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Posts Tagged ‘God’s Ways’

(Steve and I are enjoying time with family this week.  I’ll return soon with  new posts.  Meanwhile, I’ll reblog previous ones.  Hopefully you’ll find them meaningful again, or perhaps for the first time.  The following post was first published June 13, 2013.)

From stage left, she crosses the platform in confident strides.  One hand waves in sweeping arcs to the large audience. The crowd claps and cheers.

In the other hand, with confident ease, she holds the microphone.  And the smile—big and broad, bright white teeth visible even from the balcony.

Able to sing like a nightingale and articulate truth with conviction. Impacting thousands.

Now there is someone God is using in a powerful way, whispers an accusing voice.  Look at her significant contribution in the Kingdom of God. No doubt she’s highly valuable to him.  So what are you doing that’s important?  Your spot in the scheme of things is nothing compared to that shining star on the stage.  You might as well face the truth:  You are unimportant.  The ship of Significance has passed you by.

Sound the least bit familiar? You’re not alone. Demons use those same lies on a lot of us. Evil spirits aren’t very creative, are they?

But here’s the truth of the matter:

Each of us is the workmanship of God (Ephesians 2:10). The Greek word, workmanship, sometimes has the connotation of “work of art.” You are a work of art—carefully designed and meticulously executed.

The verse goes on to explain we’ve been created to do good works. It does not say the same work. Diversity of personality, talent, and interest are necessary among the children of God in order that all his plans are accomplished.

He made each of us unique, to fulfill a personalized plan. Every now and then we see such a plan unfold so clearly, we know God engineered the circumstances. Sometimes it’s a unique set of talents or gifts that work together sublimely to meet a need.

Take, for example, the naturally talented writer, who happened to grow up in a bilingual home, and studied Christian Education in college. She was especially prepared by God to write Spanish curriculum for a Christian publishing company.

Other times the plan is much less obvious, and we must trust that the task before us–caring for our families, teaching that Sunday School class, working at the homeless shelter–is indeed accomplishing divine purpose.

What we can know for certain:  each of us is valuable to God (Matthew  10:29-31).

Believe that he has prepared in advance good works for you to do (Ephesians 2:10).  Take joy and satisfaction from completing those good works.

It may not be walking across a stage with a microphone. It might mean walking across the kitchen with a rolling pin—to bake cookies for the neighbors.

That’s just a small, insignificant thing, you say?

Think about this: What if God takes particular pleasure in small things?

Personally, I’m fascinated by small things. Miniatures, doll houses, petit-point, babies!

Scripture gives us indication that God does indeed love small things as well:

Sparrows (Matthew 10:29-31).

Two little mites given by a widow (Mark 12:41-44).

Five small barley loaves and two small fish (John 6:1-13).

Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).

Let’s never again allow those little demons of abasement to put us down. God has promised: “I will bless those who fear the Lord—small and great alike” (Psalm 115:13, emphasis added).

You see, in God’s sight, we’re of equal worth.

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(Steve and I are enjoying time with family this week.  I’ll return soon with  new posts.  Meanwhile, I’ll reblog previous ones.  Hopefully you’ll find them meaningful again, or perhaps for the first time.  The following post was first published September 13, 2013.)

Women's Bible Study

“I know we have to persevere and not give up on what we sense God wants us to do,” Melissa shared at Bible study.  “And from the lives of Joseph, Moses, Daniel, and others in the Bible, I know God rarely smooths out  the path perfectly.  But what I want to know is how to proceed.  I’d like steps to follow!”

Heads nodded around the table, mine included.  Wouldn’t it be nice if God laid out for us to see ahead of time step one, step two, and so on toward his perfect plan?

That idea has been circulating in my brain for nearly a week now.  Here are some observations.

1. God values our growth in faith more than our comfort in a revealed plan.   

If it was best for us to know his plan in advance, then that’s what God would provide.  Instead, he allows our faith to be tested, in order to build our character.  That is important to him:

“The Lord detests men of perverse heart but he delights in those whose ways are blameless” (Proverbs 11:20).

