For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. Song of Solomon 2:11,12
Driving around my neighborhood, I see people out in the yard with trays of annuals, pyramids of fresh soil, and garden tools strewn about. There are printed signs in other yards that declare a renovation project is about to begin. It looks like everybody is ready for a fresh beginning.
I don’t know where to start. Should I work on the front courtyard with its large decorative pots? Should I go to the back garden that needs a touch of color? Would I be better served by just giving everything a thorough cleaning? A new season of nature provides the opportunity for us to give everything a fresh look. And any day can be a new beginning in our spiritual lives.
I love Paul’s admonition to “forget those things which are behind and reach forth unto those things which are before” (Phil. 3:13). Our spiritual lives also have seasons—what about moving into a time of spiritual renewal, of letting go of the past (even the good things), to see what God has for us at this time? He has already said that “goodness and mercy will follow” us all the days of our lives. Essentially, our past failures are graced by him, so we can let them go. And in letting go, our arms are open to embrace this new thing that he wants to do in us.
Might God want to heal those wounds that we’re not quite ready to release? Do you remember the man at the pool of Bethesda who had been ill for thirty-eight years? He kept coming to the pool hoping he would be cured, and then Jesus asks him a curious question, “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6) Could it be that his illness became his point of identity just as our pain and suffering single us out? The man had to make a choice—give up the known for what faith had to offer. Jesus asks us the same question: “Do you want to be made well?” Do we want to become whole in him so that the attention (and glory) move from our pain to his plan?
In this new season, might God want us to forgive that grudge we’ve nurtured for decades? We all know the futility of unforgiveness, and yet we sometimes cling to wrongs from ancient history. (I remember Catherine Marshall’s writing that she had to forgive Henry VIII for his villainy.) Forgiveness is a good thing to practice in this new season.
Forgetting the past and pressing on to God’s promise for the future… Spring is a good time for new beginnings. We are new creations with the Holy Spirit constantly working in us to make us more like Jesus. Why not put away all those things “that hinder and the sin that so easily entangles” (Heb. 12:1) and joyously move into a new beginning?
It’s about time.
Father of all things, we ask that you help us to get rid of everything past that hinders us from moving into this new season with you. We don’t want the tiniest thing to hold us back. Strengthen us with all goodness to live in you and to do your will. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
I often hear people complain about the God of the Old Testament. “He’s harsh and unloving.” “He’s judgmental and is unjust.” “He’s distant.” They do not see the relationship between that God and the Son in the New Testament who calls him Father. Do you ever wonder at what some see as disconnect between the two depictions of God in the Old and New Testaments?
During this Lent time I came across a reflection that was so graphic, I had to share it. John’s Gospel begins with, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” So God and the Word are one. John goes on to say in the 14th verse of chapter 1 that the Word was Jesus. If we make an equation of this, we have: Word=God=Jesus. In our Trinitarian belief, we say that God is the three persons of the Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
When we carefully read and discern what John is saying to us, we see that Jesus was from the beginning; he was with God and was the agent of creation; and that when God spoke the Word, his utterance was Jesus. Jesus is the tangible, emperical essence of his Father God. Remember, that he said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:3). And, “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him“ (John 14:7).
The Word that came out of God’s mouth was Jesus. In the Old Testament, while the Father had been distant from almost everyone but prophets and those to whom he chose to reveal himself, in the New Testament, he comes out into the open, and we see him through the person of Jesus. Perhaps the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ verbal picture of the true nature of the Father as seen in and through Jesus. When Jesus said, “I came to fulfill [the Law]” (Matthew 5:16, 17), as much as anything, he’s saying, “This is the true nature of my Father.”
If we really want to know the Father, we must come to know Jesus.
Father, there are many things in the Bible that are hard for us to understand. Teach us through the inspiration of your Holy Spirit that we may perfectly love and know you. In Jesus, the Word. AMEN.
I being in the way, the Lord led me… Genesis 24:27 (KJV)
Being in a traveling frame of mind, I am thinking about the various folks I’ve shared planes with in the recent past and wondering who I will meet on these flights to Spain. In our “business” we always pray for divine appointments. While it’s obvious that some passengers are heaven-sent, and others are, well, opportunities, I’ve had some memorable encounters.
Like the man who disrupted the whole section of seats near us when the passenger ahead of his wife abruptly lowered the seat, spilling wine all over his wife. Attendants raced to the scene to calm the husband who temper was quickly escalating. The two combatants were safely and literally separated.
