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Archive for April, 2015

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Slow, somber music faded away.  All lights were extinguished, including the spot on the cave-like tomb, stage left.

Black silence enveloped us for several moments as the burial scene concluded, a dramatic part of the Easter musical production at our church.

In a hushed voice, the narrator picked up the story.  He explained that when Sunday morning came, women went to the tomb. We, the audience, could see them approaching from stage right, talking among themselves.

They peered into the tomb, and cried out as they discovered the body of Jesus was gone. No sooner did they begin to question what might have happened, than an angel suddenly appeared next to them.  I don’t mean, “walked up and joined them.”  No.  One moment that angel was nonexistent; the next moment there he stood, gleaming brightly.

How did the stage crew create such a startling scene? They used a scrim, a large sheet of gauzy fabric, behind the back of the tomb. When the tomb was lit from the front, everything behind the scrim was invisible. When the spotlight behind the scrim came up, suddenly the audience could see the angel.

That scrim-effect made me think: we live with a virtual scrim in front of us every day. We cannot see what God has planned for us in the future. Events of tomorrow—even this afternoon—are blocked from us by black silence. In his infinite wisdom God has determined that’s the best way for us to live.

But! Sometimes we’re able to look back to see behind the scrim, and note how God orchestrated events for our benefit.

I’m remembering a particularly difficult move years ago. We were leaving a much-loved church where my husband had pastored for six years, and beginning a new ministry across-state.

My personal challenge would be obtaining a teaching position in our new locale, at a time when there were more teachers than positions available.

But look what God did:

First, he “introduced” me to Diane, a delightful young woman—also a teacher. Her parents were members of our new church. Diane actually attended elsewhere, but every now and then would join her parents on a Sunday morning. She visited shortly after our arrival.

Second, God urged Diane to offer help with our unpacking. We spent a delightful morning emptying boxes and organizing various items while getting acquainted. I learned that she taught at a small private school, with just two classes at each grade level. The school was close by, too—only four minutes away. Diane suggested she submit my name for the substitute list. I told her, “Yes!”

Third, God created many substitute opportunities for me at Diane’s school, but fulltime employment seemed unlikely. No one was close to retirement; no one was moving. Meanwhile I applied at public schools within a reasonable commute of our home.

But in April, without even an interview, God prompted the headmaster at the private school to offer me a position. One of the fourth grade teachers had just been elected mayor. Trying to fulfill those responsibilities and teach was more than she wanted to tackle.

I started the following August, which gave me the entire summer to prepare. My classroom was right next door to Diane’s.

When that job opportunity opened up, it was as if the spotlight turned on behind the scrim. Suddenly I could see how God had carefully arranged the whole sequence of events.  My disappointment over leaving our previous home and church turned into a God-ordained appointment at that private school, one that lasted twenty-two years.

“Never underestimate what a redeeming God can do, “ says Karol Ladd.*

And keep your eye on that scrim, for the glorious moment when you can see how he’s been orchestrating events for your benefit (Jeremiah 29:11).

 

*from Thrive, Don’t Simply Survive by Karol Ladd, Howard Books, 2009.

 

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When have you glimpsed behind the scrim of your life?  What events has God orchestrated for your benefit?  Share with us your story in the comments below!

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Last week, on April 22nd, I read the devotion, “Listen to Me Continually,” by Sarah Young (Jesus Calling, Integrity Publishers, 2004).

Did you happen to read it, too?

 

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As you may know, Sarah determined a number of years ago to listen to God with pen in hand and write down whatever she believed he was saying to her. Those meditative moments became this book.

God’s messages through Sarah often speak timely challenges to me.  Last Thursday was no exception.

First, a bit of background.

As I write this, my to-do list is a bit long, even though I’m retired. (To those who are still employed or still have children at home under your charge, that sounds ridiculous, I know. But let me tell you, retirement does not change how busy you are, just what you are busy doing.)

Not only is that list of tasks long, but I have a strong desire to do a thorough job on each item. After all,

 

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(“If a task is worth doing, it is worth doing well.”)

 

Except that goal can easily lead to perfectionism, which I do have to fight against.

