Storm Clouds

I was sitting in my front yard on a beautiful sunny day. The breeze was warm and the sky was blue. I was enjoying the perfect weather, reading a book and sipping some lemonade. Gradually, I became aware that the gentle breeze was beginning to take on a greater intensity. I casually looked over my shoulder and was surprised to see huge black clouds towering at the horizon. A storm was coming. The wind was picking up and the clouds would soon blot out the sunshine.

What did I do? I gathered my belongings and headed inside. I sought shelter from the storm. If you live in an area where tornados or hurricanes are common, you know the importance of having a shelter when the storm hits.

God tells us that storms will come. Sometimes they come with no warning but other times we see them gaining strength, growing as they approach. When that happens, God has told us what we need to do. He has told us where to find shelter from the storms of life. He promises to protect us from the storm.

Joel 3:16  says, “The LORD’s voice will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth will shake. But the LORD will be a refuge for his people, a strong fortress for the people of Israel.”(NLT)

Sometimes God allows the storms to come into our lives on purpose and promises that he is a refuge for us when everything else is shaking around us.

Psalm 27:5 says, “For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.” (ESV)

Psalm 91:1-2  tells us,“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!” (ESV)

God has provided a safe place for us in times of trouble. He will protect us from every storm we can possible experience in life. Though the storm rages around us, we will be safe in the shelter of our God.

Puzzle Pieces

I love jigsaw puzzles. However, I’m quite particular about which ones I enjoy the most. My favorites are made from  the Americana paintings of Charles Wysocki. Clear-cut lines, lots of colors, not too much sky.  I don’t care for puzzles with muted colors that run together, it’s too hard to see any progress.

Have you ever thought about how you do a jigsaw puzzle? You don’t start at the top left-hand corner and work your way across, row by row. Personally, I usually start by finding all the edge pieces and when I have the outside frame all or mostly completed, I begin looking for pieces that obviously go together.

The puzzle goes together little by little. You watch each area grow one piece at a time. Sometimes there’s a hole that you just can’t seem to fill. Other times there’s one piece that you keep trying everywhere for so long you wonder if it really belongs to a different puzzle and was put in the wrong box.

When you finally put in the last piece and look at the completed picture you feel a certain satisfaction and joy seeing the finished product.  When my boys were younger they used to beg to be allowed to put in the last piece. Are you kidding? After I’ve worked for days on this puzzle, they want to put in the last piece?

I know we’ve all  heard the analogy that  life is like a great tapestry. The picture  is beautiful but the underside is messy and gives very little help in discovering the picture on top.

I would like to suggest that life is also like a jigsaw puzzle. God designed the picture and know exactly where each piece goes. He also knows exactly in which order the pieces need to be added.

We sometimes feel like we’re holding a piece in our hand and though we look and look at the unfinished picture, we just can’t see where our piece fits. At this  point, what the Lord asks us to do is to wait. He will show us where our piece fits when the time is  right. And when the piece is in and the picture final finished, we will be able to share in His joy over  it’s completion.

And the last piece?  Jesus gets to place that one!

“I wait  for the LORD, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope.” – Psalm 130:5 (NASB)

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6 (ESV)

Rough Waters? Change Your Perspective

Last week we had a visit from friends from the north. We spent quite a few days near the water. We were at the beach, with the waves crashing against the shore. It was delightful even though the water was cold. We picked up shells and watched the water birds and were always on the lookout for dolphins.

One day we went to the park by the bay and walked along the water. It was chilly and the water was choppy. The wind was brisk and we pulled our sweaters around us. We didn’t stay there long.

Instead, we went around to the other side of the bay and walked out on a long pier over the water. It was warm in the sun and the water looked smooth and calm.  How could this be the same body of water?  What changed?

The only thing that changed was our perspective. We moved to a new location and looked at the same water from a different view. The wind was now behind us and the water looked completely different.

My friend was first to comment on the change. She said, “Isn’t this just like life? Sometimes when we are facing some rough waters, all we need to do is choose to look at things from a different perspective.”

The problems haven’t really changed, we have just opted for a better view.  Sometimes all it takes is a fresh perspective to give us the courage to keep hoping.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

Here and Now

Sometimes I look at times gone by and wonder what it would have been like to live in a different era. I especially love the Victorian age. I love the slower pace of life and the way people paid attention to details. Things weren’t so hurried and people took time to enjoy the simple things of life. I love the stories of quilting bees and church picnics; of sitting on the porch on a summer evening. I could get really wistful about it.  

