Go the Extra Mile

Simon of CyreneWhere did the phrase “go the extra mile” come from? Actually, it refers to the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:41 Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.

In this passage, Jesus was referring to a Roman law called angareia. According to this law, a Roman soldier had the right to force a civilian to carry the soldier’s packs for a mile. Their packs could weigh nearly 70 lbs. so it was no small thing to be drafted for this duty. This law was also used when a soldier enlisted Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross for Jesus. But they could not demand more than a mile. That would be a crime against Rome.

Jesus said to go the extra mile. No one would expect someone to go to all that extra trouble. No one but Jesus.

Why did Jesus say we should be willing to go two miles if we are forced to go one? Why would he want us to go out of our way like that? It show’s the heart of Jesus. Being willing to go above and beyond what is required or expected. Being willing to do something beyond what is deserved. Being willing to show kindness to someone who may have treated you wrongly. In fact, perhaps the act of kindness would be directed toward your  worst enemy.

In what ways have you experienced someone going the extra mile for you? How did it make you feel? If we do a kindness to someone not based on whether they deserve it, we open the door for the power of God to take over.

No one really expects that we pray for those who persecute us or that we show love to our enemies. No one except Jesus. He asks us to go above and beyond. He asks us to go the extra mile.

Do You Want to Play the Glad Game?

Are you a Pollyanna? I am.

Pollyanna is a character of a classic children’s book by Eleanor  H. Porter. She is continually playing the “glad game.” In this game she faces every circumstance with the belief that there must be something to be glad about if you look long enough. In the story, the adults get annoyed with her constantly optimistic view of life. In fact, that annoyance continues today. The dictionary actually has a definition for a Pollyanna.

Pollyanna: an excessively or blindly optimistic person. To be unreasonably or illogically optimistic.

But I think she had it right. One of the quotes from the book says, ” if God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must want us to do it SOME.” Now I have never counted to see if she was right about there being eight hundred verses telling us to be glad. But do we really need that many?

Here are a few that should confirm His desire for us to be glad.

Psalm 68:3 But let the righteous be glad; let them exult before God; Yes, let them rejoice with gladness.

Psalm 90:14 O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

Psalm 104:34 Let my meditation be pleasing to Him; As for me, I shall be glad in the LORD.

So, I don’t know about you, but I don’t mind in the least if I am called a Pollyanna. In these days that we are living, it is so easy to get discouraged. Reading the news, hearing what others are struggling with on a daily basis, how can we possibly be glad? It certainly looks excessive or unreasonable, even illogical to think that we could be glad in the midst of what is going on around us every day. But God says we are to be glad. Why?

Because God is still on His throne.

Psalm 92:4 For You, O LORD, have made me glad by what You have done, I will sing for joy at the works of Your hands.

Hide and Seek

Hide and seek is a fun childhood game that we’ve all played. When I was a child I remember playing this game in my house with an older girl who lived next door. She was already in middle school when I was just beginning elementary school, so I felt very special when she came and played with me. I loved every minute that she spent with me. I especially loved playing hide and seek. And I remember another form of hide and seek that I played when it was time for her to go home. I hid her shoes so she had to stay a little longer!

As we grew older, the neighborhood kids would play more elaborate forms of hide and seek, playing in the yards of neighbors on our block. There was one boy who didn’t want to play by the rules and instead of hiding, he would go home and have a snack while the rest of us continued to hunt for him with no success. Finally we caught on to his trick and made him promise to play fair or go home.

As a child I loved to hide and try to be clever so I’d be the last one found. But later as a parent of young children I found a different aspect to the game. When we would play with our little boys, it was more fun to see the look of triumph on their faces when they found us so we learned not to hide too well. We wanted to be found.

God loves to play hide and seek with us. He says that when we hide, we can feel safe. We can hide in the shelter of His wings. He doesn’t want us to hide from him like Adam and Eve did. He wants us to hide in Him.