So here is what Sarah sensed Jesus telling her for April 22nd:

When Jesus died, he set us free. That includes freedom from compulsive planning.

And that’s exactly what I have been doing: figuring out when I could accomplish certain jobs, deciding whether a few tasks could be postponed, wondering if I’d be able to accomplish everything–on time.

Jesus continued; Sarah wrote more:

When we’re distracted by a whirlwind of thoughts, we cannot hear his voice.

 

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Oh, Lord, that is so true. Sometimes my thoughts are a stress-inducing jumble of “Stay on task! Don’t waste a minute! Don’t forget that! Do this first!” No wonder I feel overwhelmed.

Then Jesus and Sarah hit me between the eyes:

“A mind preoccupied with planning pays homage to the idol of control.”

Oh, my. I never thought of planning as a possible idol, something excessively adored.

But there is truth in that idea. I do prefer to be in control, to feel competent in handling my responsibilities, to know that everything will be accomplished efficiently and in a timely manner.

That sounds an awful lot like pride, doesn’t it.

I don’t think the problem lies in the planning, as if it’s a sin to make a to-do list.

The sin is in the attitude.  I need to ask myself:   Is my planning an effort toward making an impression? Rooting for compliments? Looking for a pat on the back?  I have to be honest.  Sometimes, yes.

Jesus reminded me (through Sarah) that my attention needs to be on him, not on the best ways to complete a task list. I need to listen to him, not the voices telling me to hurry to do this; scurry to do that.

And what will be the result? Stress will melt away, and I’ll enjoy the peaceful, God-enhanced, abundant life he’s promised.  I’ll be more useful to him and compliant to his will instead of mine.

That sounds much more satisfying and enjoyable, doesn’t it.

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Heavenly Father, I am so sorry that I’ve allowed a preoccupation with planning to become an idol. Help me to hold very loosely the plans I make, in order to embrace the interruptions and changes ordained by you. Teach me also to release control of the to-do list to you.  Amen.

Photo credits:  www.imgbuddy.com; http://www.picturequotes.com; http://www.eastbabtlife.com.)

 

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Dove chocolates come wrapped in foil on which are printed positive and encouraging statements. Recently I found this one:

“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”

A positive attitude of praise and celebration, even for the little blessings, does contribute to a sense of well-being.  But there’s an important omission in this quote–the cause of all those blessings.  Perhaps the sentiment might be worded like this:

“The more you praise and celebrate God in your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”

Now a pleasing sentiment has become solid truth, because with God in our lives, joy is our constant companion.

“You make me glad by your deeds, O Lord;

I sing for joy at the works of your hands.”

(Psalm 92:4)

 It requires such a small effort, really.

 Sometimes, all we need to do is focus on the pleasure of ordinary events:

  • Water vapor curling up from a cup of coffee
  • Sunbeams finally breaking through, after three days of unrelenting rain
  • The first butterfly of spring dancing among the daffodils

Sometimes all we need to do is change our perspective.  We can choose to:

  • Get depressed over the huge stack of dirty dishes in the kitchen, or reminisce (while we clean!) over the delightful meal just enjoyed with family and friends
  • Grumble that vacation is over, or celebrate that two weeks out-of-town makes even our scuffed-up, well-lived-in home look mighty inviting
  • Sigh with dissatisfaction that personal goals have not yet been reached, or take note of how far we’ve come

Sometimes all we need to do is make a celebration out of a small moment.

I had been shopping at the mall for several hours, scouring the sales racks to no avail. Suddenly I looked down at my purse on which I had draped my light jacket and sweater. The sweater was gone. It was one of my favorites.

So not only did I not purchase an addition for my wardrobe that afternoon, I had subtracted a piece of clothing I already owned.  That sweater had just been dry cleaned, too. “Insult to injury,” as they say.

Retracing my steps seemed pointless; I had been in so many stores.

Not long after realizing my sweater was gone, it was time to meet Steve for dinner at a restaurant attached to the mall.  We ordered our meals, and then I told him what happened.

“I’ll check the mall lost-and-found after we eat,” I said. “By then maybe someone will have found my sweater and turned it in.”

