Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Week One - Locusts

Joel 2:25 reads, God will "restore to you the years the locust hath eaten." That truth has kept my heart and mind occupied these past few weeks.

Then, as I began collecting my end-of-year tax information, it became obvious that we had not driven as far as last year or spent nearly as much. Sitting at home in lockdown had a generous effect on our finances. But it couldn't make up for the fact that we felt more had been taken away than gained. 

What has been eaten up by 2020? Time with friends, hugs, handshakes, fellowship, the economy, jobs, health, trust, etc, you could probably name more. The locust of this pandemic has definitely ravaged the life we knew and left its mark. And we aren't finished. 2021 will also be scarred by the blight. And then there will be the added years of financial recovery. But I don't want to be that bleak. I want to plant the same hope in your heart as God's word planted in mine as I studied this verse out a bit.

You see, God calls the locusts, "my great army which I sent among you." God sent the locust. Just as the plagues of Egypt, God uses nature to reveal His power and correct His children. And not only locust, but verse 25 also mentions several other annoying and destructive critters. All nature is under His control.

Here's what I thought. God brought the locust. He allowed the devastation, but He also knows how to set things right again, to restore what was lost. Verse 26 says, "And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you; and my people shall never be ashamed."

God will restore. I hold great hope in that promise. Right now, it all looks so miserable and disheartening. It's hard to see the end of the tunnel and it makes you dread even looking, but there is light and hope because God is already in tomorrow. He knows what the locusts destroy, and He will put us back into the place of plenty, satisfaction, and praise. We aren't there now, but we will be.

My heart starts to rise with praise and hope when I think about that promise. God is able to restore. Where our hearts are broken, He mends and binds up our wounds. Where we stand confused and bewildered, He gives direction. Where we feel hopeless, He lifts us up. He is the Excellent Restorer who wonderfully strengthens the heart of His children.

Dear friend, 2021 is not where you place your hope - God is. A New Year changes nothing, but trust in God changes everything. You might feel all is hopeless or you have suffered too much loss, but God says He will restore what the locusts have eaten. Let's give Him some time and see what He does!

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Week Fifty-Two - Angels in the Wilderness

Tomorrow night we kiss 2020 goodbye and take our first intrepid steps into 2021. After traveling through the 2020 wilderness of emotions and uncertainty, I'm sure we all feel ready to leave the weariness behind and look for new doors of hope. Though we take this same journey once every 365 days, this year seems to be more poignant. 

I plan to take time to have a private funeral for 2020 somewhere around midnight, to lay it down and let it rest in peace. Then, by faith, pick up hope and look for the morning of 2021.  

But as with every New Year, it is good to look back and review what has been learned and experienced. For me, 2020 was amazing. I started out with a list of goals and watched God change them around. Some were dropped. Some were exceeded. But God was there with me through every day, every emotion, and every hour of loneliness. I hope you can say the same.

Even as I prayed this morning, I found myself thanking Him for the activity of His hand in my life during 2020, and I was reminded, "There is no wilderness without its angels." How true.

God's ministering spirits have been beside me through every lockdown, every disappointment, and every long, lonely day of 2020, and they will continue being with me into and through the unknown of 2021.

I thought of Elijah laying down by the brook, exhausted with the ministry and labour. Then, an angel touched him. Angels guarded him in his blackest depression and ministered to his wearied soul. He may have felt lonely and isolated, but he was accompanied by legions of angels, and more than that, God touched His exhausted child and renewed his spirit.

As we leave 2020, we can be assured of the same. God has never left our side and never will leave us. Though we may have experienced moments of fear and extreme loneliness, His angels have been ministering spirits accompanying our every step. In our darkest hours, there were angels in our wilderness.

Dear child, God does not say today, "Be strong,"
He knows our strength is spent; He knows how long
The road has been, how weary you have grown,
For He who walked the earthly roads alone,
Each bogging lowland, and each rugged hill,
Can understand, and so He says, "Be still,
And know that I am God." The hour is late,
And you must rest awhile, and wait
Until life's empty reservoirs fill up.
As slow rain fills an empty upturned cup.
Hold up your cup, dear child, for God to fill.
He only asks today that you be still.

