Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Week Twenty-One - Striking the Rock

God's servant, Moses, was humble, "above all men which were upon the face of the earth" (Numbers 12:3). From the moment of his birth, his life was full of challenges. Sometimes he did great, and other times he flopped. God spoke to him face to face as with no other man in Scripture, but still, Moses' humanity landed him in trouble.

When Moses shifted his focus off God and onto what was happening around him, he sinned. First, in Egypt, he killed Pharoah's servant. Then, when he grew frustrated with the children of Israel, he struck the rock. Both times, he lost something valuable. By killing the servant, he lost the privilege of his rich home and position in Egypt, and by striking the rock, he lost the opportunity to enter the Promised Land.

Henry Blackaby says, "In his frustration at the people's irreverence, Moses committed the very same sin, blatantly disobeying God's instructions. Moses allowed his attention to shift to the behavior of others rather than focusing on the activity of God."

This can happen to us as well. Blackaby writes, "If you concentrate on people, their weaknesses, their disobedience, their lack of faith, and their stubbornness will quickly frustrate you."

How true is that? How often have you grown weary of the complaining around you and spoke in anger or lost your patience? How many times have you gotten your eyes off the Lord and acted according to what you thought best, only to see it all go up in smoke?

These thoughts revived a truth the Lord began teaching me a truth years ago. Colossians 3:24, 25 reads, "Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he that done: and there is no respect of persons."

When I was growing weary and frustrated in ministry, God asked me, "Gail, who are you serving?"

"I serve you, Lord."

"Then, keep your eyes on me and not on everyone around you. I'll take care of them. You just keep yourself in the love of God."

I can't count the times God has reminded me to get back into my place. And here's what I have learned, and learned, and learned! When my focus is on serving the Lord, I am happier, have increased strength for the ministry, serve with a better perspective, and know I am working from a place worthy of reward and pleasing to the Lord. Then, there is joy in serving Jesus.

But when I'm working from the reactions of people or my own agenda, I feel frustration, not patience; anger, not forgiveness; disappointment, not hope; and disgust, not love.

Putting it that way makes my sin easier to see and much less tasteful, doesn't it? Who wants to work with me if I operate in these negative terms? What kind of lousy leader or example am I? If I were in the people's shoes, wouldn't I want someone more positive and encouraging before me? Someone who led in love, hope, forgiveness, and patience? Someone who served Christ and enjoyed it?

Just from these thoughts, I am again reminded that the better way is God's way! Speaking instead of striking - speaking truth in love, pointing others to the same God who lovingly works with my weakness, forgives my disobedience and draws me back to hope and faith.

What about you? Do you, like Moses, strike out when the frustration gets too much? Is your service focused on the Lord Christ, or are you serving people? Serving people leads to disappointment and frustration, but serving Christ holds sure reward.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Week Twenty - What's Next?

Do you ever lay in bed wondering what in the world is going on? How this is all going to work out? What will be next? Sometimes I do, but then my Lord reminds me to faithfully take one day at a time. It's not my job to figure out the future - that's His. My job is to use today wisely and let Him take care of the rest. 

Facing the cross, Jesus left us a pertinent example here. How did He endure the cross and the apprehension? No doubt He knew each painful step along the way. He knew the cost and experienced His own level of trepidation. Elizabeth George says, "Our Lord did not halt all activity to brood over what was to come. He was not incapacitated by the fear of suffering, though he well knew that fear. To the question, 'What shall I do?' (which is so often our cry of despair), he simply answered, "This," and did what lay in his path to do at the moment, trusting himself completely into the hands of the Father. This is how he endured the cross."

And when we begin to wonder what is next, this is how we can endure life and its struggle - one day at a time, doing the next right thing. Will we be tempted to fret and worry? Probably. Will we experience a level of fear? No doubt. But neither of those things need to keep us from continuing forward. Elizabeth Elliot said, "Sometimes fear does not subside, and one must choose to do it afraid."

Here's what I have found. When I sense fear gripping my heart from looking at the things around me, I change my gaze. I mentally make my world much smaller and secure by focusing only on what I can humanly accomplish by God's grace each day. You see, none of us can control world politics. None of us can manage all of the relationships around us. But we can, by using the spiritual fruit of temperance, control ourselves. We can avoid being incapacitated by fear of the future by doing the next right thing.

It might sound simplistic, but the more you learn about the Lord, the more you know He desires nothing more from you than simple faith. That is how you please Him. That is how His peace resonates in your heart. It is by faith. And what you will find is that He is also faithful. He will meet you as you turn to Him and give you the strength, wisdom, and calmness you need to keep moving forward.

So today, let's stop surmising and ruminating over the 'what ifs' of life and focus our energy and faith into the day the Lord has given. I think you'll find His love and comfort waiting for you there!

