CELEBRATING THE DAY

This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24 (KJV)

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King’s Day and honor him for his contributions to our civil rights. But did you know that January also has designated days to recognize our Pharmacists, our House Plants, National Pie Day, and National Puzzle Day, among others? And the church calendar has feast days named for the saints of the church.
My friend Susan always celebrated First Fridays. She held open house on the first Friday of every month around the calendar. It was a multigenerational event with anyone and everyone invited to have lunch and dine on the numerous culinary treats that Susan relished preparing. The gathering was informal and so warm that everyone loved to drop in.
I just learned about Tuesday Presents. My friend Kay said they are undeserved, no-occasion gifts that are given on Tuesday “just because.” Kay said they are a special way of showing love. Among her Tuesday Presents, my friend says she counts her family and friends, grandchildren’s accomplishments, college acceptance letters, and most particularly, our Savior Jesus Christ.
In reflecting on all these ways that we can celebrate the day and the days, I add the verse from Psalm 118. Today, this day, is the day the Lord has made. And with it come all the blessings we have as his children, those “just because” reasons to rejoice. God made this day and gave it to us. Let’s take advantage of that and be glad.

Lord, thank you for all the “just because” gifts you provide out of your profound love to us. May we rejoice and give you great joy in return. AMEN.

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TOO MUCH

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Matthew 6:19-21 (KJV)

 

On his latest visit, my Ethiopian friend Getch was confounded by the proliferation of “storage units” throughout our city. “Whatever are they for?” he wondered. It was difficult for me to explain that Americans have so much stuff that they have to rent additional space to warehouse it. In the whole continent of Africa where most people are happy just to have daily food for their families, the idea of excess was incomprehensible to Getch. And it was a little difficult for me to justify the situation.
In the Bible Jesus is approached by a man who wants him to convince his brother to divide an inheritance. Rather than side with the offended man, Jesus says that life doesn’t consist of lots of things (not what the brother wanted to hear). Jesus goes on to tell the story of the rich man whose harvest was so great, his barns couldn’t hold everything. Instead of opening the barn doors and inviting the poor and needy to help themselves, the rich man decided to tear down the structures and build larger barns so that he could sit back and enjoy his wealth. Jesus calls him a fool. Life isn’t about things.
Have you ever wrecked your dream car? Or had moths eat holes into an expensive Oriental rug? Or had someone accidently break a treasured piece of porcelain? Or even lost a valued possession? Life isn’t about things.
I heard a noted Bible scholar say once that abundance is having enough for the needs of you and your family with something left to share. That’s what those charity bags are all about. This is a great time of the year to open up the barns and pull out everything we don’t need or use. And it’s a good time to open our hearts to see if we’re holding things or if they’re holding us.
What about conducting a little test? Can we readily open up the closets and cupboards and take out those spare items that we’re storing for that rainy day? Things that we might need some year way down the line? What would happen if we all radically began to give generously, even sacrificially? Let’s get our bags out today and see. It IS more blessed to give than to receive.

 

Father, we are so blessed that sometimes it’s hard for us to let go. Fill us with such gratitude that we joyously open our hearts and hands to those in need—just as you did and do with us. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

 

SURPRISE

 

Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail… Job 38:22 (KJV)

A few years ago we visited an orphanage in a village outside Nairobi. We arrived in time for the closing session of the small elementary school and were treated to recitations and musical performances. Scores of precious children in their brown slacks or skirts and white-checked shirts eagerly shared what they’d been learning.
It was near Christmas, and carols were abundant. My favorite song, however, was when they broke out into a cheerful, “Dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh… Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…” Somehow, I think none of those sweet little children had ever or would ever experience snow, but they loved singing about it.
Here in the southwest, we, too, love to sing and think about snow. Just a few weeks ago, I was leaving a restaurant with my brother and sister-in-law and was surprised to be met by a serious snow flurry. I hadn’t been watching the weather (How many variations of hot to warm can one have in south Texas?) and was startled to see the magical flakes collapsed together in heaps throughout the parking lot. In fact, I had to wait a considerable time until the heater had melted the snow on my windshield so I could safely head home.
The following day a teammate and I headed south for the Rio Grande Valley through an absolute wonderland of white. The route down I37 that we negotiate so often is typically flat, straight, and downright boring. But with barren branches traced in snow, cactus covered with natural frosting, and miles of flat land touched by the unexpected whiteness, the drive delightful. My friend said she wouldn’t have known where she was if road signs hadn’t been visible.
We passed highway workers in bright neon yellow clothing throwing snowballs at one another. Children were constructing their first snow men. Animals were tentative at the wonder around them. And people were smiling.
Obviously, we do not live in the north where snow storms become hazardous, and we do not spend weeks or months shoveling snow or waiting for the plow to arrive. For us in the south, snow is an unexpected pleasure, and this snow was a delightful surprise. Social media was full of snow pictures. Even businesses took note of the snow.
Now with all our technology, resources, and wealth who among us could have brought so much pleasure to so many people with just a word? All the snow machines of the world couldn’t have created the wonderland we enjoyed in south Texas. The snow fell on the just and the unjust without discrimination. Isn’t that just like God? He doesn’t stingily hand out his gifts; they’re for everyone who will to receive. And all his gifts are just reminders of his intense love for his creation and his desire to give joy.
Can you imagine all those tiny snowflakes that God meticulously and individually designs? Apparently, he also delights in what he describes as treasure to be kept in his storehouses (Job 38:22). How many ways does he surprise us with his abundance? How many times do we receive and acknowledge his gifts with gratitude?
Let it snow.

