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!