

Blackaby continues, "We tend to think only of the present. Moses came to understand that his involvement in God's work was in the context of hundreds of years of divine activity."

God has a plan and a purpose; I am a part of that, and as His child, so are you. 

Dear friend, this encourages me to keep going. As sure as God spoke to Moses or Paul, He speaks to me. As intentionally as He instructed Mary and Joseph, He directs me. As much as God had a plan for Abigail or Naaman's maid, He has a plan for me - and for you.

Today is our moment in time. These have all gone before us, leaving an example of faithfulness. 

Now my heart sings, "may all who come behind us find us faithful!" We are leaving an example of faith for those who will come after us. We are connected to past believers and future believers. If that doesn't humble you and bring the necessity of your faithfulness into perspective, you are missing the point. God has an eternal purpose for you - you are a part of His family tree. So, stay faithful, be involved, and leave a godly example for those behind you.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Week Fifty-One - A Christmas Fail

I've been so blessed to have always enjoyed a loving family and happy Christmas memories. But for some people, Christmas is a failure. They might be homeless or live in an abusive situation. Maybe they are spending Christmas alone or too poor to afford the tinsel, gifts, and trappings. Christmas for them is a disappointment.

While watching the commercials reminding me of those who do not have the blessings I enjoy and sometimes take for granted, I began comparing the image of Santa, gifts, a warm home, candles, trees, ornaments, parties, loving families, and sleigh rides - the whole "sell" of the season, to the hurt and neediness of those without and I grew somewhat cynical.

We're trying to create a euphoria based on an imaginary image that can never bring the joy it promotes. All that comes with this Christmas scene is an expectation - an expectation that never lives up to reality. 

Judging Christmas by the commercials and magazine images always leaves something missing. The decorations need to be better, the tree larger, and the cookies more perfect. The family needs to be happier and more beautiful, and the gifts must be impressive. Unfortunately, while we work to create this ideal atmosphere, we breed unhappiness and discontent. No wonder our Christmas fails. It makes me want to cast away this image entirely and look for something more natural and comforting.

So my thoughts went to that first Christmas. God, got Christmas right! The heavens blazed with celestial stars as the herald of an angelic choir announced the birth of His Son. That's enough tinsel and music for all of us!

The poor and unwanted gathered together, worshipping around the greatest gift ever given - humble, quiet, and open. An unspeakable, perfect gift that would never disappoint. God's Christmas includes us all. No cost, no trappings, no imagined expectation, just a baby in a manger coming to offer an eternal home, security, friendship, provision, protection, and hope to all.

Don't let your Christmas fail this year because you are over-focused on the commercial glitz and tinsel. It will never be enough. Instead, allow each twinkling light to remind you of the Christmas star and hear every carol as coming from the heavenly choir. Set your heart to receive each gift, no matter how simple, as coming from the Father above, and receive it with a humble and thankful heart. You can have a happy Christmas wherever and whoever you are when you bring yourself to the baby in the manger and join the celebration.