 

Father, with a word you have created all things. And for your pleasure all things have been created. Thank you for your beauty that is just a foretaste of everything you have for us. AMEN.

MOVE

 

Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. John 7:17 (NIV)

My widowed aunt, a transplant from Tennessee, prepared herself every day for the tasks ahead. She styled her hair, put on makeup (her nails were always done), and fortified herself to check all the boxes on her to-do list. Well into her nineties, I stayed with her through her final days, and she would ask if her hair was in place. She mused about her responsibilities and seemed content that no task had been left undone. She had been faithful in all she was given. Auntie greeted her visitors with grace and optimism, never fearing her imminent departure. She was a survivor and had learned that preparation and wholesome activity were foundational for understanding and peace of mind.

In a compilation of George Macdonald’s sermons and writings (Discovering the Character of God), obedience is described as the soul of knowledge. Macdonald elaborates by saying that “upon obedience must our energy be spent; understanding will follow. Until a man begins to obey, the light that is in him is darkness.” Makes sense, doesn’t it? Why should God give us more if we refuse (or delay) to obey what we already know? Essentially, once God gives direction, our spiritual growth (and peace of mind) depend on our following through. We cannot substitute thinking and talking about what God would have us do in lieu of the actual doing of his will.

I read somewhere that procrastination is a form of rebellion. God, you’ve told me what to do, but I’m not ready yet. I’ll push that to the back of the list and work on what makes me more comfortable. Although we know God continues to work in us (Phil. 2:13), how can we expect growth in knowledge and understanding if we fail to do what we already know he’s given us to do? Instead, we must rouse ourselves to trust him to give us what we need when we need it—those tasks that will increase our patience, stretch our faith, grow our compassion, and enlarge our dependence on him. And as we obey, our understanding of him and his ways is increased. God doesn’t will that we ever stop obeying or become stagnant in our growth.

When we find ourselves at a dead end this New Year or wishing God would speak to us, we need to see if we’ve already done what he’s commanded. Oswald Chambers calls it, “…doing the task that lies nearest.” Have all the boxes been checked? Is there one more thing we have yet to do? Something that may be lying far back in the closet gathering dust?

A practical reminder for those times when we may feel a bit heavy in our spirits or tempted with depression or lacking understanding is to get moving. Obey the light that is already in us. God will bring more light (understanding) if we walk in the light that’s already been provided. There’s no need to ever fall prey to doldrums as God’s children. We just get up and start moving.

In our office we have a little reminder: Did you hear about the man who started walking? Well, well, well.

Father, we like new things, new thoughts, new revelations. Give us a will to be obedient to those commands you’ve already given us knowing that understanding follows obedience. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

EDITING

 

Therefore, 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. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us… Hebrews 12:1

 

Happy New Year. I could not resist sharing this “handwritten party invitation sent to their friends” by George and Louisa Macdonald, Dec. 31st, 1885. (Bonfire at 7 p.m., dancing at 8)

 

Please come on Monday
The day after Sunday,
And mind that you start with
Something to part with;
A fire shall be ready
Glowing and steady
To receive it and burn it
And never return it.
Books that are silly,
Clothes outworn and chilly,
Hats, umbrellas or bonnets,
Dull letters, bad sonnets,
Whate’er to the furnace
By nature calls “Burn us!”
An ancient, bad temper
Will be noted no damper—
The fire will not scorn it
But glory to burn it!
Here every bad picture
Finds refuge from stricture;
Or any old grudge
That refuses to budge,
We’ll make it the tomb
For all sorts of gloom,
The out-of-door path
For every man’s wrath.
All lying and hinting,
All jealous squinting,
All unkind talking
And each other balking,
Let the fire’s holy actions
Turn to ghostly abstractions.
All antimacassars,
All moth-egg amassers,
Old gloves and old feathers,
Old shoes and old leathers,
Greasy or tar-ry,
Bring all you can carry!
We would not deceive you:
The fire shall relieve you,
The world will feel better,
And so be your debtor.
Be welcome then—very—
And come and be merry!

