Category Archives: Gratitude

The Thing That Changes Everything

Afterward, Jesus found the man at the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Stop sinning, or something worse may happen to you.”  John 5:14

It makes you wonder.  Why would this guy continue to sin? He’d been laid up for 30 years.  Jesus picked him out of the crowd and made his life radically better.  Wouldn’t this man be so grateful that he would honor God with his life?

Either he didn’t realize how much had been done for him, or he didn’t appreciate it.

We want to say, “How blind can this man be?”  But we forget the foibles of human nature.

I remember a time when we had a group of young men over to dinner.  I bought special food from the store and spent hours preparing it.  They were unavoidably delayed, but when they did arrive, they basically ate and ran.  It made me feel bad, because their actions didn’t demonstrate a recognition of the time and money I’d spent on them.  It wasn’t that they were being deliberately rude.  It just didn’t cross their minds that someone had gone to a lot of trouble for them.  It didn’t occur to them that they should be so grateful as to stay and visit for a while.

In the same way, maybe the former invalid didn’t fully see what it meant that the divine representative had singled him out, taken time for him, and expended power to heal him.  Maybe he didn’t realize that gratitude should be expressed in action.

It like this video I saw recently.

In the video, everything we take for granted is gift wrapped, and the man treats it all like amazing presents.  He’s excited, and marvels that he’s alive, that he has a wife and children, and that he has electricity, running water, breakfast and a car.  It’s pretty convicting in a way, because around the world, may people don’t have these basic things.

When we look at this, we see that we all can be like the invalid man who was healed.  We forget that God has given us what we have.  We don’t act out our gratitude.

And we have been saved, so this should motivate us to action more than anything else.  II Peter is always convicting.  “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life . . . For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge (etc) . . . But whoever does not have (these qualities) is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.” II Peter 1:3-8

So let’s get back to the words of Jesus, “Stop sinning, or something worse will happen to you.”  If Jesus took out the time to heal this man, he took even more time to search until he found the man, and warn him about the consequences of his sin.

I might have been like, “The guy’s not grateful.  Now it’s on him.”  But Jesus sought him out and tried to turn him from his path.  Jesus had to really care in order to do that.  He showed mercy.  I love it.

And Jesus told him that thing that he needed to hear most.  He’d been physically healed, but spiritually, he was still stunted! He needed to repent.

Surely Jesus shows mercy on us as well, by giving us chance after chance to repent.  This is another thing that we don’t need to take for granted.  Any of us could die today.  Or God could turn his back on us, because that is what we deserve.  But he’s given us another day to make changes and give our heart more fully to him.

Here are some takeaways from today’s red-letter passage:

  1.  Will we see how fortunate we are that God has given us what we have?
  2.  How will we express our gratitude to God?  Will our gratitude motivate us to address our sin — our pride, selfishness, worldliness, etc?
  3.  Will we appreciate the mercy shown to us as we have another day to repent?  What will we do differently?

The man who had been healed thought that he now had everything he needed.  He didn’t realize that he’d been given the one thing that could really give him what he needed:  the opportunity to be grateful.  It was gratitude that could motivate him to repent.  It was gratitude that could keep him faithful and get him to heaven.

May we realize that the same is true for us.

Leave a comment

Filed under Grace, Gratitude, John, Red Letter

Moments That Are Much More

When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.  And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.  Mark 6:53-56

So many people.  So many needs. It got to the point where the only interaction Jesus had with many was when they touched the hem of his garment.

It must have been hard for Jesus to have limitations that he didn’t have in heaven.  In the spiritual realm, somehow God is able to pay attention to millions of people simultaneously.  Jesus could only deal with one person at a time.  Surely his heart was pulled to connect with each precious soul as he saw their face. Surely he longed for more time with each one.

Over the past few days at the wedding and on vacation, one thing that made my heart sad is that I didn’t have time to have a good talk with all my old friends and my family members.  I saw them, they were right there in front of me, but the clock ran out.

At the wedding we called for everyone who had been a part of our church to gather and pose for a picture.

group photo

I got a HUGE lump in my throat.  So many individuals who are dear to me!  It was like my insides weren’t big enough to contain all the emotions I was feeling.

The same was true when I gathered with my family members who I don’t see very often.