So that’s what we did.

No sweater.

Steve suggested we stop at the stores where I’d shopped, as we made our way back to the car.

At the very first store the eyes of the young sales girl lit up when I asked about a lost sweater. “What color was it?” she asked.

“Red,” I told her.

“We did find it! It’s right back here!” she enthusiastically replied, walking to the back of the store.

Sure enough, there it was. Someone had even put it on a hanger.

Well! I thanked her, and the manager behind the counter, not knowing which of them had found it and been so thoughtful.

One of them jokingly said something about doing good deeds for chocolate.

As it happened, just two doors down was the Godiva Chocolate Shop. Steve and I popped in, bought two little boxes, and went back to the clothing store.

When those two girls saw the Godiva bag they whooped in surprise and delight. Steve and I laughed, too.

“God blessed me through you by returning my sweater; we wanted to bless you,” I said.

“Oh! That remark about chocolate was just a joke!” the salesgirl cried. “But you have no idea how much I needed this. Today has been especially rough.” She started around the counter with her arms outstretched. “Come here! I need to give you a hug!”  Then she added, “Look!  I’m crying!”  I had tears in my eyes as well.

The level of endorphins was so high in that shop the lights shone brighter, the air smelled fresher, and the atmosphere crackled with joy.

And all because we took a small moment and magnified its significance, and we gave God the glory as we celebrated a God-orchestrated event.

Truly, “The more you praise and celebrate God in your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”

And God celebrates, too.  After all, he loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), right?  Surely that includes givers of chocolate and hugs.

(Photo credit:  www.inhabityourmoments.com.)

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What are you celebrating in life today?  Share your joy in the comments below!

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“You have made man a little lower than the heavenly beings…

You made him ruler over the works of your hands…

All the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and…

All that swim the paths of the seas” (Psalm 8:5-8, italics added).

 

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“Paths of the seas.” What might that refer to?  That question crisscrossed Matthew Maury’s mind frequently.

Maury had always loved the sea, prompting him to join the U.S. Navy at age 19, in 1825.

Life at Sea

The second ship on which he served, the Vincennes, included a library. Matthew was eager to learn and spent his spare time studying navigation. Sometimes he chalked out problems in spherical geometry on cannon balls. When the Vincennes circumnavigated the world, Matthew received practical experience in the subject.

Upon returning to the States, Matthew took an examination in navigation and passed. He was then appointed acting sailing master on the Falmouth. Along with the ship’s commander, he was responsible for navigating the course, steerage, and sail trim.

Next Matthew determined to learn about winds and currents. He discovered that no one had charted such information for the treacherous Cape Horn off the southern tip of South America. He kept meticulous records during the voyage and wrote about his findings in a paper, published by the American Journal of Sciences and the Arts.

In 1834, Matthew married Ann Herdon, and they settled in Fredericksberg, Virginia.

Maury’s life was certainly following a positive trajectory. And no doubt, as a strong Christian believer since boyhood, he saw each new opportunity as a blessing from God.

Plan B

But in 1839, Matthew was injured in a stagecoach accident.  The final result:   permanent lameness.  Never again would Maury be able to work aboard a naval vessel.  His career came to an abrupt end, and Maury fell into despair.

Surely he must have wondered, What am I to do, Lord? The sea is all I know.

But Maury did not allow his despair to debilitate him. He used his convalescence to continue studying navigation, meteorology, winds, and currents.

Was God behind that compulsion? Perhaps so. In 1841, Maury was offered a position as manager of the U.S. Naval Observatory and the depot for charts and instruments. This position was perfect for him, requiring the exact knowledge and abilities he had acquired.

 

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In 1852-1853, Maury brought together ten major maritime powers of the world. In unanimous agreement, they began to compile unified records benefiting all mankind. For the next thirty-five years, more than a million ships’ logs were sent annually to the observatory. From those records were developed wind and current charts for the globe.

Pathfinder of the Seas

Meanwhile, Maury sought for the meaning of that mysterious phrase in Psalm 8:8, “the paths of the seas.”