Father, this says it all. We joyously move into the New Year abandoning all to you and expecting great things. In Jesus name. AMEN.

PROGRESSION

So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. II Peter 1:9

I have the same routine every morning. I grab my robe and slippers, and Edward and Frances and I head downstairs to the back yard where the puppies will take care of business and check to see who may have visited through the night. I flip on the switch that activates the fountain so the fish get a little exercise, and the water is aerated.
We come back upstairs; I grab a cup of tea; and then we go into my tiny library where I pull back the draperies on two sets of windows. I open the French doors (even in the cold) so the puppies can observe the neighborhood waking up and say hello to their friends next door. But the French doors have a deeper significance for me.
Initially, the outlook is completely black; darkness veils everything. I begin my devotional reading in my cozy armchair, and as time progresses the stark outline of bare branches can be seen through the open doors. I continue reading, and eventually the grayness brings a bit more clarity to the scene. Then comes a soft golden light that touches the surrounding rooftops and reveals the squirrels who are busily collecting nuts and scurrying from limb to limb. Finally, by the time my prayers are done, I open my eyes to see the whole panorama clear and bright from the blaze of the fully awakened sun.
Is this not something like our spiritual progress? We begin in darkness, moving slowly by faith and the little knowledge we have. Then we begin to see the outlines of the life we have chosen with Christ, and we ask the Spirit’s guidance in making sense of these foundational truths. As we continue to walk by faith, diligently obeying the truths we are learning, the light becomes brighter (Prov. 4:18). And we discover that staying in the Word, studying and responding through our daily actions, the light of understanding brings clarity to those ancient truths that have guided saints through the ages.
The light doesn’t come all at once. New babes in Christ are not expected to understand all things, but we are not to stay babes. We are expected to study the Word so that we can understand and discern God’s Truth (II Tim. 2:15) and thereby grow and enjoy him. God has given us the precious opportunity to increase our intimacy with him during our time on earth. And as we get better acquainted, our love and appreciation for him grows.
Let the light dawn in our hearts.

 

Precious Father, break forth into our lives with your Light that we may better know, understand, and walk with you. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

MANGER

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Luke 2:12

 

On this Christmas Day it is with joy and awe that we approach the Babe, God Incarnate, Ruler of the Universe, tiny, vulnerable, and accessible to any and all who seek him. Jesus Christ from birth, appointed to bring salvation, not only to his own people, but to all those who were far off.

 

From the beginning there were signs, hints and clues, as to whom this wondrous Baby would be and what his ministry would entail. An angel appeared to his mother and father to foretell his birth; Wise Men were guided by a star to confirm his royalty; shepherds were surrounded by God’s glory and the angels’ announcement of Messiah; and Simeon and Anna affirmed the birth of the Promised One.

 

But have you noticed an obscure little clue that was present at the beginning when the angels appeared to the shepherds? The angel said to them, “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” In French, the word manger (mahn-zhay) means “to eat.” Among his many “I Am” descriptors (self-description statements), Jesus would call himself the Bread of Life (John 6:35).  In whatever language the words would be translated, this Messiah would say, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…”(John 6:54)

 

Was it coincidental that Jesus would be found lying in a place where one would expect to find nourishment? The Son of God came to this world to bring Life—physical, emotional, spiritual—and only as we partake of him do we accrue to ourselves the fulfillment of this promise. As if to underscore this wonder, Jesus twice took handfuls of bread to feed the multitudes and to demonstrate his identity as Bread of Life. And as he handed out bits of broken bread to his disciples on that fateful night, he told them, “…eat, this is my body” (Matt. 26:26).

 

And in eating Jesus promises us, “… whoever comes to me shall not hunger” (John 6:35). In taking what Jesus offers, ingesting and chewing on it, and then swallowing and consuming it we participate in eternal life. Our hunger is satisfied; we are transformed; and nothing else will ever fulfill us.
On this Christmas Day, let us reverently approach the Baby lying in a manger.

 

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel.