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.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Week Forty-Eight - God With Us

One of my favorite truths to meditate on is found in Matthew 1:23. I know it is from the Christmas story, and tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, but with where we are now, I found great comfort again in this truth. "And they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." When life gets confusing and uncertain, it seems legitimate and necessary to run from the crisis, but knowing God is with us restores my peace. 

God is intimately interested and involved in my life, even when I don't feel it. He is actively there. Psalm 31:15 tells me, "my times are in his hands." And Isaiah 27:3 reminds me that God waters every moment. I love that truth. There is not a moment when God is not tending and caring for me. When life feels too hard, and I can't figure it out, I remind myself that figuring it out is not my job. I am to trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not to my understanding. And I am to acknowledge him, and he will direct my path. (Proverbs 3:5,6) He will direct because he is with me. He is there. 

This truth of God's presence is one I have exercised for years. When my children were very small, my grandmother encouraged me, "Gail, they are only babies once. Stop and take time to enjoy them." I began making a practice of stopping everything to sit and watch them play. I would take turns holding them on my lap or rocking them while I rested myself in the everlasting arms - God with Me. 

Years down the road, and I still know the blessing of stopping, to be still and know God is there, to enjoy all he has placed around me. It is hard to see God and be thankful when you are racing and noisy or fretting and uptight. You have to stop, rest, and recoup. For me, that creates room for thankfulness. 

I need intervals when I do nothing, think nothing, and plan nothing; time to rest. And when I do, I place myself in his arms and allow him to be my portion and comfort. Time spent stopping is not lost time. It is the source of a renewed mind and energy. It is the place to do repairs, sharpen tools, and revitalize the soul and spirit. 

Thanksgiving 2020 would be best peppered with moments of silence, moments to stop and let thankfulness arise, and to worship, as we recognize God With Us.

I hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving Day, and the presence of God is very near.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Week Forty-Seven - Pandemics and Politics

I read Lysa TerKeurst's book, Uninvited, several years ago. At that time, I took away one truth that has stayed with me, and today, as I reread the same chapter, that truth gripped my heart again. She writes, "I can choose to bring my emptiness or God's fullness into any situation I face."

The first time I captured this truth, I pictured myself entering a room full of strangers. That always petrified me. I fear new situations and people I don't know because I feel socially clumsy and insecure, I guess. You'd think a person would outgrow those feelings, but I never have. So, working with the picture of God going into the room ahead of me gives me a bit more courage. I've even learned to stop and pray, asking Him to go in first when I felt I wanted to turn and run instead.

That simple prayer calms my nerves, gives me a quiet sense of confidence, and helps everything work out much easier. As I thought again about her statement, I saw it in another light. Let me reword it this way, "I can live in my emptiness or God's fullness as I face today's situations."

My nerves have strained during this pandemic. I go from perfect peace to inner tension and an overwhelming need to cry. I'm feeling cooped up, and for the first time in years, I'm longing for family. The political wrangling is leaving me frustrated and weary with the process. I find these two situations emptying me of joy, peace, and purpose.

However, I know if I approach each day in my own strength, empty of power, and entering alone, my emotional roller-coaster will continue. But if I pray before the day starts, before I hear a newscast or read a post, and before I allow my mind to start bemoaning my fate, I enter the day in God's fullness. He goes before me.

And what difference does that make? Well, I have more joy because praise and hope come more easily.  I find more peace because He has already overcome the world, and through Him, I am an overcomer, too. And I find purpose because He is working all things according to the purpose of His own will as we read in Ephesians 1:11. He gives my life purpose, even in a lockdown.

I put up a post on Facebook this week by Oswald Chambers that read, "Never allow the thought - I am of no use where I am, because you certainly can be of no use where you are not." That's so true. The enemy wants us to believe the restrictions we are experiencing nullify or hinder our purpose. But where are we? We are exactly where the purpose of God has designed. He has entered the room, and we are invited to join Him!

That simple truth means His fullness is already in the situation. If I refuse to join Him, I remain empty.  If I hesitate at the door, my frustration grows. I am best to launch out into His fullness and be filled, as Ephesians 3:19 says, "with all the fullness of God."

"I can choose to bring my emptiness or God's fullness into any situation I face." Any situation, be it pandemics or politics!

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Week Forty-Six - Dare to be a Daniel

There is a post that keeps popping up on Facebook, saying, "In a world where Nebuchadnezzar is king; be a Daniel."  Do you know the story? Daniel, along with other Hebrew children, became captives of the Persian Empire. They were young men of integrity and grit who refused to eat the king's meat and purposed to remain loyal to the God of their fathers. Go with me to 1 Peter 4:7-11, and let's explore what being a Daniel might look like for us today.

In 1 Peter 4:7, we read, "But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer." We are in the end times, the Lord is coming soon, so, we need to be sober. It means to be in the right state of mind, self-controlled, or have good judgment instead of being out of control and overwhelmed. This was Daniel's manner, no matter what he faced. Is it ours?

Watching in prayer. Daniel prayed three times a day, looking east from his window. I don't know there is any significance for us to pray eastward, but Daniel was praying with his face toward his homeland and Jerusalem, the City of God. I guess there would be nothing wrong with us taking the same position, but the key thing is Daniel prayed with regularity. We could all adopt that habit.

1 Peter 4:8 says, "And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves." Do we love our family or social bubble with the warmth needed to carry them through the pandemic and politics? Are we acting in love, speaking in love, and allowing love to be our motivation?

1 Peter 4:9 says, "Use hospitality one to another without grudging." Are we hospitable? It means to be friendly and welcoming, especially to strangers. To be inclusive, as we would say. Do we open our lives to strangers? Do we show friendliness and put others at ease? It creates a much happier and healthier community.

1 Peter 4:10 tells us, "As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards." If you have the gift of mercy, use it.  If you have the gift of giving, give.  Whatever God-given gift you have, you are to be a wise steward using that gift to minister to others.

1 Peter 4:11reads, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God." Tell about the Lord, share your testimony. People need to hear.

Verse 11 goes on to say, "If any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth." So, minister to others, meet their needs, encourage, and lift them up. Hurting people need the Great Physician. Point them to Him!

Daniel's character and behavior made a difference in the Persian Empire and brought both King Nebuchadnezzar and King Darius to publish decrees stating Daniel's God was supreme. (Daniel 6:26)

So, with the end of all things at hand, let's stand out as those whose behavior exalts the God of Heaven through integrity, purpose, as we lovingly minister to the needs of others, and share all God has given for His glory. Let's make a difference. Dare to be a Daniel.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Week Forty-Five - Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

When Tom and I set up our first home, my grandmother gave me a full-length mirror. I was thankful but wondered why she thought I needed it. So, I asked her.  Her reply? "Sweetheart, it is good to see what you look like." I don't know if she disapproved of my dress-sense (it was the early 70s), but she was definitely encouraging me to keep an eye on my attire.

As I moved forward with the Uninvited book study, I heard the same message from the Lord. "Sweetheart, it is good to see what you look like." 

Taking a good look at ourselves doesn't always make for the most flattering sight. Think about this morning, as you passed the mirror you saw disheveled hair, creases from a face squashed against the pillow, and eyes squinting in the morning light. Not a very becoming picture.

Immediately you grabbed tools and started combing your hair, washing your face, and brushing your teeth. Sometimes we forget that all of us start our day making these minor corrections.

Well, as Lysa Terkeurst says, "Tweaking in quiet is the saving of us in public." But she isn't referring to our morning regime. She is talking about having a good look at ourselves inwardly, spiritually. We all need tweaking. As we look into the mirror of God's word we see ourselves as He sees us - mess and all and in need of some grooming. It's amazing that we would not dream of going out in public without preparation, but we move through our spiritual life without taking time to even apply the salve of God's word to our wrinkled souls.

Well, after we fix our face, we usually begin thinking about what to wear. At which point we rummage through the closet and put a few things together. Then, we come to our full-length mirror to check before we head out.

Well, what do you look like? I'm not talking about shiny shoes or a crisp pressed shirt. What do you look like spiritually?

That is where I found myself; staring into the mirror of God's word dressed in the most incredible outfit. It's found in Isaiah 61:10. 

"I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels." 

The mirror of His word reflected the love of God placed upon me and I saw myself glistening from head to toe clothed in the garment of salvation and covered with the robe of righteousness.

"Sweetheart," my Lord said, "it's good to see what you look like." And I'd have to agree. What a beautiful reflection of our position in Christ as mirrored by God's word; clothed and covered.