But it wasn’t up to me to choose when I would be born or where. God did the choosing. He decided exactly when I would be the most useful to His kingdom. He decided where I would be most effective for His purposes.  

It’s like God had a huge map and timeline, stretched it out before Him and planned in great detail the way it would be. Of course He didn’t do it that way. He didn’t labor over it like we would. It wasn’t like us trying to arrange the furniture in a room “if this goes here then that could go over there.” His plan was perfect from the beginning. 

Psalm 139:16 says “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  God knew where my life was headed before I was even born. 

1 Corinthians 12:18 says “But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.” He knew exactly where I fit. 

God has designed each of us to be right here, right now. He looked over the entire timeline of humanity and the giant globe he created and he pinned an exact spot and time for you! This is the appointed time. Now is the time to look around you and see where you can make a difference. You were meant to be right where you are. There are things you can do that bring Glory to God and advance His kingdom. 

 “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. “     – Hebrews 3:13

Perhaps today there is someone whose encounter with you was ordained from the beginning of time. Maybe today is a day that you, by your obedience to live your life to the fullest for Christ, will help change a life for eternity.  This is when we can say, “seize the day!” 

Stopping the Leak

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Picture with me a large wooden rain barrel. In the old cartoons when a farmer was trying to protect his chickens from a fox he would take his shot gun and send the buckshot flying.  Predictably, the barrel would take a hit and would be riddled with holes from which the contents would leak in every direction. 

Does that sometimes describe your own life? Does it seem like your peace and joy are leaking out in all directions and you can’t seem to get filled up and stay that way? You can’t possibly manage to plug all those leaks. There is no way to keep the contents inside with all those holes! 

But God has a solution. He tells us to be thankful. 

 “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.”  Psalm 100:4(NASB)

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.”  – Colossians 3:15(NASB)

 “Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.” – Psalm 106:1(NASB)

Each time you offer thanksgiving to the Lord, it’s like putting a cork in one of those leaky holes. Grab a bucketful and start plugging those holes. Soon you will experience the Lord’s peace and joy beyond measure! 

 

 

Lift Up Your Hands

The scriptures contain many places where it says “lift holy hands” or “lift up your hands.” Why does God encourage us to do this? 

We all know that body language is an important part of communication. Without it, it’s easy to misunderstand a person’s meaning sometimes.   We rely heavily on the signals people send with their bodies while they are speaking. If you do a study in body language you will find  the consensus is that lifting our hands, raising them palm side up, has several possible meanings.   

One thing that can be communicated by raising upturned palms is surrender. The police will tell a suspect to raise their hands so that they can see them and know they aren’t going to do anything that will catch the officer off guard. But it also puts that person in a position of surrender, of submission. It changes the dynamics of the moment immediately.  

Another thing that can be communicated with this gesture is that the person is asking to receive something. If someone is about to hand you something, you instinctively reach out, palms up to receive what they give you.  At the same time, the person giving something often reaches out in the same manner. So both giving and receiving involve this hand gesture. 

Finally, consider a young child. A baby who is sitting for the first time may throw her hands in the air in great joy over her accomplishment.  And when she learns to toddle, she will approach her daddy with arms stretched high, wanting him to pick her up and comfort her.  

Now back to the original question. Why does God encourage us to lift our hands? I believe all the reasons just stated are also God’s motivation.  Lift your hands to surrender, to give yourself to Him, to receive all He has for you, to express joy and to be comforted.  The Lord designed us to include our bodies in our communication.  It isn’t a mandate that we must raise our hands in church during worship or prayer or else we are doing it wrong.  It’s simply a means God designed for us to draw closer to Him whether it is in a corporate worship setting or in the privacy of our own prayer closet.  

God is our Father and we are his children. He loves nothing more than to have his children reach out their hands to Him.

 “Lift up your hands in the holy place and praise the LORD!”
– Psalm 134:2

 

 

Dancing With the Spirit

There is nothing worse than a dance partner who doesn’t know who’s supposed to be leading. First he leads, and then he hesitates, not sure if he’s leading or following. Inevitably, someone’s toes get stepped on. 

Watch an old Fred Astaire movie if you want to see how it’s done right. He confidently leads and his partner is secure in his arms just gliding along with him. No one trips over the other. No one’s toes get trampled. 

