20 Feb 2018
When Is Your Next Appointment With God?
“There are times when solitude is better than society, and silence is wiser than speech.” –C.H. Spurgeon
Robert Louis Stevenson told a story about a storm that threatened to dash a ship against a rocky coast, which would spell certain doom for its passengers.
In the midst of the terror, a daring young man made the dangerous trip up onto the deck and to the wheelhouse, where he saw the pilot at the helm and calmly steering the ship against the currents, safely to sea.
The pilot saw the young man watching him and smiled. Then, the daring passenger returned below and encouraged his fellow passengers: “I have seen the face of the pilot and he smiled. All is well.”
At regular intervals of our spiritual journey, we need a glimpse of the pilot’s face to reassure us we’re okay. Making the solitary journey, every so often, to the wheelhouse, to sense God’s sovereignty, authority, and faithfulness afresh, is soul nurturing and nourishing. A break in the schedule, a season of solitude before the Lord, is our trip to the wheelhouse.
To enter into solitude and silence with the Lord is to take your spiritual life seriously. It is to take seriously your need to quiet the noise of your life, to pause, in order to give God your undivided attention.
In solitude, God begins to free us from the rat-race and remind us he is “the One in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). In solitude our thoughts and our desires are reoriented towards God, so we become less entangled with lesser affections, so as to be more deeply responsive to God’s desires for us.
He doesn’t need our religious striving; he desires a relationship with us.
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:24-27).
Jesus took time away. On regular occasions he sent his disciples and those he was ministering to away, so he could be alone with the Father.
“After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone” (Matthew 14:23).
“At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him” (Luke 4:42).
In fact, Luke tells us this was a regular part of his routine: “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16).
How often do we give God our undivided attention? I want to set an appointment!
My prayer this week – Father, thank you for meeting me in solitude and silence. I confess that I often fill my time with frivolous things in comparison to you. Will you help me to make time with you a regular part of my life and calendar?
13 Feb 2018
A Blessed Invitation…
“Our Savior kneels down and gazes upon the darkest acts of our lives. But rather than recoil in horror, He reaches out in kindness and says, ‘I can clean that if you want.’” –Max Lucado
There’s an old story of a Spanish father and son who had become estranged. The son ran away, and the father set out to find him. He searched for months but wasn’t able to locate his son.
Finally, in a last desperate effort, the father put an ad in a Madrid newspaper. The ad read: Dear Paco, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father.
On Saturday 800 Pacos showed up, each looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers.
The story illustrates how desperately our hearts long for forgiveness and restoration with God. It’s true, as St. Augustine confessed to God so many centuries ago, “Our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
But here’s the good news! God promises: “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 44:22).
The invitation in this verse reads very much like the ad Paco’s dad posted in the story—“Come home! All is forgiven!” Please don’t miss the action words in the Isaiah passage—twice God said, “I have”—which demonstrate who does the heavy lifting in this forgiveness scenario. Our task is simply to turn for home.
Do you remember the story of the Prodigal Son? When he determined to turn for home, the scripture says, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).
On those occasions when our sin has us feeling distant from our Father, relief and restoration are just a turn for home away. King David shared from his experience:
“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night; your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:3-5).
We can be encouraged! “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
And what a beautiful thing it is! “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven” (Psalm 32:1).
My prayer this week – Gracious Lord, I am so thankful you hear my confessions of sin. It is my heart’s desire to be right with you! Will you continue to call to my mind anything within me which I need to confess, so I might always experience the full measure of closeness with you? Thank you!
06 Feb 2018
Shelter From The Storms…
“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You, Yourself, are the answer.” –C.S. Lewis
On October 29, 2012, hundreds of thousands of people from the Caribbean up the Eastern Coast of the United States, faced their worst nightmare: Super-storm Sandy. It’s called a super-storm for its hurricane-force winds merged with a powerful frontal system, Sandy ravaged the entire eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine, and traveled west across the Appalachian Mountains and into the Midwest, leaving death and destruction in her wake.
Families in the storm’s path were ripped from the lives they knew, thrust into the darkness and despair of loss. For many who lost everything it had to feel as if God had abandoned them.
Whether or not you’ve ever been affected by a natural disaster, you may know what it is to feel like God has abandoned you. Perhaps some other tragedy has rocked you—the death of a loved one, a debilitating accident, a dreaded diagnosis, the loss of a home, property, or your job—those things can become your own super-storm. You may feel as if your whole world has been turned upside down and you’re very much alone. It can leave you asking, “Where are you God?”
But you are not alone. In the midst of life’s storms, God is with you. Even if you do not feel him near, he is there. You can be sure it’s true, “because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).
Wherever you are, God is. He is with you before, during, and after life’s storms, never losing sight of you or your suffering. Consider some of the ways this truth is expressed in the Psalms:
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
“If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you” (Psalm 139:7-11).
The key to life’s stormy seasons is to cling to this truth: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).
Storms come and go in life. Sometimes they’re forecast—we know they’re on their way. Sometimes they stir up suddenly. Either way, God is not caught off-guard—and he’s there to accompany us through.