                                        Grace Noll Crowell

Dear friend, as you take time to mark the passing of the midnight hour, pause and be still. Allow God and His ministering angels in the wilderness to fill you with the much needed courage for 2021.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Week Fifty-One - He Shall Be Great

Like many of you, I have sat through numerous Christmas programs and carol services over the years.

Each year I face the challenge of seeing something new in the Christmas story, something fresh that keeps the season alive in place of repetitious. Virtually every year, the Lord answers my quest, and I am dazzled with a reflection of truth that illuminates my Christmas celebrations.

This year, as I put up my tree, I began again asking the Lord to show me another aspect of His love or a truth that would crown my festivities. He didn't fail. On the very first Sunday in December, as I sat through yet another Christmas sermon, the Word of God burst a ray of light straight into my heart through one phrase.

Nestled in the middle of Luke 1:31-32 are the words "He shall be great." The preacher lingered there but a moment, yet my heart was captivated, and this became my 2020 Christmas meditation. "He shall be great."

Here in these few verses of the Christmas story, the angel gives Mary a promise and a bit of an explanation about the child she is to deliver. His name is to be Jesus. He is the Son of the Highest and will have the throne of David and reign forever. And - he shall be great.

What is to begin in a lowly stable with two humble souls will be great. Her heart must have wondered how that would all work out, but Mary was one of those precious souls who gave her complete devotion, her whole life, to the Lord's will. "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word," was her reply. And from there, she obediently followed on.

But let's come back he the statement, He shall be great. The truth of the greatness of our Saviour captured my thoughts. Exactly how great is he?

Ephesians 2:4, "But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us." He is great in love and mercy. Love that extends to no limit. Love that places the Almighty God in the hands of a little maid. Love that protects and provides. Love that showers the heavens with praise and adoration. Love that sacrifices all. Great love, love that never fails. You could mediate here for the rest of your natural days.  Ephesians 3:19 says, "to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge."  You wouldn't run out of things to consider, for his love is that great.

Psalm 147:5, "Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite."  He is great in power. In this same portion of the Christmas story, Luke 1:37, Mary is told, "For with God nothing shall be impossible." Nothing is outside the power of God, even for a virgin to conceive. He is able, fully able, to accomplish his plan from creation to the birth of Jesus, and to the end of time. He holds everything together, and His purpose will be fulfilled, so great is his power. (Colossians 1:16, 17; Ephesians 1:9-11)

And he is great in understanding. His knowledge is unsearchable. He knows our every thought, every word, every hair on our head. And he knows the future. There is no wisdom, nor counsel, nor understanding that can go against him. You will never think of anything God has forgotten. His understanding is complete. He is exact to the minute detail, watering every moment. Check out Psalm 139:1-10. You'll find the psalmist says the same - he is great!

Zechariah 9:17, "For how great is his goodness, and how great is his beauty." We look with awe and wonder at the beauty of the babe in the manger, but the true beauty of our Lord is seen in his holiness and sacrifice. His goodness toward undeserving humankind. He is good, always. He does good, and it good, and his work is beautiful - awesome! Angels bow down to him, all heaven adores him, all creation sings his praise.

Psalm 145:3, "Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable." See there! His greatness is unsearchable. 

This simple phrase in the Christmas story has been my meditation for nearly a month, and it remains inexhaustible.  He shall be great. He is great. He always has been, and always shall be great. The greatness of his love, understanding, power, and goodness is boundless. Such is our great Saviour and  God.

O, come, let us adore him! Christ, the Lord.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Week Fifty - Tenderness

"For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground; he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him" (Isaiah 53:2).

Jesus grew up as a tender plant, like a hidden seed buried in the ground, unseen, silently developing into beauty. He was born in a lowly position and conducted his life with a meek and humble character, nothing of great note, silently and simply obeying his Father. 