As he studied those ships’ logs being sent to the observatory, he compiled charts of ocean-wind and sea currents. He set adrift weighted bottles that would float slightly below the surface of the water, where they would not be impacted by wind.

Instructions inside each bottle informed the person who found it to return the bottle, with the location and date of its discovery. From his charts and experiments, Maury was able to determine the “paths of the seas,” including the Gulf Stream.

Pathfinder of the Wind

Maury also proved the truth of Ecclesiastes 1:6:

“Blowing toward the south, then turning toward the north, the wind continues swirling along; and on its circular courses the wind returns.”

Further study and experiments indicated that the wind did indeed move in circular patterns. Today we call them jet streams. Maury’s investigations led to a better understanding of weather, and predictions became more reliable.

Plan C

But despair entered Maury’s life again when the United States declared civil war. As a citizen of Virginia, he felt obligated to side with the South, giving up the position in Washington at his beloved observatory. Jefferson Davis, President of the South, sent Maury to England as an ambassador for the Confederate States.

After the war Matthew spent three years exiled in England. Many honors were conferred on him during that time, but his heart was still in the U.S.

Did he wonder once again what God might be planning? Perhaps he prayed, “Lord, if it be your will, arrange circumstances so that we may return to America.”

In 1868, the U.S. offered general amnesty to ex-patriots and Matthew sailed back to the States. He accepted a position at Virginia Military Institute as professor of meteorology, a position he held to the day he died, February 1, 1873.

 

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Matthew Fontaine Maury, a self-taught navigator of the seas, astronomer, meteorologist, author, and educator, always sought to prove:

“The Bible is true and science is true,

and therefore each, if truly read,

but proves the truth of the other.”

–Matthew Maury

 

And though he may not have set out to do so, Maury also proved:

“I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

With the advantage of hindsight, we can readily see this promise grandly fulfilled in Maury’s life. Yes, he suffered pain and hardship. All saints of God do (Romans 8:17).

But! God brought Maury through every challenge and used him in mighty ways—ways that impact our world to this day.

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Lord, I am deeply grateful you are the one who plans each of our lives. What comfort to know that an all-seeing, all-wise God is orchestrating not only the main events of life, but every single day. I pray for your grace, in order to be accepting of disappointments, knowing that you will bring good out of every situation. In fact, you may very well be preparing something important. I want to trust you without hesitation.

(Psalm 139:16; Romans 8:28; Ephesians 2:10)

 

Sources:  The Founders’ Bible, https://answersingenesis.org; http://www.cbn.com; http://www.creation.com.)

Photo and art credits:  www.travelblog.org; http://www.firstladies.org.)

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“Be careful what you think,

because your thoughts run your life.”

–Proverbs 4:23, NCV

 

That would explain why worrisome thoughts can turn into paralyzing fear, pessimism into debilitating discouragement, and sadness into utter hopelessness.

No one wants to dwell in such misery.

But if a person is facing difficult circumstances, and she allows her thoughts to run amok on auto-pilot, she’s likely to slide downward into hyper negativity.  Climbing out is difficult.

“Snap out of it!” someone will say. Not very helpful.

“Look for the silver lining,” advises another. Easier said than done when tragedy strikes–and lingers.

“Spend some time in reflection.” That’s what one web site recommends, offering sixteen questions for a person to consider. Most of us don’t have time for that much introspection, nor the inclination, when we’re hurting.

So, how can we climb out of a miserable pit of despair?

By replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts, especially scripture.

You see, our brains cannot focus on two things at once. Prove it to yourself by counting to ten and reciting John 3:16 at the same time. You’ll find you’re either counting or reciting, not both simultaneously.

We can apply the same strategy to negative thinking. At the first moment we realize our thoughts are headed in the wrong direction, we can confess it and ask God to help us renew our minds:

“Lord, I don’t want to think about this anymore.  I know it’s counter productive and does absolutely no good. Help me to refocus on what is noble and right, pure and lovely (Philippians 4:8).”                            

Then we start singing a favorite praise song, listing all the reasons we can trust God in this situation, or reciting an uplifting scripture.

