BIRD TALK

 

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.  I Timothy 1:7  (NKJV)

 

Have you been as baffled as I at the outpouring of fear and anxiety that’s coming from so many mouths today?  And many of these concerns are from the Millennials, those whom one would think would be most hopeful of all.  The concerns that are being voiced are based on speculations, not facts.  Where, I wonder, are we placing our trust?

When my brother and I were growing up, Momo had a little ceramic plaque on the wall of the kitchen.  It read,

“Said the robin to the sparrow, ‘I should really like to know
why these anxious human beings rush about and worry so.’

Said the sparrow to the robin, ‘Friend, I think that it must be
that they have no Heavenly Father such as cares for you and me.'”

The same God who saw our forefathers suffer and survive a revolution while building a nation founded on godly principles is the same One who sustained a divided nation during the Civil War to later reunite them.  He’s the same One who took us through the Great War and kept us when we might have perished during World War II.  On and on we could go through our modern history to see God’s mercy and blessing even when we so little deserve it.

God is still in charge.  If we really want to make a difference in our land, we can pray and then act.  Oswald Chambers says that prayer does not change things.  Prayer changes us, and we change things.  We embrace the Sermon on the Mount,* and we begin to live it out.  As we dispel fear through obedience, love and power and a sound mind fill the vacuum.  Who are we that we should be identified by our fears and our uncertainties?

God is still God and still waits for us to cast all our cares on him because he cares for us (I Peter 5:7).  He is the solitary power in the universe who longs to be gracious to [us]; therefore he will rise up to show [us] compassion (Isaiah 30:18).  “The eternal God is [our] refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms…” (Deuteronomy 33:2)

Let’s stop whining about our circumstances, whatever they are, and look to Jesus who takes away our fears, is our refuge, and who loves and cares for us.

 

Father, sometimes we get caught up in our secular culture and forget that you are still God.  We give you all our anxieties and fears and ask, instead, for your love, your power, and your sound mind.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

 

*If you haven’t read the Sermon on the Mount lately, take a little time to really chew on it:  Matthew 5-7.

IN THANKSGIVING

 

 …give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  I Thessalonians 5:18

 

Father, time and space are insufficient to thank you for your presence in our lives.  But you did tell us to give thanks, and in our country we are blessed to have a day set aside to do just that.

THANK YOU for everything that is entailed by being your child: everything that pertains to life and godliness (II Peter 1:3) and to eternal life with you forever (I John 5:11).

 THANK YOU for my family who loves and serves you faithfully and that we come together in love, harmony, and mutual support (Psalm 133:1).

 THANK YOU for the community of faith where we can build each other up and encourage one another (I Thessalonians 5:11).

 THANK YOU for our country where we can freely worship and share our faith (Psalm 33:12).

 THANK YOU for always keeping your promises (I Kings 8:57), for always being with us (Matthew 28:20), and for giving us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).

 THANK YOU for being our constant resource (Philippians 4:19) whatever the need: physical, emotional, material, spiritual.

 THANK YOU that you don’t give up on us and continue to work in us for your purposes (Philippians 1:6, 2:13).

 THANK YOU that no matter what the circumstances, we can still thank you in the circumstances knowing you love us and always purpose good for us (Romans 8:28).

 THANK YOU for all the prayers you have answered, but I especially thank you for prayers you answered according to your good will and not mine (Matthew 6:10).

 THANK YOU, Lord.

 Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name (Psalm 103:1).

 

AMEN.

COWS

…since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  Hebrews 12:1  (NIV)

 

Our church has a COW program that manifests itself at the beginning of the fall school semesters.  Let me explain:  The COW – Cloud of Witnesses – sponsors are assigned high school and university students for intercession and encouragement.  I have several myself and find it a great joy to follow up with “my” students to see how God is working in their lives.

I’m not certain that’s what the writer to the Hebrews had in mind when he described that Cloud of Witnesses that is so intensely interested in our lives, but I find it greatly comforting to think that there is a whole grandstand full of people in the heavenlies cheering us on, just as I do with my students.  I know Jesus is occupied in praying for us (Romans 8:34), but I just wonder if that Cloud includes some of our loved ones who have vested interests in our welfare?  I can just imagine that my parents and grandparents are watching with great hope.