However, the Jews, looking for a Messiah of power, greatness, nobility, with public fanfare and pomp, striking in charm and beauty, dismissed him. What does that mean for us?

We praise and follow those who boldly make loads of noise and draw attention to themselves or their cause. We, too, are looking for someone to follow, someone to lead the way with charisma and energy. But that is not the image of Christ from the manger to the cross. His was a simple, single-minded life of tenderness and love for all. 

I was challenged by Ephesians 4:32, "Be ye kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as Christ hath forgive you."

Tenderhearted. Am I? Are you? Do we even know what that means? It basically means compassion, love in action. It is the very essence of the Gospel - for God so loved that He gave.

When we read Jesus' attitude in life and reactions on the way to the cross, we see nothing but tenderness. He knew his purpose and the outcome, and he also knew how he was to give his sacrifice.  

In Isaiah 53:7, 8, 3, we see that foretold. "As a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth, he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." 

The gospel writers also bear testimony of how Jesus laid down his life with a spirit that quietly and tenderly exhibited his divine sensitivity and beauty of spirit.

We are called to be and do likewise - to be Christlike. "Deep tenderness of spirit is the very soul and marrow of the Christ-life." Oh, we can be very religious and heartily do our Christian work. We can strive for sanctification, be a brave defender and preacher of holiness, and yet, lack tenderness.

Tenderness is that "all subduing, all-melting love, which is the very cream and quintessence of Heaven and which incessantly streamed out from the voice and eyes of the blessed Jesus." 

It is a "supernatural work throughout the whole spiritual being. It is an exquisitely interior fountain of God's own sweetness and tenderness of nature, opened up in the inner spirit to such a degree that it completely inundates the soul, overflowing all the mental faculties and saturating with its sweet waters the manners, expression, words, and tones of the voice; mellowing the will, softening the judgment, melting the affections, refining the manners, and molding the whole being after the image of Him who was infinitely meek and lowly in heart."

Have we been touched by the depth of His tenderness?  Or are we hard and critical, cold and demanding, wearied and impatient? Are we looking for something stronger, louder, and more exciting to follow?

As we take time to focus on the babe in the manger, maybe we need to shut out the noise of the season and look at the quietness of the holy night, the gentle babe, and His mission.  Then, maybe our prayer would be, "O, Lord, may the tenderness of Christ be the striking chord of my heart and demeanor this Christmas."

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Week Forty-Nine - Cares and Confidence

"Be careful for nothing" was the focus of my devotion from Springs in the Desert. (Philippians 4:6) We know it means do not be filled with care or worry.  Psalm 37:1 says something similar. "Fret not thyself because of evil-doers." How many times have we read these verses or heard them and dismissed their instruction or felt it impossible to obey?

God knows we indulge in those activities more often than we care to admit. Why else would He take time to warn us against them if it were not that He knew allowing them to overtake us would be detrimental to faith, peace, and stability?

This little poem was at the end of the devotion. I printed it off and added it to the reminders pinned up around my computer.

It is God's will that I should cast
On Him my care each day;
He also bids me not to cast
My confidence away.
But, Oh! I am so stupid, that
When taken unawares,
I cast away my confidence,
And carry all my cares.

During 2020, with all its craziness, I, too, have found myself falling beneath the cares of this world. Guilty of trying to solve problems and figure things out that were outside my realm of responsibility, and annoyed by events around me, I knew I had traded confidence for worry and fretting.

And then, the Lord reminded me of Hebrews 10:35, 36.  I knew this portion by heart but had never equated it with the sin of worry. It reads, "Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise." 

After some sincere thought and prayer, I came away from my quiet time repentant of my sin of worry, and more equipped to discern my attitude.  Worry accomplishes nothing of eternal value. It holds no promise of relief and eats away at inner strength. But confidence - faith - is always rewarded. It holds great recompense, meaning it really pays off!