For a start, the bulleted quotes below highlight some common threads of negative thinking.  Following each is a positive scripture as rebuttal:

  • “There is no way this situation is going to work out.”

 Oh? “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, italics added).

  • “I can’t stand another day of this.”

Oh, yes, I can stand. I can put on the full armor of God, so that in this day of trouble, I may be able to stand my ground” (Ephesians 6:13).

 Restoration will come. “Though you, [God], have made me see troubles…you will restore my life again…you will again bring me up” (Psalm 71:20).

  • “I am never going to succeed.”  

Not true.  God says [He] will accomplish all [his] purposes (Isaiah 46:10b, italics added).  What greater success could there be than to accomplish the purpose of Almighty God?

  • “I have no idea how to proceed. Maybe I should just quit. This is just too hard.”

 I can pray as the author of Hebrews did: “May the God of peace…equip me with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in me what is pleasing to him” (Hebrews 13:20-21).

  • “Sometimes I can’t seem to do anything right. How can God use me?” 

I am God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which he prepared in advance for me to do (Ephesians 2:10).

If the bulleted comments in bold print are our focus, our lives will surely head in a downward direction toward discouragement and hopelessness.

If, on the other hand, we focus on the promises and positive affirmations of scripture, we head in an upward direction toward wholeness, productivity, and joy.

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“He enables [us] to go on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:19)–above the doubts and uncertainties.

Focus determines direction.

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What scripture promise or affirmation lifts you up when circumstances try to pull you down?  Add your favorites in the Comments below!

(Photo credits:  www.facebook.com/wonwithoutaword; http://www.zazzle.com.)

 

 

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“Success is a journey, not a destination.”

–Arthur Ashe

Too often we think of success as the final, glorious outcome of endeavor. But achieving a goal requires the successful completion of many steps along the way, some of which are slippery, steep, and uneven.  As time passes and difficulties mount, hopelessness can hold us back.

However, history is full of examples of people who persevered in spite of great difficulty, even failure. They didn’t allow tumbles and trip-ups to stop them. They maintained their optimism and effort toward the goal.  Prime examples include:  Bill Gates, Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, and Winston Churchill.

“Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

–Winston Churchill

Another prime example is Thomas Edison. You might remember he tested over 6000 materials for the filament of his electric light bulb, and performed 1200 experiments before reaching ultimate success.

Once the invention had been released, a reporter asked Mr. Edison, “How did it feel to fail over a 1000 times?”

The inventor replied, “Young man, I did not fail 1000 times. I simply found 1000 ways how not to create a light bulb.”

Edison had learned to celebrate progress, not just the end result.

We, too, can learn to celebrate the steps toward our God-ordained, individual goals, not just the finish line.

And what are the steps worth celebrating? Here are a few:

  1. Making good choices, even in small things (Luke 16:10).

Doing little things with a strong desire to please God

makes them really great.”

–St Francis De Sales 

  1. Maintaining a positive attitude (Colossians 3:23-24).

Feed your hope with positive expectancy.

Instead of wondering, Why isn’t God doing anything?

Ask, I wonder what God will do next?

  1. Exercising self-control (Galatians 5:23).

“You must do the very thing you think you cannot do.”

–Eleanor Roosevelt

  1. Applying wisdom (Proverbs 19:8).

“Wisdom is the means by which the godly can both

discern and carry out the will of God.”

–Douglas Moo 

  1. Striving for humility (Proverbs 22:4).

“I believe that the first test of a truly great man is his humility…

Really great men have a curious feeling

that the greatness is not of them, but through them…

And [they] are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful.”

–John Ruskin 

  1. Overcoming disappointment and failure (Psalm 37:23-24).

“Discouragement and failure

are two of the surest

stepping-stones to success.”

–Dale Carnegie

Too often we’re sidelined by our failures—even the little ones. We have to remember: success has nothing to do with immunity to failure.

“Success is getting up just one more time than you fall.”

–Oliver Goldsmith.