Not only are we surrounded by all those godly witnesses, but Jesus assures us he is always with us (Matthew 28:20).  Corrie ten Boom wrote about being alone in a cell in the concentration camp and feeling downcast.  Then she remembered that Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20).  She reasoned that Jesus was one, the Father was two, and the Holy Spirit was three.  That was enough for her to know that she was in God’s presence.

Isn’t it also true of us?  Surely, at various times of our lives, we will find ourselves alone.  We either shrink into self-pity or we look around to find ourselves in God’s presence.  And, of course, there is that great Cloud of Witnesses that knows the reward of trusting and abiding in Christ no matter what the circumstances.

What a joy to know that at every juncture of our lives, Someone is watching.  Someone is praying for us.  Someone is cheering us on.  And Someone is always there to strengthen us in pressing onward.

 

Father, keep our eyes and hearts fixed on you.  Remind us that we’re never alone, and others have gone before and reached the destination safely.  Thank you for always providing what we need to keep going.  AMEN.

HATE TALK

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.  Ephesians 4:29  (NLT)

“Let everything you say be good and helpful…” sets a really high bar for us, doesn’t it?  We are not even to tease others in a way that might be misconstrued or hurtful.  And I don’t think sarcasm falls under the “good and helpful” rule.

These past several months we’ve all heard language that fell far short of being “good and helpful.”  In fact, much of the rhetoric has been abusive and destructive.  We’ve been through a difficult election cycle, and now we are all picking up the pieces left behind from words.  People are being assaulted and property damaged because of words.

Isn’t it interesting that in every generation, in every era, the words of Jesus continue to ring true.  He said, “…I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”  Couldn’t that also apply to the person who’s spewing invectives?  When someone is criticizing or lambasting or verbally abusing us, can we just turn the other cheek?  “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare”  (Prov. 15:1).

I don’t think Jesus is advocating “lying down and letting an enemy walk over you” (Isa. 51:23), but he’s telling us we don’t need to initiate destructive conversations, and we certainly don’t need to perpetuate them.  One of the best ways to terminate negative discussion is to politely excuse oneself saying, This is not good for either one of us.  That’s a positive way of turning the other cheek.  (Not very macho, but you can’t easily argue with someone’s backside.)

When we engage or get sucked into destructive conversation, we move out of God’s peace and blessing (I Pet. 3:9-11, Lk. 6:45, Eph. 5:4).  We open ourselves up to fiery attacks and can easily be wounded in the process.

It is said that during World War II enemy soldiers would taunt GI’s in their foxholes.  As long as the GI’s stayed in place, they couldn’t be touched, but if they stuck their heads out to respond, they were easily picked off.  Isn’t the same true of us?  When we stay in God’s protective grace, shielded by his love, we are safe.  When we are tempted to respond in kind to provocation, we become an easy target.

It’s time to use our words to bring peace and love rather than stirring up strife or stoking the fires of resentment.  Just one word  “fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”  This is a good time to bite our tongues, overrule our egos, and instead “let our words be an encouragement to those who hear them.”

Father, our tongues really can be set on fire by hell.  Help us to, as much as lies within us, live at peace with all people.  Move us beyond our egocentric attitudes, our need to be right, and our desire to strike back.  We want to be more like Jesus and that includes bridling our tongues.  Fill us with your love so that what comes forth really does bless and encourage our hearers.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

IN GOD WE TRUST*

Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD…  Psalm 33:12  (NIV)

 

During the Civil War, there was an increase in “religious sentiment,” perhaps comparable to what we experienced right after the tragedy of 9/11.  Suffering tends to makes us look outside ourselves to see what God might be doing or saying and how we might respond.

And so it was that when our country was going through the most divisive time in its history, Rev. M. R. Watkinson from Pennsylvania wrote to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase asking that “Almighty God” be somehow recognized on our currency.  After all, from ancient times gods and rulers had their place of honor on the coinage of the land.  Why shouldn’t the United States acknowledge God’s rightful role in our national affairs?

Secretary Chase responded by instructing the Director of the Mint to prepare a motto, saying, No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.  Once the design was approved, it went to Congress, and the Act adding Chase’s notation passed in April 22, 1864.  Eventually, this saying was added to our paper currency.  On July 30, 1956, a Joint Resolution of the 84th Congress and approved by the President declared IN GOD WE TRUST the national motto of the United States.

On November 8, 2016, our country experienced a gut-wrenching upheaval as the results of our national election were announced.  For days analysts and pundits have tried to determine what happened.  Did anyone really anticipate the historic event that has provoked rioting among some citizens and hope among others?  And yet, we are one nation under God.

Did you take notice that in the late 19th Century one man, Rev. Watkinson, was compelled to act after having felt “our national shame in disowning God as not the least of our present national disasters?”  One man moved by God did what he could to make a difference in our country.  And now our national motto is IN GOD WE TRUST.

Let us, as good citizens of our beloved country and members of the Church, continue to rise in prayer on behalf of our nation:  for healing, for repentance, for spiritual renewal.  And let us pray for all our leaders that we would be established in righteousness (I Timothy 2:1-4, Romans 13:1).

 

Father, your grace has brought us safe thus far.  You established us as a nation for your purposes and have seen us through “many dangers, toils, and snares.”  In thanksgiving for your love and your grace, we ask you to forgive us for not loving our neighbors as ourselves and for choosing our own ways instead of yours; heal us; unite us in your love; be with all our leaders and give them wisdom to govern this great nation.  IN GOD WE TRUST.  AMEN.

 

* Information gathered from https://www.treasury.gov

MY TIME

My times are in your hands.  Psalm 31:15  (NIV).

 

My graduate advisor was a time management consultant.  He gave us so many helpful ideas about time, but there are two things that really stuck with me.  First, time is an equal opportunity commodity—everyone has exactly the same amount, no more and no less.  Secondly, we cannot manage time; we manage ourselves in relation to time.  So these two little truisms pull the rug out from under our excuses for procrastination:  I just didn’t have time or I’ll do it when I find the time.  As if someone else has more time than we do…

Typically in our church year, we are called to look at those resources of which we are stewards:  time, talent, treasure.  Curiously, we seem to understand that talent and treasure are God’s, and we are his stewards.  But when it comes to time, we take ownership and thoughtlessly speak of my time and parse the way we expend this trust.  We guard our time and dare anyone to impose on it.  Even God should not presume to infringe of this personal possession.

So we spend our time indulging ourselves in whatever manner we choose, but it really doesn’t matter how innocuous the activity if it diminishes God’s calling on our lives.  We can spend hours in mindless personal entertainment (as opposed to re-creation) and feel empty and restless rather than refreshed and satisfied.  Or we can daily, prayerfully ask God how we should expend the moments and hours he’s given us for his purposes.  While we all have the same amount of time allotted, that time is finite and can joyously be invested in his Kingdom for eternal purposes.

What if we were to dedicate time to God as intentionally as we give him the talent and treasure he’s entrusted to us?  Would we stop guarding it and daring people to infringe upon it?  Might we find, just as treasure tends to be, that it is multiplied even as we freely commit it to our heavenly Father to use as he pleases?

I think it’s worth a try.

 

Father, at the start of this day, we commit these next twenty-four hours to you to use for your glory.  Give us the discipline to embrace and prioritize our responsibilities, enjoy the leisure you provide, and not waste a single minute of your precious gift. In all that we do, help us to glorify you.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

WHO YA GONNA CALL?

Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.  Jeremiah 33:3 (KJV)

 

Does anyone remember the original comedy film Ghostbusters in which a team of zany parapsychologists save New York City from a giant marshmallow?  After their heroic success, New Yorkers knew whom to call whenever imprisoned ghosts threatened their very existence.  Throughout history, the threats encountered at various times have been more ominous and deadly than giant marshmallows, and we haven’t always made the right call.

