DON’T FALL BACK

There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.  Luke 21:25

 

 

Really, I’m not a sensationalist, but when one of our staff directors walked into my office to share Luke 21:25 with me, I was amazed.  Not only at what the verse said but at the numbers of the verses themselves.  August 21 was the total solar eclipse of the sun, and Hurricane Harvey made landfall between Port Aransas and Port O’Connor, Texas, on August 25.  Coincidence?  Thought provoking?  “…signs in the sun, moon and starts…anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.”

But what else have we seen?  We’ve watched as strangers launched their private boats, as neighbors went from door to door, as vehicles loaded with food and water and supplies all converged to touch those affected by Harvey.  Did you see the caravan of university eighteen-wheelers headed to the coast filled with goods for evacuees?  Did you see the line of buses that our schools sent to help relocate people?  Our churches sent numbers of supplies and volunteers to help.  In fact, there have been so many material donations that we’ve had to ask people to stop for the time being.  We’ve run out of room to store all the gifts that have sent.

Crisis can sometimes be a wonderful thing when it brings out the good in us.  And it should always bring out good in us if we’ve been practicing loving our neighbors long before the crisis occurred.  Now we have Irma battering Florida and possibly the east coast.  And there’s talk of Jose and others…  There will be many opportunities for all of us to reach out—to go and help, to write a check, to pray.  We’re hearing that it won’t be a sprint; we’re dealing with a marathon.

Will our citizens stick around for the long haul?  More importantly, will we as Christians be around to help our neighbors until the healing is done?  It’s easy to respond when the hype confronts us in every news broadcast and Tweet.  But the long run will distinguish us in our commitment to loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

So far, we’ve all been proud of the way Texans have responded to the crisis on the coast.  How long will it last?  How long will we pray and give and volunteer?  We’ve started out well.  My mom had a hand-penned notice on her kitchen bulletin board that was a constant reminder from Watchman Nee, that wonderful Chinese saint, preacher, and Bible teacher:  “Don’t fall to a lower level.”  God has begun to stir our hearts to get out of ourselves.  Let’s not get tired but keep at it and not fall back.

 

 

Father, we pray for all those affected at home and abroad by natural disasters.  Help us  to use the resources you’ve given us to minister to the healing of those who have lost so much.  Thank you for this opportunity to bless the hurting.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

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ARMORED UP

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  Ephesians 6:11

 

 

This morning in chapel the Bishop gave a whole new twist to the analogy of God’s armor.  Remember, there’s the helmet of salvation, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes of peace, and the sword of the Spirit, God’s Word.

The helmet of salvation guards our thoughts and protects the mind so that it processes and applies God’s truth.  We typically wear belts around the middle parts of our bodies for aesthetic and practical reasons.  Truth is both beautiful and holds all our theology together.  A breastplate, righteousness, protects our hearts from all the things that can spoil and destroy the life of Christ within.  We walk in peace as God’s children, and God’s Word, the sword, is two-edged—both protecting and reprimanding us.

When we are children, we love to play dress-up.  My granddaughters have all enjoyed taking various pieces of clothing from my closet and dressers to play grown-up.  They imitate me and their mothers.  Play is a child’s work to help in developing character traits and personality.  When our children and grandchildren wear our clothing, they are processing through play what they will become.

So here we get to the armor.  The whole object of our Christian journey is to glorify God and to become like Jesus.  How better to do that than to dress like him?  Jesus IS our salvation, our truth, our righteousness, our peace and has taught us to use that sword in growing into his likeness.  The more we wear the armor, the more it becomes like a second skin, and the more we become like Jesus.

The armor of the Lord not only helps us to stand against the wicked intentions of the devil, but it assists us in being transformed more and more into the image of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.  If you’re not wearing it, stop everything, and go put it on right now.

 

 

Father, show us the joy that awaits us as we are changed into the likeness of your Son, Jesus Christ.  AMEN.

 

CHRISTMAS IS COMING

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.  And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.  Matthew 25:1, 2

 

Yes, Christmas IS coming.  A number of years ago I discovered that Christmas ALWAYS comes on December 25.  Not the 20th or the 27th and always in December.  In fact, as early as 273 A.D. the 25th was noted for the celebration of Christ’s birthday in conjunction with the “birth of the unconquered sun” (Christian History, August 2008).

I wonder why it took me so long to record this recurring celebration of Christ’s birth and all the joyous events surrounding it?  Once I was mindful of this fact, I began preparing in the fall by making lists and purchasing gifts for loved ones.  I began sketching out our family Christmas pageant and the ensuing dinner menu.  I was able to choose a convenient date for my annual parties.  Essentially, with all the preparations made beforehand, I could worship and enjoy the deeper significance of Christ’s coming.