2.  God values the process of spiritual growth, not just the final outcome of a purpose fulfilled.

Times of challenge give us opportunity to develop maturity more readily than times of ease.  What might that development include?

  • Self-discipline–when we tackle difficult tasks.  Granted, the Holy Spirit empowers us (Galatians 5:22-23), but we must give ourselves over to him.  How?  Through frequent prayer, offered throughout the day, consistently asking for his guidance and help.
  • Self-denial–by doing without.  However, the attentive person will soon discover much to celebrate that may have been missed otherwise:  the stunning display of God’s creation, the joy of love and laughter with family and friends, the peace and strength from frequent communion with God.  Suddenly, gratitude flourishes in the heart, and what has been given up doesn’t seem so important anymore.
  • The full meaning of love–when given opportunity to respond in kind ways to difficult people.

None of these valuable traits of discipline, selflessness, and love would fully develop without lessons of experience.

3.  God values the development of our prayer lives–not for his benefit, but for ours.

Jean Nicolas Grou, a Jesuit priest of the 1700s, described healthy prayer as humble, reverent, loving, confident, and persevering.  As we practice those traits in our prayer lives, surely they will overflow into our character, in our actions and reactions.

Patient pursuit, then, is best applied to God’s ways, and then to God’s plan.

(photo credit:  http://www.st-tims-church.org )

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Take a close look at the intricate design above. Did you notice the artist’s medium? Corks!

And look at what some clever soul did with some old tires.

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And how about this stemware rack? Quite the creative use for a discarded garden rake.

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All three of these projects are examples of upcycling—the process of converting useless products and waste materials into new products of higher quality or value than the original.

On a much grander scale, consider:   those of us who know Jesus have also been upcycled.

“Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person.

The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

– 2 Corinthians 5:17

 And what does that new, upcycled life include?

  • The opportunity for intimacy with Almighty God
  • A fresh perspective on life
  • Strength to face whatever might happen
  • A glorious certainty for the future
  • A deep sense of peace and joy that circumstances cannot destroy

And that’s just the beginning of the list.

Just as resourceful people are able to upcycle any number of materials, God can use everything in our lives:

  • Every relationship
  • Every situation
  • Every trial
  • Every hurt
  • Even every failure

No matter what we go through, God can upcycle the experience to create something worthwhile.  Good things like:  1) important life-lessons, 2) steps in his carefully orchestrated plan for our lives, and 3) a positive influence upon others.

Nothing is wasted in God’s economy.

–Bill Wilson

(founder of Alcoholics Anonymous)

Paul expressed the same truth in scripture:

“God is able to orchestrate everything

to work toward something good and beautiful

when we love him and accept his invitation

to live according to his plan.”

–Romans 8:28, The Voice, italics added)

The inconsequential bits of our lives are never wasted in God’s economy either. For example:  He uses every good deed, every exercise of self-discipline, every effort to keep peace, to mold us into better people and to minister to others.

And then there is the trash of our lives—those circumstances and relationships we wish never had happened.  Even the trash is upcycled:

Wailing becomes dancing (Psalm 30:11)

Tears become joy (Psalm 126:5),

Ashes become beauty,

Despair becomes praise (Isaiah 61:3),

The crooked roads become straight (Luke 3:5),

Darkness becomes light (1 Peter 2:9).

Someone very clever expressed it this way:

rose-quote

Does that mean we sit and wait while God turns our tears of disillusionment to joy? The ashes of disappointment into something beautiful? The crooked road of bad choices into a straight, smooth path?

No, God honors us by allowing us to participate in the upcycling process.

“Always work enthusiastically for the Lord,

for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.”

— 1 Corinthians 15:58, NLT

Let’s strive to choose the next “best thing” before us, and let God upcycle the results!

