But God…

Most of us have been on the receiving end of the word “but.” What I mean is, we have all had the experience where someone says something very nice and then undoes all the good intentions by following the statement with the word “but.” Usually what follows is a criticism or a qualifying statement of some kind that makes the original statement of very little value.

“You did a great job…but…”
“I appreciate your help…but…”
“I love you…but…”

Humans tend to use the word “but” in a negative sense most of the time. Probably the most frequent use is during an argument. I think sometimes people feel it’s necessary to keep things grounded in reality. After all, we can experience good in life but the overall consensus is that life is hard and we’d better just get used to it. No use candy-coating it.

God has a different idea about the word “but.” Just looking at one chapter of scripture, Romans 6, we will find that God’s “but” is something to shout about. I would invite you to read it for yourself.

These examples are from the NASB version.

Verse 11 – “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, BUT alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Verse 13 – “and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; BUT present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”

Verse 21- 22 – “Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. BUT now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.”

Verse 23 – “For the wages of sin is death, BUT the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Yes, I will admit that life is sometimes hard…BUT GOD! He turns things around and makes something good out of all the negatives that we can come up with. And that is cause for rejoicing!

Thank You, Thank Who?

God has had me on this theme of “thankfulness” for a while now. Nearly 4 years ago He began showing me that I had much to be thankful for.  I’ve learned a lot so far. In a post called, What Am I Thankful For? I told about how I found a challenge from Ann Voskamp’s website. She asked her readers to commit to finding 1000 things to be thankful for over the following year. I took the challenge and actually came up with many more than that. I have continued the habit of writing  in a small journal, all the things I am thankful for. I don’t always do it daily but I have accumulated thousands of entries and have had to start a new journal when the first became full.

All this to say, I have so much to  be thankful for!

But, have you noticed people around you saying things like, “I am so thankful for…?”  Or, “I am so grateful that…?” I have heard it in news interviews, I have heard it in passing conversations overheard in grocery stores.

To Whom are they thankful? They never finish it. But to be thankful, there has to be someone to thank. You don’t say thank you to your stove for cooking your food. You don’t say thank you to your car for getting you where you were going.  There has to be a person to thank.

If you are thankful then there has to be someone to thank.  Scripture makes it very clear.

“Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” – Ephesians 5:20 (ESV)

“Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” – Psalm 106:1 (ESV)

 

 

Faith or Presumption?

Have you ever gone to bed at night with worries on your heart?  I’m sure we all have.  Have you ever worried that the sun won’t rise in the morning? Of course not. Or have you worried that spring won’t follow winter? Okay, so maybe we do wonder if spring will ever come when we’ve had a difficult winter. We joke with one another about ever seeing spring or summer again. But seriously…don’t we know that spring will indeed come? We may make silly comments about the seasons but just like the sunrise, we know for certain that the seasons change each year. We don’t stew about it, we don’t pray about it.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t pray every day that God will cause the sun to rise in the morning.  I just know that He will.  I know He has it under control.  Maybe I’m just taking it for granted…but isn’t that like faith?

And what about the issues in our own lives — those concerns that are on our hearts in the quiet darkness each night?  If we get to the place where we trust God to take care of those issues just as He does the sunrise and the seasons are we now walking in faith?  Or have we begun to take God for granted? What is the difference between trusting in faith that something will happen and just taking it for granted?  I think the difference can be expressed in one word — thankfulness.

If I am thankful I am acknowledging that the Father is in control. My desire is to get to the place where I can trust Him and thank Him for all that He has done and will do. There will always be cares that threaten to steal my peace. But if I will take those cares one by one and lay them at my Father’s feet I know he will be faithful to fulfill all His promises.  If He can handle the sunrise, He is more than able to care for the things that concern me and I will be thankful.

Psalm 86:12 “I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and will glorify Your name forever.”

Learning and Doing

Imagine you have been given a brand new camera. A fancy one with all the latest technology available. It comes with a thick booklet of instructions. At this point, you have three options.

You can spend hours reading the manual, studying the terminology and how each function can be used to its greatest advantage. You can read the book until the pages are dog-eared. But if you never pick up the camera and start taking pictures how will you ever benefit from all your studying?