When God hides, it’s for the purpose of drawing us to himself. He says that we will definitely find him if we seek him with all our hearts. This is a little different than what we played as children. Instead of one person seeking and everyone else hiding, it is the opposite.  In this version God is the only one hiding and all of mankind is seeking. And the greatest mystery is that He wants to be found! The God of the Universe wants you to find Him. Each day we can begin again to seek him with all our heart and we will be rewarded by sweet fellowship with Him when we find Him.

Psalm 119:114 You are my hiding place and my shield; I wait for Your word.

Proverbs 8:17 I love those who love me; And those who diligently seek me will find me.

Sunshine Above the Clouds

sun-above-the-cloudsWinter is sometimes a dreary time. Dark days, overcast and void of color. Sometimes after a few days of that sort of weather it is such a relief to see the sun. After the clouds clear and the sun is shining in a brilliant blue sky we just feel better.

Life can sometimes seem like those gray foggy winter days. Like we just need to see the sunshine for a little while. Whether we are facing difficult circumstances or trying to remain faithful to do what God has called us to do day after day, we can get weary and feel like we need refreshed.

If you’ve ever flown in an airplane on a cloudy day you know the feeling of climbing through the clouds and seeing the sun turn the clouds, gray from below, into a dazzling white from above. The sun was always shining, you just couldn’t see if because of the clouds. You never doubt that the sun is still up there, somewhere, even if days and weeks go by without a glimpse of it. You never wonder if it is still shining you are certain it is and that you will eventually see it again. The clouds will clear and the sun will shine.

Isn’t that just like life? Don’t we have dark days when we long to get a glimpse of God’s goodness? When we feel like all is overcast and gloomy? But we must not despair. Just because we can’t see God’s hand, doesn’t mean he isn’t working.

Just like the assurance we have that above the clouds the sun is still shining, we can also have assurance that beyond our gray circumstances, the Son is still shining as well. The Bible says that one day we will no longer depend on the sun or the moon for light. The Lord will be our everlasting light. He will shine over us for eternity.

Isaiah 60:19 No longer will you have the sun for light by day, Nor for brightness will the moon give you light; But you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, And your God for your glory.

When we get discouraged, we can imagine ourselves rising above the clouds where the sun is still shining. We can put our hope in our Heavenly Father, who’s light is never extinguished.

The Simple Joy of Hearing Scripture

IMG_5768God’s Word has always been a comfort to me. I go to the Scriptures when I am in need of encouragement, counsel and wisdom. I seek God’s direction in His Word. But sometimes I find myself in a place where even the energy to decode the words is beyond me. Have you ever been there? When you can’t even seem to understand what you just read with your own eyes?

As I write this, I have just experienced that again. Yet another family crisis has taken us from our comfortable routine. I find myself in the middle of a set of circumstances that swept us off our feet and hundreds of miles from home in bad weather. When we will go home is uncertain. What we will face as this day begins is uncertain. We don’t know how to prepare for the unknown.

Of course, the unknown to us is never unknown to God.

When we got the news that would take us on this latest unexpected journey we made the decision to travel at night. We drove twelve hours in the middle of the night and went immediately to the hospital. After several hours there, we finally went to our son’s home to eat a meal and rest. By this time I had gone about thirty hours with no sleep. I knew I was struggling to even think clearly. At this point God knew exactly what I needed.

As I rested my head, eyes closed, for a few minutes I heard a small quiet voice say, “Grandma, do you want me to read to you?” I really didn’t have the energy to listen to a story. While I was trying to find a nice way to tell this precious granddaughter that I really wasn’t able to listen right now, I heard her ruffling pages. Then she said, “Which Bible verse would you like me to read?” She wanted to read to me from her Bible? Well, yes, maybe I could listen to that. I knew just what to tell her. Psalm 34.  A place I have gone frequently over the years.

She flipped the pages and soon, in her sweet six year old voice, she began to read. The words soaked into my soul. I never opened my eyes, never moved. I just stayed there, quietly allowing God to use this precious little girl to sooth my tired spirit. Her gift to me was such a simple act of love. She knew I was tired. She just wanted to help. What an amazing gift. I need to remember to allow God to use me in other’s lives in such simple ways as well. It doesn’t always have to be a big deal to be a blessing to someone else.

