A Picture of Christ’s Gift

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Our Bible Study Fellowship class leader told us a story about a boy and his boat that is a little picture of what Christ has done for us.

A young boy made a small boat, with the help of his father, lovingly shaping and sanding the boat. After the boat was completed, he and his father would take the boat to open water and watch it sail. One such day, the wind took the boat out beyond their reach, and was lost. The boy would go back and look for it often.

One day the boy saw his boat in a store window for sale. The boy told the store owner that it was his boat, that he had made it himself. The store owner told him it may be so, but it was his now and the boy would have to buy it back. So the boy worked to buy the boat back. When the boat was safely back in his hands, he said to his precious boat, “You are twice mine. I made you and then I bought you.”

This is what Jesus did for us. He made us. We belong to Him. Our sin separates us from Him. Through His death on the cross, He bought us back.

“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it;” Psalm 24:1

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:10

“ all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” Romans 3:23-25a

Cooper’s Hawk

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One morning I noticed a squirrel enjoying the bird feeder hanging on my clothesline post. I missed the usual downy woodpecker, cardinals, the nuthatch, and chickadees. So I repeatedly shooed the squirrel away. Each time he would return as soon as I had come back into the kitchen.

As I fussed about the absence of the birds, I was startled to see a cooper’s hawk on my patio eyeing the feeder. It seems the birds were aware of the real danger in their lives. A squirrel may be a nuisance to them, but the hawk was a life and death matter.

That the cooper’s hawk could be so near without my knowing it, caused me to wonder what life and death matters I am overlooking in my relationship with God. I don’t want to be so distracted by the nuisances in life that I miss the matters of the heart.

“The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.” Proverbs 27:12

“Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.” Mark 13:33

Boundaries Preserve Relationships

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Keeping boundaries with people has long been a difficult concept for me, always seeming a bit selfish. But recently I have seen boundary keeping in a different light.

When I do not keep healthy boundaries with people, I may allow them to have God’s rightful place in my life – first in my affections, my thoughts, my time, my priorities…. On the other hand when I keep God first in all those things, and want most of all to please Him, I am more able to keep healthy boundaries with people.

When I think of a boundary that has never really been established, I picture a puny hedge that has not been nurtured, showing evidence of having been trampled. Other relationship boundaries may lack maintenance and so become a mess of brambles, with maybe some prickly passages made through it. Either way, it requires willingness and effort to change the behaviors that led to the unhealthy boundary.

When I focus on my relationship with God, nurturing and repairing boundaries with people become possibilities. There may be situations in which the hedge must become a wall, at least for a time.

Whatever the case, God’s Word provides instruction that still applies to keeping boundaries in our relationships today. It takes courage, but God is able.

“Let your yes be yes and your no, no.” Matthew 5:37a

“speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:15

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” Matthew 18:15a

Grandson’s Wisdom

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My grandsons received some rather intricate Lego sets for Christmas. They were generous about letting me help. I would often look at the picture of the finished product and get things out of order. The nine-year-old kept pointing me to the step-by-step directions.

I can apply my grandson’s wisdom to my walk with God as well. When I look too far ahead, I can get out of step with God’s plan for me. Thankfully, He keeps pointing me to the next right thing.

“This is what the Lord says – your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.” Isaiah 48:17

God’s Graciousness

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More than a dozen years ago I injured the nail on the third finger of my left hand. That fingernail has never grown right since.

The injury itself was an accident, but all these years later I still remember that when it happened, I was in a place that I should not have been. How I often I have asked God to bless what I wanted to do, instead of following His lead.

My fingernail reminds me of God’s graciousness to me over the years.

“The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me.
Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.”
Psalm 116:5-7

Satan is Real

For several days I have been thinking about a statement I read recently that questioned the existence of Satan. It gave me a desire to be certain about my own beliefs and put them on paper.

While I write, I often listen to “The Shadow of Your Wings” by Fernando Ortega. One of the songs reminds me that the Word of God endures forever. “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)

Jesus states boldly in Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” I am grateful for that firm foundation on which to stand – Jesus, the Word of God.

Jesus was tempted by Satan in Matthew 4, when Jesus was hungry after fasting for 40 days and nights. Satan tempted Jesus to turn the rocks into bread. Jesus could have chosen to benefit from His own power, but chose not to do so. Instead, Jesus resisted Satan’s temptation by quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Jesus and Satan each knew who the other was. Jesus had seen Satan’s fall from God’s favor. (Luke 10:18) Satan knew Jesus was the Son of God. (Matthew 4:3)

Satan wanted Jesus to worship him, but Jesus said, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” Then the devil left Jesus.

James directs and promises, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you.” (James 4:7-8a)

Peter warned against Satan, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (I Peter 5:8-9)

I know Satan. He uses many methods to tempt me. Thankfully, God provides the “shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Ephesians 6:16

I love the prayer Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6, especially the plea in verse 13, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” God is able.

Grace

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I am grateful for frank conversations that help me see myself more clearly, and bring about more compassion for others.

My son is a truck driver. Most of our conversations are phone visits while he is on the road. I am grateful for each time we get to share our thoughts frankly with one another. Today we discussed a situation in which I openly voiced my beliefs. While I believe it is my job to accept and submit to God’s definition of what is right and wrong, I am not to be self-righteous about it. As we talked and afterward, I recognized myself, the pot calling the kettle black, because I am not without sin. What is right is for me to extend grace and loving-kindness, as I would like to have grace extended to me in my sinfulness.