You may be mildly surprised to learn that there are still thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands of our fellow countrymen and women who will be startled this December to learn that Christmas is only days away.  They will stress and fret at all the things that need to be done and the little time left in which to accomplish those tasks.  Christmas comes at such a busy time of the year.

The onslaught of Hurricane Harvey is reminding me of our lack of preparation for life’s events.  I’ve heard from family and friends that lines at grocery stores have been long and uncomfortable, and some items have been missing from the shelves.  It seems that many people haven’t thought about keeping a few non-perishable items in their pantries.  But the saddest thing is the expression of anxiety and fear among those who should otherwise recognize God’s peace and presence even in the middle of crisis.

Matthew records the parable about the virgins who were all confronted with the same event.  The Bridegroom was coming, and they needed oil.  Half were ready; half weren’t.  Half had been focused on consistent growth in Christ, of following him daily; half weren’t.  Half were allowing his Spirit to fill and transform them; half weren’t.  Half were being changed into his image; half weren’t.  When the crisis occurred (the Bridegroom’s arrival), half were prepared, half weren’t.

When the various storms come to our lives—and so many arrive unannounced—what have we been laying up in our spiritual stores?  Remember another of Jesus’ parables, the one about the two houses—one built on sand and the other on the rock (Matt. 7:24-27)?  Jesus said the story reflected someone who heard and did his word and someone who didn’t.  Crises are not one-time events, but when they arrive, we sometimes behave like students cramming for the final exam.  Trust isn’t an instant commodity that can be purchased at the corner store.  It’s an ongoing, daily exercise, a lifestyle relationship with Jesus.

Do you remember what happened with the two men in the two houses?  The one that was built on the rock STOOD.  And those same life storms come at us regularly.  We stand or fall based on what we’ve been doing beforehand.  Let’s get ready.  The storm is coming.

AND so is Christmas—December 25.  Mark your calendars.

 

Father, thank you for your mercy in all our trials.  Continue your faithful ministry in us by your Spirit so that we stand ready to glorify you in every event.  And be with all those touched by Harvey—comfort and meet every need.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

A PRAYER

God is our shelter and strength,
    always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not be afraid, even if the earth is shaken
    and mountains fall into the ocean depths;
even if the seas roar and rage,
    and the hills are shaken by the violence.


The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge.

(from Psalm 46)

Merciful Father, who has taught us in your holy Word that you do not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men:  Look with pity upon the sorrows of your servants for whom our prayers are offered.  Remember them, O Lord, in mercy, nourish their souls with patience, comfort them with a sense of your goodness, lift up your countenance upon them, and give them peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

 

Thank you, Father, that we have the promise you will never leave us or forsake us.  Be with all who are affected by Hurricane Harvey; strengthen first responders; provide all the resources needed; and minister your peace.  Cause us to come together in mutual support and care that we may demonstrate your love.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

STUCK

Ye have compassed this mountain long enough: turn you northward.  Deuteronomy 2:3  (KJV)

 

This journey God has called us to is a walk of faith.  Sometimes we forget that.  We want a map, signs and wonders, confirmations, voices from the blue, and blessings every step we take.  We want the fleece to be dry at the snap of our fingers and otherwise wet to reassure  us.  What does that have to do with faith?

By faith Abraham, when called…obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.  That’s faith.  Abraham had no guide and no oversight committee, but he trusted God.  He was from a pagan society, but he trusted God.  And God didn’t fail him.  Every promise that was made to Abraham was fulfilled, and through him came our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Abraham listened and kept moving.

Moses, another faithful man, led the faithless Israelites out of bondage in Egypt and stopped on the way to get God’s instructions at Mt.Sinai.  He had barely trekked up the mountain when the Israelites asked Aaron to construct a god for them, a tangible symbol they could see and touch.  And, of course, there were many other times of disobedience and unbelief until finally God let them wander through years of sand and bare bones existence.  Their lack of trust in the God who had made a way through the Sea and through the chartless desert relegated them to a lifetime of unfulfilled wandering.

Finally, God said they had gone round and round long enough.  It was time to move on. Time to trust God to do what he’d promised, time to listen to him, time to obey.  Faith is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1).  It is not seeing the end from the beginning—only God does that.  It is not seeing the fulfillment of our prayer at the moment we say amen.  Only God does that.  It is not understanding God’s methods, his delays, or his silences.  And it is definitely not reliance in our own abilities.  It is simply trusting God to do what he promised and to always make everything work together for good (Rom. 8:28).