Another option is to pull the camera from the box and toss the instruction manual in the trash with the box and plastic wrap. You can snap dozens of pictures and maybe get a few decent shots but over all, you will never experience what your new camera is capable of because you never read the instructions.

Your last option is to open the box, remove the camera and open the manual. You read the instructions thoroughly and then practice what you’ve learned with the camera. Your pictures may not be all that great in the beginning but as you practice you improve and take some wonderful shots.

This scenario is based on two scriptural principles.

“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” – James 1:22 (NASB)

God wants us to apply what we learn as we study the scriptures. He has given us all we need to represent His kingdom but we need to be willing to act on what we learn and not just become well read.

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who
does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”      2 Timothy 2:15 (NASB)

The King James Version of this verse says, “study to show yourself approved.” It isn’t God’s plan for us to go running ahead, confident in our own abilities, without ever taking the time to learn His ways and to follow His leading.

To have the most productive and satisfying life requires learning and doing. Study God’s Word and then practice what you learn. And you might want to have your camera ready. You could capture some great moments!

 

The Whole Past is Past

You cannot return to the past. You must stay in the present. When someone talks about “the present” what are they referring to?  Allow me a little word play.

To be present as opposed to absent. It means you are fully here. But present also means right now, in this moment.  So to be present in the present means you are fully here at this very moment. Our culture moves so fast that sometimes you may feel like you have to run to just keep up with the present. You can’t even think about the future.

So if present means right now, then past means before right now. Sometimes we can get caught up in regret over our past. We know we can’t change things from a decade ago but we still may stew about it from time to time, saying things like, “I wish I had done things differently.”  But according to Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, the definition of “past” is “gone by; done; accomplished; ended.”  So if the past is truly ended, then it’s untouchable. You can’t change something that is over. And it becomes heavy baggage to carry around with you when you can’t do anything with it. Freedom comes when you can leave the past in the past.  And even if the past is full of good memories, you still can’t return to them.

So, yesterday is over. You can’t change even what you did yesterday. It’s over and done with. You CAN however, choose to do some things differently in the present. TODAY.

The future  is what comes next. It isn’t some blurry scene in the distance. Tomorrow is the future. You can’t go there yet. All you can do is make wise decisions in the present that can affect the future.

So everything before this moment is the past. You can’t go back. And everything after this moment is the future. You can’t go there either. What you have is NOW. What are you going to do with it?

“The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”  Lamentations 3:22-23 (NASB)

Are You Believing God?

Are you believing God? Not believing IN God but believing Him?

Do you believe what he says about you?

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV))

Do you believe His promises?

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:20 (ESV))

Do you believer what He wants to do in your life?

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,” – Psalm 103:2-4 (ESV)

Would You Still Go?

What if suddenly your church service lasted for 3 hours? Would you still go? And what if you had to walk an hour to get there and then another hour home? Would you still go?

When did we get so busy and when did we allow the distractions in our lives to become so important that spending that much time at church is out of the question?

What else have we got to do that is more important than worshiping God and spending time with the body of Christ? It’s completely a cultural thing, you know. In other parts of the world it isn’t uncommon at all. Sometimes folks bring their lunch and make a day of it.  The WHOLE DAY, you say??? You must be kidding.  No way do I have that much time to spend at church.

But I wonder what would happen if we did? What would happen to our relationships with our fellow church attenders if we spent some real time with them, talking about our lives, getting real, and discussing how the day’s message could be applied to our everyday experience? I wonder.

Remember how the church was described in the Book of Acts?

“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:44-47 (ESV)

How many people do you see at church each week that you smile at and say hello to but don’t even know their names?  What would happen if we got more intentional about getting to know the folks we sit beside every Sunday?  What would it be like to speak to them by name and share life with them? All it takes is time.

It isn’t impossible. Just start with one person. Introduce yourself and ask their name. Then next week watch for them but also find another person to meet and maybe you could introduce them to each other.  It doesn’t cost anything but time.

Prone to Wander

Have you ever walked from one room to another only to forget what you meant to do when you got there? You lost sight of your purpose in just a few seconds. We can so quickly become distracted by the busyness of life, by the zillions of thoughts and ideas that our minds conceive in the course of a day.