658.jpg

And then, as if my heart hadn’t been strained enough,  five of my good friends recently moved away.   You would think that as I get older, it would get easier to deal  with this.  But, I tell you, it gets harder!

I so much want to connect and make moments.  And when I am able to connect and make moments, I so much long to hold onto them.

It’s like this verse:  “He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has put a sense of eternity in people’s minds. Yet, mortals still can’t grasp what God is doing from the beginning to the end [of time].”  Eccl 3:11, NIV, God’s Word Translation

We feel the beauty, even the sanctity, of the moments God gives us.  But we are melancholy because we realize that it is only for a time that we have the beauty.  Somehow we know we are made for lasting happiness, but can’t experience it here on this earth.

Our hearts hurt!  Yet there is good news.  Jesus heals, just as he did when he was on earth.

I think part of his healing is giving us a myriad of good gifts, gifts that fall on us like rain on parched ground.

Over the past couple of weeks I have had many healing times.

There was healing as I saw dreams come true in the wedding of Devonte and LaJasmine.

wedding4

There was healing through every interaction I did have time to have.

698

There was healing in being surrounded by love with my family.

701

700

There was healing as I took in many scenes of nature’s beauty.

754

839

There was healing in visiting my mother’s memorial.

760

There was healing in being with my grandchildren.

744

There was healing in having a “date day” with my husband.

835

I could go on and on.

I use this verse a lot, but it’s so true: “Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.  (Hebrews 6:7)  God showers us with blessings, but we have to recognize them, we have to drink them in!  We can’t be so caught up in what is going wrong and what we don’t have that we miss being nourished by what we do have.  We can’t be so shut off to pain that we’re shut to the healing. 

We are to be “overflowing with thanksgiving.”  (Col 2:7)   Gratitude is a fountain that we can drink from time and time again.  We can make lists, take pictures, treasure things in our hearts.  These will help us remember, be thankful, and be renewed.  

And something uncanny happens as we do so.  Being thankful makes our little transitory moments last.  In a sense, we are holding onto them.  We are putting time in a bottle.  We see that the moments we wished could be more ARE more.

Going back to the story one more time, it would have been tempting for Jesus to minimize the importance of a person simply touching his cloak.

4.2.3

He didn’t have time to love them, or build a relationship with them, or teach them.  But it was still big for them.  In their world of brokenness, they had a healing moment.  And I have to believe that although Jesus didn’t have time for more, God took what Jesus did and used it to keep on working in their lives.

It’s also tempting for us to underestimate the impact of our fleeting interactions with others.  But I see it like the loaves and the fishes.  God can take little and make it into much more.  He can create a positive ripple effect in our moments.  Our labor in the Lord is not in vain. (I Cor 15:5)

We will always live with limitations on this earth, having not enough time or strength.  But Jesus offers us refreshment in the face of frustration.  He offers us power in the face of impotency.

And one day, in heaven, our hearts will be truly satisfied.

Leave a comment

Filed under Gratitude, Mark

Psalm 54 – Self Reliant or God Reliant?

Appreciating Psalm 54 is all about knowing what was happening when it was written.  The notes for the psalm explain that it was written, “When the Ziphites had gone to Saul and said, ‘Is not David hiding among us?’”

So we have to read about David’s encounter with the Ziphites.  This story is in the last part of I Samuel 23, but we can get an even better picture of what’s going on by reading the whole exciting chapter!  I know, I know.  You’re short on time.  I’ll summarize it for you.

David at this point is with a group of about 600 men who have thrown in their lot with him.  They are playing a deadly game of hide and seek with Saul and his army.  And then David hears that the Philistines are raiding one of the Jewish border towns, Keilah,and stealing their grain.

keilah2

Man from Kielah entreating David to help.

David has such an awesome heart.  He wants to take his band of men and rescue the people of Kielah.  But his guys are like, “What?  We’re quaking in our boots because Saul’s army is breathing down our necks, and you want to take on the whole Philistine army?”  So David consults the Lord, twice, and the Lord assures him that he will totally win.

Thus they engage in a skirmish with the Philistines.  David’s forces pound them and free the town of Kileah. Yay!

