Devotional Writing Feed

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.


The Day After Easter

The other day I was talking to a friend of mine that lives in China.  She is a teacher and said that she was looking forward to a four day Easter weekend.  She had Friday off for Good Friday and Monday off for Tomb Sweeping Day. 

Tomb Sweeping Day?  Of course I Googled it.  Here is what I found:

“Tomb Sweeping Day or Ching Ming Festival  ("Pure Brightness Festival") is a traditional Chinese holiday celebrated on the 106th day after the winter solstice, which occurs on April 4 or April 5 of the Gregorian calendar.  It marks the middle of spring and is a sacred day of the dead.  For the Chinese, Tomb Sweeping Day is primarily a festival for remembering, honoring and worshiping ones' ancestors.”

This year, due to the calendar, Tomb Sweeping Day falls on the Monday following Easter Sunday.  That is today for me.  This morning I didn’t wake up to a day off.  I am headed to work--hopeful.  I don’t plan on spending the day in the graveyard offering food and worship to my ancestors.  Rather, I plan on living for and worshiping Jesus. 

Because, as the angel at the tomb said, “He is not here.  He is risen!”


Teachable

3318169665_353a21ecca_b Proverbs 12:15 says,

"Fools think their own way is right,

but the wise listen to others."

I try to read a chapter of Proverbs every morning.  I have been doing this a long time and every day I am challenged to consider my ways and to incorporate some of the wisdom that I find in the book into my life.

I find it amazing that Solomon, the writer of Proverbs and the wisest person who ever lived, says time and again that it is the wise who seek counsel and it is the wise who listen to others.

In other words, the wise among us are those that put away their pride and who are teachable.

Last February I spent a week at an orphanage in India and during my days there I had the privilege of teaching some Math and Science lessons to a group of 5th graders who lived at the orphanage.   What a delight that was for me.  The students sat up on the edge of their seats drinking in every word of "wisdom" that I had for them.  They were ready to answer questions, participate in the lessons and they were quick to listen.

There is a time to talk and a time to listen.  Listening puts us in a position where we are able to be taught--teachable.

I have so much to learn from the Holy Spirit, King Solomon and those precious orphans in India.  As I put away my pride and live in a teachable manner, I hope that I am a delight to the ultimate teacher--God.



Tuesday Night

It is almost eleven o'clock at night.  I just got home from work for the second time this evening.  I got called away from my home earlier in the evening to go and help solve a problem at one of our school's campus dormitories.  It is late, I am tired and I should be justifiably "grouchy" about putting in a sixteen hour day, but instead I am brimming over with gratitude towards God.

At the International School in South Korea where I work, we board nearly 220 students.  I got called into one of our high school dormitories this evening to assist the Residence Director with a potentially serious situation.  The issue was resolved rather quickly and as I was walking out the front door of the dormitory, headed for home, I noticed the dorm students gathering in the recreation room for a time of late night Bible study and prayer.  I decided to stay.

As the kids gathered and sat on couches, chairs and pillows throughout the room many of them said "hello" to me and acted surprised to see me in their "home."  The evening devotional time was simply a time of silent prayer as the R.A. on duty strummed quietly on her guitar.

As I sat there praying with a bunch of 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grade boys and girls from different places, experiences and cultures throughout the world, I quickly realized that I was in a place that many would call "holy ground." 

Tonight I sat and prayed with children of missionaries whose parents are serving in very "dark" places in the world.  The kids know much better than I of struggle and sacrifice and they know what a privilege it is to be attending school and living in safety in a dormitory with friends and adults that care about them and love them.

I prayed with teenagers who are essentially, "on their own."  They have been living away from their upwardly mobile, affluent parents for years and they are tasked with the responsibility of achieving educational success and subsequently a "ticket" to the good life of Western Education.  They are alone except for the fact that they have dorm parents, good friends and God.

For me there was something special about praying with these kids tonight.  As I prayed, I wondered what the students were thinking about and praying for.  Tears filled my eyes as I remembered the joys, the pain, the fears and the questions that filled my teenage heart so long ago.  Tonight God reminded me that He was with me then and he is with the students in the dorm now. 

God also reminded me that He is with me now too.

It is late. The house is quiet.  My wife and daughters are asleep and I have had a long day.  I am tired, but I am not feeling alone, discouraged or justifiably grouchy.  Rather, I am at peace.  I know that God is with me, He loves me and I am thankful.

By the way, He loves you too.  G'nite.

Taxi Thoughts...

DSCF9617 I had just spent a fantastic three day vacation, with my family and some friends, on a beach on the Southern tip of the South Korean peninsula.

I was in a taxi with my daughter Becca and her friends, on the way from the hotel in Busan to the train station.  We were beginning the journey home.  In the back seat the kids were all bemoaning the fact that they had to go back to school and do lots of schoolwork, projects etc.  This made me think about my own responsibilities that I had to face upon returning from vacation.  As I listened to the kids and to my own thoughts of anxiety and dread regarding the "real life" responsibilities that I had to return to, I realized that the good time that I had just had was beginning to recede in my mind.

I don't think this is right.  Real life and worries should not be allowed to consume our minds so that we forget the blessings of God in our lives.

There is always a real life to return to after a time of goodness, joy and blessing in our lives.  God does not want us to allow these pressures to overshadow his presence in our lives.  I want to remember the blessings, continue to smile at the memories of Busan and savor the time that I had together with my family and my friends in that place.  I can't allow the pressures of real life to cloud my thinking and blind me from the goodness that God has bestowed into my life.

