Devotional Writing Feed

Happy Thanksgiving, tears or no tears

Happy Thanksgiving. It is a weird one, a tough one, and for many-a tearful one.

For us rule followers, we are not gathering with others today. The virus is raging, the hospital beds are full and the powers that be (medical and otherwise) strongly recommend that people stay home.

However, many in the USA aren’t. (See this story headline from BBC News: Coronavirus: Millions travel for Thanksgiving despite warnings)

The turkey is stuffed, the airports are jammed, the roads are full, the homes will be packed . . . and the virus will spread.

Even now, my eyes brim with tears as my heart longs to be “with” those I love. But for now, Facetime and phone calls will do. This virus won’t last. We will gather together again someday and I want to do what I can to ensure that all of us are together then—crying tears of joy.  

Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears. (Hebrews 12:17, MSG)

Happy Thanksgiving, tears or no tears. 


A year ago . . . I was in trouble

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Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. (James 5:13, NIV)

Is anyone among you in trouble? . . . I was.
Last month I had my yearly physical and it reminded me of my medical check-up a year ago (2019). At that time I was in trouble. I felt horrible and every day was getting worse. All my self-help efforts (better diet, more sleep, vitamins, more carbs, more protein, lots of water, … you name it) were futile. My brain wasn’t working (I was getting lost while driving), and my body wasn’t working (at one point I couldn’t walk)—I was sick.

My family physician ordered tests, made referrals and the gauntlet began. The doctors had no idea what the problem was, and I had no idea what lay ahead. It was a struggle, concern, frustration, inconvenience, and strangely, something that I initially left God out of in my life. I fell for the lie that I could handle it on my own:

Satan’s main strategy with God’s people has always been to whisper, “Don’t call, don’t ask, don’t depend on God to do great things. You’ll get along just fine if you just rely on your own cleverness and energy.” The truth of the matter is that the devil is not terribly frightened of our human efforts and credentials. But he knows his kingdom will be damaged when we lift up our hearts to God. –Jim Cymbala

Thankfully, in the midst of my pride and foolishness, the Holy Spirit mercifully nudged me with James 5:14, “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.” So that is what I did.

Let them pray . . . I did, and so did many others
I shared my need with my church, my family and my friends and they all prayed for me . . . and they kept praying for me. I’m so glad they did. My medical diagnosis was a rare condition (found in only five out of every one-million people) and it was unknown territory for the local doctors and medical specialists that were caring for me. Over the months following my diagnosis I had three major procedures to address the problem and all three failed. Then came the frustration, the anger, the medical bills, the questions and the doubt. All the while, people were praying—they were calling upon the Lord on my behalf.

Is anyone happy? . . . I am
People were praying and God was working . . . in my circumstances and in my heart. He had saved me from my sins forty years earlier and in my distress and struggle he saved me again—from myself. I was barely hanging on. Yet in the midst of my struggle, He made a way. I was sinking in despair, and He lifted me up. In my weakness, He gave me strength.  And when it seemed that all hope was gone, by God's grace and help, I found myself at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

After two trips to Minnesota and seemingly endless tests, needle pokes, scans, and a failed experimental procedure, I was scheduled for pancreatic surgery. All the while, my church, my friends and my family were continuing to call out to Jesus on my behalf. Thankfully, they kept praying.

Let them sing songs of praise . . . I will
In January, Dina and I made our third trip to Minnesota and I had pancreatic surgery. The doctor was able to remove the problem and I was physically healed! God made a way—He used the surgeon, the doctors and the hospital—and my health was restored. I am so thankful to the Lord for His help and healing. Every good gift comes from the Father above.

Here I am, free of the sickness and the struggle that plagued me a year ago—but it is bigger than that. True freedom began when I surrendered my all to Jesus and trusted the Lord with every step of the journey. I was in trouble and I obeyed God’s Word—I prayed and asked others to pray with me—and God helped.

A year ago . . . I was in trouble. But now I'm happy. Jesus has been so good and faithful to me. In the midst of my struggle He showed His hand at every point in my life, and I am thankful to say that through the challenging ordeal God gave me His peace, and my faith in Him has grown deeper and stronger. It was a test, but now I have a testimony. Along with the psalmist I can truly say, “In my distress, He has enlarged me,” (Ps. 4:1, KJV).

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.

Please take five minutes and check out the video below. It is a worship song that perfectly expresses my heart unto God. He is due Every Praise!

 


may our incense rise

IMG_5188I am currently making my way through the book of Leviticus. The rules, the details, the ornamentation, the sacrifices, the blood, the altar, the hyper focus on purity, and the seemingly meticulous minutiae, . . . wow. I don't begin to understand much of it, nor do I find it engaging reading. But through it all, I am getting a glimpse of the One upon whom it is all focused—the "Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne," (Rev. 5:6). 