The Holy Spirit is a great dancer. He is confident in his lead. He knows exactly where the next step is supposed to be. He holds on to His partner with grace and strength helping to keep balance while moving fluidly along.  

Allow yourself to dance with the Spirit. Allow Him to guide you and lead you from one step to the next. He will never step on your toes, so be sure not to step on His. He is the perfect partner and you will have the time of your life if you just let go and allow Him to lead. 

“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” Romans 8:14 (NASB)

Disappointment or Divine Relationship?

I recently read an interesting question in an old devotional book. The question was, “Why would you allow any human experience to affect your divine relationship with your Heavenly Father?”

Why indeed?

What experience in this earthly life is worth anything in comparison to our relationship with our Father? We find ourselves trying to make sense of the things that happen in our lives and disappointment and frustration set in when we aren’t able to accomplish this.

How many times have you allowed disappointment to put distance between you and God? Maybe we don’t do it consciously but if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that it is easy for disappointment to turn to discontentment.

When we are in the middle of a situation that we don’t understand or we see things happening in the world that make it look like God has stopped paying attention we can allow our focus to become clouded. We can forget that God is love and he loves us perfectly.

But God’s Word is clear:

  “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39(NASB)

Silence is Golden

The Old Testament ends with the prophecies of Malachi. Then for 400 years God is silent. He doesn’t speak to the Jewish Nation again until the grand announcement. He waits until the appointed time, the time he has foretold from the beginning. The birth of His Son.

But what was God doing during those 400 years? I think it’s easier to understand if we see life like a stage play. Between scenes, the curtain closes and the stage crew silently rearranges the set to prepare for the next scene. They carefully set the stage for what will come next.

Perhaps that was what God was doing too. He said all he was going to say about what was to come and then began quietly arranging history to bring everything to that magnificent moment when Jesus, the Son of God enters our world to bridge the chasm between us and God.

I think God does this in our individual lives as well. He gives us direction and then sometimes there is a painfully long period where we struggle with the fact that we know we’ve heard from God concerning a decision or a direction and then nothing seems to happen. We begin to second guess what God has said, or we get impatient and try to make things happen on our own.

If we look at the 400 years when God was preparing for the birth of Christ, we know for a fact that there was absolutely nothing Israel could have done to make anything happen. Only God was able to bring fulfillment to His promises. And isn’t it the same for us today? Can we really make any convincing argument that we can bring about His promises in our lives any more than Israel could?

All we can do is wait and keep believing that God spoke to our hearts and that He is a faithful God and will keep his promises. Actually, we are now in a period of great silence that has lasted 2000 years. God spoke through His precious Son who came in a humble stable and His people have been waiting ever since. The silence will finally be broken when Christ returns for us. What a glorious day that will be! But while we wait in the silence, we can be encouraged. 2000 years ago God closed the curtain and has been quietly preparing what comes next. We can believe His promises and trust that one day soon, He will send His Son to reign as King, just like He promised!

 “For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay.”  Habakkuk 2:3(NASB)

 “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:21(NASB)

What is Joy?

Webster’s Dictionary defines joy as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires…and the expression or exhibition of such emotion.” Well-being is defined as “happy, healthy and prosperous.”

My first response to this definition is that if you feel joy, it should show! As I look more closely at those words, I find what the world would call joy is covered well in the first part – well-being,success and good fortune. Most people would agree that those are all good reasons to rejoice. But what if your life hasn’t been filled with good health, good fortune or success and prosperity? Is this reason to despair? Not for a minute! For believers, the rest of the definition is where we find our hope as well as our joy. “The prospect of possessing what I desire”… eternity with Christ! No matter what life looks like today, we still have reason to be filled with joy.

Many years ago I knew a man who, for me, was the personification of joy. John was no more than about 5’5” and wore glasses thicker that pop bottles. What little hair he had left was white. He was severely diabetic and also wore a colostomy bag. Yet every time you saw him he had a smile on his face and a story to tell about the goodness of God. The man dancing in the aisles each Sunday morning during worship? That was John. He wasn’t healthy or wealthy but he was wise. He knew the source of his joy – that he would possess what he most desired – eternity with his Lord and Savior. Toward the end of his life, John lost his dancing legs to complications of his diabetes and yet on the day he went home to his Savior he was still singing songs of joy.

 “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” –  Psalm 118:4

How will you express your joy today?