Sunday, September 24, 2017

God's Best

Yesterday I said, "Whatever God allows at any point in time is His best for me." Later in the day I walked out the door and stepped in a hole, twisting my ankle. As I lay on the ground looking at the sky I said, "Okay, God, this may be Your best, but could You make it a little less painful?"

As I hobble from one place to another I am reminded that God's best is not always pleasant or easy. But--I am confident that what is happening  is in the hand of God because "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. How does God define good? Being conformed to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:28-29 Sydney paraphrase) What's happening right now is God's best because He did not withhold His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all--how will He, with Him, not freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32, Sydney paraphrase).

So if God works all things to make me more like Jesus and if He doesn't withhold any good thing, then this.... This is best. This is best for me. This is best for me right now.

How about you? Are you enjoying blessings? Struggling to trust? Finding it difficult to ask for help? God is much more concerned about changing each of us and our hearts than our circumstances. In fact, He is using and has designed specific circumstances to move our focus from earthly, horizontal struggles to His heavenly, vertical provision.

What's God's best for you today? Leave a comment and encourage others if it isn't too much trouble.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:26-39)

Friday, September 22, 2017

Good For The Soul

Maybe you, like me, have stood at the back of the store staring at the latest version of HDTV. The detail and color are riveting. Fascinating. And I wonder if maybe I've fallen into an Alice in Wonderland world where everything is sharper, clearer, faster than real life?

Although I'm very content to be inside (my favorite childhood summer was spent reading 70-odd books and listening to Tchaikovsky), I made my way outdoors this afternoon and at one point I heard myself say, "This is very good for my soul."

And it was then that I realized I was living in high definition--it's what so many people want and don't have. It's why resolution and megapixels appeal to us. We need, we want, to experience life. But life is so hard. We want the GREAT parts of life, the FUN parts, the YUMMY, GORGEOUS, SPECTACULAR parts of life without the mundane, sad, difficult, not-so-great parts of life. We don't want to go to the same job, wear the same clothes, eat the same food, pay the same bills (or struggle to pay the same bills). We don't want to listen to children whine, wash dishes, put (blank) away, fold laundry, mow the yard, fix the plumbing, get on the same bus, work with that difficult person.... need I go on?

And yet, as I felt the weight of apples from the tree drop in my picking bag and watched the chickens at work below, there was a sense of satisfaction. There was joy in doing what needed to be done; in seeing and enjoying the world at work. When dust blew in my eyes as I charged over uneven blades of grass and cars whizzed by on the highway, I said, "This is good."

I have noticed in the quiet, mundane, difficult, and trying moments of life, I pray. I think of others. I am aware of my need and sin and forgiveness; of grace, mercy and justice. I hear my thoughts and my heart speaks. God listens, knows, and reveals. When I'm not writing or planning or being entertained, there is a moment to whisper, "This is good for my soul."

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness  for his name's sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23 ESV)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Good News Club--12 Years In

I have been asked to share what Good News Club has meant for myself, our school and community.
After praying and waiting for 3 years, I discovered Beth Lamb, our Child Evangelism Missionary, who helped me contact local administrators and get things rolling. That was 12 years ago. Since then, I can’t tell you how many children we’ve ministered to or how many salvation decisions have been made. I wish I could, but that’s a couple computer’s worth of material that’s been lost or misplaced (!).
What I do know is that the gospel has been presented and children have responded. We promote Good News Club at our annual Children’s Festival and reach a couple of hundred children and parents each fall. We have chosen to teach an Old Testament series every fall and a New Testament series each spring.

The majority of the people in our community are Hispanic, but the gospel, through Good News Club, transcends race, culture, language, age, and church affiliation. We sing, “Yo Tengo Un Amigo Que Me Ama.” We send home information, Wonderbooks and Bibles in both Spanish and English. We pray for brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents and pets. We know Jesus was sent to die for our sin and rose again; that His Spirit lives in and through us and we are united in Christ. We teach and model what it means to tell others and share the good news of God’s love through Jesus.

One of the joys of being at school is overhearing children in the hall ask one another or their teachers, “What’s Good News Club?” Just being there and putting up our sign each week gives others the opportunity to share the Good News—our clubbers, parents, even teachers and staff!

Now that we have been part of Good News Club for twelve years, our “clubbers” are graduating high school. The gospel has united us. We greet children and parents at school and community events, ask how they’re doing and how we can pray. Some are attending college. One is a professional boxer. We have been invited to quinceaneras and street dances with a mariachi band.

We have walked children home, met their grandmas and pets, shared stories, laughter and tears.
If we had time, I would tell you about the children we've watched grow up before our eyes, the girl who left class and how it gave me an opportunity to share the gospel with her mom. I would tell you about the child who said, “That sounds too good to be true!” or the questions, “What color will we be in Heaven? Like green? Or pink? Or blue?” and “Did Jesus have a grandpa?”

We are active volunteers in other areas of our school district and our own children attend the public schools. Like Jesus, we feel public ministry is vital to transparency and discipleship. In John 18:20 He said, “I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret.”

