Friday, October 28, 2016

The Lord's Timing -- A Repost

Do you ever find yourself questioning the Lord's timing? I do! But, Lord, we need the money NOW. We need the answers NOW. We need your healing NOW.

While reading Surprise Endings by Ron Mehl, I was reminded that God's timing (while it may not be my timing) is best. Read what he has to say about it.

He knows what we need, and comes to provide it at just the right time--His time. Remember, however, that His time may be before, during, or after our long and difficult day: 1) He told Noah that is would rain long before it did. 2) The Lord chose to come to the three Hebrew children (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) right in the middle of their encounter with the furnace. 3) Finally, He chose to come to Mary and Martha after the death of Lazarus. Whether it's before, after, or during our trouble, the point is, don't worry. . . He will come.

What a blessed reminder! God will pass by at the right time. God will meet our needs in His time. Our only job is to trust, then stand back and watch a miracle.

Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord. - Psalm 27:14

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Could You Rephrase the Question? -- A Repost

In the darkest times in life, it seems our minds are plagued with questions.  No matter how hard we try, we can't escape the uncertainty that looms all around us.  Hearts with no peace.  Lives with no joy.  Questions with no answers.  When?  Why?  How?

When did my life turn so sour?

What am I going to do now?

Where is this long, lonely road leading?

How in the world am I going to get through this?

Why me, Lord?

Good questions, each and every one, and certainly some of the top contenders for pressing thoughts during times of trial.  But are they the right thoughts?  After all, don't our actions follow our attitudes which follow our thought patterns?  Questions like those above only serve to help us sink deeper in despair.  There are no answers, only more questions.  And with each question comes a new wave of disappointment and grief.  Before we realize it, we're buried so deep in depression that we wonder if we'll ever again see the light of day.

There's nothing wrong with asking questions.  Questions are good.  They provide a gateway to learning.  But may I suggest we start rephrasing our questions?  When?  Why?  How?

When is the earliest time I can set aside for some quiet time with God to get this situation sorted out?

What can I learn from this situation to make me a better, stronger person?

Where else can I turn for answers but to God?  Nowhere!

How can I bring glory to God in my current circumstances?

Why not me, Lord?

I believe we'll find that the simple rephrasing of some of life's toughest questions will lead to peace, understanding and better attitudes.  I often hear people complain (as I have myself) that God is not answering their prayers.  Perhaps it's because we're not asking the right questions.

Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not. - Jeremiah 33:3

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Turning Blessings Into Burdens

Did you know that it’s possible to turn our blessings into burdens?  That doesn’t make sense, does it?  How could a blessing be anything but a blessing?  The Bible explains how, but I must warn you, the verse sounds a bit odd and out of place.  Still, we know that every word of the Bible is inspired, and if you pay attention, even strange sayings like the following will provide an education.

Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox. - Proverbs 14:4

Okay, let’s put that first phrase into today’s language to make sure everyone understands:  if you don’t have an ox, you don’t have ox poop.  Clear enough, right?  As for the second phrase, it tells us that the ox is an important tool in the work of farming.  So, you can have the strength of the ox along with his droppings, or you can forfeit both, but you simply cannot have the benefits of the ox without also having the—well—the poop!

Most blessings are that way.  They’re wonderful.  We’re thankful for them.  But they, too, have a downside.  That fabulous husband comes complete with dirty socks that he has a tendency to leave in his wake like the debris of a hurricane.  The beautiful new baby means dirty diapers and feedings all through the night.  That job is wonderful except when the boss is screaming at you and your coworkers are laughing at you.  The blessing of a car turns into a burden when the battery is dead or the tire is flat.  The blessing of the heat pump becomes a burden when you flip the switch and nothing happens.  

I was even reminded of this fact Sunday morning when I turned on my electric kettle for my morning cup of hot tea, and the crazy thing refused to come on.  I drink hot tea like most people drink coffee, and I especially need my tea on Sunday mornings.  Sure, I could heat up water on the stove or in the microwave (and, in fact, that’s what I did), but it isn’t the same.  I wanted my kettle to work.  I expected it to work like it has nearly every morning since I’ve had it.  Not only had I taken my blessing for granted, but I had also forgotten Proverbs 14:4.  This is life—life in a fallen world.  Things break.  People die.  And blessings can become burdens if we’re not careful with our perspective.

It’s so tempting to grumble and complain when things don’t work the way we expect them too.  When anyone or anything puts a crimp in our plans, watch out, buddy!  But what would happen if we stopped, took a breath and, instead of complaining about what’s not working right, give thanks that we have the blessings to begin with.  Instead of fussing about the flat tire, how about we thank God for the transportation we have and for the many, many days that it has been reliable?  Instead of bemoaning the loss of a beloved electric kettle, how about I praise God for the pleasure it has given me and to still have several alternative methods to heat up the water for my morning tea?  Perspective.  That’s all it is.

Proverbs 14:4 is basically asking, “Are you willing to muck out the stalls in exchange for the benefit of the ox?”  Today, I’m asking you the same.  Are you willing to overlook the frustrations for the many benefits of the blessings?  Are you prepared to focus on the ox instead of the ox poop?  Don’t allow your blessings to become burdens.  Give thanks to God for the many things He’s given that we are so unworthy of, and keep a proper perspective.  Better to have a pooping ox than no ox at all, right?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Are You Giving God Your Best?

Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it, saith the Lord of hosts; and ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this of your hand? saith the Lord. - Malachi 1:13

I, for one, am glad that I don’t have to sacrifice an animal every time I sin. For one thing, as an animal lover, I would be mortified to have to take the life of some precious creature. I am also not a fan of blood and gore, so I’m not sure how well I would hold up under such circumstances. That being said, however, I would like to think that if it were necessary, I would rise to the occasion and do as God commanded. At the point of time in which our passage was written, the children of Israel were not doing that.

In short, they had grown weary of the practice. They were tired of the offerings. They were sick of trying to find the perfect gift to give a holy God, so they began to take shortcuts. They continued the offerings, but with a halfhearted effort. They put little time and thought into what they were bringing and had a “good enough” attitude toward the entire process. The problem is, it wasn’t good enough. God demanded a perfect sacrifice not some halfhearted effort.

Even though we are no longer required to offer animal sacrifices, the Bible says that we are to present ourselves as living sacrifices unto God (Romans 12:1). Once again, God demands our best, but is that what we are offering? Are we giving of ourselves fully unto God each and every day? Are we surrendering our lives, thoughts, attitudes and actions to His will, or are we fulfilling our own agenda, giving Him just enough control to ease our conscience? Are we giving of our tithe and our talents? How much are we offering to God as a living sacrifice?

In our passage above, the Lord asked the children of Israel, “Should I accept this of your hand?” I believe the Lord is asking each of us the same question. We attend church every Sunday and say it’s good enough. We read our Bible a couple of times a week and think we're doing well. We say a prayer here and there and feel as if were doing God a favor by talking to Him. We occasionally help out a friend in need and see ourselves as super-spiritual. But all along, we know we can do more–that we should do more–and God knows too.

The crazy thing is, we expect God to simply accept what were willing to give and be happy about it, but He’s not. The truth is, He’s disappointed. Yes, He still loves us, and that love will forever remain unchanged, but God’s feelings towards us when we don’t do our best are the same as they were toward the church of Laodicea.  I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:15-16)   I know it sounds harsh, but if we look at this passage literally, God says that our halfhearted efforts make Him sick. Is that what we want? Do we want to sicken or disappoint our holy God who was willing to give His only Son for us and asks for so little in return?

I know we live busy lives, and with so many things to do, it’s tempting to cut corners here and there, but I caution you to remember that God is expecting your very best. He loves you, and not only does He want what’s best for you, but He also wants what’s best from you. Is He not worthy? Is He not deserving of all that we have to give? Please keep that in mind the next time you’re tempted to do less than your best or to give less than what is required. God will bless your efforts, but only when you do your best!  After all, it is our reasonable service!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Ebenezer Who?

I don't know about you, but every time I hear the name Ebenezer, my mind goes to Ebenezer Scrooge. That being the case, you can imagine my confusion when we sing the old hymn, Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing. The second verse of that song begins "Here I raise my Ebenezer, Hither by Thy help I've come." Say what now? What does it mean to raise an Ebenezer, and does that have anything to do with Scrooge?

Obviously, I knew there was some scriptural significance to the phrase, but I'm sorry to say that I completely missed it. Somehow, in the many times that I've read my Bible, I seemed to have overlooked this dramatic moment, but fortunately, the Lord recently brought it to my attention. Let me begin by saying that this Ebenezer has nothing to do with Scrooge. In fact, it's the exact opposite. Let's look at the Scripture reference first, and then I'll explain more.

And as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel: but the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them; and they were smitten before Israel. And the men of Israel went out of Mizpeh, and pursued the Philistines, and smote them, until they came under Bethcar. Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us. - I Samuel 7:10-12

 Here we see the Lord delivering Israel from the hand of the Philistines. It was a great victory, and Samuel decided to recognize the event by setting up a memorial called Ebenezer, which means "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us." Is that awesome or what? In all of their future battles, the Israelites could look back at this memorial and remember that God had brought them that far and He would continue to take them through anything they faced according to His promise. They had a hope to cling to. They had a reminder of God's goodness and faithfulness.

So, when we sing the song, Come, Thou Fount, and we say, "Here I raise my Ebenezer," we are saying that we choose to remember what God has done in our lives and that He has brought us thus far and will continue to see us safely through. Raising our Ebenezer is a point of focusing our eyes back on God instead of on our problems. It is acknowledging that God is all-powerful and that He is in control of our lives so that we have nothing to fear. It is remembering His faithfulness and provision throughout the years and trusting that His faithfulness and provision will never fail us.

Ebenezers can come in many forms. After successfully crossing the Red Sea, Moses led the children of Israel in a song of praise. After wrestling with the Lord, Jacob built an altar. After crossing the Jordan, Joshua instructed the children of Israel to lay stones in the riverbed as a memorial of the miraculous event. Your Ebenezer can be something similar or something completely different. Perhaps you have a  journal in which you record your many blessings. Or maybe you have some form of a display where you post answers to prayer requests. Or it could be that the Bible serves as your Ebenezer, and when you feel down and discouraged, you need only read through its pages to find hope and encouragement. (Just a note, this should be an Ebenezer for all of us.)

Whatever the case, it is important to have some form of Ebenezer, because we can't always rely on our memories which can be tainted by our current emotions. In the midst of our dark times, it's very difficult to remember the good times and to bring to mind how God brought us through. But if we will set up  an Ebenezer and make it a point to run to the Ebenezer whenever life gets us down, even in the midst of our darkest situations, we will be able to shout with praise, "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us."

So, you see, this Ebenezer is the exact opposite of Scrooge. Instead of "Bah humbug," our Ebenezer says, "Praise the Lord for His goodness!" Are you raising your Ebenezer today?