Take, for example, Rehoboam, Solomon’s foolish heir to the throne.  Initially, Rehoboam summoned the wise men who had served his father for their direction concerning the kingdom.  The older men counseled Rehoboam to treat his subjects with kindness.  Then the new king called in younger men, his contemporaries, and posed the same question to them.  These untried young men suggested that Rehoboam impose harsh, strict law enforcement.  When Rehoboam followed the young men’s advice, he lost most of the kingdom (I Kings 12).

King Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes) had a relatively simple domestic issue.  After this powerful emperor and his allies had spent six months in a drinking orgy, Ahasuerus called his beautiful wife, Vashti, to appear at the party (Esther 1).  Historians say that Vashti may have been pregnant or that she may have been called to appear naked before the inebriated nobles, but whatever the reason, Vashti refused.  Instead of downplaying the action, Ahasuerus called for his counselors who advised deposing Vashti.  AND they notified the whole country that Ahasuerus had been humiliated before all his allies…  (Of course, God providentially used this event to bring about the salvation of his people.)

And then there was King Hezekiah.  Outnumbered and against terrible odds as the massive Assyrian army threatened to annihilate Jerusalem, the military emissary sent Hezekiah a letter boasting of military conquests against other nations and gods, insinuating that the God of the Israel could not deliver his people (II Kings 19).  Instead of turning to his counselors, Hezekiah took the menacing letter, went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before Israel’s God.  Hezekiah went directly to God, and he prayed.  And God answered by destroying the enemy’s whole army.

Our personal crises will not be as monumental as those described above, but the question remains:  On whom do we call in our times of trouble?  Do we depend on intermediaries who can only give us their best counsel?  Even the wisest human mind can never know all the details of a situation, the innuendoes of conversations, the history of the problem, and the hearts of all the players involved.  God knows it all.  There’s no need to spend valuable time in multiple counseling situations just describing the problem.  God is already there and knows even more than the participants.  Yes, counselors are good and have their roles, but they can only point to the One who can intervene and heal and redeem.  Why not go straight to the Mighty Counselor (Isa. 9:6) and trustfully watch him work?

Do you ever wonder if God is grieved that we only turn to him when every other resource has failed?

 

Father, take away our fear and teach us to trust your wisdom, love, and power.  Forgive us for trusting other resources far more than we trust you, and show us your glory.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS

And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?  Esther 4:14b  (ESV)

 

I was standing in line to vote when the man next to me asked, “Where is Willie Nelson on this ballot?” which of course provoked a conversation about the candidates and the issues that concerned us.  (I had to agree that Willie would be a good write-in.)  As our discussion continued, I mentioned a blog Max Lucado had just published with his predictions for November 9.  Lucado confidently stated that God will still be in control no matter who is elected (https://maxlucado.com/prediction-november-9/).

That brought to mind the various people God has used in the Bible and in history to impact the culture.  I thought of Joseph whose gifts and wisdom brought about the saving of his family and adopted country; of how improbable Esther and her story illustrated God’s providence; of Daniel whose impeccable integrity and courage demonstrated godly commitment in a pagan environment; and of Nehemiah whose love for his homeland initiated the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

And then there’s the account of a retiring monk, Telemachus, who felt called to go to Rome without any clear indication of what he would do once he arrived.  Upon hearing the roar of the crowds when he neared the Coliseum, he ventured closer to learn that people were being sacrificed for entertainment.  It is said that the godly monk pushed his way through the barriers until he stood in the middle of the arena.  “Desist, desist,” he shouted.  This unexpected happening stunned the crowd to silence, and then they began to call for his blood even as he continued to shout for an end to the violence.  As he died, he did not know that his death would bring about the end of the gladiatorial games.

We’ve had visionaries on our own soil who pledged their lives and resources for the ideal of religious freedom.  In other places, Wilberforce dedicated his life and energies to abolishing slavery in Britain, while Bonhoeffer’s passion for living out the Gospel led him to perish attempting to destroy the evil that corrupted his beloved German homeland.  The list goes on and on…

History reminds us that God’s people always have a responsibility to understand the times and to respond in obedience to his providence.  To what has God called you for such a time as this?

 

Father, each of us has a role in your providential plan.  Open our eyes to see how we may faithfully serve you and the community in which you have placed us.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.