Of course, just as his men feared, this puts David on Saul’s radar.  Saul’s rubbing his hands together with glee, thinking, “Ha!  I have David in a walled in city now.  Now I can finally get him!”

walled-in-city

Walled in city

Saul sends his army in that direction.  David realizes Saul is coming, and knows this will put the people of Kielah in a dicey situation.  Will they stand with him, or give him over to their king?  He asks the Lord, and the Lord lets him know it’s time to cut and run.  So David and his men manage to slip away before Saul’s army arrives.  They hightail it to the hill country of Ziph.

ziph

The hills of Ziph — a pretty hostile environment!

Foiled, Saul’s army keeps looking for David to no avail, because God is helping David out.  But then the residents of Ziph betray David, and clue Saul in to David’s location.  Armed with this new information, Saul closes in on David.  He’s on one side of the mountain and David’s on the other.  It seems like it’s all over.  David will finally be captured.  And then, just in the nick of time, Saul gets an urgent message that he has to go fight the Philistines.  So he and his army exit the area.  Whew!

Here’s the first half of the psalm David wrote when he was going through all of this:

Come with great power, O God, and rescue me!

Defend me with your might.

Listen to my prayer, O God.

Pay attention to my plea.

For strangers are attacking me;

violent people are trying to kill me.

They care nothing for God.

Can’t you just pictures the situation from what David says here?  He’s like, “Please help me, God.  And I’m going to need you to bring the big guns because I’m in this barren desert place, and it’s not just Saul and his army who are after me, now the local bad guys, who don’t even know me, are against me!”

Psalms 54 goes on:

Surely God is my help;

the Lord is the one who sustains me.

Let evil recoil on those who slander me;

in your faithfulness destroy them.

I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you;

I will praise your name, Lord, for it is good.

You have delivered me from all my troubles,

and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes

Notice how proactive David believes God will be.  God is the one who will help him, defend him, deliver him, sustain him, and destroy the enemy.  Not once does David ask God for the ability to do these things himself.  He believes God will do them.

In the end David says his eyes have looked in triumph on his foes. He could have been remembering past victories given by God.  But I like to think David wrote this at the end of the present story.  I envision his scouts coming and reporting, “We can’t figure it out, but Saul’s army is headed the other way.  They’re leaving.”

David does a fist pump. “Yes! Praise God!” And he turns and shouts to the hills, as if the people of Ziph can hear him, “Hey, chumps.  You thought you were going to mess with me, but you were messing with the Lord!  You picked the wrong side!”

It’s fun to think about, but whatever happened, we know that David gave God the total glory.   He attributed victory to the Lord, and exalted him.

So here are four things we can take away from this story and psalm:

Pray before taking action.  When we’re making decisions about which way to go, we need to remember to first pray about it and ask God for guidance.

Be God reliant, not self reliant.  David didn’t depend on his own wisdom or power.  He put all his eggs in God’s basket.  God was his resource for guidance.  God was his strategy.  God was his weapon. God was his solution.

Let not the wise boast of their wisdom

or the strong boast of their strength

or the rich boast of their riches,

but let the one who boasts boast about this:

that they have the understanding to know me. . . (Jeremiah 9:23-24a)

Deliverance often comes when things seem at their worst. David wasn’t rescued until the 11th hour.   It’s often the same for us.  I was just thinking over my life, and remembering some of the most encouraging ways God acted.  Some of the greatest things from God came on the heels of my greatest times of trial.

I have an illustration I want to share.  Last year we had some tremendous blessings in our church, but there were also some challenging times.  In the fall, several of our members who were dear friends and hard workers moved away or quit coming.  And then another church started meeting at the same hotel where we had been meeting for the past eight years.  We were happy to share our space.  But this church took up the common areas, and played loud music that invaded our services.  Loud bass was vibrating while we were trying to take communion.

It was a low point.  We saw the writing on the wall — we would have to find a new place to meet.  We prayed that we could somehow find a location that would be cheap, close to the interstate, and amenable to us bringing food for fellowships. This was a tall order!

And then, out of the blue, our women’s leader, Marge, was getting a rental car and happened to see the VFW building next door.  “I wonder if we could rent that?”  she said to  herself.  It took a lot of tracking down to find the right person to talk to, but when we did, they said they were looking for renters!

So two weeks ago we had our first service in our new location, and we loved it!

img_7569

It was warm and homey.  We had coffee and snacks as we fellowshipped.   What had seemed like a setback had turned into a new start.  Our hearts were full of gratitude to God.