So! I’ve devised a little questionnaire, to help us appreciate our steps of success:

  • Did we accomplish one task today, leading toward our God-ordained goals, even though we didn’t want to do it?
  • Did we thank God for even one blessing today? Gratitude takes our minds off the way we’d like things to be and refocuses our attention on what God has already provided.
  • Was there at least one small thing we chose not to do, in order to apply our time and energy on the goals set before us?
  • Did we apply a bit of wisdom today that kept us on the path of success?
  • Did we demonstrate genuine interest in someone else without even thinking about ourselves at all? That’s C.S. Lewis’s definition of true humility.
  • Did we encourage ourselves with words or action, in order to press on?

Success is found on the path of most persistence.

So, let’s celebrate progress–those moments, those steps, that are leading us toward God’s call on each of our lives.

And if progress is slow, let’s not lose heart.  Most progress is slow.  God rarely rushes in with a delivery of instant success.

Let’s all take a deep breath and affirm:  God isn’t finished with us yet. He’s still working, still guiding, still engineering circumstances for the personal goals he has ordained for each of us.

That doesn’t mean we sit back and wait for God to achieve our success for us.  It’s a matter of balance.  We must trust him as if everything depended on him, and work as if everything depended on us (Living Application Bible note, Proverbs 16:3).

(Photo credit:  www.hikingtohealthy.com)

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What steps to success would you add?

And, how do you celebrate the successful steps along the way?

Please join the conversation below! 

  

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 “By myself!” “By myself!” “By myself!” Numerous times each day our granddaughter asserts herself, announcing with much gusto that whatever the task, she can handle it.

But Elena just turned two. Although her confidence is high, skills are limited. When it’s time to go upstairs, “by myself” means down on all fours, one limb at a time. One hand up, and then the other. One foot up and then the other. It is a slow and laborious process.

In addition, the grown-up in her wake must be very sly about offering support. No hand on the back, or even hovering where Elena can see it. She’ll cast aside such safety precautions and announce firmly once again, “By myself!”

Child Washing Hands

Hand washing is another activity she prefers to do independently. But her attempts to pump out a dollop of liquid soap often end unsuccessfully. The soap usually lands in or around the sink—not in her hand.

And once the soap is in her palm, Elena reaches for the faucet. Forget the actual washing. If we try to help, she pulls her hands away. “By myself!” Even when she acquiesces, her scrubbing efforts leave much to be desired. Squeezing is her version.

And rinsing is another issue. “By myself” often results in enthusiastic splattering of water on dry dishes, counter, and backsplash.

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Mealtimes offer more opportunities for autonomy. “By myself” means she will hold her spoon or fork as she chooses, not as the grown-ups have shown her numerous times. Elena has yet to figure out that holding a utensil at the very end of the handle is not very efficient.  (The child in the photo is not our Elena, but is demonstrating the same technique.)

Because of her unwieldy grip, Elena ends up turning the spoon upside down as it approaches her mouth. Needless to say, most of the food ends up on her chin, in her bib pocket, on her clothes, on the tray, or back in the dish.

We shake our heads and roll our eyes. Toddlers!

Then it dawns on me. Sometimes I’m not much more mature than a toddler in God’s family. I’ve been known to proclaim “by myself,” too:

  • “Yes, Lord, I need you to take care of the important matters, but I can handle the small stuff by myself. ”
  • “I’ll make this decision by myself, Lord, because—to be honest–I’m not sure I’ll like your choice.”
  • “I can decide by myself what will make me happy, Lord.”

Yep, I can be as foolish as a toddler, even though great wisdom is available to me.

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Wisdom such as:

“Start with God.

The first step in learning

is bowing down to God.

Only fools thumb their noses

at such wisdom and learning”

(Proverbs 1:7, MSG).

Ouch. But Solomon is right.  God made me; he knows the best course for me. Over and over again he has proven himself worthy of my trust — guiding my way, providing for my needs, empowering me to accomplish his plans.

If I can’t trust the One who died for me, who can I trust?

Any time I’m tempted to approach a situation or decision by myself, I need to remember:

“God always gives the best

to those who leave the choice to him”

–Selwyn Hughes

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Oh, Father, forgive me for the times I have foolishly asserted my independence. Help me to relinquish control to you. I’ve lived long enough to know from experience that living life by myself does not result in satisfaction. Help me become a person who turns to you first, and asks, “What do YOU want me to do, Lord?” because you are the all-wise One of the universe.  And I know the benefits of following you will far outweigh any costs.