And then there was the extended family that sat on either side of the jumbo jet and proceeded to discuss family events over the heads of the whole middle section at about 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. That was a long flight.
One darling little girl heading to Africa from Europe had obviously just seen the movie “Frozen.” We were all serenaded with ditties for a while. You can guess her favorite: when she got to “To Let It Go,” she did. One could accurately describe her enthusiasm as voce alta, singing with a LOUD voice.
Of course, we’ve experienced hours of crying babies whose little ears were suffering from the altitude, and there was the little girl who sat behind me sobbed silently. I began making little playful gestures with my fingers over the back of the seat. And then I drew cartoons on the pad I always carry just in case. The cartoons caught her interest, and she responded with her own set of drawings. I learned she was flying alone and was scared to death.
But the passenger I won’t forget was Aisha. I had missed my flight from Frankfort to Moscow because of a glitch with my visa and so didn’t make a most important meeting with Dr. Maria Tschernoskaya. God intervened, and I was able to get a new visa and make the evening flight. I prayed that no one would sit near me so I could catch up on the work that had been neglected due to my delay. That prayer was not to be answered.
I tried to appear busy and unapproachable as the plane filled, and an attractive young lady sat one seat over. We exchanged polite greetings, and then I turned back to my papers. But Aisha was not to be daunted. “What takes you to Moscow? What will you be doing?” Just what I wanted to avoid. I curtly answered her questions, adding that I was to have met with one of the foremost experts in care for orphans and vulnerable children.
Aisha listed quietly and then said, “I work with someone who is an expert in care for orphans and vulnerable children.”
Somewhat interested, I added, “This woman has a model project, and we were to meet to collaborate on a program for all of Eastern Europe.”
“The woman I work with also consults with many people who come to see her work in Moscow,” Aisha remarked.
Finally, I described our vision, and Aisha revealed that she was an Oxford professor who had come to work with—yes, Dr. Maria Tschernoskaya. Together they were developing methods that could be replicated in many of the former Soviet Union facilities.
Eating humble pie, I began to question Aisha, and for the remainder of the flight we exchanged notes, and I wrote as fast as my hand would allow. Aisha with her command of the English language was much more proficient in describing the program than Dr. Tschernoskaya ever could have been. Everything I’d planned to discuss with the noted expert was addressed in my evening with Aisha.
As the plane was preparing for landing, Aisha turned to me and said, “I wasn’t supposed to be on this plane.”
“Nor was I.” I added.
What divine appointments will there be en route to Spain?
Father, why am I often surprised at your loving ways? Thank you for always going before us, and thank you that you’re way ahead of us on this flight to Spain. AMEN.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8, 9
I’ll be leaving for Spain in a few days. One of our clergymen will be ordained at a church in Madrid, and several of us are going to represent our churches. As always, I go down the check list of what I need for an international trip: clothes, meds, reading material, and most important of all MY PASSPORT.
One of our missioners had spent months raising funds for a mission in Russia and was so excited to be making his first visit. He was all packed and ready. He was on time to meet the team at the counter, but when it was his time to check in, he discovered that he was lacking that important document: he had left his passport at home, and there wasn’t time to get it and return for the flight. Some things just can’t be overlooked.
Salvation is a little like a passport. It’s that assurance that we get to our destination. We can apply for the passport, but there’s no way we can earn it—it’s relational. We get our passports by virtue of being citizens of this country, and we trust that the standing of our government is such that we have safe passage.
I’m so happy that I don’t have to worry about whether I’m good enough or whether I’ve done enough. Jesus, in his perfect obedience and love of the Father, made provision for my journey and for my final welcome. He’s even provided for companionship on the way and grace for the turbulence. We don’t have to worry about losing baggage—in fact, we’re better off without any.
I’ll be leaving for Spain in a few days, and my passport is already sitting beside my suitcase.
Father, we are eternally grateful for your divine generosity in providing everything we will ever need through Christ Jesus. AMEN.
But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. James 4:6 (KJV)
Corrie ten Boom recalled her anxiety when family friends experienced a death. She talked with her father, wondering how she would be prepared for such an event. Her father gently asked if she remembered when he handed her the ticket for their ride to Amsterdam. In wonderment, Corrie answered, “When I get on the train.” “And that is what God’s grace is like,” responded Casper ten Boom. “We get it just when we need it.”
Do you ever wonder if you’ll be ready for The Test? I have been anticipating the many changes that I envision for myself as I see the lives of those around me going in directions they’d never anticipated. One thing we can depend on is the constancy of change. Nothing alive remains stagnant. And yet, God promises to supply all our needs, and I believe that is inclusive in every sense: all physical, all material, all emotional, all psychological, and, of course, all grace.