And that brings me to my last point about Psalms 54 —

Give total glory to God.  When things work out, let David be our inspiration.  Let’s break out into wholehearted praise!  How can we give the credit to anyone or anything but the Lord?  It is God who gives us the victory. He will continue to do so, as we completely rely on him.  And when he does, we will lift up his name with thanksgiving.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.  II Cor 2:14a

Leave a comment

Filed under Faith, Glory Above All, Gratitude, Psalms, Surrender

Psalm 56: Grief and Goodness

mother

Eighteen years ago today, my mother passed away.  Even after all these years, I am unutterably sad and miss her so much.

My mother was such a bright light in my life.  I felt like I was different and didn’t fit in, but she got me.  She thought I hung the moon.  She thought my children were awesome.  She always saw the best in others.  She made my burdens lighter, both by pitching in and helping, and by making me feel better when I felt down.

It’s so hard to not have that anymore.

Today is the funeral for my dad’s brother, Uncle Bill.

uncle-bill

He was a special person in my life, and I know he meant the world to his family.  He raised not only his daughter, but was really a big part of raising his granddaughter and his two great grandchildren.

Life can be devastating at times.  It can feel like our heart is getting raked over ground glass.

As I’ve been reading through the Psalms in chronological order, I see how this was true for David.  Here is part of the next psalm in the series, Psalm 56:

Be merciful to me, my god.  For my enemies are in hot pursuit; all day long they press their attack. . .

All day long they twist my words; all their schemes are for my ruin.

They conspire, they lurk, they watch my steps, hoping to take my life. . .

Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll — are they not in your record?

This Psalm was written at the same time as the last psalm I wrote about, Ps. 34.  David was fleeing Saul’s soldiers, and ended up in Gath, which was a Philistine kingdom.  The servants of the king there recognized who he was, so, in desperation, he started acting crazy.  His ploy worked, and by God’s grace, he was allowed to go on his way.

David recorded what he was feeling as he went through this: sorrowful, betrayed, cornered, mistreated.  Emotions to which we can all relate.

But then he wrote this:

I am under vows to you, my God; I will present my thank offerings to you.

For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling,

that I may walk before God in the light of life.

I love these verses!  They encourage my heart.

But the thing is, I don’t think David had been delivered from his tough situation when he wrote them.    I believe he was remembering about other times he was saved from peril:  “You have delivered me.”  He was basically saying, “God, even though I am in a dicey situation, I will remember who you are and what you have done, and present thank offerings to you.”

It reminds me Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

We HAVE to pray with thanksgiving, no matter how tough the situation is.  More than that, we need to give thank offerings.  Our life needs to be one of constant service, because we are so grateful for God and what he has done, even though we feel miserable at the present time.

Right now, at Christmas, we are feeling all warm and fuzzy at the birth of Jesus.  We think of the stable, the star, the shepherds and wise men.

nativity

Yet when the wise men came, they set in motion a terrible situation.  Herod found out from them that a Jewish king was being born, and to eliminate a threat to the throne, he put all of the boys ages two and under to death.

nativity2

God rescued Jesus from this massacre, but it was a tragic time.

There always seems to be a juxtaposition of deliverance and tragedy.

The same is true for us.  It usually feels like what Dickens wrote in Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

There are always blessings in the midst of adversity.  If we are alive today, we must be thankful.  We can think of all we’ve lost, and it is unbearably painful.  Yet somehow through all of it, we know that God is also good.  We can see the milestones of his goodness in our life.

I’ve had times when I could have died.  I almost drowned when I was young.  When I was in college. I was leaning over, trying to use a staple gun, and it wouldn’t work, and then I discovered it was upside down, and if it had been working, I would have shot myself in the head.  It still gives me a cold feeling to think about it.

I believe God preserved me.  I don’t know why it is the time for some to pass, and not for me, not for others.  But I have been delivered, and now, as the psalm says, “I may walk before God in the light of life.”

That is my job today, to walk with God in this vibrant vitality that we call life.

To walk with grace.  To honor my mother, my uncle, and all whose stories are complete.