So, isn’t it time to get up and move (Deut. 1:8)?   We’ve spent too long going round and round the mountain.  Onward.  God is able.

 

Father, we really expect magic from you at each point of distress.  Pull that rabbit out of the hat or part the waters at our command.  Forgive us.  Faith is hard, but it’s also your gift.  Help us to grow up and to move out in faith.  That pleases and blesses you.  Thank you.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

JESUS DIDN’T MEAN IT

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  Matthew 5:17  (NIV)

 

Just like Moses, Jesus went up on the mountain to talk with his followers about the new rule God was establishing in his Kingdom.  His antagonists, the Pharisees (and the scribes and the Sadducees) had accused him repeatedly of attempting to do away with the Law that had governed them for thousands of years.  But actually, by the time of Jesus’ ministry, the Law of Moses had been so compromised by the religionists that it had little semblance to what God had intended.

For example, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’” (Matt. 5:43).  This is a far cry from the original (Lev. 19:18), “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.”  Nothing is said about hating our enemy but rather that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. 

The Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7 is a study in what we are to be and how we are to live as citizens of God’s Kingdom.  It says bizarre things to us, things that as rational people we find totally impossible to perform.  We’re blessed when we are poor in spirit, when we are sorrowful, when we are humble, when we are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, when we’re merciful, and when our hearts are pure.  We’re even blessed when we’re persecuted for righteousness’ sake.  And that’s only the beginning.

All these characteristics are antithetical to our cultural teachings.  And yet Jesus is the one who is speaking.  There’s got to be something beyond the superficial here OR Jesus just didn’t mean what he said.  He was merely speaking in hyperbole to get our attention.  And surely he accomplished his goal.  And so we, too, compromise the message saying it was only for a specific group of people or a specific time.  It’s too biting for US.

Oswald Chambers notes that Jesus has called us to live a life we cannot live and to do what we cannot do, and yet WE CAN do what he’s called us to do and to live as he’s asked us—through the power of his Holy Spirit.  This is how we move into life in the Kingdom of God that Jesus described as abundant life.  That’s what I want—all God has to offer.

Throughout the fall I’ll be studying and blogging about the Sermon on the Mount and Life in the Kingdom.  I hope you’ll join me.

 

Father, you offer so much, and we often take so little.  Give us a hunger and thirst for you and your righteousness, for you long to fill us.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

MOTHERING

As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you.  Isaiah 66:13

 

Can you imagine anything better than a mother’s love?  I admit, I could never have competed with either my daughter or daughter-in-law in discerning the unique gifts and personalities they nurture on a daily basis.  And then there’s the topic of energy…

Today marked the mid-point of Camp Curry.  I’ve often remarked that the miracle of Sarah and Abraham was not their producing Isaac, but it was their ability to keep up with him.  Or perhaps that’s what their household staff did.

Today’s parents, and especially the mothers who nurture the children while running the household and managing a career, are amazing.  They are routinely dealing with higher expectations than my generation experienced, and their children have greater temptations, information, and challenges than ours ever did.

As the crust of the earth was cooling, I remember my grandmother talking about doing the laundry one day, ironing another, baking took another whole day (Does anyone do that anymore?), mending was part of the schedule, and then there were grocery shopping and cleaning.  Between my daughter and daughter-in-law, each week they do most of the above PLUS gardening, chauffeuring children to school and extracurricular events, running a successful home business besides a full-time job, and participating in a lively social calendar.  They are not unlike other mothers today.

So what’s my point?  Having been with my precious grandchildren this week and getting ready to let them go back home, I am more strongly reminded of the need for prayer for our young family members and particularly the young mothers:  that the joy of the Lord will be their strength (Neh. 8:10); that they will look to him for encouragement (Isa. 41:10); that they will always experience God’s presence (Deut. 31:6); that they will know they are greatly loved by God (Romans 8:37-39); and that he will supply every need they have (Phil. 4:19).  AND that they will delight in being stewards of the precious treasures with which God has entrusted them.

I will miss the sweet grands, but they will be returning to the place where they belong and where they will be loved and shaped into the image God planned from the beginning of time.  And I will be here praying for them all, loving them, and waiting for the next visit.

 

Father, thank you for the special times I have with all my sweet grandbabies.  Be with my friends who spend long seasons apart from their families and give them opportunities to bless those other children you’ve brought into their lives.  Make us your hands and feet as we love and touch those you’ve entrusted to us.  Keep their parents in you, and help us never to cease praying for them.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.