As I pondered my judgmental-ness, I remembered the words of an elderly gentleman with gnarled workingman’s hands who came to the home church meetings of my childhood. He was a humble man and told my father that he did not come to the meetings because he was righteous, but because he wanted to be. I have thought of his words from time to time throughout the years and was grateful that they came back to me today. He has been gone from this earth many years, and his words reminded me again today that our hope is that God will grow and change us, not that we are yet what we should be.

The Apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:12-14, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” I need to encourage others, not condemn them.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the great Teacher, and He teaches me through the lives of many. Thank you, Lord, for what you taught me today through the conversation with my son, through the memory of an old man’s faith and through your everlasting Word.

God Has the Answers

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When I read recently a reference to the sin of self-pity, I kind of slid past it, thinking it didn’t apply to me. I even forgot where I read about it. But that little phrase kept coming to mind. The sin of self-pity. And then I became aware that perhaps there was some connection to what I was calling “mourning.” I wasn’t engaged in self-pity, I justified, I was mourning a disappointment.

For close to a year I had been asking God why a particular circumstance was present in my life. I knew my attitude about it wasn’t what it should be and prayed often for God to change my heart. But, I continued to ask why? What was the purpose? I just didn’t understand and I questioned God on it frequently. What God showed me was that change was going to be necessary and I would need His power to do it.

I don’t very often have dreams that I remember clearly upon waking, but one morning I woke with such a clear memory of a dream, I had to believe it was significant. In the dream I was traveling on a beautiful highway, where the leaf colors were a vivid red. Suddenly I found myself on a dark and colorless bi-way that was ending in a river. I was able to stop before entering the water and turn around, but I couldn’t find where I had left the highway. At the end of the dream I was up against a steep and rugged mountain with no way to move forward.

The dream caused me to ask God different questions. I was no longer asking why, but how to get back on the road He intended for me. He began to show me ways I needed to change my attitude and my behavior. It went against my usual mode of operation, but I was getting desperate to get beyond this “mourning” business.

God in His graciousness revealed these purposes for the circumstances I had been struggling with:

  • I need to rely more heavily on God for direction.
  • I need to relinquish my desire and effort to control the outcome of the situation.
  • I need to recognize and remove sinful ways of thinking and behaving including but not limited to self-pity, jealousy, possessiveness, selfish motivations, manipulation….
  • And I need to trust that God has a better plan for me and my loved ones than my best plan.

James 1: 2-3, 5, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

Thank you, Lord, and help me to use well the wisdom you reveal.

To Obey Better Than Sacrifice

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I sometimes come across good things to do, and instead of asking for God’s direction on it, I make commitments that fill up my days. Then along comes this uneasy feeling that perhaps I’m avoiding what I ought to be doing. Sometimes I carry it through, this “good” thing, and give it up much later, sometimes too late, really, having lost sight of what I ought to have done.

Most recently, I got excited about a good thing to do that would occupy days of my week through the winter months. I used my logic in making the decision – it would get me out of the house during the cold winter months, it would be helpful to people and to the government, and it would be a skill that perhaps I could use for financial gain in the future. I eagerly began learning about the activity, but was often visited with the uneasiness that accompanies decisions made on my own, without consulting God.  I struggled with disappointing the people to whom I had made the commitment, and how it might look to those I had told about my little venture if I backed out now.

Two Bible references came to mind and helped me make a decision. One was when King Saul disobeyed God in I Samuel 15.  In fact, Saul did partly obey, just not fully!  Saul was to have completely destroyed the spoils of a battle God had enabled him to win.  Saul destroyed most of them, but kept the best to sacrifice to the Lord.  In Saul’s eyes, it made sense – keep the best of the spoils for God, but it was not what God had asked of him.  Saul grieved God and lost his kingship.   He was told, “To obey is better than sacrifice.”  Even good activities don’t measure up to obedience.

Matthew 14 provided another thought regarding the cancelling of my commitment to this activity.  King Herod made a promise to give a young dancer whatever she asked for and her request was the head of John the Baptist.  Herod was distressed about the situation, but kept his oath, perhaps to save face, and had him beheaded. This story reminded me that first of all I need to consult God before I make commitments.  But if I make a hasty commitment and find later that it does not please God, I need to disappoint people rather than God.  After all, saving face is about honoring myself, not about honoring God.

My little project is insignificant when compared to either of these Bible experiences.  But because the Bible references came to mind more than once in recent days, I have to believe God would have me pay attention.

Today I sent my regrets.  Already several opportunities to serve in ways that have eternal potential have arisen that I would not have had time for if I had continued on my path.   Thank you, Lord, for your Word that is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.  (Psalm 119:105)

 

Looking Up

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When I trust God to be or have the answer to any given problem or situation, things go so much better than when I try to be or have the solution. I know this through countless experiences, and yet I still forget and take things into my own hands or offer my own limited wisdom more often than I would like to admit.

This past week with my grandsons was a wonderful blessing of relying on God’s wisdom, through his Word, inspirational reading and scripture set to music. A second inspirational book we enjoyed was Battlefield of the Mind for Kids by Joyce Meyer. The music was a series of three CDs entitled Hidden in My Heart, with softly sung Bible verses. My teen-aged grandson asked to take one of the CDs home with him.

This is my song today:
The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.  Psalm 28:7

Thank you, Lord, for your peace among us this week. Thank you for that joyful experience of trusting You and being helped. You are so faithful and worthy of our trust.