I pray that the chapter God and I write today will be a good one.  And I pray that amidst my grief, and troubles and worries, I find the vein of God’s goodness, and cling to it, as David did, in trembling soberness and purposeful gratitude.

Outside my front door, my camellias are blooming.  It’s winter, and much of the vegetation is dead.  Yet they are alive and bursting with beauty.

img_7522img_7524

That’s what God calls me to do today: be alive and beautiful, even as I mourn. I don’t know if I have tomorrow.  But God has given me this time and I vow to make the best of it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Gratitude, Psalms, Uncategorized

Psalm 34 — Praising At All Times

What a harrowing time it was when David wrote Psalm 34!  He was fleeing for his life.  He tried to hide in some region called Gath, but people there were wise to him.  So David started acting like he was stark raving mad!  Here’s how the Message version describes it:

When David realized that he had been recognized, he panicked, fearing the worst from Achish, king of Gath. So right there, while they were looking at him, he pretended to go crazy, pounding his head on the city gate and foaming at the mouth, spit dripping from his beard.  I Sam 21:13

Can you imagine?  David really threw himself into his performance.  He was smashing his noggin on things and slobbering.  It would have been funny to watch, if it wasn’t so scary!

And in the midst of all of this, he wrote something astounding:  “I will praise the Lord at all times.” (Ps 34:1)  How could he write this while he was in fear for his life?  He could because he wasn’t fixated on his troubles, he was fixated on the awesomeness of God!

Several years ago I put the first part of Psalm 34 to music.  Here is the first stanza of my rendition:

I will praise the Lord at all times

His praise will always fill my voice

My soul will boast in the Lord

The righteous will hear and they’ll rejoice

Oh magnify the Lord with me and lift high his name in harmony.

Join with me to praise the Lord, exalting his name with one accord.

I love that David was determined to not only keep praising God, but to even boast in him, even magnify him.  That means that David kept on singing about how magnificent God was, and the more he did, the greater God became in his eyes.

Do I do that? Do I magnify God?

It has been a challenging week for me. I found out that my daughter and grandkids are moving to Chicago.  My beloved uncle in New Mexico passed away.  Another family member is going through some struggles.  My emotions are all over the place.

So what do I need to do?  I need to do what David did!  I’ve been working on being thankful, but I need to take that a step further and praise God more and more!  I need to start boasting that he is with me, and he’s going to take of me and my problems.  I need to get others to praise him with me for all the incredible things he has done and will do.

I sought the Lord and he replied, delivered me from all I dread

Those who look to him are radiant, and shame shall never bow their head.

Just as David could be radiant when he was in mortal danger, I can have a heart of joy when I focus on God, and not my problems.

And David was right to be radiant.  He knew God was the deliverer, and God did deliver him by allowing him to escape Gath unscathed.

“Achish said to his servants, ‘Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?’ David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam.”  (I Sam 21:14- 22:1a)

Will God deliver me as well?

The poor man cried, the Lord heard him, delivered him from all his woes.

The Lord’s angel encamps around the men who fear him, he rescues those.

Taste and see that the Lord is good and blessed is the man who takes refuge.

Lions grow weak and hungering, but those who seek God lack no good thing.

Isn’t it incredible to think of an angel protecting us on all sides, vigilant and ever ready?

Why then am I so insecure, so fearful?  Why do I navigate life like I’m walking through a minefield?  Why do I hunker down and protect myself?

God is the only protection that works!  Can I taste and see that he is good? Can I walk towards him instead of retreating and hiding?  Can I climb trustingly into his invisible arms?

And who among you desires life, and longs to age and see many good days?

Then keep your tongue from all evil words, and let no falsehood from your lips stray.

What a minute!  David is changing directions here.  The focus has moved from looking at the greatness of God, to looking at what a man’s behavior should be.  The song I wrote ends with the couplet above.  But the psalm David wrote goes on in this vein:

Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry;

but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth.

David had to have be thinking about his own life, thinking of the battles he fought to not give into the dark side, to not be hateful, to not be overwhelmed with anger and bitterness.

David must have seen how God took care of him as he held onto his integrity.  This motivated him to rally others to fight for their integrity as well.  “Good leads to good, and bad to bad!” he exhorted them.

Evil will slay the wicked;

the foes of the righteous will be condemned.

The Lord will rescue his servants;

no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.