We have a reputation and relationship with the students, parents and community. We don’t expect to see all the results until we get to Heaven, but we are blessed by the opportunity to share Christ, build relationships, plant and harvest as God allows. One way He has done that is through Good News Club and we are blessed.

To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:8-21)

Thursday, September 7, 2017

A Challenge for the Day


A humble person is grateful person.

So how many thank-you's can you say in a day?

If Brother Lawrence trained himself to practice the presence of God in a kitchen, surely each of us can use the events of our daily lives.

So what are you grateful for?
On your mark.... Get set....



Monday, September 4, 2017

Thoughts on Suffering

One of the certainties of life is suffering. There is flooding in Texas. In my personal world, a young woman is fighting cancer and treatment is uncertain. Friends lost their 25-year-old brother unexpectedly. Our world is one of pain, grief, loss, disappointment, failure, betrayal, and anxiety. No one is exempt. It may come in different forms, but suffering is certain.
Job's suffering was unexpected and devastating. He lost material wealth, his children, and his health. Like some of us, this is how others responded:
  1. Relief at all costs: “Curse God and die.” This was Satan’s goal. If Job’s relationship with God was dependent on his circumstances, he would love God when life was good and curse Him when life was bad. Job’s wife, unfortunately, was on Satan’s team for this one. Isn’t it interesting that of all the things Satan asked to take away from Job, his wife was not one of them.
  2. Experience is the solution: “I’ve seen this. It happened to ____.”  Job’s friend, Eliphaz, related Job’s suffering to his own experiences. We may have seen, heard, or experienced things in our lives but that is a) not a comfort someone who is suffering and b) not an accurate measure of who God is or how He works.
  3. Traditional practice is the solution: “If you’d done this (name it) this (name calamity) wouldn’t have happened.” We may not come right out and say it, but it’s easy to carry the same undertone as Zophar ‘s message: “We’ve always done it this way.” In other words, it’s your fault for not following the accepted pattern. “What did you do to bring this on yourself?”
  4. Rules or legalism is the solution: “You can fix this by ____.”  Bildad professes a health, wealth and prosperity doctrine: If you do such and such, you can make it go away. This is another form of, “It’s your fault” with the added burden of changing the circumstances.

None of them were helpful. In fact, they made things worse. On top of external forces, Job battled his thoughts, emotions and the untruths of his "friends."
These friends were focused on why Job was suffering. If they knew why, they could escape, avoid, or control suffering in their own lives. They pointed the finger, “It’s your fault” as another way of saying, “As long as I don’t do what you did, I’m safe.” There is something threatening about suffering—something ominous, dangerous, and unpleasant—we want to avoid. In reality, we can't. And we won't.
What about Job? In the face of disaster and calamity, who, like him, doesn’t want to talk directly to God?(7:20, 10:2, 13:3, 15, 22; 16:21; 23:4, etc.)
Once they ran out of arguments--Job included--Elihu, the youngest, silent observer spoke. Unlike the others, Elihu persisted in presence with a listening ear and keen thoughts. Because he escaped God's criticism, we would do well to listen to his words and attitudes.

In humility, he admitted his own failures. He found common ground with Job and proved it by sitting through this entire discourse (7 days of silence plus 28 chapters' worth of discussion). He did not lay blame, tell Job what to do, or criticize him harshly. He practiced what Dr. Bob Kellemen calls, "climbing in the casket." And after lying in that dark, despairing place with Job, he provides perspective: don't forget God's grace and generosity, look for God's hand and purpose even in suffering, if God controls the lightning, wind and wild beast, He is able to care for you, and remember, God cannot be moved or manipulated by the works of man.
God, in His goodness, wisdom and sovereignty approached Job in chapters 38-41, but not to answer Job's “why?” Instead, God assured him that He saw, knew, controlled, and governed in might, goodness and wisdom.

Job's reply?
“I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”
‘Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.’
“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:2-6)
Then the Lord spoke to Eliphaz (how terrifying!), “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has” (42:7). They offered sacrifices, Job prayed, and they were forgiven. The Lord returned Job’s wealth and “blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning…” (42:12)
In our suffering—in suffering with others—we may never know why, but we can always know Who.
Behold, the Lord God will come with might,
With His arm ruling for Him.
Behold, His reward is with Him
And His recompense before Him.
11 Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,
In His arm He will gather the lambs
And carry them in His bosom;
He will gently lead the nursing ewes.
12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
And marked off the heavens by the span,
And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure,
And weighed the mountains in a balance
And the hills in a pair of scales?
13 Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
14 With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?
15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales;
Behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust.
16 Even Lebanon is not enough to burn,
Nor its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before Him,
They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.
18 To whom then will you liken God?
Or what likeness will you compare with Him?
19 As for the idol, a craftsman casts it,
A goldsmith plates it with gold,
And a silversmith fashions chains of silver.
20 He who is too impoverished for such an offering
Selects a tree that does not rot;
He seeks out for himself a skillful craftsman
To prepare an idol that will not totter.
21 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
23 He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
24 Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.
25 “To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.
27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”?
28 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
29 He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
30 Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
31 Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary. (Isaiah 40)