(Photo credits:  www.winecorkdesigns.com; http://www.newscentral.exsees.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.mediawebapps.com.)

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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! After the fact–after events unfold—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, “Sure!”

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.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

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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“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)

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

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.

spoons

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.

way of wisdom the_t_nv

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

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

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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I was talking to a few aliens the other day–little green guys from outer space–trying to explain some earth-phenomena, since life in their galaxy is so different from ours.

First, a bit of background to explain what prompted the conversation.

Elena, our two-year old granddaughter, and I were exploring the church grounds across the street from her house.  She loves looking for treasures: sticks, stones, acorns, leaves, etc.

 

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On this particular day I noticed the oak trees sporting chubby little buds. Another pair of trees were bursting with bud-clusters, ready to explode into bright pink finery.

Elena and I inspected the juvenile growth. I tried to explain what would soon happen. But with no remembrance of last spring, her understanding was no doubt very limited. I might as well be explaining this to an alien, I thought.

That’s when my imagination kicked in.

What if inhabitants from another galaxy did come to visit Earth? And what if they had never seen buds or seeds before?  Imagine trying to educate them on the process of germination…

“Now, inside this seed is the beginning of life. If we plant it in soil, making sure to choose a sunny spot, and we shower it with water when the weather doesn’t supply rain, it will grow into a plant, bush, or tree.”

They look at me with doubt in their big, round eyes.

“I know it seems impossible. The seed is just a small, lifeless speck.  But I can tell you, having seen it happen repeatedly, that’s what seeds do.”

So the little green guys and I plant the seed in a sunny spot and shower it with water.

A few moments later, one of them wants to dig it up to see the first signs of life.

“Oh, no,” I explain. “It takes time for the water to seep into the seed and for the miracle of germination to take place. But believe me. If we come back in a week or ten days, there will be a little green shoot coming up out of the soil in that very spot.”

 

Oak sapling

 

They like the idea of green, but shake their little round heads in disbelief.

I have to admit.  The progression of tiny seeds to plants, much less tall trees, does sound ludicrous.

And yet that’s exactly what God does.

Sometimes our lives resemble brown, lifeless seeds. There is no sign of hope that circumstances might change for the better.

Sometimes we think it’s too late for a reversal of destiny. It seems our best, productive years are behind us.

Not so fast.

Consider George*, our friend who has retired.  Twice. During his first career, George worked his way up in law enforcement to chief of police; his second career, associate pastor. Ten years or so later, he and his wife moved north to be near family.  When the boxes were unpacked and the pictures hung on the walls, George sat down and thought, Now what? I’m not ready to park on the porch and drink iced tea. What can I do, Lord?

No immediate answer.

 

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One day George went golfing with his brother-in-law. They were paired with two more men at the course, to make a foursome. One just happened to be a high-ranking officer on the police force. As George and Tom* became acquainted, Tom expressed how they needed a chaplain on the force to minister to the officers. Stress was high, their jobs becoming more and more difficult as the years passed.

George’s heart started beating faster. A chaplain to police? Could this be the answer to his prayer? It would almost be like a merger of his first two careers into one challenging and fulfilling third career.

Yes, it was. For the next five or six years, George served as chaplain of police in his new community, impacting hundreds of lives in the name of Jesus.

We’ve all known people whose circumstances looked as promising as brown, lifeless seeds. Yet God caused miraculous change, and the lives of those folks burgeoned into glorious fruitfulness.

We can learn like those little aliens of my imagination. We can feed our hope by feasting on the miraculous springtime evidence around us. We can wait with confident expectation for the fulfillment of God’s plan.

And if hope seems all but gone, we can cling to the Source of hope.

 

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(“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”–Romans 15:13.)

 

*Names have been changed.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.dreamstime.com; http://www.brilliantbotany.com; http://www.imagkid.com; http://www.allposters.fr.; http://www.slideteam.net.)

 

 

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