It sounds like a no brainer.  Of course we need to keep doing the right thing.  So why is it hard?  Why is there a spiritual principle of entropy?  We do we blink and find ourselves going the wrong way?

For me, I get tired and overwhelmed.  I start slacking on taking the positive steps.

So these words of Psalm 34 are a great reminder.  As Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”  If I let up the fight and give into the dark side, there will be repercussions.

As I close this blog, I want to talk about two lines of the psalm near the end that have been puzzling me.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

The lines seem like they don’t fit in.  David’s done such a good job of praising God, and talking about how God takes care of the righteous.  I have the impression that David has it figured out and feels great in spite of his challenges.

Then he talks about the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit. Whoa.  This is gut level raw.  It’s like the hidden pain in David’s heart erupts.

And as I meditated on these words, in the end, they rang true.  David had to leave his wife and his best friend.  He left his home and his career.  His former friends and family were stalking him.  He was forced to run from place to place, and do things to survive like bang his head against walls.  His anguish went deep.

Trusting in God doesn’t instantly mend a broken heart.  It helps, but we still bleed inside.

I would have been different than David.  I would have told myself, “God is awesome.  So you’re supposed to have faith and be doing better.  Don’t let yourself give into despair.”

But David was the opposite.  He let it out and gave name to his pain.  He saw that his pain showed him how desperately he needed God.  He was confident that God wouldn’t be repelled by his mess of emotions, but would instead draw closer to him.  He knew God’s heart would be moved to help him.

That inspires me more than anything.  Yes, I want to magnify God.  Yes, I want to do the right thing.  But what I really want is to be gut level honest with God and say that I hurt.  I’m scared.  I feel lost and abandoned.

And when I do, I want to hear God saying, “It’s okay.”  I want to feel him drawing me into his embrace.  I want to know that he’s marshaling his heavenly armies to deliver me.

That is what truly inspires me to praise God without ceasing.

Leave a comment

Filed under Battle Against Evil, Glory Above All, Gratitude, Psalms, Strength in God

Holding Onto the Grace

Last week I watched my grandkids, and this week I’m still getting caught up.  I have some great thoughts on Malachi 3:12 that I am working on, and I hope to blog about this soon.  But in the meantime, here are some awesome things I have found in Hebrews 12!

Starting with verse 14:

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

This is so convicting for us today.  Are we making EVERY EFFORT to be at peace with people?  It will take being humble, living out verses like:

  • He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth (Isa 53:7)
  • he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant (Phil 2:7)
  • But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  (Matt 5:39)
  • I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.  (Isa 50:6-7)

Going on to verse 15: See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

This verse deals with the sin of idolatry.  Look at this Old Testament reference: “Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the LORD our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison. Deut 29:18

Why do we fall into the sin of putting something ahead of God?  We feel like God is not enough.  We lose confidence that he will take care of us.  We don’t see that we HAVE the grace of God.

This is illustrated by what comes next in the passage:

See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.  Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.

What went wrong with Esau?  He did not appreciate his birthright.  He had an awesome inheritance that would include both physical and spiritual blessings.  But he did not see what an awesome thing he had.  The moment he got hungry, all he cared about was meeting his needs.

Do we see what an awesome birthright we have?  The writer of Hebrews goes on to show us exactly what we have:

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

This is flat out amazing.  When we contemplate what we have, it really can keep us from being bitter, from turning away from God, and from sinning.

Because it is a very serious thing that we should appreciate what we have, and let this motivate us to make every effort to be holy.

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

In doing a Greek word study of this last verse about worshiping with reverence and awe, I was surprised to see that the word for “awe” really means “fear.”  So many times in the Bible, we are told that the word “fear” means “reverence” more than it means “being afraid.”  But in this case the word really does mean “being afraid.”

And it makes sense in this context.  God is telling us very strongly that it will not go well for those who don’t treat the gift he has given them as utterly precious.  As it says it Hebrews 2:2, “how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?

We are going to be shaken.  Judgement Day IS coming.

We MUST “be thankful and so worship God acceptably.” Literally, being “thankful” here means that we “have grace.”  The passage has come full circle.   We start out by being admonished not to miss the grace of God, and we end by being advised to hold tightly to it, so it overflows into our heart and into our every behavior, and we are thankful.  Then we worship and serve God in a way that is immensely pleasing to him.