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Week Nineteen - Empty Promises

We all love to hear encouraging words. I've known days when a simple text or online message lifted my spirits and helped me carry on with my day. But just as Christine Hoover said, "No amount of human encouragement will ever meet the deepest need of the heart because it evaporates as soon as the moment passes."

What we really need is to hear encouragement from the ever-faithful, ever-true God. Only He can sustain us in the times of difficulty when human hearts fail, and words seem so empty.

The danger we face with the vast amount of social interaction before us is looking for our encouragement in cyberspace. What we read evaporates and disappears, yet we habitually return looking for new encouraging posts. A steady diet of these morsels will not suffice for a healthy and robust spiritual life.

It would be better to follow King David's example. When faced with the crisis at Ziklag, he didn't look for others to give him happy platitudes or empty promises. He "encouraged himself in the Lord." (1 Samuel 30:6)  He went to Scripture, singing and praying the Psalms and drawing encouragement through faith in God. David knew man's advice was fleeting and could change at any moment, so he placed himself before the Lord and drew strength that carried him through. We, too,  have access to that strength. 

Let me challenge you to not be satisfied with a Facebook post, but open God's word for yourself. Get before the Lord in prayer and let Him speak to your heart. If you don't know where to start, open the book of Psalms and read one Psalm each day. God's posts are eternal and speak directly to your soul.

Wisdom also teaches us to weigh the things we read, to check out the sources, and to try the spirits. Take the picture from this post, for example, "You can do it." This is humanistic thought. "You can do it" encourages you to rely on your own resources and creates unrealistic expectations. You may be able to do it for a while, but your strength will run out.  However, if you change that to "He can do it through you," the encouragement lasts much longer. Philippians 4:13 reads, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Be careful about the words of encouragement the world feeds you. Come back, as David did, to bowing your heart and mind before the Lord and let Him be the "lifter up of your head." (Psalm 3:3) 

So today, have you scoped Facebook looking for encouragement? You might find some. You might read some good stuff. But in a few moments, it will fade. You'll forget it. Better for you to look deeper into God's word and find healthy, eternal truths to feed your soul.


Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Week Eighteen - Lessons I Learned From Motherhood

As I watch my children raising their children, it is evident that parenting has changed. Where my childhood meant threats of having my mouth washed out with soap when my word choice was less than acceptable, my grandchildren receive gentle admonitions to a wiser choice of words. Instead of eating what is served without questions, bargaining with tasty treats is their motivation. My parent's command, "You better stop crying, or I'll really give you something to cry about," is now replaced with "I can see you're upset. Take a deep breath and use your words."

I'm not saying I want to go back to living under threats, but I do wonder how this coming generation will deal with the reality and harshness of life. But that's not what I want to discuss today. Instead, I want to look at six things about mothering that have not changed. Things every mother - no matter what generation - learns. So here we go!

First, I learned that organization and consistent discipline pay great benefits for me and my children - most of the time! Mothering requires precision plus plan b, c, and d if things don't work out. In other words, mothers need to learn to be organized and flexible!

Next, I learned that kids don't care. They love messy things. They aren't worried about showing your most embarrassing photo with great pride. They will invite friends in when the house is like a bomb, and they'll never blink an eye. My grandmother, who was a good housekeeper, had a little sign in her kitchen that read, "Clean enough to be healthy, dirty enough to be happy." And sometimes mothers forget that kids don't care. They love you anyway. So, put hospitality before pride, and don't let it get the best of you.

One of my greatest lessons was that I have a breaking point. I'm not, and neither is any mother, a superwoman. We are just simple beings trying to do our best. And when we reach that breaking point, we may as well admit it. The kids need to learn this too. Don't push mom beyond the breaking point. It might not be pretty!

I learned to stop comparing my brood to others and pay attention to my own nest for peace of mind. There will always be someone doing things better. Good for them. And there will be those who struggle. I can pray and help where I can, but God only asks me to care for my own little group. No parent is perfect, myself included.

The family in Proverbs 31 praised their mother. My praise will come when I remember that humility has a flavor, and I need to learn to enjoy it. Proverbs 15:33 reads, "Before honor is humility." So, I learned to laugh when things go wrong, admit my failures, and remember I don't have to be right every time.

Finally, as I look back, it all passes too quickly. My grandmother wisely told me, "Gail, stop and enjoy them. They are only children once." I am thankful I listened to her advice because it does pass too quickly, and they are never little children again.

So, moms. On this Mother's Day weekend, take time to simply look at the beauty of your children and think about what you have learned from motherhood with a thankful and humble heart.

Here's my brood in 1983 and then in 1995. Today, they are grown, married, and faithful to the Lord in their various places. I am thankful the Lord made them a part of my life. I learned so much!


Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Week Seventeen - Just an Old Pot


That morning, as I looked into the mirror, trying to arrange my hair and look presentable, I let forth a deep sigh. It was no use. Age was winning. The grey hairs and the subtle but visible wrinkles told the true story. No amount of fixing and painting could cover up the outward evidence.

Then, after I opened my Bible and filled my heart with God's love and acceptance, my devotion read -

"The contents of the earthen vessels, not the containers themselves, were of great value. The jars would become chipped and broken and would deteriorate over time, but nobody thought of the jar - they were interested in its content...our greatest possession is that which God has placed within us. When people focus on us, they see a frail, imperfect, and deteriorating vessel. Nothing that comes from our flesh is worthy of praise. Our bodies are aging and losing strength (2 Cor 4:16). Only as we allow God to fill us and renew our inner self will people see a treasure of immeasurable worth. Don't focus on outward appearance and physical strength, for these deteriorate. Rather, allow the Holy Spirit to convince you of the infinite treasure that is within you because of God's presence." (Henry Blackaby)

My puny spirit began to revive as I thought of the infinite treasures in my earthen vessel. I have the abiding presence of the Lord and the Spirit of God filling my heart. I have the peace of God that passes understanding. I have the blood of Christ covering my sin, and I have the hope of glory as an anchor for my soul. 

As I ebb closer and closer to another birthday, I know my inner man is the actual estimation of my age. I might be just an old pot on the outside - and growing older every day, chipped, cracked, and somewhat unattractive, but inside is a glorious spirit waiting to burst forth.

If you are a child of God, you have the same glorious Spirit within you. It is our privilege and responsibility to let this precious and beautiful treasure shine through our eyes, words, and being so others can see Christ within us. It reminds me of 1 Peter 3:2-4, "While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price."

So today, dear old friend, let's allow the beauty of Christ within us to be reflected in all we do and walk worthy of the infinite treasure we hold in our hearts. Then by God's grace, let's do what we can to take good care of our old pots!

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Week Sixteen - Wacky Cake

"As I assembled the items needed to make a family favorite, I couldn't help but compare the basic recipe for the chocolate cake I was making to the makeup of common, everyday life.

Begin with bitter chocolate
Stir in some dry, tasteless flour
Add several raw eggs and some sour milk
Mix thoroughly and add several more ingredients
Bake in a hot oven
The end result: a lovely chocolate cake.

Now, think about your life - the bitter, the dry, the raw, the sour, the mixing, and the heat. Sounds bad, doesn't it? And it feels bad when it is happening. But in God's hands, these things - these unpleasant and uncomfortable and unlovely elements and components of life - will result in something good. That's the promise and the hope of Romans 8:28. In God's hands, the ingredients of our lives will always work out ultimately for our good and, even better, for His eternal purposes.

The next time you are facing the bitterness, the sourness, the agitation, or the heat of life, let this promise encourage you to trust in the Lord and to love Him with all your mind. Know that God is in control And that His end will be good. Know that He will work together all things for good. As the saying goes, 'If you are taking a beating, cheer up! God is just stirring the batter to bring you a blessing!'" (Elizabeth George, Loving God with All Your Mind, pages 177-178)

As I thought about this cake story, I remembered an old recipe for a Wacky Cake, and my thoughts took another turn. One of the misnomers in life is that we should all be alike, live the same way, and be a part of the same group. But we are all different in so many ways. God loves variety. Just look at us! The only thing we have in common is sin - we are all sinners, all broken. But God uses our differences and His specific, unique methods to make us well-pleasing to Him. You see, God is beyond the confines of human boundaries. And we - we are His workmanship; unique, peculiar, and individual. 

For all our figuring out, our study of Scripture, and the methods we develop, the God factor remains - He is still the Creator. While we know He always honors His Word and remains faithful to His characteristics, His work in the human heart is beyond our understanding. But because He knows the heart of man, the true motivation of every individual, and the choices we each make, He works with the exact amount of agitation, heat, and ingredients to create a beautiful, individualistic, finished product for His glory.

We grow frustrated when we don't understand or things don't go along with our program. He doesn't. He works according to the purpose of His will. It might look like a mess to us, but if we trust the Maker and His word, He will do the work no matter how broken we are. Trust Him - He wrote the recipe!

Below is the recipe for a wacky cake. There are no eggs or milk, and it is not mixed in a bowl but directly into the ungreased baking pan. Do you think it will turn out even if it isn't done like any cake you have ever made? It will. And so will your life, if you entrust it to the Maker!

Wacky Cake

1 1/2 cup plain flour
1 cup sugar
4 T unsweetened cocoa
1t baking soda
1/2 t salt

Sift the above ingredients into an ungreased 8x8 cake pan. Make three depressions and put one of the following into each depression.

1t vanilla
1T cider vinegar
6T vegetable oil

Gently pour 1 cup of warm water over the ingredients and stir well with a fork.

Bake 350/175 for 30-40 minutes.