The One is Jesus, the friend of sinners and the only one worthy to receive all power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"

I was up early this morning, clicking through YouTube, listening to songs of praise and worshiping the Lord, and I came upon the live version of "Psalm 34" by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. I have twice had the privilege to worship at the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City and . . . wow, what a blessing! The choir was amazing and the presence of the Lord was palpable.

This video of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir includes so many aspects of worship: scripture, sincerity, praise, joy, singing, prayer, reverence, freedom, abandon, tears and adoration. At the end it is beautiful and powerful to watch as the worshipers, awash in the presence of the Lord, lift their praise to Jesus, like incense arising from the altar,

. . . much like in Leviticus. 

 

 


“I can’t believe that I am graduating in just a few days. It went so fast.”

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This moment contains all moments.

     ―C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

 

 

 

The other day I taught my final Senior Seminar class of the semester. With the end of the school year in sight it is interesting to hear college students say things like, “I can’t believe that my student teaching experience is almost over,” or “I can’t believe that I am graduating in just a few days. It went so fast." 

It went so fast? Really?

Student teaching generally comes at the end of an Education Major’s college experience and is sixteen grueling weeks of early mornings and late nights, scores of assignments and hundreds of lesson plans. It is the culmination of the four-year experience that is known as college.

Four years . . . and it went so fast?

Completing student teaching and graduating from college are significant occasions in life, hurdles to clear and milestones to achieve. They represent those challenges in life that exist as big, scary, anxiety-laden question marks, that in the moment, we just want to “get through” or “be done with.”

But then suddenly, much to our surprise, they are . . . done.

When the goal is achieved and the challenge is behind us, we are left with the experience, the fun, the friendships, the memories—and the sense that it all went so fast.

It is times like these that resonate with the psalmist’s ominous words, “Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!” (Ps. 39:5, ESV)

A mere breath? Is there really such a thing? A breath is a small, brief and passing event, but oh so important.

Google says that the average person takes 24,000 breaths per day.  That is a lot of breaths, surely more than enough, you would think. But try holding your breath for a minute and you soon realize that every breath counts.

Breaths happen quickly, numerously and without notice. But the brief second that a breath takes does not lessen its value or importance.

Much like breaths in the midst of breathing, the moments of life, albeit meaningful, slip away subtly, silently and unnoticed. Our adventures, struggles, experiences, emotions and relationships are nuanced through things like perspective and hindsight and then meld and morph into a nostalgic longing we refer to as, “the good old days.”

It's ironic, but even the young long for the good old days. Andy, from The Office, says it well,

“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”

Regardless of whether it happened last month, last year, or a decade ago—as we reflect back on those good old days, we find ourselves saying of life, “It went so fast.”

It is here that we experience a mix of melancholy and regret—a feeling that something significant happened and yet, we missed it.

But we didn’t miss it, we lived it. Or did we?

This quandary leads me to the prayer of Moses in Psalm 90. In vs. 10 he reflects back on his life and says,

The length of our days is seventy years—

or eighty, if we have the strength;

yet their span is but trouble and sorrow,

for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

His words are startling. Moses spent forty years shepherding goats in anonymity and then another forty years wandering the desert with God’s people. Over his 120 year life span, he was a prince, a leader, a prophet and a deliverer. He was married, had children and grandchildren, took a stand against evil, stood on Holy ground, and walked and talked with God.

Moses lived a long, full and storied life, and yet we find him looking back with a sigh saying, “Wow, it went so fast.”

If he felt that way, what hope do we have?

Two verses later (vs. 12), we find in Moses’ prayer the answer to this dilemma,

Teach us to number our days aright,

that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

What does it mean to “gain a heart of wisdom”?

Wisdom comes from God. It is the good, helpful, guiding, life-giving way to act, think and live. It is God’s mind and the Holy Spirit’s prompting in our being and doing. It’s the way to live well, appreciate what matters most and take nothing for granted—not even a single breath.

Maybe gaining a “heart of wisdom” is liken to knowing you are in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.

So how do we gain this heart of wisdom?

Moses prays, “Teach us to number our days aright”.

To “number our days” is to recognize the immense value in the current moment. Upon this writing, the calendar tells me that today’s date is Wednesday, May 2, 2018. This date on the calendar is so much more than a number. There has never been a May 2, 2018, and there never will be again. Yesterday (the past) is gone and there is no guarantee of tomorrow (the future).  Today (the present) is all each of us have, and another word for present, is gift.

Each day is a gift.

God holds the gift of a day in high esteem. So much so that He initiates each one with hope, forgiveness and love. His mercies are new every morning and are as breathtaking and life-giving as a sunrise.