Some of the highlights of what I heard?

Psalm 34: 4-9 I sought the Lord, and He answered me, And delivered me from all my fears.  They looked to Him and were radiant, And their faces will never be ashamed.  This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him And saved him out of all his troubles.  The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, And rescues them.  O taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!  O fear the Lord, you His saints; For to those who fear Him there is no want.

Psalm 34: 17-19 The righteous cry, and the Lord hears And delivers them out of all their troubles.  The Lord is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the Lord delivers him out of them all.

Just what I needed.  The reminder that He is here no matter what the circumstances. As I listened I felt the tears begin to roll down my cheeks. Tears of exhaustion turned to tears of joy. God was speaking to me through the voice of a little girl who brought me the simple joy found in His word.

Consider Your Eating Habits

At the TableThe holiday season is nearly over. You know you’ve overindulged. Maybe you’ve added a few pounds. You know you haven’t taken time to exercise properly because the holiday season has been busier and you just haven’t had enough time. Maybe you feel sluggish and just not like yourself. So what do you do?

A large percentage of the population approaches the new year with a fresh resolve to change behavior. They make New Year’s resolutions. In the top ten most popular New Year’s resolutions you will find these: lose weight, eat healthier, drink less, quit smoking and exercise more. Why would these be so common? Perhaps because after a month of too much food, too little exercise and less that ideal schedules, we just don’t feel good. We know the answer is to make some new goals and get a fresh start. We instinctively know that if we want our physical bodies to come back into line, we need to make some changes.

But what about our spiritual health? Do we recognize that when we haven’t been feeding our spirits the right diet we can also get sluggish and flabby in a spiritual sense? Our spirits need a regular diet of God’s Word. We also need regular daily check-ups in God’s presence so He can tell us the things He desires us to know. But we also need to cut out the less than healthy parts of our spiritual diet just like we do with our physical diet. Even if we eat lots of fruits and vegetables and get plenty of good protein and lots of fiber, if we continue eating donuts and French fries on a regular basis, we still may not be caring for our bodies in the most optimal way.

Spiritually speaking, we need to pay attention to the “junk food” we are feeding ourselves every day. Perhaps we need to consider what we can cut from our daily intake. Perhaps we would benefit from looking at what we allow into our hearts and minds every day. Maybe we can make some changes that allow God more room to work because there is less clutter in His way. It’s kind of like comparing the way fats clog our arteries in our body to how worldly indulgence clogs our spiritual arteries.

I know I’ve found that writing these devotions is much more difficult if I’ve neglected this intentional feeding of my spirit. I’ve found it’s much more difficult to hear what God has to say when I’ve filled myself up with things of the world. They aren’t all necessarily sinful things, just too much of something that distracts me from God’s voice.

While I’m not particularly inclined to make New Year’s resolutions, I do think it’s wise to consider my behavior and recognize that I make choices every day that either draw me toward my Father or away from Him. It may not be as visible as our efforts to lose weight or exercise where we can see definite results. We need to trust that God will use our desire to draw closer to Him for our good even when we can’t really see any difference.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

With regard to making healthy choices for our bodies, we are really fighting a losing battle. There is only so much we can do to prolong life on this earth. Eventually our bodies will fail us and we will need them no longer. Our spirits are a different matter entirely. We are continually being transformed into the likeness of Jesus, Himself. More and more each day. One choice at a time.

What choices can you make today that will draw you closer to your Heavenly Father?
What will you feed your spirit today?

Mary and Joseph’s Packing List

unnamedThey embarked upon a journey that neither of them had chosen. They were compelled by the government to take a trip that would take them eighty miles from their home. Mary was not just a little pregnant, she was, according the scriptures, “great with child.” She knew her time was near and yet she had to travel a long and difficult journey that would take about a week to complete.

What did she pack to take on her trip? Only what she and Joseph could carry themselves. There were no luggage handlers to load and unload their baggage. There were not suitcases with wheels and handles. Mary and Joseph didn’t take several changes of clothes, toiletries or reading material to entertain them on their journey. They didn’t take an extra pair of shoes or dress clothes for an evening out while they were away. They likely only packed the bread they would eat on the trip and perhaps a blanket or two if they had an extra. Talk about traveling light!