Grace is probably not something we can store up, but we can learn in the short run how to access the grace we need for hard times. We can practice humbly asking; we can learn to trust; and we can expect God to respond to his loving child. No point in wasting time fantasizing about the future. We know that he has prepared for us wonders beyond anything we can think or imagine, and we also know that it is likely there will be dips en route.
As trust grows and as we become more secure in our love for him and his for us, grace becomes a habit. We become more expectant of this precious gift that will carry us through whatever lies in our future, and we understand that his grace has no limit. Therefore, we should come with boldness to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and may find grace for help in time of need (Heb. 4:16). There is enough to carry us joyfully to our destination.
Father, grace is your attribute in us that assures our safe passage from one season to the next and from one shore to the other. Cover and saturate us with your grace. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21
Can we play “Let’s Pretend” for just a few minutes? Let’s say we’re with that motley group of disciples who were following Jesus on the eventful day when the rich young man approaches him. Obviously, the young man has an interest in Jesus and his teachings and has a desire to increase his understanding of spiritual things. He genuinely wants to know what he should do to gain eternal life.
You remember the story. Jesus reminds the young man that he’s to keep the commandments, to which the young man respectfully responds that he’s already done that. He probably grew up the way many of us did—listening to the Bible stories and learning rules. He most likely was a dutiful young man who was admired and held out as an example to the other young folks.
Then Jesus gets to the heart of the matter: “Go; sell everything; and give it all away.”
What would be your first reaction? Jesus didn’t say that to me. What if he DID say it to you? We know that he said it to that one young man at a specific point in history.
But WHAT IF? Would you be panicked with fear? Would you be squirming? Would you think, where do I begin? Would you think that the voice surely couldn’t be God? Would you, like the young man, go away sorrowful?
Of course, God wants to provide for us and to meet our needs. That’s not what this story is about. It’s about love and priorities and trust. A loving Father wants to be first in our lives and wants our trust to be in him to take care of us and not in the things that occupy so much of our time and energy and space. Does it make you even a tiny bit uncomfortable to think that God just might ask you to make him a greater priority in your life?
When we were helping our parents downsize so they could get the proper medical treatment and care needed, I worked for about a year going through closets and cupboards to sort out the accumulations of decades, the things that might be needed someday. My father’s workshop was the most difficult. My sweet son-in-law helped me by hauling away countless loads of hardware and junk that were part of my dad’s treasures. (Curiously, Dad’s Alzheimer’s provoked him to “hide” a lifetime of expensive collections in the big garbage bin. You know what happened.)
Jesus said that our hearts are with our treasure. What would we say if he did ask us to give it all away?
Father, search our hearts. May you find that Jesus is Lord, and that everything we desire is in him. May we hold loosely everything that we have, for we are merely stewards. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.
As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake. Psalm 17:15
Our missionaries have had an ongoing relationship with Nebbi Diocese in remote, northwest Uganda for more than twenty years. I once spent a six-and-a-half-month visit with them working on a project some years ago, and I return to Nebbi once or twice almost every year. Besides its breathtaking natural beauty, I love the people of Nebbi. They are warm, friendly, and they love Jesus.
In Nebbi, the people have a beautiful greeting for one another. When one approaches the other, he says, “Pakabed ni Yesu,” (meaning “praise Jesus”). And the response is, “Yesu romo,” (“Jesus satisfies.”) Isn’t this a lovely way to greet one another? And the people live in that truth.
Having few financial resources, the Christians of Nebbi have learned to rely on Jesus. My friend Helen prayed for an old gentleman who was experiencing back pains. The next time she saw him, she asked about his health. He looked at her in surprise and remarked that she had prayed for him, and he was fine—of course. The Nebbi folk trust Jesus and look to him every day to supply their daily needs.
In an environment where we have more than we need, I wonder if we know how much we really need Jesus. He told us in John 15:5 that without him we can do nothing. Do we realize how truly impoverished we are without him? And even with all our stuff, are we satisfied unless we’ve found our satisfaction in him?
I came in my office one day and found a lovely pillow that had been embroidered with the text, “Yesu Romo.” One of my young friends had heard me talk about Nebbi and had the pillow made for me. It sits in my favorite chair now and every morning reminds me of the only true source of satisfaction: Jesus.
Father, you open your hands wide and fill us with yourself. Nothing can satisfy us like Jesus. May we never seek those things that only temporarily slake our thirst. Thank you for Jesus. AMEN