God gives us sustenance for each day’s journey. He feeds our body and soul with “daily” bread—with Jesus, who is our “hidden manna” (Rev. 2:17). And as we journey, God goes with us. On the path of life, we are to rely upon God and the Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in us, as we live every minute of the day.

David Roper says, “Time flies and so do we.” This is a hard truth that should cause us to live mindfully and carefully.

To “number our days aright” is to live them well and with purpose, and that begins with loving God and loving those around us. When we do this we can savor those moments, relationships and experiences that fly by so quickly.

Days and breaths are too numerous to count, but both are so important. Don't wish them away or waste them. Number them aright, not by counting them, but rather, by making them count.

For you can be sure that the day, the event, the challenge, the goal, the dream, and even the four-year college experience, will be over and done with before you know it, and you will find yourself saying,

“I can’t believe that I am graduating in just a few days. It went so fast.”

 


ascending beyond reach like a balloon on a string

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I just spent the week of Christmas at Disneyland with my wife and my two daughters.  The magic of the place combined with the lights, decorations and songs of Christmas made for a heartwarming and unforgettable experience.

The big crowds, long lines and splash of rain that we encountered at the park served as a mere backdrop to the glittering fun, laughter, smiles and love that we shared together.

Disneyland is a place of light—exciting the rides, adorning the shops, sparkling the castle and glowing on the faces of children and adults alike.

Even the helium filled balloons sold on the street corners of Downtown Disney radiate with light. For a price, you can hold the string and add to the dazzle—at least for a little while.

Unfortunately, just as sparks fly upward, so do amusement park balloons.

“Time flies,” and our moments together in that magical place were over before we knew it.  In the midst of the delight and the fun, the days slipped from our grasp and the vacation was gone—ascending out of reach like a balloon on a string.

My heart aches as that lighted balloon continues to glide up, up, and away. 

But it is not entirely out of sight. Its steady flicker fills and illumines my heart, and in my mind and memory I can see and hear that balloon bobbing and dancing to the hopeful music of Christmas.


Reading...Why?

DSCF2858 "It is impossible to read too much, but always keep before you why you read.  Remember that 'the need to receive, recognize, and rely on the Holy Spirit' is before all else."  

      -Oswald Chambers, Approved Unto God

 On the front wall of every elementary classroom I ever taught in I posted the slogan, "Readers are Leaders."  For seven years of my life I enjoyed the immense privilege of working as a teacher of elementary school students.  Reading was a high priority in my classroom.  I did everything I could to encourage my students to read.  I read books aloud to them, I talked with them about books that I was reading, I celebrated the books they were reading... I modeled for them a love of reading.  (It was easy, because I love to read.)  I told my students that if they ever had a spare moment in the classroom I wanted them to do one of three things--they could either (1) Read, (2) Read, or (3) Read.  (Fourth graders love this kind of stuff.)  I believed that reading would make my students better readers, better writers, better communicators and ultimately, influential people (leaders).

As a Christ follower, reading plays an important role in my spiritual formation and growth.  I love reading the Bible, books about the Bible and books about God's presence and work in and through the lives of people around the world.  My reading habit goes beyond the "religious" genre.  I read poetry, fiction, memoir, history, philosophy, biography and sometimes (but not often enough) I even read the directions.  As a Christian, I read so I can grow in Lord and so I can help others along the way in their spiritual journey with Jesus. 

Reading is a good thing and it is important, but Oswald Chambers reminds me that for a Christ follower there is something more important--the Holy Spirit.  Reading feeds the mind, but the Holy Spirit feeds and guides the heart.  The life of the mind, with all of its search for truth, analysis of facts, diverse viewpoints, critical thinking and intellectual creativity is delightful, but is subsidiary to the life of the heart.  Reading, learning and knowing are good (and from God), but "... 'the need to receive, recognize, and rely on the Holy Spirit' is before all else."  I like what Paul says in Ephesians 4:30 regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian:

"His [God's] Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself." (MSG)  

As a Christian read all you can, but always keep before you the question, "Why do I read?"  Do you read to acquire knowledge?... to gain power?  (It has been said that "knowledge is power.")  Do you read to become more Christlike?  Do you read to gain wisdom?  Do you read with your heart in mind?  The writer in Proverbs 4:23 refers to the heart (not the mind) as the "wellspring of life."

Why do you read?  Do you read to "lead" or to be "led"?  As Christians, I believe that we are called to do both.  In the life of the mind and in the life of the heart we are to rely on the Holy Spirit "before all else," allowing God to make us "fit for Himself."