The devotion records the prayer of the soul who recognizes the same. "O Christ! I must overcome worriment, and Thou alone knowest how I have tried to do so. I have fought; I have struggled; I have wept bitter tears. And I have failed. Oh, Lord Jesus, unless Thou dost undertake for me now it is all over with me."

We must all come to this point - the point of confession and repentance for our worry and fretting, ready to turn to the Lord with renewed confidence and place our future and hope solely in His promises, which never fail.

The testimony of the one who does so is sure. "Then and there I threw myself in utter helplessness upon Christ. Somehow, where before I had been struggling, I now found myself trusting as I had never quite done before. From that time onward Jesus Christ began to give me the beauty of victory for the somber ashes of defeat."

Dear friend, if worry and the cares of this life have overtaken you, cast yourself wholly upon the Lord. Pick up the confidence afforded you in His word and go forward with spiritual poise singing,

I care not today what the morrow may bring
If shadow or sunshine or rain.
The Lord I know ruleth o'er everything,
And all of my worry is vain.

Living by faith, in Jesus above,
Trusting, confiding, in His great love.
From all harm safe in His sheltering arms.
I'm living by faith and I feel no alarm.

Do those lyrics ring true to you? They can if you cast aside worry and pick up confidence!

Monday, November 30, 2020

Week Forty-Eight - The Porch Swing

I tend to live life by ideal, meaning I lean toward seeing things as they should be or as I wish they were instead of focusing on the sadness of reality. I usually view life positively, see sparks of possibility in most situations, and greatly prefer to avoid conflict because I don't like to get worked up or unsettled. 

My image of life is best described as a lovely old farmhouse with white picket fences and a gracious porch with a swing for whiling away the hours listening to bird song and enjoying the laughter of children playing nearby as I chat with a friend. No press to get on with anything. No fret or fear, no need for entertainment, just to be and let be as I enjoy a tall glass of iced tea and nibble on chocolate chip cookies.

I thought of my porch swing again when I read this sentence in my devotional. Oswald Chambers writes, "I have a world within the world in which I live, and God will never be able to get me outside it because I am afraid of being frost-bitten."  Yep, that's me. I have a world within the world - my hiding place. And I had to agree with Chambers. I don't want to leave it to be frost-bitten by the outside world. My ideal world is warm and cozy. The outside world is harsh and cold.

This "world within a world" Chambers refers to is not an imaginary place like my porch swing. He is talking about a life wholly given to the purpose of God with no barriers to God's will, no set personal ambition, or focus on material gain. He writes, "You can only get the by losing forever any idea of yourself and by letting God take you right out into His purpose for the world."

Sometimes God's purpose is to take us right out into the world. He needs us as lights, mouthpieces, and helping hands. It is our privilege to be used, to get off the porch and do obedient service even when we don't understand why or see an immediate result. We must still be surrendered to His will both on the porch and in the world.

This idea of a porch swing has carried me through our 2020 lockdown. I see myself as shut up with God. My world within the world is the safety of my four walls. I don't have a white picket fence or an old-fashioned porch swing, but I do have my Friend to chat with, children playing next door, and birds singing in the sunshine.

We won't be in lockdown forever. Time will come again when we hear God's call to step out and be the faithful witness, the hands-on servant, the preacher of righteousness on the muddy path of life. And when we do, let's do it with zeal and immense love. Let's be bold and purposeful because I believe there is a harvest ahead. God is preparing us for more extraordinary things, restoring us for increased usefulness, and stowing us away unto an appointed time.

Meanwhile, He is doing a work in the world around us. Make no mistake. He is working all things according to the purpose of His own will. (Ephesians 1:11)  We can find comfort and assurance in that fact - that promise from His Word. Everything works according to the purpose of His own will - not ours!

So, if you are out there dragging your boots in the mud and frost-bitten by the world, come aside. There is a spigot of fresh water beside my porch. Wash yourself in the Word and come sit for a while in the sunshine of His love while we wait for our next appointment.