But they took one other thing with them. They took a complete trust in their Heavenly Father who had told them He would care for them.

Psalm 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

They knew God would care for them because He had promised to do so and they believed Him. That doesn’t mean they didn’t fight some doubt but after all, if Mary was in her final days of her pregnancy, they’d had several months to wrestle with their doubts. I would like to think that by this time they were beginning to have some assurance in their hearts that God would  keep His promise to them. He’d already seen them through the long pregnancy and the ridicule that they likely experienced from their friends and family.

They knew what a shepherd’s job was. They knew that if God was their shepherd, he would lead them and feed them. He would also protect them, provide shelter and keep them safe. He would care for their every need like he’d been doing since the day the angel had told them of the coming of their son, Jesus.

They were indeed, as helpless as sheep. They were vulnerable and weak. But they knew their shepherd was able to meet their needs. They were in want of nothing.

What do you need from your shepherd? Do you believe He is able and willing to care for you? Spend a few moments this Christmas season thanking Him for all the ways He gently and lovingly cares for you.  For the Lord is your shepherd, you shall not want.

Is the Universe Collapsing?

http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=22672&picture=ce-space-scene-1

Photo courtesy http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=22672&picture=ce-space-scene-1Is our Universe on the verge of collapse? According to scientists we are headed for the end of the world. Well, I’m sorry to burst their bubble but those of us who are Christ Followers already knew that.

In an article that I read today, they talk about how a Danish university has “proven” scientifically that the universe is preparing to collapse and that in fact, the process may have already begun. That sounds like doomsday predictions that have been occurring for centuries, probably since the beginning of creation.

As residents on this planet, of course we would be concerned about what happens if the world ends. What happens to us? Will humanity cease to exist? Again, as believers we already know the answer. So when I hear these predictions I don’t get fearful or worried. I actually get excited.

According to the article, the theory called “the big slurp” predicts that the Universe will expand to the point where it cannot go any further and will then come crashing back to the center to be completely destroyed. “Yes, the universe will probably collapse,” and: “A collapse is even more likely than the old calculations predicted,” says the article.

Romans 8:22-25 “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.”

Picture a circle of people with large rubber bands and raw eggs. Each person has their egg in the rubber band and begins stretching it away from the center, as far as the rubber band will stretch. Finally when it can’t go any further the egg slips from each person’s hand then, suddenly propelled by the contraction of the rubber band, goes crashing with all the others into the center, completely destroyed. It’s an extremely simplified example but you get the idea. Can’t you just hear those rubber bands groaning as they are stretched to their capacity? And if we listen, we can hear all of creation groaning as it awaits God’s final redemption of His followers.

For 400 years Israel waited to hear from God, waited for the prophecies that promised a savior to come to pass. Ever since Jesus ascended into Heaven we have been waiting for his return. God told Zechariah and then Mary and Joseph that the promise was on it’s way. Could it be that God is again letting us know that the time for which we have been waiting is near?

Don’t you just love it when scientists think they’ve found out something new, only to find that they are proving scripture? That makes me want to shout!

2 Peter 3:10 “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”

So how does this apply to us? How can we possibly incorporate the end of the world into our daily lives? It’s really quite simple. We focus on doing what matters most. We spend our time furthering the Kingdom of God. We love and encourage each other while we still can, praying “come Lord Jesus.”

Hebrews 3:13  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.

Are You a Name Dropper?

We are all familiar with name droppers.  The official dictionary definition of name-dropping is “the studied but seemingly casual mention of prominent persons as associates done to impress others.”

What if I told you that I once ate a meal at a fast food restaurant with Joyce Meyer? It’s true. It was in her early days of ministry and she was leading a woman’s retreat at my church. She was actually in my driveway as I happened to be riding to the event with the leader of our women’s group and Joyce’s van was to follow us. I also once sat next to the late D. James Kennedy at a banquet. He was a very interesting man to talk with. I enjoyed the evening immensely.