My prayer this week – Gracious Lord, it’s my desire to acknowledge and thank you in all seasons—those of tempest and those of ease. Will you strengthen my faith and confidence to trust you are there, and grow my ability to rest in you? Will you help me, also, to be an encouragement to others experiencing seasons of storms?
30 Jan 2018
With Whom Do You Share This Journey?
“I have friends in overalls whose friendship I would not swap for the favor of the kings of the world.” –Thomas A. Edison
We do love our independence. We’ve been taught happiness is the result of it; to work towards it. We’ve been taught to be independent in every way—then we will be happiest.
And yet, we have never had more unhappy people in the world than we do today. Why? Independence isn’t the answer!
Happiness doesn’t come from being isolated, with barriers up and masks on. Keeping people at a distance isn’t the way to be happy. Happiness doesn’t come from independence; it comes from interdependence. Happiness comes from being in community. This is the way God designed us.
In the beginning God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). Notice the plural pronouns: us and our. God is in community within himself—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He made us in his image, to be in community. This is the way he intends for us to live.
“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:4-5).
We need each other. We just don’t realize how much because we are taught to be independent. But we can only fulfill his design and purposes for our lives in community, in his family, and in relationships with each other.
Community and connection are vitally important. The person who tries to go it alone will quickly lose strength and enthusiasm. Even Jesus, though he is God and could have done everything by himself, chose to gather a group of disciples with whom he carried out his ministry, sharing each experience along the way.
The sage sums it up wisely in the book of Ecclesiastes:
“Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth, “For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” This too is meaningless—a miserable business! Two are better than one because they have a good return for their work; If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4: 7-12).
Who are we sharing this journey with? How are we experiencing interdependence?
My prayer this week – Dear Lord, thank you for intending me to be in relationship with others and not to go it alone. Thank you for placing me in the body of Christ. Will you give me grace that I might become more aware of those around me and more willing to share this journey with them—for their benefit and blessing, and my own?
23 Jan 2018
Do You Love Your Neighbor?
“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” ―Aesop
In 1973, a couple of researchers conducted an experiment at Princeton Theological Seminary. A group of students were selected, and each one was told they were to go across campus to deliver a sermon on the topic of the Good Samaritan. As part of the research, a third of the students were told they were very late, and needed to hurry.
Along the route, the researchers had hired an actor to play the role of a victim, doubled over coughing.
Ninety percent of the “late” students in Princeton Theology Seminary—though they were concentrating on the story of the Good Samaritan—ignored the needs of the suffering person in their path as they hurried across campus.
On several occasions, the seminary student literally stepped over the victim. In all, about forty percent of the students stopped to help.
Luke records the passage those students were asked to communicate. What’s important to notice of Jesus’ teaching is what occasioned it. He had just taught, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:27).
Jesus went on to say: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him” (Luke 10:30-33).
It’s easy to attribute all sorts of motives to the “religious folks” who passed by the needy man in their path. Perhaps they were so preoccupied they failed to truly notice him. Maybe they were afraid. It could be—like the students in the Princeton study—they were in a hurry and couldn’t be inconvenienced.
When Jesus finished the story, he brought the matter home: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:36-37).
How often do you suppose it is that we walk down paths in this life stepping over a neighbor in need? It may be that we don’t stop because we’re preoccupied, scared, or in a hurry. There’s no shortage of excuses—some of them may indeed be valid—but the heart of our Lord is revealed in this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
My prayer this week – Gracious Lord, thank you for stooping to meet me in my need! Will you develop in me a more sincere heart for others—to love my neighbors as you love them? Will you open my eyes to see the places you may be at work in people’s lives, and give me the patience and courage not to pass by?
16 Jan 2018
“Pray that, above all things, the gates of light may be opened to you; for these things cannot be perceived or understood by all, but only by the man to whom God and His Christ have imparted wisdom.” –Justin Martyr
An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two terms, which appear to be contradictory, are used in conjunction. Perhaps you’ve heard a few of these examples: resident alien; good grief; pretty ugly; working vacation; passive aggression; government intelligence.
A paradox is similar. A paradox is reasoning from two acceptable premises which seem to contradict, but when investigated proves to be true.
Pulitzer Prize winning poet Carl Sandburg turned the phrase: “There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.” That’s a paradox—and there are times we all feel that way.
There’s an old 16th Century Puritan Prayer called the Valley of Vision which recalls some of those paradoxical truths Jesus taught:
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory. Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision. Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine; let me find Thy light in my darkness, Thy life in my death, Thy joy in my sorrow, Thy grace in my sin, Thy riches in my poverty, Thy glory in my valley.
The Gospel is, itself, a paradox, for in dying, we have life! “Jesus answered them, saying, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal’” (John 12:23-25).
And concerning how we’re to live this life, we’re to be lost so we may be found: “He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39).
How do the paradoxes of God’s truth strike us? How do they inform the way we respond to God and live before others?
My prayer this week – Father, thank you for these powerful truths! Will you reveal yourself to me in these paradoxes this week as I meditate on the Puritan prayer and consider your wisdom and majesty?