In going through years and years of trials as a Christian, one of the hardest things is to hold onto grace and gratitude, and not let bitterness enter our heart.

One couple who exemplifies the way we SHOULD be is Gary and Christy Roberson.   Gary at one time was in the ministry.  He LOVES to serve God.  But at some point he moved to Atlanta so his children could be in a church where there was a great teen ministry.  He ended up working for many many years in a demanding job that required him to travel. Christy had to work full time at a job that probably wasn’t her favorite thing to do.  (If you’re reading this, and I post the wrong information, let me know.)

They went through many other challenges in life.  Gary was appointed as an elder, but had to step down due to health concerns.  I believe they lost a grandbaby.

But through all of this they continued to serve God admirably.  Gary taught the adult Sunday school class.  They both got with many couples and families and counseled them.  They certainly helped Ken and I in an enormous way with raising our family.

Just recently, Gary and Christy reached a point where they were able to semi retire.  They put out the word that they would like to serve in the ministry at a small church, to receive a supplemental income.  And who hired them?  A small church in Hawaii!

They held onto the grace and God has blessed them in a huge way!

Gary and Christy

This picture brings tears to my eyes.  I am so happy for them.

So let’s all hold onto the grace we have and make sure we NEVER get discontent, never want more, never get bitter.

Life may not be what we want it to be.  Our dreams may feel broken.

But as Christians we are blessed with a tremendous birthright, a marvelous salvation.  That is more than enough.

Leave a comment

Filed under Abundance/Greatness of God, Grace, Gratitude, Hebrews

Miracles in our Midst

The poor you will always have with you and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.  Mark 14:7

I know, I wrote a blog about this passage a week ago.    But this part of the story of the woman who broke the alabaster jar speaks to my heart today.

I remembered it when I was praying.  Sometimes I can get overwhelmed with all of the needs when I am praying.  No matter how many prayers God answers, there are always a thousand things more that need to change.

But then I also remembered a conversation I had earlier in the week.  A sister was talking to me about my son’s upcoming marriage to a lovely young disciple.  “That is so encouraging to me,” she said.  “That is my dream for my sons when they grow up.”

And I didn’t know how to answer her.  Because I am super grateful.  But I’ve also been caught up in all of the issues my son and fiancee have had to go through in getting to the point of marriage.  Being a mom, I worry.  I’m afraid to hope.

So I lose sight of the miracle — that this marriage IS what I always wanted for my children.  I truly am receiving immeasurably more than all I could ask or imagine.

How many more miracles am I missing?  For many years we had no one, but now we have Mike and Marge here, a seasoned leadership couple with a passionate heart for God and others.

Mike and Marge

I can think of other small churches that don’t have leaders, or can only afford to partially pay the leader.

I have my health.  All I have to do is look on Facebook to see friends who are majorly struggling with health issues.

I’m alive. Today in the news is the shooting death of 14 people in San Bernardino.

San Bernardino Shooting

It is so tragically sad.  They just went to a Christmas party, and they ended up dead.  It can happen to any one of us at any time.   I can think of many people who have gone on and are no longer with us.

A couple of days ago, I read last week’s blog to my writing group, and one of the women there was an atheist who is unfamiliar with the Bible.  “He sounds selfish,” she said about Jesus.  “It doesn’t sound good that he would say to not worry about the poor.”  To her, it seemed like all Jesus wanted was attention for himself, and didn’t care about the needs of others.

Of course she missed the point.  And that is that we will always be surrounded by needs, so when we have something in our life that is awesome, we need to savor it and celebrate it.

And that is what I need to do, myself.  I need to give God credit for the miracles in my life.  I need to be completely grateful for them.

My biggest problem is missing the miracles.  Either I take them for granted, or I get too caught up in life to even notice. Or I don’t recognize them because I’m afraid that they are too good to be true.

Let me break the alabaster jar in celebration and praise.  Let me kick up my heels, like we did last night at the church Christmas party.  (Here’s a picture of Bill living it up at the party.)

IMG_6291

Let me revel at the epic wedding that’s coming in just a week!

We have all have been given wonders.  God is good.

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.  Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.  Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down,  and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied,  then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  Deut.  8:10-14

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Gratitude, Mark, Miracles