That’s name dropping. It sounds like I know both of those people. But if I were to meet Joyce Meyer today would she remember me? Highly unlikely. And I’m sure that Pastor Kennedy wouldn’t have remembered spending an evening chatting with me either. Those experiences were just brief encounters that I remember because they are well known people.

All of this leads to the obvious question, “So what?” So what if I met either of those people? Does a simple introduction and conversation amount to a relationship? Not at all. I couldn’t take someone to meet Joyce Meyer and introduce her as my friend.

What if you truly were friends with a very important person? What if you really did have a relationship with a president, or a king or even a movie star?  Wouldn’t it be amazing to tell all your friends?  But what would it get you?

You have an even more amazing relationship. You are on a first name basis with the Creator of the Universe. He’s not just an acquaintance, He knows you by name. He gives you His full attention when He knows you want to speak to Him. He’s interested in your problems, your fears, and your dreams. What more could you ask?

Be a name dropper! But not for the purpose of impressing others. Do it as a way to draw others into a relationship with the best friend they will ever have. Speak His name often. Tell everyone that you know Him and then… offer to introduce them.

Jeremiah 10:6  There is none like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is great in might.

A Life that Leaves a Mark

1185327_611885915500487_970469722_nA few weeks ago I wrote about being in Florida with my grandfather. We had gone there to say goodbye. At 97 he was ready to leave his earthly body which had failed him and he longed for Heaven. It was a long process that would cause him to be confined to a Hospice facility inching his way toward heaven day by day for six weeks. Finally on a Sunday afternoon, he would leave this life forever.

But what did he leave behind? Nothing he needed but much that we needed. He left a legacy to his family that cannot be measured. He left a mark on four generations of descendants who loved him and tried to live like he inspired us to. He was a quiet, simple man who spent his life trying to make other’s lives better.

If you went to his house and commented that you liked something you saw there, he would try to find a way to send it home with you. It was a good thing, when we made the trip by air instead of car so we didn’t have room to take so many things home with us. He was just as free with intangible things as well. He was quick to share a story from his past in order to demonstrate a life lesson to any of us who would listen. We spent a lot of time listening and learning how to live and love those around us.

This earthly life passes so quickly. If you’ve had children you know how fast they grow. They are adults and leading their own lives before we know it. My grandfather’s life went quickly too, even though it spanned almost a century. He filled it with meaning every day because he constantly looked for ways to serve others. Each of those lives, and there must be thousands, was changed because he was intentional about how he lived his.

At the end of his life, as he lay helpless in a hospital bed, he was still touching lives. One nurse told me that she’d never met anyone like him and knowing him had changed her. She had only known him for six weeks. How many people does she care for in a year? And yet this one man made a difference.

There’s a story in John, chapter 13, which is very familiar. It’s the story of Jesus at the last supper. He dined with his disciples and then did something none of them expected. He filled a basin with water, took a towel and washed the feet of those he loved. He could have been distracted by what he had to face the next day but he focused on those he was with. He served them in his most difficult hour. He set the example for all of us.

The last time I talked to my grandfather was to wish him happy birthday two weeks before he died.  Our last conversation was difficult. He struggled to find words, he stuttered trying to keep his thoughts together but I treasured every syllable. Finally when he was tired and ready to hang up he said, “Are you doing okay? Is there any way that I can help you somehow?” I was speechless for a moment trying to understand how he could be facing the end of his life at any moment but was still concerned for my welfare. I told him that I was fine and he didn’t need to worry about us. He’d taught us well and we would continue teaching the  generations to come how to live like he did.

After I hung up the phone I realized why that last conversation was so special. I had experienced the same thing the disciples had on that night at the table with Jesus. What I saw in my grandfather’s last words to me was the same thing the disciples saw in Jesus that night. I saw a glimpse of the heart of Jesus in my grandfather’s words, and in his life.

Grandpa didn’t have to do grand things. He just lived his life for others. He made a difference. He left a mark. He inspired me to do the same.