I think we can all identify times when we aren’t focused on what we need to be paying attention to. We all get distracted. Our minds wander. We so easily forget what we were saying and what we were doing. Our attention gets derailed and we have to stop and try to recapture the moment to get back on track. And unfortunately, the older we get, the more this seems to happen!

The Lord knows this about us. When it comes to keeping our hearts from wandering from Him, He prompted the Psalmist to write these words: “With all my heart I have sought you; do not let me wander from Your commandments.” (Psalm 119:10) And in verse 21, “You rebuke the arrogant, the cursed, who wander from Your commandments.” In verse 118 he writes, “You have rejected all those who wander from Your statutes, for their deceitfulness is useless.”

While it is obvious that God understands our propensity to wander, He certainly doesn’t take it lightly. The verses above present a pretty strong case to cry out to God to keep you from wandering!

Robert Robinson, writer of the hymn  “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” expressed the urgency of our need when he wrote:

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be! 
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, 
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, 
Prone to leave the God I love; 
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, 
Seal it for Thy courts above.

The word “seal” means to mark or secure. This hymn verse is something we would do well to pray daily. We certainly need the Lord’s help to keep our hearts from wandering; to keep seeking Him without distraction.

2 Chronicles 15:15 gives us an example of what God will do if we keep our hearts centered on Him: “All of Judah rejoiced concerning the oath, for they had sworn with their whole heart and had sought Him earnestly and He let them find Him. So the Lord gave them rest on every side.”

The Lord let them find Him!  And he gave them rest.
Lord, seal my heart for Your kingdom and never let me wander!

God Works in the Dark

When I was a child I remember occasions when I was the last one to go to bed. Being last required me to turn out the downstairs lights and climb the darkened stairs toward the dim hallway light at the top. Our stairs made a turn part way up and I still remember exactly how I felt as I prepared to make the climb. I would reach for the light switch at the bottom of the stairs as my feet were already moving up the first few steps. I would hit that switch and dash up the stairs like my tail was on fire. I’d make that turn and see the light at the top and know I was safe.

Even as an adult, when my boys were small and my husband was traveling for work, I would lock the doors at night and head for the stairs with that same sense of dread as I flipped the switch at the bottom of the steps. I really wasn’t afraid of the dark by this time. It was more about the responsibility I felt to protect my family against the unknown while my husband was away. It always seems that everything hard is magnified at night.

When Moses lead the Israelites out of Egypt they were guided by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God never left them in the dark. It was all around them but they always had His light. The night they arrived at the Red Sea they set up camp and the pillar that had been leading them moved behind them. It stood in between the Israelites and the Egyptians. Then God worked all night to clear a path of escape through the sea for His people while His light held back the enemy. (Exodus 13-14)

We need not fear the darkness. God’s light is always there. Sometimes leading us and sometimes standing between us and the enemy that is pursuing us. We can walk confidently toward and through the darkest times knowing God’s light shines to show us the way and to keep us safe.

God doesn’t have to wait till morning to be able to see what He’s doing. He works just fine in the dark.

Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.”  – Psalm 139:12 (ESV)

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'” – John 8:12(ESV)

 

 

Would You Get Into a Boat With Jesus?

A story that begins in Mark Chapter 4 comes at the end of a long day of preaching. Jesus has spent the day teaching a large crowd by the sea. We pick up the story in verse 35.

On that day, when evening came, He said to them, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” – Mark 4:35-41 (NASB)

The disciples get into the boat and Jesus promptly goes to sleep. He’s exhausted. The winds pick up and a storm threatens. The disciples wake him in an panic. Jesus speaks to the wind and the waves and they are instantly calm. Then Jesus rebukes them for having no faith. The disciples are amazed that He has so much power over the storm.

If they had been listening they would have saved themselves a lot of stress. They had been sitting under the teachings of Jesus for a while and he had explained the parables to them. They knew they could trust him.

But they missed what he said in verse 35. “He told them, “let’s cross over to the other side.”  He didn’t say, “let’s go out into the middle of the sea and be drowned by a storm.” What he told them was that they would arrive safely.

Like the disciples, we often miss the promises Jesus makes to us. If we would just listen, we would know that the safest place in the world is in a boat with Jesus, even if it appears He is asleep in the stern in the middle of a storm.

Why? Because He has already told us we will make it to the other side.