As I think about it--most people in the world will never have a time like I just spent in Busan with my family and friends.  Along with that, most people in the world will never have the opportunity to feel the pressure and responsibility of the challenges that I am facing in life.  I have a challenging yet fulfilling job; I am working on a graduate degree and have some deadlines looming; I have many relationships and friendships to maintain and invest in...all of this is weighty...but oh such a privilege. 

I pray that God will help me to see things this way.  I now understand a bit better Jesus' comment that "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven."

God help me to live a life of gratitude and to keep my mind and heart fixed on you.

Life to the Hilt

3429689923_cd7171db21_b “Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be in the will of God.”Jim Elliot

These are the words of a man who lived his life in the light of the Resurrection.  Just over fifty years ago Jim Elliot and four missionary companions were speared to death on a remote river beach in Ecuador, South America.  The missionaries were there to share the gospel of Jesus Christ—the Risen One—with the Auca Indian tribe.  They gave their lives to share with others about the God who is greater than death.  In the light of the Resurrection, they found the freedom to truly live.

How are you living your life?  Are you living in freedom?  As the sun rises over the empty tomb on this Easter morning are you living in the light of the Resurrection?  Are you living to the hilt your life and your situation in God?  Regardless of where you are, what your condition, or whom you are with—you can live your story fully and completely for Jesus Christ—leaving the details to be played out in the eternal light of the Resurrection.

Today, the Auca Indian tribe exists as a community of Christ followers.  The warriors who brandished the machetes and spears so long ago are now preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to their own people and to neighboring tribes.  Some of the warriors have passed on from this life and are now walking the streets of heaven with Jesus, Jim Elliot and the other missionaries.  In the light of the Resurrection, their story continues—and so does ours.  Eternity will tell the stories of our lives.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.”Jim  Elliot

He is Risen!  Live life to the hilt.


Inching Through Holy Saturday

3429689061_cbb5db0f55_b I woke up this morning feeling a sense of dread for the day.  I felt blank and blasé.  I didn’t want to get out of bed and I have no idea why.  I have no regrets.  I am not sick.  It is not raining outside.  I even got to bed at a decent time the night before.  There is no reason for me to feel this way.

Today is Holy Saturday—the day after the crucifixion of Jesus and the day before His glorious resurrection.

I did finally get out of bed this morning and I read John 19—it is the account in the Bible of the crucifixion of Jesus.  As I read about Jesus on the cross, my attention went to those who witnessed the horrific event:  Mary, John, the disciples, Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus and the others.

Chapter 19 in the book of John details the crucifixion of Jesus and chapter 20 tells of the resurrection of Christ on Easter morning.  But what about Holy Saturday?  In my Bible there is an inch of space between the end of John 19 and the beginning of John 20 that is as blank and empty as I felt this morning.

If they slept at all, I wonder how Mary, John, the disciples, Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus and the others felt on that Saturday morning?  I can’t imagine-but what I do know is that their doubts, questions, feelings and fears did not go unaddressed.

I don’t think we are supposed to spend too much time and energy in the realm of the painful, awkward silence of Holy Saturday—rather, give it its allotted space and read on to the next chapter.  We need to rise up from the gloom and despair of Holy Saturday morning realizing that with each tick of the clock we are inching closer to the hope and life of Easter morning.

"Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." (Ephesians 5:14, NIV)



Life, Real Life

3394391321_d689ab24bf_b I am currently reading the biography of Amy Carmichael, A Chance to Die.  So far, I am inspired and humbled by my look into Miss Carmichael’s life.  According to the world’s standards, her life is unremarkable—poor, unknown, difficult and mundane.  But according to heavenly standards, hers is a life of riches, meaning, wisdom and love.  One of the main reasons that I read the biographies of followers of Christ is to gain a bit of wisdom from their lives.  I need wisdom for living.

This morning I read Proverbs 8 from the Message translation of the Bible.   It is all about wisdom.  In the chapter, “wisdom” is personified as a “lady” that was made by God (Proverbs 8:22) who can be seen, heard, dwelt with, heeded, recognized and found.

“When you find me, you find life, real life.” (Proverbs 8:35, MSG)

As I write this, I am living, and if you are reading this, you are alive too.  But, in the midst of life, have we found “real life?”  Lady Wisdom says that real life is found in her.  Where is she to be found?  Is wisdom only found in the halls of education, in the quiet of the monastery, and within the walls of the church?  Lady Wisdom says that, “those who look for me find me.”  Where?

“Do you hear Lady Wisdom calling? Can you hear Madame Insight raising her voice?  She's taken her stand at First and Main, at the busiest intersection.  Right in the city square where the traffic is thickest, she shouts, "You—I'm talking to all of you, everyone out here on the streets!” (Proverbs 8:1-4, MSG)

Wisdom is found smack dab in the middle of life.  It is not reserved for only a few, but rather it is available to all.  Wisdom for living finds its source in God and the scripture says that wisdom is calling out to each one of us in the very midst of our daily lives.  In other words—God is calling us to live in Him.

Every day, along the mundane streets and in the midst of the snarled traffic of our lives (our biographies), God is there, calling out to us—offering us mercy, grace, hope, wisdom and … “life, real life.” 

Are you listening?