(Photo credits:  www.motherhood.modernmom.com; http://www.childcare.oxfordcounty.ca; http://www.cleftstories.com; http://www.covedevotions2010.blogspot.com.)

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One of the “Letters to the Editor” in the most recent issue of Country Magazine caught my attention. The writer, James, related an event from his boyhood days on a farm in the 1940s.

Seems he had injured his hand quite severely one day while tightening a chain. But work on a farm doesn’t wait, especially during hay-baling season when the hay is ripe for harvesting. So in spite of his injury, James had to wear rough work gloves as he operated the wire baler. Every day for a week when he removed the gloves, the scab on his hand would come off and the wound would bleed profusely again.

On Sunday afternoon he plopped down on the living carpet to take a nap. His dog, Shadow, came to lie down beside him. But instead of settling in for a snooze himself, Shadow began to lick James’ wound. It actually felt good, James explains, so he let the dog continue.

The next morning James was astonished to see that his wound was completely healed. “It was as if the injury had never happened.”

Not until much later did James find out that a dog’s saliva contains healing properties. That’s why, when injured, they will lick their own wounds over and over.

I found James’ story particularly interesting because of a question that had been niggling in my mind this Easter season: Why did Jesus bear the scars of the crucifixion—in his hands, feet, and side–after the resurrection? It was certainly within God’s power to return Christ’s physical body to perfect wholeness, “as if the injuries had never happened.”

Come to find out, I’m not the first one to consider this question. As far back as the seventh century, Saint Bede of England (672-735, A.D.) wrote about the possibilities. Many others throughout the ages of the church have contemplated the reasons, including the following:

  1. The scars were proof to the disciples that he was the same person after resurrection as before. Had Jesus been completely restored, his followers may have assumed that their first inclination was correct: that what they saw was an apparition of Christ. After all, he appeared to them out of nowhere—an impossibility for a physical body.

But they not only saw him, Jesus invited them to touch him, so there could be no doubt (Luke 24:36-42).

  1. The scars were part of the proof of the prophecy that Jesus spoke of himself, that he would suffer, be killed, and rise again on the third day (Matthew 16:21). “This is what I told you,” Jesus reminded them (Luke 24:44).
  1. The scars provided evidence of Jesus’ physical body. Early in church history there were those who taught that Jesus didn’t really suffer on the cross. He was not truly human, therefore he only appeared to suffer.

They could not fathom the sinless Son of God submitting himself to such humiliation and horrific pain.   But dismissing the agony of Christ on the cross as well as the scars is incomprehensible.

Those three answers do quiet our curiosity, but what relevance might Jesus’ scars provide for us today?

  1. The scars prove that Jesus knows what it means to suffer. Crucifixion is the most cruel of death penalties, the worst that man can deliver. No one can say, “Jesus doesn’t know what I’m going through.” No, he is well-acquainted with grief. He knows what it’s like to bear scars of suffering.
  1. The scars prove God’s love and compassion. As the Son of God, he didn’t have to suffer on our behalf. Surely he could have devised a less abhorrent way. Instead, he identified himself with humanity by becoming human himself. He took our physical, emotional, and spiritual pain upon himself.   And he will wear the scars of suffering for eternity (Revelation 5:6).
  1. The scars remind us of what is to come. On Good Friday, Jesus body was beaten, bruised, and pierced. On Easter Sunday, those wounds became scars. A miraculous healing of gruesome wounds had occurred in a matter of hours.

One day a miraculous healing of our gruesome wounds will take place. Pain, suffering, loss, illness, and physical challenges will cease. Every negative aspect of life will melt away.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Oh, Lord Jesus, thank you, THANK YOU for carrying our pains, our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.  Thank you for taking the punishment we deserve and making us whole.  You are the one and only source of eternal salvation.  And only through your eternal bruises are we healed.  Out of overwhelming gratitude, we give ourselves to you.  We want to follow your example and please you.  Make us into what gives you pleasure.  