I still like the slogan, "Readers are Leaders," but thanks to Oswald Chambers I have a new slogan to add to the wall of my classroom and/or office:

"It is impossible to read too much, but always keep before you why you read."



2020...oops, I mean 2010

DSCF2319 This morning, as I was making an entry in my journal, I accidently typed the number 2020 in as the year on the date rather than 2010.  The year 2020 looked weird to me and seeing the numbers on the paper caused me to pause a moment and think about the fact that in just a very short time I will be typing 2020 for real—that is, if the Lord allows me the privilege.

My typing of the year 2020 sparked some thoughts and questions in my heart and mind:  “Where will I be and what will I be doing in 2020 and what am I going to do with the next ten years of my life?”  This led me to the broader question of, “What am I going to do with the next twenty-five years of my life?

It has been nearly a quarter of a century since I graduated from college and if I am granted a life of three score and ten years (or four score, if I have the strength) then I have twenty-five more years of life to work, serve the Lord and live on this earth.  In some respects I am only half way through my working/professional life.  I find this thought encouraging as I truly feel that I am just getting started.

I have just enough experience in life, work and ministry to know that there is so much that I don’t know.  I am hungry for learning and growth, and I am committed to helping others along the way in their journey of life and faith.  I have finally realized that I can do all things through Christ and can really mess things up without Him.  I want to be a good and Godly husband to my wife, father to my two precious daughters, friend, brother, son, leader, teacher and person.  I want to finish this DMin degree in leadership (…just a few more chapters to write…) and I want to be available to God—“Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.”

As I think about life and time on this earth my mind goes to Moses’ words in Psalm 90.  He reminds me that life has its share of trouble and sorrow and as David Roper says, “Time flies and so do we.”  However, at this moment, I have the luxury and opportunity of time, life and health and I need to remember that each moment of every day matters.  Moses says that it is in the numbering of our days, the recognition of their presence, worth and privilege, that we gain a “heart of wisdom.”  I want to live wisely and well.

Moses says to number our days—not our weeks, months or years—but rather, our days.  Just as a DMin dissertation is written one word at a time and a building is built one brick at a time, so our lives are determined, established and lived one day at a time. 

So today I am going to quit thinking about ten years from now, or even twenty-five years from now, and instead I am going to focus on... today; I am going to borrow the words of Moses and pray: “May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon me; and establish the work of my hands,” and with the help of the backspace bar and the delete key I am going to change the typo of “2020” in my journal to “2010.”

 


The Best Time

DSCF8427 I used to be an elementary school teacher and I used to note and talk about days like Arbor Day with my students.  One year we even planted a tree in the middle of the school playground.  Last Friday was Arbor Day in my home state of Idaho.  I like trees.  I like the paper they supply, the wood they furnish for homes and the beauty and shade they provide in life.

An Arbor Day related quote I recently came across has me thinking this morning.  Here it is:

"The best time to plant a tree is twenty-five years ago. . . The second best time is today."

In our lives there is not much that can be done in and with the past, especially with those things that we regret.  If we are smart we will learn from the past and then let the rest go.

In Lamentations 3 I find some amazing words from the story of God.

The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words.

I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.

Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!  His mercies never cease.

Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.

I say to myself, "The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in Him!"

What we did or didn't do twenty-five years ago may or may not be easily dismissed by us.  But I am convinced that God is not nearly as hung up on our past as we are.  His mercies are new every morning and He wants us to look to Him and live in Him today.

Arbor Day has come and gone in Idaho.  Jesus tells us that "Today is the day of salvation."  Because of God's mercy, today is the best time for us to look to Him.  Let God plant a tree of hope in your heart today.


Don't

The last half of Ephesians chapter 4 is chock full of a whole bunch of "don'ts."

  • don't be rebellious
  • don't lie
  • don't pretend to be something you're not
  • don't seek revenge
  • don't stay angry
  • don't drive angry (sorry, that's not from Eph. 4, it's from the movie, Groundhog Day)
  • don't steal
  • don't use foul language
  • don't talk bad about people
  • don't hold a grudge

All of these "don'ts" are good advice--even the "don't drive angry."  But I think they pale in comparison to the "don'ts" of verse 30 in Ephesians 4.

"Don't grieve God.  Don't break his heart.  His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself.  Don't take such a gift for granted." (MSG)

Maybe you should read that again...

Do you realize the immensity of that verse?  What a gift.  You were made to have the Spirit of God living within your heart and throughout your life.  Anything less simply breaks the heart of God.  You were made for so much more. 

You know as well as I do that there are many more "don'ts" that we could add to the list above.  Even the most harmless of them become grievous if they grieve God.  Take Paul's advice--if you are even thinking about dabbling in something that will be detrimental to the most intimate part of your life...Don't.