All glory to you, Jesus, forever and always!”  

 (Isaiah 53:4-6; Hebrews 5:9, 13:21, MSG)

Photo credits:  www.motherearthnews.com

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Jesus-Praying-Last-Supper-570x377

 

Whether I heard it or read it, I don’t remember. But the words caught me by surprise, and I jotted them down:

“What was uppermost in Jesus’ mind as Good Friday approached?

“Joy.”

Do you find that surprising, too?

Yet at least three times on the eve of his crucifixion Jesus spoke about joy (John 15:11; 16:22, 24; 17:13)–a most unusual topic and completely unnatural.  Who thinks about joy when they know that catastrophe is about to strike?

Jesus, that’s who.

Within the next twenty-four hours he would face excruciating pain, total abandonment by his Father, and the most horrific death ever devised.

But his concern was for his disciples, not himself.  Jesus wanted them to remember the important principles of love, obedience, and joy–an empowering joy that no one could take away from them.

Perhaps you remember the scene. Jesus and his disciples had just finished their last Passover supper together. After the meal, he taught his final lesson.

The first mention of joy came near the end of his teaching about the vine and the branches:

“I have told you this

so that my joy may be in you

and that your joy may be complete”

(John 15:11).

The word, “this,” refers to the ways Jesus had just mentioned that will contribute to joy:

1.  Live close to him and produce much good in and through your life (vs.4-8).

2.  Live in obedience to Jesus and experience the warmth, peace, and care of His love (vs. 9-10).

 Note that Jesus wanted his joy to be in the hearts of his disciples. What characterized his joy, compared to that of others?

  1. Strong awareness of the Father’s love for him, and his own love for the Father (vs. 9-10).
  1. Absolute surrender and self-sacrifice of himself to his Father, and the joy of doing what his father had sent him to do. Even during his great travail in the Garden of Gethsemane, his one desire was to do his Father’s will (Luke 22:42).

Jesus’ joy coexisted with the profound sorrow of his impending suffering, because he was already well-acquainted with the satisfaction and fulfillment of obedience.

  1. The understanding that joy deferred to the future is anticipatory joy in the present. “For the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

And finally, Jesus told his disciples that he desired complete joy for them. What does complete joy look like? It is:

  • Not so much an emotion as it is a conviction (Keith Krell, “Moment by Moment,” http://www.bible.org).
  • Inner contentment, resulting from continually cultivating an intimate relationship with Jesus.
  • Constant, not dependent on circumstances.
  • Enduring, day after day. Indestructible.
  • Perfect—the perfect, joy-filled fulfillment of the destiny for which God created you, even when a portion of that destiny is suffering.

I’m thinking of the martyrs–Stephen, Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch, William Tyndale, John Wycliffe and countless others who demonstrated complete joy even as they died in anguish.

Polycarp, disciple of the Apostle John and Bishop of Smyrna for many years, refused to revile Jesus. For that he was burned at the stake.

But before the flames rose up, Polycarp prayed:

“O Lord God Almighty, Father of thy blessed and beloved Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we have been given knowledge of thyself…I bless thee for granting me this day and hour, that I may be numbered amongst the martyrs, to share the cup of thine Anointed and to rise again unto life everlasting…”

Such devotion, courage, and supernatural strength are impossible to fathom apart from the enablement of the Holy Spirit.

Can you hear the grace in Polycarp’s voice as he blessed God for the privilege of dying a martyr?

That is complete joy, only experienced by those who trust in Jesus implicitly.

Complete joy that Jesus purchased for us at Calvary.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

We marvel, Heavenly Father, in the extreme paradox that is the cross. Out of the evil unleashed upon your Son comes your holy, righteous goodness–upon us. Out of the horror of the crucifixion that Jesus endured comes inexpressible and glorious joy, to those who put their faith in him–not a temporary feeling of elation, but deep, abiding, abundant joy. 

All praise to you, our loving, gracious God!       

(Acts 3:13-16, 1 Peter 1:8, John 6:47, John 10:10)

 

(Photo credit:  www.rejesus.co.uk.)

 

 

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